On the fringe of Europe

by Giorgos Kapopoulos

(“Kathimerini”, 5 September, 2001)

The prospect of European integration and economic reconstruction as a counter to nationalist frenzy in the Balkans. This is the formula which has been heard ad nauseam since the beginning of the Yugoslav conflict in June 1991, and whose credibility has diminished with the passing of the ensuing years. The recent remarks by Commissioner Verhoegen, responsible for EU expansion, on the exclusion of Bulgaria and Romania from the next cycle of EU expansion leave no one in any doubt of the total marginalization of the Balkans in the post-Cold War international scene.

Thus the countries of the former Yugoslavia, with the exception of Slovenia, as well as Bulgaria, Romania and Albania, will in coming years constitute a grey zone existing on the fringe of European integration.

A few years ago the scenarios envisaging an increased American interest in the region encouraged many interested leaderships to believe that the ‘American card’ was the most appropriate response to European indifference. Today, however, almost a year after the warnings issuing from the camp of George Bush, then campaigning for the presidency, that US troops would be pulled out of the Balkans, the only question remaining unanswered is the time and manner of this proclaimed withdrawal. There remains the possibility that Bulgaria and Romania will press for NATO membership, a development which might, to some extent, alleviate their isolation. But at a time when Washington is attempting to defuse Moscow’s reaction to the building of the missile defence system, the postponement of a new expansion of NATO seems extremely likely.

This singular isolation of the Balkans will coexist with a limited and sharply delineated western interest in intervention; conflict management – as we have seen in developments in the FYROM over the last six months – will be intended not to defend the status quo but to avert the possibility of an uncontrolled conflagration. The absence of any European or Atlantic perspective, or prospect of economic reconstruction and social stabilization, gives a de facto advantage to all the forces of ethnic and social destabilization in south-eastern Europe. The rise, in just a few months, of the movement led by the former King Simeon to the status of a front-ranking political force, should, one might suppose, have operated as an alarm to the West, alerting it to the effects of the marginalization of the Balkans. There can be no doubt that the Balkans, now inextricably linked to European and transatlantic balances, will offer constant reminders of their presence to all those who believe that the simplest and least costly solution is simply to ignore them.


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