A Third Opinion

The West in the Western Balkans

by Thanos Veremis[*]

(“Kathmerini”, April 29, 2001)

The troubles which the Kosovo Liberation Army (UCK) is still causing in Serbia and FYROM, remind the West once again just how damaging amateurism can prove to be in international politics.

The break-up of Yugoslavia, which let loose localized nationalism as a destructive force, could perhaps have been avoided if Germany had not condoned the unconditional break-away of Slovenia and Croatia in 1991 and the rest of the Western world had not followed suit in that catastrophic decision. A peaceful Yugoslav confederation would by now have become a serious candidate for membership of the European Union; thousands of Yugoslavs would still be able to see the light of day and the souls of the survivors would not be scarred by the horrors of civil strife. With the exception of Slovenia, which managed to avoid bloodshed and set itself on the road towards membership, none of the newly independent Republics can claim that there was no better way than the way they chose.

The mistakes the West made in its attempt to put a halt to the conflict and establish a viable multi-cultural society in Bosnia and Kosovo, have led to the permanent segregation of areas where ethnic cleansing has been verified (Bosnia) or accelerated by Western intervention (Kosovo).

The West still fails to see the long-term dangers of structural under-development which threaten the area. The danger does not arise from shortcomings in its multiculturalism and market economy, which is what the USA seems particularly concerned about, but from the inability of the states in the region to impose law and order or from the break down of their administrative mechanisms. In areas where the state machinery has collapsed, the West should help to construct new state mechanisms and legal systems. Kosovo, where many differences are bred and which is becoming a source of organized crime, does not need the ineffective presence of K-FOR perhaps as much as it needs a force to control crime and, of course, the establishment and application of legislative procedures. In short, Kosovo needs laws, police, judges and prisons, as well as democratic legislation. At the moment lynch-law and criminality reign there and this criminality is fast being exported to neighbouring areas, which because of their traditional racial structure (family rule, faith, patronage and lack of national power) constitute fertile ground.

In spite of the ray of hope brought by the change in the Belgrade political scene, the western Balkan scene is still fraught with difficulties. In order for the normalization of life in Yugoslavia to continue, it is not enough for Milosevic to be replaced by Kostounitsa; economic support for the country is vital, as it has reached the utmost limits of viability. Unless its economic structure is repaired, the Yugoslavs, en masse, like the Albanians before them, will go in search of better fortune in Western Europe and in Greece. Furthermore, Montenegro’s break away from the Federation serves no practical purpose other than to make president Juganovic less subject to control in his business activities, thereby creating yet another weak state for the West to look after. In spite of its declared intentions, the Stability Pact is not enough to plug the holes in the flawed Yugoslav system. Greece, which will be the first country the new wave of immigrants will come to, should embark on a serious campaign to reinstate the Federation. But the economy is not the only problem the area is facing. UCK continues its destabilizing activities in the Serbian Presevo, western FYROM and Kosovo triangle. Continued bombing directed against the remaining Serb population and the undermining of the democratic reformation itself in Kosovo, should have spurred languid public opinion in the West into action. Unfortunately, the West is not particularly interested in the region; perhaps because it does not realize that the local problems are exportable and it sees only its paucity in resources and lack of strategic significance. Ultimately, this indifference is the reason why the West has failed so many times in the western Balkans. Former US minister, Madeleine Albright and her team managed, unwittingly, to introduce the principle of “humanitarian intervention” into the foreign policy of Western countries. This principle has revolutionary repercussions on international mechanisms because it undermines national integrity which has formed the basis of the post-war world. Was Mrs Albright aware of the implications of this revolutionary innovation, I wonder? It seems that she realized the implications later, as she stated that NATO would not proceed to total application of the principle.

But what does this statement mean? Selective bombing of enemy targets no longer comes under the heading of “humanitarian intervention”, an internationally applied principle. Yet such a reading of the bombing would nullify the legality which NATO persistently calls upon. Mrs Albright, Mr Blair and General Clark would seem like destabilizing factors in the western Balkans, hastening the process of ethnic cleansing on both sides, and creating yet another mortgage in the under-development of the area, which is what UCK is today. These truths are beginning to be recognized in the West, but the politicians still remain indifferent.

* Mr Veremis is Professor in the K. Karamanlis Chair at the Fletcher School of Law & Diplomacy, in the U.S.A. and is a member of the board of the Greek Institute of European and Foreign Policy (G.I.E.F.P) (ELIAMEP).


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