The ratification of the Macedonia name deal between Athens and Skopje on Friday capped a year in which the West renewed its focus on integrating the Western Balkans into the Euro-Atlantic community. Bulgaria factored into the renewed push to integrate the region into NATO and the EU because Sofia made Western Balkan integration a focal point of its European Council presidency that spanned the first half of 2018. Sofia capped its EU presidency by hosting the EU-Western Balkans summit last May. The summit was a high-level gathering of EU and Western Balkan leaders, the first of its kind in 15 years. Now that 2018 is complete and the Macedonia name dispute has been settled, one can have a clearer look at the fruits of Bulgaria’s push to
Election snapshot Late in a campaign dominated by typical ethnic divisions and nationalist rhetoric arose a rather touching story of Bosnians of different ethnicities uniting against abuse of power. But when the votes were counted, nationalist politics prevailed, with one notable exception. And in the case of the nationalist leader who lost, there may be an unintended consequence of even more divisiveness and gridlock in Bosnia. Meanwhile, with Bosnia’s Euro-Atlantic integration progressing at a snail’s pace, other geopolitical actors, including the Russian and Turkish governments, can exploit these tensions, leaving the country in a volatile situation. The drama and complexity At least several thousand and possibly tens of thousands of people gathered in the center of Banja Luka Friday night, the final night for rallies ahead
Early in 2017, headlines speculating about the possible outbreak of renewed war in the Balkans have popped up in the international press. Tensions that have been simmering in the Western Balkans in recent years are now gaining increasing attention in the sphere of geopolitics, particularly as they relate to the battle between the West and Russia for influence in the region. The West is now becoming increasingly concerned that Russia will stoke nationalism in the Balkans in order to ignite conflict, cause destabilization and consequentially halt Euro-Atlantic expansion. While ethnic tensions are a core and explosive issue in the region, economic productivity, or lack thereof, may be as responsible if not more for the instability that exists in the Western Balkans. The region’s poor economic prospects have much to
Although seventeen years have elapsed since NATO’s military intervention, policy makers should not assume that all conflicts in the Western Balkans have been assigned to history. Disputes continue to fester over statehood, territory, and political authority, compounded by the uncertainties of international integration. The promise of EU and NATO membership has been the key incentive to democratize each state and promote inter-ethnic co-existence. Without that prospect reforms falter and local disputes are revived. In the wake of the EU’s existential crisis and preoccupation with “Brexit,” enlargement is not high on the Union’s agenda. It seems unlikely that any country can be considered for accession for at least a decade. Such receding opportunities for membership will undermine Balkan commitments to the rule of law and can result in democratic reversals.
In a year that has begun with a bloody attack on Europe’s southeastern edge, the SEE region figures to again factor prominently in world events. What transpired in Southeastern Europe in 2016 and what lies ahead in 2017? 2016 was a very violent year in Turkey, where war, terror and mass arrests grabbed the headlines. In 2017, the bloodshed has already begun. More than three dozen New Year’s Eve partygoers were killed just minutes after the year began. Now, Turkish President Recep Erdogan will seek to exploit the chaos in order to transform Turkey’s system of governance and obtain the executive presidency he has long desired. While blood spilled in Turkey, the year 2016 in the Balkans was characterized by an uneasy peace. Following the Brexit vote
With a Clinton at the top of the Democratic ticket, Tuesday’s United States elections are generating significant interest in the Balkans and are dividing some neighbors along familiar ethnic lines. A quick trip around the Western Balkans reveals Clinton footprints all over the region, some of which trigger feelings of immense gratitude and some of which are the source of long-lasting anger. In the latter half of the 1990s, then-president Bill Clinton arguably delivered peace through strength to the Balkans. However, Clinton’s signature peace agreement is malfunctioning as a system of governance, and the U.S. interventions in the region have left a trail of radical Islam and unhealed wounds that are affecting geopolitics. Peace through strength Clinton-led NATO interventions effectively put an end to both the brutal
On consecutive Sundays, voters in Bosnia went to the polls amid rising ethnic tensions that are jeopardizing the country’s Euro-Atlantic integration. Neither a referendum in Bosnia’s Serb-dominated entity, nor local elections held nationwide, did anything to alleviate the ethnic division. In the week leading up to the referendum, war talk made headlines in the Balkans. A wartime Bosnian Army commander suggested the Serb entity, Republika Srpska, could be occupied in 15 days. The suggestion prompted Belgrade to issue a statement saying it would come to the defense of its fellow Serbs if Republika Srpska was attacked. Zagreb also offered backing for the Bosnian Croats. On Sept. 25, Republika Srpska held a referendum on its national holiday. Republika Srpska President Milorad Dodik proceeded with the vote in defiance of