The Balkan region is a sensitive area which is home to proud people in each of the countries. This proudness is very often a problem if a „big brother“ is trying to enforce peace between them in the wrong way.
One scene: Two small children played together, and the third one, who was older– we shall call him “big brother”- he threw a small toy between them to see what will happen. Both youngsters wanted a toy and they started to argue which of them saw it first, who should play with it first and so on. The „big brother“, who was watching this, came in between the two and said: „There is no sense to argue about it. We can make a peace in this way – the first one to spit on my hand will be the winner and will get a toy. They accepted the deal.“ But the problem was that the „big brother“ put his hand between their two faces. Once he said GO, he pulled the hand down and they spat at each other. The fight – war was started and the „Big brother“ enjoyed this. After a while, the „big brother“ managed to divide them and stop the fight. The duration for reconciliation took much longer than the dispute. They did not want to talk to each other, until, the „big brother“ excused himself and took the responsibility for the fight and invited them to ice cream.
From this story, we can recognise:
1. Two parties have been in piece until a third one interfered
2. Two parties could not achieve reconciliation without third one
Can the part of the story be somehow mirrored to the Balkan?
In order to understand prospects for development, it is necessary to have the real diagnosis of the current situation. Are Balkan states an underdevelopment democracy or an underdevelopment economy – or both? We meet countries with devastated economy like Bosnia, with displaced people like Bosnia and Croatia, with desolate areas – people are leaving their own countries and moving to the western countries – almost all Balkan countries are affected. More than one million people have left Bulgaria after it joined the EU, the number of skilled people who remain in Croatia, Bosnia and other Balkan countries has significantly diminished in recent time.
In some countries like Bosnia and Macedonia, factors that will decide future developments can be divided into two categories, internal and external, although it is difficult to isolate them as they are connected. These two countries have many similarities, the internal process of building the nation and the external process of reconciliation with neighbouring countries. As with all other developed countries, the precondition for sustainable internal development of the society is the development of the economy. On the other side, economy can be developed in safe regions, without tension and permanent fear of the future external influence which is very often proclaimed by local politicians for their own reasons.
When sustainable peace and reconciliation in the Balkan region will finally be realized, depends on the time where the truth will be accepted by all sides.
Wounds can be healed only after a painful process of seeking historical truth. Unfortunately, the truth is a changeable category – what the truth was 30 years ago, (or 100), is different today. In many cases, different nations have different facts about the same event. For one they were the aggressor, for another they were the defender, for one they are a hero for another they are a victim etc. But if the common truth is not established, the next generation will have the same dilemma, and will rely upon images and incorrect stories, but not real history.
To have the acceptable truth for all, historians of the nations in dispute, should do their homework and create new books which call for understanding between nations, which explain that cooperation between nations is a better way to interact.
School books which glorify own heroes and confuse their people, at the same time writing negative pieces about the other nation, misleading the next generation.
Do we really need to glorify events which happened 100, 300 or 600 years ago, and put a big load on the shoulders of the generations, or do we organize common memories about those events with all parties that have participated?
Many countries are doing this already e.g. France and Germany are commemorating the second world war together, these nations started cooperation after the war and are cooperating now for the benefit of both futures.
Another good example for the Balkan is „Meletta tradition“. The battle 1916 in Italy, where the second Bosnian regiment in Austro-Hungarian monarchy defeated the Italian army and captured Monte Meletta hill in north Italy. Now the 3 nations, Italians, Austrians and Bosnians are come together every year to commemorate this event – every year in another country, without glorification of the winners but to remember all the victims with one message – that such events should not happen again. This commemoration is a contribution for understanding between nations, without any tensions and with the message that cooperation is a better way to interact.
There are no similar events on the Balkan, something that would be beneficial in healing the history.
Srebrenica, in this case, offers the possibility for reconciliation between Bosnia and Serbia. Jasenovac offers the same for Croatia and Serbia. Much bigger, and maybe the biggest opportunity for the Balkan region would be to commemorate Battle of Kosovo (1389) between Serbia, Turkey and Kosovo. Without this historical rehabilitation, there will be little hope of sustainable peace on Balkan. That means the Balkan key is in Belgrade.
In case of Srebrenica, Serbia has with the issue of genocide to carry the label as a “genocidal nation” on one side, and Bosnia with the status of “greatest victim” which serves the domestic narrative. Without historical rehabilitation, there will be no contribution to stability and reconciliation.
In case of Kosovo, the impact is much bigger, as more nations are affected: Serbia, Turkey, Kosovo, Albania and even Bosnia and Montenegro.
Although reconciliation is a complex task, it requires an understanding of the issue as a basis for the future cooperation, without it, there is no future coexistence.
For this step, we need leaders with understanding and courage, with vision, not only for this area, but vision for development of the surroundings, with courage to be against nationalism, with courage for another interpretation of history, with courage to accept their neighbour from another side of the river, as for him the river is flowing to the right and for the neighbour on the other side it is flowing to the left.
Another aspect which can be observed is influence of religion in the region, on all sides. The picture 30 years ago and now is almost completely different. Are the people now more religious or do they try through religion to articulate their nationalism?
In countries which were established after Yugoslavia fell, warlords became big owner of the industrial plants, and according to information, in all Balkan countries there is a similar situation. Ownership has been concentrated to a small number of people, while the rest of the population see no alternative for themselves or their children.
The leaders now have the additional task of solving internal peace, before they can start reconciliation with neighbours, but the question is, are they able to do it?
Back to „big brother“:
In many conflicts between two countries there is third party which has an interest in conflict to be able to contribute afterwards as a savior of the democracy. Bosnia cannot be solved without a „big brother“, Macedonia, Kosovo… until „big brother“ takes the responsibility and says: sorry I made a mistake and we need another agreement. Let`s do it properly, let’s stop experiments which cannot work. Let`s make the diameter of the basket bigger, so you can throw the ball through it.
Without this, without the Marshall plan for economic development of the Balkan states, the process of reconciliation could take generations.