Between integration and disintegration

Carl Bildt examines the key issues facing Southeastern Europe in the coming year and ways in which they might be addressed.

On Kosovo's front line: The big issue in Kosovo is whether Serbs and other minorities have any long-term prospects as the province moves towards some kind of independence (© KFOR )

In the coming year, the Balkans is likely to be back in the news. But this time the headlines should not be about war, but about attempts to achieve peaceful settlements and resolve some of the key outstanding issues facing the region.

The two most pressing issues to be addressed are the future of Kosovo, that is how to build a lasting peace in the UN-administered province, and of Serbia and Montenegro, that is whether the two republics stay together in some sort of common structure or go their separate ways. But there are also major issues to be addressed in the two complex, multi-ethnic states of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.* And in Albania, Croatia and Serbia reform questions will continue to dominate political discourse.

We have, nevertheless, come a long way in the region in recent years - though not without difficulties and setbacks. A decade ago, war was still raging in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The winter of 1994-95 was desperate. The preceding summer, a half-baked peace plan presented by the Contact Group for Bosnia and Herzegovina failed to break the deadlock. Everyone was preparing for a new spring of war and for a summer of carnage that was likely to be even worse than the previous ones. And in Croatia, there were increasing signs that the Tudjman regime was preparing a military offensive against the UN-protected areas.

The summer of 1995 turned into a summer of horror. Bosnian Serb forces conquered the UN safe area of Srebrenica, and the massacre of thousands of men and boys that followed was the worst war crime Europe has seen since 1945. The UN-protected areas in Croatia were attacked, overrun and hundreds of thousands of Serbs were driven from their homes in a blatant campaign of ethnic cleansing.

The story of how Bosnia and Herzegovina went from a war without end to a peace with some hope is a complex one. The popular mythology that it was the air campaign that forced the Serbs to sue for peace is almost entirely wrong. The single most important change was the willingness by the entire international community, including the United States, to consider a political deal that was both comprehensive and realistic. We ended up with the compromise negotiated at Dayton, which included deployment of a massive NATO force to oversee and ensure the end of hostilities.

Nearly four years later, we stumbled into war over Kosovo following the failure of peace talks at Rambouillet in France. Although Belgrade was eventually persuaded to back down, the prospects for a lasting settlement in Kosovo were in many ways poorer after the war than before it. Worse still, for an initial period at least, Slobodan Milosevic seemed even more entrenched in power in Belgrade. Then, two years later, we were confronted with the risk of another major explosion of violence as Albanian insurgents took up arms in both Southern Serbia and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.*

Need for renewed international focus

Nine years after Dayton, five years after the NATO air campaign in Kosovo and three years after the Ohrid Agreement on the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia,* there is an urgent need to address the core issues of the region again. And although Kosovo is by far the most pressing issue, we should have learned by now that no issue can be viewed in isolation from all others in this region.

When I took up my first international assignment in the Balkans as EU Special Representative for the former Yugoslavia in 1995, I described the key issue confronting the region as the battle between the forces of integration and disintegration. This was always a difficult balancing act. The international community had, with some reluctance, agreed to the break-up of old Yugoslavia, but had been firm in insisting that it applied only to its constituent republics, and that their previous administrative borders should be respected.

This solution seemed simple enough, but failed to resolve some of the most difficult issues. Indeed, the wars in Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina were to a large extent a result of the failure to combine support for the independence of the constituent republics with internal arrangements that secured the position and hence the loyalties of the minorities that had been created in the process. It was easy for those with little interest in peace to play on old fears to generate support for their aggressive designs on the integrity of these new states.

When we defended the territorial integrity of Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia, our interest was in stopping the forces of disintegration from tearing apart these and other areas where ethnic groups and cultures lived side by side. We succeeded - but only to a degree.

In Bosnia and Herzegovina, the shortcomings of this approach contributed to the creation of some 100,000 additional refugees immediately after the end of the war. Although international persistence has brought significant refugee return in Bosnia and Herzegovina after years of hard effort, the country remains divided. In Croatia, large parts of the Krajina, where Serbs traditionally formed a significant part of the population, remain a wasteland with empty villages and burnt-out Orthodox churches.

