First Balkan War
Original by Stevan Gajic published by geopolitica.ru; translated from Russian by J.Hawk
It would seem that the Yugoslav “noise of nationalities,” as the general atmosphere of uncertainty and anxiety used to be called, once again dominates the post-Yugoslav space. A whole range of political processes reveals the general instability and heightened potential for conflict on the whole of the Balkan Peninsula. These conflicts include the maritime border dispute between Slovenia and Croatia, both EU and NATO members, which is an example of how even the smallest problems contribute to the overall Balkan political neurosis.
A more serious and worrrisome problem is the mass migration of tens of thousands of ethnic Albanians from Kosovo-Metokhia to Western countries; the May armed clash between ethnic Albanian terrorists and Macedonian police which caused dozens of deaths; the August arrest of numerous Islamic State activists in Macedonia which still has not been able to eradicate terror camps from its territory; Serbo-Croats and Serb Muslims creating tensions in Bosnia-Herzegovina; thousands of Middle East and Central Asia refugees (mainly from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan) crossing the Balkans in pursuit of happiness somewhere in Western Europe; the Ukraine and Middle East flashpoints which can become serious conflicts; new energy and transport routes which often cause new tensions. The list goes on and on.
Things are also starting warm up in other, non-Yugoslav, parts of the peninsula. The Greek crisis seems to have been postponed but not ended. Nevertheless, in addition to the internal problems, these new conflicts have their sources far away from the Balkans, as has often been the case in the region’s history. Let me explain why I think that.
Foggy Albion’s muddled games
The approach of July 11, 2015 meant that Bosnian and regional news would be dedicated to the events in Srebrenica due to the anniversary. In 1995, the Republika Srpska (the Serb component of Bosnia-Herzegovina) occupied a Muslim enclave in eastern Bosnia. Srebrenica was a UN sanctuary but at the same time the base for Naser Orica, a notorious local field commander and criminal. In spite of the agreement between Serbs, Muslims, and the UN, the Muslims continued their raids from the city, killing Serbs in the villages surrounding the enclave, with the number of victims in these raids totaling at least 3287 Serbs. In the space of a few weeks, before Serb forces entered the enclave, Oric and his entourage fled by helicopter. The Serb offensive caused many dead among Muslims soldiers who held positions in order to prevent the Serbs from reaching territories occupied by Muslims in central Bosnia. Moreover, many Muslim POWs were executed. The question of who ordered these executions remains unclear even after the Hague Tribunal trials, with no proof being found of Republica Srpska army’s responsibility. The number of Muslim fighters killed in July 1995, cited by the official Bosnian Muslim leaders and Western politicians (US, British, and Dutch) who insisted on making that event as genocide, is also controversial. The anniversary, as a rule, means the growth of tension between Bosnia’s Serbs and Muslims, but in 2015 it was higher than before.
This was due to the British-proposed UNSC resolution proclaiming the Srebrenica events as genocide while claiming there is an ongoing “denial of genocide” by the Serbs. The resolution was vetoed by Russia but it managed to raise tensions between Bosnia’s communities. One possible consequence of these disputes is the damage to the Serbs’ reputation who, according to the British, voice Russia’s views in Southern Europe and on the Mediterranean. With that in mind, it’s clear the goal was to damage the reputation of Republika Srpska by pinning the “genocide” label on it. The revision of Dayton accords would follow, with the centralization of Bosnia-Herzegovina (BiH) to the Serbs disadvantage, depriving them of international standing and thus taking Bosnia back to 1992 and recreating the casus belli.
The Srebrenica ceremony failed, but it was still enough to become an international scandal. Serb PM Aleksandr Vucic came to the ceremony hoping to dial back the tension and make the West happy since it supported his coming to power, but in spite of that he was nearly lynched by Bosnia’s Muslims. It’s not clear whether this was meant to be a “warning” or an actual attempt on his life. In any event, on the next day Serb tabloid Alo called it a provocation and blamed UK in organizing the attempt in order to “set the Balkans on fire.” The paper went so far as to blame the UK in the murder of Serb PM in 2003. It meant the Vucic-UK honeymoon came to an abrupt end. Tony Blair stopped being one of Vucic’s advisors. The drama’s second act was Vucic’s message to the world in his sending Bakir Izetbegovic (Muslim), Dragan Covic (Croat) and Mladen Ivanic (Serb) to the BiH Presidium. This move reduced the emotional tension at a time when the situation was becoming explosive.
