Do we need to worry about the Balkans? Doom, gloom and soccer

In recent weeks a number of seasoned observers have noted the increasing deterioration of the political development in the Balkans. From the Aleksandar the Great statue building government in Macedonia and the presidential elections there to the perpetual crisis in Bosnia, things don’t look up. In his recent article in the Economist, Tim Judah even mentions the risk of violence in Bosnia.

The combination of the economic crisis hitting the region, stagnating political dynamics and an EU reluctant to help out and visibly cooling down towards any rapid enlargement in the region does not bode well. The slow nomination of the new High Rep in Bosnia was a sad spectacle and enhance the already existing vacuum (I know that vacuums cannot be increased, so forgive the metaphor).

Now there are a number of encouraging developments as well: First, Bosnia won two soccer games. All joking aside and considering that the opponent was Belgium, this is a positive development. I have long argued that nothing is as likely to make Bosnia work as success. A good soccer team can go a long way in creating some state-wide cohesion–it is always popular to support winners. On a more immediate note, one chamber of parliament (HoR) has already passed constitutional amendments incorporating the district of Brcko into the constitution. This is significant for two reasons: First, it is the first constitutional revision since the constitution was imposed at Dayton. This demonstrates that the constitution can be reformed and amended. Second, the agreement of Brcko suggests that the RS does not want to secede. The entity cannot leave Bosnia without taking control of Brcko as well, as it divides the entity in two. Thus, leaving the district in legal limbo would help the RS in making claims at some point in the future were it to declare independence. Accepting and constitutionally protecting Brcko can be seen as a sign that despite all the radical talk, there is little appetite for any radical steps. Finally, constitutional talks in Bosnia are continuing and so for they have been difficult, but the experience of Brcko is encouraging.

This development, however, should be no reason for the EU to lean back. While it is understandable for the Union to deal with its internal economic problems, the ratification of the Lisbon treaty and troublesome members first, but let’s not forget that the celebrations over the Maastricht treaty were ruined by the Yugoslav wars some 18 years ago. It is time to focus on the region once more,  but without talking of the threat of violence or war, as talking of it might help the unfolding of a self-fulfilling dynamic.

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