Do Macedonians want their country to join NATO and the EU?

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF GLOBAL VOICES)

 

Do Macedonians want their country to join NATO and the EU? A historic referendum will decide

Rally in Skopje, MAcedonia in support for the referendum on EU and NATO accession.

Pro-referendum rally on 16 September 2018 in Skopje. Photo by Andreja Stojkovski via Twitter, used with permission.

On September 30, Macedonians will vote in a referendum to decide whether their country should join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) alliance and the European Union (EU).

The referendum is part of a process that began in 1993, when all political parties in the then newly independent Republic of Macedonia declared joining NATO a key strategic priority. Many believe that membership in the military alliance would help protect Macedonia, located in the volatile Balkans region, from external aggression and civil war. Years later the country made a similar commitment to strive for EU membership.

Admission to both NATO and the EU require the consensus of all existing members, so Macedonia needed first solve bilateral disputes with its neighbors, some of which already belonged the two organizations.

The biggest obstacle was the long-standing naming dispute with Greece, which has hindered Macedonia’s development for 27 years. In June 2018, as a precondition for removing the Greek veto on its EU and NATO membership, Macedonia signed an agreement which obliges the country to change its name to the Republic of North Macedonia.

In spite of the agreement, the name change remains a core issue. The September 30 referendum explicitly asks:

‘Are you in favor of EU and NATO membership by accepting the Agreement between the Republic of Macedonia and the Republic of Greece?’

A majority must participate

The referendum is not legally binding but rather consultative, and will only be considered valid if a majority of registered voters participate. But failure to reach the required 50 per cent voter turnout would not stop the NATO and EU accession process, which requires further action by parliament.

According to one Twitter user:

Мутен@toVornottoV

30 септември дава можност за конечно помрднуење од status quo-то у кое што смо заглавени и конечно ослободуење од бизарен проблем што не влече надоле скоро 30 године. Затоа ќе .

September 30 provides an opportunity to finally move from the status quo which has stymied us, to finally break free from a bizarre problem that has been holding us down for almost 30 years. That’s why #IVote.

For other voters, the referendum is both symbolic and cathartic, representing a return “to the right path” after “the lost decade” of democratic backsliding, and many have been holding their breath in anticipation:

mindрluмbеr@mindplumber

Цела држава се неуротизирала, све се остава за „после 30-ти“.
А бе, сендвич да сакаш да купиш, таа на скарата ќе ти каже „немој сеа, ај после 30-ти, да се расчисти“

The whole state has become neurotic, everything is left [for] ‘after the 30th’. Even if you want to buy a sandwich, the barbecue lady might say, ‘Not now, let’s do it after the 30th, after the situation clears’.

Calls for a boycott

This anxiety may have to do with the boycott campaign being waged by right-wing populist opponents and led by several fringe non-parliamentary parties, including pro-Russian, Euro-skeptic and anti-NATO United Macedonia, which styles itself on Putin’s United Russia.

The campaign stokes the fears of ethnic Macedonians by presenting the country’s name change as the first step along a slippery slope that will lead to genocide, or ethnocentric. The campaign is steeped in disinformation and hate speech, from intentional misinterpretations of the consequences of the agreement with Greece, to claims that the government has given citizenship to Albanians from Kosovo to boost the number of “yes” votes. There have even been suggestions of election fraud, to which one Twitter user replied:

Ленка многу кенка@RedRadish5

Кога стварно мислиш дека ќе местат гласање излегуваш да гласаш за да им отежнеш, а не седиш дома

When you really think that authorities plan voter fraud, citizens go out and vote to make it harder for them, they don’t sit at home.

Meanwhile, the main opposition party VMRO-DPMNE, a member of the conservative European People’s Party (EPP), has sat on the fence, neither openly endorsing the boycott campaign nor encouraging its supporters to participate in the referendum and vote against the agreement with Greece, which it considers “a capitulation”.

Other EPP members have accused VMRO-DPMNE of hypocrisy, as high ranking party officials participated personally in the boycott, and the campaign was vigorously promoted by media outlets reputed for being party mouthpieces.

Representatives of the ruling SDSM have also claimed that VMRO-DPMNE had attempted to make a deal, promising to throw its support behind the referendum if its former party leaders on trial for corruption were given an amnesty. The government refused, and the VMRO-DPMNE’s indecisive position is largely being interpreted as sign of weakness:

НиколаСтрез@NikolaStrez

За едно од најважните прашања за Македонија, вмро нема став и повикува секој да гласа по свое убедување.

Очекувам на следните избори, кога ќе сакаат да дојдат на власт, да излезат со истиот став и да не сугерираат за кого да гласаме.

VMRO-DPMNE has no official position on one of the most important issues for Macedonia, and has declared that people should vote according to their own preference. In the next elections, I expect that they will adopt the same position and won’t advocate whom to vote for.

Social media tactics and allegations about Russia

On social media the “I boycott” campaign (#бојкотирам) started over the summer, and involved mainly anonymous social media profiles and sock puppets from the VMRO-DPMNE troll army. Observers noticed a high number of new profiles appear in August 2018, suspected to be automated bots originating outside the country. The campaign was also shared via profiles linked to specific individuals, including VMRO-DPMNE’s foreign lobbyists, Macedonian nationalist organizations operating in the diaspora, and Macedonia’s president, who gained his position with the party’s support.

Around 50 people attended the Boycott campaign rally in Ohrid on 22 September. Photo by GV, CC-BY.

Western sources alleged that Russia was trying to obstruct the consolidation of the NATO and EU process; when asked, Prime Minister Zoran Zaev diplomatically said that the authorities have not found “evidence of direct Russian influence with fake news” regarding the referendum, and that he trusts Macedonia’s NATO allies on this matter.

Prior to that statement, however, Zaev was less reserved in pointing to Kremlin-related attempts — including the funding of violent protests by a Greek-Russian oligarch — to obstruct the deal with Greece. Moreover, an independent journalist discovered that back in 2015, a Russian troll farm specialist named Anna Bogacheva had visited Macedonia on business. She has since been named as one of 13 Russian nationals indicted over alleged interference in the 2016 United States election.

The “I Boycott” campaign has also employed tactics used by the American alt-right, including use of the Pepe the Frog meme, which was ridiculed even by VMRO-DPMNE members who couldn’t understand how their party’s symbol, the mighty lion, was reduced to a frog.

Ready for change

There have been attempts, mostly through cyber-bullying, to intimidate activists and ‘dissenting’ right-wing figures who have said they will take part in the referendum. Former VMRO-DPMNE government minister Nikola Todorov’s revelation that he would vote “no” exposed him to particularly vicious harassment on Facebook. But in spite of some of the threats issues, observers don’t expect much violence.

Numerous citizens have also expressed their support for both the referendum as the ultimate tool of democracy, and for the government-backed campaign to vote in it:

Бени@Shushmula

Скоро три полни децении живееме во пештера а сакаме светот да не знае и прифати.
Од сето тоа светот знае само дека живееме во пештера.

