peacefare.net- Russian aggression against Ukraine has provoked a dramatic change in the Western approach to Russia. Confrontation with Russia has re-united the Euro-Atlantic community and given a new raison d'etre to NATO. It will have profound effects in the Balkans too.

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13.03.22 | Opinions

[Opinion] Slam the door shut on Open Balkans


Podgorica, 13 March 2022, dtt-net.com / peacefare.net - Russian aggression against Ukraine has provoked a dramatic change in the Western approach to Russia. Confrontation with Russia has re-united the Euro-Atlantic community and given a new raison d'etre to NATO. It will have profound effects in the Balkans too.

The EU and US have been failing

The Balkans have endured years of futile US diplomacy and ineffective EU efforts to move all six Western Balkan countries towards EU membership. The main reason for their poor results was their effort to appease Serbia. That modus operandi was particularly present during the Trump administration. The American bottom line was simple: economy will resolve all the other issues. Karl Marx would agree.

EU diplomacy in recent years entered the murky waters of changing borders and territorial swaps on an ethnic basis. That process failed but evolved to a vague "Open Balkans" proposition. It ignores not only the existing Berlin Process for regional co-operation, but also the regional CEFTA framework for trade. It would give leadership in the region to Serbian President (Aleksandar) Vucic and Albanian Prime Minister (Edi) Rama, encouraging their Greater Serbia and, consequently, Greater Albania ambitions.

The consequences are evident

As a consequence of this ineffective diplomacy, Western Balkan countries' advance towards EU membership has stalled. Three (Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, and Montenegro) have expressed serious reserves concerning the logic and potential effects of Open Balkans. Pro-EU Balkan politicians and civic activists think hard-line nationalism, emanating mainly from Belgrade, has caused serious degradation of regional security and stability.

Russian hybrid activities have contributed, as they have in many Western countries, the US included. Russian media and their outlets, combined with an orchestrated round-the-clock campaign of Belgrade-controlled media, have encouraged Serbian nationalism and its allies throughout the region.

Serbia has enjoyed “privileged status” in the West for years now. The US and EU hoped to “save” Vucic from Russia's bear hug. Appeasement from the West allowed the step-by-step takeover of Serbia from the East.

Now things should change

This appeasement of Russia's main client in the region is no longer a viable policy.

“Open Balkans," supported by both the State Department and the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, should end. It was leading the entire region off the EU track.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine requires prompt action in the Balkans:

-Accelerate EU membership negotiations as the first priority on the Euro-Atlantic Balkans agenda. The region should return to the “regatta principle,” that is EU accession on the merits of individual candidates.

-Provide a credible time-table for NATO accession of Kosovo as well as Bosnia and Herzegovina. The sooner, the better.

-Offer Serbia the same. Even if its internal politics and declared "neutrality" militate against NATO membership, the "open door" policy is crucial.

-Make Bosnia-Herzegovina a functioning, civic political system. Changes of election laws based on ethnic denominations will not help. The Dayton constitutional framework needs change.

-Revive the Berlin Process, especially cultural co-operation and educational programs. They are the best training for accession talks with EU.

-Promote civic and non-nationalist political forces and their leaders throughout the region.

 All these measures will take time and energy. The magnitude of problems and wasted years make the task difficult. The Balkans has never been a place of easy solutions. 

Open the doors to NATO and the EU

 This is a time to be resolute. The Ukraine war makes delay unwise and appeasement foolish. The US and EU should slam the door shut on Open Balkans and open the doors to NATO and the EU.

 (The author is the former minister of foreign affairs of Montenegro and the first Montenegrin ambassador to Washington. He is now president of Montenegrin Helsinki Committee. this opinion of his was originally published at peacefare.net website.

 The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of dtt-net.com )

13.03.22 | Opinions