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Integration or Disintegration?
This remains the basic choice when it comes to the future of the Balkans. But instead of devising a coherent policy, there is a tendency to left things drift. And de facto disintegration will be the result. My remarks to the European Meeting of the Trilateral Commission in Budapest.

Remarks by Carl Bildt at the 25th European Meeting of the Trilateral Commission, Budapest, November 11, 2001.

In the Balkans, the September 11 attacks on the United States may have improved the chances for political cooperation among the US, the European Union, and Russia. Such international cooperation is certainly needed if the region is to avoid rebalkanization into tiny, unviable ethnic pockets.

In any effort at political stabilization the EU will have to take the lead. The Balkans are an integral part of Europe, and in the interest both of their own development, and the wider development of peace and prosperity on the continent, they must move towards membership of the European Union in the future

This time around, Washington is likely to welcome European leadership. And the rapprochement between Russia and the United States since September 11 makes it increasingly likely that a constructive relationship can be built also with Russia on the long-term structural challenges of South-Eastern Europe. There is a new awareness of the risk associated with areas in which unsolved political issues leads to a vicious circle of failed states and dominance by transnational criminal networks.

It is now a decade since we were again faced with the deep-seated structural issues of this part of Europe. And the last decade of the 20th century was to be marred by the conflicts and challenges in the Balkans in much the same way as the first decade had been.

We often forget that the first decades of the century were similarly marred –after the Berlin Congress of 1878 failed to bring lasting peace–by the near-war over Bosnia in 1908, the First Balkan War of 1912 and the assassination at Sarajevo in 1914 that ignited World War I.

After the end of World War I, Europe was to be built new again, and diplomats and statesmen rushed back to the drawing board. In a briefing book prepared for the British delegation to the Paris Peace Conference of 1919, it was dryly noted, that “the first attempt to solve the Balkan problem might be attributed to the Persians.” It attributed the recurring challenges to the European order coming from this region to “the succession of various races who have from time to time entered it as conquerors or as settlers, sometimes occupying definitive areas, but frequently living side by side, with little mixture or amalgamation, in regions in which none of them can justify any exclusive claim.”

This approach worked reasonably well as long as a strong central power held sway over the entire region – be it Rome, Constantinople or Istanbul–the analysis warned, but “as soon as this pressure was removed, [Balkan peoples] have shown a tendency to racial, dynastic, or national enmities which have led to internecine strife and laid waste the country.”

At the Paris Peace Conference the statesmen of the victorious powers set out to reorganize Europe on the principle of national self-determination proclaimed by US President Woodrow Wilson. Borders were changed, referenda were organized, and new states were created in accordance with this principle. But when confronted with the ethnic and cultural mosaic of the Balkan region, even the most stalwart defenders of the Wilsonian ideals balked. The carving up of that part of Europe according to the precept of self-determination was simply not possible without major new wars in the region.

The post-World War I solution was to create the first Yugoslavia, based on Serb attempts to set up a stronger state and Croat desire to get out of the stranglehold of Budapest and Vienna. Bosnia did not really come into the picture; in Montenegro there was the usual split over the proper course of action; and in the borderlands toward Albania diplomats had already decided much earlier on rather strange borders at a peace conference in Florence.

In the absence of strong forces to keep it together, this first Yugoslavia gradually fractured as it become more and more an extension of Serb power. And when war again came to the region in 1940, this Yugoslavia quickly disappeared. During the war the common South Slav state created in 1919 was dismembered; a greater Croatia and a greater Albania were created, dividing up fracture zones like Bosnia and Macedonia and subjecting Serbia to a harsh occupation regime.

As the Axis powers lost the war and all the Allied powers decided to back the Communist-led partisans of Josip Broz Tito, however, this order quickly come to an end. Greater Albania was beaten back in a brutal reoccupation of Kosovo by partisan forces, while greater Croatia remained thoroughly discredited by its ethnic wartime murders that were excessive even by the terrible standards of those terrible years.

