The Balkan Bargain

Croatian President Mesic: “The EU Remains the Only Way to Overcome Southeastern Europe’s Violent Past”

Croatian President Dr. Stjepan Mesic is convinced that “all of the nations of Southeastern Europe will eventually be members of the European Union.”

“It would be poor judgment for the EU to ignore the outstretched hands of the Southeastern European countries,” he said, hands he described as “not begging but willing” to work and be cooperation partners with the EU. This willingness to cooperate has yet to be recognized by a united Europe, he said, but for him, this joining together remains the only way to overcome Southeastern Europe’s recent, violent past.

In a talk titled “Southeastern Europe from a Croatian Perspective” at the Bruno Kreisky Forum in Vienna June 23, Mesic addressed in detail how he believes Southeastern Europe will develop in the near future, giving a short summary each of the key players in the region – Slovenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Macedonia, and Montenegro – and reviewing the strengths and weaknesses of each:

Slovenia, one of the most stable countries in the region, is already a member of the EU. Thus, how Slovenia reacts to Croatia will certainly have an influence within the EU and in the region.

Bosnia and Herzegovina is still struggling to overcome the ravages of war in the region, but is moving in the right direction to become a democratic state.

Croatia has sent the message to Bosnian Croats that Bosnia-Herzegovina is their home and Sarajevo is their capital, and that they need to solve their own problems. Serbia needs to send the same message to Serbs in Bosnia-Herzegovina, and the international community needs to state clearly that Bosnia-Herzegovina is a single state with inviolable unity.

For Serbia, the main issue at hand for Croatia and the rest of the region is Kosovo’s independence. What direction this will take remains to be seen, but Kosovo has always had a special status, and will probably do so again as Southeastern Europe moves beyond its past conflicts.

Macedonia and Montenegro, according to Mesic, are both “reform” countries with a clear European focus. Montenegro has been very successful in promoting tourism in the region, and, despite setbacks, is moving forward on a course to become part of a larger Europe. The same is true for Macedonia, but there are elements in the country that could lead to instability there, and the conflict with Greece about Macedonian identity is “unfortunate.”

Whether the EU accepts the outstretched hand is its decision, he acknowledged, but this is the most promising way to support the future of a united Europe.  Within that unified future, he emphasized, each country in the region will have to find its own way.

 

Dr. Gregory Weeks, Chair of the International Relations Department at Webster University in Vienna, has held the Baron Friedrich Carl von Oppenheim Chair at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem and the Charles H. Revson Fellowship for Archival Research at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC

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