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Schriftenreihe des Europa Institutes Budapest, Band 27:65–77.


The Western Balkans and the European Union Today


Member of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences Ferenc Glatz has accomplished what the political elite had not been able to achieve in years gone by: irrespective of governments he established the Centre for Balkan Studies. In the European Parliament in Brussels the general view is that Hungary and the Hungarian political elite are objectively and without bias acquainted with the Western Balkan region. Expertise about the Balkans is not just anticipated but expected from Hungary. Currently Hungary – compared to the other Member States, expect Austria – still has an enormous comparative advantage in this respect but with the accession of Romania and Bulgaria it could be decreased. Time is pressing Hungary in every respect, regarding bilateral relations as well as taking up roles within the European Union. Unfortunately the Hungarian political elite have not recognised that in Hungary’s direct neighbourhood, in Serbia-Montenegro such status issues have been waiting for a positive solution which would determine the region’s stability and ensure Hungarian–Serbian relations. Such a solution could also have a dramatic effect on the fate and future of the Hungarians in Vojvodina. Among others this was the reason why I had undertaken the function of co-rapporteur which means that I have to harmonise the various opinions among the European Socialists and to coordinate the work of other parties’ authorised persons in an issue where the European Union does not express a point of view.


The Balkans and Central Europe

Not long ago an excellent article by Béla Kádár1 was published in the Hungarian newspaper Népszabadság where he formulated the essence of this matter: Hungary could have an important mediating role to play between South-Eastern Europe and the Western Balkans, which was earlier played by Austria with regard to Central Europe. Hungary has to be prepared for this role in every respect. As far as the intellectual preparation is concerned the Centre for Balkan Studies has a role that cannot be substituted by anything.

Béla Kádár calculated that an operating capital of 2.5 thousand million dollars2 has flown into the region. Of course he did not restrict this figure to the ’Western Balkans’ of the EU terminology but referred to the wider historical region considered by historians as South-Eastern Europe. In EU parlance Romania and Bulgaria are no longer part of the Western Balkans for they are considered almost as Member States.3

Croatia is classified as part of the Western Balkans in the EU, though historians regard it as belonging rather to Central Europe than to South-Eastern Europe or the Balkans in many respects. Slovenia, until not so long ago, understandably did not want to acknowledge that it had anything to do with this region. Slovenian diplomacy and Slovenian politics in general, with the exception of economic expansion, has kept a low profile in taking up a role in the region. Slovenia behaves as if it had never been part of a formation called Yugoslavia. Recently there has been some change as demonstrated by the opinion expressed by the Slovenian President Janez Drnovšek concerning the status of Kosovo.4 The Slovenian members of the European Parliament are becoming increasingly active in issues related to the Western Balkans, which in many cases provokes the jealousy of the representatives of the older Member States. Existing and well functioning positions have been ’endangered’.


The Initiating Role

Why must Hungary take up an initiating role in the Western Balkan region? A number of reasons could be mentioned in addition to those that have been quoted from Béla Kádár. The initiator’s role is necessary because the Member States have not understood adequately this region nor did they understand the region’s specified problems such as the issue of minorities. This is why Hungary has to take a prominent role in the solution of the status question and other issues, too, for the situation of this region affects most directly the security of our country.

It is well-known that the European Union does not have a system for protecting minorities. Minority protection is not part of the acquis communautaire. The expression ’national minority’ does not even figure in any official document of legal validity. There are guidelines prohibiting discrimination but that is by far not enough. The EU does not have an operating system for protecting minorities, no standards, no norms, and it has no proper monitoring system either, whilst the Council of Europe has two multilateral agreements of international validity, the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities5 and the Charter for Regional or Minority Languages6. The EU has a certain role of control up to the date of accession that is most evident in the annual reports. They had a rather positive effect on the situation of minorities in the ten countries that have acceded recently and in a certain sense on the situation of minorities in Romania and Bulgaria, as well. After these Member States become part of the EU there are fewer opportunities for monitoring and control, as shown by the example of Slovakia and probably in the case of Romania, too.

