The Western Balkans After Mladic – Analysis


With the arrest of Ratko Mladic, a major stumbling block has been avoided on the road to stabilizing the western Balkans and improving the prospects for EU integration. But EU member states first need to articulate a more unified approach toward Kosovo if these objectives are to be achieved.

By Plamen Pantev for ISN Insights

On 26 May, Serbian authorities arrested Bosnian Serb General Ratko Mladic the most wanted military criminal of the post-Yugoslav era and handed him over to the International Criminal Court (ICC), where he stands accused of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. The long process of bringing justice and reconciliation to Bosnia still lies ahead. In the short term, one doubts whether genuine, mutual forgiveness can come. But bringing to light the truth of what happened to the people of this country is a much-needed step in the right direction.

Just as it would be an illusion to blame the ‘unfinished business’ in the western Balkans entirely on the delayed arrest of the Serbian general, still considered a hero by many Serbs, it would be a similar mistake to expect that now with his arrest the time has come to accelerate the integration of Serbia and other non-EU states in the region into the Union. Major political obstacles have, in fact, disappeared after the long-awaited arrest, but other important challenges remain. One of the most important is the recognition of Kosovo.

Currently, five EU states do not recognize Kosovo: Greece, Cyprus, Spain, Slovakia and Romania. In each country the motivation is different driven by domestic concerns and national politics. With the arrest of Mladic, however, and the new opportunities it promises, the failure of EU member states (for more than three years now) to recognize the independence of Kosovo is becoming a new ‘problem area’ with troubling implications for the stability of the region.

Though Kosovo’s ambitions to statehood are widely supported  by the US, Canada and Japan, as well as by 75 of the 192 UN members, 22 of the 27 EU members, and 24 of the 28 NATO parties its efforts are often paralyzed by this inability of the EU to speak with one voice in its own backyard.

Moreover, lingering doubts about the legitimacy of the new state, situated in the very heart of the western Balkans, diminish its ability to develop strong bilateral relations with the other states of southeast Europe, as such efforts are generally perceived as threats in Belgrade and in the capitals of the five EU states that still withhold recognition.

A Kosovo that is only partially recognized will remain a bitter problem for regional security in southeast Europe as long as the efforts of the young state and its international supporters for more complete independence are frustrated and delayed. To make matters worse, other existing issues will be further polarized by the lack of a common EU stance.

The non- recognition of Kosovo also represents another failure of the EU Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP)  in a region where the Union and its transatlantic allies have already invested so much.

The intransigent positions of the five non-recognizing EU states stand in stark contrast to the attitudes of the majority of the Union toward Kosovo. Even if Serbia itself were to accelerate its bilateral negotiations with Kosovo now a genuine possibility after the new impetus given to EU-Serbian relations by the arrest of Mladic the lack of a unified EU CFSP would remain a great source of tension.

Dr Plamen Pantev is Professor in International Relations and International Law at Sofia University “St Kliment Ohridsky”, and founder and Director of the Institute for Security and International Studies (ISIS), Sofia. Published by International Relations and Security Network (ISN)

ISN Security Watch

The ISN is one of the world's leading open access information and knowledge hubs on IR and security issues, based at ETH Zürich, Switzerland.

One thought on “The Western Balkans After Mladic – Analysis

  • June 17, 2011 at 3:41 pm

    The non recognition of Kosovo’s independence by the 5 remaining EU member states of Spain, Slovakia, Romania, Greece and Cyprus is utterly baffling. Although on the surface these states may have a number of superficial reasons to withhold recognition, chief among them the concern they have about restive minorities within their borders, in reality their reasoning has no justification whatsoever. To suggest that Kosovo can somehow serve as a precedent that would jeopardize their political stability and territorial integrity is utter nonsense. Kosovo is a unique case and does not mirror any of the situations in these states. Without delving too far back into history the differences between the situations in these countries and the situation in Kosovo are stark and profound. None of these countries have committed grave violations of human rights against their minorities in modern history. None of the minorities of these countries have faced state sponsored oppression like the ethnic Albanians of Kosovo. The military and police occupation that Slobodan Milosevic’s Serbia subjected Kosovo and it’s people to was unfathomable in post WW2 and Cold War Europe. Ethnic Albanians were denied even their most basic human rights. Despite forming a very large majority in Kosovo they were subjected to an Apartheid style occupation where they were denied access to education, healthcare or any other basic social services. The Milosevic state apparatus imposed an uncompromising military occupation of Kosovo where Serb police and military operated with complete impunity. Arbitrary arrests and beatings were customary. Albanians could be arrested without cause and held indefinitely without access to legal representation. Freedom of movement was restricted and police constantly harassed the populace. Arbitrary killings weren’t out of the question either so coupled with the other forms of pressure people faced on a daily basis a reign of state sponsored and organized terror ruled over the ethnic Albanians of Kosovo. After years of non-violent resistance to the repression they were subjected to and complete neglect of their plight by the international community, including the very states that today deny Kosovo the right to independence, the Kosovar Albanians were left with no choice but to resort to armed resistance. As a result the conflict escalated heavily and lead to a carefully planned and coordinated campaign by Serbia to ethnically cleanse Kosovo of its ethnic Albanian population. Whole villages were razed to the ground, women and children brutally murdered without regard. This resulted in over 10,000 deaths, over a million refugees internally and externally and over 2000 that are still to this day missing and unaccounted for. The victims were overwhelmingly ethnic Albanian and included men, women and children of all ages. NATO intervention was required to put an end to the overwhelming human tragedy that unfolded in Kosovo in the late 90’s.
    Under such circumstances and after years of arrests, beatings, rapes, deportations and murders ethnic Albanians in Kosovo can not be expected to return under Serbian rule. After close to 10 years of brutal repression that culminated with the catastrophic epilogue mentioned above Serbia unequivocally forfeited her moral right to rule Kosovo or any of it’s inhabitants. As such no perceived right of territorial integrity should be recognized to Serbia as such a right was buried along with the numerous victims of the war.


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