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Sunday, 1 July, 2001, 14:49 GMT 15:49 UK
Balkans challenges for the West
Serbian nationalist flag from WW1
The Balkans: Ethnic tensions and powerful mafia
By Balkans analyst Misha Glenny

The Balkans can boast more than its fair share of drama over the last decade.


The West may feel pleased with itself for bringing Milosevic to the Hague, but complacency is the last thing its Balkan policy needs now

Nonetheless, the extradition of Slobodan Milosevic to the War Crimes Tribunal in the Hague, almost 10 years to the day of the outbreak of war in Slovenia and Croatia, is being hailed in many parts of the world as a key moment.

But the events have also had the effect of obscuring a deepening crisis in south-eastern Europe as a whole.

Regional jostling

Until the upheavals surrounding Milosevic's extradition, a clear if ironic pattern was emerging in the Balkans.

Serbia and Croatia, the two main instigators of instability and war in Yugoslavia 10 years ago, were beginning to pull away from the rest of the region (bar the special case of Slovenia).

The regions (Bosnia and Hercegovina, Kosovo) that were essentially victims of the initial Serbo-Croat war were finding themselves mired as stagnant political backwaters as Serbia and Croatia emerge as the regional strong men.

The shortcomings and the profound difficulties facing the "peripheral territories" of Bosnia, Kosovo, Montenegro and Macedonia are rather dismissively known, are all too evident.

War

The challenges facing the international community in these areas are stark.

A great deal, not the least part being the possibility of further armed conflicts, will depend on whether the US, the EU and Russia are capable of rising to these challenges.


The Kosovo Albanians have been disappointed by the lack of enthusiasm shown by the West and the UN administration in Kosovo for their goal of independence

A war in Macedonia would have severe implications for regional stability.

Serbia's revolution finally unblocked the main route from northern Europe to the Middle East but civil war in Macedonia would almost certainly close it.

Albanian nationalism

In addition, the European Union is especially worried about the growing strength of Albanian nationalism.

While Albania proper has been adamant in its refusal to support the separatist Albanian guerrillas, the insurgency movement in Macedonia (the NLA) has received massive support from Albanians in Kosovo.

The border crossing at Globocica in Macedonia
More than 60,000 ethnic Albanians have fled from Macedonia into Kosovo
Fear of Albanian nationalism, which does not appear to strike such strident alarm bells in the United States, is born of two considerations.

One is the issue of principle - if the West stopped the Serbs from creating a Greater Serbia, surely it should apply the same standards to the Albanians.

Kosovan frustrations

The second is the question of Kosovo.

The Kosovo Albanians have been disappointed by the lack of enthusiasm shown by the West and the UN administration in Kosovo (UNMIK) for their goal of independence.

Relations between the Albanians and UNMIK and the Nato-led peacekeeping force K-For have never been so strained.

Unless the Kosovo Albanians feel after general elections in November that some attempt to meet their political aspirations is being made, they are likely to feel increasingly frustrated with their erstwhile international allies.

Breeding crime

Over the past decade, the Balkans has become the single greatest source of criminal activity in Europe.

Its immensely powerful mafia structures play a pivotal role in

  • smuggling illegal immigrants into the EU
  • the trafficking of prostitutes and the establishment of brothels in the EU
  • the infiltration of untaxed tobacco products into the EU
  • the transit of drugs bound for the EU
  • the sale and export of weapons which have been found in the possession of illegal organisations as far apart as northern Ireland and Angola.

The persistence of these criminal regimes has been greatly assisted by the international community's evident failure to establish coherent administrative structures in both Bosnia and Kosovo.

Political and state structures run by and for the local inhabitants are extremely weak which opens up the space for the mafia structures to wield decisive influence of the local economy and politics.

Good for business

The gangsters are rubbing their hands at the prospect of war in Macedonia.

It offers them yet more opportunities for the expansion of their business, and will further undermine the EU-sponsored efforts to assist recovery and reconstruction in south- eastern Europe.

Prostitutes in Amsterdam
Mafia in the Balkans traffic prostitutes in the EU
There is a growing sense among international politicians and diplomats that if there is a new deployment in Macedonia, that they must redouble their efforts - especially in Bosnia and Kosovo - to create coherent administrations, staffed by properly paid and trained civil servants from the region.

This failure to establish civil institutions is the root cause of both instability and political apathy in the region.

The West may feel pleased with itself for bringing Mr Milosevic to the Hague, but complacency is the last thing its Balkan policy needs now.


At The Hague

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30 Jun 01 | Europe
30 Jun 01 | Europe
30 Jun 01 | From Our Own Correspondent
29 Jun 01 | Europe
29 Jun 01 | From Our Own Correspondent
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