SUN, 27 FEB 1994 23:18:41 GMT
Aleksandar Nenadovic Changes and Illusions
For the second time in the last two years, Serbian political leaders came forth with a proposal to the Greeks for their unification into a confederation. The first time, at the end of 1992 the proposal was made, suddenly and informally by Slobodan Milosevic himself, during an interview given to a private Greek TV station. Official Greek political circles, if we remember correctly, had absolutely nothing to say in that connection.
Considering that the silence of the Greeks was not taken, even in Belgrade, to mean consent, it appeared that it was one of Milosevic's perhaps too easily launched tactical improvisations that would soon be forgotten. And, as matter of fact, time went by and no one who was someone, either in Athens or Belgrade, considered it necessary to renew the idea on the founding of a confederation.
Notwithstanding, it turned out that that was not the end of the story on projects for establishing closer Serbian-Greek ties. Namely, a few days back, another important Serbian leader, Radovan Karadzic, voiced the same proposal in an interview to the Athens paper "Elefteros tipos." The only difference was in the fact, if we understood him correctly, that he had in mind the unification of the two peoples into a three-member confederation. The third member would be Karadzic's, i.e., second Serbian state, which has not been recognized by anyone as yet, but is known under the name of Republic of Srpska.
Just like Milosevic's "feint" of two years ago, Karadzic's new offer was ignored in Athens, at least when official circles and institutions are concerned. Why? Even if they were convinced at all that they could have some gain from such projects, the Greeks are more than well aware of the fact that the Republic of Srpska has absolutely no chance of gaining international recognition in the foreseeable future. Even the mother state Serbia is in no hurry to formally recognized it - perhaps its hope to achieve unification soon, namely, the formal establishment of "Great Serbia" is not the sole reason for that. For the executors of Serbian policy from both sides of the Drina River, many things, to put it midly, still remain uncertain.
Observing matters from Athens, or from any other non-Serbian point, the state headed by Dr. Karadzic which is being offered as the third member of the possible Greek- Serbian confederation, exists for the time being only as one of the three waring ethnic communities on the soil of former Yugoslavia. True, as far as the Serbs are concerned, Bosnia and Herzegovina has been a "former" state for quite some time now. However, not for Greece. Like the other members of the European Union and UN, diplomatically speaking, Athens recognizes only the Government of Alija Izetbegovic, regardless of its political solidarity with the Serbs in the discussions on the future of the former Yugoslav space.
If things are as they are - and for the time being they are such and will remain so until the signing of the peace agreement in Bosnia - what is the purpose of the, at least in appearance, inexplicably conspicious offers for the creation of a Serbian-Greek confederation ? Or differently put: to what extent are the Greek-Serbian connections politically founded and promising?
Of course, it is not impossible although it is not very probable, that Karadzic's renewed confederation offer is in disaccord with the international, and even more so Balkan strategy of Milosevic's authority in Serbia. But even if it were so, Belgrade's approach to its policy vis-a-vis Greece bears much greater weight than what Karadzic, or for that matter anyone else in Serbian Bosnia thinks or offers in that respect. The Serbian-Greek connection has been created through Belgrade and its role in the very long history of intricate Balkan unifications and divisions can be adequately assessed only if it is borne in mind that it is much older than either Milosevic or Karadzic.
Although big words for attaining politicial goals that are not wholly noble have been misused in both Serbian and Greek politics, traditionally close ties between the two countries are in fact historically founded. In addition to their common religion (Orthodox) they have important historical dates of crucial battles and numerous victims in common, from those at the time of resisting Turkish domination in the first half of the 19th century, to the brotherhood in arms in both big world wars. There are, in short, historical recollections, emotions and traditions which are reflected in life as a consciousness of more or less, congenial aspirations and interests on both sides.
Nevertheless, it should be borne in mind that this historical medal has its other, for present day ties between Belgrade and Athens, perhaps decisive dimension. Dependant, from times immemorial,in the first place on the relationships, conflicts or the settling of disputes with third parties, particularly in inter-Balkan relations, these ties have in more recent times come, most frequently, to revolve round Macedonia. Therefore, once again round a third, controversial power, depending on the internal circumstances and needs of Greece on the one, and Serbia on the other side. The key element in their mutual relationship has been and remains to be the "Macedonian issue".
