Requiem to Renewal: Ten Years of Balkan Conflict"
How to anchor
Balkans in peaceful waters?
By Edita Tahiri
Foreign Policy Advisor to
A remembrance of wars brings up mixed feelings. We who have
been part of this tragedy tonight feel both: A sorrow for
great human loss and happiness for a long awaited peace and
freedom in our countries and the region as whole.
To commemorate through reflecting on the past and the future,
shows that the life has to go on, and I thank the organizers
for helping us to go on. My thanks are not only for tonight
but for all ten years of support from the US government, the
American people, and numerous NGOs and Friends of Bosnia whom
I want to thank especially.
I take this opportunity to once again express our sympathy
with the tragedy of September 11th and reiterate
our support for the United States just war against terrorism.
The disintegration of Yugoslavia was an unavoidable process.
There were two strong reasons for it:
- First, because the domination of Serbs against non-Serb
nations of the former Yugoslavia had reached an unbearable
level in the years 1989-90, and
- Second, because the great changes in Europe following
the end of the Cold War, the collapse of Communism, the
fall of the Berlin wall, and disintegration of the Soviet
Union marked the end of territorial expansionism and totalitarian
systems, and opened the door for self-determination of the
But could the war have been avoided? My answer is
YES. Though after ten years, I continue to strongly believe
that the disintegration of Yugoslavia could have taken a peaceful
track if the international community had been ready to follow
a different approach. That would mean taking different steps,
some of which are:
- To recognize the disintegration of Federal Yugoslavia
as a legitimate process, coming from the will of nations
of the federation to get rid of Serb domination and exercise
their right to self-determination
- To stop perceiving Yugoslavia as a stable multiethnic
state and seeing it through realistic lenses as a fragile
state on the verge of collapse
- To recognize the referendum as a mechanism for declaring
their future to all eight federal units of Yugoslavia
- To decommission the weaponry of the Yugoslavian army in
order to prevent Serbia from using it against the other
nations (It was an absurd that people were killed with arms
for which they paid.)
Unfortunately, this did not happen. The hesitation of the
international community was sinfully misused by Serbia and
Milosevic to pursue their hegemony plans of creating the Greater
Serbia. As a consequence, Serbia launched four wars of aggression
against Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Kosova. The world has
been terrified by these wars and the scale of human tragedy
they produced. The bloody pictures from Bosnia and later on
from Kosova sound unbelievable. At the end of the 20th century,
in the heart of Europe, barbarism was being revisited. The
evidence of killed and massacred people, the destruction of
infrastructure, and the rape of women proved genocide.
Today the architect of this genocide - Milosevic - faces
justice in The Hague; hopefully, the other war criminals will
be there soon. Recently, in one of the debates at the Kennedy
School, I raised the question: Can the justice be complete
without addressing the root cause of these conflicts? Apparently,
the four wars of aggression should be part of his charge.
But, also the other architect of Serb aggression should be
identified and brought to a justice. The peaceful future of
the Balkans will be clearer if the root causes of its violent
past are clarified.
The end of the wars and the crisis of the disintegration
of former Yugoslavia are to be credited to the United States
and NATO. They were critical institutions to bringing an end
to the genocidal projects of Serbia and for preventing further
human suffering. The earlier efforts of the European Union
and the United Nations unfortunately failed. The two important
US peace projects, the Dayton Summit for Bosnia and the Rambouillet
Conference on Kosova, were crucial to the peace. The NATO
intervention was the guarantor of the success.
Where do we stand today?
After seven years, Bosnia is moving towards a more stable
and democratic environment, though rather slowly. There are
serious efforts to consolidate the united Bosnia as envisioned
by the international community in the Dayton Accords. In this
journey, however, the big challenge remains "how to make
the integration forces of the country prevail over the disintegration
forces who still try the scenario of partitioning of Bosnia."
Croatia, after the end of the Tudjman era, has intensified
its efforts for economic and democratic reforms. However,
the actual economic situation leaves a lot to be desired.
Slovenia is the most optimistic case as it already belongs
to the family of developed nations of the European Union and
likely will become a NATO member in the near future.
