Greece Pursues Balkan 'Arc of Stability'; New EU States Seen as First Step

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Byline: Andrew Borowiec, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

NICOSIA, Cyprus - Greece is forging closer links with Bulgaria and Romania in an effort to prevent further fragmentation in the region. "Together, we can form an arc of stability in southeastern Europe," is the Greek foreign policy mantra.

Athens considers itself the linchpin of stability in one of Europe's most volatile areas. With Bulgaria and Romania, which joined the European Union two weeks ago, it hopes to exercise a positive influence on the rest of the peninsula.

Yet "the awakened Balkan ghosts," as one official described it, continues to haunt the region.

Immediate attention has focused on parliamentary elections in Serbia this Sunday, to be followed by a delayed U.N. report on the future status of Kosovo province.

Serbian President Boris Tadic suggested further delay until a new government is formed in Belgrade. At the same time, Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica has asked U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon for support to block Kosovo's independence.

Serbia insists it will block any moves toward independence by Kosovo's ethnic Albanian majority, backed by neighboring Albania. To Serbs, Kosovo is part of their heartland and history.

To the United Nations, which has administered the province for seven years at a cost of $1.3 billion, Kosovo is the last piece of the Balkan puzzle after the disintegration of the Yugoslav federation.

Stopping Balkanization

Greece fears that putting this last piece of the puzzle in place could trigger events difficult to control and contain.

The United Nations has been warning Kosovo's Albanians against declaring independence or taking any other unilateral action that might provoke a violent reaction from Serbs.

Yet Kosovar Prime Minister Agim Ceku, an ethnic Albanian, said his government might declare independence if the United Nations does not grant it. "We will not show signs of exhaustion, nervousness or distrust," he said. "We will maintain calm and stability."

Greeks warn against complacency.

"Part of Kosovo is likely to secede even before Kosovo itself becomes independent of Serbia," said political analyst G.G. de Lastic. "It is a continuing challenge to Greece as states that emerged from the dissolution of Yugoslavia continue to break up into smaller entities."

Closer ties between Greece and the two new EU members are part of the effort to prevent "Balkanization" the term used by diplomats since World War I to describe the situation on the peninsula, mainly in what used to be Yugoslavia.

The Yugoslav mosaic of six republics and two autonomous regions began to collapse barely 10 years after the death of Josip Broz Tito, founder of a unique system that tried to combine the pragmatism of the market economy with some aspects of socialism.

Nationalism, held in check by Mr. Tito's ubiquitous secret police, exploded with a vengeance, burying the official slogan of "unity and brotherhood" as republics seceded from the federation one by one.

Horror of civil war swept much of the disintegrating country. With slaughter, torture and massacres of civilians on a scale unseen in Europe for decades, Yugoslavia became Balkanized, which dictionaries describe as "breaking into small, mutually hostile political units."

Greece now hopes to play a key role in sparing the peninsula further Balkanization.

EU challenges

EU expansion toward the Black Sea through the accession of Bulgaria and Romania has put a new challenge before Athens, particularly with the components of former Yugoslavia clamoring for EU membership. …