By Dale McFeatters
The Bosnian war lasted over three years, technically ending in 1995, leaving a messy aftermath. The European Union took a major step this week in clearing up the loose ends by granting Serbia candidate status for membership in the EU that should bring substantial benefits in trade, travel and respectability to that hard-luck Balkan country.
When the Yugoslavian Federation broke up, the Bosnian Serbs were accused of some of the worst war crimes since World War II, giving the world the term "ethnic cleansing" as they sought to expel or eliminate Bosnian Muslims and ethnic Croats.
A major obstacle to Serbia's admission to the EU, and integration into the European mainstream, was removed with the arrest of two accused Bosnian Serb war criminals: the country's leader, Radovan Karadzic, in 2008; and his top military commander, Ratko Mladic, just last May. They were both turned over to the international court in The Hague.
One last obstacle remained, and that seems to have been cleared up, although in ambiguous fashion.
The province of Kosovo figures greatly in Serbian history and religion, but over the years its population became increasingly ethnic Albanian and Muslim. Their often-violent attempts at extracting greater autonomy were brutally suppressed by the Serbian military until NATO expelled it in 1999.
In 2008, over the vehement objections of Serbia, Kosovo declared independence. Serbia, maintaining that Kosovo was still a province, boycotted any regional and international conference that Kosovo attended.
Last week, the EU brokered a compromise that will allow both to attend conferences simultaneously. As with much else in the Balkans, the settlement is ambiguous in just exactly how the two will settle ongoing border disputes, the status of Serbs remaining in Kosovo and establish what the EU deems "good neighborly relations."
Full EU membership may be years in coming for Serbia, but this agreement is a significant and overdue step forward.
Dale McFeatters is an editorial writer for Scripps Howard News Service (www.scrippsnews.com).