The Independent didn't do its homework

" But none of that negates the exhilarating truth with which we began. Finally, the conditions for a rebirth of the Balkans are in place. The renaissance promised on paper by the 1999 Stability Pact, signed in Sarajevo amid much back-slapping by President Clinton and others, has failed to materialize - partly as a result of bureaucratic sloth, but primarily because pan-Balkan co-operation and reconstruction is simply impossible with Serbia a pariah.

The turn toward Europe last January by Croatia, once the partner of Mr Milosevic, was a hugely hopeful moment. But Serbia, not Croatia, is the region's most populous country, its hub and, until misrule, sanctions and NATO bombs took their toll, its economic powerhouse. Its impoverishment has been the impoverishment of the entire Balkans. Now that a democratically elected President is in place in Serbia, too, Europe must act boldly. "

This article from The Independent is biased towards the "Greater Serbia" cause on several levels. I think that it's claiming that it is on Serbian people to decide whether Milosevic is guilty of anything or not, is not the most atrocious point in the article. Because, as we live in the nation-state based world, while the other nations may have legitimate claims against Milosevic, it will ultimately be upon new Serbian government to decide whether to address those claims or not, and they would have to live with whatever decision they make on this issue.

But the origins of such thinking in this article are in the basic misconception of Serbia as a "hub of the Balkans" - giving it more weight and importance than other regional countries. What is the justification for such an approach? The Serbia's central geographic position in the Balkans? In that case Nebraska could be described as a "hub of the U.S." - the state without which pivotal role the Union of the U.S. would not be possible. The Serbia's position as the region's most populous country? The high population number while not a clear indicator to economic and political stability is an obvious measurement of importance, but Serbia has just a relative majority there. The difference in population size between Serbia and the rest of the countries that comprised former Yugoslavia is not nearly as dramatic as it is for example between Russia and the rest of the countries that comprised former Soviet Union - that was precisely one of the reasons of the failure of Serbian nationalism in the region. And if compared with other countries in the region, like Romania, Serbia is even less at the population advantage.

To claim that Serbia was "until misrule, sanctions and NATO bombs took their toll, [Balkans] economic powerhouse" is, however, simply factually wrong. And that again is one of the reasons while its attempt to play the Piedmont of the Balkans failed. It is true that even now (after misrule and bombing) dirt poor Romanians cross Serbia's border to work as a illegal workers on construction sites in Belgrade, as Mexicans do in Los Angeles. But the clues for the answer should be looked for in the former Yugoslavia, not in Serbia itself. Former Yugoslavia was by far the country with the highest living standards in the formerly communist world, and in the region of South-Eastern Europe with its per capita GDP being higher than that of Greece and Turkey, and at the same level with Italy during the seventies. But while Yugoslavia as a whole was comparatively better developed than its Balkan neighbors the differences inside Yugoslavia were startling: the last functioning census report of 1981 - way before Milosevic grabbed power - stated difference between salaries in Slovenia and Kosovo for comparable labor at 8:1 rate. The same census (results were available from the Federal Statistics Institute in Belgrade) did not describe Serbia as the economic powerhouse - actually with about 30% of Yugoslavia's population, Serbia produced just 17% of GDP, while Croatia with 20% of population produced 25% of GDP and Slovenia with less than 10% of population produced 20% of GDP.

The point is that in order for the Stability Pact to work, for pan- Balkans cooperation to be accepted by all regional countries, for reconstruction to take place, all countries in the region should be given equal political weight and importance, they all should be cherished for their unique and specific contributions to the region and its stability. It is patently wrong to single out any of this countries as more important than others, and just feed the vicious cycle of intolerant nationalist behavior that caused the stability in the region to collapse.

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