Remember the Balkans

Point of View by East European Studies Director Martin Sletzinger, Centerpoint, February 2007

Feb 01, 2007

The United States and the international community understandably remain focused on the continuing nightmare in the Middle East. Lost in this preoccupation is that two long-festering ethnic and political crises remain unresolved in the Balkans: Bosnia and the one-time Serbian province of Kosovo. After nearly 11 years in the case of Bosnia, and seven years in the case of Kosovo, the people of these regions and the international community remain unable to resolve the underlying issues that plague these two parts of the former Yugoslavia and make them continuing sources of instability and potential violence.

Nearly a year of negotiations on the future status of Albanian-dominated Kosovo will culminate early this year in a decision by UN-appointed mediator Marti Ahtisaari, who is widely expected to recommend a controlled or supervised independence for Kosovo to take hold gradually as Kosovo meets international standards for statehood. Serbia remains adamantly opposed to any such decision and has just held critical parliamentary elections in which Kosovo was an important factor. Despite all of the speculation, it is not likely that Kosovo will gain total independence even in 2007. This issue, which also directly affects neighboring Macedonia with its 25 percent Albanian minority, is
likely to fester and be a source of grave instability in the Balkans for years to come.

Bosnia has made great strides in trying to rebuild that fragmented, necessarily decentralized country. However, efforts to amend or to replace the Dayton Peace Accords, which ended the Bosnian war in 1995, remain unsuccessful. Changes to Dayton need to be made, but they may be difficult to bring about without the continued, strong international presence in Bosnia both politically and militarily.

The obvious solution for Kosovo and Bosnia is the eventual integration of these regions, together with the other ex-Yugoslav republics, into the European Union. But the EU is simply not ready to embrace these countries even though their populations total less than 20 million. These most unstable areas of Europe are caught in a vicious cycle and still need a great deal of help and international attention. Critical problems remain there and therefore the West and Russia cannot forget about the Balkans.

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