Poor old Yugoslavia. First Croatia, Slovenia and (the Former Yugolsav / Republic of) Macedonia (1991), then Montenegro (June 3, 2006), now Kosovo. The recent declaration of the Kosovo state (February 17, 2008) — approved by the US and NATO, rejected by Russia and its Eastern European allies — has been greeted with widespread protest by Serb nationalists, including in Melbourne.
For fascists, Kosovar independence is a product of a ZOG/NWO (Zionist Occupation Government/New World Order) conspiracy, to divide the White, Christian West, so as to render it less able to resist the impositions of ZOG/NWO. Or at least, that’s what the local tinfoil helmet brigade thinks: “KOSOVO IS SERBIAN! SAY NO TO ILLEGAL ZIONIST SPONSORED ISLAMIC STATES IN EUROPE!”
Reaction on the left has ranged from largely supportive to extreme wariness if not outright opposition. In Australia, the DSP reckons Kosovars are an oppressed nation, so that an independent state might be supported on that basis; in the UK, the SWP is far more cautious, emphasising the limited nature of the supposed political autonomy of the newly-formed state, and the role of the US and the UN in seeking to weaken Russia’s ally Serbia by supporting its creation (Kosovo is a pawn on the imperial chessboard, Vladimir Unkovski-Korica, Socialist Worker, March 1, 2008).
The KRudd Government has already indicated it will give diplomatic recognition to the new state, despite protests here (see below) and there: ‘Bosnian Serbs try to storm U.S. Consulate during Kosovo protest’, Reuters / The Associated Press, February 26, 2008: “The police fired tear gas at Bosnian Serb rioters Tuesday to prevent them from storming the U.S. Consulate during a rally to protest Kosovo’s declaration of independence… The protest Tuesday began with participants gathering peacefully at the main square in central Banja Luka, carrying Serbian flags, pictures of President Vladimir Putin of Russia and banners reading “No America.” At least one U.S. flag had a swastika drawn on it.” The body of one young protester, Zoran Vujovic, was later found among the debris caused by a fire at the US Embassy in Belgrade.
Elsewhere in the diplomatic world…
An end to Balkan national states
Le Monde diplomatique
February 4, 2008
Kosovo is likely to declare unilateral independence this month, to which the probable EU response will be an agreed statement accepting the change and allowing individual European countries to recognise Kosovo if they want to. The Serbian government intends to break off diplomatic relations with those who do. There are proposals to redraw the border maps, but another round of conflicting aspirations could cause worse chaos
When Kosovo declares independence, as seems likely, there will be serious consequences for the whole region. The Serbs of Bosnia and Herzegovina will regard the event as a precedent that confirms their own right to secede from a state that has never really functioned. Independence will also disrupt neighbouring states, especially Macedonia and Montenegro, and play havoc with the map of the Balkans.
Despite this prospect Balkan specialists and diplomats now suggest that it is time to break the taboo of untouchable borders. The conflicts of the 1990s were waged in the name of Greater Serbia and Greater Croatia, and Kosovo’s claims to independence raise the ghost of a Greater Albania. Has the time come to re-examine territorial grievances, and define new, fairer borders, more representative of ethnic geography? A lasting peace in the area may require a new map for the Balkans, indeed for Europe. The idea is not new, but it won’t go away.
During the troubles in Macedonia in 2001, the French writer Alexandre Adler called for “surgery rather than homeopathy” (1) and suggested the division of the post-Yugoslav republic into distinct Albanian and Macedonian regions. That year David Owen, co-chairman of the International Conference on the Former Yugoslavia, also made proposals in Le Monde for redefining Balkan frontiers (2). These were echoed by a key figure in the Albanian nationalist movement in Macedonia, Arben Xhaferi, who called for the creation of “ethnic” states (3).
The failure of the negotiations on Kosovo’s future and the impossibility of an Albanian-Serbian compromise have resuscitated old ideas of partition, though this has long been considered taboo by the international community. Last August Germany’s Wolfgang Ischinger, the European Union’s envoy on the diplomatic troika leading the talks, said that any option capable of uniting the parties would have to be taken seriously; if Belgrade and Pristina could reach an agreement on the division of Kosovo – it hasn’t happened – the EU would have to endorse partition.
The idea seems logical: if people do not want to live together, why not let them live separately, even if that means displacement as populations reshuffle to adjust borders to ethnic distribution in the area? Imagine that, by waving a wand, an international conference led to a peaceful agreement on new frontiers for the western Balkans, drawn up on lines of ethnicity.
