12 October 2014

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Yannis Boutaris, Mayor of Thessaloniki

Sometimes you meet a person that is a force of nature. A person of convictions, with the modesty that comes from true charisma and the confidence that comes from not having to pretend. A person inspiring others by personal example, making words like engagement, citizenship and dignity shine in all their splendour. Somebody who makes you feel proud to belong to their generation. And who makes you wonder whether you are really doing enough yourself.

In recent weeks I felt this sense of awe working on old and new European dissidents. Meeting Khadija Ismayil and other human rights defenders from Azerbaijan, has this effect. So does rereading the writings of Havel, of the Russian Memorial generation of human rights defenders, of Adam Michnik and other Poles of his generation.

And so does meeting the mayor of Thessaloniki, Yannis Boutaris, to talk about what is possible in local politics at a moment of deep crisis. In a city shaped by decades of deep conservatism and fear of neighbours, from the Cold War to the Balkan wars of the 1990s and later. 72 years old, chain-smoking, with an ear-ring and tatoos, for decades a succesful entrepeneur, a recovered alcoholic, a long time civic and environmental activists, and now twice elected mayor of Greece’s second city.

I have come here this Sunday at the invitation of the Navarino network, a local civic organisation which has worked for a long time to open Thessaloniki to the world. I am to speak about the state of the Balkans in 2014, about false confidence and complacency.

I tell the tragic story of Soviet dissidents like Sergei Kovalev, who went to jail under Brezhnev, then became government human rights officials, and in 2014 face renewed pressure from their state. It is a tragic story with no happy end, with Russia like that fabled creature from Greek mythology, the Ouroboros: a snake that devours itself. Often history is like this. Too often.

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Ouroboros – societies sometimes resemble this ancient creature,

devouring themselves

 

I also speak about what Greece – and Thessaloniki – might do to prevent future vicious circles in the Balkans. In the end  I present the ESI proposal for how to address the name dispute with Macedonia.  (see in the annex of this report:  Vladimir and Estragon in Skopje. A fictional conversation on trust and standards and a plea on how to break a vicious circle) The only – encouraging – reaction I get from a big auditorium full of Thessaloniki dignitaries and young people is one comment: “Greece is ready to do this, do you think Skopje is ready?”

 

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Then I meet with Boutaris for an interview. This was already a rich and memorable Sunday. It only got better.

Boutaris explains the value of civic engagement, voluntarism and how he strives to make his city embrace a multiethnic past. He explains how even conservatives silently tell him that they approve of his open support for gay pride … though lack the courage to say so openly. He explains why opening to Turkey, Israel and Jews across the world is vital for his city, given its history. And why having a Holocaust museum (at a cost of an estimated 25 million Euro, the design has already been done) will be so important.

How he is happy to have a Durres Park in the city now, and hopes to build many more links with other Balkan cities. How reaching out to Izmir is vital – proposing to have “days of Izmir” in Thessaloniki, and “days of Thessaloniki” there. Why having a Muslim cemetary is the most obvious thing in a city like Thessaloniki. How “Turks are our bothers and Europeans are our partners.” And how, as a Vlach, he recognises the common regional heritage when he visits the village of his ancestors in today’s Republic of Macedonia near Krusevo.

He explains how it is possible to cut the public administration (from 5,000, when he came into office in 2011 to 3,500 today) and reduce the deficit, while moving towards green urbanism and a different traffic policy. How he is encouraged that the number of bicycle shops has gone from 2 to more than 20 in a few years. And how much remains to be done.  How he has worked to encourage budget flight connections and direct links by ferries to his city, with increasing success. How this has resulted in sharply rising numbers of foreign visitors.

How his political goal is to make people proud of this, their liberal and open city. With the new slogan “I love my city and adopt my neighbourhood.” How he hopes city employees will be able to walk in the streets and citizens will respect them for their honesty and competence.

Remember: this is Greece, the EU country in its deepest economic and social crisis in decades. This is the country where the self-proclaimed fascists of Golden Dawn won 16 percent in recent local elections in Athens. With a prime minister who made his name by fostering nationalism in the early 1990s. A country all too often described in the foreign press as a hopeless case, a patient at best, an ungrateful recipient of aid at worst.

But this is also now the Greece of Boutaris and the cosmopolitanism of the new Thessaloniki.

When he became mayor, he tells me, Thessaloniki had a number of big taboos, including Turkey and the Jewish history of the town (where Jews were the largest ethnic group until 1912 and the port was closed on the Sabbath). Not long ago the City Council declared Mark Mazower, author of the great book Salonica, symbolically a persona non grata – for having described the multiethnic past of the city. This was the time when the local bishop called on people not to vote for Boutaris.

Now Boutaris looks forward to the day when citizens of Thessaloniki will be proud of the history of their city, as described in Mazower’s book. The book ends with the observation, true for all of Europe:

“As small states integrate themselves in a wider world, and even the largest learn how much they need their neighbours’ help to tackle the problems that face them all, the stringently patrolled and narrow-minded conception of history which they once nurtured and which gave them a kind of justification starts to look less plausible and less necessary. Other futures may require other pasts.

The history of the nationalists is all about false continuities and convenient silences, the fictions necessary to tell the story of the rendez-vous of a chosen people with the land marked out for them by destiny. It is an odd and implausible version of the past …”

As Boutaris tells it, being open to the past and to others is simple good sense: “if you accept differences, life is better”. This explains his support for gay pride in this orthodox city, and how he sees attidues changing. He talks about this priorities for the second term: moving towards a green city, a city in which “rich people are proud to take public transport” instead of poor people required to have a car.

When we made the 2008 ESI film on Thessaloniki Boutaris was still in opposition. Now he has been twice elected. The first time by the narrrowest of margins (some 300 votes). The second time with a clear and strong majority and 58 percent. In some elections ever single vote matters. Civic engagement matters. Having convictions matters. And fighting for them for decades can bring results.

If Bosnia had just one mayor like this in one of its big cities, ideally young and full of eneregy, so that he or she could then go on to show what is possible: the country might be a different place If only Greece or Turkey had more independents, former entrepreneurs and social activists, entering politics like this.

Thessaloniki, thank you for the inspiration. It is great to be back.

