The Balkans remain the crux of Europe’s unresolved security problem

In Balcani, Europa on settembre 30, 2009 at 5:02 pm

di Paolo Quercia

Despite repeated calls by analysts and diplomats during the last months not to underestimate the Balkans’ unresolved situation, there seems to be really nobody who at this time has a way out of the new and old conflicts which have survived for some years now, hidden beneath the ashes of a seemingly pacified region. Almost a year ago, key actors of political and diplomatic events such as Ashdown and Holbrooke alerted the international community from the columns of The Guardian about the possibility, in their opinion, that the Balkans were slowly but surely slipping into another serious critical phase, getting closer and closer to becoming a new tinderbox. The Dayton agreement mastermind and the former US envoy to the Balkans and former UN High Representative for Bosnia-Herzegovina were referring above all to the worsening Bosnian political situation in the face of Kosovo’s Independence declaration. This situation has not bettered to date, following a general trend of chronic worsening of regional stability, such as in Kosovo, Macedonia, and parts of Montenegro and Serbia. Ten years into the massive international intervention in the Western Balkans, there are still regions lacking an autonomous model of economic and political development, compounded by a very low governance capability, and coupled with deep ethnic fragmentation and a perilous, apparently incurable historical rupture between victors and vanquished in the war of dissolution of what once was Yugoslavia. This instability is being aggravated by the effects of the economic crises which have hit the Balkans and might bring to the fore the fragility of the region’s security architecture. The crises hit the region in two ways. They slowdown local economic development (mostly produced by a combination of external financial and investment interventions, which were beginning to grow weaker). In the meantime, the European economic crisis keeps away prospects for further EU enlargement, even though such enlargement would have ensured – according to a certain vision of regional security – a definitive security arrangement for the Western Balkans the bill for which would have been footed by the EU. The extreme indebtedness toward European banks in the Balkans represents a relevant factor of vulnerability. According to estimates, Austrian Banks’ active loans in the region amount to 70% of their GDP. The region’s economic problems end up serving as further stimulus for corruption, which is already widespread in many of the area’s countries to alarming degrees.

The region’s economic difficulties know no borders, state or ethnic, beginning with the countries closest to EU accession. Croatia’s economy, for instance, seems to be going through a really rough patch because of the effects of the crisis which put under pressure the capabilities of the country to repay its high foreign debt (almost 40 billion dollars). Certain quarters would have it that the government is most certainly on the edge of bankruptcy, not being able even to pay civil service salaries. The bad economic situation might have contributed to the mysterious resignation of Sanader. In Montenegro, the government must face an incandescent situation with protests by aluminium combinats workers who have not been paid for a long time. In Serbia tens of thousands of local businesses have had their currents accounts frozen by banks because of excessive overdrafts.

The situation in Bosnia-Herzegovina keeps on worsening and the power of the international community too seems to been weakening. EU High Representative Inzko has expressly spoken of further deterioration in the domestic political situation in these last few months, particularly with regard to the control of the authority on energy networks divided between those on an entity level and those one a (theoretically, at least) federal level.  The energy system of the RS tends to centrifuge and integrate with Belgrade, and this, out of necessity, brings the opposition of the High Representative – whose mandate is to integrate Bosnia’s energy network with the European system – to Serbia’s political leaders. Relations with the EU have stalled, and the news has made the rounds that the next Commission country progress report on Bosnia-Herzegovina will not be positive. No other outcome could be expected considering that the Directorate-General for European Integration of the Foreign Affairs has remained vacant for more than nine months.

The difficult situation in Kosovo remains the principal challenge to regional security. Although Kosovo has celebrated its first year of independence with a certain degree of tranquillity and without any serious episodes of instability, the country’s international situation is still completely sui generis and open to changes, even far-reaching ones in the medium term. The very presence of international entities is based on different legal bases and highlights differing visions for Kosovo’s future. The ICO, whose legal basis is the post-independence Kosovar Constitution, aims at Kosovo’s EU accession. Although EULEX, UNMIK and KFOR are all based on the still-valid Resolution 1244, they have differing political objectives. Little by little on its way out but still largely responsible for the country’s security, KFOR represents the military instrument of last resort whose function is preventive and aimed at controlling the territory. UNMIK, though reduced to the bare minimum, still retains an important role, albeit opposed by the Albanian government. Lastly, despite representing the EU rule of law mission launched upon Independence, EULEX has to keep a status neutral profile on account of the lack of consensus among all EU countries on Kosovar independence. It therefore has to base its legitimacy on Resolution 1244 which calls for the territorial integrity of Yugoslavia.

