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Learning in the Balkans
Also the international community has to learn from its mistakes during past years in the Balkans. A decade ago, there was a chance to secure a political agreement on Bosnia, but instead we got a brutal war. My speech at the Irish Institute for European Affairs in Dublin.

Remarks by Mr Carl Bildt to the Irish Institute for European Affairs
Dublin, February 20, 2002.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Could I just start by using this opportunity to pay tribute to the contribution that Ireland has made to the different peace efforts in the Balkans during the past decade.

In my different capacities – as EU Special Representative to Former Yugoslavia, as international High Representative in Bosnia and as Special Envoy of the Secretary-General of the United Nations to the Balkans – I have been fortunate in having worked with numerous people from here, who have made crucial contributions to the combined international efforts. Perhaps the special experience of Ireland has made them as capable of undertaking their different tasks as I have always found them to be.

A week ago, the International Criminal Tribunal for Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) opened its proceedings against former President Milosevic. For two days, we were presented with one version of events, and for three further, with a completely different version of the same events.

As you would expect with opening shots of this sort, both versions were painted with very broad brush and in very bright colours.

For those of us who have spent some years trying to tackle the many challenges of that fascinating and rich part of our common Europe, things are not always as clear-cut.

The problems of this part of Europe are complex, sometimes have deep roots in history, and requires an understanding not only of the personalities of the day, but also of the broader currents that have shaped the region.

By necessity, you have to look at the history of the region.

In the briefing material prepared for the British delegation to the Paris Peace Conference in 1919, it was rather dryly noted, that “the first attempt to settle the problems of the Balkans may be attributed to the Persians.”

Richard West in his biography of Tito takes a somewhat less ambitious approach to the subject when he says that anyone trying to understand the problems of the region should start with Edward Gibbon’s “The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire”, and in particular the volumes describing the time from the coronation of Charlemagne in AD 800 to the fall of Constantinople in 1453.

And anyone having worked in the region knows that most conversations there starts with at the least the Congress of Berlin in 1878, which was triggered by events in Bosnia, dwell in some details with all the Balkan conflicts during the first decade of the last century, culminating in the shoots in Sarajevo in June 1914, go on with the decisions of the Paris Peace Conference after the First World War, look at the implications of the carnage during the Second World War in the region and contemplate the various consequences of the decades of dictatorship under Tito.

Let me, in order to spare you all of this, just note that the essence of the problems of the region are the problems of establishing the political order of a region characterized by a mosaic of cultures, nationalities and traditions without parallel in any other part of Europe.

And I believe it is important to note, that the problems successive generations of international statesmen and local politicians have been confronted with here are in essence no different from the problems we have been confronted with across Europe – this island certainly no exception – but are different in that they are far more numerous, thus producing a situation that is far more complex.

In essence, there are two different ways of trying to establish a stable political order in the region.

Either one follows the highway of European politics of the last century or two and tries to set up well-defined nation states based on some sort of right of self-determination. Or one tries, instead, to build political structures that try to bridge the gaps between the different nations, cultures and traditions, and facilitate their peaceful coexistence within the same constitutional frameworks.

For nearly two thousand years, successive more or less multi-national empires – run from Rome, Constantinople, Istanbul or Vienna - dominated the region. There were certainly conflicts and clashes during these long centuries, but probably less rather than more than in the rest of Europe.

It was when the national principle of self-determination - one nation, one language, one religion, and one history – started to replace these empires that the real time of troubles in the region started. Since then, we have seen the one conflict after the other centred on the fundamental issues of either disintegration or integration.

It was at Versailles that national self-determination was proclaimed the guiding principle for a new European order. But even the determined statesmen of those days balked when trying to apply this concept to the complex mosaic of the region. We got the first of the Yugoslavia’s.

And it was when the second of these Yugoslavia’s started to fall apart a decade ago, that we had to return to the problems of the political order of the region. After the fall of the Soviet Union and its extended European empire, old flags started to wave all over Central and Eastern Europe, and this was bound to have a profound impact on the Balkans, bringing to the surface all the issues of the past.