The second Yugoslavia initially had more luck than the first. When the Yugoslav Communist Party was expelled from the Cominform by Stalin in 1948 and the cold war started, this turned out to be a blessing in disguise. The threat from the Soviet Union strengthened the internal cohesion of the six republics of the federation, and the need to contain Moscow meant that the democratic West was not finicky about the concentration camps, the executions, and the suppression of political and human rights by the regime.

But as the cold war started its gradual thaw, the cracks again started to appear in Yugoslavia. There were riots by Albanians in Pristina; in the early 1970s Tito had to impose a very strict regime in Croatia to suppress national sentiments; and in Bosnia the demand was put forward for the Muslims to be seen as one of the nationalities of Yugoslavia. Increasing economic problems with the hybrid model of socialist self-government were alleviated by increasingly generous loans provided by the West.

The central power in Belgrade tried to accommodate demands for change by a constitution that vastly increased the powers of the republics, as well as by a policy of massive borrowing abroad. But these measures could not prevent that nationalist tensions in economic disguise increased as the republics battled for their share of money and investments.

The wave of national liberation that swept over Europe as the Soviet empire fell endangered the very existence of the second Yugoslavia. When others began waving their national flags, so did the different nationalities of Yugoslavia.

Again, it was necessary to rush back to the drawing board and look at the different options for some sort of self-sustaining political stability in the region. With the United States engaged in the Gulf War and fearful of the consequences of a complete disintegration of the Soviet Union, the task fell on the European Community.

The European Community Peace Conference, chaired by Lord Carrington, performed impressively as it searched for a possible solution to the issues. But in the end political pressures in different countries undermined its work. The efforts to secure a political settlement were doomed by the combination of the rush by some to give full recognition to Croatia and the failure by others to put deeds behind the words in stopping aggressive Serb behaviour. As a result, both Croat and Serb nationalists were encouraged–and any reader of history would have known that Bosnia had to be next on the list.

Once again the international efforts to preserve the peace failed. In retrospect, the preliminary agreement reached between the main Bosnian parties in late February 1992 certainly does not look inferior to what emerged in the Dayton settlement after nearly four years of war. But the Lisbon agreement fell apart, under circumstances that are still controversial.

As the horrors of the Bosnian war become obvious, the new Clinton administration took office in Washington determined to do everything differently. It started by withdrawing support for the peace efforts of the EU and the UN led by David Owen and Cyrus Vance, thus collapsing them with no alternative but war in sight. Bosnia suffered nearly three more years of war before the United States in the late summer of 1995 accepted a realistic basis for a settlement of the conflict in Bosnia.

With the arrival of peace in Bosnia in late 1995, the institutions for conflict resolution in the area that had been set up earlier, notably the International Conference on Former Yugoslavia (ICFY), were dismantled. Some remaining functions continued under the nominal authority of the High Representative for Peace Implementation in Bosnia. But essentially the regional dimension in peace efforts was dropped.

In the years immediately after the Dayton agreement there was a window of opportunity to address remaining issues of the region–especially Kosovo, the dog that had not yet barked. But only a well-coordinated approach by Washington and the key European countries to get movement into the Kosovo issue would have worked. The necessary interest in most of the capitals was not there. The first shots were fired in Kosovo in late 1997, the first battle fought in February 1998. The slide toward open war began.

The Rambouillet negotiations in February 1999 were a European-led last attempt to reach a settlement on the future of Kosovo. Their history is still a matter of dispute between US and European participants. But the attempt at peace failed; instead a war was started, and when it ended there was no peace agreement to be had. Kosovo was handed over to the United Nations, and plans for solving the conflict over its future were simply deferred.

