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Former Yugoslavia: The Uncertain Journey Ahead

Can the region escape the shadow of Slobodan Milosevic? (CTK) Most of the Yugoslav successor states will enter 2006 with a long road ahead of them toward their goal of Euro-Atlantic integration. Whether and when they will complete that journey is anything but certain.

In the late 1980s, the following joke made the rounds in former Yugoslavia:

Question -- How many countries will there be in Europe in 2010?

Answer -- Nine: Europe, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Kosova, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, Slovenia, and Vojvodina.

Almost 20 years later, that joke has a sharper bite than it did during the twilight months of socialist Yugoslavia. Of course, Slovenia is a member of both the EU and NATO, and hence has attained the principal goals of Euro-Atlantic integration. Croatia's attempt to follow suit is still dogged by its failure to arrest and extradite fugitive war crimes indictee and former General Ante Gotovina, but few observers doubt that Zagreb's representatives will sit as full members in both Brussels-based organizations well before the end of the decade. However, even if there is little or no serious discussion of independence for Vojvodina, the rest of the joke seems to have come true with a vengeance.

In fact, the dissolution of former Yugoslavia is still continuing. Despite pressure from the European Union on behalf of maintaining a joint state of Serbia and Montenegro, it seems likely that that polity will become looser still or split up entirely by the end of 2006. The Montenegrin authorities have floated trial balloons about continuing some sort of union of two "independent states," probably in case Podgorica cannot win its long-planned referendum on independence -- but it is not clear whether the voters of Serbia as well as of Montenegro will be prepared to accept yet another experiment in dubious if innovative statecraft.

The root of the problem is that there has never been a consensus among Montenegrins as to whether they are a distinct people or a special branch of the Serbian nation. In addition, there is a large and vocal Montenegrin population living and working in Serbia with a clear interest in maintaining a joint state. The process of dissolution nonetheless seems to have reached a point where Belgrade and Podgorica have long ceased to work together as an effective political entity -- they have not shared even a common currency for years.

The situation in Kosova is both more complex and more clear-cut. It is more complex in that, unlike regarding Montenegro, Belgrade politicians determinedly maintain Serbia's claim to the place in their public rhetoric. This is because elections are widely expected in 2006, and nationalism centering on the emotional issue of Kosova still wins votes. The rhetoric remains strident even if some of those same leaders are willing to express other views in private. Furthermore, should Serbia eventually lose its remaining formal sovereignty over Kosova, it will still seek to stay involved in the province because of the Serbian minority and cultural monuments there, to say nothing of Kosova's mining industry.

The Kosova situation is paradoxically also more clear-cut than that of Montenegro because it is evident that the ethnic Albanians make up about 90 percent of the population and have no doubt that their goal is independence. Some Serbian politicians, such as Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica, have tried to discredit the Kosovars' demand for independence based on self-determination and majority rule by spreading the idea that the Kosovars are incapable of running their own affairs. Such politicians argue that an independent Kosova would "destabilize" the Balkans by somehow opening a Pandora's box of region-wide nationalist passions and providing a haven for organized crime, as if rabid nationalists and various mafias were not already alive and well throughout much of the rest of former Yugoslavia, including Serbia.

In any event, it seems likely that some form of final status talks for Kosova will begin in early 2006 under the leadership of UN envoy Martti Ahtisaari. The outcome will probably be independence but with a strong international presence to monitor minority-related issues and provide sufficient security to allay Serbian fears of Albanian pogroms and Albanian fears of a return of Serbian forces. In the eyes of the majority, the important thing is that the independence be seen as real and bring an end to the international rule that is widely regarded as colonial and wasteful.

Concrete possibilities for entering the EU and NATO will be as politically and psychologically important for Kosova as they are throughout the rest of former Yugoslavia (and Albania). In November, Bosnia-Herzegovina became the last country in the region to get the green light from the EU for talks on a Stabilization and Association Agreement (SAA), which is the first serious step toward EU membership. None of the countries in the region (except Croatia) has any real prospect of actually joining the Brussels-based bloc at any time in the foreseeable future, and Bosnia's own chief negotiator says his country faces a "transition period" to full membership of about 10 years. But the Bosnian case recently demonstrated what had previously been shown elsewhere, namely that a serious prospect of SAA talks and progress toward full membership is a powerful tool for promoting reforms (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 25 November 2005). In Macedonia, too, the allure of the two Brussels-based organizations has helped keep the internal peace settlement of 2001 more or less on course, despite some occasional politically inspired bumps in the road.

