The judgement on Radovan Karadzic will confirm the criminal character of Republika Srpska’s wartime leadership
This interview with me was published in Bosnian in Dnevni Avaz on 23 March
On 24 March, the tribunal in The Hague will pronounce its judgement for the case of Radovan Karadžić for war crimes and genocide. What do you expect from the judgement ? Will it bring justice for the victims ?
I expect that Radovan Karadzic will be convicted on the majority of counts, which will result in him spending the rest of his life in prison. I don’t expect him to be convicted on the first count of genocide, regarding the municipalities outside of Srebrenica – even though the ICTY Appeals Chamber ruled in 2013 on the Karadzic case that sufficient evidence existed to establish the actus reus of genocide for this count. ICTY Trial Chambers have, to date, failed to convict suspects of genocide outside of the Srebrenica massacre of July 1995. This contrasts with judges in Germany, who have, through the cases of Nikola Jorgic and Maksim Sokolovic in the 1990s, convicted suspects of genocide and related crimes in Bosnia outside of Srebrenica. The European Court of Human Rights, in dismissing Jorgic’s appeal in 2007, confirmed that crimes consistent with the international legal definition of genocide occurred in northern Bosnia in 1992. Therefore, if the ICTY, as seems likely, fails to convict Karadzic on the first count of genocide, then the victims will not have received proper justice. To this should be added the facts that, so far, no official of Serbia has yet been convicted of war-crimes in Bosnia-Hercegovina, and that the two most senior Bosnian Serb convicts to date, Biljana Plavsic and Momcilo Krajisnik, are both already free after serving relatively short terms in prison. We cannot therefore conclude that the victims have received proper justice.
What could be the consequences of the judgment for Bosnia ? Can we except tensions among the people, Bosnian Serbs and Muslims? Or could it be a step to final justice ?
The judgement is unlikely to have major consequences for Bosnia, since it is likely to confirm the established narrative about the Bosnian war. Thus, it will not provide support for those who want to deny Serb-extremist crimes altogether, nor to those who seek recognition of the genocide outside of Srebrenica. Milorad Dodik and other Serb nationalists will continue to claim that the ICTY is anti-Serb, while the victims and their representatives will continue to feel that they have not received proper justice. The judgement will at least establish definitely the criminal character of the wartime political leadership of the Republika Srpska – already indicated by the convictions of Plavsic and Krajisnik – and in that sense will provide a small step towards final justice. But final justice remains a long way in the future.
A selection of articles from the blog Greater Surbiton has been published in book format by the Centre for Advanced Studies in Sarajevo, and can be downloaded in PDF format for free via its website. The following is the foreword to the book:
The articles in this volume were published on my blog, Greater Surbiton, since its launch in November 2007. Although Greater Surbiton was devoted to a number of different themes – including the southern and eastern Balkans, Turkey and Cyprus, Russia and the Caucasus, the meaning of progressive politics and the fight against Islamophobia, anti-Semitism and other forms of chauvinism – Bosnia-Hercegovina and the former Yugoslavia were at all times central to it. Twelve years after Dayton, when the blog was launched, the war over the former Yugoslavia was being waged as fiercely as ever – not on the battlefield, but in the realm of politics and ideas, both in the region and in the West. Genocide deniers and propagandists who sought to downplay or excuse the crimes of the Milosevic and Karadzic regimes of the 1990s – people like Diana Johnstone, Michael Parenti, David N. Gibbs, Nebojsa Malic, John Schindler and Carl Savich – continued their ugly work. Yet the ongoing struggle to counter their falsehoods was just one front in the wider war.
The period since 2007 has witnessed the rise of Milorad Dodik’s separatist challenge to the precarious Bosnian-Hercegovinian unity established at Dayton, and the consequent degeneration of the post-Dayton political order in the country; the declaration of Kosovo’s independence and Belgrade’s efforts to derail it; the struggle in Serbia between reformist and nationalist currents; the increasingly aggressive challenge of Russia’s Vladimir Putin to the West, manifested most starkly in the attacks on Georgia in 2008 and Ukraine in 2014, but also in support for Belgrade over Kosovo and for Dodik in Bosnia-Hercegovina; the increasingly apparent failure of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia to punish adequately the war-criminals of the 1990s, despite the spectacular arrests of Radovan Karadzic in 2008 and Ratko Mladic in 2011; and the increasingly stark failure of Western leaders to confront murderous tyrants like Putin, Sudan’s Omar Hassan al-Bashir and Syria’s Bashar al-Assad – reminiscent of their failure in the 1990s over Bosnia-Hercegovina.
Today, the truth about the war in the former Yugoslavia is more widely known and understood than ever. The battle for the recognition of the Srebrenica genocide worldwide has largely been won; the remains of most victims of the massacre have been identified and reburied. The deniers and their narrative have been largely discredited. Yet the Bosnian question is further from a happy resolution than ever, while the West – the US, EU and their allies – look less likely to lead positive change in the region than they did a decade ago. Kosovo’s full international recognition is still being blocked by Serbia and Russia; Macedonia, kept out of the EU and NATO by Greek nationalist intransigence, is in crisis; not a single official of Serbia has yet been found guilty by the ICTY for war-crimes in Bosnia-Hercegovina, or is likely to be in the future; and leading former-Yugoslav war-criminals such as Biljana Plavsic and Momcilo Krajisnik have been released after serving short prison-terms in comfortable conditions.
The outcomes of the struggles tracked by my blog have therefore been far from unambiguously happy. Yet the politics and recent history of Bosnia-Hercegovina and the rest of the former Yugoslavia are much better understood than they were a decade ago; new generations of scholars, analysts and activists are discovering and explaining more all the time. I hope that the articles contained in this volume have made a contribution to this process of discovery.
Marko Attila Hoare, June 2015
The following article was published by the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust on 8 July, to mark the twentieth anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre:
This week marks the 20th anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre of July 1995, when rebel Bosnian Serb forces carried out an act of genocide that claimed the lives of over 8,000 Bosniaks (Bosnian Muslims). In the interval, the world has come a long way towards acknowledging the crime. The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and the International Court of Justice (ICJ) have both recognised that genocide was committed at Srebrenica. The European Parliament in 2009 voted overwhelmingly for a resolution calling upon all EU member states to adopt 11 July, the anniversary of the start of the massacre, as a day of commemoration. Consequently, the UK held its first Srebrenica memorial day event in 2013, and is currently sponsoring a resolution at the UN to mark the 20th anniversary. Bosnian Serb officers have been found guilty by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and the Bosnian state court of genocide and other offences in relation to Srebrenica. The two leading Bosnian Serb perpetrators, Radovan Karadžić and Ratko Mladić, are currently on trial at The Hague for the genocide.
The world has come a long way, but from an ignominious starting point. The Srebrenica massacre did not come out of the blue; it was the crowning atrocity of a genocidal killing process that had begun over three years earlier, in the spring of 1992, and unfolded before the cameras of the global media. Not only did the international community – the United Nations (UN), European Union (EU), NATO and other bodies – not intervene to halt the genocide, but what intervention did take place made the situation worse. The UN maintained an arms embargo that hampered the ability of the fledgling Bosnian army to defend its citizens from the heavily armed Serb forces. The British and other Western governments resisted calls for military intervention to halt the killing, instead seeking to appease the perpetrators by accommodating their demands for the carving out of a Bosnian Serb territorial entity through the dismemberment of Bosnia-Hercegovina. Consequently, the Bosnian Serb leaders embarked on the massacre at Srebrenica in the fully justified belief that the world would not stop them, but would recognise their conquest of the town. UN officials blocked NATO air-strikes to defend Srebrenica, and the Dutch UN peacekeeping force supposedly defending this UN ‘safe area’ then abandoned or turned over to the killers the Bosniak civilians seeking their protection. The Dayton Accords that ended the war in November 1995 recognised the town of Srebrenica as part of Republika Srpska, the Bosnian Serb entity. Srebrenica was not just the shame of Serbia and the Serb nation, but the shame of Europe, the West and the world as well.
