Why the Balkans (a quick turn around the region in 2013)

Posted on December 31, 2013

Thankfully the Center for Preventive Action’s recent release of its Preventive Priorities Survey: 2014 doesn’t include the Balkans on its list of conflicts that could break out or escalate in the next year. So why am I still drawn to the Balkans in my study of conflict analysis and resolution? There certainly are a number of positive events in 2013 that caught the headlines:

Kosovo and Serbia Make a Deal:  Debalkanizing the Balkans

Croatia celebrates on joining EU

Albania shuns Syria chemical weapons destruction (standing up to Big Brother)

Serbia hails ‘new beginning’ with start of EU talks

World Cup qualification lifts gloom in Bosnia-Herzegovina


A few headlines from the year reveal there is work yet to be done in a region where the Euro-Atlantic community has vested and continues to invest considerable amount of time, energy and resources into peacemaking, peacekeeping, and peacebuilding.

Violence on Kosovo election day

For a few hours after darkness had fallen on Sunday, November 3rd, the scene was dramatic. Low flying helicopters clattered overhead and armed police from the European Union’s police mission moved through the north of the divided town of Mitrovica in armoured cars. They were jeered by local Serbs who shouted “go home!” Late in the afternoon, masked men had stormed into north Mitrovica’s polling stations bringing Kosovo’s local election to a grinding halt. Did the EU’s historic deal, negotiated between Serbia and Kosovo, receive a fatal blow?

Macedonia: Ethnic Tensions in Court and Streets

In 2013, Macedonia saw ethnic tensions simmer amid a mass murder trial, street riots and a hero’s homecoming for a convicted war criminal freed by the Hague Tribunal.

January saw the start of a high-profile murder trial in which six men are facing charges of terrorism, suspected of having committed the gruesome murders of five people near Skopje in April 2012.

The prosecution in the ongoing case, locally known as ‘Monster’, charges six ethnic Albanians of murdering five ethnic Macedonians near Skopje in an attempt to provoke ethnic tensions in the country.

Two are being tried in their absence because they are currently in jail in neighbouring Kosovo after being convicted of illegal weapons possession. Police also arrested a seventh suspect in August.

EU Shunts Aside Macedonian Talks Again

For the fifth year in a row, Brussels has postponed discussion of a date to start Macedonia’s long-awaited EU accession talks.

Breakthrough Unlikely in New Macedonia Name Talks

As the UN mediator summoned both sides to New York for fresh talks on Macedonia’s name, few scented a likely breakthrough.

Bosnia, in Peril Once More

Eighteen years ago, it was American diplomacy, backed by force, that ended Europe’s most savage conflict since World War II. The 1995 peace treaty forged in Dayton, Ohio, stopped ethnic cleansing — the term coined in those Balkan wars — and gave birth to a new country. Now, while Bosnia and Herzegovina’s fragile unity is fraying, the international community is as disengaged as when war first erupted in 1992.

Bosnia and the European Union: A Balkan dysfunction

Under the terms of the peace deal that ended Bosnia’s war in 1995 many elected posts are specifically reserved for Serbs, Bosniaks and Croats. This is like having a law that only ethnic English, Scots, Welsh or Irish can be elected to senior positions in Britain.

In 2009 the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled that this should change. After four failed efforts to find a deal between Bosnia’s ethnic groups that enables the state to function, a new push is under way. The thinking is that, unless Bosnia’s leaders move forward within a few months, they risk losing two more years to elections due in 2014. The trouble is that, although Serbs and Bosniaks may agree to reform, Bosnia’s Croats, the least numerous of the three groups, fret that a new system would leave them even more marginalised.

The delay in implementing the ECHR decision means that Bosnia’s EU accession has also stalled. Only if the deadlock is broken can Bosnia formally apply to join the EU. It needs to move soon: Montenegro is already negotiating membership and Serbia hopes to get approval for the opening of accession talks in June.

Croatia: Serbian Language Dispute Creates Discord

Croatia joined the European Union in 2013, but the country was dogged by its wartime past throughout the year as angry protests erupted over language rights for the Serb minority.

The year started with a government announcement that would cast a shadow over the rest of 2013: the authorities said that they intended to introduce the official use of the Serbian language and Cyrillic script into areas where Serbs made up more than a third of the population, in line with the country’s minority rights legislation.

Young and Educated in Europe, but Desperate for Jobs

(This article follows young EU citizens but easily represents the struggles of the young, educated, and unemployed citizens of the Balkans)

The question is being asked by millions of young Europeans. Five years after the economic crisis struck the Continent, youth unemployment has climbed to staggering levels in many countries: in September, 56 percent in Spain for those 24 and younger, 57 percent in Greece, 40 percent in Italy, 37 percent in Portugal and 28 percent in Ireland. For people 25 to 30, the rates are half to two-thirds as high and rising.

Those are Great Depression-like rates of unemployment, and there is no sign that European economies, still barely emerging from recession, are about to generate the jobs necessary to bring those Europeans into the work force soon, perhaps in their lifetimes.