Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum submitted by Misha Glenny

  1.  The fall of Milosevic has established substantially new parameters in South Eastern Europe (SEE) that offer the possibility of future stability in the region. They are, however, no guarantee of stability and in the short term accentuate certain problems some of which are now becoming acute. If these fester beyond certain stage, then the southern Balkans could once again develop into a major security risk.

  2.  Western policy (and European Union policy in particular) will have a crucial role in deciding the outcome. Milosevic's exit has opened a window of opportunity through which both the EU and SEE may squeeze if they are pulled in the right directions. This is made more difficult as the renewed attention and interest in Serbia has, of course, excited jealousies elsewhere in the former Yugoslavia. Having faithfully played the West's game of isolating Serbia, other leaders are disappointed that Western money and political effort has to a degree switched towards Belgrade.

  3.  Yet almost all countries and territories in SEE now boast leaders with democratic mandates and, to an extent, elites who are committed to pursuing politics through dialoque and negotiation, and who appreciate the futility of armed conflict. These people both represent and engineer change, a significant reminder that Balkan history is not as static as some may believe.

  4.  SEE has a very poor reputation in the eyes of the outside world - I would like briefly to reconsider that image to illuminate the present. The source of the greatest violence committed in SEE during the 20th century was external - namely the two world wars. The material devastation here was proportionally greater than in almost any other part of Europe. Yet after both wars, the region received little or no assistance in the form of investment. And following 1945, all Balkan countries were expected to accommodate themselves to the strategic requirements of London, Moscow and Washington at the expense of both democratic and economic development.

  5.  The effect over a century has been to exacerbate the socio-economic gap between SEE and its neighbours to the North and West. Poverty and limited resources have contributed immeasurably to the continuation of war in the 1990s while in Western Europe affluence, stable socal systems and less complex ethnic mixes have rendered armed conflict largely (although not wholly) redundant.

  6.  The bloodshed in SEE has hidden a second, more promising history. The Albanians, who designed and built large parts of the Ottoman Empire and Titoist Yugoslavia, have again shown their exceptional ability to reconstruct the physical foundations of a wrecked social fabric in the past 20 months. Bulgaria boasts a brilliant class of young software engineers whose skills are sought after by the most powerful corporations of Silicon Valley. Croatia has begun to develop a highly promising tourist industry.

  7.  All countries have a great argricultural tradition and all peoples in the region are great traders. In the cities of SEE, there is a highly educated young work force which listens to the same music as its West European counterpart, wears the same clothes and increasingly shares its values. It was this optimistic engergetic youth in Serbia, for example, that played such a crucial role in toppling Milosevic in the shape of the revolutionary youth movement, Otpor.

  8.  SEE does not need an endless supply of money to develop these resources—although it needs some. Above all, however, it needs political commitment and support to assist the reforms of its institutions and to prepare for the ultimate goal of integration into the EU.

  9.  The need for political engagement is made urgent by the presence of three immediate or mid-term crises facing the region. The first is the Albania insurgency in the Presevo valley which if unchecked can (a) create substantial headaches for KFOR/UNMIK and have a negative impact on an already poor situation in Mitrovica (b) lead to serious conflict between Serbs and Albanians, placing KFOR in a very difficult position were Serbian forces to violate the Military/Technical Agreement and (c) spill over to Macedonia with severe consequences.

  10.  Secondly there is the relationship between Montenegro and Serbia. At the moment, the EU and the United States are actively discouraging the secession of Montenegro that Djukanovic appears to be promoting. This is a difficult situation to call. Further fragmentation of the region is unwelcome for a variety of reasons. I think this is the right policy. At the same time, however, I would stress that everybody else has been granted and even encouraged by the EU and the US to hold plebiscitary polls and it is hard to see why this should be denied to the Montenegrins, especially as they theoretically enjoy this right under Badinter.

  11.  The consequences of Montenegro's secession are not entirely predictable (in the worst case scenario, it could provoke civil conflict within the republic itself). But it is safe to say that it would seriously undermine Vojislav Kostunica's position as federal President and strengthen Zoran Djindjic, Serbian Prime Minister. It is also safe to say that this would strengthen Albanian calls for Kosovo's independence. All this, of course, has implications for Macedonia as well.

  12.  The third issue is Kosovo's status. I do not need to outline the difficulties here. I would just say that the establishment of a territory-wide administration with democratic credentials is extremely important to avoid glaring errors committed in Bosnia which has allowed the development of a debilitating dependency culture in the Dayton state. Needless to say, consideration of Kosovo's status is watched very closely in Macedonia whose representatives are generally adamant in refusing any redrawing of current borders which puts them at odds with the Kosovo Albanian aspirations.

