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'See-No-Evil' Policy No Boon to the Balkans

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Too often over the past decade, the United States, European Union, and United Nations have looked the other way in the Albanian-populated areas of the Balkans, willfully allowing corrupt political and military leaders to have their way in vain hopes that these figures would promote "regional stability."

This "see-no-evil" policy has yielded precious little stability. And it has allowed Kosovo, Albania, and Macedonia to linger on the crumbling edge of the "failed state" abyss.

These countries -- not to mention their Balkan neighbors, Greece included -- need to be Europeanized. They need the rule of law. They need good governance. They need transparency and accountability. They need to wean themselves from the poisonous rhetoric of ethnic nationalism substituting as patriotism. This cultural transformation will require international unity to rout out the rot and stop narrow-minded local political figures from implementing policies that are dangerous to their countries and the region.

In Kosovo, the European Union mission there called EULEX has taken a positive step by investigating senior Albanian officials for their involvement in bribery, money laundering and ties to organized crime. Kosovo's Albanian public has welcomed the investigations, fed up with corruption (somebody even launched a Facebook page in support of EULEX investigations), but Brussels and Washington have undermined the effort by giving only partial support. Political leaders in Kosovo, as everywhere in the Balkans, are adept at exploiting such inconsistencies.

Many of the Kosovo officials under investigation are former leaders of the Kosovo Liberation Army, the militia that led an insurrection against Slobodan Milosevic's Serbia. One former commander, Fatmir Limaj, is Kosovo's Minister of Transportation and Telecommunication, a portfolio fat with contract money, and EULEX is investigating whether Limaj and ministry personnel accepted bribes in exchange for contracts to build roads. EULEX should not stop there. It should expand its net to include drug smuggling, human trafficking, and the fate of missing persons from the war and its aftermath.

The United States, which enjoys immense popularity among Albanians for leading the 1999 NATO war against Milosevic, should throw its muscle behind EULEX and its investigations. Washington should also stand behind Kosovo Prime Minister Hashim Thaci's new anti-corruption campaign and monitor the campaign to ensure it does not degrade into an effort to destroy his political opponents. Another round of negotiations will soon begin between Serbs and Kosovo Albanians over a number of key issues. The last thing the negotiations need is for Washington and Brussels to give corrupt Kosovo negotiators get-out-of-jail-free cards in return for concessions that will benefit Belgrade.

Things are little better in Albania, although endemic corruption remains. The country is threatened with an economic debacle due to reliance on debt-ridden Italy and Greece, where more than a million Albanians work to send money home. Greeks own 70 percent of Albania's banks. Smarting from a loss in a tainted election, Albania's political opposition, obdurate and un-comprising, is boycotting the country's parliament and holding weekly demonstrations at a time crucial to the government's handling of the falling economy and Albania's EU-accession bid. Both the government and the opposition need to stop putting narrow personal interests above those of the country and its people.

In Macedonia, the conservative Macedonian Slav-run government has for years dragged its feet in implementing equal-rights provisions of a peace agreement with the leaders of the ethnic-Albanian minority. Demonstrators have taken to the streets of the capital, Skopje, shouting that the government has opted for a policy of open discrimination on "ethnic and religious grounds." The National Liberation Army, an ethnic-Albanian militia that fought a brief war in 2001, has begun to rearm. In May and again this week, Macedonian police shot and killed members of the militia as they smuggled weapons across the border from Kosovo.

All three of these countries are reliant on US and EU political and financial support. Washington and Brussels could and should use their clout to pressure Skopje to speed-up the implementation of promised reforms that would ensure Macedonia's ethnic-Albanian minority greater rights. Albanian political leaders in Kosovo and Macedonia should be pressured to prevent the rise of armed movements. And the US and European governments should actively promote and defend democratic institutions. International aid agencies are rightfully supporting rule of law and good governance programs in the region, but unless regional policies are in sync with aid programs, the aid will be seen, yet again, as a reward to corrupt officials for playing nice with their neighbors at a heavy cost to their citizens.