Peaceful change in the Balkans?

The pre-modern politics that still define the Balkans’ adaptation to the end of empire cannot be simply be pushed aside by visions of post-national Europe. It will take time, patience and real compromise.

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Conflict Background


By Gerard M. Gallucci 

One hundred years after the Balkans Wars finally took the region out from under the Ottomans, the region remains unsettled. Bosnia-Herzegovina (BiH) remains a work in progress and Kosovo’s status is undefined. The EU reportedly is losing patience with the inability of Bosnia’s entities to move toward a more perfect union. Serbia is trying desperately to find a way to get past the Kosovo issue so it can enter the EU and improve its economic prospects. The Kosovo Albanians are fighting amongst themselves while threatening regional instability unless they get their way in the north.

When I first arrived in Mitrovica as regional UN chief, in July 2005, I understood that I had arrived in the midst of a tribal confrontation. Some take umbrage when I so describe it, preferring to believe that tribalism is something only for dark people elsewhere. But the conflict between Serbs and Albanians in Kosovo was tribal: between groups differing in language, religion, history and culture, unwilling to live with each other and wishing the other would disappear. Zero sum. This was certainly as seen along the Ibar River. But the Western Europeans, and the “Europeanists” in Washington, seemed not to understand this. They had been treating the Balkans as a chess game and misplayed the break-up of Yugoslavia from the start.

Yugoslavia’s chaotic and bloody end resulted from a collision between three worlds: the pre-modern, multi-ethnic empires (Ottoman, Autro-Hungarian and Yugoslavia itself); the “modern” rise of nation states; and the Western European elite’s dream of a post-modern Europe moving away from nation states. The last 100 years of Balkans history saw ethnic communities formerly living within the confines of imperial order coming to terms with issues of existence and stability within the international state system. The empires had allowed great mixing of peoples within their borders. Communities nestled within and next to each other. As the Ottoman imperial peace dissipated, competing nationalisms helped ignite World War One. After the war, the Western creation of Yugoslavia sought to preserve imperial order by throwing the several tribes into an old-fashioned monarchy. World War Two cut off its possible evolution into a stable multi-ethnic state. Tito’s approach of playing-off and paying-off the constituent groups largely exhausted itself by the time he left the scene. Animosities between the Balkans tribes, old even when they didn’t lead to violence under imperial rule, made breakup after Tito almost inevitable.

Western Europe misplayed the end badly, allowing events to be carried forward in the hands of the first wave of tribal politicians. The Germans “led” the way in prematurely recognizing Slovenia and still are playing it wrong over Kosovo. The Western countries supporting Kosovo independence – the Quint of the US, Germany, UK, Italy and France as led by Brussels mandarins and Berlin – sought to settle the issue by entrusting succession there to the Albanians. The Albanians saw this as their opening to grab it all.

On the ground in both Kosovo and Bosnia, it remains a zero-sum struggle to eliminate or keep out the opposing side. The other Balkans tribes now have their own states; they’ve become “nations.” But in BiH, neither Serbs, Croats nor Bosnians want to give power to a centre they do not control. In Kosovo south of the Ibar – with EULEX and ICO help – Pristina pushed the remaining (and surrounded) Serb enclaves to accept coming under its rule. But the North resisted, its local Serbian institutions and links to Belgrade never challenged by NATO. It would have taken force to try. The French military, which early on took over security in the north, understood this and demurred (as did the US military which eschewed initial responsibility for the north). UNMIK came to understood too. My orders when I arrived in Kosovo were to finally open channels with the supposed “radicals” who represented the refusal of their community to accept rule by the other. Quint pressure to nevertheless impose Pristina’s rule in the north led to the Mitrovica courthouse debacle of March 2008 and repeated efforts since to bully the northerners into submission. These failed.

Only recently, perhaps, have the EU and US come to understand that change cannot be forced. The pre-modern politics that still define the Balkans’ adaptation to the end of empire cannot simply be pushed aside by visions of post-national Europe. It will take time, patience and real compromise. Time and patience for people to become comfortable with just living next to each other in peace rather than being forced to share one bed. Real compromise in the form of a settlement over Kosovo that does not seek to give the majority everything.

