Disturbing silence in the Balkans

Nothing has been resolved, while factors tending to political crisis accumulate

by G. G. de Lastic

(“Kathimerini”, January 12, 2003)

Superficially, everything seems quiet. Hardly anybody is paying attention to the Balkans and what is going on there. On the inside pages of the papers, of course, you will still find “fillers” reporting a few dead Albanians or Slavo-Macedonians in FYROM, a handful of bodies in Kosovo, the odd killing in Serbia, but these things are on an entirely different plane from the bloodshed, drama and crisis of past years.

On the one hand, the events of 11 September 2001 and the war against the Taliban, on the other US’s impending war for Iraqi oil – from the political point of view, the Balkans suddenly seem to be more remote than… North Korea.

And that’s bad. Very bad. A closer look reveals that, while conflict has stopped, none of the Balkan problems has been definitively resolved. The political situation is gradually worsening, everywhere, and the factors that could generate new conflicts are multiplying …

The impasse in Serbia

No one can be comfortable with the absolute political impasse that Serbia has reached…

A non-existent president, a hated prime minister, a citizen body too apathetic even to turn out to vote, and the majority of the population telling pollsters that life was better under Milosevic, now on trial in The Hague. Heaven knows what political monsters this situation may spawn...

Chaos in… “Solanaland”

The presidential elections held in Montenegro on December 22nd were declared invalid… for the same reason. Which leaves also headless the second statelet that, together with Serbia, is supposed to be forming the state to replace Yugoslavia, a state to be called “Serbia and Montenegro”.

A state that is known locally, however, as “Solanaland”, from the name of EU High Representative Javier Solana, who imposed the terms and the details of the founding of the new and extremely loosely-constituted state upon the leaders of Belgrade and Podgorica by coercion, threatening to cut off their funds if they refused.

“Solanaland” is a provisionally patched-together federal entity, which either party may leave after three years, declaring its independence, if they cannot agree to continue their formal co-existence.

UN dictatorship” in Kosovo

Totally indescribable from the point of view of rudimentary standards of democratic functioning is the situation in Kosovo, the third part of the country and supposedly a part of Serbia.

“Critics and supporters of KFOR (the UN force in Kosovo) say that it has developed into a colonial government”, writes the ultra-conservative Wall Street Journal.

UN “proconsul” Michael Steiner can have any Kosovar jailed on his own warrant, dismiss any judge he doesn’t like, change any provision in the province’s constitution, veto any decision of the elected local authorities. He runs all the state corporations, has the final word on the budget, determines foreign and defence policy. In spite of the existence of a parliament elected under UN supervision, Steiner can impose any law he wants without debate, while no law passed by the local parliament is valid without his approval!

“Many of the world’s dictators would be envious of Steiner’s powers”, the paper was told by… the UN-appointed ombudsman!

Local unemployment has reached the terrifying level of 60%(!), while the thieving perpetrated by UN officials runs full tilt…

As for the vaunted disarmament of the Kosovo Liberation Army, not only are two of the province’s three main political parties headed by KLA warlords, but 3000 guerrilla fighters — with all their officers — are now part of the semi-military Kosovo Protection Corps.

In these circumstances it is obvious that the independence the Albanian inhabitants of Kosovo are seeking will not be long in coming, despite the supposed reservations of the Americans and Europeans.

Nor are things any better in the region’s other NATO - UN protectorate, Bosnia, which has had an administration like Kosovo’s for nearly seven years now.

Despite the countless brutal political interventions effected by each successive “proconsul”, and the apparent tranquillity, passions are boiling beneath the surface. This was proved once again in the latest local elections, where the nationalist parties made spectacular electoral gains in every ethnic community without exception — among the Serbs, among the Croats and among the Bosnian Muslims.

All this foreshadows new conflict, as soon as conditions are ripe.

More serious still is the situation in FYROM where, particularly in the past few weeks, incidents involving the killing of Albanians or Slavo-Macedonians have been multiplying. It would seem that, after the initial respite brought about by the formation four months ago of a new government from relatively moderate nationalists from both communities, the factions seeking conflict have sprung into action again. This does not mean that they will succeed in bringing the country to a state of civil war and to the brink of disintegration, as was the case less than two years ago, but the situation is certainly disquieting.

On the level of constituted states things are better, with five Balkan countries — Albania, Bosnia, Croatia, FYROM and Yugoslavia — having asked the EU to look favourably on their applications for the initiation of accession talks. Three of them, in fact, Albania, Croatia and FYROM, are already candidates for admission to NATO.

These factors, at least in the present conjuncture, are tending to prevent cross-border tensions, since everyone wants to demonstrate “character”.

However, recent reports released in Washington by the US Council on Foreign Relations maintain that 2010 is the soonest that one could even begin to think about pulling tens of thousands of NATO and EU soldiers out of the Balkans.

The road to final pacification is still a very long one.


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