1088 Budapest, Rákóczi út 5.; Tel: (36 1) 381 23 47; E-mail: Ez az e-mail-cím a szpemrobotok elleni védelem alatt áll. Megtekintéséhez engedélyeznie kell a JavaScript használatát.
Schriftenreihe des Europa Institutes Budapest, Band 29:93–98.


Regional Political Conditions of Building Hungarian Contacts


I wish to outline the general political situation of the Western Balkans, those trends that currently determine the condition of the region and may serve as a kind of background and starting point for examining the regional activities of Hungarian foreign policy. If one looks at the events of the year 2008, and particularly those of the first eight to nine months it can be seen that compared to the period between 2003 and 2007 it was rather the positive trends that had been dominant. In the past one or two months, however, the recent developments made everything seem relative. It is enough to mention the wave of attempts in Croatia or the current situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina where the political atmosphere is almost as bad as it was in 1991–1992, before the war, and where the relationship between Milorad Dodik and Haris Silajdžić recalls the relationship between Radovan Karadžić and Alija Izetbegović of those days. In respect of Kosovo there was a few months of quiet and a relative interval in conflicts but now, as a result of the deployment of EULEX (i.e. the question of whether EULEX should be status free or not), the heat of political confrontation has been once again rising. Most importantly, one has to take into account that the global financial crisis has recently reached the region. Serbia, for instance, had to apply for an IMF loan of 520 million dollars. Hardly any financial support goes to Bosnia and Kosovo despite the earlier promises such as the offers of the conference of donors in July. The next year’s budget is being prepared in Croatia now with serious discussions on whether they could go through the next year without a general freeze of wages (in the best economy of the region!).

Initially some were of the view that these countries may, perhaps, avoid a deeper crisis because their loan market was relatively underdeveloped and their economy relatively isolated. But soon it turned out that in reality they were rather sensitive because their economies are small, underdeveloped and dependent on foreign resources (aid, investments and the transfer of guest workers). It would become rather dangerous if the attention and supporting inclination of international institutions, great powers and organisations as well as states undertaking the role of financial donors supporting the crisis-management and consolidation processes in the Western Balkans radically decreased. These are challenges that would ‘knock out’ the economies and states of the region in no time if they got out of control. It could bring a series of conflicts into the world of politics that was unprecedented in the recent past (though it was not these issues that had generated the most serious tensions), in other words, there could be a series of political crises of social origin. And if the economic and political crisis gets out of control, the (already vulnerable) democratic regimes may be broken in states attempting to apply different sorts of conflict management methods, introverting or only looking for scapegoats, and the networks of regional cooperation (e.g. in the form of CEFTA) that have developed could be rapidly destroyed. All this should warn us to take any kind of forecast about the region with much caution because currently unpredictability and uncertainty are very big.

All this is rather sad because during the period since December 2007 (disregarding the recent few months) events have taken a truly promising direction. It is well known that the consolidation process had different phases with regard to their nature and success. It can be stated by and large that the period of conflict management in which one could really set to the elimination of the structural causes of the crisis and to the reorganisation of the region could only begin from 1999. Until then only ‘fire fighting’ interventions aiming at a rapid suppression of tension were dominant: such as stopping armed violence, deploying peacekeeping forces as well as international missions of administration and reconstruction. Next came the period between 2000 and 2002, which I regard as the most successful and productive period of crisis management and consolidation so far. In those days trends radically changed: everywhere pro-West governments came into power, all of which depended politically and financially from the Western centres of power. The macro-economic indicators of the region started to improve, regional inter-state relations began to be settled, and the EU launched the Stabilisation and Association Process (SAP). Then the trend once again broke in 2003. In March the Serb Head of Government Zoran Ðinđić was assassinated, and almost precisely a year later anti-Serb pogrom started in Kosovo; the issue of the status of Montenegro and Kosovo poisoned almost all those years, and the Kostunica Government of Belgrade was characterised by a policy of ‘one step forward and two steps back’. There were, of course, events even during that period that may qualify as success stories from the angle of the consolidation processes, such as the continuation of the Croatian catching-up to the Euro-Atlantic integration, the ‘velvet secession’ of Montenegro in 2006 (particularly if we remember the fears accompanying it!), and the (not too enthusiastic but finally successful) conduct of the separation of Montenegro from Serbia by the EU. Yet the period between 2003 and 2007 was rather ambiguous from the angle of the consolidation processes. In comparison we could rather see positive things in 2008 for a long time (though there were contradictory ones even then, such as the conflicts in Bosnia or the naming dispute between Macedonia and Greece). The process towards the independence of Kosovo could be kept under control though it did threaten with great dangers of escalation. At the April summit in Bucharest NATO passed decisions on enlargement. By June the network of Stabilisation and Association Agreements linking the European Union and the states of the region has become complete by signing the agreement with Bosnia. Despite the secession of Kosovo the ‘democratic’ side (qualified as such in the given field of political power) could win twice in succession in Serbia and a government was formed, the achievements of which may be regarded as acceptable despite its strange coalition composition (one should recall, for instance, the extradition of Karadžić). If these events are compared to 2003–2007, the hope may even emerge that we are once again witnessing a turn of trends. One may hope that from now on a better period, similar to the one between 2000 and 2002, may come from the perspective of consolidation and catching-up, which would ensure better circumstances and conditions for Hungarian foreign policy because it may increase the readiness and openness of these countries for cooperation with Hungary.

