bosnia report
New Series No: 19/20 October - December 2000
The end of the Balkans
by Janusz Bugajski

Janusz Bugajski

The End of The Balkans?

Guest lecture to Bosnian Institute Forum, 4 September 2000

At the start of the 1990s the term ‘Balkanization’ reentered our vocabulary. The pejorative ‘Balkan’ conceptual straightjacket conjures up endless and bloody ‘ethnic conflicts’, permanence of authoritarian regimes, rampant criminality, pervasive corruption and incurable economic backwardness. This image has suited two quite different parties. It has been used by the forces of nationalism, authoritarianism, criminality and ethnic division active in parts of the region to consolidate their positions, thwart democratic reform and forestall outside interference. At the same time, myopic policy makers in the West have tried to justify their inaction by assigning the countries of South Eastern Europe to the status of an incurable outsider. Domestic reformers and foreign sympathizers have had to struggle against both these powerful constituencies in their efforts to transform the region and propel it toward the European mainstream. These brief remarks are intended to suggest ways in which the area’s reality can be altered and the Balkan myth finally exorcized from political vocabulary.

Two phases of Western engagement in the 1990s

The uphill struggle of the Balkan states to complete their transition from communism to democracy has been greatly complicated by the wars of the Yugoslav succession Western policy toward the Balkans in the 1990s went through two distinct phases. The first phase involved a policy of containment and crisis management undertaken by the United Nations and the European Community/Union. The failed UNPROFOR mission in Bosnia-Herzegovina underscored the inability - or unwillingness - of the major European powers to deal directly with the sources of instability. The second phase involved direct American engagement, built upon a consensus within NATO, and was associated with the application of military force followed by peace enforcement. This policy was demonstrated in Bosnia-Herzegovina (since 1995) and in Kosova (since 1999).

The war over Kosova and the overwhelming reliance on American military capabilities helped to convince the EU states that a more intensive political and economic involvement was needed in the Balkans in order to both forestall further crises and provide a credible European counterpart to US military effort. As a result the South East European region came to be included a year ago in the EU-sponsored Stability Pact. The Pact’s first anniversary permits one to evaluate its successes and shortcomings. If the region is to become a stable and productive part of an expanding Europe, and the Balkans to cease to exist as a divisive political concept and pervasive political alibi, it is necessary to both address the failures of this policy and build upon its successes.

Territorial and political rivalries

This region’s insecurity stems from three main sets of issues: territorial and political rivalries; weak or unstable states; and externally generated isolation. Miloševic’s policies during the past decade have encouraged a series of crises and conflicts with the aim of reserving his grip on power. Unless his regime is replaced by a democratic and pro-European government, it will continue to fan unrest over a wider region. The Kosova crisis has been resolved, albeit only partially, by the NATO intervention, but Montenegro remains a site of battle between two conceptions of statehood and government. There are also other disputes that remain to be resolved, such as the future status of Vojvodina and the Sandjak.

Many policy makers assume that Kosova’s and Montenegro’s independence will destabilize the Balkans. They argue that this will ignite ethnic and territorial conflicts, in that the Montenegrin state will remain vulnerable to fragmentation caused by Serbian and Albanian militants, while Kosova’s independence will radicalize the large Albanian minority in Macedonia, leading to the latter’s violent disintegration and the creation of an enlarged Albania. Macedonia’s unraveling could embroil Bulgaria, Serbia, Albania, Greece and Turkey in a struggle for regional influence and predominance. This is why the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, they argue, must be preserved as a single state. These premises merit a closer scrutiny, however.

It is possible, of course, that our leaders are determined to maintain a sufficient measure of insecurity in the Balkans to disqualify it from Europe for good. Discounting this possibility, one can argue that maintaining FRY at all costs, far from stabilizing the region, could actually undermine the security objectives the West is seeking to accomplish. A valid argument can be made that FRY must be dismantled and three new states recognized - Montenegro, Kosova, and Serbia - in order to achieve a lasting peace in the region. This approach would have the following positive ramifications:

First, acceptance of independence would de-legitimize Belgrade’s incessant provocations in Kosova and Montenegro, while criteria and timetables for independent statehood would provide both the internationals and the locals with concrete goals and ‘exit strategies’ toward which political, institutional and economic reconstruction could be directed.

