The Russians are coming—on
motorcycles. The Americans are meddling in the elections. President Dodik
will lose the election and start a war. Kosovo is going to be partitioned
and then the RS will annex to Serbia.
Or none of the above. In a country where it's normal for a newspaper
headline to end with a question mark, all is rumor. And the rumors become
all the more dire in an election year, to the point where you really don't
know what to believe.
National elections for the state-level presidency and all the parliaments on
down to the entities are set to take place October 7th of this year. The
candidates seem more gray and less eminent than ever. My friend Jadranka
told me she wished she could go to sleep and wake up on October 8th.
It is tempting to ignore the elections; sometimes I wish I only came to
Bosnia-Herzegovina in odd-numbered years. It's the same old soap opera, with
the same old non-results. On the other hand, it's also tempting to pay
attention; you get drawn in, because of that very soap opera quality. You
engage in a quiz that asks, "Which of these dire threats and predictions can
come true, and which is just the rhetoric of the season?"
But lately, the instability in and around Bosnia has intensified to that
point that today, I feel that it's worth it to try to sort out some of the
threats and predictions. This is not just about the elections, but about the
fate of the country in the near term and beyond.
The main occupation of domestic politicians is the practice of corruption
while distracting the public with nationalist manipulation. As a friend from
Prijedor told me years ago, "These days, nationalism is only for the little
people. The big politicians are just criminals; corruption is their real
work." But the politicians use nationalism as a blunt instrument to keep
their followers in a state of submission.
Leading politicians of all three ethnicities fit this mold. But in this
practice, RS President Dodik is by far the most capable politician of the
pack. One almost has to admire him for his skill and success. He is
described as being fabulously wealthy. Dodik's corrupt practices go back to
the war period, when he was said to be a smuggler of cigarettes.
As he ensconced himself in power over the postwar decades, Dodik excelled at
deals such as construction contracts with his homies, without a tender
process, leading directly to massive cost overruns. Of course, all this
criminality comes with the risk of prosecution and eventual jail time. For
now, that's just a fantasy, as the top dogs almost never get prosecuted. But
they have to ensure that they stay free, by taking measures to remain
popular and distract their constituents from the crimes. Even so, pretty
much everyone knows that their own leaders are corrupt—but they are
nevertheless their own, and thus preferable to leaders from another
Excelling at corruption requires Dodik to excel at manipulation, in order to
retain power and to remain free in the long run. In his case, the ultimate
weapon is separatism. He works full-time to establish the Serb-controlled
entity as a place that's only for Serbs and as "the only functional part of
Bosnia-Herzegovina," a place that's ready to be an independent state when
the time comes. Of course, this will take place through a peaceful
transition, according to Dodik.
Meanwhile, you get the impression that Dodik stays up late devising new ways
to continue that manipulation. Or perhaps more accurate, new variants on the
proven theme of division through fear and racism. Say that you "won't allow
any Muslims to judge" you. Say that "the muezzin traumatizes Serbs."
Institute an entity holiday, January 9, to commemorate the founding of the
separatist entity—therefore, a holiday only for the Serb citizens of the
entity. Organize grandiose celebrations for that holiday and, when the BiH
Constitutional Court rules the holiday unconstitutional (because it is
discriminatory), celebrate it anyway. Establish monuments to Karadžić
and Mladić, and name schools and hostpitals "Serbia."
Send your prime minister to the
US to consort with Corey Lewandowski and Steve Bannon, and with Dana
Rohrabacher and other Trumpoid Congress members. Invite paramilitary
formations from Serbia, masquerading as "humanitarians," to march in Banja
Luka. Invite Russian mercenaries fresh from Crimea, the "Night Wolves," to
visit the RS on their motorcycles. Purchase an additional 2,500
long-barreled rifles for the RS police (the Austrian police have only 400).
Invite Russian security forces to train RS police and to set up a
"humanitarian" center outside of Banja Luka. Hire former Trump campaign
officials to set up a lobbying firm in the RS for Dodik's SNSD party in
preparation for the October elections. (Yeah, Trump and Dodik: a natural
food combination.) Annul the 2004 Srebrenica Report. Threaten to
re-establish an independent armed services in the RS, which was disbanded in
2004...this paragraph could be a whole lot longer.