This is the reason why Hungary has to play an initiating role, it must help resolve the minority issues by forwarding ideas, recommendations and experience. The European Union employs a dual, or even a multiple standard. After the Albanians started an armed revolt and essentially a veritable civil war in Macedonia, which had been repercussioned in France, where the existence of national minorities is not acknowledged in any form and in the Quai d’Orsay concepts of territorial and administrative autonomies were feverishly elaborated. The Albanians fighting in Macedonia were given a remarkably broad autonomy, whereas the autonomy of the Land of the Szeklers is a topic that is not even on the agenda of any organisation of the European Union; to such an extent that recently the Romanian lobby has succeeded in removing the concept of ’self-governance’ from the report of the European Parliament. They did not guess that they were going to get the worst of it for upon a liberal recommendation the expression of cultural autonomy was included in the text, which is historically unprecedented because the word ’autonomy’ only appeared for the first time in a document of the European Union and in any Union document for that matter in relation to Romania, even if it was ’only’ concerning cultural autonomy.

Let us take another example: Kosovo versus Vojvodina. Milošević had taken away the status of autonomy from both. The independence of Kosovo is approaching even if not finalised, is recognised by the United States of America and Great Britain who have already assured their support to Kosovo’s independence, while in the case of Vojvodina autonomy cannot even be suggested. Hard struggles have to be fought so that the autonomy of Vojvodina may come once again into existence as an acquired minority right.

Through these examples I intended to indicate that the practice of the European Union, including the European Parliament is not consistent, and it does not acknowledge the lack of a unified system of norms. Therefore the Hungarian political and intellectual elite have an enormous responsibility in the steps they take and what solutions they suggest particularly in the case of Kosovo, but also concerning the less complicated case of Montenegro.


The EU and the Enlargements

Apart form the role of Hungary, I would hereby like to briefly describe the relationship between the European Union and the Western Balkan region. An ambiguous openness characterises the attitude of the EU, whilst we can observe a protracted immaturity and insufficient preparedness for the EU in the Western Balkans.

At the Thessalonica summit of 2003 the EU opened up toward the Western Balkans. The countries of the region with a population of 20 million – according to EU terminology, excluding Romania and Bulgaria – i.e. Croatia7, Serbia-Montenegro, Macedonia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Albania have been waiting for EU membership. The European Union, however, is not in the condition to admit these countries. It is not a secret to anyone – and it is the greatest dilemma – that in order to achieve consolidation and stabilisation in these countries there is only one efficient tool8: the Union and the possibility of accession to it. The political elite of the Western Balkans have also realised that there has been a closing process, an ’enlargement fatigue’ or expansion exhaustion in the EU. Therefore the realistic date of the accession of these states is doubtful: will it be in 2010, 2014 or 2015? It is not predictable as yet for the entire process is influenced by the issue of the accession of Turkey. There are a lot of problems, which results in the EU being ill-equipped for the task at hand. It is not prepared at economic level, as demonstrated by the fact that it was unable to properly finance the accession of the ten new Member States; the EU saved 2.5 thousand million Euros on the 2004 enlargement. During the bargaining about the financial elements of 2007–2013 it could be seen that the net payers were not willing to finance more. The entire EU is proceeding towards re-nationalisation, or, in other words, the global race with the USA, Japan, India and China is envisaged less in a framework of the EU. Planning is increasingly shifting to national dimensions. There are no funds for such measures as the Lisbon Strategy, the joint development of R&D, without which the EU as a whole cannot be competitive in the global race. The new Member States are heavily hit by the fact that only the free movement of capital and goods have been realised of the four freedoms but neither the free movement of services nor that of labour has been allowed. In issues that could make the European Union dynamic, like the freedom of services and the free flow of labour, most of the old Member States show a tendency of national introversion and have not moved towards Community solutions. The EU shows crisis phenomena, but the correct wording would be that the EU is in a deep economic, political and identity crisis. Identity crisis means that the EU does not advance towards a closer community but toward re-nationalisation and to the direction of national introspection.

