Persian Gulf balkanization – comparative analysis on historical trends and reversibility

Presented in Persian Gulf Conference, 17/06/2008

Dr. PISSIAS Evangelos, Professor TEI Athens

It looks like a conceptual geographical paradox, it sounds strange, but in  fact  balkanization is actually the negation of Balkan identity. Moreover, it’s the process of destructuration of any attempt to build Balkans as a unique form of real cooperation between Balkan states.

Βalkanization is an historical concept, relatively new, as it appears in the era of emergence of  contemporary States in the 19th and 20th century. Nevertheless, balkanization remains a concept, an object, of which each time’s specific content can not be  reduced to the very usual crumbling  geographical-territorial operations, implemented as a ruling doctrine by colonial powers in ante territorial-ethnic shaped areas, in almost every continent. Except its geographical definition, balkanization is related to the dominance exercised by (Great)  Powers  outside of their national  territory, shaping or/and reshaping the borders of the late state-nation  entities which belong in their control or influence.

According to  Michel’s Beaud (and others) significantly corroborated paradigm, the  so called global-international-regional-national system, modelling world system as a four levels rationality structure, contradictory processes as conversion, unification trends, structuration, or integration, as well as their opposites, destructuration or disintegration processes, are inherent. According to this paradigm   balkanization  should be considered  as   a specific contradictory, complex and deep geopolitical process.  A process  that, beyond simple, or even stratified, causality representations in international relations, should also be analyzed in terms of systemic paradigms,  as  a counter sub systemic regional process which is built in  a higher systemic level international and global  process. This process has particularly been developed -both, inherently produced   and externally imposed- in geo-economic or geo-strategic  important areas.

Each historical territorial reshaping is subject to geographical, ethnic, socio-economic, political, security, as well as cultural religious and ideological factors, evoluating slowly for relatively long periods.. Nevertheless, after accumulation of phenomena -and their contradictions- within or outside of the geographical area, increasing tension and intense crisis appears.    The frame that preserves and reproduces this tension, is shaped or reshaped radically by the previous, as well as by the presently dominant   socio-economic, political and cultural forms. Crisis is expanding and internationalized, reaching its peak,   in relation  with the structural and conjectural importance of the area.

Stepping out, for a moment, of the field of present contribution and without wanting to anticipate our conclusion, we may make reference two  examples of  state or regional, integration or disintegration phenomena,  that had or they have influence on the international and global process.  Although, balkanization concept seems to be non pertinent in these cases, the Soviet Union and European Union examples are typical. First example, Soviet Union and its post second war geopolitical extension, the  Warsaw Pact, during their constitutive-integration phase changed international power balance in a determinant way, creating a bipolar world. In contrary, their collapse and disintegration of the whole covered by those  entities area, leaded to a unipolar world.  Another example is that of European Union, proving that even after the two World Wars and beyond deep national contradictions, a regional integration process was still possible.

Nevertheless,  since highly accelerated extension process (from 6 to 10, then 12, actually 27 members) dominated the deepening process, the future shall be re-considered. . Moreover, economic, short term interest prevailed to long-term socio-political perspective. Consequently, cohesion and efficiency of common European international  strategies, is being weaker. That last European process, which reversed a previews one projected to be  built on the idea of a leading core of central states, was a deliberate decision. A political and, even more, ideological decision,  related to neo-liberal globalization trends, ideological stereotypes  and acceptance of the systemic status-quo, dominated by USA as above  described. Beyond analysis related to the so called “World destiny”, it is a  fact  that integration and disintegration processes,  affected in the near past and  are now affecting,  very strong, almost considered as absolutely secured, state and regional entities.  Results at global, international and regional level, have already or will be, sooner or later, assessed.

