Sunday, June 13, 2010

Thinking beyond the crisis? Greece and the Balkans

Recent developments – particularly a proposal to recognize Macedonia as the ‘Republic of Vardar Macedonia’ - have demonstrated that, contrary to the fears of some, the debt crisis will not impede Greece’s capacity for resolving regional disputes.

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By Spyros Sofos

Commentators have recently been expressing concerns over the impact that the Greek debt crisis will have on the ability of the country to play an active role in resolving a number of outstanding issues in its relationship with neighbouring countries. It is quite true that Greece may be distracted by the magnitude of the task of economic restructuring in hand. It is also not unreasonable to assume that the embattled PASOK government might not be willing to open any new fronts by taking foreign policy initiatives that its opponents may consider or represent as undermining the country’s national interests.
Against this backdrop last month’s visit to Athens by Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was greeted by a mixture of anxiety and curiosity. Anxiety as many predicted that the Greek government would be willing to compromise on key issues of disagreement between the two countries and curiosity as this was the first major post-crisis meeting between the Greek prime minister, George Papandreou and his Turkish counterpart. And although the visit did not resolve outstanding disputes – that was not part of the visit agenda in any case – it culminated in the establishment of closer cooperation structures between the two countries and a much improved atmosphere. But the relationship with Turkey is not the only one to watch. Greece has yet to decide what to do in the case of the recognition of the independence of Kosovo and, perhaps more importantly, has not managed to reach an agreement with neighbouring Macedonia regarding a mutually agreed and internationally recognized name for the latter.

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artwork by Una Jovanovic

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