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Balkan Past - Balkan Futures
Contribution to the 1999 Christmas Cracker from The Hakluyt Foundation in London. The core issues of the Balkan conflicts - and the core problems that must be addressed if further wars are to be averted.

The 1999 Christmas Cracker from The Hakluyt Foundation in London.
By Mr Carl Bildt.

Balkan Past - Balkan Futures

It all really started in the Balkans. It was there that the Old Order come towards its end, the Great Cataclysm started and Europe entered this century of wars and ethnic persecutions.

The first serious political crisis of the 20th century in Europe was the crisis in 1908 over Bosnia. Long forgotten, but at the time it brought Europe close to war.

The first war in Europe was, of course, the First Balkan War of 1912. Which was quickly followed by the Second Balkan War in 1913. And then we had a brief reprieve until the fatal shoots in Sarajevo on June 28, 1914 that cause the lights to go out in all of Europe. It was only weeks between the shoots in Sarajevo and the carnage on the fields of Flanders.

June 28 is a very special date in the history of the region. Everyone, but in particular the Serbs will honour it as the date of the fateful battle fought on that day in the year of 1389 on the fields of Kosovo Polje.

This century of wars started in the Balkans – and that’s were it ended as well. Had the Russian campaign against Chechnya not come in between, the last European war of this century would have been fought over the control of Kosovo. And the 1990’s has most certainly been a decade in which the one Balkan war has tended to follow the other.

It was late spring of 1995 as I was asked to succeed David Owen as the European Union Special Representative to Former Yugoslavia as well as Co-Chairman of what was called the International Conference on Former Yugoslavia. It was nearly four years after arms started to be used between Serbs and Croats around Knin and more than three years after war had come to Bosnia. The peace efforts were going nowhere. The war was accelerating.

I said yes for the sole reason that I could not find any morally acceptable argument for saying no. And ever since I have had reasons to think about the issues of war and peace in the Balkans. We managed to stop the war in Bosnia – but a couple of years later we stumbled into a new war in Kosovo.

Now, we need to ask ourselves if the first European war of the next century as well shall be in the Balkans. The risks are obvious.

We need to look at the fundamental issues of the region.

The numerous wars in the area have their roots in the fact that multi-national empires have ruled in this part of Europe for longer than in any other part. And these millennia of multi-ethnic rule resulted in a mosaic of ethnic and cultural groups which was more pronounced than anywhere else, and that made the process of carving out nation states immensely more difficult. It was the concept of the Nation State emerged as the chief organising principle of Europe, and the old Empires came towards their ends, that the wars in the region really started.

Thus, the essence of the conflicts in the area has been the clash between the multi-ethnic mosaic resulting from millennia of multi-ethnic empires and the efforts to set up national states on alleged national territory. In this part of Europe, we are still in the process of transition from an order built on Empires to an order built on the Nation State.

So far, the different conflicts resulting from this process of transition have all been solved through some form of ethnic cleansing or ethnic separation. The ethnic and cultural map of the region has changed very considerably during this century.

The most dramatic example of this is the Greek/Turkish ethnic separation, starting with the Lausanne protocol and continuing until the last major cleansing of Greeks in Istanbul in the early 1950’s. In some way, the Cyprus problem could be seen as an outflow of this process of separation.

The first wave of ethnic separations occurred during the first decades, and was centred on the Southern part of the region. The Macedonian issue was at the centre of these successive separations. Its effects lingered on into the Greek Civil War in the latter part of the 1940’s.

The second wave of separation occurred during the inter-Yugoslav fighting during World War 2, with the confrontation mainly between Croats and Serbs in the areas which fell under the rule of the Croat NDZ regime. Here, Bosnia, Herzegovina and Croatian Krajina were the centres of confrontation, with significant ethnic conflicts.

The third wave of ethnic separations in the region has been during the 1990’s. In the same way, its beginning could be seen as a continuation of what happened during the 1940’s, with nationalist ambitions as well as fears in the Croatian Krajina taking the conflict into direct ethnic confrontation.

Obviously, our attention is centred on this, the third wave of separation in the region. But it is difficult to fully understand the mechanics of this third wave without knowledge of the preceding waves. Memories of the past also have a tendency to shape the present also in this part of Europe.

