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Schriftenreihe des Europa Institutes Budapest, Band 29:29–41.


Different Traditions and Political Compatibility in the Balkan Region


The Balkans is the bad conscience of Europe, with special regard to the South Slav crisis emerging in the wake of the political system change in the entire Eastern Bloc and after the end of the Cold War, to which the European Union was unable to find any acceptable response. While the system change was surprisingly peaceful in the entire Eastern European region, the disintegration of Yugoslavia in the Balkans created an unexpected armed conflict and once again called forth phenomena of chauvinism, ethnic cleansing, terror and genocide as well as a massive flow of refugees. All this was not unknown in Europe but everyone thought that we have overcome these phenomena and they belonged to the sunken world of the period prior to World War II. In the 1990s the only politically intact and crisis-free zone, the European Union faced this unexpected resurrection of the horrors of the past helplessly. The European Community, which at that time had been limited only to Western Europe, as Austria and the North European Finland and Sweden were only admitted to the Union in 1995, had no uniform strategy, neither means whatsoever for handling such problems. It was exactly the South Slav crisis that most clearly presented the lack of European unity, particularly in the field of a common foreign and security policy. The escalating conflict was once again managed by the intervention of the United States as it had happened twice in the history of the past century. But since it had no particular interests in the region, it was satisfied with temporarily limiting and freezing seemingly unsolvable conflicts. In fact the European Community failed in this issue, and it was a major lesson with lots of consequences to the European Union. Since then it has been participating more intensively in the solution of the problems of the region, performing peace-keeping and humanitarian missions, in addition the experience of the South Slav failure has been and remains one of the engines driving the shaping of a common foreign and security policy forward. It should be stated that it has become clear by now, despite the currently halted constitution-making process, that the promotion of social and economic transformation and of political stability in the entire Southeast European region is one of the preconditions of lasting European peace and economic prosperity. The Union cannot just sit back doing nothing because its own security is also at stake; it cannot lock itself up in its own safe zone with the assumption that barbarians live beyond the limes and it has nothing to do with them. The fact that this realisation has become evident shows by itself how much European politics have changed, slowly moving towards a common European policy from the limitations of foreign policies of the nation-states.

This realisation contributed to the ‘Eastern enlargement’ of the EU being implemented in an organised way and relatively rapidly, and the experiences of enlargement obtained so far support the rightness of that policy. No doubt it was the last wave of enlargement that promised to be the most difficult and risky enterprise. In that context it is surprising that despite difficulties of adjustment, which here and there lead to populist reactions in the newly acceded countries, Eastern enlargement seems to be a real success story so far.

The 2004 and 2006 waves of the enlargement of the EU, integrating the Eastern half of Europe lying outside the former Soviet Union has been clearly one of the politically most significant developments of the post-Cold War European history. Integration is creating the possibilities of dynamic development despite difficulties, which has an immediate electrifying effect on economic growth. It can make the expansion of integration over the entire European space fruitful not only in economics but also in politics, including the Balkans. The old debate between deepening or expanding integration has been essentially decided: the Cassandra forecasts fearing expansion have not proved to be true. Nevertheless, what has emerged resembles much more the realistic concept of a ‘multi-speed Europe’ than the bright vision of the future of a united European Union. Today this is not mentioned because formal equality is an important condition of membership, yet cleavages become visible between the old and the new Member States at different levels of catching-up. Nevertheless, it is an indisputable fact that an ever expanding integration promises to be the best solution in response to the challenges of globalisation: a bigger and more uniform economic space, broader markets, cheaper labour and a promising expansion of investments open up new resources of growth for the entire area. The consequently emerging inequalities are not welcome by all but it should be accepted that the engine of growth has always rested on the utilisation of this kind of inequalities in the capitalist market economy. From now on the chances of an economy of scale may assert themselves slowly, competitiveness and exports may grow, indices of employment may improve, etc.

