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Could Greece Be a Stabilizing Actor in the Balkans?

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Since the end of the Cold War, the Balkans has hosted many crises. While the main causes of these crises are ethnic and religious conflicts; Tensions between the countries of the region have also deepened an unending process of instability in the region. At the point reached today, the region, which follows the process of integration and harmonization with Euro-Atlantic institutions such as the European Union (EU) and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), still contains risk factors. Especially with the outbreak of the Russia-Ukraine War, the footsteps of a new crisis began to be heard in the region.

Having achieved EU and NATO membership in the early period, Greece stayed away from the conflict environment in the Balkans in the 1990s and stayed out of many problems brought by the region. This situation has been the most important factor shaping the approach of Greece to its neighbors in the region. Because this approach has led Greece to see itself as a protector and leader in the region.

While the recent crises, especially in Kosovo, and the tensions in Bosnia-Herzegovina’s domestic politics, have pushed actors such as the EU to focus more on the region; It is seen that the interest of Greece, which is also a Balkan country, has increased in the region. Considering that Greece has geopolitical and strategic interests in the region, this situation becomes more understandable. In particular, the recent high-level visits to the countries of the region reveal the effort to develop relations with these states and to create new areas of cooperation.

In this context, Greek Prime Minister Kriakos Mitsotakis, who made a statement before the Southeast European Cooperation Process (SEECP) Summit in June 2022, stated that they made a dynamic return to the Western Balkans and that the fact that the summit was held in Thessaloniki is an indicator of this.[1] In the same period, Sofia Grammata, Ambassador of Greece to Bucharest, was appointed as the Special Envoy for the Western Balkans.[2]

In addition to all these, Greek President Katerina Sakellaropoulou, who included the Balkans in her New Year message, stated that Greece is a factor of security and stability in the Balkans.[3] While the aforementioned statements point to Greece’s interest in the region; reveals his approach at this point. As a matter of fact, while Athens sees itself as a stabilizing factor in the region; gives the message that it can be an important actor in solving the problems in the region. Of course, the fact that Greece is a member of the EU is also effective in this regard.

As can be expected, the EU and the integration process are brought to the fore in the statements made from Athens to the countries of the region. So that; Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias emphasized the integration process of the Western Balkans with the EU and stated that this is a one-way road.[4] Therefore, Greece supports the membership processes of the countries in the region by using its position in the EU. This, in turn, expands Athens’ area of action in the region.

It should be noted that; Despite its constructive initiatives in the region, Greece faces a number of obstacles. The first of these is relations with Serbia. Because the rapprochement of the two Orthodox countries creates discomfort in some quarters. Although it is envisaged that Greece will be involved in matters involving Serbia as a mediator, it is not realistic for this to happen. In particular, the fact that Kosovo still does not officially recognize its independence is important in terms of how Greece is perceived in the region.

Although the problems with North Macedonia were resolved with the Prespa Agreement signed in 2018, Greece’s pressure on North Macedonia for the full implementation of the agreement makes it difficult to establish a sustainable cooperation environment.

On the other hand, Greece, which has come to the forefront as an important representative of the EU in the region apart from Croatia, has had some side effects of the recent developments in its domestic politics and the scandals that have come to the agenda in international politics. The bribery scandal, which occurred especially before the EU and allegedly involving a Greek politician, created negativity. This raises questions about what Athens can offer to the regional capitals.

On the other hand, the energy crisis in the conjuncture brought about by the Russia-Ukraine War also affected the Balkans. Although Greece stands out as an important actor in ensuring energy security,[5] It is not expected that Greece will establish an energy cooperation platform in the near future.

As a result, Greece is an actor with many interests in the region, from economy to security. Athens has an important role especially in the harmonization and integration processes of the countries of the region with the EU. However, it is observed that the cooperation emphasized in official visits and many platforms is not reflected in practice. The close political and economic relations with Serbia, in particular, cause criticism from other countries in the region. For this reason, it can be said that Greece cannot make a sufficient contribution to the stability in the region compared to other actors. The fact that Athens is not neutral in the face of the problems in the region and that it has some problems with the regional capitals prevents Greece from becoming a stabilizing actor. In short, although Greece wants to stand out as a stabilizing country in the Balkans, it lacks the necessary means.


[1] “Mitsotakis: Greece Making ‘Dynamic Return’ to Western Balkans”, Ekathimerini, https://www.ekathimerini.com/news/1186546/mitsotakis-greece-making-dynamic-return-to-western-balkans/, (Date of Accession: 06.01.2023).

[2] “Greece Appoints Special Envoy for Western Balkans”, Ekathimerini, https://www.ekathimerini.com/news/1186795/greece-appoints-special-envoy-for-western-balkans/, (Date of Accession: 06.01.2023).

[3] “Greece a Factor of Stability, Security in the Balkans and the SE Mediterranean, Says Sakellaropoulou in New Year Message” Amna, https://www.amna.gr/en/article/698132/Greece-a-factor-of-stability–security-in-the-Balkans-and-the-SE-Mediterranean–says-Sakellaropoulou-in-New-Year-message, (Date of Accession: 06.01.2023).

[4] “Dendias in Pristina: Western Balkans’ EU Path ‘is a One-Way Road’”, Ekathimerini, https://www.ekathimerini.com/news/1200714/dendias-in-pristina-western-balkans-eu-path-is-a-one-way-road/, (Date of Accession: 06.01.2023).

[5] “Greece and Bulgaria Factors of Energy Stability in the Balkans”, Capital, https://www.capital.gr/english/3679043/greece-and-bulgaria-factors-of-energy-stability-in-the-balkans, (Date of Accession: 06.01.2023).

Mustafa ÇUHADAR
Mustafa ÇUHADAR
Mustafa Çuhadar, İstanbul Üniversitesi Edebiyat Fakültesi İngiliz Dili ve Edebiyatı Bölümü mezunudur. Lisans döneminde disiplinlerarası çalışmalarına ağırlık veren Çuhadar'ın başlıca çalışma alanları, Balkanlar ve İstihbarat çalışmalarıdır. 2021 yılında Ankara Üniversitesi Türk İnkılap Tarihi Enstitüsü’nde yüksek lisans eğitimine başlayan Çuhadar, halihazırda Bosna Hersek’teki siyasi partileri inceleyen yüksek lisans tezini hazırlamaktadır. Çuhadar, iyi derecede İngilizce, Boşnakça, Hırvatça ve Sırpça ve temel seviyede Almanca bilmektedir.