"Black hole" in the Balkans

A report says that democratic development in the region is a failure and calls for drastic changes in European policy.

Published April 14, 2005 3:48PM (EDT)

Ten years of international policy and peacekeeping in the former Yugoslavia have reached a dead-end in Kosovo, Bosnia and Serbia, with the region threatening to turn into a "marginalized black hole," a panel of senior politicians and experts has concluded. Urging a radical overhaul of international and European Union policy in the Balkans, the damning indictment calls for the abolition of Lord Ashdown's office of high representative in Bosnia, a post with dictatorial powers now seen to be hampering rather than helping Bosnia's democratic development.

The report denounces the U.N. administration of the southern province of Kosovo, calling for the Albanian-majority territory to be granted a form of independence. The loose union of Serbia and Montenegro in the common state helped into being two years ago by E.U. policymakers is also a failure and should be scrapped, the report says.

Criticizing most of the pillars of international policy in former Yugoslavia since the end of the Bosnia and Kosovo wars, the report calls on the E.U. to come up with a strategy to bring all the countries into the E.U. within a decade. "The international community and the E.U. in particular have been engaged in the Balkans to an extent which is unprecedented," says the report, by the International Commission on the Balkans. "But despite the scale of the assistance effort, the international community has failed to offer a convincing political perspective to the societies in the region.

"The future of Kosovo is undecided, the future of Macedonia is uncertain, and the future of Serbia is unclear. We run the real risk of an explosion of Kosovo, an implosion of Serbia and new fractures in the foundations of Bosnia and Macedonia."

The 65-page report is based on a 12-month study by the panel of Balkans experts and politicians, including six former prime ministers, headed by Giuliano Amato of Italy. The emphasis is on urging the E.U. to provide persuasive promises of membership to Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia, Kosovo and Bosnia.

Despite plowing billions into the region and Europe dispatching "almost half of its deployable forces" to the Balkans, the medium-term returns have been meager -- "a mixture of weak states and international protectorates," zero growth, pervasive corruption, high unemployment and public disaffection.

Although the report says that "a shift in international and Brussels thinking" is needed to break the impasse, Amato sounds pessimistic that Europe is up to the challenge. "Enlargement fatigue hovers over the European capitals these days," he said. But if Brussels fails, the E.U. will become bogged down as a "neocolonial power" in Kosovo and Bosnia, the report warns. "The real choice the E.U. is facing in the Balkans is: enlargement or empire." Lord Ashdown's absolute powers in Bosnia should be scrapped, the report says, and his role should be taken by Brussels officials in charge of E.U. enlargement.

The most volatile flashpoint in the Balkans, however, is Kosovo, the status of which remains open six years after NATO drove Serbian forces out of the province. The U.N. mission "bears a substantial share of the blame for the failure in Kosovo ... a failure which can be explained but should not be tolerated."

The report says Kosovo should be made independent by next year, albeit with international officials still empowered to enforce minority and human rights. The expected fierce Serbian resistance to such proposals should be bought off with E.U. promises of membership for Belgrade. The report calls for an E.U.-Balkans summit next year aimed at producing "road maps" for each of the countries joining the E.U.

By Ian Traynor

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