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Recent positive impulses in the Balkans
Report from seminar in Tirana

The Balkans has always been the scene of numerous conflicts, which made the countries in this region lag behind the Western European countries. In late 90s there have been several initiatives in the region towards uniting the countries in SE Europe for economic and political purposes. One of the most important is the Stability Pact for South Eastern Europe which was established by the Final Declaration in Paris in 1995. The objectives of the Pact are seen to depend largely on the process of stabilizing the region through the democratization of these countries, their economic growth and establishing good relations among them. Those involved in the project include the countries in the Balkans, Russia, the USA, with the help of Canada and Japan and organizations like the UN, UNCHR, NATO, OECD, EU, International Monetary Fund, World Bank, European Investment Bank and European Bank for Reconstruction and development. By the latest initiative, accepted in Koln on the day the bombing of Yugoslavia ended, representatives of the Roajomon process, SECI and other initiatives for the Balkans were established as participants in the Conference. Yugoslavia does not participate in the project and it is impossible to say when it will join in.

Regular meetings and seminars are attended by representatives of the countries involved, who report on the situation in their countries, on the improvements and on the problems they encounter. One of these seminars, which was organized by the Greek foundation ELIAMEP, took place in Tirana early in March. Their project is concerned with setting up a network of young leaders in SE Europe, with objective analysis of the situation in the region and with training people in peaceful settlement of conflicts. It was impossible to reject the invitation to take part in this seminar, because it was an opportunity to both learn the news our colleagues from other Balkans countries had to report and see Albania, which has remained inaccessible for many people in our country.

On inquiry, I realized that this country, although it borders on Yugoslavia, is a closed book for our people and that it is rather obscure for them in many aspects. It is one of the youngest countries in Europe, not counting the changes within the last ten years. It was established in 1912, with the support of Austria-Hungary. One of the smallest European countries, it shows constant tendencies towards the formation of the 'Great Albania', and its outlines were determined by the pasha Bardjanin in the XVII century. Its name probably derives from the word 'scipe', which means an eagle, so it means 'the land of eagles'.. Its relations with Yugoslavia were good for only a short period in mid-20s and between the two liberation movements in the Second World War, as well as several years after the war - till 1948, when the Resolution of the Cominform (Communist Information Bureau) was passed. Since the bombing of FR Yugoslavia began, the two countries broke off diplomatic relations, and the abandoned Yugoslav embassy in Tirana is under police protection. After 1985, which was crucial for the Albanians because of the death of Enver Hoxha, the country started to open up a little and gradually take part in international affairs. Since 1995, Albania has been a member of the European Council, and there have been some negotiations over its admission into the World Trade Organization, although it has not managed to meet the requirements yet.

The situation in Albania is rather serious since the unemployment rates are high, the process of privatization is slow and it is politically unstable. It shares these problems with most of the countries in SE Europe, in which the standard of living is far from satisfactory. Consequently the conclusion of the seminar was that countries must follow certain principles, notably the principles of democratic pluralism, free enterprise, the rule of law, civilian control over the army and security.

It is quite obvious that these changes cannot lead to progress overnight, and the awareness of this is necessary, as well as the training of young experts who will be able to go through with these changes. It has become generally accepted that NGOs have the flexibility, which governments lack, necessary for establishing informal contacts even in those countries in which democratization is a slow process. Their activities are therefore expected to lead the society to prosperity, so it is necessary for them to cooperate more closely within a country and outside its borders as well. The Balkan Stability Pact is based on cooperation and consensus politics and not on competition. Young people are wanted, as well as the exchange of information and knowledge, especially in the fields of privatization and foreign investment. Some short- and long-term positive effects are therefore necessary as an additional stimulus for the people to end the period of stagnation.

At the same time it is necessary to evaluate past events objectively and to consider them in a new, different context. Infrastructure is important not only for economic reasons and because its building would mean hiring a number of workers but also because it makes traveling, and consequently getting to know other cultures and languages, cheaper and easier. Of course, there always remains the question of money and its distribution, but that is why these countries ask for more help from international financial institutions. At the same time, they are aware of the fact that there cannot be any economic growth without stability, or vice versa.

When it comes to our country, there is the question whether it is a good idea to include Montenegro in the Stability Pact, because of the potential danger of causing new conflicts in this region. The opposition has been participating in certain projects (e.g. Energy for Democracy) more actively, but that is not enough and further support is necessary. Some people believe that it would be better to include Serbia in the Pact by stages and not wait for its democratization, because the course of events in the country is quite unpredictable. Furthermore, Serbia's key geostrategic position prevents other countries in the region from improving their infrastructure and its isolation consequently causes them great financial losses.

The initiative has been motivated by the recognition of the fact that solving problems confined to certain small areas cannot lead to stability in the Balkans. Security is not the only issue involved - economic, political and humanitarian issues have to be included in the project as well. Positive stimulation, and not only mere pressure, has to be used, and the EU has to finally become the guarantor of security in Europe.

In most countries, the Stability Pact is considered an instrument in the preparations for the membership in the EU, but also a threat. In Croatia, for example, it is seen as a means of reconstructing Ex-Yugoslavia. This proves that after a difficult period of various conflicts some doubts are still present about the goals of the international community in the region. The final conclusion, however, is that the Balkans has to find its own way to prosperity - which will only be possible when its nations realize that it is not what country they live in that matters, but the quality of their life, tolerance and cooperation.

Nina Jesic

Source: Free Serbia

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