Peaceful and stable Balkans - Do we expect too much?

Posted in Europe | 03-Jun-05

The International Institute for Middle-East and Balkan Studies (IFIMES) from Ljubljana, Slovenia has been regularly analyzing the events in the Middle East and the Balkans. Dr. Jožef Kunic, a member of the International Institute IFIMES and the president of the Slovenian Association for the International Relations (SDMO) and Slovenian defense minister in shadows is in his article 'PEACEFUL AND STABLE BALKANS – DO WE EXPECT TOO MUCH?' analyzing peacefulness and stability in the Balkans. We are hereby publishing his article in full.

Dr Jožef Kunic, Ambassador
President of the Slovenian Association for International Relations (SDMO) and member of the IFIMES International Institute and Slovenian defense minister in shadows

The Balkans, especially the part, which has in the late past been referred to as the Western Balkans, has been for the last six centuries, after the army of the Great Sultan Murat I defeated the Serbian army on the Kosovo field, the region of upheavals, clashes and wars, some of them having global effect. The First World War started in this area, some important battles took place there during the Second World War and, in the last decade of the previous century, bloody clashes occurred again there.

Unfortunately, the wars led by great or regional powers, always inflamed the old rancours, reopened the wounds which are not quickly healed and enhanced hatred between different groups. Tensions, which were the result of fierce activities during each war period, were predominantly ethnic or religious and this fact should not be underestimated.

There were no atrocities in the Western Balkans, however inside ethnic or religious groups. Inside those groups, trust has never been destroyed. Ethnic or religious links became even much stronger, more stable and consistent than any other links, for instance, allegiance to the region, the state or some political orientation.

It is easy to say, that the system of values will change, but it would take too much time. Changing the system of values, calming down the passions and forgetting the committed crimes is a very slow process which should in no case be interrupted with some other extreme political adventure. In such circumstances, the situation would become even worse than it was at the end of a previous adventure. After the Second World War, the wounds were deep. In the nineties of the previous century the wounds were reopened ad even deepened. The starting point at the beginning of this century was worse than it was sixty years ago.

Conditions for organized crime are flourishing. Trade with human beings, drugs and stolen cars is widespread. There are good conditions for other illegal activities. Nobody should be surprised if some international terrorist organizations find there a good place for their activities.

It was evident that the international community was surprised when Yugoslavia ceased to exist. The USA supported the unity of Yugoslavia, while some other states, for instance FRG, supported the recognition of the newly born states. France joined FRG, although reluctantly. After a period of uncertainty, the international community consolidated its strategies and activated itself to calm down the passions in the Balkans, to cease the clashes and to impose peace.

But stable and durable peace has not yet been achieved yet. The Balkans with its serious internal tensions can, in every moment, be embraced by new clashes. There is no fire, but smoke is smelt everywhere. Not much effort is needed to incite such clashes again. Just the withdrawal of the military control might be enough. Renewed conflicts would weaken all Europe. Neither war nor stability situation has direct consequences on the growth of popularity of the nationalistic parties and political groups.

International community needs a strong EU. In the EU recently became evident that there are significant cleavages, which were not well seen before. During the Iraq crisis the differences emerged between those, who thought that the UN should have played a greater role in this conflict and those who thought it was not necessary. So called New Europe played a significant role. New divisions were evident when the European constitution was discussed. We are the witnesses of "the crisis of trust, crisis of governing and crisis of the European spirit". We are witnessing of the ideas of two speed EU. Some countries are more pro-American, some are less. Some support the entry of Turkey into the EU, some are more reluctant. Whatever it means, it is far from the original European idea of trust, cooperation and mutual help, all based on consensual decisions. The program, by which the EU would become by the year 2010 the first world economic power, seems an unattainable dream.

Nobody wishes to see the instable Balkans as a trigger of eventual destabilization of the EU. The EU has already enough problems inside itself. To preserve a strong EU as it is needed by the world, a permanently stable and not momentarily peaceful Balkan area is needed.

