Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The way forward? Grassroots diplomacy in the southern Balkans | Transform, Transcend, Translate | TransConflict Serbia

Grassroots involvement in conflict transformation is key to overcoming the prejudice and mistrust that lies at the centre of many of the current problems facing the southern Balkans.

By Spyros Sofos
Two decades after the onset of Yugoslavia’s disintegration, the aftershocks are still affecting the Balkans. Kosova/o’s independence declaration, the ensuing Serbian ire and the reluctance of Greece to recognise it, the new round of inconclusive talks between Macedonia and Greece are just the visible aspects of a much broader conflict-ridden landscape.
These disputes are perceived as aspects of intractable conflicts: Kosovar Albanians, victims of Serbian prejudice and repression are not prepared to take seriously Serbian perspectives on the future of Kosovo. Serbs, oblivious to the stark reality of demography on the ground, consider Kosovo an inalienable part of their national territory and the sacred birthplace of their nation and are equally insensitive to Kosovar Albanian voices calling for independence. The assertion of the sovereignty of a Macedonian nation over the territory of the Republic of Macedonia faces competing claims advocating the autonomy of the country’s Albanian community. It also meets a powerful challenge by Greek nationalist discourse claiming ownership of names and symbols that Macedonian nationalism has also constructed as elements of Macedonian nationhood.
The international community has attempted to engage the leaderships of the countries and communities involved in these disputes in order to secure viable solutions. In Macedonia, international mediation averted the escalation of the six-month violent intercommunal conflict between the Albanian National Liberation Army (NLA) and the Macedonian army and security forces. Through negotiations and the services of EU and US mediation the opposing parties concluded the Ochrid agreement of 2001 which envisaged a package of wide-ranging amendments to the constitution and legislative changes that effectively recognized Macedonian-Albanians as stakeholders in the young state.

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