Wednesday, June 9, 2010
Healing a Bitter Legacy
The Balkans is an area east of Italy just across the Adriatic Sea, sometimes referred to as Southeastern Europe. For nearly 8 decades, Yugoslavia was a major nation within the Balkans containing a variety of peoples and identities, but in the early 90s, broke up into 6 independent states during what is called the Yugoslav wars. The bitterness and violence of that conflict still reverberate today, with genocide trials taking place at the International Court of Justice in the Hague, Netherlands. The conflict taught many Americans and Europeans anew the term "ethnic cleansing" so soon after the tensions of the Cold War were apparently receding. It was also a jarring revelation that modern technology and communication would not necessarily ease cultural differences, rather that modernity and savagery could so easily intertwine (think snipers picking off civilians while listening to their favorite artists on their walkmans).
Out of that conflict, six new nations emerged, with Slovenia leading the way, escaping nearly all the conflict of the other neighbors, with independence secured by 1992. It has moved steadily on, joining the European Union in 2004. Its immediate neighbor to the south, Croatia, had a more traumatic birthing, with several years of fighting between its resident Serbs and Bosnians intermixed with Croatians, but eventually realizing a cessation of conflict over its independence in 1995. Its goal of European Union membership since then, however, has been on hold due to a boundary dispute with Slovenia.
Just this week, after 16-17 years, this disputed boundary claim between the two countries - a tiny access port to the Adriatic Sea claimed by Slovenia at the bay of Piran (close to the Italian city of Trieste, see map) - is moving towards resolution. A national referendum by Slovenes ended in a favorable vote to bring the dispute to an international court for arbitration. A nice referral between two countries (don't you think?) who see the value of settling borders peacefully, concentrating on building up their economies to secure a better future for their next generations. (Also, Slovenia has an acapella choir, the Perpetuum Jazzile, who not only produced a breathtaking rendition of "Africa," by Toto - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=05ip-N0H1Ig - but have now sung and recorded the South African national anthem in honor of the that nation hosting the 2010 World Cup)
Border disputes abound among the jostling 188-194 countries in the world today: wrong placement, no placement, ignored boundaries, armed borders - some having to do with national borders, others with even smaller divisions - the famous Berlin/east Berlin wall of the Cold War era, Kosovo a remainder of the 1990s Yugoslav Wars, the West Bank between Palestinians and Israel, the Kashmir flashpoint between India and Pakistan, the divided island of Cyprus, and the Armenian corridor to Nagorny Karabakh. All these represent opportunities for peaceful resolution, or if not, festering and flaring conflicts. I hope that Slovenia's recent move towards resolution with Croatia is noted and imitated.