"Advancing Balkan Stability"
Address by Gareth Evans, The Trilateral Commission, 11 November 2001
Six years after Dayton, one year after Milosevic - and two months more or less out of sight since 11 September - the Western Balkans are not out of trouble. A series of core issues, each with the capacity to run out of control again, remain unsettled, in particular the future of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo and Macedonia.
For each of these big three issues, a touch of genius may be required to resolve them. But before Dick Holbrooke offers his services again, the kind required this time round is more perspirational than inspirational. The tools required are going to be the usual mix of sticks, carrots and safety nets – diplomatic inducements, economic pressures and incentives, and military security – but applied with a combination of more zeal, more finesse and, above all, more perseverance than has been evident in the past.
What is absolutely clear is that there are no short cuts to stability, least of all involving any major region-wide initiatives, as appealing as that course may seem. Everything we know about the states of mind of all the relevant parties, both inside and outside the region, tells us that an all-encompassing big-bang diplomatic conference to settle boundary and political issues once and for all is destined to remain quite out of reach for the foreseeable future. And so too is an all-encompassing big-bang process like the negotiation of a Western Balkans free trade area, or a strategy for a joint accession process to the EU.
Even self-evidently attractive regional coordination mechanisms like the Stability Pact for South Eastern Europe have been struggling to add value to the cause of regional stability and economic advance. Partly this has been a product of inflated expectations – inevitably disappointed – about massive new resources flowing to the region. But the Pact process has also suffered from inadequate authority, confused priority setting and less than spectacular management.
The EU Stabilisation and Association process is on the face of it a rational enough process, tailored to the circumstances of individual Balkans countries, but encouraging cross-border and regional development and at the same time creating some psychological sense of momentum toward ultimate embrace within the common European home. But it’s not a process that is really going anywhere fast, despite the hasty deal, for understandable enough reasons, to bring aboard a patently unprepared Macedonia. The current framework and implicit timetable, for pre-accession and then accession, are going to require conditions impossible to satisfy within the political lifetime of most of the region’s current leaders, and impatience with the process is bound to grow.
The message in all of this is simply that there are no quick regional fixes, and no substitute for steadily working away at the major Balkans problems on a case by case basis. Of course we have to recognise the policy interconnections, and to work away at region wide processes. But these processes are not going to solve the problems themselves. Most of the changes required have to happen in-country, they require separate country strategies, and they are not going to happen without a lot more sustained effort and pressure by the international community.
Bosnia and Herzegovina
The international quasi-protectorate in Bosnia -Herzegovina has already lasted longer than the full-scale Allied military occupation of Germany after 1945. Six years after Dayton, there is still minimal acceptance by most Serbs and many Croats that Bosnia should exist as a normal, functioning state. There is nothing self-sustaining about Bosnia at the moment. If the international community walked away tomorrow all the institutions that have been built since 1995 would simply crumble away.
Dayton made sense enough as a glorified armistice, but not as a comprehensive settlement holding the key to self-sustainable peace and stability. Its objective was clear –to stop the fighting and hold the country together – but the means by which that objective was to be secured were deeply flawed. Its constitutional machinery - with a central government having to wrestle with a structure deeply divided into two entities, three constitutive peoples, ten powerful cantons in one half of the country, and effectively three armies - is unworkable, self-frustrating and self-defeating, and not calculated to create any kind of viable economy of serious interest to foreign investors.
The flaws in design have been accompanied by serious flaws in implementation. The indicted war criminals Karadzic and Mladic have remained at large for six years, an extraordinary feat in the only country on earth under NATO’s direct control. More generally, the international community has been manifestly more tolerant of anti-Dayton activity by the Serb-controlled entity, the Republika Srpska, than by the other entity, the Bosniak and Croat-controlled Federation. Aid and assistance to the RS have not been conditioned so rigorously on political progress, and this has undoubtedly encouraged hardline elements determined to split the country. Why the different approach? Precisely to keep Dayton alive by keeping the RS afloat, which its successive leaders would almost certainly have not managed to do. The Dayton structure works against the Dayton objective, as it has from the outset.
So what is to be done? First, working within the existing framework, there are a number of specifically targeted measures that can and should be swiftly imposed by the High Representative, to get Bosnia on its feet. New privatisation laws in Republika Srpska should be imposed; the implementation of the Constitutional Court decision (requiring the entity constitutions to give equal rights to Bosniaks, Croats and Serbs throughout the country) should be accelerated; recalcitrant and corrupt officials should be sacked; the fiction that the Serb Democratic Party is not in power in Banja Luka should be abandoned; and the manipulations of ministry budgets and land allocations which preclude refugee return should be prohibited. The more explicit the mandate from the international community (through the PIC) for each of these measures the greater their political effect, individually and cumulatively, will be.
