Humphrey Fellows tell of nations’ struggles to join European Union

Three Humphrey Fellows focused on the struggles of formerly communist nations to join the European Union during the final Cronkite Global Conversations event of the semester Wednesday afternoon. (Madeline Pado/DD)

A trio of international media practitioners, who covered and coped with the post-Soviet emancipation of Eastern Europe, focused on the struggle to join the European Union for the formerly communist nations Slovakia, Bosnia and Macedonia during the final Cronkite Global Conversations of the semester.

The three Hubert H. Humphrey Fellows, Elena Strapkova, Lejla Kapetanovic and Goran Rizaov discussed their emerging nations and the advantages and disadvantages of securing membership in the EU during the event Wednesday afternoon.

Kapetanovic served as a communications adviser for Bosnia and Herzegovina. Strapkova covered tourism in Slovakia. Rizaov is a business journalist who served in the International Broadcasting Bureau of Macedonia.

The topic, “Knocking On or Knocking Out the European Union Door,” outlined the complex systems at play in the EU landscape.

Before the Velvet Revolution of 1989, the borders of Slovakia were patrolled intensely by guards who shot to kill.

“The Iron Curtain was just meters from my house,” Strapkova said.

Slovakia applied to join the EU in 1995 but wasn’t accepted until 2004. Even then, citizens could not travel freely until 2007 with the benefit of an ID card rather than a passport.

Benefits of Slovakia’s EU status include free travel, free trade and industry.

“Slovakia is the biggest producer of cars in the whole world per capita and it’s one-sixth the size of Arizona,” Strapkova said.

The downside is that the central European nation is saddled with bureaucracy and dependency, Strapkova said. “It slows down all processes in member countries.”

Kapetanovic points to Bosnia’s proximity to Croatia as a potential source of concern for the nation. Croatia will enter the EU in July 2013. Twenty years ago, Bosnia’s quest for independence “triggered the bloodiest war post World War II,” Kapetanovic said. This split the region into factions of political, religious and nationalistic groups and displacing 2 million people. It wasn’t until 1995 that the Dayton Agreement ended the conflict.

The result re-made the nation into four different levels of government with 160 ministers running the country and 50 percent of its gross domestic product going to public administration.

Kapetanovic cites corruption and the constitution as its major obstacles.

“The result is Bosnia can’t reach political consensus because it’s so diverse,” she said.

While 43 percent of the population supports joining the EU, the earliest it could be expected is 2015. Kapetanovic noted that “some say by 2020 and others say ‘never.’”

Macedonia’s road to the EU began 150 years ago, finally emerging in 1944 as part of the Yugoslavian Federation that “accepted communism as a political structure,” Rizaov said.

Macedonians now want to embrace the EU to prevent a war like that again, he explained.

“After the fall of the Berlin wall, communism fell,” he said. “Macedonia was the only country that gained its freedom without war.”

However, the transition to EU status has resulted in a people who are disappointed with it, he added.

The six founding EU nations – France, Germany, Belgium, The Netherlands, Italy and Luxembourg – say that all issues must be resolved before a nation can join.

In Macedonia’s case, its contentious issues with Greece may prevent it from being accepted even though it has been officially recognized by major political powers. Greece has consistently blocked Macedonia’s progress toward EU membership, even claiming that it had the right to Macedonia’s name and flag since a majority of its territory falls into the boundaries of ancient Greece.

“The EU has been the catalyst for change but there are lots of pre-conditions to join it,” Rizaov said.

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