Gerard M. Gallucci is a retired US diplomat and UN peacekeeper. He worked as part of US efforts to resolve the conflicts in Angola, South Africa and Sudan and as Director for Inter-American Affairs at the National Security Council. He served as UN Regional Representative in Mitrovica, Kosovo from July 2005 until October 2008 and as Chief of Staff for the UN mission in East Timor from November 2008 until June 2010.




23 Responses

  1. Agron

    “Change cannot be forced” – I agree with you. This time. But it took a lot of violence for dumb-asses in NATO to realize this.

  2. Mike

    Once again, Mr. Gallucci proves himself to be one of the (sadly very) few voices of reason and critical thinking on Kosovo both in regards to international conflict resolution and internet blogging.

  3. Mirel

    I just read that the compromise will be signed by June,it was reported by tv Klan.
    North remain under Prishtina,with Ahtisari plan elements and Prishtina will organize elections there and will recognise the leaders from those elecions.
    Meanwhile Serbia and Kosovo will sign a treaty or a peace code.Serbia will not recognise Kosovo,but will not block Kosovo to enter UN and othe international organizations.
    Is a win win situation.Kosovo has its sovragnity in North and controls the finances and security forces,while serbs in North can rely in Serbia when it comes to education or health care.
    Meanwhile Nikolic can say that Serbia didnt recognise Kosovo and Kosovo is happy to enter UN as a member.
    But eventualy Serbia has to recognise Kosovo before entering EU.
    But the question remains,if Nikolic and Dacic agree( and will agree) with all I mentioned above and serbs in North disagree.Than probably an Storm 2.0 will happened.

  4. If this report is accurate – and the details of “under Pristina ,,, with Ahtisaari elements … controls finances and security” would need to be greatly fleshed out in an implementable way – then it would be better to ask ahead of time what the northern Kosovo Serbs think. It remains difficult for me to imagine they would trust Pristina to control their finances and security. That would leave them quite vulnerable.

    1. Fadil

      They have to accept Gerard, otherwise being under uncertainty they will not see perspective in Kosovo. In fact, nothing abnormal. If Albanians in Presevo, Bujanovac and Medvedja have been forced to live within Serbia and under total Serbian control, although they fought against such outcome, the same must happen with Serbs in northern Kosovo. Pretty fair. Isn’t it??

  5. Monica

    By the interviews I have been doing for the documentary film “Barricade 1244” seems quiet impossible nothern Kosovo Serbs would accept the implementation of such an accord, 2.0 storm -as Mirrel post it- would be the outcome.

    For the moment, even though northeners are tired of fighting by democratic ways and are a bit discouraged still have fear for their families – events like yesterdays wounding of two kids doesn´t help- and they will never accept the albanian police nor the judiciare, before accepting many of them prefer to dye fighting They have fought once and if the political dialogue does not give any results, again, they will take the guns, something that Albanians have started to do …

    Serbs in north Kosovo do not even see with good eyes the platform, they would like to freeze for the moment the conflict and solutions hoping the goverment will fall -something that today does not seem unreasonable to think-in expected to arrive someone more sympathetic to their cause that will abolish all the agreements signed so far.

    In regard to Mike´s coment, many people is critical for the actions of the “international community”, not only in Kosovo but also in Bonia i Herzegovina, the problem is the lack of interest from the press, both European and American, to talk about these issues, the silence is absolute, in part this is due to their lack of knowledge and partly because in the background they think that if we do not talk about these conflicts then those conflicts do not exist, and this does not only happen in the press .. .. is easier to stay with stereotypes of the past to try to analyze the present and the causes that have led these countries to the current situation and learn from it.

    1. Fadil


      Just recalling you that more Albanians in southern Serbia fought with Serbia more than ten years ago but had to accept the reality that borders can’t be changed and must live within Serbia. Nothing different will happen in northern Kosovo. In fact northerners are the last group to deserve something since they caused suffering to the others not somebody to them. Yesterday was anniversary of more than 10 killed Albanians from Serbian criminals in the north and more than 12K of Albanians were expelled from there.

      But anyway, northerners can start fighting even tomorrow if they choose so but then should stop complaining if “storm 2.0” becomes reality.

