BALKAN REGIONAL PROFILE:
THE SECURITY SITUATION AND THE REGION-BUILDING EVOLUTION OF SOUTH-EASTERN EUROPE
(A Background and December 2001 Issue in Brief)
Research Study 12, 2001
Hard copy: ISSN 1311 - 3240
AN I S N-SPONSORED MONTHLY ELECTRONIC PERIODICAL
In December, as well as throughout 2001, the region of Southeastern Europe moved beyond urgent reconstruction and humanitarian relief tasks towards longer-term economic and social development issues. Longer-term challenges started to dominate the political agenda in the Balkan region and its environs. Large infrastructure projects in transport, air traffic, energy and water are the real issues that need to be solved. The EU almost named Slovenia as a prospective member in 2004; and Bulgaria and Romania will be under special scrutiny from Brussels, which will give additional support to the countries to allow them to catch up in 2006. The Stability Pact, though far from its ambitious goals stated in 1999, has already collected €2.4 billion for such projects. NATO is considering seriously the candidatures of Bulgaria, Romania and Slovenia and will decide on them in 2002. The FRY is getting closer to formulating an application to join the Partnership for Peace (PfP) program.
Specific ‘Balkan’ aspects of terrorism and the fight against it could be seen again in December. Al-Qaida and other terrorist groups need to be monitored closely in the Balkans, especially in Bosnia. Threats by the illegal Albanian National Army (ANA) in FYROMacedonia against the West for its “support of the historic enemies of the Albanians” must be considered very seriously. The OSCE, EU and NATO made political declarations in December on the issue of fighting terrorism with direct impact on Southeastern Europe. The Balkans remains a geopolitical zone that is targeted by terrorist activity and attempting to counter the threat of terror. Turkey, Romania and Bulgaria decided to commit national contingents for the peacekeeping mission in Afghanistan.
In FYROMacedonia, a new cabinet was elected by parliament. The return of police to ethnically mixed areas continued in December. Tensions remained in the country, as seen in sniper fire by ethnic Albanians directed against ethnic Slav Macedonians, though the process of pardoning Albanian rebels continued. A Christian church, constructed by Bulgarians, was set on fire by ethnic Albanian extremists, offending both Macedonian Christians and Bulgarians. In this situation, NATO forces agreed to remain for another three months. The new Kosovo legislature experienced a difficult start after the November elections. In Bosnia and Herzegovina, plans are underway to replace US SFOR troops with European forces, including troops from the Multinational Peace Force South East Europe (MPFSEE).
A regular meeting of the defence ministers of the Balkan countries from the South East European Defence Ministerial (SEDM) was convened in December, while the Austrian Erhard Buzek became the new coordinator of the Stability Pact . In December, Bulgaria and Romania strengthened their bilateral ties in the area of defence and interior issues. This was seen as a definite step towards improving the two states’ chances of joining NATO. The Secretary General of NATO visited Romania during the same period, and Bulgaria decided to dismantle a weapons system that was not acceptable to NATO. FRY and Croatia made an important step in re-establishing their relations.
From 1 January 2002, Romania partly joins the Schengen visa regime area and Romanian citizens will no longer be obliged to get visas in order to enter the Schengen area for short-term visits.
1. Security Threats: Terrorism
However, it would be a grave mistake to accept the allegations made by Serbia and Macedonia about continuing Albanian links to Osama bin Laden uncritically. To accept Belgrade's and Skopje's definitions of terrorism and terrorist groups without taking into account the phenomenon of ethnically driven extremism is to make two methodological mistakes: first, it diverts the focus from the key issues, and second, it tends to mislead international opinion about the nature of the problems in the western Balkans. Yes, extremism and violence must be fought internationally, but educating and living in ethnic tolerance is an immanent element of civilised political order.