 

PS: Some further reading:

Thessaloniki’s exemplary revival:

“The mayor’s greatest legacy, however, may be the city’s much-improved performance in tourism. However, his unconventional approach has made him some enemies among traditionalists. Between end-2010 and end-2013, Thessaloniki achieved 19% growth in tourist arrivals according to data from the Association of Greek Tourism Enterprises (SETE), compared with a decline of 13% for Athens over the same period.

To a great extent, this has been achieved through approaching a “traditional enemy” such as Turkey as a potential tourism market, leading to allegations that the mayor was “serving foreign interests”. Mr Boutaris is unapologetic about his bid to present Thessaloniki as a Balkan “melting pot”, stressing the city’s multi-ethnic history, a place where Greeks, Turks, Jews and Slavs lived together until the upheavals of the early 20th century, when the Turks left, the Greeks from Asia Minor arrived and the Jewish population was decimated in the Holocaust. The attraction of Thessaloniki to Turkish visitors stems from the fact that it is the birthplace of Kemal Ataturk, the founding father of the modern Turkish state. In addition, the Boutaris administration has made much of the fact that for centuries Thessaloniki had a large and vibrant Sephardic Jewish community. In broadening the city’s tourism profile, a previously rather claustrophobic city is starting to become a more open one, embracing its multicultural past.

The rebranding of Thessaloniki based on this new perception of its past has managed to increase the influx of visitors from Turkey and from Israel. Overnight stays at the city’s hotels increased during the past four years by 226% for Turks and 358% for Israelis, reaching 80,000 and 50,000, respectively, by the end of 2013. Coinciding with a period of deepening national economic crisis, the tourism revival has been welcome. The shift in public opinion in the city has been radical, and previous detractors now firmly support a similar rapprochement with all neighbouring countries … “

 

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Meeting the Mayor

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Presenting on the Balkans in 2014

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12 September 2013

What if?

In his wonderful book on Turkish history – The Young Turk Legacy And Nation Building - Dutch historian Eric J Zuercher has an intriguing chapter on “Turning Points and Missed Opportunitities in the Modern History of Turkey: Where Could Things Have Gone Differently?”. Here he discusses how Ottoman and later Turkey history might have developed if the wars of 1877 and 1912 had NOT taken place; if there had NOT been the Istanbul uprising of April 1909; if Kemal Ataturk had NOT established “an almost totalitarian grip” over the country in the 1920s; and if the transition to democracy after World War II had happened differently. And Zuercher concludes:

“it is a very useful exercise for us historians to remind ourselves that the historical developments with which we are all too familiar, should not be seen as inevitable … Thinking about what could have been makes us more sensitive to processes and contingencies that we too easily overlook when we already know how the story ends.”

It is indeed a useful exercise and I only regret that Zuercher stops his what if in the 1950s.

One of the most intriguing missed opportunities in Turkey’s modern history surely took place in the late 1970s, when Turkey decided not to follow Greece, Spain and Portugal and did not submit an application for full EU accession. Why did it not? Would it have succeeded?  Was it discouraged by EU member states or was this above all a result of its internal politics?

I have long been puzzled by this question; and so far I have found it difficult to find detailed accounts of what actually happened then. For now I only hope that Zuercher, or some other curious historian, will go and look in the diplomatic archives to tell us the full and real story.

Here are, for now, the outlines of this missed opportunity as I have pieced them together from different sources.

On 12 June 1975 Greece, having just emerged from military rule, submitted its application to the (then) European Economic Community (EEC). Negotiations started in July 1976. On 28 March 1977 Spain submitted its application. This was followed by Portugal in July that same year.

If Turkey had submitted an application at the time chances are that it would have been very difficult for the EEC to reject it while accepting Greece. While some EEC countries (including, not surprisingly, the France led by president Valery Giscard d’Estaing) did not believe that a Greek and Turkish application would necessarily be treated together, others apparently disagreed. Armagan Emre Cakir discusses evidence that some high level European politicians and officials travelled to Ankara and urged the government of the prime minister Bulent Ecevit in 1978 to apply. Ecevit was opposed; so was his deputy prime minister at the time, the Islamist Necemettin Erbakan. It seems that for Ecevit the EU was too capitalist; for Erbakan it was too much a “Christian club.”

There were even then those in Turkey who urged the country to be more proactive. The Turkish ambassador in Brussels, Tevfik Saracoglu, returned to Ankara in summer 1975 (after Greece had just applied) urging the prime minister Demirel, and party leaders Turkes and Erbakan to do the same. He left empty handed.

In May 1978, as the membership for Greece was finalized, Ecevit, instead of submitting a Turkish application, froze relations with the EEC.

But this was not the last chance. In 1980 the foreign minister of Turkey, Hayrettin Erkmen, told the government of Suleyman Demirel that Turkey should apply urgently. Erkmen failed. In fact, in July 1980 the Islamist Erbakan brought a motion against him into the parliament because of his idea to take Turkey into the EEC. This motion was supported by the left-wing Kemalist Bulent Ecevit. And so Erkmen was removed from office on 5 September 1980.

A week later, on 12 September, tanks rolled in streets of Ankara and Istanbul, as a military junta took control of the country. One of Turkey’s darkest periods was about to begin.

This is the rough outline of what must surely be regarded as one of the great missed opportunities of modern European history. I wonder if a Turkey on route to joining the EEC would have experienced the brutal coup in 1980 that finally and decisively separated its fate from that of other European Mediterranean countries with autocratic traditions. Greece joined the EU in 1981. Spain and Portugal followed in 1986. In 1989 the Berlin Wall came down and the division of Europe ended. During this time Turkey first adopted a military-inspired constitution, then fought a bitter counterinsurgency campaign against the PKK – while trying in vain to suppress all expressions of a separate Kurdish identity. Economically the gap between Turkey on the one hand and Spain, Portugal and Greece on the other became ever wider during the two decades that followed.

I hope this fascinating episode will one day soon be researched in depth. Unfortunately Hayretting Erkmen died in 1999, so it is no longer possible to interview him. Erbakan also died, as did Ecevit. And yet, there must be witnesses and documents that would allow a diligent historian to reconstruct the events that led to such a tragic denouement.

This also qualifies a claim sometimes still made by Turkish politicians that the EU has prevented them from joining the EU “for half a century”. For much of that period it appears Turkey’s biggest obstacle were the attitudes of Turkey’s leaders.

