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Experts Discuss Future of Kosovo at Washington Conference - 2004-04-20

Washington's Woodrow Wilson Center Tuesday held a three hour conference on the future of Kosovo at which scholars and experts generally agreed that the Balkans region may be entering a more volatile phase of instability. There was little optimism that resolution of Kosovo's final status would do much to promote regional stability.

The experts were quick to conclude that things are not going well in Kosovo and the Balkans generally. The most pessimistic assessment came from security analyst David Kanin, who argued that the best intentions of the international community will not succeed unless the region's feuding ethnic factions desire a peaceful resolution of conflict.

"In my view there will be no movement beyond the ephemeral unless people in the region actually decide that they are going to take responsibility for their own future," he said. "Their future depends on each other. That if they to go it alone -- whether to join NATO and the E.U., like we're letting them do, or to try to make economic progress and reform, it's not going to work. The shards of the former Yugoslavia will not hold together. If our troops leave (U.S. and Nato), if the (de facto) occupation ends, so does the current situation. There will be no more Bosnia. There will be something else and everything will be up for grabs again."

Mr. Kanin said that independence for Kosovo, the predominantly ethnic-Albanian province of Serbia, would solve little and instead could hasten the dissolution of other entities within the former Yugoslavia.

Geert Ahrens, a retired German diplomat with five decades of experience in the Balkans, said that Serbia has been greatly weakened by the losses it incurred during the decade-long breakup of Yugoslavia. The country, he said, has been so weakened psychologically that its situation is akin to Germany's following the first world war. He stressed Serbia's deep historical attachment to Kosovo and the immensely frustrating reality that Serbia can never reassert its claim to the 90 percent Albanian populated province. Mr. Ahrens favors independence for Kosovo but worries that such a development could hasten the demise of Macedonia, where nearly one-third of the population is ethnic Albanian. He believes that an agreement reached in 2001 for power-sharing in Macedonia is not working.

"Real power sharing is not taking place," he added. "The agreement is being implemented but not in a way that the country is the common state of both Macedonians and Albanians. The Macedonians do not wish this and the Albanians might not wish it either."

Intelligence analyst Kanin believes very little has been resolved from a decade of international involvement in the Balkans. He attributes much of the current turmoil and instability in Kosovo, Serbia, Bosnia and Macedonia to a diplomatic initiative by Germany that recognized the independence of Slovenia and Croatia in 1991.

"Let's recognize that right now Hans-Dietrich Genscher stands astride the Balkans," Mr. Kanin said. "Remember that when he was German foreign minister he wanted to recognize Slovenia and Croatia. And basically the rest of it (Yugoslavia) could have drifted. Well, now Slovenia is joining NATO and the E.U. And Croatia, if they can arrest a few generals, is on its way, and the rest of the region has been kind of cut adrift."

Other speakers at the seminar welcomed a proposal by the U.S. Institute of Peace to prevent further deterioration in the region. The institute is calling on the United States and the European Union to accelerate their efforts to promote peace and stability in the Balkans.