(2) Germany banned an Islamic extremist group on 12 December and warned similar groups they might also be shut down under security laws tightened since the 11 September terrorist attacks. The ban concerns the Cologne-based group known as the State of the Caliphate. The Servants of Islam, a foundation that the group runs, and 19 related associations were also banned. The German police operation was nation-wide and 212 mosques and other premises belonging to the State of the Caliphate (Kalifatsstaat) with 1'100 members were raided. The ban was imposed because the group demands the replacement of the Turkish government with a strict Islamic state. The group was also considered a threat to internal security for its refusal to abide by German laws. The State of the Caliphate's aggressive and anti-democratic ideology and their promotion of anti-Semitic propaganda was another reason for the ban.
The EU External Relations Commissioner, Chris Patten, urged the wealthier members of the OSCE to do more to stabilise impoverished countries in the OSCE region to prevent terrorism. Patten said that today’s weak states could easily turn into tomorrow’s failed states. Such states impoverish their people, but they nourish and enrich terrorists and organised crime. No wonder, said Patten, they are attracted to them like flies to carrion.
Stabilising the Balkans, the state structures and their economies is certainly a huge investment in the global fight against terrorism.
(4) During the visit of US Secretary of State Colin Powell to Ankara on 5 December, Turkish Foreign Minister Ismail Cem confirmed his country’s solid support for the campaign against terrorism and reaffirmed its commitment to contribute soldiers to a peacekeeping force in Afghanistan when it is created. Turkey is supposed to take the command of the peacekeeping mission in Afghanistan after the British forces' 3 months' command expires.
(5) The Bulgarian Foreign Ministry announced on 21 December that Bulgaria is ready to send peacekeepers in Afghanistan in the context of an UN mission. Romania declared it would provide 300 soldiers for the UN peacekeeping mission in Afghanistan.
c) Bosnia and Herzegovina
a) Bulgaria-Romania. (1) The defence ministers of the two countries, Nikolay Svinarov and Joan Pascu, met in Rousse, Bulgaria on 30 November and pledged to make both individual and joint efforts to meet all political requirements for joining NATO in 2002. The two ministers agreed to strengthen the protection of strategic sites on the territories of the two countries. (2) The ministers of the interior of Romania and Bulgaria, Joan Rus and Georgi Petkanov, signed an agreement on 30 November in Bucharest on cooperation in the fight against terrorism and organised crime. The two sides pledged to exchange information and coordinate special undercover operations against trans-border criminal organisations. Sofia and Bucharest will intensify their fight against trafficking in humans, narcotics, arms, and biological and radioactive materials.
b) Bulgaria-Turkey. Turkey's Mufti Mehmet Nuri Yilmaz, met with Bulgarian Orthodox Christian Patriarch Maxim on 3 December in Sofia. Mehmet Yilmaz, who also heads the Turkish Directorate of Religious Affairs (Diyanet), made a three-day official visit to Bulgaria and met with representatives of the Bulgarian Muslim institutions as well as with the government’s Directorate for the Confessions. On 4 December the Turkish religious leader and representatives of the Bulgarian government’s Directorate for the Confessions signed an agreement on stepping up their activity in education, religious issues and culture. The visit, which coincided with the Islamic Iftar during the Ramadan month, demonstrated the will of the two states and religious representatives for tolerance and mutual respect in a difficult period for the different religions in the world.
c) Romania-Turkey. Turkish Foreign Minister Ismail Cem met in Bucharest on 3 December with his Romanian counterpart and with Romanian Prime Minister Adrian Nastase. Cem confirmed to the press his country’s support for the Romanian and Bulgarian membership in NATO.
d) Croatia-FRY. Yugoslav Foreign Minister Goran Svilanovic left on a visit to Zagreb on 14 December for the first high-level talks since the undemocratic nationalist rule ended in 2000 in both countries. The FRY foreign minister met with his counterpart, Tonino Picula and signed an agreement on taxation. They also discussed issues of illegal immigrants and free trade. The two parties discussed the contentious issues of the return of refugees and their property, as well as the issue of the disputed Prevlaka peninsula in the southern Adriatic. Co-operation with the ICTY in The Hague was discussed. Goran Svilanovic also met in Zagreb with Prime Minister Ivica Racan and with President Stipe Mesic.