The year 2000 brought new hope to the region, as there was decisive political change in both Zagreb and Belgrade. President Franjo Tudjman of Croatia died, and President Slobodan Milosevic of Yugoslavia lost the election he had himself called in order to reinforce his position. With the two most powerful actors from the dramas of the 1990s gone from the scene, and with new policy approaches in the two most important countries of the region, new possibilities opened up.

The responsibility of both for the developments in the region during the 1990s is obvious. Milosevic now sits in The Hague, answering charges of war crimes, and the present Chief Prosecutor of the Tribunal has declared that she would have indicted Tudjman as well, had he been alive. The pair were ruthless political operators in pursuit of their sometimes clashing, sometimes parallel objectives.

But ruthless as they were, we must not overlook the fact that they pursued goals that had broad popular support in their respective countries. Croatia wanted an independent national state, certainly preferred to see the back of as many Serbs as possible, and in many cases saw a historic mission for its nation that extended also into more or less Croat-dominated areas of Bosnia.

For its part, Serbia felt that the Serb-dominated areas had been dismembered in the interest of balancing the different nationalities in Yugoslavia, sought to unite or establish a close relationship between them all, and certainly preferred to see the exit of as many non-Serbs as possible. Both the agendas and the means used to advance them had deep roots.

Today the conflict between Serbia and Croatia that dominated the news a decade ago has, with pitifully few exceptions, been solved by a process of outright ethnic cleansing or semi-compulsory ethnic separation.

With the explosion of Kosovo in 1999, world attention shifted from the conflict between Serbs and Croats to the tensions between Slav and Albanian areas. Here the possible fracture zone starts in southern Montenegro, encompasses Kosovo, touches southern Serbia, and stretches into and through Macedonia.

The issues we face here are in their essence the same ones we faced in the region throughout the last decade. The basic options are either negotiation of some sort of peaceful separation or negotiation of some sort of structure for living together. While the rhetoric of the international community nearly always honours the latter option, reality more often accords with the former. We have seen a gradual slide towards ethnic and political separation between Slavs and Albanians in these areas, on the pattern of the Serbs and Croats.

This is obvious in Kosovo. While the international community was successful in producing conditions for the speedy return of the nearly million Albanians that were driven away or fled Kosovo during the months of war in 1999, it failed to prevent nearly a quarter of a million non-Serbs from being driven away or leaving Kosovo after the end of the war. We turned the tables from suppression of an Albanian minority by a Serb majority in Serbia to suppression of a Serb minority by an Albanian majority in Kosovo. As the United Nations administration now takes Kosovo down the road toward substantial autonomy, its efforts to promote the return of displaced persons is making no more than very slow progress.

It was expected that, sooner or later, continued uncertainty over the future of Kosovo would spill over into Macedonia. The first constitution of independent Macedonia was never accepted by the Albanians, but during the 1990s the country stayed tranquil, with a preventive deployment of UN peacekeepers along its northern and western borders providing some reassurance, and with determined attempts to work together in multi-ethnic governments. By the standards of the Balkans, Macedonia was a decent place.

This could not prevent conflict from breaking out, however. Militant Albanians, often crossing the border from Kosovo, took up arms to achieve by fast, violent means what the main Albanian parties of Macedonia were trying to achieve by more slow democratic means. And after initially condemning them in strong terms, the international community changed its tack, supported some of the militants' key demands, securing some of them in the Ohrid Framework Agreement in exchange for the formal disbanding of the armed Albanian networks.

The year 2000 brought a second chance in recent times to secure a political settlement to the eternal question of the political structure of the region, the first having been missed a decade ago. But it was also clear that there was a risk of a second round of ethnic separation and conflict if this chance were not grasped.

More than a year later, the record is mixed at best. Although there is positive movement toward political change and economic reform in both Croatia and Serbia, little progress has been done in addressing the open political issues of the region. As long as this continues, true stability will not be possible.

