Is enough being done to build bridges in the Balkans?

More needed than last week's vote on reconstruction aid

Peter Cook

Monday, April 3, 2000

Brussels -- When U.S. Secretary of State George Marshall gave aid to postwar Europe, it was done comparatively quickly; a case of one country coming to the aid of many.

Last week, representatives from 44 countries and 36 international organizations packed into Brussels' Charlemagne Building and spent two days discussing how, after one year's delay, they might "quick-start" aid to the Balkans.

In this case, many countries and organizations are coming to the aid of an unhappy subsegment of Europe.

In the aftermath of NATO's war in Kosovo last June, the leaders of the European Union meeting in Cologne talked grandly of designing nothing less than a Marshall Plan for southeastern Europe. The tarnished term "Balkans" was not used because, to many, it denoted a region that had gone through years of internal feuding, abject poverty and, yes, neglect by its neighbours.

Inspired by what the Americans did to revive Europe, the idea was to help the countries of the former Yugoslavia (except Slobodan Milosevic's Serbia) plus Albania, Romania and Bulgaria by getting them to identify projects that would strengthen their economies, transform them into democracies and spur regional trade. Last week, in two days, the list of projects was enunciated and the donor countries duly came forward and pledged money to fund them.

The South Eastern Europe Stability Pact is not to be confused with the Kosovo Recovery Program or, for that matter, the billions of dollars that have been sunk into trying to bring ethnic peace and prosperity to Bosnia-Herzegovina. But, because all are taking place simultaneously, even some of the donors get confused.

The key question to ask is whether aid amounts are "new" money or not. The answer according to the European Commission, which is leading the effort, is that 2.4 billion euros ($3.1-billion) will go to quick-start projects that range from building a new bridge over the Danube between Bulgaria and Romania to demobilizing Bosnian soldiers and supporting parliamentary exchanges and a free media. Canada's total contribution is $144-million for Kosovo and the region, and $40-million for the quick-start part of the Stability Pact that will fund cross-border energy transmission projects and development of small and medium-sized enterprises.

All this may sound impressive. But Marshall Plans are less easy to arrange than in George Marshall's day -- and not only because of large numbers of participants and the growth of an aid bureaucracy.

The problem in this case is the region itself. On the plus side, there is the emergence of young pro-Western leaders in several countries and there is the promise that, eventually, Balkan states could aspire to being members of the European Union. On the minus side, southeastern Europe is not, like Europe in 1947, either a coherent region or a region at peace. As the boss of what remains of Yugoslavia, Mr. Milosevic seems to get stronger with every war he loses; a reason perhaps for him to start yet another conflict, this time with Montenegro, the last remaining republic with which Serbia is joined in its shrunken federation. Since Montenegro has a pro-Western government, the removal of its president, Milo Djukanovic, in a coup (something Mr. Djukanovic says Belgrade is planning) would be a tricky challenge for the West and for Russia's new president, Vladimir Putin, who might want to back Mr. Milosevic.

Beyond that little problem, there are several others. What is the future of the present NATO protectorate of Kosovo? What is the future of Bosnia, another place where foreign troops guarantee law and order? And how can the region be rebuilt when, at its heart, lies the former Yugoslavia that gets no help (Brussels says the Yugoslav portion of the 2.4 billion euros is "in the bank" waiting for the day Serbians get rid of their tainted leader).

The point is a fairly obvious one. Plainly, countries that are in desperate shape deserve help from the international community. Also, it makes sense to try and forge regional links and break down barriers: At the moment, the new economies of the former Yugoslavia and Albania are enclaves, cut off from the outside world, where a main economic activity is smuggling guns, cigarettes, drugs, stolen cars and people.

However, billions of euros in aid will not necessarily change this. Nor will lofty talk of a Marshall Plan. What is needed is for the region to so transform itself that it can deliver peace, honest government and the rule of law, and thereby attract real investment by real private-sector firms. Unfortunately, that cannot be quick-started.

Original article