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Rethinking the Balkans

Discussion Paper by Wim van Meurs, presented at the Balkan Forum in Berlin

Wim van Meurs: Rethinking the Balkans. Incongruities of State and Nation Building, Regional Stabilisation and European Integration. Discussion Paper presented at the Balkan Forum in Berlin, 17-18 June 2004

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Rethinking the Balkans

17.06.2004 · Bertelsmann Forschungsgruppe Politik

The outcome of the elections in Serbia and the recent violence in Kosovo have demonstrated dramatically, albeit not unexpectedly, that the passing of time and intensive international involvement have failed to alleviate nationalist obsessions among protagonists of the Serbian and Albanian questions in the Western Balkans. Together with socio-economic stagnation, resilient nationalism in Serbia and the aggressive disturbances in Kosovo constitute a vicious circle. Radicals determining the political agenda corner moderates and reform politicians.

The eventual discrediting of these nationalist agendas is bound to waste many more valuable years in addition to the lost decade of the 1990s. However, almost one and a half decades after the dissolution of the Yugoslav Federation, a decade after the Dayton Peace Agreement and half a decade after the Kosovo War, the era of violent nationalism and ethnic cleansing seemed to recede into the past. Democratically elected and reform-oriented governments, committed to regional and European integration as common projects, are in power in each country and entity of the region. Outbursts of ethnic violence had been contained and the main post-Yugoslav state-building arrangements upheld.

The time seemed to have come for the paradigm shift from reconstruction and stabilisation to sustainable development and integration. An optimist might even add that macroeconomic indicators have changed for the better, with all countries and entities featuring substantial economic growth rates. Regional co-operation, moreover, is picking up pace and the Stability Pact scheme of bilateral free-trade agreements is nearing completion. Last, but not least, Croatia’s application and positive avis added credence to the solemn promise of an EU perspective for the Western Balkans, as restated at last year’s summit in Thessaloniki. Croatia is a convincing demonstration of the reform stimulus provided by the European perspective. (...)

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