One also hopes that Turkey’s leaders do not repeat the mistakes of this time and miss further windows of opportunities. I could think of a few even now. This is, however, another story.

PS: If any readers know of any more detailed study of this period, in English , German or Turkish, please let me know at g.knaus@esiweb.org!

Filed under: Enlargement,Europe,Greece,Turkey — Gerald @ 8:14 pm
1 April 2013

One decade has been lost. What about the next one?

Op-ed by Gerald Knaus (for Koha Ditore)

 

In Athens, spring 2003

 

One decade ago, in spring 2003, the New York Times published an appeal by four Balkan leaders, the presidents of Croatia and Macedonia and the prime ministers of Albania and Serbia. Its title: “The EU and South-East Europe need each other.”[1] The occasion was a special Balkan meeting of the World Economic Forum in Athens where all these leaders also came together.

I was there too at the time, and I remember both the appeal and the atmosphere in Athens well. In fact, together with my friend Misha Glenny, I drafted it. There was a sense of urgency in the air, and of anticipation. Zoran Djindic, the prime minister of Serbia who had delivered Slobodan Milosevic to the Hague tribunal, had been assassinated by ultra-nationalist members of the Serbian security forces. Croatia had handed in its application to join the EU, the first Western Balkan state to do so. The host of the meeting, Greece, then the EU’s rotating president, pushed hard to get a European commitment to continued Balkan enlargement.

Shortly before the Athens gathering Boris Trajkovski, the president of Macedonia, invited me to draft an appeal that he planned to ask other leaders to co-sign. He knew that the region would receive a better hearing if it spoke with one voice. He was concerned. His own country had recently been on the verge of civil war. Serbia was on the edge, its ultranationalists growing in confidence. The future of Montenegro and Kosovo was not yet settled. Would the EU, following its 2004 enlargement to Central Europe – then just about to happen – get tired of further expansion? The Balkan leaders’ appeal warned: “Until the whole Southeastern Europe is safely integrated into the European Union, the job will not be complete. And until it is, Europe cannot feel secure about itself.”

One decade later, where do we stand? Today, when EU leaders talk about crises in South-East Europe they think of Athens not Skopje, of Nikosia, not Belgrade. Europe does not feel “secure about itself” but it is not the Western Balkans or the threat of renewed conflict that keeps EU leaders awake, literally, at one crisis summit after another.

Montenegro and Kosovo are independent states; the fear of armed conflict in the region has never appeared more distant. And yet, despite these important breakthroughs, it is hard not to regard the years since 2003 as a lost decade for the Balkans. Boris Trajkovski tragically died in an airplane crash in the Bosnian mountains, on his way to submit Macedonia’s own application for EU membership. His country has been stalled for years now by a Greek veto (a threat which did not appear real in 2003 in Athens). Serbia, ten years after the death of Djindic, has still not even opened EU accession talks. Albania is not an EU candidate yet. The Greek foreign minister in spring 2003, George Papandreou, became prime minister, only to be swept away by the Greek economic melt-down. 2003 was perhaps the last success of Greek diplomacy. At the European Union summit on the Balkans in Thessaloniki in summer EU leaders stated their “unequivocal support to the European perspective of the Western Balkan countries. The future of the Balkans is within the European Union.”[2] Croatia used the past decade, opened accession talks, closed them, and is today on the verge of accession. And yet, it is likely that ten years from now in 2023 Croatia will still be the only Balkan country inside the EU.

Rereading the Trajkovski appeal today highlights a further disappointment. It contained a specific proposal: to make EU regional and cohesion funding available to the region, so as to help it catch up economically, rather than fall further behind. The appeal warned that “the long-term stability of Southeastern Europe depends on the region’s economic health, but this does not mean the usual plea for more money … We are committed to opening our markets to our neighbors and to the EU. We have made huge progress in curbing inflation. And we are now greatly encouraged by the proposal by Greece … that the Thessaloniki summit meeting focus on the possibility of applying cohesion and development policies in our region.”

This was a hope that has not come true. The Western Balkans remains one of the poorest regions of Europe. In Serbia today less than half of the working-age population is actually employed. Unemployment levels in Macedonia and Bosnia are disastrously high. Foreign direct investment in the region, which had transformed the economic structures of Central European countries, has fallen to very low levels. And yet, if a focus on underdevelopment in the Balkans has never been more urgent, the EU’s confidence in its ability to bring about convergence and growth in its own periphery has rarely been lower. The 2003 Trajkovski appeal stated that “The EU has a remarkable record of triggering economic success by helping poorer regions — Ireland, Greece, Spain and Portugal have experienced veritable revolutions in social and economic development in the last 20 years.” It is hard to imagine anybody writing like this today, in the wake of bail-outs, bank failures and rapidly rising unemployment in Spain or Greece.

EU leaders no longer worry about war in the Balkans. They are no longer confident in their ability to bring about economic convergence. They fear the weakness of democratic institutions in Romania or Greece. They worry about inadequate regulation in Cyprus or Spain. Given this state of affairs: what arguments can sway them to open their institutions to accept even poorer states, with even weaker institutions, and even worse images among the public and political elites in Berlin, Paris or The Hague?

Perhaps Greece will prepare for its EU presidency in 2014 by changing its policies on Skopje and Pristina.  Perhaps Serbia and Kosovo will soon reach an agreement that allows both countries to move beyond their confrontation. Perhaps Albania will manage to hold free and fair elections this summer. Perhaps Bosnia’s leaders will soon be able to put together a credible application for EU accession. Perhaps Macedonia’s leaders will be capable of renewing the national consensus to focus on EU integration that existed in 2003. Perhaps politicians throughout the region will wake up late at night worrying about youth unemployment and the inadequacy of vocational training, about export opportunities and the best way to use scarce public resources for growth, rather than about building  statutes or wasting public money on prestige infrastructure of little proven economic benefit. And then, perhaps, a successor of Boris Trajkovski will invite all his regional counterparts to an informal meeting to seriously discuss what they might do together to correct the image of their region, driven by the recognition that the whole region has dropped out of the focus of the rest of Europe.

If Boris Trajkovski would be around today, and would propose drafting a new appeal for Balkan leaders to sign and publish, what could it say? Appeals are expected to end with proposals, a sense of hope, recommendations. But sometimes it is better to resist this temptation. To acknowledge just how steep the wall is that one has to climb. To recognise that before any new appeals to the EU a whole series of steps have to be taken by the region itself. To recognise that time matters; and that April 2013 is another crucial moment which Balkan leaders miss at their peril. I believe Trajkovski would have realised this. Will his successors?

