Sunday, August 28, 2016


The Balkans Look To 2011 With Cautious Optimism

The members of Bosnia's tripartite presidency at their inaugural session in Sarajevo on November 10 (left to right: Bakir Izetbegovic, Zeljko Komsic, and Nebojsa Radmanovic)
The members of Bosnia's tripartite presidency at their inaugural session in Sarajevo on November 10 (left to right: Bakir Izetbegovic, Zeljko Komsic, and Nebojsa Radmanovic)
By Nenad Pejic
There's an ethnically mixed village in Kosovo called Rabovce which, like most towns in the region, has a small football stadium.

A while back, local ethnic Serbs put a lock on the stadium gate, preventing ethnic Albanians from using the pitch. Needless to say, the Albanians weren't pleased. Within days, they had broken down the gate and resumed playing in the stadium.

It could have been another ugly situation in the Balkans. But NATO's KFOR got involved and brokered a deal under which the Serbs could use the pitch on certain days and the Albanians on others according to a set schedule.

Meanwhile, the daily "Nezavisne novine" -- which is based in Banja Luka, the capital of Republika Srpska, the ethnic Serb-dominated entity of Bosnia-Herzegovina -- named Croatian President Ivo Josipovic its "Person Of The Year." Much to the surprise of most observers, all the leaders of Croatia, Bosnia, and Serbia decided to attend the award ceremony in Banja Luka last week.

On the sidelines of that event, Republika Srpska head Milorad Dodik and Bosnian Social Democratic Party leader Zlatko Ladumdzija, a strong candidate for prime minister, held talks that were described as successful. Both leaders expressed a desire to find common goals for the divided country.

"We want to behave differently," they announced jointly.

Does all this mean that 2011 holds hope for progress in the Balkans? There are some reasons to think so.

2010 was characterized by a harsh exchange between Bosniak leader Haris Silajdzic and Dodik. But when Silajdzic lost his bid for reelection to the Bosnian Presidency in October, Dodik lost his bête noire. Silajdzic's successor, Bakir Izetbegovic, has already made moves toward dialogue and reconciliation.

The real winner in the country's parliamentary elections was Ladumdzija's Social Democrats, a party that has consistently advocated tolerance, civility, and a multiethnic society.

Stars Aligning

At the same time, Bosnia's neighbors are rapidly moving closer to the European Union. Croatia hopes for full membership by the end of 2011, and Serbia hopes to follow in short order. In order to do so, Serbia will have to send a stern message to Dodik that it is time for him to seek solutions in Sarajevo, not Belgrade.

Six months ago, the joint Railway Company of Croatia, Serbia, and Slovenia was founded. Last month, about 100 businesspeople from Serbia and Croatia met in Zagreb and inked a number of deals on joint investment. The message that went out was clear: We are stronger when we act together.

Meanwhile, the desire for better performance and higher revenues is spurring regional efforts to promote competition and cooperation in sports. Breakthroughs came in the popular sports of water polo and basketball, followed quickly by handball. Now there is encouraging talk of a regional soccer league.

The stars might also be aligning in the international community. The EU could pick the Balkans as a region of focus as it seeks to demonstrate that it is a vital global player. By January, every country in the region (except Kosovo) will have been granted visa-free travel regimes with the EU. Washington, also, is increasingly viewing the Balkans as ripe for a breakthrough.

Finally, we should not underestimate pressure from citizens throughout the Balkans who are sick of decades of violence, enmity, and economic crisis.

Seize The Moment?

In other regions, such encouraging signs might generate strong optimism. But in the case of the Balkans -- and Bosnia in particular -- one must always be cautious. A breakthrough on reconciliation requires sufficient will in all countries at the same time and for a reasonable period of time. If even one piece of that complex mosaic is missing, everything will fall apart.

The late Richard Holbrooke deserves enormous credit for having achieved the Dayton peace accord; his job was to end the war with a peace deal and he accomplished it. Viewed through reasonable eyes, this was a deal that opened the door to progress; viewed through their opposite, it was easy to misuse. But if the Balkans had had someone like Holbrooke in place after the peace deal, we would today have Balkan countries in the EU.

Since there is not, pessimists do not deny the above-mentioned facts; but they do note that Dodik has no need for a counterpart in order to continue making provocative statements.

Izetbegovic remains unproven in terms of deeds. The anti-European movement in Serbia is alive and influential. There are business interests who still believe there is more money to be made in war than in peace, and commitment from the EU is a notoriously fleeting thing.

Meanwhile, the football-pitch-sharing deal in the Kosovo village of Rabovce lasted about a month.