In fact, Euro-Atlantic integration enjoys widespread political support throughout the region, except in some ultranationalist circles, such as in Serbia. This consensus is the result of the general belief that integration means membership in the "rich man's club," a seat at tables where important decisions are made, and plentiful subsidies. It also means the prospect of foreign investment and the visa-free travel throughout Europe that older ex-Yugoslavs remember from the last decades of socialist Yugoslavia. Indeed, for many ordinary people, jobs and travel are the main reasons to look towards Brussels.

But the prospect of Euro-Atlantic integration is not an instant remedy for all problems. The acquiescence of the Bosnian Serbs in military and police reform in 2005 was grudging and incomplete. Despite much pressure from outside and support from among the Muslims in particular, Bosnia is still a long way from parting with its dysfunctional 1995 Dayton agreement constitution in favor of a more streamlined and centralized state. Both the United States and EU nonetheless hope to have constitutional reforms in place in the spring of 2006 so that they will be in effect for the October elections.

It is far from certain, however, that such changes will win approval in Bosnia. This is primarily because the Serbs suspect that any tampering with Dayton will consign them to the status of a minority in a Muslim-dominated state. It might be worth recalling that a common factor in the Croatian, Bosnian, and Kosova conflicts in the 1990s was the refusal of local Serbs to accept that they could live as a minority in a state dominated by another ethnic group, and the cynical manipulation of those fears by the Belgrade leadership under Serbian and later Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic.

Moreover, the foreigners themselves play a role in Bosnia that many think is a big part of the problem. The Office of the High Representative (OHR) has virtually unlimited powers and is not subject to any control by elected Bosnian officials. More than once the high representative has found himself in the position of overruling or sacking elected officials -- who happen to be nationalists -- in the name of promoting democratic values.

This paradoxical situation of imposing democracy by fiat has led to a lively debate in recent years about reforming the Dayton system, in the course of which four models emerged (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 15 July and 14 October 2005). One calls for strengthening the OHR on the grounds that it is the only institution that is capable of breaking the structures that emerged in wartime. The second advocates phasing out the OHR in the name of promoting democracy. The third approach would throw out Dayton and call a new constitutional convention, even if it were dominated by the nationalists. The fourth model is the most radical, in that it calls for declaring the Bosnian state a failure and partitioning it between Serbia and Croatia, with the Muslims left with a rump mini-state or the option of joining one of the neighbors. The recent moves by the United States and EU toward constitutional streamlining in Bosnia were intended as a way out of this impasse but still do not clarify all the questions surrounding the OHR.

Another issue confronting Bosnia and also Serbia on their respective roads to Euro-Atlantic integration is the apparent continuing presence on their territories of major fugitive war crimes indictees. Former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic is believed to spend his time in the Republika Srpska and adjoining areas of Montenegro, while his former military commander, ex-General Ratko Mladic, is probably in Serbia. Neither man could remain on the loose without an extensive support network, and both probably enjoy some form of protection from people in positions of authority. In the case of Mladic in particular, it is widely believed that Army support has helped ensure his survival. Croatia's General Gotovina, too, has presumably continued to escape justice only with the help of old-boy networks, perhaps ones dating back to his prewar days in the French Foreign Legion.

A further problem bedeviling nearly all the countries of the western Balkans to one extent or another involves structures linking the worlds of politics, business, the security forces, and organized crime. These are probably most evident in Bosnia, where they took root during the 1992-95 war, and in Serbia, where they were part and parcel of Milosevic's rule from the late 1980s until 2000. The assassination of pro-reform Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic in March 2003, which has not yet been fully explained, served notice as to how serious the problem of clandestine structures remains, as do other periodic acts of violence against journalists and other public personalities in Serbia and Montenegro.

It remains to be seen how seriously the EU and NATO will ultimately take such matters into consideration in judging the western Balkans' prospects for Euro-Atlantic integration. The two Brussels-based organizations have already accepted as members some other postcommunist states that underwent dubious privatization processes in the 1990s or have questionable links between some individuals in politics, business, and former Soviet security networks. Observers in former Yugoslavia also point out that few countries in North America or Western Europe are themselves immune from serious scandals.

In the end, what will ultimately determine the pace of Euro-Atlantic integration in most of former Yugoslavia and Albania is a combination of the willingness of those countries to undertake reforms themselves, and the desire of the EU and NATO not to have a "black hole" develop on the eastern side of the Adriatic that could attract the attention of terrorists and become an even greater hotbed of organized crime and human trafficking. What the time frame for this integrative process will prove to be is anyone's guess.

RFE/RL Balkan Report

RFE/RL Balkan Report


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