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The Nobel Peace Prize and the EU in the Balkans

7:31 AM, Oct 17, 2012 • By STEPHEN SCHWARTZ
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The 2012 Nobel Peace Prize laureate, the European Union (EU), was lauded by the Norwegian selection committee for having “contributed to the advancement of peace and reconciliation, democracy and human rights in Europe.” Among various attainments, some decades in the past and others arguable, the Norwegians also praised the EU for its purported achievements in the Balkans, in a manner that appears simply dishonest. Specifically, the Norwegians credited the EU with three current policies in the region, all incomplete, and none a credit to the EU’s reputation.

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The committee’s press release stated, “The admission of Croatia as a member next year, the opening of membership negotiations with Montenegro, and the granting of candidate status to Serbia all strengthen the process of reconciliation in the Balkans.” The Croatian application to the EU, initiated in 2003, was slowed by economic, legal, geographical and other issues left over from the former Yugoslav Communist system. Much remained to be reformed after the Serbian offensive against the country was defeated, with U.S. help, in 1995. But prominent German political leaders, as late as mid-October, expressed reservations about Croatian EU entry. Neither Croatia nor Germany may be prepared for further EU enlargement. What the Norwegians—who do not belong to the EU—take for granted for Croatia may not happen, after 10 years’ wait.

EU talks with tiny Montenegro, population 650,000, and divorced from Serbia since 2006, represent a troubling detail in the local panorama. The EU has contributed nothing, aside from grumbling acceptance of the euro as a unilaterally-adopted Montenegrin currency, to the betterment of the populace. Although it gained full sovereignty, Montenegro is poor and vulnerable. Much of its Adriatic Sea tourist industry has been taken over by Russians, and conflicts between the Montenegrin Slav majority and its Albanian minority have produced ongoing tensions, though little violence. Nevertheless, unlike Serbia, which refuses to recognize a separate Kosovo, Montenegro established diplomatic relations with Kosovo some months after the latter republic’s declaration of independence in 2008.

In May 2012, however, an investigation by the British Broadcasting Corporation and the Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project disclosed documents the British media said “cast serious doubt” on Montenegro’s EU accession bid. The BBC noted insistent and authoritative denunciations of Montenegro as a “mafia state,” with the euro as its currency making the profits of smuggling easily exported.

But Montenegro, aside from endemic corruption, has failed to secure freedom of the press, a primary consideration for EU membership. The Vienna-based South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO), an affiliate of the International Press Institute (IPI), repeatedly condemns attacks on journalists in Montenegro. Most recently, on October 8, SEEMO called attention to an assault on a reporter for the daily Vijesti (News), after prime minister Igor Luksic, whose government is dominated by the ex-Communist Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS), accused the newspaper and another daily of supporting the opposition. SEEMO protested continual physical aggression against Vijesti staff and other Montenegrin news-gatherers, and the organization’s secretary general, Oliver Vujovic, declared, “I strongly condemn attacks against journalists. They happen too often in Montenegro.”           

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