Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

People Power in the Balkans: Is the Ice of Nationalism Breaking?

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

People Power in the Balkans: Is the Ice of Nationalism Breaking?

Article excerpt

People Power in the Balkans: Is the Ice of Nationalism Breaking?

Alan L. Heil Jr. retired as deputy director of the Voice of America in 1998 and has traveled four times to the Balkans since then. He served recently as an OSCE short-term supervisor for the Kosovo municipal elections.

"The ice is breaking in Bosnia and Herzegovina...The Dayton agreement is only as good as the politicians in power allow it to be. Changing the present agreement is not the answer. Changing the political scene to a more moderate one that is accountable to the people of Bosnia and Herzegovina is."--Ambassador Robert L. Barry, head of mission, Organization for Security and Cooperation and Europe (OSCE), Bosnia and Herzegovina, June 13, 2000

"There is no magic wand on this issue [Kosovo's final status]. The international community is if anything even more divided on the issue of Kosovo's future status than it was at the end of the 1999 war--but failure to address this problem will have growing consequences that in the end could cause the entire mission to unravel."

--Report of the International Crisis Group, Kosovo Report Card, Aug. 28, 2000

"In the Yugoslav election, the choice is starkly drawn. The world has said to the people there: `If you want to join the international community, come on in by rejecting Slobodan Milosevic.'"

--James O'Brien, special U.S. presidential adviser for democracy in the Balkans, Institute of Peace briefing, Sept. 20, 2000

November 21st marks the fifth anniversary of the U. S.-brokered Dayton agreement which ended the most devastating of the many Balkans wars of the 1990s. That conflict cost a quarter of a million lives, made more than two million homeless in Bosnia and Croatia, and spawned deep new ethnic hatreds which are slow to heal.

After half a decade, though, there's some evidence the Balkan iceberg at last is breaking--noisily, haltingly and subject to occasional spates of re-freezing. But conditions are in place for Bosnia, Croatia and Serbia to transform themselves into "normal countries." Yugoslavia's new president, Vojislav Kostunica, used the word "normal" recently to describe his hope for his nation. With luck and financial aid from the international community, all three war-devastated Balkan countries eventually can join a Europe whole and free.

Their three wartime nationalist leaders who signed the Dayton accord now are history:

Yugoslavia's president and indicted war criminal Slobodan Milosevic resigned Oct. 7 after his army and police refused to back him against a massive popular uprising following his defeat in late September's presidential election.

In Croatia, another corrupt nationalist dictator, President Franjo Tudjman, died last December. Less than a month later, voters swept his ruling party from office in favor of a center-left reform government.

In Bosnia and Herzegovina, wartime Bosnian Muslim President Alijia Izetbegovic retired Oct. 14, after his ruling nationalist Social Democratic Alliance (SDA) registered substantial losses in April municipal elections.

Nationalism as an ideology is rapidly losing steam in the Balkans--at least in the three countries at the epicenter of the terrible conflicts of 1991 to 1995. After the Serbs and Croats, however, the third largest ethnic group in the region is the Albanians, and nationalist forces within that community appear to be gaining force. Despite the fact that NATO airstrikes 17 months ago cleared Kosovo of Milosevic's murderous armed forces and paramilitaries, Kosovar Albanians are becoming impatient with the West's indecision on resolving the future status of the province.

Balkans analysts agree that the most significant change since Dayton, by far, has been the ouster of Milosevic. Since 1989, the Yugoslav leader has mobilized Serbs with virulent nationalist propaganda, rekindling old fears and hatreds. He planned and executed wars or ethnic cleansing campaigns in Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and the Yugoslav province of Kosovo. …

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