Western Perseverance Pays Dividends

As a result of the concerted efforts of Europe, the United States and others, democracy, free markets and the protection of human rights are now the goals of most people in the Balkans.

Western Perseverance Pays Dividends

As a result of the concerted efforts of Europe, the United States and others, democracy, free markets and the protection of human rights are now the goals of most people in the Balkans.

Wednesday, 18 July, 2001

Throughout the Balkans democratic processes are proving an antidote to violence. Were it not for the Albanian extremists in Macedonia, the region would be enjoying one of its best periods for ten years.


When President Stipe Mesic and Prime Minister Ivica Racan took office a year and a half ago, Zagreb was a troublemaker in Bosnia and the scourge of the Croatian Serbs. Today, Zagreb is Bosnia's friend and is making amends to its Serb citizens. It needs to continue returning Serbs to their homes and arresting and transferring Hague indictees.


For this, Croatia will need economic assistance. It will also need cooperation from the Bosnian Serb entity, Republika Srpska, since many Croat refugees from Bosnia now occupy Serb homes in Croatia. Getting Croats back to Republika Srpska would enable Serbs to return to Croatia.


The turn-around in Zagreb has left Bosnian Croat extremists desperate. Their efforts to undermine the Dayton agreement should be seen as the death throes of a criminal enterprise. Croat citizens of Bosnia have legitimate grievances that need to be handled through democratic processes, not extra-constitutional means.


The situation in Republika Srpska has not progressed as far. A reformist prime minister has recognised the importance of rooting out indicted war criminals, but he faces opposition in his own police and army. The criminal and extremist enterprise in Republika Srpska is still alive. Once it is defeated, international assistance should be quick and generous.


In Sarajevo, non-nationalist governments are in place in the Croat/Bosniak Federation and the Bosnian state for the first time since Dayton. This opportunity should not be wasted. The central government should be strengthened. The Bosnian "entities", the nationalist-dominated halves of the country, should be weakened and their capacity to interfere with Dayton eliminated. The three armies in Bosnia need to be integrated.


Progress in Bosnia requires cooperation from Belgrade, where change is real but slow. Serbian nationalism today is taking less virulent forms, but segments of the leadership and population still harbour dreams of Greater Serbia. Important steps have been taken: not only the arrest and transfer to The Hague of Slobodan Milosevic but also the careful handling of Albanian extremists in southern Serbia and the severance of payments to the Bosnian Serb army.


But the police and judiciary are unreformed. We are seeing a political contest between traditionalist forces supporting the Yugoslav president Vojislav Kostunica and modernising forces supporting the Serbian prime minister Zoran Djindjic.


In Montenegro, a parliamentary election has produced a yellow warning signal: pro-independence forces have enough votes to win a referendum, but not enough to implement an independence decision, which requires a two-thirds majority in parliament.


President Milo Djukanovic would like to negotiate a separation with Serbia. In any event, a negotiated solution will require a much stronger dialogue between Belgrade and Podgorica and also among the Montenegrins. The main concern of the international community should not be the outcome in Montenegro, but the process. If the separation is negotiated, Montenegro will not create a negative precedent for Bosnia or Kosovo.


Tirana has made major progress since the collapse of early 1997. Democratic institutions are strengthening and economic growth is strong, parliamentary elections in the last month came off well compared to prior ballots. All but a few people in Albania recognise Greater Albania is a myth.


Last autumn's Kosovo municipal elections have been an important step forward, and a multi-ethnic association of municipalities has been formed. But major improvement requires a governing structure with democratic legitimacy. Elections this autumn will not be too soon.


The result of those elections is a foregone conclusion: Albanian parties committed to independence will win. But they need to understand that no change in Kosovo's status is possible without a new UN Security Council resolution. The Russians and Chinese do not want any change. Only if Belgrade asks them will they abstain. So Kosovo's status depends ultimately on an accommodation between Belgrade and Pristina.


Macedonia poses the starkest challenge to those who believe in democratic values and human rights. Albanian extremists are attacking the Macedonian state, while the Macedonian army has responded by trying to achieve a military victory. The fighting has polarised the country's ethnic groups almost to breaking point.


The risks to regional stability are enormous. If the guerrillas in Macedonia are successful, they will inspire Serb and Albanian extremists in Kosovo and Serb and Croat extremists in Bosnia. The NATO-negotiated cease-fire is a major step forward. There is still time to reach a political solution.


In the past month, KFOR has cracked down on guerrilla supply lines in Kosovo. The US administration has issued an executive order outlawing guerrilla fundraising in America. A US special envoy is helping Macedonia reach a political solution that will redress Albanian grievances. Europe and the US appear to be working in tandem.


Such perseverance brings results. While no one can be happy so long as Serbs are mistreated in Kosovo or rebellion threatens Macedonia, the situation in the Balkans is dramatically improved from ten years ago. As a result of the concerted efforts of Europe, the United States and others, democracy, free markets and the protection of human rights are now the goals of most people in the Balkans.


Not everyone shares these goals, however. The US and its European partners need to learn how better to defeat extremists. The West did well to support the democratic opposition in Serbia and moderates in Bosnia. It is preventing arms and money from reaching Albanian extremists in Macedonia and Kosovo. If these efforts are enhanced, by ensuring that the main indicted war criminals in Bosnia, Serbia and Croatia are sent to The Hague, peaceful solutions will be easier to find.


It is hard to deal with nationalists ensconced in legitimate democratic governments. It must be made clear that US assistance requires abandonment of hopes for Greater Serbia or Greater Albania. Belgrade must end assistance to separatists in Bosnia. This will open the door for expanded cooperation between NATO, the US and the Yugoslav army, as well as lifting of the UN arms embargo.


Kosovo Albanians must enter a dialogue with Belgrade and end support for the guerrillas in Macedonia. Skopje must crack down on the misbehaviour of its army and police forces. The Macedonian government has the right to defend itself but not to conduct a war against civilians.


Essential to any effort to defeat extremists is establishment of the rule of law. We can rebuild schools and return people home but lasting results require law and order. The problems in the Balkans involve criminal as well as political elements. The US should refocus its efforts to support the police and independent judiciaries.


The rule of law should be part of a broader effort to establish stronger states in the Balkans. Even without ethnic problems, Macedonia would be a weak state, like Albania, which has suffered massive internal violence without ethnic tension. Building up the Balkan states should primarily be a European responsibility but the US should contribute, to combat criminality.


If the international community can unify its fragmented civilian efforts in Bosnia, foreign military forces can be reduced. There is no military threat in Bosnia today that Europeans cannot handle. The reason for US troops to remain is to reassure both Europeans and Bosnians that Washington is not disengaging. That can be done in other ways.


The same is not true in Kosovo, where only the US has the credibility with both Albanians and Serbs to ensure the European-led force stays on top of the situation. Some argue that US support for Kosovo independence would help to stabilise the situation. But this would strain US relations with its allies and with Serbs and Macedonians. The Security Council will remove the international protectorate in Kosovo only when Serbs believe their legitimate interests will be protected. Until then, foreign forces will have to stay.


NATO troops are also needed in Macedonia. Only NATO can disarm the guerrillas, assuming a political solution is found. International monitors, most likely from the OSCE, will be required. European troops may lead the effort, but US logistics and intelligence will be crucial.


What about sending in troops without an agreed political solution? The problem is that NATO wants to fight neither the Albanian nor the Macedonian government forces. In addition, a forcible deployment of NATO into part of Macedonia could lead to further ethnic division and even partition. There is no alternative to a negotiated political solution.


Daniel Serwer is director of the US Institute of Peace's Balkans Initiative


Support our journalists