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Possible International “Package Solution” Formats on the Balkans Issue

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Authors: Ekaterina Entina and Dejan Novakovic*

Presently, an extremely unstable situation has developed in the Balkans, with a potentially adverse effect both on the Balkan countries and on the system of international relations as a whole. Intraregional actors are not able to cope with problems that have befallen them. Over the past two decades, they have not been able to attain any considerable progress in solving these problems, although they have managed to keep the dialogue going on all these years. External players pursue first and foremost their own interests in the Balkans. As a rule, they only slightly match with the real needs of the region and its population. Moreover, lately they have been concerned more with the policies dictated to them by an escalation of tensions between regional players.

Present-day situation

The European Union offered all the Balkan peoples a so-called “European future”. The political elites and the population of the countries belonging to the region cannot imagine themselves without such a future. Although the percentage of Euro-optimists among the population has gradually decreased, integration into Europe is still considered a natural process and, seemingly, the only possible choice for the Balkans. The EU and its member states have accumulated so much of their own crisis potential for the moment that it is impossible for them to cope with all the challenges that are shattering the region. Brussels simply has neither resources, nor desire to do it.

The United States is pushing forward only those decisions that assure their influence on the pan-European processes as well as strengthen their positions in the global confrontation. Russia, China, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia, which are accumulating more and more influence in the region, taken separately, are not so powerful. In any case, they are simply not able to offer any alternative to the “European choice”. However, they have never even planned to offer an alternative.

Most politicians and commentators agree that, as a result, the Balkans are turning into a tinderbox, just as they were a century ago. Existing problems are still not solved, while new ones are appearing on the horizon. Bilateral negotiations are dragging. Moreover, everything is happening either all by itself or through intermediary participation and even dominance influence of the US and the EU. Any attempts either to find unconventional approaches, or to put forward some new breakthrough initiatives are immediately extinguished by external players. In order to move the situation off the ground at least a bit, and achieve favorable dynamics, intra-regional political actors begin to use tactics of provocations, forcing all external players to react. The point is that this tactics only strengthens confrontational tendencies around the globe.

It seems, there is no indication that external actors will refuse to act unilaterally, and intra-regional political forces will suddenly become negotiable. However, it is also impossible to leave the situation on its own as well as to give a “carte blanche” to those who prefer destructive policies thus harming the Balkans and its peoples and the prospects for a comprehensive, sustainable, fair and comprehensive settlement.

Under these circumstances, it would be extremely advantageous and timely for Russia to offer a multilateral format of a “general Balkan settlement,” which would be undoubtedly beneficial to all intra-Balkan political actors and extra-regional powers as well. For the former, it would provide an opportunity to proceed with mutual exchanges on a wide range of issues, which are unlikely to be achieved through bilateral negotiations, and to obtain all necessary guarantees of stability and sustainable economic development. For the latter, it would suppress negative developments in the Balkans and minimize risks both within and beyond the region. At the same time, it will make it possible to turn the Balkans from the everlasting “apple of discord” into a well-built platform for cooperation, and, if successful, into an instrument that would be designed to weaken confrontation between all major actors, which has gone too far, as well as to redirect the entire system of international relations to a more peaceful path.

Even if such a proposal is met with hostility, it should be put forward. It will show who is a true friend and a true defender of the Balkan peoples’ interests, and for whom, adversely, their geopolitical ambitions and their own selfish interests are on top of any other considerations.

Some of the Lucrative “Multilateral Format” Scenarios

1.Regardless of the resolution of the post-Yugoslav heritage problems, formation of a permanent “Balkan Council” is a top priority. It would include representatives of Russia, the US, Great Britain, Turkey, France, Italy, Slovenia and Germany as international observers, with mediation on the part of the EU and the UN, and also envoys of all the Western Balkan countries. The logical way to give life to this format is to reframe and accelerate the work of the Regional Cooperation Council (created 10 years ago on the basis of the Stability Pact for Southeastern Europe; Russia, the US, and China took part in the deliberations of the Council, with the EU playing the main role).

2.Another scenario is the “Permanent Balkan Conference” led by the EU and mediated by high representatives from the U.S. and Russia. Such a decision could be enforced by changing the format of the Brussels talks, and with the consent of the Albanian and Serbian parties.