The European Union has not been able to digest the latest enlargement by ten countries because it was not prepared for it. The ten new Member States were far more prepared for the EU accession than the fifteen old Member States. The fifteen states had not prepared their public and it was reflected in the results of the Dutch and French referendum on the European draft constitution. The general public of the fifteen countries is entirely under-informed as it can regularly be experienced even in the European Parliament. The ten new Member States can really consider themselves as veritable minorities in the EU.

On the part of the European Union, verbally there is openness for the integration of the Western Balkan region but at the same time prior to the accession of Croatia we have to wrestle with problems9. The EU can manage 27 countries but it is incapable of handling further enlargement. Therefore the institutional reform is necessary by all means. It is to be noted that the integration of Croatia would not require serious means and funds. It is ever more frequently heard in the corridors of the European Union institutions as well as in the plenary meetings of the European Parliament from leading personalities that Croatia is already more prepared than either Romania or Bulgaria. For us it is not surprising, for, as Hungarians we are eminently familiar with the realities of Croatia as well as of Romania and Bulgaria. In Brussels, however, those who know less about the region have just started to realise that Croatia is in fact more mature and ready for integration than Romania and Bulgaria.


Integration Maturity

From an institutional point of view the Western Balkans have been brought closer to the European Union during the last six months. In October 2005 the European Council has made a decision about initiating the accession negotiations with Croatia and in December the European Council gave the candidate for membership status to Macedonia10. In November 2005 negotiations about the Stability Pact and on an Association Treaty were initiated simultaneously with Bosnia-Herzegovina and Serbia. This process was started with Albania in 2003, but that state is the most backward in many respects in the entire region. The assessment of Albania is the most negative in the European decision-making organisations because its political elite constantly makes promises of reforms, but realises hardly any of them. Almost everywhere in the Western Balkans the indicators of poverty and unemployment are very stark. Unemployment is a great problem in the countries of the region with the exception of Croatia but in Macedonia and Bosnia the unemployment rate reaches 40% and in Serbia 30%. About 30 to 40% of the population lives under the poverty line. This is an enormous problem and it is even more painful to the middle and older generation. As far as the obverse of the coin is concerned, these countries, again with the exception of Croatia, have not reached a satisfactory level of integration maturity.

There is another country considered by the EU as an example and that is Macedonia. Among others because there the minority conflicts between Albanians and Macedonians could be solved in a relatively sophisticated manner. It is true that a lot of people do not consider historical trends that show that within thirty years Albanians will become the majority also in Macedonia due to their demographic conditions. My experience is that the European decision makers do not sense the entire Albanian issue in its own weight and depth.

Once there was an Atlantis. Currently the Western Balkans is the Atlantis of the European continent. Just consider where Yugoslavia has come from?! The younger generation most likely does not even know what the freedom of speech and freedom of the press had meant in Yugoslavia to the previous generations. They had passports valid all over the world! Today, however, they are locked out of the outside world by compulsory visas. Fortunately, the European Union has started to realise that it is a serious source of tension that 70% of the youngsters in Serbia have never crossed the border. Earlier the freedom of travelling, getting acquainted with the world were considered to be the great opportunities in Yugoslavia. In fact the situation of the Hungarians in Vojvodina, in Subotica clarified the problem to us. It is not enough that in Yugoslavia under Tito there had been an exemplary minority policy compared to the actual one where they had to and still have to experience the great Serbian nationalism of Milošević, but in addition they have ’slipped low’ economically and in almost all other fields compared to the life they had in Yugoslavia in the 1970s in comparison with other countries of the region. It is not accidental that nationalism has gained such great scope in Serbia and in the Western Balkans. The Westerners handle it in a simplified way. They do not see that if Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia and the Soviet Union broke up there would be not only the building of a state taking place but also the building of a nation. Even in the case of Slovenia which has never been an independent state during its history for it had always been included in some other country’s framework. Also the Baltic countries were independent only for a rather short period between the two world wars. Within these new states there has been nation-building in progress. It is not the same task as it was after 1990–1991, when the Soviet army left Hungary and Poland where a national, sovereign foreign policy and independent national institutions had to be re-established. It did not have the same weight and difficulty as in those countries where the nation itself has to be built. However, that does not mean that their nationalism should be handled more leniently! It is worth analysing the Slovenian-Croatian relationship from the side of Slovenia. The elements of nation-building also play a role here. It would also be useful to develop a subtler picture in respect of nation-building and nationalism. Hungarian learning and politics can be of a great help here in pinpointing the significant differences among nationalisms. The main difference lies in what the particular country’s political system is like, how far the political elite are capable and willing to use nationalism as a tool in order to legitimise themselves. There is an enormous difference in this sense, too, for instance between Slovenia and Serbia.

