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State building in Western Balkans


I was reading an EU journal today, I think it was the Frankfurter Rundschau, when a curious article attracted my attention. European defense ministers are meeting in German town of Wiesbaden to discuss “State Building in the Western Balkans”. Javier Solana is going to be there, as well as his Excellency the General Secretary of NATO. The central problem these European gentlemen are going to confront is the set of “challenges to state-building in Western Balkans”. Although the so called negotiations over Kosovo’s independence are still going on- the real ones between Europe, the US, and Russia, and the formal ones between the colonial elites of Serbia and Kosovo- one of the points for discussion is how to organize the independent Kosovo. Here we encounter a new definition of what negotiations mean in civilized Europe: the purpose of negotiations among the “small nations” is to negotiate until you reach the decision that has already been made by the important euro-nations. It also seems like there are going to be 2,500 soldiers in Bosnia instead of 6,500. That’s good. But the article ends with a rather grim prediction: “difficult times for the state building in western Balkans are ahead”.

I think that I understand the part about new geography. The label “Western Balkans” is the latest of the attempts to deflect the subversive anti-colonial connotations of this misbehaving peninsula. Renaming the Balkans has a long and fascinating history. From Austro-Hungarian balkanologists to State Department experts of today, from South East Europe to Western Balkans, the idea was always the same: to debalkanise the Balkans, for which purpose a more neutral language is useful. US President Clinton was very clear about the fact that “Europe has no other option but to bring the entire area of South-East Europe into the European family?. and debalkanise the Balkans once and for all”- even if this takes “bomb[ing] the fuckers”. (Richard Holbrooke)

But what is “state-building”? This appears to be, to me at least, a new concept. In yet another article, in yet another EU journal, I have discovered that the art of state-building is insperable from “good governance”: It involves “…good governance based on the rule of law, human rights, and civil liberties; a free-market economy; pluralistic democracy; and above all, socio-cultural changes and acceptance of new values and responsibilities across the board”. But transition is “not enough”. What “western Balkans” needs is transformation. Transformations is a “holistic process”, a process “that must affect all walks of life, not least some stubborn old attitudes”. The essence of transformation is “the concept of good governance and good society”. The essence of good society is “free market and pluralistic democracy”. The vehicle to a good society is civil society. The civil society is everyone who agrees to listen to the international community. The civil society must be educated by the international community. The international community is everyone “including governments, international organizations, non-governmental organizations, development and aid projects, etc”. – who “is facing the challenge of transforming itself in accordance with the requirements of different countries’ transformation processes.” For these processes to work we need a strong state: ” while international expertise on state-building is well established … the experience of countries in transition shows that a strong state is essential to the success of the liberal-democratic project in the developing world, as Francis Fukuyama notes in his State Building: Governance and World Order in the 21st Century, “in the final analysis only the state can deliver security and a range of public services from health care to education and be held responsible for the collapse of law and order.” The author of this article, state- architect Pajic, who served as a senior legal adviser to the International Crisis Group’s Bosnia office, is a fan of Tolstoy: “the opening sentence of Anna Karenina may apply to Bosnia: “All happy families are alike, but an unhappy family is unhappy after its own fashion.” He proceeds to ask: “What makes Bosnia different and unhappy?” A naive native would think that it has something to do with the presence of occupying forces in his country. But this is too simple of an explanation. You might end up being called a conspiracy theorist by The Guardian.

According to Ian Williams from The Guardian, the state-building solution for Bosnia is integration. If the integration is a state-building project for Bosnia, for Kosovo it is a “supervised independence”. Kosovo, which is according to Timothy Garton Ash, not under occupation but in the state of limbo (sic), needs to be independent, not because this is just or legal, but, this is according to state-architect Pedy Ashdown (on BBC), for ethical reasons, as “Serbia has lost it’s moral rights to rule Kosovo”. The best way, says Garton Ash, is to accept the Ahtisaari plan that both Serbs and Albanians reject (Kosovo Roma are never asked anything) : “so Martti Ahtisaari, the UN secretary general’s special envoy for the future of Kosovo, has come up with an impressive set of proposals for moving out of limbo. His plan may not actually use the word independence, but everyone understands that it would give Kosovo independence. However, this independence would be supervised and constrained by a so-called International Civilian Representative, and backed up by an international military presence.” Revolution will be televised, independence supervised, and everything will be advertised (in The Guardian!)

One of the reasons for concern and widespread attention of the mainstream media for my troubled region is the recent ruling of the International Court on Justice (ICJ) that Serbia (those barbarians!) is not responsible for the 1995 massacre in Srebrenica. This “unbelievable ruling” caused quite a bit of consternation among western humanists. This is from a recent Chicago Tribune editorial: “under the international court’s ruling, Serbia has escaped the stigma of genocide and been relieved of financial obligation for the killings. The court pointedly did not absolve Serbia of political and moral responsibility, but it’s ruling is a disappointment. Many Serbs are, and will remain, in denial about the atrocities committed on their doorstep.” According to the former president of the International Crime Tribunal for former Yugoslavia, state-architect Antonio Cassesse, in his article for Italian La Republica this is a “legal genocide”. Let’s hear from state-architect Ian Williams again: “Judging from the behavior of Serb nationalist politicians and those who vote for them, there is only a slender likelihood of acknowledgement, let alone contrition, from a disturbingly large proportion of the population….The ICJ judgment on “Serbia’s role in the Bosnian genocide was, as the diverse comments on this site have shown, confusing. Its demand for proof of clear instructions from Belgrade to the perpetrators of “acts of genocide”, would have exonerated Adolf Hitler from the Holocaust – the even that inspired the genocide convention”.

In the conclusion of his Guardian musings on desirability of Kosovo’s independence, state architect Timothy Garton Ash expresses an interesting viewpoint:

“Kosovo is many things to many people….Tell me your Kosovo and I will tell you who you are…Whatever else it is or was, Kosovo is today a small but vital challenge to the international community in general and the EU in particular… The EU now needs to be clear, united, forceful and strategic – four things it usually fails to be beyond its own borders.. If ever there was an issue which brings together European values…The way forward for Kosovo is not nation-building or even state-building, but member-state-building…Because only then will peace be secured in the Balkans and Europe be whole and free. As it approaches its 50th birthday this March, the European economic community that became a union has an extraordinary story to tell about the spread of peace, freedom and the rule of law..”

European values are so complicated. I have just learned what state-building is, and now I have to grasp the concepts of nation-building and member-state-building. But, unlike Garton Ash, I don’t believe that the solution is to get the Balkans into Europe. Quite on the contrary, I think that we need to get Europe out of the Balkans. As soon as possible. Balkan people need to find the strength and orientation for a new politics for another Balkans. It should be a politics of a Balkan federation, a participatory society built from the bottom up, through struggles for the creation of an inclusive democratic awareness, participatory social experiments, and an anti-authoritarian emancipatory practice that would win the political imagination of all people in the region. It is a politics that says unequivocally to the European Union, and it’s state-architects in Bosnia and Kosovo: get the hell out of here.

* Andrej Grubacic is an anarchist historian working on the peoples history of the Balkans. He can be reached at [email protected]

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