To forget the Balkans
a risk for Europe
Emmanuela C. DEL RE
To discuss the Balkans in times of peace, beyond the emergencies and conflicts: this is the objective indicated by Emanuela Del Re, who describes in this article what has changed, what is changing and what is still to change in the Balkan peninsula. All this without forgetting our contribution – as Italians and Europeans – is one of the fundamental ingredients in the recipe for stability and equilibrium in the region.
Things do not change
According to economic data, legislative reforms, the growth of the civil society and the almost accomplished political stability, things have changed, everywhere, in the Balkans. However, everything depends on how these data are interpreted.
Albania, 14 years after its ‘opening to the world’, for a long time, has been celebrated as the best student of the World bank and International Monetary Fund policies. After the 1997 crisis and the abortive coup-d’etat of 1998, after overcoming the flood of refugees from Kossovo in 1999, it now has other problems. Almost forgotten by the world, it lives with a perennial energy crisis, which has ruinous consequences for the population and for the economy.
Foreign investments are not sufficient to pull the country out of its difficulties. A country where criminality risks, the impression of unreliability, endless red tape and corruption, act as a formidable deterrent to foreign businessmen. Public security is a crucial problem both in urban and rural areas. Democracy has been in the consolidation phase for far too long. The population, by now, look towards emigration as the only possible solution. It is true that living conditions have enormously improved since the early 90’s, but the hopeful turmoil of those year, with thousands of foreign international organizations, and scholars from all over the world, is gone.
The presence of foreigners was important for the population – from chauffeurs, professionals, politicians, to the young, it was not only an important source of income, but also of opportunity, of experience. Today, Tirana has many modern constructions, including a skyscraper with a rotating restaurant at the top. The city centre has been renewed by the Major-artist, Edi Rama, who has had all the sad-looking and decadent building facades repainted in gaudy colours. The supporting structures of those buildings, however, remain the same as before: the problems are still many and the hopes are diminishing.
Bosnia is an extraordinary case. Every now and then, the European press speaks of Bosnia Herzegovina, as they did when influent “think tanks” warned the European Union of latent dangers in that region. For example, as it happened in 2003 when the European Stability Initiative, which has been occupied with the Bosnia situation for years, published a report on the failure of the International intervention in Bosnia and on how to recuperate the situation. A report which had reverberations all over Europe, except in Italy where the Italian press, alas, noticed nothing. Bosnia is a “project” which has never been realized, and to agree with Joseph, the Dayton Agreements have become non-functional. (E.P.Joseph,” Back to the Balkans”, , Vol. 84 n. 1,2005, pp 111-122).
In Bosnia, the opinion which the various ethnic groups have of each other, has not changed. If the Muslim power grows, maintain the Serbs, the Srpska Republika will be weakened. Serajevo is looked upon as a Muslim stronghold and the Serbian and Croatian minorities live there in great uneasiness, in fact, they are emarginated. War is still not a memory of the past, since the process of refugees returning to their homes is still very slow. Insecurity is the background to everyday life and the population believes that politicians of each ethnic group have an “alternative programme” which would be activated the same day that multinational military forces leave the territory. The “programmes” are identical: revenge and “ethnic cleansing” to regain the territory.
The problem still remains of the extraordinary powers conferred on the Office of High Representative, - the international authority with mandate on Bosnia - which, if they are revoked, the country would regain the much sought after sovereignty that would allow them candidature for the European Community. According to some, however, the outcome of such a decision would be imponderable.
The last elections, held in October 2004, gave a landslide victory to the nationalist parties and this result was expected.
Macedonia,- the name now officially accepted by the U.S.A., while the European Union still prudently uses the acronym F.Y.R.O.M. (Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia) because Greece still strongly opposes the use of the name which belongs to the Greek region - seemed to have the possibility of becoming a “contented island”. In its government, in fact, Macedonians and Albanians seemed to cooperate to great profit. However, there is a risk and this is connected to the unresolved problems between Albanians and Macedonians. In the agreement signed at Ohrid in 2001, following the outburst of conflict between the two ethnic groups in that country, the absolute necessity was stressed that the parties demonstrate their willingness to maintain the unity of the country. In November 2004, however, the Macedonians requested a referendum on the law passed in August, 2004, which, in fact, increased the local powers of the Albanians in some cities. Fortunately, the referendum failed and the law remained in force. This, however, has recalled attention to the fact that the living together of the Albanians and the Macedonians is very difficult; both populations being stressed by an ever present tension, aggravated by unemployment, rising criminality and corruption.
Kossovo remains not only the heart of the region, but also the heart of the question. Its status is the element which will determine the future equilibrium of the region. If Kossovo reaches independence, the Albanians of Macedonia could appeal for secession.
The people of Montenegro feel strong enough to seek separation from Serbia, having already obtained that the country is no longer called Yugoslavia, but Serbia–Montenegro. The annexation of the Srpska Republic to its territory could be requested by Serbia as a possible compensation for the loss of its province. This would result in a fearful ‘domino’ effect, which could not, however, impede, the decision-making process on the status of Kossovo.