Almost 3 decades we’ve been living in a cave, while wanting the world to know about as and to accept us.
Out of all that, the world only knows that we’ve been living in a cave.
#IVote!

If surveys conducted in the months before the referendum are anything to go by, most Macedonian citizens are ready for change, even if that means swallowing the bitter pill of the name change in exchange for the long-term benefits of NATO and EU membership.

Italy: Truth, Knowledge, History Of This Old Historic Nation

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE CIA WORLD FACT BOOK)

 

Italy

Introduction Italy became a nation-state in 1861 when the regional states of the peninsula, along with Sardinia and Sicily, were united under King Victor EMMANUEL II. An era of parliamentary government came to a close in the early 1920s when Benito MUSSOLINI established a Fascist dictatorship. His alliance with Nazi Germany led to Italy’s defeat in World War II. A democratic republic replaced the monarchy in 1946 and economic revival followed. Italy was a charter member of NATO and the European Economic Community (EEC). It has been at the forefront of European economic and political unification, joining the Economic and Monetary Union in 1999. Persistent problems include illegal immigration, organized crime, corruption, high unemployment, sluggish economic growth, and the low incomes and technical standards of southern Italy compared with the prosperous north.
History Prehistory to Magna Graecia

Excavations throughout Italy reveal human presence dating back to the Palaeolithic period (the “Old Stone Age”) some 200,000 years ago. In the 8th and 7th centuries BC, driven by unsettled conditions at home, Greek colonies were established in places as widely separated as the eastern coast of the Black Sea and Massilia (what is now Marseille, France). They included settlements in Sicily and the southern part of the Italian Peninsula. The Romans called the area of Sicily and the foot of the boot of Italy Magna Graecia (Latin, “Greater Greece”), since it was so densely inhabited by Greeks.

Ancient Rome

Ancient Rome was a civilization that grew from a small agricultural community founded on the Italian Peninsula circa the 8th century BC to a colossal empire straddling the Mediterranean Sea. In its twelve-century existence, Roman civilization shifted from a monarchy, to a republic based on a combination of oligarchy and democracy, to an autocratic empire. It came to dominate Western Europe and the entire area surrounding the Mediterranean Sea through conquest and assimilation.

Italia, under the Roman Republic and later Empire, was the name of the Italian Peninsula. During the Republic, Italia (which extended at the time from Rubicon to Calabria) was not a province, but rather the territory of the city of Rome, thus having a special status: for example, military commanders were not allowed to bring their armies within Italia, and Julius Caesar passing the Rubicon with his legions marked the start of the civil war.

From the 3rd century, the Roman Empire went into decline. The western half of the empire, including Hispania, Gaul, and Italy, broke into independent kingdoms in the 5th century. The eastern empire, governed from Constantinople, is usually referred to as the Byzantine Empire after 476, the traditional date for the “fall of Rome” and for the subsequent onset of the Early Middle Ages, also known as the Dark Ages.

Middle Ages

The Iron Crown with which Lombard rulers were crowned. They established a Kingdom of Italy which lasted until 774, when it was conquered by the Franks. Their influence on Italian political geography is plainly visible in the regional appellation Lombardy

In the sixth century AD the Byzantine Emperor Justinian reconquered Italy from the Ostrogoths. The invasion of a new wave of Germanic tribes, the Lombards, doomed his attempt to resurrect the Western Roman Empire but the repercussions of Justinian’s failure resounded further still. For the next thirteen centuries, whilst new nation-states arose in the lands north of the Alps, the Italian political landscape was a patchwork of feuding city states, petty tyrannies, and foreign invaders.

For several centuries the armies and Exarchs, Justinian’s successors, were a tenacious force in Italian affairs – strong enough to prevent other powers such as the Arabs, the Holy Roman Empire, or the Papacy from establishing a unified Italian Kingdom, but too weak to drive out these “interlopers” and recreate Roman Italy. Later Imperial orders such as the Carolingians, the Ottonians and Hohenstaufens also managed to impose their overlordship in Italy. But their successes were as transitory as Justinian’s and a unified Italian state remained a dream until the nineteenth century.

No ultramontane Empire could succeed in unifying Italy—or in achieving more than a temporary hegemony—because its success threatened the survival of medieval Italy’s other powers: the Byzantines, the Papacy, and the Normans. These—and the descendants of the Lombards, who became fused with earlier Italian ethnic groups—conspired against, fought, and eventually destroyed any attempt to create a dominant political order in Italy. It was against this vacuum of authority that one must view the rise of the institutions of the Signoria and the Comune.

Comuni and Signorie

In Italian history the rise of the Signorie (sing.: Signoria) is a phase often associated with the decline of the medieval commune system of government and the rise of the dynastic state. In this context the word Signoria (here to be understood as “Lordly Power”) is used in opposition to the institution of the Commune or city republic.

Indeed, contemporary observers and modern historians see the rise of the Signoria as a reaction to the failure of the Communi to maintain law-and-order and suppress party strife and civil discord. In the anarchic conditions that often prevailed in medieval Italian city states, people looked to strong men to restore order and disarm the feuding elites. In times of anarchy or crisis, cities sometimes offered the Signoria to individuals perceived as strong enough to save the state. For example, the Tuscan state of Pisa offered the Signoria to Charles VIII of France in the hope that he would protect the independence of Pisa from its long term enemy Florence. Similarly, Siena offered the Signoria to Cesare Borgia.

Types of Signoria

The composition and specific functions of the Signoria varied from city to city. In some states (such as Verona under the Della Scala family or Florence in the days of Cosimo de Medici and Lorenzo the Magnificent) the polity was what we would term today a single party state in which the dominant party had vested the Signoria of the state in a single family or dynasty.

In Florence this arrangement was unofficial as it was not constitutionally formalized before the Medici were expelled from the city in 1494.

In other states (such as the Milan of the Visconti) the dynasty’s right to the Signoria was a formally recognized part of the Commune’s constitution, which had been “ratified” by the People and recognized by the Pope or the Holy Roman Empire.

Maritime Republics

Italy at this time was notable for its merchant Republics, including the Republic of Florence and the Maritime Republics. They were city-states and they were generally republics in that they were formally independent, though most of them originated from territories once belonging to the Byzantine Empire (the main exceptions being Genoa and Pisa). All these cities during the time of their independence had similar (though not identical) systems of government in which the merchant class had considerable power. Although in practice these were oligarchical, and bore little resemblance to a modern democracy, the relative political freedom they afforded was conducive to academic and artistic advancement.

The four classic Maritime Republics in Italy are Venice, Genoa, Pisa, Amalfi and they are always given in that order, reflecting the temporal sequence of their dominance. However, other towns in Italy also have a history of being Maritime Republics, though historically less prominent. These include Gaeta, Ancona, Molfetta, Trani and, in Dalmatia (under Italian cultural influence), Ragusa and Zara.

