Balkans rocked as leaked memo explores ethnic redefinition of Bosnia’s borders
An explosive memo calling for redrawing the borders of independent countries formed after the break-up of Yugoslavia and reducing Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) to a third of its current size raised fears of a resumption of conflict in the region.
The unsigned document, which is said to have reached the highest circles in the EU, proposes that Serbia, Croatia and Albania be extended to engulf parts of neighboring Bosnia, North Macedonia and Kosovo.
The idea, widely criticized in the region, is to continue where the Yugoslav wars left off and create mono-ethnic states – in direct contradiction to the efforts of the EU and other international efforts to foster multiculturalism in the countries. Western Balkans.
Leaked Slovenian media Necenzurirano, the document suggests that Serbia absorbs the existing entity of Republika Srpska, one of the two main administrative units of ethnic Serb majority in Bosnia. Its predominantly ethnic Croatian cantons would join Croatia, while Albania would unite with the predominantly Albanian regions of Kosovo and North Macedonia. The Serbian north of Kosovo would be granted special self-administration rights.
Where did the controversial document come from?
It is alleged that the “ non-paper ”, an EU term for an unofficial set of talking points shared confidentially between governments or institutions, came from the office of Prime Minister Janez Janša, who refused to confirm or deny these claims to Euronews.
But the idea seems to have already been addressed by Slovenian President Borut Pahor during a visit to Bosnia last month. Šefik Džaferović, one of Bosnia’s three presidents, told Euronews that Pahor spoke about the redistribution of the country’s borders.
“The Slovenian President said that in some circles in the EU there are those who believe that it is necessary to” complete the process of dissolving Yugoslavia “before proceeding with the integration of the Western Balkans into the [European] Union, ”Džaferović said in a written statement.
“I responded to this by stating that the process of dissolving Yugoslavia was in fact over. He then asked us if a peaceful dissolution of Bosnia was possible, and Komšić [the Bosnian Croat member of the presidency] and I replied that those who promote such ideas are pushing this country and the region to war. “
Džaferović added that the memo was a clear attempt to destabilize the country.
“The document sparked justified fears in Bosnia and showed that the secessionist powers are anxious to receive signals from the EU to start a bloodbath. I don’t think this is coming from Brussels officials, but rather from radical circles. who try to present their backward ideas as being European, “he said.” Any redistribution of borders along ethnic lines would not only destabilize Bosnia and the region, but would also affect the stability of the entire continent. “
Pahor’s office, contacted by Euronews, said the president was a defender of Bosnia and Herzegovina and its territorial integrity.
“He regularly warns against ideas about the disintegration of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the redistribution of borders in the Western Balkans,” the statement said.
But he added that Pahor raised the idea of border changes in the region as early as September 2020 during a visit to North Macedonia.
Speaking to the Macedonian parliament, Pahor said that “there may be a belief in the region that the disintegration of the former Yugoslavia is not yet complete and that ethnic borders should be established instead of those existing “.
Shortly after Prime Minister Janša openly denied the existence of the note in a telephone exchange with Džaferović on Friday, another regional leader singled out Slovenia.
Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama confirmed the existence of the newspaper.
“I saw it [the paper]Rama said on the Vision Plus television channel, which discussed the upcoming parliamentary elections in Albania.
“I spoke to the Slovenian Prime Minister some time ago. I told him about the idea in general and saw the document.
What’s the comeback story?
Slovenia was the first to separate from Yugoslavia at the very beginning of the wars sparked by its disintegration. A brief conflict with the Yugoslav People’s Army followed its declaration of independence in 1991.
As the wealthiest and northernmost part of the former republic, it set its sights on swift EU membership and rarely looked back on its Balkan neighbors.
Prolonged and bloody wars then broke out across the region.
The suggestion that aroused the most anger in the note was to reduce Bosnia and Herzegovina to about a third of its size and allow it to choose “between a European and non-European future (Turkey)”.
The comment was widely considered racist and discriminatory against the Bosnian majority, theoretically considered to be Muslim.