Continue reading at the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust website.
When we talk about solutions for Bosnia-Hercegovina, the emphasis is usually on what we would like Bosnia-Hercegovina to look like. This is very easy to say. I and many others would like Bosnia-Hercegovina to be a sovereign, unitary state of all its citizens, regardless of nationality. However, it is much more difficult to see how to achieve this. In this presentation, I am going to talk about a much more modest goal: the development of a Bosnian resistance strategy to prevent a greater misfortunate from befalling Bosnia-Hercegovina. And that will take the first steps toward restoring the state. I won’t engage in false optimism; this will be an analysis of the reality of the situation with a hard-headed analysis of what can realistically be achieved.
Bosnia-Hercegovina’s problems do not need explaining – we are all familiar with them. Bosnia-Hercegovina as a state exists only formally; on paper; in reality, Bosnia-Hercegovina has no functioning state. Bosnia-Hercegovina is divided into two entities. Of these, the Serb entity is the more homogenous one. It is the principal obstruction to Bosnia-Hercegovina’s functioning as a state. The Federation – some once expected – might have acted as the core around which Bosnia-Hercegovina could be reintegrated. So people have viewed the RS as the ‘bad’ entity and the Federation as the ‘good entity’. In fact, they are both bad entities, and the Federation is as much part of the problem as the RS. The Federation is crushed under the weight of its bureaucracy. Its division into cantons weakens both the administration and the economy. The Federation is plagued by the conflicts between Bosniak and Croat politicians. But reform of the system is impossible. It’s impossible to reform the state, because this would require consensus between the three nationalities. But the RS politicians will always veto any reforms that would make the state function. Reform of the Federation is also difficult. The Croats already feel marginalised within the Federation and view the system of cantons as a guarantee for at least a degree of autonomy.
The status quo is unsustainable
At one level, the status quo represents an acceptable compromise, or lesser evil. Bosniaks, and those Serbs and Croats who believe in a united Bosnia-Hercegovina, get at least the illusion of a united Bosnia-Hercegovina. They don’t get a real state, but they get a unified country that exists at least on paper. In return, those Serbs who don’t identify with Bosnia-Hercegovina get an entity with most of the attributes of statehood, but without the full right to secede. Those Croats who don’t identify with Bosnia-Hercegovina are perhaps the least satisfied, but they aren’t strong enough unilaterally to change the system. The status quo, some might feel, is better than any alternatives. However, there is reason to believe that it is unsustainable.
Continue reading at Krug 99
This is a guest post by Amila Jasarevic of Amila Bosnae
On the morning of 26 May 2011, the Serbian Security Intelligence Agency arrested General Ratko Mladić. When the news first broke, it said that a man believed to be Mladić had been arrested, and that the authorities were verifying his identity. Nobody really believed it, until the President of Serbia, Boris Tadić, confirmed in a press conference that the arrested man was indeed Mladić.
My news feed on Facebook literally exploded with the news. Articles from the world press were being passed around, the news spreading like a multilingual wildfire. Europe’s Most Wanted criminal finally arrested, after 16 years on the run.
But how much “on the run” was he, really? And why on that day ? What is so different today from the previous sixteen years?
Ratko Mladić was the Chief of Staff in the army of the self-proclaimed Republika Srpska on the territory of Bosnia-Herzegovina. He was first indicted with war crimes on 24 July 1995, roughly ten days after occupying the east Bosnian town of Srebrenica and giving orders for the worst massacre in Europe since the Second World War. More than 8,000 civilians, mostly men and boys, were executed under his orders. Before that, he had been in charge of the siege of Sarajevo, the longest siege in recorded history. The siege was merciless and inhumane, and more than 10,000 Sarajevans lost their lives.
Yet, up until 2001, Mladić was living and moving freely in Serbia. He was seen at football matches and dining in fashionable restaurants. He was even drawing an army pension from Belgrade until the end of 2005. More than once the media reported how “special forces” were on his track, but nothing ever happened. That’s why it was so hard to believe the news when it happened.
Shortly after the news of Mladić’s arrest went viral, I saw a status update on Facebook saying that just like Croatia paid for its EU candidature with Gotovina (which also happens to mean “cash”), Serbia is paying with Mladić. Ante Gotovina was a Lieutenant General in the Croatian army, who was extradited to the Hague in 2005. Last month he was sentenced by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia to 24 years in prison for war crimes.
The witty status update is not to be dismissed as merely a conspiracy theory. The notion that the move is motivated by political interests isn’t that far-fetched. Because what is exactly different now than in the previous sixteen years? Has the EU put a stop to any more concessions to Serbia? Is it a coincidence that the arrest came as EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Catherine Ashton was in Belgrade to confer with top Serbian officials on their country’s road to the EU? Is it a coincidence it came just a couple of weeks before Chief Hague Prosecutor Serge Brammertz is to address the UN Security Council on Serbia’s cooperation with the court?
Member of the Bosnian collective Presidency, Željko Komšić, said to the news portal Sarajevo-X.com that today’s arrest is proof that the Serbian authorities have always known Mladić’s whereabouts, and that he is simply being traded in for a closer relationship with the EU.
I spoke with Hazim Rizvanović, 41, a survivor of Mladić’s attack on Srebrenica. At the time he was active in the defence of the city. He told me how Colonel Karremans, head of the UN force that was supposed to protect Srebrenica, on 10 July 1995 – the eve of the massacre – told the Bosnian defence not to advance on Mladić’s troops, because international forces were going to air bomb their tanks. The next day, he says, a few bombs were dropped on a little brook well off from any tanks, and Mladić simply marched into town.
When he heard about the arrest, Rizvanović didn’t know whether to believe the report or not, as there have been so many political games involving Mladić and his arrest. “My opinion as an ordinary man is that they’ve always known where he was, all the intelligence agencies. This was just a matter of waiting it out to exchange him for the best possible deal with the EU. Time will tell what they ended up getting for him,” he told me over the phone from Denmark, where he has been residing since 2000. “I don’t expect anything from the court in the Hague, certainly not any new details on who else had their hands in the genocide in Srebrenica or who stopped the defence of the enclave. I haven’t had any expectations since the courts kept records away from the public in the case Bosnia-Herzegovina vs. Serbia, resulting in Bosnia losing the case.”
Marko Attila Hoare, 38, author of three books about Bosnia and long-time observer and commentator on the situation in the Balkans, points out that we don’t know when the planing of today’s operation began and how long the Serbian authorities have known where Mladić was hiding. However, he too wonders why the arrest came when it did. “As I see it”, he wrote to me, “the Serbian establishment has long been divided between those who wanted to see him (Mladić) arrested – particularly among liberal politicians and intellectuals – because they want Serbia to join the EU, and those elements in the army and security services who have protected him, supported by the nationalists. So, the arrest suggests to me that there has been a subtle shift in the balance of forces, in favour of the liberal elements.”
When I asked him what he expected would happen in Serbia and Bosnia in the days that followed, he said “Nothing much… Most ordinary citizens don’t care about Mladić, and aren’t going to protest… There may be the usual protests by the minority of hard-liners, led by the Radicals and other such far-right elements, but this will have no effect on politics. As for Bosnia, nothing will change either; Dodik [President of Republika Srpska] will continue his long-term secessionist drive.”
It is a sad outlook that nothing will change, but probably a realistic one. Many years have passed since Mladić ordered massacres wherever he went, and those years have left a trail of disillusionment.
