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Yugoslavia: Scenarios Remain Vague

Prague, 23 March 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Top Western officials continue to make public statements to warn Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic that NATO's "patience is at an end" and that "time is running out" for him to sign the Rambouillet accords. It is not clear whether there will actually be airstrikes, or whether the current huffing-and-puffing will come to nothing, as has often been the case in recent months.

It is even less clear whether any NATO member states are prepared to send in ground troops if Serbian forces continue what appears to be a massive ethnic-cleansing operation in Kosovo itself. The Serbian forces seem, in fact, to be taunting the West, as a Serbian soldier near Skenderaj suggested when he recently told reporters: "See what we're doing? When are the Americans coming?"

Questions also remain as to what might happen were Serbian authority in Kosovo actually to collapse and the Kosovars to take charge of their own fate. The Kosovar leadership has generally shown a remarkable degree of unity in public, but there is no guarantee that such discipline will continue once the immediate threat of a common enemy is removed. There are well-known rivalries both within the Kosovo Liberation Army (UCK) and within the civilian leadership, as well as between the guerrillas and the politicians.

One can, moreover, well imagine peacetime scenarios in which at least some of these rivalries come to the surface in perhaps violent form. Such developments, which are rooted in traditional Balkan political cultures, could prevent a modern European political life from emerging. The polarization and even violence present in Albanian and Montenegrin politics suggest that the transition from post-communist to European norms is not proving easy in that part of the Balkans.

But the Kosovars have friends who will try to help them maintain unity of purpose. By signing the Rambouillet accords recently in Paris, the Kosovars ensured that they will have the political support of the U.S. and other key Western powers as long as they adhere to the agreement. There is always a danger of a colonial-type "dependency syndrome" developing in Kosovo -- as has happened to some extent in Bosnia -- if a postwar foreign civilian and military presence becomes preeminent in the affairs of the province. At the moment, however, that is the least of the Kosovars' worries. The Kosovar leaders are instead bracing themselves for the new Serbian offensive and congratulating themselves on having cemented their new political bond to the Western powers.

Members of the Kosovar delegation at Rambouillet recently told "Newsline," moreover, that the Albanian government provided constant and vital psychological support for the Kosovar negotiators during the peace talks. There is every reason to expect that Tirana will continue to be a reliable friend to the Kosovars.

This is primarily because Albania is anxious for peace, stability and democracy to come to Kosovo, so that those same phenomena might better develop within Albania itself. Tirana's overall concerns, in fact, reflect those that can be found throughout much of the Balkans. One frequently hears from Bulgarians, Romanians, Albanians and Macedonians that Western countries have become so concerned with Bosnia and Kosovo that they often neglect the rest of the post-communist Balkans and appear to lack a sound strategy to help the region shake the complex legacy of communism.

People in the countries bordering the crisis regions of the former Yugoslavia often express bitterness that the international community has not sufficiently compensated them for the economic sacrifices they made while wartime sanctions were in force on Serbia and Montenegro. Romania's and Bulgaria's prospects for joining NATO and the EU, moreover, appear dim at best, while there is little serious talk anywhere that Macedonia or Albania might join either organization at any time in the foreseeable future. More than one observer has openly asked whether the countries of the post-communist Balkans might not in fact be condemned to a state of indefinite limbo between their communist past and the European future to which they aspire.

It is of course true that many of the problems facing the countries of the region are largely of their own making. The Balkan countries themselves often raise artificial barriers -- such as stringent visa requirements -- that prevent a free exchange of people and ideas within the region. The educated elites in each of the countries of the region have almost always looked toward major international capitals for their foreign cultural, political and economic links rather than to their neighbors. And crime remains endemic across much of the peninsula.

Turning to individual countries, the Romanian political elite seems to be ever given to in-fighting, and the threat of extremism remains permanently on the horizon. Bulgarian politicians generally enjoy criticizing those in power but do not always become model public servants when they themselves take office. Perhaps the new coalition government in Macedonia will succeed in breaking the hold of corruption and cronyism on political life and the economy. If it does not, Macedonia may find itself locked into the traditional Balkan political pattern in which the "ins" and the "outs" take turns in office and help themselves to the rights and privileges of power.