EES Roundtable: Points for Building a Common European Home: Furthering Cooperation in the Balkans
February 4, 2004
Staff-prepared summary of the EES noon discussion with Vladimir Bozovic, Director, Coordination Centre for Kosovo and Metohija; Ahmed Hadzipasic, Prime Minister of the Federation of Bosnia-Hercegovina; Ilber Husa, Journalist and President of the Committee for Civic Action, Kosovo; Milorad Pupovac, Member of the Serbian Caucus in Parliament, Republic of Croatia; and Dragan Mikerevic, Prime Minister, Republika Srpska.

This EES Roundtable came about as a direct result of the annual Congressionally-sponsored National Prayer Breakfast, which brings leaders from troubled parts of the world to the Untied States for meetings in the Congress and unofficial meetings in the government at all levels.

Overall, and not unexpectedly, the leaders from these different countries and provinces of the former Yugoslavia demonstrated that many more nails and much more timber will be necessary before any common European home can be built upon the ruins of the former Yugoslavia. Not surprisingly, differences were in evidence in the approaches of Vladimir Bozovic from Serbia and Ilber Husa from Kosovo on the situation in Kosovo and the future for that region. Bozovic, reflecting the current position in Belgrade, emphasized that it is necessary to increase the dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina, with the support of the United States and Europe. He implied that a solution for the future status of Kosovo could best be found as part of the process of integration into the European Union, which is a goal of both the Serbs and Albanians in Kosovo. Husa, an ethnic Albanian from Kosovo, chose to emphasize other critical factors. He regretted that postcommunist Kosovo had witnessed virtually no privatization and nearly ten years of segregation of the 90 percent Albanian majority. As a result, one of the chief tasks of the international community in Kosovo today is to foster a better political environment on the ground and to give the predominantly Albanian population of Kosovo a better sense of their future. In this context, he emphasized that the "standards before status" position on the future of Kosovo is an ambitious project. He argued that Kosovo will need help implementing these standards. In this sense, he agreed with Bozovic that both Serbia and Kosovo should look to a Euro-Atlantic future and that it was "better to talk about Brussels than Mitrovica" (a divided city in Kosovo).

Professor Milorad Pupovac, one of the key leaders of the Serb minority in Croatia, went out of his way to praise the new government in Zagreb elected last year, which is headed by the nationalist Croatian Democratic Union. This government, Pupovac noted, has taken greater action than the previous socialist government in helping the Serb minority and stressing refugee returns. He observed that because of this fact, his small party representing the Serb minority in Croatia is actually part of the governing coalition. Pupovac also pointed out that Croatia still needs to rid itself of its ethnic divisions and that all of its citizens must be integrated into society, which now exists more in theory than in fact. A great help here would be for both Croatia and Serbia to sign long-awaited agreements ensuring minority rights in both countries.

The Prime Ministers of the two entities of Bosnia Ahmed Hadzipasic representing the Muslim part (Bosniak) of the Muslim-Croat Federation, and Dragan Mikerevic of the Serb Republic (RS) both went to great lengths to emphasize the positive without harping on the many problems that still confront the fragile Bosnian state. Hadzipasic observed that despite the return of almost one million refugees to their former regions of Bosnia, many people today still cannot return to their homes, not for political or security reasons, but for purely economic reasons. There are simply no jobs. This problem stems from the inadequate privatization process. Hadzipasic also stressed that Bosnia-Herzegovina should follow Croatia into the EU as soon as possible. To admit Croatia, but to leave Bosnia behind, would only create larger tensions within Bosnia, and establish new lines of division between the peoples of the region. Prime Minister Mikerevic emphasized that the necessary constitutional changes had been made in the RS as mandated by the Dayton Agreement, especially regarding military and security cooperation and the formation of a unified military in Bosnia. He also stressed that efforts have been made in the Serb entity to create greater confidence and trust among the ethnic communities. He, like Minister Hadzipasic, believes that there is no alternative for Bosnia other than integration into Europe and this remains the goal of his government. Mikerevic begged the audience and the international community not to judge Bosnia and the RS in particular by where they stand now in the developmental continuum, but on which path the RS has chosen, which is the path to Europe.