As the summer heatwaves continue across the globe, rising temperatures in the political world have become equally as troubling. With the continued conflict in the Ukraine and US Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan, tensions are rising as steadily as the thermometer.
In the Balkans, new dynamics of old historic political issues still dominate. The aggressive Turkish discourse regarding territorial expansion in the Aegean has prompted vigorous responses from Athens. On 18 June, Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias stated that there needed to be a basis of respect for the fundamental principles of international law, and part of this was “the protection of territorial sovereignty of all states.” As much as Dendias and other Greek officials have bluntly refuted Turkish claims, these tensions undermine any constructive conversations between the two countries regarding larger political issues affecting them. This is all the more disconcerting when all of Europe is still fearful of the Russo-Ukrainian conflict engulfing other neighboring countries. Adding insult to injury, the latest territorial claims by Turkey also include the island of Crete, which is the ancestral home of Greek Prime Minister Mitsotakis. While these territorial claims are a constant irritant in Greco-Turkish relations, the unprecedented level of aggression by President Erdogan and other Turkish officials has caused unnecessary friction. Fortunately, for Greece, both France and Germany have supported Greek territorial integrity, and U. S. President Biden is unwavering in his support of Greece and Greek territorial sovereignty.
Complicating matters even more are the Balkan tensions that are also percolating. Serbia has raised concerns about Kossovo and its treatment of ethnic Serbs within the country. Will the ethnic tensions on the border of the two states lead to military conflict? Serbia is also apprehensive about Kossovo’s membership in the European Union, as Serbia’s accession has faced delays and obstacles with its own path to membership while it seems that Kossovo seems to be receiving preferable treatment. Meanwhile, Greece’s normalization of relations with Northern Macedonia have led to unexpected issues with neighboring Bulgaria. As long as Greece and the former FYROM were at loggerheads over the country’s name and other issues, Bulgaria could pursue its own interests vis-à-vis FYROM. However, as James Horncastle explains in The Conversation (https://theconversation.com/why-north-macedonia-is-the-european-unions-latest-self-inflicted-wound-186898) the improved Greek-Northern Macedonian relations has unexpectedly led to problems between Bulgaria and Northern Macedonia. Bulgarian President Radev insists that Northern Macedonia acknowledge that before 1944, Macedonia’s history was Bulgarian. This has met with outright rejection and unless the situation is resolved, Northern Macedonian membership to the EU can—and will—be blocked by Bulgaria. According to Horncastle, should the issue not be resolved soon, “the EU faces the real possibility of losing a potential member. In that case, it’s possible North Macedonia will turn to Russia.” Russia’s historic interest in the Balkans is underscored in Horncastle’s comments and reflects an apprehension for any further Russian involvement in the region. As Horncastle and other Balkan specialists are well aware, the politics and goals of the nineteenth century have not disappeared. Rather, they are the underlying agendas of the region that need to be acknowledged.
For Greece, Mitsotakis has embarked on strengthening ties with the European Union, especially with France. Between purchasing French military frigates and fighter planes to negotiating a defense partnership, relations between Greece and France have never been stronger. This relationship has paid off in dividends and Greece’s stature in the European Union has improved significantly. Mitsotakis clearly wants to avoid being draw into any diplomatic or military conflicts, and is working within the European Union to ensure that Greece’s position remains secure. For the sake of Greece and the other Balkan countries, it is hoped that the simmering Balkan cauldron can be kept contained.