Venice and Genoa were Europe’s gateway to trade with the East, and a producer of fine glass, while Florence was a capital of silk, wool, banks and jewelry. The wealth such business brought to Italy meant that large public and private artistic projects could be commissioned. The Maritime Republics were heavily involved in the Crusades, providing support but most especially taking advantage of the political and trading opportunities resulting from these wars. The Fourth Crusade, notionally intended to “liberate” Jerusalem, actually entailed the Venetian conquest of Zara and Constantinople.

Each of the Maritime Republics over time had dominion over different overseas lands, including many of the islands of the Mediterranean and especially Sardinia and Corsica, lands on the Adriatic, and lands in the Near East and North Africa.

Renaissance

The unique political structures of late Middle Ages Italy have led some to theorise that its unusual social climate allowed the emergence of a rare cultural efflorescence. Italy was divided into smaller city states and territories: the kingdom of Naples controlled the south, the Republic of Florence and the Papal States the centre, the Genoese and the Milanese the north and west, and the Venetians the east. Fifteenth-century Italy was one of the most urbanised areas in Europe. Most historians agree that the ideas that characterised the Renaissance had their origin in late 13th century Florence, in particular with the writings of Dante Alighieri (1265–1321), Francesco Petrarch (1304–1374) and Giovanni Boccaccio (c. 1313–1375), as well as the painting of Giotto di Bondone (1267-1337).

The Renaissance was so called because it was a “rebirth” of certain classical ideas that had long been lost to Europe. It has been argued that the fuel for this rebirth was the rediscovery of ancient texts that had been forgotten by Western civilisation, but were preserved in some monastic libraries and in the Islamic world, and the translations of Greek and Arabic texts into Latin.

Renaissance scholars such as Niccolò de’ Niccoli and Poggio Bracciolini scoured the libraries in search of works by such classical authors as Plato, Cicero and Vitruvius. The works of ancient Greek and Hellenistic writers (such as Plato, Aristotle, Euclid, and Ptolemy) and Muslim scientists were imported into the Christian world, providing new intellectual material for European scholars.

The Black Death in 1348 inflicted a terrible blow to Italy, killing one third of the population.[10]

The recovery from the disaster led to a resurgence of cities, trade and economy which greatly stimulated the successive phase of the Humanism and Renaissance (15th-16th centuries) when Italy again returned to be the center of Western civilisation, strongly influencing the other European countries with Courts like Este in Ferrara and De Medici in Florence.

Foreign Domination (16th – 19th centuries)

After a century where the fragmented system of Italian states and principalities were able to maintain a relative independence and a balance of power in the peninsula, in 1494 the French king Charles VIII opened the first of a series of invasions, lasting half of the sixteenth century, and a competition between France and Spain for the possession of the country. Ultimately Spain prevailed (the Treaty of Cateau-Cambresis in 1559 recognised the Spanish possession of the Duchy of Milan and the Kingdom of Naples) and for almost two centuries became the hegemon in Italy. The holy alliance between Habsburg Spain and the Holy See resulted in the systematic persecution of any Protestant movement, with the result that Italy remained a Catholic country with marginal Protestant presence. During its long rule on Italy, Spain systematically spoiled the country and imposed heavy taxation. Moreover, Spanish administration was slow and inefficient.

Austria succeeded Spain as hegemon in Italy after the Peace of Utrecht (1713), having acquired the State of Milan and the Kingdom of Naples. The Austrian domination, thanks to the Enlightenment embraced by Habsburgic emperors, was a considerable improvement. The northern part of Italy, under the direct control of Vienna, gained economic dynamism and intellectual fervour.

The French Revolution and the Napoleonic War (1796-1815) introduced the ideas of equality, democracy, law and nation. The peninsula was not a main battle field as in the past but Napoleon (born in Corsica in 1769, one year after the cession of the island from Genoa to France) changed completely its political map, destroying in 1799 the Republic of Venice, which never recovered its independence. The states founded by Napoleon with the support of minority groups of Italian patriots were short-lived and did not survive the defeat of the French Emperor in 1815.

Risorgimento (1848-1870)

The creation of the Kingdom of Italy was the result of concerted efforts by Italian nationalists and monarchists loyal to the House of Savoy to establish a united kingdom encompassing the entire Italian Peninsula.

The Kingdom of Sardinia industrialised from 1830 onward. A constitution, the Statuto Albertino was enacted in the year of revolutions, 1848, under liberal pressure. Under the same pressure, the First Italian War of Independence was declared on Austria. After initial success the war took a turn for the worse and the Kingdom of Sardinia lost.

After the Revolutions of 1848, the apparent leader of the Italian unification movement was Italian nationalist Giuseppe Garibaldi. He was popular amongst southern Italians.[11] Garibaldi led the Italian republican drive for unification in southern Italy, but the northern Italian monarchy of the House of Savoy in the Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia whose government was led by Camillo Benso, conte di Cavour, also had the ambition of establishing a united Italian state. Though the kingdom had no physical connection to Rome (deemed the natural capital of Italy), the kingdom had successfully challenged Austria in the Second Italian War of Independence, liberating Lombardy-Venetia from Austrian rule. The kingdom also had established important alliances which helped it improve the possibility of Italian unification, such as Britain and France in the Crimean War.

In 1866 Prussian Prime Minister Otto von Bismarck offered Victor Emmanuel II an alliance with the Kingdom of Prussia in the Austro-Prussian War. In exchange Prussia would allow Italy to annex Austrian-controlled Venice. King Emmanuel agreed to the alliance and the Third Italian War of Independence began. The victory against Austria allowed Italy to annex Venice. The one major obstacle to Italian unity remained Rome.

In 1870, Prussia went to war with France starting the Franco-Prussian War. To keep the large Prussian army at bay, France abandoned its positions in Rome in order to fight the Prussians. Italy benefited from Prussia’s victory against France by being able to take over the Papal State from French authority. Italian unification was completed, and shortly afterward Italy’s capital was moved to Rome.

Liberalism to Fascism (1870-1922)

In Northern Italy, industrialisation and modernisation began in the last part of the nineteenth century. The south, at the same time, was overcrowded, forcing millions of people to search for a better life abroad. It is estimated that around one million Italian people moved to other European countries such as France, Switzerland, Germany, Belgium and Luxembourg. Parliamentary democracy developed considerably in the twentieth century. The Sardinian Statuto Albertino of 1848, extended to the whole Kingdom of Italy in 1861, provided for basic freedoms, but the electoral laws excluded the non-propertied and uneducated classes from voting. In 1913 male universal suffrage was allowed. The Socialist Party became the main political party, outclassing the traditional liberal and conservative organisations. Starting from the last two decades of the nineteenth century, Italy developed its own colonial Empire. Italian colonies were Somalia and Eritrea. In addition, in 1911, Giovanni Giolitti’s government agreed to sending forces to occupy Libya. Italy declared war on the Ottoman Empire which held Libya. The annexation of Libya and of the Dodecanese (a group of island in the Aegean Sea) caused nationalists to advocate Italy’s domination of the Mediterranean Sea by occupying Greece as well as the Adriatic coastal region of Dalmatia.