There's also Dodik's long-term project to ally with Bosnian Croat
separatists and to encourage their campaign for a "third entity"—as long as
that Croat entity does not take a chunk out of the RS. Breaking up the
Croat- and Muslim-controlled Federation would bring Bosnia-Herzegovina that
much closer to the end of its existence, as it would be that much easier for
a Croat entity to split off and join Croatia. And it wouldn't do the Croats
in central Bosnia or northeastern Bosnia (Posavina) any good—nor those
remaining in the Tuzla area or Brčko,
as they would be left behind. But any movement towards the achievement of
the Croat wartime separatist goals in peacetime helps Dodik achieve the
same. So Dodik and Dragan
perennial leader of the Croat separatists and cousin to Dodik in corruption,
have become partners.
The fissiparous nature of Bosnia in the postwar period makes it interesting
to a re-emerging Russia, which wants to counteract the expansion of the EU
and the long-term threat of US imperial power around much of its borders. In
this vein, Russia failed in an attempt to foment a coup in West-leaning
Montenegro a couple years ago. President Putin has become cozy with Dodik,
and with President of Serbia Aleksandar Vučić
as well. (Serbia recently received six MIG-29 fighter jets from Russia.)
Dodik has traveled to Russia to meet with Putin several times. Russian
influence is strong in the RS—as is Turkish (some call it "neo-Ottoman)
influence among Muslim nationalists in the Federation.
Kosovo Albanian activist and politician Albin Kurti described Russia's role
this way: "Russia plays an active role in the Balkans, expanding its
influence via Serbia, through the Serbian Orthodox Church, via its
investments, informants, and Serbian satellites such as the Republika Srpska
in BiH or parallel structures in Kosovo."
Serbia and RS are both playing two sides of the fence, saying that they are
friends with Russia, but that they hope to join the EU. For now, all this is
rhetoric designed to please those who want to be pleased in one direction or
the other. And there are plenty of Serbs who have, in their enhanced state
of victimology, decided that it's only Russia that can defend them. You see
posters for the "Istočna Alternativa" (Eastern alternative), bearing photos
of Putin, in eastern Bosnia along the Drina, in places like Bratunac and
Srebrenica. Then, confused Western journalists endlessly repeat the
construct that "Russia and Serbia are traditional friends." They apparently
never heard what I heard when I was living in Serbia in the early 1980s, 25
years after Hungary and 13 years after Czechoslovakia: "We fear the Russians
most," said every Serb I ever talked to.
But for some Serbs, times have changed. Yes,
Russia is involved with Serbia and the RS, encouraging them to stay out of
NATO, for example, and a Russian presence makes some Serbs feel they have a
powerful friend at their back. Russian backing has gotten through to
Čović, as well.
Čović shares Dodik's
goals, what destabilizes Bosnia-Herzegovina pleases Putin.
There's talk from Western journalists that "Putin is building a paramilitary
force" in the RS. It's hard to tell how much of this kind of talk is
hysteria in reaction to the nuttiness of the election year, and how much is
real. After all, "just because you're paranoid..."
And it doesn't help that the EU is in a state of lethargy and perennial
confusion about the Western Balkans, quite different from their expansive
position a decade or more ago. And as for the US, since Bush II came into
power, and moreso since Obama, Bosnia has been the zadnja rupa na
sviralji, the "last hole in the flute," as they say. Into the vacuum
comes Russia (and Turkey).
Speaking of Croat separatism,
it's also notable that
Čović has established a
"representative office" in Brussels on behalf of Croat-majority cantons. One
critic feared that this was a step in the Dodik-
destabilization of Bosnia. He called the office a Croat nationalist
"lobbying center," saying that it was not representative of the cantons, but
private embassy." Dodik has had a lobbying center in Brussels—and in seven
other countries—for more than a decade.
