INTERNATIONAL INSTITUTE FOR MIDDLE EAST AND BALKAN STUDIES (IFIMES) PRESS CONFERENCE
PRESS CONFERENCE STATEMENT
President of the Council of the International Institute for Middle-East and Balkan Studies (IFIMES)
Prof. dr. Robert J. Donia
Ljubljana, April 16, 2008
The peoples of the Western Balkans have now completed what is likely the final step in the fragmentation of the former Yugoslavia into its component polities. Each step has been accompanied by deepening international involvement in the region’s affairs – starting with ad hoc role for the Troika of the EU (then the EC) in negotiating an end to armed conflict in Slovenia, and ending with Slovenia, in its capacity as EU Presidency, shepherding the Republic of Kosovo to independence. The reordering of the Western Balkans is far from complete, but Kosovo’s independence is a landmark event that marks the end of a crude, often violent disintegrative process unparalleled in any former communist federation. On February 17, 2008, the post-Yugoslav period began in earnest.
The international community assured Kosovo’s independence at considerable cost; decision-makers foresaw those costs and sought to minimize them, and we are now seeing them play out. Serbs in the Republika Srpska threatened to hold a referendum and declare independence, but Kosovo’s independence was a pretext for Serbs to advance that option, NOT its proximate cause. Serbs in Northern Mitrovica, under the guidance of agents of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Serbia, have sought to advance the de facto independence of that area from Kosovo. And advocates of secession in the various “frozen conflicts” of the former Soviet Union are citing Kosovo as a justification for moving toward independence or greater autonomy. These secessionists have made little headway, and have mainly demonstrated the incapacity of these players to accomplish their goals without international support. Russia, has put forth forceful rhetoric in support of Serbia and played the spoiler in preventing a UNSC resolution and renewal of various mandates in Kosovo, but it, too, has only demonstrated its relative impotence to influence affairs in the Western Balkans.
The most hopeful developments in the region continue to be those of Euro-Atlantic integration. Notwithstanding much obstruction and internal disputes that should have crippled the organizations, NATO and EU are growing. The decision of the Bosnia-Herzegovina House of Representatives will undergo a test today in the House of Peoples. OHR, Lajcak, have patiently (and less publicly than their predecessors) worked Bosnian politicians to achieve this success. In coaxing recalcitrant states to make required reforms, the EU and NATO have created previously unknown “stages” of integration: countries could “initial” an SAA even before they signed it; move to “advanced dialogue,” even without qualifying for signing; and in the case of Bosnia, stripped police reform of almost all substance so as to advance the qualifying process.
In this picture, the big question mark remains Serbia, which faces elections next month and critical decisions along the way. Provisions of the Ahtisaari Plan, which are presently being implemented in legislation and a new constitution by the Assembly of Kosovo, not only legitimize the existing Serb institutions in Kosovo, they substantially enhance the authority and potential influence of the Government of the Republic of Serbia among Kosovo’s Serbs. More than at any time since 1999, stability in the region is dependent upon the Republic of Serbia refraining from meddling in its neighbors affairs – a risky proposition given the history of the last two decades.