Sorting out the Balkans: Clinton offers her counsel on the path to progress
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Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is still on the road, trying to tie up foreign policy loose ends as her departure from that post draws near, regardless of the outcome of Tuesday's election.
Her trip took her to Algeria, which she sought to engage in resolution of the problem of a separatist, potentially Islamic extremist, state that hived off from the West African state of Mali earlier this year. That quest was probably a nonstarter.
Then she made visits to Balkan states Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Kosovo and Serbia. All of them are to some extent in a state of instability, remaining among Europe's sore spots. Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Kosovo and Serbia are -- with Macedonia, Montenegro and Slovenia -- independent products of the breakup of the former Yugoslavia that occurred in the 1990s, much of it when Ms. Clinton's husband was president.
Their peoples remain divided by old ethnic and religious differences. Croatia and Slovenia are Catholic and were part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire prior to the creation of Yugoslavia in the last century. Albania and Kosovo were mostly Muslim and part of the Ottoman Empire that preceded modern Turkey. Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia are largely Orthodox Christian and were under Ottoman influence. The place with probably the most profound problems is Bosnia-Herzegovina, which has Muslims, Serbian Orthodox and Croatian Catholics; it fought a bitter civil war in 1991-95 which took 100,000 lives.
The dissolution of Yugoslavia was not entirely different from what results from smashing a pumpkin.
Some of the countries have sorted themselves out and are on the road to stability and economic progress. Slovenia joined the European Union in 2004 and Croatia is scheduled to join next year. Albania, Croatia and Slovenia are members of NATO.
Some of these countries still need work. Ms. Clinton advised Albania to complete the reforms necessary to help it into the EU, including honest elections next year. She counseled both Serbia and Kosovo to sort out the differences between them that keep them from making progress toward EU membership and economic development. She urged the various battling leaders of the three different groups in Bosnia-Herzegovina to work together to enable their country to be taken seriously.
None of this will be easy, but Ms. Clinton deserves credit for her last-minute drill to show these countries the way home in Europe before she leaves office.
First Published November 2, 2012 12:00 am