  13.  Elsewhere, the situation in Serbia itself is by no means clear for a number of reasons. The mutual hostility between the Yugoslav Federal President and the Serbian Prime Minister is easy to detect. The outside world (bar the Hague) prefers Kostunica because he is always a man of his word. The new or adapting elite in Serbia prefers Djindjic because he is an experienced politician who understands how to get things done. Personally, I think this state of affairs sometimes muddies the waters but both men are democrats and their struggle is an integral part of institution building.

  14.  Perhaps more worrying is the ability of either men to persuade the business elite that underwrote Milosevic's distorted state to accept the new rules. While I think the idea of a counter-coup is groundless, these people can apply real pressure on the new political leadership—since 5 October, murder, threats and intimidation have remained a central element of Serbia's economic politics. With a background of collapsing standards of living, rocketing unemployment, and a massive exhausted, refugee population, the new leadership feels insecure.

  15.  Having established that, let me address the question of the ICTY within a broader framework. The depleted uranium scandal only assumed serious proportions when Britain and America's allies feared that their soldiers may have sickened as a consequence of the deployment of these weapons. The fate of Albanians and Serbs exposed to the possible harmful effects of DU has never been an issue. It is not just the Serbs who believe that their region is the object of arrogant western policies. This feeling is widespread throughout the region (it has become especially acute among the Albanians of Kosovo recently).

  16.  Yugoslavia has made real progress in its relations with the ICTY since 5 October. However, the Yugoslav leadership is forced to steer the country out of a decade during which Serbs have experienced violent dictatorship, war, pariah status and a massive bombing campaign. A heavy-handed approach of conditionality on the part of the international community is unlikely to yield results and could damage regional stability. Milosevic will be tried within the foreseeable future either in Belgrade or the Hague. But while ICTY officials have a job and a clear mandate, I believe they occasionally forget that their role has a political aspect to it. The refusal to indict the late Croatian President Tudjman (largely because an indictment would have depended on the US releasing intelligence material which it decided against in contrast, later, to its attitude towards Milosevic), and the refusal to investigate NATO for the possible commission of war crimes (eg RTSerbia) were bound to consolidate sentiments among the Serbs that this is not a fair court. But an increasing number of Serb and Yugoslav government officials are expressing the need to co-operate fully with the Hague. I believe a little patience is required.

  17.  In policy terms, the EU (absolutely key for regeneration of the region) is found wanting. We have the familiar situation of national governments pursuing policies that lack co-ordination even if they are on the same wavelength. The Stability Pact is seriously flawed and does not have the authority to establish the necessary strategic vision for SEE. There is competition at the highest levels of the EU for competency with regard to Balkan policy and this is damaging. There are so many mid-term and long-term issues (especially concerning relations with the EU and intra-regional co-operation, as well as the constitutional difficulties faced by Bosnia, Serbia, Montenegro, Kosovo and Macedonia) that the EU requires a more focussed effort. I am convinced that the EU needs to establish a directorate for the design and execution of long-term policy in SEE. This should override any political role of the Stability Pact and head off problems before they become serious. It is depressingly familiar to watch how United States diplomats have energetically assumed the central role in attempts to defuse the Presevo situation. This is not a critique of the Americans, but of EU diplomacy. Why hasn't the EU placed itself firmly in centre stage in solving this issue? As a caveat, I must point out that I do not expand much on the idea of the Balkan directorate as I know it to be non-starter thanks to the bureaucratic jealousies that characterise the EU's policy-making apparatus.

  18.  While I appreciate that people are fed up with the Balkans, I must as a last resort outline why indifference to the region is a self-defeating approach. The wars of the last ten years have contributed enormously into transforming much of the region into a mafia stronghold that regards the EU as its largest and most lucrative market, especially for the trade in people, drugs and prostitution. It is also a money-laundering centre.

  19.  The decision by the Prime Minister and his Italian counterpart to send police to the region for intelligence on the trafficking of illegal migrants highlights some of the problems. While I can understand the motives for so doing, this is like placing a sticking plaster onto a gaping wound. The Shadow Home Secretary's response to the idea indicates how short-sighted political debate has become in this country. All EU countries have to co-operate in policing the extensive criminal activities based in SEE—a thin blue line on the white cliffs will not stop racketeering in this country. But neither Britain, nor Italy nor the entire EU will ever be able to spare sufficient forces to police the Balkans properly. This problem can only be solved by economic prosperity taking root in SEE. Failure to do so will lead, I am sure, to the long-term failure of the European Union.

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