This region is not only the powder keg of nationalist wars and the land of poverty where 30 to 40% of the population live under the poverty threshold but there is also a workforce of several millions of well trained and widely travelled people. This is a very significant factor. Also the older and middle aged generations have experienced Tito’s self-governance. In many respects that self-governance was decentralised and it was a model corresponding in several aspects to the current subsidiarity. In addition this region is also a market of 20 million people.

In one of his presentations university lecturer József Juhász mentioned that after the settlement of status problems it is not going to be more difficult for the EU to integrate the Western Balkan region of 20 million inhabitants than to integrate Romania and Bulgaria. In Romania the ratio of agricultural employees is 40% and poverty has very deep pockets there, particularly among the several million Roma. In fact the EU has no idea how big the burden is that it is taking on.


The Regional Approach

The European Union justly considers the Western Balkans as a sub-region but at the same time its policy unfortunately lacks a complex regional approach. Hungarian politics and learning could play a role in this, too. The EU has understood that for instance Bosnia-Herzegovina cannot be handled separately from Kosovo and not only because the Albanian minority is practically present everywhere. Once in the past Yugoslavia was a single, integrated market which had fallen apart. In many respects we, Hungarians lived through something similar after the Trianon Treaty, therefore we can sympathise more with the recent Trianon of the Serbs, even if it was caused by Milošević to the Serb nation. NATO bombings together with the loss of Kosovo may cause grave deformation and a lasting sense of grievance in the Serb national consciousness.

Two concrete facts show that the EU has shifted towards a regional approach. On the one hand the EU proposes the establishment of a free trade zone. Expert opinion is divided about how far it is feasible. Some see only a limited commercial liberalisation possible. Others think in terms of a structure like CEFTA, or even of the expansion of CEFTA. The logic behind the initiative would be that the EU should coerce these disintegrated countries to co-operate among themselves, in the interest of integration.

The other initiative is removing restrictions on free movement. If the Schengen visa system remains in force for the countries of this region it would mean a permanent source of tension. It would be a particularly great problem for Hungary. The Hungarian government has very rightly opposed the increase of the Schengen visa fees because it has a contrary effect to those EU endeavours that intend to release the region from its isolation.

The key to the stability of the entire region is the future of the neighbouring Serbia-Montenegro. Currently it happens to be the greatest security risk. In this sense Hungary is most concerned, at the same time the Greeks are becoming increasingly active and that means a serious challenge to us. If we fail to act, our comparative advantages will not be exploited and we will not be able to guide the ideas of the international settlement in a direction beneficial to Hungary. It is thought-provoking that there was not any Hungarian diplomat or Hungarian expert advisor around Martti Ahtisaari UN representative in Kosovo!


The Status of Kosovo

As far as the status issues and first of all the problem of Kosovo is concerned the Serbian political elite is fully aware of the loss of Kosovo. Keeping Kosovo within Serbia is impossible and meaningless for it would only be an ongoing burden to them. This is precisely known by the Serbian political elite. At the same time there is not enough courage either in the Serbian political elite or the political parties to state this for if anybody made any allowances, he may not be able to play a meaningful political role in Serbia for decades. Currently it is total stalemate. Serbian politics would provide the widest possible autonomy short of independence, but the Albanians in Kosovo can only be reconciled with independence.

