FOCUS: WAR IN EUROPE: If Dresden could rise again so can Kosovo

Diplomats, already planning post-war reconstruction, see a Balkan `Marshall Plan' as vital to future peace and prosperity

With no notice or fanfare, top officials from the leading Western powers and Russia met last week to discuss the Kosovo war. They gathered in, of all places, Dresden, virtually obliterated in a single February night in 1945, near the end of another, far greater European war. Many will have wondered at history's parallels - of US and British planes raining bombs; then over a German city swollen with refugees fleeing Russian armies, now over Yugoslavia and its southern province full of refugees fleeing marauding Serbs.

But they will have noted something else too. Dresden was subjected to an apocalypse beyond anything even the Balkans can imagine. At least 35,000 people, maybe double that, were killed during the raid as the city turned into a fireball. Corpses were burned by the hundred in great petrol- doused pyres. But no disaster is for ever. Dresden stands again. Today, even as the bombs fall, diplomats face the task of rebuilding Kosovo, Yugoslavia and the southern Balkans.

When the fighting ends, there will still be a land called Kosovo, still deemed by Serbs to be the cradle of their nation. There will still be desperately fragile, perhaps collapsed states around it, in Montenegro, Albania and Macedonia. There will be a battered, bitter, resentful Serbia, with an even stronger sense of victimhood, whether or not Slobodan Milosevic is in power. Out of this chaos, the diplomats must try to fashion a new Balkan order.

Officially, the basis for a Kosovo settlement is what might be termed "Rambouillet Plus" - the original Contact Group plan for an autonomous, multi-ethnic province within Yugoslavia's existing borders, protected by a Nato peacekeeping force, but now requiring the return of all refugees to their homes, and the total withdrawal of Yugoslav army and paramilitary forces.

In practice Rambouillet is dead. After the events of the last three weeks, even the most nominal control by Serbia - even under a leader other than Mr Milosevic - would be unacceptable to the ethnic Albanians, not to mention Western public opinion. One way or another, a Nato protectorate will surely have to be imposed on all or part of post-war Kosovo.

Once the immediate humanitarian crisis has been overcome, the choices seem to be two. One is partition, in which the north of the province is merged with Serbia and the south becomes a separate entity. The other is a whole and independent Kosovo. In the first case, it is hard to see how a rump Kosovo would not be incorporated, sooner rather than later, into some form of "Greater Albania". Either way international guarantees will be needed - and, almost certainly, Nato or UN peacekeepers.

Dresden took decades to rebuild. In Kosovo itself the reconstruction process ought to be shorter, even though the damage is growing by the day. Replacing the homes and infrastructure already wrecked, and providing a subsistence income to Kosovo's two million inhabitants, many of whom have lost everything, means the bill might run to pounds 10bn, perhaps more.

Kosovo is only one basket case among several. Albania, Macedonia and Montenegro, already among the ranks of Europe's impoverished, will emerge even poorer and less stable. Yugoslavia proper, hit hard by economic sanctions before the bombing started, now faces war damage that will cost billions of dollars to repair.

Europe's map after the Second World War was redrawn by the Yalta and Potsdam conferences, and its economy (in the West at least) revived by the Marshall Plan. Diplomats believe something similar is inevitable once this closing act of the Balkan tragedy of the 1990s is played out. The big powers know they cannot resolve matters simply by throwing a few thousand soldiers and a few billion dollars in the direction of Kosovo, and turning their attention elsewere.

They know that in purely economic terms, a new "Marshall Plan", albeit far smaller than the 1947 original, will be needed to tackle the backwardness which so contributes to Balkan instability. Even at peace the region is a tangle of smouldering historical fuses. But if a magician's wand could transform its states into a set of Switzerlands, their ethnic, religious and linguistic divisions would, hopefully, be submerged by prosperity.

Clearly, the money for reconstruction must come from the Europe in whose backyard the war has been fought: and the politicians at least seem alive to the need. In a week filled by violence and human misery, a rare hopeful piece of news came from Luxemburg, when the EU foreign ministers on Thursday specifically held out the prospect of membership of both Nato and the EU as an incentive for reform in Balkan countries. Plans for debt relief and concessionary loans are also taking shape.

It was a "commitment on behalf of us all", the German foreign minister, Joschka Fischer declared, that "the Europe of wars and ethnic hatreds become a thing of the past."

A political conference too is on the cards - a modern Balkan equivalent of Vienna in 1815, Versailles in 1919, and Yalta/Potsdam 1945. The Balkan countries, Nato and European powers including Russia would all take part. The problems are myriad: first and foremost, would Yugoslavia itself go along with the idea? The agenda too would be horribly complex: the future not only of Kosovo, but of Bosnia, the Serb Republic (to be re-united with Serbia proper?) and of Montenegro. Indeed, should a state called Yugoslavia continue to exist? And - following the principle that "good fences make good neighbours" - might peaceful population transfers be necessary, to match states and ethnic groups more closely?

These are ingredients of unresolved Balkan Questions past. But similar issues were settled in 1945 in an adjacent corner of Europe. Out of a mountain of smoking debris, a new Dresden eventually emerged to regain its place in a new Germany. The politicians' task now is to create a new Kosovo, and in the process drag the Balkans from the 19th century to the 21st.

Suggested Topics
News
Netherlands' goalkeeper Tim Krul fails to make a save from Costa Rica's midfielder Celso Borges during a penalty shoot-out in the quarter-final between Netherlands and Costa Rica during the 2014 FIFA World Cup
newsGoalkeepers suffer from 'gambler’s fallacy' during shoot-outs
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'
filmReview: A week late, Secret Cinema arrives as interactive screening goes Back to the Future
Travel
travel
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
Arts and Entertainment
Sydney and Melbourne are locked in a row over giant milk crates
artCultural relations between Sydney and Melbourne soured by row over milk crate art instillation
Arts and Entertainment
Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux play teeneage lovers in the French erotic drama 'Blue Is The Warmest Colour' - The survey found four times as many women admitting to same-sex experiences than 20 years ago
filmBlue Is The Warmest Colour, Bojack Horseman and Hobbit on the way
News
Two giraffes pictured on Garsfontein Road, Centurion, South Africa.
i100
Environment
View from the Llanberis Track to the mountain lake Llyn
Du’r Arddu
environmentA large chunk of Mount Snowdon, in north Wales, is up for sale
News
Kenny Ireland, pictured in 2010.
peopleBenidorm, actor was just 68
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
News
Morrissey pictured in 2013
people
News
people
News
A scene from the video shows students mock rioting
newsEnd-of-year leaver's YouTube film features playground gun massacre
News
i100
Life and Style
The director of Wall-E Andrew Stanton with Angus MacLane's Lego model
gadgetsDesign made in Pixar animator’s spare time could get retail release
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Manchester - Huxley Associates

    £18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: One of SThree's most successfu...

    Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Birmingham - Progressive Rec.

    £18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Progressive Recruitment are cu...

    Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Birmingham - Real Staffing

    £18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Real Staffing are currently lo...

    Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Birmingham - Computer Futures

    £18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Computer Futures are currently...

    Day In a Page

    Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

    Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

    Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
    Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

    Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

    When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
    5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

    In grandfather's footsteps

    5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
    Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

    Martha Stewart has flying robot

    The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
    Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

    Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

    Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
    A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

    A tale of two presidents

    George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

    The dining car makes a comeback

    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
    Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

    Gallery rage

    How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

    Eye on the prize

    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
    Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

    Women's rugby

    Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup
    Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
    Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

    How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

    As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
    We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

    We will remember them

    Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
    Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
    Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

    Acting in video games gets a makeover

    David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices