A few days ago, Angela Merkel opened the door for Turkey’s accession to European Union and, at the same time and very pragmatically, demanded their help with the refugee crisis.
This also influenced the framework of the meeting to be held on Sunday 25th October headed by European Commission President Jean Claude Juncker. He summoned this meeting of the heads of EU member states, among them Germany and Greece, and the Macedonian and Serbian Prime Ministers.
The meeting was summoned to deal with dramatic humanitarian and security circumstances present on the path of the refugees passing through the Balkans.
However, this meeting will not only deal with refugees and their march to Europe since another question needs to be answered and that is what has brought about the deterioration of the relationship and suspension of political dialogue between the countries of the Western Balkan region and inspired new misunderstandings between them.
The answer is relatively simple. These new tensions are the result both of huge refugee crisis and the refugees’ passage through these countries.
The answer becomes more complicated when an attempt is made to determine what should be done and what political tools should be deployed to reduce tensions among the countries of this region. Possible consequences of destabilisation which may hit the sensitive region such as Wester Balkans, gives a more complex twist to this answer.
And this is precisely the reason why it is necessary to go back the time with late Frace Bučar in order to better understand what actions need to be taken in the present.
It is rather unclear and even more elusive whether Slobodan Milošević, prior to opting for bloody wars in Yugoslavia, read the lines of the then nearly anonymous politician Franjo Tuđman.
I have a very special book in mind titled The National Question in Contemporary Europe which was finished in 1978 by the future Croatian President. The book was presented by respectable Darko Hudelist, Tuđman’s biographer. He warned the readers of the portion of the book which speaks of the federal solution of a national question within a socialist state. Tuđman made two claims. The first was that the regulation of internal boundaries in Yugoslavia went to the detriment of the Republic of Croatia while being favourable to Serbia and Montenegro. And the second was that Bosnia and Herzegovina was unjustly proclaimed a separate federal unit which was, supposedly, historically most intertwined with Croatia and which together with Croatia makes an inseparable geographical, traffic and economic unity.
He concludes that the Croatians and Serbs do not differ based on their nationalities but primarily because they belong to completely different civilisation types. This is the reason why a creation such as Yugoslavia, being essentially composed of the Croatian and Serbian people, is unsustainable, continues Tudjman, claiming that it will disintegrate along the division line represented by Danube-Sava-Drina Rivers i.e. along the border dividing the Western and the Eastern civilisations.
I was unable to find any confirmation within available archival records that Milošević was familiar with this book. However, it is beyond doubt that he knew Tuđman’s thesis on reconstituting the state of Croatia within its ethnic borders. He himself had a very specific goal in mind – creation of Greater Serbia.
Borislav Jović, the then member of the Presidium of SFRY, was the person who in February 1991 delivered the message that Serbia did not wish to expand its territory at the expense of the Croatian state but that it was willing to discuss the partition of Bosnia & Herzegovina. The two presidents met as soon as in April of the same year at the Karađorđevo hunting ground. After his return, Tuđman’s message to his closest associates was clear. The key issue is the partition of Bosnia, with Slovenia seeking independence and the Serbs eager to have the Greater Serbia.
The result – bloody wars. Both European and American mediators sought the way to end them.
In 1998, new crisis arose in Kosovo. Milošević got entangled in a dead-end conflict with the entire world.
This same world received messages from the leader of the then opposition in Serbia, Zoran Đinđić, that Serbian opposition is embarking on a risky investment in its West-oriented future. He received the support of the people and came into power. The rhetoric which was based national myths, historical rights and, accordingly, division of territories was replaced by democracy, human rights and quest for development.
European Union membership became the key motive for reforms and development in the countries of the Western Balkans.
One of the criteria for European progress presented before the individual countries was their cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia. Chief Prosecutor, Carle del Ponte, has already formed her final opinion. This is the reason I do not see her as the prosecutor but rather as the political mechanism put in place to literally force the Balkan countries not only to fulfil their obligations toward the International Tribunal but also to implement necessary changes and reforms. And, if del Ponte was a political mechanism for EU approximation of these countries, then the fundraising conferences were in fact financial mechanism which facilitated easier implementation of such changes.
After Franjo Tuđman passed away, the Republic of Croatia also fulfilled major requirements presented by the Tribunal.
The political mechanism embodied in Carla del Ponte came to a successful end.
This mechanism was replaced by a new one. Mechanism of consent. It refers to the decision of these countries to take upon themselves to settle all their issues on their own. Accordingly, Croatia started resolving its border disputes again. In spring of 2010, the presidents of Serbia and Croatia, Boris Tadić and Ivo Josipović, met in Opatija, Croatia. Their joint message was understandable. We will carry out all necessary reforms because we want to become part of EU. Borut Pahor initiated the significant Brdo Process. That was the period of cooperation, solution-finding and trading.
Angela Merkel’s Berlin Process introduced the third principle. Principle of investments. A series of meetings followed, first in Dubrovnik, then in Berlin and in Vienna. The leaders of the countries from this region prepared, both individually and jointly, multiple projects, primarily infrastructure projects, which were to be financed through Berlin’s mechanism. German Chancellor introduced a financial portion to the Brdo Process. She intertwined the renewed obligations of Europe to expand on the Balkan region with very clear investment goals. It was a period of optimism.
Only a few months later we are back where we started:
Europe’s failure to solve the migrant crisis in the countries of this region resulted in new tensions, old disagreements and misunderstandings. No meetings are organised between the heads of states. If any are actually held – they are unpleasant. No one talks of the European accession. In a sense, Berlin Process also came to a halt.
This is why Juncker cannot expect the meeting to be held on Sunday to deal only and primarily with the heavy refugee crisis. He’ll need to open another issue as well – the issue of membership of the countries from the Western Balkan region in the European Union.
Similar to what Merkel has done in Ankara.