Timothy Less, whose recent column for the renowned "Foreign Affairs" about the situation in the Balkans attracted much attention from regional media, re-analyzed the situation in the region, writes Indeks.hr.
His new analysis, published in the "Balkan Insight" entitled "Multi-ethnic States Have Failed in the Balkans", says that the political reality in the Balkans is far from the shining and organic multiculturalism.
- This is one of the most unstable regions in Europe - multi ethnic states exists there in a state of constant conflict and hundreds of peacekeepers are required to prevent return to violence - he writes.
This problem has two causes, according to him. The first is that a minority does not want to live in a foreign country if it means that they will be second-class citizens. The second is that the majority of the population does not want the minorities to receive land on which they live, because it belongs to them.
New era on Balkans
- During the last two decades minorities had no choice but the accept those conditions, at the insistence of the West, which has vetoed any plans for political change. This chapter in the history of the Balkans is nearing its end. Europeans are lost because of the political crisis in the European Union, Americans bigger concerns than the Balkans. Russia and Turkey are trying to push through with their plans in that area - says Less.
He notes that disaffected minorities have begun to take advantage of changes in geopolitics to push with the separations that were always considered guarantees of their security and rights.
A good example of this was last September when the Bosnian Serb with referendum directly challenged the the Dayton Agreement, and their leader Milorad Dodik threatens with new referendum this year. If things continue like this, Republika Srpska could sever ties with the rest of Bosnia in the next decade.
- Other minorities are now drawing similar moves to separate from the political center. Kosovo Serbs threaten the establishment of the Union of Serbian municipalities, Bosnian Croats tightened requirements for third entity. Albanians in Macedonia refuse participation in the government if they are not granted bigger rights. There is a risk of collapse of the political agreement that held these countries together - stated in the analysis.
What to do about that?
- First step is to inform people about what is happening, especially those who are committed to peace in region. After that the options should be reconsidered, and there are four available - this analyst explains.
First, generation reform and and democratization should be continued. At first glance, this is a commendable approach, but it has its problems. After 20 years of trying with no results, the political atmosphere in the region is still poisonous, and national groups are more divided. Also, time is running short.
Another option is for the West to offer minorities some new incentives to maintain the political status quo. This would be the ideal outcome because it would peacefully neutralize the threat of separatism.
The third option is to force minorities on staying, whether with sanctions or with some other form of penalty. Of course, most of the groups shouldn't be allowed to go forcefully against recalcitrant minorities.
This brings us to the fourth option. If agreement can not be reached, then in the interest of peace the majority group should accept a new territorial division of its minorities. The main question is how far should this go. The ideal is that the minorities and the majority agree in a way that would preserve the state and satisfy the primary requirements of minority groups.
Corruption, violence and destroyed trust
- The precedent of the region tells us that only strong international borders would have effect.
Balkans lacks the most basic elements of multi-ethnic functioning. Weak tradition of constitutional liberalism means that minorities do not trust the institutions. History of violence and atrocities among the ethnic groups destroyed the trust between them. Endemic corruption and widespread poverty keep people on edge.
The conclusion is that the optimal solution would be moving to the nation-states based on the principle that political boundaries should correspond to demographic realities as much as possible. Most residents of the nation-states should belong to a single political community, and vulnerable groups should live in relative security within internationally recognized borders - says Less.
According to him, this is not an impossible target. Many regional countries have successfully proven that they can live in small groups, for the simple reason because they do not pose a threat to the territorial integrity and national identity.
The best option would be a gradual approach, which should be led by a big international coalition that would focus the region towards the desired outcome. It should be borne in mind that the disaffected minority already begun to move away from the country which they consider illegitimate, so the question is not how to make this multi-ethnic forces to begin functioning. The question is whether to allow the region to fall apart without any control by the will of the local separatists, or to take control of the process and reduce the risk of violent reprisals by the majority population.
The return of separatism
- Also, we should openly say that the fear of minorities does not arise from the fact that their brain was washed nationalist leaders. It is underestimating of their intelligence. Secondly, it is wrong to say that minorities enjoy full rights: only a minority can evaluate that so it is not permissible to deny them the rights for crimes committed in the 1990s - written at the end of the analysis.
Less concludes that the Balkans may be the calm now, but the path is not good, because it is not good to pretend that everything is all right on the surface, while tectonic changes happen below us. The problem of separatism returns to the region and the power currently on the side of revisionists.
Less is a director of the agency "New Europe", which deals with the assessment of political risk in Eastern Europe. In addition, Less spent ten years working as an analyst, policymaker and diplomat in the Foreign Ministry of Great Britain. Among other things, he led the British consulate in Banja Luka, Department of EU institutions, and served as the political representative of the British Embassy in Skopje. Less is a former professor of East European Politics at the University of Kent and a former analyst of risk for the Balkans and for the former Soviet Union at the agency "Dun and Bradstreet". He studied political science at the School of Slovenian and East European Studies in London and International Relations at the University of Cambridge.