Balkans and Neighbors


The Balkans have had their borders changed so many times over the centuries that many of the present and emerging borders will continue to divide ethnic groups even as migration and warfare scatter many other ethnic groups throughout the region. The Balkans are spiderwebs of conflicting ethnic groups and historic claims.

Untangling these to the satisfaction of all is a pleasant fantasy that will never be reality. The best that can be expected is a shaky peace that will ultimately be made permanent when the ethnic ties and claims are forgotten. This section briefly explores some of the oustanding territorial claims and counterclaims of the Balkan nations and their neighbors. Although few of these claims are actual government policies, all represent the aspirations of nationalists within the region. Given the strengths of nationalist movements in the Balkans, these claims will be potential sources for future conflicts in the region.

Albania: Albania has shakily started on the road to reform after a half-century of Communist rule. In 1990, violent political demonstrations in Tirane permitted President Ramiz Alia to remove several hardline communists from power and start on democratic reforms. This was not enough to prevent 57,000 Albanian “boat people” from leaving the country for Italy from 1990 to August 1991. Italy has since stepped up aid to Albania, but this was insufficient to permit the Albanian government to prevent tragic food riots in December 1991. The Albanian relationship with Yugoslavia/Serbia is difficult as the latter is Albania’s major trading partner and Albania does not want to criticize Yugoslavia too harshly. However, Albanians are greatly angered by the rough treatment of ethnic Albanians living in Kosovo and Macedonia by the Serbian-dominated Yugoslav government. Albanian minorities in Macedonia/Illiridia and Kosovo have long been agitiating for union with “Greater Albania” and have received political support from Albania.

Austria: Austria is presently suffering from a slow resurgence of neo-Nazi sentiment spearheaded by the Freedom Party (FPO), which made gains in the November 1991 regional elections on a platform of anti-immigration. The Austrians have also been flooded with Croatian refugees fleeing the fighting in their home state. Austrian territorial ambitions go back to the Hapsburghs and encompass all of Slovenia and parts of Italy surrounding Trieste, although none of these ambitions are likely to be fulfilled in the forseeable future.

Bulgaria: Bulgaria has historical claims to the whole of Macedonia, although at present Bulgarians are not pressing such claims, preferring instead to keep the Balkans stable. Bulgaria has demanded of Macedonia that the latter surrender any claims to Bulgarian Macedonian provinces as a condition for recognition. In addition, Bulgarians would like to obtain western Thrace from Greece, but a present mutual defence pact with Greece against Turkey and potentially Macedonia would preclude this. Bulgaria also has a substantial Turkish population within its borders and this has caused ethnic strife and anti-Turk rioting between Bulgarian and Turkish populations, who have a mutual disgust for each other. The Bulgarian Communist government pursued its own anti-Turkish pogrom from 1984 to 1989, causing 300,000 Bulgarian Turks to flee to Turkey.

Croatia: Croatian nationalists have already made moves to exercise their claims to Bosnia, and if possible, they would like to have all of the former Yugoslav coast from Montenegro to Trieste.

Greece: Greece has had a running feud with Turkey for more than a century, a feud which goes back to Ottoman domination of the Balkans, and the Greco-Turk war of 1919-1922. Greece, quite simply, covets Thrace out to Constantinople, Ionia to the Dardanelles, and ”enosis” with Crete. From the Balkans, Greece would like parts of southern Albania known as Nothern Epirus and several Aegean islands. Also, Greece has been quite vocal in preventing European Community recognition of Macedonia until the latter changes its name to the Vardar Republic, presumably to forestall any Macedonian claims on Greek Salonikan territory, but also to legitimize its own claims to the whole of Macedonia.

Hungary: The Hungarian people have scattered throughout much of the Balkans and have not been treated well in the lands in which they now live. Although the government of Hungary is not interested in irredentism, Hungarian minorities in foreign lands could rise to assert their ethnicity and demand assistance from Budapest. The Hungarians in Transylvania were oppressed by Romanian “de-Maygarisation” programs, possibly as revenge for the “Maygarization of the Vlachs” practiced when Hungary ruled Transylvania. Currently, the Hungarian Transylvanians, who helped to start the 1989 revolution against Ceausescu are petitioning for their own cultural identity, a sore point between Hungary and Romania. Other Hungarians exist in concentrations in Vojvodina in northern Serbia, and the future of these people under Serbian rule has yet to be determined.

Iran and the Middle East: The tribulations of a Muslim majority in Bosnia-Hercegovina prompted Iranian spiritual leader Ali Khameni to call on all Islamic nations to assist Bosnia-Hercegovina to become an Islamic state in Europe. In August 1992, the United Nations was under pressure from several Islamic nations to provide military assistance to Bosnia-Hercegovina. The Islamic nations of the Middle East have little political interest in a distant European region fighting for independence, but the religious ties have already been tenuously used as a political hammer to increase the international influence of these nations.

