Meeting Up Again in Europe

Europe’s newest state, Montenegro, has just been given the go-ahead for the first step towards EU membership, as Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn agrees with the Montenegrins that a Stabilisation & Accession Agreement could be signed by the end of the year. Rehn is due in Belgrade next, although you’d have to be very optimistic to expect anything concrete.

It certainly looks like a certain theory of post-cold war Europe is being born out. As early as 1996, Tim Garton-Ash was arguing that perhaps the international community’s failure in Bosnia was down to trying too long to keep a unitary state in being, or in slightly different terms, that diplomats tended to assume any move from bigger to smaller units decreased stability. Perhaps it would be better to accept that the genie was out of the bottle and instead seek peaceful separation, with an eventual view to reintegrating all the units into the European Union.

Well, here we are. The last domino has clattered to the ground, and we’re already talking about agreements with the EU. It’s just a pity about the blood and treasure lost before then. Realistically, there’s probably a preliminary, “little EU” stage of regional integration to go through – getting the quango count down somewhat by sharing some of the new “entities” and states’ responsibilities, whilst also starting the process of making the borders less relevant – before looking at EU membership for the lot. Fine. If France and Germany could be in the Organisation for European Economic Cooperation and the European Payments Union by 1948, the ECSC by 1950, NATO by ’55 and the EEC by 1958, thirteen years from the end of the war, surely intermediate integration is possible before 2009 – ten years from war’s end.

The Edwyn Collins option – rip it up and start again – does pose some serious questions. If anything, if peaceful separation was a good idea in 1995-6, it would have been even better in 1992. But equally, if the eventual solution is to get back together and melt the borders in the EU, couldn’t we have skipped the whole horror show? Doug Muir’s last Montenegrin post caused a thread that with luck should yet reach the half century. In that thread, the point was raised that during the 1980s, Yugoslavia – the old full-cream version – actually made noises about joining the EC (as was) before being dissuaded.

A fine counterfactual question, no? What would have happened had Yugoslavia joined the EC?

16 thoughts on “Meeting Up Again in Europe

  1. So when do the UN and the AU get on board?

    We have been told repeatedly that a primary cause for Africa’s woes is the borders imposed by the Berlin Conference and left behind in the 1960s; but also that any move to change these would be tremendously destablizing. I’ve never heard a reasonable argument supporting this second claim, and one has to wonder just how much worse off Africa would be if each country splintered in 3 or 10 or more different pieces which could then freely associate with their neighbors as they wished.

    I guess the problem we have in Africa is the same as that in Iraq; that the only source of wealth is minerals, and that those who belong to a diamond or oil or gold producing state but who live 500 miles away from the booty still want a share (or at least the chance of a share) of the goodies. One can imagine all sorts of UN-sponsored sharing schemes for such situations, but one also honestly has to admit that they never happen — no-one would trust the UN or any other third party to hang around and fulfill their mandate when the bullets start flying.

    So in Africa we are left with cases like Ethiopia/Eritrea where neither side has much of interest to anyone else. But perhaps one should still encourage those cases where a split seems feasible.

  2. But perhaps one should still encourage those cases where a split seems feasible.

    Wouldn’t we end up with a few pseudo-Kuweits who spend like crazy for the two decades the mines last and then crash back into poverty? How do we know that Africa doesn’t suffer from too small states? Maybe it needs a large West African Republic?

  3. Isn’t there already a large West African Republic named Nigeria that had a whole of problems wrt groups trying to split from each other a few years ago, and which is not any sort of conspicuous success as a large country?

    One advantage of many small countries, at least, is that the wars that touched them were (to at least some extent) confined there. Yes it wasn’t perfect — Liberia, Sierra Leone, Ivory Coast all kinda got mixed up together — but it didn’t spread to say Ghana or Guinea. Cf the Congo.

    As for the question of “Does Africa suffer from too many small states”, this strikes me as somewhat bizarre. Do you have any evidence whatsoever (as opposed to some sort of GOP gut hatred of government and therefore governments) that small countries are worse for their citizens than large, that they are more inefficient, that they are more aggressive? On the plus side, small countries are more homogeneous which usually means more peaceful and higher social capital, and they provide more choices and examples which is good for the world as a whole.