a) Danube Commission. On 4 December, the Budapest-based Danube Commission, comprising Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, Germany, Hungary, Moldova, Romania, Russia, Slovakia, Ukraine and Yugoslavia, announced that the blockage of the river for two and a half years had cost US$1 million a day since the bridges were destroyed during the NATO campaign against Milosevic. On that day the Danube officially opened to navigation after a safe channel through Novi Sad in Serbia was approved. However, it would take another few months to clean up debris and remove unexploded bombs before the river is fully open and traffic can return to pre-bombing levels in 1999.
b) Stability Pact. The EU foreign ministers on 11 December appointed the Austrian politician Erhard Buzek to the position of Co-ordinator of the Stability Pact for Southeast Europe. Buzek is a known and respected expert for Southeastern European regional issues. Buzek has the difficult task of proving that the Stability Pact can be an effective forum.
c) South East European Defence Ministerial (SEDM). A regular meeting of the defence ministers of Albania, Bulgaria, FYROMacedonia, Greece, Italy, Romania, Turkey and the US was convened on 19-20 December in Antalya. The Ukrainian participant had observer status. The ministers agreed to send humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan. US Assistant Secretary of Defence Jack Crouch proposed that the Multinational Peace Force South East Europe (MPFSEE), stationed in Plovdiv, Bulgaria be involved in the peacekeeping activity in Bosnia and Herzegovina. However, no decision was taken on this issue. Bulgarian Defence Minister Nikolay Svinarov announced the Bulgarian government’s decision to subsidise the construction of an information and communication system for the MPFSEE with US$150'000.
a) EU-Romania. The ministers of justice and the interior of the EU countries decided on 7 December to lift the restrictions for Romanians travelling in the Schengen visa regime area. Under the new arrangement, Romanian citizens will be able to travel without visa in this area, but will have to prove they have adequate means of existence, a return ticket and medical insurance. The decision marks a big step in the EU geopolitical enlargement towards the southeast and is proof the Balkans will be part of the EU in the coming years. Bulgaria became part of the Schengen visa arrangement on 10 April 2001.
b) EU-Southeast Europe. In agreement with the 14 November European Commission report, the EU leaders decided on 15 December in Laaken, (Belgium) to accept 10 new members in 2004. From the countries of Southeast Europe, only Slovenia was included in the group, while Bulgaria and Romania will receive additional help to accelerate their preparation for membership.
c) EU-Bulgaria. On 21 December, Bulgaria opened and closed the Chapter on “Industrial policy” of its pre-accession negotiations with the EU. This was the 14th closed chapter. In the beginning of 2002, Bulgaria will open the last two chapters and will continue the negotiations on the rest, which have already been opened. Bulgaria’s ambition is to complete its negotiations in 2003 and become a member by 2006.
a) NATO-Bulgaria. (1) Bulgarian Foreign Minister Solomon Passy visited SHAPE in Mons, near Brussels, on 11 December and met with SACEUR, General Joseph Ralston. The US general told the Bulgarian foreign minister that he would support Bulgaria’s application for NATO membership in the US Senate. General Ralston's report to the Senate will include Bulgaria’s contribution to stability in the Western Balkans, the successful functioning of the MPFSEE in Plovdiv and the temporary use of the Bourgas airfield as an American airbase. SACEUR and the minister discussed various aspects of employing the MPFSEE in peacekeeping operations in the Balkans. (2) The Bulgarian government decided to dismantle its eight SS-23 missiles. The destruction will be carried out with financial and technical help from the US. The destruction will be completed by October 2002. This weapons system will be replaced by NATO-compatible armaments.
b) NATO-Romania. NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson visited Bucharest on 13 December and discussed Romania’s preparedness for membership in the Alliance. He held talks with President Ion Iliescu, Prime Minister Adrian Nastase, Defence Minister Joan Pascu and Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana. The secretary-general told the Romanian leaders that corruption and internal security issues could undermine the progress the country has made so far. Romania and Bulgaria are perceived in NATO as an important security cordon along the shores of the Black Sea, where heroin from Central Asia often lands before being smuggled to Western Europe. Demonstrating they can fight organised crime is a major challenge in the preparation of the two countries for NATO membership. Romania also needs to step up reforms in its nine security services.