That kind of inclination and openness is definitely greatly needed. We often and willingly say how important the region is for us, and we are the protagonists of the Euro-Atlantic catching-up of the Balkans, etc. In fact Hungary has done a great deal for this process. Yet it is often not even noticed in the region. For instance, in 2005 Hungary was lobbying intensively to achieve the opening of talks of the European Union with Croatia at the same time with Turkey. Perhaps Austria was better in lobbying, but Hungary was also active, but if we look at the Croat press in October 2005, one hardly finds any article mentioning that Hungary was also participating in the so-called ‘Habsburg group’ while they were amazed how much Austria had helped them. In the other states of the region there is even less attention and empathy towards Hungary than in Croatia. All this shows that the foreign political preferences and efforts, their vision of the external world do not coincide to that extent with our own as we would often think or would like. Therefore we should also consider how these states see the place and role of Hungary in their own foreign relations and foreign political strategy… Let me quote here the example of Secretary of State Mr Szentiványi regarding the airlines connection between Budapest and Belgrade, which shows clearly that the Hungarian–Western Balkans relations are often not as intensive as they could be because there is no proper receptivity on their side. It would be good to change this situation but Budapest alone is obviously only able to do so to a limited extent. Nevertheless, to some extent it is indeed capable and that does not always depend on money (often it does, because the investor and donor capacity of Hungary is unfortunately finite). Yet, the question arises as to why there are no Hungarian cultural centres in Belgrade or Zagreb (and vice versa), while there are some in several countries that are less important to us?

The next three or four most important issues one should pay attention to because of the present trends are the events in Serbia, Kosovo and Bosnia (as sort of ‘eternal topics’), and the phenomenon recently mentioned with increasing frequency as the “European Monroe Doctrine”. I think today one of the most important goals in the region is that the present government should be successful in Serbia, the achievements of which have not been bad to this day and deserve an advance trust. This is in fact suggested by the country report of 5 November of the European Commission. There is yet another phenomenon in the political scene of the recent Serb politics that is worth paying attention to, because it may be highly significant in the long run, and this is the fragmentation of the Serb Radical Party, its split into three parts. Consequently, the Serbian political power field may be rearranged to a similar extent as in 2000: after a long time it happened once again that the strongest political formation is the Democratic Party, and the most important successor party of the SRP, the Progressive Party of Nikolić seems to set out from advocating extremist nationalism and social demagogy of the extreme right towards the centre, towards some kind of an acceptable centre-right party. We will see whether it can go that far, but for the time being the possibility cannot be excluded. The two phenomena together, namely the leading role of the Democratic Party and the transformation of the biggest radical successor party may create favourable domestic political developments hitherto unseen since 2000–2001 in the Serbian processes.

The other major question is that of Kosovo. I think that independence is irreversible, though Serbia has recently achieved one or two diplomatic successes (for instance that the UN and the EU do not reject the idea of the ‘status neutral’ operation of EULEX). This is not much but sufficient to dissolve Serbia’s sense of defeat and may serve as some kind of emotional and moral compensation which can be well communicated as diplomatic success in domestic policy. All this, however, will not reverse the independence of Kosovo. The real question is rather whether Kosovo would be a failure as a state. Would the process of building a state lead in the foreseeable period of time to the establishment of a political system capable of existing by its own, respecting certain minimum norms of democracy and providing for the protection of minorities, and to the creation of an economic system divested of its current criminal envelop? Many people are sceptical in this respect but I think that the chances of Kosovo for consolidation are not any worse than of all the other states of the region (provided the Western will to carry the process to the end and to ‘sponsor’ it remains). Another issue one should pay attention to is the question of North Mitrovica. Presumably Serbia will have a long-lasting interest in keeping up this focal point as a controlled, subdued conflict which can be cited ‘if necessary’ and the government of Pristina are not ready for compromise either. Therefore the integration of the area into the new state of Kosovo does not seem to be realisable for the time being, at the same time confrontation can be kept under control on the level of a low intensity crisis.

