Dr Jožef Kunič, Ambassador
President of the Slovenian Association for International Relations (SDMO)
and member of the IFIMES International Institute

For the past sixty years, since the army of the Great Sultan Murat I defeated the Serbian army at Kosovo polje in 1389, the Balkans, especially the part which has been lately referred to as the West Balkans, has been the site of conflicts, revenges and wars with a wide global effect. In this very region of Europe, the First World War started, important battles fought during the Second World War and bloody conflicts took place in the last decade of the previous century.
Unfortunately, each time the wars led by the superpowers or regional powers incited old resentments, opened the wounds which can not be healed fast and fostered hatred among different groups of people. These tensions were mostly of ethnic or religious character and resulted in extremely cruel conflicts during each of the war periods so they should not be underestimated.
However, no bloodshedding nor brutal conflicts took place within the ethnic or religious groups in the region of the West Balkans. Within those groups, mutual trust was never completely lost. The ethnic or religious tie has become much stronger, stable and reliable than any other tie such as adherence to a region or state or political orientation.
Hopefully, with the establishment of democracy, the system of values would change or, so to say, »Europeanise«. However, it takes a long time to change the values, cool the passions and forget the cruelties and this process may in no case be disturbed by another war and another extremist political adventure which would reverse the process back to the point it was at the end of one of the previous adventures or even worse. After the Second World War the wounds were cut deep and in the 1990s they were opened again and cut even deeper.
In such situation, very favourable conditions are created for international crime. The trafficking in human beings, drugs and stolen cars is already widely spread and the conditions for other illegal activities are also very convenient. We should therefore not be surprised if international terrorist organisations find their shelter in this very part of the world.
The international community was obviously taken by surprise when Yugoslavia dissolved and had no strategy for solving such conflicts (based primarily on ethnic and religious clashes). The USA supported the unity of Yugoslavia while some EU States, notably the Federal German Republic, supported the recognition of new independent states of Slovenia and Croatia though these were already defined at the moment of recognition. France, though obviously not willingly, backed the Federal German Republic. After the initial differences and the period of looking for strategies, the international community including the EU, the USA and the Russian federation actively started to calm down the situation, stop the wars and establish peace. But they are still far from achieving a stable and lasting peace. In the West Balkans, new conflicts can be stirred any moment. It would be a grave mistake to believe that a new clash of arms can only occur in Kosovo. It can happen at any moment in Macedonia and in Bosnia and Herzegovina and it would not even take a special incident to trigger it. It would probably suffice if the peace forces were not present any more. Resumed conflicts would weaken the whole Europe.
As a consequence of this situation where there is no war nor stable and lasting peace, nationally oriented parties or groups are gaining importance. After the Dayton Agreement, nationally oriented parties won the elections in the then Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia. A known Croatian analyst said: »In 2000, the West Balkans was seized by a wave of democracy, the regimes in Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia were defeated, while today the same region has been seized by a strong reverse wave.«