One Monday, the Serbs showed up and discovered they didn't have enough players for a game. So they invited some nearby Albanian youngsters to play with them. The next day, the Albanians invited the Serbs to join them. For now, at least, the kids in Rabovce are mostly arguing about who is the best soccer player. And that's a good start.

Nenad Pejic is an associate director of broadcasting at RFE/RL. The views expressed in this commentary are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of RFE/RL
This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
by: Ivan Tookie from: Peoria, IL
December 14, 2010 22:49
Let Bosnian Serbs re-unite with Serbia. Let Kosovo be a Serbian province and you will have peace in Balkans.
In Response

by: Abdulmajid
December 15, 2010 20:29
Completely unrealistic. It will never happen. And what "peace"? That of the graveyard perchance?
In Response

by: Anonymous
December 16, 2010 10:06
Yes, reward genocide and ethnic cleansing! It couldn't possibly ever happen again...
In Response

by: Ondrej from: Czech republic
December 16, 2010 16:35
I don't think it is that simple. If RSBiH (Republika Srpska in Bosnia and Hercegovina) would be independent, there would soon be another civil war in Bosnia. And if Kosovo was still Serbian, there would be permanent unrest, demonstrations and destabilisation like it was in 80's. What would Serbs do with Kosovo? 90% of people are Albanians. Albanians started war because they wanted independence. Now they have it. And if Serbia would recognize Kosovo as a state, there would be peace. That's just my opinion.
In Response

by: Randy McDonald from: Toronto, Canada
December 16, 2010 22:21
What's the rationale for merging one Serb-populated subnational entity and one non-Serb-populated country with Serbia? If you're talking about ethnic self-determination, a case might be made for Republika Srpska, but how would that work for Kosovo? Conversely, if we're talking about maintaining the historical frontiers of Serbia--that would include Kosovo, under Belgrade's rule (more or less) from 1912 to 1999--then you'll have to leave out a Republika Srpska that was never part of Serbia whether kingdom or republic.
In Response

by: Abdulmajid
December 17, 2010 16:46
Basically you're right; and especially if one considers that "RS" is "Srpska" only because all its non-Serb population was expelled or murdered; there never was an ethnically pure territory in Bosnia or anywhere in the region withthe probable exception of Slovenia.

by: Funny Guy from: Hamburg
December 16, 2010 22:47
The only peaceful and logical future for Balcans is
1. Serbia, Bosnia, Croatia & Montenegro reunite to one state with two alphabets and three relegions.
2. Albania, Kosovo & Northwestern Macedonia become one big Albania
3. Bulgaria & Macedonia merge
4. Romania & Moldova reunite
Let not people be for borders but borders for people!
In Response

by: Zoltan from: Hungary
December 17, 2010 16:08
If we follow your logic than we will arrive to:

1. Germany and Austria should also unite
2. just like Czech Republic and Slovakia
3. we should partition Belgium one part to unite with France and one with the Netherlands
4. Russia Belarus and Ukraine should also unite
5. Azerbaijan should be incorporated into Iran or North-Western Iran should unite with the Republic of Azerbaijan

And one can still continue the examples...

That's not the way forward.

We should accept the current borders and work towards making those borders virtual by joining the EU and the Schengen zone.

I'm looking forward to eliminate the border between Hungary and Romania next year.

Yes for the border-free Europe!
In Response

by: Funny Guy from: Hamburg
December 17, 2010 20:45
Why isn't this the way forward? From my point of view it makes very much sense! Also all those five propositions on the bigger european scale are absolutely logical!
Who gets something bad out of a union of one people, or language or religion? Exept for a couple of politicians, militarymen etc.?
You hungarians do have about 90% of your people living in one state (the minorities in Slovakia, Romania & Serbia are becoming smaller and smaller every year, since you are giving them hungarian passports at wish).

Why should the other people do not have a right to unite in a peaceful, democratic and honest manner? Let not the people be for borders but borders for people!
In Response

by: Randy McDonald from: Toronto, Ontario
December 19, 2010 17:38
The glaring problem with your scenario is that none of these four groupings of countries want to unite. Yugoslavia`s constituent units fell apart emphatically in civil war; "Greater Albania" (as opposed to an Albanosphere) doesn't exist; pro-Bulgarian sentiment in Macedonia is marginal; and even in Moldova, despite the economic incentives for unification, Romanian-speakers don't want to join up. Creating new boundaries that people don't wan is a spectacularly bad idea.

by: Kosta from: Chicago
December 17, 2010 22:11
I see some of those commenting are quite ignorant of the facts.
Who do we know is and has been harvesting organs? The Albanians in Kosovo.
Who do we know has been destroying religious buildings even in peace? The Albanians in Kosovo.
Who is kidnapping and killing their minority and has been doing so for a hundred years since they illegally crossed the boarder to dominate the region? The Albanians in Kosovo. Yes. They have been killing innocent Serbs regularly. Look it up.

