One decade has been lost. What about the next one?
Op-ed by Gerald Knaus (for Koha Ditore)
In Athens, spring 2003
One decade ago, in spring 2003, the New York Times published an appeal by four Balkan leaders, the presidents of Croatia and Macedonia and the prime ministers of Albania and Serbia. Its title: “The EU and South-East Europe need each other.” The occasion was a special Balkan meeting of the World Economic Forum in Athens where all these leaders also came together.
I was there too at the time, and I remember both the appeal and the atmosphere in Athens well. In fact, together with my friend Misha Glenny, I drafted it. There was a sense of urgency in the air, and of anticipation. Zoran Djindic, the prime minister of Serbia who had delivered Slobodan Milosevic to the Hague tribunal, had been assassinated by ultra-nationalist members of the Serbian security forces. Croatia had handed in its application to join the EU, the first Western Balkan state to do so. The host of the meeting, Greece, then the EU’s rotating president, pushed hard to get a European commitment to continued Balkan enlargement.
Shortly before the Athens gathering Boris Trajkovski, the president of Macedonia, invited me to draft an appeal that he planned to ask other leaders to co-sign. He knew that the region would receive a better hearing if it spoke with one voice. He was concerned. His own country had recently been on the verge of civil war. Serbia was on the edge, its ultranationalists growing in confidence. The future of Montenegro and Kosovo was not yet settled. Would the EU, following its 2004 enlargement to Central Europe – then just about to happen – get tired of further expansion? The Balkan leaders’ appeal warned: “Until the whole Southeastern Europe is safely integrated into the European Union, the job will not be complete. And until it is, Europe cannot feel secure about itself.”
One decade later, where do we stand? Today, when EU leaders talk about crises in South-East Europe they think of Athens not Skopje, of Nikosia, not Belgrade. Europe does not feel “secure about itself” but it is not the Western Balkans or the threat of renewed conflict that keeps EU leaders awake, literally, at one crisis summit after another.
Montenegro and Kosovo are independent states; the fear of armed conflict in the region has never appeared more distant. And yet, despite these important breakthroughs, it is hard not to regard the years since 2003 as a lost decade for the Balkans. Boris Trajkovski tragically died in an airplane crash in the Bosnian mountains, on his way to submit Macedonia’s own application for EU membership. His country has been stalled for years now by a Greek veto (a threat which did not appear real in 2003 in Athens). Serbia, ten years after the death of Djindic, has still not even opened EU accession talks. Albania is not an EU candidate yet. The Greek foreign minister in spring 2003, George Papandreou, became prime minister, only to be swept away by the Greek economic melt-down. 2003 was perhaps the last success of Greek diplomacy. At the European Union summit on the Balkans in Thessaloniki in summer EU leaders stated their “unequivocal support to the European perspective of the Western Balkan countries. The future of the Balkans is within the European Union.” Croatia used the past decade, opened accession talks, closed them, and is today on the verge of accession. And yet, it is likely that ten years from now in 2023 Croatia will still be the only Balkan country inside the EU.
Rereading the Trajkovski appeal today highlights a further disappointment. It contained a specific proposal: to make EU regional and cohesion funding available to the region, so as to help it catch up economically, rather than fall further behind. The appeal warned that “the long-term stability of Southeastern Europe depends on the region’s economic health, but this does not mean the usual plea for more money … We are committed to opening our markets to our neighbors and to the EU. We have made huge progress in curbing inflation. And we are now greatly encouraged by the proposal by Greece … that the Thessaloniki summit meeting focus on the possibility of applying cohesion and development policies in our region.”