Second, moves toward independence would restore Kosovar and Montenegrin confidence in the international community and help preclude potential radicalization of domestic politics. Continued ambiguity regarding their status undermines the democrats and favors the demagogues. The proposed return of Kosova to Serbian control can only exacerbate the problems already faced by international actors regarding security and the building of credible local institutions.

Third, Kosova’s and Montenegro’s independence can also help solve the wider ‘Albanian question’. Instead of provoking calls for a ‘Greater Albania’, such a step could actually pacify the more radical Albanian demands and allow Europe to increase its beneficial influence by dealing with them as states in their own right. A timetable could, therefore, be pursued by the internationals working in tandem with the indigenous parties in the construction of Kosova’s and Montenegro’s political, legal, and security institutions.

Weak or unstable states

In much of Eastern Europe the end of centralized one-party rule was followed by its opposite: political fragmentation, institutional weakness, legal confusion and institutional corruption. In some countries like Albania such conditions have persisted, with fragile institutions unable to guarantee political or economic reforms. Albania remains a weak state where the central government is only slowly regaining control over the countryside and restoring public order. A symbiosis between politics and crime has produced corrupt politicians and policemen and has led to criminal gangs gaining control over substantial sectors of the economy. Criminality thus became both a symptom and a cause of Albania’s political paralysis.

If Albania remains a weak yet recovering state, FRY is undoubtedly a failed state, given that the Kosovars and most Montenegrins want to leave, while both minorities and majorities in Serbia itself are dissatisfied with the political structure. Belgrade’s economic sanctions and border blockades are intended to undermine popular support for the government of President Milo Djukanovic, while Serbian state propaganda and military threats are meant to keep Podgorica off balance. Belgrade has also created a substantial paramilitary force inside Montenegro that could be used to impose a ‘state of emergency’ or to provoke a violent showdown with Podgorica. Although Alliance leaders are seeking to downplay the possibility of conflict, NATO currently has troops on three of Montenegro’s borders - with Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosova and Albania - and will not want to see these missions jeopardized. Violence in Montenegro would precipitate an outflow of refugees, armed conflicts along the frontiers and Serbian army incursions into NATO-held territory. In such conditions Alliance troops could not remain passive, particularly if there was a direct appeal from Podgorica for military assistance.

National isolationism

A third source of instability is national isolationism, whether self-imposed or generated from the outside, or in a combination of the two. A long-term or permanent exclusion from NATO of aspiring candidates is a regressive strategy, in that it directly contradicts the concept of an integrated Europe with a common security policy. The absence of security guarantees and receding hopes of EU or NATO membership could have negative domestic reverberations in terms of political stabilization, economic reform, international relations and business investment. Exclusion could strengthen the position of anti-reformist, authoritarian, nationalistic and anti-Western forces and weaken the position of democratic and pro-Western parties. Opponents will charge them with illusory hopes about ‘rejoining Europe’ and their commitment to difficult economic reform programs may be challenged and overturned.

Balkan security

The long-term security of South East Europe requires both domestic reforms and external inputs. The authors of the Stability Pact have understood that allocating resources into countries without appropriate institutional foundations and an enlightened and determined political leadership is likely to result in mismanagement, wastage and corruption. It is therefore valuable to indicate those areas where progress needs to be ensured in order to create the foundations of genuine security.

Each Balkan country needs a cross-party commitment to the goals of economic transformation and institutional reform, whatever differences may exist in terms of timetables.

Successful political systems also require the consolidation of authoritative democratic institutions based on constitutional principles. In particular, the organs of government need to have the confidence of the public and the commitment of all major political players. In this context, extremist extra-parliamentary parties advocating authoritarian solutions must be marginalized so that they do not undermine the nation’s body politic.

