Greece's Balkan Closets
By Takis Michas
The Wall Street Journal Europe via Dow Jones
July 4, 2005
ATHENS -- The decision by the Greek government to look into Greece's involvement in the Srebrenica massacre is a landmark in the evolution of the country's politics.
The preliminary investigation, launched by an Athens prosecutor last week, seeks to determine whether Greeks took part in the July 1995 murder of more than 7,000 Muslims in this Eastern Bosnian village. Up to now, the Greek authorities had not shown the slightest willingness to examine allegations of complicity in war crimes in Bosnia and staunchly denied any wrongdoing.
The first detachment of Greek volunteers arrived in Bosnia to fight on the Bosnian Serb side in 1993. In March 1995, a contingent of Greek paramilitaries was formed at the request of Gen. Ratko Mladic, the Bosnian Serb military commander at the time. The Greek Volunteer Guard, or GVG, became a regular fighting unit with its own insignia -- a white double-headed eagle on a black background. In September 1995, four of its members received the White Eagle medal of honor from then-Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic. The approximately 100-strong unit was based in Vlasenica near Tuzla and was fully integrated into the army of Republika Srpska. This unit was also closely connected to Greek intelligence agencies, and its activities were closely monitored by the Greek Embassy in Belgrade.
What were these lads fighting for? Definitely not money. Rather, it was ideology -- a cocktail of religious tribalism with a dash of anti-imperialism -- that drew them to the battle zone. "The Vatican, the Zionists and the Americans conspire against the Orthodox nations," one of the volunteers told the Eleftheri Ora daily in September 1995. "Their next target after Serbia will be Greece," he added, expressing views shared not only by his fellow soldiers but also the majority of the Greek population.
The GVG's role in the assault on Srebrenica 10 years ago this month was reported at the time at home and abroad. In various interviews several Greek volunteers described the fighting in Srebrenica and their role in it. Their presence there was confirmed in 2002 in the 7,000-page report published by Dutch authorities on Srebrenica, where a lightly armed Dutch contingent was charged with protecting this U.N. "safe area" at the time of the Bosnian Serb attack. The government at The Hague, shocked by the findings, resigned.
The Dutch report described how the GVG unit hoisted the Greek flag in Srebrenica after its fall. It also cited video footage of the event and excerpts taken from intercepted Bosnian Serb army telephone conversations provided by Bosnian intelligence services. One of the intercepted messages was from Gen. Mladic, who explicitly asked for the Greek flag to be hoisted over the town to honor "the brave Greeks fighting on our side."
The presence of the Greek paramilitaries in Srebrenica and elsewhere in Bosnia appeared to be welcomed by many back home. When the Greek daily Ethnos ran a two-page spread on the "heroic" exploits of the GVG in Srebrenica and elsewhere, the newspaper's phone lines were jammed by youths eager to join the force.
Despite the media reports, Greek authorities turned a blind eye to the open recruitment of paramilitaries in Greece, and even denied that Greek nationals were fighting in Bosnia.
Yet the presence of Greek paramilitaries in Srebrenica is only a footnote -- albeit a bloody one -- in the sad story of Greece's support for Slobodan Milosevic's predatory politics. Throughout the wars in former Yugoslavia, successive Greek governments provided political, economic, military and diplomatic support to the Milosevic regime and his Bosnian Serb henchmen, Messrs. Karadzic and Mladic.
The identification of Greece with Mr. Milosevic's policies in Belgrade and those of Mr. Karadzic in Pale was total and unconditional. In their meetings with the Serb politicians, Greek political leaders reiterated that the policies of the two countries were identical. Whenever a Greek politician voiced criticism during the war in Bosnia it was almost always directed against the occasional NATO air strike and "the machinations of the West." At the same time there is strong evidence -- some of it presented in my book "Unholy Alliance" -- that Greece was leaking NATO intelligence to Gen. Mladic, especially during Allied air strikes on Bosnian Serb forces in August and September 1995. NATO officials became very reluctant to share intelligence with the Greeks due to fears over those leaks and at some point simply stopped doing so.
The most serious aspect of Greek complicity was its help in enabling the Milosevic regime to raise funds. According to a 2002 report by the U.N.'s International Crimes Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, Greece and Cyprus were instrumental in helping Belgrade sidestep U.N. sanctions in place between 1991 and 2000. "A financial structure," the report claims, "was designed, implemented and maintained [in Greece and Cyprus] to provide funding, equipment and supplies for the army of the former Yugoslavia and the special forces of the interior ministry."
The investigation that the Greek government has now launched presents the country with a unique opportunity to confront one of the darkest chapters in its recent history. Having taken this step, the government of Costas Karamanlis should spare no effort to bring to justice all those who directly or indirectly helped the Milosevic regime terrorize the Balkans. It won't be easy. Many of the politicians, bankers, businessmen and media owners who actively assisted in the betrayal of Bosnia occupy important positions in the Greek power structure and will do everything they can to prevent the truth from being exposed. And they may once again succeed.
Mr. Michas, a journalist with the Greek daily Eleftherotypia, is the author of "Unholy Alliance: Greece and Milosevic's Serbia" (Texas A & M University, 2002).