On a recent visit to the Balkans, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Victoria Nuland, called on leaders and citizens alike across the region to resist the forces seeking to unwind the democratic and economic progress they’ve achieved over the last 20 years.
This will require turning the page on old hatreds and new rivalries. While some Balkan countries have made great democratic progress, too much time is still being wasted feuding in Bosnia-Herzegovina. “Twenty years after Dayton,” said Ms. Nuland, “it is unconscionable that the unity of the state is still publicly questioned by those seeking to block reform and putting (International Monetary Fund) assistance at risk.”
The message to Macedonia is equally important, said Assistant Secretary Nuland: “Every opportunity for unity and prosperity awaits you. But the major political forces must stop squabbling and get on the path to democratic reform. . .and then move on to settle the name issue with Greece.”
The second set of challenges facing the Balkans includes regional development, integration, and energy security. These countries must replace old rivalries with cooperation, and embrace regional projects that bring jobs, investment and clean business practices to the whole region.
Finally, the Balkan countries need to join forces to create a no-go zone for violent extremism, corruption and criminality. Corruption remains a major impediment to progress in this region. It is the cancer that saps strength from democracies and drives up unemployment and civil unrest. More than that, it opens vulnerabilities that autocrats, petro states, and violent extremists exploit.
Either the work of the last twenty years can be completed with wise decisions by courageous leaders and people pushing for a better life or this region can fall prey once again to the risks, hatred, and outside interference that brought it grief so many times before. The United States continues to stand with its partners in the Trans-Atlantic community in support of a Balkans finally whole, free, at peace and prosperous.