3.The third scenario is the “Permanent Balkan Conference — broad version” under the leadership of the UN Security Council. It would imply an increase in the number of Balkan negotiators and would entail a number of various territorial exchanges, based not so much on ethnicity, but on the geopolitical interests of each of the Balkan countries as well as on the guaranteed viability of such exchanges. In this case, territorial exchanges would be accompanied by the acceptance of regional economic interests as one of the end-results of the accession to the EU of all countries in the region. Thus, the newly created boundaries would have a positive symbolic value in the context of day-to-day life.

4.The fourth scenario is the creation of the “Balkan Union” modeled on the EU. Turkey, as an “eternal” candidate for the EU, might join such a “Union.” This scenario is most likely to be the least acceptable for Brussels, which wouldn’t like to see Southeastern Europe being capable of addressing Western Europe on an equal footing or very close to being equal. However, in the context of the recent developments, this scenario is considered to be the most rational one for the Balkan states themselves.

Long-term Scenario of a “Package” Settlement

The “spontaneous” territorial organization designed for the Balkan peoples did not bode well with them. Some representatives of the local establishment and the expert community pass the verdict that it ”failed miserably.”

Ethnic groups are divided between different political entities. And they do not always feel comfortable there. Their vital interests are threatened, and it is possible to keep them from possible collisions and redistributions only due to some external factors.

Many countries and regional entities alone are simply not viable. Their successful future can be associated exclusively with integration, association, alliances, searching for some other forms and components of statehood. They are able to exist normally only under external control or as a part of some other entity.

The entire political, social and economic space of the region is fragmented. These fragments are dispersed chaotically, but they are holding onto each other. However, reorganization of its format is again impeded mainly because of various external factors. Obviously, if it goes as erratically as in the first half of the 1990s, it will end in tragedy.

At the same time, it is at least unreasonable and pointless to ignore the real situation. Maintaining the artificial existence of ethno-national and territorial delimitation is leading nowhere. It will generate tensions, fuel various extreme nationalists and populists, accumulate crisis potential, which is already big enough. Therefore, within the region, as well as among the international expert communities, various actors and their configurations are holding a nonstop informal discussion in order to outline possible scenarios of the Balkans settlement in a long run.

Among the external actors, the UK is the one to be the most active supporter of the creation of “ethnocentric states”, namely, “great” Albania, “great” Serbia, and “great” Croatia. This scenario would mean the following territorial exchange:

“Great” Albania: the Republic of Albania, most of Kosovo, part of Macedonia, part of Serbia (Bujanovac and Presevo), Ulcinj part of Montenegro;

“Great” Serbia: the Republic of Serbia, the Republika Srpska with access to the sea in the Herceg Novi region (Montenegro) and the Serbian communities in the north of Kosovo, including North Mitrovica;

“Great” Croatia: Republic of Croatia, the third “entitet” in Bosnia and Herzegovina (Herceg Bosna (Herzeg-Bosnia));

Montenegro would receive a part of the Serbian Sandzak;

Bosnia and Herzegovina within the borders of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina with the possible option of creating a confederation with Croatia / Serbia / Montenegro;

Macedonia would be in a worse position, left without most of its own territory. Moreover, a tendency to tear the remains among Bulgaria, Greece, Albania and Serbia is notable here. One of possible scenarios for Macedonia in this case is to form a confederation with Bulgaria or Serbia.

Only nationalist population of the region could support such a radical scenario, it would seriously shut off the Balkans from the EU in mid-term perspective. At the same time, in a long run, in the context of the region, this is one of the options for a long-term settlement of existing national problems.

The Importance of Provisional and Interim Measures

If the EU includes the whole mass of the region peoples implicitly overwhelmed with smoldering conflicts, that would entail its disorganization and weakening in its capability to resist external manipulation. On the contrary, if the EU doesn’t include the peoples, that would issue the verdict for the entire European project. In principle, the pan-European establishment understands this, although such a prospect really scares it.

However, in the context of Balkans, the EU rarely spoke with one voice. In other words, Member States that are actively spreading their policy outwards have very different goals in the region. Great Britain tends to support the Albanians at the expense of all other ethno-national formations of the region. France has a different vision: for Paris the most important thing is to protect its political and economic interests in a larger European region. That’s why the country is ready for certain exchanges. The disorder and strife of Balkan society are flowing into the neighboring countries. Thus, it is important for them to ensure its long-term stability and crisis-free development.