Sarah Correia, 36, a researcher in Political Science, is currently studying the memory of war in Bosnia and what it tells about the political situation in the country. On the morning of Mladić’s arrest, she went to a commemoration at the concentration camp Trnopolje in the north-west of Bosnia, set up for the non-Serb population. The region has been all but completely ethnically cleansed of non-Serbs. “There I could see in people’s faces the pain,” Correia writes. After returning to the near-by town of Kozarac, she heard the news. “Tears in everyone’s eyes, not so much of joy, but of surprise… a feeling of disbelief, that a moment in which nobody believed had come at last,” she says about that moment. But after the initial disbelief and joy, people just went back to going about their business, like nothing had happened. What could they expect? The very camp they visited this morning is now a school, just like it was before it was used to imprison and murder civilians. There is a monument in front of it, Sarah told me, but it’s not to the victims – it’s for some Serb soldiers who had fallen somewhere else. Memory of war is not just personal, it is a commodity fought over, manipulated and used on the political scene.
Not unlike war criminals, probably.
This is a guest post by David Pettigrew
The arrest of General Ratko Mladić is a profoundly important step on the long path to justice for the victims and the survivors of the genocide against Bosnia’s Muslims (Bošniaks) that was perpetrated from 1992 to 1995 by Serbian and Bosnian Serb forces. However, the expectation that Mladić’s arrest will “close a chapter” –as stated by Serbian President Tadić– on the war of aggression, or open a “new chapter” for Serbia, fails to recognize that Mladić’s genocidal legacy lives on in the form of the political entity known as Republika Srpska.
Between 1991 and 1992 Radovan Karadžić’s nationalistic Serbian Democratic Party brought about the creation of Republika Srpska in response to the fact that Bosnia and Herzegovina was preparing a referendum on independence as a multicultural nation. The name Republika Srpska literally means a Republic of or for Serbs. Unfortunately, the area in which this “Republic for Serbs” was declared was within the borders of Bosnia and included eastern Bosnia where the Bošniaks constituted, in most locations, the majority of the inhabitants. The creation of Republika Srpska was to entail the forcible displacement of the Bošniaks from within its self-declared territory through terror, rape, and murder, which in some cases included wanton mass murder. In July 1995 alone, over 8,000 men and boys were murdered at Srebrenica in an act that has been declared genocide by two international courts.
Srebrenica was not the only place where Bošniaks were targeted as such and murdered en masse. Additional atrocities and murders occurred throughout eastern Bosnia, between 1992 and 1995 in towns such as Višegrad. On two separate occasions in June of 1992 (on Pionirska Street and in the Bikavac neighborhood) women and children were forced into houses that were set on fire. They perished in the flames. Further, an estimated 3,000 were murdered on and around the Ottoman bridge in Višegrad and thrown into the Drina River. In August of 2010 I accompanied the Bosnian government’s exhumation team to Višegrad. Work on a nearby dam caused the river level to drop and it was finally possible to exhume the bones of the victims from the riverbed. We found the remains of many of the victims and identification is in progress.
In addition, hundreds of villages in eastern Bosnia were destroyed as part of the Bosnian Serb strategy, making return and repopulation by the Bošniaks virtually impossible. Approximately 1,000 mosques were destroyed in Republika Srpska, and in some cases, Serbian Orthodox churches were constructed directly upon the ruins. In one case, a Serbian Orthodox church was constructed on a Bošniak woman’s land without her permission and it still remains to this day. More than 350 mass graves that hold the remains of the Bošniak victims have been discovered within Republika Srpska. The perpetrators tried to hide their crimes by moving the remains to new locations. In the process, the bodies were dismembered, making the process of exhumation and identification tragically difficult.
Indisputably, the entity Republika Srpska was founded upon a genocidal ideology, maintained through the barbarity of genocidal acts and ultimately legitimized by the Dayton Peace Accords 1995. The surviving founding members of Republika Srpska, Radovan Karadžić, Biljana Plavšić, and Momčilo Krajišnik, are either on trial –having been charged with genocide, crimes against humanity, and violations of the laws and customs of war– or have already been convicted and sentenced for their role in the war crimes. However, the current President of Republika Srpska, Milorad Dodik denies the genocide at Srebrenica and speaks openly of secession from Bosnia. In other words, in spite of the arrest of Mladić, Republika Srpska continues to be, for Bosnia’s Muslims, a dehumanizing zone of exclusion. Mladić’s legacy –Republika Srpska– remains intact.
One of Ambassador Richard Holbrooke’s greatest regrets, as the architect of the Dayton Peace Accords, was the recognition and the naming of Republika Srpska. He feared throughout the process that such recognition and such a name would legitimize –if not reward– their genocidal aggression. Hence, to do justice to victims of the genocide against the Bošniak civilians (Bosnian Muslims), the arrest of Mladić must serve as a reminder to the European and international diplomatic community that it is time to reunify Bosnia through constitutional reform. It is indeed unseemly for President Tadić to reduce Mladić’s arrest to the final step in Serbia’s strategy for its entrance to the European Union. The Copenhagen Criteria of 1993 call for those seeking membership in the European Union to respect human rights and the rule of law not only in their own countries but also in association with others. Serbia must now be called upon to denounce President Dodik’s rhetoric of genocide denial and secession and to fully support the reunification of Bosnia.
David Pettigrew, PhD, is Professor of Philosophy at Southern CT State University in New Haven, CT. His report on the exhumations in Višegrad can be found on his website.
Milorad Dodik, the prime minister of Bosnia-Hercegovina’s Serb entity – the Serb Republic or Republika Srpska (RS) – is openly pursuing a policy of secession. Dodik, who is currently running for president of the RS in an election due to take place on 3 October, recently stated that ‘Bosnia is an impossible country, many of you know that better than I do. It has no common history. It has a history of divisions’ – divisions, indeed, that Dodik’s regime is seeking to deepen. Parallel to this, across the border in Serbia, the Muslim/Bosniak-majority region of Sandzak is being described as the ‘Balkans’ latest hot spot.’ There, the more militant elements, led by the Sandzak Mufti Muamer Zukorlic, are demanding autonomy for the region. Serbia’s President Boris Tadic supports Dodik’s secessionist regime and his presidential bid; he recently attended an pre-election rally in the RS town of Doboj, where he described Dodik’s Alliance of Independent Social Democrats as ‘friends who best lead the RS’. Yet if Dodik succeeds in his goal of breaking up Bosnia, which given Western complaisance and Bosniak passivity he may well do, there may be repercussions in Serbia and elsewhere that Tadic might not find so welcome.
During the wars in Croatia and Bosnia in the 1990s, supporters of the Great Serbian cause would frequently pose a specious rhetorical question: if Croatia and Bosnia (or ‘the Muslims’) were allowed to secede from Yugoslavia, why were the Serb populations of Croatia and Bosnia not similarly allowed to secede from them ? They would pose it as if it were a clinching argument for their case, then would be surprised by how easily it was answered: the Serb populations of Croatia and Bosnia were not equivalent to the Republics of Croatia and Bosnia-Hercegovina; rather, it was the Republic of Serbia that was equivalent to the latter, and its right to self-determination was not contested. The Serb populations of Croatia and Bosnia were broadly equivalent to groups such as the Croat population of Bosnia, the Muslim/Bosniak and Hungarian populations of Serbia or the Albanian population of Macedonia, and none of these groups has had its right to secession recognised by the international community.
Indeed, the only such group that has been granted any degree of territorial autonomy under the existing order in the Balkans is the Bosnian Serbs, who possess their own entity, the ‘Republika Srpska’ or Serb Republic, enjoying most of the attributes of statehood. This contrasts with the treatment meted out to the Bosnian Croats, whose own para-state entity – the self-proclaimed ‘Croat Republic of Herceg-Bosna’ – was dismantled following the Washington Agreement of 1994 and the Dayton Agreement of 1995, to the intense annoyance of the Bosnian Croat nationalists. Despite the fact that Serb nationalists, alone of all the nationalists of the former Yugoslavia, have been allowed to carve out a wholly new autonomous entity on the territory of an existing state, the discourse of Serb victimhood continues to paint the Serbs as the perpetual victims of a global anti-Serb conspiracy.
