Notes from the Balkans

Notes from the Balkans

Mini Teaser: The United States should not balk at getting more deeply involved in the volatile Balkans: a well-crafted foreign policy could yield real results.

by Author(s): Gordon N. Bardos

Bosnia's Uncertain Future

THE SPILLOVER effects of Montenegro's independence referendum were immediately visible in its northern neighbor, Bosnia-Herzegovina. In 2006, eleven years after the signing of the Dayton Peace Accords, Bosnia had its most heated election campaign since the end of the country's civil war. Within days of the Montenegrin referendum, Milorad Dodik, the prime minister of the Republika Srpska (RS), the Serbian entity in Bosnia, aired the possibility of the Bosnian Serbs' holding their own referendum on independence if Bosniak politicians in Sarajevo continued their attacks on the legitimacy of the RS. Dodik's threats clearly struck a nerve among Bosnia's Serb population, as Dodik and his Independent Social Democratic Party scored a huge victory in Bosnia's October presidential and parliamentary elections, becoming by far the most important political force in the Serb half of Bosnia. Elections in the other half of Bosnia-Herzegovina, the Muslim-Croat Federation, produced minor political tremors of their own. Haris Silajdzic, the Bosnian-Muslim wartime prime minister, was elected to the tripartite state presidency after several years out of politics, while a Croat from Sarajevo, Zeljko Komsic, was elected as the Croat member of the presidency, apparently with the help of thousands of Muslim votes and without the support of Bosnia's leading Croat political parties.

Political tensions in Bosnia are sure to increase over the next few years as Dodik and Silajdzic-two sharp-tongued, strong-willed individuals-fight over their contrasting visions of Bosnia's future. There is clearly still no consensus among the peoples of Bosnia as to how their state should be organized or governed. Moreover, the intrusive role international actors play in Bosnia's domestic politics has often convinced Bosnia's Croat, Muslim and Serb political leaders that it is more important to gain the support of international officials than that of their fellow Bosnians. The perverse result has been the introduction of a negative dynamic into Bosnia's political life, preventing Bosnia's Croats, Muslims and Serbs from developing the habits of mutual trust, cooperation and compromise needed for the country to progress on its own, and absolving Bosnia's politicians of responsibility for the country's future.

Kosovo: Toward Independence?

OF ALL the problems facing southeastern Europe and the international community, the most difficult and potentially dangerous remains deciding Kosovo's future status, and despite Washington's protestations to the contrary, whatever is done in Kosovo is almost certain to have widespread ramifications, both throughout the Balkans and further afield. Putin has publicly warned that whatever happens in Kosovo could serve as a precedent for similar unresolved territorial conflicts in the post-Soviet space, especially in Georgia's breakaway provinces of South Ossetia and Abkhazia and in Moldova's Transnistria region, and Putin has specifically called for the application of "universal principles" to the Kosovo case. Many regional leaders, especially in Romania and Greece, have also raised concerns about plans to impose a solution that has not been agreed to by the two parties.

More immediately, however, whatever legal form Kosovo's future status takes, it will do little to resolve Kosovo's fundamental internal problems: extremely weak governmental capacity; a moribund economy with few serious opportunities for growth; pervasive corruption and organized crime; a fractionalized political system based on regional and clan loyalties and an intolerant nationalist xenophobia against non-Albanian ethnic communities that has produced the worst human-rights situation in Europe. In 2005, Kosovo registered negative economic growth, and a reduced international presence in Kosovo will only worsen economic conditions. Moreover, with half of Kosovo's population under the age of 26 (and one-third under the age of 17), the vast majority of whom account for the 50-60 percent of Kosovo's population that is officially unemployed, the potentially explosive social consequences of the situation are clear. Compounding all of these problems is the fact that Kosovo already has its own frozen conflict-the Serb enclave north of the Ibar River, anchored by the divided city of Mitrovica. Here, in territory adjoining Serbia proper, some 80,000 Serbs are practically more a part of Serbia than they are of Kosovo.

Macedonia after Kosovo

IN MANY ways, the political logic of Balkan nationalism-succinctly summed up in the saying, "Why should I be a minority in your state when you can be a minority in mine?"-suggests that Macedonia will have the most difficult time dealing with the new strategic environment in the southern Balkans if and when Kosovo is granted independence. With three million Albanians living in an independent state to its west and a further two million Albanians living in an independent state to its north, it is difficult to see why 500,000 Albanians in Macedonia will remain satisfied in a state in which they claim they are discriminated against and treated as second-class citizens.

