Greece: citizenship for children of immigrants?

In between trying to deal with one of Europe’s worst economic crises and a crippling series of strikes, the Papandreou government in Greece has introduced a new immigration law. It would allow the children of immigrants to apply for Greek citizenship, provided that

(1) their parents have lived legally in Greece for at least 10 years, and
(2) the child has completed at least three years of schooling in Greece.

By one estimate, over 250,000 children and young adults would qualify for citizenship. As many as 100,000 of those may be of voting age.

This is a huge, huge deal. In order to understand why, you have to understand the odd position of immigrants in Greek society. Continue reading

New Balkan visa rules: Serbia in, Albania still out

And the Montenegrins and Macedonians. EU Commissioner Olli Rehn just announced his recommendation that these three countries be granted visa-free travel to the EU starting January 1, 2010.

While many European readers will blink and shrug, this is a huge, huge deal for the region. For the last 20 years, it’s kinda sucked to be a Serb. Back in Yugoslav times, you had one of the world’s best passports. East, west, developing world… the Yugoslav passport was welcomed for easy travel in almost every country on earth. But after 1991, suddenly your passport was a piece of junk: nobody welcomed Serbs, you were often viewed with suspicion, and you had to fill out elaborate forms (and wait for months) to get a visa to enter the EU. Even after the wars ended, Serbia was still kept firmly at arm’s length.

A whole generation of young Serbs have grown up grumpy about this: they didn’t do anything, so why are they being punished, while young Croats and Bulgarians can freely travel to London and Paris?

No more. Assuming the recommendations is approved — and it’s almost a rubber stamp — then six months from now, Serbs (and Montenegrins and Macedonians) will be able to jump on a plane and just fly to anywhere in the EU, no visa required.

Mind you, they won’t be able to get work permits. It’s just travel. But still: it’s going to make a huge difference.

This being the Balkans, there are of course some complications.
Continue reading

“Macedonia’s Obama”?

Macedonia will hold Presidential elections this weekend. No news there. But here’s the interesting thing: recent polls suggest that an ethnic Albanian candidate, Imer Selmani, has a decent chance of making it past the first round. If so, he’d become the first ethnic Albanian to enter the runoff for Macedonia’s Presidency.

Why is this even possible? Well, to make a long story short, all the other major candidates have managed to make themselves look like idiots. They’ve traded stupid accusations and name-calling, while Selmani has managed to remain above the fray. It doesn’t hurt that he’s young, good-looking, and speaks perfect Macedonian.

Let’s be clear: even if Selmani makes it to the runoff round — unlikely, but possible — he’s not going to become President. That would require between a quarter and a third of Slav Macedonians to vote for an Albanian. This is not going to happen. Continue reading

And Macedonia makes 50

Montenegro and Macedonia recognized Kosovo yesterday. Coincidentally, this raises the number of countries recognizing to exactly 50.

Macedonia and Montenegro are small countries, but they have outsized importance because (1) they’re neighbors of both Serbia and Kosovo, (2) they’re EU-members-to-be, and (3) they’re former Yugoslav Republics. So while this is no surprise, it’s still interesting.

I had some thoughts on this, but Radio Free Europe has already beaten me to most of them. (Yes, yes, I know about RFE. It’s a good article anyway, check it out.) One particularly interesting point: by co-ordinating their recognition, the two countries have given each other a certain amount of cover, diplomatically speaking.

I’ve said before that I expect a slow trickle of countries recognizing Kosovo gradually tapering off, until a plateau of between 50 and 60 is reached sometime next year. We’ll see soon enough!

Macedonia has a new government, too

Back in January, I posted about how Macedonia’s young Prime Minister, Nikola Gruevski, was for some reason the most popular head of government in the Balkans.

Well, they had Parliamentary elections at the beginning of June, and Macedonia said: yes. Gruevski’s center-right coalition won a whopping 63 out of 120 seats, giving them an outright majority. That’s very rare in this part of the world, and it’s the first time it’s ever happened in Macedonia.

Unfortunately for Gruevski, the elections did not go smoothly. There was violence at or around the polls in several ethnic-Albanian regions of the country. Continue reading

Macedonia: more stupid

I’d like to come up with more thoughtful and respectful titles for these posts. But, well.

