Vol 1, No 1, 28 June 1999

A   B A L K A N   E N C O U N T E R:
The Deadly Antlers of a Dilemma
NATO, the EU and the new kids on the block

By Dr Sam Vaknin

10,000 years ago, Irish elk roamed the earth. They had the largest pair of antlers ever grown - 3.6 meters (12 feet) across. Every year, they grew new antlers from prominent nubs on their heads. They must have been awesome to behold. They must have fought ferociously. They must have seemed eternal.

But then the weather changed. The earth shed its forest coat for new tundra attire. The Irish elk ignored this creeping revolution. They continued to grow their massive antlers and, by doing so, depleted their reserves of calcium and phosphorus. Unable to find enough minerals to feed their addiction in their new surroundings, they died out - though their magnificently proud antlers remain intact.

NATO has emerged from its Pyrrhic victory in Kosovo shell shocked and riven by internal strains. The European Union (EU), in the name of "Euro-Atlantic Structures", hurries to join NATO in the literal and figurative minefield it so unwisely occupies. Both organisations are in danger of growing antlers too big for their own continued survival.

There are three set of lethal antlers involved:

Europe and Uncle Sam

Operation Allied Force could not have been more inappropriately named: it employed little force - much less than in the Gulf War - and it tore the Alliance apart. NATO has split into a nascent European military structure (the former West European Union was officially absorbed by the EU a fortnight ago) - and an American (rather, an Anglo-American) avuncularly benevolent umbrella.

Europeans have yet to recover from the detached, callous and off-handed mismanagement of the whole crisis by the amateurs in Washington. Their trust in America's insight, foresight and sagacious hindsight has been shattered by American strategic mistakes, intelligence errors, diplomatic gaffes and internal squabbling of a poll-orientated administration. The Europeans emerged with a "never again" pledge. America is not likely to be invited to Europe's parties any time soon.

Europe is too much a China shop and America - whether Republican elephants or Democratic mules - too much a bull. In the end, there was no love wasted between these two primary constituents of NATO. Now, they are effectively divorcing or, at least, going through a phase of not-so-amicable separation.

To this, one should add the conflicting interests of members in this uncomfortable menage a 19. Greece (aided and abetted by Iran) is already fighting proxy wars with Turkey throughout Central Asia (the Asian Republics of the former USSR), in Cyprus and in the former Yugoslavia. France is uneasy with the German-British Third Way and what it regards as a rapprochement between the two which threatens its privileged status in the EU. The poorer countries and the EU regional aid beneficiaries (not always the same group) are dead set against EU enlargement to the East. Such a list could continue for a very long time indeed.

Central Europe

Disgusted by what they regarded as a superfluous and unnecessarily brutal war, the Central Europeans had the rudest awakening imaginable. They were forced to participate in a war effort within what they believed to be a defensive alliance. They joined NATO the introverted giant - and woke up to NATO the agile, hyperactive and violent neighbourhood cop. Hungary was forced to risk its ethnic kinfolk in Serbia's Vojvodina region. The Czechs engaged in bruising internal political fistfights. It was all rather unseemly.

During the NATO bombing campaign, the new Central European entrants joined the likes of Greece and Italy and recoiled from assisting the war effort in any meaningful way. The shock waves of that are likely to reverberate for quite a while and will certainly transform NATO's commitment in Central Europe. It is not inconceivable to end up with a two-tier NATO: the fighting goons and the battle-shy, logistics-only allies.

This uneasy co-existence is made even less cosy by the clear reluctance of the EU to absorb its poor relatives to the East and South. Entry deadlines are habitually postponed, bureaucratic hurdles gleefully presented, sadistic reports about the Central Europeans' lack of progress periodically issued. No wonder the six eternal candidates feel rejected and abused.

The perpetual humiliation of the applicants by the EU has resulted in a turning of the tide: opinion polls in several countries now show growing opposition to the idea of joining Europe - unthinkable just two years ago.

