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close this bookEthnicity and Power in the Contemporary World (United Nations University, 1996, 298 p.)
close this folder9. The dissolution of multi-ethnic states: The case of Yugoslavia
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentPrologue
View the documentThe situation after the process of dissolution
View the documentUnresolved problems will remain
View the documentWhat are the prospects?
View the documentConclusion

Unresolved problems will remain

After the international recognition of the emerging states of former Yugoslavia, a great many very sensitive matters concerning future relations among them have remained unresolved. Each represents possible grounds for disputes, friction, even armed clashes. As an illustration, I will mention three of them:

1. The restoration of peace is a sine qua non for any political solution of the Yugoslav crisis. The UN peace-keeping forces (UNPROFOR) in Croatia - if the development of events provides the necessary conditions for their deployment at all - will have the mandate of ensuring respect for the cease-fire and of separating the two sides involved in the fighting. This is doubtless a precondition for any lasting peace. But the main issues concerning real pacification - the return of refugees and displaced persons to their homes, the rebuilding of ruined settlements, cultural monuments, industrial plants, etc. will nevertheless remain open. The main political issue at stake remains how to ensure de facto control by the Croatian authorities over the whole territory of the new state. The problem has become politically even more sensitive, since Croatian propaganda has created in public opinion the impression that the deployment of UNPROFOR means the beginning of the "expulsion of the Serb invaders from the occupied territories of Croatia."6

Serbian ethnic nationalism and aggressiveness may be the main cause, but the Serbian-Croatian divergence is the main problem of the Yugoslav crisis. We are clear witnesses of the struggle between the two emerging nation states for the division of territories of former Yugoslavia along ethnic lines. The Serbian side is for the time being militarily stronger; but the new Republic of Croatia is very quickly building its own military force. The positions of the two sides regarding the territory of Croatia are defined: Croatia is defending its sovereignty over its national territory, which is now under the control of Serbian insurgents, while Serbia is claiming this territory as a zone of its interest on the basis of the local Serbian population's right to autonomy.

In this regard, Bosnia and Herzegovina is still an "open space." In spite of the recent international recognition of the independence of this former Yugoslav republic, its division along ethnic lines is the main goal of the Serbian and Croatian political strategy, the accomplishment of which depends on the present military actions. The first priority of both nationalisms is the de facto division of the republic, among other ways by the formation of "autonomous ethnic regions" which would, according to the authors of these policies, provide the legitimate basis for future territorial claims.7 In other words, aware of the present international control over Bosnia and Herzegovina by the European Union (EU), the Serbian and Croatian ethnic nationalists are for the time being trying to ensure at least "their sphere of interest" in the country, as a starting point for also getting, later, "their portion" of "their own ethnic territory."8

Each nationalism takes into account the fact that Muslims constitute more than 40 per cent of the population only in order to create a favourable balance of power "against the other," and not as a basic political factor for the future stability of this part of former Yugoslavia.

In addition to the atrocities that are occurring in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the ruinous breakdown of Serbian-Muslim relations will probably also provoke "rescue actions" by Muslims in favour of their kith and kin, such as the Muslims from Sandjak in Serbia and the Yugoslav Albanians. Stopping the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina has become another urgent task for the international community.

2. The problem of the borders between the new states is the most vulnerable aspect of the relations between them. In normal circumstances the first step towards resolving this problem would have been recognition of the administrative borders between those former Yugoslav republics that have obtained their independence, and of the borders between them and the rest of the country (Serbia and Montenegro), as international borders under international law. This solution would have been in line with the (insufficient) rules of international law9 and with the Helsinki Final Act of 1975.

