The Balkans Challenge: Can Weather Woes Forge Political Partnerships?
The storm clouds over the Balkans have a silver lining, as they may help the region find solidarity.
- The storm clouds over the Balkans have a silver lining, as they may help the region find solidarity.
- Ironically, it is often during natural disasters that governments wake up to the realities of life.
- A natural disaster could lead an ethnically divided region to consider putting aside man-made differences.
- With the land saturated, now is the time to find common ground in the Balkans.
The Balkans is drowning. Massive floods in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Serbia over the past few days have forced thousands of people to evacuate homes causing death and destruction throughout the Balkans. The rains have caused an estimated 2,000 landslides.
In Serbia, more rain fell in one day this past weekend than in four months. A swollen Bosnian river spilled onto land causing power outages and school closings and jeopardizing agricultural and economic life in Bosnia-Herzegovina. The entire region has seen the worst flooding in 120 years.
But can a natural disaster lead an ethnically divided region to see the value of putting aside man-made differences? The Balkans has remained politically divided for the last 20 years since the end of the civil war in 1995.
The political dysfunction plaguing the Balkans
Bosniaks, Serbs and Croats have refused to find common ground – despite international attempts to bring peace and prosperity to the bitterly divided populations. Tensions between Republika Srpska and the Bosniak Croat Federation and within Bosnia-Herzegovina have deprived young people throughout the Balkans of economic and political development.
The result has been massive unemployment and social unrest. This boiled up as recently as this past February when street protests threatened to explode into a mini civil war.
It is against that politically dysfunctional backdrop that the massive flooding and mudslides now threaten lives. In addition to dislocation, the weather may cause landmines — the remnants of war — to become dislodged and explode. These vestiges from the 1990s are a grim reminder of the high cost of war and the price citizens pay when governments can’t get along.
An unfortunate wake-up call
The tragedy unfolding in the Balkans should be a wake-up call to its leaders to bridge gaps and forge partnerships. The European Union, with direction from Lady Catherine Ashton, has invested serious time and energy into bringing about political reconciliation in the Balkans.
But the bickering and in-fighting within the federated parts of Bosnia and with Serbia have made diplomacy difficult and slowed progress to get Bosnia-Herzegovina on a road to NATO membership.
As with many post-war situations, corruption, arguments over privatization and resistance to democratic and economic reform have further hindered progress.
Holding common ground against rising tides
Ironically, it is often during natural disasters that governments wake up to the realities of life. Climate change does not discriminate. Rain falls wherever it falls despite the politics on the ground.
Humanitarian assistance from organizations like the International Red Cross will arrive regardless of inter-ethnic disputes and these organizations will work across political lines.
Political paralysis in this part of Europe is inexcusable and now is the time, with the land saturated by water, to find common ground. Let’s hope the environment is right for change.