This was a hope that has not come true. The Western Balkans remains one of the poorest regions of Europe. In Serbia today less than half of the working-age population is actually employed. Unemployment levels in Macedonia and Bosnia are disastrously high. Foreign direct investment in the region, which had transformed the economic structures of Central European countries, has fallen to very low levels. And yet, if a focus on underdevelopment in the Balkans has never been more urgent, the EU’s confidence in its ability to bring about convergence and growth in its own periphery has rarely been lower. The 2003 Trajkovski appeal stated that “The EU has a remarkable record of triggering economic success by helping poorer regions — Ireland, Greece, Spain and Portugal have experienced veritable revolutions in social and economic development in the last 20 years.” It is hard to imagine anybody writing like this today, in the wake of bail-outs, bank failures and rapidly rising unemployment in Spain or Greece.
EU leaders no longer worry about war in the Balkans. They are no longer confident in their ability to bring about economic convergence. They fear the weakness of democratic institutions in Romania or Greece. They worry about inadequate regulation in Cyprus or Spain. Given this state of affairs: what arguments can sway them to open their institutions to accept even poorer states, with even weaker institutions, and even worse images among the public and political elites in Berlin, Paris or The Hague?
Perhaps Greece will prepare for its EU presidency in 2014 by changing its policies on Skopje and Pristina. Perhaps Serbia and Kosovo will soon reach an agreement that allows both countries to move beyond their confrontation. Perhaps Albania will manage to hold free and fair elections this summer. Perhaps Bosnia’s leaders will soon be able to put together a credible application for EU accession. Perhaps Macedonia’s leaders will be capable of renewing the national consensus to focus on EU integration that existed in 2003. Perhaps politicians throughout the region will wake up late at night worrying about youth unemployment and the inadequacy of vocational training, about export opportunities and the best way to use scarce public resources for growth, rather than about building statutes or wasting public money on prestige infrastructure of little proven economic benefit. And then, perhaps, a successor of Boris Trajkovski will invite all his regional counterparts to an informal meeting to seriously discuss what they might do together to correct the image of their region, driven by the recognition that the whole region has dropped out of the focus of the rest of Europe.
If Boris Trajkovski would be around today, and would propose drafting a new appeal for Balkan leaders to sign and publish, what could it say? Appeals are expected to end with proposals, a sense of hope, recommendations. But sometimes it is better to resist this temptation. To acknowledge just how steep the wall is that one has to climb. To recognise that before any new appeals to the EU a whole series of steps have to be taken by the region itself. To recognise that time matters; and that April 2013 is another crucial moment which Balkan leaders miss at their peril. I believe Trajkovski would have realised this. Will his successors?
Perhaps this is not a time for appeals at all, but for a blunt and honest recognition: a decade has been lost. The next might be as well. And it is not by formulating words on paper that this can be prevented.
How to get Bosnia to move forward instead of stagnating further remains a puzzling question.
A few days ago Ed Joseph and Bruce Hitchner published an article with suggestions. It appeared here.
Last week I also had the pleasure of discussing the state of the Western Balkans in general and of Bosnia in particular at an international conference in Ditchley new Oxford. I was struck there how strong the international consensus had become that 1. Bosnia no longer poses any serious security threat, and that 2. the time of thinking about the next big internationally-led reform push is over, the ball really is in the Bosnians’ court. The third consensus was about the importance of the EU accession perspective: not as a panacea, but as an offer Bosnian leaders and society are free to reject, one which remains on the table, and which offers – should there ever be a genuine will in Bosnia – the best way out of its current stagnation.
Ed and Bruce, both of whom know Bosnia well, and for whom I have the highest respect, have a very different perspective from the other side of the Atlantic. I discussed the article with Ed, and we agreed I would put a few comments online to explain my concern.
I see a few problems with the argument in the article:
My concerns start with the title and subtitle: “How to Finally End the War in Bosnia Without a renewed push for Constitutional Reform, Bosnia will remain dangerously adrift – its politics a continuation of war by corrupt means.”
All the buzzwords are included: “war” (twice), danger, adrift, corrupt. But this is deeply misleading.
