Balkan journalists give their views on Greece

When Kathimerini asked leading journalists from Balkan states what they thought of the Greek presence in their countries and Greeks in general, the responses were highly revealing. This article continues yesterday’s feature «Balkans witnessing a new Greek movement.» Erol Rizaov, editor in chief of the Skopje daily Oytrincki Vesnik «The issue over the name of the Republic of Macedonia is the only impossible link in the intricate chain of the two countries’ relations. This pending issue is regarded in Macedonia with bitterness. It is as if someone wanted to take away our identity without our prior consent. The public cannot understand Greece’s rigid stance. There is no anti-Greek feeling in Macedonia despite Greece’s persistent dispute over the name. Macedonians see Greeks as their neighbors and Greece as the gateway to the European Union, a friendly country that has reached a high standard due to its people’s endurance and the prudent policy followed over the last 30 years by its politicians. Greek businessmen have, by and large, control over key companies, something that my compatriots respect.» Borivi Erdelian of the Belgrade newspaper Politika «Relations between Serbs and Greeks are historically bound and are based on the common Orthodox religion and the belief that the Serbian alphabet was created from the Greek. «However, Greeks and Serbs do not know each other to the degree that they should. They are still finding out about each other when Serbs go on holiday to Greece or shopping in Thessaloniki. For Greeks, Serbia is more than just a pleasant trip to Northern Europe. The numerous Greek banks, department stores and petrol chains are an important feature of Belgrade’s visual identity and are starting to become an integral part of the country’s economy. And these are only some of the businesses that are developing here and serve as the best guarantee for the new relationship formed in the new millenium. «There are, though, negative points. Serbs cannot understand why their ‘brothers the Greeks’ are so strict about the issue of Schengen visas. Moreover, many cannot see why Athens attaches importance to its obligations toward European Atlantic organizations, where more sincere aspirations take a back seat due to commitments.» Ioana Rantou, a journalist at the Bucharest Averea «Some attribute it to their historical bonds, others to common features, their mentality and optimism toward life, but everyone in Romania agrees that the Greeks will always be their friends. There are 6,500 Greeks studying or working in Romania and most of them say that they feel at home here. Over the last few years, there has been a boom in Greek investment, which has been enthusiastically received by Romanian society, as this development has opened up new prospects. Most Romanians in fact prefer Greek employers, as they are more permissive, less critical than the Germans, Austrians, French or Dutch. However, there are complaints, as many feel that the good working environment is not compatible with their earnings. Greek employers pay the worst out of the EU employers, whether they are banks or a simple restaurant. The Romanians acknowledge though that salaries in similar positions in Romanian businesses are much lower. For Romanians, Greece is a favorite tourist destination. They admire the Greek way of life. In Bucharest, Romanians who go out at night will often eat at Greek eateries or at Greek fast-food restaurants, which do a lucrative business. In the cafes and restaurants, Greeks and Romanians are often seen discussing and having fun together in the Balkan tradition.» Vetseslav Tounef, head of international affairs at the Sofia newspaper Monitor «I remember the words of Constantine Karamanlis in the 1980s when he spoke about good Greek-Bulgarian relations: ‘We have put an end to 100 years of hostilities; such a precedent does not exist in Europe.’ Bulgarians see Athens as their most important partner in their progress toward unified Europe. This is why every success in bilateral relations is applauded by all, both by political forces and simple citizens in our country. The results of this cooperation are exceptional: Greece is the second largest investor in Bulgaria and Greek tourists rate first. The future is before us. There is no doubt that after January 1, 2007, when Bulgaria will become a full EU member, new horizons will open up for a closer relationship between the two neighboring countries.» Rzar Tzatziou, political editor for the Tirana newspaper Panorama «Besides reports of prime ministers’ visits, the agreements on cooperation and good neighbors, there is another Greece, just as there is another Albania. In the mind of a Greek, Albania is associated with the events of 1997 and the immigrants working in the country. There is a similar lack of information here in Albania where knowledge about Greece is limited to the European Championship win. «The customs officers and border police who tear up passports and are offensive to Albanians would behave differently if they had read Kadare’s ‘Aeschylus, The Great Absentee.’ They would be more Greek, just as the Albanian bus hijackers would have discovered a part of themselves if they had read Ritsos’s verses or Kazantzakis’s thoughts. This is what unites real Greeks. «The history of Greek-Albanian relations is a chronicle of two neighbors who have given each other a helping hand but who still do not know each other. Bridges have started to be built. That’s why the staging of ‘Antigone’ is important, as it will speak in Albanian to an Albanian public in Tirana at the inauguration of the new open-air theater.»

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