Unite and truncate
Plans would need to be made to unite the areas with an Albanian majority – Albania, Kosovo, and the northwest part of Macedonia, as well as the Presevo Valley in the south of Serbia and the eastern fringes of Montenegro, around Vusanje and Ulcinj. (However, none of these redivisions of territory and people will deal with such practical matters as power generation and distribution, which will remain cross-border in many cases: the Serbian government has already threatened to cut electricity supplies should Kosovo become independent and is hardly likely to offer any resources to a Greater Albania.)
This would leave Macedonia truncated and barely recognisable as a state, unless the pro-Bulgarian lobby succeeded in attaching the country to its eastern neighbour. Then there would be the question of minorities in Albania: the Greeks in the south could claim attachment to Greece, while Albanians expelled from Epirus in the north of Greece after 1945 (Çamëria as it is known in Albania) would also stand up for their long-neglected rights. Montenegro could seek compensation in the Shkoder region where there are still Serbian-Montenegran minorities, and Macedonia could reclaim the Slav villages around Lakes Ohrid and Prespa.
Bosnia and Herzegovina’s Serbs would return to their mother country. This would destroy Bosnia, especially if the Croats in western Herzegovina, central Bosnia and Bosanska Posavina (Orasje, Odzak) returned to Croatia. What remained would be a microstate, Muslim Bosniak, centred around Sarajevo, Zenica and Tuzla. This would be just like the famous plan to divide up Bosnia and Herzegovina devised in 1991 by Franjo Tudjman and Slobodan Milosevic (4). Bosnia would make efforts to defend the eastern enclave of Gorazde, and would claim the Sanjak of Novi Pazar, today shared between Serbia and Montenegro (5).
The state of Montenegro would no longer exist within its present borders. Apart from the secession of its Albanian and Bosniak regions, it would also be likely to lose its Serbian regions in the north. As Bosniaks and Serbs in this area are totally intermingled, a period of conflict would be inevitable, as the different communities reorganised and new borders took shape. Croatia would gain the Bay of Kotor, which has a long Catholic tradition and only became a part of Montenegro in 1918. Montenegro would soon find itself back at its mid-19th century borders, although it might have a hope of a maritime outlet at Budva.
Serbia’s position would be equally strange. Although it would have lost its Albanian and Bosniak regions, it would have gained Bosnia and Herzegovina’s Republika Srpska, as well as the Serbian areas in the north of Montenegro. It would also have to deal with Vojvodina. This autonomous region in the north of Serbia is home to some 20 different minorities, nearly 50% of the overall population. Its largest community is Hungarian (some 350,000) and the communes of Subotica, Senta and Kanjiza would return to Hungary, unless Vojvodina decided to declare independence and become the only island of multiethnicity remaining in the Balkans.
Countries within the EU would also be affected by the reorganisation. There are minorities in Greece, and not just the Albanians: the Muslims of western Thrace (Turks and Pomaks) would demand their return to Turkey and Bulgaria, cancelling the Lausanne treaty of 1923 (6). The issue of the Slav population in Greek Macedonia would also need attention, although this has always not been spoken about in the country. Slovenia would finally obtain satisfaction in its micro-territorial conflicts with Croatia (7). It would demand the cancellation of the 1918 plebiscites (8) and expand its territory into Austria’s Carinthia where there are still a number of Slovenian communities. Slovenia could also be awarded a part of Italy’s Friuli, given the positive attitude it has shown in its management of the region’s conflicts – perhaps it would get the town of Gorizia (which is currently crossed by the border), or even Trieste (9).
This reorganisation would not satisfy everyone – the Gorani of Kosovo, the Ruthenians in eastern Croatia’s Slavonia, or the Aromanians in Macedonia, Albania and Greece. And the 3,000-4,000 Roma in the western Balkans would remain (as they have always been) a people without a state.
It is unlikely that such changes would come about peacefully. The emergence of armed conflicts of medium intensity seems more than probable and a regional task force would be required to command EU troops with a mandate to keep the peace. But population displacement could not be seen as collateral damage as it would be the whole point. The UN High Commission for Refugees would supervise the operation, assisted by NGOs. The emergency aid budget available for the western Balkans would have to surpass by far the funds raised after the Asian tsunami in December 2004.
Not so farfetched
This scenario may seem far-fetched but parts of the script have already been written, as far as Bosnia and Herzegovina or the Albanian nationality questions are concerned. The proponents of independence for Kosovo stress that it should not set a precedent; even so, it is inevitable that any solution to the issue will be seen as a precedent if those with a grievance, in the Balkans or elsewhere, feel they can use it as such. The main problem with the proposals submitted by the UN’s special envoy, Martti Ahtisaari, early in 2007 is that they detach the Kosovo issue from its regional context: there can be no lasting solution for the region if no mention is made of the Albanian communities in Macedonia or the south of Serbia.