Under Dodik’s leadership, Bosnian Serb nationalists are not resting content with having obtained an entity of their own encompassing a disproportionately large share of Bosnian territory (49% for a Serb nationality that made up 31% of Bosnia’s pre-1992 population), but are aiming at full independence. The ground for this may be prepared with a referendum, and Dodik recently stated that ‘I am convinced a day will come for the Serbian people to decide on their status in a referendum, the status of the RS within Bosnia.’ Yet Dodik is aware that a premature declaration of independence could provoke an international and Bosniak reaction that could prove his and the RS’s undoing. Serb nationalists have a long history of pursuing self-defeating strategies dictated by emotion and bloody-mindedness rather than cool calculation, but Dodik appears cleverer than most. While keeping the secessionist fire burning through his bellicose rhetoric, he is going about achieving his goal in a gradual, piecemeal manner. As he stated recently, ‘We are not adventurists; we shall move carefully.’
Thus, on 14 September, the RS parliament passed a law unilaterally transferring all pre-1992 Bosnian state property located on the territory of the RS to the ownership of the RS. The international community expressed only weak dissent at this act of plunder, with the Peace Implementation Council, the body charged with the overseeing of the international administration in Bosnia, merely stating that it would delay Bosnia’s Euro-Atlantic integration – not a threat likely to impress the pro-Russian Dodik.
Then, on 17 September, Dodik’s government ordered a plan to be drawn up for the demarcation of the Inter-Entity Boundary Line (IEBL) that separates the RS from Bosnia’s other entity, the Federation of Bosnia-Hercegovina. This threatens a serious violation of the Dayton Agreement, which stipulated that adjustments of the IEBL must be carried out with the agreement of both entities, under the supervision of the international military force. A unilateral assertion by the RS of its border vis-a-vis the Federation would be a significant further step toward an independent RS, as well as a potentially dangerous provocation to the Bosniaks and to neighbouring Croatia, whose previous president, Stjepan Mesic, threatened to intervene militarily to prevent the RS’s secession.
Dodik has justified his secessionist drive with reference to Kosovo’s secession from Serbia, and the ICJ’s ruling in July that the secession was not illegal. He commented at the time that the ICJ’s opinion could serve as a ‘guideline for our struggle for the status and the future’ of Republika Srpska; ‘For quite some time, we have not been happy to be a part of Bosnia-Herzegovina….we will not exclude the possibility of additional political struggle for status which, in line with this opinion, would not be in contradiction with international law.’ Such arguments are disingenuous; the Bosnian Serb nationalists seceded from Bosnia and declared their independence already in 1992, long before the West embraced Kosovo’s independence.
In fact, the Western recognition of Kosovo’s independence, however Dodik may use it as a pretext, represented merely the natural culmination of the established policy of the international community, which recognised the right to self-determination of all former members of the socialist federations of the USSR, Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia. Kosovo was a member of the former Yugoslav federation in its own right, and though it was also part of the Socialist Republic of Serbia, it had most of the attributes of a separate republic. By contrast, the West has not recognised the right to independence of the Albanian communities of Macedonia, Montenegro or Serbia proper. If Dodik does succeed in effecting the RS’s secession, this will bring the international community into uncharted waters.
This brings us back to the Sandzak, whose radical Mufti Muamer Zukorlic has stated that the region’s autonomy from Serbia is an ‘inevitable social process’. This does not represent a wise policy; Serbia is potentially a stable and prosperous state, and the Sandzak Bosniaks will be better off as an integral part of it than as some form of distinct entity. Nor will Serbia be likely to countenance Sandzak’s autonomy, given the justified suspicion that this will be merely a stepping stone toward full independence. Violence and repression will be the likely Serbian response to any autonomist move on the part of the Sandzak Bosniaks, who are likely to come out worst from the confrontation. Yet if Bosnia’s Serbs are permitted the right to secede, then there are no possible grounds for denying a similar right to Serbia’s Bosniaks. Even if the international community acquiesces in the Serbian double-standard, and denies the Sandzak Bosniaks a right that the Bosnian Serbs have acquired, this will have a radicalising effect on the Sandzak Bosniaks.
The current dividing line in Sandzak’s politics is between Zukorlic’s radicals, who look toward the Sarajevo and the Bosniaks of Bosnia, and the more moderate elements who favour integration in Serbia and look toward Belgrade. The break up of Bosnia would strengthen the hand of the former against the latter. Zukorlic has warned that the tensions in the Sandzak could erupt into violence, and there is no reason not to take him seriously. Nor would any such instability be confined to Serbia. The historical Sandzak region was partitioned at the end of World War II between Serbia and Montenegro, and a large Bosniak/Muslim population remains across the border in the Montenegrin part of Sandzak. This, too, is an area to which instability could spread. As Zukorlic has stated, ‘The Sandzak is divided between two states, and the concept of cross-border autonomy is something that should be a platform for negotiation. Certainly all specificities must be taken into consideration – Sandzakian, Serbian and Montenegrin.’
Should the RS’s secessionism trigger a counter-secessionism among the Sandzak Bosniaks, sparking a conflagration in Serbia that spreads to Montenegro, it could serve as a catalyst to a further counter-secessionist movement among the Albanian communities of south Serbia, Montenegro and Macedonia, not all of whom are by any means content with the existing territorial status quo. Not to mention encourage further Serbian efforts to redraw international borders – at the expense of Kosovo, and possibly of Montenegro and Macedonia as well.
Support for the right to self-determination does not imply support for each and every irredentist claim. Had Serbia’s leadership in the early 1990s, which claimed to champion the national rights of the Serbs in Croatia and Bosnia, been genuinely interested in the principle of self-determination, it would have recognised that this principle could not be practised through the redrawing of borders between the constituent Yugoslav republics. For all three of the principal states at the heart of the Yugoslav question – Croatia, Bosnia and Serbia – had multiethnic populations that could not be neatly divided along territorial lines into homogenous territories of Croats, Bosniaks and Serbs, and any attempt to do so would simply create more problems than it solved. The borders were drawn where they were between these states by the post-war Yugoslav regime for a reason, and it is a great pity that certain fools in the West were hoodwinked by the Milosevic regime’s propaganda into believing that everything could be solved by certain ‘border corrections’ that just happened to hand over a much larger share of territory to that regime and its proxies. Today, with Dodik’s dangerous secessionist game, we are paying the price for acquiescing in Bosnian Serb irredentist claims, through Dayton back in 1995. It is time that we stopped acquiescing, before we allow yet another Balkan disaster to unfold.
This article was published today on the website of the Henry Jackson Society.
Hat tips: Sarah Correia, Andras Riedlmayer and one other friend who asked not to be named.
The bile of the new champions of colonialism was flowing freely last week after the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruled that Kosovo’s declaration of independence did not violate international law. The New York Times‘s Dan Bilefsky referred opaquely to ‘legal experts’ and ‘analysts’ who warned that the ruling could be ‘seized upon by secessionist movements as a pretext to declare independence in territories as diverse as Northern Cyprus, Somaliland, Nagorno-Karabakh, South Ossetia, Abkhazia, Transnistria and the Basque region.’ The ‘legal experts’ and ‘analysts’ in question remain conveniently unnamed, though they are clearly not very ‘expert’, since if they were, they would presumably have known that most of those territories have already declared independence. The Guardian‘s Simon Tisdall claimed that the ICJ’s ruling would be welcomed by ‘separatists, secessionists and splittists from Taiwan, Xinjiang and Somaliland to Sri Lanka, Georgia and the West Country’, leading one to wonder what the difference is between a ‘separatist’, a ‘secessionist’ and a ‘splittist’.
Let’s get this straight. No democratic state has anything to fear from ‘separatism’, and anyone who does fear ‘separatism’ is no democrat. I am English and British, and I do not particularly want the United Kingdom to break up. But I am not exactly shaking in fear at the prospect of the ICJ’s ruling encouraging the Scots, Welsh or Northern Irish to break away. And if any of these peoples were to secede, I’d wish them well, because I am a democrat, not a national chauvinist. The Cassandras bewailing the ICJ’s ruling are simply expressing a traditional colonialist mindset, which sees it as the natural order of things for powerful, predatory nations to keep enslaved smaller, weaker ones, and an enormous affront if the latter should be unwilling to bow down and kiss the jackboots of their unwanted masters. Can’t those uppity natives learn their place ?!