The place where, unfortunately, one has to fear most that the system would collapse together with the entire process of state building (due to domestic political reasons and not under the impact of the external financial crisis) is currently Bosnia and Herzegovina. Since 2006 the relationships among the three communities have been almost continuously deteriorating, and currently the atmosphere is almost like it was in 1992–1993. Luckily, however, the present situation differs from the one of that time in a very important aspect. Today neither Belgrade nor Zagreb can undertake the disintegration of Bosnia, and the actions of the Bosnian Serbs and Croats largely depend on what they are told by the two neighbouring capital cities. Today Belgrade and Zagreb would very much like to be European, in addition, Belgrade is also restricted by its own Kosovo rhetoric; therefore they can kindle threats of secession only moderately (in this respect it would be unjust to use an equal sign because the official Zagreb does not kindle any threats at present). It would, however, be also necessary to keep Milorad Dodik under control who started his career as an opposition and anti-war politician in the early 1990s, but today treats Republika Srpska (RS) almost as his own feudal estate, having built a practically absolutist power, therefore it is difficult to argue with him about anything. As opposed to him there is Haris Silajdžić, who did not belong to the extremist politicians earlier either, but who wrecked the inter-party agreement on constitutional reform in the spring of 2006, and who keeps on repeating even today that the RS is the product of ethnic cleansings of the war therefore it should be eliminated… It cannot be said that morally he is wrong but the RS is a fact today, even acknowledged by the Dayton Accord, and despite the events of the 1990s it cannot be stated that the Bosnian Serbs have no right to autonomy. The secession of Kosovo further enhanced the conflict because what had never been pronounced by the official Belgrade was said by Banja Luka, namely that “whatever is due to the Albanians in Serbia should be due to the Serbs of Bosnia too”. Interestingly, tension was also increased by the significant steps of Bosnia and Herzegovina towards consolidation and European integration in the period between 1997 and 2005. This, in fact, was inevitably accompanied by a certain concentration of power, so the central authority, defined rather vacantly in Dayton, has become stronger to some extent; moreover, European integration even demanded centralisation. Brussels would actually need one (and not more) governing partner to communicate with, which would operate Bosnia as a uniform economy, but that concept is rejected by Dodik defending the status quo of Dayton. I do not think that secession would be his actual and immediate aim, rather only the obstruction of the central authority, thinking that other opportunities would emerge in the future. All these factors taken together have made the Bosnian situation once again rather fragile.

Finally one or two sentences about the “European Monroe Doctrine”. During the past years the tendency was becoming increasingly visible that the Western Balkans belongs to the European Union, as a burden and responsibility for the time being, but perhaps also as a reward once the crisis zone of the Western Balkans calmed down and became tamed as Southeast Europe… This tendency remains as it is for the time being, because neither Washington nor Russia seem to be too active in the region. In my view the Obama administration (though his foreign political team would surely be full of people of the Clinton administration who had played a role in former crisis managements) will basically continue the Balkans policy of the Bush administration, namely the policy of getting rid of the burden, of keeping a distance and of transferring it to the EU. The US, however, will not fully pull out of the region, and this fact, let us admit, is rather positive. The (even symbolic) presence of the US and the NATO is also necessary because, unfortunately, it does good to the political class of each state of the Balkans to sense certain international limitations from time to time, namely what is permitted and what is not…

To drive this point home a powerful background is needed, a sanctioning capacity and it can only be lent by the American and NATO presence. It should be noted, that a key to the consolidation process continues to be the fact that the international community find the proper mix of rewarding and sanctioning. Surely it is better and more successful if the external political environment basically rests on rewarding (on opening the European perspective), but marking certain limitations continues to be necessary. Earlier in the year Russia was very active because of Kosovo and also in the Serbian energy economy, but I think that this does not endanger the assertion of the European Monroe Doctrine for the time being. The Serbian politicians are also aware of the fact that the opportunity of receiving financial support and catching up cannot be expected from Russia but from the West, and they also had to face the fact that Russia did not keep Kosovo for them. Therefore the danger of a radical pro-Russian change of orientation has significantly decreased in comparison to 2006–2007.


* Senior Researcher of the Institute of History, HAS