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BOILING POSITIVE MOOD: Greek-Turkish Rapprochement?

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pozitív hangulat sziget / positive mood in greek-turkish relations
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While Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan impressed the Western public with bombastic announcements at the NATO summit in Vilnius – namely, his support for Sweden’s accession and Ukraine’s NATO membership – the meeting between the freshly re-elected Greek Prime Minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, and him received far less press coverage. According to pictures and a brief report from the meeting, amidst a positive mood in recent months, the development of relations will benefit both countries. The two foreign ministers have been entrusted with managing the process, and they are scheduled to meet this summer, with plans for a joint government meeting in Thessaloniki in the autumn. In the meantime, it is expected that the two leaders will also hold discussions during the United Nations General Assembly in New York in September.

The relationship turned confrontational

The joint government meeting is almost historic, as since its introduction in 2010, the parties have only met four times, most recently during the migration crisis in March 2016, in Izmir.

However, since 2016, relations have deteriorated significantly, and this was not significantly influenced even when the conservative Mitsotakis succeeded the ultra-leftist Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, with whom Erdogan might have found it easier to reach a modus vivendi.

On the other hand, since the autumn of 2019, there have been successive diplomatic disputes between the two countries, starting with the special economic zones in the eastern Mediterranean and the extension of Turkish jurisdiction to the territorial waters, continuing in 2020 with a short but spectacular migration crisis near the land border in the region of Edirne, and culminating in almost an armed conflict in August of that year.

EU sanctions and pressure from major powers have set a limit to further escalation, but confrontational messages have remained on the agenda in the coming years, especially concerning the demilitarization of Greek islands in the Aegean and the waters in front of Anatolia.

Many thought that, as both countries would hold elections in 2023, the creation of a more serious diplomatic conflict could be an item on the agenda, serving the interests of the two leaders.

However, this scenario was ultimately swept off the table by the earthquakes in southeastern Turkey on February 6, as Athens provided rapid and highly visible assistance, evoking memories of its selfless support during the Izmit earthquake in 1999. As photos of Greek rescue teams spread through Turkish social media, the governmental tone towards Greece softened.

High-level meetings were initiated, which were soon given a new, sad urgency by another disaster: a train accident on February 28 that claimed 57 lives.

Boiling positive mood

The meeting between the two leaders in Vilnius, the first in 16 months, can indeed give cause for optimism, although there are still plenty of disagreements.

Mitsotakis had to explain himself shortly thereafter, as according to him, there was no mention of the Muslims living in Western Thrace during the conversation, contrary to what Erdoğan stated, claiming it would have been the main topic.

According to the Turkish President, he would like the Muslim community – consisting of Turks, Pomaks, and Roma – to be able to choose its religious leaders, rather than have them appointed by the state.

On the other hand, the Greek Prime Minister sees the activities of the Turkish consulate in the affected province as an issue, as he objected to the consulate’s support for the leftist Syriza.

So, even in the midst of the currently boiling positive mood, the back-and-forth exchange is expected to continue in the coming months.

The fragility of the current reconciliation is demonstrated by the fact that the leaders have mostly swept serious issues under the carpet, such as the situation of minorities, the delimitation of territorial waters, airspace, and the demilitarization of islands, just to mention a few important topics.

Mitsotakis, in any case, would like to quickly resolve the issue of the special economic zones (EEZ) and the question of disputed maritime borders.

However, this is likely to be the toughest challenge since Turkey is not a party to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, nor has it shown much inclination to sign it. Nevertheless, they could still agree bilaterally on issues concerning both the Aegean and the Mediterranean, but Erdogan certainly does not want to return home empty-handed if an agreement is reached.

The United States could also provide assistance in resolving or at least maintaining a positive course in Greek-Turkish relations.

According to preliminary expectations, the U.S. Congress will decide simultaneously on the allocation of promised F-16s to Ankara and whether Athens will get the green light for the acquisition of F-35 fighter jets.

The gestures made by both parties and the support for negotiations, even if they don’t lead to a breakthrough, will likely signify a period of rapprochement between Greece and Turkey.

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Vučić is less willing to ask KFOR for the northern areas. Elections on December 17?


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KFOR stúdió északi
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The Serbian President gave a tense interview to the Serbian state television (RTS) about the events in Banjska and other current issues. For example, Aleksandar Vučić criticized the channel for broadcasting drone footage of the events on Sunday, which had been posted on the internet by the Kosovar Minister of Interior. The provocative presidential behavior was not directed at a specific host but rather at the institution itself. The Serbian President had a similarly dismissive attitude toward another host in the past.

