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.

Foto: AP

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.

Continuing the Same Old Policies

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.

Since 1999, the United Nations has sent 70,663 employees to Kosovo, at a cost of €2.5 billion ($3.5 billion). The international community has already spent an estimated €33 billion ($46 billion) on the development of this small country, or about €18,300 ($25,600) per capita. A donor conference recently approved another €1.2 billion ($1.68 billion) for a wide range of projects, from education to healthcare to agriculture. The EU is contributing €500 million ($700 million) and Germany is donating €100 million ($140 million) to the new fund.

Kosovo deserves its own chapter in German history books, because the government of former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder and Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer became involved in the 1999 conflict there, the first time German troops had been deployed in combat since World War II. Their justification, at the time, was excessively moralistic. Fischer, a member of the Green Party, said that Kosovo threatened to turn into another Auschwitz. He probably felt that this exaggerated argument was necessary to convince the Germans to do the right thing -- and he was probably right. Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic had to be stopped, once and for all. Once again, the United States came in and set things straight. Europe, indecisive as it was, made an enormous fuss about taking part in the effort.

Germany played a special role, once again, when the small province of Kosovo gained its independence from Serbia. Until recently, the Germans, acting on behalf of the EU, tried to convince the Serbs and Russians that there is no alternative. The negotiations, exercises in patience, lasted almost six months. They were something of a sham, and yet they were helpful, because the worst fears did not materialize when Kosovo hoisted its flag and played its national anthem in February 2008. The Serbian minority in the north did not secede, and the new government in Belgrade chose not to play with fire. All in all, it was a success.

Coexistence Without Interaction

But what comes next? It would be appropriate to think about an end in stages, an exit strategy, and yet precisely the opposite is the case. The international community is in the process of putting the final touches to the Kosovo protectorate, a country of 1.8 million people, with an estimated 70 percent unemployment. There are only two major ethnic groups in Kosovo: the Serbian minority and the Albanian majority. The purpose of creating a nation would be to govern the coexistence of these two groups with as little conflict as possible. To that end, there is a government in Pristina that ought to be responsible for the country's entire population, not just a part of it, especially now that 10 years have passed since the war ended. But the UN and the EU continue to pursue the same policies in Kosovo, organizing a form of coexistence that does not anticipate interaction between the two groups. The international organizations are being considerate -- far too considerate, in fact.

People are no longer dying in the Balkans, unlike in Afghanistan. For this reason, there is no public debate over the benefits and duration of foreign powers' efforts to instruct the local populace on how to establish new nations. As a result, large bureaucracies are able to spend massive amounts of money that no one seems to miss. Neither French President Nicolas Sarkozy nor German Chancellor Angela Merkel considers the Balkans project to be problematic or is suggesting that it be reviewed. And because most European leaders already dread the next round of EU expansion -- when all the Balkan states, from Bosnia-Herzegovina to Albania, will want in -- no one wants to talk about it now.

Meanwhile, the work on the Kosovo entity continues. The EU was supposed to replace the UN as the region's nation builder a year ago. As part of the EU's effort, the biggest civilian campaign in its history, 2,200 judges, prosecutors, police officers and customs agents will try to teach the Kosovars how to run a country under the rule of law. This army of officials also faces the task of investigating the whereabouts of 3,000 missing persons (Albanians, Serbs, Roma), as well as prosecuting 1,500 war crimes cases.

The European Disease

But the office of the UN Secretary General yielded to Serbian demands and didn't transfer complete responsibility to the EU. The UN is remaining in the country, where it will be responsible for the handling of its Serb minority. The Belgrade government can cite good reasons for its insistence on protection for Kosovo's Serbs. The government of Serbian President Boris Tadic is not leaning on Russia, as its predecessors did, but is fixated on Europe instead -- an astonishing step forward. But it is precisely for this reason that it cannot abandon its national claims in Kosovo, or it would come across as betraying the Serbian fatherland.

This has produced a double administration in Kosovo, with Europe tending to the Albanian majority and the UN to the Serb minority. These are complicated changes to address complicated problems, so complicated, in fact, that a solution is becoming more and more remote.

One could call it the European disease, the equivalent of the swine flu, a long-lasting epidemic, deadly in only a few, isolated cases, but nevertheless disconcerting.

Of course, the two countries in the western Balkans are no easy cases. Bosnia-Herzegovina was under Ottoman control for 450 years, and then it was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire for 40 years. After World War I, it was incorporated into the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, and after World War II it was part of Yugoslav leader Josip Tito's socialist state. Kosovo, long a part of Serbia, dreamed of becoming part of Albania. Now both countries are dreaming of being accepted into the EU, as are Albania, Montenegro, Serbia and Macedonia. First they will have to learn to walk, but how much longer will it take to teach them how to walk?

Bringing democracy and the rule of law to a country is a good thing. It can take time until that country is stable enough for independence. It is presumably extremely difficult to determine the right time to withdraw the reconstruction aid workers. There is always a risk to withdrawal. There can be setbacks, but withdrawal is the only way to achieve progress. At some point, the transition from dependency to independence must be completed.

Once again, there are lessons to be learned from the Americans. They made significant mistakes, but then they changed their approach and established a timetable for withdrawal from Iraq. Now they are sticking to that timetable, intent on winning back credibility. Things are moving forward, step by step. There is now a prime minister in Baghdad who appears to possess the necessary toughness to weather the transition, and who feels responsible for the entire country, not just part of it. Iraq is intent on taking control of its own affairs.

Iraq offers a model of how things could progress, and how else should they progress? Nothing in the world is perfect, especially not an artificial entity whose creators refuse to let it go.

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan
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