The Western democratic order, and indeed the international order as a whole, is founded upon national separatism. The world’s most powerful state and democracy, the United States of America, was of course born from a separatist (or possibly a secessionist or splittist) revolt and unilateral declaration of independence from the British empire. The American separatist revolt was sparked by resistance to British-imposed taxes without representation, which seem a less serious grievance than the sort of mass murder and ethnic cleansing to which the Kosovo Albanians were subjected by Serbia. Most European states at one time or another seceded from a larger entity: roughly in chronological order, these have been Switzerland, Sweden, the Netherlands, Portugal, Greece, Belgium, Luxemburg, Serbia, Montenegro, Romania, Norway, Bulgaria, Albania, Poland, Finland, Czechoslovakia, Ireland, Iceland, Cyprus, Malta, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Ukraine, Belarus, Slovenia, Croatia, Macedonia, Bosnia-Hercegovina, Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Montenegro (for the second time). No doubt Northern Cyprus, Somaliland, Transnistria etc. drew some inspiration from this long separatist success story.
Serbia itself has a proud separatist tradition, going back at least as far as the First Serbian Uprising of 1804, when the separatist leader Karadjordje Petrovic attempted to bring about the country’s unilateral secession from the Ottoman Empire. Some might argue that the eventual international acceptance of Serbia’s independence in 1878 was not unilateral, since it was brought about by the Treaty of Berlin to which the Ottoman Empire was a signatory. But this is disingenuous, since the Ottomans only accepted Serbia’s independence after they had – not for the first time – been brutally crushed in war by Russia. Undoubtedly, were Serbia to be subjected to the sort of external violent coercion to which the Ottoman Empire was repeatedly subjected by the European powers during the nineteenth century, it would rapidly accept Kosovo’s independence. Let us not pretend that bilateral or multilateral declarations of independence hold the moral high ground vis-a-vis unilateral ones – they simply reflect a difference balance in power politics.
As an independent state from 1878, Serbia left the ranks of the unfree nations and joined the predators, brutally conquering present-day Kosovo and Macedonia in the Balkan Wars of 1912-1913, thereby flagrantly violating the right of the Albanian and Macedonian peoples to determine their own future in the manner that the people of Serbia already had. In 1918, Serbia became hegemon of the mini-empire of Yugoslavia. So ‘separatist’ became a dirty word for Serbian nationalists who, in their craving to rule over foreign lands and peoples, conveniently forgot how their own national state had come into being. Nevertheless, it was Serbia under the leadership of Slobodan Milosevic whose policy of seceding from Yugoslavia from 1990 resulted in the break-up of that multinational state: Serbia’s new constitution of September 1990 declared the ‘sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity of the Republic of Serbia’ – nearly a year before Croatia and Slovenia declared independence from Yugoslavia. This would have been less problematic if Milosevic’s Serbia had not sought to take large slices of neighbouring republics with it as it set about asserting its own, Serbian national sovereignty from the former multinational Yugoslav federation.
So, plenty of precedents from which separatists, secessionists, splittists and the like could have drawn inspiration, long before the ICJ’s ruling on Kosovo. Why, then, the international disquiet at the verdict ? The simple answer is that the disquiet is felt by brutal or undemocratic states that oppress their own subject peoples, and wish to continue to do so without fear that their disgraceful behaviour might eventually result in territorial loss. Thus, among the states that oppose Kosovo’s independence are China, Iran, Sudan, Morocco, Sri Lanka, Indonesia and India, all of them brutally oppressing subject peoples or territories and/or attempting to hold on to ill-gotten conquests – Xinjiang, Tibet, the Ahwazi Arabs, Darfur, Western Sahara, the Tamils, West Papua, Kashmir, etc. At a more moderate level, Spain opposes Kosovo’s independence because it fears a precedent that Catalonia or the Basque Country could follow. Spain is a democracy, but a flawed one; its unwillingness to recognise the right to self-determination of the Catalans and Basques echoes the policy pursued by the dictator Francisco Franco, who brutally suppressed Catalan and Basque autonomy and culture following his victory in the Spanish Civil War. Likewise, Romania and Slovakia are crude and immature new democracies with ruling elites that mistreat their Hungarian minorities and identify with Serbia on an anti-minority basis.
Of course, states such as these will not be happy that an oppressed territory like Kosovo has succeeded in breaking away from its colonial master. But this is an additional reason for democrats to celebrate the ICJ’s decision: it should serve as a warning to states that oppress subject peoples or territories, that the international community’s tolerance of their bad behaviour and support for their territorial integrity may have its limits. Thus, a tyrannical state cannot necessarily brutally oppress a subject people, then bleat sanctimoniously about ‘international law’ and ‘territorial integrity’ when its oppression spawns a separatist movement that wins international acceptance: it may find that international law will not uphold its territorial integrity. Serbia’s loss of Kosovo should serve as an example to all such states.
Of course, there are states, such as Georgia and Cyprus, whose fear of territorial loss is legitimate. But in this case, the problem they are facing is not separatism so much as foreign aggression and territorial conquest. The ‘secession’ of Abkhazia and South Ossetia from Georgia was really the so-far-successful attempt by Georgia’s colonial master – Russia – to punish Georgia for its move toward independence, and exert continued control over it, by breaking off bits of its territory. Georgia was the state that was seeking national independence – from the Soviet Union and Russian domination – while the Abkhazian and South Ossetian separatists were the ones wanting to remain subject to the colonial master. In Abkhazia, it was the ethnic Georgians who formed a large plurality of the population, being two and a half times more numerous than the ethnic Abkhaz – any genuinely democratic plebiscite carried out before the massive Russian-backed ethnic cleansing of the 1990s would most likely have resulted in Abkhazia voting to remain in Georgia. South Ossetia might have a better demographic case for independence, thought not as strong as the larger and more populous republic of North Ossetia in Russia, whose independence, should it ever be declared, Moscow is unlikely to recognise. In the case of Northern Cyprus, the foreign aggression was more blatant still: there was no ‘Northern Cyprus’ until Turkey invaded the island of Cyprus in 1974, conquered over a third of it, expelled the Greek population and created an artificial ethnic-Turkish majority there. It is above all because of the reality of Russian and Turkish aggression against, and ethnic cleansing of, smaller and weaker peoples, that Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Northern Cyprus should not be treated as equivalent to Kosovo.
Milorad Dodik, the prime minister of Bosnia’s Serb Republic (Republika Srpska – RS), has suggested that the ICJ’s ruling on Kosovo opens the door to the potential secession of the RS. The RS is not a real country, but an entity created by genocide and massive ethnic cleansing; anyone who equates it with Kosovo is at best an ignoramus and at worst a moral idiot. Nevertheless, we sincerely hope that the RS’s leadership be inspired by the Kosovo precedent and attempt to secede – such an attempt would inevitably end in failure, and provide an opportunity for the Bosnians and the Western alliance to abolish the RS or at least massively reduce its autonomy vis-a-vis the the central Bosnian state, thereby rescuing Bosnia-Hercegovina from its current crisis and improving the prospects for long-term Balkan stability.
Finally, if the ICJ’s ruling on Kosovo really does inspire other unfree peoples to fight harder for their freedom, so much the better. As the US struggle for independence inspired fighters for national independence throughout the world during the nineteenth century, so may Kosovo’s example do so in the twenty first. May the tyrants and ethnic cleansers tremble, may the empires fall and may there be many more Kosovos to come.
This article was published today on the website of the Henry Jackson Society.
