West as Long-Term Balkans Custodian

By Beichman, Arnold | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), July 12, 1999 | Go to article overview

West as Long-Term Balkans Custodian


Beichman, Arnold, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


Are the United States and Western Europe doomed - yes, doomed -for the next decade, at least, to police and doctor not merely a truncated Yugoslavia and a quasi-independent Kosovo but the rest of Southeastern Europe as well? And to do all this on top of having to nurse an ailing Russia without any certainty of accomplishment at the end of the day?

The short answer is yes. The long answer is yes - but. The West will achieve little in Southeastern Europe however much money and manpower it invests in the area because its inhabitants, especially the political-cultural elites, are simply unprepared to surrender their tribalism, their ethnic traditions as the 2lst century approaches.

In the meantime, the reformist states of Central Europe - Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic - have, compared with their neighbors, succeeded in:

- Dismantling the old political structures and building democracies;

- Marginalizing extremist groupings, like the once ruling Communist parties;

- Developing a dynamic private non-state economy and an entrepreneurial middle class.

When Slovakia wanted out of Czechoslovakia, Vaclav Havel waved goodbye and took the revolutionary step of changing the name of his country to the Czech Republic, thank you very much.

Why not the same experience for Southeastern Europe as well? Janusz Bugajski, director of East European Studies at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, has an answer: "The reform process for much of the 1990s has been obstructed by an entrenched post-communist political stratum. In sum, the development of a participatory civic society and the rule of law have been thwarted or delayed."

What made such failure inevitable? These five factors:

Authoritarianism: The one-time Communist parties and their allies in Southeastern Europe discarded Marxism-Leninism in their quest to regain power. They realized that to attempt to "re-communize" their societies would be fatal to their ambitions, so they adopted strategies to undercut popular support of democratic and reformist parties. They managed to take control of media outlets, especially state television and radio. They retained the old party

property assets and organizational structures and blocked emergence of an independent judiciary. In short, the post-communists calculated, quite correctly it appears, that a formal democracy could co-exist with an "informal authoritarianism. …

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