Political instability keeps growing in the Western Balkans amid geopolitical contests and increased tensions with Russia. In this excerpt from the Watch List 2017 – First Update early-warning report for European policy makers, Crisis Group urges the European Union and its member states to engage intensively to ensure the political space for avoiding more serious crisis does nto entirely vanish in the Western Balkans.
The Balkans was best known for minority problems. Today, the most bitter conflicts are between parties that appeal to majority ethnic communities. As recent turbulence in Macedonia shows, Eastern Europe could face new dangers if majority populism ends the current stigma against separatism for oppressed small groups.
Macedonia is being shaken by twin political and security crises, both of which could escalate into violent confrontation or worse. While another civil war in the Western Balkans is not imminent, there is a serious threat to regional stability that the country’s leaders and international partners need to contain.
Just two years ago it appeared that deadly conflict in Macedonia was no longer a serious risk. Recent events have revived the threat.
Ten years after the Ohrid Agreement ended fighting between ethnic Macedonians and Albanians, Macedonia is more stable and inclusive, but political party and ethnic tensions are growing, and the new government needs to reverse the negative trends.
Macedonia is a relative success story in a region scarred by unresolved statehood and territory issues. International engagement has, since the 2001 conflict with an ethnic Albanian insurgency, brought progress in integrating Albanians into political life. This has been underpinned by the promise of European Union (EU) and NATO integration, goals that unite ethnic Macedonians and Albanians. But the main NATO/EU strategy for stabilising Macedonia and the region via enlargement was derailed in 2008 by the dispute with Greece over the country’s name.
The European Union summit’s December 2005 decision to grant EU candidacy status is a significant milestone on Macedonia’s path to European integration. However, its open-ended nature, with no start date for accession talks, indicates the practical and policy challenges the country still faces to become a stable post-conflict democracy.
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