There are two separate but closely interrelated conflicts during this third wave of violent separations in the region.

The first is centred on the confrontation between Croats and Serbs in the northern and central parts of the region, with the Muslims of Bosnia caught in the middle, while the second is centred on the confrontation between Slavs and Albanians in the more southern areas. We are thus gradually being brought back through many of the issues of the previous waves of separation in the region.

Numerous international efforts have tried to prevent or reverse this long wave of ethnic separation in the region, as all these separations have been associated with open wars, large streams of refugees and large-scale humanitarian disasters. They have also been a strain on the international system as such.

So far, most of these efforts have failed. And these failures have been a result of a combination of the strength of the forces of disintegration in the region and the inability of the international community to act in a coherent manner.

The conflict between the Croats and the Serbs started in Croatian Krajina and soon came to include Bosnia as the classical bone of contention between the two. Direct or indirect control over Bosnia has always been key to the contest for supremacy between Zagreb and Belgrade. In addition, northern Bosnia constituted the link between Serbia proper and the Serb areas of the Krajina in Croatia.

This conflict has now resulted in a major ethnic separation between these two key Southern Slav peoples.

The Croat Army in its operation in August 1995 cleansed Krajina, and the Croat authorities have since de facto refused any significant Serb returns. Only recently, President Tudjman openly discouraged Bosnian Croat refugees now settled in the area to return to Bosnia. The policy of ethnic homogenisation is obvious.

In Eastern Slavonia, the number of Serbs returning is negligible while the remaining Serb population continues to decline.

In Bosnia, there are homogeneous Serb and Croat areas that in many ways form part of their core countries. While the Bosnian Croat leadership is very much aligned with the regime in Zagreb, the Bosnian Serb leadership is clearly siding with the opposition in Belgrade. For both groups these capitals - and events there - are more in focus than Sarajevo.

The international community has gradually established a light protectorate over Bosnia in order to prevent the conflict from flaring up again and move the country gradually towards a self-sustaining existence. Talk of exit strategies has subsided, as there is an increasing realisation that the future of Bosnia is tied to the future of the entire region.

The years ahead could be difficult for Bosnia. Turmoil in the Croat and Serb political systems will by necessity affect large parts of the country. Further disintegration in the region will lead to questions about Bosnia’s ability to survive on its own. And the inability to reform old structures can well take the country towards economic chaos as the international efforts start to be reduced.

The second key conflict of the region – the one between Slavs and Albanians – is in many ways more difficult.

The conflict in Bosnia was to a large extent driven by fear. The Serbs feared a repetition of either the Croat terror during WW2 or a Muslim regime following in the footsteps of the Ottoman Empire. The Muslims feared that Serbs and Croats would divide the country at their expense, thus depriving them of the only state in the region that was truly theirs. They feared each other more than they hated each other.

The conflict over Kosovo is different. The element of fear is clearly here as well, but the element of hate is much stronger than it ever was in Bosnia. While the conflict in Bosnia was an inter-Slav conflict shaped by differences in cultural orientation, the conflict over Kosovo is one along a very clear ethnic and linguistic dividing line.

As the one conflict followed the other during the break-up of Yugoslavia, Kosovo for a long time was the dog that didn’t bark. But it was obvious that, at some point in time, some sort of break had to occur. For the Serbs, the demographics of Kosovo meant that in a generation’s time they would be a minority in their own country. For the Albanians of Kosovo, it was a question of waiting for the right moment to seek a better position within or without Yugoslavia.

After the Dayton Peace Agreement for Bosnia, the international community failed to address the problem of Kosovo in 1996 and 1997 when it might have been possible. The attempts that were made were never given the high-level support that would have been necessary.

The failure to develop a proper regional policy during these years is as much responsible for the tragedies of the region as the failure to agree on coherent policies in 1992 and 1993. The latter led to and prolonged the war in Bosnia, while the former missed the possibility of averting the war in Kosovo.

Now, after the wars of 1998 and 1999, the international community has established a hard protectorate in Kosovo.

But the key difference between the soft protectorate of Bosnia and the hard protectorate of Kosovo is that while we have a Peace Agreement in the former case we are further from one in the latter case than we have been for many years. While we might be heading for some sort of low-level peace in Bosnia, we might thus be heading for a continued low-intensity war over Kosovo.