  4. But equally, if the eventual solution is to get back together and melt the borders in the EU, couldn’t we have skipped the whole horror show?

    Unfortunately, the breakup was driven by elites in the various republics. Most of those elites came through just fine. Serbia as a whole was grossly immiserated and impoverished. But the top 1% or so of Serbian society got much richer and more powerful. The Karic brothers, they had a good war.

    (One of many ironies in this irony-rich region: Western socialists who support Milosevic because he was, you know, the last legitimate heir of good-Socialist Yugoslavia.)


    It’s quite possible that Bosnia is never going to work. On the other hand, the alternatives are none too palatable. And getting there from here is very, very hard.

    For starters, there’s a huge political barrier to be overcome, since giving up on Bosnia means admitting that the last fifteen years of diplomacy have been totally wasted. This will not be easy to sell. But let that bide. Say it can be made to happen [handwave].

    So we have Republika Srpska, which may or may not join Serbia; the Croat bit in Herzegovina, which will certainly join Croatia; and a rump Bosniak state that’s not much of anything. The Bosniaks, who were the biggest group in the old Bosnia, won’t love the idea of being left with maybe a third of the country… but let that bide too. Let’s say [handwave] that the Muslims can be made satisfied with a microstate, as long as they’re done with those pesky Serbs and Croats. I imagine some fairly large subsidies will be involved, but perhaps that’s not too small a price to pay.

    We still have problems. An independent Republika Srpska is even more screwed than an independent Montenegro. We all know I’m no fan of independent Montenegro, but at least the country makes some sort of geographic sense. RS consists of two separate cantons, both very distorted in shape, separated by the Brchko Federal District. (Which is one of the few remaining multiethnic bits, BTW, so it won’t automatically go to RS. Much as the Serbs would like to think otherwise.)

    If RS joins with Serbia, it gets worse. The effect on internal Serbian politics is going to be unpredictable and not necessarily good. (In Serbia, evil nationalists are a large minority in Parliament. In RS, they’re the majority.) The effect on regional politics… well, the Bosniaks are now going to be a tiny, weak state of less than 2 million people, next to the Big Serbia of 9 million. Their relationship will be complicated by an abundance of mutual minority issues and boundary disputes. I mentioned Brchko already. Here’s another: there’s a large Serb minority on the Entity side of border. These guys would yell to join RS. Of course, there are Bosniak minorities within that region…

    Okay, handwave, lets say we can resolve those. Back to the Croats again. They’ll want to join Croatia. But if they do, it splits the already small Entity right in two, and the new Muslim state becomes divided just like RS. So now we’re talking /two/ non-contiguous states.

    This is why everyone’s been avoiding this idea. It isn’t just because of ideological fixed ideas. (Though that’s part of it, sure.) It’s because carving up Bosnia would be a stone bitch of a job. At best, and if you did everything right.

    Doug M.

  5. Isn’t there already a large West African Republic named Nigeria that had a whole of problems wrt groups trying to split from each other a few years ago, and which is not any sort of conspicuous success as a large country?

    Isn’t it? Compared to Liberia and some other countries in West Africa, I would consider it successfull. There was the Biafra crisis which was ended brutally. But it was ended quickly, without plunging the whole country into chaos for a decade as has happend a lot in the rest of West Africa.

    Having a large country in my oppinion can preclude government by one tribe as no tribe is large enough to dominate. Plus, the center has the might to end local trouble.

    On the plus side, small countries are more homogeneous

    In West Africa, they are not. And that goal would mean very small states if you want to get there by slicing only.

    Besides, even in Europe much diversity is found in the small countries, Switzerland, Belgium & Macedonia.

  6. When your standard of comparison is Liberia, anywhere would sound preferable. Even contemporary Iraq.

    Replying to Doug, one of the key points in the post is that reintegrating is the other side of the coin to separating, which at least gets past some of the problems of splitting up Bosnia.

    Now, does anyone feel like digging into that counterfactual?

  7. Of course examples of all kinds of successful and not-so successful (and even completely failed) large and small states can be found. Best to look at the specifics of the situation at hand:

    Yugoslavia: already split up so there’s little use in discussing it now.