Within the community of nations there are only two countries that unanimously did and still stand by the Albanians in Kosovo and they are the United States and Great Britain. The other members of the so-called contact group: France, Germany, Italy and Russia have begun to realise that the Security Council decision made in this case has been ill-conceived in many respects, namely, because it excluded the possibility of partitioning the region right from the outset. Serbia has lost Kosovo demographically as well as politically by all means. The question is whether the community of nations is able to and willing to provide some kind of compensation for the Serbs in exchange for declaring the independence of Kosovo, or the role of a victim will become permanent for the Serbs. No conflict settlement plan is acceptable where the Albanians are the winners and the Serbs are the losers. It is not possible just to reward one side and punish the other. Nevertheless, it is extremely difficult to find a solution for the Serbs who could be best compensated by a Republika Srbska. The community of nations, however, cannot justly agree to it since it would cause the disintegration of Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Recently I was greatly shocked by a discussion with Albert Rohan, the deputy to Ahtisaari. During this discussion, as a Hungarian, I felt as if a country has just been sliced up in front of me. Nobody thought that they wanted to create a unit which has never existed in international law. Nobody thought that in terms of the Paris and Versailles peace systems this would be the first such border modification where the internal and external borders would be changed simultaneously. During the disintegration of Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union the external and internal borders of the republic that had been internationally acknowledged had remained the same everywhere. In the case of Kosovo the external as well as the internal borders would change. My unambiguous stand is that there is no other permanent solution but partition: the partition and exchange of the territories of Presovo-Nitrova and further exchanges of the population. Whoever believes that the Serbian minority permanently and peacefully could stay in Kosovo has not got the slightest idea about realities. With some slight exaggeration it can be said that the Romanian-Hungarian relations are those of affection and love compared to the Albanian-Serb ones. It is interesting to look at the example of Belgium where for 125 years the Walloons and the Flemish have been forced into a form of state which has not been accepted internally, although there is wealth, democracy and federalism. Yet if one of the headquarters of the European Union, Brussels was not on Flemish territory they would have got separated long ago. At the moment they cannot solve the split among others because of the seat of the EU there.

My opinion is that in the case of Kosovo an exchange of territory, a fair partition of Kosovo and the exchange of population could be the basis of a lasting settlement. Perhaps one hundred thousand Serbs could still continue to live there during the period of settlement, but they would flee the country in a couple of years. Characteristically this does not engage the attention of the community of nations but we, Hungarians should have great interest in the solution of this question. Serbs that run away will mainly settle in Vojvodina. It has become obvious by now that the violations of lawful rights in Vojvodina were mainly the consequences of the nationalist and anti-minority impatience of the people just settled in. The fate of Hungarians in Vojvodina could be sealed. An ill-conceived settlement in Kosovo could enhance a sense of permanent grievance and it could cause the Serbs to become hysterical in a sense that István Bibó described in his works. The Western ’stage managers’ may rightly say that all this was caused by Milošević, yet hurt Serbian national feeling would be continuously frustrated – I presume that it does not need further explanation to Hungarians – and would push the Serbs to a similar orbit as the Hungarians had been pushed to by the Treaty of Trianon for almost a century. Therefore Hungary has to represent a very resolute stand concerning this issue. It is inadmissible that a solution should be reached to the detriment of Serbs, that the Serbs may become radicalised and extremists would be strengthened having already represented the most powerful party for a long time as public opinion polls show. Under such circumstances the radicalisation of the Serb political elite would seriously imperil the only remaining significant minority, the Hungarians in Vojvodina. In addition there is already the question as to what the aim of the Serbian elite is with the violent acts against Hungarians in Vojvodina? Do they intend to chase them away from their native country? There is no irreconcilable confrontation between Hungary and Serbia; therefore political rationality would require the Serbian political elite to leave alone the Hungarians in Vojvodina since Hungary could help the most in restoring Serbia’s international prestige. I advised this to every Serbian politician but unfortunately Serbian politics have become ’autistic’. They do not require assistance any longer; its stand about the issue of Kosovo is so rigid, its alternative scenarios are missing to such an extent partly as a result of domestic political instability and partly of the divided nature of the political elite, that Serbia may get the worst of it not only because of the severity of the international community but also because of the behaviour of the Serbian political elite.

