Return of the powder keg

The economic and political crisis spreading across Europe is also affecting the weakest part of the continent: the Balkans. After the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the dismantling of Yugoslavia the various ethnic groups living in Serbia, Bosnia and Macedonia were caught between the aspiration for democratic societies and an ethnic clash fueled by Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic.
He envisaged a Yugoslav future as a “Greater Serbia.” The Slovenian declaration of independence, followed by the one issued by Croatian President Franjo Tudjman, contributed to pushing Milosevic into using force to assure Serbian sovereignty over the Balkans. In 1991, the Serbian army overran the parts of Croatia where Serbs lived and laid siege Dubrovnik. It was the beginning of the Balkan War. For almost a decade the region was torn by a war of “ethnic cleansing.” After the massacre of thousands of Muslims in the towns of Sbrebrenica and Tuzla in 1995, the conflict seemed to move toward to a solution when NATO got involved and Croatian forces defeated Serbs in the Krajina region. In September of that year Milosevic, Tudjman and their Bosnian counterpart Alija Izetbegovic agreed on a proposed division: the Dayton Agreement. The compromise left unsettled the issue of Serbia’s Albanian minority in Kosovo and tensions simmered until 1999, when after several atrocities perpetrated by Serbian government forces in Kosovo NATO launched a series of air strikes that caused Milosevic to surrender. Eventually, he was toppled by his own people and given over to the International Criminal Court in the Hague. Albania experienced a different situation. It was not directly involved in Balkan War but its economy collapsed in 1997. The economic mess led to political instability and the government of Sali Berisha was forced to resign. Fatos Nano, the new Albanian head of government, couldn’t manage to calm the widespread upheaval in the country and was forced to resign after few months. Nano’s resignation reopened the way for the return of Berisha who was able to boost the economy and put down revolts. The Balkan War effectively shattered Serbia, Macedonia and Bosnia-Herzegovina’s chances of enjoying normal economic well-being, and the countries’ weak state apparatus only exacerbated matters. Twelve years since the end of the war, the challenges ahead for the ex-Yugoslav states are formidable: they need to secure their democratic regimes and boost their economies before being able to join the European Union.