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February 09, 2005


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Raoul Djukanovic

there's a couple of typically hyperbolic commentaries on this up at antiwar.com. wouldn't particularly recommend them except as an antidote to ICGspeak and because there's some useful links to media coverage of the report. if you can hack the tone, the take on serbian directionlessness seems fairly accurate to me, although i'm no fan of the flag-waving crap underpinning the analysis.

bottom line doesn't seem to have changed much for years - the status quo is untenable and no one seems to have much time for thinking of how to "buy off" the serbs. as the report's introduction notes, the delay on dealing with substantive issues has inflamed the situation to the point where violence is being regarded once again as a serious danger and elements in belgrade see nothing much to lose in stoking it, although ultimately i think that's unlikely to blow up.

still, the way this has all been handled by the west has been asking for trouble, in my humble opinion. having left the situation to stagnate, essentially hoping it would simmer down, there's virtually no wiggle room left. hard to see how the inevitable showdown with belgrade on this is going to go well, given that it's still all stick and no carrot, even if kosovo is in reality an albatross rather than the mythical field of blackbirds.

partition question remains open, i'd say, although it's still regarded as beyond the pale, not least because of the potential consequences elsewhere, regardless of the legal framework. some form of autonomy is essential if serbs are to come on board, it seems, yet what will albanians be prepared to accept in practice?

suppose it will all come down to how itchy the u.s. is getting to declare victory and depart. they've hung on in that stance since the 2000 campaign. hard to determine from here how much patience is left, especially since many of the balkan experts seem to have moved on.

wouldn't like to stake any money on any firm predictions, myself. look forward to reading your fuller thoughts.


Raoul Djukanovic

dunno if you've seen the article in foreign affairs by ed joseph, a former ICG analyst in macedonia. largely an upsummer of the obvious and an appeal for someone to bother taking an interest in washington, but it's fairly realistic on the big picture:

"It is hard to overestimate how essential the minority-treatment principle is for the Balkans. Without full consideration, for example, of the appalling human rights record of Kosovar Albanians—who continue to make Kosovo inhospitable to Serbs and other minorities— southeastern Europe will be doomed. The Serbs will demand compensation in Bosnia for the loss of Kosovo, through annexation of all or part of Republika Srpska into Serbia proper; in turn, Muslims will demand territory for having been driven out of Serb-dominated areas during the war. Forcing Belgrade to accept an unfair Kosovo settlement without some redress for the tens of thousands of Serbs chased out after natobombing ended will burden the former Yugoslavia’s largest and most populous country with a permanent grievance."

still no sign of any innovations as to how to make belgrade play ball, however. just the insistence that their excuses shouldn't wash and that it's never a good time to make deals. meanwhile, in another protectorate:

"As in Kosovo, the international community has for too long averted its eyes from the troubled reality in Bosnia: the Dayton peace framework has become dysfunctional. Bosnian Serbs continue to think that the stronger central Muslim-dominated institutions become, the weaker Republika Srpska will become. With no incentive to embrace the authority of Sarajevo, the Serb republic remains a Serb citadel, and joint, central institutions do not function. International offi?cials have been forced to act in their place."

it's difficult to determine which is more dysfunctional. as one prominent sarajevan puts it: "we don't live in a country, we live in a project"

generally the proposals are in the vein of the ICG report on kosovo: modest but plausible initiatives for dealing with life on the ground. nothing to address the macro level, however, at least not in an outside-the-box fashion. here's the conclusion, which plays to the gallery despite its promising start:

"When dealing with the Balkans, the devil is usually not in the details but in the failure to confront the obvious. Letting serious problems fester, relying on delay as a default option, and believing blindly in long-term prescriptions for pressing problems will only mire the international community in a region that it badly wishes to forget. Ignoring the region’s implications for the U.S. relationship with the Islamic world would also be foolhardy. It may not be possible to completely “solve” the Balkans. But with strong U.S. leadership, transatlantic cooperation, and the application of clear principles, the stalemate in the region can be broken—and Washington can move on to other compelling concerns."

i suspect i expect too much... ;-)

happy to email you the report if you don't have access to a copy. not available online unless you're a subscriber.


Dear Raul:

Thanks for fleshing this out a bit more. Like most people in the United States, even the well informed, these issues have pretty much fallen off the radar screen...as you correctly noted.

And, of course, I look forward to anything more Doug might have to say on the subject.