The stakes are very high regarding the fate of Kosovo. An ill-conceived settlement would permanently destabilise Serbia and the entire region. In all of this I see great danger. What could be its message? The Hungarians in Transylvania who have been fighting with peaceful means have not been able to achieve even territorial autonomy since the Treaty of Trianon and regarding cultural autonomy the Romanian political elite acts in an extremely hysterical manner. This also indicates the numerous tasks that are still to be done in international minority protection. Up to now we have been teaching the Council of Europe after 1990, should we now have to give seminars in minority matters to the European Union?! The great dilemma, however, is whether it is worth creating a new minority protection system in the EU, when there is already a good system for the protection of minorities in the Council of Europe? The problem is that the Council of Europe does not possess real international weight, whereas the European Union does, but it has no minority protection system. Could the two be connected? All of us know that rivalry between the institutions has always existed. As president of the Intergroup for Traditional Minorities, Constitutional Regions, and Regional Languages I have been working on to connect somehow the two institutions. The European Union actually needs to have a minority protection system.

If the EUFOR, the international forces would be withdrawn from Bosnia-Herzegovina presumably the state would survive but would not be self-propelled. Essentially, the two entities, the Bosnian-Croat and the Serb parts would live their own separate lives and there would not be as much of centralism as there has been in Serbia-Montenegro. The separation of Montenegro by the referendum can be considered as a fact. Then again the society of Montenegro is sharply divided. In addition the population of Montenegro has been over-represented in the state apparatus in Belgrade. The departure of these leaders could be a further source of tension. Montenegro might leave the federation but it will not cause such a great shock for the Serbs as the separation of Kosovo. If the loss of Kosovo is going to be close in time it could be a breeding ground again for Serb frustration and a policy of grievances.

The EU – as I mentioned earlier – regards Macedonia as an exemplary state because of the way it has solved the minority issues. Let me list some of Macedonia’s problems with its neighbours. Greece refuses to acknowledge the name of this state, Bulgaria challenges the existence of an autonomous Macedonian consciousness, and the Serb Orthodox clergy tries to obstruct the independence of the Macedonian Orthodox Church. The Kosovo-Albanian relations and the possible establishment of Great Albania threaten the existence of Macedonia. One of the greatest international challenges of the following decades is going to be to guarantee by an international agreement that Kosovo shall not unite with Albania.

I should mention a number of other aspects but I would rather highlight now the economic potentials. We have a lot to do at home as well as in Brussels in this field, and also in the field of bilateral relations. Bosnia-Herzegovina’s traditionally good relations with the Arab countries and with Arab investors, for instance, would be an enormous chance for Hungary. The extended commercial relations with Hungary could provide a break-away option for the Bosnians from the historically burdened foreign relations with Croatia and Serbia.

American capital has already appeared in Kosovo. The country has large reserves of mineral resources but capital inflow is obstructed by the unstable political situation. The state governance has been interwoven with organised crime and the safeguards of human rights are missing. Then again it is a positive sign that the economic-political elite have recognised that in order to assure the obtained possessions a strong state control is necessary.

We can conclude that Hungary is one of the most affected countries by the progresses of the West Balkans. The key of the stability in the whole region is the future of Serbia. This is the highest security risk at the same time. This is the biggest challenge not only for Hungary, but for Slovenia, Greece, Bulgaria and Romania as well. If we do not take the necessary measures, we will not be able to utilize our comparative advantage. It would be also desirable to increase our participation in the Western Balkans stabilization programs. Through this process, we could guide the development of Western Balkans and promote our national interests.



B. Kádár: Randevú a Balkánnal (Randevous with the Balkans), Népszabadság, 11 February 2006.