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The situation in the Balkans is increasingly difficult, from one month to the other, more and more conflicts and misunderstandings between neighbors. Norbert Mappes-Niediek noticed it , German journalist and publicist, a Balkan expert and author of several books on the region. He closer explained the situation as he sees it in a great interview for "Deutsche Welle".
- The rhetoric serves mainly as a way for leaders to show that they are protecting their electorate. Talking badly about your hated neighbors tends to go over well. It allows you to create a sense that there's a threat, and at the same time, give people the impression that you're the right person to protect them from that threat. Such talk in itself is not dangerous, but it can become dangerous if it gains momentum. And that is possible - that is a real danger. The weaker the EU becomes, the less influence it has, the more it feeds this momentum. I don't see it ending in a reorientation toward Moscow or Ankara, but people will start to take firmer positions.
In the last 20 to 25 years, the EU was the only alternative to sectionalism, where nobody cuts anyone some slack. The ambition to join the EU played a big role, across the region. It started in 1991, when Slovenia gained independence. At the time, Foreign Minister Dimitrij Rupel said that the collapse of Yugoslavia and the unification of Europe were two sides of the same coin. One could not happen without the other. That means, it was because of European unity that Yugoslavia fell apart. Back then, people thought that anyone who wanted to join the EU should jump on the wagon quickly, and not wait until the others were ready. Slovenia didn't want to be a small, isolated island in the ocean of the world. Rather, it wanted to be part of the European Union.
The people believe in the EU, and in part they want to be in the EU because they don't trust their own elites. But then, there was a break in 2014 when the new EU commission was elected. The new Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker made it clear that there would be no more EU expansion in the next five years. And the fact that he stated this so openly felt like a door was slammed shut - he explains.
Yugoslavia as the EU, the EU as Yugoslavia
There are different perspectives depending on which country you're in. And that's true even beyond the West and Southeastern Europe. There are certain models that people have in their heads. The British model was one big free trade zone, a kind of commonwealth. In Germany, people tend to picture a federal state, while the Austrians see an imperial monarchy. In the countries that were formerly part of Yugoslavia, people imagine the EU as a type of Yugoslavia. The parallels are often amazing. Even now, with the EU in crisis, many people are reminded of the Yugoslavian crisis. The Slovenian economist Joze Mencinger put it nicely when he said that the EU is suffering from the Yugoslav Syndrome.
That means, there's a common economy, but different nations, different identities, and even different economic policies. The Slovenians and the Croatians in the former Yugoslavia used to fear that they were paying into a bottomless pit to support Kosovo, Macedonia or Bosnia, just the same way that the Germans in the EU today feel about Greece. On the other hand, the Kosovars, the Macedonians and the Bosnians used to always complain that Slovenia and Croatia were getting richer while they were getting poorer. And the Greeks can say the same thing today about the Germans. These are the kinds of parallels that many people have in their minds when they think of the EU - he stresses.
German journalist believes that Russia can not offer a lot in the Balkans and therefore will not play an important role in the long run.
- I don't think that these countries will now start looking toward Russia. Moscow doesn't really have much to offer, other than energy. And Russia would find it difficult to take on the kind of role in the region that the EU has had there. Everyone knows that. But Russia may use this opportunity to throw sand in the gears and make the situation more difficult - he said.
Balkan - the fuse that can ignite Europe
I don't think the Balkans are the powder keg. Europe is the powder keg! The Balkans are the fuse. The conflicts are a threat, and they can't be isolated. And in this current situation where the world is so unstable and there is no real superpower, the sparring parties in the Balkans will have an easier time finding allies among the bigger powers. It's a situation comparable to the one in 1914. And that's something that everyone should fear - the publicist pessimistically ends his conversation for "Deutsche Welle".