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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Balkans: New Direction

CORFU, Greece - Despite what seems the impending defeat and liquidation of Bosnia-Herzegovina as a state, it is foolish to suppose the war and its intolerable accumulation of tragedies are ending. On the contrary, the acute question remains whether its spread can be prevented.

Already, all the Balkan countries have been more or less directly affected. No serious flow of investment is going to start until there is a sense of security in the area.

The European Community dithers in impotence and the countries of the region, instead of cooperating for mutual support, are generating new fears, tensions and mounting rival nationalisms.

It is not as though this were happening in secret. Everybody knows the dangers. Europe has been there before. It is like the glass teetering on the edge of the table and about to fall while people watch in mesmerized paralysis. But the law of gravity is not the law of nations, or need not be.

As Joao Deus Pinheiro, former Portuguese foreign minister and now a European Commissioner, points out, there is another model. It is the one evolved over two generations by the EC making war among its members "unthinkable", in contrast to what he called "the follies of nationalism" exemplified in the Yugoslav tragedy.

He was speaking to a large conference in Corfu, the first of its kind, on "The European Community and the Balkans", which brought people from all the countries involved to talk about a new direction for the historically troubled region.

There wasn't much talk about the Yugoslav war, though it was on everybody's mind, because it was considered too sensitive and too contentious for such an assorted gathering.

But there was a new beginning of consensus that somehow the countries east of the Community must learn to cooperate in EC ways if they are not to drag each other and much of the world to catastrophe. It was called "the spirit of Corfu", an idea that seems as visionary at this point as Jean Monnet's idea for Franco-German reconciliation did in the wake of World War II.

It is easy now to sell the idea of "joining Europe". The line is long and impatient and members already in the club are chary of being overwhelmed. But everybody in the East wants a deal with the West. There is strong resistance to dealing with each other for fear of being locked up again in a revival of the Soviet bloc's Comecon or a poor man's club of miseries.

Pinheiro was unusually forthright in saying this will have to be overcome. They will have to work and trade with each other as well as with the richer world, as western Europe learned to do, if a base for peace which is the condition of prosperity, is to be established.

That may seem obvious in the Atlantic area. It isn't yet here and both Brussels and the United States haven't said it loudly, clearly and insistently enough. Greece pays lip service, but it is proud and somewhat jealous of its membership in the EC and NATO which gives it a privileged status.

But the only way out of the Balkans and its furies is to transform the region. Discarding the name loaded with pain for a new one of "south-eastern Europe" was proposed as a symbol of the goal. It is a long way off.

Greece itself contributes to the problems. It is a democratic country, but a nationalistic tyranny of politics has frightened serious, well informed people into a supposedly patriotic collusion. They all talk of "Fyrom", a mysterious country not on the map which turns out to be the "former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia". Nobody dares recognize its right to use its name.

It was surprising to discover that a large number of leading Greeks, intellectuals, businessmen and government officials are quite prepared to say in private that their country's policy on Macedonia and the region is absurd, that far from representing a threat, the small country to the north is an avenue for Greece to emerge as a prosperous regional leader.

They are afraid to say it in public lest they be called traitors. It reminded me of Serbs censoring their own criticism of Slobodan Milosevic's Serbian nationalism a couple of years ago, before it became truly dangerous. Silence can also be a road to ruin.

In January, Greece will hold the rotating presidency of the EC. It can use the office, as Pinheiro urged, to propose real Balkan cooperation in association with the EC.

But stronger outside support is needed, not only on economics but on promotion of regional security. The United States and Russia have a role to play in helping develop a regional framework, which offers the only way of preventing broader conflict and putting an end to the raging war.

Flora Lewis