- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 1, 2003

The European Union is seeking to restore a greater Yugoslavia. Following the bloody disintegration of that country in the 1990s one would think the international community would get the message that the Croats, Slovenes, Serbs, Bosnian Muslims, Macedonians and Kosovo Albanians no longer wish to live in the same state.

Yet at a recent “Western Balkans” summit sponsored by the EU in Porto Carras, Greece, the Europeans are now forcing the peoples of the former Yugoslavia to embrace another Balkan union.

The EU, which is poised to admit 10 new countries from Central and Eastern Europe, held out the promise to Croatia, Macedonia, Albania, Bosnia-Hercegovina and the union of Serbia and Montenegro that those countries could also one day join its ranks. “The process of European unification will not be complete until the Balkans have joined the EU,” proclaimed European Commission President Romano Prodi.

But Brussels is insisting that certain conditions need to be met prior to granting membership, such as completing economic reforms, strengthening human rights and tackling organized crime and corruption.

The key step, however, toward full membership is that each country in the region needs to negotiate a Stabilization and Association Agreement with the EU. Also known as the Balkan Stability Pact, it is an attempt to reconstitute another Yugoslavia, minus Slovenia plus Albania. The Stability Pact seeks to create an economic union based on a Balkan free-trade zone, characterized by close “inter-border” cooperation and loose political links. So far only Croatia and Macedonia have successfully negotiated an agreement with the EU.

The idea of a Balkan union is deeply unpopular among ordinary citizens in the area for one simple reason: It is not politically viable. One of the great lessons of the 20th century is that artificial, multiethnic states incorporating peoples who do not want to live together are not sustainable in the long run. Multinational empires such as Yugoslavia, the Soviet Union, Austria-Hungary and Imperial Britain eventually collapsed because they abrogated the democratic aspirations of their subject peoples.

The break-up of Yugoslavia in the 1990s enabled countries such as Croatia, Slovenia and Macedonia to finally achieve their long-sought dreams of independence, representing a significant victory for the forces of democracy and national self-determination. Brussels is hoping to reverse this historic achievement in order to fulfill its goal of creating a Continental socialist superstate. The proponents of a federal EU hope to dissolve national sovereignties and impose cultural homogeneity upon the diverse peoples of Europe. Under the guise of “progress” and “ethnic reconciliation,” they are now planning to end the Balkans’ short experiment in national independence and self-rule.

The formation of a greater Yugoslavia linked to the EU is not a progressive or liberal project, but a deeply racist policy destined to fail. Brussels is essentially telling the peoples of the region they are unable to govern themselves and can only enter the EU as a regional bloc, not on an individual basis as have the other countries of Europe. This amounts to being treated as second-class Europeans.

Moreover, a Balkan union is not feasible because it has no mass political support in the region. So far the political elites in Zagreb, Belgrade, Skopje, Sarajevo and Tirana have avoided telling their citizens that the cost of EU membership is agreeing to a larger regional integration that no one wants. Following the wars of Yugoslav succession, if there is one thing the Serbs, Macedonians, Croats, Bosnian Muslims and Albanians can agree upon it is that they do not want to co-exist in the same state.

What is most shocking has been the decision of the ruling leftist government in Croatia to go along with Brussels’ agenda. Under Yugoslavia, it was the Croats who suffered under Belgrade’s iron grip more than any other national group. After having fought a successful war for independence in 1991, Zagreb is now on the verge of frittering away Croatia’s hard-won national sovereignty.

Composed mainly of former communists who still long for the restoration of Yugoslavia, the regime of Prime Minister Ivica Racan and President Stipe Mesic have surreptitiously gone ahead with their plans for making Croatia a permanent part of the “Western Balkans.” As the most economically advanced of the five nations at the summit, Croatia is hoping to join the EU in 2007 along with Bulgaria and Romania. Yet most diplomats in Washington and Brussels believe this is not possible unless the country’s living standards and per capita income are increased significantly. Zagreb will need to achieve an economic miracle to hit its target date for EU membership — which will not happen under the stagnant policies of the current socialist leadership.

Mr. Racan and his allies have waged an intense public relations campaign, making the government’s bid to join the EU the centerpiece of their administration’s accomplishments. National elections are expected to be held this fall or spring 2004 at the latest.

Zagreb’s decision to accede to the creation of another Balkan union has given the surging center-right opposition the wedge issue it needs to topple Mr. Racan from power. The conservative opposition should make the election a referendum on whether Croats want to again cede their country’s independence.

The opposition should insist that Croatia follow the Slovenia model, in which Zagreb enters the EU as a single, sovereign country that will aggressively defend its national interests and cultural identity at the negotiating table with Brussels. Croatia’s conservatives need to form an alliance with the other countries of Central and Eastern Europe, who along with Denmark, Britain and Silvio Berlusconi’s Italy, aim to transform the EU into a decentralized, economic free-trade zone that will preserve Europe’s distinct cultures and national sovereignties.

The Croats were instrumental in bringing down Yugoslavia. Hopefully, they will also bring down Brussels’ plans to resurrect the corpse of Yugoslavia from the grave.

Jeffrey T. Kuhner is assistant national editor at The Washington Times.

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