Friday, May 25, 2007

My Balkan Odyssey, Part II--A New Brand for the Balkans

An interesting conversation I had here in Belgrade was over "rebranding" the Balkans. Right now, the word is a loaded term, conveying images of violence, backwardness, and so on. In contrast, other regional designations--Scandinavia, Iberia, the Low Countries--generally have either neutral or quite positive designations.

One way forward is for Balkan countries--and this includes not only "former Yugoslavia", and Albania but also Greece, Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary and even Austria, to some extent--to begin thinking of their interests in regional terms. Easier said than done, sure. But a certain degree of economic integration (and one notes that Greece has certainly taken steps in directing its investment and trade strategies) would help. Pooling capabilities that would be too expensive or too difficult for any one country to maintain is another--in the way that the Baltic States have been able to do in a variety of ways (such as air defense) without any compromise to their territorial integrity as separate states.

Another component, of course, is for countries in the Balkans to overcome their own prejudices and to stop trying to find outside powers who they believe can overturn the realities of geography and history. In the end, Serbia will never be closer to Russia and Croatia closer to Germany than Serbia and Croatia should be with each other, as neighbors (and it should go without saying that the U.S. is in no position to lift any state out of its region).

I happen to think that Yugoslavia was not as artificial of a creation as many now proclaim. There was a certain logic to at least some of those arrangements. Sure, maybe by 2015 all these states will either be in or on the doorstep of the EU--but reknitting together some of the ties that defined the old Yugoslavia--particularly some of the economics ones and the ones based on shared assets--should be encouraged to be revived.

This on the winner of the Eurovision singing contest might be of interest:

"Eurovision is one opportunity for a certain pride in origin, and even for the development of regional solidarity (Duncan J Watts of Columbia University notes that "the Balkans, of all places, was effectively handing the western countries a lesson in cooperation"). The "new" Europeans - who are actually from the heart of Europe, though that's another story - are living among the "old". Many of them will be staying, and voting, for a long time to come. Welcome to democracy, Europe!"
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