The Kosovar authorities keep on boycotting the UN mission with which they do not even entertain relations and which actually operates only in the northern part of the country, in the Serb-controlled area. In this respect, UNMIK provides an interface with Interpol where Kosovo is not recognized. UN mission administrative functions in northern Kosovo cannot however directly interact with Pristina because of the latter’s recent refusal to recognize the UN mission. In the northern territories, UNMIK carries out the same administrative and control duties as before Kosovo’s independences, with the sole difference that before it could carry them out on all the territory whereas now it is limited to the Serbian areas, in which the inhabitants see in UNMIK’s presence a renewed guarantee of Serbian territorial integrity. EULEX’s functions are in the judicial and policing fields, and only in the Albanian areas, whereas its presence is not accepted in Serbian areas. The only existent form of collaboration with EULEX in Serb territories is linked to the fact that Serbian officials of the Kosovo Protection Service refuse to carry out their duties in line with the Ministry of Interior’s line of command and have therefore decided to report directly to EULEX. This is not the only paradox. The communication lines between the Serbian minority and the Albanian government manifest the same characteristic. Boycotting EULEX, the Serbs collaborate with UNMIK on numerous cases. Since UNMIK cannot collaborate directly with the Kosovar government on account of the Pristina boycott, UNMIK has to hold relations with EULEX, which has is viewed with some sort of legitimacy by Pristina and maintains administrative collaboration with it. The administrative operational chain is therefore Serbian Enclaves–UNMIK–EULEX–Pristina. In other words, the Balkanization of the international community in Kosovo is such that independent Albanians can count on the presence of EULEX to make up for their sovereignty deficit whereas the Serbs are upheld by the UN missions. But EULEX’s popularity is diminishing among Albanians, particularly when it is called upon to create stronger forms of collaboration with the Serbian part in order to finalize its rule of law mission. This came to the surface because of the collaboration between EULEX and Belgrade on police matters, despite increasing protests on the part of Kosovar Albanians voiced by both government and population. The tension rose such that traditionally demonstrative attacks on EULEX vehicles (as was the case before with UNMIK vehicles) have increased significantly over the past few months. The role of ICO (the civilian mission of the international community contemplated by the Athissari plan) has to date always been that of a marginal international presence. One of the main weaknesses of this mission lies in the difficulty to collaborate with the other two international missions. Not having been approved by the Security Council, the Athissari plan does not afford any meaningful collaboration between missions based on Resolution 1244 and missions deriving from Independence.

In sum, international political and diplomatic presence in Kosovo is based on three different missions. First, UNMIK is entirely based on Resolution 1244 and is irreconcilable with Independence. Second, EULEX is a hybrid form because it was born out of support for Independence but owes its legal legitimacy to Resolution 1244 and is thereby bound – against its will – to assume a status neutral profile. Third, conceived within a non-UN approved plan for the Independence of Kosovo (launched by the Finnish diplomat Athissari), ICO’s presence, legitimacy, and operational limitations on Kosovar territory derive from the Constitutional of independent Kosovo and, in the ultimate analysis, from Pristina’s political will.

It is rather evident that international presence in Kosovo is at one and the same time confused, at odds with itself, and hardly efficacious. It represents the difficulty of reconciling Kosovo’s independence with a divided international community, both on the European plane and the global plane of the United Nations. Thus shattered, international presence in Kosovo, with its conflicting and incomplete legitimacy, ended up substantially losing its own real mission, namely completing and subrogating the building of a Kosovar State with focussed and incisive actions in the fields of security, justice and human rights. The international presence’s failure will naturally increase the possibility that the state-building project will be abandoned. The idea had been to build a Kosovar State with the same standards of governance as the European Union. Or at least, compatible ones.



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