The path to a modern liberal democracy was interrupted by World War I. At first Italy stayed neutral, but in 1915, under pressure from the United Kingdom and France, Italy signed the London Pact by which she became an allied belligerent. In return, the two Powers promised that, at the end of the war, Italy would receive Trento, Trieste, Istria, Dalmatia and some territories in Turkey. Italy managed to defeat the Austrian-Hungarian Empire in November 1918, but only with the considerable help of French and British army divisions and the disintegration of the Austro-Hungarian Army. During the war, 600,000 Italians died and the economy collapsed with high inflation and unemployment. In the Peace treaty, Italy obtained just Trento, Trieste and Istria but not other lands scheduled from the Pact of London, so this victory was defined as “mutilated”. Subsequently, after the Greco-Turkish War of 1919-1922, Italy formally annexed the Dodecanese (Possedimenti Italiani dell’Egeo), that she had occupied during the war.

Fascism and World War II (1922-1945)

After the devastations of World War I, many Italian workers joined lengthy strikes to demand more rights and better working conditions. Some, inspired by the Russian Revolution, began taking over their factories, mills, farms and workplaces. The liberal establishment, fearing a socialist revolution, started to endorse the small National Fascist Party, led by Benito Mussolini, whose violent reaction to the strikes (by means of the “Blackshirts” party militia) was often compared to the relatively moderate reactions of the government. After several years of struggle, in October 1922 the fascists attempted a coup (the “Marcia su Roma”, i.e. March on Rome); the fascist forces were largely inferior, but the king ordered the army not to intervene, formed an alliance with Mussolini, and convinced the liberal party to endorse a fascist-led government. Over the next few years, Mussolini (who became known as “Il Duce”, Italian for “the leader”) eliminated all political parties (including the liberals) and curtailed personal liberties under the pretext of preventing revolution.

In 1935, Mussolini declared war on Ethiopia on a territorial pretext. Ethiopia was subjugated in a few months. This resulted in the alienation of Italy from its traditional allies, France and the United Kingdom, and its support for Nazi Germany. A first pact with Germany was concluded in 1936, and in 1938 (the Pact of Steel). Italy supported Franco’s revolution in the Spanish civil war and Hitler’s pretensions in central Europe, accepting the annexation of Austria to Germany in 1938, although the disappearance of a buffer state between Germany and Italy was unfavourable for the country.

In October 1938 Mussolini brought together the United Kingdom, France and Germany at the expense of Czechoslovakia’s integrity.

On April 7, 1939 Italy occupied Albania, a de-facto protectorate for decades, but in September 1939, after the invasion of Poland, Mussolini decided not to intervene on Germany’s side, due to the poor preparation of the armed forces. Italy entered the war in 1940 when France was beaten. Mussolini hoped that Italy would be able to win in a very short time.

Italy invaded Greece in October 1940 via Albania but was forced to withdraw after a few months. After Italy conquered British Somalia in 1940, a counter-attack by the Allies led to the loss of the whole Italian empire in the Horn of Africa. Italy was also defeated by Allied forces in North Africa and was saved only by the German armed forces led by Erwin Rommel.

After several defeats, Italy was invaded in June 1943. King Vittorio Emanuele and a group of fascists set themselves against Mussolini. In July 1943, Mussolini was arrested. As the old pre-Fascist political parties resurfaced, secret peace negotiations with the Allies were started. In September 1943, Italy surrendered. Immediately Germany invaded the country and Italy was divided for almost two years and became a battlefield. The Nazi-occupied part of the country, where a fascist state under Mussolini was reconstituted, saw a savage civil war between Italian partisans (“partigiani”) and Nazi and fascist troops. The country was liberated on April 25, 1945. The liberation is still celebrated on April 25.

The First Republic (1946-1992)

In 1946 Vittorio Emanuele III’s son, Umberto II, was forced to abdicate. Italy became a Republic after the result of a popular referendum held on June 2, 1946, a day celebrated since as Republic Day. This was the first election in Italy allowing women to vote.[13] The Republican Constitution was approved and came into force on January 1, 1948.

Under the Paris Peace Treaties of 1947, the eastern border area was annexed by Yugoslavia. In 1954, the free territory of Trieste was divided between Italy and Yugoslavia. In 1949 Italy became an ally of the United States, which helped to revive the Italian economy through the Marshall Plan. Moreover, Italy became a member of the European Economic Community, which later transformed into the European Community (EC) and subsequently the European Union (EU). In 1950s and 1960s the country enjoyed prolonged economic growth.

Italy faced political instability in the 1970s, which ended in the 1980s. Known as the Years of Lead, this period was characterised by widespread social conflicts and terrorist acts carried out by extra-parliamentary movements. The assassination of the leader of the Christian Democracy (DC), Aldo Moro, led to the end of a “historic compromise” between the DC and the Communist Party (PCI). In the 1980s, for the first time, two governments were managed by a republican and a socialist (Bettino Craxi) rather than by a member of DC.

At the end of the Lead years, the PCI gradually increased their votes thanks to Enrico Berlinguer. The Socialist party (PSI), led by Bettino Craxi, became more and more critical of the communists and of the Soviet Union; Craxi himself pushed in favour of US president Ronald Reagan’s positioning of Pershing missiles in Italy.

In 2000, a Parliament Commission report from The Olive Tree left-of-centre coalition concluded that the strategy of tension had been supported by the United States to “stop the PCI, and to a certain degree also the PSI, from reaching executive power in the country”.[14][15] The report was not approved by the right-of-centre coalition. A source in the U.S. Embassy in Rome characterised the report as “allegations that have come up over the last 20 years” and have “absolutely nothing to them”, while other commentators deemed it nothing more than “a manoeuvre dictated primarily by domestic political considerations”.[16]

The Second Republic (1992-present)

From 1992 to 1997, Italy faced significant challenges as voters disenchanted with political paralysis, massive government debt, extensive corruption, and organized crime’s considerable influence collectively called the political system Tangentopoli. As Tangentopoli was under a set of judicial investigations by the name of Mani pulite (Italian for “clean hands”), voters demanded political, economic, and ethical reforms. The Tangentopoli scandals involved all major parties, but especially those in the government coalition: between 1992 and 1994 the DC underwent a severe crisis and was dissolved, splitting up into several pieces, among whom the Italian People’s Party and the Christian Democratic Center. The PSI (and the other governing minor parties) completely dissolved.

The 1994 elections also swept media magnate Silvio Berlusconi (leader of “Pole of Freedoms” coalition) into office as Prime Minister. Berlusconi, however, was forced to step down in December 1994 when the Lega Nord withdrew support. The Berlusconi government was succeeded by a technical government headed by Prime Minister Lamberto Dini, which left office in early 1996.