And since then, we have seen successive international efforts to help settling the affairs of the region, but also the successive wars from Slovenia to Macedonia and the immense human suffering they have caused.

More than a decade after the process of dissolution of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia started, we are not yet at a stage where we can say that there is a self-sustaining stability in the region. Core issues of the conflicts are still open, structures are fragile, and the economic and social situation of large parts of the region still extremely difficult.

If we go back precisely ten years in time, it was the fate of Bosnia that was in the balance. The independence of Slovenia and Croatia had just been recognized, and a UN peacekeeping force deployed in the later state to try to pave the way for a political settlement between its Croat majority and Serb minority. But with tension between Croats and Serbs throughout the region running high, the situation of fragile Bosnia become extremely exposed.

Having been governed by a coalition between the three main nationalist parties of the Moslems, the Serbs and the Croats since the first democratic elections in 1990 split the country along these lines, the country risked being torn apart by the conflicts in the surrounding area.

There were intensive efforts underway to find a constitutional settlement. Under the auspices of the then European Community, an agreement was reached in Lisbon in March, providing for an independent Bosnia consisting of three separate national entities. Issues of internal demarcation and future army structures were still open, but there was an agreement in principle on a Bosnia that should be acceptable to all the three national forces of the country.

It will remain one of the most controversial issues of the controversial history of these years why this agreement did not hold. Hardliners on all three sides sought to undermine it, but at the end it was the Muslim SDA party that wrecked it, probably hoping that there would be international recognition for an independent state anyhow, and that any resulting internal trouble by the Serbs could be handled.

The rest, as they say, is history. After the European Union had rushed ahead with the recognition of Croatia and Slovenia some months earlier, it was now the United States that lead the rush to recognition of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Soon, there was war, conflict and cleansing across most of the country. Millions of people had to flee all over Europe. Only months after the demise of the Soviet Union, we had war in Europe.

When history one day is written, I fear it will be as hard on the international actors of those days as it certainly will be on local forces and actors of the region. It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that it was a massive mistake, with massive consequences, to recognize the new states in the region without a prior agreed settlement of their internal order, primarily as regards the rights and positions of the different national groups. It should be noted, that these were steps taking against the explicit advice of those actively trying to secure some sort of settlement.

Since then, wars have been fought, and political agreements have been concluded, trying to sort out exactly the issues that were not sorted out during those crucial months of 1991 and 1992. And the proceedings at ICTY will continue to remind us of the horrors of these essentially civil wars.

It took the international community until the late summer of 1995 until it could get itself to agree to a comprehensive and credible plan for peace in Bosnia. Efforts prior to that had floundered on disagreements in the international community as much as on the intransigence of the local actors. Had it not been for those, the war could in all probability have been ended earlier.

At the end of the day, the settlement arrived at in Dayton in November 1995 was in principle not very different from what had been agreed in Lisbon in March 1992. The main difference was that a three-entity Bosnia had been replaced with a two-entity Bosnia after the Croats and the Muslims had been subject to a shotgun marriage into a Federation.

In the debate, we sometimes here forces that claim that everything could have been settled earlier if we had been willing to intervene militarily much earlier. This is, it is claimed, what lead to Bosnian Serbs to accept peace in late 1995.

I do believe that a willingness to use force – against the Serbs onslaught against Vukovar or around Dubrovnik – would have changed the situation. But I do not believe this would have taken away the necessity of a political solution. There is no way in which conflicts of this sort can be settled purely by military means.

This is also what happened in 1995. It wasn’t primarily military action against the Serbs that ended the war in Bosnia, but the fact that also the United States was now ready to accept a two-entity Bosnian, thus for the first time creating an international consensus around a peace plan that meet the basic requirements of all the warring parties. Had this happened earlier, the war would in all probability have been ended earlier.

