Anyone interested in the fall of Yugoslavia should have a look at the Open Society Foundations’ “Building Open Society in the Western Balkans, 1991-2011.” Published this month, the 90-plus page “story,” as the subtitle says, isn’t mere PR for the George Soros-backed foundation’s work in the region. It is an engaging multi-media package that includes historical background; a timeline of key developments in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Slovenia from 1991 to present; photography (Susan Sontag rehearsing Waiting for Godot by candlelight in Sarajevo during the siege is an arresting shot); emotive passages from Balkan literature; and essays by regional experts.

In the introduction, the billionaire philanthropist Soros writes:

On June 17, 1991, in Belgrade, I signed an agreement with [then Yugoslav Prime Minister Ante] Markovic establishing the Soros Yugoslavia Foundation. A week later war erupted in Slovenia and Yugoslavia started to disintegrate. Markovic’s last attempts to keep the country together had failed … Twenty years later I am disappointed that, despite some progress, the countries still have a long way to go. The war took a heavy toll …

True. Progress is evident. Slovenia is in the EU, Croatia joins in 2013, and Serbia just won official candidate status. But critical challenges remain. State institutions are weak in Bosnia and Kosovo. Media are under political attack in Macedonia. Corruption is endemic regionally. The ongoing border conflict in northern Kosovo is a reminder of lingering political and interethnic tensions. Stratospheric unemployment has cast a malaise over the region’s youth.

Ironically, given Soros’ comments, it’s in analyzing the challenges ahead where the report can come up a bit short. An essay on Open Society’s achievements in education reform during and after the conflicts, for instance, omits an alarming reality: in much of the former Yugoslavia, education systems remain far below European standards. That’s not to diminish the foundations’ efforts, but the author might have noted that primary schools in Bosnia, Kosovo and Macedonia are effectively segregated along ethnic lines today.

For a systematic analysis of social, political and economic developments in the Balkans, check out the European Commission’s 2011 country progress reports, released 12 October. ”Building Open Society in the Western Balkans, 1991-2011,” after all, is a story, and it is a sad and frustrating and hopeful story well told.

Photo from Wikimedia Commons

S. Adam Cardais

S. Adam Cardais is a TOL contributing editor. Email:

More Posts