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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Bad Times in the Balkans

DAVOS, Switzerland - If some U. N. -sponsored agreement should manage to halt fighting in Bosnia for now, the chances for a general Balkan war are greater than the chances for peace unless a much broader settlement is imposed.

This is the view of Albania's president Sali Berishe, who is convinced that nothing short of direct international intervention will stop President Slobodan Milosevic of Serbia from continuing his fight for an "ethnically cleansed" greater Serbia once the Bosnian conflict simmers down. The 48-year-old doctor, who is his desperate country's first democratically elected leader, came to the World Economic Forum here to plead for a better understanding of the Balkan threat.

He calls for quick recognition of Macedonia with international guarantees of its independence, and for U. N. control preferably with NATO forces of Kosovo to reduce tension and launch a dialogue between its Serbian masters and 90 percent ethnic Albanian population. "I'm against changing any borders", Berishe told me, "but Albania would resist any ethnic cleansing in Kosovo by all means".

These seem drastically unrealistic demands in the current international context. Yet, visiting Kosovo and Macedonia a week ago brought me to the same conclusion. Step-by-step, bucketful-by-bucketful attempts to put out the Balkan fires as they flame are doomed to disaster. They can't be isolated. There has to be a regional approach, and it is getting harder and costlier all the time.

Berisha reacts angrily to the newly popular assumption that the Balkan peoples, with their mixed and interspersed communities, have always hated each other and cannot be stopped from killing each other off. "I'm disappointed in Europe", he said, "this black hole that is devouring peoples. There are different Europes. They don't apply the same attitude to themselves as to other regions, such as Somalia and Iraq". "I consider myself a European", he said. The old idea of a large Balkan confederation, in which Serbia and Greece would have important roles, appeals to him. "I favor all integrative processes", he said, "but it cant be done in the near future".

First, stability has to be restored. Macedonia's President Kiro Gligorov told me the same in his capital, Skopje, when I was there. Both these men, heads of weak, frightened countries, understand that the need for peace is much greater than the need for nationalistic righteousness and are eager to find neighborhood tolerance. Both are pessimistic unless there is forceful international intervention.

Both are convinced that Greece really wants a border with Serbia, as a bulwark against Turkey and Bulgaria, and is opposed to an independent Macedonia, not just to its name. Yet Gligorov sees nothing more important for his country than good relations with Greece, which would surely benefit as the hub of Balkan trade and the link to Western Europe. Salonika would be the area's natural port, and the center of transport and communications networks crucial to the development of the region.

There are people involved with nationalistic ambitions and a craving for vengeance who are reviving old hatreds. There are also people who look forward, inspired by the European Community, to a vision of a peaceful, prosperous continent including them. But they feel helpless and abandoned in the face of militant forces and the cynical exploitation of communal passions.

They look to Washington now because the European Community will not act and the initiative to reverse, the tide of war has to come from outside. It will not appear spontaneously. It is not just a matter of punishing Serbia, but of imposing rules of behavior respectful of everybody's rights to everybody's advantage.

Religious, ethnic and traditional ties are pulling in the opposite direction. The statement by Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin of Russia in Davos that his government would oppose any use of force against Serbia is ominous. Other traditional participants in the Balkan imbroglio will also be driven by popular emotions to take sides. There is no time for the United States to wait and see what happens.

There is an urgent need to recognize that the dimensions of the problem go far beyond the current areas of fighting, massacre and deliberate creation of refugees. Military protection is required at impending flashpoints. Diplomacy must seek stabilization and accommodation in a larger context.

Sadly, reconciliation has to be left for later. But it must be the longer goal and it will only be possible in terms of the new set of political values Europe proclaims for itself and the United States professes to support.

Flora Lewis