Do not forget the Balkans

Since September 11, 2001 and the tragic events in New York City and Washington DC, one can hardly address any regional topic without reference to the cataclysmic consequences that the murderous terrorist attack is currently generating. Justifiably, the world’s mass media and public opinion have concentrated their attention on these developments. However, it is important that the Balkans are not forgotten during the relentless and long-term campaign against terrorism. An approach to the region’s problems is now required that is collective, includes the USA and is consistent with new international realities and constraints. Unless a comprehensive Balkan peace is brokered soon, we will be confronted in the near future with yet another chain of crises in southeastern Europe. Today, the Balkans continue to be marked by considerable instability. Potential foci of additional conflict include Montenegro, Kosovo, the Presevo Valley, Vojvodina and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM). The most active destabilizing factor in the region is the armed Albanian irredentist movement, which has been violently expressed by the KLA in Kosovo and the NLA in FYROM. Albanian irredentism entails the serious danger of armed conflicts spilling over into neighboring countries – the so-called domino effect. Undoubtedly, the best solution to the region’s ills is the (long-term) process leading toward greater integration into Euro-Atlantic structures. European Union and NATO membership, once earned, would guarantee democratic stability, military security and economic prosperity for the states of southeastern Europe. Nonetheless, the existence of pressing political issues demands immediate and comprehensive measures. It is in this context that careful planning for an international conference on the future of southeastern Europe should be undertaken. In such a conference, the states of southeastern Europe must play a leading role. The people of the Balkans should not feel that they have been sidelined, or forced to accept the dictates of the Great Powers. However, the proposed conference will have to seek the active participation of the European Union and the USA since only they can provide the financial and military resources required to guarantee putative agreements. Russia, Japan, and several other states should also be invited to participate so that the conference will acquire the necessary international inclusiveness and resultant legitimacy. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the G-8 countries could provide appropriate frameworks. More than a mere fund-raising exercise, such a conference could arrive at special provisions concerning the combating of terrorism at a regional level. Furthermore, there could be discussion of the sensitive issue of minorities. Violent alterations of borders must be condemned. It should be borne in mind, though, that constitutional amendments to safeguard the rights of minority communities can simultaneously respect the principle of territorial integrity while substantively decentralizing authority in multiethnic states. America’s involvement will remain of central importance. The substantive and symbolic value of some 11,000 US troops that are already serving in Bosnia and Kosovo cannot be underestimated. Additionally, Washington enjoys particular credibility and leverage with the Albanians and their leaders. Nevertheless, the incorporation of a comprehensive plan to reduce the burden to America’s taxpayers and military personnel is necessary and, perhaps, inevitable. As the global campaign against terrorism intensifies, the Balkans should not be ignored, but assisted in an effective manner. An international conference on the future of southeastern Europe could combat armed irredentism and terrorism, adequately address sensitive issues and ultimately help the region’s states along the path toward joining Euro-Atlantic structures. ,Theodore Couloumbis is professor of international relations at the University of Athens and general director of the Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy (ELIAMEP). Aristotle Tziampiris is a lecturer in international relations at the University of Piraeus. What is new – and hopeful – is that for the first time, with the help of technology, people are being faced on a daily basis with a reality for which formal knowledge is not sufficient, but for which they have to examine closely the meaning of events.

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