Leading article: A chance finally to resolve the Balkan wars


The last war on European soil ended only six years ago when Nato drove Serbia's bloodstained army out of Kosovo. But already the Balkan wars seem to belong to another, nastier era, and attention has shifted, which is why the talks on Kosovo's final status, opening today in Vienna, are likely to get insufficient attention outside the region and even from the big powers in charge of them. If so, it is a pity, for Kosovo is one of the last pieces of a Balkan jigsaw that we must get right if the region is not to plague Europe in future by exporting its instability and poverty westwards.

At the moment, this tiny patch of land hangs in limbo, as it has done since 1999. Neither free nor unfree, it officially remains part of Serbia but in practice is run by the United Nations. People-traffickers and drug dealers thrive in the vacuum. What cannot thrive there is responsible government or business, for no one, not even the Albanian diaspora, wants to invest in a territory whose owners are unknown.

For Serbia, the Vienna talks promise to be agonising. Desperate not to lose their claim to the land they think of as their nation's cradle, their last hope is that China or Russia will somehow stop Kosovo's Albanian majority emerging from the talks with independence.

That is not a realistic expectation. As only 100,000 Serbs remain in Kosovo out of a population of 2 million, there aren't enough Serbs for Belgrade to make a good case for resuming control over Kosovo. So, independence it will have to be, albeit with conditions that guarantee that the Albanians respect the right of the Serbs to manage their own enclaves.

But if there is no democratic case for refusing Kosovo's independence, the big powers need to work harder than they have done on bringing Serbia into Europe's mainstream.

The reason why is geography. Serbia lies on the junction between the Balkans and Near East on one hand, and the European Union's southern border in Hungary on the other. Most crime networks trying to penetrate Europe from the south-east pass through there, which is why Brussels has been investing money and energy into beefing up Serbia's border regime.

If the Serbs retaliate against Europe over the loss of Kosovo by relaxing all vigilance against traffickers, at the same time as sealing the border around Kosovo, Europe will surely feel an impact, while Kosovo itself will remain miserable - independent, perhaps, but an unstable economic desert for all that.

With Romania and Bulgaria expected to join the EU next January, Europe cannot pretend this is someone else's backyard. It isn't. Wearisome and complicated as it is, fixing the Balkans is our business, and we need to keep our minds trained if we are to finish the job.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

Thousands of Russian troops marched on Red Square in the annual Victory Day parade in a proud display of the nation's military might amid escalating tensions over Ukraine  

Once again, the West fails to understand Russia

Mary Dejevsky
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before