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LE MONDE WESTERN BALKANS The Riddle of the Western Balkans According to common wisdom, the future of Albania, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Macedonia, Montenegro, Kosovo and Serbia lies in Europe. But the burdens of the refugee crisis put the seeds of doubt in more and more people in Western Balkans. Text: Rainer Himmelfreundpointner Official final picture of all members at the Western Balkans Conference in Vienna, end of August 2015. Each time an educated discussion on a future enlargement of the European Union ends up at the the vision of integrating the Western Balkans, some folks of the cynical fraction of life start to mock around about the real big question of this region. Which in their view is: Are the times changing there or not? After having rhetorically asked so, one of them will immediately recall Otto von Bismarck, who in 1888 truly predicted: ”One day a great European War will come out of some damned foolish thing in the Balkans.“ And another one will quickly draw an analogy to a further Bismark statement – „The Balkans aren‘t worth the life of a single Pomeranian grenadier” – meaning that nothing has changed in the Western Balkans, its countries Albania, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Mecedonia, Montenegro, Kosovo and Serbia would not be worth a single EU cent and should stay on their own. So far to the most extreme, most critical approach in debating the geopolitical future of what mainly used to be the former Yugoslavia. A position far beyond mainstream EU politics, by the way, which in general is strongly in favour of paving the way for the Western Balkans towards membership, or at least a stronger integration into a common Europe. Maybe the most outspoken promoter of closing the gap between the EU and the Western Balkans is Austria‘s Minister for Europe, Integration and Foreign Affairs, Sebastian Kurz, who recently finished an extensive roundtrip throughout the region. ”Austria is deeply tied together with these states on a humanistic, economic, cultural and historic base“, says Kurz. „Therefore Austria remains a clear advocate for EU membership of all countries of the Western Balkans.“ Basically this perspective is rooted in the first Western Balkans Summit 2003 in Porto Carras in Greece which promised an ”unconditional support for these states in their European orientation“. Nevertheless, for the next ten years the region was partly tied up in painful first time experiences of nation building, partly in unsolved bilateral conflicts going back to historic or nationalistic differences. Up until now Serbia and Kosovo haven‘t figured out their generations old hostility. Bosnia & Herzegovina still seem to be politically paralysed by internal fractionism. And Mazedonia‘s ambitions to join the EU have yet to overcome Greece‘s resistance because of its disputed name. So, all in all, Western Balkans remained at square one. But in 2013, with the first Western Balkan Conference, chaired by EU Border Security Agency ”Frontex“, things began to move. It was the dawn of the European refugee crisis, immigration from the Middle East and Africa began to focus more and more on Greece, and as early as that experts warned that without any counter measures, masses of asylum seekers could soon be moving forward via the Western Balkans right into heartland Europe. 2014 saw two conferences on the Western Balkans, one in June in Vienna, at which Albania gained EU candidate status, and one in August in Berlin, where former Commission President José Manuel Barroso pointed out that ”the future of the Balkans lies in Europe“ and sweetened this outlook with a 12 billion Euros subsidy promise. A lot of big infrastructure projects – mainly transnational railroads, streets and powerplants – have thus been kickstarted, and politicians were eager to put wood behind the arrow in their PHOTOS: ANDY WENZEL/BKA. GRAFIK: FRANZ DEIX Bosnia & Herzegovina The country proclaimed independence on 6 April 1992 but nearly immediately became the battlefield of the Bosnian War, lasting until 1993 with a still disputed number of war crime victims. Official name: Bosnia and Herzegovina Capital: Sarajevo Population: 3,871,643 Government: Federal parliamentary republic Ethnic groups: 48.4% Bosniaks, 32.7% Serbs, 14.6% Croats, 