Perhaps this is not a time for appeals at all, but for a blunt and honest recognition: a decade has been lost. The next might be as well. And it is not by formulating words on paper that this can be prevented.


13 December 2012

Macedonia and accession: how the arguments of supporters of early accession talks prevailed

As EU member states gathered last week to discuss Council Conclusions relating to Macedonia two camps of member states emerged with two versions of these conclusions. To understand whose arguments prevailed – and how to judge what happened – it is important to go beyond facile conclusions and take a closer look at both proposals.

On the one hand there was a majority of member states who favored very positive language. These states were hoping to encourage a proactive Commission to take the initiative and to prepare the ground to launch EU accession talks with Macedonia already in June 2013. They were  hoping that in the end both Greece and Bulgaria would agree that this was also in their interest … that this was truly an issue where all sides could win.

In this group’s draft of the Council Conclusions a concrete date – June 2013 – is given for the possible opening of accession negotiations. This version states that the Council examines further progress in Macedonia on the basis of a Commission report before June 2013. It asks the Commission to submit “in due time” (i.e. at its own discretion, meaning it could start work on it right away in early 2013) a proposal for a negotiations framework, to be ready by June. It also invites the Commission to begin the “analytical examination of the acquis” (screening) right away.

Here are the key paragraphs of this maximalist proposal, backed by most member states and the Commission last week:

3. The Council largely shares the Commission’s assessment that the political criteria continue to be sufficiently met and takes note of its recommendation that accession negotiations be opened with the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.

5. With a view to the possible opening of accession negotiations with the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia in June 2013, the Council will examine progress in the implementation of reforms in the context of the High Level Accession Dialogue, on the basis of a report to be presented by the Commission in the first half of 2013. The Commission is invited to submit in due time a proposal for a framework for negotiations with the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia in line with the European Council’s December 2006 conclusions and established practice, which also takes into account good neighbourly relations. Taking into account the new approach to accession negotiations as regards the chapters on the judiciary and fundamental rights, and justice, freedom and security, the Commission is also invited to carry out the process of analytical examination of the EU acquis on these chapters.

Faced with this France, backed by a much smaller number of other EU states, put a counter-proposal on the table late last week. This version assesses progress in Macedonia less positively (the Council no longer “largely” but only “broadly” shares the Commission’s positive assessment). The minimalist proposal removes any reference to any concrete date. At an unspecified future moment, the European council would once again have to decide and invite the commission to submit a proposal for a negotiations framework.  This would happen only “once all the conditions are met”, which is not explained. The minimalist version states that in order to start screening another Council decision would be needed to task the Commission to do so. For now the commission gets no mandate to do anything until further notice.

Here is the full text of the minimalist version:

3. The Council broadly shares the Commission’s assessment that the political criteria continue to be sufficiently met and takes note of its recommendation that accession negotiations be opened with the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.

5. Before opening accession negotiations with the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, a decision which will be considered in due time by the European Council, in line with established practice, the Council will continue to examine progress in the implementation of reforms including in the context of the High Level Accession Dialogue. Once all conditions are met, the European Council will invite the Commission to submit a proposal for a framework for negotiations with the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia in line with the European Council’s December 2006 conclusions and established practice, which also takes into account good neighbourly relations. Taking into account the new approach to accession negotiations as regards the chapters on the judiciary and fundamental rights, and justice, freedom and security, the European Council will also invite the Commission to carry out the process of analytical examination of the EU acquis on these chapters.

So what actually happened? In all EU negotiations there is usually a give and take. However, if one takes a look at the final text of the Council Conclusions one sees clearly that the maximalist proposal emerged largely victorious.

In the final text the following was agreed:

– the council “largely” (not “broadely”) shares the Commission’s positive view that Macedonia was ready to open talks (the maximalist version).

– The council tasks the Commission already now to produce a report “in spring 2013” “with a view to a possible decision of the European Council to open accession negotiations”.

–  The council commits that it will assess this report “during the next presidency”, i.e. before July 2013.

–  Provided that the assessment is positive, the Commission will be invited to submit “without delay” (i.e. as quickly as it can) a framework for negotiations.

–  Provided that the assessment is positive the Commission will be invited to start screening two chapters, i.e. before accession talks begin.

–  The Council even “takes note” that the Commission “will conduct all the necessary preparatory work in this respect” … which means that Commission can start preparing both the negotiations framework and screening right away.

Look at the finally agreed text of the conclusions and the answer whose arguments won the day is obvious:

40. The Council largely shares the Commission’s assessment that the political criteria continue to be sufficiently met and takes note of its recommendation that accession negotiations be opened with the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.

42. With a view to a possible decision of the European Council to open accession negotiations with the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, the Council will examine, on the basis of a report to be presented by the Commission in Spring 2013, implementation of reforms in the context of the HLAD, as well as steps taken to promote good neighbourly relations and to reach a negotiated and mutually accepted solution to the name issue under the auspices of the UN. In this perspective, the Council will assess the report during the next Presidency.  Provided that the assessment is positive, the Commission will be invited by the European Council to: (1) submit without delay a proposal for a framework for negotiations with the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, in line with the European Council’s December 2006 conclusions and established practice; (2) carry out the process of analytical examination of the EU acquis beginning with the chapters on the judiciary and fundamental rights, and justice, freedom and security. The Council takes note of the intention of the Commission to conduct all the necessary preparatory work in this respect.

The original plan of the Commission and of the member states who supported the maximalist version was to create a new momentum emerging from this Council. In this they succeeded.

–  The Commission can immediately begin to prepare its “spring report” which the Council will assess before July 2013.

–  The Commission can immediately begin to prepare for the analytical screening of two chapters and draft a proposal for negotiations.