With the war in Bosnia ended, international attention moved elsewhere. Balkan fatigue started to set in among the international community.

Thus, when more militant Albanians started to take up arms against the repressive Serb rule in Kosovo in late 1997, feeling left out and abandoned, the international community was to a large extent unprepared. Misreading the lessons of the previous years, there was the belief that robust rhetoric and threats of air action would be enough to secure some sort of peaceful settlement. This, however, failed to prevent the conflict from escalating.

In Rambouillet in early 1999, the United Kingdom and France took the lead in a last initiative towards a peaceful resolution, but by then the rhetoric and the threats had acquired a momentum of its own. The search for peace failed, instead we got a war, and ended that with a peace agreement even more distant than it had been.

Serb rule over Kosovo was replaced by international rule over the province. Nearly a million Kosovo Albanians that had been driven away or fled from the province during the months of war during the spring of 1999 could come back, but the arrival of international forces could not prevent that nearly a quarter of a million Serb and other minorities were fled or were driven away from the province.

And in much the same way as the incomplete regional agenda after the war in Bosnia contributed to the war in Kosovo, the incomplete agenda after the latter contributed to the rise in tension in Macedonia. Uncertainty concerning the future of Kosovo was bound, sooner or later, to spill over into uncertainty concerning the future of Macedonia.

Having been protected by preventive diplomacy and by a preventive deployment of a UN force for most of the 1990’s, and proclaimed the star pupil of the EU in the region, Macedonia was left exposed to the tensions of the clash between Albanian and Slav national agendas in the region. As fighting erupted a year ago, we failed to confront the armed elements, and the resulting conflict lead to a serious further ethnic partition of Macedonia, now also hosting an international military presence.

We have thus seen conflicts, centred around essentially the same issues, go from the one part of the region to the other, with the international community rushing in to try to secure some sort of ad hoc arrangement, hoping that some day these can be put together into some sort of coherent whole, preferably taking the region into the structures of wider European integration.

But before this can happen, there are major issues that need to be resolved. And the most important of these is the future of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, the third and in all probability the last of the Yugoslavia’s.

Clearly unsustainable today, it can either be broken up into separate states of Serbia, Montenegro and Kosovo, or efforts can be made to find a settlement in which they share certain responsibilities and functions, thus over time facilitating the necessary integration of the region as a whole.

Today, the European Union has proclaimed itself clearly in favour of a continued relationship between Serbia and Montenegro. This is driven by the conviction that a continued disintegration of the region risks taking us from the one conflict to the other.

But the issue of Kosovo is still open, and few are prepared even to discuss it. There will be no stability in large parts of the region as long as this continues to be the case. We can not talk about states entering into a process of integration with the rest of Europe as long as we don’t even know which states there are today, and which states there might be tomorrow.

With important parts of the political order of the region is still open, it is unavoidable that the fears of the one side and the expectations of the other will be fuelled in a pattern only too familiar.

I do not belong to those who believe that an independent Kosovo would be the best solution, primarily because it would mean defeat for our efforts to build political structures that seeks to bridge the divisions of the region. Neither do I believe in the advisability of trying to divide Kosovo, thus paving the way for similar divisions in other parts of the region.

To divide the region up into monoethnic statelets will satisfy vocal national agendas, but risks not only continued fragmentation in other areas, but also betraying the values of inter-ethnic tolerance and cooperation we have been trying to uphold.

We should start discussing the possibility of a political settlement in which there is a clear-cut constitutional separation between Serbia and Kosovo, but in which the Republics of Serbia, Montenegro and Kosova are ready, within a framework of wider European integration, to share certain state functions and responsibilities. When hinted at by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, this idea meet with the immediate rejection of all parties, thus fulfilling the basic criteria for any idea with any prospect of paving the way for a political compromise in the future.

I do believe that it is along these routes that political settlements for the region must be sought. We must move away from the 19th-century fixation with national states and national borders, and moves towards structures of layered sovereignty within a broader European framework. Such structures might well be complex, but this reflects the complexity of the region itself, as well as the new constitutional realities of the structures of European integration.