Kosovo is the most obvious case. As long as it is unclear whether Kosovo will become an autonomous unit within a larger framework, or become an independent state, the vicious circle of expectations and fears remains. Compromises even on minor issues will be difficult, as they will be seen as affecting the outstanding major issue that all actors ultimately remain focused on.

But the issue of Kosovo is only a part of the wider unresolved issue of the future of the present Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. In its present form, it is clearly not a viable structure. It must be replaced, either by a new contract between the republics of Serbia and Montenegro, including eventually also the emerging Republic of Kosova, or by its dissolution into three independent states.

Again, we are confronted with the key dilemma of the political order of the region: disintegration or integration. Policy in this regard should be designed to achieve a deliberate chosen end instead of being left to drift and await frantic rescue as the consequences of drift become apparent.

Superficially, the disintegration option might look like the less complicated. NATO forces could secure its immediate implementation on the ground in Kosovo, and it would certainly meet with the approval of the vast majority of the people of Kosovo. In Montenegro, the situation is more complex, and the possibility is slim of fulfilling the constitutional requirements for a proper separation from Serbia, as recently laid down by the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe.

But in the longer perspective the problems are obvious. The disintegration alternative is unlikely to bring long-term stability. It is unlikely that there will exist two Albanian states side by side without them moving closer and closer together, thus risking to fuel sentiments along the same lines in neighbouring Albanian-dominated areas of the region, aggravating the problems in the region.

And we must never forget that the two most challenging areas in the region are Bosnia and Macedonia. This was the case in the past, and this will remain the case for the foreseeable future. It is naïve to believe that free rein for disintegration in other parts of the region over time can be made to make halt at the borders of these two countries.

The integration alternative is, in the shorter perspective, much more challenging. But it does offer the prospect of stopping and, over time, reversing the process towards ethnic separation that we have seen in the region during the past decade. This has been the declared aim of international efforts in the region, and it does offer the long-term hope of local as well as regional stability.

Increasingly, we must start to look at the region with a view towards its integration into the structures of the European Union, knowing that this one day will stretch from the plains of Anatolia to the coast of the Artic Ocean. The road towards this goal will be long and difficult, but that makes it even more important that we start to focus both on the process and the aim.

Here, there will be obvious difficulties with a disintegration alternative. It is not easy to see how a Montenegro with app 600 000 inhabitants or a Kosovo with 2 million inhabitants in a future Europe will be given constitutional rights substantially greater than a Bavaria, Scotland, Catalonia or Lombardy with a far greater number of inhabitants.

If we encourage or tolerate the disintegration of the Balkans even further, the task of integrating the region with the rest of Europe is likely to be made more difficult.

Thus, it seems advisable to devote attention on avoiding a further balkanisation, and the setting up of structures that bridge and over time might even overcome the present divisions.

This will not be easy. The slow and frustrating process of making such structures work in Bosnia, as well as the present challenges in Macedonia, amply demonstrates the difficulties. But in these cases, at least, it is clear that the disintegration alternative would be devastating also for the stability of the wider region.

The background material to the Peace Conference in 1919 noted that there has been tranquillity in the region when there had been a firm political order that, at the end of the day, was anchored in a power outside the region. With the region gradually moving towards the European Union, and with its political architecture of layered sovereignty secured also by the United States and Russia in the United Nations Security Council, we should be able to move towards such a self-sustaining stability in the years ahead.

We still have our second chance – and there is still the risk of a second round of disintegration. After September 11, the role of the European Union in shaping peace in this part of Europe will be crucial.

But the question of whether the European Union is ready for this remains open. We often have the micro policies for the region, but we have as yet shunned away from the task of devising that macro policy without which everything else sooner or later is doomed to failure.

Bildt Blog Comments

In addition to this webpage, and the email letters ongoing since 1994, I have now started a blog as well.

You find it at

At you will continue to find articles, speeches and different documents.

At the blog there will be the shorter and perhaps somewhat faster comments.

And the e-letter continues to give at the least an attempt at analys.

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