Our hope is that time will gradually lead to a situation where reforms and reconciliation will make it possible for people of different ethnic origins to live normally together again. As Croatia starts its accession negotiations with the European Union, and as both Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia and Montenegro try to move in the same direction, they are increasingly aware that the true meaning of Europe is integration between different nationalities.

In Bosnia and Herzegovina today, there are no visible signs of the so-called inter-entity boundary line so laboriously negotiated in Dayton, though the knowledgeable observer quickly notes when one passes from one area to another. Between Croatia and Serbia, people are now able to travel without the elaborate visa arrangements that blocked genuine contact as recently as a year ago. And throughout this part of the Balkans, there is a common understanding that trade and economic integration is the road to a better future.

An EU-led force is taking responsibility for providing day-to-day security in Bosnia and Herzegovina following the completion of NATO's mission there. No one expects hostilities to break out again in the country, but an ongoing military presence remains useful. Attention will now focus on the future of the international civilian presence in the country. In my opinion, the tenth anniversary of Dayton is the appropriate occasion to end the mandate of the High Representative and to transfer full powers and responsibilities to the various elected Bosnian representatives. After all, it seems odd for a country without full sovereignty to be seeking membership of the European Union.

In areas of conflict between Serbs and Croats, including in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the tide of history is clearly moving towards a common European future for both peoples. However, in areas of conflict between Albanians and Serbs or more generally Slavs, the issues remain far more intractable.

Kosovo conundrum

In Kosovo, we managed to help around a million Albanians who had fled or been forced to flee during the war return to their homes in the aftermath of the NATO air campaign. However, having taken responsibility for the province, we failed to prevent an exodus of Serbs and other minorities. Five-and-a-half years and massive efforts later, the big issue remains whether the remaining Serbs and other minorities in Kosovo have any long-term prospects there as the province moves towards some kind of independence. The aim of our policy was certainly more than turning a situation in which the Albanians were a persecuted minority in Serbia to one in which Serbs and other minorities are persecuted in Kosovo.

The tenth anniversary of Dayton is the appropriate occasion to end the mandate of the High Representative and to transfer full powers and responsibilities to elected Bosnian representatives

This question is critical for Kosovo, but it also goes to the heart of our entire, decade-long effort to stem the tide of disintegration and assist the currents of integration in the region. The task of true statesmanship in the years to come will be to devise region-wide solutions and structures that achieve a balance between the forces of integration and disintegration that is both stable and in conformity with our long-term vision for the region.

There are numerous options for Kosovo on the table. The return to Belgrade rule, on the one hand, and outright independence, on the other, are the extreme proposals at either end of the spectrum. But such solutions are as likely to generate immediate new problems as are any thoughts of revising existing borders and boundaries. There has already been enough disintegration. Even a solution leaning towards independence must be firmly embedded in policies and structures of integration.

This will be important for the entire region. Over time, the outcome of any decision on Kosovo is bound to have repercussions for both the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia* and Bosnia and Herzegovina. If we succeed in building a stable and lasting solution in Kosovo, these countries will also be more stable and secure. But if we fail, we risk creating new streams of refugees across the region, thereby swelling the already large numbers of potential irridentists.

Most attention during the past decade has been focused on the fracture zones in the Balkans. That is where the conflict potential is most obvious and the challenge of integration most difficult. But over time much of the future of the region will be dependent on what happens in the more or less consolidated states of Croatia, Serbia and Albania. If they are stable, forward-looking and confident, the room for manoeuvre for mischief-makers will be severely diminished.

There is no doubt that they are all making some progress. Although the pace of internal reforms in Croatia leaves much to be desired, the process of accession to the European Union should help drive further change. Serbia has launched some impressive economic reforms and results are beginning to show, but remaining political conflicts over relations with Montenegro and cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague remain a brake on development. Albania is facing an election next year, and unfortunately remains the only country in the region where a peaceful and normal transfer of power has yet to take place. The election will accordingly be a true test of the country's political maturity.

