Letter from Thessaloniki

Mr Hardy’s nose was so blue, that Mr Laurel shot it, mistaking it for a jay-bird, in the 1930s film «Below Zero.» Both comedians appeared there as the victims of the Great Depression in a snowstorm. They were also shooting at each other, as in the civil war in former Yugoslavia more than a decade ago. The rare below-zero temperatures that hit the country last weekend came only hours after Greek stocks slid downward on the Athens Exchange on Friday. No depression yet though. In the coming days, the Development Ministry is expected to announce its new measures to contain prices. It is rumored, however, that these will once again be the usual ineffective measures which will neither stop nor punish profiteering. In all probability, prices will continue to rise. Usually, such statements are merely for public consumption. Now, according to the latest report by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD,) the Greek economy, the most rapidly expanding economy in the eurozone, is entering a slowdown phase. Although from a budget perspective there are «countries» in this region which brag of doing great – economically. Among them, Kosovo, which is already using the term «tiger economy.» Yet does Kosovo deserve the description? With quite impressive, self-advertised growth rates of 10 percent – compared to long-term average annual growth rate of 2 to 3 percent in the US, Japan and EU member states – Kosovo appears to be prospering. Right? Wrong! Economic analyst Iain King (UNMIK/EU Pillar ) seems to have serious doubts. The region’s economy «… is still in transition from the old command-style to a more market-based system – always a difficult process; Kosovo has also suffered more than a decade of serious under-investment, as well as a damaging war. To combat these, it enjoys generous support from donors, large inflows of funds from abroad, and a young, entrepreneurial workforce….» Consequently, it will take Kosovo «several decades to reach the wealth levels of western Europe or the United States,» he adds. Those who celebrated the birth of Europe’s newest state – Kosovo’s independence – may overlook the fact that economics play tricky games in the case of Kosovo. The present administration in Pristina is easing some controls, though not fast enough for the converted free-marketeers on the right. And it is not opposed to some privatization which, even the Right tacitly accepts, could take years to achieve. There was a glint of defiance yesterday in the eye of Hashim Thaci, Kosovo’s prime minister and the Kosovo Liberation Army’s former political commissar, once known by his nom de guerre of «Commander Snake,» as he now ponders the big question: Will there be violence? Although direct Serbian intervention appears unlikely, in a recent statement Belgrade said that such an act (declaring independence) would be «a flagrant and unilateral act of secession of a part of the territory of the Republic of Serbia and… therefore null and void.» That carries some weight. One month ago, Serbia’s President Boris Tadic looked at Kosovo’s economic prospects, reiterating that the largest deposit of coal in this part of Europe is located in Kosovo. Now, for Cyprus and Greece – along with Romania, Slovakia, Spain, Russia and other countries too – the Kosovo affair sets a dangerous precedent in international relations in general. A precedent that Washington unwisely refuses to acknowledge. Often, alas, US politicians unwittingly encourage the perpetuation of violence by holding out for maximalist solutions such as Kosovo’s independence. Claiming that one stands for «justice» and «fairness,» it is quite simple to implement those double standards that can be easily exploited by clever terrorist organizations. «Various ideas can develop elsewhere if Kosovo’s independence is proclaimed,» Prime Minister of the Republic of Srpska, Milorad Dodik, said in a recent statement. Things are hotting up. As of today, the new Kosovo crisis – and not its solution – is about to spill over into Bosnia. Very shortly. Others might, and will, follow.