No to Balkan Apartheid
|There is a new debate on where we are heading in the Balkans. Wall Street Journal asked me to give my views. Here they are, as published March 26.
As violent nationalism and ethnic antagonism flare yet again in the Balkans, the border hostilities between Macedonia and Kosovo illustrate the same fundamental tension that has rent former Yugoslavia since its breakup. The forces of disintegration constantly battle the forces of integration. So long as the former have the upper hand, and Western support for the latter is insufficiently coherent and clear, we will stumble from one crisis to the other, condoning or tolerating accelerated ethnic disintegration, with all the strife and suffering that inevitably follows.
After the profound political changes last year in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and Croatia, the international community was given a second chance to lay the political foundation for sustainable regional stability. Yet not everyone recognised that this window of opportunity would not last forever. Those who had proclaimed that Milosevic was not only a problem, but the problem naturally relaxed when he was ousted from power. With the evil gone, surely the forces of good were bound to prevail.
But this assumption was naďve. Milosevic was a major problem not least because he prevented us from dealing with larger regional tensions in a constructive way. Failure to capitalise on this temporary window of opportunity now threatens a second round of Balkan disintegration. More suddenly than most expected, we are facing major challenges from Albanian extremists in Macedonia, and from Herzegovina Croats in Bosnia as well.
Some knowledgeable observers—including Lord Owen, who submitted his case on this page earlier this month—see the road toward stability in a further political carve-up along ethnic lines. According to this view, a couple of more states, as well as some new “entities,” might bring the stability that has thus far proved so elusive.
I profoundly disagree. It is easy to wave the banner of self-determination. But acceding to proliferating nationalist demands for self-determination only leads to further fragmentation, and it is difficult to see where the end-point lies. Moreover, one man’s self-determination is another man’s oppression. Most areas of the Balkans are not perfectly homogeneous, and rival ethnic groups compete for the same territory.
In the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, for example, nationalism was originally misperceived as exclusive to the Serbs. In consequence, since the war in Kosovo the West has obviously underestimated the force of Albanian nationalism, and has erred on the side of leniency regarding a variety of armed, semi-clandestine Albanian groups.
With a majority of Orthodox Slavs, Macedonia is 30% ethnic Albanian Muslims—who claim their proportion is closer to 40%. A higher Albanian birthrate may soon threaten Slavic dominance of the country, and such tips in the demographic balance are almost always fraught. Stirred by nationalist extremists, the Albanian minority grows restive. Although a star performer in the region in terms of democracy, economic reform and inter-ethnic tolerance, the state is extremely fragile, and there are distinct limits to how much stress from abroad or from within it can take. A benign environment is the precondition for the Macedonian as well as the Bosnian state. That benign environment has not persisted to the extent we had hoped.
The armed operation against the hills of Tetovo launched last Wednesday clearly originated in Kosovo. The slow democratic road to reform of the Albanian parties having power in Tetovo and sharing power in Skopje was suddenly challenged by the young, tough men with guns who believe they can take a short cut. Their leadership is battle-hardened from the days of the original National Liberation Army (or UCK) of Kosovo. They feel close links with kindred armed groups fighting for similar aims in Albanian-inhabited and mixed Southern Serbia as well as along the northern border of Macedonia.
The Tetovo war has sent profound shock waves throughout the region. Already, approximately 18,000 people have chosen to flee the area out of fear of further violence. What is at stake is not only the future of the Macedonian state, but the core values that underpin our strategy throughout the region during the past decade.
The coexistence of Slavs and Albanians was destined to be more fractious than the coexistence of Croats, Muslims and Serbs. The divide is deeper in almost every respect. The age-long conflict over Kosovo, with all its brutality, is only one of the factors that contribute to this antagonism.
Kosovo has demonstrated the magnitude of the Balkan challenge. It is certainly free from Serb repression today, but it is also a less multi-ethnic society than perhaps at any time in its history. While this reduction of repression in Kosovo is laudable, there are other vital goals that we risk falling short of.
Slavs and Albanians do live together in cities like Bujanovac in southern Serbia or—most important of all—Skopje in Macedonia. It is this peaceful cohabitation that is threatened by armed action in and around Tetovo. There is simply no drawing of new lines on a map in areas like these without taking the risk that those new lines will be drawn in rivers of blood.
Myself, I cannot see that the route to Balkan stability lies in the setting up of new states or the drawing of new lines within existing states. Every new state will fuel demands for further new states, and every new “entity” will fuel demands for further new “entities” until we, much suffering later, have arrived at more or less total ethnic purity in the numerous new statelets of the region.
Late President Franjo Tudjman of Croatia was always explicit in his desire for ethnic segregation, and elements of the international community tolerated his policies for too long. At least he was honest about the ethnic apartheid he deemed necessary, and he was hardly secret about the means that had to be employed to achieve it.
For me, these policies run counter not only to our effort to prevent further strife in the region, but also to the values we are trying to defend and promote in all of Europe. By carving up the Balkans, we would betray our efforts to build a Europe that is bound to be more integrated and multi-ethnic. If we were to encourage an ethnic carve-up in Bujanovac or Bugonjo, what makes us think that we could resist the same forces of strife and separatism in the suburbs of Brussels or Berlin?
Thus, very much more than the survival of Macedonia or the stability of the Balkans is at stake around Tetovo. The rebels are not raising arms against a repressive nationalist dictatorship, but against a democracy where, with all its imperfections and tensions, the leading representatives of both the major ethnic groups are sharing political power. The further disintegration of the Balkans should be seen as a threat to the very core values on the basis of which we are trying to build a Europe that is not only more peaceful, but also more creative, and thus ultimately more true to itself than a Europe dominated only by the nationalism of the 19th century.
Mr. Bildt is the former Prime Minister of Sweden, and currently the Special Envoy of the U.N Secretary General to the Balkans.
|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 http://bildt.blogspot.com.
At www.bildt.net 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.