Unresolved Issues Complicating Integration with the West: A Progress Report from the Balkans
November 5, 2003
Staff-prepared summary of the East European Studies discussion with Barry Wood, International Economics Correspondent, Voice of America

In his discussion, Barry Wood asserted that slow but significant progress has been made in the Balkans over the last few years. Although there has been no new conflict since 2001, regional trade agreements have been signed and there have been gestures of reconciliation between former adversaries, the region continues to be plagued by unresolved issues, most notably corruption, devastated economies and refugee return problems. Many of the positive achievements made over the last few years have been the result of EU, UN and US intervention. Now, with the US having withdrawn a substantial number of troops – and perhaps more importantly, aid – the Balkan region's greatest challenges may lie ahead.

Wood described the current state of affairs in four Balkan regions: Kosovo, Macedonia, Serbia-Montenegro and Bosnia-Herzegovina. It is clear to Wood that the Serbs neither control nor have any interest in controlling Kosovo. For the Albanians in Kosovo, independence remains the next step forward and negotiations for independence may begin in 2005 if significant progress is made on UN-mandated political, social and cultural benchmarks. In Macedonia, there is little prospect for renewed fighting due to the good progress made on the Ohrid Agreement in 2001. With the EU's Concordia force scheduled to leave Macedonia in mid-December, it is unclear if peace will be maintained by the smaller EU police force that will remain in the region. Montenegro remains an authoritarian state with weak democratic institutions and reform seems hamstrung by the question of its independence from Serbia. Under Milosevic, there was significant domestic and international pressure for Montenegro to secede from Serbia. But with Milosevic gone and with Serbia facing mounting problems of its own, Montenegro's independence claims have lost momentum internationally at the same time that Serbia has withdrawn its resistance to it.

Wood contends that a stable and prosperous Serbia is necessary for a stable and prosperous southeastern Europe. This means that it is "vital for a democratic Serbia to grow at a rapid pace and cooperate with its neighbors as it will lead the way to development in the rest of the Balkans." Finally, Wood argued that Bosnia-Herzegovina (BiH) will remain a protectorate for a long time to come, as there is little evidence that the state can function without help from the international community. The US military is expected to pull out of BiH in 2004, but only if a unified Bosnian military is created and the top two indicted war criminals, General Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadzic, are extradited to the Hague. Wood concluded by saying that political, economic and military integration remain the key to progress in the Balkans. Yet, he cautions that EU membership is not a panacea for the problems that exist, which must in the first instance be resolved within each country and between the nations of the region.