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Τhe Balkans are somehow lost in the transition

Στις 5 Νοεμβρίου ήμουν ανάμεσα στους προσκεκλημένους Έλληνες ακαδημαϊκούς στη συνάντηση των μελών της Κοινοβουλευτικής Συνέλευσης του ΝΑΤΟ. Παρακάτω μπορείτε να διαβάσετε την ομιλία μου προς τα μέλη της Συνέλευσης.

Κουσκουβέλης Βουλή ΝΑΤΟ


Ladies and gentlemen,
My topic is "A Greek perspective on security challenges in the Balkans". Obviously is the perspective of a Greek scholar, and not of the government or any other institution of this country.

My main thesis is that, twenty five years after the end of the Cold War, the Balkans are somehow lost in the transition and face several security challenges.

I will start with a brief account of what has happened in the last twenty five years, and, then, I will list ten possible security threats for the region.

The reality of the post-Cold War era was hard and caused changes in the region - some of which were extremely painful. The collapse of communism in neighbouring countries and the opening of borders led to the first wave of about 600.000 economic immigrants in Greece, with obvious economic, political and social consequences.

Since 1991, a decade of wars has started in the former Yugoslavia: in Croatia (1992-1993), in Bosnia and Herzegovina (1993-1996), in Kosovo (1999-2000). To these wars, one should add two major crises, almost civil wars, the first in Albania (1997), and, the second, in FYROM, to which Greece assumed a particularly stabilizing role.

However, Greece and especially my region, the region of Macedonia, were negatively affected by these events. Former Yugoslavia was the land access to the rest of Europe that was lost for about a decade, leading to the rise of transport costs for Greek products, and to the consequent loss of markets.
A result of these changes was the appearance of new states, one of which, the FYROM, in the northern borders of Greece, claiming not just a name, but also land, and a great part of Hellenic history and culture. This dispute remains unsolved, due basically to irredentist claims against Greece, and to the lack of willingness to compromise from the government of Skopje.

During the same period, Bulgaria and Romania went through their own hardships, and their economic and political restructuring.. Ultimately, the two countries joined all Western institutions and, in 2007, they have joined the EU.
Greece has thus acquired for the first time land borders with the EU, and this offers a sense of security for the international transports sector. A feeling of security has been also created for the Greek investments in the two countries, which, as you may know, are important. Over time and progressively, new investment opportunities are created in areas such as education, culture, tourism, new technologies.

Without forgetting the beneficial for the region accession to the EU of Slovenia and most recently of Croatia, Bulgaria's and Romania's EU membership contributed to a more effective cooperation in areas of "low" politics, such as the fight against crime, immigration, environment, energy, transports, etc.
Of particular importance is the increase in the free movement and cross border installation of citizens. Something similar to the free movement of citizens is happening in the world of businesses. The development of regions across the border has already begun, because of the free movement, leading to further cross border cooperation.

Furthermore, Greece and the region are now benefiting of an East-West highway connection (via Egnatia, from the Ionian Sea to Turkey) and the whole region of Macedonia will benefit from the construction of the Trans Adriatic Pipeline (TAP), transferring natural gas from Azerbaijan all the way through Turkey, Greece, and Albania, to Italy. The improvement of the railway linking Thessaloniki with Skopje, Sofia and Constantinople will benefit great the countries linked.

Yet, there are several threats to the security of the region, resulting from the past and present causes. I prepared and present you a list of ten:

1. Interstate disputes resulting out of revisionism and ultra-nationalism.

2. Inter-ethnic tensions

3. Corruption

4. Organized crime

5. Religious radicalism

6. Demographic pressures and imbalances

7. Related to demographic imbalances are the emigration and immigration pressures

8. Environmental issues

9. Poor economic performance
Based on 2013 data, the following may be noted:
• Although their real GDP growth rates (on average) were higher during the last decade than the respective in the EU(28), they continue to be the poorest in terms of GDP per capita (with the exception of Greece), which remains less than half of EU(28).
• They are characterized by relatively higher inlfation rates (exception: disinflation in Greece and in Bosnia & Herzegovina).
• Unemployment rates are double on average than the respective in EU(28) countries.
• Nominal monthly wages in FYROM, Bulgaria, and Romania are less than 200 Euros/month, when the average in the Balkan region is around 300, and in Greece around 700 Euros/month.

10. International Environment
The precarious stability of the region was, and is still threatened by conflicts in Europe's near abroad. The events of the so-called "Arab spring" in Northern Africa, the war in Libya, and the war in Syria and Iraq have produced, besides the huge toll of human and material destruction, an important flow of refugees towards Europe through Greece and Italy, often with tragic consequences. Moreover, to these events one should add the Ukrainian crisis, which provoked negative consequences in many sectors, particularly the economic, for all countries in the region.

Finally, and this will conclude my presentation, the stability and well being of the region depends from the behaviour and the involvement of outside the region states (from the Northeast, the East, and the Southeast).
In my opinion, any government inside and especially outside the region, before acting, should bear in mind that all Balkan states have opted for a European orientation, and the consequent stability and prosperity. Self restraint from all actors inside and outside the Balkans, inviolability of borders, deepening of democratic institutions, and economic development will benefit all peoples of the region.




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