The idea that nationality issues can be solved by rearranging borders is based on the illusion that borders can be accurately redefined along ethnic lines. All national borders are historical artefacts, the legacy of political and military manoeuvre. Borders are no more fair and accurate than they are natural.
The use of the term “Balkans” spread in the 19th century. As the Ottoman empire began to break up, the irreconcilable claims of its former subject peoples shook this region of Europe. The Balkans became synonymous with nationalist sentiment, complex conflict, upheaval and fragmentation – “balkanisation”. “The Balkans” was an ideological concept, not a geographical location. In this melting pot of cultures, contradictory claims and aspirations, border conflicts were bitter.
The emergence of states and the definition of their borders marked the entry of the Balkans into modern politics. The new states were generally nationalist, based on and adapted from the models provided by the specific history of western Europe. In the early 19th century Greece and Serbia established themselves through ethnic cleansing, organising the expulsion or assimilation of populations considered exogenous (on religious grounds: the Turks, meaning Muslims, whether Slav, Albanian or Turkish-speaking, were expelled from both states).
The definition of borders gave the impression that the confusion in the Balkans was being managed, that it could be transformed into a European ideal of order, based on the coincidence of a people, its national borders and the state. The diversity that had characterised the Ottoman era, the multiple identities of language, “nationality” and religion, began to fade.
The process accelerated during the wars in Yugoslavia in the 1990s: the Serbian population in Croatia dropped from 12% to about 4%, and the Bosnian mosaic was reorganised into broad mono-ethnic zones under the control of one of the three communities.
Remains of empire
In the 19th and 20th centuries Austria-Hungary and Russia, also France, Great Britain and Italy, battled to extend their zones of influence over what remained of the Ottoman empire. They supported and encouraged the national aspirations of the Balkan peoples. The politics of these states were relayed by journalists or travellers. In the 1930s the British writer Rebecca West chided the “humanitarians and philanthropists” supporting the nationalist causes (10).
There have been key moments in the definition of the borders since 1878. The “great Eastern crisis” was first settled with the Treaty of San Stefano, providing for the creation of a Great Bulgaria under Russian protectorate. The plans caused ructions in London, Paris and Vienna, neglecting as they did Serbia and Romania. They were reversed a few months later at the Congress of Berlin, when Austria-Hungary gained control over Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Sanjak of Novi Pazar.
The 1912-13 Balkan wars and the first world war are key episodes, too. In 1918 Serbia and Romania were handsomely rewarded for their fidelity to the Allies: the Serbian House of Kara-or-evi was able to proclaim the Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats and Slovenes (later to become Yugoslavia), while Bucharest established Greater Romania.
Despite Wilsonian principles announced after the first world war, none of these states recognised the rights of the individual peoples to any autonomy. They enclosed a large number of communities within their new borders and transformed them into national minorities. In the 1920s the Comintern denounced the kingdom of Yugoslavia as a new “prison of the peoples”. It is true that the centralised state created by the Karadordevic bore little resemblance to the romantic dream of a unified state for the Slav peoples of the south (the Yugoslavs) (11).
The internal borders drawn up in 1945 for the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia were the least bad of all compromises according to the principal politician responsible for them, the Montenegro-born dissident, Milovan Djilas. The system depended on maintaining a clear distinction between citizenship and nationality and had its origins in Austrian Marxist thinking (12). Yugoslavs were citizens of the federal republic in which they lived (and of the Socialist Federation), but they remained free to choose their national community: there was no obligation in the Yugoslav census.
The Balkan experience shows that the demands of the different peoples cannot be presented in terms of statehood without engendering strife and confrontation. In Kosovo there can be only two solutions to the mutually exclusive demands of those sharing the same territory: either the victory of one people over the other, with frustrations and quests for revenge, or the invention of new forms of political coexistence and co-sovereignty. The European context could surely generate new political opportunities capable of surpassing these territorial conflicts.
The great powers have always played an essential role in determining Balkan borders: Kosovo is now a pawn in the planetary battle between Russia and the United States, so little attention will be paid to the real interests of the Albanians, Serbs and others living in Kosovo.
Any attempt to settle the problems with new plans for partition would affect the whole of Europe. It is time for a better response than just redrawing lines on the map.
TRANSLATED BY ROBERT CORNER
Jean-Arnault Dérens is editor of the Courrier des Balkans and author with Laurent Geslin of Comprendre les Balkans: Histoire, sociétés, perspectives, Non Lieu, Paris, 2007
(1) Alexandre Adler, “Pour les Balkans, chirurgie ou homéopathie?”, Courrier international, Paris, 12 April 2001.