    Montenegro: well, since the Montenegins are the ones who will bear the consequences of the separation (e.g. it’s not like they made much of a difference one way or another on the economy of Serbia) and they voted for separation let it be so. If those who voted to stay aren’t too upset, things should progress more or less as before.

    Kosovo: well, I can’t see why Serbia would want 2 million people who hate the country as part of it. And they’re not likely to get rid of the Albanians from Kosovo (they tried that already). So, let the Kosovo Albanians have their independence. As for the Serbs in Kosovo, I can’t see why the Kosovar Albanians would want them in their shiny new independent state of Kosovo (lots of practical problems). Better to give the Serbs the northern part of the province and let those on the ‘wrong’ side move (prodded by subsidies). Maybe you can even move some of the old monasteries (buildings have been moved before). Would definately cut down on peace keeping costs.

    Bosnia: this is a tricky one, mainly because of the political capital invested and the strange shapes of the entities. Best to probably keep it as a single state but give each entity enough independence (autonomy) to keep it satisfied.

    Macedonia: this one is really difficult. To be continued, for sure…

  8. Alex, I’d be happy to dig into the counterfactual, but I need more information. For instance, when was the application made? If in 1977, that’s one thing; if in 1987, that’s something else entirely.

    It was Randy MacDonald who posted it originally. Randy, anything to add?

    Oskar: Macedonia actually seems to be working. Nobody’s paying much attention, but there’s a functioning country there. Far, far from perfect, and it could still fall apart, but it’s working much better than Bosnia. (Key metric: both ethnic groups have parties in government and in opposition.)

    Doug M.

  9. Ah. The question is really about what Phil Hunt calls the Borg theory of EU integration, (my comments here.)

    And, like the Borg and the EU, Randy is being slowly but surely assimilated into AFOE…

  10. Nigeria manages to hold together with at least some semblance of stability because its federal system gives the states considerable autonomy. The introduction of Sharia in the predominately Muslim northern states doesn’t much bother the largely non-Muslim southern states for the simple reason that it doesn’t affect them – Sharia remains geographically confined without any chance of spreading to the entire nation. If there weren’t such autonomy for the states it’s possible that the Sharia issue would have torn Nigeria apart.
    Keeping Nigeria as one country allows all of the states to get a share of the oil revenues, even though production is limited to just one or two states.

  11. Unfortunately, the breakup was driven by elites in the various republics.

    Yugoslavia as a whole had its elite too. I rather believe that the problem was that the Yugoslav elite was weak because of the federal structure and became even weaker when the republics held elections and got so more legitimacy. The solution would have been to have federal elections (even Europe has its elections). Unfortunately the US pressed for elections on the republican level, not on the national level.

    If RS joins with Serbia, it gets worse. The effect on internal Serbian politics is going to be unpredictable and not necessarily good

    Most people vote nationalist because they feel there are national issues that need to be solved. Adding the RS to Serbia will certainly reduce the number of issues.

    In Bosnia the greatest believers in unity are supposed to be the Muslims. Yet I hear them mainly trying to paint the Serbs and Croats as war criminals. I miss the “we are in this together” even with their politicians.

  12. ‘A fine counterfactual question, no? What would have happened had Yugoslavia joined the EC?’

    This is the million dollar question that people in Serbia (and perhaps other parts of ex-yu) still talk about.

    They point to Spain as an example of how EU membership delivered it from chaos.

    My answer would be it would depend on when Yugoslavia would had joined.

    But the break up of Yugoslavia would have occured sooner or later imo. Under EC tutelage a compromise would have been hatched enabling a confederation that would have left unitarists upset and nationalists disatisfied. This situation could have gone on for a number of years but then the inevitable referendums. Soon after cue the flag waving, hysterical scenes, pomp, the rewriting of history etc.

    Violence? Yes probably. War? Dont think so. If the Yugoslav leadership (federal Presidency, army, ‘Socialist Party of Yugoslavia’???) had tied its mast tightly to the EU I feel it also likely that the EU would be deeply involved in preventing war – although this would depend on how much control had been ceeded to the Republics. If part of the confederation deal allowed the formation of large Republic ‘defence’ forces Republican leaders may have decided on war war rather than jj.

    Thus it would have been vital for the EU to have reliable partners in the Republics to prevent bloodshed.

