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New Series no.17/18 July - September 2000

Editorial:  Neighbours

Most of this double issue of Bosnia Report is devoted to two of Bosnia-Herzegovina's neighbours, Montenegro and Serbia. In the former case, we have given most space to a remarkable retrospective survey by the independent Podgorica weekly Monitor on the occasion of its 500th issue, both to remind our readers of a past that is still alive (especially in B-H) and to honour Monitor's tireless advocacy of an independent and democratic Montenegro living at peace with itself and its neighbours.

Progress over the past two years in the direction of such a Montenegro has been hampered by the country's own internal divisions; by EU and US policies characterized by timorous passivity and a tendency to confuse stability with the status quo; and above all by the constant threats and pressures emanating from Belgrade. For if Montenegro (in so far as it could) has now made itself the kind of neighbour that Bosnia-Herzegovina needs, Milosevic's Serbia remains a neighbour to fear for both states, as well as a menace to its own citizens. The powerful texts from within Serbia assembled and translated here, though disparate in approach and mood, all bear witness to the dimensions of the `problem of Serbia'. This is far more than that of a criminal and aggressive regime, since it embraces the country's sense of identity, its perception of its own past, its future geo-political role, and even its actual frontiers.

There is nothing like a disputed boundary to sour neighbourly relations. We live in a world of states, whose viability - their ability to function effectively and develop democratic structures internally, and to act consistently and with vigour internationally - depends upon control of their own territory and frontiers. This truth was repeatedly ignored by Western governments as they pursued policies of de facto ethnic separation (despite formal insistence on preserving frontiers) in relation to the successor states of the former Yugoslavia, encouraging Milosevic and Tudjman to pursue their expansionist dreams with the price being paid by their neighbours' and their own populations. The West's chosen negotiating partners at Dayton included those who had sought to destroy Bosnia-Herzegovina, while a legitimate and tolerant Republic was sacrificed there to ethnic para-states forged by war.

In the landmark decision of B-H's Constitutional Court signalled below (taken by three foreign and two Bosniak justices, outvoting two Croats and two Serbs), and in the recent tentative moves beyond Dayton in the crucial military field, reported here on page 40, perhaps the beginnings can be discerned of a fresh approach. Only when Bosnia-Herzegovina has functioning central institutions with proper authority over the national territory and its frontiers can it hope to be respected by its neighbours and the West hope for regional stability.

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