The real war in Bosnia ended in 1995. It killed almost 100,000 people. Local violence continued for another few years. Since 2001, however, Bosnia has been as peaceful as Croatia or Slovenia. If nobody shoots, nobody gets shot, and nobody prepares to shoot, then the better concept to describe the situation is “peace”. Peace with problems, political tensions, economic difficulties: all true, but this is no war. If such distinctions are lost, it is hard to make policy or debate it.
- the nature of the crisis:
What exactly are the symptoms of the Bosnian crisis described in this article? Here precision is needed. The article describes the crisis through metaphors: the country is “a stagnant pool of special interests that continue to cleave along ethnic lines.” “cleave”? There are different ethnic groups in Bosnia. There was a war between 1992-1995. Is the fact that these identities “along ethnic lines” continue to exist the problem? Otherwise what exactly is wrong with what exact interests, special or otherwise? “stagnant” indeed: a weak economy, low living standards (though higher than in Moldova or Georgia), little structural change (like in many of its Balkan neighbours): but this is not a unique problem of Bosnia.
Nor is the fact that Bosnia’s “overall democratic benchmarks are slipping”. This is the evidence the article offers of what is happening in Bosnia: “Parents can move freely about the country, but educate their children in segregated schools. The economy remains in parlous condition, and faces new challenges and barriers when Croatia joins the EU later this year. Islamist influence among Bosniaks, traditionally exaggerated by Croats and Serbs, is, in fact, a concern.”
“Segregation” is another strong concept: Alabama in the 1950s, South Africa in the 1980s. It involved state coercion. In Bosnia today in some parts of the country some parents chose to put their children in schools according to the main language of instruction – especially Croatian, as the schools most often discussed in the media (one Croatian and one Bosnian language school in the same building or nearby) are in Croat-Bosniac mixed areas. One can deplore this, but it is no different from different language schools in South Tyrol or different confessional schools in North Ireland. It is not a human rights violation.
Let me add here that this does not mean that separate schooling as one finds it in parts of Bosnia is a good thing: having studied in many different countries myself, and having seen my own children educated in a Turkish public school in Istanbul, a state school in Cambridge, Massachussetts, and now a public French (though very international school) in Paris I strongly believe in the value of diversity in education; I also do not think that schools are the primary shaper of identities of pupils, and that the influence of the official curriculum is usually exaggerated. Of course the key for a good education is education for tolerance and mutual respect, as well as quality. Of course Bosnia would be a much better place if the primary focus of policy makers (and parents) would be on quality, not ethnicity. But this is a matter of persuading parents, and voters, not imposing solutions, as long as there are choices.
(As for the situation in South Tyrol read this article: “With regard to linguistic rights there is hardly any area of public and to a considerable extent also private life that is not covered by a complex network of norms, guarantees and remedies. The educational system in South Tyrol is based on separation and the principle of mother tongue instruction.”)
As for “Islamism” (not defined in the article: one assumes violent?) in Bosnia … this has indeed often been exaggerated, as the authors noted, and it is certainy “a concern”: but what exactly is the policy issue, the trend, the problem?
The problem with sloppy language in the Bosnian context – “war”, “segregation”, “special interests cleaving”, “Islamism as a concern” – is that it makes it hard to understand the nature of various challenges. Then the solution is one silver bullet – change the constitution; impose better laws; replace leader X with Y. But all of this has been tried out, and with predictably disappointing results.
The article points out that in the Bosnian context the attraction of possible EU accession is no silver bullet solving the country’s problems either. This is of course true, but not surprising: it has been thus in very many countries.
The “seriousness” of the EU commitment among most of today’s Bosnian leaders resembles that of leaders in Bulgaria in the early 1990s, or in Serbia under Kostunica, or in Slovakia before 1998: it is rhetorical, generally not serious at all, with little sense of what it would take for Bosnia to actually implement the common law of the EU. There are individual exceptions, but compared to the political elite elsewhere the basic illiteracy among Bosnian politicians about the EU is remarkable.
