The stabilization or destabilization of the Balkans?

● Dr. Zlatko Hadžidedić

Member of International Institute IFIMES


The International Institute for Middle-East and Balkan Studies (IFIMES) in Ljubljana, Slovenia, regularly analyses events in the Middle East and the Balkans. Dr. Zlatko Hadžidedić, Member of International Institute IFIMESpresents his article entitled “The stabilization or destabilization of the Balkans?”. He writes about the revival of greater-state projects in the Balkans and the affirmation of the thesis of the alleged dysfunctions multiethnic states.The article is published in its entirety.


The stabilization or destabilization of the Balkans?


Foreign Affairs, a respected American foreign policy magazine, published in December 2016 an article under the title Dysfunction in the Balkans, written by Timothy Less, a former British diplomat who served as the head of the British diplomatic office in Banja Luka, the capital of the Serb entity in Bosnia-Herzegovina, as well as the political secretary of the British Embassy in Macedonia. Less advocates a total redesign of the existing state boundaries in the Balkans: the imagined Greater Serbia should embrace the existing Serb entity in Bosnia-Herzegovina, but also the entire internationally recognized Republic of Montenegro; the Greater Croatia should embrace a future Croatian entity in Bosnia-Herzegovina; the Greater Albania should embrace both Kosovo and the western part of Macedonia. All these territorial redesigns, says Less, would eventually bring about a lasting peace and stability in the region.


'Freelancers' for planed greater states projects


Of course, it is easy to claim that Timothy Less is now only a freelancer whose activity has nothing to do with his former employers' policies. However, the problem is that certain radical circles within the British foreign policy establishment, in their numerous initiatives from 1990s onwards, have repeatedly advocated the very same ideas that can be found in his article, such as the creation of the imagined monoethnic greater states – Greater Serbia, Greater Croatia and Greater Albania – as an alleged path towards lasting stability in the Balkans, with Bosnia's and Macedonia's disappearance as a collateral damage. Also, history books are full of references that these circles, ever since the appearance of their fundamental geopolitical doctrine, The Geographical Pivot of History by Halford Mackinder, perceive destabilization of the territorial belt between Germany and Russia (including the Balkans) as one of their primary geopolitical goals.


The concept of completed ethnonational states always creates a perpetual instability


Such ideas are rooted in the presupposition that, as long as the existing nationalist greater-state projects remain unaccomplished, the nationalist resentment will always generate ever-increasing instability. However, the history has clearly demonstrated, both in the Balkans and other parts of the world, that such a presupposition is nothing but a simple fallacy. For, the very concept of completed ethnonational states is a concept that has always led towards perpetual instability wherever applied, because such ethnonational territories cannot be created without projection of extreme coercion and violence over particular 'inappropriate' populations, including the activities which have become known as ethnic cleansing. The logic of 'solving national issues' through creation of ethnically cleansed greater states has always led towards permanent instability, never towards long-term stability.


What is particularly interesting when it comes to 'solving national issues' in the Balkans is the flexibility (i.e. arbitrariness) of the proposed and realized 'solutions'. The winners in the World War I, among whom the aforementioned radical circles within the British foreign policy establishment played a major role, first advocated the creation of the common national state of the Southern Slavs (subsequently named Yugoslavia) at the Peace Conference in Versailles. Then, more than seventy years later, a prominent member of these circles, Lord Peter Carrington, chaired another international conference in The Hague where he oversaw the partition of that very state in the name of 'solving national issues' between ethnonational states which constituted it (since all of them, with the exception of Bosnia-Herzegovina, had already been defined as ethnonational states within the multinational federation). Together with the Portuguese diplomat, Jose Cutileiro, Lord Carrington then also introduced the first, pre-war plan for ethnic partition of Bosnia-Herzegovina (the Carrington-Cutileiro Plan), again in the name of 'solving national issues' between the ethnic groups living in Bosnia-Herzegovina, which was eventually sealed, with some minor changes, at the international conference in Dayton. And now, here is yet another plan to make the Balkan states even more fragmented and powerless, again in order to 'solve national issues'. What is needed in addition is yet another international conference to implement and verify such a plan, and thus turn the Balkans upside-down one more time. Therefore it comes as no surprise that such a conference on the Western Balkans has already been scheduled for 2018 in London.

Yet, how the proposed dismemberment of Bosnia-Herzegovina and Macedonia, as well as the absorption of Montenegro into Greater Serbia, can be made politically acceptable to the population of the Balkans and the entire international community?


Balkan countries don’t have the resources and the power to run an full-scale war


What is required to accomplish such a task is a scenario that would make an alternative to dismemberment and absorption of sovereign states even less acceptable. It is not difficult to imagine that only a war, or a threat of war, would be such an alternative. However, its feasibility is limited by the fact that no state in the Balkans has the capacities and resources – military, financial, or demographic – to wage a full-scale war, and their leaders are too aware of this to even try to actually launch it. The alternative is to create an atmosphere that would simulate an immediate threat of war, by constantly raising nationalist tensions between, and within, the states in the region. Of course, such tensions do exist since 1990, but it would be necessary to accumulate them in a long-term campaign so as to create an illusion of imminence of regional war.


Why the tensions within Bosnia and Herzegovina and Macedonia grow and who produces them?


Significantly, simultaneously with the appearance of Less's article, the tensions – first between Serbia and Kosovo, then between Serbia and Croatia, then within Bosnia-Herzegovina and Macedonia – have begun to rise. This growth of tensions can hardly be disregarded as accidental, given the fact that the Balkan leaders can easily be played one against another whenever they receive signals, no matter whether fake or true, that a new geopolitical reshuffle of the region is being reconsidered by major global players. Since they are already well-accustomed to raising inter-state and intra-state tensions as a means of their own political survival, it is very likely that they will be able to accumulate such tensions to such a level as to gradually generate a mirage of imminent regional war. A part of that campaign is also the systematic spread of rumors, all over Europe, that a war in the Balkans is inevitable and will certainly take place during 2017.


Simulation of the atmosphere of imminent war


Under such circumstances, a radical geopolitical reconfiguration of the entire Balkans, including dismemberment of the existing states proclaimed as dysfunctional and their eventual absorption into the imagined greater states, may well become politically acceptable in all corners of the world.  All that is needed is to juxtapose this 'peaceful' option and the fabricated projection of imminent war as the only available alternatives, and offer to implement the former at a particular conference, such as the one scheduled for 2018 in London. What is required for implementation of the proposed geopolitical rearrangement of the Balkans is to spread the perception that the permanent rise of political conflicts in the region inevitably leads to a renewed armed conflict. In that context, all the fallacies proposed in the article Dysfunction in the Balkans may easily acquire a degree of legitimacy, so as to be finally implemented and verified at the 2018 London conference on the Western Balkans. Of course, if that happens, it can only lead to further resentment and lasting instability in the region and Eastern Europe, and that can only lead to growing instability in the entire Europe. One can only wonder, is that a desired ultimate outcome for those who promote greater state projects in the Balkans as an alleged path towards its stability?  



Ljubljana, 8 May 2017                                                                                         

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