2 September 2004, Volume 6, Number 30
NOTE TO READERS:
The next issue of "RFE/RL South Slavic Report" will be issued on 16 September.
BALKAN NATIONS AS GUINEA PIGS
A program of Radio Most (Bridge) by RFE/RL's Omer Karabeg with Andrea Feldman from Zagreb and Slobodan Markovic from Belgrade. Feldman is executive director of the Open Society Institute of Croatia, and Markovic is a research fellow at the Institute for European Studies in Belgrade.
RFE/RL: But maps were prepared showing the proposed division of Bosnia-Herzegovina, of its territory.
Feldman: The issue of Bosnia-Herzegovina is a key to understanding the wars in former Yugoslavia. For decades it was an obsession of national elites in both Serbia and Croatia.
The idea that a state with the same right to independence as any other state might be partitioned among others is certainly a tragic one. However, the fact that [Croatian President Franjo] Tudjman dared to draw such a sketch in the presence of [British politician and now High Representative] Paddy Ashdown was not enough to start the war and the decomposition of the country. It took much more than that. But we do know that the elites actually made a deal to divide Bosnia-Herzegovina.
RFE/RL: Mr. Markovic, how do you explain the creation of the Republika Srpska, which is practically an ethnically pure territory, but which used to be a multiethnic one? Do you think there was a plan behind it, or it was simply a consequence of the war?
Markovic: One thing is certain: ever since [Serbian statesman Ilija Garasanin drafted his plan for a future greater Serbian state,] the "Nacertanije" in 1844, Bosnia-Herzegovina has been perceived as a part of the plan for reunification of Serbian lands, which in effect means its annexation to Serbia. The Principality of Serbia considered that as a serious option until the Congress of Berlin [in 1878, when Austria-Hungary occupied Bosnia-Herzegovina].
Of course, after [Austria-Hungary's] occupation of Bosnia-Herzegovina and especially after the annexation in 1908, [Serbian elites] had to change the direction of national aspirations and turn toward Macedonia and Kosovo, because that is what the Austro-Hungarian monarchy wanted.
After that there was the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, in which the national question was considered solved. Then there was socialist Bosnia-Herzegovina, with the domination of Serbian [World War II] Partisan elite until 1963. After that, a new policy allowed all the nations in Bosnia-Herzegovina to be a part of the leadership.
Therefore, several factors were involved in the creation of the Republika Srpska. There was [an old] national project [awaiting completion], the wish of the old Serbian communist elite to reestablish its power, and finally a romantic nationalist atmosphere during the 1990s in former Yugoslavia and Serbia.... Those elements were all conducive to projects to create ethnically based states.
RFE/RL: Admirers of the late President Tudjman claim that it was he who solved the Serbian national question in Croatia, since the number of Croatian Serbs was reduced to such a degree that they could no longer play a significant role in Croatian politics.
Mrs. Feldman, do you think there was a plan behind this or that Tudjman simply took advantage of the situation created by the rebellion of Croatian Serbs?
Feldman: For me, Tudjman was a misfortune. He had a wonderful opportunity to start with a fresh slate but was not up to the task. Accordingly, after the war ended in 1995, he was unable to deal effectively with our neighbors or the international community, with the result that Croatia became a pariah state.
I agree that he managed to reduce the Serbs to the level of an insignificant minority. Today's HDZ [Croatian Democratic Community] government is fully aware that without the participation of the Serbian community at all levels, Croatia will not be considered ready to join the EU....
RFE/RL: How do you explain that during its own process of integration and reducing the importance of frontiers, Europe has accepted the transformation of a mostly multiethnic region of former Yugoslavia into many different ethnically pure territories?
Markovic: This policy evolved in two stages. First came the [policy] of preserving the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia at any price, which was led by the United States....
Later, after it appeared that [Yugoslavia] had simply crumbled by itself, it seemed that the only logical solution was to create national states even though the new state frontiers could not be acceptable to everyone. However they were drawn, someone or other was always left dissatisfied. And Europe was surprised [by the complexity and brutality of the new process at hand].
Feldman: One of the reasons that it took the world a long while to grasp what was going on was that many still had a naive, idealized view of Tito's Yugoslavia. Many still do....
RFE/RL: However, there is also the view that Europe and the United States eventually decided to simply separate the combative Balkan peoples in order to prevent further conflicts.
Markovic: That is true. That was the dominant opinion at the beginning of the war, in 1991-92. For instance, in Robert Kaplan's [widely read] book "Balkan Ghosts," all the Balkan nations -- Yugoslavs as well as Romanians, Bulgarians, and Greeks -- are portrayed as primitive and bloodthirsty tribes waiting for the next chance to fight each other.
Those tribes were [supposedly] separated the way postcolonial Britain and French diplomacy did it in Africa. According to that model, the warring parties were first separated, and then somebody was put in between them....
However, that model was not really applied in our case. What was applied here was a postmodern model limiting national sovereignty in the name of a universal principle. The model being tested in Bosnia-Herzegovina is a sort of a guinea pig, and if it proves successful, the model might be applied elsewhere.
RFE/RL: Are we talking about a protectorate here?
Markovic: That is right. The model represents a protectorate. It was later applied in Kosovo, and it is becoming increasingly evident in Macedonia.
RFE/RL: But Bosnia-Herzegovina was a protectorate during Austro-Hungarian rule, too.
Markovic: That is true but there are some differences between the two. Under Austro-Hungarian rule, there was first the occupation and then the annexation. Bosnia-Herzegovina was ruled by Vienna and Budapest.
What we have now is a sort of a semi-protectorate, with the high representative's prerogatives but also with all the local entities and governing bodies preserved. The international community supervises them with the help of military forces, economic control, and politic pressure. This makes for a new and significantly different model.
For the time being, the region of former Yugoslavia is an experiment. That is how we should perceive the creation of the Commonwealth of Serbia and Montenegro. A model like that does not exist anywhere else in the world. You can ask any expert on federalism and will hear that a state like that has never existed before. It is nether a federation nor confederation, but a completely different thing with separate money flows, currencies, etc.
Europe is using us as experimental models. We are all its guinea pigs, except for Slovenia, which was lucky enough to escape in due time. As far as the rest of us are concerned -- God help us all.
Feldman: I am more optimistic, since I think that every national state here has the possibility of charting its own course. Whether the old-style elites are up to the task is another matter....
But I also think there are people able to carry out the changes, reforms, and new definitions of national identities in accordance with the needs of modern times. That definition means that ethnic differences are not perceived as a threat but as a positive quality that makes life more pleasant.