The first reward of making EU accession a national strategic objective is that it provides a direction for national reforms: not to one big reform, but to thousands of specific sectoral reforms, that take years to negotiate with national interests and then implement. This requires leaders who want to see their countries thus transformed: their laws, their institutions, their policies, not just as means for a possible accession in 10 or more years but as ends in themselves. Yes, Croatia’s accession will cause problems for Bosnian’s trying to export milk or other agricultural products, but no, this is not the “fault of Dayton”, as even highly decentralised systems like Belgium are capable of implementing EU food safety and phytosanitary standards. This is the fault of a political process where leaders, civil society and even many internationals much rather discuss identit and constitutional issues rather than specific concrete reforms that might have a major economic impact. So perhaps it really needs a crisis with new hard borders to reform the Bosnian food safety system now? The sense of physical exclusion also pushed much needed (and delayed) reforms needed for visa liberalistion in 2010.
In fact, too few leaders in Bosnia actually appear to want this wholesale transformation of their country and society; too few leaders across all political parties, interests and ethnic groups. This is a problem no constitutional reform can solve. It can only be solved by changes in the thinking of those leaders – or by changes of those leaders at elections. The alternative is not war, but stagnation.
All of the above is more or less consensus today in Brussels and among EU leaders. It was also the consensus at a recent conference in Ditchley on the Balkans. The ball really is in the court of Bosnian leaders, and unfortunately, if they refuse to play, this is where it will remain.
Does this mean things are hopeless? No.
Bosnians have surprised outsiders and themselves before (for just one encouraging recent story look at this ESI portrait of a Bosnian prime minister). So have Bulgarians after 1997 (more on that turning point here) So have Slovaks, Montenegrin, Croats. But it does mean that the key change must be a change in the debate in Bosnia itself … (while having a more focused and specific debate, ethat does not produce excuses for inaction, among outside observers, might also help).
A few days ago ESI put a short excerpt of the new documentary on the transformation and EU accession of Croatia on our website: Twilight of heroes. Croatia, Europe and the International Tribunal. You also find it here. (We will show the complete film in English in London next week; and in Berlin the week after).
The film tells the story how Croatia’s EU aspirations and the demand that some of its former generals be handed over to the ICTY to be put on trial for alleged war crimes triggered the escape of Ante Gotovina, and a man hunt that finally led to his arrest in Spain in 2005. It is a dramatic story, which ended with Ante Gotovina being sentenced to 24 years in prison by the first instance court. And it is not over: in a few days the appeals court will announce its judgement in this matter.
Some of the protagonists in the ESI documentary: Vesna Pusic – Ivo Sanader – Ante
Gotovina – Carla del Ponte – Stipe Mesic – Ivo Josipovic
It is against this background that Luka Misetic, the lawyer of Ante Gotovina, reacted to the excerpt from our film on his blog. He accused ESI of distorting facts, and writes that he was “stunned by the level of factual inaccuracy in the film.” He posted on the ESI facebook page:
This is a charge which deserves an answer. Luka Misetic writes on his blog:
Thursday, November 8, 2012 European Stability Initative Distorts the Facts about General Gotovina
The European Stability Initiative has recently broadcast a film about General Gotovina entitled, “Twilight of Heroes.” Admittedly, I have not been able to view the entire film because it is not yet available for viewing in the United States. Nevertheless, I was able to review the nine minute preview clip on YouTube. I was stunned by the level of factual inaccuracy in this documentary, and viewers should be warned that the factual claims in this film are demonstrably false.
At the outset, the film shows Carla Del Ponte speaking about Operation Storm, which was led by General Gotovina. Del Ponte claims:
“They thought if you are doing a legitimate war, you must not consider if crimes are committed, war crimes or crimes against humanity. It is collateral damage. But that is why the International Tribunal was created. A war is not the permission for the commission of crimes.”
One minute later, the film’s voiceover speaker ominously claims, “Prosecutors suspected that murders and intimidations of Serb civilians during Operation Storm were not isolated incidents, but the result of a policy to ethnically cleanse these parts of Croatia of their Serb population. A criminal conspiracy planned and implemented by Croatia’s leaders.”