Best Wishes,


Raoul Djukanovic

US institute of peace also has a briefing on its website, which covers much the same ground, unsurprisingly given that the ICG analyst contributed to the discussions from which it emerged. similar prescriptions and proscriptions, although i wonder quite how the greater albania question can be put to rest any more than the serbian territorial issues. a bar on any kind of union with albania is something, i suppose, but pretty meaningless in practice once borders are controlled by local actors. the fluidity between kosovo and northern macedonia in 2001 underlined this.

anyhow, in keeping with the findings of an earlier USIP study into possible outcomes of final status talks, they raise the partition question as the real decision to be made. here's the concluding paragraph of the briefing note:

"The international community, in particular the United States and the European Union, need to make key decisions in advance of initiating the final status process. In addition to setting the timetable and modalities, Washington and Brussels have to decide whether partition will be on the table in the process, and if so, whether it will be permitted as part of the solution. The international community should also increase support to the ongoing political and civil society dialogue occurring between Serbs and Albanians, which is an important foundation for any future final status agreement."


Dear Raoul, (Please forgive me for spelling your name incorrectly in my first post. These things happen).

In any case, I especially enjoyed the link to Mr. Malic and his anti-war site. He is an interesting read...as are you, of course.

I am still a little torn on sides to take in all of this...we in the US are so Propagandized that it is often hard to understand what is really going on.

Of course, only one out of 100 Americans would give a whit one way or another...lol

But I find this interesting.

Thanks again, and

Best Wishes,


Raoul Djukanovic

hi traveller,

malic's musings are by no means objective, but there are some useful insights in there i think, if you can filter out some of the baggage about "blood and soil". the big story that barely registered in the states (or elsewhere outside the balkans for that matter) because of all the hype about the intervention in 1999 was that officials grappling with the problem were as worried about albanian nationalism as the serbian variety.

serbia has to a certain extent been boxed in ever since, while the albanians have been pushing their luck somewhat to accelerate the push for independence in kosovo. in many ways the uprising in macedonia in 2001 was dictated by the logic of kosovo - from NATO's failure to disarm the KLA to the (partially successful) attempt to secure another western intervention to defend albanian interests. NATO reversed its backing of the macedonian government against "murderous thugs" to demand they be included in the administration. much of this was down to the agenda of those in power in skopje at the time, but the hypocrisies do not go down well and give easy propaganda material to those balkan leaders with their own hypocrisies to paper over.

it's difficult to raise these questions without being written off as an apologist of one stripe or another, although that's largely down to the lack of attention paid to the region since 9/11.

now that the kosovo status question cannot be put off any longer, i sense there may be more of a window for realism, but if no one's paying attention and those with the experience have wandered off to other hotspots, there's a danger that stupid decisions get made.

all adds to the general history of the past 15 years in which western officials have stumbled around trying to fix the mess they didn't mend earlier. some would argue that there were no errors in this; the less conspiratorial tend to say it's all a frankenstein's monster unleashed by the decisions taken in 1991 which supported the breakup of yugoslavia; western officials will argue that it's all the fault of balkan nutjobs.

myself, i haven't a clue. the more i read the less i know. but i do think there's a need for some vision on the international front and when i was living in the region i saw precious little sign of it, although the assassination of djindjic made people sit up and think for a bit, as did last march's attacks on kosovo serbs. not too sure whether there's a way out of this without some bold thinking, which may upset people and overturn some of the orthodoxies western policies are supposed to have sought to upheld.

multiethnicity and respect for minority rights may not be feasible without different borders, although once the mapmakers get started it all tends to go to pot, as we saw at the congress of berlin...

as i said above, i suspect i expect too much ;-)


Raoul Djukanovic

excuse me for littering the box some more, but i was just checking out the original histologion post on the ICG report and i wanted to express my wholehearted agreement with this comment of doug's:

"Dear God, breaking up Yugoslavia was such a bad bad bad idea. What a colossal, thorough and multilateral screwup."

indeed. there are no easy answers now and the border conference idea is indeed a stinker, but if ever there was a time to leave no stone unturned in pursuit of something sustainable...

that said, have to say i agree with many of your assessments of the possible options, although that's not to say they should be dismissed out of hand as yet. anyway, simply giving kosovo independence and telling everyone else to lump it would be a spectacularly bad idea, i think, even with some of the micro initiatives proposed by the ICG.

looking forward to reading your take on this.


First of all: I don't think I have agreed as absolutely with anything else Doug has stated over at histologion as the above-quoted sentence by Raoul.

Second: I think my original proposal (or something like it), is the only way to settle the mess - "fixing" the area's problems cannot be accomplished piecemeal. There needs to be a comprehensive regional agreement, where one party can make concessions in order to achieve gains elsewhere. This, as far as my, admittedly limited, reasoning powers are concerned, is the only sort of solution that can imaginably fly without a resulting huge wave of violence (sooner or later).

About the proposal, it seems we agree with Doug: it has good insights but fails on what it proposes. That said it seems to be the only international body to have diagnosed that Kosovo remaining inside S&M, is a solution the Serb nationalists will have a hard time living with as well, as it will create a hostile yet powerful minority that could be the decisive factor in S&M's politics. So they will push for some sort of partition - but that's a *really* bad precedent for the region if implemented on its own.

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