Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Bush, Belgrade and the Balkans 2001: To partition or not partition the region

Bush, Belgrade and the Balkans

By Michael Karadjis

Late 2001

Washington’s symbolic victory of Milosevic’s extradition to the Hague notwithstanding, the Bush administration continues to confront a region which defies western attempts to impose a new stability conducive of capitalist investment.

Two and a half years ago, NATO troops entered Kosova, following its savage air war against Yugoslavia. Today, the continuing catastrophic state of Kosova and the spread of the Albanian national movement to south Serbia and Macedonia underline the degree to which NATO has spectacularly failed in its tragicomic aim of forcing the Kosovars to remain within Yugoslavia, the state that recently tried to annihilate them.

This failure is making it difficult for the new Bush team to implement its plans to withdraw from the Balkans.

Other new factors are further complicating the picture, including the independence drive by a wing of the Montenegrin ruling elite and by Croatian nationalist forces in Bosnia. Meanwhile, the very manner by which the group around Serbian prime minister Zoran Djindjic handed over Milosevic – by openly defying federal Yugoslav authorities – also threatened the increasingly fragile Yugoslav federation.

While western leaders lauded the extradition of Milosevic, they also hurriedly urged Yugoslav, Serbian and Montenegrin authorities to negotiate a new federal government to overcome the crisis. When the new government came into being, the same Montenegrin opposition party – the Socialist National Party (SNP) – again shared the reins with the ruling Democratic Opposition of Serbia (DOS) coalition.

The SNP had also been the coalition partner in the former Milosevic government, and so temporarily pulled out of its alliance with DOS to protest the former leader’s extradition, leading to the collapse of the federal government. However, this put it in a highly contradictory position, because it represents the wing of the Montenegrin ruling elite most dedicated to the preservation of Yugoslavia.

Despite various conspiracy theories about western powers trying to “break up” the remains of Yugoslavia (which consists of Serbia, Montenegro and Kosova) and now Macedonia, in fact it is the very threat to these states’ survival that the NATO powers are attempting to suppress.

One reason for this is the necessity to cultivate a local ‘strongman’ in the form of Yugoslavia to do some of the work of maintaining regional stability if US troops are ever to withdraw. By inviting Yugoslav troops in to fight the Albanian rebels in the Serbia-Kosova buffer zone in a successful joint NATO-Yugoslavia military operation, the Bush team has taken an important step in this direction.

However, Belgrade’s usefulness as ‘strongman’ is limited. While it may be useful against the buffer-zone rebels, and while it has been awarded the mineral rich north of Kosova by French NATO troops, any forceful re-imposition of Serbian rule on the rest of Kosova would blow the whole region up.

Moreover, attempts by the weak Macedonian government to crush the Albanian insurgency there have only inflamed it, and while the Albanian regime has done its best to condemn the insurgents, it has little influence over them. Intervention either by Yugoslavia, NATO-member Greece or NATO-aspirant Bulgaria, all of which have offered military support to Macedonia, would be highly dangerous.

For the US to withdraw from the Balkans, the region needs to be stabilised for western investment. But stability requires some kind of consistency among state structures in the region. Unofficially, western leaders are divided between two opposite forms of consistency – while in practice maintaining glaring inconsistencies.

The first, which is that officially advocated, is that state borders cannot be changed. Thus, while Kosovars, sometime in the future, can have “autonomy”, they cannot be independent of Yugoslavia, and neither can the republic of Montenegro. The same goes for the Albanians of Macedonia. Likewise, while the Dayton Accord partitioned Bosnia into a Serb Republic (Republika Srpska) and a Moslem-Croat Federation, these two states must maintain the fiction of being joined under a weak Bosnian government, held together by a western staffed colonial administration.

The opposite form of consistency being increasingly advocated by various semi-official western circles is a new regional partition based on a number of mono-ethnic states. Thus Bosnia would be dissolved, Croatia could annex Croat-dominated parts of Bosnia and Republika Srpska could officially join Serbia, which could also keep hold of northern Kosova, while the rest of Kosova and perhaps the Albanian-dominated regions of Macedonia could join Albania.

Versions of this Greater Serbia-Croatia-Albania solution have been floated recently by Thomas Friedman, influential journalist strongly linked to the US government, in the January 24 International Herald Tribune, and by Lord Owen, key British negotiator during the Bosnian war.

Similarly, Texas senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, in an article in London's Financial Times titled "Back to the Balkan drawing board," claims Yugoslavia and the surrounding region are "likely to remain under NATO occupation for years," but "long term western occupation is a poor foundation on which to build a lasting peace in the Balkans," advocating Washington "redrawing the border lines" and set up real "Albanian, Serbian, Croatian, and secular Muslim states."

The depth of this view among top US circles was revealed at a Columbia University symposium on the Balkans chaired by General Keith Dayton, deputy director of Politico-Military Affairs for Europe/Africa at the Joint Chiefs of Staff. According to journalist Tanja Domi in New York, “scholars and US military officers attending the seminar appeared to be in almost unanimous agreement that current state boundaries in the Balkans should be redrawn to create more stable mono-ethnic states,” such new boundaries enshrining homogenous ethnic entities following “the historical patterns and ‘natural instincts’ of Europe.”

For western powers wanting regional stability, mono-ethnic states would appear a sensible goal. Partition of Bosnia meant they only had to police the dividing line rather than the whole country, as in Kosova. Why not let the partition of Bosnia, Kosova and Macedonia complete itself?

Furthermore, from a democratic point of view, why not let Albanians, Serbs and Croats join Albania, Serbia and Croatia, recognising their right to self-determination?

However, these premises are fraught with danger. David Foley, a State Department official with the Bosnia Implementation unit, noted that “once you start redrawing lines, there's no stopping.”