Milorad Dodik, having been prime minister of the RS and then president for
the last 12 years, is running for Serb member of the three-part presidency
at the state level. That presidency meets in Sarajevo, which Dodik calls
"Tehran," and he vows that after he's elected, the meetings will be held in
Eastern Sarajevo, in the RS. Dodik faces respectable, if not formidable,
opposition from current Serb member of the presidency Mladen Ivanić
and from conglomerated parties dominated by the SDS, once Radovan Karadžić's
party. The opposition
defeated Dodik at the state level four years ago; it's hard to predict
whether they will do so again, but they are enough of a threat that Dodik
has accused the both the UK and the US—and the Federation too—of supporting
the opposition by meddling in the RS elections. Dodik has also vowed to
investigate all moneys coming to RS NGOs, to see who is getting funding from
where. This is another way of scaring the opposition and herding the local
voting populace into line by pretending that Dodik is the only one who can
protect the RS from all kinds of enemies.
Backing up a little: there's the usual confusing array of political parties
that rather defy analysis by virtue of their uselessness. I won't bother to
name them all, but several were formed by politicians who were cast off from
the main Bosniak nationalist party, the SDA, over the last several years.
The SDA has shed a number of its prominent figures in that period,
paradoxically looking like it's falling apart, while at the same time
remaining the strongest Bosniak party. The party is experiencing what the
SDP (Social Democrat Party) experienced a few years earlier, with people
such as Emir Suljagić
and then Željko Komšić evacuating and embarking on re-crafted political
careers under other auspices.
It's pretty accurate to
say that all the various parties stem from the big four that existed after
the war: SDS (Serb nationalist/separatist); HDZ (Croat
nationalist/separatist); SDA; and SDP. Dissenters from the SDS formed
Dodik's party, the SNSD, now the strongest Serb nationalist party. Komšić
formed DF, the Democratic Front. Suljagić ran with Komšić for a while, and
then split off and formed the Građanski Savez, the Citizens' Alliance. And
so on...ad boredum. The only exception to this model of party gestation is
Naša Stranka, a left-liberal, civic (non-nationalist) party based in
Now to engage in a little prognostication by way of evaluating the parties.
Spoiler alert: If you're not following the Bosnian elections, this will be
the most boring part of this report.
--SDA is weakened but still the strongest Bosniak party. If it doesn't win
outright, it may form a coalition at various levels with some of its
--SDP has discredited itself in
various ways: through corruption, autocracy (never having quite grown out of
the old Communist Party model) and, although it professes to be
multi-ethnic, it is primarily a Bosniak party.
--DF, like most of the other
parties, in fact, still adheres to the old CP model by virtue of being
essentially a one-man party. This will anger some adherents, but Komšić,
like his mentor Zlatko Lagumdžija, has the reputation of being an autocrat.
He is said to be uncorrupted, but that's not enough. He was charismatic for
a while, but many are the politicians about whom you can say "opalo mu
lišće" (his leaves have fallen off, i.e., the wind is out of his sails).
Everyone has had their 15 minutes:
Silajdžić is gone,
Lagumdžija is history, Radončić is yesterday, Komšić is no longer everyone's
wonderboy, and so on. See, I haven't even mentioned Radončić.
--The HDZ is Čović and
the Croats are too few to put their eggs in another basket. There was a
splitoff group, the HDZ-1990, but there's not much left of them.
Here's what my friend Darjan said about all this: "See,
all the existing parties, except for Naša Stranka, stem from SDA and SDP. A
little piece falls off and creates a new party, starting with SBiH. Haris [Silajdžić]
was the main bull of Bosniak politics. Then another piece falls off, and you
have A-SDA. Now there's Narod i Pravda. From the SDP comes DF. Then
Građanski Savjet. And the Narodni blok is more like a coalition of the
independent mayors. So that's a collection of politicians who are always
negotiating about money, about benefits, and about concessions. And the SDP
has always voted for these things, participated in privatization, always
[rather than advocating for citizens' rights]."
And about Naša
Stranka, Darjan says, "They
need to do things differently. We live in a country of peasants. This
country is 70% rural, and 70% of it is dedicated to agricultural production.
But no one ever offered agrarian policies. No one ever went to the villages.
Politics needs to change, because here, it's politics for the politicians,
not for people. They need to take off their ties and talk with people."
