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13 Mar 17

Letter to the EU From the Western Balkans

Dejan Anastasijevic

Fourteen years on from Thessaloniki, we have realised you don’t really want us – and have started to behave accordingly.

European Union heads of state and government gather for a round table meeting at an EU summit in Brussels on March 10. Photo: Francois Lenoir/AP

Dear Aunty Europe,

I’m writing on behalf of your poor cousins from the Western Balkans: Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Macedonia, Kosovo, Albania. You know - the unruly ones.

It’s been a while. We should talk.

Fourteen years ago, in Thessaloniki, we were solemnly promised that one day, not too far in the future, we should all be allowed to move to your big house in Brussels and sit as equals at your table.

All we needed to do, you said, was to clean up our act: be nice to you, and each other, and to learn good manners in order not to embarrass you in front of the guests.

So we tried. We really did. We stopped fighting, kept our rooms clean as much as we could, we were nice to neighbors. We even shared our toys and stuff sometimes, even though we didn’t really want to, just to prove we can be good.

But the reward never came. A decade after Thessaloniki, only Croatia got the coveted invitation, and once gone, promptly severed all ties with us. She now goes around pretending to be of “South-Central European-Mediterranean” ancestry, and the word “Balkans” never crosses her lips.

As we came to realize that you don’t really want us to join, we slowly started letting go. You didn’t seem to notice.

Don’t get me wrong, I know you had, and still have, problems of your own, with the fiscal crisis, and the migrant crisis, and the terrorism crisis, and Britain sailing away on the high seas. We wanted to come in to offer help, but you kept us at arm’s length.

So we pretended to reform, and you pretended your invitation was still valid. It’s been like that for quite some time.

Eventually, we both grew tired of pretending. You said that there will be no more EU enlargement until 2020; then you started talking about 2025.

We got the message. You gave up on us, so we gave up on you - and on ourselves. We relapsed.

Look at us now: Serbia’s turning into a bully again; Kosovo, barely nine years old, is tired of toys, and demands real tanks and guns; Bosnia is tearing itself apart. Montenegro thinks it’s at the top of the world; Macedonia is suicidal; Albania just sits in the corner all day, sulking.

It’s a mess.

We also started playing with those bad kids, like Vlad, and Recep, and Abu Bakr, and that new orange brat Donnie. You did warn us to stay away from them, but in your absence, we needed friends. Maybe they’re not as bad as you say they are.

And that’s how we finally got your attention. We heard that there was a big family dinner in Brussels last week, and that we were among the main topics of conversation. Of course, we weren’t invited. We are never invited.

But we did get the message – “conclusions” as you call it – from the event. You noticed we’re restless and unstable. You say that you’re concerned. And you ascribe it all to “external influences”. Really?  As if we’re basically good kids who just happened to fall in a bad company. That’s demeaning.

Well, let me tell you: we’re not good, not anymore, and perhaps we never were. We tried for a while, and it didn’t work. Also, we’re perfectly capable of raising havoc on our own, as you should be well aware by now.

You also said, in the same message, that you’re still committed to that old Thessaloniki promise. Sorry, but that just doesn’t cut it anymore.

We still love you, and crave to be in. But you have demonstrated, again and again, that the only way to get your attention is to make as much of a nuisance of ourselves as we possibly can. And we’re just starting.

Don’t say you weren’t warned.

Yours truly,

The Western Balkans.

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