After the collapse of the great expectations in the Balkans

by Giorgos Kapopoulos

(“Kathimerini”, May 13, 2001)

The new upsurge of violence in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and the ever more frequent flare-ups of tension in Bosnia do more than just illuminate the limited capacity and will of the international element: they also show up the failure of the great expectations that developed, after the cosmogonic events of 1989-91, not only in the former Yugoslav republics but in other Balkan countries —Albania, Bulgaria, Romania—as well. The common denominator of these expectations was an exaggerated assessment of the importance of the countries of southeast Europe in the shaping of post-Cold War balances, with rapid entry into NATO and the EU seen as the logical conclusion of the interest of the Great Powers in acquiring leverage in a region of strategic importance.

[…] The leaders of the countries that emerged from the dissolution of Tito’s Yugoslavia displayed the same arrogance and overestimation of their geopolitical importance as the former federation. They stubbornly refused to see the new and – for them – harsh reality: the immediate consequence of the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the two opposing military alliances was to reduce the importance of the emerging new associations.

The global loss of value of south-eastern Europe within post-Cold War associations was something that the political forces that took over from the former communists in Bulgaria, Romania and Albania were neither willing nor able to see. They offered themselves to West as purveyors of facilities and alignments that were of no immediate interest and that the former communists, now transmuted into socialists and social democrats, were equally willing to provide. This huge self-delusion reached its supreme point in the attitude of Sofia and Bucharest during NATO’s air campaign against Yugoslavia in the spring of 1999. Two years later, as revealed by the recent summit of candidates for NATO membership in Bratislava, they have nothing to show for it.

Now, more than ten years after the end of the Cold War, the oversimplified conviction that in the Balkans this polarised confrontation would be followed by a return to the old Great Power confrontations and rivalries has been roundly refuted…

[…] The reverberations of Balkan conflicts were and continue to be of marginal importance. The danger of involvement in arenas of conflict with unpredictable international side effects led the USA, Western Europe and Russia to look for a new common denominator to minimise the cost of their involvement.
In the spring of 1999, Belgrade saw Russia change from a bastion of resistance to NATO to an agent that played a decisive role in forcing it out of Kosovo; now the same thing is happening again in FYROM, where the USA and the EU are dictating the compromise that the country’s leaders have been trying to avoid for the past ten years.


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