Peđa, a Sarajevo journalist, says about the SDP: "When
they talk about social-democracy, that doesn't exist. They (SDP) have no
connection with modern social democracy. And the SDP will never win in
western Herzegovina. People there know that their HDZ are thieves. They
don't like them. But they will vote for them. Because they are their
thieves. And the SDP, to them, are equivalent to the Communist Party. So
people are equating the SDP with communism, but there's no connection."
There's more: for quite
some months there's been talk about electoral reform. There is basically an
ongoing contest between ethnic representation and the civic principle of one
person, one vote. Neither side in the issue is completely right. Because of
the history of ethnic conflict—or better put, ethnicized conflict—people are
afraid of being oppressed by another ethnicity. Like a poisonous fuel
equivalent to hydrocarbons, this fear runs the engine that is Bosnian
politics, and the politicians—pretty much all of them—benefit from it.
However, ethnic groups need collective rights. Someone will disagree with
me, but you can't just throw that all away. It's simplistic, given the
overwhelmingly ethnicized politics at present, to say that the one
person-one vote system will solve everything. Some years ago Ivan Lovrenović
promoted a plan called "consociation." The concept was a compromise that
protected individual and collective rights simultaneously, but it wasn't
terribly well articulated and it never went anywhere.
Really, why not have one person-one vote? It's democracy, and for the most
part it's the right idea. But people have been trained to think in ethnic
herds, and that kind of alignment made the presidential elections that took
place in 2010
and 2014 a bitter disappointment for most of the Bosnian Croats. In those
ran for Croat member of the state-level presidency on the SDP ticket and
won. Mostly elected by Bosniak votes, he took the presidency away from the
HDZ candidate. This was legal, but in the eyes of the Croat nationalists, it
was not legitimate.
The Croat nationalists were unhappy about the election of a Croat president
by Bosniak votes, and they took their point to the Constitutional Court,
under the rubric of the "Ljubić case." They argued that existing electoral
laws created a disadvantage for Croats because it prevented them from having
a majority say in electing their representative to the state-level
presidency. In late 2016, the Constitutional Court decided partially in
favor of Ljubić, annulling part of the electoral statute. They also found
that there must be
changes in the law governing the way that the upper house of the Federation
entity parliament was elected. But these moves created holes in an already
messy electoral system that the Court failed to patch.
In the ensuing year the Croat nationalist HDZ put forth a proposal that
would give extra weight to the votes of Croats living in four cantons
centered around Mostar in western Herzegovina, at the expense of the Croats
in the other six cantons of the Federation. Under this scheme, Croat
representatives to the Federation parliament would be elected from those
four cantons, and no Croat from Sarajevo or Tuzla, for example, would be
elected. This would constitute a covert step towards the territorialization
of the Croat community in BiH, that is, a back door to a third entity.
I'm not going to annoy everyone by trying to explain the arcane and
confounding legal conflicts being tossed about by the politicians,
but the legal
situation leading up to the October 7 elections is such that there has been
no resolution and there might not be enough mutual trust or cooperation
between the Muslims and Croats in the Federation for the upper house (Dom
Naroda—House of the Peoples) of the Federation Parliament to convene. In
that case, the Federation would be left without a president. Furthermore,
without a functioning House of the Peoples, which sends delegates to the
upper house of the state-level parliament, there will be no such upper
house, and therefore, only half a parliament at the state level. This is
what's called a constitutional crisis, and it could happen next month.
I asked Mirsad Duratović
what happens if there's a stalemate in the government after the elections.
He brushed off this scenario, saying that there would be an "acting
government" that would continue to operate, with the officials elected in
2014. This is the Mostar scenario that has been in effect since 2008. Yes,
there have been no municipal elections in Mostar since that year, and Mayor
Ljubo Bešlić, a Croat, has remained in power since then. The HDZ and the SDA
have effectively cooperated in dividing power in the divided city. There are
even people who say that this works, that more maintenance and development
of infrastructure have been undertaken in Mostar since 2008 than before.
Tammany Hall got things done too.
What's been going on in Mostar is a scandal, and if something like this
takes place at the Federation and state levels of Bosnia-Herzegovina, it
will probably result in a much less stable situation than the one in Mostar.