It was a heartbreaking reminder of the 1992-1995 war when the country was torn apart by ethno-nationalist fighting after declaring independence following the break-up of Yugoslavia.
Bosnians in the country have suffered the most casualties and have been regularly targeted for their religious affiliation.
It culminated with the Srebrenica genocide in July 1995, when more than 8,000 Bosnians, mostly men but also women and children, were massacred by the Bosnian Serb army.
In 1998, a conflict erupted between Serbian forces and ethnic Albanians in the breakaway region of Kosovo.
Kosovo declared its independence in 2008, but it is still not recognized by Serbia.
How important is this memo?
For Robert Botteri, editor of the independent Slovenian weekly Mladina, Janša’s refusal to confirm or deny the allegations is a form of admission.
“We may not have a clear answer as to whether he is the perpetrator, because even when caught, Janša still denies his involvement.
“However, all the circumstances indicate that the document is genuine.
“Although we can deliberate on the author’s name, it is clear that he came from circles of people like Janša, Viktor Orban and Aleksandar Vučić.”
For Bosnia, the memo comes at a time when the international community is distracted by other issues, such as the ongoing pandemic and the new administration in the United States.
“There is a sense of western entropy,” said Kurt Bassuener, senior associate at the Democratic Policy Council, a Berlin-based think tank. “There is no rudder at the moment, so now is a good time to pursue maximalist programs.”
Bassuener believes most member states would not support the ideas set out in the so-called non-paper, but that doesn’t make the content any less problematic, he said.
“I think it’s a test balloon to see what the reaction is – a type of immune system test for reaction to ideas that were previously thought to be absolutely toxic and infectious,” he said.
He thinks Bosnia’s approach is the most worrying because its current, heavily ethnicized system is the most vulnerable to outside interference.
“The idea that the dissolution of Yugoslavia is incomplete is a completely revisionist vision of what ended the country and the series of five conflicts, of which Bosnia was by far the worst. And make the Bosnians the problem?”
Bassuener called the memo’s Islamophobic tone, explicitly stated in the suggestion that Bosnia could align with Turkey and not the EU.
He sees here a clear indication of Janša’s ambitions to join the ranks of right-wing politicians, migrants and disparaging Muslims in other EU states such as Orban or the Polish Andrzej Duda.
“Janša will get a more immediate result by saying something so drastic and testing the reaction, and perhaps scaring those on bureaucratic autopilot,” he says, referring to the knee-jerk reactions of the eleventh hour. often provoked in Brussels after the actions of Duda, Orban and others are tolerated too long.
By threatening disorder, Janša could gain the upper hand in negotiations with the EU over what he really wants.
“This will make it easier to pursue lower-order transactional policies,” he concludes.
Botteri agrees that parts of the memo are Islamophobic and believes it is a calculated move by Janša to gain support from Christian conservatives across the continent.
“Orban and Janša are well suited to an event like this as it would raise their profile in circles that want Europe to become“ Christian ”again. Orban has long presented Hungary as the bastion of Christianity and the protector of Europe. Europe against Muslims, and now Janša is following in the same footsteps. “
Botteri believes that the purpose of the note is to create new conflicts on the continent and to destabilize the Union itself.
“Fifteen years ago, Europe thought about how the whole continent would be part of the European Union, even negotiating with Turkey,” he said.
“Today, the process has stopped, while conflicts continue to intensify at the borders of the continent.
A strong European Union has never been in the interests of far-right forces, as they always have been against a unified and democratic Europe. “
It also marks a significant power shift within the Union itself, with Bosnia acting as collateral damage for much bigger games at hand.
“With the support of people like Salvini in Italy, Le Pen in France and Wilders in the Netherlands, this anti-European alliance could become the second strength of the European Parliament,” he said.
The memo was greeted negatively by the Slovenes themselves.
“People in Slovenia are horrified and scared because we all know what the ethnic border changes meant 30 years ago in Bosnia,” Botteri said.
Slovenia is currently in a tight lockdown and public demonstrations are banned.
“All you can do is write about it. There is no other recourse. And once Janša takes over the EU Presidency, he will put this on the agenda, unofficial or not, ”Botteri concluded.
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