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Tensions in the Balkans are on the rise, unnerving some who fear that increased nationalism, ethnic rivalries, and weak democratic institutions -- mixed with sluggish economies -- could be a recipe for deeper crisis and possibly even violence.
Kosovo's largest opposition party is pushing for a referendum to unite with Albania, even though such a move is prohibited by the fragile former Yugoslav province's constitution. Meanwhile, ethnic Serbs in Bosnia-Herzegovina are talking about an independence referendum. Belgrade and Skopje are the scenes of nightly protests as a familiar mix of political instability, territorial disputes, and ethnic rivalries threatens to reignite the restive region.
But stopgap solutions imposed since the mids to bring stability and security in the Balkans, a conflict flash point for just over a century that has a history of dragging the world's superpowers into war, are crumbling.
This has left Moscow, Brussels, and Washington in a race for influence, while Turkey, on the eastern edge of the Balkans, is strengthening historic ties with the region's Muslims, adding to the undercurrent of growing uncertainty. In all, 18 disputes, many over autonomy and secession, can currently be observed in the Balkans, according to the Heidelberg Institute for International Conflict Research , threatening to undo the fragile peace that has held since the Dayton agreement of ended the Bosnian War.
But more than a quarter-century ago, that country frayed and a series of wars between ethnic groups that left tens of thousands dead tore Yugoslavia apart at the seams. The brutal violence degenerated into "ethnic cleansing" and turned Muslims, Roman Catholics, and Orthodox Christians against each other.