In April 1996, national elections led to the victory of a centre-left coalition under the leadership of Romano Prodi. Prodi’s first government became the third-longest to stay in power before he narrowly lost a vote of confidence, by three votes, in October 1998. A new government was formed by Democrats of the Left leader and former communist Massimo D’Alema, but in April 2000, following poor performance by his coalition in regional elections, D’Alema resigned. The succeeding centre-left government, including most of the same parties, was headed by Giuliano Amato (social-democratic), who previously served as Prime Minister in 1992-93, from April 2000 until June 2001. In 2001 the centre-right formed the government and Silvio Berlusconi was able to remain in power for a complete five year mandate, but with two different governments. The first one (2001-2005) became the longest government in post-war Italy. Berlusconi participated in the US-led military coalition in Iraq.

The last elections in 2006 returned a centre-left majority to Italy (albeit a slim one in the Senate), allowing Prodi to form his second government. In the first year of his government, Mr. Prodi has followed a cautious policy of economic liberalization and reduction of public debt. So far Mr. Prodi has resigned because of rejection by the parliament, and President Giorgio Napolitano has dismissed the parliament. New elections will be held in April 2008.

Geography Location: Southern Europe, a peninsula extending into the central Mediterranean Sea, northeast of Tunisia
Geographic coordinates: 42 50 N, 12 50 E
Map references: Europe
Area: total: 301,230 sq km
land: 294,020 sq km
water: 7,210 sq km
note: includes Sardinia and Sicily
Area – comparative: slightly larger than Arizona
Land boundaries: total: 1,932.2 km
border countries: Austria 430 km, France 488 km, Holy See (Vatican City) 3.2 km, San Marino 39 km, Slovenia 232 km, Switzerland 740 km
Coastline: 7,600 km
Maritime claims: territorial sea: 12 nm
continental shelf: 200-m depth or to the depth of exploitation
Climate: predominantly Mediterranean; Alpine in far north; hot, dry in south
Terrain: mostly rugged and mountainous; some plains, coastal lowlands
Elevation extremes: lowest point: Mediterranean Sea 0 m
highest point: Mont Blanc (Monte Bianco) de Courmayeur 4,748 m (a secondary peak of Mont Blanc)
Natural resources: coal, mercury, zinc, potash, marble, barite, asbestos, pumice, fluorspar, feldspar, pyrite (sulfur), natural gas and crude oil reserves, fish, arable land
Land use: arable land: 26.41%
permanent crops: 9.09%
other: 64.5% (2005)
Irrigated land: 27,500 sq km (2003)
Total renewable water resources: 175 cu km (2005)
Freshwater withdrawal (domestic/industrial/agricultural): total: 41.98 cu km/yr (18%/37%/45%)
per capita: 723 cu m/yr (1998)
Natural hazards: regional risks include landslides, mudflows, avalanches, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, flooding; land subsidence in Venice
Environment – current issues: air pollution from industrial emissions such as sulfur dioxide; coastal and inland rivers polluted from industrial and agricultural effluents; acid rain damaging lakes; inadequate industrial waste treatment and disposal facilities
Environment – international agreements: party to: Air Pollution, Air Pollution-Nitrogen Oxides, Air Pollution-Persistent Organic Pollutants, Air Pollution-Sulfur 85, Air Pollution-Sulfur 94, Air Pollution-Volatile Organic Compounds, Antarctic-Environmental Protocol, Antarctic-Marine Living Resources, Antarctic Seals, Antarctic Treaty, Biodiversity, Climate Change, Climate Change-Kyoto Protocol, Desertification, Endangered Species, Environmental Modification, Hazardous Wastes, Law of the Sea, Marine Dumping, Ozone Layer Protection, Ship Pollution, Tropical Timber 83, Tropical Timber 94, Wetlands, Whaling
signed, but not ratified: none of the selected agreements
Geography – note: strategic location dominating central Mediterranean as well as southern sea and air approaches to Western Europe
Politics The 1948 Constitution of Italy established a bicameral parliament (Parlamento), consisting of a Chamber of Deputies (Camera dei Deputati) and a Senate (Senato della Repubblica), a separate judiciary, and an executive branch composed of a Council of Ministers (cabinet) (Consiglio dei ministri), headed by the prime minister (Presidente del consiglio dei ministri).

The President of the Italian Republic (Presidente della Repubblica) is elected for seven years by the parliament sitting jointly with a small number of regional delegates. The president nominates the prime minister, who proposes the other ministers (formally named by the president). The Council of Ministers must obtain a confidence vote from both houses of Parliament. Legislative bills may originate in either house and must be passed by a majority in both.

The houses of parliament are popularly and directly elected through a complex electoral system (latest amendment in 2005) which combines proportional representation with a majority prize for the largest coalition (Chamber). All Italian citizens older than 18 can vote. However, to vote for the senate, the voter must be at least 25 or older. The electoral system in the Senate is based upon regional representation. During the elections in 2006, the two competing coalitions were separated by few thousand votes, and in the Chamber the centre-left coalition (L’Unione; English: The Union) got 345 Deputies against 277 for the centre-right one (Casa delle Libertà; English: House of Freedoms), while in the Senate L’Unione got only two Senators more than absolute majority. The Chamber of Deputies has 630 members and the Senate 315 elected senators; in addition, the Senate includes former presidents and appointed senators for life (no more than five) by the President of the Republic according to special constitutional provisions. As of May 15, 2006 there are seven life senators (of which three are former Presidents). Both houses are elected for a maximum of five years, but both may be dissolved by the President before the expiration of their normal term if the Parliament is unable to elect a stable government. In the post war history, this has happened in 1972, 1976, 1979, 1983, 1994, 1996 and 2008.

A peculiarity of the Italian Parliament is the representation given to Italian citizens permanently living abroad (about 2.7 million people). Among the 630 Deputies and the 315 Senators there are respectively 12 and 6 elected in four distinct foreign constituencies. Those members of Parliament were elected for the first time in April 2006 and they have the same rights as members elected in Italy.

The Italian judicial system is based on Roman law modified by the Napoleonic code and later statutes. The Constitutional Court of Italy (Corte Costituzionale) rules on the conformity of laws with the Constitution and is a post-World War II innovation.

People Population: 58,147,733 (July 2007 est.)
Age structure: 0-14 years: 13.8% (male 4,121,246/female 3,874,971)
15-64 years: 66.4% (male 19,527,203/female 19,059,897)
65 years and over: 19.9% (male 4,823,244/female 6,741,172) (2007 est.)
Median age: total: 42.5 years
male: 41.1 years
female: 44.1 years (2007 est.)
Population growth rate: 0.01% (2007 est.)
Birth rate: 8.54 births/1,000 population (2007 est.)
Death rate: 10.5 deaths/1,000 population (2007 est.)
Net migration rate: 2.06 migrant(s)/1,000 population (2007 est.)
Sex ratio: at birth: 1.07 male(s)/female
under 15 years: 1.064 male(s)/female
15-64 years: 1.025 male(s)/female
65 years and over: 0.715 male(s)/female
total population: 0.959 male(s)/female (2007 est.)
Infant mortality rate: total: 5.72 deaths/1,000 live births
male: 6.3 deaths/1,000 live births
female: 5.1 deaths/1,000 live births (2007 est.)
Life expectancy at birth: total population: 79.94 years
male: 77.01 years
female: 83.07 years (2007 est.)
Total fertility rate: 1.29 children born/woman (2007 est.)
HIV/AIDS – adult prevalence rate: 0.5% (2001 est.)
HIV/AIDS – people living with HIV/AIDS: 140,000 (2001 est.)
HIV/AIDS – deaths: less than 1,000 (2003 est.)
Nationality: noun: Italian(s)
adjective: Italian
Ethnic groups: Italian (includes small clusters of German-, French-, and Slovene-Italians in the north and Albanian-Italians and Greek-Italians in the south)
Religions: Roman Catholic 90% (approximately; about one-third regularly attend services), other 10% (includes mature Protestant and Jewish communities and a growing Muslim immigrant community)
Languages: Italian (official), German (parts of Trentino-Alto Adige region are predominantly German speaking), French (small French-speaking minority in Valle d’Aosta region), Slovene (Slovene-speaking minority in the Trieste-Gorizia area)
Literacy: definition: age 15 and over can read and write
total population: 98.4%
male: 98.8%
female: 98%