This mess points to the urgent need for massive constitutional reform, but
that's unlikely at any time in the next few years. Meanwhile, besides the
possibility of a standstill in national governance, or the establishment of
a long-term caretaker government, there is the alternative of finagling by
interested parties. That is, as in Mostar, the most powerful nationalist
parties could bring their cooperation to another level by brokering a
back-room deal to share power.
Let's take a short look at the candidates for the state-level presidency:
(Croat); Željko Komšić
(Croat); Šefik Džaferović (Bosniak, SDA); Denis Bećirović (Bosniak, SDP), (Fahrudin
Radončić (Bosniak, SBB). Those are the main ones. The contest for Croat
member will be between Čović and Komšić, and it's quite possible that Komšić
will not have the votes that he garnered in his first and second contests.
Briefly, for the rest, Džaferović is considered uninspiring, and not a good
pick by the SDA. Bećirović is a bit more popular.
Of these two candidates, Peđa says, "It
will be close for the Bosniaks because it's a struggle among Bosniaks.
is formally SDP but, by his image, he's closer to the Islamic community. The
SDA has a pretty bad candidate, not popular.
has plenty of problems, some known, some not known. He was a policeman
before the war. He was UDBA
Then he became a lawyer, and then a judge. He was a judge during the war,
and then involved in intelligence. Then he went into politics, in
Parliament. He has the problem that he's pretty old, about 60, 61, but looks
older, thin, feeble. And the SDA voters don't think of him as a real Muslim;
goes to mosque more.
has that image, not a populist, speaks precisely, doesn't have energy. So
this will be close."
Vying for the
seat of Serb member of the presidency are Milorad Dodik and Mladen Ivanić,
the encumbent. If Dodik is elected, he will have the chance to practice the
slow dismantling of the state from a higher position. Ivanić is loyal to the
RS and susceptible to being towed towards extremism in a de facto manner, by
virtue of the draw of Dodik's shenanigans. But he has essentially been a
much more moderate politician—if "moderate" means what it usually means in
mainstream discourse: willing to cooperate with the West. In that sense,
Ivanić is more supportive by far than Dodik of Bosnia-Herzegovina remaining
one country. And unlike Dodik, he opposes the establishment of a third
entity for the Croat separatists.
Interesting things might happen in the next few weeks, in accord with the
curse, "May you have an interesting life." President Dodik has warned that a
"certain group of
foreigners," together with members of the opposition parties in the RS, and
"some intelligence services" in Sarajevo, are planning "staged chaos"
throughout the RS in the run-up to the elections. The reason, he presumes,
is that it is "clear that, according to surveys of public opinion," his
party is set to be the "absolute winner" in the coming elections. So Dodik
says that he has found out from "serious people" that there's a complete
scenario for destabilization of the RS. This plan, he says, includes an
attempt to halt the trucks carrying election ballots to Banja Luka. And if
this doesn't succeed, then there will be a rally in the center of Banja Luka
the night before the election, violating the law against campaigning at that
time, upon which foreign officials will call a halt to the elections.
At the same time, Dragan Mektić,
state-level Minister of Security and member of the RS opposition SDS party,
warns that Dodik is preparing
"serious incidents before the
elections." One of these, in fact, took place at the end of August, when a
couple of thugs vamped on an independent journalist and beat him with iron
bars, putting him in the hospital. The journalist was just coming home from
covering one of the demonstrations protesting the murder of David Dragičević.
Mektić says he has "reliable information...that the government will further
prepare an atmosphere of lynching...because the people of Banja Luka have
turned their back on the government that has deceived them a hundred times."
All this is part pre-election harangue, but it is based on the reality of
violence that lurks in Banja Luka.
there's the question, what happens if Dodik loses the election and, for the
first time in 12 years, loses power? Some analysts, and some foreign
journalists, fear that the situation could devolve into war. Members of Emir
Suljagić's Civic Alliance are inclined towards the most dire predictions of
violence, based on the paramilitary preparations and arming of the police
that have been taking place in the RS for some years. There are the
Russians, too, lurking not so far in the background. In response to the
dangerous scenario of Dodik and Čović inhabiting the presidency, Suljagić
asserts that the election of Komšić is urgent.
On the other hand, it's clear that the balance of political and military
forces, if it comes to that, are not what they were in 1992.