Kosova, three years after the end of the war, has made a
significant progress. NATO, UNMIK, and Kosovars are engaged
in a nation building process that has resulted in a democratically
elected government which took office in March of this year.
An encouraging development is also the participation of Serbs
in Kosovas elections. This opens the path for de-enclavization
of Kosova and integration of Serbs in Kosovas institutions.
In the future, there is a range of serious challenges for
Kosovas leadership from economic recovery to better
individual security. However, the biggest challenge remains
the independent status of Kosova which is a key factor for
national and regional stability.
Macedonia as the only country born peacefully, it was righteously
expected to accomplish its democratic transition in a peaceful
way. But the inappropriate policy
of Macedonias government in addressing the rights of
ethnic Albanians, representing one-third of the population,
has led to an ethnic conflict last year. After seven months,
helped by United States, the European Union, and NATO, the
war was brought to an end. The peace accord between the Macedonian
government and ethnic Albanians has been reached to recognize
constitutional rights of Albanians. There is speculation that
conflict in Macedonia might resume, but I believe that such
speculations have no grounds unless implementation of the
peace accord is delayed or fails.
Montenegro is a country in the midst of democratization and
development of a market economy. However, these dynamics are
slowed due to deteriorating relations with Serbia over federal
powers and republican responsibilities. The recent EU experimenting
policy asking Serbia and Montenegro to try live together in
a loose state federation, for another three years, seems to
be a "non sense" investment. This because the four
previous Yugoslav federal states have failed, leaving no room
for the fifth one.
Serbia has put behind the dictatorship of Slobodan Milosevic
and is making initial steps toward democracy. Serbia needs
to work hard to change its image as a hostile nation. At this
stage, the efforts for democracy seem to be more incentivised
To illustrate, I will mention that recently Serbia released
some two hundred Albanian war prisoners only after a US ultimatum
that threatened to stop aid programs to Serbia. This is not
a good start. Serbia has to show a real democratic commitment
to be able to join the democratic world.
What are the challenges and how to respond to them?
It took ten years to come to peace. It should not take another
ten years to build sustainable peace and stability. Countries
of the Balkans, and the region as a whole, need to move more
quickly toward Europe and NATO. For the region, it is strategically
important to not prolong the resolution of remaining problems
because of the threat of new sources of conflict. It would
be wrong to think that the Balkans has been anchored to peaceful
waters, but it is right to think that it can be anchored.
The current challenges of the Balkans can be clustered in
two major groups. The first group includes unresolved final
status of Kosova, status of Montenegro after three years,
the duration of protectorate in Bosnia. And the challenges
of the second group are related to economic recovery, fragility
of democratic institutions throughout the region, unresolved
constitutional issues, minority rights issues, unpunished
war criminals, issues of unreturned refugees, and corruption
Thinking of the policy options, I consider that the following
recommendations will be worthy of receiving the international
Kosova should become an independent state sooner rather than
later. It is crucial for successful nation building that Kosova
has its final status defined. The formula of the independent
state of Kosova plus Protectorate, similar to the model of
East Timor, for some interim period, is the best way for elevating
Kosova to a new stage of nation building. Kosova currently
goes through three competitive agendas: the international
community agenda of stagnant status quo, the agenda of the
Albanian majority for independence, and the Serbian minoritys
agenda to bring Kosova back to Serbia. This ambiguity over
the goal of Kosova constitutes a major obstacle to the dynamics
of Kosovas stability and prosperity.
Montenegros future status, according to the European
Union, will be pending for another three years. This has set
a negative precedent of prolongation of the problems in the
Balkans. Given its fragile peace, the postponement policy
seems to not be an adequate cure for the Balkans.
Bosnia needs strong international support to consolidate
its survival as a united country.
In a regional context, the countries of the Balkans need
to increase their cooperation to address the common challenges
as well as needing more international support sooner to get
into the European Union and the NATO family.
Although the international community is busy with other problems
in the rest of the world, it should remember that the Balkans
remain unfinished business.
I use this opportunity to make a special appeal to the United
States from this historic place for American independence:
The United States should continue to play a leading role in
cooperation with the European Union to help Kosova and the
Balkans become part Euro-Atlantic community.