Balkans 2007: The beginning?
By Ioannis Michaletos | Blog
August 28, 2007

As the world moves fast towards the closing annual season of Autumn,  an upturn in world politics is starting to emerge, and might signify for a third time in less than 100 years that the Balkans will be the locale “Where all silly things started”.

March 2007 was the decisive annum where the emergence of an “Orthodox Energy Axis” seemed to take place, signified by the agreement for the Burgas-Alexandroupoli pipeline. For the first time in history Russia effectively by-passed the Bosporus with the assistance of Bulgaria & Greece, two NATO countries. Both countries were rewarded with the construction of two mega-warehouses of some 1,5 million tons of oil in their ports and Greece has already bought high-tech Russian weaponry that would constitute a real change in the balance of powers in the wider region. Three months later Russia, Bulgaria, Greece and Italy sign a large deal for natural gas transfer that further accelerates the projection of the Balkans right in the middle of the world. Moscow eyes Montenegro where it has invested heavily in the real estate sector and continuously projects its geopolitical role in all states with the exception of Albania for the time being.

In parallel the Western capitals were shocked by the adamant stance of Moscow to recognize a potential Kosovo independence, whilst it offered all means possible help to Belgrade to withstand pressure. Eventually Germany and France started cautiously to become neutral between USA and Russia and by assessing the drain of American forces in the multiple fronts across the world due to the war against terror; are trying to establish their own zones of influence in  the Western Balkans and in contrast with all the “Deals signed” post 1999 war.  The summer of 2007 revealed that the globalization process is a mimicry of the 1870-1914 period where all powers were competing each other and forming alliances for their own profit, as well as, colonizing the planet and subduing weaker cultures and societies.

Kosovo already hosts the Bondsteel camp with as much as 500 hectares of surface and over 300 buildings with thousands of personnel, military, civic and security forces. Virtually a castle in the midst of a poor underdeveloped area inflicted by organized crime, corruption and high birth rate that suffocates this Balkan hinterland.  The main role of the “Castle” apart from constructing the security of the 1999 agreement; is to play a decisive role in safeguarding the proposed construction of the AMBO pipeline stressing from the Bulgarian –Burgas port, passing through FYROM and ending up to Vlore in Albania. Its construction was always in peril due to the fragile societal and ethnic composition of Western FYROM, an issue that cannot be examined without taking into consideration the developments in Kosovo. Actually any move towards independence would ultimately leave the government in Skopje in the unpleasant situation of neighboring with two Albanian states, with expanding population and with its own Albanian minority becoming a majority by 2020, if demographic trends continue. Already Bulgaria from its own part is securing its influence by issuing tens of thousands of passports for citizens of its Eastern neighbor.

Moreover the Greek-American consortium SENCAP lost the competition of acquiring the thermo-electrical power station Negotino; to a Canadian-Bulgarian coalition. Despite the fact that the former offered more, the governing party BMPO sided with the Bulgarian corporation and information from FYR Macedonia describe fierce American opposition to the whole development. It is interesting to note that widespread rumors for an eventual “Federal Union” between FYROM and Bulgaria are beginning to circulate, an event that will have ramifications probably more important and intense than Kosovo independence.

Serbia during the summer period achieved more or less to withhold its diplomatic points it gained during Spring, that are most importantly the ability to draw a red line under which it cannot retreat and also rejected an offer to become a member of the EU if it has to abandon K&M. Needless to say that this is more of a symbolic statement with long-term effects for other states wishing to enter the Union such as Turkey or even Ukraine. In reality Europe is not the attractive lady that it was five decades or even five years ago, and the ageing process is starting to affect its ability to negotiate actively in important and sensitive issues like the Kosovo one. Thus every nation state is filling the gap of the EU, as it was also the case in 1991, in most respects.

Albania, has the potential of becoming a hotbed of political developments over the coming months due to the rising opposition between the Berisha’s government and the opposition and the other grass roots movements across the country that demand alignment with Europe in terms of citizen’s rights, less corruption and decentralization of the incumbent heavy-handed political patronage. All these movements should be made visible by October if all conditions remain stable and there are not any sudden events that will draw the country into a political deadlock.

Greece is experiencing a fire-wave that according to governmental statements is conducted by a well-organized arson plan. Moreover the EU Commissioner Mr. Fratinni, commenting on this, stated that Europe is experiencing a new form of terrorism,  “Territorial terrorism” that uses the environment as a “Weapon against the population, economy and the state”. In a few word Greece is the first country where this form of terrorism is being implemented, albeit with no concrete knowledge of the culprits.

Over the past few years the Athens government made some spectacular deals with Russia (See above), opened its market to the Chinese and Arab capital and cultivated strong ties with the USA multinationals, especially the East Coast ones, centered in New York. In a few words it has expanded its geoeconomic role and made itself a regional financial hub, a process that increases its role in the world commerce, both the official one and the “Parallel one” (Narcotics, trafficking, money laundering, etc”. Greece and consequently the Balkans are the gateway of Europe to the Middle East, N. Africa and the Black Sea, and any sudden change on the established balance of powers relates to wider shifts of the interests of the global economy, despite the miniscule GDP the regional states produce in comparison to the rest of the world.

The Balkans are experiencing a multitude of events that eventually will culminate in great events sooner rather later. The coming autumn period will be a revealing one, judging by the concentration of a plethora of unresolved issues in such a constrained geographical terrain and needless to say, a  restive and rebellious part of Europe. The European, American and Russian leaders have the historical opportunity to compromise in a wide range of issues in Southeastern Europe and look further into the future in order to withstand the global challenges of environmental destruction, Islamic fundamentalism and the fierce economic competition from Asia. Otherwise the Balkans will once more play the role of the tinderbox for Eurasia with unknown consequences for the global security for decades to come.