How would you feel not being safe in your own country? Your neighbors that were once a minority but have brought in so many others and have out bred you now threaten you. The government can't protect you. Your neighbors have no interests in legalities. Their livelihood is criminality. Look it up! It is a sad history of Serbs from Kosovo.

It can go on and on with facts. Not propaganda but facts. Read and think. Thinking is not something that comes easy to most so they prefer being lead.

What has been created by the powers that be by breaking up Yugoslavia into the smallest possible pieces is the future center of another war.

Why break off Macedonian? So they can be over run by a plague?

Why break off Crna Gora? To propagate illegal business?

Why create a country that has never existed and still truly doesn't exist called Bosnia Herzegovina? Yes. It was a solution but was it right? Very debatable.

Ethnic cleansing? If referring to Croats expelling Serbs, yes. Look at the numbers in Croatia before and after WWII. Then before and after this war.

The Muslims in the Bosnia Herzegovina tend to be of Serbian blood. Why? Because the majority of people in the Balkans were Serbian so they would have the most traitors. Many people that converted did so for political gain. Quality people.

Under the Turks you were given three choices: convert, pay tribute, or die.

Look up Emir Kusturica. He is Serbian but with a muslim name because a family member converted hundreds of years ago. He converted back. Too long to explain. Look it up.

The Balkans need to avoid the outside voices and find ways to work together. Morals need to be uniform for cooperation to work. There needs to be prosperity to root out criminality. This is why Albania has continued to wallow and an Albania Kosovo will besides from its illicit businesses.

If the Serbs, Croats, and Macedonians work together there will be prosperity. Then they can gradually minimize criminality. The Albanians will be survivors and maybe one day clean up their act but will most likely need to be forced to do so.

Look at the attempted bombing at the Cherryhill military base in New Jersey. Biting the hand that feeds you comes to mind.

I see a cloudy future for decades in the Balkans. The only good thing is that they've been to hell so this economic downturn gives them a chance to catch up.

Please pardon the length.
In Response

by: Randy McDonald from: Toronto, Canada
December 19, 2010 17:36
This argument--arguing that the other peoples of the Balkans, especially the Albanians and Bosnian Muslims, are inclined towards crime and treachery--would seem sadly common. That's why Yugoslavia fell apart, or rather, was torn apart.
In Response

by: Abdulmajid
December 20, 2010 11:07
Bah, if the serbofascists are constantly saying that all parties were equally guilty of and in the Bosnian war then it is only fair to say that all Balkan peoples - Serbs, Bosniaks, Albanians, Croats, Bulgarians etc. - are equally good or evil. There is no such thing as an evil nation (but because they have committed most crimes in the four wars Milosevic started - for his own profit not to defend the Serb nation - and seemingly a majority of Serbs still approve of these crimes and worship the war criminals as heroesthey would surely qualify; were it not that there are Serbs who distance themselves form these crimes; un fortunately not those who post here: a lot of anti-Muslim fascists and genocidals post here.Everyone who justifies or denies the genocide committed against teh Bosniaks is a genocidal himself.) They always whine that the Serbs are demonized (nobody is demonizing the Serbs, they did it all by themselves by their heroic deeds in Bijeljina, Prijedor, Kozarac, Omarska, Trnopolje, Batkovic, Foca, Visegrad and Srebrenica among others) and that the Bosniaks are all ustasa and Nazis, call them islamicized Serbs or Turks and, again, what goes? They can't be both at the same time, and just to make it clear, Bosniaks are not Serbs or Croats or Turks, they are Bosniaks, no matter what their ancestors may have once been. But the duplicity and mendacity of those who want to see Bosnia destroyed and the Bosniaks exterminated and strewn to all corners of teh world is mind-boggling; it is only as well that this point of view is finding less and less adherents even among the Serbs who are slowly beginnig to realize the magnitude of the crimes committed in their name, and that chauvinism, ultranationalism and military adventurism has been only in profit of Milosevic and his cronies but has brought the man on the street in Serbia and in Bosnia nowhere. And all those who complain about my posting here can shove it, if they don't like what I say nobody is forcing them to read it, and their constant whining only shows they have nothing, nothing at all to stand on. And Bosnia and the Bosniaks shall never be erased from the face of the Earth.

by: Zoltan from: Hungary
December 18, 2010 09:23
Montenegro have been granted EU candidate status yesterday.

Why don't RFE write about that?

Isn't it important?
In Response

by: Abdulmajid
December 21, 2010 12:01
Why of course, even the Montenegrins, being more Serb than the Serbs from Serbia do not wish to be ruled from Belgrade. Nobody does. Good for you, guys (and gals).