Macedonia: Truth, Knowledge, History Of This Country In Turmoil

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE CIA WORLD FACT BOOK)

 

Macedonia

Introduction Macedonia gained its independence peacefully from Yugoslavia in 1991, but Greece’s objection to the new state’s use of what it considered a Hellenic name and symbols delayed international recognition, which occurred under the provisional designation of “the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.” In 1995, Greece lifted a 20-month trade embargo and the two countries agreed to normalize relations. The United States began referring to Macedonia by its constitutional name, Republic of Macedonia, in 2004 and negotiations continue between Greece and Macedonia to resolve the name issue. Some ethnic Albanians, angered by perceived political and economic inequities, launched an insurgency in 2001 that eventually won the support of the majority of Macedonia’s Albanian population and led to the internationally-brokered Framework Agreement, which ended the fighting by establishing a set of new laws enhancing the rights of minorities. Fully implementating the Framework Agreement and stimulating economic growth and development continue to be challenges for Macedonia, although progress has been made on both fronts over the past several years.
History The lands governed by the Republic of Macedonia were previously the southernmost part of the Socialist Federative Republic of Yugoslavia. Its current borders were fixed shortly after World War II when the Anti-Fascist Assembly for the National Liberation of Macedonia declared the People’s Republic of Macedonia as a separate nation within Yugoslavia.

Over the centuries the territory which today forms the Republic of Macedonia was ruled by a number of different states and former empires.

Pre-History

The first recorded state on the territory of the Republic of Macedonia was the Thraco-Illyrian kingdom of Paionia, which covered the Axius River valley and the surrounding areas[8]. Philip II of Macedon took over the southernmost regions of Paeonia in 336 BC and founded the city of Heraclea Lyncestis, near what is now Bitola[9]. Philip’s son Alexander the Great conquered the remainder of Paeonia, which then became part of his empire. Subsequently the territory was conquered by Rome and became part of two Roman provinces. The greater part was within Macedonia Salutaris, but the northern border regions, inhabited by the Dardani, became a part of Moesia Superior.[10] By 400 AD the Paeonians had lost their identity, and Paeonia was merely a geographic term.

The Medieval period

In the late 6th century AD, as Byzantine control over the area disintegrated, the region was increasingly settled by various Slavic tribes from the north, such as Draguvites, Bersites, Sagudates, Smoleanoi and Strymonoi. During this decay in Byzantine power, some of the pre-Slavic inhabitants retreated to fortified Greek cities along the Aegean Sea, others took refuge in mountains, whilst many others were assimilated by the Slavs. These people were a large mix of indigenous Balkaners (Greeks, Illyrians and Thracians as well as “Roman” settlers and foederati that had settled the area over the preceding centuries; sharing a sense of Graeco-Roman identity (by was of language and customs). The Slavs of Byzantine Macedonia organised themselves in autonomous rural societies called by the Greeks “Σκλαβινίαι” (Sklaviniai). The Byzantine emperors would aim to Hellenise and incorporate the Sklaviniai into the socio-economic rule of Byzantium. While Byzantine achieved this with the Slavs of the Thracian theme, the emperors had to resort to military expeditions to pacify the Sklaviniai of Macedonia, often repeatedly. These expeditions reached their peak with Justinian II, and Byzantine accounts report that as many as 200,000 from Macedonia to central Anatolia, forcing them to pay tribute and serve in the imperial army. Whilst many of the Slavs in Macedonia had to acknowledge Byzantine authority, the majority remained ethnically independent, and continued to form the demographic majority in the region as a whole. Rather than forming a unified Slavic state, they continued to live as separate tribes. Circa 850 AD, the First Bulgarian Empire expanded into the region of Macedonia. John Fine suggests that Bulgaria’s expansion into Macedonia was smooth, since Byzantine authority in the area was nominal, and most of the Slavic tribes of Macedonia willingly joined (the predominantly Slavic) Bulgarian confederacy

The Slavic peoples of Macedonia accepted Christianity as their own religion around the 9th century, during the reign of prince Boris I of Bulgaria. The creators of the Glagolitic alphabet, the Byzantine Greek monks Saint Cyril and Saint Methodius, under the guidance of the Patriarchate at Constantinople, were promoters of Christianity and initiated Slavic literacy among the Slavic people. They were based in Thessaloniki, where Slavic was spoken universally as a second language after Greek, and used the Macedonian dialect spoken in the hinterland of Thessaloniki as the basis for what would become the universal Old Slavonic. Their work was accepted in early medieval Bulgaria and continued by St. Clement of Ohrid, creator of Cyrillic alphabet and St. Naum of Ohrid as founders of the Ohrid Literary School.

In 1014, Emperor Basil II finally defeated the armies of Tsar Samuil and by 1018 the Byzantines restored control over Macedonia (and all of the Balkans) for the first time since the 600s. However, by the late 12th century, inevitable Byzantine decline saw the region become contested by various political entities, including a brief Norman occupation in the 1080s. In the early 13th century, a revived Bulgarian Empire gained control of the region. Plagued by political difficulties the empire did not last and the wider geographical Macedonia region fell once again under Byzantine control. In the 14th century, it became part of the Serbian Empire, who saw themselves as liberators of their Slavic kin from Byzantine despotism. Skopje became the capital of Tsar Stefan Dusan’s empire.

However, with Dusan’s death, a weak successor and power struggles between nobles divided the Balkans once again. This coincided with the entry of the Ottoman Turks into Europe. With no major Balkan power left to defend Christianity, the entire Balkans fell to Turkish rule – which would remain so for five centuries.

