Balkans: A Greek Tragedy


February 9, 2010: Budget problems, debt, and labor strikes in Greece concern the entire European Union. It's a new wrinkle on an old problem called Balkan instability. This time around it's economic instability, but the economic instability is closely tied to political weakness. European Union leaders fear that Greece has become a “powderkeg” (to use an old term applied to the Balkans) where economic instability breeds anarchy and violence domestically. Though many analysts argue that the threat is overrated, the Greek situation does expose what everyone knows has been the EU's dirty little secret: any nation sharing a common currency but not sharing a common fiscal policy could disrupt the economic system for the entire union. Fiscal coordination in the EU is haphazard. Last week, after the Greek government agreed to debt reduction policies ( the austerity package includes a salary freeze for public workers and tax increases), a major trade union, the General Confederation of Greek Workers (GSEE), threatened nation-wide strikes later this month. This threat comes on top of other strikes around the country, including the farmer-led Tractor War. The EU has been pressing Greece, Portugal, and Spain to reduce debt. Italy is also under scrutiny. The debt problem in these countries has depressed the value of the EU's euro. Greece, however, is the most fragile and has come close to default. Greek governments of the left and right have spent money they did not have, betting that the rest of the EU would bail Greece out.

February 6, 2010: The Kosovo peace remains fragile. Kosovar Serb enclaves in northern Kosovo are a major problem. The city of Mitrovica continues to be Kosovo's worst hotspot; the city is divided into Serb and Albanian halves. Kosovar Serbs in Mitrovica recently accused the Kosovo government of planning to seize control of Mitrovica. The Kosovo government argues that it should be in charge of the entire city of Mitrovica, since Mitrovica is inside Kosovo.

February 5, 2010: The U.S. decision to cancel the Czech and Polish components of its layered anti-missile defense system concerned Turkey, which has been quiet about it. But the Turkish government knows that Iran is a ballistic missile threat, and the long-range ground-based interceptors that were supposed to deployed in Poland (which were intended to intercept a missile from Iran fired at Western European targets) had a deterrent effect on troublemaking from Tehran. Turkey has had an interest in acquiring short-range US anti-missile systems like the Patriot PAC-3. Turkey not only wants to protect its cities. The dams in its Southeast Anatolia Project (GAP) are also potential targets. The U.S. wants to deploy mobile anti-ballistic missile (ABM) systems in the Middle East and Eastern Europe. With the cancellation of the Polish missiles and the Czech radar system, Turkey has become a potential (some analysts say probable) site for deploying not only the Patriot PAC-3 but land-based Navy Standard-3 ABMs (which are medium-range ABMs). On February 4 Romania agreed to deploy mobile ABM systems. Still, the Turkish government may not be willing to sign on to the new US ABM deal unless the US applies more pressure on the PKK (Kurdistan Workers Party) which maintains bases in northern Iraq. Iran may be a threat, but Iran cooperates with Turkey in its counter-guerrilla war against the PKK. As for Romania, in its official announcement the Romanian government said the mobile medium-range ABM system could be operational by 2015.

February 2, 2010: Police in Bosnia raided the village of Gornja Maoca. The police alleged the village harbored a number of Islamist radicals that the government suspected of seeking to undermine the government and destabilize the country. Over 600 policemen participated in the raid (code-named Operation Light). The raiding force had police from the Muslim-Croat federation and from the Republika Srpska Bosnian Serb statelet. The police arrested seven people (described in the official statement as Wahabis). They also seized a weapons cache.

January 28, 2010: Peace talks continue in Cyprus between Greek and Turkish Cypriot leaders. Two series of talks have been held this month (January 2010). Leaders from both the Greek and Turk communities have said they intend to reach a new political settlement by the end of the year.

January 22, 2010: A Turkish military spokesman said that a Turkish special forces unit was not involved in a plot in December to assassinate a deputy prime minister. The military contends that a police search of the unit's headquarters did not find evidence of a plot. However, the story has fed rumors that the military intends to topple the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government. The AKP is a moderate Islamist party.

January 21, 2010: The Turkish military denied an allegation that it had conspired to lure Greek Air Force jets into shooting down a Turkish airplane. A spokesman called the allegations “information pollution.” The rumor goes this way: Greeks would shoot down a Turkish airplane and the Turkish military would then declare a crisis and topple the government via a coup.




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