–  Once the Council accepts a positive Commission report the Commission will submit the framework for negotiations “without delay”

One basic reality has obviously not changed: Greece will have to agree to the opening of accession talks. Expecting anything else was always unrealistic. The hopes of the friends of opening accession talks were to kick-start a process of finding a solution to the name issue in the first few months of 2013. Both supporters of opening talks soon and minimalists agreed on this paragraph without arguing:

41. As set out in the European Council conclusions of June 2008, maintaining good neighbourly relations, including a negotiated and mutually accepted solution to the name issue, under the auspices of the UN, remains essential. There is a need to bring the longstanding discussions on the name issue to a definitive conclusion without delay. The Council welcomes the momentum that has been generated by recent contacts/exchanges between the two parties, following the Greek proposal for a memorandum of understanding. The Council is, moreover, encouraged by recent contacts with the UN mediator.

The important point is this: if there is a positive European commission report following enough movement on the name issue and on good neighbourly relations all preparations will have been  made to launch accession talks in 2013 without delay.

Clearly the pressure has increased further for a serious effort to find a breakthrough in early 2013. This is pressure on everyone: on the Commission, on interested EU member states, but above all on Skopje and Athens. The fact that Greece accepted these conclusions, however, is another small positive sign.

The European Commission’s hope from the very beginning was to energize the search for a mutually agreed solution to the name issue.  The commission and most member states wanted a date in the conclusions when accession talks would possibly be opened. Now there are two dates in the conclusions: a report by the commission on progress by “spring” (April) with a view to start accession talks; and a Council assessment of this “before the next presidency” (before July).

An additional paragraph was also inserted upon the initiative of Bulgaria:

In light of the overall importance of maintaining good neighbourly relations, the Council also notes the recent high level contacts between the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Bulgaria and looks forward to their translation into concrete actions and results.

This means: if there is an agreed solution on the name issue soon, and if there are ‘concrete actions and results’ from high level meetings with Bulgaria till April, the goal to start accession talks in 2013 “before the next presidency” or very early in it remains alive. These are one big and one (slightly) smaller if. But a focused effort by the Commission and by member states supportive of opening accession talks soon has prepared a more promising playing field for a breakthrough than there has been in a while. What is needed now is a serious and imaginative solution to the name dispute before the commission reports “in the spring”; a solution that allows both Athens and Skopje to unlock the current destructive stalemate in a manner that both governments can defend before their domestic constituencies.

The Council was a warm up exercise. Now the real game begins. Athens and Skopje face a prisoners dilemma: if neither side believes that a solution is possible, and acts on this, both will lose. If both sides take a calculated risk to take the search for a mutually acceptable solution seriously both can win.

By spring 2013 we will know the outcome … sooner rather than later.

Filed under: Enlargement,Greece,Macedonia — Gerald @ 3:04 am
30 November 2012

A few months ago I visited Macedonia to present EU diplomats, ambassadors, the Macedonian prime minister, the foreign minister and party leaders a slighly revised version of the ESI proposal for overcoming the stalemate in the name dispute between Macedonia and Greece.

I also presented this proposal once again in Brussels, Berlin  and in other EU capitals.  I gave everyone a paper copy of the revised proposal. Since then it has circulated among EU diplomats.

It would be foolish to be too optimistic that anything can help overcome such a complicated dispute. And yet, there are a number of reasons to be more optimistic this time than in a long while. I remain convinced also that nothing can be forced by outsiders on either party, not now, not later. It will take  a compromise that national leaders can present to their publics in both Skopje and Athens as a step forward for their side; and one where both sides retain their leverage until actual EU accession of Macedonia.

Then, earlier this month, the Macedonian weekly Gradjanski reported the following:

drawing on unnamed diplomats, reported that Brussels was working on a‘date for date’ strategy about the country in December: start of membership negotiations would be announced for next June with Skopje being obliged to deliver by then tangible results on good neighbourly relations (improved ties with Bulgaria and Greece, including essential reviving of the name negotiations). The sources stressed the importance in this context of a constructive response of Skopje to Greece’s memorandum, which would offer ideas, but also pointed at the government being reserved about the plan. The weekly also reported on an upgraded 2010 proposal by the European Stability Initiative that the name issue be resolved in the early stage of membership negotiations but the referendum on the solution take place at the end of the process, i.e. together with the referendum on EU membership. According to Gragjanski, the upgraded document, which is reportedly supported by an influential lobby group in Brussels, foresees for the new composite name to immediately replace the current reference and its wider use to enter into force together with EU accession. Constitutional changes are expected from Skopje in order to accept the new name for international use; the constitutional name will remain official name of the country in its official languages and the use of the adjective ‘Macedonian’ will not be called in question, says the proposal.”

I have since been asked by a number of people to share the new version of the proposal. This then is the latest version in full:

Breaking the Macedonian deadlock before the end of 2012

What is needed is a way forward that accepts the bottom lines for Athens and Skopje. This can be achieved through a constitutional amendment in Skopje that changes the name of the country with a geographic qualifier today: to replace Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia where the latter is currently in use, allowing Athens to support the start of EU accession talks and to sending an invitation to join NATO later this year or early next year, but which foresees that the change will enter into force permanently and erga omnes on the day Macedonia actually joins the EU.

Such a solution is possible if the following happens:

1. There is active mediation between both sides which focus solely on finding a compromise name for the country with a geographical modifier, dealing with the issues of RM NATO accession and the opening of EU
accession talks.

2. Greece and RM agree on a compromise name, XYZ, with a geographical modifier. This will immediately replace F.Y.R.O.M. wherever that is currently in use in international
relations.

3. Greece commits to allow RM to join NATO under this new provisional name XYZ and an invitation to join NATO is extended.

4. RM changes its constitution to say something like this:
“From the day the Republic of Macedonia joins the European Union the international name of the country will be XYZ, used erga omnes in all languages other than the official languages of the country.”
The promised referendum on EU accession at the end of the negotiation process becomes thereby de facto the real referendum on the name issue (there was no referendum for F.Y.R.O.M., and until accession the new name is used only in place of F.Y.R.O.M.).
Leaders in RM replace one name their citizens do not like (referring to a state that has disappeared decades ago, Yugoslavia) with another name they do not like, both used in the same way.

