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Glue for the Balkans

The effort to "win the peace" in the Balkans got a modest boost last week. Western leaders met in Sarajevo to discuss ways of building stability in the notoriously unstable region.

While war-torn places like Kosovo, Bosnia, and Serbia (despite the aid-blocking presence of Slobodan Milosevic) are currently front and center, the long-range benefits should embrace all of southeastern Europe. Countries like Romania and Bulgaria, which are still in the throes of their own post-communist rebuilding, can't be forgotten.

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In fact, one danger of the current focus on former Yugoslavia is that wider European reconstruction, stretching from the northern Baltic states south to the Balkans, could be neglected. Benefits such as full integration into Europe's economic and security communities should be held out to all.

While the Balkans is thus part of a much bigger picture, efforts in that volatile area could set a key precedent. From the Sarajevo gathering comes the inevitable question: Will the West put up the resources for long-term rebuilding? The United States offered $700 million in aid, trade, and incentives to spur investment in the Balkans. But the Europeans didn't follow the US lead with similar pledges of their own - though they had earlier agreed to fund a range of projects in Kosovo. The real test for Western Europe could be its willingness to open its trade doors widely to Balkan lands, whose regional commerce has been ripped apart by war.

A much more profound question involves the willingness of local people to cast off destructive nationalist emotions and devote their own energies to rebuilding, not revenge. Unless that's done, the international impulse to invest in the Balkans - particularly among private corporations - will fade. The world needs to see Kosovar Albanians committing themselves to building and maintaining civil order. And it needs to see Serbs forming coalitions to oust Mr. Milosevic.

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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