Compare West Balkans 1995-2015 with West Europe 1945-1965 and despair

04415ced987e3ea908cc158b560f9fbdOpinion by Denis MacShane     

Imagine 1965 and there were no diplomatic relations between key West European states; public opinion was dominated by claims over who was responsible for wartime atrocities; the US insisted on setting up war crimes courts on an extra-territorial basis to deal with allegations of brutality by liberation movements; and criminal economic activity – drugs, people trafficking, prostitution, money laundering, cigarette smuggling was more important than reconstruction while mass unemployment and poverty were the social norm?    

In 2015, twenty years after Srebrenica and 16 years since the fighting finally stopped in Kosovo, that is a rough but not unfair description of the Western Balkans, which from Greece to the Alps is Europe’s failure zone.

Unlike after 1945, no-one seems to know how to make a new start. The eurozone’s handling of Greece remains as intractable as ever. To relaunch post-war Germany, its debts were written off as happened to Poland in 1991 but this is verboten for Greece.

Equally within a few years of the war’s end in 1945, France and Germany were on the path of reconciliation. Embassies were opened in Bonn and Paris. The first European Treaty transferring sovereign national control over steel and energy – the key industries of the day – was signed in 1950, leading to the Treaties of Rome and Paris when General de Gaulle and Konrad Adenauer buried the past in 1963.

To be sure there were court cases for the worst of Nazi war crimes but no-one tried to place on trial the war-time resisters who committed the most brutal crimes not against the occupier so much as against rival factions.

Contrast this with the Western Balkans.  Serbia refuses to accept the existence of Kosovo and Russia backs Serb revanchism as part of Putin’s need to find any opportunity to challenge the US and EU.

There are voices in Kosovo who refuse any negotiations with Belgrade and call for the creation of Greater Albania. That is a nightmare for the Slav majority in Skopje who in turn have indulged in identity theft by claiming that the Hellenic hero, Alexander the Great, was somehow a forefather of the Slavs who arrived in the region a thousand years after Alexander fought his campaigns.

Greek nationalists made the Macedonia name issue a rallying cry in the 1990s and are now trapped in a diplomatic cul-de-sac as Athens refuses to recognise Macedonia just as Greece refuses to recognize Kosovo. Greece needs to build an economic lifeline to the EU but this won’t happen without normal state-to-state relations with the countries in the Western Balkans to the north of Greece.

Tensions are growing with Turkey with more than 2,000 Turkish incursions into Greek airspace in the past 12 months. That might spur Athens to make more diplomatic friends and join major EU countries, the US and 100 other states in recognizing Kosovo.

The Syriza Foreign Minister, Nicolas Kotzias, was recently warmly received in the Kosovo capital, Pristina and it remains to be seen if the Syriza government can cut the Gordian knot of non-recognition bequeathed to it by the diplo-nationalism of New Democracy and Pasok. A move on Kosovo recognition by the Tsipras government would transform its image in Brussels.

Greeks advance all sorts of reasons why they cannot move on Kosovo. But Greek MPs faced down the church’s opposition to removing religious identity on passports and ID cards. Compared to that recognising Kosovo is a bagatelle.

Belgrade makes life as difficult as possible for Montenegro and relations with Croatia while correct are not friendly. Now there is a demand for a special extra-territorial court to try Kosovans who took part in the short sharp and brutal war of 1998-99. Monstrous things happened as they did in Northern Ireland. There are lurid allegations of organ harvesting aimed at discrediting current Kosovan leaders. No one can find a shred of evidence that in the middle of hiding from Serb patrols or negotiating at Rambouillet the young Kosovo fighters were also wielding scalpels in sterile operating theatres to extract livers and kidneys for sale.

The EU has tried to bang heads together but nothing will change until politicians from Athens to the Alps are willing to learn the lessons of post-1945 Europe and think about the future instead of replaying the hates of the past.

Denis MacShane was the UK’s foreign minister in charge of the Balkans 2001-2005 and regularly visits the region. @denismacshane
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Category: A Frontpage, Denis Macshane, EU, Opinion, Western Balkans

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