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Exorcising the Last Balkan Ghosts

The next few weeks will see the resolution, one way or another, of the last territorial issues remaining in the Balkans, where the wars of the 1990’s ended with NATO interventions in Bosnia (1995) and Kosovo (1999).

Even with peace, major problems were left unresolved. Bosnia was divided between a Muslim-Croat federation and a Serb republic, with little authority vested in the central government and a large international military – and eventually civilian – presence needed to hold it together. Kosovo was left as a United Nations protectorate whose “final status” was uncertain.

These unresolved issues are now returning: prompted by Serbia’s government, Bosnia’s Serb leadership is contemplating secession, even as its Muslim leadership tries to increase central control. And Kosovo’s Albanian population is clamoring for independence, while Serbia tries to postpone a decision by blocking action in the Security Council.

There is a real risk of renewed violence, though perhaps not on the scale of the 1990’s. If the current negotiations on Kosovo’s status fail, Albanian extremists will seek to expel the more than 100,000 Serbs who live there. Similarly, any move by Bosnia’s Serb Republic to secede could incite instability there.