The Balkan conundrum

Greek President Karolos Papoulias’s decision to cut short his visit to Albania because of protests by extremist anti-Greek elements may not be standard diplomatic practice. However, it signaled strong disaffection with the political posturing of a state whose development depends greatly on Greek investments and money repatriated by Albanian immigrants living in Greece. Successive governments have hoped that Greece’s economic presence in Albania and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia would ease nationalist sentiment in these countries. However, the opposite has happened. The answer is not economic sanctions or political pressure but prudence and determination. Above all, Greeks must shed the illusion that these two Balkan states will become more cooperative in the near future. The EU carrot lies in the distant future. Meanwhile, the nationalist claims of Kosovo Albanians against the Serbs will determine Albania’s stand toward Greece, as this is all about whether the Albanian national core will lie in Pristina or Tirana. For their part, the Slav-Macedonians in Skopje deem that taking an extreme stand on the FYROM name dispute will enable them to enhance unity and solidarity in the face of the separatist-minded Albanians. The internal challenges besetting Albania and FYROM have won their governments support from the US and EU. Athens must be understanding and flexible, meaning it is expected to turn a blind eye to provocations that insult Greek patriotic sentiment. It matters little if Papoulias reacted undiplomatically as long as his move knocks some sense into the Albanians. It is the government that is responsible for the country’s foreign policy – and Greek diplomats must convince the US and the EU that this part of the world requires special handling so as to avoid fueling secessionist tendencies. Now there’s a target for Greece’s policymakers.

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