Neither side loses leverage in the future. If future Greek governments block EU accession of RM or make additional demands judged unacceptable in Skopje this would also delay the entering into force of the core provision of this compromise. Greece shows its EU partners that it remains actively in favor of Balkan enlargement. Greece also keeps its leverage until the very end of the accession process

Filed under: Balkans,Enlargement,Europe,Greece,Macedonia — Gerald @ 3:13 am
31 October 2010

I have spent the past month travelling through the Balkans (Skopje, Tirana, Pristina, Belgrade) and visiting Sweden, Bratislava and Chisinau. I presented on and drafted texts about a lot of different issues: debates in Greece and Macedonia about identities; debates in Turkey about Turkish Christians and their rights; debates in Germany about Islam and Turks; Swedish, Slovak and European debates on the future of Balkan and Turkish enlargement. In all these seemingly unrelated debates there was one common thread, however, always leading back to the question of what is at stake in the future of EU enlargement today: why enlargement matters.

For some time I have wondered whether the current discourse on the importance of South East European enlargement, its significance for the European project (and not just for the 20 some million people of the Western Balkans) has not become stale, unconvincing, full of wooden language and cliches.

If EU enlargement is to go ahead and not to turn into an agonizing technocratic exercise, in which very few people actually believe, a different narrative is needed. European leaders and thinkers have lost the vision of enlargement, and it is vital to recapture it (on the charge that this might be too elitist a way to think about this political project more later).

To try to explain this let me start from where I sit at this moment: in a cafe on the pier of Izmir, looking out at at the Aegean Sea and Mount Pagus.

Gerald Knaus

The Destruction of Smyrna

If you arrive today in Izmir, the leading city of Aegean Turkey with 2 million inhabitants, the standard guidebooks tell you little. To quote what I first read, arriving here three days ago: “despite a long and illustrious history, most of the city is relentlessly modern – even enthusiasts will concede that a couple of days here as a tourist are plenty”; this is a city “not entirely without interest” due to its natural setting and ethnological museum. No wonder most of the tourists who flock to the Aegean coast do not pause here on their way to Ephesus or the coastal resorts.

However, there is one way to make any visit to Izmir unforgetable. Chose a day like this Sunday, when sun sets gloriously over the mountains of the Bay of Izmir. Then pick up Giles Milton’s gripping account of the fate of this city in the early 20th century: Paradise Lost – Smyrna 1922 – The Destruction of Islam’s City of Tolerance.

One century ago Izmir, then known as Smyrna, boasted 11 Greek, 7 Turkish, 4 French and 5 Hebrew local daily newspapers; it had a Greek population of some 320,000, at least twice that of Athens at the time; it was famous for its large Jewish, Armenian, European and Turkish quarters; and it was reknown for a cosmopolitan business elite which included multilingual Levantine families (to find out more about who these go here: www.levantineheritage.com) ; a city which had

“long been celebrated as a beacon of tolerance – home to scores of nationalities with a shared outlook and intertwined lives. It was little wonder that the Americans living in the metropolis had named their colony Paradise; life here was remarkably free form prejudice and many found it ironic that they had to come to the Islamic world to find a place that had none of the bigotry so omnipresent at home.” (Giles Milton)

Even skeptics, of which even then there were many in Europe, were vulnerable to the appeal of Smyrna:

“Visiting European intellectuals were fascinated to observe such a racially mixed city at close quarters. When the Austrian savant, Charles de Scherzer, had visited Smyrna in 1874, he brought with him a most negative image of the Turks, yet he went away with all his preconceptions shattered. “In matters of religion”, he wrote, “they are – contrary to their reputation – the most tolerant people of the Orient.”

And yet, as we all know, one century ago cities like these – fin-de-siecle Czernowitz or Vilnius, Wraclaw, Vienna or Prague, late Ottoman Thessaloniki or Istanbul – lived under a dark shadow, cast by the dominant ideology of the age: romantic nationalism.

Early 20th century Smyrna was a majority-Christian city located in majority Muslim Anatolia, a land increasingly torn by religious and ethnic hatreds. At that time European leaders were about to “turn off the lights” for a century and allow a descent into collective madness. Those decisions were taken in Berlin, Vienna, Moscow and Paris, but they directly impacted on Istanbul, Athens and the people of Smyrna

In today’s terms Smyrna was “multicultural”: many communities living side by side, interacting, mingling, while preserving with some pride their own identities. It was multicultural at a moment in European history when the future belonged to nationalists, promising ethnic purity, the creation of nation states, and the need to assimilate or expel minorities, not to tolerate differences and live with them. It was an age which looked at pluralism with suspicion, where minorities were increasingly looking nervously to their mother countries for protection, and were simultaneously viewed by their co-citizens as fifth columns and security threats.

All of this was already clearly apparent in Anatolia at the time, where hatreds were fueled by the military defeats of the Ottomans in the Balkan wars in the early 20th century.

When the Ottomans lost control of all of Macedonia during the six-week long Balkan war in autumn 1912, a large number of Muslim refugees was expelled from the Balkans. This led the leaders of the Ottoman Empire to cast aside all ideas they might have had as late as 1908 about creating an Ottoman citizenship, and to embrace instead an increasingly racist and exclusivist vision of their state as a land of the Turks.

Anatolia’s hatreds erupted again during World War I. And they exploded into a savage war with the 1919 Greek invasion to annex Western Anatolia and the atrocities committed by the Greek invading army, dreaming of recreating a Byzantine Empire. This is a complex, but familiar story with one key theme: the idea that brutalities were permitted to destroy multiethnic life in order to create modern nation-states.

And thus it came that in September 1922 multicultural Smyrna literally went up in flames. 70 percent of the city burnt down following the reconquest by Turkish soldiers. The entire Christian population fled in terror. The destruction of Smyrna coincided with the uprooting of all of Anatolia’s Greek population.

And just as many of the Muslim refugees who had streamed into the Ottoman Empire following the Balkan wars had come from Macedonia, so many of Anatolia’s (and Smyrna’s) Greeks were directed to settle in Greek Macedonia following the tragic loss of their homeland.

More on that, and on the relationship between the debate on multicultural democracies and enlargement in Europe today, in my next entry.

