Austin Bay

After 16 years of war and peacekeeping, the Great Yugoslav War of Devolution has entered a new, promising phase.

But don't call it finished, and don't call it peace -- at least not quite yet.

A substantial slice of Serbia's electorate remains angry and unpacified. In last Sunday's Serbian election, the "ultra-nationalist" Serbian Radical Party (SRP) took the largest number of party-line votes. The SRP opposes the creation of an independent Kosovo and lays claim to parts of Bosnia and Croatia. Though disdaining former Serb dictator Slobodan Milosevic (who died while being tried for genocide), the SRP has no intention of compromising over Kosovo. Nor have SRP voters forgiven Western Europe and the United States for the 1999 "NATO war" on Serbia, a war fought without U.N. authorization.

Yet Western European diplomats are delighted with the election results. The SRP did not get enough votes to form a government. Initial results indicate a patchwork collection of "pro-European" democratic parties took over 60 percent of the vote. Political and economic aid from the European Union should cobble together a coalition "reform government" that may control a two-thirds majority Serbia's parliament.

That doesn't immediately translate into a peaceful resolution of what to do about Kosovo (the "final status" decision in diplo-speak), but it does bode well for continuing the slow integration of Yugoslavia's leftovers into the European Union. Given time, European diplomats are betting that the Balkan integration project will slowly decompress the historical, ethnic and religious antagonisms that afflict the region.

The Balkans in 2007 are different, and far better off, than the Balkans in 1999. Macedonia and Albania have stabilized (and remember, Macedonia was fighting a civil war in 2001). Croatia has made economic and political progress. However, a small EU-led peacekeeping contingent remains in Bosnia, with good reason. Bosnia's "split state," with Bosnian Muslims and Croats balancing Bosnian Serbs, just manages to creak along.

NATO troops also remain in Kosovo, some 16,500 as of Jan. 1. That is a long-term occupation.

Austin Bay

Austin Bay is the author of three novels. His third novel, The Wrong Side of Brightness, was published by Putnam/Jove in June 2003. He has also co-authored four non-fiction books, to include A Quick and Dirty Guide to War: Third Edition (with James Dunnigan, Morrow, 1996).
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