They’re at it again, Miss. It’s appropriate that Doug used the phrase “ramming speed”, because that was just what the Greek and Turkish fighter planes were travelling at when they collided. This has been going on for ages. Among Greece and Turkey’s catalogue of territorial disputes is one over the line between the Athens and Istanbul Flight Information Regions, the basic units of state sovereignty in the air. The Turkish air force regularly probes the Greek air defence, and the Greek QRA (Quick Reaction Alert) is scrambled, and they try to force each other to turn away or land. A form of hypermodernist ritual combat.

It’s not new. In the cold war, Soviet aircraft would roar down the North Sea to prod the NATO radar chain, and (mostly) British and Norwegian fighters would red-alert into action to intercept them. And then the jousting would begin, often in distant corners of the Arctic seas. Both parties put a lot of effort into this; sometimes there might be US F15s from Iceland, Norwegian F-16s, British Lightnings, Phantoms or Tornados, British VC10 tankers, US KC135 tankers, British Shackleton AEW aircraft and perhaps a US or NATO multinational AWACS involved at the same time. It’s hard to escape the conclusion that this was because it was fun, something the governments would never admit and the pilots would be the first to declare with suitable gestures.

Greek-Turkish relations aren’t great, but are not bad at all compared with almost any other period except the burst of fraternity after the Turkish earthquake. So why all the drama? After all, a high rate of FIR violations has been going on for a year or so. Well, the best explanation is that it’s the internal culture and preferences of the air forces involved. If you ask fighter pilots if they’re up for a bit of supersonic aerobatics, you’re only realistically going to get one answer. Fortunately neither side has nukes, given the short distances and hence warning times involved. (Although there is an argument that it was precisely the balance of nuclear terror that meant it was possible to piss around and survive.)

The danger is that someone will take it all too seriously, which happened back in 1996 when the Greek-Turkish situation was considerably more poisonous than it is now. A Greek Mirage-2000 shot down a Turkish F-16, the only F-16 ever shot down in air-to-air combat. But the grown-ups stepped in and war was avoided. There’s only one lasting answer, of course-which group of countries with highly developed air forces and common borders don’t do this? The European Union. Greece and Turkey amply show that NATO doesn’t cut it on its own. Whe EU member states feel the need…the need for speed, they take it to somewhere like the RAF’s instrumented range in the North Sea to settle it like gentlemen.

When Chams Attack

Greece and Albania are having a small diplomatic tiff. If reading about that sort of thing interests you, read on.

So: two weeks ago, Greek President Karolos Papoulias’ was scheduled to meet with Albanian President Alfred Moisiu, in the southern Albanian town of Sarande. I’m pretty sure this was the first meeting of Greek and Albanian heads of state in a long time. So, fairly big deal by regional standards.

But it didn’t happen, because of the Chams. About 200 of them. They showed up outside the hotel in Saranda where President Papoulias was staying, waved signs, shouted, and generally made a nuisance of themselves.

President Papoulias didn’t take this at all well. He cancelled the meeting with President Moisiu and went back to Greece in a huff. A day or two later, Greece issued a demarche to Albania. (A demarche is a formal diplomatic note from one country to another. It’s about a 5 on the diplomatic hissy-fit scale, higher than merely expressing disapproval but lower than recalling your ambassador.) The demarche expressed regret that Albania did not “take the necessary precautions so that the meeting between the Greek and Albanian Presidents could take place without hindrance.” Worse yet, they did not “take the necessary measures to discourage certain familiar extremist elements which, in their effort to obstruct the normal development of bilateral relations, continue to promote unacceptable and non-existent issues, at the very moment when Albania is attempting to proceed with steps fulfilling its European ambitions”.

Got that? Okay, now comes an obvious question.

What, exactly, are Chams?
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Formerly Known as FYROM

This blog doesn’t usually resound with praise for the far-sighted wisdom and diplomatic cunning of the Bush administration. (Neither does my own blog, for that matter.)

So I thought I’d be a bit contrarian, and point to a recent episode where Bush, or Colin Powell, or undersecretary of state Marc Grossman, or /someone/, seems to have done something wonderfully and exactly right.

Macedonia: small country in the Balkans, former Yugoslav Republic. Gained independence in 1991. For fourteen years, has been officially entitled, not Macedonia, but “The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia” — aka FYROM. This ugly neologism came into existence purely and entirely because the idea of a country called “Macedonia” drove Greek nationalists gibbering crazy.

(No, don’t ask. It doesn’t make any sense at all, and never did, so never mind. Oh, we could go into stuff like the early-’90s rivalry between Mitsotakis and Papandreou, and how they and their parties got locked into an escalating spiral of whipping up nationalist opinion on this stupid, stupid issue, but never mind. Just take it as given.)

So: on November 3 — the very first day after the election — the Bush administration announced that, after fourteen years, it was going to start recognizing Macedonia by the name it wanted to be recognized: i.e., Macedonia. And that there’d be no more of this FYROM stuff, thanks.

So why was this such a good thing?
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The Strange Case of Odysseas Tsenai

In the news today the Comission and Spain/Poland are still haggling over the price of the constitution. Meantime from another pole of Europe, a curious story of one young Albanian, and the struggle to assert his elementary rights in his new homeland: Greece. My feeling is that in our current preoccupations, our conception of Europe lies too far to the North and too far to the West. I also think, that when we come to look at the contribution and participation of immigrants in Europe, we all too often forget the adversity they face.

Background: in 1990 the Greek Alabania border opened. Over the mountains and across the sea the Albanians started arriving in Greece. Their numbers were large but never counted: their number still constitutes material for scare stories on popular Greek TV. The actual number is unknown but it might be as high as a million all over Greece (if you include the ethnic Greek Albanians ). The first arrivals came from a country whose isolation was proverbial. They were destitute, blinded by the city lights and the consumer goods, and clueless as to what they could do to earn a living.
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