However, in the middle of an increasingly uniform Europe, or rather southwards from it, in the Balkans, a wide gap remains unchanged on the map of the Union. Closing it would be a much greater task promising to be a far tougher issue than the admission of the Central European states earlier, or even of Romania and Bulgaria. The decisive element is political uncertainty and the lack of consolidation. The same obstacles stood in the way of the earlier development of a nation-state: such as the political fragmentation of the area, its economic backwardness and underdeveloped infrastructure. In the wake of the disintegration of the former Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and the breaking up of earlier contacts once again a pile of disintegrated political islands, politically isolated from one another, has emerged. This is a major obstacle in the way of any kind of integration and consolidation.

For Europe the present condition of the Balkan region undoubtedly reflects its own weakness in foreign policy. The formulation of uniform geopolitical interests related to the area was missing; the management of the South Slav crisis was dominated by the traditional political prejudices of the various Member States rooted in history. This contributed to the enhancement of the crisis and to a growing bitterness of conflicts. Here it was not the future vision of a united Europe but the reflexes of the past that had been dominant, namely complexes of grievances and the great power nostalgia of some states of the past with all their grave consequences. It was once again only the resolute strategy, foreign political pragmatism and military efficiency of the United States that was able to stop the escalation of violence in that region of Europe. It was, however, not willing to do so forever, and its representatives could rightly say that the European Community also had to take responsibility. If the European Union continued to be inactive, the region was to remain the source of political unsettlement and thus a source of unrest for a long time with all its consequences. With the exception of Slovenia, which successfully escaped from under the ruins of the South Slav federal state and became a member of the European Union, the weak economic and shaky political conditions of the other successor states would remain outside the European framework for a long time. This means an enormous challenge to the European Union. The gates of the European Community remain closed for the time being to the countries of the politically fragmented region due to the lack of preconditions, while obviously the only way of future development of the area leads solely through that gate. Luckily, today the responsible decision makers of the European Union have been making serious efforts to prepare these countries for their future accession and for persuading them to cooperate. There is no other way for the lasting preservation of European peace but getting the region to catch up, no matter how difficult this task may be both politically and economically.

The source of the chronic lack of solutions in the region has been traced back to many things by many. Karl W. Deutsch, a noted theorist of the issue of nationalism compared the ethnic map of the Balkan region to a ‘colourful silk scarf pierced by holes’, referring to the adverse preconditions of the development of the nation-state. The late emergence of the nation-state was one of the consequences of several centuries of Ottoman occupation and resistance to it. Here different ethnic groups lived in a geographically extremely disintegrated area, exposed to the whims of great power politics, at the frontline of empires. It is not surprising that the formation of nation-states was accompanied by a lot of conflicts in such a power field. Ernst Gellner’s remark that only one out of ten vernaculars has the chance of becoming a national language holds true for the Balkan region, too. Friedrich Engels called ethnic groups living there “peoples without history”, a not too fortunate expression, due to the lack of autonomous traditions of a nation-state. Naturally, they also had their history, but they could not have the historical memory of a nation-state. The idea and political aim of Yugoslavism of the inter-war period also derived from this situation, and temporarily seemed to be a good solution for the entire region halted in the development of the nation-state, and offered a possible form of integration. The contradiction between federalism and state socialist etatism based on the party-state system finally led to the explosive dissolution of that state formation.