Stupid #1: In the wake of the NATO summit, and Greece’s veto of Macedonian membership, there’s now a boycott campaign in Macedonia against Greek goods and Greek-owned businesses. Since Greece is one of Macedonia’s largest investors and trading partners, and since Greek tourism is particularly vital to the economically weak southern part of the country, this is pure stupidity; it will cost Macedonia, one of the poorest countries in Europe, millions of euros while accomplishing exactly nothing but to further damage relations between the two countries.

N.B., this idiocy is an entirely private initiative — Macedonian citizens and NGOs are doing this on their own, without the government’s encouragement. On the other hand, the government isn’t discouraging anyone, either.

About the only good thing to say about this is that it probably won’t last long.

Stupid #2: last week, Greece’s Ministry of Transport prohibited Macedonian Airlines from landing in Greece because… wait for it… its name is “Macedonian Airlines”.

Greece has kept MA out for several years already, but this is the first time they’ve explicitly said it’s because of the name.

I’m pretty sure this is illegal under international aviation agreements, but I welcome comments from those better informed. (Alex?)

On the plus side, Greece’s Foreign Minister has said that Greece could “eventually” abolish visas for Macedonians. So, two steps back, one forward.

Some thoughts on Greater Albania, Part 2

So, the Albanosphere: about 7 million Albanians in Albania, Kosovo, Macedonia, Greece and Montenegro, plus another million or so recent emigrants and gastarbeitern scattered across Europe and the US.

I’m going to leave the diaspora mostly out of the picture. They’re very important, but I can’t spent all my days writing blog posts. I’m also going to leave out the Arvanites and the native Albanians of Italy, Croatia, Turkey and Romania. The Arvanites identify as Greeks of Albanian descent, not Albanians (long story), and the other groups are small.

So what can we say about the rest of the Albanians? Continue reading

Macedonia: are you just doing this to annoy me?

You remember I blogged a few weeks back about how Macedonia’s government was collapsing (because of demands from the Albanian party in the coalition).

Then a bit later I posted about how, no, it wasn’t collapsing after all — the coalition partners had reconciled.

Well, now it has collapsed again. Elections are on June 1.

I should write some about how this happened but, really, it’s just too annoying. Mostly I’m annoyed with myself. Balkan governments do this a lot, you see. Some of you may remember that Romania’s Prime Minister Tariceanu quit in 2005, for instance, and then un-quit a few days after, before elections could be triggered. (He’s still PM almost three years later.) And I don’t want to think about how many false alarms there have been in Serbia.

Perhaps I should try to draw some general principle from this, but, again, I’m too annoyed. I wish the Macedonians well in their electoral endeavours, and now I’ll go post about something else.

(Mind, people who know what’s going on and want to talk about it are welcome to do so. Comment away, please.)

Macedonia: the stupid, it burns

The latest news from Macedonia: a local art gallery did a billboard showing the Greek flag with a swastika in place of the cross.

The Greeks have, of course, gone completely apeshit. Front page news, demonstrations, formal diplomatic protest.

This is one of those perfect Balkan storms where you have obnoxious and stupid behavior that leads to even more obnoxious and stupid behavior. The billboards are both obnoxious and stupid; they’re nothing but a finger in the eye to Athens, and deliberately done a few days before the NATO summit where Macedonia’s membership is on the table. The owner of the art gallery apparently is from Greek Macedonia, where the Greeks have been treating the Macedonians like dirt since they took over in 1913, but that’s neither here nor there; it’s just a really fucking stupid thing to do.

That said, the Greek response is even dumber: demands that Macedonia take the billboards down and apologize. (The billboards are paid for by a private organization, so the government can’t do much about them and isn’t responsible for them.) This accompanied by a descent into narcissistic, self-righteous outrage that’s… well, I wanted to say very Balkan, but in this case there’s something particularly Greek about it.

Anyway. This pretty much eliminates Macedonia’s chance of joining NATO this year. Which by itself is no big deal — the Greeks were probably going to veto them anyhow — but Athens has been given a wonderful gift. Now instead of being disgusted by Greek stupidity and stubbornness, the rest of NATO will be disgusted by both parties. So, a net loss for Macedonia.

There are already plenty of the usual Balkan conspiracy theories floating around, but you know? Sometimes stupidity is all.

I should probably add here that I lived in the Balkans for five years and hope to go back and live there some more. But: Jesus Christ, people. Is it something in the water?