Eureporter 17 September
EU ‘Zombie Zone’ in West Balkans makes refugee solution harder
Greece beat Macedonia in a tight basketball championship match this month. The game was played in Croatia but foreigners watching a thrilling contest on Greek television would have been at a loss to know who the Greeks were playing as the name of Greece’s opponents was left blank on TV screens.
This is part of the surreal failure of the West Balkans to come to terms with modernity after the decade long war of the 1990s that broke up the former Yugoslavia into seven small European nation-states. The region is now the EU’s ‘Zombie Zone’ where the dead and the hates of the past seem more alive than the living.
Like the Lilliputians in Swift’s ‘Gulliver’s Travels’ who went to war over whether to crack an egg at its broad or pointed end, the West Balkan states from Greece northwards are better at finding reasons to oppose each other than to cooperate.
The rest of the world laughs at the Macedonian pretention that the hero of ancient Greece, Alexander the Great, has anything to do with today’s Slav-Albanian state of Macedonia.
But as with the Serbian pretence that Kosovo is just a breakaway province that one day will see the light and return to be ruled by Belgrade these nationalist populist passions have a debilitating effect on normal economic developments.
Greece also refuses to establish diplomatic recognition with Kosovo even if Greek businesses are important investors in the small landlocked and desperately poor state .
This leaves Kosovo in an international limbo unable to join global bodies like the UN, the EU or even the Council of Europe and access international loans and investment. The endless clamour for punishment for the massive displacement of Serbs that followed the end of Belgrade’s rule there also prevents reconciliation, trade and economic development.
Without any encouragement anti-Serb politicians in the region will remind listeners about Srebrenica, Sarajevo and the massacres of Kosovan Albanians by Serb warlords and militias.
It is as if in 1965, France and Germany had no diplomatic relations, only talked about wartime atrocities, and stopped normal economic, student, and cultural intercourse.
At last Kosovo has got its own telephone dialling code instead of going via mobile phone services in Monaco. This modest step was brokered last month by the EU and is to be welcomed.
In June, the biggest single national quota of migrants entering the EU were 57,000 Kosovans. The barbed wire barrier erected by Hungary on its border with Serbia was designed not to keep Syrian refugees at bay but to deny entry to Serb, Macedonian and Kosovan citizens who have given up hope of finding work, a home and having a future in their own nations.
The EU’s foreign service does its best and both the current EU top diplomat, Frederica Mogherini and her predecessor, Cathy Ashton, devoted more time to trying to untangle West Balkan hates and knock heads together than any other issue.
But the fact remains that fifteen years after the end of the fighting the West Balkans from Athens to the Alps is blocked by nationalist identity passions that prevent normal state development.
In this twilight world criminality and corruption flourish and movement of migrants, refugees and prostitutes through a region where states do not recognise each other’s frontiers or cooperate on policing and intelligence is a profitable business.
The EU cannot put back on their feet the destroyed states of Iraq, Libya and Syria but if Brussels, Berlin, Paris and London are so incapable of injecting a little common sense into the states of the West Balkans, including Greece, can an EU foreign policy really be said to exist?
Denis MacShane is a former minister responsible for the Balkans and the EU in the Tony Blair government.