It’s been almost 30 years since the wars of the 90ies in former Yugoslavia, but reconciliation between the Balkan peoples still hasn’t taken place. The ‘peace’ is simply an end of outright conflict and a division of lands and systems, rather than a resolution of the problems that caused it in the first place. The weight of history and the prejudices that the views of history creates, as well as, mistrust among nations and ethnic groups remain intact. How is it that the interethnic relations were a good example of coexistence a century ago, but have caused so many rifts in modern history? There was no democracy in this region a hundred years ago, but there was a man’s word, there was the culture of respect, mutual respect and understanding. None of these examples or a very few of them, can be found in the media or history textbooks in the region today; interethnic animosity is established instead, reinforced by the wars of the 90s, in which ‘ethnic cleansing’ was one of the main characteristics. It is time to rebuild multiethnic societies in the Balkans!
One approach to long term conflict resolution is better education – Our citizens need to be educated to prevent conflicts themselves, or when it comes to them, to solve them by dialogue. We need to promote self-criticism and less patriotism. We need to think critically, to try to understand the others better, to develop empathy and free ourselves from stereotypes and prejudices. We need to understand ourselves better, to see ourselves in a wider context, to free ourselves from egotistical and ethnocentric approaches to discourse and education, to stop believing that we are the best and always right.
The recent example between Greece and the FYR of Macedonia showed that there is potential in the Balkans, but this also showed how important the role of the international community is. The Balkan countries are weak. Luckily, there are people with a vision and wisdom, but still these people need help and support. The international community has its own interest in solving this dispute but needs to understand that a stable Balkans is in the wider global public interest regardless of whether or not there is an obvious immediate benefit. A country or a nation may not appear to be an obvious ’troublemaker’ but can still endanger democracy and the democratic processes within a country. This must not be ignored and overlooked.
The establishment of good interethnic relations in the Balkans, relations that can act as a basis for peace and prosperity in the region, requires joint efforts, both internally and externally. We have been blessed to be living in a diverse region, a region where different peoples have been intrinsically bound together culturally, politically and socio-economically. Let us work as a diverse crew, cooperating on the same aim, and all in the same boat as we sail into calm, peaceful European waters that will support development and smooth travel for us all.