Memory and oblivion: Greece's role in the Yugoslav wars
by Takis Michas
Last July, at a meeting of the Greek Center for European Studies (EKEM), Greek delegate to the EU Anna Diamantopoulou spoke about the bright future awaiting Greece in Europe. At the conclusion of her speech I asked Ms Diamantopoulou if the ‘bright future’ would also include the Greek politicians who contributed morally, financially, politically and - perhaps - militarily to the genocide in Bosnia. In her (tape-recorded) reply, the EU delegate stated that ‘the Greek standpoint was justified’.
Several months prior to the CES meeting, at a conference organized at the Athens Hilton, I posed a similar question to foreign minister George Papandreou. He replied that ‘one should look forward, not backward’.
If one agrees with Vaclav Havel's view that the quintessence of progress is the existence of a critical historical memory, then it is truly disheartening to hear such responses from two people who supposedly represent the modernizing project in Greece. For the grim reality is that a large segment of the Greek political, financial and ecclesiastical establishment bears part of the responsibility for the mass crimes committed by the Serbs in Bosnia under Milosevic, Karadzic and Mladic.
- Until the summer of 1995 (when the major massacres took place in Bosnia) Greek entrepreneurs, with the full knowledge of the governments (Mitsotakis - Papandreou), violated the UN Security Council oil embargo and supplied the Serbian and Bosnian Serb war machine with the necessary fuel. In one case, moreover, a Greek prime minister personally ordered police cars to accompany the fuel tankers so that they would not be stopped en route!
- Until Kostas Simitis's rise to power, the Milosevic regime maintained, in violation of European Union directives, 250 (!) bank accounts in Greece. Funds used to purchase the products necessary for the Serb war effort were channelled through these accounts.
- Throughout the war in Bosnia, Greek newspapers and TV stations openly engaged in the recruitment of Greek paramilitaries who participated in ‘battles’ - under Ratko Mladic - in which brutal crimes were committed against Bosnian Muslim civilians. Each time I brought this issue (in writing) to the attention of the Greek authorities the response was icy indifference.
- The Greek authorities (Papandreou period) provided a safe haven for members of Milosevic's secret services, who had been accused of murdering Kosovar Albanian activists in Europe, and who were being sought by Interpol.
- Top-level Greek politicians, entrepreneurs and clerics provided moral as well as material support to Radovan Karadzic despite the fact that he was accused of mass crimes in Sarajevo, Zvornik, Prijedor, Foca and elsewhere.
- The Greek governments (Papandreou - early-era Simitis) encouraged state investments in Bosnia that contravened the Dayton accords and encouraged Bosnian-Serb plans for the partitioning of the country.
These facts are just the tip of the iceberg and reflect publicly available information. (These issues are examined in detail in my book, Unholy Alliance: Greece and Milosevic's Serbia, Texas and AM University Press, 2002.) In addition, there are also serious indications that, throughout the war, Greece was providing various forms of military assistance to the Bosnian Serbs.
The time has come for the Simitis government to make public whatever information it has at its disposal. Not only because it is necessary that those who contributed to some of the worst crimes committed in Europe since World War II face the law, but also because in revealing those facts the government will convince everyone that the country has truly embarked on a new path.
Other Western countries have already begun a critical re-examination of some of their policies. In the Netherlands the role of the Dutch UN forces in the Srebrenica tragedy is being carefully scrutinized; in Great Britain the role of the Foreign Office and, in particular, of Lord Owen is under fire. And in the US questions are still being raised concerning the CIA's prolonged concealment of aerial photographs of mass graves in Eastern Bosnia.
Article translated from Eleftherotypia, 18 January 2002