It is, therefore, totally based on the question of minorities. What would become of the Serbs now living in Kossovo? Must we imagine a redistribution of people and things all over the region?
Talks of peaceful cohabitation are made no longer, except, maybe, on a formal basis. Extremely expensive international missions have been made now for over a decade, with positive effects, but which, perhaps, are only of an exterior nature.
However, the “international” economy has reaped great benefits; with fabulous salaries for those working for international organizations in areas at risk; with exaggerated financing to ONG international for enterprises which eventually vanish, with all the “optionals”, which usually spring from these situations and destined to the so called “internationals”. Restaurants daily serving fresh mozzarella flown directly from Italy, Irish pubs which are more Irish then the Irish, discothèques and so on. Everything, obviously, at unreachable prices for the “locals”. Not to speak of the more than 80 “houses of pleasure” (for foreigners only), inaugurated in Kossovo, during the last years.
If things should change
It is difficult to extricate oneself from the jungle of Balkans symbols, even if those symbols are those normally connected to concepts of territorial identity, language and religion. The problem lies in the fact that in this region, it is very difficult to establish territory, language, religion, significant cultural traits of each population, and going back into history does not help.
In the Yugoslavia of Tito, the regional differences dissolved into the dominating structure imposed by the dictatorship although a strong political advantage point for the dictator, Tito, was his strategy of flattering the local pride of the individual cultures by extolling the products and particular aspects of local traditions. The soviet superstructure toned down these differences, even more, by creating a culture which was common to the Serbians as it was to the Bulgarians, the Polish and the Croats. Furthermore, there still remain elements of the Ottoman Empire in the Balkans, although locally modified.
Traditional foods, songs, stories, are repeated with very little difference in the entire region, yet they are considered by each ethnic group as symbols of their own individual and absolute cultural identity.
To overcome this coral barrier of symbols is the problem that all the western politicians have had to face in the region, with scarce success and often underestimating the importance of it.
The fact is that while there has been an attempt to solve the immediate problem, such as, the “reconstruction”, the parallel work of “reconciliation”, has not been sufficiently taken into consideration. It is evident that the western intervention is seen as an “imposition”, exacerbated by the “paternalistic” attitude of the western people in charge. Reforms were, of course, jointly agreed upon, but Balkan ‘time’ is different ; things are metabolised with characteristic rhythms.
At the present, hope of joining the European Union for the countries of the region, and for some, even joining the NATO is still, once again, strongly symbolic.
Albania, Croatia and Macedonia were relegated by NATO to that “waiting room” called the Adriatic Charter, which generates nothing but pessimism and gives vent to new sarcastic and self-detrimental local jokes which are typical of that region.
The United Nations declare their wish to face the problem of the Kossovo status by middle 2005, but the fears, generated in many decision makers by the referendum requested by the Macedonians in the previous month of November, render the situation more complex.
The European Union seems, at this time, to have other more pressing business, such as the Turkish question, the European Constitution, the integration of the new members, but it is aware of the necessity to relieve the Balkan region of that feeling of abandon which seizes it.
The geographical map of Europe will be, however, very different in ten years from now. As well as the recent entry of Slovenia, the European Council has decided that Croatia, together with Turkey, begin to negotiate their candidature in 2005, while the full membership acceptance process of Bulgaria and Romania will start in 2007. For the other countries, however, discussions will be open in three years. Macedonia has signed the Stabilization and Association Agreement which is preliminary to integration. Albania must wait for the election results this year, to be admitted to sign that same agreement. Montenegro is preparing for the 2006 referendum on the independence of the Serbia-Montenegro federation and decisions will be taken after the results.
The fact that must be underlined is that the direction taken by the E.U. in the Helsinki summit in 1999 has born fruit, proving that, when a common political goal is identified, it weakens anti-democratic and anti-European opposition and confers on candidate countries, that dignity which allows optimism. ( ESI, Member State building and the Helsinki Momentum, esiweb.org).
Substantial differences remain, however, in the treatment between candidates and potential candidates; mainly from the economical point of view. The flood of money and initiatives like the Stability Pact for South East Europe, has moved the quicksand into which the region was slowly sinking. However frantic the agitation has been, it has not solved the problems. In fact, in some cases, it has made things worse with the so-called projects “rapid carrying out”( Quick Start) still waiting to be started since 1999. In the meantime, some pockets are becoming always more full and others, those of the population, always more empty.
In some cases reforms have become almost paradoxical situations. The Macedonian privatisation of the industries, has rendered the workers, owners of the factories where they are employed. Through a system of privileged acquisition of shares, they have become “capitalists with no capital”, to quote a humorous factory worker of Kicevo. Without capital because the factories which used to sell their products on the Yugoslavia home market are now no longer competitive. Consequently, production has stopped and the workers have not received salaries in months, but they are the “majority shareholders”.
The E.U. budget for the period 2007 – 2013, makes a clear distinction between the assistance offered to Turkish and Croat candidates and that offered to the others. These last will not receive support in the development of rural areas, in the politics of cohesion or in the development of human resources. If the budget is approved as it stands, the negative consequences are obvious.
