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Center for Balkan

Tel: 978-461-0909
Fax: 978-461-2552
[email protected]

"From Requiem to Renewal: Ten Years of Balkan Conflict"
Boston, April 4, 2002

How to anchor Balkans in peaceful waters?
By Edita Tahiri
Foreign Policy Advisor to President Rugova

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 State’s 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 people.

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 Kosova’s elections. This opens the path for de-enclavization of Kosova and integration of Serbs in Kosova’s institutions. In the future, there is a range of serious challenges for Kosova’s 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 Macedonia’s 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 than originally.

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 and crime.

Thinking of the policy options, I consider that the following recommendations will be worthy of receiving the international community’s considerations:

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 minority’s agenda to bring Kosova back to Serbia. This ambiguity over the goal of Kosova constitutes a major obstacle to the dynamics of Kosova’s stability and prosperity.

Montenegro’s 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.

Thank you