News 24 Sep 12

Experts Urge Stronger Links in the Balkans

The Balkan countries must put aside their fixation with the past, and build stronger communities, if they want peace and prosperity in the region, says a panel of experts.

Marija Ristic
Photo by Belgrade Security Forum

Speaking at “Security and Community in the Western Balkans: past, present, and future”, one of the panels at the Belgrade Security Forum, Jelena Subotic, an assistant professor at US Georgia State University, argued that the competing historical narratives that obsess the post-Yugoslav countries are harming efforts at regional cooperation.

“For example, you have different narratives relating to Operation Storm in 1995. For Croatia, this is the operation that brought independence and statehood, while for Serbia, it was an act of ethnic cleansing against the Croatian Serbs,  ” she said.

Subotic finds the solution in educational reform and changing the current textbooks both in Croatia and Serbia.

According to her analysis, in Serbian textbooks there is a silence over Serbia’s criminal past in the 1990s conflict, while there is a trend of showing Serbs as victims of the war, whose country was destroyed by Croats, Bosniaks and others.

In Croatian textbooks, on the other hand, the war is presented as a defensive one and a result of Serbian terrorism. They claim that Croatia was never aggressive towards non-Croats.  She found only one book that admitted that a number of Serbs had fled Croatia in 1995 as result of the Operation Storm.

In addition to educational reforms, war crime trails, and reparations to the victims, Subotic also thinks that a truth commission is crucial to resolving differences. However, she believes that REKOM initiative to set up a truth commission, will fail without the support of regional leaders.

A professor from the Oklahoma University, Rebecca Cruise, believes that the media can play a greater role in bringing together the divided societies of the Balkans.

“Instead of focusing on differences, the media in the region can focus on similarities among the states and people in order to bring them together,” Cruise said.

Anton Bebler, a professor from Slovenia’s Faculty for Social Sciences, claimed that the post -Yugoslav countries were yet to return to the level of economic development that had been reached when they were part of Yugoslavia.

 “This region is now characterized as a place of organized crime, corruption, and large-scale unemployment. In Kosovo alone, 77 per cent of young people are unemployed. This is the poorest part of Europe,” says Bebler.

The solution, according to Professor Bebler, is Euro-Atlantic Integration.

“The inclusion of the Western Balkans in both the EU and NATO is a necessity, if those countries want to settle the problems with their neighbours.  We cannot expect the political elites to transform the region by their own efforts,” he concluded.



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