Unfortunately, the question of borders has become a purely political matter. The division of territories of the former federal republic of Croatia was in fact the main reason for the bloody and destructive Serbian-Croatian war. Recent events have shown that Serbia, under the cloak of the continuity of the Yugoslav state, is claiming, at least, all the Croatian territories that are now under the control of the Yugoslav army and of the local and paramilitary Serbian forces.10

The division of Bosnia and Herzegovina between Croatia and Serbia along the lines of ethnic territories was reportedly the incentive for the talks between the leaders of the two republics/states after the elections in Croatia in 1990. Attempts to make this notion a reality remain, as I have explained above, the most sensitive and explosive problem involved in searching for adequate mechanisms for the peaceful resolution of the Yugoslav crisis. After the international recognition of Bosnia and Herzegovina as an independent state, the main task of the EU and the UN will therefore be to ensure peace in this new state and to protect its borders with the Republic of Croatia and with new/old Yugoslavia - or rather, with united Serbia and Montenegro.

Considering the traditional territorial pretensions of the Serbian nationalists towards Macedonia, it would be very naive not to expect Serbian-Macedonian misunderstandings concerning their future relations.11 Ambiguities over land and maritime borders exist even between Slovenia and Croatia, two states which have declared their friendly cooperation from the very beginning of the process of disolution.12 All the former Yugoslav republics except Slovenia have ethnically mixed populations.13 In such circumstances it is not even possible in theory to draw inter-state borders along ethnic lines. It was in awareness of this fact that the Serbian nationalist strategists, during the war in Croatia, found another "method" for resolving this problem. By inflicting unprecedented atrocities on civilians, they frightened the remaining population of "other ethnic origin" into fleeing from their homes, thus transforming the area of "operations" into "ethnically clean" territories. Subsequently, the Croatian extremists have adopted the same methods for "cleansing" their territories of the Serbian population.

According to these strategies, the second step should be the settlement of these areas with the people of "their ethnic origin." The result of the implementation of this "strategy" in Croatia were hundreds of thousands of refugees, displaced, and missing persons not only of Croatian but also of Serbian, Hungarian, and other ethnic origins. These "methods" were known, for instance, from historical events on the Indian subcontinent and in Palestine.

The use of these methods for creating "clean ethnic borders" in ethnically completely mixed Bosnia and Herzegovina, as is obviously already happening, has as its first consequences a horrendous number of people killed and wounded, at least a million displaced persons, and a human tragedy on the continent that has declared the last decade of the century as the period of its decisive economic and political unification.

There is a real possibility of the renewal of another ´'historical border" on this part of Europe. On the territory where the UNPROFOR units should be deployed, there existed during the Austro-Hungarian empire a so-called military zone (militargrenze, Vojna krajina) where the settlers (many of them of Serbian origin) had a duty to defend the empire (and Europe) against the Turkish invaders. If it lasts for a long period, the deployment of the UNPROFOR units will renew this "historical border," separating nations, cultures, and religious communities. This would be a catastrophe not only for peoples living in this area but for Europe as a whole.

3. The problem of succession is another Pandora's box in the Yugoslav crisis. First, the successor states have no sincere political will to regulate this matter. Second, the dissolution of Yugoslavia has not been yet completed; Serbia, together with Montenegro, for example, considers itself to be the sole successor to Yugoslavia. Third, a great many matters concerning the succession of the state are impossible to regulate on the basis of the inadequate rules of the various Vienna conventions - which, moreover, are not yet in force for the Yugoslav area.14 The regulation of the succession calls for the cooperation of the states concerned. But as things now stand, some of the successor states have not expressed clear ideas on how to resolve this problem

(except the division of debts and embassies!), and the others (Serbia and Montenegro) do not have the political will to do it. As completely different stands can be expected from the Yugoslav successor states concerning this matter also, there seems no possibility of settling it even partially without international assistance, first of all from the European Union.

The regulation of this matter would represent the definitive dissolution of Yugoslavia and would make easier the international affirmation of the successor states (membership of the UN and its specialized agencies and the conclusion of international agreements). Last but not least, in normal circumstances it could be expected that the successor states would establish, together with the agreement on dissolution, a basis for future international cooperation among themselves.