Ethnic and cultural diversity, however, was only one characteristic feature of the region, and cannot in itself explain the growing conflicts. Turbulent history had undoubtedly created several different traditions. The influence of Catholicism had always been strong in Croatia, a part of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy, as well as traditionally along the Dalmatian seacoast and it determined both the political environment and the social and political structure. In Serbia Greek Orthodox Christianity had been the state religion; and the inclination of guarding the borders and the constant struggle for freedom against Ottoman oppression strengthened the romantic culture of heroism and strength. This was further enhanced by the successful guerrilla warfare against German occupation. The country was characterised by strong traditions of authoritative rule and the existence of a strong bureaucratic and military caste as well as weak social organisation. The political and cultural traditions of Bosnia and Herzegovina are different. The strength of the Islam tradition is well-known, primarily in cities, at the same time the province was mixed ethnically and, as far as religion is concerned, already at the time of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy. Until Yugoslavism was a powerful idea and political reality, it did not cause any conflicts, but it was here that the crisis and disintegration of the Yugoslav state formation provoked the most serious conflicts. In the province of Kosovo, to the territory of which Serbs are linked by strong historical myths, the numerical superiority of the Albanian ethnic population kept on growing with the passage of time. At the same time Albanians themselves are divided by religion. In addition the integration of Albania and Kosovo in a single state is hindered not only by international politics but also by economic factors, therefore it is rather unlikely. The separate state of Macedonia is also characterised by mixed ethnicity, in addition the economy of the small area of the former province is not viable alone. It can be stated in general that each successor state of the former South Slav federal state is characterised by a mixed ethnic composition, even if to a different extent. Though relations of economic exchange had developed in the erstwhile Yugoslavia they were under the rule of a centralised economic policy. The break-up of those ties since the disintegration of the state has only further aggravated political conflicts.

Ethnic diversity and differences in economic development in themselves did not justify the growing ruthlessness of the conflicts in the Yugoslav war of secession. I consider the theories trying to find the reasons for the disintegration of the Yugoslav federation and the escalation of conflict into war in the unconquerable strength of some kind of primordial, primary ethnic-national bonds as myths. This explanation is nothing else but the projection of aspirations for a nation-state back into the distant past and also the denial of the possibility of a peaceful co-existence of groups of people of different origin and culture within the framework of one and the same state, because it is not proved at all. My impression is that an excessive historical interest and the objective of tracing back the conflicts of today to grievances of the distant past are not good starting points to the understanding of the Balkan conflict. This is the case even if the offensive ignorance of some politicians of great powers about the history and culture of these peoples did not at all help in the solution of conflicts. To me the inclusion of approaches from the side of modern social sciences, such as economics, sociology and political science in the analysis seems to be more important and productive. As contrasted to Machiavelli’s commonly known opinion that there is nothing new under the sun and historical continuity would always assert itself in politics without any hitch, only taking up new forms, it should be stated that new things do exist under the sun. New conditions and new problems may emerge during the course of history that cannot simply be deducted linearly from the past, but are rooted in a new system of the present conditions. Actually the emergence of the European Community is a novelty that cannot be neglected, which creates an entirely new and favourable starting point for European peace and development. It has made Europe, once sunken into nationalist strife, capable of integrating and consolidating the countries once in enmity within the framework of the integration of a large area.

In my view the lasting economic backwardness of the Balkan region is a much more important explanatory factor than the national-ethnic diversity and national ambitions, which is accompanied by an underdeveloped infrastructure and by social frustrations, constituting the main obstacle to modern development. First of all it was the lack of the resources of modern development that has made the region repeatedly the arena of aborted ambitions of the nation-state, unsolved conflicts and chaotic political conditions and hotbeds of war in the 20th-century history of Europe. The Balkans is not accidentally the synonym of a powder keg in international politics. It turned out about the Yugoslav federal state, which initially seemed to be a success that it could offer only a temporary framework to a certain type of peaceful coexistence and economic development, but it did not prove to be a sustainable one. Its reasons cannot be detailed here but it is sufficient to briefly refer to the high unemployment which could only be drained by a flood of Yugoslav guest workers to Western Europe, or to the fact that regional inequalities in the economy could not be eliminated. The burden of the equalising policy was borne by the more advanced provinces, a redistribution, which had been politically supported by Serbian supremacy within the federal state. The underlying state and powers bureaucracy, in its turn, consumed the major part of the developmental resources. It is not a negligible fact that the economy of the South Slav country could only be maintained with the help of continuous Western loans and aid towards the end of its history. With the end of the Cold War, however, Western powers were no longer interested in the maintenance and financing of the separate Yugoslav way. At that moment the hopelessness of economic consolidation was revealed immediately and as a result political conflicts also flared up. Under deteriorating economic conditions the tolerant, consensus-based distribution of losses and a peaceful separation based on it could not be expected in a game of negative balance either by the logic of the realist school of foreign policy or by the theoretical logic of rational choice. In this situation the forced unity policy of the nationalist leaders of the Serb state was only arrogance provoking the disintegration of the country. Unfortunately the realist politician, Henry Kissinger was right, when in 1990 he stated in an interview in response to a question about the Yugoslav crisis that he did not see how a new war could be avoided in the Balkan region.

