Balkans: Where Are You From?

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September 25, 2009:  Attacks on Romas ( “Gypsies”) in the Balkans are increasing – again. Kosovo has received the most scrutiny because of the UN presence and a UN mandate to monitor the treatment of minorities in the country. A major attack on Kosovar Romas took place in the village of Gnjilane in July 2009. The phrase no one has used (yet) is “ethnic cleansing,” but many Roma organizations attribute the physical assaults and threat to old and deep prejudices. Ethnic warfare is old hat in the Balkans, and the Roma (the descendents of two tribes that migrated from India centuries ago) are always “outsiders.”

September 24, 2009: And when did your tribe show up? This is an old question that sparks debate and sometimes warfare in many corners of the world. A newly published Macedonian encyclopedia has kicked it off again between Macedonian Slavs and Macedonian Albanians. The suspect academic work claimed Albanians entered what is now Macedonia in the 16th century. Albanians beg to differ – they claim they descend from tribes that were in the region long before the Slavs. The Albanian government even got into the argument, calling the work a “forged history.” At the moment several Macedonian scholars are also criticizing the encyclopedia and suggesting it needs “re-editing.”

September 17, 2009: International observers are once again warning that Bosnia faces more instability and could “dissolve” as ethnic tensions rise. The tripartite presidency (Serb-Croat-Bosniak) isn't functioning as a Bosnian government, but as two separate governments, one for Bosnian Serbs and one for the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina (the Bosniak Muslim and Bosnian Croat federation). The Croat and Bosniaks blame the failure on Bosnian Serbs who want to unite the Republika Srpska (Bosnian Serb statelet) with Serbia. However, some ethnic Croats have also given up on the  Bosniak-Croat relationship.

September 18, 2009: The Turkish government and Armenia have been negotiating. Over Summer 2009 there were indications that Turkey and Armenia might reach an agreement to re-establish diplomatic relations. Based on protocols signed earlier this month, that may well happen. Resolving big issues will be hard, like Armenia's demands for restitution based on the World War One (1915-16) slaughter of Armenians by the Ottomans. The Armenians refer to it as a genocide, the Turkish Republic says it was an ugly incident in a war run by the Ottoman Empire. Turkey and Armenia have been at odds since 1993 when Armenia and Azerbaijan fought of the Nagorno-Karabakh region. Ethnic relations play a role: the Azeris are Turkish peoples.

September 16, 2009: Police with the European Union EULEX force in Kosovo reported that “unknown assailants” attacked two EULEX vehicles with firebombs. EULEX made a deal with Serbian police to share intelligence data on smuggling and criminal activities along the Serbia-Kosovo border. The deal angered many Kosovar Albanians.

September 16, 2009: Turkish police arrested six people suspected of involvement in Al Qaeda's 2003 suicide bombing attacks in Istanbul. The bombers struck a bank and several synagogues. Over 50 people died in the attacks.

September 11, 2009: Slovenia announced that it will now support Croatia's bid to join the EU. Progress is finally being made on a long-running border dispute between the two Balkan countries.

August 30, 2009:  Cyprus (Greek Cypriot government) announced in early 2009 that it would continue to explore for oil in prospective off-shore fields. Turkey has conducted a few exploration efforts off Cyprus as well. In the 1990s, oil exploration in the Aegean (most of it by Turkey) helped stoke a confrontation between Greece and Turkey. Greece has the majority of the islands in the Aegean, many quite close to the Turkish mainland. One of the more promising sites off Cyprus is what is called the “north-east sector” and that lies off, well, Cyprus' northeast coast, which is where the Turkish Cypriot zone is located. There are four political sides involved in Cypriot politics, Greek Cypriot, Turk Cypriot, Turkish government, and Greek government. Cooler heads on all sides want a co-exploration and co-development deal. Greek and Turk Cypriots have more in common than they get credit for, though recent “intra-Cypriot” talks have shown that common ground exists. Smart leaders could use the oil exploration issue as a call for cooperation, not conflict.

 

 

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