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Shame of the Balkans

Shame of the Balkans

We, the people of Balkans, are an unusual bunch. Be it in Sarajevo, Banja Luka, Belgrade, Pristina or Skopje, people keep complaining about the consequences of our dark and bitter past.

We do the bare minimum to ensure ethnic tensions don't take us back to the same darkness again. We reflect on the past just in order to accuse others of what happened - failing to realise that we are mirror images of each other.

Above all, we never seem to learn. The developments in this peninsula over the last months are the latest glaring example of a Balkan society that is tightly bound to provincialism and narrow-mindedness.

A fortnight ago, Macedonia witnessed the murder of five Macedonians by a lake near Skopje. This and the previous shooting of two Albanians by a Macedonian policeman were enough to fuel dangerous ethnic tensions and consequently take the country to the brink of a new conflict.

Squashed between nationalism and an identity crisis, Skopje finds it hard to face up to the events that generated a state-wide conflict in 2014.

Instead of investing in a platform for truth finding/telling about 2014, the Macedonian capital has become an architectural theme park - all this in preparation for Skopje 2014.

The problem is prioritisation. Trying to change the image of the country internationally by pissing of the Greeks does nothing to address the plight of the ethnically divided communities. It transpires that hating thy neighbour seems easier than dialog and reconciliation.

Kosovo, on the other hand, finds itself in a vicious circle. Torn between state-building, societal and ethnic issues and international recognition, the newly independent country has not yet been able to even prove to its own citizens that it can indeed grow into a functional state.

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The Kosovo Albanian majority had been subject to the most brutal form of discrimination during the Milosevic regime. We are talking about a society that nearly faced extinction under the chauvinist policies of Belgrade.

Yet, this has not been sufficient to teach us a lesson or two about equality and human rights. Afew weeks ago, a contemporary artist from the Kosovo Roma community was "put in his place" by a young Albanian nationalist when he attacked the artist physically for singing the well-known Roma song "Ederlezi".

The Albanian nationalist might be far too young to remember that his grandfathers and fathers were imprisoned and tortured by the Serb regime for listening to Radio Tirana during the Milosevic era, but today, he and some of his fellow Albanian friends, continue to cultivate the same sort of hatred.

Sadly, Kosovo today has become home to a pathetically staged multiethnic society.

In Serbia, the situation is no different either. During the eltcion campaign Serbia is going through an all-out eruption of radicalism and nationalist sentiment, while still continuing to play the victimisation card.

As ever, Kosovo becomes the focal point in the election campaign and manifestos of political parties in Serbia. The hate speech and rhetoric targeting the "separatist and terrorist" Albanians, who "snatched" Kosovo from the Serbs continues to be a significant vote and popularity generator for Serb politicians even today.

Faced with such a situation, it is utterly disappointing to observe that a state which desperately tried to distance itself from the Milosevic, still calls upon key elements of his agenda - anti-Albanian rhetoric, anti-West sentiment and portrayal of Serbs as being under threat - when it is needed. Serbia might be a candidate state for the EU, but it is far from accepting and appreciating many of the values of the European family.

Stuck in the technicalities of the Dayton Agreement, Bosnia and Herzegovina has also failed in showing maturity in dealing and overcoming its bloody past. Fake political dialogue aside, the two autonomous entities which form Bosnia and Herzegovina cannot even bear the idea of a cultural cooperation let alone normal cohabitation.

The recent film by Angelina Jolie, "In the Land of Blood and Honey", has further demonstrated the divide that exists in this country with Sarajevo cheering the film and Banja Luka pouring scorn.

Local politicians and international diplomats continue to argue that Sarajevo, Banja Luka, Pristina, Belgrade and Skopje are making tangible progress towards diversity and Western values. We will also attempt to prove this by the arrival of fancy smart phones, laptops and McDonalds to our region.

In this entire depressing picture, it is refreshing to know that the time of the Yugoslav wars belongs to the past, at least for now. It is, however, far more troubling is that many of the factors which brought the area to its bloody knees for a decade are still present.


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