Outgoing Croatian president Stjepan Mesic earlier this month threatened to intervene militarily in the event that Bosnia’s Serb entity, Republika Srpska, attempts to secede and establish itself as an independent state. He was responding to repeated separatist noises on the part of the Republika Srpska’s aggressively nationalistic prime minister, Milorad Dodik, who makes no secret of his hostility to the state of Bosnia-Hercegovina and his designs against its territorial integrity, and whose atrocity denial and friendship for convicted war-criminals indicate a dangerous contempt for the norms of civilised behaviour. Mesic has warned that if Dodik announces a referendum on secession – as the first step toward the Republika Srpska’s unification with Serbia to form a ‘Great Serbia’ – he would send the Croatian Army south across the River Sava to cut in half the Bosnian Serb entity, which ‘would then have to disappear’. Yet the establishment of a Great Serbia is not the only danger about which Mesic has warned. He has highlighted also the possibility that, with Republika Srpska seceding and the Bosnian Croats following suit, it would leave behind an embittered Muslim rump-state, that ‘would find itself in a hostile surrounding, and would be able sustain itself only with the help of a fundamentalist regime.’ Consequently, ‘In the next 50 to 70 years there would be a new center of terrorism. It would be a new Palestine in the heart of Europe.’
German Ambassador to Sarajevo Joachim Schmidt is reported to have said that Mesic’s military threat ‘is not of help’. Yet it would not be left to Bosnia’s western neighbour to issue such a threat if the EU and US had not shown themselves to be quite so complacent in the face of Bosnia’s threatened collapse. Bosnia was lumbered with the unworkable and unsustainable Dayton settlement that ended its war in 1995. To sustain this unsustainable settlement, to make the unworkable work, required a powerful High Representative wielding authoritarian powers, backed up by a large international military presence. The Dayton system enjoyed its golden years in 2002-2006, when the Office of the High Representative (OHR) was held by the energetic Paddy Ashdown, and Bosnia superficially appeared to be making genuine strides towards reintegration. Yet the EU, naively believing that the farcical Dayton constitutional order could actually be made to function without massive outside interference, has since been rushing to wind down the OHR, and has withdrawn its support from Ashdown’s successors. With few international troops now remaining, the OHR has been left as a paper tiger, something that Dodik has taken advantage of to pursue his secessionist policy. It is as if a zoo-keeper had decided that, since his caged tiger had not eaten many people recently, it was now tame and could safely be let out of the cage, not realising that it was only because of the cage that the tiger appeared to be safe.
With the EU and US blithely fiddling while Bosnia burns, it has been left to the Croatian president to behave like a responsible European statesman, and make clear that the destruction of the international order in the Balkans will not be tolerated. Those condemning Mesic forget that his policy toward Bosnia is the exact opposite of that pursued by his predecessor, the chauvinistic tyrant Franjo Tudjman. Where Mesic defends a unified Bosnia, Tudjman joined with Serbia’s Slobodan Milosevic in attempting to destroy Bosnia and crush the Bosnian Muslims. And that is really the choice that Europe has, so far as Croatia is concerned: between a Croatia that upholds Bosnia, a la Mesic, and a Croatia that undermines Bosnia, a la Tudjman. It does not take a genius to realise that a Mesicite Croatia is preferable to a Tudjmanite Croatia.
Under Tudjman, Croatia was a corrupt and despotic state that sheltered war criminals, persecuted national minorities and undermined the territorial integrity of its Bosnian neighbour. The Tudjman regime represented a synthesis between the authoritarianism of the Croatian Communist ancien regime – whose child Tudjman himself was – and right-wing Croat emigre nationalism, combining the worst features of both. Yet since Tudjman’s death in 1999 and the electoral defeat of his Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) in 2000, Croatia appears definitely to have made the transition to becoming a democratic European state. Both Ivica Racan’s Social Democratic government, which took power in 2000, and the government of Ivo Sanader, who reconstituted the HDZ as a mainstream conservative party and took power in 2003, have guided Croatia down the democratic European path. Over them presided President Mesic, a reformed nationalist who honourably broke with Tudjman as early as 1994 over the latter’s Bosnian policy. These politicians redeemed Croatia in the 2000s from the disgrace brought upon it by Tudjman in the 1990s: they turned their back on anti-Bosnian Croat irredentism; refrained from pandering to neo-Ustasha sentiment; cooperated with the war-crimes tribunal in the Hague; put on trial war-criminals who persecuted Serb civilians in the 1990s; recognised the independence of Kosovo; and have brought Croatia into NATO and up to the gates of the EU. Croatia’s citizens should be as proud of their rulers’ record in the 2000s as they should be ashamed of their predecessors’ record in the 1990s. Of course, Croatia still faces huge problems of corruption and organised crime, but measured against where it would be now if Tudjman’s policies had been continued into the 2000s, the achievement is monumental.
With the election victory of the Social Democrat Ivo Josipovic in this month’s Croatian presidential election, Croatia has reaffirmed its democratic European path. His opponent in the presidential election, Milan Bandic, was a vulgar and corrupt populist who enjoyed the support of the nationalist emigration, of the better part of the clergy and of war-criminals such as Branimir Glavas and Tomislav Mercep. Bandic waged a red-baiting campagin directed against the Social Democrats on account of their Communist past – despite the fact that he too had been a member of the Communist party. Had he won the election, he would have become a Croatian Berlusconi. Yet Josipovic, a composer and law professor, crushed Bandic, winning 60.26% of the vote. Zivjela Hrvatska !
Josipovic is a civilised, non-nationalist individual who will serve to consolidate Croatia’s democratic transition and guard against any resurgence of Tudjman-style chauvinism. Yet there are indications that he lacks Mesic’s toughness. He has spoken of the possibility of withdrawing Croatia’s lawsuit against Serbia at the International Court of Justice; this would be an error, for although Croatia is unlikely to win the case, the verdict is highly likely to recognise Serbian war-crimes in Croatia in 1991-92, as it did in its judgement on Bosnia’s case against Serbia, when it recognised that ‘it is established by overwhelming evidence that massive killings in specific areas and detention camps throughout the territory of Bosnia and Herzegovina were perpetrated during the conflict’ and that ‘the victims were in large majority members of the protected group [the Muslims], which suggests that they may have been systematically targeted by the killings’, and that ‘it has been established by fully conclusive evidence that members of the protected group were systematically victims of massive mistreatment, beatings, rape and torture causing serious bodily and mental harm, during the conflict and, in particular, in the detention camps.’ Croatia can reasonably hope for a similar recognition of its people’s suffering in the early 1990s.
Josipovic has also distanced himself from Mesic’s threat to intervene militarily to prevent the Republika Srpska’s secession, saying ‘sending the Croatian Army to a neighbouring country for me is not an option’ and ‘problems must always be solved through negotiations and with the agreement of all interested parties’. The pacific sentiment is commendable; the naivete less so. The Western alliance, given its past record, cannot be relied upon to take action to prevent the Republika Srpska’s secession; if it does not, and if Croatia does not either, then one of two things might happen. The Bosniaks might be stupid enough not to respond militarily, on the grounds that ‘problems must always be solved through negotiations and with the agreement of all interested parties’, in which case Republika Srpska will become independent at the price of some token concessions to the Bosniaks. Or the Bosniaks might take military action alone, in which case the consequences cannot be predicted, but are unlikely to be good.
It is worth stating again the case against allowing Republika Srpska to secede: it would represent a violation of the right to self-determination of the nearly 50% of the territory’s population that was Bosniak and Croat before 1992, that was mostly ethnically cleansed during the war and that has not been able to return since Dayton; the quid pro quo for international recognition of the Republika Srpska’s existence, with a massively disproportionate share of Bosnia’s territory, was the Serb recognition of Bosnia’s unity and indivisibility, and if the Serbs cease to recognise Bosnian unity then nobody is under any obligation to recognise the Republika Srpska’s existence any longer; the secession of Republika Srpska and its eventual unification with Serbia would derail Serbia’s own democratisation, and send it back down the path of expansionism and regional troublemaking; if Bosnia is allowed to break up, it will create a precedent for the break up of Macedonia and the secession of the Macedonian Albanians to unite with Albania and form a Great Albania, with all the dangers that would bring; and finally, the elements responsible for the bloodbath of the 1990s must never be rewarded. For all these reasons, Republika Srpska should not be allowed to secede. It is for the Bosnian citizenry as a whole to decide whether Bosnia should be divided into separate Serb, Croat and Bosniak states or whether it should remain united as a single state; it is not for either of the Bosnian entities to decide this unilaterally.
