Staff-prepared summary of the East European Studies discussion with A. Ross Johnson, consultant with RFE/RL; and Misha Glenny, noted freelance journalist and author, and former BBC correspondent.
Misha Glenny began by noting that a critical problem in dealing with the continuing challenges of the Balkans is one of perception and communication, since the very name “Balkans” has highly negative connotations both in the rest of Europe and in America. He noted two key problems that continue to plague the post-war countries of the former Yugoslavia, which help to reinforce existing stereotypes of the people of the Balkans. One is chronic de-industrialization and the other is rural underemployment. Both of these, including the wars themselves, have led to the inundation of Western Europe with both skilled and unskilled workers from the former Yugoslavia. The EU, in particular, is starting to take a more nuanced approach to the problems of the Balkans, particularly the new European Stability Initiative founded by young Austrian experts on the region working closely with the Office of the High Representative. The bottom line is that Europe and the U.S. need to start looking at the Balkans not primarily as a region of ethnic complexity and conflict but also as one of social and economic complexity as well.
Glenny emphasized that the magnet of EU integration has been and will be a powerful motor for helping to reform all the nations of Southeast Europe, citing the recent progress made in Romania and Bulgaria as a result of the pull of EU membership. The fundamental problem, in his view, is how to get the former Yugoslav states into a situation vis-à-vis the European Union where Romania and Bulgaria (slated for EU membership by the year 2007) are today, and this needs to be done by the year 2004 at the latest.
Turning to the negative side of the slate, Glenny emphasized that instability in Southeast Europe continues to be fueled by the existence of unstable and unsustainable political entities in the region. He noted that the current Union of Serbia/Montenegro has no future as a country. Its existence is solely the result of the effort of the EU to deal with this region as expeditiously as possible. Glenny also noted that despite valiant efforts, both Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo remain dysfunctional entities that cannot exist by themselves without an international peacekeeping presence and political leadership provided by the international community. The problem here is a kind of catch-22. Most observers agree that the pull of EU integration could eventually help to resolve the underlying issues that make Bosnia and Kosovo so unstable, notably incompatible ethnic minorities and the need for large-scale economic transformation. The problem is, in Glenny’s words, that the EU will not admit dysfunctional states. So, what is needed is a constitutional resolution of the status and functioning of these states before the EU can act effectively on their behalf. This will mean that at some point there will be a need to “cut the gordian knot” of the status of Kosovo and perhaps move beyond the Dayton framework for Bosnia.
Finally, addressing the issue of conditionality and the ongoing Hague War Crimes Tribunal, Glenny emphasized that so far the results of this process have largely been negative. Whereas many factors were involved in the assassination of Serbian Prime Minister Djindjic, the pressure from the War Crimes Tribunal to produce further indictees certainly played a role as well. He urged the U.S. and the international community to rethink the issue of conditionality, which he claimed was undermining the efforts of true democrats and reformers in both Serbia and Croatia to achieve desired results and to hold right-wing nationalist parties at bay.
A. Ross Johnson, long-time and well-respected expert on Yugoslavia and the Balkans, elaborated upon six assumptions that have guided the U.S. and international approach to the former Yugoslavia, and which now need to be reconsidered or changed. The first assumption is that there has been some degree of understanding and reconciliation emerging among the peoples of the region following the wars and conflict of the 1990s. Johnson claims that this is not the case and that very little convergence or understanding exists. For example, he noted Serbs still feel like victims and the Croats feel they were victimized by the Serbs.
Second is the assumption that this so-called mutual understanding has been facilitated and hastened by the Hague War Crimes Tribunal. Again, Johnson emphasized that in fact the opposite is the case and agreed with Glenny that the pressure of the court certainly played a role in the assassination of Prime Minister Djindjic. He noted that the tribunal has played a positive role in getting bad people out of the region, but the court, he regretted, is outliving whatever usefulness it had and is costing far too much money (in the hundreds of millions) that might better be spent on other issues in the region.
The third assumption has to do with nation building and the notion that a state, whether it is Bosnia or, in the future, Kosovo, can be built from the outside – in other words using outside resources, pressure and help. Johnson stressed that this approach in the long run will not work. In the end analysis, states can only be built from within and from the “consent of the governed and the people that live within the state.”
The fourth assumption concerns the limited role and duration of peacekeeping forces. In Johnson’s view, while the peacekeeping forces in Bosnia and Kosovo have played an important role in overcoming the “internal security deficit” in these regions, unless there is more success in nation-building, it is hard to see how these peacekeeping missions will ever be completed. As for Bosnia, according to Johnson, as long as the Dayton peace process remains in place, the NATO-led SFOR peacekeeping force or some successor force, however reduced in size, will need to be there forever. This is not necessarily a bad thing, just a piece of reality that the U.S. and its allies need to accept. There is simply no internal stability without outside peacekeeping forces.
The fifth assumption has been that it is possible to recreate multi-ethnicity in war-torn states that used to be multi-ethnic. Johnson believes that in reality it is very difficult to recreate such multi-ethnicity and to put broken states back together. A significant problem has been and will remain whether significant amounts of refugees will be able to return to their home areas, and in the case of Bosnia it looks like at least 50% will never return. This will undermine future efforts at multi-ethnicity. The same problem exists for Kosovo, to which, in his view, it is highly unlikely significant numbers of ethnic Serbs will ever be able or willing to return.
Finally, the sixth assumption, and the most difficult and most important, is the issue of the future architecture and constitutional order of the region. Ultimately, Johnson regretted, both Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo are not really viable states, either on their own or with a continued peacekeeping presence. He emphasized that in the whole region of the former Yugoslavia, and in particular Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo, the international community is dealing with arbitrary borders. Johnson stressed that he did not see how these states as currently constituted will ever be able to act as sovereign, independent states. Bosnia, in his view, resembles “pretend land” where virtually all important decisions have been imposed by the High Representative. It is difficult to see how this situation can be altered in the near or middle term, even if as threatened, the EU decides to terminate the Office of the High Representative in Bosnia, when the current holder’s mandate, the UK’s Paddy Ashdown, ends in about two years.
Martin Sletzinger, Director, East European Studies, 202-691-4000