Leading article: The grandstanding the Balkans doesn't need

IN MANY respects, this is a strange meeting. The international summit that began in Sarajevo yesterday is all about the need for greater stability in the Balkans. And yet, the most important country for the future stability of the region has not been invited.

It is tempting to think that inclusiveness is essential for any package to work. In that respect, it would seem essential that Serbia should be brought into the game, and for an economic helping hand to be offered to Belgrade. The continued isolation of Serbia can, however, play a useful role. Slobodan Milosevic and Balkan stability are mutually irreconcilable concepts. So far, the opposition demonstrations across Serbia in recent weeks have left Mr Milosevic's grip on power almost undiminished. Many in Belgrade are convinced that it is only Serbia's dire economic straits that will put the Yugoslav president under the ultimate pressure. If or when Mr Milosevic is forced out, that will be a prize worth waiting for.

The Sarajevo summit can be seen as mere gesture politics. In the words of one headline from the region, this is merely "Western aspirin for the Balkan cancer". Vague phrases such as launching a stability pact is just soundbite diplomacy. None the less, even the attempt to address the problems should be welcomed. Stability is partly a question of money, but it also depends on a sense that the rest of the world will continue to take an interest in the longer term.

In 1991, at the beginning of the Balkan wars, Jacques Poos, speaking for the European Union, famously declared this to be "the hour of Europe". This pronouncement was followed by a complete European abdication of responsibility. In 1992, a London conference on Yugoslavia congratulated itself on bringing Mr Milosevic and the Bosnian Serb leader, Radovan Karadzic, to heel - even as the Bosnian war moved into its most brutal top gear.

Such grandstanding is just what the Balkans do not need. If, however, there is a commitment to link the region to the rest of Europe in the years to come, that small step would be important. And one day, a Milosevic- free Serbia will be able to rejoin the Balkan family. It cannot happen too soon.

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