A threat, such as Mesic’s, makes a war in the region less rather than more likely, since so long as it is plausible, it will serve to deter an act of secession that would at the very least greatly destabilise the Balkans, and that would most likely spark a new Serb-Bosniak war. Dodik may be ready to pursue a secessionist policy that will result in war if he only has to fight the Bosniaks; he will be much less likely to do so if he has to fight Croatia as well, because he would inevitably lose. Those, such as Germany’s Ambassador Schmidt, who would like to deter Croatia from promising to defend Bosnia militarily if necessary, are contributing to the likelihood of war in the Balkans. Rather than praising him for not doing so, we should do well to encourage Josipovic to adopt Mesic’s policy.
We have spoken of Croatia’s tremendous achievement in turning its back on the politics of the late Franjo Tudjman. Serbia, too, has made tremendous strides in its democratic transition, particularly since the victory of the pro-European parties in Serbia’s 2008 parliamentary elections. Serbia has become a fully democratic state, embraced the European path and put war-criminals on trial, and however misguided its attempt to retain Kosova might be, it is at least using judicial means that are within its rights. But in one respect in particular Serbia scores much lower than Croatia: it has not abandoned its nationalist paradigm vis-a-vis Bosnia. Whereas official Croatia today sees Bosnian unity as its national interest and refrains from promoting Bosnian Croat separatism, official Serbia continues to see its interest in undermining Bosnia and promoting the separateness of the Republika Srpska.
The day when Serbia sees its national interest as defending Bosnia’s unity and integrity from enemies such as Dodik, is the day when post-nationalist Serbia will truly have arrived.
This article was published today on the website of the Henry Jackson Society.
The Balkans are only a step away from normalisation, but it may be a step too far for Western policy-makers.
Normalisation for the Balkans would mean the region’s definite establishment as a set of functioning, democratic nation-states on the model of Western Europe; undivided by serious conflicts or live territorial disputes. The region’s national questions would be resolved, to the point that they would be as unlikely to spill over into large-scale bloodshed as the national questions of Belgium, Scotland or Catalonia. The Balkan states would all be integrated into the EU, and ideally NATO as well.
This is not an ambitious ideal, yet it is far from being realised. Regional progress is still being derailed by a series of conflicts of varying severity between the Balkan states. The Slovenian-Croatian border dispute for a while threatened to derail the entire region’s EU integration, though this appears to have been averted. Greek-Turkish rivalry over Cyprus, the Aegean Sea and other areas remains latent, something for which the anti-Turkish rhetoric on the part of candidates in the recent Greek parliamentary elections has served as a reminder. Both Turkey and Greece are problematic: the first is, under the leadership of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) in the process of developing a new regional role for itself, one that appears to be taking it closer to authoritarian and radical states like Russia, Iran and Syria; the second is pursuing a damaging regional policy, involving hostility to the fragile states of Macedonia and Kosovo. With its campaign against Macedonia, in particular, Greece is threatening the stability of a neighbouring state where relations between the majority Macedonians and minority Albanians are already dangerously unstable.
Meanwhile, the policies of Serbia and Serb nationalism remain the single greatest source of Balkan instability. Serbia is still failing to arrest war criminals indicted by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, thereby obstructing its own EU integration. But more dangerously, it is pursuing a dog-in-the-manger policy vis-a-vis Kosovo, preventing the newly independent state from consolidating itself and integrating itself properly into the international community. The Serbia-Kosovo dispute poisons regional relations; Belgrade recently rebuked Skopje for the latter’s agreement with Pristina to resolve the Macedonia-Kosovo border dispute.
The most intractable regional problem of all, however, remains Bosnia-Hercegovina. The state is saddled with the unworkable constitutional order imposed upon it by the Dayton Accords of 1995, ensuring that the state cannot function and must remain in a state of permanent political crisis. Bosnia’s recent exclusion, along with Albania, from the EU’s grant of visa liberalisation to the western Balkans, that was applied to Serbia, Macedonia and Montenegro, has further entrenched divisions in the country and the wider region. Milorad Dodik, prime minister of Bosnia’s Serb entity, the Republika Srpska, is openly pursuing Bosnia’s full dismemberment; the aggressive and provocative nature of his policy was recently highlighted by the warm welcome he extended to the convicted war-criminal Biljana Plavsic, following her early release from prison in Sweden.
These home-grown Balkan problems are being exacerbated by the policies of outside powers. The revanchist, neo-Soviet regime in Russia is aggressively backing Serbia over Kosovo, preventing the dispute from being resolved. By doing so, Moscow is not merely undermining Kosovo, but is undermining also Serbia’s own complete transition into a post-nationalist liberal democratic state. Moscow aims to keep the Balkans divided to prevent their full integration into the Euro-Atlantic framework. Hence, Dodik was looking to Moscow when he unilaterally withdrew Bosnian Serb soldiers from participation in NATO exercises in Georgia.
The second major external source of Balkan instability is the weak and vacillating policy of the EU, dominated as the latter is by the Franco-German axis. Germany is pursuing a pro-Russian policy that is making the new East Central European members of NATO and the EU very uncomfortable, while France continues to seek a dissident role in the Western alliance vis-a-vis the Anglo-Saxon powers. Hence, the EU’s muted reaction to the Georgian war; the crushing of Washington’s Georgian ally was not allowed to get in the way of growing EU-Russian collaboration. The Georgian war was facilitated by the Franco-German blocking of the grant of NATO Membership Action Plans to Georgia, along with Ukraine, in the spring of 2008. French President Nicolas Sarkozy, pursuing his Gaullist policy of Mediterranean union, sees fit also to support Greece against Macedonia.
Such an attitude on the part of the EU also involves toleration of Serbian trouble-making vis-a-vis Kosovo and Bosnia. The Netherlands is essentially isolated in its continued insistence that Serbia’s progress on EU accession be linked to its arrest of war criminals. The EU, for its part, would like to see the Office of the High Representative (OHR) for Bosnia closed. Yet the OHR has been the principal integrating force in Bosnia since 1995. Take away the OHR, and Bosnia moves another step toward full partition.
The EU’s resolve over the Balkans is further weakened by the activities of dissident members. No unified EU policy exists over Kosovo on account of the refusal of five EU members to recognise the new state – all for nationalistic reasons. Romania and Slovakia perceive a ‘separatist’ parallel between the Kosovo Albanians and their own maltreated Hungarian minorities. Likewise, Spain is obsessed with ‘separatist’ parallels of its own vis-a-vis Catalonia and the Basque Country. Greece and Cyprus are traditional allies of Serbia; Cyprus also equates Kosovo with Turkish-occupied Cyprus. None of these states’ reasons for opposing Kosovo’s independence are very noble, yet the EU has no means of compelling them to keep ranks with the majority; the EU therefore pursues the policy of the lowest common denominator.
Although the EU has been as an instrument for bringing nations together, its recent policies in the Balkans are having the opposite effect. The veto that EU members enjoy in relation to membership bids by aspiring members places a weapon in the hands of trouble-makers lucky enough to already be in the club. The Slovenian-Croatian border dispute was exacerbated by Ljubljana’s use of its veto against Croatia. Although Ljubljana threatened to use its veto to keep Croatia out of NATO as well, Washington quickly put a stop to this mischief. Unfortunately, the EU states are much less ready than the US to put pressure on their partners to cease misbehaviour, and though Ljubljana did eventually lift its veto, this was not before it had won concessions over the border dispute at Zagreb’s expense.
