Letter from Thessaloniki

Dividing something (say, a holy institution, such as a church – or a whole region – or that unhappy quadrant of Southeastern Europe named Kosovo) into small, often hostile units is known as Bal-kan-iz-ing. For those untutored in our past and present home affairs, the expression comes from the early 20th century and from the political division of the Balkans. Leaving behind him the crisis in the Church of Greece, Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis is to kick off a two-day tour of the Balkans on Wednesday. After visiting Zagreb, Karamanlis will proceed to Belgrade and then to Pristina. Now Croatia, a country economically more advanced than Romania and Bulgaria (already candidates for European Union membership), has still much to do to convince the world that it has overcome the hard-core nationalist legacy of its war of independence from Yugoslavia. As Karamanlis will stay in Zagreb only for a few hours, it is doubtful that he will be able to convince Croatian leaders to hand over any war criminals. «All Southeastern European countries can join eventually if they reform,» he will probably say. Once in Belgrade, the topic will be Kosovo and its future. Greece worries justly that even an indirect alteration of borders in Kosovo would create a perilous precedent that could stir up conflicts and destabilize the region. Take FYROM in the neighborhood, with its Slav-dominated government and an ethnic-Albanian minority; it is just waiting to disintegrate any moment now. And in such a case, Bulgaria and Turkey would be unlikely to stand idly by. Another country in the broader region, Romania, fears a similar domino effect within its Hungarian minority in Transylvania. So, in the Serb capital, Karamanlis will probably hear what Nebojsa Covic, the head of a special Serbian government committee for Kosovo, stated before the United Nations Security Council only last Thursday. According to the Serbs, the reality in Kosovo and Metohia (the area with the greatest concentration of Serbs) is illustrated as follows: * The Parliament and government of Kosovo and Metohia are not truly multiethnic. * There is no protection for non-Albanian communities from being out-voted. * There is no strategy to resolve huge unemployment and embark upon economic recovery. * There are few opportunities for Serbs and other non-Albanians to get jobs in the public sector. * There is a lack of elementary security for Serbs and other non-Albanians whose freedom of movement boils down to «humanitarian bus transport» and «train for the freedom of movement.» * Continued illegal privatization is a basis for the further ethnic cleansing of Serbs and other non-Albanians by economic measures. * Constant attacks and incidents against Serbs are not isolated, not condemned and not countered by efficient measures by local political leaders. * Serbs and other non-Albanians are deprived of all linguistic rights. * Serb property continues to be looted without any protection from authorities. * There are no returns of expelled and displaced persons and no efforts to encourage returns; no municipality in Kosovo and Metohia has worked out a plan or a strategy for returns. * No efforts are being made to reconstruct Serb cultural heritage, falsely laying the blame on the Serb Orthodox Church. * Organized crime in all forms continues to thrive in Kosovo and Metohia, not solely multiethnic but also multi-national. * The Kosovo Protection Corps is a training ground for Albanian extremist groups committed to violence; the KPC is getting ready to become an army in direct violation of Resolution 1244. * Serb and other non-Albanian national communities have virtually no confidence in the political and administrative system in Kosovo and Metohia. They are totally prevented from taking part in all political processes, having been fully marginalized as second-class citizens; * Since October 2000, Pristina and Albanian leaders have been consistently evading the necessary dialogue with Belgrade, shifting the blame on Belgrade. This is the Serb side. However, the UN secretary-general has also unambiguously noted quite the same sort of situations in the latest report on the situation in Kosovo and Metohia. Kosovo Serbs and Belgrade too want the province to remain part of Serbia-Montenegro. Otherwise, they know that their position in the region will be irrevocably weakened, and they would lose any chance of playing any major role in Southeast Europe. Belgrade is also aware of the negative feelings Turkey cultivates toward Serbia, and of the prospect of extending its influence by exploiting the existence of a second Muslim enclave – after Bosnia – in the Balkans. On the other hand, again, Kosovo’s ethnic Albanians – who make up 90 percent of the population of 2 million – speak with awe of the decades they have suffered under the Serbs. Kosovars are also unhappy with the progress since the end of the 1998-99 war, because officials have failed to address the dire economic situation. An estimated 60 percent unemployment rate has exacerbated political woes. Once in Kosovo, Karamanlis will certainly not be persuaded that Serbia would be better off without Kosovo. And this is because he fears that any plan to resolve the conflict in Kosovo might upset the geopolitical equilibrium in the Balkans. The prospect of a Greater Albania incorporating Kosovo, and probably a part of FYROM, is not promising for Greece. On the other hand, not having much to choose from, poor Serbia could eventually be convinced of the same by the reciprocal creation of a Greater Serbia, uniting the jerry-built Bosnian-Serb entity with parts of northern Kosovo. All those regions are now just about held together by the West. The fact is that disputed Kosovo could never go back to the way it was in the former Yugoslavia. Also it will never be like Switzerland in terms of the standards of a modern democracy. But is the time right for talks on independence? Hardly! The West insists on waiting at least until this autumn. A very knowledgeable journalist, Stavros Tzimas, wrote in yesterday’s Kathimerini that: «In Pristina there are voices saying that Albanians might declare their independence already this coming spring, to create a fait accompli.»

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