Opinion Europe Has No Exit Strategy in the Balkans

The Balkan states of Kosovo and Bosnia-Herzegovina are artificial constructs that are dependent on international organizations to function. Unlike in Iraq, there is no end in sight for this foreign rule and Europe seems to have little in the way of an exit strategy.


There is probably no one who knows his way around the Balkans , that unloved stepchild of Europe, better than Valentin Inzko. He has family roots in Slovenia, and he speaks Russian, Serbo-Croatian and Czech. Even for an Austrian career diplomat, this is unusual. Inzko, 60, is a walking encyclopedia on the history and contemporary affairs of these countries, all of which are now clamoring to be accepted into the European Union.

Spanish soldiers, members of the EU peacekeeping mission in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Spanish soldiers, members of the EU peacekeeping mission in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

The international community has sent Inzko to Bosnia-Herzegovina, armed with two grand titles: High Representative of the United Nations and EU Special Envoy. This sounds impressive and, in fact, Inzko has considerable standing in the Bosnian capital Sarajevo, where he is a proconsul of sorts, with the power to unseat ministers and other members of the local elite.

Today, Bosnia-Herzegovina is a country that resembles what Iraq was until recently. A horrible war claimed about 100,000 lives and left behind deep wounds, in a country that is now occupied and that is weighed down by deep ethnic and religious conflicts. While regulating Bosnia-Herzegovina's affairs, Inzko and his six predecessors have dismissed an astonishing 600 officials, including two presidents -- presumably a world record.

In the Balkans, the EU is trying to pursue a policy that the United States has just abandoned: nation building. Inzko's task is to transform this odd, artificial nation of four million people into a constitutional state, a market economy and a parliamentary democracy. But while control of Iraq will gradually be handed over to that country's elite, the nations that have been created in the Balkans, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo, remain deeply dependent on the armies of officials, soldiers and skilled personnel brought in by international organizations. There is no timetable for the gradual transfer of power to national governments. In other words, Europe has no exit strategy.

Artificial Constructs

As a result, these artificial constructs remain dependent on their creators indefinitely. But dependency leads to addiction. Dependency creates the very things it is intended to stamp out, such as corruption. When a prime minister in Sarajevo died unexpectedly a few years ago, it was discovered that he had €20 million ($28 million) in his bank accounts -- despite a monthly salary of just €1,000 ($1,400). But corruption is not just endemic among the domestic elite. In Kosovo, members of international organizations apparently siphoned off €60 million ($84 million) in funds during the construction of an airport and several power stations.

Dependency also makes people greedy. Even if it arises in the name of humanity, it prolongs the maladies it is intended to combat. And dependency is a good excuse, both for the dependants and the well-intentioned global community. The dependants claim that they would like to govern themselves, but are not permitted to do so. The global community cites the lack of experience in democracy as justification for extending its stay. This provisional arrangement gradually turns into a permanent state of affairs.

Bosnia-Herzegovina is a curiosity. It consists of two so-called entities: the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, for the Bosnian Muslims and the primarily Catholic Croats, and the so-called Republika Srpska, for the Orthodox Serbs. Altogether this small, ethnically divided country has three presidents, 14 parliaments and 180 ministers.

Bosnia-Herzegovina is not really a country but a construct, a monstrosity, a protectorate. At regular intervals, the EU has verbose reports prepared on the situation in the country, which make impressive reading but have little to do with reality.

There were good reasons to create such a protectorate back in 1995, after the most horrific of several horrific wars sparked by Serbia since the early 1990s to fight the disintegration of the former Yugoslavia. Europe looked on in horror as Muslims, Serbs and Croats killed each other. And Europe became familiar with places like Srebrenica, the site of a mass murder of Muslims in the presence of Dutch soldiers.

At the time, Europe demonstrated, painfully enough, that it had no desire to be a peacekeeping power. As a result, the task of fixing the problems in the Balkans was left to the United States or, to be more precise, to the dynamic US diplomat Richard Holbrooke, who still enjoys a thunderous reputation in the region today. In Dayton, Ohio, Holbrooke worked out a plan to create artificial entities in the western Balkans. The plan called for Bosnian Muslims, Croats and Serbs to live together in peace, despite the horrors of Srebrenica and the destruction of Sarajevo. They didn't want it then and, today, they have many excuses to explain why things are not moving forward. Of course, these excuses always involve assigning the blame to someone else.

Organizing the Peace

The world breathed a sigh of relief when the killing finally stopped in 1995. International organizations rushed to Bosnia-Herzegovina to secure and administer the peace. But the situation in the Balkans is not unlike that in Iraq, where ending the war is one thing, but organizing the country for peace -- a peace for which it will assume responsibility at some point in the future -- is quite another.

Europe was relatively helpless when the killing began, and now Europe is afraid that the killing could start up once again if the Bosnian Muslims are left alone with the Croats and the Serbs -- which is why there is no end in sight to the humanitarian foreign rule.

This has been going on for the past 14 years. It has cost €13 billion ($18.2 billion) in reconstruction aid, and the salaries of aid workers have probably consumed another €13 billion. The European official who is supposed to be in charge of reconstruction for the region is EU chief diplomat Javier Solana. In Bosnia-Herzegovina, he is seen, not without good reason, as the guarantor of an untenable status quo.

Both Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo are dominated by a greedy, irresponsible elite that only too often crosses the line into organized crime, as anyone who asks around in the region is likely to hear. And it isn't as if these two countries were incapable of doing anything under their own steam. They are simply unwilling to do anything constructive, as long as they are under no obligation to do so.


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