This applies in particular to the key fracture zones of the region, lying in between the core states of Croatia, Serbia and Albania. Their process of economic and political reform is obviously of key importance. But at the end of the day it is the stability of the historical fracture zones – the one between Serbs and Croats running through Bosnia, and the one between Slavs and Albanians running in the more southern part of the region – that will decide the stability of the region.

At the same time as we need to start to move forward with the political settlements of the region, I believe we must be ready to discuss also a restructuring of the international efforts in the region. Today, they are fragmented not only within the region, but also within individual parts of it, with an alphabet soup of international bodies in different configurations consuming vast resources, but sometimes producing less impressive results.

It makes much sense to talk about a gradual “Europeization” of the international structures of the region, thus creating European peace support institutions in the region that gradually will evolve into integration-supporting organisations, and at some point in time folded into more normal European or EU institutions. I see no reason why either the United States or Russia would not support such a process and be ready to give their help, provided the process takes place within a political framework for the region having their support and ultimately given legitimacy by the UN Security Council.

Today, the EU is not ready for this, but small steps are nevertheless discussed. The EU will take over the UN police functions in Bosnia at the end of this year as the UN closes down its mission there.

There is also the intention to take over the European-lead NATO force in Macedonia during this year, although I believe it would make more sense to seek to take over the NATO-lead SFOR force in Bosnia, consolidating EU efforts there under a EU High Representative, and paving the way for the country’s European integration. In addition, there is an obvious security connection between the situations in Kosovo and Macedonia which, in combination with the remaining challenges, seems to call for as coherent an international security presence as possible.

There could also have been, in my opinion, a compelling argument to strengthen the now somewhat mission-empty Stability Pact into an instrument for coordinating the international efforts, as well as the national European preparations, of the region within a firm framework linked to the EU and its long-term accession strategies.

At the end of the day, it is the peoples of the region that have to make peace with each other, and to find the political structures that makes it possible for them to face the future with confidence. But long historical experience has showed that this is unlikely to happen if there is not a clear international role.

The experience of the last decade has showed that it’s only when the international community speaks with one voice that it can deliver political settlements and agreements in the region. It is possible for the one or the other to start wars, but there is not a single case of a peace being concluded or a war ended without the Europeans, the United States and Russia coming together in a joint effort.

And the experience of the last decade has also showed, that any political settlement that has the prospect of bringing stability must meet the minimum demands of everyone, while meeting the maximum demands of no one. Peace in a region of mosaic can only be built on compromise. Anything else is just a recipe for new conflicts further on.

During the months to come we will be reminded of the horrors of the past decade of conflict by the ongoing trial of Mr Milosevic in the Hague. It is my firm hope that also other indicted persons can be brought to the Hague, and that ICTY is ready to issue those further indictments that may be necessary in order to make it possible to establish the over-all responsibility for crimes against humanity that occurred during those conflicts.

The task of the International Tribunal is a difficult and demanding one. It should establish individual guilt in order to prevent accusations of national guilt from undermining the prospects for peace and stability in the region. It should seek justice, not as an instrument for retaliation, but as an instrument for reconciliation.

At the end of the day, this will only be possible if people of the same nation as the person that is sentenced accept the sentences of the tribunal as fair. And this will only be possible if there is the feeling that the Tribunal has dealt not only with one aspect of the conflict, but with all of the major aspects of it, and with all of the major actors in it.

This is certainly a tall order. But if we are determined to try to get the region out of its century of cycle of conflicts, and pave the way for a European order of stability, nothing else will do.

As the proceedings in the Hague go one, we would be well advised to focus on the core issues of the area – integration or disintegration -, try to address the outstanding major issues in the region, help the reform processes underway in both the economic and political fields, streamline our own international presence in the area and hope that we will be wiser in handling the challenges of this culturally so rich part of Europe than we have unfortunately been in the past.

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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