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December 07, 2005

Towards a New Geopolitics for the Balkans - Brendan Simms, author of Unfinest Hour, proposes a way forward

Posted by Brendan Simms

The politics of the Balkans have reached an impasse. The Dayton Accords that ended the Bosnia war of the early 1990s are now in urgent need of replacement or, at least, renegotiation. Dr Brendan Simms - Reader in the History of International Relations at the University of Cambridge's Centre of International Studies and author of Unfinest Hour: Britain and the Destruction of Bosnia - proposes a way forward.

It is now exactly ten years since the American negotiator Richard Holbrooke rammed through the Dayton Accords, which ended the Bosnian war of 1992 - 1995. At the time, the agreement had some merit, in that it represented the culmination of a belated NATO intervention against the Bosnian Serb attempt to create an ethnically-pure state out of the ruins of old Yugoslavia. But even then, Dayton was deeply flawed, because it rewarded ethnic cleansing with the creation of Republika Srpska. The treaty provisions designed to ensure the return of minority populations remained largely a dead letter, mostly due to Bosnian Serb sabotage. The vast majority of the Muslims who were expelled from north-western and eastern Bosnia have not returned; most of their tormentors have never been punished; and the two principal war criminals, Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadzic are still at large. Republika Srpska remains an eyesore on the European map, a permanent reminder of the partial success of the "Greater Serb" project and of our failure to stop it.

Recently, the Bosnian Institute in London convened a meeting attended by the outgoing High Representative in Bosnia, Lord Ashdown and the former Bosnian Prime Minister, Haris Silajdzic to review the legacy of Dayton. Most of the participants felt that the Dayton Accords, which had had some merit as an interim ceasefire, were in urgent need of replacement or at least of renegotiation. It was pointed out that some of its most prominent signatories were either, as in the case of Slobodan Milosevic, on trial for genocide, or, as in the case of the Croatian President Franjo Tudjman, had escaped prosecution only thanks to a timely demise from natural causes.

At the moment, European policy is to perpetrate a settlement designed to accommodate the results of ethnic cleansing. No durable solution is possible on this basis, ensuring that western troops will have to stay indefinitely, and that neither Bosnia, nor neighbouring Serbia enjoy the prospect of joining the European Union any time soon. Nor is Bosnia the only problem. Crucial negotiations on the final status of Kosovo are about to begin; a vote for independence in next year's Montenegrin referendum may well precipitate a bloody confrontation with Belgrade.

We therefore need a new geopolitics in the Balkans, which breaks with the discredited Realpolitik of the 1990s and which provides a truly joined-up strategy for stability and co-existence.

Unfortunately, some of the foreign ministries of Europe still cleave to the cynical and unworkable notions of years past. A good example of this is the idea of "compensating" Belgrade for the loss of Kosovo, and the ethnic cleansing of much of its Serb population, by allowing it to annex Republika Srpska. Yet, as Haris Silajdzic points out, eastern Bosnia was never Serbia's to lose and if anybody should be compensated, it is the Bosnians by Serbia, at least financially. Moreover, by indulging the Greater Serb project we would merely whet appetites and signal our complicity in wartime massacres and the final dismemberment of the sovereign state of Bosnia.

The other and more acceptable face of European strategy "standards before status" - is equally unsatisfactory. It makes unrealistic demands of Balkan populations in the fields of minority rights, in return for the prospect of independence, in the case of Kosovo, or admission to the European Union, in other instances. At the same time, Brussels is investing a huge amount of diplomatic capital in keeping the federation between Montenegro and Serbia together in defiance of the clear will of many, perhaps the majority of Montenegrins. For the moment, the post-national European elite is unable to grasp that only if they look after the borders, will the rest have any chance of looking after itself.

What the new geopolitics must therefore do is to transcend the old obsession with the status quo, and set out a vision of how the borders should look five years from now. By addressing some of the problems pre-emptively, it will learn the lesson of the 1990s, when western statesmen "solved" the Bosnian problem, only to be confronted by another and widely foreseen crisis in Kosovo. It should conceive the region as a whole and offer a rational grand plan to the protagonists in terms which they can understand.

In practice, this means respecting the fact that the dissolution of the old Yugoslavia under the impact of Milosevic's project of "Greater Serbia", will leave Europe with an independent Bosnia, Macedonia, Kosovo and possibly Montenegro, all within the Republican boundaries of the federal constitution of 1974. This means that Republika Srpska, an entirely artificial creation of three years of ethnic cleansing, with boundaries that have no historic basis, must be dismantled. It also means that the Albanians of the Presevo Valley must remain part of Serbia, subject to restraint by the Belgrade authorities. The only exception to this rule should be Kosovo, which was never a full constituent Republic, but where Yugoslav sovereignty was compromised as a result of the misrule since the 1980s and especially the attempted genocide of 1999.

Clarity about the territorial configuration would pave the way for a series of Good Friday-style agreements, most but not all of them reciprocal. Thus Serbia would be given a consultative role in the rights of Croatian Serbs, whose repatriation to the area they inhabited before 1995 should be speeded. Serbia and Kosovo would have more symmetric agreements concerning the rights of Albanians in southern Serbia and Serbs in Kosovo. Croatia and Serbia would be entitled to make representations on behalf of "their" minorities in Bosnia; the success of the Bosnian project might make these irrelevant in any case. And so on. But the borders themselves would be clear and subject to a military guarantee by NATO.

