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Ethnic violence belies Balkans peace

Peace agreements brought the last Balkan conflict to an end more than two decades ago, but they didn't resolve ethnic tensions, which are rising to the surface again.

People argue next to a new monument to the victims of the 1990s Balkan wars, in Belgrade, Serbia, on March 24.

Darko Vojinovic/AP

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More than a decade after the conflict in the Balkans was brought to an end, a spate of violent incidents in the southern Balkans show that the ethnic and national tensions that erupted so disastrously in the 1990s are not a thing of the past.

Buses and public parks have been attacked, injuring children. Mosques and churches have been vandalized. Flags have been burned and racist slogans chanted in Macedonia, Albania, and Kosovo. On March 16, a Molotov cocktail was hurled at the Macedonian embassy in Pristina, the Kosovan capital. 

Meanwhile, Bosnia remains hopelessly divided along ethnic lines -- it took 16 months to install a new government following elections. Strong centrifugal forces within Bosnia have prevented the move toward the closer union championed by the international community.

This year will mark 17 years since the end of the Bosnian War, 13 since Kosovo and 11 since the brief Macedonian conflict between the central government and Albanian insurgents. Peace has been restored, but it is an unsettled one. Agreements have not done away with tensions between ethnic groups, and they have left large populations unhappy with the new status quo.

A standard explanation for this situation is the “ancient hatreds” line taken by then-British Prime Minister John Major in the early 1990s, one that Mr. Major used to justify Britain's lack of active intervention in the wars of Yugoslav succession.


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