Comparing past and present…Balkan style fall 2010…
Ohrid, Macedonia-There was a time that I, essentially, lived on the road. More recently, other than a few brief trips on assignment, I’ve been in Istanbul since May. Now, I’m spending some time on the road, a state that feels immediately like home, natural. Every week day morning I produce a list of news from South East Europe and Turkey for Business New Europe and felt the need to reintroduce myself to a region that I fell in love with while based in Belgrade for about six months in 2008.
The Balkans have hopefully lost their reputation for being a region that never changes. The Serbs, once known as some of the most bloodthirsty people of Europe, now have top officials in the European Union pushing for them to join the bloc. Though the enthusiasm is there, when this will actually happen is less clear. Some officials, including EU enlargement commissioner Stefan Fuele, are pushing for the country’s application for membership to the EU to be forwarded by the end of the year. This has come under doubt as officials from the Hague have made recent public statements that Serbia has not done all that it can to apprehend war criminals.
EU integration for the Western Balkans has been, and will continue to be, a slow process. Perhaps not as slow as Turkey’s EU integration, but still it will take time. The bloc for one simply cannot afford to quickly take on new member countries at the moment and have learned from Romania and Bulgaria that it is better to take more time with the process than to hurry it along. Each of the Balkan countries also present their own unique challenges, but membership should be secured eventually, though not in the near term.
Traveling at this moment, amid the talks of EU integration, talks between Serbia and Kosovo and attention once again being paid to Macedonia’s long-standing name dispute makes me consider 2008. That year I witnessed Serbia hold two national elections which put the country solidly on an EU path and Kosovo declared independence. The degree of fallout predicted from these events did not materialize. Though there are hardliners in both of these countries the larger trend is a desire for future that hopes to produce a greater and more lasting peace, not to mention greater wealth and power, than Europe has ever known.
That is why I think it is important to go back and examine the writing I did from that time, which I am now posting on this blog intermittently in the Travels 2006-2009 category. I covered a lot of the physical terrain of a certain period of time, meeting the people who expressed the different points of view. There was also some close encounters with some dodgy politicians, such as Serbia’s Tomislav Nikolic who welcomed me to his Belgrade office in April 2008 before parliamentary elections. Hope you read on.