Given continental Europe’s bloody history, the Slovak capital of Bratislava is as symbolic city as any to host an informal unity summit of embattled European Union leaders. Besieged and conquered, occupied and liberated down the centuries, multi-ethnic Bratislava finally broke its uneasy marriage with Czechoslovakia in the post-communist “Velvet Divorce” of 1993. Regaining a status it previously enjoyed for 250 years as capital of Hungary, the city was known as Pressburg until 1919, when there was briefly talk of renaming it Wilsonstadt after the peacemaking US president. Nazi and Soviet conquerors who arrived later would not have liked that.
Greece currently hosts some 60,000 asylum-seekers – 10,000 on just three islands: Lesbos, Chios and Kos. Most will have to spend the winter in Greece, as asylum to their desired, northern European destinations is slow to be granted. To be sure, the number of new arrivals has dropped significantly after the EU-Turkey agreement, with more migrants diverting to the precarious mid-Mediterranean route from Libya to Italy. Yannis Mouzalas, the Greek Deputy Minister for Migration Policy, says that since the signing on March 19, new arrivals average 70-100 daily, which “proves the importance of the agreement with Turkey.” Without the agreement, he estimated that there would have been as many as 180,000 people arriving in the Greek islands during the same period. Lately, however, Greek officials are watching nervously as the number of asylum-seekers in the Aegean islands is rising once again—up by 76% since the July 15 failed coup in Turkey.
The Turkish military incursion into Syria is yet another chapter in the continuing tragedy for that country, for Syrians of all confessions and ethnicities, and indeed for most of the Middle East. Ankara is acting, it says, because of a threat from Kurdish fighters (which has a long history) and forces of the so-called Islamic State (a relatively new phenomenon). “Enough is enough,” Turkey seems to be saying. Unfortunately for just about everyone of good will, ample evidence of “enough” has not produced means for ending the Syrian bloodbath, finding a way out of the mess in the region and, in the process, preventing more damage farther afield.
For his first overseas trip since the failed coup of July 15 that killed 246 people, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, tellingly, chose Russia as his destination. Seated next to Erdogan in St. Petersburg on August 9, Russian President Vladimir Putin reassured him: “I was one of the first people who called you on the phone [after hearing of the coup attempt] and expressed my support.”
© COPYRIGHT THE EUROPEAN INSTITUTE 2009
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