Serbia—theoretically—wants to "go to Europe" more than it wants to support
the disintegration of BiH. Russia is not so serious as to support a
Ukrainian scenario in Bosnia. Mirsad Duratović tells me that the military
forces are too equal for there to be a war; the Federation has military
garrisons in Sanski Most and Bihać, both near enough to Banja Luka to pose a
threat. Another activist seriously doubts that Dodik has the wherewithal to
create a major disturbance if he loses the elections; he'll simply pack up
and go to Serbia, where he has a mansion in a posh neighborhood and where
some of his wealth is parked. He adds that "ordinary Serbs are fed up" with
And there's the
international community, that is, Western factors including the EU and the
US, which will oppose any breakup. The question is whether Western officials
will do this only rhetorically, as they did in the early 1990s, or will
exercise actual leverage to prevent instability.
Partitions: Kosovo and Bosnia.
Down the road in Kosovo, an initiative is brewing that could have dangerous
implications for Bosnia. Kosovo declared independence from Serbia ten years
ago, and it has been recognized as a sovereign state by over a hundred
nations—but, critically, not by Russia, nor by five EU members. There have
been sporadic negotiations over the past five years to normalize relations
between Kosovo and Serbia but, for the most part, they have foundered.
Progress in the negotiations would be helpful to both countries: to Serbia,
because normalization is a prerequisite for its entrance to the EU; and to
Kosovo, because recognition of its independence by Serbia and Russia is
necessary for membership in the United Nations.
Things were basically moving nowhere until just the last month or so, when
Serbian President Vučić
began to talk about a partition of Kosovo that would return several northern
municipalities to Serbia, in exchange for an as yet undefined normalization
of relations between the two countries. This is not a new idea; it has been
proposed by people all the way from Serbia's Deputy Prime Minister Ivica
Dačić to Noam Chomsky. And Kosovo's President Hashim
has, with necessary political tact and vagueness, rejected territorial
exchange but discussed a "border correction."
(No one has ventured to explain
the difference between "territorial exchange" and "border correction.")
Such a "correction"
would presumably involve the handover to Kosovo of the Preševo Valley, an
area in southern Serbia that includes Albanian-majority municipalities, hard
by the Kosovo border. And Dačić's "border demarcation" would cede four
municipalities in the northern part of Kosovo, above the Ibar River, to
What could be more
natural and healthy than to establish a state where no more than an
insignificant ethnic minority were present, with ethnic Serbs becoming part
of (returning to) Serbia, and ethnic Albanians from Serbia becoming part of
Kosovo? Nothing—if fascism is natural and healthy. After all, ethnic
homogenization was the fuel that energized the dissolution of Yugoslavia in
the 1990s and, for that matter, the motivating ideology of Nazism as well.
It's an intuitively attractive idea that always ends in murder, and the
scenario for rearranging Kosovo is not an exception.
There are problems on many levels: for one, the fact that extremely valuable
resources including the Trepča
mining complex and the
Gazivoda lake and hydro-electric dam are located in the part of Kosovo that
would be ceded to Serbia. For another, in fact the majority of Kosovo Serbs
would remain in Kosovo, as many Serb communities are located south of the
suggested demarcation line. And as concerns Bosnia-Herzegovina, any
partition of Kosovo will provide ammunition for Dodik's argument in favor of
RS secession: "If Kosovo can break away from Serbia and be recognized, well,
RS can do the same" (my paraphrase). There is no doubt that
Dačić and Vučić are
including this in their calculation. One breakup leads to another.
Think-tank members and international politicians
far and wide have opposed partition, speaking of a "Pandora's box" and
saying, "There's no such thing as just changing two countries' borders."
Without a war, that is. Kosovo became de facto independent only through war.
On this subject, Emir Suljagić says, "One must keep in mind that the
discussion of partition...of Kosovo is not just about the partition of
Kosovo, but of Bosnia-Herzegovina."
