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25 October, 2010  ▪  Viktor Kaspruk

Balkans - a Territory Split Between East And West

Mr. Ioannis Michaletos is occupied as a South Eastern European Correspodent for the European Energy Review Journal and as a freelance journalist for Greek and international media.

Mr. Ioannis Michaletos is occupied as a South Eastern European Correspodent  for the European Energy Review Journal and as a freelance journalist for Greek and international media.

He is a correspondent Analyst for ISRIA a security assessment agency based in Paris, and Press Officer for the Greek confederation of junior enterprises (JADE HELLAS).

He speaks Greek, English, and French and has a passive knowledge of Italian.

The Balkans still remains  a region in Europe that contains a multitude of issues that can have a potential negative impact for the European security structures and  the presence of extremists, is a source of concern for the international authorities.

- Mr. Michaletos, in one of your articles you write that: "The current situation in the Balkans reveals a worrying trend of political and security developments that may lead to renewed round of brinkmanship, even of conflict, between different countries and ethnic groups". Is there is going to be deterioration of this situation?

 - The Balkans traditionally is a sensitive and I may say unstable region in Europe. It is an area of religious, economic and ethnic cleavages between the West and the East and with a colorful history of confrontations between great powers.

Currently the unstable world situation that has been created due to the financial crisis, has affected the Balkan states, along with older conflicts that are still open. Therefore, one can assess that there are worrying trends in certain fields that may be cause for attention. Minority issues that are being promoted to an extent by influential global interests are a major source of concern.

Of course I cannot predict that a conflict is underway, but I am pretty certain that the political situation in the Balkans cannot be considered as stable and everything is on the table. 

- The Albanian minority in FYROM, is it a real problem?

The Albanian minority in this country -mostly Muslim-, is characterized by a high birth rate in comparison to the rest of the Christian population. That causes frictions and with the assistance of radical-nationalistic Albanian elements from Kosovo and Albania, it is certainly a major factor for future problem. In 2001 a short-scale civil war erupted and since then the power within the country was divided between the Albanian minority and the Slavic majority. Sooner or latter similar conflicts may erupt, if the nationalistic tendencies of the Albanians are not accommodated or compromised. 

- Albanian President Berisha in a recent visit of his in Kosovo has stated that there should be no borders between the Albanian communities in the Balkans. Does he wants a Greater Albania? 

- He gave that impression and there is definitely a movement in Tirana towards that goal. As anyone can imagine that means a Pan-Balkan war and catastrophe. On the other hand Berisha faces heavy political opposition in his country and he may adopt a nationalistic stance so as to distract public opinion from corruption charges and accusations concerning abuse of power and favoritism in his own administration. In any case it is something to be seriously assessed for when examining present day Balkan politics, because the situation may get out of hand rather easily. 

- The Greek movement Omonia in Southern Albania demanded that Albania provides the minority Greeks the same rights that Albanians have  in FYROM.  Do you see a  pattern here for all the other minorities in the Balkans?  

- A pattern has already emerged and it is time that the Balkans enters a stage of a "traditional balance of powers structure", otherwise minority issues will tend to erupt from time to time and disrupt the political climate in several countries. The international authorities have played a very bad role concerning the minority issues.

Of course it should be noted, that for the Greek minority in Albania for instance, there are serious issues of human rights violations. Therefore if the Albanian government pursues the aim of becoming the protector of Albanian minorities in the region it should comprehend that in its territory there is sizeable Greek minority, as well as, a Slavic one.

I think solutions could be found if the leaders of the region act seriously and look into the problems of their own countries, having as main criteria the progression of their societies and the increase of their economic status in parallel with the adherence to the rule of law and democracy. Then many issues could be dealt with in a most sincere and natural manner. 

- It is a well known fact that the Balkan radical Islamists have an articulate propaganda system composed by companies that issue magazines, record music and create websites, aiming at spreading, mostly Wahhabi values?

- This is correct. Balkan radical Muslims are to a great extent prone to extremism and adherence to the so-called Wahhabi system originating from the Middle East. This is an issue that is being going on since the early '90's and in some cases over the past generation or so. Quite a few of those have already being arrested for various serious offences, including the one of terrorism and they assisted acts of terrorism in an international level.

They have substantial economic support from Middle Eastern countries and from radical Muslim communities in Austria, Italy, Germany, Turkey and Switzerland. 

In a sense the Balkans are being formed into a semi-Muslim region where the radical element is pretty strong and increasing? 

This is true for Kosovo and Bosnia and to a lesser extent for Albania, FYROM and Montenegro. In essence the countries of the Western Balkans are facing an infiltration of the Islamic political and religious power which is manifested by economic means, through the construction of hundreds of Mosques and by the proliferation of NGO's and other organizations. Moreover the demographic balance is changing in favor of the Muslim minorities. 

- The so-called Balkan Islamic arch, is related to terrorism? 

- Absolutely. The Islamic arch, although it is a political theory related to the creation of a space populated or controlled by Muslims from Istanbul to Croatia, it is also a cover network that is being used by Islamic terrorist groups that find it convenient of hiding within the millions of Muslim minority members and make their way up to Central Europe, making use of logistic facilities, such as safe houses, friendly organizations and so on. 

- Over the past two decades, the Balkan region has experienced a surge in organized crime activities due to war, embargoes and dramatic power shifts. Do you believe that the influence of criminal networks is crucial to the current political scene of the Balkan states?

  - Organized crime is very strong in most Balkan countries. All international organizations responsible for these issues such as EUROPOL, INTERPOL and other, have noted that the organized crime members have been able to penetrate effectively state mechanisms and have placed their own people within the apparatus thus being able to dictate policies or influencing the security and judicial authorities. In regions such as Kosovo, organized crime is the only stable and unquestioned authority, whereas the state can be considered as a feeble byproduct of the former. 

 - Are organized crime groups in the Balkans interrelated and do they cooperate with each other regardless of ethnic or political frictions?

- There is cooperation amongst most members of the organized crime groups in the Balkans, but at the same time there are definite ethnic groups.

The key word is: Specialization.

The Albanian organized crime groups are specialized in heroin and arms trafficking and are also strong in human trafficking.

Bulgarian groups, tend to specialize in human trafficking and smuggling of goods and weapons.

Croatian groups in cigarette smuggling and automobile theft. 

The important aspect is that all "ethnic mafias" cooperate with each other in order to facilitate illegal goods exchanges. For instance one sells narcotics in order to receive weapons and so on. In a sense it is a perfect example of inter-ethnic cooperation regardless of everyday animosities. 

- Kosovo «precedent» might prompt some Muslim countries to recognize Turkish Cyprus? 

- This is the main reason why Cyprus will not recognize Kosovo. Moreover I assume that the Muslims countries that have strong non-religious forms of administration such as Algeria, Libya, Syria, Indonesia, Lebanon and others, will not recognize Kosovo or the Turkish occupied part of Cyprus. 

In a wider sense the Kosovo precedent is here to stay and alter the basic canons and norms of the international law. It was a big mistake and an ultimate contradiction on terms of ethical supremacy that certain countries committed. I am afraid that this "precedent" will come to haunt in political terms most of the countries that have already agreed to recognize Kosovo as an independent state. When one plays with history, he is only naive. 

The realm of history is the kingdom of the unknown and once you have showed arrogance to it, you are bound to accept anything as a token of return from something that no one can control no matter how strong he is in material terms.

The recognition of Kosovo created a historical chasm between the ethical spirit of the Western world and its material strength. And the price unfortunately will be paid in time and terms unknown for the time being.


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