"Europe" is a word with connotations that border on magic in Albania, Bosnia, Croatia, Kosova, Montenegro, and Serbia. For most people there, it simply means a better life and has few of the anti-American or grand international political connotations one can find in some other parts of the continent. In the western Balkans, EU membership means development funds and subsidies, a seat at the table where important decisions are made, and the prestige of belonging to "the rich man's club."
This psychological factor of prestige and of belonging is particularly important in much of former Yugoslavia. Many people there saw themselves through the late 1980s as having the best of both capitalism and socialism. Theirs was the only passport in Europe that required no visas for travel to the East or the West. Then suddenly, they found themselves regarded in most European countries as virtual pariahs from war-torn republics whose passports required visas for travel to just about anywhere.
In contrast to many politicians in Montenegro and Kosova, Koschnick regards the futures of those two areas as interconnected.
Hans Koschnick is a former mayor of Bremen, Germany, who served as the EU's administrator in Mostar from July 1994 until March 1996. He then acted as the German government's point man for Bosnia-Herzegovina until that post was abolished in late 1999. As such, he is one of the European "internationals" in the former Yugoslavia with a good deal of practical experience on the ground. His proposals on bringing the western Balkans into the EU via a path of regional integration are hardly new, but they come with a special authority derived from his direct personal involvement in the region (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 May 2005 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 5 March 2004 and 21 January, 11 and 25 February, 25 March, and 15 April 2005).
The former mayor outlined his views on the future of the western Balkans in an interview with "Spiegel Online" on 3 May (http://www.spiegel.de/politik/ausland/0,1518,348586,00.html). Like Austria's Erhard Busek, who heads the EU-led Stability Pact for Southeast Europe, and many German politicians, Koschnick speaks of the need to "Europeanize" the Balkans by bringing the region into European structures. He would start with regional cooperation and integration, possibly without Croatia, which seems likely to qualify for EU membership sooner than the others. The regional approach is not without controversy in much of the western Balkans itself, where many suspect it is a devious ploy by Brussels to recreate a new Yugoslavia "minus Slovenia but including Albania." Anything that smacks of an attempt to set up a new Yugoslav state is particularly abhorrent to most Croats but not only to them, since Bosnian Muslims, Montenegrins, and Kosovars tend to suspect that any such polity would be dominated by Belgrade again.
Koschnick presented his opinions by discussing each country separately. He noted that Slovenia has lost no time in identifying itself with its Austrian and Italian neighbors rather than with Croatia and other former Yugoslav republics. He might have mentioned that this is ironic in a historical context, because Yugoslavia was attractive to Slovenes in 1918 and 1945 precisely because it offered them a guarantee against being dominated and assimilated by the Austrians and Italians. In any event, Slovenia is now the only former Yugoslav republic that belongs to the EU and NATO; none of the other republics has yet to qualify for membership in either organization, although they all want to.
Turning to Croatia, Koschnick said he believes that the Croatian leadership takes seriously the fact that their path to European integration is blocked as long as fugitive war crimes indictee and former General Ante Gotovina remains on the loose and not in The Hague. The leadership's problem, Koschnick added, is that some of the government's political supporters still regard Gotovina as a war hero and do not accept the idea that "whoever wants to join Europe must also accept European values" and not just its economic benefits.
Asked whether Croatia is ready for EU membership, Koschnick argued that some regions are more prepared than others. He said he feels that western Croatia and the Zagreb areas are ready, but not the regions bordering Serbia or Bosnia. He charged that Dalmatia is interested in Europe when it comes to hosting tourists or signing economic agreements but not "in adopting the European identity."
The German government's former point man for Bosnia noted that many of the results of "ethnic cleansing" from the 1992-95 conflict there appear to have become permanent. Many people -- especially but not only Muslims -- have chosen not to return permanently to their prewar homes, and many who want to are prevented from doing so by the hostility of their former neighbors.
He seemed to accept this reality, even if he did not say so explicitly: "The Europeanization of the Balkans will depend on whether we succeed of making a stable state out of Bosnia-Herzegovina, in which the three [main ethnic] groups can completely preserve their cultural and regional identities but are nonetheless ready to serve a joint state." He added, however, that unless the leaders of the Serbs, Muslims, and Croats are ready to make a joint state where all enjoy the same rights truly function, nobody from outside will be willing to invest in Bosnia.
Koschnick argued that foreign troops will be able to leave Bosnia in the foreseeable future once a sufficiently unified army is created, without the presence of ethnically-based fighting units that potentially could attack each other. He nonetheless said he feels that "the Europeans" have a long task ahead of them in Bosnia in building up the administration, the economy, and the rule of law. Discussing the future of Mostar, he said he believes that the different ethnic groups are willing to live together peacefully. He added, however, that "Mostar is still a problem because the Croats would like to make it their [own] regional center."
Turning to Serbia, Koschnick stressed that the key issue is overcoming nationalist extremism. He said he believes the Serbs will "always be nationally oriented," but it will be necessary to overcome nationalism's more extreme aspects there. He said he feels that Montenegro is too small to be economically viable and that the most realistic solution for its future is in a looser state union with Serbia, with which many Montenegrins have close personal and cultural ties. A problem that an independent Montenegro would pose for "the Europeans," he argued, is that it might become more of a smugglers' haven than a center of economic development.
In contrast to many politicians in Montenegro and Kosova, Koschnick said he regards the futures of those two areas as interconnected. He stressed that Montenegro's long-term status will not be clarified until that of Kosova is. In a view that is close to some political leaders in Belgrade, he argued that the UN Security Council will not agree to Kosovar demands for full independence lest that lead to similar "secessionist tendencies" elsewhere in the world. The key task for "the international community, and certainly the EU," is to find a way to grant the ethnic Albanian majority a form of self-determination or autonomy while preserving international guarantees for the minorities. This will not be easy, and international peacekeepers will have to remain in Kosova for a long time to come, as they have in Cyprus.
Macedonia, by contrast, Koschnick finds much more stable than could have been imagined "four or five years ago." Nonetheless, he said he believes it is not yet economically ready for EU membership, which its political leadership has actively sought. Instead, he said, he feels that all the states of the western Balkans, probably excluding Croatia, should be brought together in an "open area, like we have in the EU," with legal and cultural boundaries but constituting an economic unit.
"The Economist" noted on 29 April that the countries of the western Balkans were promised in 2003 that they might have EU membership once they qualified, but there was no timetable provided for any of them. Most of the countries there, the weekly added, are "still a mess." In reading the ideas of Koschnick, Busek, and others who have discussed a "European" future for the region, it might seem that the problem is not so much a lack of ideas but the absence of the political will to put them into practice.