Germany takes an intransigent position regarding any territorial exchanges. As a result, it largely dominates the European Union. Berlin insists that it is totally unacceptable to implement any territorial exchanges and reorganize the Balkan political space as a whole. Any attempts will lead to the “Pandora’s box” opening with unpredictable consequences for the territorial organization of not only the region, but also of Europe in general. The whole post-war order across the continent will be threatened as well. This will undermine the legitimacy of all previous decisions. This will provide the grounds for raising the question of demarcations and territorial exchanges, inclusions and compensations in each part of the world. In this case, taking into account the artificial character of those processes, similar to the Balkans issue, there will be hell to pay.

In this respect, one cannot but agree with Berlin. Indeed, the “Pandora’s Box” should never be opened. The point here is that such an effect could be entailed by any bilateral private agreement on exchanges and revisions getting beyond multilateral inclusive format and “package solution,” especially under pressure from Washington, following nothing but its own geopolitical ambitions. It will be extremely difficult to control further destructive processes awakened by this approach in the future. At least, if it’s even possible.

However, including them in any of the above-mentioned multilateral formats changes the picture considerably. Firstly, it allows you to supply any action with organized and controlled character. Secondly, it provides an opportunity to combine all political decisions, which are separately unacceptable, belonging to different periods, into a single “package,” coordinated and approved by all. Thirdly, it opens the prospects of providing solid international guarantees for the “package settlement” on the spot. Fourthly, it establishes the rules of the game clear and acceptable to all players.

Thus, if the main intra-regional political actors as well as the external ones show goodwill and make bold enough to “split the Balkan knot” in the interests of the Balkan peoples, rather than in favor of some abstractions and geopolitical ambitions, each of them will be able to make a proportionate contribution to the common “Balkans issue” settlement. Such a contribution could consist in:

(1) rejecting any informational, military, political and economic provocations;

(2) supporting general legal regime of free economic activity for the whole region without any signs of discrimination;

(3) having a positive political influence on all those political forces, with which privileged relations are maintained;

(4) providing all necessary comprehensive international safeguards;

(5) financing the accelerated development of the region and the implementation of diverse economic projects that are useful and beneficial to its people.

* Dejan Novakovic, President of the Adriatic Council (Belgrade, Serbia)

First published in our partner RIAC

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Europe

Europe tells Biden “no way” to Cold War with China

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Amidst the first big transatlantic tensions for the Biden Administration, a new poll shows that the majority of Europeans see a new Cold War happening between the United States and China, but they don’t see themselves as a part of it.

Overwhelmingly, 62% of Europeans believe that the US is engaged in a new Cold War against China, a new poll just released by the European Council on Foreign Relations found. Just yesterday US President Joe Biden claimed before the UN General Assembly that there is no such thing and the US is not engaging in a new Cold War. So, Europeans see Biden’s bluff and call him on it.

The study was released on Wednesday by Mark Leonard and Ivan Krastev at the European Council on Foreign Relations and found that Europeans don’t see themselves as direct participants in the US-China Cold War. This viewpoint is most pronounced in Bulgaria, Hungary, Austria, Portugal and Italy, according to the study. The prevailing view, in each of the 12 surveyed EU member states, is one of irrelevance – with respondents in Hungary (91%), Bulgaria (80%), Portugal (79%), and Austria (78%) saying that their country is not in a conflict with Beijing.

Only 15% of Europeans believe that the EU is engaged in a Cold War against China. The percentage is so low that one wonders if there should even be such a question. It is not only not a priority, it is not even a question on the agenda for Europeans. Even at the highest point of EU “hawkishness”, only 33% of Swedes hold the view that their country is currently in a Cold War with China.  Leonard and Krastev warn that if Washington and Brussels are preparing for an all-in generational struggle against China, this runs against the grain of opinion in Europe, and leaders in Washington and Brussels will quickly discover that they “do not have a societal consensus behind them”.

“The European public thinks there is a new cold war – but they don’t want to have anything to do with it. Our polling reveals that a “cold war” framing risks alienating European voters”, Mark Leonard said.

The EU doesn’t have the backing of its citizens to follow the US in its new Cold War pursuit. But unlike the views of the authors of the study, my view is that this is not a transatlantic rift that we actually have to be trying to fix. Biden’s China policy won’t be Europe’s China policy, and that’s that, despite US efforts to persuade Europe to follow, as I’ve argued months ago for the Brussels Report and in Modern Diplomacy.

In March this year, Gallup released a poll that showed that 45% of Americans see China as the greatest US enemy. The poll did not frame the question as Cold War but it can be argued that Joe Biden has some mandate derived from the opinion of American people. That is not the case for Europe at all, to the extent that most of us don’t see “China as an enemy” even as a relevant question.

