Back to the Balkans

Courtesy Reuters


Since the departure on June 28, 2001, of the Balkans' most iconic henchman, former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, to a courtroom in The Hague, the region has mostly sunk into obscurity. The attacks of September 11, 2001, and the subsequent war against terrorism have long since overshadowed the graphic atrocities and ethnic cleansing in Bosnia and Kosovo in the 1990s. Throughout the recent U.S. presidential campaign--a contest dominated by foreign policy--the Balkans remained invisible. Today, not only Iraq and Afghanistan but other hotspots in Asia and Africa command far more attention from U.S. and EU policymakers.

To be fair, southeastern Europe is unlikely to return to the level of mayhem seen in the last decade anytime soon. But the region remains fractured and capable of producing turmoil. Of the countries and provinces that experienced serious conflict after Yugoslavia collapsed in 1991--Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Kosovo, Macedonia, and Serbia and Montenegro--only Croatia is now truly stable (thanks mainly to the mass expulsion of its minority Serb population, with Belgrade's acquiescence). Elsewhere, ethnic groups in the Balkans continue to eye one another warily. Only recently, with their wars long-since over, have Croatia and Serbia begun a genuine dialogue.

Nowhere is the bitterness greater than in Kosovo, the troubled, UN-administered territory that is still formally part of Serbia but populated overwhelmingly by ethnic Albanians. In the five years since a NATO air campaign forced out Serbian troops and allowed the province's Albanian refugees to return, human-rights workers have documented chronic Albanian abuse of minorities, especially of Serbs dispersed south of the flashpoint town of Mitrovica. Meanwhile, the Serbs holed up in Mitrovica have compiled their own shameful record of persecution and violence. Virtually all Albanians are frustrated by Kosovo's provisional status and demand full independence from Serbia. Alienated local Serbs oppose independence. They boycotted en masse the parliamentary elections held last October and have generally opted out of fledgling, Albanian-dominated institutions.

Within Serbia proper, Kosovo is no longer the hot-button issue it once

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