Israel: Israel may offer humanitarian aid to Jews within former Yugoslavia as they did for former Soviet and Ethiopian Jews, but otherwise, Israel has no interest in the region.

Italy: Italy has no territorial claims on the Balkans, other than the Dalmatian coast of Croatia. Italy at present is content to accept its role as Balkan economic and spiritual savior, a role it filled by accepting many Albanian refugees during the summer exodus of 1991. Acting as savior would also give Italy economic dominance over the region.

Macedonia/Vardar Republic: One of the dreams of former Yugoslav leader Josef “Tito” Broz was to create a “Greater Macedonia” incorporating the traditional regions of Macedonia which were under the dominion of Bulgaria and Greece. Much of the current tension between Bulgaria, Greece, and Macedonia over Macedonia’s name is based in Bulgarian and Greek fears that Macedonia may try to press its claims to “Greater Macedonia.” The independence of Macedonia in January 1992 angered Greece, which believed that the very name of Macedonia indicated a desire to press territorial claims to Salonika (Greek Macedonia). Even Bulgaria, which recognized Macedonian independence early on had concerns about territorial claims on its Macedonian provinces. These two nations have been quite vocal in preventing Macedonia from achieving international recognition, demanding that Macedonia change its name to the Vardar republic. Also, Albanikos within Macedonia had been agitating for independence and in April declared the independent republic of Iliridia in northwest Macedonia.

Romania: Romania is still pulling itself out of the tomb dug by Ceausescu and is dealing with rumors of a “false revolution” which installed anti-Ceausescu communists in power as the National Salvation Front. Presently, Romanian territorial claims encompass the former Soviet republic of Moldova, which used to be Romanian Bessarabia.

Russia and the Ukraine: The new Commonwealth of Independent States remains troubled by internal disputes and an economic nightmare left behind by the previous communist governments and its focus is on rebuilding its political and economic integri­ty. Its present concern with the Balkans centres on Romania and Moldova. Moldova, as stated above, used to be Romanian Bessarabia, but was ceded to the Soviet Union in 1940. Moldova is heavily populated with Vlach descendants who have been agitating for unification with Romania. This has upset the Russians and Ukranians living in the region, who have formed the self-proclaimed Dnestr Republic. Several skirmishes occurred between Moldovans and Dnestrians in early 1992, and peace negotiations between Russian, Ukranian, Moldovan, and Romanian diplomats have been unable to reach a peaceful resolution. More on the battles in the Dnestr republic can be found in the Red Embers Scenario Pack, which covers conflicts in the Commonwealth of Independent States and former Soviet republics. Another possible area of concern is the Black Sea Fleet and other disputes between Russia and the Ukraine. If the Russian and Ukranian governments can finally settle the debate over title to the Black Sea Fleet, then there may be impacts on the other Black Sea nations like Bulgaria, Romania, and Turkey. Also, the Ukranians may turn towards the Balkans to assist their “Fellow Slavs” should such assistance be required. In fact, Ukranians have been part of the UN peacekeepers stationed in Sarajevo since August 1992.

Serbia: In the quest for Serboslavia, or Greater Serbia, Serbian nationalists have claimed Vojvodina, Kosovo, much of Croatia, all of Bosnia-Hercegovina, and bits and pieces from their Balkan neighbors, such as the Baranya region of Hungary, the Serb-dominated regions of Romania, and Independent, Bulgarian, and Greek Macedonia. At present, Serbs have their hands full trying to keep the Federated Republic of Yugoslavia together.

Slovenia: Slovenian nationalists would like to claim Trieste, as heirs of an outstanding Yugoslav claim to the area. Also, Slovenians have historical claims to the Carinthian region of Austria.

Turkey: Historically a major ruler of the Balkans, Turkey presently has its own problems with Kurdish insurgency, border and water rights arguments with Syria and Iraq, aggravating squabbles with petulant Greece, concerns about Turkish minorities in Bulgaria, rising power of Islamic fundamentalists, and Armenian ASALA terrorists. It is quite a list of problems. Only the problems with Greece, Bulgaria, and Armenia could directly impact the Balkans, although these nations might become adventurous if Turkey’s attention were diverted to fighting Kurds, Syrians, or Iraqis. Greek and Bulgarian claims against Turkey have already been examined. Armenian claims go back to Ottoman military operations in Armenia from 1915 to 1923, where Armenians claimed Ottoman forces engaged in genocide, killing between 600,000 and 1 million Armenians. The Turks claim the deaths were incidental to the fighting, citing their own casualties of 2 million Turks, and the deaths were not part of a genocide program. The Armenian Secret Army for the Liberation of Armenia (ASALA) and other terrorist groups have been assassinating Turkish politicians since 1975 over the Armenian genocide.


Tags: , , , , , ,

Comments are closed.