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INFO   :::  Projects > Archives > Promoting a Social Climate Propitious to Transitional... > Helsinki Charter No. 177-178 > Text




Dissolution of the Balkans

By Sonja Biserko


More than twenty years since Yugoslavia’s breakup the states emerging from it have not yet consolidated into sustainable communities capable of managing their still multiethnic populations. Getting transformed into nation states they have not yet found modes that would guarantee stability and coexistence. Their search for national identities resulted in the conflict that has been changing its form but practically never came to an end. The fall of the Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian empires triggered off the process of nation-state building in the Balkans. The two empires had been more tolerant and pluralistic and in this context the “second” Yugoslavia resembled them.

Social restrictions of national ideologies are nowadays critically reexamined and with good reason – the exclusiveness characteristic of national ideologies is the biggest cultural clog of any society including those of the Balkans with traditionally different historical experience. Cultural heritage has been reduced to the bounds of ethnic penchants. The Balkans of the 20th century was mostly intolerant to Muslims. Muslims were seen as “others” that have to be eliminated. Muslims have been the target of repressive policies ever since the Balkan Wars in 1912 - and still are.

And this is where consolidation of the newly emerged states with considerable Muslim populations – Bosnia, Macedonia, Kosovo and, of course, Serbia – missed its footing. The breakup of Yugoslavia and ensuing wars had a considerable anti-Muslim dimension: the policy of Belgrade certainly had it. Regretfully the Western (European) community swallowed the thesis launched from Belgrade: three nations of Bosnia-Herzegovina cannot together. And without thinking twice it imposed the Dayton Accords (1995) on Bosnia, the peace agreement based on the ethnic principle. The Dayton Accords did put an end to the war. Today, however, the same agreement makes the foundation for another.

After all, Serbs occupied 70 percent of Bosnia in the first months of the war, in 1992, expelling all Muslims and other ethnic groups. Throughout the war Muslims/Bosniaks have been packed in 15 percent of the Bosnian territory, mostly in three bigger towns, Sarajevo, Tuzla and Zenica. In Dayton, Serbs had to give up 20 percent of “their” territory while Bosnia was divided into two entities – the Federation of Bosnia-Herzegovina and Republika Srpska. Republika Srpska remained ethnically cleansed while Belgrade’s main strategic goal was to prevent Muslims from returning to their homes. Muslims were allowed to return only to ethnic ghettoes of their own, which further contributed to ethnic consolidation.

The international community accepted this “formula.” Although proclaiming 1997 the year of return it did nothing to ensure actual return of the Bosnian population to their homesteads.

Back in 1995 Jean Baudrillard wrote, “We think we had the job done by stigmatizing Serbs as evil but not as enemies. And with good reason because in the global battlefield we, Westerners, Europeans, we fight against the same enemy as they: against Islam, Muslims…In Bosnia we fight against Serbs (without exaggeration) in the name of a multicultural Europe but in doing this we sacrifice another culture, the culture that counteracts the indifferent world order without values with its values. And we do this together with Serbs.”

Twenty years have passed since. The world is still undergoing deep transformation but the new world order is not yet on the horizon. In the meantime the Islamic question has been placed on the top of global agenda. The Islamic world also undergoes transformation (Arab spring) but also without a vision promising stability. Europe too discusses the Islamic question – the discussion permeates all European countries. This is why Bosnia is a predominantly European problem. Europe will be at a loss to adequately respond to Islam until it finds a just and proper solution to the problem of Bosnia.

The process of consolidation of the state of Bosnia was relatively successful during the mandate of Paddy Ashdown, UN special representative. Afterwards it begun to disintegrate slowly but surely. Despite its crucial role in Bosnia the international community has done almost nothing to contribute to the country’s identity building. The attempt at establishing federal institutions and proclaiming a constitution that safeguards the state’s identity - failed. All the three communities remained entrenched in their ethic nationalisms that counteract democratization by their very nature. The process of ethnification has gone too far that it now chokes the progress of each ethnic community.

In Bosnia, identity-building has had nothing to do with history, tolerance, poetry, music and myriad of things the three ethnic communities have in common. Instead the identity has been shaped by the war, blood, fire, plunder, destruction…All the three ethnic communities have turned xenophobic. What’s more they recognize not history and ignore the facts of the recent past. This is a big problem. For, a society cannot progress unless it considers its past.

Only a changed educational model, a change in the way of thinking could change a prevalent mindset. Only taking the stock of the bloodshed in 1990s could launch the process of acknowledgment of guilt and correction of mistakes. All this, however, can hardly take place in the Balkans without the pressure from EU and its insistence on the respect for human rights standards. The ICTY and domestic war crimes courts could contribute much in this context. And yet there would be no guarantees for political, social and economic progress of the region so much devastated by wars and failed transition.

No progress can be made without a deep, serious reconciliation process, which digs into genocide, ethnic cleansing and mass crimes. Deep crises could always break into unrestrained violence. Extremist groups, nationalists and the media under their control play on the fear of Islamic fundamentalism: the fear will take root if Islam is continually pictured as hostile and incompatible with Western civilization. Moreover, Islamophobia only adds fuel to the fire of extreme Islamists’ anti-modernism and anti-globalist fanaticism.

A developmental strategy for the entire region of the Balkans has to be defined in addition to development of intercultural and inter-religious, humanitarian dialogue that fosters neighborly relations. This is what only EU could accomplish through a Marshall Plan of sorts. In Balkan societies democratic institutions and democracy in general are hardly sustainable unless poverty is eradicated. And to speed up the process of poverty eradication EU should open accession negotiations with all Western Balkans countries as soon as possible.



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