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The Nobel Peace Prize and the EU in the Balkans

7:31 AM, Oct 17, 2012 • By STEPHEN SCHWARTZ
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The 2012 Nobel Peace Prize laureate, the European Union (EU), was lauded by the Norwegian selection committee for having “contributed to the advancement of peace and reconciliation, democracy and human rights in Europe.” Among various attainments, some decades in the past and others arguable, the Norwegians also praised the EU for its purported achievements in the Balkans, in a manner that appears simply dishonest. Specifically, the Norwegians credited the EU with three current policies in the region, all incomplete, and none a credit to the EU’s reputation.

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The committee’s press release stated, “The admission of Croatia as a member next year, the opening of membership negotiations with Montenegro, and the granting of candidate status to Serbia all strengthen the process of reconciliation in the Balkans.” The Croatian application to the EU, initiated in 2003, was slowed by economic, legal, geographical and other issues left over from the former Yugoslav Communist system. Much remained to be reformed after the Serbian offensive against the country was defeated, with U.S. help, in 1995. But prominent German political leaders, as late as mid-October, expressed reservations about Croatian EU entry. Neither Croatia nor Germany may be prepared for further EU enlargement. What the Norwegians—who do not belong to the EU—take for granted for Croatia may not happen, after 10 years’ wait.

EU talks with tiny Montenegro, population 650,000, and divorced from Serbia since 2006, represent a troubling detail in the local panorama. The EU has contributed nothing, aside from grumbling acceptance of the euro as a unilaterally-adopted Montenegrin currency, to the betterment of the populace. Although it gained full sovereignty, Montenegro is poor and vulnerable. Much of its Adriatic Sea tourist industry has been taken over by Russians, and conflicts between the Montenegrin Slav majority and its Albanian minority have produced ongoing tensions, though little violence. Nevertheless, unlike Serbia, which refuses to recognize a separate Kosovo, Montenegro established diplomatic relations with Kosovo some months after the latter republic’s declaration of independence in 2008.

In May 2012, however, an investigation by the British Broadcasting Corporation and the Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project disclosed documents the British media said “cast serious doubt” on Montenegro’s EU accession bid. The BBC noted insistent and authoritative denunciations of Montenegro as a “mafia state,” with the euro as its currency making the profits of smuggling easily exported.

But Montenegro, aside from endemic corruption, has failed to secure freedom of the press, a primary consideration for EU membership. The Vienna-based South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO), an affiliate of the International Press Institute (IPI), repeatedly condemns attacks on journalists in Montenegro. Most recently, on October 8, SEEMO called attention to an assault on a reporter for the daily Vijesti (News), after prime minister Igor Luksic, whose government is dominated by the ex-Communist Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS), accused the newspaper and another daily of supporting the opposition. SEEMO protested continual physical aggression against Vijesti staff and other Montenegrin news-gatherers, and the organization’s secretary general, Oliver Vujovic, declared, “I strongly condemn attacks against journalists. They happen too often in Montenegro.”           

Treating an ardent desire to admit Serbia, the initiator of the atrocious Balkan wars two decades ago, as a source of pride for the EU, is especially dismaying. Rather than “strengthening the process of reconciliation in the Balkans,” EU enthusiasm for an allegedly cleaned-up Belgrade regime complicates it further. Serbia is now governed by Tomislav Nikolic, a former associate of Vojislav Seselj, one of the most extreme agitators for war in Yugoslavia in the phase leading to its commencement in 1991. (Seselj is on trial at the Hague Yugoslavia Tribunal for crimes against humanity and war crimes.) Nikolic has maintained desultory relations with the EU chief official responsible for foreign and security policy, Catherine Ashton, who coaxes the Serbs to recognize the Kosovo government, in a series of “status-neutral Belgrade-Pristina talks” held in Brussels. Nikolic, however, is happy to say no to such entreaties.

Indeed, Serbia’s former foreign minister Vuk Jeremic, who became, incredibly, United Nations General Assembly president in September 2012, commented on October 15, on Serbian television, “here in the U.N. we care about the respect of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of member states. Serbia is one of such member states, while Kosovo is not and I don’t expect it will ever be.” When Jeremic offered this comment, 92 countries worldwide had granted Kosovo diplomatic recognition.