At the same time, all the states of the region should be encouraged to pool their sovereignty by association with the EU and NATO. At the moment, only Croatia has anything like a green light. A clear timetable should be set out, and put to all of the populations in a referendum. Multi-ethnic Bosnia is the most "European" of all the contenders and should be admitted first, within about five years: this would be both historically just and remove any incentive for Serbia and its proxies within Bosnia, to sabotage the process. If Republika Srpska refuses to vote its own voluntary dissolution and the return of Muslim refugees, it should be dismantled by EUFOR; at the very least, the Federation must be allowed to accede on its own. The case of Cyprus already provides a precedent.

All the other states - Serbia, Montenegro, Kosovo, Albania, and Macedonia - should be given a clear ten to fifteen-year timetable in which they have to come into full compliance with European demands on the surrender of war criminals, the return of refugees, the recognition of boundaries as set out above and certain economic convergence criteria. They should be admitted in the order in which they do, probably Montenegro and Macedonia first. Only in this way can we break the current impasse in the Balkans and consolidate a coherent democratic space between the Alps and the Euphrates.

Dr Brendan Simms is Reader in the History of International Relations, University of Cambridge, a Trustee of the Bosnian Institute, and co-President of the Henry Jackson Society.

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Hi Brendan,

How much do your Turkish masters in Istanbul...( sorry it should be Constaninople ), pay you to publish this propaganda?? I'll make it clear to you Brendan, no one in Europe wants Muslim influence in Central Europe, ie.. Bosnia. Hence after reading your proposal it clearly shows that you're very well paid by your masters in's Constaninople...the name it was before your Islamic Turkish masters committed genocide on it's original Greek orthodox inhabitants.

Now Brendan why don't you pick up a book called the "Byzantine Commonwealth" and teach yourself about the long history of the Balkans, then you'll find out why no one in Europe wants a Muslim Bosnia and an independent Kosovo.....But if worse comes to worse, it looks like a new Prince Eugene Of Savoy will have to be heralded...he might have to show your Turkish masters a thing or two about fighting....remember the "Battle Of Zenta" Brendan??...or how about the fact that your beloved "Bosnians" were the most eager of the Sultans subjects to kill and kidnap Christians or do I have to explain to you about the "Bosnian Muslim" SS units in World War 2?....Hence Brendan why no one in Europe wants a "Turkey" in central Europe. So next time when you collect your pay check just mention to your masters that maybe a new Prince Eugene is being heralded, maybe once and for all the Turks in Europe will go back to where they came from.... that is Central Asia of course.

Posted by: Brad Kovak at January 2, 2006 12:01 PM

Thank you for a wonderful article. Let's reiterate a couple of points:
- Serbia and Bosnian Serbs committed the worst genocide in Europe since 1945;
- Bosnia, a soverign state, was attacked by Serbia and its collaborators within Bosnia;
- Republika Srpska, as a symbol of GENOCIDE and hundreds of MASS GRAVES, absolutely needs to be dismantled ASAP!

Posted by: Frank B. at January 3, 2006 06:02 PM

You don't mention all the Serbs that were clensed out of their homes in the currnet BiH. Of-coarse you'll hear that they are free to return, only to be tourmented, and for to be formally overlooked. Republika Srpska in not a SYMBOL, it is a state, that WILL be annexed to Serbia sooner or later. You have no problem with cutting territory off Serbia, but won't hear of it when it comes to an artificial Bosnia. Get it through your head. There is no such thing as a Bosnian, or the Bosnian language, it's Serbian. The so called "Bosniaks" are converted Serbs. Bosniaks sudden calling of their dialect "Bosnian" is a sign of imposing nationalism and seperatism. "Why not punish them Brad, uhh". I myself was born in Bosnia, half of my family now call themselves "Bosniaks". I love them, but have not forgotten what blood I am of. If Bosniaks want a state of their own, well they can have what they currently occupy. The Croats and Serbs should be allowed to join their respectful nations. The Bonsiaks mostly do not want to return to their homes in RS because they don't want to live with Serbs. The Serbs have no intention of leaving RS. Its a dead end. If the "people" of Kosovo can have independence, then why cant the "people" of Republika Srpska. Well I personally think because the West doesn't want a bigger Serbia. In all honesty, "Who is asking them what they want", the Serbs appreciate their imposed so called help, but we can do without the blackmail. A new feeling is araising in Serbia. And it reads to hell with the EU, because as far as we can see, it only has us making the consessions. We have survived without the EU, since we have exsisted. It's time for Serbia to make some demands. Now would be a good time to start punishing those who have done the Serbian people wrong. For starters, Alija Izetbegovic. This man is responsible for the war of 1991. Nasser Oric, another criminal, a child butcher also walked free. We are always hearing of the Serb genorated atrocities, but what about the other side in the war, there always is one - no matter how pathetic they may be. Agim Ceku, your gennuaine terrorist, is now the "prime minister" of Kosovo. Which is not only being allowed to seek ilegal independence, it is being "encoureged". Why should RS be dismanteled. Why can't all Serbs live in one state. What exactly makes these two topics of "Kosovo" and "Srpska" so "diffirent". Its probably the demonization of the Serbian people, and the foolish support and favouring for the "poor poor" victims, who are continously forgiven by the international "community" (which functions nothing like one) for all their conspirational and seperatistic activities. So, why cant Serbs live in one United Serbia, which they can easily make by themselves if they are only given a brake by the "Anglo Saxon" opressors. Why can't we stop with the unjustifyable slaps in the face to Serbia. For Earth's sake. Please. Get of your high hoarses and stop judging. What would any of you foreign readers do if your country was being torn apart by sepratists, who distinct themselves by ethnicality (artafitial or not), what would you do if they acussed you, and your many fellow citizens, who wont give up your territory of oppressing them. I think you may have been misinformed.

Posted by: Borislav Padjen at August 8, 2006 02:36 PM
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