But even this kind of accelerated incrementalism will not be enough. Work also has to begin on forging structural changes to Dayton. Led by the Steering Board of the Peace Implementation Council (PIC), or failing that the G8 alone, consultations should begin now on a more workable and democratically model. There are many options here, but the model that appeals most to ICG - distilling the experience of our six years on the ground in the country – would involve meeting ethnic community concerns by devolving substantial powers to the municipalities; meeting regional administrative needs by creating largely depoliticized structures resembling the prewar “okruzi” (literally “circles”); clearing away the counterproductive entity and canton structures; and creating a strong but fully representative central government.
A change of this kind is hardly likely to satisfy Bosnia’s Serbs in their present mood, encouraged as they also being by President Kostunica in Belgrade. But it’s a question of how long they can be allowed to veto change when the whole country is manifestly dysfunctional. The most robust approach would be for the international community to initiate a consultative process, develop a least-worst structure and seek consensus around it - but if that consensus is not forthcoming within a resonable time, then simply impose the preferred structure, with SFOR being retained at at least its present level for as long as it takes to guarantee security. An adventurous solution yes, but no longer an unthinkable one.
A very senior Brussels official told ICG a few months ago, only slightly tongue in cheek, “We have two rules round the EU about Kosovo’s final status. First, don’t talk about it. Second, don’t think about it.” Under UN Security Council Resolution 1244, the final status of Kosovo is completely open and undecided. The lawyers of the United Nations in New York pick over every move that UNMIK wants to make, to ensure that nothing is done by the international community that might be perceived as prejudicing the eventual decision on this matter. But it is one thing not to prejudice a future course of possible negotiation; quite another to shelter behind 1244 as a substitute for serious thinking, and as an excuse for doing absolutely nothing at all.
While Serbian politicians don’t want to talk about it, and the EU doesn’t want to think about it, the status of Kosovo is not an issue that can be put on the backburner for very much longer.The government to be elected this month, subordinate though it is to the UN administration, is not going to content itself for very long with household management. So long as Kosovo Albanians fear, and Serbs hope, that Belgrade may some day return, each side is preparing psychologically for war rather than resolving real economic, political and social problems, and finding ways of living together.
The most pressing internal reason not to keep delaying is that a whole range of issues essential for building of a healthy, stable society in Kosovo cannot be effectively resolved without tackling the status question. UN lawyers are blocking the privatisation of formerly socially-owned enterprises in order to risk prejudicing final status. Serious investment is hampered as long as there is no clarity as to future jurisdiction. As a result, Kosovo’s economic recovery is limited to street-level, import-related trading, and major economic assets are left to deteriorate.
Kosovo’s unresolved status is also feeding instability on a wider front. So long as there is no certainty about Kosovo’s existence, or its boundaries if it does become a sovereign entity, there will always be some ethnic Albanians tempted to buy a place at the bargaining table through the barrel of a gun.
It’s time to get started on the Resolution 1244 final political settlement process, recognising frankly from the outset that what is involved is essentially managing an inevitable separation. If anything in the Balkans is radiantly clear, it is that the Kosovo Albanians will never accept to live under Yugoslav or Serbian sovereignty again, and that nobody in the international community is going to try and make them.
The question is how to formalise that reality, ensuring at the same time that the rights and interests of the Serb and other minorities are fully protected and respected. ICG has suggested that the G8 initiate a consultative process now, that would culminate in the endorsement by an international meeting (of the kind contemplated in the 1999 Rambouillet accords) of Kosovo’s “conditional independence”.
That conditionality involved in “conditional independence” could take any one or more of three major forms. First, Kosovo’s full, recognised sovereignty could be subject to probationary criteria, with it having to prove its good behaviour on the minority rights and other identified issues; secondly, it could be made subject, for a specified period, to the exercise of overriding veto rights by a representative of the international community; and thirdly, the new country’s boundaries could be frozen by treaty, like those of Austria in 1955 or Cyprus in 1959, to put at rest fears in this case of an emerging “Greater Kosovo”.
As with any reconstruction of the Dayton accords for Bosnia, there will be Serb protests every inch of the way at any kind of independence for Kosovo. Those protests can be expected to come loudest of all from those Belgrade cabinet ministers who in fact know very well, and sometimes privately concede, that Kosovo is lost, that Serbian democracy has been hostage to the Kosovo issue for far too long, and that Serbia will be better off without it. Such is politics, and such is the need, every now and again, for the international community not to take ‘no’ for an answer.
