Leading Article: A carrot for the Serbs

Share
Related Topics
TONY BLAIR was in Kosovo yesterday, glorying in the possibilities of the photo-opportunity. He only just achieved one. Thanks to the secrecy imposed by his security advisers, the grateful Albanians initially failed to turn out for the cameras. The garlands materialised only after the frantic efforts of his PR people to whip-in the cheering locals. In a way this was appropriate. Mr Blair was fresh from the conference in Sarajevo on Friday, which delivered the predictable cluster of soundbites about the new peace and stability in the Balkans. In reality, for all the fine words, we should accept that the prospects for peace and stability are almost as distant as ever.

A prosperous Balkans is unthinkable without a prosperous Serbia at its heart. Yet Serbia was not even on the guest list at the Balkans summit. Belgrade was furious at being left out, though the exclusion of Slobodan Milosevic was inevitable. To have invited him would have sent out a most peculiar signal which few in the region would have understood. He has personally been responsible for so much destabilisation that none of the other leaders around the table would have welcomed - or even tolerated - his glowering presence there.

Yet the key question remains: how can Serbia be encouraged to stumble towards some kind of normality? The prospects do not look good. The received wisdom is that we should withhold all redevelopment cash for as long as Milosevic is in power. But to cut all of Serbia off from any kind of economic aid can only be counter-productive. People there must be encouraged to believe that there are economic advantages in supporting the opposition. It ought to be possible, for instance, to give money to those cities and municipalities where the opposition holds control. We have put away the stick for now; it is time to get out the carrot. The alternative is that we allow the economy to slide downwards in a deepening spiral of misery, in the hope that there will be an angry revolution by the impoverished, in which Milosevic will be overthrown. This has been our policy in Iraq, and we are still waiting. Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of children have died for want of medicine, while Saddam Hussein seems as secure in power as ever. Is this what we want in Serbia: a newly defiant solidarity with the besieged leadership, such as we saw during the ill-advised Nato bombing campaign?

Certainly, Mr Blair has little to boast of today in terms of his Balkan achievements. Kosovo is a burnt-out wasteland, unrecognisable from what it was before the bombing started. Serbia is full of unclear resentments, much closer to the pre-Hitler Weimar republic than to eastern Europe during the (mostly) velvet revolutions of 1989. The bitterness runs so deep that even if Milosevic is overthrown, it is unlikely that anybody whom we would recognise as a democratic leader would step into his shoes. The leaders the West is most fond of - Zoran Djindjic, for example, of the Democratic Party - are those who have the least popular support. Not that anyone is popular in the usual sense: in the inverted politics of the region, one of the least unpopular politicians in Serbia is Vojislav Seselj, the far-right nationalist who makes Milosevic look like a moderate. Mr Blair would do well to remember what emerged in pre-war Germany, when the punitive attitude of the international community helped provoke the Weimar chaos.

There are few causes for optimism. Gone is the shaky unity of the allies during the air war. In its place old fractiousness is re-emerging: the aid donors are returning to the habit of attaching strings to promote national interests. US aid can be spent only on US goods. And the Americans are not the only ones up to such old tricks. But, above all, the politicians presiding over the ruined Balkans need to be able to break free of the pathological desire to shine on television screens at home.

The mess is partly of the West's creating, and it should be cleared up without any attempt to claim glamorous credit. It was bad enough that Downing Street should seek to impose its spin-doctors on Nato in Brussels, in an attempt to create order where there was none before. It will be worse still if Mr Blair and his colleagues seek to grandstand before the world when so much damage has been done, and solutions are so fearfully few and far between.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Principal Arboricultural Consultant

£35000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: Principal Arboricu...

Trainee Digital Forensic Analyst

£17000 - £18000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Trainee Digital Fo...

Planning Manager (Training, Learning and Development) - London

£35000 - £38000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glob...

Asset Finance Solicitor

Highly Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: CITY - ASSET FINANCE - An outstanding...

Day In a Page

Read Next
The back page of today's i  

i Editor's Letter: Your response to our new back page of sports

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
James Foley's murder by Isis has shocked the West  

Today Isis is attacking the Middle East. Tomorrow it’ll be the West

James Bloodworth
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home
Lauded therapist Harley Mille still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

Lauded therapist still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

Australian Harley Miller is as frustrated by court delays as she is with the idiosyncrasies of immigration law
Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world. But could his predictions of war do the same?

Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world...

But could his predictions of war do the same?
Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs: 'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs
Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities, but why?

Young at hort

Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities. But why are so many people are swapping sweaty clubs for leafy shrubs?
Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award: 'making a quip as funny as possible is an art'

Beyond a joke

Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award, has nigh-on 200 in his act. So how are they conceived?
The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

Sadly though, the Lawrence of Arabia star is not around to lend his own critique
Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire: The joy of camping in a wetland nature reserve and sleeping under the stars

A wild night out

Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire offers a rare chance to camp in a wetland nature reserve
Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition: It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans

Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition

It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans
Besiktas vs Arsenal: Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie

Besiktas vs Arsenal

Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie
Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

As the Northern Irishman prepares for the Barclays, he finds time to appear on TV in the States, where he’s now such a global superstar that he needs no introduction
Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to Formula One

Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to F1

The 16-year-old will become the sport’s youngest-ever driver when he makes his debut for Toro Rosso next season
Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

But belated attempts to unite will be to no avail if the Sunni caliphate remains strong in Syria, says Patrick Cockburn
Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I would end up killing myself in jail'

Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I'd end up killing myself in jail'

Following last week's report on prison suicides, the former inmate asks how much progress we have made in the 50 years since the abolition of capital punishment