They had been preparing for the rebellion for a year

President Aleksandar Vučić, in an interview on RTS’s “Oko” program, stated that the Kosovo Serbs were mourning only their own dead, while Serbia commemorated all killed Serbs and the murdered Kosovar police officer on Wednesday. He explained that, according to the Serbian constitution, which regards Kosovo as part of Serbia, they are all Serbian citizens.

This was a strong start, as the photographs of the Kosovar Albanian police officers were not displayed at Serbian memorials, certainly not at the St. Sava Temple in Belgrade, and Serbian media did not communicate this to the audience.

KFOR északi

There were only three photos at the Church of St. Sava in Belgrade (Screenshot)

He also added that, for him, the killed Serbs would “never be terrorists” but rather family people.

The Serbian President denied the claim by Kosovo’s Minister of Interior that Aleksandar Vulin’s bodyguard, or someone who served as his bodyguard, died in the attack. In fact, the man allegedly served as a security officer for the current director of the Security Information Agency ten years ago.

Vučić also revealed that he has had information for a year that Kosovo (and Metohija) Serbs were preparing for resistance, as they had erected barricades more than a year ago.

– The situation is hot, call it whatever you want, the church, you or me. Kurti did it; he united the Serbs 

the Serbian President said. He also noted that the Kosovo Prime Minister had turned everyone against him, and as a result, they would all fight against him, even if they all perish, but they won’t “board the tractor,” meaning they won’t leave their homeland.

Vučić pointed out that Albin Kurti, the Kosovo Prime Minister, systematically targeted and destroyed the Serbian people because he hates them.

The Serbian president also spoke about the fact that Milan Radoičić, the vice-president of the Serbian List, who was accused of leading the group, never hid it and was not ashamed of his role, so he must be willing to be interrogated by the Serbian authorities, because he is in Central Serbia and thus available to the authorities. Vučić also revealed that Radoičić was not injured.

However, he said that one of the Serbian victims was shot in the head at point-blank range, which is known in Serbia as “overa” (control), and the Serbian president also used this term.

The relationship with KFOR is correct

The Serbian President also discussed the role of international organizations. He mentioned that EULEX was not allowed near the events because not only Kosovo people but also people from the Presevo Valley, known to the Serbian police, were present at the scene.

Regarding communication between the Serbian Army and the KFOR headquarters, Vučić said it was correct because Angelo Michele Ristuccia, the KFOR commander, is a serious person.

However, there appears to be a difference in opinion between the Serbian President and the Serbian Minister of Defense, Miloš Vučević. The latter stated that communication between Serbia and KFOR had been reduced to “elementary technical levels.”

Vučić responded to the demands of Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica Dačić and the mentioned Minister of Defense that KFOR take over security in the northern areas. He stated that he could not guarantee the feasibility of this and that Serbs would get along with KFOR because, at least, KFOR wouldn’t break into their homes.

For those with a slightly better memory, they will surely recall that the Serbian President wrote on Instagram just two days ago that he had asked the Quinta Ambassadorial Group to have KFOR take care of all security issues in Northern Kosovo instead of “Kurti’s police.”1

vucic kurti

Regarding this, the Serbian President presented another scenario and suggested attempting dialogue to compel Kurti to establish the Community of Serbian Municipalities (Zajednica Srpskih Opština, ZSO), which would place the police under Serbian control, and Serbian police officers would take charge of matters.

The Serbian President believes this is why Kurti does not want to fulfill this Serbian demand, even though the people are on the brink of rebellion.

Vučić may or may not fulfill it

The Serbian President appears to be planning to hold early elections not in March or February but as early as December 17 or possibly December 23, complying with opposition demands.

He plans to hold various local elections at that time, despite the opposition’s specific request to hold only the Belgrade elections alongside the early elections and not to include regional or local elections.

KFOR északi

Regarding some of the opposition’s election demands, the Serbian President stated that he fully accepted opposition proposals, but as the previous sentence suggests, this is not entirely true.

Vučić did not rule out that he would lead the Serbian Progressive Party’s list if asked, which, as previously noted here on BALK, is quite inappropriate given his position as the President of all Serbian citizens.

Aleksandar Vučić, the Serbian President, also reported that a new indictment has been filed against Vojislav Šešelj in The Hague. He emphasized that the indictment was filed against Šešelj and four others for contempt of court.

– Just to add to the pressure

Vučić said briefly.

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