Ideologies and history are usually employed when we fail to solve the contemporary problems. However discussing the past, without using it as a convenient alibi that creates problems and covers responsibilities for the present and the future, could be an attempt to offer a perspective of geopolitical reality (where we undoubtedly feel the effects of WWI around us). Although it inevitably focuses on instability in both the Middle East and the Eastern Mediterranean region, the gradual shift of this situation to the Balkans cannot be ignored. This region looking at it from the perspective of Geo-strategy and Geography of natural resources represent a minor but a link of utmost importance between Europe and the East. While the world is confronting the greatest division of power since the Cold War, where the ad hoc alliances are formed based on current interests rather than timeless values, with the Balkans threatening to blow Europe's peace, Serbia and Greece, signed the Joint Declaration on the Strategic Partnership (on December 11, 2019 in Athens) and sealed their natural historic alliance by serving not just their common but hopefully, wider interests of the Balkans and Southeast Europe, proving that history could offer us useful analogies.
The aforementioned ongoing geopolitical instability lead one to wonder where the root causes of this situation are and what are the real conditions for such developments. Seizing the long thread of History and wrapping it backwards, the researcher will reach the skein from which those events unfolded throughout the centenary. And it "bears the seal" of the Great War (1914-1918). Nowadays, that scary war, after a century, represents a fading event in modern history. It was, however, a historic landmark that brought about Europe's and Middle East geopolitical transformation.
Although it is difficult to talk about stricto sensu diplomacy in a time of war, it was not possible to overlook the strategic choices and goals of the Balkan countries in the light of the geo-strategic pursuits of the Great Powers during the WWI. It was especially the case of Serbia and Greece and their interrelations in the context of German expansionist policy, as well as in the plans of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy to take over the dominant role in the Balkans. In addition, the two neighboring countries were essentially a bridge of the Allies to the oil reserves of the East, and in particular to the Persian Gulf. We conclude that the issue of Greek-Serbian relations during the Great War falls within the broader context of the Great Powers' policy in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Near East. The interplay of strategic choices, financial opportunities and diplomatic maneuvers that determined the international position and security of both countries ended up being entirely dependent on the geopolitical imperialist interests of the two rival blocs.
The Belgrade-Athens axis, however, was a cornerstone of the two countries' foreign policy. The achievement of national integration of Greece and Serbia, as it was meant after the end of World War I, transformed the two small Balkan states into regulators of the broader geopolitical scene in Southeast Europe, without questioning the role of the Great Powers.
The Balkans nowadays are at the heart of the interest of many world powers, notably the US and Russia, but also the European Union and Turkey. NATO-Russia geopolitical competition is also changing as the EU emancipates itself by pursuing autonomous goals, both in economic and security terms, complicating the already intractable equation and introducing new forces into a long-established chessboard. Additionally, historical heritage still casts its shadow, arousing mutual suspicion, shaping revanchist national and social attitudes, forming alliances and obstructing a realistic approach to the common interest through co-operation and good neighborliness. It is clear that there is a deep crisis in international relations that has created the conditions for a new geopolitical trend – "the global balkanization". These features indicate that the foreseeable future foresees very significant changes, with geography and history emerging as major geopolitical factors.
Consequently, the Balkans will continue to be the focus of geopolitical developments in 2020, as geo-strategic approaches so far have failed to establish security and stability conditions and upgrade the region. However, the recently established strategic partnership of Serbia and Greece could potentially represent the beginnings of "new epoch" of enhanced cooperation within the Balkans.
From historic alliance to strategic partnership
Serbia and Greece have a long tradition of close friendships, which in the past have many times demonstrated their common goals and spiritual proximity. They have thus been able to maintain close friendships even in times where, due to international conditions, they have been found to be part of wider alliances led by large opposing forces. Accordingly, over the last hundred years the two states signed a few alliances and agreements. However, the historic alliance culminated in the era of Greek Prime minister Eleftherios K. Venizelos and Serbian Prime minister Nikola Pasic. The signing of the Treaty of Alliance of 1913 during the Balkan Wars has undoubtedly been the core of these relations. The essence of diplomatic relations between Serbia and Greece during that period was to maintain a common position, which should be of benefit to both countries in implementing the peace initiatives. It was precisely on this basis that Greek-Serbian relations evolved during the ensuing Great War.
Serbia-Greece bilateral relations, which have been in a state of inactivity since the onset of the global economic crisis, gained new momentum in late 2016 and early 2017 with the visits of Kyriakos Mitsotakis and Alexis Tsipras to Belgrade and re-opening of political dialogue at the highest level. The culmination of all efforts to renew and strengthen bilateral relations was the establishment of the Supreme Co-operation Council (SAA) between Serbia and Greece.
The common interest of Serbia and Greece remains the same: to safeguard the stability, security and prosperity of Southeast Europe. The new era in Serbian-Greek relations, emerging in late 2016 and early 2017, has resulted in Greece voting against Kosovo's accession to Interpol in November 2018, a positive shift with its abstention in November 2015. Also, Athens has formally condemned the imposition of duties on the products of central Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina by the Pristina provisional authorities at the end of December 2018. At the same time, Serbia is following with great concern the developments in the Eastern Mediterranean and condemns any action contrary to International Law and the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. Belgrade supports the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Cyprus, including the sovereign rights of Cyprus to research and exploit natural resources in its own EEZ. Moreover, Greece is a member state of the EU which consistently supports enlargement policy and fully supports Serbia's European course, whose accession negotiations began on 21 January 2014 under the Greek Presidency. The two countries are in agreement on safeguarding the cultural heritage and returning it to its rightful owners. With regard to the major issue of migrant - refugee, Serbia stands firm in supporting Greece in its management process, demonstrating in practice its sense of European solidarity. Moreover, Greece is promoting the already existing cooperation initiatives between the Balkan states that are already members of the EU (four-way cooperation of Serbia, Greece, Bulgaria and Romania and three-way cooperation of Serbia, Greece and Cyprus) in areas such as defense and security, infrastructure construction, road and rail networks, joint energy programs, trade facilitation and co-operative events1.
