The future of the Balkans looks far brighter today than many would have predicted two decades ago, Politico writes.

The Balkan wars left more than 100,000 dead and caused millions to flee their homes. The region’s economies lay in ruins, and many of our best and brightest left in droves to seek a better future elsewhere. Political leaders from opposing sides did not trust each other, and had no real vision for the future.

As a young man at the time, I did not see what could be gained from collaborating across the divide. But I know now that my country paid a high price for nationalist excesses.

The situation today shows that barriers can be broken with enough common will. Relations between the region’s countries have transformed dramatically over the past decade.

They improved so drastically because we decided to change course. We decided to learn from past mistakes. We decided to put our countries and our people first.

If we had not believed in a shared future for the region, in being part of a system that binds us together for a common purpose, we could not have overcome the years of bitter hostility that tore us apart.

We should celebrate this achievement. But we must also recognize that the hard work still lies ahead. Now that most Western Balkan countries are united in our ambition to become part of the European Union — and the EU has published a new strategy for the region — we have a unique window of opportunity in which to act.