The U.E. must ‘play the card’ of the integration of the countries in the region, also to avoid its transformation into an ‘economic ghetto’, from which it would be very difficult to escape. A budget conceived in this way achieves the opposite of its intentions.
Things that should be changed
After years of silence in the U.S.A , talk on the Balkans is being heard again. Perhaps they trusted in a positive ‘force of inertia’ , regarding the reforms which had been put into action. This, however, cannot exist in the Balkans because there are too many impediments.
The region is still affected both from its interior and from the western world, by a stereotyping with such strong prejudices as to impede a clear vision of the reality at all levels, social and ethnic and in all circumstances.
The reason is to be found in the impossibility of healing the still open wounds which exist in the soul of the Balkan population. Wounds which are part of the cultural heritage - wounds which have been transmitted from generation to generation because they are seen as problems which have never been resolved and never been compensated. Western nations consider the problem as a “cultural sentence” which has been passed on the Balkans for some time now and the cure for which can only consist in ‘assimilation’.
Keida Kostreci wrote last month that the Balkans are still a threat to European peace. (VOA News.com, Washington, 10th January 2005). Such a statement can be attributed to the disorders of last Spring in Kossovo when acts of violence were made by the former victims, the Albanians, towards the Serbs still living in the region. The astonishment of many people seems to be a little late, as the situation had been well known to many analysts who denounced it long ago. But, as it is, also, well known, only the shocking events capture the attention of decision makers and thus, only now, the American press has started to ask questions about that neglected region.
It must be remembered that the status of Kossovo is not yet defined, that the U.N.O. mission has been on the scene for a good seven years with very controversial results and that the military presence is seen by the Kossovo Albanians as uncomfortable, and that they would like more autonomy and more freedom to move on the territory.
Security is certainly a problem in the Balkans, with permanent criminal networks which control large areas, illegal traffic that changes routes through the entire region according to social and political circumstances of the moment. A prevalent concept that power is “absolute” and, therefore, the flagrant abuse of citizens is very common. There is spreading corruption at all levels and in all dimensions, connivance between mafia and politics with ruinous effects.
This provokes general mistrust by citizens towards the institutions, with a consequent depressing effect on the population which feels impotent and demoralized.
In his already cited article on “Foreign Affairs” Edward P. Joseph speaks with typical American terminology about the forgotten Balkans, e.g. ‘not fixed’. He suggests that the solution to the stalemate situation in that region consists in a strong American leadership, within a transatlantic cooperation which applies clear cut principles, so that Washington can pass on to tackle other irrefutable worries.
Other things are moving, such as the International Commission on the Balkans, an initiative by Bosch Stiftung, (Germany) King Badouin Foundation (Belgium), German Marshall Fund (US), Charles Stewart Mott foundation (US), with the Italian Giuliano Amato as President surrounded by many European, U.S. and Balkan advisors. The purpose of the Commission is to develop an adequate vision of the problems of South East Europe, in a perspective of a European integration, elaborating recommendations to favour adequate action by local governments and the international community.
Meanwhile Italy, the indisputable economic giant in the Balkans, always among the major commercial partners in the countries of the region, and with whom, it often shares maritime coasts, is the logical terminal for strategically crucial routes, such as the Pan-European corridors V and VIII, it would seem,( according to the Italian Foreign Minister in the Balkans at the end of February 2005) and is ready to assume responsibilities adequate to its role in that region. Fini has answered Rugova that the discussion on the possible independence of Kossovo must necessarily start from the verification of the Respect for Human Rights in compliance with the standards required by the international community. Furthermore, Fini warned the Serbian Montenegrin Vuk Draskovic regarding unforeseeable effects following a possible dissolution of Serbia Montenegro. Moreover, Fini obtained the support of Serbia Montenegro for the hypothesis “B”, i.e. the Italian project for the reformation of the United Nations, which entails, among other things, the increase in the number of the Security Council Semi-Permanent Members, extensions of their terms of office and Italian membership in the biennium 2007 – 2008.
Beyond the declarations of the Italian government, of those which will be made by the Independent Commission on the Balkans, of those by Joseph on Foreign Affairs, finally, the Balkans is spoken of again. It is interesting to note that it is not spoken of in times of conflict, but in times of peace, when the conflict could be avoided.
The Kossovo status will be the “litmus paper” , not only for the equilibrium of the region, but also for the effective political capacity of the European Union, the U.N.O., the United States and NATO.
Meanwhile, some decisive steps can be made, such as handing over, to the local people, the economic responsibility for the public property, for the businesses and for the Kosovo Trust Agency, as already foreseen by the Secretary-General of UNMIK, Jessen-Peterson.
But the ingredients of the ‘recipe’ are more and must be weighed carefully.
There are, of course, decision makers, government representatives, newspaper articles, all mixed together with the European Union integration process and with the candidature for NATO membership.
The “yeast”, however, is to free the region from isolation caused by scarce interest, diminish the distance of the region from the E.U. through economic and political instruments and through the development of the infrastructures, which are dramatically under-estimated, particularly those in the Southern Balkans. Furthermore, give emphasis to the local human resources. In the first place, favouring, as much as possible their access to information, in a region where, for some, the telephone is still a distant dream.