In the frame of aforementioned initiatives and processes, Serbian President Alexander Vucic and Greek Prime Minister Kirijakos Micotakis sign a joint declaration in Athens on establishing a strategic partnership between the two countries. The Declaration implies a series of common positions on the most important issues, mutual support on the most important issues for both countries, and a range of other general political positions regarding the friendly and strategic relations of the two countries. Speaking at the session of the High Council for Cooperation between Serbia and Greece, which preceded the signing of the document, Serbian President emphasized that the Declaration is very important, and Greece is only the third country in Europe with which Serbia signs such a document. He added that it is important that the Declaration covers economic cooperation, security cooperation, as well as scientific and educational cooperation. Pronouncing on the fact that the declaration should have been signed long ago and that Serbia still has such a declaration with Russia, China, Italy and France, Foreign Minister of Serbia Ivica Dacic explained that the document implies a number of common positions on the most important issues and mutual support on the most important issues for each of countries. He stressed, in addition that Serbia has extremely good political relations with Greece, while the economic relations should be improved. Recalling the importance of strong support of Greece on Serbia`s path to the EU, as well as mutual solidarity between countries in solving the migrant crisis, the Serbian Foreign minister additionally announced the introduction of an additional trilateral with Cyprus, "which will further strengthen our positions, as Cyprus traditionally has a strong stand against unilateral acts regarding the territorial integrity of the country ".
Geostrategic potential that may further enhance Greek-Serbian relations
Here we should not forget that already in 2017, the then Ministry of Defense of Greece emphasized that, "in addition to the Orthodox common road, the two countries Serbia and Greece have another common road: the European common road", putting in this context the military cooperation between Greece and Serbia as very important for stability in the Balkans and in the wider region. According to his estimations Greece with bilateral relations to the south with Israel, Jordan, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and of course with the trilateral relations with these countries and with Cyprus, but also to the North with Bulgaria and Romania, could develop with Serbia an axis of stability, peace and progress in the Balkans and Europe and bring stability and peace in region. Explaining the benefits of "regional gathering "for the effective defense of countries, he emphasized that Serbia has maintained an excellent defense industry, with high technology and synergies and joint projects with the Greek defense industry. He reminded as well that the developments in the field of energy, but also the extension of the Silk Road from Egypt to the North, Greece and Serbia, along with other Balkan countries could play an important role.
Moreover, according to the reputable Greek military analyst Serbia could represent an important intermediate country for Greece to establish a healthy geopolitical relationship with Moscow, Beijing, the Arab states, Iran, Paris, etc. and Washington and to create a strong geopolitical complex of high potential. These efforts could also be combined to create a structure of industrial-military cooperation between Greece, Cyprus and Serbia, which can serve as the basis for a broader geopolitical approach. His further estimates referred to conclusion that for countries such as Serbia (taking into consideration serious know-how that Serbia already possesses), defense cooperation can have a disproportionately large geopolitical potential, even if it is confined to more modest markets, due to the smaller size of the country and its industry than the giants of the war industry.
Regarding the energy issues, the Balkans as tomorrow's energy corridor which will supply the countries of Central and Western Europe with gas, is expected to soon become not only a geopolitical but also an important energy bridge linking Europe with the wider Caucasus and of the Middle East. In particular, the Eastern Mediterranean region has attributed goodwill to the Balkans due to the already abundant natural gas reserves in the Exclusive Economic Zones of Egypt, Cyprus and Israel, with corresponding deposits being also mined in Greece.
The Balkans have recently been classified as an unfinished project, as the procedures for resolving the geopolitical issues in the region are still ongoing and the problems that still require solutions are very complex and therefore difficult. The main reason that the Balkans remain in this situation is first and foremost the inability to understand what historical memory means in the Balkans, ignoring the deeper aspects of the region's history and its associated implications for both political ideology and everyday life. Consequently, it is estimated that the Balkan prospects are only more optimistic today when linked to solutions that can emerge from the Balkan countries themselves. Attempts at a common Balkan perspective have been made in the past, and even in very difficult times. Although the data in the Balkans are clearly different from the data of the past, (every country of the region has an interest in expanding Balkan interests), maybe it would be useful for Balkan countries to identify the common denominator, that is, their common interests, in order to improve the existing circumstances in the region for future regulation.
The vision of peaceful co-existence and regional strategic cooperation in the Balkans should inspire political steps but should not disorient and lead to utopian pursuits against national interests. Because the Balkan geopolitical landscape requires frank and resolute political solutions, it is complex and while providing opportunities, it also hides traps. This raises the question of whether Serbia and Greece could be the stabilizing factors in the Balkans, the pillars of co-operation in a Balkan perspective.
1 The interview of the Ambassador of Serbia to Greece, Mr. Dušan Spasojević, to the prestigious Greek newspaper Καθημερινή 10/12/2019.