In other words, Greater Serbia may not be a problem, but it would lead to Greater Albania; if an Albanian region of Macedonia were to join Kosova or Albania, it would leave a more purely ethnic Macedonian state. Nationalistic forces there would reason that if its territory could be shorn by the Albanian minority, then perhaps its territory could be expanded to include regions of Greece and Bulgaria where the Macedonian minority predominates.

Greece, however, is part of NATO, and moreover, despite their offers to aid Macedonia, neither Greece nor Bulgaria recognise an ethnic Macedonian nation. A small Serb minority lives in the north of Macedonia, and an ethnic Greek minority in southern Albania. A considerable conflagaration could develop. Greece’s regional rival but NATO ally Turkey could then pose as champion of the region’s Moslems, including Turkish minorities in Greece and Bulgaria, hence undermining NATO’s southern flank. This is the long-feared “nightmare scenario.”

Thus unless Macedonia could be peacefully partitioned among its neighbours and agree to disappear – an unlikely prospect – stability at this stage requires it remains united as a multi-ethnic state and Albanian unity avoided.

Moreover, formalising Greater Serbia via its annexation of half of Bosnia would lead to Greater Croatia in parts of the other half, yet there is no ‘Croat republic’ in the Dayton Accord. Rather, Croats, Moslems, mixed Bosnians and a small number of Serbs live in the “Moslem-Croat Federation”. If Croatia were to annex the Croat-dominated parts of this federation along its Dalmatian border, it would leave the Moslems, in the words of current UN ‘High Representative’ in Bosnia, Wolfgang Petritsch, “squeezed in a mini-state contemplating revenge. We would have created Gaza Strip in the middle of Europe.”

Not surprisingly, therefore, in early March, Petritsch dismissed Croat Democratic Union (HDZ) leader Ante Jelavic from the tripartite Bosnian presidency, barring him from holding any elected office or political party post, and sacked three other senior HDZ officials, when the Bosnian Croat National Assembly announced the formation of a new Croat Republic in Bosnia, in violation of Dayton.

The US government strongly backed Petritsch's decision, as did the UN Security Council which met and condemned the HDZ.

Yet also in early March, Yugoslavia and Republika Srpska signed an agreement on “special links”, as they come closer together politically, economically and culturally.
There was no western reaction.

Indeed, in the run up to Bosnia’s November elections, the western-backed Kostunica regime strongly supported the far right Serb Democratic Party (SDS), party of former leader Radovan Karadzic, the organiser of the Bosnian genocide. Representatives of Kostunica's Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) also appeared at SDS election rallies. After the SDS's victory, a Kostunica spokesperson claimed “this is proof that citizens have confidence in the national and state policy of the SDS.”
Friedman’s suggestion to let “the Serbian sector fall under Serbia and the Croatian sector under Croatia, leaving the rump Muslim sector as an independent ministate” is completely dishonest, as is the comparison with Kosovar self-determination. There is no such thing as a Serbian or Croatian sector in Bosnia – such ‘sectors’ were created through the massive ethnic cleansing of Bosnia’s Moslems who previously lived all over the republic.

Friedman is thus not advocating the ‘right of self-determination’ of Bosnian Serbs and Croats (they were always equal constitutional partners with the Moslems in Bosnia and this had never been threatened), but rather, he is advocating that the massive violation of the Bosnian Moslems’ right to self-determination be formally recognised.

In fact, the West’s current recognition of Republika Srpska is already a major destabilising force in the region, because it puts Bosnian Serbs on a higher level than any other minority in the Balkans.

Since Serbian ethnic cleansers have been rewarded with their own republic, then why not Croatian ethnic cleansers? And why not Kosovars and Albanians in Macedonia, who already form the overwhelming majority of the population in their respective regions?

Why does NATO in Bosnia merely police the partition line and allow Republika Srpska to do as it wishes, while attempting to police the whole of Kosova and prevent the Kosovars setting up their republic? Even the maximum offered to the Kosovars in the future – ‘autonomy’ within Yugoslavia – falls far short of the ‘republic’ status granted Bosnian Serbs. Republika Srpska has its own army, whereas Kosova is banned from having one.

While Republika Srpska and northern Kosova increasingly merge with Serbia, Montenegro, which has the status of ‘republic’ within Yugoslavia, is being blunty told by the US and the European Union (EU) to drop plans for independence. “Support for Montenegrin independence is, right now, even less than before,” said Ivo Daalder, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, a Washington think-tank. “If (Montenegrin leader) Djukanovic insists on pursuing this path in clear opposition to what the new federal authorities want, he won't find much support in Washington.”

The hysteria reached the point where the April 28 International Herald Tribune ran an editorial with the heading “Montenegro Against the World”.

Quite remarkably therefore, the consistency required is being sacrificed to the benefit of the state the western powers see as the centre of the region and the potential regional cop: post-Milosevic Yugoslavia. As the pro-imperialist think-tank Stratfor notes, “the best Washington can hope for is to stabilize the situation long enough to exit on its own terms. Where there cannot be balance, there must be a dominant power, and both Europe and the new U.S. administration seem inclined to vest that power in Belgrade.”

However, there are major headaches relating to withdrawing. On the one hand, in January German Defense Minister Rudolf Scharping went to Moscow to ask Russia to increase its number of troops in Kosova, to replace the US contingent, in the event the US began withdrawing from the region.
Maneuvres such as Scharping’s, in the context of the French-German push for an independent European army, threaten a European Union-Russia continental military and economic alliance which would make US-controlled NATO irrelevant. Maintaining overall US military supremacy via NATO in this region of oil and gas routes bordering the Middle East and the Caspian is a strategic interest.

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