BALKAN REGIONAL PROFILE:
THE SECURITY SITUATION AND THE REGION-BUILDING EVOLUTION OF SOUTH-EASTERN EUROPE
(A Background and October 2001 Issue in Brief)
Research Study 10, 2001
Hard copy: ISSN 1311 - 3240
AN I S N-SPONSORED MONTHLY ELECTRONIC PERIODICAL
The war against terrorism that was launched soon after the tragic events of 11 September in the United States has influenced both the regional security situation in the Balkans and the region-building processes. The major external actors of the post-conflict recovery of post-Yugoslav territories – the US, NATO and its individual members, the European Union, and Russia – are already focused on the fight against the largest geopolitical conquest of the al-Qaida terrorist network: Afghanistan and its Taliban regime. Naturally, this development tends to de-emphasize the importance of the Balkans region on the scale of conflict-laden regions of the globe. However, such a judgment is relative. The transformation of Southeastern Europe into a stable and prosperous part of the European continent after the decade of wars initiated by the Milosevic regime in Belgrade remains a high priority for local actors, as well as for external international entities such as states and institutions.
At the same time, the situation in Southeastern Europe has displayed a capacity to influence the war of the global “coalition of the willing” against terrorism. This can be seen in the following developments:
First, in the participation of NATO and non-NATO countries from the Balkans in the global counter-terrorist coalition. The role that Turkey is playing and is preparing to play in the post-conflict period in Afghanistan raises the strategic importance of this Balkan country. Permission was granted by some Balkan countries for US aircraft to transit and use airspace, an important contribution to the final goal of the counter-terrorist coalition. The cooperation of intelligence and police forces in the counter-terrorist fight continues with the participation of states from Southeastern Europe.
Second, the Muslim population of the Balkan states, which have been and remain a target of religious extremists with terrorist inclinations, is a strategic asset in the counter-terrorist fight. The ability to prevent extremist religious influences may become both a demographic and territorial barrier to the spillover of Muslim fundamentalism and terrorist organizations.
The third example has long been discussed by the media – the existence of organizational and infrastructure bases of the al-Qaida terrorist network in parts of the western Balkans has been confirmed after a successful SFOR operation against one of the Osama bin Laden’s terrorist cells in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
In October, the situation in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) moved closer to normal, but significant unsolved constitutional issues, as well as continued fighting in ethnically mixed areas, still mar the country's security situation.
In Kosovo, preparations continue for the November general elections, with some hopes for good participation by all ethnic groups.
The conference on the Stability Pact for Southeastern Europe in Bucharest this month gave assurances concerning greater efficiency of the forum in its efforts to facilitate and subsidize regional cooperation in the Balkans.
Croatia made a very important formal step on its road to EU membership in October after signing a Stabilization and Association Agreement with the EU.
In Sofia this month five NATO applicant countries from Southeastern Europe, together with the rest of the Vilnius Group, declared their readiness to work hard in the next 12 months to complete their preparations for membership in NATO and, eventually, be invited to join as full members in Prague in 2002.
Bulgaria joined the UN Security Council as a temporary member for two years. It is the only Balkan country sitting on this key panel of UN decision-making during these troubled times.
Despite its concentration on the war against the Taliban regime and the terrorist bases of Osama bin Laden, the US continued a strong security presence in the Balkans. Its presence is a significant factor in the region-building process of Southeastern Europe.
Security Threats: Terrorism
2) There is a real threat of new terrorist activities emerging from the Balkans, and it is the result of more than ten years of regional conflict, in which Islamic extremists linked to bin Laden were also involved. The mafia-like structure of terrorist cells in the Western Balkans makes it easy to mobilize them for more instrumental (political) purposes – a potential that al-Qaida had already exploited successfully until 25 October. Fighting organized crime and cutting the links between criminals and nationalist parties, and separatist movements is one of the most important measures by which al-Qaida-type terrorist cells can be prevented from operating in the Balkan region.
3) Another dangerous aspect of global terrorism with regard to the Balkans is the large Muslim population in each of the countries. For years, fundamentalist Islamic teachers have been spreading their vision of Islam, and many young radical Muslims have been trained in Muslim states with a strong fundamentalist tradition. For some of them, Osama bin Laden is a hero. A real challenge for the individual Balkan countries is to define the magnitude of this problem and take appropriate measures to counter it. In Bulgaria, Muslim religious leaders openly sided with the US after the terrorist attacks and underlined the specifically local, Bulgarian interpretation of Islam, the so-called Hanefite branch of Islam. It is characterized by its tolerance towards other religions and ethnicities, a more tightly regulated interpretation, and religious behavior within the norms of civility and secularism on the part of the Islamic preachers. However, the situation varies in the Balkan countries and, especially in Bosnia and Kosovo, the existence of Muslim fundamentalist strongholds are not only possible but highly probable. These strongholds are not comparable to the Taliban camps in Afghanistan or the safe havens in Chechnya but are important segments of the network that Osama bin Laden has organized during the past decade. There have been suggestions that laboratories in Bosnia could have been provided for the production of chemical agents that could be used for terrorist purposes. The pragmatism of the terrorist mastermind of al-Qaida is obvious: be it separatist terrorism or religious terrorism, both can be used for the political purposes of the network.