In response, RS president Milorad Dodik called a referendum on reestablishing RS legal autonomy in accordance with Dayton which would allow it to remove international community representatives who are de-facto colonizers of the country, from their posts. Dodik was supported by Russia, which meant Russia raised the stakes and properly reacted to the British challenge. After Russia supported the referendum, I doubt Vucic will continue opposing it since that would be poorly receives by his electorate. The majority of his supporters love Russia and support its hard line on defending Serb interests, respecting it for guaranteeing the Dayton accords. What is more, Vucic voters love Dodik whom they see as an independent and brave Serb voice in the Balkans.
Dodik’s and Serb actions are perfectly rational and moreover they are the natural response to the Bosnian Muslim leadership which is totally pro-NATO and given to Islamist extremes. Bakir Izetbegovic’s close ties to the jihadis are wll known. The first islamist police in Europe was the infamous El-Mujahed which formed jihadi volunteer units to fight on Bosnian Muslim side during the Yugoslav civil war. The younger Izetbegovic has very good relations with Turkey and Saudi Arabia, and with young Bosnian Salafis who fight in ISIL and al-Nusra and other extreme groups in Syria. ISIS fighters know that Erdogan and Davutoglu made many menacing, neo-Ottoman, statements concerning BiH. They implied Turkey would intervene militarily against the Serbs, if need be. Nobody’s taking it seriouisly now that currently Turkish is preparing to bomb Kurds in Syria.
Nevertheless, Bosnia’s Wahhabites represent 5-10% of the overall Muslim population which is on the whole secular. One has to consider the views of moderate Muslims who are pro-peace, favor cooperation with the Serbs, and offer alternative narratives, but who are forced into silence by the Muslim elite and the media who act in concert with the West. Media fosters constant tension among peoples who ought to be allies since they are really one people divided by historic circumstances.
Serbs and Anti-Serbs
Croat nationalism is of negative variety as it is a denial of other identity. Nationalist Croatia therefore has to prove it is not Serbia. Everything else flows from that. This phenomenon has its sources in the none-too-ancient history of Croatia. In early 19th century, the Habsburg sensed the danger inherent in forming a Serb state which would attract all Serb colonies. With Vatican’s help and the assistance of several intellectuals, the monarchy decided to establish a new identity by spreading Catholicism. Hence Serbia’s identity began to be defined on the basis of religion and not language, and Croatia’s identity was founded on denying sameness with Serbia. It’s not a unique case. The British did something similar in India, which facilitated divided the country and paralyzing its growth. Now we have India and Pakistan (as anti-India). The same could happen with Ukraine, which is supposed to become anti-Russia, if it remains an independent state, and we are observing this process right now.
Returning to the present, Croatia celebrated the 20th anniversary of Operation Storm on August 5, 2015, an operation carried out after training by Military Professional Resources Inc. which has strong Pentagon ties. The operation included attacking Serb Krajina which like Srebrenica was a UN protected zone. While the attack was illegal, US support which included US ambassador Peter Galbraith demonstrating his bravery by parading in a Croat tank, allowed Croatia to violate all agreements. The result was the death of thousands of Serb civilians and the flow of refugees southward.
Croatia organized a military parade to celebrate the “victory day”, media thoroughly covered it, while at the same time RS and Serbia’s leaders decided to hold a day of mourning in memory of the victims. Croatian celebrations were marked by highly visible Nazi symbolism (both flags and salutes) and amounted to a celebration of the genocide perpetrated by Nazi puppet Croatian state against the Serbs. Not that it should be a surprise, given the negative nature of Croat nationalism.
Concerning the May 2015 Albanian terrorist attacks in Macedonia and jihadist attack on a police station in Zvornik, these and other events are indicative of the current level of tension. This most recent wave of animosity comes from seemingly nowhere. But there is a sense that they might be directed and controlled by the West. One thing is for sure, none of the former Yugoslav banana republics is prepared for war. Largely because they have been de-industrialized and demilitarized after the war. The Serb army remains the dominant force in the post-Yugoslav kingdom with the Serb question being a central issue in the Balkans.
Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Iran, and the Balkan Muslims
Turkey and Saudi Arabia are in serious trouble. Both are slowly disintegrating and their staying power is unknown. At the same time, they are Iran’s main regional adversary, both in trying to prevent its rise and in the wars in Syria, Iraq, and Yemen.
What does it mean for the Balkans? All three countries supported Bosnian Muslims during the civil war with arms, money, and militants so that Aliya Izetbegovic could defend the world of Islam. But it seems Iran regretted doing so, since Bosnian Sunni Muslims came under Turkish and Saudi influence after the war. The current Muslim Bosnian leadership headed by Bakir Izetbegovic has made a number of anti-Iranian moves, including voting for a UN resolution condemning Syria.