What the filmakers fail to tell the viewer (at least in the preview clip) is that the Trial Chamber in its Judgement rejected Del Ponte’s claims that the Croatian leadership “did not consider if crimes were being committed against Serbs, war crimes or crimes against humanity.” Furthermore, the Trial Chamber rejected the Prosecution’s claim that Croatia’s leaders had planned and implemented a criminal conspiracy to allow murders and intimidations of Serbs in order to pursue a policy of ethnic cleansing. As I noted in one of my earlier posts, the Trial Chamber found:
“The Trial Chamber finds that the common objective did not amount to, or involve the commission of the crimes of persecution (disappearances, wanton destruction, plunder, murder, inhumane acts, cruel treatment, and unlawful detentions), destruction, plunder, murder, inhumane acts, and cruel treatment.“(Judgement, paragraph 2321);
Rather, the evidence includes several examples of meetings and statements (see for example D409, P470, and D1451), indicating that the leadership, including Tudjman, disapproved of the destruction of property. Based on the foregoing, the Trial Chamber does not find that destruction and plunder were within the purpose of the joint criminal enterprise.” (Judgement, paragraph 2313);
In light of the testimony of expert Albiston, the Trial Chamber considers that the insufficient response by the Croatian law enforcement authorities and judiciary can to some extent be explained by the abovementioned obstacles they faced and their need to perform other duties in August and September 1995. In conclusion, while the evidence indicates incidents of purposeful hindrance of certain investigations, the Trial Chamber cannot positively establish that the Croatian authorities had a policy of non-investigation of crimes committed against Krajina Serbs during and following Operation Storm in the Indictment area.”(Judgement, paragraph 2203).
The Trial Chamber thus established that the Croatian leadership (1) did not have a policy to allow crimes like murder and intimidation to be committed against Serbs, and (2) did not have a policy of non-investigation of crimes committed against Serbs.
Accordingly, two things were very clear to me within the first five minutes of viewing the preview clip: (1) Carla Del Ponte continues to mislead the international public about what the ICTY Trial Chamber concluded, and (2) the producers of this film did not bother to read the Trial Judgement or interview anyone who had actually read the Trial Judgement.
If the filmakers don’t have time to read the Trial Judgement before making a film about Gotovina, then I don’t have the time to watch their film.”
Mr. Misetic writes correctly that the film excerpt which he saw quoted the leading ICTY prosecutor at the time, Carla Del Ponte. He also correctly quotes the voiceover in the film:
“Prosecutors suspected that murders and intimidations of Serb civilians during Operation Storm were not isolated incidents, but the result of a policy to ethnically cleanse these parts of Croatia of their Serb population, a criminal conspiracy planned and implemented by Croatia’s leaders.”
However, where is the distortion of facts that he claims to have observed? Even he as laywer of Ante Gotovina should be able to agree that – as a statement of fact about what prosecutors at the ICTY suspected at the time of Tudjman’s death, which is what the film describes here - this voiceover is both true and factual. After all, the film also quotes those in Croatia who at the time and later argued the opposite: that Gotovina was a hero, that Tudjman just did what leaders have done throughout history, or that, as one prominent supporter of the general is quoted, Mrs. Del Ponte is a “crook.” These are obviously not ESI’s views: our aim was to give an objective sense of the arguments and emotions which made cooperation with the tribunal such a difficult issue for Croatia’s leaders to address.
ESI responded to Mr. Misetic on our facebook page. We wrote:
Later the court asked Croatian state authorities to hand over Gotovina and other generals to the ICTY. It was backed in this demand by the entire European Union. Nothing else is either being said or implied here. So which facts are being distorted?
As for the first instance sentence of Ante Gotovina, which comes much later in the film (which you admit you were not yet able to see) there is no voiceover at all, but the original material from the Hague. Here the court explains why it sentenced Ante Gotovina in its own words.