In Bosnia and Herzegovina, the national parties are in power again and the reform results of the democratic coalition can hardly be noticed. In Croatia, the pre-election union of Tudjman's nationalists and the post-fascist Croatian Party of the Right won the great majority of votes. However, due to international pressures, Tudjman's party leader, Ivo Sanader, did not form a coalition with the post-fascists but with the minority government in which not even one democratic party participates in the parliament. In Serbia, the radicals are the major political fraction. Two of the Hague suspects, Milosević in Seselj, were elected delegates to the parliament of Serbia. This fact speaks for itself. As a known Kosovar ideologist pointed out: »National goals have remained unsolved, people want the solution.« At Kosovo, the Albanians vote exclusively for the Albanians and the Serbs vote exclusively for the Serbs – there are no compromises. It is similar in Bosnia and Herzegovina and in Macedonia. Nationalism has been smouldering throughout the region of the West Balkans. Though there is no fire, smoke is pouring in many places.
The world obviously needs a strong European Union, but the cracks that were hardly noticeable have started to show significant depth during the past year. It was the Iraqi crisis that caused a split between the major supporters of the role of the United Nations in resolving international issues/conflicts and those who believe this role should be much lesser. The so called »New Europe« played a significant role in this process. New cracks and new problems became even more visible during the adoption of the new »European« constitution. According to another expert, there is »a crisis in trust, a crisis in management and a crisis in the future of the European spirit.« In any case, the notion of a two-speed Europe, whatever it should mean, deviates sharply from the original idea of Europe of co-operation, trust, mutual tolerance, harmonisation and help without any rifts. Besides, the EU is about to enlarge with ten new members and another two are already knocking on the door, followed by others. The programme envisaging EU to become the first economic force in the world by 2010 is nothing but a written dream.
Nobody wants the unstable Balkans to weaken the EU which is already facing enough internal problems. There is also no reason for concern that the EU might become too strong. But to preserve the EU as strong as the world needs it, lasting peace and stability must be established in the Balkans. It would take too long to wait for a Europe without borders. The West Balkans of today is, unfortunately, still far from this idea. In the long-run we may expect the Balkan wounds not only to heal but also to be finally forgotten, but we need safety as soon as possible, we need it now. However, there is no safety without democracy and there is no democracy if the ethnic origin is more important than the programme of candidates, parties or political groups. It is hard to imagine democracy without an ethnically non-biased civil society. Regrettably, in the regions of the West Balkans the conditions are not met at the moment to enable a viable and real democracy.
The policy of small steps can only be implemented if the conditions of peace and sober judgement are in place. Peace should therefore be maintained by all means even if it is forced and artificial. If the peace forces were not present, the imbalances would be too strong and this would lead to serious problems. An important element of the policy strategy in the West Balkans is persisting in the peace that has already been achieved – any violence, any outburst of conflicts must be nipped in the bud. Thus, the policy of international community in the West Balkans comprises two essential components: the security-military component and the political component.
The security-military component aims at preventing any conflict and illegal activities and fighting any kind of terrorism. This component is to be carried out by NATO and the EU forces. It is very important that the people start feeling safe, that they become aware of the stability of the system and that the trust in the state and its institutions is restored.
In the implementation of the political component, the neighbouring countries in the region should - besides the international community and the EU - play an especially active role. The political concept should comprise three basic elements:

