Destabilization of the Balkan: EU membership or border revisions?

Destabilization of the Balkan: EU membership or border revisions?

At the moment there are next to no reports in the media about the Balkan. As the Jugoslavia war is over, peace seems to have replaced the ethnic cleansings and open conflicts. However ethnic tensions are increasing in the Balkan. Russia, China, Turkey and some Eastern European countries try to get spheres of influence in the Balkan and the Western military is still deployed in the Kosovo to prevent bloodshed between Serbs and Kosovo Albanians while Putin´s FSB tried to stage a coup de etat in Montenegro in order to prevent a NATO or EU membership and pro Western orientation.. Merkel wanted to give the Balkan states a EU membership perspective, but Macron rejected this idea and an EU-membership of North Macedonia. Macron demanded that EU-memberships should be granted only under the condition that the new members not only fulfill the EU membership criteria in the beginning and afterwards don´t care about them anymore as is in the case of Poland, Hungaria, Bulgaria, Romania and other Eastern European states.

Macron demanded that new members could be excluded again, if they don´t stick to the EU criterias. No further enlargement and business as usual and big is beautiful. Macron wants quality instead of quantity. Till now the EU has no mechanism to kick out members of the union if they don´t care about the EU consensus .There are at least two factions in the EU. Those who want to grant the Balkan states relatively unconditional access to a EU membership in the short term to prevent that Russia, Turkey, China or East European reginal powers make the Balkans spheres of their interests. And those like Macron who want a renegotiation of the EU treaties with an exclusion mechanism which doesn´t find sympathy in Eastern Europe, also because Macron thinks that another unconditional expansion could weaken the EU in the mid- and long term and bring new authoritarian and economically weak  troublemakers in the EU. However, history doesn´t wait and the geopolitical trends continue to exist on the Balkan.

In an open letter, intellectuals warn of dangerous tendencies in the Balkans. It is addressed to the Western states. In the open letter to the EU, the USA and the NATO governments, over 250 intellectuals and experts in the Balkans warned against a further misjudgment of the situation there. The signatories, including the human rights activist Vesna Pešić from Belgrade, professors Nenad Čanak from Sarajevo, Florian Bieber from Graz, Vesna Pusić from Croatia and the writer Aleksandar Hemon from Sarajevo, claim that the political coordinates in the region have changed dramatically since 2018. Above all, the discussion about border revisions and the increasing acceptance of ethno-nationalist positions within the Western community give cause for concern. All of this could lead to new conflicts and human rights violations.

 The signatories are alluding to the publication of so-called non-papers, in which the revision of borders in the Balkans is proposed. Bosnia and Herzegovina is supposed to be divided between Serbia and Croatia, leaving only a small remaining Muslim state. North Macedonia is also said to lose territories to a Greater Albania (Albania and Kosovo). The controversial non-paper is said to have been put into circulation by Slovenia’s Prime Minister Janez Janša, who will chair the EU from July 1st. He denies that, but it’s not unusual to send test balloons out and cause unrest. In the case of Bosnia and Herzegovina, that was successful. People are insecure.

The authorship of the non-paper remains in the dark and is now attributed to the former CIA Balkan director Steve Meyer, who lobbies for the Serbian nationalist leader in Bosnia, Milorad Dodik, and has been propagating border revisions in the Balkans for years. It is becoming apparent, however, that the governments of the EU countries Hungary, Slovenia, Bulgaria and Greece will not distance themselves from the paper either. The authors of the letter state that for some time now profound changes have taken place on the world stage, „which undermine the liberal international order and strengthen illiberal actors“.

Until 2008, the Balkans were considered to be mainly a Western European area of ​​interest. The Balkans should be peaceful and free, and with the prospect of accession to the EU, incentives should be created for the population to develop democracy and the rule of law. But this policy has remained a “bureaucratic autopilot” that has become more and more connected to the local elite. This “zombie policy” allowed NATO and the EU to continue an enlargement policy without helping to resolve the fundamental conflicts between the states. Years ago, this type of prospect of accession to the EU was no longer enough to stabilize the Balkans, the authors explain. The situation had become more complicated with the appearance of Russia and China, developments in several EU countries and the presidency of Donald Trump. Actors like Turkey tried to enforce their policies in the Balkans.

This “cocktail of factors” accelerated the negative trend for the democratization of the Balkans. The only positive development took place in North Macedonia. Right-wing Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski was overthrown there in 2016, „but not because of Western politics, but even against them“. The popular uprising forced the EU and USA to push through new elections. Border changes were also discussed in Kosovo politics in 2018 – which made it possible for this topic to be discussed again. The authors call for a reorientation of the Western Balkans policy.

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