European future

In the year ahead, we are likely to see a gradual restructuring of the international presence in the region. If the United Nations was the dominant international organisation in a first phase of Yugoslavia's dissolution and NATO the key actor in a second, the role of the European Union is now likely to grow in a third phase. These are, of course, changes of emphasis and all three organisations, as well as bodies like the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and the Council of Europe, will continue to play important roles.

Although it seems natural for the European Union gradually to assume the lead role in all aspects of the peace process in Bosnia and Herzegovina, this is not an option in Kosovo in the near future. As a result, NATO will likely have to continue to exercise the responsibility that it took upon itself in 1999 for several years to come. Indeed, the fact that the final-status question will be on the table next year may raise tensions in the province, which will, in turn, oblige the Alliance to increase the focus and resources it devotes to it. In operations like these there are sometimes quick entries - but never quick exits.

In forming the new European Commission, new Commission President José Manuel Baroso combined EU enlargement with responsibility for the Western Balkans in one portfolio under Finnish Commissioner Olli Rehn. This key step recognises that there is continuity between the European Union's present diverse efforts in the region and the process of EU enlargement. Moreover, it should make it easier to develop more coherent and credible policies that are seen as leading, step by step, from the present situation to eventual EU membership.

The European Union desperately needs a new grand strategy for enlargement. To date, however, debate has largely centred on the issue of possible future Turkish membership. It seems logical now to start a discussion in which enlargement with Turkey and the Western Balkans is treated as a single process by which some 100 million people could eventually become EU citizens. Moreover, it would certainly be possible to bring such a process to conclusion within a decade so that citizens of all these states can participate in the elections to the European Parliament in June 2014. Since this date is exactly one hundred years after the assassination of Archduke Franz-Ferdinand in Sarajevo, the event that triggered the First World War, such elections would provide a fitting way to mark the end of a tragic period of history.

NATO also has a key role to play in this process, since the countries of Southeastern Europe will likely be in a position to join the Alliance before they have fulfilled all criteria for membership of the European Union. Major efforts should therefore be undertaken to accelerate the process of the integration of all of these states into the security structures of NATO.

The security that integration with and in NATO brings will also be critical in starting, as part of the process of European integration, to address the many outstanding economic issues in the region. Here again, there is a struggle between the forces of integration and disintegration. The disintegration of the economic fabric of the region brought by war, sanctions and new borders has been truly devastating in economic and social terms. As a result, young people in large parts of the region see no alternative to emigration - legal if possible, illegal if necessary. The lure of criminal activities to earn a living will always be stronger if there are no legal and open ways to sustain a family and build a future.

Within the framework of the Stability Pact for Southeastern Europe, a series of bilateral free-trade agreements in the region has already been signed. However, at the same time, trade barriers have also been raised in the region, most notably along the administrative boundary between Serbia and Montenegro.

What is needed now is a Brussels-driven offensive for a multilateral arrangement that brings truly free trade, leading to a customs union and eventually integration with the European Union's single market. Such a move would undoubtedly involve a certain loss of sovereignty for all states involved. Indeed, it would effectively amount to the development of structures of layered sovereignty that the region so obviously needs.

During the past decade and a half of conflict resolution, stabilisation operations and state-building in the Balkans, we have learned many lessons. While some of these lessons could no doubt have been learned from a closer reading of the history of this and other ethnically mixed regions, some are unique to our time and the challenges our generation is facing. But many are also relevant when it comes to managing and resolving conflict in other parts of the world, conflicts that are increasingly drawing international attention away from Southeastern Europe.

To be sure, the task is not complete in the Balkans. Critical political issues remain to be resolved, economic and social challenges are only now being addressed and, as the eruption of violence in Kosovo in March of this year indicates, tensions remain close to the surface. But by effectively addressing these issues here, we demonstrate that we can also deal with them elsewhere. The security and stability of Europe is the pre-condition for a Europe that can make a contribution to the security and stability of the wider world.

Share this    DiggIt   MySpace   Facebook   Delicious   Permalink