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U.S. Ambassador Says Balkans 'Not Returning To The 1990s'

U.S. Ambassador Robert Bradtke (right) and RFE/RL correspondent Enis Zebic (RFE/RL) ZAGREB -- In the wake of Kosovo's declaration of independence and Serbia's harsh reaction, U.S. Ambassador to Croatia Robert Bradtke spoke to RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service correspondent Enis Zebic about the wider impact the situation will have in the Balkans.

RFE/RL: Since Kosovo's declaration of independence on February 17, we've seen violence in Serbia, the Republika Srpska in Bosnia-Herzegovina, and on the border between Serbia and Kosovo. Do you expect this violence to continue?

Robert Bradtke: For me, the starting point is to say that we are not returning to the 1990s, we are not returning to the conflicts we saw in this region in the 1990s. I would like to believe that the situation will improve, that the reality of Kosovo's independence will be accepted. There really is no alternative here; there's no going back. Kosovo will not be part of Serbia again and it would be good if the Serbian government, the Serbian people would recognize that as soon as possible and look to a future which we hope would be the European Union.

RFE/RL: Does Kosovo's independence mark the end of the dissolution of the former Federation of Yugoslavia? And, if so, do you see it as a starting point for stability in the region?

Bradtke: I think that Kosovo's independence can create the basis for a stable future of this part of Southeastern Europe, with membership in the European Union and NATO for the countries of this region. I think it is important, however, that Serbia recognize that that is where the future is. The future is not trying to go back to the past, the future is not trying to live in isolation, but it is accepting the reality of Kosovo's independence and moving forward.

RFE/RL: Some say that Kosovo's independence will weaken the United States' presence in the region. Do you agree?

Bradtke: First of all, we have invested too much effort, resources, and human effort in trying to create a better future for Southeastern Europe. We are not going to walk away from that job when it's only half-finished. We also know that Kosovo will take a long time to really achieve some of the potential that's there. It was, as you know, one of the most backward parts of the former Yugoslavia. It went through a terrible conflict. It has been in this state of limbo for the last nine years. So it's not going to change overnight to reach the kinds of developed levels of political and economic development that we all want to see. That is going to require long-term commitment.

RFE/RL: What do you think Croatia's role is in the region?

Bradtke: I think Croatia has been playing a very important role. I would characterize that in two aspects. One is that I think Croatia is an example for other countries of this region. It is an example of a country that has undertaken some very difficult reforms, including full cooperation with The Hague tribunal. In taking these reforms, it has been able to move forward toward NATO membership and toward membership in the European Union. So, on the one hand, Croatia's positive role is an example for other countries. I also feel that Croatia, in reaching out to the countries in this region, in the kind of relationship it has developed in the Adriatic Charter with Albania and Macedonia, in the good relationship it has developed with Montenegro since Montenegro's independence, I think these are examples of the kind of role Croatia can play directly working with countries in the region.

RFE/RL: You were at the Dayton talks that produced a peace agreement for Bosnia in 1995. It is certainly up to Bosnians to find solutions for themselves. But the international community, including the United States, also bears some responsibility toward Bosnia. What can be done to push Bosnia forward?

Bradtke: I think [the Dayton agreement] was a great accomplishment. It brought an end to a terrible conflict and created a framework to try to build peace, stability, and a unified country. But Dayton was never meant to be like the 10 Commandments carved in stone, handed down from the mountain. It was meant to be a document that stopped the fighting and provided a start. All the parties in Dayton, all the constituent peoples of Dayton, need now to work together to modernize the Dayton arrangements, to provide Bosnia with a more efficient, more capable government that can take Bosnia forward into NATO, into the European Union.

RFE/RL Balkan Report

RFE/RL Balkan Report


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