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Ukraine Fever Sweeps the Balkans

10:02 AM, Mar 3, 2014 • By STEPHEN SCHWARTZ
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Sarajevo
As the world watches the Ukrainians in their effort to defend themselves from Russia and become a fully European nation, close attention to the situation in Kiev and the crisis in Crimea is notable in the Balkan Muslim countries—Kosovo, Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina—and in two with significant Muslim minorities, Montenegro and Macedonia.

In the Balkans, the threat of Serbian aggression has receded, but in a parallel with Ukraine, Russian influence is perceived behind intrigues from Belgrade. The events in Ukraine are seen in a context of the struggle against corruption and the phenomenon of the post-Communist “mafia state.”

In the first week of February, a wave of protest began in the Bosnian city of Tuzla, which is known for its tradition of multiethnic harmony among Bosnian Muslims, Croats, and Serbs. An old industrial redoubt now plagued with unemployment ranging between 40 and 60 percent, Tuzla boiled over quickly, as reported by BBC News, with attacks on official buildings.

Solidarity demonstrations spread to other Bosnian cities with economic problems, including Mostar in Herzegovina, which is divided between Muslims and Croats and has an aluminum industry, Zenica in central Bosnia, where a steel complex has been owned by ArcelorMittal since 1998, and then to Sarajevo, the capital. There, on February 7, demonstrators set fire to government buildings and fought police.

Local and foreign media, international observers, and politicians assigned blame for the Bosnian upheaval in all directions. Resentment of the excessively convoluted bureaucracy foisted by the 1995 Dayton Accords on Bosnia, which is partitioned between a so-called “Republic of Serbs” and the “Federation of Bosnia-Herzegovina,” grouping Muslims and Croats, is one issue. “Federation Bosnia” comprises 10 cantons, each with its own autonomous political and educational authorities, plus a special zone at Brcko in the northern part of the territory, all reporting—barely—to the supposed central government in Sarajevo. It has more varieties of statist delirium above and below the cantonal level: legislatures, ministries, municipalities, in a seemingly endless and redundant supply.

Economic opportunities mostly involve political malfeasance, financed by the European Union through the Office of the High Representative (OHR), the real government, with American support. The current high representative is an Austrian of Slovene background, Valentin Inzko. Bosnia-Herzegovina is therefore a place of profound despair, afflicted by brain drain. Its traditional Central European system of education, which produces well-trained graduates, sees them leave for other countries as soon as they can. A serious upheaval in Bosnia was, to anybody watching the country, obviously on the way—a matter of when, rather than why.

Also at the end of the first week of February, Kosovo saw turmoil as Ibrahim Gashi, rector of the University of Pristina, in the capital of that Balkan republic, was forced to resign after he was exposed as a falsifier of his academic work. Clashes between police and students left 29 officers hurt and 30 students arrested. Gashi’s departure from the university was followed by that of several of his colleagues.

In Podgorica, the capital of Montenegro, on February 18, hundreds of people gathered, throwing rocks at state offices, and injuring nine policemen. The Montenegrins called for “revolution.” Unemployed workers in Macedonia assembled in front of government buildings in that country’s capital, Skopje, on February 18. The next day, in Albania, after an informal strike by minivan drivers, in a country lacking a reliable public transportation system, a full one-day transport shutdown took place, with a rally in Tirana, the capital.

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