While so called second ("Tito's") Yugoslavia was in existence, that particular issue was,in spite of the generally good and even allied relations, quite frequently the stumbling block in political confrontatirons that at times became even irascible.Defending the Macedonian nation as a sovereign member of the former federation, official Belgrade of that time frequently had to " walk on thin ice." It had to balance between anti-Macedonian aspirations of Athens on one, and national (at times even nationalististic) aggravations of Skoplje on the other hand.
The disintegration of former Yugoslavia brought about major changes. In the place of the former, common Yugoslav-Greek border, there is a new and independent state now between Athens and Belgrade, Macedonia.It goes without saying that the common Greek-Serbian interest did not thereby disappear. What has substantially changed in the process, is, so to speak, its political substance. It has changed to such an extent, that at present the anti-Macedonian factor has become the basic link in the connection between Athens and Belgrade. Hence the possibility that cannot be excluded: the renewed proposal of a, for the time being at least, completely theoretical project on a Greek-Serbian confederation, seems to imply that Macedonia too would be "drowned" into it, namely that its independence would become unsustainable in the shadow of such a regrouping in the Balkans.
The coming of age of independent Macedonia in any case raised both Belgrade and Athens on their feet. The difference is perhaps only in the tactical considerations in voicing their mutual discontent. The Greeks met with hostility Macedonia's independence as a state, with the risk of turning against themselves almost the whole, both Western and Eastern words. Serbian policy has been and has remained rhetorically more moderate. Most probably due to its more narrow room for manoeuvre, considering that the greater part of the external world had turned its back upon it earlier, charging it with the greatest responsibility for the Yugoslav war nightmare.
However the diplomatic cautiousness of official Belgrade could hardly conceal the evident unreadiness of both the Serbian Government and (even more) the ultra-nationalistic opposition, to reconcile themselves to the existence of independent Macedonia. And, in addition, there are those for whom Macedonia even after its international recognition and decision of the United Nations to deploy along its borders a few hundred "Blue Helmets" (mostly Americans) still exists only as "Southern Serbia."
This variant of nationalistic, hegemonistic nostalgia is in any case supported by psuedo-sociological analyses based on statistics according to which Macedonians will soon become a minority in their own state due to the ever greater ethnic disbalance in favour of the Albanian population. And that will sooner or later result in disorder, namely, in the disintegration of Macedonia according to the theory whose aim is to prove that only national, ethnically more or less clean states have a future in the Balkans.
It nevertheless seems that both Belgrade and Athens are pushing aside such forecasts. Certainly in fear of unwanted international consequences that can be brought about by explicit pressures on Macedonia, such as the decision made by Papandreou's Government to close the Tessaloniki port. On the other hand it is evident that official Serbian policy, at least the one that can be heard in public, is in no hurry to join in the exertion of such pressures. On the contrary. One get's the impression as though it was quitely attempting to keep its distance even if in a roundabout way.There are reasons for that: Athen's decision, such as the one on the closing of the Tessaloniki port for trading Macedonian goods, can only be detrimental to Serbia.
Such and similar increasingly visible discrepancies, could, as hoped for by only a small number of optimists for the time being, encourage both Athens and Belgrade to think carefully about the price they would have to pay for their anti-Macedonian solidarity. It is not very probable that the policy pursued by Serbia, which under the burden of international isolation, sees in Greece just about the only isle of hope, will experience any spectacular turns. However, the position taken by Greek diplomacy could well be included in the list of reasons it should seriously think over the appropriateness of the strategy it has lead to date.
Although it strives to prove that it is doing the most it possibly can for the Serbs, Athens is evidently doing nothing that could threaten its own interests. Warning evidence of that was recently given by a high Greek official, the Minister for European Affairs, Mr. Papalagos. Tongue-lashing at "Skoplje", as Macedonia is called in Athens, among other things he justified the blocking of the port in Tessaloniki as an act in line with the sanctions imposed against Serbia. Namely, he accused the Macedonians that "they were clandestinely selling three quarters of the oil they were importing through Tessaloniki to the Serbs, violating thereby the embargo of the United Nations ..." (AIM)