Blog Post by Emil Kirjas, Founder of Kirjas Global, Vice President of Liberal International
Spotlight European integration blogpost series tracks the progress of EU enlargement with a liberal perspective, looking at Europe’s future.
The Western Balkans saw a huge political earthquake when web portals in Slovenia and Bosnia and Herzegovina published a claim that the Slovenian government engaged in silent diplomacy promoting the revision of the state borders in the Balkans and the creation of ethnically pure states. The Slovenian PM Janez Janša allegedly handed the European Council President Charles Michel a non-paper titled “Western Balkans – a way forward” presenting “the final phase of the dissolution” of the former Yugoslavia to facilitate the European integration of the region. Stakes could not be higher as Slovenia takes over the EU presidency on 01 July.
Controversy sparked by mixed messages
Disbelief and condemnation followed. Given Bosnia and Herzegovina is the main victim of the proposal, in Sarajevo, the Slovenian Ambassador was swiftly summoned in the Foreign Ministry to explain the Slovenian official position. The opposition in Slovenia accused the government of destabilising the region and warmongering, while the government responded, denying the existence of the non-paper. Within a day, the diplomatic scandal engulfed the entire region as it concerned the borders of all countries of the Western Balkans. In the days that followed, many rejected the proposal as a potential war scenario.
The European Commission reacted the next day with response that there is “nothing that needs to be changed” regarding the borders reminding on the importance of the EU integration of the region. However, the messages from Brussels have been overshadowed by the lack of clarity whether such a non-paper was circulation indeed and by the postponement of the debate on Western Balkans from 19th April for the May Council meeting. These mixed signals from the EU raised doubts about the people’s intentions in the region and the partners abroad.
It took five days and a lot of emotions raised in the region for the Slovenian PM to reject the proposal’s content, but only after he was called to do it and after he felt fully isolated. The same applies to his coalition partners SMC, an ALDE Party member, which didn’t even see the need to react until it was publicly asked by the ALDE Party President Hans van Baalen. Five days is way long period of time in a region that suffered from the most recent war in Europe, where the emotions are high due to the delayed Covid-19 vaccination and where the credibility of the EU is questioned due to the stalled enlargement process.
Regional flame – global relevance
Remarkably, US Administration had instantly, on the very first day, rebuffed through its Embassy in Sarajevo the dangerous scenario and stated its unequivocal support for the territorial integrity of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the countries in the region. The US Administration demonstrated that it understands clearly how important it is to stand up loudly against such provocations. It is guided by US National Intelligence Council predictions for the following decades up to 2040, which alerts the possible collapse of some existing democracies. Under danger are the democracies that are fragile, like the ones in South-East Europe.
The ideas of unjust borders are alive and go beyond the Balkan region. They exist in Hungary and are loudly echoed by PM Orban. They exist in Turkey, where President Erdogan dreams of the glory of the Ottoman Empire. Both are leaders of NATO member states.
They certainly exist in the very heart of the Kremlin in Putin’s mind and policy. Russia reacted after 5 days snubbing the proposal, while ironically at the same time fortifying its military presence in the occupied Ukrainian Crimea, as well as on the border with Ukraine’s occupied Donbas region. China has never endorsed change of borders, but it openly endorses undemocratic take over as the one in Hong Kong and new violent military regimes as the one in Burma/Myanmar. These are all worrying signals.
Dangerous and not naïve ideas
These are not naïve ideas by some political outcasts. They are in the minds and official policies of some prominent politicians in Europe, yes – in the EU and NATO. Bulgaria is an example. The very same line of thought was presented publicly only 3 weeks ago by Bulgaria’s Defence Minister party in an election campaign expressing irredentist views towards Macedonia, both the North and the Greek, as well as parts of Serbia, insinuating a possible split of the Macedonian territory with Albania. While luckily, his days as minister are numbered after the recent election loss, it is extremely dangerous that a defence minister of an EU and NATO member state is questioning the borders of two fellow NATO member states.
In Bosnia and Herzegovina, the president of the Serbian entity and chairman of the national collective presidency, the extreme nationalist and Putin’s close ally Milorad Dodik, endorsed the idea of peaceful split of the country. These ideas are a cause for a profound concern and require collective condemnation and isolation.
Reaction and clear condemnation of such destructive ideas should not be a question of an invitation. The liberals understand that is a question of an instinct and it is a must! A joint position was expressed after an urgent meeting of the liberals from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Greece, Hungary, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Serbia and Slovenia. It stated determination “to oppose and defeat the ideas of sick minds and politicians who dream of creating great states” and a commitment for open borders of the existing states “fully integrated in an effective EU where people will be happy, and extremists isolated”. At a widely reported special press conference of the liberal leaders from SE Europe, Vesna Pusic, former Croatian Foreign Minister, said if the ideas of the non-paper are implemented they would mark “the beginning of disintegration of Europe, as we know it today.”
As the alarm rings loud, this message must be equally loud toward the citizens, the governments and the international community that these concepts should not only be dismissed but fought against. An action is needed where all liberal and democratic forces will team up to say NO to redrawing the maps and twisted creation of borders.
Published by the European Liberal Forum. The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent those of the European Liberal Forum.