      There should be equal treatment either for all or nobody. If 100K of Albanians in Presevo, Bujanovac and Medvedja must live within Serbia (although fought against Serbia) then 50K of Serbs in the north must live within state of Kosovo. This is absolutely fair approach.

  6. Mirel

    The integration of 8 million serbs in EU is more important than pampering 40 thousand millioners in North and Dacic and Nikolic know this very well.Few moths ago Dacic mentioned that serbs in North have 3-4 houses in Belgrade.So, I dont think there is a lot of simpathy inside Serbia for those pamper millioners of North,except from serbs in diaspora.

    Finance and security will be run by Prishtina,and the members of the security forces will be serbs from North.There will be an amnisty for serbs,except the ones who have blood in their hands,and the local leaders will be accepted from Prishtina as legitime ones,after the elections.In the other word Milan Ivanovic will be still mayor but will get his salary from Prishtina.
    In the other words will be some kind of Ahtisaari plan which can be implemented in North,and Serbia will get the date of negotiations in EU while Kosovo will start entering in UN.Meanwhile the number of recognisions will be much higher because there is no reason not to recognise Kosova when Serbis sign a peace code with it.

  7. RBIH

    In Bosnia the illegal Dayton agreement was set up without any accountability from leaders. This agreement overode the RBIH constitution which was a civil democracy and had a working system. Restore the system and the problem in BIH would end really fast.

  8. PEN


    As you both appear to be the self appointed spokesmen for the Albanian cause, (espousing rational and libertarian ideas naturally) can I take it that you’ll both be leading the charge across the barricades when ‘Storm 02’ finally happens?

    1. Fadil


      “Storm 2.0”, very probably, is not going to happen. Maybe some sick minds would like to see people in northern Kosovo as they start fighting but I still don’t believe it. Instead we will see very soon withdrawal of illegal structures of Serbia from northern Kosovo and I hope northerners will start dialogue with Pristina for normalization of their life. The “storm 2.0” will be an option if sick minds indeed start fighting instead of talking.

      I strongly believe that northerners will choose dialogue instead of fighting otherwise “storm 2.0” would be reality.

  9. PEN

    Poor brave fadil. Instead of obsessing about ‘illegal structures’ in northern Kosovo and Metohija, you should be trying to reign in your more primitive clansmen trying to storm the monastery in Decani. Beleaguered Serbian monks and nuns.The mob view them as a threat too! But then medieval culture and modern ‘Kosovian’ society are uncomfortable bedfellows aren’t they fadil. Here we are in 2013, the 21st Century and we have grenades being tossed into children’s bedrooms. And you are endlessly attempting to defend a ‘state’ condoning that. You really should be thoroughly ashamed of yourself chum.

    1. Fadil


      Poor PEN, did you ever count how many times you lost the battle as Serbian extremist propagandist. In Decan, nobody attacked monastery, monks or nuns but it was a protest of people who want to use THEIR land, which was given form Milosevic’s regime to monastery. I hope, at least, you understand that people HAVE right to USE THEIR LAND. Even spokesman of KFOR had to react against such propaganda as yours. Secondly, for throwing grenade in northern Kosovo a Serbian man is suspected and police found grenades and other weapons at the house of suspected. The suspected is clearly in conflict with family of wounded children.

      So poor PEN, don’t try to misuse things as people don’t suffer from amnesia and forget Serbian crimes against the others. Everybody knows that the best strategy of defense is attacking the others but in 21st century that doesn’t work. Apparently all the world knows PERFECTLY who should be ashamed for the very criminal past but people like don’t know at all what the shame, humanity and sense is.

      People who have such level of hatred, like you, indeed can’t think rationally. Fortunately you are, and will be, far enough so except spreading poison in media, can’t do anything else.

  10. PEN

    You really ought to research your facts before making stupid assertions. The 23 hectares of monastic land was bequethed to Decani long before Milosevic came along. Your own so-called supreme court determined as much. And what exactly do you mean by ‘Their land.’ Whose land? Those who seek to usurp it by force. A Serbian presence is a thorn in the side of the local Albanian mafia. If even it’s a couple of harmless clergy. You Albanian extremists are all the same. As far as you’re concerned ‘Your land’ extends from Belgrade to Thessaloniki. Face it pal you haven’t got a leg to stand on. The only poison I can see here is coming direct from your keyboard.

