The year 2007 was an eventful one in the Balkans, though several major trends remained underreported or were simply ignored. The Western media utilized most of its limited capacity to the political dimensions of the future status of Kosovo, choosing to tell and retell a tired story of good vs. bad (i.e., the West vs. Russia and Serbia), barely scratching the surface of what is if not necessarily the most important, at least the most hyped issue in the region.
Kosovo is however intimately tied to specific events and factors that, on the larger level, indicate an emerging strategic balance of power in the region, one that may not quite be what had been planned by the West, and thus which will likely leave a complicit media scrambling to find explanations for years to come. In this special retrospective report, Balkanalysis.com discusses a few of the major trends that have been identified in 2007 and which will likely help shape the Balkans in 2008.
The first major event has to be the growing power of
From the ashes of this defeat arose Vladimir Putin, the ex-KGB officer determined to not let the national interest be trampled on again. In fact, Putin’s opportunity was created by the West in its reckless game in 1999. Until the question of changing Kosovo’s political status arose,
Nevertheless, the Western media has more often than not chosen to simply condemn these tactics rather than provide objective analysis, thus betraying their own sympathies with Western governments. Although there is little to be learned from boring invective, it would prove embarrassing to the powers that bombed Kosovo in 1999 for journalists to ask whether the intervention itself provided an opportunity for
Reporting on the changing Russian role in the Balkans becomes even scantier in terms of its relation to the year’s second key trend, and perhaps the most astonishing- the diplomatic triumphs of
Greece, like Russia a historic ally of Serbia, had also been less than thrilled about the NATO intervention of 1999, and chose not to participate in NATO air strikes; pivotally, however, it also chose not to veto the operation as Serbia had hoped. Alienated and insulted on all sides,
Aside from the defense sector,
The larger implications of Greece’s diplomatic success in 2004 in lobbying for Cyprus’ unconditional entry into the EU – that is, with its membership not being contingent on the passage of the ‘Annan Plan’ for unification – have indeed registered this year, with the EU’s second Greek state ready to uphold Athens’ policies within the bloc, particularly on the Kosovo issue, thus relieving Greece of having to take the strongest stance possible against Kosovo independence. So long as Cyprus can be counted on to conduct an identical policy, Greece can desist and so appear more ‘accommodating’ to Western interests- something that also buys it more political capital to expend on issues which are (erroneously, perhaps) equated with the national interest, such as trying to force the Republic of Macedonia to change its constitutional name. Despite increasing world sympathy for the Macedonian side,
That said, the major point of inquiry for journalists in 2008 has got to be the question of finding the source of Greek power. A NATO member that uses Russian military technology, opposes Kosovo independence, and that has threatened to torpedo NATO plans by vetoing Macedonian accession in April,
This brings us to the third major issue in the Balkans this year, though before considering it we must acknowledge that for the Greeks, success may be coming at a price: the massive summer fires, which blazed along fronts of up to 70km in width and which reached urban Athens, while decimating large stretches of the Peloponnese, can be considered the greatest threat to national security, and we expect that they will be happen again this coming summer.
While some fires occurred due to natural causes amidst parched, hot natural conditions, the majority occurred due to human involvement. Everyone from arsonists to property developers to Kosovo Albanians have been blamed, all with different alleged motives. While the last of these propositions has been derided as conspiracy-theorizing, it is clear that for irredentists with no chance of undertaking military action against much stronger state forces, the only other possibility for pressuring Greek policy is by causing widespread material destruction through fires or other terrorist acts. However, the Western press by and large chose not to look at the situation from this strategic aspect.
The third major underreported issue of the year in the Balkans has been the intrinsic connections and future possibilities of the major international bodies’ self-created problems in the region. The issue of Kosovo, Western governments have continuously maintained, is one that cannot be considered a precedent for any other of the numerous self-determination struggles across the globe- even as the representatives of these independence movements continue to remind that no, in fact Kosovo is being perceived as a precedent for them.
The possibility that Kosovo could be partitioned, anathema to the West as potentially having the capacity to set off a chain reaction in the Balkans, has ironically been given precedent due to the admission of a divided Cyprus into the EU in 2004. In that case, both the UN and EU were unable, or unwilling, to force Greek and Turkish Cypriots to settle their differences and enter as one nation, thus exacerbating the existing political animosities between
Since the UN could not force the non-warring Greeks and Turks of Cyprus to come together in 2004, it should be no surprise that the UN is now saying it can’t do anything more to solve the Kosovo conundrum, and will hand it off to the EU to figure out. This is another blow to the credibility of the alleged global peacekeeper, and will be perceived by potential secessionists around the world as evidence that the UN has no ability to curtail their future ambitions.
For its part, the EU has enough of a headache dealing with embarrassments more recent than the
For 2008 at least, therefore, events in the Balkans should continue to outstrip the control of supranational institutions, and perhaps at an accelerated pace. While this is not necessarily a recipe for war, it does mean that the demonstrated trends in the region towards the bold and unpredictable unilateralism of the pre-WWII alliance systems will intensify. To paraphrase the friendly Chinese curse, we are indeed living in interesting times.
Finally, another emerging trend in the Balkans to watch during 2008 will be the activities of Islamic extremist groups in the region. Although their activities in 2007 were reported mostly in the local medias, the international press took interest as well when Serbian police in March broke up a Wahhabi training camp in the mountains of Novi Pazar, in the southwest Sandzak region; recently, from the other side of the border, Montenegro’s intelligence chief attested that the fundamentalists inhabited camps in Montenegrin Sandzak, while also masquerading their activities in NGOs and youth groups. Also in 2007 Macedonian special police carried out an action against an Albanian irredentist group near the Kosovo border, killing at least one known Islamic extremist in the process. And failed jihadi plots against the US Embassy in