The National Awakening

Ottoman rule over the region was considered harsh. One of the earliest uprisings against Ottoman rule came in 1689 with Karposh’s Rebellion. Several movements whose goals were the establishment of autonomous Macedonia, encompassing the entire region of Macedonia, began to arise in the late 1800s; the earliest of these was the Bulgarian Macedonian-Adrianople Revolutionary Committees, later transformed to SMORO. In 1905 it was renamed as IMORO and after World War I the organization separated into the IMRO and the ITRO. The early organization did not proclaim any ethnic identities; it was officially open to “…uniting all the disgruntled elements in Macedonia and the Adrianople region, regardless of their nationality…”.[12] The majority of its members were however Slavic/Bulgarian-speakers.[12] In 1903, IMRO organised the Ilinden-Preobrazhenie Uprising against the Ottomans, which after some initial successes, including the forming of the Krushevo Republic, was crushed with much loss of life. The uprising and the forming of the Krushevo Republic are considered the cornerstone and precursors to the eventual establishment of the Republic of Macedonia.

Serbian occupation

Following the two Balkan wars of 1912 and 1913 and the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire, most of its European held territories were divided between Greece, Bulgaria and Serbia. The territory of the present-day Republic of Macedonia was then named Južna Srbija, “Southern Serbia”. After the First World War, Serbia became part of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes. In 1929, the Kingdom was officially renamed the Kingdom of Yugoslavia and divided into provinces called banovinas. So-called “Southern Serbia” (Vardar Macedonia), including all of what is now the Republic of Macedonia, became known as the Vardar Banovina of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia.

In 1941, Yugoslavia was occupied by the Axis Powers and the Vardar Banovina was divided between Bulgaria and Italian-occupied Albania. Local recruits and volunteers formed the Bulgarian 5th Army, based in Skopje, which was responsible for the round-up and deportation of over 7,000 Jews in Skopje and Bitola. Harsh rule by the occupying forces encouraged some to support the Communist Partisan resistance movement of Josip Broz Tito.

Macedonia in Yugoslavia

After the end of the Second World War, when Tito became Yugoslavia’s president, the People’s Federal Republic of Yugoslavia was established. The People’s Republic of Macedonia became one of the six republics of the Yugoslav federation. Following the federation’s renaming as the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia in 1963, the People’s Republic of Macedonia was likewise renamed, becoming the Socialist Republic of Macedonia. It dropped the “Socialist” from its name in 1991 when it peacefully seceded from Yugoslavia.

Declaration of independence

The country officially celebrates September 8, 1991 as Independence day (Ден на независноста, Den na nezavisnosta), with regard to the referendum endorsing independence from Yugoslavia, albeit legalising participation in future union of the former states of Yugoslavia. The anniversary of the start of the Ilinden-Preobrazhenie Uprising (St. Elijah’s Day) on August 2 is also widely celebrated on an official level.

Robert Badinter as a head of Arbitration Commission of the Peace Conference on the former Yugoslavia recommended EU recognition in January 1992

The Republic of Macedonia remained at peace through the Yugoslav wars of the early 1990s. A few very minor changes to its border with Yugoslavia were agreed upon to resolve problems with the demarcation line between the two countries. However, it was seriously destabilised by the Kosovo War in 1999, when an estimated 360,000 ethnic Albanian refugees from Kosovo took refuge in the country. Although they departed shortly after the war, soon after, Albanian radicals on both sides of the border took up arms in pursuit of autonomy or independence for the Albanian-populated areas of the Republic.

Macedonian civil conflict

The civil war was fought between government and ethnic Albanian rebels, mostly in the north and west of the country, between March and June 2001. This war ended with the intervention of a NATO ceasefire monitoring force. In the Ohrid Agreement, the government agreed to devolve greater political power and cultural recognition to the Albanian minority. The Albanian side agreed to surrender separatist demands and to fully recognise all Macedonian institutions. In addition, according to this accord, the NLA were to disarm and hand over their weapons to a NATO force. In 2005, the country was officially recognised as a European Union candidate state, under the reference “Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia”.

Geography Location: Southeastern Europe, north of Greece
Geographic coordinates: 41 50 N, 22 00 E
Map references: Europe
Area: total: 25,333 sq km
land: 24,856 sq km
water: 477 sq km
Area – comparative: slightly larger than Vermont
Land boundaries: total: 766 km
border countries: Albania 151 km, Bulgaria 148 km, Greece 246 km, Kosovo 159 km, Serbia 62 km
Coastline: 0 km (landlocked)
Maritime claims: none (landlocked)
Climate: warm, dry summers and autumns; relatively cold winters with heavy snowfall
Terrain: mountainous territory covered with deep basins and valleys; three large lakes, each divided by a frontier line; country bisected by the Vardar River
Elevation extremes: lowest point: Vardar River 50 m
highest point: Golem Korab (Maja e Korabit) 2,764 m
Natural resources: low-grade iron ore, copper, lead, zinc, chromite, manganese, nickel, tungsten, gold, silver, asbestos, gypsum, timber, arable land
Land use: arable land: 22.01%
permanent crops: 1.79%
other: 76.2% (2005)
Irrigated land: 550 sq km (2003)
Total renewable water resources: 6.4 cu km (2001)
Freshwater withdrawal (domestic/industrial/agricultural): total: 2.27
per capita: 1,118 cu m/yr (2000)
Natural hazards: high seismic risks
Environment – current issues: air pollution from metallurgical plants
Environment – international agreements: party to: Air Pollution, Biodiversity, Climate Change, Climate Change-Kyoto Protocol, Desertification, Endangered Species, Hazardous Wastes, Law of the Sea, Ozone Layer Protection, Wetlands
signed, but not ratified: none of the selected agreements
Geography – note: landlocked; major transportation corridor from Western and Central Europe to Aegean Sea and Southern Europe to Western Europe
Politics The Republic of Macedonia is a parliamentary democracy with an executive government composed of a coalition of parties from the unicameral legislature (Собрание, Sobranie) and an independent judicial branch with a constitutional court. The Assembly is made up of 120 seats and the members are elected every four years. The role of the President of the Republic is mostly ceremonial, with the real power resting in the hands of the President of the Government. The President is the commander-in-chief of the state armed forces and a president of the state Security Council. The President of the Republic is elected every five years and he or she can be elected twice at most. The current President is Branko Crvenkovski.

With the passage of a new law and elections held in 2005, local government functions are divided between 78 municipalities (општини, opštini; singular: општина, opština). The capital, Skopje, is governed as a group of ten municipalities collectively referred to as the “City of Skopje”. Municipalities in the Republic of Macedonia are units of local self-government. Neighbouring municipalities may establish co-operative arrangements. The country’s main political divergence is between the largely ethnically-based political parties representing the country’s ethnic Macedonian majority and Albanian minority. The issue of the power balance between the two communities led to a brief war in 2001, following which a power-sharing agreement was reached. In August 2004, the Republic’s parliament passed legislation redrawing local boundaries and giving greater local autonomy to ethnic Albanians in areas where they predominate.

After a troublesome pre-election campaign, the country saw a relatively calm and democratic change of government in the elections held on 5 July 2006. The elections were marked by a decisive victory of the centre-right party VMRO-DPMNE led by Nikola Gruevski. Gruevski’s decision to include the Democratic Party of Albanians in the new government, instead of the Democratic Union for Integration – Party for Democratic Prosperity coalition which won the majority of the Albanian votes, triggered protests throughout the parts of the country with a respective number of Albanian population. However, recently a dialogue was established between the Democratic Union for Integration and the ruling VMRO-DMPNE party as an effort to talk about the disputes between the two parties and to support European and NATO aspirations of the country.

