The Balkans

Updated July 10, 2020 | Infoplease Staff

1997 News of the World

Bosnia's long-delayed municipal elections finally succeeded in taking place, but little else has improved in this ravaged nation. The terms of the December 1995 Dayton Peace accord have largely been ignored by Bosnian Serbs, with the former president, Radovan Karadzic, still controlling the Serbian enclave with impunity, under the noses of NATO forces. Many indicted war criminals, including Karadzic, remain at large, and few of the refugees have been repatriated. Biljana Plavsic, the current Bosnian Serb president, is supported by the West; but given her history as a hard-line nationalist, her commitment to a united Bosnia is at best tenuous and opportunistic. NATO forces have exhibited more decisiveness than in the past, closing in on some war criminals and seizing four television stations broadcasting inflammatory Serb propaganda. By the next night, however, Serbs had regained control of the stations. Despite NATO's pledge in October to remain in Bosnia beyond the 1998 mandate, the force remains mired in its chronic ambivalence, unable to decide whether to jump into the fray or stand by and hope its presence is enough to spawn peace.

Albania's experiment with democratic reform and a free-market economy went disastrously awry, plunging the entire country into anarchy in March 1997. Large numbers of citizens in the poorest, and, until recently, most isolated country in Europe invested in shady, get-rich-quick pyramid schemes. When five of these schemes collapsed in the beginning of the year, robbing Albanians of an estimated $1.2 billion in savings, their rage turned against the government, which appeared to have sanctioned the nationwide swindle. Rioting broke out, the country's fragile infrastructure collapsed, and gangsters and rebels overran the country, resulting in more than 1,500 deaths. A multinational protection force eventually restored order and set up the elections that formally ousted President Sali Berisha. Thirty-six countries and international organizations have united to assist in Albania's reconstruction. —BB

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