The methodological hypothesis presented above, allows an analysis  of the balkanization process, in relation with systemic trends (and counter trends) at global, international, regional and national level,  making  division between internal and external factors  -moreover  between internalization of external factors and externalization of internal factors- as well as between long period  waves and short period  peaks. Goal of these dichotomies is to turn the attention from the global or national representations  to regional representations, from internal to external factors and from crisis management during the peak periods –as it normally happens- to crisis prevention, based on convergent   and cohesive strategies during the long periods.  So as to promote and strengthen the greatest, the best and why not the geniuest  exercise of policies, as well as the mobilization of resources, in order  to face external destabilization factors, to conciliate internal contradictions, deepening  the historical experiences, and acting  more  on socio-economic, political and cultural realities that precede the crisis. Consequently, the aim of this presentation is to contribute to the understanding of balkanization and its  reverse process, the de-balkanization process.

Just before proceeding to our next step a factor that should be mentioned is that of  the regional identities. In fact, in some nations in the Balkan area still exists a strong identity issue. Last years surveys among Greek people proved that 38% consider Balkan identity as their second identity. The score didn’t  changed  since 1974, in spite of Greece’ s adhesion to European Union  in the early 80s.  A similar attitude within Persian Gulf nations, if that  ofcourse exists,  should  be taken seriously into account.

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Balkanization  concept could be an appropriate analytical instrument if  the under study  region,   comes closer to the archetype. Such a study,  has a  critical intermediate goal which is non other from the confirmation or not of the archetypical form, according to well defined criteria. Since comparative assumptions  and criteria are  confirmed, the deepening of the   analysis, extended to  main characteristics  of the under study  region, which in our case is Persian Gulf region, through  the archetypical Balkan’s  experience, could be productive.

Persian Gulf region has been studied and it will continue to be an important subject of study, through various theoretical schemes or paradigms. Consequently, any analysis,  should   not be limited, only and simply,  to an assimilation to the Balkan archetype, particular attention shall be  attributed to its specific systemic properties and characteristics.

Regarding this issue, an initial theoretical clarification is necessary, as well as a stated thesis on  comparative geopolitics’ analysis. The comparison of the internal and external conditions which determined the political geography and especially the balkanization of the wider area of the Persian Gulf with the internal and  external conditions which determined the political geography –and especially the balkanization- of the  archetypical region of the Balkans, will be attempted through key general, mainly historical, references and a very minimalist analytical  frame. An analytical frame and not a model. Attempting  modelization  in high complexity phenomena, influenced  by  many  undetermined factors,  usually lead  to rather irrelevant representations and  highly uncertain scenarios.. The above-mentioned frame will include only basic elements and relations, concerning natural and human resources, socio-economic, cultural, political-historical phenomena, critical events and critical political attitudes   that shape , in an essential way, the case of Balkans, allowing at the same time a first correlation with the basic elements and relations that compose the case  of the examined region.

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Persian Gulf as well as the Balkans (ante Aimos – Haemus  peninsula) were an important transportation route in antiquity. In succeeding centuries control of those regions was contested by foreign empires,  last centuries by Ottoman Empire and western European powers. Persian Gulf and the Balkans have been shaped as an more or less arbitrary divided  plural state region following consecutive regional collapses of Ottoman Empire.

Persian Gulf region, just before 1st World War has been placed, following agreement of major powers,  in the British sphere of Influence.  The Balkans, during the same period have been the “theater” of conflicts and  wars between European powers -mainly between  Great Britain and Germany. Therefore, Balkans   have been named pertinently the “poudriere du monde”, phrase that actually can be attributed to the Persian Gulf region.

Persian Gulf and the Balkans  present features of unequal economic development, however they constitute regions having more or less strong regional geographical unity.  Moreover, the ethnic-social or national entities of both regions have followed long itineraries,  through common historical experiences.

Both, in Persian Gulf and the Balkans an important issue is that of peaceful and creative co-existence of populations identifying themselves to sovereign nations, relatively strong ethnic groups and ethnic minorities, having at the same time different religious beliefs. Muslims, Shia and Sunni,  are majoritarian in Persian Gulf area, Christians, distinguished in  Orthodox and Catholics, in Balkan area.

