Tuesday, May 22, 2018
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Balkans balancing act

As the second anniversary of NATO's three-month bombing campaign against Yugoslavia is upon us, it is time to reflect on what we gained and what it cost us.

The air war, which ran from March 24 to June 12, 1999, rained bombs on Belgrade and elsewhere in Serbia, in the short run to end atrocities against ethnic Albanians living in the province of Kosovo. In that it succeeded.

In the long run, the bombardment sought to destabilize the reign of Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic. It not only succeeded in that, too, but Mr. Milosevic has been indicted by the United Nations war crimes tribunal for cruel and murderous Serb excesses in Kosovo, and the new Serb leadership is considering a comeuppance for him at home.

Serbians are divided on whether to blame Mr. Milosevic for the bombing, though the West blames him not only for that but for all the bloodshed resulting from the deconstruction of the old Yugoslavia into its component parts. Some Serbs are furious at NATO and the United States for wreaking havoc on their country; and, as the internecine regional conflicts in the Balkans have shown, memory is unrelenting.

That brings us to the aftermath, in which now Albanians in Kosovo are retaliating against Serbs and the more radical among them are stirring the pot in Macedonia.

As its security forces battle with the Kosovo Liberation Army and local rebels, 22,000 Macedonians have left their homes in this former Yugoslav republic, which had hitherto managed to avoid the frays of the region.

The officially disbanded KLA, astir with hotheads, is looking to unite ethnic Albanians in adjacent regions with those in Kosovo, in part to forfend against its perception that NATO would keep the province in Serbia rather than let it go independent or attach itself to Albania.

More recently and under pressure from the West, Albanian leaders in Kosovo have called on Albanian rebels in Macedonia to quit shooting and come home.

The Bush administration's reluctance to involve itself further in the Balkans may have given the nod to the current surge in fighting. Its members, including the President, need to remember that strength lies in action, not talk. This is no longer the isolated world of our grandparents.

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