The patchwork of protectorates established in the main fracture zones of the region hardly fits the definition of a true policy. At best, they can be described as a holding operation until there is a possibility for a broader peace settlement. At worst, they are paving the way for further tensions and conflicts.

There is now a new realisation that there has to be a policy for the region as a whole. The approach after the Kosovo war is in this respect markedly different from the approach after the Bosnia war. The Stability Pact is at the very least a symbol of the attempts to forge a new system of peace in the region.

The Stability Pact is a broader but much looser structure than the previous attempts. It includes also Romania and Bulgaria, but key policy issues concerning the future of the region are kept outside of it. And in the absence of any dialogue with and policy towards Serbia, it can do little more than be part of the holding operation that, at best, buys time for a future broader political settlement.

As pointed out initially, the key conflict in the region is the conflict between the forces of integration and the forces of disintegration.

And the coming years will be determined by which of these forces will have the upper hand. The actions and policies of the international community will make the difference.

During the 1990’s, the forces of disintegration have been stronger than the forces of integration. And we have accordingly seen a succession of bloody wars of separation. These have been a continuation of the trend of the last century.

It is important to recognise that the forces of disintegration are still stronger than the forces of integration. And the outcome of the war over Kosovo so far has reinforced this trend. It is vital to recognise that there are further wars down the road if we do not succeed in reversing this trend.

This is the key issue during the coming years.

Kosovo has been fought over numerous times. It has been a key battleground in the conflict between Slavs and Albanians for centuries.

Ever since the break-up of the Ottoman Empire in this area, this mainly Albanian-inhabited area has been recognised as part of Serbia, Montenegro or Yugoslavia. This was the conclusion reached at the London Conference in 1913, and which was subsequently endorsed in Versailles in 1919.

The international community – which is the new name for what in the region used to be called the Great Powers – has never proposed or contemplated schemes which would separate Kosovo from Yugoslavia. Instead, numerous models for far-reaching autonomy have been presented.

This was also the essence of the deal on the table in Rambouillet in the first part of this year. And it is worth noting that the distance separating the Serb and the Albanian teams in Rambouillet on the constitutional set-up of an autonomous Kosovo did not seem insurmountable. It was essentially on other issues that collapsed the peace process.

Since then, everything has changed. We are now further from a Peace Agreement for Kosovo than we have been for a long time.

The international community in the form of NATO stumbled into a de facto military alliance with the UCK during the war, but got out of the war by entering into a de facto political alliance with Belgrade on the key question of Yugoslav sovereignty as later expressed in resolution 1244. This contradiction will haunt international efforts.

Questions of borders in the region have always been seen as questions with consequences for the region as a whole. This applied at the start of the century, and remains relevant as the century draws towards its end. The future of Kosovo is directly linked to the future of the entire region.

At some point in time, we must move towards a Peace Agreement for Kosovo. This should be geared to the stability of the region as a whole.

In broad terms, there seem to be two main options for a future of Kosovo beyond the present protectorate.

The first can be referred to as the PPB option. This is the acronym for some sort of federal or confederal arrangement between Prishtina, Podgorica and Belgrade. The coming Republic of Kosova will share some functions as well as have a level of integration with the Republic of Serbia and the Republic of Montenegro.

The other option is the PTT option. This stands for some sort of arrangement or accommodation between Prishtina, Tirana and Tetovo, realising that an independent Republic of Kosovo is bound to gravitate towards some sort of closer relationship with nearby Albanian areas and entities.

It is not difficult to see the major problems associated with each of these options.

A PPB option would entail a redesign of present Yugoslavia. Serbia will formally have to accept that Kosovo is no longer part of its territory. There will have to be a new constitution also accommodating demands from Montenegro. While this will fall short of Kosovo Albanian demands for full independence, it will give them full powers in virtually all aspects of Kosovo life.

At the moment, we are more likely to be on a glidepath towards some sort of PTT option for the future of the region. But it is policy driven more by default than by design. While there are monumental difficulties with a PPB option – which can only be discussed in a future post-Milosevic scenario – there might be even more complex issues associated with a PTT development.

With the situation in Macedonia the most serious long-term issue, the most immediate critical point in the area is the relationship between Serbia and Montenegro. Here, we are sliding towards a separation and a conflict. There is a serious risk that a final break-up of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia will lead to an armed conflict.

