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The Balkan flame
by Thanos Kalamidas
2007-02-08 09:01:50
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Sometimes I even find it difficult myself to explain to anybody what’s going on in the Balkans. It’s even harder to explain to people like Scandinavians how tense ethnic differences are in the Balkans and how important are details that should be ignored under different circumstances. After all, there is a phrase the people of all the Balkans often use to emphasize their extensionality: This is Balkans!

Personally, I really like Martti Ahtisaari and I think history will one day reward his efforts in many fields, including his big contribution in Finnish history by transforming a country from one that constantly lived in the fear of the Cold War into a full member country of the EU. However, I’m afraid that in the case of the Balkans and Kosovo, while trying to correct one mistake, he made another with an unknown outcome.

The Balkans is a very sensitive area where cultures and nations have mixed for centuries, where old wars, even centuries old, are still burning in the memories of people; it is somehow part of their DNA. Generations grew up learning, even in their bedtime stories, that the enemy is just across the border and for decades each one of these countries has spent unbelievable amounts of money on arms and weapons targeting their neighbor. Even worse, they often allied with the wrong allies just because the enemy of my enemy is my friend. A very poor excuse that often became reality in the Balkans.

People forget that the First World War began in the Balkans, people forget that after the ink had dried on the Armistice and most of Europe was trying to rebuild after a long and disastrous war, the Balkans continued fighting as a new style of dictator arrived to inflame the nationalistic feelings of the countries. And when the big powers, England, Germany and France, started getting involved they just shared the Balkans according to their own interests and influence.

As a result, you often find minorities of one nation hosted in the land of the other. The Second World War made things worse by establishing communist regimes in the area. But even these regimes had a Balkan color that often made the USSR outrageous with their acts and choices. General Tito was a leading persona in these Balkan regimes; he built a Yugoslavia often balancing between ethnic and religious differences and kept them together with terror. Next was glasnost, the end of those regimes and all the ethnic and religious differences came to the surface ending up in a civil war.

Again others’ interests became involved with Slovenia being the first to declare independence with a lot of help from Germany. Next, Serbians slaughtered Croatians just because they started it first and the story could easily be the other way round - the reality is that we don’t know the whole truth and it will probably take decades till we find out what happened there. At the moment, the Serbians are stuck in the corner paying for the crimes only a few committed.

Nobody blamed the whole of Germany for what Hitler did, but oddly it seems that every Serbian is guilty in the eyes of the world for what Milocevic and some generals did. Kosovo is the last act of this play and it will be naturally followed by Montenegro, yet in Kosovo there is something else as well. The Albanian minority that is asking for independence managed to force events by nearly pushing the country into a civil war once again. The fact they used the idea of a greater Albania with lands from all around the Balkans as a motivation for their armed rebelling escalates the horror. Ignoring the fact that aside from the Albanian minority, Kosovo consists of a Serbian minority, which in front of a new country with increasing Albanian centered nationalistic feelings is going to be…what? Refugees? They will become another bitter group in the Balkans waiting for their time to take back their homes and take revenge?

Martti Ahtisaari comes from a country that lives the theoretical, at least in harmony with a linguistic minority, not ethnic and religious factions, which may excuse why he suddenly made things far worse in the region. Naturally he made the obvious mistake by suggesting independence as a way to keep a nation from being plunged into civil war, but he forgot that Kosovo is for the Serbians as much as it is for the Albanians.

The only thing he saw was the concentration camps and the murders, forgetting that Serbia is an old nation with a long history and longer memories. Most of all, by trying to solve one problem he has most likely started a new one, and when the flame starts in one Balkan country the fire burns in all of them.

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