Want stability in the Balkans? Then bring back Yugoslavia
The influential US think-tank the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) has the Balkans on its conflict prevention list in its recently published 2018 survey.
However the idea, promoted by the CFR, that the US is the country that can help preserve ‘peace and stability‘ needs to be challenged – as it is the US and its closest NATO allies themselves who are actually responsible for many of the problems currently afflicting the region.
These problems all stem from the violent break-up of the multi-ethnic Yugoslavia in the 1990s, a process which the western powers supported and indeed actively encouraged. But this is not mentioned in the CFR’s background paper‘The Unravelling of the Balkan Peace Agreements’ (Contingency Planning Memorandum No 32).
Instead it’s the Russians who, surprise, surprise, are cast as the bad guys – with "Russian destabilization of Montenegro or Macedonia" listed as one of the possible 2018 scenarios. The truth is however that all the possible "flash points" identified by the CFR- which could lead to conflict, can be directly linked not to Moscow but to the consequences of earlier US or western-led interventions and destabilization campaigns.
Let’s start with the situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Here the CFR’s concern is an independence referendum being held in Republika Srpska. But the Americans, who have championed self-determination for Kosovan Albanians as part of their strategy of prizing Kosovo away from Yugoslavia, and then Serbia, can hardly oppose Bosnian Serbs voting to decide their own future. If the "territorial integrity" of Bosnia matters so much, why didn’t the "territorial integrity" of Yugoslavia?
In Kosovo itself, tensions remain high between the Albanian and Serbian populations. NATO’s ‘humanitarian’ intervention of 1999 was supposed to have resolved all this, but in fact it was the west who greatly stirred things up with their backing of the hardline Kosovan Liberation Army and marginalization of moderate Kosovan voices who favored dialogue with Belgrade.
Macedonia is another potential ‘flash point.’ The CFR warns that disaffected sections of the large Albanian minority could look to unite with Kosovo or Albania. In Montenegro, ethnic Serbs in the north still reject the ‘independent’ government in Podgorica and look instead to Belgrade.
“Ethnic politics in the Balkans are interconnected,” the CFR says. “If Republika Srpska tries to leave Bosnia and Herzegovina, some Serbs in northern Kosovo will try to leave Kosovo, and some Albanians in southern Serbia will try to leave Serbia. Some Muslims in Serbia could also want to unite with what remains of Bosnia and Herzegovina. If Macedonia is partitioned, its Albanians could want a union with Kosovo and potentially with Albania and Albanian-majority municipalities of southern Serbia, which would trigger the ethnic partitions of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, and Serbia,” their report states.
If that all sounds pretty complicated, then perhaps you can understand why so many people in the region are nostalgic for Yugoslavia.
“For the 50 years of Yugoslavia and Tito’s rule, the Balkans were stable. They weren’t considered the powder keg of Europe. And now we are back to being the powder keg,” was the view of one Antonye Nedelkovski, a former Partisan, quoted in PRI’s article The Rise of Yugo-Nostalgia, in 2015.
Last year a Gallup poll, reported by RFE/RL, showed that clear majorities in Serbia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Montenegro, Macedonia, and 45 percent of people in Slovenia – which are usually regarded as the most ‘successful’ ex-Yugoslav republics – thought the breakup of Yugoslavia was a bad thing.
Yugoslavia gave the people of the Balkans not just stability, but economic security. It made sense for the people of the region to come together in one federal state. ‘Brotherhood and Unity’ was much better for everybody than ethnic tensions and disunity. As Besim Spahic, quoted in the RFE/RL piece, says: “In [Josip Broz] Tito’s Yugoslavia, Bosnia was defined as a common state of Serbs, Croats, and Muslims. The focus was on shared values between different ethnic groups. Now the differences are highlighted and blown out of proportion.”
Yugoslavia achieved enormous success in the fields of culture, sport, art, education and human development. Its destruction was a tragedy not just for the people of the Balkans but for mankind in general.
In the old Cold War, non-aligned socialist Yugoslavia served a purpose for the West. The Yugoslav President, the former wartime Partisan leader Josip Broz Tito, generally received a good press. Leftist intellectuals wrote enthusiastically about the Yugoslav model of workers’ self-management. Westerners watched and enjoyed high quality Yugoslav films and television programs and booked package holidays to the country.
But, after the Berlin Wall came down, Yugoslavia became ‘the expendable nation.’ In the words of George Kenney, a Yugoslav desk officer at the US State Department, “no place remained for a large independent-minded socialist state that resisted globalization.”
Germany actively supported and encouraged the secession of Slovenia and Croatia from the Yugoslav Federation.
The creation of an ‘independent’ Bosnia was more of a US project. The US backed the separatist Alija Izetbegovic and effectively sabotaged a peaceful solution to the Bosnian question when Ambassador Warren Zimmerman persuaded Izetbegovic to renege on his signing of the EU-sponsored Lisbon Accord in 1992. Zimmerman, as I have noted previously, effectively lit the touch paper for a brutal war in which around 100,000 people are thought to have lost their lives.
In place of one strong Yugoslav state, there are now a number of small, economically-weak states in the Balkans. This suits the US, with its imperial strategy of Divide et Imperia, just fine, but is clearly against the best interests of the people of the region.
The only way the problems of the Balkans can be solved is by going back in time. The gradual reconstruction of a multiethnic Yugoslav Federation – with full, guaranteed rights for all its citizens – and a friendship agreement being reached with Albania, which perhaps could be offered ‘associate’ membership, is the logical solution to the current divisions. Yugoslavia made sense in the 20th century and it makes just as much sense today. Only don’t expect the CFR, for all its concerns about ‘flash points’ in the Balkans, to recommend it.
Follow Neil Clark on Twitter @NeilClark66
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.