4) Another aspect of the danger outlined by Lord Robertson that the Balkans may become a black hole is the possible intimidation and blackmailing surrounding the 2004 Olympic Games in Greece. Greek news reports of 10-11 October claim that tens of thousands of bin Laden supporters are in Athens illegally and work for construction companies that are involved in construction for the games in 2004. As they ask only low wages, these alleged Muslim radicals were granted residence permits by the government following requests from employers . There is a great risk of terrorist acts during the games.
5) The fight against terrorism has generated widespread support for the global coalition in the countries of the Balkan region. The attacks against the US were regarded as an act of aggression against a NATO member country as specified in Article V of the Washington Treaty, and all NATO members and many of the applicant countries from Southeastern Europe considered this attack as an attack against themselves. On a confidential basis, the US embassies provided the governments with proof of the involvement of al-Qaida and Osama bin Laden in the terrorist acts and informed them of the launch of the military campaign against the Taliban in Afghanistan. The NATO applicant countries from Southeastern Europe that are negotiating for EU membership also declared their full support for the EU declaration against terrorism on 9 October in Brussels. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which counts many Balkan countries among its members, also declared on 11 October in Vienna its support for the US-led actions against terrorism.
Individual Balkan countries rendered specific support this month. Bulgaria declared its readiness to relieve a US or NATO company in Bosnia, if troops need to be moved as part of the counter-terrorist campaign. According to a statement by US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Robert Bradke of 14 October, Bulgaria is providing the US and the counter-terrorist coalition with valuable information about the activity of the terrorists and their financial transactions.
Turkey provided especially valuable support to the counter-terrorist operation by allocating a large number of special forces (300 initially, followed by 500 more) for action on the ground in Afghanistan and for post-Taliban peacekeeping forces when the time comes. Turkey announced on 24 October that it would host a meeting of Afghan opposition factions by the end of the month in an effort to shape an alternative administration to the ruling Taliban regime.
The policies pursued by the countries of Southeastern Europe in their struggle against global terrorism is in continuation of their policy towards European and NATO integration and of democratic domestic transformation and the establishment of legal order in the individual countries. This measure should not only go a long way towards combating terrorist efforts to establish functioning active or latent cells in Southeastern Europe, but is also a fundamental contribution to neutralizing the conditions that nourish any form of terrorism.
The Conflict in FYROMacedonia and Post-Conflict Issues in Kosovo
An unsuccessful visit on 4 October by two top EU representatives, Javier Solana and Chris Patten, in an effort to unblock the process of implementation of already reached agreements added to the gravity of the situation. An already planned donors’ conference for Macedonia has been postponed due to the lack of progress in the settlement of the past seven months' issues. This was confirmed by the EU’s 15 foreign ministers on 8 October. Though the military aspect of the German-led NATO operation, protecting the monitors of the EU, the OSCE, and other international organizations, proceeded successfully, activity on the political front saw less progress. The amnesty issue and the continued functioning of paramilitary forces tolerated by the Macedonian interior ministry do not bode well for the stabilization process.
In this situation, the Macedonian government decreed an amnesty on 9 October for Albanian guerrillas who had handed in their arms – a step without which it would be impossible to reintegrate the territory held by Albanian rebels. The main reason was the re-entry of the Macedonian security forces to all rebel-held areas. This step would produce a positive effect if taken within the appropriate timeframe and in an appropriate way. This requires a fully transparent planning process that would involve the international community (US, EU, NATO, and OSCE representatives in Macedonia) and the democratically elected political representatives of the Albanian community.
A top NATO and EU mission visited Skopje on 18 October. Lord Robertson and Solana reminded the Macedonian parliament in strong terms that it was expected to deliver its part of the bargain made in August in Ohrid. A package of minority rights reforms needs to be added to the constitution by the parliament to pave the way for a stable political relationship between the ethnic groups within Macedonian society. The young state's ambitions to join both NATO and the EU require not just stability but abiding by commitments that have been made to partners and future allies. This lesson needs to be learned by both the Macedonian and the Albanian leaders of the country.