Still more destructive has been the EU’s exacerbation of the Greek-Macedonian dispute. Despite the thoroughly pre-democratic and chauvinistic nature of Greece’s campaign against Macedonia, EU members have been wholly unwilling to put pressure on Athens to change it. So, rather than the whole club forcing a badly behaved member to behave better, the policy of the trouble-maker is imposed on the whole. The bad apple poisons the whole basket; the tail wags the dog.
The structural factors underlying the EU’s damaging policies vis-a-vis the Balkans are likely to become worse in the years to come. The accession of new members will give more states vetoes to use against aspiring members. After joining the EU, Croatia may use its veto against Serbia. If Macedonia does back down to Athens, Albania might be encouraged to use its veto to keep Macedonia out of NATO, to extract concessions regarding the Albanian minority in Macedonia. For while both Croatia and Albania have pursued responsible regional policies over the past ten years, the EU is sending out to them the wrong signals: that bad behaviour brings dividends.
Meanwhile, the EU’s growing energy dependency on Russia is likely further to dampen the EU’s resolve to resist the mischief of Moscow and Belgrade in the Balkans. Russian plans to build the ‘North Stream’ gas pipeline direct to Germany, bypassing the former-Communist states of East Central Europe, will allow it to exert leverage over its neighbours without simultaneously punishing its German ally.
As the EU moves increasingly to accommodate a dangerous and hostile power, so it is alienating an important power that has long assisted Balkan stability. Paris and Berlin have made it very clear they do not wish to allow Turkey to join the EU. This has had the predictable result that Turkey is losing is faith in the possibility of a European future, and is turning increasingly toward Russia, Iran, Syria and other radical and anti-Western states. Turkey has made huge strides this decade in improving its human rights record, as required by its bid for EU membership. For the same reason, it has facilitated a resolution of the Cyprus dispute through its support for the 2004 Annan Plan. As the prize of EU membership moves further from its grasp, Ankara may backslide over both human rights and Cyprus as well. There are worrying signs that the pace of democratisation in Turkey is indeed slowing -such as the record fine recently imposed on Dogan Yayin Holding AS – Turkey’s largest media group and critical of the AKP government.
A hardening of Turkey’s stance on Cyprus could lead to the collapse of the Greek-Turkish rapprochement, further damaging the prospects for the Balkans’ normalisation. For all its human rights abuses, Turkey has been playing a constructive role in the region, as the ally of the weak and vulnerable states of Bosnia, Kosovo and Macedonia. We do not know what the full consequences would be if Turkey fully abandons its European moorings and goes off in a new direction. But at the very least, an authoritarian Turkey headed by an Islamic-populist regime on the border of the Balkans will not have a positive effect on the region.
Unfortunately, alongside Russia and the EU, there is a third external factor whose contribution to Balkan stability currently raises concerns: the Obama Administration in the US. The latter’s abandonment of the Bush Administration’s plans to base a missile-defence system in Poland and the Czech Republic, in order to appease Moscow in the hope of obtaining Russian support vis-a-vis Iran, is a worrying indication of US passivity vis-a-vis Europe and Russia. The capitulation amounts to a betrayal of the security of allies in order to appease a hostile power, with echoes of Cold-War-style sphere-of-influence politics. While it is too soon to press the panic button over Obama’s policy toward Eastern and South Eastern Europe, we should be very concerned if Obama goes any further down this path.
For all these internal and external problems facing the Balkans, the success stories and models for future success are close at hand. Romania and Bulgaria are far from model democracies, and have serious problems with corruption and organised crime. Yet neither has engaged in military aggression or seriously attempted territorial expansionism since joining the free world in 1989; both are members of the EU and NATO. Turkey and Greece, following their heavy military defeats in World War I and the Greco-Turkish War respectively, pursued an enlightened policy of rapprochement vis-a-vis one another, eschewing territorial expansionism. This rapprochement was only derailed by the outbreak of the Cyprus conflict from the 1950s, and later resumed: Greece today is a vocal champion of Turkey’s EU membership. Croatia, too, following its unsuccessful expansionist adventure in Bosnia in the first half of the 1990s has, since the death of Franjo Tudjman in 1999, abandoned expansionism to pursue a responsible regional policy and EU membership.
The key to turning aggressive, expansionist Balkan states into responsible members of the European family, therefore, is for the international community to shut off all avenues for their expansionism and keep them firmly confined within their own borders. With all due qualifications, this is the way it has been for Romania, Bulgaria, Turkey, Greece and Croatia. Where these states have been less than responsible – as, for example, in the case of Turkey vis-a-vis Cyprus or Greece vis-a-vis Macedonia – this has occurred when there have been insufficient limits placed on their ability to coerce neighbours.
The biggest source of instability in the Balkans remains the fact that, thanks to the weakness and vacillation of Western and above all EU policy, Serbia has not been firmly confined within its borders, despite its defeat in the wars of the 1990s. Instead, Belgrade continues to destabilise the neighbouring states of Kosovo and Bosnia. Its ability to do so means that Serbia – unlike Bulgaria, Romania, Croatia, Greece and to an extent Turkey – is unable to develop a post-expansionist state identity; one that does not revolve around territorial aspirations towards neighbouring states. This is bad above all for Serbia itself – the reason why it is still a long way from EU membership, despite being before the 1990s more prosperous, developed and liberal than either Romania or Bulgaria.
The problem is not, however, ultimately with Serbia itself. In parliamentary elections following Kosovo’s independence last year, the Serbian electorate handed victory to the pro-European rather than the hardline nationalist parties, revealing what little stomach it has for renewed confrontation over Kosovo. Belgrade has also played its trump card with its case against Kosovo’s independence before the International Court of Justice (ICJ), and there is every reason to believe that the Court will not rule in its favour, even leaving aside the strength of Kosovo’s case. The ICJ’s judges come from different countries and their verdict will likely represent some form of compromise rather than award outright victory to one side or the other. Anything less than a full victory for Belgrade will effectively be a defeat, ambiguity leaving the door open for more states to recognise Kosovo’s independence while plausibly claiming to do so legally. In other words, both in terms of its range of available strategies and in terms of the popular support it enjoys, Serbian expansionism vis-a-vis Kosovo is a broken reed. With the Kosovo Albanians enjoying a comfortable majority in their country, their ultimate ability to consolidate their state is assured.
The principal problem for the region is the Bosnian question, and the policy of the Western alliance toward it. Unlike for all the other Balkan regional problems, for Bosnia, stability will not come through persuading or coercing the states involved to accept reality or to reach a compromise. For Bosnia, it is the very legal status quo and ‘compromise’, born at Dayton in 1995, that is generating instability for the state and the region. The Dayton order provides a framework that is gradually enabling the Bosnian Serb separatists, currently headed by Dodik, to establish the Bosnian Serb entity as a de facto independent state while preparing the ground for formal secession. The Bosniaks will, however, go to war to prevent this happening. It is a moot point what the outcome of such a military confrontation would be, but it is not something to which we should look forward.
Bosnia remains, therefore, the weak foundation-stone of Balkan stability. Only the transformation of Bosnia into a functioning state, through the transfer of most state powers from the entities to the central government, will guarantee against the outbreak of a new Bosnian war, and provide a final and definite check to Serbia’s expansionism, forcing that state wholly onto the post-expansionist path and removing the principal obstacle to the region’s progress.
Unfortunately, with Western and particular EU policy being what it is at present, such a decisive step seems unlikely. The problems facing the Balkans are neither huge nor insurmountable, yet Western passivity and vacillation seem set to allow these small problems to turn into larger ones. The Balkans look set for a rocky road ahead.
This article was published today on the website of the Henry Jackson Society. A longer version was given as a presentation to the Sussex European Institute on 3 November, entitled ‘How far are the Balkans from normalisation ?’
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