The US’s China pursuit is already giving horrible for the US results in Europe, as French President Macron withdrew the French Ambassador to the US. The US made a deal already in June, as a part of the trilateral partnership with the UK and Australia, and stabbed France in the back months ago to Macron’s last-minute surprise last week. Max Boot at the Council on Foreign Relations argues that it is Macron that is actually arrogant to expect that commitments and deals should mean something: “Back in February, Macron rejected the idea of a U.S.-E.U. common front against China. Now he complains when America pursues its own strategy against China. What’s French for chutzpah?” What Boot does get right is that indeed, there won’t be a joint US-EU front on China, and European citizens also don’t want this, as the recent poll has made clear.

The US saying Europe should follow the US into a Cold War with China over human rights is the same thing as China saying that Europe should start a Cold War with the US over the bad US human rights record. It’s not going to happen. You have to understand that this is how ridiculous the proposition sounds to us, Europeans. Leonard and Krastev urge the EU leadership to “make the case for more assertive policies” towards China around European and national interests rather than a Cold War logic, so that they can sell a strong, united, and compelling case for the future of the Atlantic alliance to European citizens.

I am not sure that I agree, as “more assertive policies” and “cold war” is probably the same thing in the mind of most Europeans and I don’t think that the nuance helps here or matters at all. Leaders like Biden argue anyway that the US is not really pursuing a Cold War. The authors caution EU leaders against adopting a “cold war” framing. You say “framing”, I say “spin”. Should we be in engaging in spins at all to sell unnecessary conflict to EU citizens only to please the US?

Unlike during the first cold war, [Europeans] do not see an immediate, existential threat”, Leonard clarified. European politicians can no longer rely on tensions with China to convince the electorate of the value of transatlantic relations. “Instead, they need to make the case from European interests, showing how a rebalanced alliance can empower and restore sovereignty to European citizens in a dangerous world”, Mark Leonard added. The study shows that there is a growing “disconnect” between the policy ambitions of those in Brussels and how Europeans think. EU citizens should stick to their sentiments and not be convinced to look for conflict where it doesn’t exist, or change what they see and hear with their own eyes and ears in favor of elusive things like the transatlantic partnership, which the US itself doesn’t believe in anyways. And the last thing that should be done is to scare Europeans by convincing them they live in a “dangerous world” and China is the biggest threat or concern.

What the study makes clear is that a Cold War framing against China is likely to repel more EU voters than it attracts, and if there is one thing that politicians know it is that you have to listen to the polls in what your people are telling you instead of engaging in spins. Those that don’t listen in advance get the signs eventually. At the end of the day it’s not important what Biden wants.

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Germany and its Neo-imperial quest

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In January 2021, eight months ago, when rumours about the possibility of appointment of Christian Schmidt as the High Representative in Bosnia occurred for the first time, I published the text under the title ‘Has Germany Lost Its NATO Compass?’. In this text I announced that Schmidt was appointed to help Dragan Čović, the leader of the Croatian HDZ party, to disrupt the constitutional structure of Bosnia-Herzegovina and create precoditions for secession of the Serb- and Croatian-held territories in Bosnia and the country’s final dissolution. I can hardly add anything new to it, except for the fact that Schmidt’s recent statements at the conference of Deutsche Atlantische Gesellschaft have fully confirmed my claims that his role in Bosnia is to act as Čović’s ally in the latter’s attempts to carve up the Bosnian Constitution.

Schmidt is a person with a heavy burden, the burden of a man who has continuously been promoting Croatian interests, for which the Croatian state decorated him with the medal of “Ante Starčević”, which, in his own words, he “proudly wears” and shares with several Croatian convicted war criminals who participated in the 1992-1995 aggression on Bosnia, whom Schmidt obviously perceives as his ideological brethren. The question is, then, why Germany appointed him as the High Representative in Bosnia? 