Although for long periods co-existence and co-operation prevailed, contradictions and conflicts appeared in many times due to local-intercommunitarian or  external to the communities, national and foreign manipulations.

The Persian Gulf issue,  following a general overview and some basic historical information readings, does not differs in its major essence from the Balkan region archetype. The geographical map of the Balkan states peninsula may be better assimilated to that of Middle East because of its territorial continuity, while that of Persian Gulf states to the Mediterranean states region because of its territorial dis-continuity due to the interior sea. Nevertheless this geographical reality  should not be considered as a major differential factor.  Both have been subjected to  balkanization  plans, especially during the periods before and after the first World War. Geopolitical importance of the  Balkans, compared to other regions, has always been considered very high,   similar to that of  the wider Middle East or Persian Gulf area  region.

The very obvious  difference is related to the specific interest  of ante colonial powers, since   Balkans importance depends more on  its geo-strategic geographic position rather than its  geo-economic parameters. As for the wider Middle East and Persian  Gulf area, its geopolitical importance is related to its geo-economic parameters  rather than to its geo-strategic  position. The Balkans were and still are the crossroad for any political, economic or military action related to Middle East and Persian Gulf oil reserves. Only in Persian Gulf is estimated to be found the 50% of these reserves. Just a first impression from any map indicating new oil and gas transportation axes is confirming above conclusions. Nevertheless, one more step to the understanding of Persian Gulf balkanization impacts is needed.

Since the end of bipolar world and during the  unipolar era of USA hegemony–that was unpredictable some years ago- – what was and  remains common in both regions is the threat of war and the reality of wars. Western interference, destabilization and military adventures,  leaded by the USA-Israel axes, that cost very high to nations and people in those areas, still remain the main instrument for changing or reshaping the regional geo-political, geo-economical context. Those interventions have obviously nothing to do with regional peace , democracy or human rights concerns.


The end of the bipolar world has been announced late ’80 and achieved at 1989 predicting at the same time a very long era of USA hegemony,. Nevertheless, considering last decade’ s phenomena in terms of global finance and  global economy as well as in terms of ideological-symbolic, cultural and political (signs of an increasing disobey of emerging big and small nations),  the era of a unipolar world will be very short.  This is a point on which we highly agree with Jacques Sapir analysis.1


Just two examples:

At first,  that of last Balkan war, opposing in a low-medium tension conflict ex-Yugoslavia federal states, namely Croatia, Bosnia, Serbia and  Kosovo. Those conflicts  have been followed by a high tension military aggression against Serbia. European powers took benefits during first phase, shaping new alliances with emerging new state entities, USA took incomparable benefits during second phase. Not only increasing influence in some of those states but, in a more concrete and valuable way, implementing huge new military bases and rebuilding the links of their wider system of military bases in East European, Middle East and Central Asia area. Moreover, the collapse of Yugoslavia meant  also the end of a “third-world” oriented policy, inaugurated during Tito rule,  in that area. Those are facts beyond any ideological arguments or discourses.

The second example:  Greece, an old Mediterranean  country, experienced that kind of interference and aggressivity, through a 7 years (1967-1974) very tough military dictatorship, planned and imposed by USA and implemented by CIA agents. That happened just 2 months before 1967 Sinai war, between Egypt and Israel. The principal aim was to assure the back-front military stability,   through absolute control of USA military bases in Greece that seemed to be threaten by ascending political powers, proclaiming relative independence vis-à-vis the  USA, supporting a more independent  European Project and, last but not least, opting  for a sort of third-worldist orientation.  Second phase of the above  foreign intervention in the area, took place in    Cyprus, through  manipulation of local and foreign actors in order to   reverse legal Macarios Arch. Government, very close also to third-world movement of that time.   This was an historical tragedy, President Clinton public excuses 30 years later, during his visit in Greece, have been officially and publicly –by Greek Republic President- non accepted.  Principal local  actors of those tragedies have been condemned for high trahison.   Relativity of USA official discourse on democracy and human rights could be easily deduced trough those experiences in Balkan region.

