Balkan developments: Clouds in a blue sky

Author : Ioannis Michaletos | Friday, October 16, 2009
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photo_verybig_10862922The current situation in the Balkans reveals a worrying trend of political and security developments that may lead to renewed round of brinkmanship, even of conflict, between different countries and ethnic groups.

Although, for the time being, the Balkan issues have not attracted the eye of the global media, it is of importance to note that the probabilities for a “winter of discontent” are growing in parallel with the aftershocks of the world economic crisis that has affected gravely the perennial fragile economies of the region.

In FYR-Macedonia the state is experiencing tension with its restive Albanian minority which already numbers some 25% of its population and has demanded more power-sharing with the central government in Skopje. Already student groups in the Albanian university of Tetovo have demanded adamantly to become equalized with the Slavic majority in all fields of public and political life, bringing up memories of the 2001 civil war, that prompted an international EU and NATO interference in order to stop the crisis escalating in the Balkans and keep the country united.

In parallel the Albanian President Berisha in a recent visit of his in Kosovo, has stated that there should be no borders between the Albanian communities in the Balkans, a policy that enacted a series of counter-arguments by most leaders in the region but also from Russia through Lavrov the Russian foreign minister. In Skopje in particular the press paid great attention in this latest round of Albanian statements, since that directly interacts with the unity of their state.

Moreover the newly elected Bulgarian government of Prime Minister Borisov and especially the Diaspora issue Dimitrov have started pressing the Skopje government on a variety of issues, and it should not be omitted that over the past five years, Sofia has issued at least 50,000 Bulgarian passports to citizens of FYROM, an issue that has created tension between the two countries. From their part the Bulgarian press is making a series of analysis around the greater role that Bulgaria should play in the region, centered on the status of FYROM.

Serbia from its side is getting closer to Russia, and recently signed a 1 billion Euros loan from Moscow with favorable terms. Russia is also investing heavily in the energy and real estate sector in the country, whilst Belgrade according to a Wall Street Journal report is eager in securing a 1 billion Euros loan from China as well and it has already achieved in agreeing in a 200 million investment by Chinese state enterprises in its construction sector. At the same time the EU seems disoriented and lacks will power to invest in the region which is crucial for its security. It is notable to mention, that the EU has promised only a 50 million Euros loan to Belgrade for the whole of 2010 citing economic trouble in the economies of the EU. Certainly the stability in the region is worth much more, especially when the memories of the ’90′s are still vividly portrayed by myriads of first hand eye-witnesses and policy makers alike.

In the Kosovo front, the economic crisis has gravely affected the local economy, and the ethno catharsis of the Serbia, Roma and Gorani minorities has almost been complete. That has as an effect the renewed Albanian-Serbian confrontation on a diplomatic level, rendering any chances of reconciliation. Belgrade has taken the Kosovo independence issue in the international court of Hague, a process that still continues and is another factor to assess for in the cloudy Balkan scene.

In Bosnia, the three nationalities, have great cooperation problems and the state is virtually controlled by the international community otherwise it would fall apart. Endemic state corruption, coupled with intense antagonism by the local vested and often criminal interests, does not pay a positive view for a future peaceful and progressive society. In fact one can call Bosnia as the “Political barometer of the Balkans” and the stirring of ethnic passions that has been increasing since summer 2009, is a perfect testament of that, implying trouble in the near future.

In Albania, the incumbent Berisha administration is facing a political storm from the Socialist opposition that does not recognize the election outcome, citing electoral fraud of a nationwide level, thus refusing to participate in the national parliament. In sort the Albanian society is polarized between Socialists and conservatives and this antithesis fuels social tension, especially from those feeling marginalized by the state which is firmly under Berisha’s control.

Montenegro was badly affected by the global financial crisis, due to decreasing tourism receipts and lack of new investments. Being a small country it has managed to stay aloof of the wider regional developments, but well informed sources point out that clientism and state corruption will sooner rather than later lead to a social crisis and the heavy involvement of organized crime in local politics is a perfect recipe for instability.

The European Union is on the verge of making some hard decisions in the near future, relating to the accession process of the Western Balkans and there has not been a coherent plan of what direction Brussels should follow.

A fast track option regardless of the problems involved or an a-la-carte negotiation process with each individual state?

In any case, the present report aims to alarm that time may be of importance, since there are clouds in the Balkan blue sky that are gathering in a fast pace. Judging by the volatile history of the region and the intensity of the competition by various political and economic interests, it would be wise for the European countries to pay a greater attention in that part of Europe and form a strategy in order to overcome any potential catastrophic scenarios that would bring great hardship not just in the area but also in the wider European political landscape.

The Lisbon treaty and its ratification by Ireland, has proved that the EU is moving forward towards establishing a unified structure of political and economic power in the greater part of the Continent. It would be unwise if “some silly thing in the Balkans” tears that apart, as one great politician once said more than a century ago.

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