The countries of the Balkan area - the "New Associates" - constitute ominous competition for funds, attention and orientation, as far as the current applicants are concerned. The Lucky Six (Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Poland and Slovenia) are likely to be relegated to the backburner, now that the EU has found a new toy, the Balkans. This will engender great bitterness and enmity between the EU and Central Europe and between Central Europe and the Balkan nations.

This is hardly a recipe for an orderly transition, for democracy or for strong market economies.

The Balkan sore

The EU is known for its verbal pyrotechnics, its unlimited pool of enticing vision and its great spinning and marketing techniques. This arsenal is fully employed now to bedazzle the Balkan natives into happy submission to the seductive harmonies of the common market. The EU is dangling cornucopian promises of eternal economic bliss in front of the bleeding, limb-torn rump states which comprise the remains of Yugoslavia.

But the targets of this propaganda would do well to look to their Central European neighbours for an antidote. The "New Association" status offered to the likes of Macedonia, Albania, Bulgaria and Romania and, later, Montenegro and perhaps, post-Milosevic Serbia, is an ingenious piece of camouflage, a fata morgana, devoid of content. It is an evocation of hitherto repressed desires, and it leads to self-delusion - not to any serious attempt at integration by the EU.

The economic disparity between the aspirants and the current members is numbing. The average GDP per capita in Macedonia is about USD 2000 per annum. This is the GDP produced by a Slovenian in ten weeks, by a Greek or a Portuguese in eight and by a German in three. There is no convergence to speak of - the gap is increasing, not decreasing, especially following the Kosovo debacle.

The legal system in these countries is biased against the antiquated and totalitarian. Human and civil rights are foreign implants, inflammatorily rejected by the body politic. The economy is corrupt, nepotistic and cronyist. Criminal organisations constitute a large part of trading activities and maintain a heavy grip upon the political class. The media is mostly government-owned and manipulated.

The Balkan region, put simply, is not European. It is Byzantine, Ottoman, Eastern, Orthodox. It belongs to Turkey and the Middle East, not to Frankfurt and Paris. It will never be successfully subsumed by the West.

Turkey offer the perfect example. Turkey has been trying for decades now to get into the exclusive European club and has been consistently and perfunctorily rejected by the EU - and this despite the fact that Turkey is an important member of NATO and a country much more developed than the likes of Macedonia or Albania.

As these unpleasant truths emerge, the bitterness, resentment and disillusionment will grow, and a backlash will develop. It might wear the guise of internal strife, of isolationist policies, of wounded retreat or of terrorism - all weapons of the deceived and trampled-upon underdogs.

It was wrong of the EU to promise what it can never deliver and couch it in deceptively ear-soothing phrases. It will pay the price in added instability and ruin.

The Euro-Atlantic structures are evolving, assuming ever more ambitious and comprehensive goals and growing ever more impressive antlers. They roam the whole earth, administering human rights and free market recipies. They impose their will. They are awesome to behold.

But from within they are being depleted and consumed by their very own incoherence. It is the eternal cycle of pride and defeat. NATO, struggling to redefine itself and perpetuate its totally superfluous existence. The EU struggling to secure peaceful markets to its east and south. Europe struggling to assert itself. The USA struggling to secure its superiority in an emerging multi-polar world. All are fighting losing battles, wagging their antlers to and fro.

Dr Sam Vaknin, 20 June 1999

The author is General Manager of Capital Markets Institute Ltd, a consultancy firm with operations in Macedonia and Russia. He has recently been appointed Economic Advisor to the Government of Macedonia.

DISCLAIMER: The views presented in this article represent only the personal opinions and judgements of the author.

Dr Vaknin's website is here.





Baltic States
Czech Republic


Hungary Counts
the Costs of War

Schuster's Slovakia

The Great
Czech Malaise

The Rise of
Tartu, Estonia

NATO Will Crack
in Kosova

Serb Proposals for
Partitioning Kosova

Faults in the Balkan
Stability Pact

Hope for Russia's
Capital Markets


Central Europe

Lateral Thinking on
Central Europe


Book Shop


Crushed by Stalin

Music Shop


Central European
Culture in the UK


Festival Report:
Karlovy Vary

The Russian Soul:
Lutsik's Okraina


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