y time in the Balkans was relaxing yet eye-opening, promising yet worrying and ultimately left me intrigued and dreaming of returning. The remains of Yugoslavia, cobbled together after WWI are finally indepedent and are going radically different ways. Slovenia, long part of Austria-Hungary, has returned to its European roots joining the European Union and NATO in 2004. Croatia and its crescent shape, represent the former border of Europe and Ottoman Empire. It is culturally European and is a candidate for EU membership though still has a number of problems to deal with before joining. Its strongest point is its long stretch of stunning coastline which lures thousands of tourists in each year. Ethnically homogenous, Croatia also has a bright future though is still battling with serious economic problems. Bosnia, though slowly rebuilding itself, can still hardly be called a state which the international community and Bosnians themselves aren't quite sure what to do with. Some suggest dismantling it and returning its two states to their ethnic homelands, Serbia and Croatia. Serbia and Montenegro are currently held flimsily together by a conjunction and an upcoming referrendum on independence in Montenegro combined with final status talks on Kosovo threaten to bring instability back to the southern Balkans. Peacekeepers remain in Bosnia, Kosovo and Macedonia.

Of the two countries I visited, Croatia clearly has an excellent chance of joining the EU and NATO. With the EU already on its border, Croatia is already moving into the European orbit and the necessity of working together with Slovenia on transnational issues such as their maritime boundaries and border issues (as Slovenia must conform to the strict Schengen border rules to curb illegal migration and commerce) is already bringing Croatia unofficially into Europe. Croatia ought to join the European Union within the next 15 years. Bosnia, however, is a much different story. Though behind the bullet-riddled walls much progress was being made, its more superficial than it lets on. A weak central government with little support and a strange Lebanon-esque ethnic quota of government seats is eating through the national budget and doing little to improve the country which is still overseen by the United Nations. Additionally, Bosnia barely qualifies as a state and at this point it seems uncertain whether it has a future as one. Bosnia is still a haven for organized crime, human trafficking, drug smuggling and other issues which weaken the central government and undermine faith in public institutions.Whether Europe and/or the international community have the energy and attention span to deal with breaking up Bosnia remains to be seen. Any future US interest in Bosnia will be through the prism of the War on Terror. Short of any major instability, the only thing may bring the needed shake up of the former Yugoslavia will be Kosovo's likely independence, though its fitness for statehood is also questionable.

Just as the Muslim takeover of the Mediterranean in the 600s shifted the center of gravity from there northwards into Central Europe, the end of the Cold War has shifted the the center eastwards. Successful pacification and integration of the greater Balkans into Europe will be an important step and an even more important exercise is settling ethnic and religious scores and cleaning up post-colonial messes, a skill-set urgently needed in most of the world. With the overall decline of Western Europe, expect to see the East pick up the ball and run with it on the economic and security front. In 20 years, the sight of Albanian and Ukrainian peacekeepers throughout the world will be more common than that of French or Germans. The three future flash points in Eastern Europe will be Moldova, Montenegro, the last remnant of Yugoslavia hanging by a thread to Serbia, and Kosovo all of which will probably garner enough Western support to fix, due to their geographic proximity to Europe. One thing is certain, there will be more aftershocks from the civil war and a major shakeup is coming, most likely in late 2006.

More information can be found in the CIA World Factbook,on Wikipedia and in ComingAnarchy's Balkan category Illyrium.