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Keeping the Balkan Ghosts at Bay

European leaders, having suddenly awoken to new realities in the Balkans, are calling for increased engagement in the region to maintain stability and push back against Russian influence. But it is now clear that the only way forward for the EU is to accelerate the remaining Balkan countries' integration into the bloc.

VISBY, SWEDEN – European Union leaders have suddenly awoken to new realities in the Balkans. At a recent summit, they emphasized the need for increased EU engagement to maintain stability – and to push back against Russian influence – in the region.

But the Balkan countries’ geopolitical situation should not come as a surprise. After all, post-Ottoman fractures – stretching from Bihać in Bosnia’s northwestern corner to Basra on Iraq’s Persian Gulf coast – have repeatedly been a source of regional and global instability since the demise of the old empires a century ago.

When the Habsburg and Ottoman empires collapsed at the end of World War I, attempts were made to establish modern nation-states in the Balkans, despite the region’s national and cultural diversity. Since then, nationalism has repeatedly clashed with the region’s enduring mosaic of civil life, fueling one conflict after another.