  • the international community should convince the people that the door to Euro-Atlantic integrations is open. It is necessary to eliminate the feeling that the states in the West Balkan region are in a way excluded from the processes in the international community which would arouse hope for better life among the people;

  • the economic position in the West Balkans is relatively very bad. The international community, especially the EU, should take much more efforts to improve the living conditions. Unemployment and poverty negatively affect the safety and provide the conditions for numerous illegal activities;

  • the strategy of dealing with the Balkan issue should be changed. The theories on how the changes of borders in one country influenced another nearby or distant country have often proven to be unfounded. The dissolution of Yugoslavia did not in any way encourage secessionist ideas and activities elsewhere in the world. Due to historical facts, the conditions present in the West Balkans differ immensely from the conditions in other countries where the state borders have not changed much for centuries. The strategy applied so far, which essentially aimed at preserving the borders set in the socialist Yugoslavia at any price, has failed to bring the desired results. Though this does not present a major problem throughout the region, there are three serious burning points: Kosovo, Macedonia and Bosnia and Herzegovina.

It would be a big mistake to look for a common solution for all the three of them. Each of the three potential burning points has its genesis and characteristics and each of them must be resolved in a different way.
The first burning point is the fear of Great Albania: the Albanian-speaking inhabitants live in Albania, their country of origin, in Kosovo, which is still a »para-state«, in Macedonia, where they represent an important ethnic group, and elsewhere. Though it is perhaps not the most appropriate comparison, let us be reminded that the German-speaking inhabitants live in Germany, their country of origin, in two other states, Austria and Switzerland, as an important minority in South Tyrol and elsewhere. On what basis can we claim that it would be a great threat for the West Balkans to establish the state of Kosovo for the Albanian-speaking community – of course, under the condition of »Anschlussverbot« – if the region nearby the German-speaking community is not facing any such danger? I am convinced that the independent state of Kosovo, if it unconditionally renounces any union with Albania and any interference with other neighbouring states, especially with Macedonia, can not in any way endanger peace and stability in the Balkans.
If the world and Europe want stable peace, they have to stop supporting the agony of forced and ineffective cohabitation. The strategy of forcing too many different ethnic groups into one framework should be replaced by the strategy of paying more regard to self-determination. A part of Kosovo should belong to Serbia and a larger part to a newly-established state. It should be noted that some inhabitants of the Serbian ethnic group have recently emigrated. The so called »Paris formula« used after the Second World War to resolve the Italy-Yugoslavia issue, could be applied mutatis mutandis in this case. Some inhabitants of the Albanian ethnic group would remain in Serbia but the experience based on the Italy-Yugoslavia case show that this can lead to a stable and lasting peace. Though the question of opting for the citizenship of a chosen country would arise, we would be much closer to achieving the goal of peace and stability. Similarly as the demarcation line between Yugoslavia and Italy was drawn on the basis of data on inhabitants before the war-time migrations, the line of »ethnic equidistance« should be drawn on the basis of the situation before the mass ethnic cleansing. Attention should also be paid to the cultural historical aspect. Thus, all the Serbian monasteries and Orthodox churches should remain fully owned by Serbia and free movement and access to such buildings should be ensured. Though the emotional tensions render the independence of Kosovo unacceptable, a rational consideration shows that the independence is actually a fait accomplis.
The second burning point is Macedonia: there are two very different ethnic groups who »dislike« each other and, for the time being, conciliation is practically impossible. The only option is some kind of federal regulation which is, of course, very hard to be accepted by both of them: for one group it is far too much, for the other not nearly enough. Again, a compromise has to be reached between the principle of self-determination and the principle of not changing the borders or not introducing new borders.
The third burning point is Bosnia and Herzegovina. Here it will be the most difficult to work out a compromise between the two contradictory principles: the principle of self-determination and the principle of not changing the borders or not introducing new borders. On no account should only one principle be adhered to in the region of the West Balkans, especially not in the territory of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Attention should be paid to the ethnic groups and their wishes in determining the status instead of directing the wishes according the predetermined status. If the Serbs from Bosnia and Herzegovina want to be residents of Bosnia and Herzegovina more than merely being the Serbs, let them be so. If they want to be the Serbs more than the residents of Bosnia and Herzegovina, let them be so, too. The fear that one state of the West Balkans might become a too strong regional force is completely unfounded. The status of Croats in Bosnia and Herzegovina is similar. If new delineation was eventually determined, the Bosniaks would have no difficulties adapting. We should listen to the nations and strive to adjust the situation without any big and fast changes. For the time being, high level of autonomy should be ensured for each of the three ethnic groups.
The myths which had a decisive role in tailoring the politics in the Balkans will loose their significance if the international community adopts a strong, well weighted and persistent strategy. In any case, it would be utterly misconceived to try to establish peace and regulate economic conditions and quality of personal life before determining the status. Historical experience shows that the status is very important for the inhabitants of the West Balkans, hence the priority is to regulate the status.
The experiences of other nations in other regions with different cultural tradition and historical development can not be applied in the West Balkans. This was the mistake made by the empires in the ancient history, the socialism in recent history and now the international community. If we want to achieve a lasting and stable peace in this region, we should consider the facts which might be regarded elsewhere as irrelevant.


  1. Davor Gjenero, independent Croatian analyst, Delo, 4 February 2004.

  2. Adem Demaçi, a lecture in Ljubljana, 5 November 2003.

  3. Ludger Kühnhardt, a lecture in Ljubljana, 26 January 2004.

  4. Statutory prohibition for Germany and Austriaof to unite, the Austrian Constitution, Article 4.

  5. Boris Gombač, Slovenia, Italy from contempt to recognition, Debora 1996, p 103.