Such a conflict might be of either Slovenian or of Croatian dimension, but is highly likely to trigger international military intervention if there has not by that time been a change of regime in Belgrade.

If there is thus a disintegration of the FRY, this might for the immediate future take the option of a PPB solution for Kosovo off the table. With the prospect of independence for Kosovo then greatly enhanced, we are likely to see an acceleration of the minority exodus from Kosovo at the same time as we will see a rapid build-up of tensions in Macedonia.

Thus, the final phase of the conflicts of the three waves of ethnic separation during this century might well take us back to the battlegrounds of the very first wars in Europe this century.

Macedonia is the last remaining larger multi-ethnic entity in the region. Its balance between Macedonian Slav and Macedonian Albanian interests has so far managed to preserve the stability of the country.

But we should not fool ourselves as to the consequences for Macedonia if the forces of separation are allowed to triumph everywhere else in the region. The Albanians of Macedonia have never accepted the present Constitution of the country, and are likely to be increasingly vocal in their demands for a redefinition of the Macedonian State during the years. A drift by Kosovo towards formal independence will undoubtedly accelerate the drift towards crisis in Macedonia.

A conflict over the future of Macedonia will be very complex. Apart from the well-known external aspects, drawing in the interests of all the surrounding countries, the internal dimensions of the problems are of a Bosnian magnitude. Today, close to half of all the new-born babies in Macedonia are Albanian. There are more Albanians in the de facto divided city of Skopje than in the contiguous Albanian areas in western Macedonia.

At the end of the day, a Peace Agreement for Kosovo will have to be a Peace Agreement between Belgrade and Prishtina. It is only by creating a framework for their relationship that meets the minimum demands of both, without meeting the maximum demands of either, that one can move the region towards stability and reintegration. Until such time as there is such an agreement, there will not be peace in the region.

Such an accommodation between Serb interests in Kosovo and Kosovo Albanian demands for independence will also be of great importance for the future stability of Macedonia, thus hopefully preventing a conflict there from breaking out. In the absence of such an accommodation between Belgrade and Prishtina, the two ethnic communities of Macedonia risks being gradually separated also by their different allegiances in the conflict over the future of Kosovo.

If the forces of disintegration continue to dominate in the region, we are thus highly likely to be faced with further conflicts and further needs to deploy international forces in the area.

Of all the politicians in the region, the one most clearly expressing a vision for the future is President Tudjman of Croatia.

His vision is essentially a vision of ethnic separation through the completion of the transition from the complex mosaic of the Empires to the mono-ethnic harmony of the Nation States, and then starting a more normal process of European integration on this basis. His vision is a comprehensive and clear-cut vision that so far seems to have both longer and more recent history on its side, although it clashes fundamentally with the multi-ethnic rhetoric dominating international policy.

But his vision fails to understand that the international community is no longer ready to accept what it did accept during the 1920’s or the latter part of the 1940’s, when it came to the creation of new realities through large-scale demographic reengineering of entire countries and regions.

And it more importantly also fails to understand that the arrow of history has changed direction in Europe during the past few decades: integration is now the dominant trend since all the major Nation States have been consolidating.

Nevertheless, integration, on its own, may be insufficient to deal with major issues of peace preservation or the creation of frameworks for economic development. We must also be prepared to reform these societies in the direction of true open economies, functioning democracies and the rule of the law. In all these respects, they all to greater or lesser degree have a long way to go.

When we talk about integration, the only force for integration that will be accepted in the region is the process of European integration. Regional integration has been tried and tested numerous times but has always failed. But it remains an historical truth that many of these nations have only managed to live in peace with each other when they have been part of a wider political structure.

With the old Empires gone, and a bloody process of further disintegration into monoethnic nation states being unacceptable, a process of integration into the European Union is the only available alternative for long-term peace and stability. There is simply no other option for reversing the slide towards further disintegration that is always associated with blood, refugees and barbarity.

The age of rule by Istanbul is certainly gone. And so is the age of the rule by Belgrade. The hope for peace in the region lies with integration into rule by Brussels. If the price for avoiding barbarity in the Balkans is an amount of bureaucracy in Brussels, most people would find that price for peace worth paying.

We simply can’t go one having the one war after the other in Europe.

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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