A Second Chance in the Balkans

Courtesy Reuters


Within just one year, the most prominent leaders of the decade-long conflict in the Balkans have disappeared from the scene. The hard-line nationalist president of Croatia, Franjo Tudjman, died in December 1999, and his party was subsequently swept from power in an election that demonstrated public revulsion against the corruption of his regime. In October 2000, Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic resigned due to old age, while his Muslim party lost popular support because of its failure to address the country's social and economic problems. Also in October, Slobodan Milosevic lost the Yugoslav presidency to Vojislav Kostunica, whose margin of victory proved too great to be undermined by Milosevic's machinations.

It had been only five years since Tudjman, Izetbegovic, and Milosevic had spent three weeks together in Dayton, Ohio, working out a historic peace deal for Bosnia. At the time, they were seen as holding the keys to peace in the Balkans. But all of them, in their different ways, failed to grasp the opportunities for achieving this goal. The region subsequently descended into the Kosovo war, while its social and economic problems deepened.

The recent changes in Belgrade and Zagreb, however, bring with them a second historic opportunity to advance toward genuine peace and prosperity in the Balkans. Such progress will not come easily or quickly. But if the opportunities afforded by political change are not seized, the region could be wrenched by renewed strife. Its endemic conflict is now held in check by a quarter of a million NATO-led soldiers committed to the region. If the troops were withdrawn today, however, a new war would break out tomorrow. Self-sustaining regional stability remains a good distance away.

To achieve such stability, all parties involved need to clearly envision where the region should be heading. But to plot a successful journey, they need to know where the region is coming from. Nations exist in time as well as in space: without an understanding of the past, it will be difficult to

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