New Balkan Beginnings?

The time when the Balkans can be on the back-burner in terms of policies is fast coming to an end. It’s no longer enough just to handle the crisis of the moment, but necessary to deliver a strategy for the entire region that is comprehensive, clear and credible.

For too long, the talk was mainly about devising an exit strategy for NATO, when the key task is really to develop an entry strategy for the European Union. Increasingly, there is the realisation that without such a strategy the tactics of dealing with the individual challenges from Macedonia to Bosnia will simply not succeed.

This might not be the best of times to talk about starting bringing new members into the European Union. There is a noticeable enlargement fatigue in many of the existing EU members. At the same time, it is obvious that several of the countries in the region are at a considerable distance from meeting the Copenhagen criteria of readiness for membership negotiations.

But ten years after the peace in Bosnia, and more than five years after the end of the war over Kosovo, it is as obvious that only European integration can bring the peoples of Southeaster Europe along the road of reconciliation as it once was for the peoples of France and Germany. It’s a leap into the unknown, for sure, but the unknown brings hope of something better, while the known unfortunately brings very little.

The recent report of the International Commission on the Balkans does recognize the necessity of both dealing with the painful and unresolved status issue of Kosovo and of devising a coherent European strategy for the region and sees the intimate link between the two. It’s only within the framework of the later that the former can be handled.

There are obvious risks in the Kosovo situation. At the moment we see the economy declining at the same time as frustration is building up. It makes little sense to make the UN the scapegoat – the UN mission was set up for failure when the key powers for years simply refused to deal with the status issues. As has happened before, the UN was ordered to implement a policy that just as well could have been devised by an ostrich as by the Security Council.

Seen in isolation, we might well be on our way towards setting up a failed state in Kosovo. There is talk of it as a centre of organized criminality, and in view of the absence of honest alternatives for the rapidly growing population this would hardly be surprising. The political system seems to be driven by an unhealthy tendency towards revenge for real or imagined events in the past.

Nevertheless, there aren’t very many other alternatives than to continue along the path of state-building in Kosovo, and in the view of the European perspectives of the region, the aim ought to be that Kosovo gets the its full independence as it enters the framework of interdependence of the European Union.

In the meantime, the present holding operation of the UN should be replaced by a more focused member state-building operation under the direction of the EU, although still with the authority of the UN.

There will also have to be a far more effective effort at integrating all the economies of the region – irrespectively of if they met the political criteria for become candidates for membership or not – with both each other and the European Union. The extension of the customs union of the EU to the entire region, certainly including also Kosovo, could be as positive for its economy as it proved to be for Turkey during an earlier stage of its road to Europe.

Serbia and Croatia remains the most significant countries of the region, and it is only to be hoped that their leaderships can sort out their remaining issues with the Hague war criminal tribunal so that both of them can proceed on their European paths. A customs union arrangement for the region would make the earlier membership of Croatia into more of a possibility than a problem for the region, and create better possibilities for Serbia to speed up its progress.

If Serbia and Croatia moves forward along a European path, this should easy the situation for Bosnia as well. As it approaches the 10th year anniversary of the Dayton agreement, it is high time to close down the Office of the High Representative and hand powers to the elected representatives of Bosnia, making them responsible also for the new constitutional deals that may be necessary to move the country towards its European destination.

There are no easy or fast solutions to the remaining issues on the table. But if Kosovo status issues and customs union arrangements are sorted out during the period of this European Commission and Parliament, a fast track for membership for those ready for it should be perfectly realistic during the coming five-year period.

It was in the summer of 1914 in the Balkans that a long period of relative prosperity and peace for Europe come to its end, and we entered the horrible 20th century of wars, dictatorships and genocide. It should be in the summer of 2004 – with perhaps the possibility of also most of the peoples of the Balkans having the possibility of electing their representatives to the European Parliament – that Europe can finally but those horrors behind itself.

It’s possible, but it requires far-sighted and determined policies – and it requires them now.

One Response to New Balkan Beginnings?

  1. Independent Montenegro skriver:

    Dear Mr Carl Bildt,

    First let me thank you for your personal and untiring efforts to help bring peace to the Balkans in the previous decade. As a citizen of the ex-Yugoslavia, I can assure you that this was very much appreciated during the dark days of war and sanctions.

    I have several important factual corrections to make regarding the recently released report of the International Commission on the Balkans led by Mr Amatto, which is available on .

    I hope that some adequate corrections in the report – in line with recommendations included below – will be made.

    Many thanks.

    Kind Regards

    Vladimir Pekic

    ISSUE No. 1. Page 54 and 57. Nebojsa Covic has been incorrectly identified as Deputy PM of Serbia and Montenegro. Vojislav Kostunica has been incorrectly identified as PM of Serbia and Montenegro, Miroljub Labus is not Deputy PM of Serbia and Montenegro, Boris Tadic is not the President of Serbia and Montenegro, etc…

    Correction: Mr Covic, Mr Kostunica, Mr Tadic, and Mr Labus are all government officials in the republic of Serbia only. They are not officials of the state union (as incorrectly identified in the commission’s report) and as such do not represent Montenegro.This mistake seems to indicate a bias by the Balkan Commission, which has included many more government and non-government sources from Serbia than from Montenegro, but has listed many officials from Serbia as representing both republics.
    Although the two republics are equal by status in the State Union, in fact, there are at least four times less interlocutors (including government officials) from Montenegro than from Serbia, referenced in the report.

    ISSUE No. 2. Page 26 The report states: ”The Montenegrin government’s policy of blocking the normal functioning of the Federation as a way to cause its disintegration should not be tolerated. It is up to the citizens of Serbia and Montenegro to decide on the future of their existing federation.” Even without going into the details of the statement, the terminology is wrong.

    Correction: The devil is in the detail. There is currently no federation. Using wrong terminology in a report of this caliber that pretends to resolve problems does not help resolve the issues.
    In some places the Commission does indeed mention the state union, but then it reverts to incorrect language and terms the country a federation whenever making important recommendations or analyses.
    The Federation of Yugoslavia existed until 2002. The Federation was transformed into the State Union of Serbia and Montenegro in 2003. Montenegro is not in a federation, as the federation has been rejected by the citizens of Montenegro as an inadequate solution several years ago. It is strange that the Commission should recommend that ”Montenegro should choose between a functional federation and functional separation by the autumn of 2006”.
    This is a false choice. The only possible choice is between the current flacid State Union and full independence. A federation has been discarded with the Belgrade Agreement that was mediated and verified by the EU in 2002.

    ISSUE No. 3. Page 18 Statement: ”An interesting point to emerge from the survey is that most Montenegrins oppose such a separation while the Serbian public is becoming less keen on retaining the present nonfunctional federation.”

    Correction: There is no such point emerging from the survey in the report, as no direct question on Montenegro’s separation from Serbia has been included in the survey attached to the report. The aforementioned statement seems to be an extremely loose and contrived interpretation of the results in Figure 11 (page 47) and Figure 22 (Page 53)
    In fact, it can be easily argued that Montenegrin citizens relate to their republic’s borders when asked questions about changing borders. Many Montenegrin citizens oppose changes of Montenegro’s borders (Figure 11) -, and not the borders of the State Union, due to a tendency from Belgrade to support separatism by Montenegrin Serbs in the republic’s northern areas.
    Also, when a redrawing of the borders is offered (as in Figure 22) as a question, with the possibility of large nationalities living in separate countries, this would mean a splitting of Montenegro (separation of Serbian north and Albanian coastal areas) – not of the state union – so it is also opposed.

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