Much can also be achieved to improve efficiency, competence and professionalism among government officials and the civil service. Indeed, a core civic administration bureaucracy must be developed that provides continuity and credibility regardless of changes in government. The judicial system must become both independent and competent, with equality before the law guaranteed regardless of ethnicity, gender, or creed.

Balkan reconstruction

The Stability Pact or any other outside initiative should not be viewed, however, as the solution for all the problems facing the region. Its premises and mechanisms can work only if the most important challenges are being simultaneously tackled. Four essential factors need to be addressed in assessing the success or failure of Balkan reconstruction.

Security. It is difficult to talk about stability without first assuring a sufficient measure of security. Parts of the region remain both insecure and unstable, not only because of the persistence of the Miloševic regime but also because of the existence of the FRY. What is needed is a post-Yugoslavia blueprint for regional development and reconstruction, rather than a post-Miloševic blueprint as suggested by some policy analysts.

In addition to a Stability Pact for Balkan Reconstruction, the region may also require a Security Pact under an overall NATO umbrella and a multi-national commitment. This could involve both confidence-building measures and concrete problem-solving activities ranging from the treatment of minorities to acceptable border demarcations.

Security, by definition, begins at home. This means democratic development, individual freedoms and collective rights, the rule of law and security of the state. ‘Active security’ must also focus on building bilateral relations, undertaking multilateral initiatives and making progress toward NATO and EU integration. In the case of the two international ‘protectorates’ of Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosova, the aim must be their democratization, economic reform and rule of law in order to wean them away from long-term international dependence.

Regionalism. The local states should be encouraged to pursue regional initiatives that enhance security and development. Instead of simply hammering away at NATO membership as the solution for all their problems, each state can demonstrate its capabilities and responsibilities by contributing in practical ways to the Alliance missions, including participation in peace-keeping and humanitarian endeavors. Instead of waiting for NATO or EU leadership, imaginative states will aim to build regional frameworks in various arenas, from free trade to crime prevention, which should greatly assist their bids for NATO and EU membership. In this context, donors and investors in South East Europe will need to ensure that specific practical projects are realized which could stimulate local economies. Some Balkan states may otherwise grow increasingly disenchanted with Europe’s commitment to regional reconstruction.

Integration. The goal of eventual European integration should not be replaced by a policy of regionalism in which the prospect of Union membership recedes into the distance. While regional cooperation is important, regional trade and infrastructural development in South East Europe will not automatically lead to impressive economic growth. The talk of regional integration has raised suspicions in Balkan capitals that the Pact is intended to serve as an alternative to EU integration rather than a fast track toward Europe. To counter such assumptions the Pact must ensure that the Balkan states have access to EU markets while they rebuild their infrastructure and, with the help of development aid, build new industries and generate new investment.

Each country should be made to understand that EU membership will come, if it meets the necessary criteria and standards. This will of itself help induce the necessary political and economic reforms. In February 2000 the EU initiated negotiations on eventual accession with Bulgaria and Romania, while Macedonia and Croatia were placed on track for Stabilization and Accession Agreements. Other countries in the region hope to join the process during 2001. This accession track should be pursued without placing new obstacles in the way of states committed to reform.

Trans-Atlantic Relations. The issue of Balkan reconstruction could become an additional thorn in trans-Atlantic relations. Having carried the overwhelming military and financial burden during the campaign against Serbia, Washington now expects the EU leaders to assume the lion’s share of responsibility for regional rebuilding, with the United States playing a largely supportive role. Some US policy makers express a fear, however, that frustration with the EU’s slowness or incompetence could unleash a Congressional backlash that may jeopardize funding for future American initiatives and increase pressure to reduce the US military presence. These vexing issues will become an important component of the evolving trans-Atlantic relationship for the next US administration.

To sum up: if the Balkans as a proverbial handicap and a strategic alibi are to be confined to history books, we must both challenge conceptual fallacies and adjust our policies toward the region.


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