Filed under: Balkans,Enlargement,Greece,Macedonia,Turkey — Gerald @ 7:06 pm
21 October 2010

US President Barack Obama speaking to the Turkish Parliament on 6 April 2009
US President Barack Obama speaking to the Turkish Parliament on 6 April 2009.
Photo: White House / Chuck Kennedy

On 5 April 2009 US president Barack Hussein Obama came to Ankara and delivered a speech in the Turkish Grand National Assembly. In addition to praising Turkey he also touched the issue of the position of Turkey’s Christians:

“Freedom of religion and expression lead to a strong and vibrant civil society that only strengthens the state, which is why steps like reopening Halki Seminary will send such an important signal inside Turkey and beyond. An enduring commitment to the rule of law is the only way to achieve the security that comes from justice for all people. Robust minority rights let societies benefit from the full measure of contributions from all citizens”


German President Christian Wulff speaking to the Turkish Parliament on 19 October 2010.
Photo: Bundespräsidialamt

On 19 October 2010 German President Christian Wulff came to Ankara for the first time ever to address the Grand National Assembly. He noted the importance of Turkey as a partner. He also touched the sensitive issue of religious freedom. First in the context of the German debate on integration: in Germany, he said, Muslims were able to practice their religion, pointing to the growing number of mosques being built there. Then he continued:

“At the same time, we expect that Christians in Muslim countries be given the same rights to practice their beliefs in public, to educate new religious leaders and to build churches.”

This is, in fact, one of the most baffling problems of Turkey today.

Given that Turkish politicians are (rightly) noting that the EU should not be discriminating against people or indeed countries just because they are Muslim it is all the more remarkable that so little is done to improve the position of Turkey’s Christians. This seems one area where it should be easy and painless to do the right thing for Turkey’s citizens without paying a big domestic political price. In addition this would be a real boost for Turkey’s international image: initiatives such as opening the Halki Seminary (near Istanbul) for Orthodox clergy, addressing the Patriarch by his official name (Ecumenical) or allowing the small groups of Christians the right to set up churches or register associations would be widely noted and praised outside the country. So why is this proving so hard?

One answer is “technical”. As Orhan Kemal Cengiz noted in an article this week:

“Due to amendments made within the framework of EU harmonization laws (2004-2008 amendments), restrictive provisions in the Law on Associations and the Law on Foundations were eliminated and non-Muslim groups achieved the means of obtaining legal personality, even if not in an entirely satisfactory form. Whereas there were previously verdicts indicating that foundations and associations could not be established on behalf of a congregation, today some foundations and a number of associations in various provinces established by non-Muslims are in operation. While this unquestionably represents a step forward, it cannot be said that these associations and foundations fully meet the needs of the congregations in question. Turkey’s laws and legal practices are in conflict with the main model in Europe, which is that religious communities and institutions are recognized as such and “allowed to register and obtain legal personality, without having to go [indirectly] by way of other institutional arrangements.””

“In its present state, the legislation that provides for non-Muslim groups to gain legal personality is confusing and open to potential abuse. In reality, granting non-Muslim groups the possibility of establishing an association limited to the purpose of “founding a church” creates ambiguity regarding the legal status of these associations.”

But the real explanation – and the reason behind these technical problems – is political.

In order to anwers this question ESI has set out to do extensive research over the past two years, which is going to be published soon on our website. We focused on two groups in particular, both tiny in terms of numbers: Turkey’s Orthodox Greek community (largely in Istanbul) and Turkey’s tiny Protestant community.

One of the most striking things in this matter (which will also be explored more in our report) is the position of the Turkish Armed Forces, supposed guardians of Turkish secularism. In May 2009 Emruhan Yalcin, a retired captain in the Armed Forces and graduate of the Turkish Land Forces Academy, who has spent some years in Germany in the 1990s, published a whole book on the Halki Theological School in May 2009. Its title: “The Last Crusader Fortress” (Son Hacli Kalesi). The final chapter of the book is as clear: “Why the Theological School on Heybeliada should not be opened”. For Yalcin the reopening of the Theological School “has to be evaluated as a political demand symbolizing Hellenic and Orthodox aspirations” Religious education of “men who are enemies of the Turks” will

“transform Istanbul under the roof of a cultural and tourism centre into a Vatican-style religious city with the status of a state, dividing Turkey and building on the divided parts, following the framework of the “Megali Idea”, a Great Byzantine Empire.”

This is not, however, an isolated view at all among men of Yalcin’s background. The view of the orthodox patriarchate or of protestant missionaries as a serious national security threat is taught to generations of conscripts in Turkey’s military as part of their ideological training. In March 2006 the editor of mass-daily Hurriyet, Ertugrul Ozkok, complained openly about this in an op-ed addressed to Yasar Buyukanit, then the commander of the Turkish Land Forces:

“several commanders appointed by the general staff … openly mentioned that the Phanar patriarchate is an enemy institution seeking to destroy Turkey. … In these speeches it has been mentioned that Christians are continuing their missionary activities by which they aim to destroy the Turkish state. It is openly mentioned that those who support the European Union are traitors.”

This is striking indeed: Turkey, a founding member of the Council of Europe, a member of NATO and a candidate for accession to the EU has a military that teaches young Turks that Christians are trying to destroy the Turkish state!

Such views are not only prevalent in the Armed Forces, of course: it is noteworthy, however, how in Turkish civil society, in the media, in academia and in the arts such views are increasingly challenged. This too is a sign of a deeper change and it dates to the most recent years. This also means that Wulff’s views on this issue will be welcomed not only by Turkey’s minorities. Recent years have seen legal changes to improve the position of Christians. They have also seen a new debate emerge attitudes and policies behind discrimination in the past decades.

It is noteworthy that the almost complete destruction of the Greek population of Istanbul took place in a period of peace, in a Turkey already member of both the Council of Europe and NATO. It was the result of specific politics pursued and expressing a specific mindset.

In 1940 there were still more than 100,000 Greeks living in Istanbul. In 1965 the Turkish census asked (for the last time) questions about the mother tongue of people living in Turkey. It found that there were then 127,037 who spoke Greek (48,096 as their first and 78,941 as their second language). In 1965 there were still 42 Greek primary and 6 Greek secondary schools, attended by 6,002 pupils.

Table: Istanbul and its Greek population

Total population

Greek orthodox

1935

741,000

125,046

1945

861,000

103,839

1955

1,269,000

86,655

1960

1,467,000

106,611

1965

1,743,000

76,122

1978

(1980) 2,773,000

7,822

2007

11,373,000

1,200 – 5,000

By the end of the 1970s the total population of Greeks in Istanbul had fallen to below 8,000. In 1991, the year Bartholomew became patriarch, the number of students in all Greek schools in Istanbul was 415. Today it stands at 220.