The above presented analytical scheme of global-international-regional-national system, conceived as a four levels rationality structure, was not only a theoretical reference. As already mentioned modern neo-liberal unipolar globalization process is against the interests of the huge majority of  nations and peoples. Within that system there is no space  for those they do not accept the  uncontrolled rules of the global game, there is no role  for minor or medium actors, they are just  called to be submitted to pathetic alliances –only  if and when those alliances are  proposed to them by the “upper level” or the leading power.

Nevertheless, amid some balkanic countries, long term  cooperation, based on mutual benefit basis, has been established inspite of the pressures exercised by the USA. An example is that of the recent agreement between Bulgaria, Greece and Russia on the gas pipe line “Burgas – Alexandroupoli”, connecting  Black sea with Agean-Mediterranean sea. The projected pipeline creates an alternative link between oil and gas  production areas and consumer  countries, inducing a certain independence in oil-gas transport axes. That means less controle from  monopoly-oligopoly  groups and from USA geopolicies. Among the arms used by U.S.A. the aboved mentioned pressures are those of a more or less open blackmail since they are actually playing the Koshovo and Fyrom card.


In fact the interbalkanic cooperation started more pragmatically in the late 70s. At that time multilateral cooperation started to be establish. Contrary to this evolution, in our days centrifugal powers try to reprogress the relative procedure. There are some countries in the Balkans that fit into this disintegration framework having as a unique goal their –even marginal- adhesion into the northatlantic alliances.


Consequently, the objective  is to analyze the crisis in these regions, crisis that in many cases seem not being solved but continuously reproduced, in relation with  the dominant rationality and according to partial rationalities of the system. The direct aim is to examine “marges of manoevre” that allow oppositions or negations if needed,  by  identifying  the more appropriate rationality level for defending general interests and also solving regional and local  crisis between involved nations.   The strategic aim is to strengthen   the apropriate  rationality level in a proper way, in order to increase its part in the international and global balance of power, in order, also, to consolidate and develop processes within these rationality levels, which may be benefit to regional and national  involved actors. In other terms, considering regional and national  level the problem is how to insert and impose regional policies in the global  system.

Analysis of such complex phenomena, risk to provoke more questions or even objections than providing answers. The political conclusions may also be criticized as being utopian or idealistic. Sometimes frustration become the dominant feeling since the field of international relations is indeed very pragmatic.

Nevertheless, there are answers. First of all because real politics can not be separated from idealistic pragmatism. Second, because of historical experience. Balkan people even today, 220 years later, recognize Rigas Velenstinlis project. While Balkan nations were preparing their liberation revolutions against Ottoman empire, that person elaborated and proposed a very impressive and deep project comprising a) political programme b) constitution and c) a so called Charta, the famous Rigas balcanic Charta. It is remarkable that although being a Christian he asked Balkan ‘s people to refute alliance with the West against the East or vis-versa. The project was that of a Balcanic Confederation.  We are citing just a synthetic paragraph from those documents :

“Bulgarians and Albanians, Greeks and Armenians, Arabs, blacks and whites, Christians and Muslims, beyond language and dialect differences, beyond religious beliefs, all together called to live in freedom in the Balkans…” May bee too much, may be too far, utopian examples are there to design the future, to underline the right direction and the historical –long term- trend…

Rigas Velestinlis had been arrested by Austrian authorities (1797) following a top level decision of the so called Holy Alliance. He had been tortured for six months and then delivered to the Ottomans to be executed.


May 2008

  1. Jaques Sapir, “Le nouveau XXI siecle, du siecle americain au retour des nations”, ed. Seuil, 2008


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