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Yugoslavia: Balkans' Future Could Include Unprecedented Development Project

Prague, 5 May 1999 (RFE/RL) -- A number of proposals for the post-Kosovo crisis Balkans have appeared recently, most notably German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer's plan for a Southeastern European Regional Roundtable. His and other ideas will be fleshed out in the coming weeks, especially at a conference that the German government will host in Bonn on May 27.

The time is certainly ripe to review some principles that might underlie any future regional development plan that would include Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, Romania, Serbia, Slovenia, and perhaps Moldova as well.

The goal of most of these proposals is to put an end to Balkan regional instability. The various plans are comprehensive and directed not only toward repairing wartime damage (much of which was done to obsolete communist-era or even older infrastructure), but to providing thorough-going modernization and development of the respective economies, societies and political cultures and bringing them up to contemporary European standards.

Such a comprehensive development project is unprecedented in the Balkans. It will require long-term planning and commitment for at least 20 to 30 years, not only by the U.S., Canada and the EU, but also by Turkey as a relatively prosperous regional power. Turkey and EU member Greece in particular stand to gain not only by providing and acquiring markets, but also by carving out their respective niches as regional leaders.

The developed countries, for their parts, must be prepared to give the countries of the region a series of carrot-and-stick incentives to help bring their economies, societies and political cultures into line with modern Western standards. This means guaranteeing serious prospects for admission to Euro-Atlantic structures for those who comply, and negative incentives for those who stubbornly refuse to observe European norms.

If regional development as a whole presents one set of problems and opportunities, the role of Serbia involves a second set of issues. The Serbs occupy a strategic position at the center of the Balkans. Their leaders, moreover, have been the ones most responsible for the destruction of the former Yugoslavia and for the subsequent wars. No program for regional development can afford to exclude Serbia.

But the international community can no more afford to leave Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic in power than the architects of post-1945 Europe could tolerate the idea of keeping Hitler in office. Each of those two dictators rose to power by exploiting and fueling a national persecution complex during troubled economic times, and each stayed in power by appealing to nationalism. Each man received broad support at home and precious little domestic opposition. Each waged a bloody war of expansion and genocide - albeit on vastly different scales - against his neighbors. And each brought great misery and suffering upon his own people, who nonetheless proved unable or unwilling to rid themselves of their tormentor.

Hitler was destroyed by the combined land, sea and air might of a powerful coalition. Whether Western leaders care to admit it publicly or not, this is how Milosevic is likely to end, too. And just as the Germans had to pay for their wars with the loss of East Prussia, Silesia, Pomerania and other territories, the Serbs have lost or will likely lose their control not only over large areas of Croatia and Bosnia, but also over all of Kosovo.

Furthermore, like Austria after 1945, Montenegro seems all but certain to go its own way as a separate state in a post-Milosevic Balkans. And like Austria, it will try to deny that it had anything to do with the dictator, who was its own son and whom it had supported so long as the going was good.

The German analogy is also worth considering for the post-war picture. The allies introduced tough measures of de- and de-Nazification in their respective zones, and they tried and punished war criminals. The militarization international community could now provide a similar program of tutelage until a democratic, non-nationalist culture has taken root in Serbian politics, education and the media.

It is not easy to see who might lead a future democratic Serbia. The current Serbian opposition has repeatedly shown itself to be opportunistic or ineffective. The Serbian public seems oblivious to the sufferings of the Kosovars and united in its opposition to what Milosevic's propaganda machine calls "NATO aggression." Only 27 intellectuals signed a recent petition that even mentioned ethnic cleansing in Kosovo (the petition primarily railed against "NATO aggression"). The students - in whom foreign democrats recently placed so much hope - now seem more interested in dancing to music provided by Milosevic's bands while wearing his anti-NATO propaganda symbols than in protesting genocide against their fellow citizens. The once-independent newspapers and broadcasters have gotten into line or been forced into submission.

Germany's political future looked pretty bleak in 1945, too, and very few people had heard of Konrad Adenauer or Kurt Schumacher. But Germany relied on its own democratic traditions and generous leadership from the Western allies. Eventually, the Federal Republic took its place among the leading democracies of modern Europe. Similar patience and dedication by the international community could soon help return the Serbs - who have at least as much a democratic tradition as any of their Balkan neighbors - to their place at the figurative as well as literal center of southeastern Europe.