Ethnically mixed Macedonian police patrols, accompanied by EU and OSCE monitors and NATO guards, began to deploy on 22 October into villages that were formerly held by ethnic Albanian insurgents in the Kumanovo and Tetovo areas.
Lord Robertson declared on 25 October that NATO did not object to the Macedonian government receiving military support, not even if it came from Yugoslavia. Macedonian Defense Minister Vlado Buckovsky signed an agreement on 18 October in Belgrade with his Yugoslav counterpart, Slobodan Krapovic, on the joint struggle against terrorism (in their interpretation, this means Albanian terrorism) and for arms supplies to the Macedonian armed forces from their northern neighbor. Lord Robertson added said NATO would intervene, if Macedonia's arms purchases became excessive. Solana visited Skopje on 26 October for the third time this month and agreed with President Boris Trajkovski that there was no reason to postpone the constitutional amendments by the parliament. In the meantime, the French and the German defense ministers visited their national contingents in Macedonia and observed military exercises of the German troops attached to the NATO protection force.
A major unsolved problem in Macedonia is the continuing activity of the Albanian National Army (ANA), an armed organization that considers the Ohrid agreements a betrayal of the Albanian cause. It opened fire on the joint Macedonian-Albanian police formations in the ethnically mixed villages and towns they entered. All evidence indicates that ANA will continue its attempts to sabotage the process of stabilization and reconciliation.
The upcoming parliamentary elections in Kosovo on 17 November are already the focus of international attention. Serbs are preparing to take part in the elections, hoping that in return for their participation the international community will guarantee that Kosovo will not become independent after the elections. Many high-level representatives of the Kosovar Albanian community have demanded such a linkage for some time. UNMIK Chief Hans Haekkerup has stated that Kosovo will remain part of Yugoslavia under the terms of UN Security Council Resolution 1244. According to Belgrade, 250'000 Serbs have been expelled from Kosovo since the end of the war in 1999. About 100'000 Serbs live in the province, but they live mostly in isolated enclaves guarded by KFOR soldiers. The Serbs who live in Kosovo are under significant restrictions in terms of their freedom of movement, of using their own language, and of access to education, and they are regularly attacked by Albanian extremists. The Serbs want assurances before the elections that no declaration of Kosovo's independence will ever be internationally recognized. The UN Security Council noted on 6 October that the people of Kosovo enjoyed considerable autonomy in accordance with UNSC Resolution 1244. In a move to urge the other Serbs to do the same, Patriarch Pavle, the Head of the Serbian Orthodox Church and Archbishop of Pec in Kosovo, registered for the elections as a displaced person. According to UNMIK figures, about 180'000 Serbs have registered as potential voters in Kosovo: 70'000 in Kosovo, more than 100'000 in Serbia, and under 10,000 in Montenegro.
The elections are considered legitimate by the international community, and a Serbian boycott would be counterproductive for the Serbs themselves. Serbian representatives in a democratically elected parliament of Kosovo would be the best defenders of Serbian interests in the province.
Bosnia and Herzegovina
First, the Bosnian authorities launched an investigation into the trafficking of arms into Kosovo. Six people were arrested for participating in the arms smuggling operation. High Bosnian officials have also been implicated, including from the police and the intelligence. Police suspect that the smuggling group is much bigger still. The armament of some 50'000 Kosovo Albanians has been the objective of arms smuggling in Bosnia.
In December 2002 the International Police Task Force (IPTF) will complete its mission, and in US and OSCE circles there are already considerations of supporting a follow-up police mission.
Second, it was announced on 25 October that the NATO-led peacekeeping troops of SFOR had disrupted links in Bosnia to the al-Qaida network of Osama bin Laden. This was possible thanks to the excellent cooperation between Bosnian officials, SFOR, and NATO. SFOR spokesman Daryl Morrell told the media that on 24 October SFOR and Bosnian police forces had arrested some Bosnians and people from the Middle East, suspected of links to or support for terrorism. The investigations continue.
b) FYROMacedonia-Bulgaria. On 16-17 October Bulgarian Interior Minister Georgy Petkanov visited Skopje and met with his counterpart, Liube Boskovsky, as well as with Prime Minister Liubcho Georgievsky. They discussed the joint fight against terrorism, organized criminality, drug-trafficking, smuggling, car-thefts, and trading with humans. Macedonian border police personnel will be trained in Bulgarian special schools.
b) Stability Pact for Southeast Europe. (1) Bodo Hombach, the coordinator of the Pact of Stability, visited Sofia on 17-18 October and met with high-level Bulgarian officials. He also participated in the launch of one of the Pact of Stability’s projects – the resource center program for social adaptation of officers who were cut from the armed forces. More than 2'300 dismissed military use the services of the center, and more are expected to do the same with the acceleration of defense reform in Bulgaria. Hombach promised to allocate more funds to the center, on top of the € 300'000 and US$ 100'000 already invested in it so far. (2) A regional conference of the Pact of Stability was held in Bucharest on 25-26 October together with the pact’s donors. These announced a package of 27 projects worth of € 2.4 billion. Two thirds of the money will be invested in transport projects. Romania was promised € 530 million, FRY € 430 million, Bulgaria € 390 million, Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina € 300 million each, Albania € 250 million, and FYROM € 60 million.
