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Progress in the Balkans

There has been a lot of positive news coming out the Balkans recently. Some of the highlights include:

(1) Albania and Bosnia-Herzegovina will soon be approved for visa-free travel to Europe. According to a recent EU report, the two countries have made significant progress and could be cleared for unrestricted travel in the Schengen area as soon as October.


(2) Two weeks ago, Croatian president Ivo Josipovic apologized for his country's role in the Bosnian wars. The apology followed Serbia's apology for the Srebenica massacre one month ago. Serbian President Boris Tadic has taken a decidedly more conciliatory tone, promising to work towards reconciliation between the nations in the region.


(3) In a historic summit, presidents from Turkey, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Serbia met in Istanbul this weekend and agreed to intensify efforts to resolve border disputes and encourage greater regional cooperation. The meeting was an unprecedented show of cooperation between BiH and Serbia, and the presidents emphasized their desire to continue the cooperation in the future.


(4) NATO continues its tentative expansion into the Balkans with Bosnia being offered a Membership Action Plan (MAP) during the recent summit of NATO ministers. Significantly, Serbia has stated it supports Bosnia's NATO aspirations. NATO also discussed "militarily disengaging" from the country, removing the remaining peacekeepers.


All is not perfect in the Balkans of course. Serbian fugitive Mladic remains at large, unrest continues in Kosovo, and significant minorities in Croatia and Serbia continue to vociferously deny any wrongdoing in the Balkan wars. But all things considered, there are many reasons to be optimistic. Personally, I believe the lure of membership in the European Union and NATO are valuable catalysts in motivating the needed reforms. The progress in the Balkans is incremental and slow but it is substantive. That should offer some assurance to NATO officials struggling with Afghanistan and to EU supporters wondering about the long-term relevancy of the Union.

NATO foreign ministers meeting press round-up

NATO foreign ministers gathered in Brussels on December 2 for a two-day meeting.  The full final communiqué released by NATO can be found here

The ministerial focused primarily on the future of NATO enlargement (particularly Ukraine and Georgia), US plans for missile defense in Europe, relations with Russia (strongly related to the previous two issues), and ongoing operations (mostly on Afghanistan and to a lesser degree Kosovo). Here is a roundup of articles that address the key outcomes of the ministerial:

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Karadzic's Arrest: Triumph of European Soft Power?

Finally, Serbia is back in Europe. Stephen Castle and Steven Erlanger write in the NY Times:

Europe on Tuesday welcomed the arrest of Radovan Karadzic not just as a victory for international justice, but as a vindication of the Continent's favored political doctrine: soft power. (...)
In the last few months the European Union has helped bring a pro-Western political party to victory in Serbia's elections while ensuring that it has powerful incentives to hand over war crimes suspects. The arrest of Mr. Karadzic demonstrates how effective the union's leverage can be, particularly with neighboring countries that have ambitions to join it.

Yeah, it only took a bit more than a decade...

But then again, how successful (and how costly) is hard power? Milosevic and Karadzic were not arrested during the many Balkan wars... (Well, obviously, without the wars, they might still be in power.) And capturing Saddam was much more expensive and demands from the US to a strong commitment to Iraq of at least a decade...

Russian News: Less Objective than in the West?

The Moscow News Weekly has published an article on Kosovo's declaration of independence, which from its tone I assumed was in the "Comment/Opinions" section.  However, it turns out it was actually in the "World News" section.  Here is a snippet:
While burning KFOR checkpoints may not be the best of ways for Kosovo's ethnic Serbian minority to express its anxiety and anger over recent events, global democratic leaders should think twice before voting to award a chair to Kosovo on New York's East River. In the Basque country, Quebec, Belgium, northern Cyprus, Georgia and many other places across the globe, they have TV sets, too, and are watching. Telling them Kosovo is different and unique won't work. That's the price you pay for being a hypocrite, I guess.

Not to say western newspapers are completely objective, but at least you can read multiple perspectives on a story on this side of the Urals, without worrying about whether your favorite columnist may mysteriously die one day.

Of course this is only one article in one newspaper; it may not be fair to judge the entire Russian media based on this article alone. To get a better idea of press freedom trends globally and by country, you can check out an annual report produced by Freedom House titled "Freedom of the Press."  The 2007 version reported this for Russia:

Media freedom in Russia continued to be curtailed in 2006 as President Vladimir Putin’s government passed legislation restricting news reporting and journalists were subjected to physical violence and intimidation. Although the constitution provides for freedom of speech and of the press, authorities are able to use the legislative and judicial systems to harass and prosecute independent journalists.

Where Next for Serbia?

The Atlantic Review is pleased to present a guest article by Professor Stefan Wolff, from the University of Nottingham. 

Professor Wolff addresses the Serbian elections that took place over the weekend, and explains that while the pro-western candidate has won the elections, the future of Serbia is far from certain.

sss eewFor many voters and observers, there were two surprises in Sunday's second round of presidential elections in Serbia. The first one was that the current president, Boris Tadic of the Democratic Party, won, if only by the slightest of margins. Even among his supporters, this was far from a certain result, but they welcomed it all the more enthusiastically. The second, and perhaps greater surprise was equally welcome: Tadic's challenger, Tomislav Nikolic of the Serbian Radical Party (whose leader Vojislav Seselj is currently in The Hague being tried for war crimes committed during 1992-5 war in Bosnia) quickly accepted defeat and congratulated his victorious opponent.

With Tadic--pro-western and pro-democratic in orientation--confirmed in office for another term, all the signs should point clearly to Serbia catching up with its neighbours in the process of economic and democratic reform, as well as closer ties with the European Union, which, after all, was the central message of Tadic's campaign: "Together we'll conquer Europe." Yet, Serbia's future course is far from clear. Three predominant factors account for this continuing uncertainty:

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