People Population: 2,061,315 (July 2008 est.)
Age structure: 0-14 years: 19.5% (male 207,954/female 193,428)
15-64 years: 69.3% (male 719,708/female 708,033)
65 years and over: 11.3% (male 101,036/female 131,156) (2008 est.)
Median age: total: 34.8 years
male: 33.8 years
female: 35.8 years (2008 est.)
Population growth rate: 0.262% (2008 est.)
Birth rate: 12 births/1,000 population (2008 est.)
Death rate: 8.81 deaths/1,000 population (2008 est.)
Net migration rate: -0.57 migrant(s)/1,000 population (2008 est.)
Sex ratio: at birth: 1.08 male(s)/female
under 15 years: 1.08 male(s)/female
15-64 years: 1.02 male(s)/female
65 years and over: 0.77 male(s)/female
total population: 1 male(s)/female (2008 est.)
Infant mortality rate: total: 9.27 deaths/1,000 live births
male: 9.45 deaths/1,000 live births
female: 9.08 deaths/1,000 live births (2008 est.)
Life expectancy at birth: total population: 74.45 years
male: 71.95 years
female: 77.13 years

Greek Spat Exposes Putin’s Waning Clout in European Backyard

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT AND BLOOMBERG NEWS)

 

Greek Spat Exposes Putin’s Waning Clout in European Backyard

Monday, 13 August, 2018 – 08:30
When Greece, traditionally among Russia’s closest friends in Europe, expelled two Russian diplomats last month for trying to wreck a deal with the neighboring Republic of Macedonia, it exposed Moscow’s deepening frustration at President Vladimir Putin’s loss of influence in a key strategic region.

Russia’s being squeezed out of the Balkans by the expansion of the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, leaving the Kremlin with diminishing clout in southeastern Europe. There’s little chance of reversing that trend, according to four people in Moscow familiar with its Balkans policy.

“NATO membership of course is bad for us,” said Leonid Reshetnikov, a former head of Russian foreign intelligence who also served as an agent in Greece and the Balkans. “What can we do? They are clearing this territory” of rival influences, he said.

Russia’s deep historical and cultural ties to the Balkans made the region a preserve of pro-Moscow sentiment that ensured warmer relations than with much of the rest of Europe. Now Balkan states are becoming bound in with the West as they gravitate toward the EU and NATO.

Even amid divisions within the EU and questions raised by President Donald Trump about the US commitment to its NATO allies, the blocs still exert a strong pull in the region with their promises of rising trade and living standards, strengthened rule of law and security guarantees. Russia’s shrinking geopolitical reach is a historic setback for Putin, even as the Kremlin leader’s global power appears to be on the march, from Syria to meddling in US politics.

“Russia is acting pretty passively,’’ said Alexander Dugin, a nationalist thinker and one-time Kremlin adviser who promotes a vision of Russian dominance across Europe and Eurasia. “It needs a plan of action.”

Greek Expulsions

Greece expelled the Russian envoys after accusing them of bribing officials in an attempt to block the accord that settles a dispute over the Republic of Macedonia’s name and allows it to start talks on NATO membership. Russia’s foreign ministry accused Athens of joining in “dirty provocations,” prompting a Greek demand that “the constant disrespect for Greece must stop.”

Russia on Monday summoned the Greek ambassador to inform him that the foreign ministry was retaliating with reciprocal diplomatic measures in response to the expulsions.

Under the deal with Athens, the Republic of Macedonia will become the Republic of North Macedonia after Greece objected that the former Yugoslav republic’s title implied a territorial claim on its province with the same name.

‘Derail It’

Greece is “fully determined” to ratify the agreement, said Costas Douzinas, a member of the ruling Syriza party and head of the parliamentary committee on defense and foreign relations. “If the Russians continue to attempt to derail it, the reaction will be strong.”

Even the pro-Russian Independent Greeks party, the junior coalition partner in Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’s government, accuses Moscow of meddling, even as it opposes the accord. There’s “first-hand information that there was Russian interference in Greek matters,” the party’s vice president, Panos Sgouridis, said by phone. “It’s crucial that Greece’s national sovereignty is protected.”

The Republic of Macedonia plans to hold a referendum on Sept. 30. The deal is opposed by President Gjorge Ivanov, while Prime Minister Zoran Zaev has accused unnamed Greek businessmen sympathetic to Russia of inciting protests against it.

Last month, the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, a consortium of investigative reporters, cited the Republic of Macedonia’s Interior Ministry documents as saying that Greek-Russian billionaire Ivan Savvidis paid 300,000 euros to opponents of the accord. A representative for Savvidis denied the claim.
‘Enemies of Russia’

The former Yugoslav republic “will be in NATO,” said Frants Klintsevich, a member of the defense and security committee in Russia’s upper house of parliament. Moscow views the expansion of the alliance as reinforcing “the circle of enemies around Russia,” he said.

The tensions follow accusations by Montenegro that Russia was behind a failed coup attempt during 2016 parliamentary elections in a bid to derail its entry into the U.S.-led military alliance last year. Two Russian intelligence officers are among 14 people charged with the plot by Montenegrin prosecutors. Russia denies any involvement.

Konstantin Malofeev, a wealthy Russian businessman and Putin ally, who’s been sanctioned by the EU for backing insurgents in eastern Ukraine and has cultivated links to far-right parties in Europe, warned ominously of a backlash in Greece. A June opinion poll in Greece showed almost 70 percent of Greeks opposed the agreement with the Republic of Macedonia.
Serbia Shift

Russia’s sometimes heavy-handed efforts to stem the West’s growing influence have provoked alarm, particularly after the 2014 annexation of Crimea and support for rebels fighting in eastern Ukraine. Moscow’s fear is that it may be left without partners in the region.

Albania and Croatia are NATO members, while Bosnia and Herzegovina says it wants to join, though Bosnian Serbs with ties to Russia threaten to block any attempt. Even Russia’s closest regional ally, Serbia, has joined NATO’s Partnership for Peace cooperation program. Meanwhile, the EU has dangled the prospect of membership as early as 2025 for Serbia and five other Balkans states.

Ranged against Russia are the US and its European allies.

US Vice President Mike Pence spoke by phone to Tsipras and Zaev on July 5. He later tweeted that “successful implementation’’ of the agreement “will open the door to European integration’’ for the Republic of Macedonia. German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said July 30 that it’s in the EU’s “strategic interest” to expand into the western Balkans.

“It will be a very big blow” for Russia if Serbia, which NATO forces bombed in 1999 during the Kosovo crisis, eventually joins the alliance, said Nikita Bondarev, a Balkans expert from the Russian Institute for Strategic Studies, which advises the Kremlin. “We will become almost friendless in southeastern Europe.”

(Bloomberg)