My original itinerary included traveling north from Greece to Croatia through the beautiful Balkan Mountains of Albania, Montenegro, and Bosnia. I didn’t realize that in today’s world, travel between Greece and Croatia can be dangerous and complicated. In addition to economic woes, some Balkan countries are still dealing with terrorism, organized crime, and various inter-ethnic conflicts.
I wasn’t concerned about safety passing through the Balkans. However, after listening to stories about dangerous and unreliable rail links and hearing Greek travel agents lecture me on the dangers involved, I reluctantly gave in and decided to fly instead.
Balkan History and Politics
In 2006, the Montenegrin population voted for independence. Milo Đukanović was elected prime minister. Montenegro’s first seven years of independence and elections haven’t brought much political change. “Major forces in the independence struggle were the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and the Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS). Two seats short of a majority, they reached out to the ethnic minority Bosniak, Croat, and Albanian parties for political support.”
“In December 2012, Montenegro’s parliament voted to give Milo Đukanović (DPS party) a seventh term as prime minister. Đukanović pledged to fight corruption and organized crime, strengthen the rule of law, and improve transparency to help Montenegro overcome its economic crisis.”
Đukanović resigned soon after the European Union granted official candidate status to Montenegro. “He was suspected of personal and political ties to wide-spread tobacco smuggling in Montenegro during the 1990s. In 2003, the prosecutor’s office in Naples linked Đukanović to an organized crime racket worth billions of euros. Đukanović denied the allegations during a press conference in Podgorica. He described the charges as a “political trick”.
During Montenegro’s April 2013 elections, independent opposition leader Miodrag Lekić challenged DPS incumbent President Filip Vujanović. Lekić had the support of the Socialist People’s Party (SPP) and the largest opposition party – the Democratic Front (DF). The electoral commission announced Vujanović the winner with a narrow 51% victory compared to Lekić’s 49% of votes. Lekić’s campaign didn’t recognize the results and demanded a recount.”
Albania’s political issues described as “severe internal problems” are “slowing the country’s process of modernization”. According to the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), internal corruption is damaging Albania’s economic potential. The OSCE reported that “Albanian elections did not meet international democratic standards and violations were undermining public confidence in Albania’s electoral process”. Unlike Syria and Egypt, the instability in Albania and Montenegro hasn’t been big news – at least not in the US.
I hoped that pre-purchasing Eurail passes would eliminate transportation challenges during the rest of my travels, but I’ve been surprised many times. Anything could happen.
This morning I flew from Athens to Thessaloniki and will continue to Belgrade Serbia early tomorrow morning where I catch a connecting flight to Split Croatia. I discovered it’s rare to find an English-speaking person in Thessaloniki and had challenges getting from the airport to my hotel.
With help from a friendly Greek I finally succeeded. Can’t believe I’ve already been traveling for three months! I regret not spending more than a day in Thessaloniki, but think it’s best to head further into Eastern Europe. The constant presence of riot police in central Athens was disturbing although I didn’t have any problems personally. I will consider the flooding in Austria and Czech Republic carefully before planning the rest of my itinerary.
Thessaloniki’s population is over one million, and it’s Greece’s cultural capital and was the second largest and wealthiest city of the Byzantine Empire. Annual events include an International Trade Fair and a popular International Film Festival. Some of the most beautiful beaches in Greece are in Thessaloniki’s Thermaikos and Strymonikos Bays. Aristotle University is the largest in Greece and the Balkans. Thessaloniki is home to several UNESCO World Heritage Sites containing Paleochristian and Byzantine monuments. Notable attractions in Thessaloniki include:
- Palace of Galerius (300 A.D.) at Navarino Square
- Church of Agios Dimitrios
- Church of Agia Sofia
- Roman Market, Theatre, and Bath Ruins
- Mt. Athos Agion Oros Monastic Community
- Arnea Folklore and Historical Museum
- Anthropological Museum of Petralona
- Vergina Royal Macedonian Tombs
- Philippi Archaeological Site
More from Croatia…