While Iran’s status is increasing, it can hardly play a leading role among Balkan Muslims who are Sunni and turkophiles. However, the change in the balance of power in the Middle East will affect all regions with Muslim population, including the Balkans. The danger might increase if Turkey gets desperate and attempts to score a victory in the Balkans to offset the defeat in the Middle East. Saudi Arabia is in a similar situation.
The Balkans and the Road through the Gate of Tears
China bought the Piraeus shipping terminal and intends to build a railroad to the heart of Europe through Skopje, Belgrade, and Budapest. Russia wants to do the same using the Turkish pipeline through Greece, Macedonia, Serbia, Hungary, ending in Austria. These facts might lead to a new wave of Balkan destabilization. Germany is not against these projects since they strengthen its energy security. The US, on the other hand, is still the dominant foreign power influencing Balkan banana republics, and they are not happy to see these projects.
Both projects represent a unique historic opportunity for Serbs and Hungarians to find a common interest and to stabilize cooperation between these two countries with uneasy past. They could guarantee a stable peace and strong economic growth for the foreseeable future. But instead we see all these countries grow less stable.
This article deals with facts which are only a part of the bigger situation unfolding in the Middle East. The story begins in 2001, with the US wars in Afghanistan and Iraq aimed at defeating Iran and establishing US hegemony. The wars failed, and the Arab Spring was another defeat for the US that deprived it of Suez Canal control. They supported Morsi against Mubarak, but in the end the military led by Field Marshal as-Sisi, a Naserite, came to power and started to cooperate with Russia soon after.
The Balkan construction projects are moving forward rapidly, but their fate is linked to the battle over the Middle East. If Suez Canal or the Bab-el-Mandeb strait are closed even for a short time, what’s the use of Piraeus? None. Neil Ferguson wrote “China is becoming a dominant power and is capable of turning the imperial switch in its direction”. That “switch” belongs to the US, which in turn are focused on the Pacific and are trying to promote chaos in the Middle East and other parts of Eurasia, including the Balkans.
But the US is losing the Middle East. China is becoming energy independent and soon will pursue other objectives. Obama is clearly worried, hence his intent to focus on the Pacific. That lives Russia room to maneuver. We saw how Saudi and Iranian ministers recently visited Moscow. The Wahhabi monarchs seem to undestand they created a monster in Syria and Iraq which could easily topple them too. The fate of former Western allies such as Mubarak and Kaddafi shows the effects of cooperating with the West.
In the Balkans, the US objective is similar to their objective in Germany after WW2. Preserve the EU, contain the Serbs and Russia and prevent them from developing. However, the US knows that strategy does not guarantee success. Russia ought to do exactly the opposite what the US wants it to do in order to expand its influence in the region, and the best way to do it is to remain a center of attention and to strengthen pro-Russian sentiments among the Serbs.
Is there a threat of crisis? Or a possibility of a long-term solution?
Right now Belgrade and other cities are full of surreal scenes. City parks are full of helpless and hapless refugees moving West. Most of them are not economic but rather war migrants displaced from Syria, Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan, etc. by US wars. Greece, Bulgaria, Macedonia, and Serbia have suffered the most from the migration which is adding new problems to old ones. It may be that ISIS members are using the migration to infiltrate Europe. There are videos calling for attacking Serbia and Croatia as part of spreading the Khalifate westward. This is no idle threat, considering how many Balkan citizens were killed in occupied Serb provinces of Metokhia and Kosovo, and by extremist organizations from Syria and Iraq. The April 2015 attack in RS was tied to the Islamists, according to local population. In the event of a Muslim-Serb conflict, “spies” among the migrants might spread fear in big cities and even join the fighting over whole parts of the Balkans. Such conflicts using the Bosnian Muslims or the Albanians could start at any moment if it suits the US. One has to keep in mind Kerry’s statement of a “line of fire” between Russia and the West in which he also named a number of Balkan states. To complicate things further, Hungary built a fence on its border with Serbia and suggested Serbia and Macedonia ought to house hundreds of thousands for those migrants who are sent back by the West. The end of the migrant crisis is not nigh, and only time will tell how and whether it will escalate.
Balkans are not only a part of Europe. They are also part of the problems of the Middle East which is a key hot spot in today’s global crisis. US is retreating from the region toward the Pacific to contain China. US strategy is to foster conflicts along Eurasia’s borders.
This is done by dividing the continent into warring regions and fostering the conflicts for as long as possible. If that happens, Eurasia won’t be able to consolidate and establish new trade and energy routes not under US control. As long as the as US controls the main shipping routes, it is the dominant global empire. But the US losing its grip, and since it does not wish to lose influence it is spreading chaos among other powers of the forming multipolar world in order to continue to rule it. US is already beginning to intervene even before Russia or China were able to organize anything there, which illustrates the current US thinking.