The most disturbing aspect of the Norwegian Nobel Committee’s praise for EU activities in the Balkans was the absence from its Peace Prize announcement of any mention of the two countries that, since the breakup of Yugoslavia in the 1990s, have been most heavily subjected to EU monitoring: Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo.

In Bosnia-Herzegovina, the EU operates through a maze of entities. These include the Office of the High Representative (OHR), the effective occupying government, now headed by Valentin Inzko, an Austrian; the EU Police Mission; the EU Force for Bosnia-Herzegovina, a military and civil affairs program; and an EU presence as a general coordinating body. The impact of this massive, apathetic institutional network on Bosnian affairs, since the signing of the Dayton Accords that ended the Bosnian war in 1995, has been deplorable.

Bosnia-Herzegovina, thanks to the EU, will apparently remain forever partitioned. The so-called “Republic of Serbs” in its north and east was seized during the 1992-95 combat, leaving the “Federation of Bosnia-Herzegovina,” made up of Bosnian Muslims and Bosnian Croats, in the center and southwest. The failure to abolish the Serbian conquest line and to reunify the country within its prewar borders encourages Croatian nationalists to imagine that they can demarcate a section of western Bosnia and much of Herzegovina, within the “federation,” as a third “republic” of their own.

According to the Economist, Bosnia-Herzegovina leads the world in brain-drain, as university graduates find employment impossible to obtain. With a population of 3.8 million, unemployment stood at 44 percent in 2011, the fourth highest rate in the world, as stated in the CIA World Factbook. Bosnians claim the figure is closer to 60 percent, and the CIA reference volume notes laconically that the “actual rate may be larger.” A recent news report illustrates the death of Bosnian culture, as the EU looks on passively: The Bosnian National Museum, which houses the Sarajevo Haggadah, a 500-plus year old Jewish manuscript precious to Muslims and Christians as well as Jews as a symbol of Bosnian interfaith cooperation, has closed.

Kosovo, likewise, has little to show for the extensive operation of EU agencies as authorities over the republic’s citizens. The zone above Mitrovica in its northern territory is, de facto, partitioned and occupied by illegal Serbian “parallel structures,” including irregular militias, and police and political officials who commute into Kosovo from Serbia proper. The CIA World Factbook counts Kosovo unemployment at 45 percent in 2011. Again, residents claim joblessness is higher. But the CIA volume at least reports budgeting for schools in Kosovo, as 4.3 percent of gross domestic product.

The foreign apparatus ruling Kosovo includes the EU Rule of Law Mission for Kosovo (EULEX), which directs the judicial structure, and the EU Office in Kosovo/European Special Representative in Kosovo. The latter is headed by Samuel Zbogar, a Slovenian diplomat. EU profligacy with money in financing its own bureaucratic activities in Kosovo, rather than the Kosovar enterprises it was supposed to rehabilitate, is notorious, and encourages Kosovo officials to similar habits. Kosovo government overindulgence was described this way on October 5 by the nationalist movement Vetevendosje! (Self-Determination), which is widely popular and represented in the Kosovo parliament: “On September 30, activists of VETEVENDOSJE! organized a symbolic action to highlight the expense of the visit by a large Kosovo Government delegation to New York, to follow the UN General Assembly meeting. The visit was estimated to have cost 200,000 Euros of public funds.”

Notwithstanding the Nobel Prize granted the EU for, among other accomplishments, its alleged good works in the Balkans, neither Bosnia-Herzegovina nor Kosovo has been helped in significant reconstruction. Corruption is ubiquitous, discontent is spreading, and fundamentalist agitators have penetrated the Muslim community leadership in both places. Bosnia-Herzegovina is between 40 and 50 percent Muslim, while Kosovo is 90 percent Muslim. These lands deserve more attention and care.

But given the disaster of EU “humanitarianism” in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo, it is understandable that they would not be mentioned in the Norwegian Nobel Committee’s encomium. It is disgraceful, and illustrates the capacity of the committee for self-deception.

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