To wait the Western Balkans to become a part of the EU, would take too much time. Geographically the Western Balkans are not far from the EU. In the long run, we can expect enhanced security to be achieved in the frame of the EU, but we need security as soon as possible, we need it now.

Security, however, can be guaranteed only in a stable democratic political system. There is no democracy, if the allegiance to an ethnic group of a candidate is more important than his program and the program of his party or political alliance. It is difficult to imagine the functioning of democracy without civil society, with strong ethnic connections and alliances. Real democracy is, unfortunately, at this moment in the West Balkans still impossible. Conditions for the democracy are not fulfilled.

Policy of small steps can be operational only in peace. It is absolutely necessary to maintain peace, even by force. Without peace forces the imbalances would be too great and many problems would arise. The important element of the strategy in Western Balkans should be insisting on peace. If violences occur, they should be stopped immediately.

The policy of the international community should have two components. Military – security and geopolitical.

Military and security policy should be based on absolute maintaining of peace and preventing any illegal activities and should be oriented against terrorist activities. It should be effectuated by international forces, if necessary. People should, at first, feel safe and only then they would become aware of stability and get confidence in their state.

The political component should be based on three elements. The international community should convince the population that the door into Euro-Atlantic structures remains open. It would diminish the feeling of being somehow excluded from the international community and it would raise hopes for conditions of prosperity and harmony. To convince the Balkan population, it is necessary to allow the EU Turkey and Croatia to enter. The entry of these two countries would have the double effect. It would show to the other countries of the Western Balkans that there is a real probability to become the member of the EU in not too distant future. On the other hand it would diminish the area of non-member countries, the EU borders would be closer to these countries with a positive spill-over effect.

In the Western Balkans, the economic situation is relatively weak. The international community, especially the EU, should do more to improve the living conditions of the population. Conditions of unemployment and poverty have negative impact on security and give way to a number of illegal activities.

The eternal dilemma in the Western Balkans has always been into what extent concede the right to self-determination to ethnic communities living in that region. As a matter of fact, the right to self-determination was always understood in the past as the right to conquer those territories that would historically or culturally belong to that ethnic community, what lead to many wars and conflicts and ideas of Great Serbia, Great Albania or Great Croatia. This is why many world politicians claimed that the borders of newly established countries in the Western Balkans should remain unchanged. The same standpoint was also taken by the Arbitration Committee, known as Badinter Committee. But tensions remain, and common life of all these ethnic communities remains illusory at present, which is also understandable. For instance, let us take the case of the French Revolution. Some historians claim that tensions among different groups smoothed down only after five generations. There are no reasons to believe that reconciliation among these ethnic groups, being involved in bitter fighting, would come sooner. »Standards before status« was the formula, which proved to be unrealistic. But we can not wait ages to establish truly democratic standards and equal respect for all individuals, and at the same time forget all traumas from the past.

Experiences from other countries and other regions with a different historical background and tradition can not be followed in the Western Balkans. This mistake has often been repeated by many countries with different political systems. But if a stable and durable peace is what should be attained, certain facts should be recognized even if these facts would, in some other circumstances, seem unacceptable.

It seems that the time has come when emphasis to the principles of self-determination should be given, under conditions of full respect of the rights of ethnic minorities and non- enlargement of the territories on the account of the other communities and, finally, under condition that all these changes should be attained in a regular and democratic way. Kiro Gligorov, the ex-president of Macedonia, recently stated that Macedonia would not oppose the independence of Kosovo under the condition that the present Macedonian borders remain unchanged. These are the words of one of the most prominent and experienced Balkan politicians. They should be listened to.

Ljubljana, June 2, 2005

International Institute for Middle-East and Balkan Studies (IFIMES) - Ljubljana

Bakhtyar Aljaf
Zijad Becirovic, M.Sc.