West Needs Balkan Rethink

A decade after the Yugoslav crisis broke out, the West is still struggling to formulate effective policies for the region.

West Needs Balkan Rethink

A decade after the Yugoslav crisis broke out, the West is still struggling to formulate effective policies for the region.

Thursday, 12 July, 2001

After a little more than ten years of continuous economic, political and military investment in the southern Balkans, the international community has at best identified the macro solution - regional stability. But it has yet to address the specific problems facing the countries of the former Yugoslavia.


One of the biggest problems is that a concept that once bound the former Yugoslavia together - Brotherhood and Unity - we realise now, more than ever, meant and still means different things to different people.


This is particularly evident in Yugoslavia and Macedonia. Serbia now seeks a revised form of brotherhood and unity. Montenegro wants only brotherhood. Kosova is interested in neither brotherhood nor unity. Ethnic Albanians in Macedonia are fighting for the unity of Macedonia, while Macedonian Slavs are after unity but not brotherhood.


The international community, meanwhile, has struggled to come to terms with these competing and conflicting demands and aspirations.


Kosova has become a case study in how to create and sustain a stateless state. Most recently the region's constitutional framework for provisional self-government was passed. Under the new administrative system, the special representative of the UN secretary general, SRSG, has unlimited authority over Kosovo, while the Kosovars will participate in a moot assembly.


The constitutional framework is like a bike with stabilisers and a guide rope. Every time the assembly veers off the course preferred by the international community, the SRSG will be there to administer a sharp tug on the rope.


With the formula for provisional self-government now in place, elections have been set for some time early this winter. Ibrahim Rugova's Democratic League of Kosova is expected to win the ballot convincingly. The vote would be less in support of his party than in response to the cult-like myth surrounding Rugova.


The framework and a Rugova-controlled assembly ensure the status quo will persist in Kosovo for some time to come.


Serbia, meanwhile, has its own new mythical leader - Yugoslav president Vojislav Kostunica. Perceived as the "new father of the nation", Kostunica - a man with a spotless record and a love of cats - is seen as the country's saviour. One might question the competence of Rugova's LDK political machine, but at least he has one. Kostunica lacks the political base to implement his vision of a new Yugoslavia.


The Democratic Opposition of Serbia, which propelled Kostunica into the presidency, is as fictional as the Yugoslav president's dream that 600,000 Montenegrins will continue to share power with 10 million Serbs.


In Macedonia, we are witnessing an unusual event for the Balkans. Not the fighting, of course, but what the Albanians are reportedly fighting for. The National Liberation Army says it seeks the same legal status as Macedonia's Slav majority - in essence they are fighting for Macedonian citizenship.


Macedonia is the embodiment of Western and local political leaders' belief that it is possible in the Balkans to form democratic states based on elections. For such a proposition to be taken seriously, deeply entrenched problems - such as the Albanian community's civic and political rights - must first be properly addressed. Unfortunately, the international community and the authorities in Skopje have not been fully committed to tackling them.


Instead, because Macedonia was able to avoid conflict, the West was quick to assume Macedonia was a functioning democratic state. It did not take steps to reward and speed the process of democratic governance. The rise of the NLA, therefore, did not come as a surprise to many Balkan watchers.


Both the international community and the Skopje authorities were quick to state that they would not negotiate with the rebels. But once it realised that Macedonia was not capable of crushing the NLA, the West changed tack and urged the country's political leadership to accept dialogue.


But foreign pressure has only served to inflame the situation. The threat of a cut in overseas aid should the Skopje refuse to talk to the rebels and back a cease-fire brought anti-Western and anti-Albanian demonstrators onto the streets. This was an extremely worrying development, as such protests could easily escalate into the international community's and the Macedonian government's worst nightmare - civil war in the country's urban centres.


The West and Skopje have realised too late that it would have been much easier to negotiate with a group of 1,000 or so rebels united under a political banner than to deal with a bunch of hooligans drunk on nationalism and a hatred of all things Albanian.


Fron Nazi is a specialist in Balkans affairs


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