Germany’s policy towards Bosnia, exercised mostly through the institutions of the European Union, has continuously been based on the concept of Bosnia’s ethnic partition. The phrases that we can occassionaly hear from the EU, on inviolability of state boundaries in the Balkans, is just a rhetoric adapted to the demands by the United States to keep these boundaries intact. So far, these boundaries have remained intact mainly due to the US efforts to preserve them. However, from the notorious Lisbon Conference in February 1992 to the present day, the European Union has always officially stood behind the idea that Bosnia-Herzegovina should be partitioned along ethnic lines. At the Lisbon Conference, Lord Carrington and Jose Cutileiro, the official representatives of the then European Community, which has in the meantime been rebranded as the European Union, drew the maps with lines of ethnic partition of Bosnia-Herzegovina, along which the ethnic cleansing was committed, with 100.000 killed and 1,000.000 expelled, so as to make its territory compatible with their maps. Neither Germany nor the European Union have ever distanced themselves from the idea they promoted and imposed at the Lisbon Conference as ‘the only possible solution’ for Bosnia, despite the grave consequences that followed. Nor has this idea ever stopped being a must within their foreign policy circles, as it has recently been demonstrated by the so-called Janša Non-Paper, launched a couple of months ago, which also advocates the final partition and dissolution of Bosnia-Herzegovina. Such a plan is probably a product of the powerful right-wing circles in the European institutions, such as Schmidt’s CSU, rather than a homework of Janez Janša, the current Prime Minister of Slovenia, whose party is a part of these circles, albeit a minor one. To be sure, Germany is not the original author of the idea of Bosnia’s partition, this author is Great Britain, which launched it directly through Lord Carrington at the Lisbon Conference. Yet, Germany has never shown a will to distance itself from this idea, nor has it done the European Union. Moreover, the appointment of Schmidt, as a member of those political circles which promote ethnic partition as the only solution for multiethnic countries, testifies to the fact that Germany has decided to fully apply this idea and act as its chief promoter.

In this process, the neighbouring countries, Serbia and Croatia, with their extreme nationalist policies, can only act as the EU’s proxies, in charge for the physical implemenation of Bosnia’s pre-meditated disappearance. All the crimes that Serbia and Croatia committed on the Bosnian soil – from the military aggression, over war crimes, ethnic cleansing and genocide, up to the 30 year-long efforts to undermine Bosnia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity – have always had a direct approval and absolute support of the leading EU countries. During the war and in its aftermath, Great Britain and France were the leaders of the initiatives to impose ethnic partition on the citizens of Bosnia-Herzegovina, and now Germany has taken up their role. In such a context, the increasing aggressiveness of Serbia and Croatia can only be interpreted as a consequence of the EU’s intention to finish with Bosnia for good, and Schmidt has arrived to Bosnia to facilitate that process. Therefore, it is high time for the citizens of Bosnia-Herzegovina to abandon any ilussions about the true intentions of the European Union and reject its Trojan Horse in the form of the current High Representative.  

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Should there be an age limit to be President?

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The presidential elections in Bulgaria are nearing in November 2021 and I would like to run for President of Bulgaria, but the issue is the age limit.

To run for President in Bulgaria a candidate needs to be at least 40 years old and I am 37. I am not the first to raise the question: should there be an age limit to run for President, and generally for office, and isn’t an age limit actually age discrimination?

Under the international human rights law standard, putting an age limit is allowed in the context of political participation under the right to vote and the right to run to be elected. Human Rights Committee General Comment No.25 interpreting the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights states that an age limit has to be based on objective and reasonable criteria, adding that it is reasonable to have a higher age requirement for certain offices. As it stands, the law says that having an age limit for president is not age discrimination, but is 40 actually a reasonable cut-off? National legislations can change. We need to lower the age limit and rethink what’s a reasonable age for President, and not do away with all age limits.

We have seen strong leaders emerge as heads of state and government who are below 40 years of age. Sanna Marin, Prime Minister of Finland, became Prime Minister at 34. Sebastrian Kurz, the Prime Minister of Austria, was elected at 31. Jacinda Ardern, Prime Minister of New Zealand, assumed her position at 37. So perhaps it is time to rethink age limits for the highest offices.

The US has plenty of examples where elected Senators and Congressmen actually beat the age limit and made it despite the convention. The age limit for Senator in the US is 30 years old. Rush Holt was elected to the US Senate at 29. In South Carolina, two State Senators were elected at 24 years old and they were seated anyways. The age limit for US president is 35 years old.

In Argentina, the age cut-off is 30. In India, it is 35. In Pakistan, it is 45 years old. In Turkey, it is 40 years old. Iceland says 35 years old. In France, it is 18.

Generally, democracies set lower age limits. More conservative countries set the age limit higher in line with stereotypes rather than any real world evidence that a 45 year-old or 55 year-old person would be more effective and better suited to the job. Liberal countries tend to set lower age limits.

40 years old to be a President of Bulgaria seems to be an arbitrary line drawn. And while it is legal to have some age limits, 40 years old seems to be last century. Changing the age limit for president of Bulgaria could be a task for the next Bulgarian Parliament for which Bulgarians will also vote on the same date as they vote for President.

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