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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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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.

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