The South East European Economic Forum
b) EU-Bulgaria. (1) By 15 November Bulgaria is expected to present its report to the EU about the implementation of the Schengen visa rules as part of the pre-accession chapter on Justice and Internal Affairs. Since April 2001 Bulgaria has been part of the Schengen visa regime area, and its citizens have free access for three months within half a year to the Schengen states. (2) On 22-23 October Bulgarian Prime Minister Simeon Saxkoburggotsky made his first working visit abroad, to Brussels, since he became prime minister of Bulgaria three months ago. He met with EU, NATO, and Belgian top officials. Simeon Saxkoburggotsky confirmed Bulgaria’s plans to complete its preparation for EU membership by 2004. (3) On 26 October Bulgaria closed its twelfth chapter of the pre-accession negotiations with the EU and opened the eleventh for continuing the negotiation process. Bulgaria can open all chapters by the end of 2001, if the EC is ready for that.
b) NATO-Slovenia. On 6 October the SACEUR General Joseph Ralston visited Slovenia. He told the press in the town of Bled that NATO is ready to act against terrorism as it acted persistently during the Cold War.
c) NATO-Bulgaria. (1) Bulgaria will host in May 2002 a session of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly. (2) On 22 October Prime Minister Simeon Saxokoburggotsky met with NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson, who called Bulgaria “our ally” but said that serious work was needed to complete the military reform of the country.
b) USA-FYROM. On 9 October US deputy assistant secretary for European and Eurasian affairs Janet Bogue said on television that US works on programs was designed to support political stability, economic reforms, and refugee returns in Macedonia. On 16 October five Bosnian demining teams, funded by US contributions to an international demining trust fund, started their help of Macedonia in eliminating unexploded ordnance and landmines that threaten safety and security of refugees and internally displaced persons.
c) USA-Bulgaria. On 15 October the transfer of a US military contingent from the Bulgarian port of Burgas to KFOR troops in Kosovo started. Helicopters, ammunition and personnel will pass through Bulgaria till the beginning of November.
b) Russia-FYROMacedonia. On 28-29 October Macedonian President Boris Trajkovski visited Moscow and met President Vladimir Putin. The meeting confirmed the common understanding of the two leaders that Kosovo generates terrorism, and Macedonia is one of the victims of separatist terrorism. Russian sources say that Skopje can rely only on the sympathy of Russia and Yugoslavia. However, it seems unlikely that Russia would risk importing arms in Macedonia or spoil its relations with the other permanent members of the UN Security Council in defense of the thesis of similarity between Chechnya and the Balkans. The Balkans for long have been differentiated into two parts – Western and the rest. Not the whole Western part of the peninsula is conflict-driven or conflict-prone. Apart from the terrorist ingredient of the Macedonian situation, much of the tensions stem from the poor political regulation of the inter-ethnic relations, the result of Milosevic's treatment of the issue. The lessons of the past nine months must be for all actors in this country and the region in general.
The ongoing counter-terrorist activity has specific Balkan projections, and the region can contribute substantially in the global fight. The stability in Macedonia is still on hold and depends both on the ANA terrorist group and on the country’s parliament. The upcoming elections in Kosovo will have a definite impact on the broader security situation. The future of the Yugoslav federation, the decision to hold a referendum on the independence of Montenegro, and the claims of the Vojvodina province for more autonomy could destabilize the Western Balkans once again.
The Stabilization and Association Agreement of Croatia with the EU, the successful negotiation process of Bulgaria with the EU, and the positive conclusion of the Stability Pact for Southeast Europe conference added to the region-building of the Balkans. Three of the five countries contending for NATO membership from the Balkans – Bulgaria, Slovenia and Romania – have good chances of being invited next year at the NATO summit to join NATO. This will further add constructively to the completion of the Balkans as one of the normal European regions. The election of Bulgaria as a temporary member of the UN Security Council for the period 2002-2003 can also contribute to the improvement of the Balkan’s regional profile. A lasting US engagement with the region and a softened Russian position to the NATO enlargement are contributing factors in the same direction.