EUROPE AND THE BALKAN CRISIS

Introduced by James Pettifer, on 16 October l998.

The speaker is a journalist and author who reports on his extensive Balkan experiences for British and American newspapers, radio and TV.

His talk occurred in athe week of an agreement which halted some bloody events in Kosovo, if only for a brief period.
Mr Pettifer began by outlining the turbulent history of the region, with detailed map references. Historic nationalist rivalries within the Austro-Hungarian Empire were accepted and restrained by post-l9l8 Yugoslavia, effectively created by Britain and France, then encouraged by the Axis powers and, after l945, contained by Tito and his communist regime.When Tito broke with Stalin after 1948 the best partisans - the Serbs - were dominant.The Albanian majorities in Kosovo and Western Macedonia, however, never accepted this, fighting in the mountains throughout that period. Western support for Tito diverted attention from such disturbances until his death and the fall of communism, but in the early Nineties new rulers created Bosnian and Croatian independence movements, which Serbia and the West saw as threats to regional stability. In effect, the situation represents an attempt by a wealthier north to break from a poorer south, but the West fears disintegration of the area if Kosovo gains independence and Greece and Bulgaria revive dormant claims on Tito-created Macedonia.
Moreover, since 1988 Russian influence in Serbia and Bulgaria has increased, leading the West to fear Russian dominance if Milosevic goes. Croatia and Slovenia have close links with Germany and Austria, Albania with Italy. The Muslim presence in Bosnia, Kosovo and Albania promotes U.S. fears, in particular, of a destabilising power bloc.
Following Western intervention and the Bosnian settlement, the current Kosovo situation developed. In response to Serb repression, the relatively moderate leadership was disregarded by young Kosovans, who became organised into the Kosovan Liberation Army, supplied through Albania, itself subject to civil strife. Both ruthless sides cause much civilian distress and displacements.The recent ‘reign of terror’ brought reluctant Western intervention once more. The speaker has doubts about the proclaimed settlement, which involves unarmed supervisors and ultimate elections. Overflying may monitor only heavy weapons and displaced persons are unlikely to return to an insecure devastated area. After a hard winter, a KLA Spring offensive could involve the supervisors and Western intervention would risk its troops.
Ensuing discussion brought out more complexities. Serbs may favour displacements, in order to reduce demographic challenges, but while professional and administrative people become expatriates, militant peasants tend to remain, encouraging outside interests to intervene. Further, suspicion of Jewish influence in American policy about Muslims also inflames passions, while U.S. policy keeps their ground troops away from dangerous sites.
Alternative possibilities for resolving the impasse were discussed. Who would replace Milosevic? What would result from Kosovo self-determination? Could Serbia be democratised?
How could the poverty underlying the Balkan situation be alleviated, to obviate expatriate intervention and encourage rapprochements? Overall, bearing in mind the endemic feuding, the outlook either for effective intervention or self-generated federal resolutions is not encouraging.
Geoffrey Catchpole