Stagnation in the Western Balkans

by Thanos Veremis

(“Kathimerini”, March 14 , 2004)

The Western Balkans is still the problem area of South-Eastern Europe. The stabilization and development that will hopefully liberate the people from regional isolation still lie dormant. Serbia-Montenegro and Albania are competing for bottom place in western Balkan economies. FYROM is slightly better with Bosnia-Herzegovina a little better still. Croatia is in second place leaving Bosnia far behind and Slovenia is top by an even greater difference. With the exception of Slovenia, all countries show a sharp increase in nationalism.

The general election in Serbia in December 2003 showed, albeit belatedly, voters’ dissatisfaction with the inability of their leaders to repair the damage of the previous decade. Although some people accept the fact that the Serbs themselves are responsible for the excesses of their leadership, many believe that their country has been treated badly by western powers. Handing Milosevic over to the Court in the Hague may have appeased western governments but it deprived the Serbs of their opportunity to try the destroyer of Serbia and thereby expiate themselves. Furthermore, linking western demands for them to hand over more people for trial at the court with the lifting of restrictions on economic resources which are vital for rebuilding Serbian infrastructure sparked an eruption of the Serbs’ wounded patriotism. Albania is plagued by landlessness and lack of effective leadership. Sali Berisha inflames the public while Fatos Nano has turned the Socialist Party an arena for intra party rivalries.

In August 2003 the Serbian parliament declared Kosovo an integral part of Serbia. This is a long-standing position taken by Belgrade that refuses to accept the 1999 fait accompli. Furthermore, officials and outlawed, armed, Albanian Kosovars have contributed very little to establishing a settlement among the races in the long-suffering province. Gradual ethnic cleansing of Serbs is still going on and Mitrovica is still a divided city. Talks between Belgrade and “Provincial Local Authorities” (PLSG) in Kosovo were plagued by problems from their outset on 14th October 2003. The Serbs wanted Kosovo to be portioned, while the Albanians laid claims to Presevo Valley in south-eastern Serbia, which they call “eastern Kosovo”. In spite of the 2001 agreement and the Covic plan, “Albanian National Army” (AKSH) activity in this Serbian province has flared up again.

The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) is undergoing a period of relative stability following the armed racial clashes in 2001. The ruling coalition of Macedonian Slav Branko Cervenkovski and Albanian Ali Ahmeti is working modestly for the implementation of the Ohrid accord. The country hopes to become a member of NATO and is ready to knock on the door of the EU, submitting an application to join through t is fully understood that the process of joining will be a long, drawn out one.

Positive developments in FYROM, however, must not lead to over-optimistic predictions. Unemployment remains high, murders increased by 30% last year and there were dozens of bomb attacks, beatings and armed intervention by the police because of clashes caused by suspicion and hatred between Albanians and Macedonian Slavs.[1] The death of middle-of-the road President of the Republic Boris Trajikovski is another reason for concern.

The publication of the join work Athens-Skopje: An experiment in political symbiosis (Papazisis 2003), edited by Evangelos Kofos and Vlasis Vlasidis serves to remind us of the unsettled question of the name of FYROM, which has been stagnating for quite a few years now. Kofos points out that the Interim Agreement of 1995 does not give a deadline for finding a solution to the issue of the name. So both sides are using stone-walling tactics. While FYROM believes that the passage of time will establish the name “Macedonia” and it will gain acceptance that way, the Greek political parties preferred to delay agreement because they believed it would, in any event, involve a political cost. This tactic has now proven to be detrimental to Greek interests.

Notes:

1. See International Crisis Group, Macedonia: No Room for Complacency, 23 October 2003.

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