Here I have to assume that the unfolding of the South Slav crisis and diplomatic attempts to soothe and freeze conflicts are all well-known. As a result of the Dayton Agreement these conflicts earlier escalating into armed fighting, subsided but did not end. The condition of the entire region, but first of all the internal order of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the status of Kosovo is transitory, maintained and coerced by international control to this day. Today this situation can only be solved by European integration and that too only in the longer run. Currently the only question is: what kind of economic measures are to be done by the countries involved to meet the conditions of accession to the Union? Further on, how much adjustment the European Union can demand to the creation of political compatibility indispensable to integration the criteria of which were originally set by the Copenhagen Treaty of 1993 for the acceding Central-East European Countries?

The fact that the region consists of countries of excessively colourful traditions may not mean an obstacle to integration in itself, because this holds true for Europe in general. (There is the witty motto pertaining to this that if the European Union applied for admission it could not be admitted because of unsuitability.) Though a certain level of unification is to be observed in economic conditions and differences in economic development are being moderated, the Union is extremely diverse culturally. It is not only because of the different cultures of nation-states but also in respect of religion; suffice it to remember the Southern Catholic and the Northern Protestant states. Political cultures have been different right from the beginning even if democratic statehood based on the rule of law is a requirement for all. There are centralist as well as federal states among the Member States. The traditions of local governance are also widely different even if the regional policy of the European Union has overwritten them to a certain extent. As far as the form of the state is concerned the difference between monarchies and republics may seem to be significant, though it is well-known that this plays a decreasing role from the angle of practical operation. The relationship among the branches of authority is also different, for there are parliamentary democracies as well as semi-presidential systems, though the trend increasingly points towards parliamentarism (as contrasted to the suggestions of recent theories and ideologies related to ‘presidential governance’ becoming fashionable.) There are unicameral and bicameral parliaments, in some countries there is a separate constitutional court and elsewhere there is none. Nevertheless, the norms of the state based on the rule of law are binding everywhere in the Union and if occasionally they are violated, legal remedies are available. Usually the political norms of co-existence are laid down in constitutions to which the king has to pledge him/herself in monarchies. (Recently the inclusion of the ‘historical constitution’, hitherto existing dispersed in various legal documents, into a uniform Constitutional Act has emerged even in the UK.) Multi-party pluralism is general, including systems moving towards a two-party system, and the composition of parliament and hence of the government is decided upon by free elections everywhere.

If one surveys the new state and political conditions of the West Balkan area, the question arises: what may be regarded as missing in a political sense? The assertion of the principles of the rule of law and of democracy has been prescribed as the political precondition of accession by the Copenhagen criteria. Formally it can be done in several ways, and one may even say that the democratic norms required by the Union already exist formally in every successor South Slav state even if the traditional political culture does not support them. Since the fall of Milošević the countries of the region have all become multi-party parliamentary democracies where the head of the state is elected by parliament. It is not only multi-party pluralism but that of many parties. Each new state has a democratic constitution. A variety of coalition governments have come into power in course of the subsequent free elections.

As far as the individual states are concerned the situation is most critical in Bosnia and Herzegovina and in Kosovo.

Bosnia and Herzegovina of a population of 4.5 million declared its sovereignty in 1991 and its independence from the former Yugoslavia in March 1992, after a referendum boycotted by the Serb population. The ethnic composition of the country shows that the Bosnians of Muslim religion are not in majority, constituting 48% of the population, the second largest is the Serb community of 37.1% and the third is the Croat one with 14.3% of the population. (40% of the population are Muslims, 31% Serb Orthodox and 15% Catholic.)