Macedonia's parliamentary elections in July 2006 showed how fragile Macedonia remains five years after a civil war between Albanians and Macedonian Slavs was narrowly averted. When the right-of-center Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization-Democratic Party of Macedonian National Unity chose to invite a smaller Albanian party to join its ruling coalition in place of the largest Albanian political party in Macedonia, Ali Ahmeti's Democratic Union for Integration (DUI), Ahmeti's followers took to the streets, raising roadblocks in many parts of the country and boycotting parliament for months. On the other side of the ethnic divide, later in August, the Macedonian government again arrested an Orthodox cleric, Bishop Jovan Vranisevski, who had re-established ties with the Serbian Orthodox Church in Belgrade. Bishop Jovan, named a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International, has been subject to various forms of intimidation and harassment over the past several years, including being charged with "crimes" as petty as performing a baptism in his apartment. As these events suggest, Macedonia's social and political cohesion remains weak, and without strong international support it is doubtful that Macedonia would have the internal strength to weather the changes facing southeastern Europe in the coming years.

Stabilizing Serbia

ANY AMERICAN policymaker who has bemoaned the fact that Washington is a one-crisis-at-a-time town should have some sympathy for the problems confronting Belgrade politicians. As a result of Montenegro's declaration of independence, Serbia has involuntarily become an independent country, and a decision which grants Kosovo some form of independence will reduce its territory by a further 15 percent. Meanwhile, the EU has suspended talks with Belgrade because of its failure to apprehend Hague indictee Ratko Mladic, the former Bosnian Serb general held to be most responsible for the Srebrenica massacres in July 1995. And these are just the "big" problems; others, such as reforming the judicial and security sectors, providing for the largest refugee population in Europe, rebuilding an economy in which unemployment hovers at 30 percent-and which needs another decade to raise per capita GDP to 1989 levels-also remain to be solved.

In addition, trouble is brewing in the Sandzak region-a mainly Muslim area straddling the Serbia-Montenegro border and adjoining Bosnia to the north and Kosovo to the south. All the elements needed for a potential crisis are currently present in the Sandzak: increasingly violent conflicts within rival Sandzak Muslim political elites, an economic depression and a low but still palpable amount of ethnic tension between Muslims and Serbs in the area-all exacerbated by the small but highly visible presence of local Wahhabists, indoctrinated and financed by outside patrons.

Given these realities, what is noteworthy is not that reform in post-Milosevic Serbia has been slow, but that the post-Milosevic reform effort is making any progress at all. In many ways, however, the coming years will be the most severe test of Serbia's nascent democratic institutions, which is why there is an urgent need to rethink current U.S. and EU policy towards the country.

For the past several years, much of Washington's and Brussels's relations with Serbia-such as negotiations with the EU over a Stabilization and Association Agreement or Serbia's membership in NATO's Partnership for Peace-have been reduced to the fate of one man: Mladic. But while the morality of insisting on Mladic's arrest is unassailable, the consequences of freezing Serbia's Euro-Atlantic integration efforts because of one individual have become detrimental to long-term stability in the Balkans. As one op-ed contributor in The New York Times asked, "How important is Mladic's arrest balanced against the integration of eight million people in a region that badly needs stability?"1

In similar instances, Washington and Brussels have both shown greater understanding for the wider strategic issues at stake. In October 2005, the EU gave Croatia a green light to proceed with accession talks only days after International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) Chief Prosecutor Carla Del Ponte announced her disappointment with the Croatian government's lack of cooperation in the case of fugitive Hague indictee Ante Gotovina. Similarly, the ICTY is allowing another indicted war criminal, former-Kosovo Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj, to await trial from his home in Kosovo (despite the fact that Haradinaj has reportedly been intimidating and harassing potential witnesses against him) because of the belief that Haradinaj can reign in extremists in Kosovo. In both cases, larger strategic concerns have required that some unpleasant compromises be made between the just and the good. Washington, Brussels and the ICTY now confront the same situation with regard to Mladic. Fortunately, Washington made a good move in this direction at NATO's November summit in Riga when it agreed to invite Serbia (along with Bosnia-Herzegovina and Montenegro) to join the Partnership for Peace. The EU now needs to show similar pragmatism in supporting democratic forces in Serbia by restarting accession talks with Serbia as soon as possible.

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