Balkans: Gang Rules


March 31, 2010: Two years and a month after Kosovo unilaterally declared independence from Serbia, the country remains divided. It appears the majority of Kosovar Serbs (who for the most part live in the north) still hope for union with Serbia. UNMIK (UN Mission in Kosovo), however, is winding down and largely replaced by EULEX European police mission and NATO forces. The Kosovo government is under increasing scrutiny by Western European democracies. The Western Europeans are focusing on the corruption that plagues the new government. The U.S. ambassador to Kosovo has also criticized the corruption. The complaints are legitimate but a lot of Balkan observers are chuckling. Many senior government ministers have ties to the old Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), which led the resistance against Serbia. The KLA had deep links to Balkan smuggling rings and to international narcotics traffickers. Even supporters of the Kosovar Albanian cause looked askance at dealing with the KLA because of the crime links. Criminals move into government and, presto, it's corrupt. Police reports of Serbian gangsters dealing with Albanian gangsters also receive the what-else-is-new treatment. These are Balkan smuggling rings, and they play rough.

March 29, 2010: The Turkish government is proposing new laws that would take constitutional authority from the military. A slate of 26 new amendments would strengthen civilian control of the military and also increase presidential authority over the judiciary. For example, one amendment would expand the Constitutional Court from 11 members to 19. This would give the executive branch (the president) more appointments. Some of this has to do with European Union requirements for accession to full EU membership. However, Turkey's Kemalists see this as a power play by the Islamist-leaning Justice and Development Party (AKP), which is the current ruling party.

March 23, 2010: Romania announced that it intends to purchase 24 used F-16 fighter jets. Russia won't like the decision, but Romania (a NATO member) wants to upgrade its air force. Romania also looked at the F-18, the French Rafale, the Swedish Gripen, and the Eurofighter.

March 21, 2010: A recent Balkans conference demonstrated the region is still the Balkans, at least rhetorically. Certainly there have been changes, but there are still a lot of reasons to argue. The conference, held in Slovenia, was supposed to encourage regional cooperation and integration with the European Union. Serbia, however, boycotted the conference because Kosovo showed up as an independent country. Serbia said it would show up if Kosovo were seated as a UN protectorate. It was not.

March 20, 2010: It would then it wouldn't. The Turkish government threatened to expel Armenians who work illegally in Turkey. In part, this was a response to international agitation by Armenia over the World War One Armenian genocide allegations. For example, the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee recently passed a non-binding resolution calling the Great War massacres a genocide. However, the threat proved to be unpopular in Turkey, especially with Turkish human rights groups. So the government backed off. Turkey argues that the Armenians were killed in civil warfare and that the old Ottoman Empire is responsible for the deaths, not the Republic of Turkey. Turkey and Armenia continue to discuss (albeit at a distance) formalizing relations.

The government of Greece said that it will not default on its debts. The government contends that it has made policy corrections that will ultimately end Greece's fiscal nightmare. However, labor union unrest and protests continue.

March 18, 2010: Yes, they are still there and they are a source of jobs as well as stability. Great Britain still has its two sovereign base areas in Cyprus and they provide good jobs to Cypriots. Britain, however, recently announced it will eliminate 166 jobs at the bases. Some will be British military, but the cutbacks include civilian support jobs.

March 16, 2010: The Balkans have a lot of reach. It turns out Montenegro granted former Thailand Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra citizenship. Shinawatra was overthrown in a coup in 2006. He also faces charges of corruption in Thailand. He had been living in Dubai but is now in exile in Montenegro.

March 13, 2010: European Union police in the EULEX force reported they were attacked in northern Kosovo. Gunmen fired on an EU vehicle near the Serbian border. There were no casualties in the incident.

March 12, 2010: The U.S. has come up with an idea that it hopes will end The Name War. The Name War is the long-running diplomatic drama involving Greece and Macedonia. Greece insists that Macedonia be called the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM). Greek nationalists fear that the nation of Macedonia may make claims on the Greek province of Macedonia (where Thessalonika is located). Anyway, American diplomats have suggested that Macedonia (the nation) be called Northern Macedonia.





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