Rebuilding the Balkans

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 01 August, 1999, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 01 August, 1999, 12:00am

THE United States and its European allies who forced Yugoslavia to retreat over the Kosovo crisis now rightly see their victory as a step which should lead to what President Bill Clinton called 'a better Europe'.

For several decades, West Europeans have concentrated on building up their own economic and political community within the European Union. Whatever the scandals at the Commission in Brussels, and the continuing problems over such areas as farm subsidies, this enterprise has been a great success. Above all, it has removed the spectre of war between Germany and France which ravaged the continent three times in 70 years.

But now there is a growing realisation that Europe should mean more than the Union. The rich countries of Western Europe have to reach out to help the nations in Central and Eastern Europe which are still developing both politically and economically.

The broad-ranging Balkans Stability Pact launched at the summit attended by Mr Clinton and Nato leaders this week is an important initiative. It should ensure that the major powers will not walk away from the region, leaving Kosovo, Bosnia and other troubled regions to their fate. The temptation must be to do that, given the scale of the problem and the complexities of the ethnic mix in the Balkans, particularly.

But the worrying situation in Kosovo, itself, where the Liberation Army seems to be ruling the roost regardless of civilian authorities, provides a depressing reminder that a war to safeguard an oppressed people can easily lead to revenge attacks and parallel oppression of the previously dominant ethnic group.

There is, of course, a major obstacle to all this in the shape of Yugoslavia, which is being excluded from the benefits of the Stability Pact for as long as President Slobodan Milosevic remains in power.

Clearly, Milosevic, under indictment as a war criminal, cannot play any part in the building of a new Europe.

But this means that while he remains in power in Belgrade the development of the Balkans politically will be incomplete - and that Yugoslavia's neighbours will always feel under threat from Serbian adventurism which, in Mr Clinton's words, 'has already left more than a quarter million people dead, uprooted millions more and undermined the stability of this entire region'.