In a useful article in late August, Marcus Tanner wrote, "Were Europe and
the US to throw away the rulebook and allow a border 'correction' on ethnic
lines between Serbia and Kosovo, the dreaded 'precedent' would, obviously,
have been set...After all, if a few tens of thousands of Serbs and Albanians
on either sides of the current border can change their frontiers, what is to
stop about a million Serbs in Bosnia?" (See "‘Correcting’ Kosovo’s Border
Would Shake Postwar Europe’s Foundations," Balkan Insight,
And Lord Paddy Ashdown, former High Representative to Bosnia-Herzegovina,
wrote, "Are you going to redraw the Macedonian borders to combine the
Albanian population in western Macedonia with Kosovo as well? Are you going
to redraw the Hungarian-Serbian borders to cope with...[ethnic Hungarian]
Vojvodina? Are you going to let [the ethnically Muslim] Sandžak [region
split between Serbia and Montenegro] to move into Bosnia as well?...The one
person who would be rubbing his hands with approval if this were to happen
is President Vladimir Putin in Moscow, because this is exactly what he would
like to see happen in the Ukraine: solve the Ukrainian problem by handing
over a chunk of the Ukraine to Russia, and here's a precedent established
that [would help] him do that."
Over the past few weeks it has been interesting to see how foreign officials
have lined up on either side of the partition question. Most prominently, in
mid-August Angela Merkel, German Chancellor, declared, "There will be no
change in borders in the Western Balkans." Her words carry weight. On the
other side, head of EU foreign policy Federica Mogherini said, "Whatever
outcome is mutually agreed will get our support provided it is in line with
international law." Pressed on this, she hedged, saying that she would
"support land swaps as long as they avoided any attempt to create ethnically
homogenous states." Which is precisely the goal of land swaps. And it is
Mogherini who has been coordinating the turbulent negotiations between
Vučić and Thaçi.
As for the United States, there are clear indications that Trump and his
administration are, at the very least, unconcerned about the partition idea.
Ivica Dačić and Jared Kushner discussed partition when they met this summer.
And John Bolton, Trump's national security advisor, announced in August,
"The US policy is that if the two parties can work it out between themselves
and reach agreement, we don’t exclude territorial adjustments." In 2008,
Bolton had opposed Kosovo's declaration of independence.
Daniel Serwer, tank-thinker, some-time envoy and full-time pundit on things
Balkan, condemned this stance, saying, "This is a change from previous
policy, which unequivocally supported Kosovo's sovereignty and territorial
integrity...The ethnic nationalists [who are] getting a hearing at the Trump
administration would never have gotten it in the previous
administrations...none of them would have given these ideas the time of
day...Someone in Washington needs to wake up. Havoc impends."
And on the Kosovo Albanian side, there's much opposition to border change.
President Thaçi supports it for reasons that can only be guessed. Maybe he
thinks he can score a victory for Kosovo. His Prime Minister, Ramush
Haradinaj, opposes border change. So does the nationalist party Vetëvendosje,
which has distinguished itself, among other ways, by throwing tear gas in
parliament when it disagreed with what was going on. Vetëvendosje and civic
organizations have called for protests. And for that matter, the Serbian
Orthodox Church within and outside of Kosovo has come out strongly against
partition, not only because it leaves the Serbs remaining in Kosovo high and
dry, but also because it considers that all of Kosovo is still Serb
Some commentators say that much of what has been spread around about
partition and border correction is just "gossip," and that
Thaçi are too far apart to come
to any resolution. For the time being, it's an intractable problem. The
dominant trends of nationalism and corruption on both sides of the
Serbia-Kosovo divide militate against any reasonable solution.
Post-script: a friend wrote this about the current electoral campaign in
"I can't believe that anyone alive believes in these pre-election promises,
in these grade-school performances, in the carnival actors in penguin suits,
who wink at each other, who waddle in their pointed shoes, with their
bulging stomachs, with their uncalloused fists, with their pickpocket's
smiles with freshly installed crowns on their teeth. Their dull slogans,
their low-grade jokes, their balloons that, they, like pedophiles, hand out
to the children, I do not believe that anyone can believe them, these
perversions, bloated ticks, mutated parasites, these psychopathic swine who
do not hide their filthy snouts nor their true intentions, so there's
nothing there to figure out, to analyze. Everything is clear as an open
septic tank that stinks to the heavens.
"I just do not believe it. This must be some kind of prearranged
performance, because no one can be so stupid as to believe in it. It's all
clear to me."
Index of previous journals and articles