    1. Fadil


      The land was given to monastery during Milosvic’s era, not matter how you deny that. That land belongs to municipality of Decani but for political reasons was given to monastery. Our Supreme Court, unfortunately, decided having in mind political situation. Nevertheless, people have right to protest for what they believe is their right. You can’t grasp this, of course, since rights don’t exist for Albanians for people like you.

      And who is speaking for mafia???!!! May God forgive you. You, citizen of biggest MAFIA state as mentioned by former prime Djindjic and PROVED NOW by facts that ALL politicians of Serbia are linked and collaborated with mafia of biggest drug boss Darko Saric, Serbian prime in particular. Serbia’s president is a chetnik for whom there are allegations for killing of Croatian civilians in Croatia. Politicians of your MAFIA state have stolen Billions and Billions of Euros and you have claims for Kosovo!!!

      You are out of this world. No country in our planet Earth would be compared for criminal activities as Serbia. Serbia, for sure, by very strong evidence, is a leader of criminals and mafia.

      As for “Albanian extremists”, they are so extremists that allow Serbian even there where not a single Serb is living and Serbs can use freely their language and alphabet. Albanians are so “extremists” that gave rights for Serbs to create their municipalities and control them with only 5000 inhabitants with more rights than Kosovo capital Pristina. In Kosovo Assembly all minorities use their language freely, even very small group. In Serbia even a large group of Hungarians (some 400K of them) can’t use their language. So, people in Kosovo are proud to tell the world how they give rights to the others regardless of primitive propaganda.

  11. PEN


    I repeat you really ought to research your facts before making stupid assertions. The 23 hectares of monastic land was bequethed to Decani long before Milosevic. This land was illegaly expropriated by the Communist authorities in 1946 from its rightful owners ie. the Serbian Orthodox Church. It has nothing to do with the municipality of Decani. All Milosevic did, was return the property to its rightful owners. As I said, even your so-called supreme court agreed. Whether you think, as an Albanian extremist, that this was a political decision or not, is besides the point. You merely betray your prejudice by your ignorant responses. In so far as the Serbian language being officially recognised where there are no Serbs is concerned, you need to ask yourself why there are no Serbs left. Ask your compatriots. I’m sure they’ll have the answer to that conundrum. And when you scream that I’m the citizen of the greatest mafia state, I’m tempted to agree with you given that the UK helped to create your wretched little criminal enterprise otherwise known as ‘Kosova.’

    1. Fadil


      Just to remind you that according to Serbian extremists more than half of property in Kosovo belong to orthodox Church and Serbs in general. Its perfectly known how that was achieved – taking land from Albanians and giving to Serbs. This was not the last thing of old Serbia (monarchist Yugoslavia) before WW2, trying to expel Albanians from their land. After the WW2 some things were managed better although not in satisfactory level. I remember perfectly that nearby monastery in Decan there were some hotels and even children recreational facilities. Now these facilities CAN’T be used by OUR CHILDREN. Just imagine what kind of humanity have those who deny children to use their facilities???

      But anyway, you are escaping the point. The point was that people have right to ask something and protest if they believe they are right. Protest is a basic human right. People in Decan just protested and din not harm anybody even though you tried to manipulate and misuse such protest.

      As for official language in places where are no Serbs – again the same strategy – ESCAPING the point, as you and other Serbian extremist do always. There are such places like Malisevo in which Serbs never lived, even during Milosevic’s era or during ottomans. You should ask your compatriots why they did not live there.

      When I mentioned your citizenship I never mean UK but criminal state of Serbia and you know that perfectly. But when we speak for UK and other democratic states you should ask yourself why such states support Kosovo and bombed Serbia??

      As for “criminal enterprise”, fortunately we live in 21 century and peoples of the world know PERFECTLY who was bombed because of criminal activities, who shelled Vukovar, Zagreb, Dubrovnik, Sarajevo and made it worst than Hiroshima and Nagasaki after nuclear bombs. People know perfectly who killed more than 200K of Bosniaks, Croats, Albanians and who is alleged by international court to have committed genocide. You may have claims against the others and repeat that million times but with zero effect. Instead of being ashamed for very criminal past of your country of birth, you accuse the others!!!