Resistance to independence by the Serbs had led to civil war where the Bosnian Serbs were supported by the Serbian state. Their aim was to accede to the great Serb state therefore they did not recognise the Bosnian state. In 1994 the Bosnians concluded an accord with the Croats and thus the war was reduced to two fronts.

The economy of the country is the poorest together with that of Macedonia. These are small agricultural economies with poor efficiency, and imports are needed even in the field of agriculture; 30% of the population works in industry and 50% in the service sector. One quarter of the population lives below the poverty line. The private sector grows slowly and state ownership is 40%. Growth is slow, but by 2003–2004 it was 5%. The deficit of state finances and unemployment are high. The banking sector is controlled by Western banks. The country has become member of the Central European Free Trade Agreement. It receives significant subsidies of reconstruction and humanitarian aid. The per capita GDP is 5600 dollars.

The borders of Bosnia and Herzegovina as a new sovereign state, declared unilaterally despite the protests of Serbs (constituting more than one third of the population) and hurriedly acknowledged by several big powers unconditionally, have remained unchanged and coincide with the former borders of Bosnia and Herzegovina as a former Yugoslav province. The most important development of consolidation is that the Peace Agreement concluded on 21 November 1995 at Dayton terminated the war of secession lasting for three years on the territory of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The Peace Agreement ruled for multi-ethnic, joint democratic governance in respect of diplomacy and monetary policy, in other respects the various ethnic communities were granted semi-sovereign rights. The Peace Agreement is made acceptable for the Bosnian Serbs by envisaging two autonomous territorial governments, the Bosnian-Croatian federation on the one hand and the Bosnian Serb self-government on the other. A High Representative’s office and the forces of IFOR observed the implementation of the peace accord. The latter one was replaced by SFOR, the NATO’s stabilization force, and in December 2004 its place was taken over by EUFOR with the aim of maintaining peace and stability in the entire country. Thus the European Union is present in the region as a direct stabilizing force.

The form of the state has become federal democratic republic with two internal governments and a district under international supervision. The position of the head of state is occupied by members of the presidium rotating every eight months. The parliament is bicameral, the lower house is the Skupstina (one third of the 42 mandates, i.e. 14 seats belong to the Serbs), and the upper house, the Dom Naroda has 15 mandates (five for each). There is a colourful party system and eventful political life. Nevertheless, practically there is a kind of international protectorate in force in the country due to international supervision ensuring that the Dayton Accord is respected. (We may assume that if such a status of protectorate of preventive nature had been organised earlier under UN supervision, the war might never have broken out.)

Croatia of a population of 4.5 million was a province of Catholic tradition integrated in the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy before the way to national development opened up for it through limited autonomy, at first in the Kingdom of Yugoslavia and next in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. In 1991 it got into pitched conflict with Serbia. The eastern regions of Slavonia taken away during the war of secession were returned to Croatia only in 1998 under UN supervision. The war caused serious damages to the economy of the country. Seaside tourism as one of the main sources of income significantly dropped. Since then economic development has accelerated again, there have been reforms for market economy, but under strong state ownership and with significant territorial inequalities. Unemployment is still relatively high.

Since the death of Franjo Tudjman the former presidential system of Croatia has been transformed into democratic parliamentarism with multi-party pluralism. Initially co-operation with the International Court of Justice in The Hague went on haltingly but with the passage of time its inevitability was recognised and some military leaders accused of war crimes were extradited. The country has been struggling against economic difficulties but politically it is on the right track towards adjustment necessary to the accession to the Union. Accession talks are in an advanced state and international support of Croatia's accession is also significant.

