Back to the Balkans – Let’s Pay Attention This Time

First posted over at Stop Genocide.

Sometimes, I wonder how it is possible that situations of genocide and mass atrocity aren’t given any attention or resources before things get “really bad” (whatever really bad means).  Is it because no one knows?  There’s no warnings?  Then I think about how ignored some very clear warnings, from very smart people who should know, have been… and then I stop wondering.

However, today I’m going to try and draw your attention back to the Balkans.

A while back during my November guest-blogging gig I posted about Paddy Ashdown and Richard Holbrooke’s warning piece in the Guardian – a plea to the world to stop Bosnia’s increased, internal ‘Balkinization’ before our eyes.

Ashdown (the high representative for Bosnia-Herzegovina from 2002 – Jan. 2007) and Holbrooke (chief architect of the Dayton Peace Agreement) warned:

Almost exactly 13 years ago, American leadership brought an end to Bosnia’s three-and-a-half-year war through the Dayton peace agreement. Today the country is in real danger of collapse. As in 1995, resolve and transatlantic unity are needed if we are not to sleepwalk into another crisis.

Then, in today’s Wall Street Journal European Edition we get another warning from Morton Abramowitz and Daniel Serwer about not just Bosnia, but also that other Balkan hot-sport, Kosovo.

Abramowitz (former Assistant Secretary of State and U.S. Ambassador) and Serwer (former U.S. special envoy and coordinator for the Bosnian Federation) remind us:

Bosnia and Kosovo have largely disappeared from public view…

Bosnia is a nonfunctioning state living under the constant threat its autonomous Serb region to hold a referendum on independence. The Bosnian Muslim prime minister wants to throw out the Dayton agreement that concluded the Bosnia war in 1995, end Serb autonomy and form a unitary state. Western oversight has failed to ease the tensions among ethnic groups. The wounds of war are still raw.

Newly independent Kosovo, unrecognized by two-thirds of the world’s states — including five EU members — barely functions after 10 years of U.N. rule. It has high unemployment and little foreign investment and needs enormous foreign assistance.

Abramowitz and Serwer maintain that the solutions proposed by the international community won’t be sufficient:

Washington and Brussels are hoping the promise of European Union accession will ultimately triumph over remaining ethnic tensions in the region. Would that this were so.

Rather, a divided EU is allowing the Balkans to slide toward greater instability, while the U.S. remains mostly on the sidelines. America’s massive investment in the region in the 1990s may go the way of the subprime market.

The authors say that Serbia’s support for Serbs in northern Kosovo, and collaboration with the Russian government to strengthen the Republika Srbska (the Serbian entity), are at the root of continued instability in the Balkans.

The EU, which believes that Serbia is the center of the Balkans, is doing little to pull it out of the muck. All member states seem to subscribe to the assumption that, under pro-EU President Boris Tadic, Serbia must be permitted to pursue the process of EU accession — irrespective of its policies toward Kosovo and Bosnia and the fact that Serbia does not meet EU requirements for political and economic reform.

Ah, what an idea: having a cost associated with destructive foreign policy!  If you stir up ethnic hatred and instability, you can’t join the EU.  Seems simple, right?  So why is it so hard…?

If the downward trend in the Balkans is going to be reversed, the EU and the U.S. will have to show stiffer resolve and greater clarity.

Well, there seems to lie the problem  Ashdown and Holbrooke also said that change would only come,

provided the EU wakes up, the new US administration gets engaged, and both renew their commitment to Bosnia’s survival as a state, by maintaining an effective troop presence and beginning the process of strengthening the international community’s approach long-term, including finding ways to untie Bosnia’s constitutional knot.

In sum, to quote Ashdown and Holbrooke (just add “and the entire Balkan region” after “Bosnia”):

It’s time to pay attention to Bosnia again, if we don’t want things to get very nasty quickly. By now, we should all know the price of that.

Photo of posters promoting inter-ethnic understanding (left) and European Union accession (right) from a trolley car in Sarajevo, taken by me in July 2007.

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About Martha Heinemann Bixby

Advocacy. Politics. Life. Martha Heinemann Bixby.
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