Articles on the Kosovo and Bosnia Conflicts




Nationalism in Serbia
Dangerous dream of a great empire

A guest contribution by Christian Schwarz-Schilling
Süddeutsche Zeitung (Munich)
August 15, 2010
(An approximate translation from the original German article)

Conspiracy theories, dreams of a "Greater Serbia" and not a word about genocide: Serbia's nationalism is blocking development of the Balkans. But Germany and the EU must do their homework.

For years, Europe's top political leaders have been talking about the permanent state of crisis in Kosovo and in Bosnia-Herzegovina. The truth, however, looks rather different: the reason for the lack of progress is not the lack of good will or the stupidity of the politicians in those two countries. The biggest problem is still the ideological rigidity in Serbia.

Belgrade has still not cut itself loose from the nationalist ideology of Greater Serbia, which in the 1990s led to the worst genocide in Europe since the Second World War and resulted in the disintegration of the former Yugoslavia. Even today, this ideology is blocking any progress in the two neighboring countries. In a show of unparalleled political defiance, the Serbian government seeks to ensure that the historically outmoded idea of "Greater Serbia" is not called into question. Anyone who dares to do so in Serbia is still subjected enormous political pressures that may even go so far as murder, as happened in the case of the courageous former prime minister, Zoran Djindjic, who was in a real sense executed.

But there is also another factor that prevents positive developments in the region: it is the unfocused, inconsistent and short-sighted policy of Europe. Europe still does not want to admit how much harm it has caused with its constant concessions to Serbia's policies, and how much this has contributed to the current disastrous situation in Kosovo, in Bosnia-Herzegovina and in Serbia.

Two court decisions, issued in Europe, should now open the eyes of European leaders. First, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague has issued a clear and unambiguous ruling on the independence of Kosovo: the declaration of independence of Kosovo was not a violation of international law! The ruling was received in Belgrade as a thunderbolt.

The second court decision, issued by a London court after a careful examination, ruled as follows: It has freed Ejup Ganic, who at the request of Serbia had been arrested in London on March 1st and was to be extradited to Belgrade as a suspected war criminal. The court determined that there is no evidence that Ganic had in fact committed the alleged war crimes in May 1992. The judge found that it was not legally valid evidence, but political motives that led the Serbian Public Prosecutor to make false allegations; according to the judge, this was an abuse of British legal process.

The grounds for London Judge Timothy Workman's judgment also showed that the Serbian side, behind the back of the court, had attempted to cut a political deal with London and Sarajevo: Belgrade would withdraw the request for extradition, if Ejup Ganic were put on trial in Sarajevo and if the Bosnian government would signal its approval of the inadequate declaration adopted by the Serbian Parliament on the massacre in Srebrenica, which avoided using the word "genocide." This attempt demonstrates in what low regard the Serbian government holds the rule of law in London; of course, the court turned down such a request.

The news of Ganic's release - after five months in London - was greeted in Serbia with an outpouring of rage in the Serbian media, on the part of the Radical Party leadership, but also within the government, which once again shows how overheated the atmosphere is in the country. President Boris Tadic, Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic and the prime minister of the Republika Srpska, Milorad Dodik, have since outdone each other in their efforts to represent these two court rulings as part of a great anti-Serb conspiracy and in their vows that they will never accept the independence of Kosovo. In all haste, 55 special ambassadors have now been dispatched [from Serbia] to the four corners the world, to make sure that as few UN member states as possible recognize Kosovo.

It is not excluded that this activism may even achieve some small successes. There are even five EU member states that, due to fears arising from their own domestic situation, have declined to recognize the state of Kosovo. But in the long run it is becoming increasingly clear that the time is long past when Serbia could insist that - as "Greater Serbia" - it has the final say in Kosovo or Bosnia. History has simply moved on.

All the more reason why Europe must now do its own homework. This includes supporting those forces in the Balkans that act responsibly for long-term meaningful solutions and are ready to make constructive contributions to the stabilization of the region. It was, for example, a fundamental mistake when, under pressure from the Republika Srpska, the international judges were removed from the state courts of Bosnia-Herzegovina at the end of last year.

This has greatly hampered the development of a functioning state in Bosnia-Herzegovina and mistakes such as these must not be repeated. Europe must help those who want to move forward the process of reform in the Balkans. The latter depended on such international and professional support.

An important task for the EU it would be to open talks with Russia and China at the highest levels in order to the break down the blockade in the Security Council, step by step. The goal should be a mutual agreement on the future of the region. The Europeans must also be ready to relinquish the attitude that they know everything better, and to win back the confidence of governments and the population in Kosovo, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and in Serbia.

Unfortunately, in this process the Germans are also among the passive, sometimes even among the laggards. In Berlin, the leaders are apparently waiting for a European special train in which seats will be reserved for Germany on the matter of cooperation in the Balkans. This will turn out to be a miscalculation. Meanwhile, for some time now other powers, in particular Turkey, have occupied those seats. In an exemplary fashion they are seeking to unblock the tense situation in a European sense and in coordination with Russia. The return of Germany as a constructive player would still be welcomed. These two court rulings could provide a good opportunity to do so.

Christian Schwarz-Schilling, 79, was minister of posts and telecommunications in the Kohl government and resigned in 1992 in protest against the government's policy on Bosnia. In 2006-07 he served as High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina.


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