    I would do anything to turn the clock back to see, and change history. It certainly couldnt have been any worse than what happened.

  13. From what little I know of the SFRY interest, it was most manifest in the 1970s and 1980s. It failed because of its non-democratic system of government, in other words for the same reasons as Franco’s Spain or the colonel’s Greece.

    A Yugoslavia that joined the EC in the 1980s–perhaps at the same time as Spain and Portugal, or even as Greece–would have to be a Yugoslavia that managed to democratize earlier. Perhaps Tito dies a decade earlier, in 1970, after the country has been established as federal but before the diffusion of federal powers indiscriminately to all of the republics, leaving a Yugoslav federal government that’s capable of functioning?

    One factor that’s going to complicate Yugoslavian democratization, especially in the 1970s, is the Soviet Union. How friendly is Moscow likely to be towards a Communist state, non-Warsaw Pact though it may be, that sheds the Community monopoly on power and assimilates to western Europe? The southern European dictatorships, at least, weren’t likely to be victims of counterrevolutionary invasions.

  14. Well, I think it’s fair to say the Brezhnev Doctrine had an unspoken corollary that ran “except for Yugoslavia, as our asymmetric threat advantage is insufficient compared with the possible benefits”. Unlike, say, Czechoslovakia, there wasn’t a large class of people who could be expected to be more or less in sympathy, there were no Soviet bases, and Tito had for years been pursuing a policy of deep militarisation – the so-called total defence strategy – intended precisely to resist a Soviet intervention. You just have to look at the damage the ex-Yugoslavs were able to do to each other with the arms stockpiles and organisational infrastructure established for total defence to realise that a Soviet intervention would have been seriously bloody, like Afghanistan on steroids.

    Also, compared to East Germany and the countries in between, the Baltic coast and the rest of the Balkans, there wasn’t a really compelling Soviet interest that could only be secured by military control.

  15. Maybe it is time to give up the ghost with Bosnia. I actually think that allowing the Serb republic in Bosnia to join ‘Serbia proper’ would make Serbia less nationalistic and would feel like some compromise for ‘losing’ Montenegro and Kosovo. Why keep lines on a map together when people, given their democratic will, don’t want to make that state work? Do we argue that Denmark should be a part of Germany or the Czechs of Austria?

    There’s the problem then of the Croats and Bosniaks. The Croats would probably wish to join Croatia and the Muslims not. If that’t the case, Europe, the EU won’t have 3 more new entities, but rather an enlarged Croatia and Serbia with a smaller Bosniak state – so there’s no ‘new’ states being created. A reduced Bosniak rump will still be larger than some EU member states and more stable.

    I guess the Serbs will settle for an independent Kosovo if they can keep the northen bank of the Ibar, and maybe the Albaniains will settle for that just to get the issue out of the way and declair independence so that they can get on with sorting out the economy etc.

    Europe and the EU are too hung up on borders and not on peoples. Lives have been lost because states and polticians in authority wish to keep the status quo or/and deny the right to independence to other peoples. This isn’t an argument for ethnically pure states, none of these states will be ethnically pure. But there is a strong moral and practical argument for creating more nation states not less. Within a larger, more losely tied EU these states will flourish and so will the diversity of Europe’s cultures and languages. That’s more important than keeping the status quo on lines on maps.

    Maybe we should re-read Leopold Khor’s seminal book (though rather incorrectly titled as he calls for the emergence of ‘non-historic nations’ like the Welsh, Basques etc) ‘The Breakdown of Nations’.

    Sion, Wales

  16. A reduced Bosniak rump will still be larger than some EU member states and more stable.

    Unfortunately, no. The Muslim-majority bits of Bosnia are broken up into three disconnected pieces, separated by Croat- and Serb-majority regions.

    So, even if you shave pieces off and give them to Serbia and Croatia, you still have large (and pissed off) Serb and Croat majorities in the new state.

    Alternately, if you give those pieces to Serbia and Croatia, you have a Moslem ministate in three separate pieces, squeezed between Big Serbia and Enhanced Croatia. Good luck getting the Bosniaks to sign on to that.

    I won’t even mention Brcko. Ooh, Brcko.

    People look at Bosnia and realize that it’s screwed. That’s correct. What they miss is that it could easily be much worse.

    Doug M.

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