Global Analysis from the European Perspective. Preparing for the world of tomorrow

The Balkans

The Balkans, similarly to the Iberian Peninsula, have been the place where Muslims have made inroads into the European continent; the region has often been a scenery for many hostilities between both the local small powers and the external large players. In the 20 century alone the region saw two wars of 1912-1913, two world wars (with the first being triggered here) and numerous civil armed conflicts among the republics of former Yugoslavia.

Broadly, the Balkans can be divided into Eastern (Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, a small chunk of Turkey this side the Bosporus), Western (territories occupied once by Yugoslavia) and Southern (Greece).

Ethnically, the Balkans is home to Slavic (Slovenians, Croats, Serbs, Montenegrins, Bosnians, Macedonians, Bulgarians) and non-Slavic peoples (Hungarians, Romanians, Albanians, Greeks and Turks). In terms of religion (the fact that determines to which civilisation model a particular nation belongs), the inhabitants are either Muslim (most of Albanians, some Bosnians, Turks) or Christian of either the Catholic (Slovenians, Croats, Hungarians, a sizable part of Albanians, especially in the north of the country) and Orthodox (Romanians, Bulgarians, Serbs, Bosnians, Montenegrins, Macedonians, Greeks) creeds. Notice in passing that not all Slavs are Orthodox Christian (some are Catholic, some are Muslim) and that Orthodox Christianity is the creed of non-Slavic Greeks and Romanians.

The three great historical influences were two European and one Asian powers. The former were the Germans either of the Hapsburg and then Austria-Hungary monarchy, followed by Germany, and Russia; the latter was the Ottoman Empire or its descendant: Turkey. It was in the Middle Ages that Hungary began to rule Croatia and north-western parts of today’s Romania. The German Habsburgs dynasty gradually expanded to control Hungary with the latter’s territorial gains as well as making military or diplomatic conquests of its own, extending its rule by incorporating Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1908. It was the German house of Hohenzollern, which provided monarchs to the nascent forms of statehood of Greece, Bulgaria and Romania. The Russian Empire rendered significant aid to Greece and then to Serbia and Bulgaria in the respective nations’ wars of independence from the Ottoman Empire. Turkey may have withdrawn from the region, but it maintained close ties to the German Empire and the Third Reich and left behind a numerically significant Muslim population. Soviet Russia continued to be interested in the Balkans and gained control over most of it after the Second World War.

China, a fourth external player, has arrived on the scene in the latter half of the 20 century, first as a remote political ally of Albania, a communist country that severed the ties with the European socialist countries, members of the Comecon (The Council for Mutual Economic Assistance, an east European counterpart to the EEC) and the Warsaw Pact, and as a remote ally of Romania, which under its communist leader Nicolae Ceausescu attempted to pursue a policy independent of Moscow’s dictate, though remaining both in the Comecon and the military alliance. After the years of inactivity in this region caused by the collapse of the Soviet Union, during the presidency of Boris Yeltsin, Russia is trying to rebuild its position here and so is China. United States is the latest arrival. It couldn’t be absent from the Balkans as it is waging war against Russia everywhere in the world. American involvement in the Yugoslav wars paid back handsomely: the region for the most part has been placed under Washington’s influence and provides a convenient military foothold in this part of the world. One needs to think about Camp Bondsteel in Kosovo, one of the greatest American military bases.

The ethnic and religious components plus historical heritage (i.e. conquests, migrations and resettlement) have created a number of fifth columns or Trojan horses that are always ready to be exploited by the powers that be or to act on their own due to implacable historical laws. These Trojan horses include:
(i) Albanians in Kosovo and Macedonia. Yugoslavia’s communists, just as their present-day counterparts, EU officials, were nationality-blind and so happily let Albanians relocate from their      country to Kosovo in the naive hope that they would assimilate and integrate and gratefully work towards the benefit of their adopted socialist fatherland. Reality was very far from this fairy-tale assumption and the Serbs had a first-hand experience what it means to be host to aliens. Soon enough, Albanians revolted while quite a number of them streamed to neighbouring Macedonia, where, too, they began to demand every greater autonomy;
(ii) Serbs in Bosnia and Herzegovina. They live mainly in the so called Republika Srpska, just across the border with Serbia, separated from their compatriots by the whim of the Western powers and forced to live in an artificial state within the state;
(iii) Croats in Bosnia and Herzegovina, who cooperate here with Muslim Bosniaks against Serbs;
(iv) Turks in Bulgaria, where they constitute a sizable minority, and generally
(v) Muslims in the Western Balkans. Apart from them
(vi) Hungarians in Transylvania, Romania’s north-western province along with Hungarians in Vojvodina (northern Serbia) and Slovakia.

Talking about fifths columns, it might also be said that Serbia, even if formally integrated with NATO and the European Union, may serve such a role for Moscow; similarly Bosnia and Herzegovina my be used like that by Ankara. Religion-blind EU high-ranking officials will fall an easy prey to such external machinations.

Interestingly enough, just as Serbs are split into two political entities (Serbia, an independent state and the aforementioned Republika Srpska, an autonomous region in a nominally independent Bosnia and Herzegovina), so are Romanians who live in Romania proper and Moldova, a separate and independent state (with a sizable Russian minority in the east) torn away from Romania in 1940 and then in 1944 and turned into a soviet republic within the USSR. Bucharest sets its sights on regaining its historical province.

As may be expected, historical heritage is one of the corner stones of the political ideology pursued by particular countries. Most of the main local players would gladly see their territories expanded or, to put it better, would like to have some or all of the provinces that were lost at a time be recovered. Hence we have such political notions as the Crown of Saint Stephen (greater Hungary, including Transylvania, Croatia and parts or all of Slovakia,), the concepts of Greater Croatia and Greater Serbia (each one covering more or less the territories of former Yugoslavia), Greater Albania (which would include Kosovo and much of Macedonia) or greater Bulgaria (incorporating Macedonia and having access to the Mediterranean through the strip of Greek territory, which by the way it had for a year as a result of the first Balkan War).

Enlargement of territory or re-conquest of lost regions and unification of the artificially divided nations are, to a smaller or larger extent, the long-term political targets of respective capitals, targets that are kept on the back burner to be activated when an opportunity presents itself.

The external powers use the following tactics in the Balkans:
(i) they divide and rule. Yugoslavia’s dismemberment is a prime example;
(ii) they pander to unrealistic wishes of the nations (welfare, economic development), applying the stick-and-carrot policy: obey and you will join the EU, disobey, and you’ll be left out;
(iii) they capture the countries’ elites by bribery and flattery, a very effective tool by means of which the ruling classes of Montenegro, Macedonia, Bulgaria and partly of Serbia are pro-Western, running afoul of the wishes and feelings of their nations;
(iv) they exert various kinds of pressure ranging from economic (Greece), to US/EU engineered ‘refugee crisis’ (the Balkan route), to ‘colour revolutions’ (Macedonia, Serbia), to activating fifth columns (as mentioned above), to military and economic encirclement (Serbia), to eventually bombing into submission (Yugoslavia, Serbia).

The local elites face a choice between a unipolar world of EU/US/NATO or a multi-polar world that includes Russia and possibly China.

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