|Sarajevo, 29 January 2023-29
Krug 99 (Circle 99) Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina
CHALLENGES FOR THE WESTERN BALKANS DURING THE WAR IN UKRAINE
The Serbian intellectual elite has expected changes on the world geo-political scene ever since the publishing of the Memorandum of the Serbian Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1986. The achieving of this project, which became the politics of Slobodan Milosevic, was fateful not only for neighboring states and peoples but also for the entire Serbian nation.
The policies of the Memorandum became an ideological basis that has not been renounced even by today’s political leadership in Serbia. The difference lies between Milosevic’s methods of brutal ethnic cleansing and genocide and the sophisticated methods of today’s political elite in Serbia, though the West is still making unprincipled concessions. The benefits of the politics of ‘carrot and stick’ are minimal, and this represents a continuing challenge for stability and peace in the region. It seems that the Republic of Kosovo, Montenegro, Macedonia and Bosnia-Herzegovina are the collateral damage in the politics of relaxation and concessions. These states are losing traditional allies of independence and democratic structure based on the values of liberal democracy.
Since the ascension of Vladimir Putin to power, in all hot spots around the world where behind the scenes were the West and Russia, it is Russia that has been the winner. This was the case in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Kazakhstan and elsewhere. Though Ukraine proved to be a step too far for Russia. For almost the past full year, Russia is faced with a great challenge and the possibility of defeat and the unfulfillment of its intended wartime objectives.
Conducting its policies for nearly the past two centuries between the West and Russia, Serbia also finds itself at a crossroads. The projected goals of Serbian foreign policy, already from the time of Ilija Garasanin in 1844, have brought some benefits, sometimes more sometimes less, but this policy has remained deeply entrenched in Serbia’s political class.
The war in Ukraine and pressure from the West have created a great dilemma for Serbia’s politics: to renounce its former expansionist policy or to enter into open conflict with the West. If Serbia elects for a sharper countering of the West, there will likely be war in the Western Balkans. There are two potential conflagration points: Kosovo and/or Bosnia. Of the two, Kosovo is the more likely. The current ongoing negotiations will demonstrate whether Serbia has abandoned its former aspirations and turned to a new era of peace in the Balkans, or whether it will once again enter into warfare and conflicts, first with Kosovo and later with NATO.
The Bosnia intellectual elite needs to consider how Bosnia will react in case Serbia accepts the West and the Western system of values, and how it will react in case Serbia actively opposes this. In either case, these are the challenges that will be the most significant for Bosnia.
But the challenges for Kosovo are not only its relations with Serbia but also its relations with Albania, much like Bosnia’s relations with Croatia.
Since the Balkan wars of 1912-1913, when Serbia conquered Kosovo, the Sandzak of Novi Pazar and North Macedonia, Albania became an independent state. But relations between the politicians of Kosovo and of Albania were for the most part in conflict. During World War One, the most influential politician in Albania was Essad Pasha Toptani, who was in conflict with Hasan Prishtina, Kadri Prishtina, Bajram Curri, Rexhep Mitrovica, Dervish Mitrovica, Ajdin Draga, Bedri Pejani and others who represented the Kosovo political elite. Essad Pasha Toptani was considered a friend of Serbia since he facilitated the Serbian king, government and army to withdraw through Albania to Corfu. Between the two world wars, the most powerful politician in Albania was King Zog, who was responsible for the physical liquidation of Bajram Curri, Elez Isufi, Hasan Prishtina and caused other to flee, such as Dervish Mitrovica, Rexhep Mitrovica, Bedri Pejani and many others.
During World War Two, and especially in 1943 and 1944, politicians from Kosovo were in power in Tirana, a situation that led to civil war in Albania. In November 1941, Serbian Communists created the Communist Party of Albania, while, in contrast, in 1945 in Kosovo there were no more than 20 ethnic Albanian Communists.
The Communist victory in the Albanian civil war enabled Kosovo, through the Prizren Parliament in July 1945, to make itself independent of Albania (to which it had been linked in 1941) and to merge itself with Serbia, or in other words Yugoslavia. But the darkest episode in relations between Tirana and Prishtina came after the death of Josip Broz Tito with the Kosovo demonstrations of 1981. The essence of those events was the flirtation between Belgrade and Tirana resulting in the destruction of Kosovo’s autonomy.
During Albania’s democratic transition, a conflict emerged between [Albanian] President Sali Berisha and Ibrahim Rugova. After the war in Kosovo, a similar conflict erupted between [Albanian Prime Minister] Edi Rama and [former Kosovo Prime Minister] Ramush Haradinaj, and later between Edi Rama and [current Kosovo Prime Minister] Albin Kurti. In verbal conflicts between Albin Kurti and [President of Serbia] Aleksandar Vucic, Edi Rama was more often on Vucic’s side than Kurti’s. These historical facts are an indicator of the creation of a Kosovo national identity that will only grow stronger as Kosovo becomes a member of international organizations. The struggle for recognition of a Bosnian national identity, like the struggle in Kosovo, is in direct connection with the implementation of Western liberal democratic values.
At this moment, it is in Kosovo’s national interest to develop relations with Bosnia, Montenegro and Macedonia, and it is in these states’ interests to have relations with Kosovo. With full understanding for Bosnia’s complicated constitutional situation, relations between Bosnians and Kosovars could be a lot better and more productive. The long-standing mandate in power of Djukanovic in Montenegro is of great importance for both Kosovo and Bosnia. The democratic order and civic approach of the current Macedonian President and the Macedonian government can serve as a model for Bosnia and even more so for Kosovo as its immediate neighbor.
The creation of a spirit of mutual understanding and cooperation among all states of the Western Balkans will actually help Serbia itself to abandon its imperial policies towards its neighbors. This session of Circle 99 (Krug 99) is motivated by the necessity to link together the forces of peace, including organizations of civic society, in democratic resistance to state-sponsored ethno-nationalisms in the Western Balkans.
Summary of Session of 29 January 2023, Professor Doctor Nexhmedin Spahiu, Department of Political Science, University of Prishtina, Republic of Kosovo
Adil Kulenović, President
|Association of Independent Intellectuals – Circle 99 (Bosnian: Krug 99), a leading Bosnian think-tank, was established in Sarajevo in 1993, in the midst of the Bosnian war (1992-1995), while the capital was under siege. Circle 99 provides a platform to bring together intellectuals of various professional and ethnic identities; university professors, members of the Academy of Sciences and Arts of Bosnia and Herzegovina, artists, journalists, entrepreneurs, diplomats, and other prominent figures from Bosnia and from abroad. Multidisciplinary discussions and initiatives are held each Sunday throughout the academic year, in the form of regular sessions about politics, science, education, culture, economy, and other societal issues. The overall goal is to sensitize the public towards a democratic transformation, achieving and maintaining peace, and integration of modern Bosnia into the community of countries fostering liberal democracy. Circle 99 has been declared an organization of special significance for the city of Sarajevo.