Macedonia is the last of the five former Yugoslav successor states to be racked by violent crisis, and currently the most precariously positioned of all of them. While the casualty rate so far has been only on the scale of Slovenia in 1991, the fact that so little violence could take the country to the brink of civil war has been dismal confirmation, nonetheless, of how unstable the region remains.
But we do learn something from experience. Unlike in Croatia and Bosnia, the international community intervened promptly and effectively. In August, European and US envoys succeeded in brokering a political agreement between Macedonian and ethnic Albanian leaders to introduce far-reaching, overdue and necessary constitutional and legal reforms. As a principled and workable basis for sustainable multi-ethnic democracy, the Framework Agreement is remarkable – a light-year ahead of Dayton.
The trouble is that Macedonia’s leaders don’t really want to adopt the reforms agreed. Minister of interior Boskovski told me recently that the Ohrid Agreement is ‘catastrophic’, unacceptable to everybody and ‘constitutional gobbledegook’. He then went on to ask – with almost disarming frankness – whether I didn’t agree it would be ‘suicide’ to adopt these reforms ‘before the next elections?’
Whether justifiably or not, ethnic Macedonians feel isolated and betrayed by the ethnic Albanians and by the international community. There is a dangerous sentiment abroad that ‘We weren’t given a chance to fight!’ The fact that this sentiment is rooted in a fantasy of their own military strength does not make it any less deeply felt. Ethnic Albanian leaders, for their part, believe they have done all they need to do, in order to contribute to peace. At the same time, they know very well that ‘their’ rebels can arise again if need be, with scant risk from Macedonia’s security forces.
As elsewhere, the international objective is to help establish a self-sustaining, democratic Macedonia. Not a multicultural paradise, just a country where citizenship has a chance: where ethnicity is evident, but no more decisive in the economic and political life of citizens than in Belgium or Canada. Whatever the difficulty of pushing through the agreed reforms, there really are no alternative routes for preserving a viable Macedonia. Partition is unacceptable in principle, would be bloody in practice, and generate major destabilising momentum elsewhere in the region.
If the Framework Agreement is to have the chance it deserves in the long term, then ethnic Macedonians must be reassured both in terms of their security, and – what seems to matter to them just as much - their identity.
Concerning security, the international community should make a long-term commitment of troops. The present NATO deployment should be extended until the Framework Agreement reforms have been adopted by parliament, and until a number of clear benchmarks have been achieved, in terms of refugees and displaced persons going home, Macedonian police performance, and such like. And a very clear message must continue to be sent to the NLA (ethnic Albanian rebels) and their supporters that there will be no international tolerance of any reversion to violence.
Concerning Macedonian identity, a little lateral thinking is required. Ethnic Macedonians feel under siege on all the symbolic fronts that give them a sense of unique being: their language is claimed by Bulgaria, their Church contested by Serbia, and their chosen name denied by Greek diplomatic veto. Their reluctance to embrace the Framework Agreement seems to have its roots in the sense that nothing in the country is really their own.
The name game seems to be most resonant of all in this respect: if a way could be found of winning international acceptance of the designation “Republic of Macedonia”, while at the same time not precipitating a major explosion from Greece (and there is a way of squaring this circle with a side-track bilaterally agreed formula), all sides in Macedonia agree that this breakthrough would transform the situation, making it possible for the majority population to swallow what by any reckoning is a very ambitious set of reforms.
My conclusion is straightforward, and I come back to where I began. Regional stability in the Balkans will only be achieved when all the component parts of the region have themselves been internally stabilised. As much as we might hope otherwise, a priori regional solutions - the collective addressing of challenges to stability – seem destined in the Balkans to remain out of reach. There isn’t a taste anywhere for big-bang solutions, and no ability anywhere to impose them.
There isn’t much taste for incremental, long-haul solutions either, least of all from the US with its post 11 September preoccupations, and congenital disposition to believe that the Balkans is a European problem which should have a wholly European solution.
But the truth of the matter is that what has happened in the Balkans over the last decade – the genocide, the ethnic cleansing, the opportunism and crudeness of the ethnic politics, and the sheer quantum of human misery that all this has produced – has diminished us all.
Not all of the horrors that occurred in the Balkans throughout the ’90s were the result of policy failings by the international community. But many of them were. And all of us in the international community, not just in Europe but throughout the world, have an obligation – not just to the people of the region, but to ourselves and our common humanity – to see things put right. There will be many more frustrations along the way, but we have absolutely no alternative but to stay the course – with whatever resources it takes, and for as long as it takes.