As far as Serbia is concerned, many regard the policy of its nationalist leaders as the main cause of the South Slav war. Slobodan Milošević’s rule hastened the disintegration of the country along ethnic lines and led to war and ethnic cleansing. Therefore the remaining ’Small’ Yugoslavia was expelled from the UN in 1992. In 1995, as a result of protracted talks the leaders of the country finally signed the Dayton Agreement inspired by the Americans. That, however, did not end the process of the country’s disintegration. In 1998 an Albanian insurrection broke out in Kosovo, to which a punitive expedition of irregular Serb units was the answer. Massive massacre and the flood of several hundred thousand Albanian refugees provoked international indignation. In the spring of 1999 NATO bombing from the air space above ’Small’ Yugoslavia began in order to force the Yugoslav government to alter its policy. UN Security Council Resolution No. 1244 ordered the stationing of KFOR, an international armed force under NATO leadership in Kosovo to protect the local population. The UNMIK, UN Interim Administrative Mission in Kosovo was set up with the task of establishing self-governing institutions and of holding democratic elections. Besides the UN Special Envoy, there had been an Interim Administrative Council. As a result of elections the Albanian governmental and local governmental institutions were set up, yet the status of Kosovo is still uncertain. The riots of 2004 again led to new international talks on the status of Kosovo. The Albanians are for the final secession of the province and for independent statehood, but the Serbs sharply oppose the sovereign statehood of the province, regarding Kosovo as part of Serbia and are inclined to guarantee provincial autonomy at the most. International diplomatic efforts for the solution of the conflict are still in progress. The Finnish Ahtisaari, the UN Special Envoy’s report and settlement proposal were rejected by both parties. The final deadline for settlement was set as of 15 December 2007 by the UN Security Council. The claims of Serbs are supported by Russia therefore the outcome of the dispute is impossible to forecast. Kosovo is not anymore what it used to be and not even a remnant of Serb supremacy can be assured in the province. Yet the Serbs insist on it as the last proof of their sovereignty. Public opinion supports the Serbian government in it. (According to a recent poll, had the independence of Kosovo been the price of EU membership, 70% would rather stay outside.)

The uncertain status of Kosovo is an obstacle in the way of economic consolidation. It is an important fact that Kosovo used to be the economically most backward region of the former Yugoslavia. There is low urbanisation; the vast majority of the population live in villages, one third of them under the poverty line. Unemployment and inflation are high. Nevertheless, economic development has begun, though from a very low level.

As far as Small Yugoslavia is concerned, Milošević fell in 2000. The democrats won the governmental majority at the parliamentary elections and Koštunica became the president of the state. In 2001 Milošević was arrested and handed over to the International Court of Justice in the Hague investigating crimes against humanity where, after custody of several years in the course of which he wanted to do his own defence, he died in jail in 2006 of an apparently natural death.

In 2001 the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia was re-admitted to the UN. Since 2003 Serbia and Montenegro (with a majority Serb population) formed a loose federal state up to 3 June 2006, when finally Montenegro too, based on a referendum on secession left the federal state. Serbia, declaring itself as the successor state of Yugoslavia, introduced a new constitution from 2006 on. As far as its political system is concerned, Serbia is a republic with a unicameral parliament, a multi-party system and constitutional court.

Thus formally Serbia would meet the political criteria but the political culture does not support liberal reforms. There are doubts concerning the realisation of the norms of the state based on the rule of law. There are many Serb political refugees who have come from Bosnia, Croatia or Kosovo, constituting a source of political radicalism.

The economy of the country has also suffered from the long war, and was also hit by economic sanctions for a long time. Bombings had destroyed a significant part of its infrastructure. After 2000 the country returned to the international institutions, it receives international aid for reconstruction, the Paris Club has abolished two thirds of its debt and half of the rest was written off by private creditors. The country participated in the Brussels agreement for stabilisation and association; it is member of the WTO. Yet unemployment is high. An obstacle in the way of closer cooperation with the European Union is that Karadžić and Mladić, political and military leaders of the Serbs of Kraina, considered as the main criminals of the war have not yet been extradited to The Hague Court.