Note that this means that even if recently things improved, there is an obvious need for the state to be more proactive. In fact, there is a risk today that both the Greek community and the Orthodox Church might disappear in Istanbul by the time the Turkish republic celebrates its 100th anniversary in 2023.


Patriarch Bartholomew. Photo: romancatholicblog.com

This week the German President will also meet with the Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew. They are likely to get on well. Perhaps Christian Wulff will then also be able to quote Bartholomew when he returns to Germany, to convey his message that Turkey’s aspiration to be accepted as a full member of the European Union is also in Europe’s interest. In September 2008 the patriarch told the European Parliament:

“Turkey is a country that belongs to the big European family. … We are interested in this as citizens as well as a religious minority. … For accession to the European Union, some set criteria and European values must be respected. In Turkey, we can see efforts being made in this direction, to modernise the country and to fully implement the EU regulations in the national law.”

When a journalist asked him “do you think the process to bring Turkey closer to the EU can help its modernisation?” he responded:

“I am sure it can. In addition, I think the fact that we are a country with a very large Muslim majority should not be a problem, because the European Union sets itself as a reality that respects cultural and religious diversity.”

How better could Turkey advance its intereststhan by embracing both the message and the man, who is after all also a Turkish citizen, born in Turkey, who even served in the Turkish military?

And what could be a better message for Wulff to take back to Berlin and to share with his Christian Democratic friends?

UPCOMING ESI REPORT (soon to be found on the ESI website):

  • Turkey’s Greeks in Istanbul
  • Turkish Protestants and the Future of Ultranationalism
Filed under: Greece,Turkey — Gerald @ 1:19 am
5 October 2010

It was a fascinating, deeply emotional event: a commemoration gathering in Belgrade, on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of the 5th of October, the day Serbian citizens took their country back from Slobodan Milosevic exactly 10 years ago. The most poignant moment came at the very end, when a visibly moved Greek prime minister, George Papandreou (who had come in from Brussels on the way to Athens), told his audience about a promise he had made, after Zoran Djindic, Serbia’s prime minister, was killed in 2003, in his eulogy at Djindic’s funeral:

“There and then I made a pledge, to Zoran, but also to the Serbian people. It will continue to ensure that Serbia arrives in her natural home, the European Union. The EU is not complete without the Balkans. Anyone who argues against the Balkans joining the EU is arguing against geography, against economy, against history. Do not believe those who talk about enlargement fatigue. The EU is a long-term historical project and you have to be part of it.”

Papandreou recalled the first time he met Sonja Licht, the spiritus movens behind the whole anniversary event, at the time of the creation of the Helsiniki Citizens Assembly in Prague twenty years ago in 1990, and how much has changed since then. Sonja, sitting next to him, recalled that their’s was a friendship at first sight, “because, despite everything, we both realised that we were proud to be from the Balkans.” He then took her hand, and for a moment both seemed to be glowing, like two teenagers who had just jointly discovered a great romantic poem, as he added: “we are still proud to be from the Balkans.  And the European future is the way to find unity amongst our diversity. This is what makes Europe special for the Balkans”

This vision, so often evoked in other settings, can seem banal, boring, mundane at times;  the sort of thing EU and Balkan politicians evoke because it is the polite thing to say. But here, presented against the background of memories of another, darker Europe in the 1990s, recalling a velvet revolution that marks one of the happiest days in the tragic recent past of the region, recalling leaders who paid for it with their lives, not long ago, but recently, the vision of a European Serbia in a European Balkan seemed to recapture all its sparkle.

Papandreou managed to express, with a few, heartfelt words, the sense that our generation of leaders and activists are privileged, not only to watch, and also to try to contribute, to the writing of the next chapter in a book that might well be called in a hundred years the “book of European miracles”: that after the miracle on the Rhine (Franco-German reconciliation), the miracle on the Vistula (Germano-Polish reconciliation), the miracle on the Bosporus (the ongoing Europeanisation of Turkey) we are now in the middle of the miracle on the Sava and the Drina.  And then the ghosts of that past, the Balkans of the 1990s, will be banished to their graves, never to return to haunt us.

(I could not help thinking of the day when, in the very same hotel this meeting took place, the mafia-paramilitary leader Arkan was shot in the lobby. The former Intercontinental has its own ghosts hanging around its corners).

But there was a more that made this event fascinating, and inspiring.  It is also a reality that the transformation that received such a boost in 2000 is still incomplete.  There are still enormous problems to be solved. The story of the past decade is one of many false starts, delays, failures to accept the new realities; of clashing visions, also and particularly in Serbia, as Goran Svilanovic recalled: of false priorities, and of denying realities when it came to ICTY, Serbia- Montenegro, and Serbian-Kosovo relations.

On the other hand, there is today real change in the air. Compared to previous meetings I attended in Belgrade, just slightly more than a year ago, the fact that the president himself could speak for 30 minutes without once mentioning the word “Kosovo”, talking about Serbia and the lessons from the past decade, reflects a new ordering of priorities. The fact that the foreign minister only mentions Kosovo in passing, as one of many challenges, without elaborating, is no less striking.  There was also a remarkable intervention by the foreign minister of Slovakia, Dzurinda, calling on Serbia to embrace the “tough choices” lying ahead, and lauding the day the EU and Serbia had passed the joint UN resolution a few days back as the day Serbia’s leaders embraced reality and a European future.  This obviously remains mined territory, and the fact that Serbia’s leaders are moving carefully, and not – as so often in recent years – recklessly does not mean that the problems are solved. Nor, and this was the key message of my presentation here, are all European leaders as clear about their vision of a European Balkans as Papandreou or Dzurinda are. It would indeed be tragic if shortsightedness leads some governments now to delay what used to be a mere bureaucratic step in the past, forwarding the Serbian membership application to the Commission to write its opinion. What is worse, most European and Serbian diplomats here seem to expect just this to happen, and whoever works on EU integration in Belgrade is not only exhausted but permanently on the verge of giving up …

But those practical concerns are for tomorrow, when we must descend from the mountain peak that offers a wider view of the distant lands that we try to reach, back to the planes where it is so easy to get lost.  It is still good to rejoice, just for one instance: the past decade, for all its false starts, has led us to a moment where the vision of a European Balkans remains more alive than ever. As inspiring. And as vital.

Filed under: Balkans,Enlargement,Europe,Greece,Serbia — Gerald @ 10:05 pm
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