(2) David Owen, “Redessiner la carte des Balkans”, Le Monde, 21 March 2001.
(3) Arbën Xhaferi, “Les États multiethniques ne sont pas une solution”, Le Courrier des Balkans, 28 April 2003
(4) The Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic and his Croatian counterpart Franjo Tudjman agreed on a secret plan for the division of Bosnia as early as 1991.
(5) See “Le Sandjak de Novi Pazar”, Le Courrier des Pays de l’Est, 1058, November-December 2006.
(6) The treaty signed on 24 July 1923 provided for major population exchanges between Greece and Turkey, and the recognition of the existence of a “Muslim” minority in Greek western Thrace.
(7) These conflicts concern the Gulf of Piran, where Slovenia’s land border determines its access to international waters, and the small region of Prekmurje.
(8) The votes determined the attribution of disputed border territories to either Austria or Slovenia.
(9) The Free State of Trieste was established in 1947 and only divided in 1954. Zone A and the town was given to Italy, Zone B to Yugoslavia. It is part of Slovenia today.
(10) Rebecca West, Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, Macmillan, London, 1942.
(11) The Yugoslav concept was first developed by Croatian intellectuals, notably Ljudevit Gaj (1804-1872) and the bishop Josip Strossmayer (1815-1905).
(12) This distinction was set out by Otto Bauer in The Question of Nationalities and Social Democracy, University of Minnesota Press, 2000.
Meanwhile, in Melbourne:
Storming the streets
February 27, 2008
WHEN the city square used to be on the corner of Collins and Swanston streets, a group of anti-immigration protesters in Hitler’s storm trooper uniforms were holding forth. Suddenly, two elderly men, their coat tails flying, ran across Collins St and tried to rip the swastika armbands from the protesters. The resultant scuffle ended up with one old man receiving a cut head and the protesters scattering after an angry crowd gathered.
The swastika and the intimidating dog returned to Melbourne’s streets on Friday night in an anti-independence rally over Kosovo separating from Serbia. The irony was inescapable.
Seventy-five years ago, Hitler came to power and his swastika-wearing bovver boys crushed dissent. The swastika is a symbol of terror and totalitarianism. Therefore, it is difficult to see how the Serb protesters can appropriate the swastika and expect public support.
To understand the convoluted logic of the Serbs who took to Melbourne’s streets is a challenge.
An Australian flag and placard covered in swastikas was confiscated by police. To besmirch an Australian flag with swastikas is not only an act of breathtaking ignorance, but inflammatory.
I wonder what my late father, a World War II veteran, would have thought. He fought under the Australian flag. He watched his mates die under the Australian flag. He would have been outraged that the Australian flag was desecrated with symbols of hate.
Melbourne is a city with an international reputation for its racial harmony, and was ranked third in a UN report last year as the most desirable country in which to live.
Peter Schneemann, from Switzerland’s Berne University, was in Melbourne last month for the 32nd International Committee of the History of Art Congress. He praised the city’s “extremely open and tolerant culture”.
As a mark of this democracy and tolerance, Serbian demonstrators are free to march and chant in Melbourne’s streets.
But what they are protesting about bears closer examination.
At its heart, this protest was about nationalism and the Serbian refusal to accept Australia’s recognition of the now independent Kosovo.
What do we make of the veiled threat contained in the words of Father Milan Milutinovic of Melbourne’s Serbian Orthodox Church?
He asked Prime Minister Kevin Rudd to reverse Australia’s decision to recognise Kosovo independence from Serbia. “Countries, unfortunately including Australia, have recognised Kosovo unilaterally as a sovereign state,” said the cleric. “This is something we cannot accept and we are here to protest what’s going on.”
But, while such nationalistic claims directed at the Australian Government are cause for unease, Father Milutinovic was partly correct when he added: “I don’t know what connection Australia really has to Kosovo — it’s a European problem.”
Kosovo’s independence is accepted by the United Nations Security Council and the council universally condemned Nazi-like violence in Belgrade.
But there’s the rub. European ethnically derived hate has no place on Melbourne’s streets, and I’m with Father Milutinovic when he says: “It’s a European problem.”
But not when Serbian bullying is crystallised in the mark of a swastika.
It is a symbol that destroys whatever cause the Serbs may declare.
See also : The case of Kosovo: “Self-determination” as an instrument of imperialist policy, Peter Schwarz, wsws, February 20, 2008: “The support of the US and the major European powers for Kosovo’s unilateral secession from Serbia, in the face of fierce opposition from Serbia and Russia, as well as China, marks a turning point in international politics…” | Freedom Fight (English) | Andrej Grubacic, an anarchist from Serbia, seems to have some interesting stuff to say about politics in the Balkans