As far as Montenegro is concerned, for a long time it had been an autonomous principality in its history, and it was swallowed by Serbia only after World War I. After the disintegration of Yugoslavia it constituted a federal state with Serbia. From 2006 the constitution was altered in the wake of a referendum deciding upon independence (by more than the required 55%).

The number of the population is 685.000, of which 43% are Montenegrins, 32% are Serbs, 8% are Bosnians, 5% are Albanians and 12% others. It is a unicameral parliamentary republic with lots of small parties. The per capita GDP is 3800 dollars. It has acceded to the World Bank and signed an agreement of accession partnership with the EU. Privatisation has been in progress and it attracts tourists. The rate of unemployment is 27%.

Macedonia is the smallest successor state with a population of two million. It obtained its independence from Yugoslavia in 1991 and has managed to keep it under international supervision. The international acknowledgement of the country was delayed because of Greek resistance concerning the name of the country, but since then a compromise was reached: in the official name of the country of Macedonia (Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia) reference is made to formerly having been part of Yugoslavia. It is a republic; its political system is parliamentary democracy with a unicameral parliament. A colourful palette of parties characterises it with strong ethnic representation. The political elite were forced to enter into corporate bargaining by the ethnic riots of the Albanian minority: the Albanian uprising of 2001 ended in an international framework agreement on minority rights.

The main problem of Macedonia is first and foremost the missing infrastructure. Consequently, it has little capital attraction capacity, grey economy is widespread and unemployment is high. Some economic growth has begun only in the recent years.

I cannot dwell on Albania in detail; I only wish to mention that it has been trying to fit into the European structures by a consistent foreign policy since the system change. Here too the main problem is economic backwardness but significant investments have begun recently, mostly at the seacoast.

In summary, a Southeast European Cooperative Initiative was launched as early as in 1996 to promote regional cooperation, at that time upon the initiative of the United States. In 1999 the European Union concluded a Stability Pact for South Eastern Europe which directed the development of the countries in the region towards the European Union. The aim is to realise European standards in the field of the rule of law, with special regard to the independence of the judiciary, and to struggle against crime and corruption. Topics for talks went beyond the issues of democracy and human rights to include economic issues, energy policy, immigration, and questions of military and civilian security. The process of democratisation is irreversible in the region but there are still many questions pending.

In which fields could significant progress be made and where are further efforts needed? The European Union, ever since it committed itself to the consolidation of the Balkan region, projecting even the integration of its countries, has accomplished an extraordinary impact even if there are still many tasks to full accession. The most important positive result is that acts of war could be stopped and relations among those countries are beginning to be restored. Cooperation with international organisations could be achieved in most questions and the prospect of accession to the Union has led to several social, political and economic reforms. Measures strengthening trust have been taken between conflicting parties, and struggle against organised crime has begun. The economy is becoming stronger, significant investments are made particularly along the seacoast but unemployment continues to be high, and investments go to the bigger countries on the waves of privatisation. The development of the region depends on external resources, while attracting investors and the growing strength of local entrepreneurs require political stability and economic reforms as well as a functioning state based on the rule of law. Meanwhile it cannot be disregarded that economic transformation is accompanied by significant social burdens.

Political fragmentation also slows economic development of the region. Potential investors think in terms of regional dimensions. This is why agreements assuming regional cooperation are important, such as accession to the Central European Free Trade Zone, or the energy community pact with the EU Commission, the Investment Compact, the support of small enterprises and initiatives for social cohesion.

The chief promoter and safeguard of reforms is undoubtedly the prospect of accession to the EU. It should be remembered, however, that with the possible exception of Croatia the time span up to accession would not be short. Adjustment to the European expectations is of different pace and there are still a lot of tasks to be solved.

With the decline of political conflicts issues of economic and social political development are coming to the fore. For the European Union the consolidation of the Balkans is a sort of experimental laboratory also from the angle of relationships with countries at the Black Sea. It is to be avoided that the symptom of a failed state should become dominant in the middle of Europe. To achieve this, support at every level is needed from international diplomacy through forums of economic policy to the active cooperation of different foundations and civil organisations.