c) NATO-South East Europe. NATO defence ministers issued a statement on the situation in the Balkans on 18 December. It said that over the past six years, the challenges and threats had radically altered and that operational areas were increasingly affected by common problems. Against this background, there is scope for developing a more regional approach to specific aspects of Balkan operations, including the repatriation of refugees, border security and combating organised crime, extremism and terrorism. There is also scope for rationalisation of operations in the Balkans, a key objective of which is to enhance efficiency and allow for significant resource savings. The next Six-Month Review of KFOR and SFOR will be based on a theatre-wide analysis of current operations and will examine the full spectrum of possibilities for rationalisation and the development of a more regional approach to the NATO-led military presence. This NATO re-arrangement in the Balkans will have concrete consequences for the countries of the region, especially those preparing for membership in the Alliance. They will very probably be involved more closely in the stabilising efforts of KFOR and SFOR.
a) US-Bulgaria. (1) Bulgarian Foreign Minister Solomon Passy, began a three-day official visit to the US on 4 December. He had high-level meetings in the Department of State, the Defence Department, in the US Senate and with the National Security Adviser of President Bush, Condoleezza Rice. Senator George Vojnovic, a member of the Foreign Relations Committee of the US Senate and a key figure in the implementation of NATO enlargement, strongly supported Bulgaria’s candidature for the Alliance. Bulgarian Prime Minister Simeon Coburgotski is expected to visit the US in February or March 2002. (2) The temporary US airbase in Sarafovo, near Bourgas, which had been used in the context of Operation “Enduring Freedom”, stopped operating on 28 December. 200 US rangers worked for more than a month and fulfilled all missions over the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea required by the US operational command. They confirmed their excellent cooperation with the Bulgarian authorities and people.
b) US-Greece. The US Ambassador to Greece, Thomas J. Miller, told the participants of the American-Hellenic Chamber of Commerce in Athens on 11 December that Greece had a unique role to play with respect to other Balkan economies. There is no other economy that can plant and nurture the investments needed and support and shepherd the structural reforms needed in the Balkans as well as Greece can.
Russia-Greece. Russian President Vladimir Putin made an official visit to Greece from 6-8 December – the first in the last eight years. Greece is considered a historically privileged partner of Russia in the Balkans and only Serbia can boast of similar status in the region. During the visit, the two countries signed six agreements in the fields of culture, justice, police cooperation, air traffic, commercial fleet cooperation and energy resources. Russia suggested energy projects that may turn Greece into the “energy reservoir” of the peninsula. Of course, Greece will trade with oil, gas and electricity in the region. Greece, though a NATO member, has purchased Russian arms and equipment worth US$1.5 billion in the last years. However, the bilateral “energy project” is very much dependent on the cooperation that Bulgaria is ready to provide. The present trade-offs that Russia and Greece have proposed to Bulgaria are far from acceptable. The position of Bulgaria is crucial for preventing the Russian energy project from turning into an operational political instrument in the region – an experience Bulgaria underwent 5-6 years ago and heavily paid for, finally preferring to discard Russia’s terms of turning Bulgaria into the Balkan energy reservoir. Oil and gas are precious goods and the energy project should remain a strictly economic one, if EU and Russia are to form a common economic space.
The Ninth Ministerial Meeting of the OSCE took place on 3-4 December in Bucharest. One of the adopted documents was a Statement on Regional Issues. With regard to South-east Europe, the ministers urged for full compliance of the countries from the region with the Dayton/Paris Peace Accords and full cooperation with the ICTY in The Hague. They also called for facilitating a sustainable solution for the plight of the refugees and internally displaced persons. This call was directed specifically at the countries that emerged from former Yugoslavia.
The Balkans have entered a period of essential longer-term economic and infrastructure projects that can lead to practical modernisation of the region. Some of the countries in Southeast Europe are getting closer to EU and NATO membership. Resolving issues of instability and post-conflict reconstruction remains a lasting task, though it is achieved more and more at the expense of those who do reject tolerance, security and prosperity as goals of their political philosophy and conduct.