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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Metis, Bie and Kerdos: Some Thoughts On Defeating Terrorism

Maybe it’s the presence of Talos in the comments section, or maybe it’s the arrival of the Athens Olympics on my personal horizon, but something this morning is carrying me back to the world of the Greeks, and to some early ideas of how best to secure objectives in the face of adversity.

First metis and bie:

What Does Metis Mean?

The history of the word goes back more than 28 centuries to the time of Homer around, 850BC. To the ancient Greeks, metis represented a particular type of cunning intelligence used if success was to be won in the most diverse fields of action. In the Iliad and the Odyssey, Odysseus is the hero most commonly associated with metis. The most famous strategem (metis) is the Trojan Horse, by which the Greeks finally managed to conquer Troy. This is a good example of metis for it represents a solution to a problem not resolvable by conventional means.

Metis is often contrasted with the word, bie, which means brute force. All through the Iliad, the big question is, will Troy fall by metis or bie – by wiliness or brute strength? The answer is by metis.

In the intellectual world of the Greek philosopher, there was a radical dichotomy between being and becoming, between the intelligible and the sensible. On the one hand there is the sphere of being, of the one, the unchanging, of the limited, of true and definite knowledge; on the other hand, the sphere of becoming, of the multiple, the unstable and the unlimited, of oblique and changeable opinion. Metis is characterised by the way it operates by continuously oscillating between the two opposite poles. Within a changing reality with limitless possibilities, a person with metis can achieve.

So metis is a type if intelligence and of thought, a way of knowing; it implies a complex but coherent body of mental attitudes and intellectual behaviour which combine flair, forethought, resourcefulness, vigilance, pragmatism, opportunism and the wisdom of experience.

When art and science unite, extra possibilities and opportunities are made resulting in innovation that can be driven by creativity. Metis is about finding elegant solutions to difficult problems instead of relying on brute force.

Now are you with me? What is lacking in our war with terrorism today, and all too often woefully lacking, is the component of metis. It is as if 2,000 years or more of history did not lie behind us, as if we had to learn every day anew the painful lessons of yesterday. Why am I saying this now? Well look what happened in Spain yesterday, what is happening today, and what will happen in the elections tomorrow.
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