4.3% other Area: 51,197 sq km GDP: 38.08 billion US-$ (PPP) GDP per capita: 9,800 US-$ (PPP) Official name: Montenegro Capital: Podgorica Population: 620.000 Government: Parliamentary republic Ethnic groups: 45% Montenegrins, 28.7% Serbs, 8.6% Bosniaks, 4.9% Albanians Area: 13,812 sq km GDP: 3.985 billion US-$ (PPP) GDP per capita: 6.373 US-$ (PPP) Serbia The largest of the Western Balkans states is an independent republic since 2006 when its union with Montenegro broke apart. Having left the years of the Yugoslav Wars in the 1990s behind, Serbia today is an upper-middle income economy with a dominant service sector, followed by industry and agriculture, an economically moderately free country and EU membership candidate. Official name: Republic of Serbia Capital: Belgrade Population: 7,041,599 Government: Unitary parliamentary constitutional republic Ethnic groups: 83% Serbs, 3.5% Hungarians, 2% Roma, 2% Bosniaks, 9% others Area: 88,361 sq km GDP: 99.899 billion US-$ (PPP) GDP per capita: 13,944 US-$ (PPP) Official name: Republic of Albania Capital: Tirana Population: 2,893,005 Government: Unitary parliamentary constitutional republic Area: 28,748 sq km GDP: 32.259 billion US-$ (PPP) GDP per capita: 11,700 US-$ (PPP) Kosovo The former province of Serbia declared independence on 17 February 2008. Serbia refuses to recognise Kosovo as a state, although with the Brussels Agreement of 2013 it has accepted the legitimacy of Kosovo institutions. Kosovo also lacks diplomatic recognition from 85 United Nations member states, including five EU states, and is not a member of the UN. Official name: Republic of Kosovo Capital: Pristina Population: 1,859,203 Government: Parliamentary republic Area: 10,908 sq km GDP: 17.780 billion US-$ (PPP) GDP per capita: 9,570 US-$ (PPP) Official name: Republic of Macedonia Capital: Skopje Population: 2,069,162 Government: Parliamentary republic Ethnic groups: 64.2% Macedonians, 25.2% Albanians, 3.9% Turks, 2.7% Romani, 1.8% Serbs, 2.2% other Area: 25,713 sq km GDP: 22.147 billion US-$ (PPP) GDP per capita: 10,718 US-$ (PPP) , FACTS & FIGURES Western Balkans Terminus technicus: In December 1998 the EU introduced the words Westerns Balkans into its terminology, identifying the remaining southeast European countries – Albania, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Macedonia, Montenegro, Kosovo and Serbia – which after the joining of Bulgaria and Romania would be part of the next strategic step of EU enlargement. Geography: In case of experts in geomorphology talking about the Western Balkans, they deal with the Western part of the Balkan Mountains between Bulgaria and Serbia, with 95 percents of its hills on the side of Bulgaria. History: Apart from the facts that World War I started in Serbia and the states of former Yugoslavia engaged in a bloody war in the region between 1991 and 2001, the notion of ”balkanisation“ – meaning political instability and economic backwardness – is deeply rooted in Western perception. Especially in Austria, and more so in Vienna, where people think to know where the Balkans really start – at the Rennweg in Vienna‘s third district. Economy: The Western Balkans states still have a long way to go before reaching EU economic level. Incomes per capita amount for only 27 percent of EU average. Trade relations of the regions are heavily dependent on the EU, accounting for 75 percent. Montenegro Meaning ”Black Mountain“, the country was either ruled by local aristocray, Venice or the Ottoman Empire, until it became part of Yugoslavia in 1918. Independent since 3 June 2006. Albania The country first mentioned in 1190 became independent after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and declared independence in 1912. After a period of kingdom, Italian and Nazi regimes, it returned to republic constitution with the last having been introduced in 1998. Albania enjoys the status of EU candidacy and is a member of the NATO. Macedonia The most southern successor state of former Yugoslavia declared independence on 8 September 1991 and became a member of the United Nations in 1993. But, as a result of an ongoing dispute with Greece over use of the name Macedonia, it was admitted under the provisional description of „the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia“. 46 Cercle Diplomatique 1/2016 Cercle Diplomatique 1/2016 47