  12. PEN


    You need to be man enough to admit when you’ve lost the argument. That’s the problem when debating with Albanian extremists. When confronted with hard facts and incapable of refuting them you become abusive and digress from the issue. But that’s the essence of the Kosovo dispute. Stealing something that ultimately doesn’t belong to you and using demographics as an argument in law. You live there of course you do but that doesn’t give you the right to violently detach territory that belongs to a sovereign country. You ignore the law. Even your own so-called law if it doesn’t suit your agenda. You assume that anybody who has sympathy for the Serb perspective must be either a citizen of that State or born there. Neither of which applies to me. Again making stupid assertions without attempting to ascertain the facts. The issue here is ownership of property. The LEGAL owners of a piece of land or property. Can you grasp that concept? So we return to Decani. I don’t care whether children played on land abutting the monastery. What does that have to do with legal ownership. None of your arguments have any validity. In fact to be honest you’re not even worth arguing with.

    1. Fadil


      I know perfectly Serbian extremist strategy – escaping from the crucial points, lying and trying to discredit the other side. I must recall you have many times you lost such battles. Again, the main point is protest and the right of protest. People have right to protest for anything they believe is right.

      Now you go to another level about “stealing”. Just recalling you that I don’t take nothing from Serbian propaganda but I see the report of International Commission on Balkan wars, which MORE THAN CLEAR states that Kosovo was inhabited EXCLUSIVELY by Albanians on 1912 when Serbia attacked and occupied Kosovo by massacres and genocide. This was not enough but took the land from Albanians and gave to Serbs, monasteries and churches. After Balkan wars (1912) Serbia brought Serbian COLONISTS in Kosovo, took the land from Albanians and gave to Serbs. This is the way how Serbs got “ownership”. You can deny this repeating millions of lies but will not succeed.

      Nevertheless the issue was not regarding the ownership of property but right of people to protest and you tried to “canalize” in other direction.

      For what kind of sovereign “country” you are talking about?? That so called “country” was ILLEGAL one, created ILLEGALLY by violating three Constitutions – Yugoslav Constitution, Serbia’s Constitution and Kosovo constitution. Kosovars did not take any land from anybody but live in THEIR land as historically lived. You may have different views but who cares at all what you do think when FACTS are in Kosovo side.

      And again for Decani municipality. I know perfectly for Kosovo children and how you don’t care for them. This is more then apparent. There are some other people, however, who do care and will do everything to protect and please them.

  13. Cyrus

    I think it says somewhere in the Kanun of Lek Dukadjinii “If Albanian children play on the land of someone else that land must become the land of the families of those Albanian children.” :D

    or is that the “Kanun of Fadil” :)

    I think what’s really going on here is Ramus is sending a message. He’s angry for not getting the political deal that was promised to him by Thaci. He controls Decani and could stop these protests with a simple gesture, but he’s showing what happens without his authority. It’s a smart move politically.

    Maybe next he’ll have dinner with Jeton Mulaj (the guy that was convicted for firing mortar shells at the monastery a few years ago) he got a light sentence though because he said he was drunk!

    1. Fadil


      I know perfectly Serbian extremists hiding with some English like names. I know how such extremists tend to manipulate things. I never said that if children play somewhere its “their land”. I said hat is TRUE and the truth is that nearby monastery, during Tito’s Yugoslavia, there were recreational facilities for children in STATE land. That land “changed” ownership when Milosevic came in power and everybody knows how he loved Albanians. He loved Albanians so much so his soldiers and police killed more then 10,000 of them, raped thousands of women, burned more than 200K of houses and expelled more than half of population of Kosovo to Albania and Macedonia, taking from them personal things and documents so they wouldn’t have identity.

      So having this in mins why one should react if people in peaceful way protest for something they believe is right?? Of course people like you can’t grasp that.

  14. Joe

    I suppose you could say that the nationalism that formed modern nation-states was mostly a kind of articulated tribalism. Is there a curious conundrum in trying to induce the creation of nation-states, particularily in places like Bosnia-Herzogovina and Kosovo that have few of the attributes, particularily in their “tribal” make-up and historical development, that conduce to their becoming nation-states – so that they can become part of a post-modern, post-national system?

  15. Pingback : Kosovo - what about north Mitrovica?

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