To this Mr. Misetic responded by continuing to accuse us of “distorting facts”:
Dear ESI: Your post suggests that the film later acknowledges that ICTY rejected the Prosecutor’s allegations that there was a “criminal conspiracy planned and implemented by Croatia’s leaders” to allow murders and intimidations of Serb civilians as a matter of policy. Does the film actually come out and make this clear? Also, please advise as to the “original material from the Hague” which you used in order to make this clear to the viewer. In contrast, if the film does not make clear that Del Ponte’s allegations (which you use to promote your film in the first 5 minutes of the preview clip) were in fact rejected by the Court, then I stand by my assertion that this is a clear “distortion” of the truth, because your film continues to reinforce the myth that Croatia had a policy of allowing crimes to be committed against Serbs. The Trial Chamber convicted Gotovina because it found that 5% of artillery shells out of 900 fired in the town of Knin fell “too far” from known military objectives, killing and injuring exactly zero civilians, but nevertheless these 5% of shells caused fear in Serb civilians and triggered their flight from Croatia. If your film makes this point clear, and makes clear that Croatian leaders in fact did NOT have a policy of allowing crimes against Serbs, then I will withdraw my criticism. If not, I stand by my comments.
But is it really ESI that is distoring facts concerning what happened at ICTY? Take Mr. Misetic’s claim (above) that
“… is a clear “distortion” of the truth, because your film continues to reinforce the myth that Croatia had a policy of allowing crimes to be committed against Serbs. The Trial Chamber convicted Gotovina because it found that 5% of artillery shells out of 900 fired in the town of Knin fell “too far” from known military objectives, killing and injuring exactly zero civilians, but nevertheless these 5% of shells caused fear in Serb civilians and triggered their flight from Croatia.”
In the documentary the prosecutor, the court and Mr. Gotovina’s supporters are all speaking for themselves. When we describe the sentencing in 2011 we use original footage from the ICTY and have no voiceover at all. But make up your own mind: read the judgement, or, if you want a synapsis of the ICTY’s view, read what the court, in its official press release, said in 2011 about why Mr. Gotovina was sentenced to 24 years:
“These crimes were committed as part of a joint criminal enterprise whose objective was permanent removal of the Serb population from the Krajina region by force or threat of force, which amounted to and involved deportation, forcible transfer, and persecution through the imposition of restrictive and discriminatory measures, unlawful attacks against civilians and civilian objects, deportation, and forcible transfer. The Chamber found that the joint criminal enterprise came into force no later than the end of July 1995 in Brioni where the Croatian President Franjo Tuđman met with high ranking military officials to discuss the military operation which commenced a few days later on 4 August.
The Chamber found that Tuđman was a key member of the joint criminal enterprise and that he intended to repopulate the Krajina with Croats. Other members of the joint criminal enterprise included Gojko Šušak, who was the Minister of Defence and a close associate of Tuđman’s, Zvonimir Červenko, the Chief of the Croatian army Main Staff. The members of the joint criminal enterprise also included others in the Croatian political and military leadership who participated in Presidential meetings and were close associates of Tuđman’s.
The Chamber found that Gotovina participated in the Brioni meeting and contributed to the planning and preparation of Operation Storm. Gotovina’s conduct, including his order to unlawfully attack civilians and civilian objects through the shelling of Benkovac, Knin and Obrovac on 4 and 5 August 1995, amounted to a significant contribution to the joint criminal enterprise. The Chamber further found that other charged crimes, although not part of the common purpose, were natural and forseeable consequences of the execution of the joint criminal enterprise, including to Gotovina.”
We hope that Mr. Misetic will acknowledge that the charge that ESI distorted facts, is neither fair nor accurate nor warranted.
PS: Twilight of heroes is also not a film about Ante Gotovina as Mr. Misetic writes. It is a film about Croatia, and how this country managed to break out of its isolation in 1999, faced its past, and transformed itself.
First there was the headline in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung on 9 October: “Brussels reprimands Croatia: ‘Criteria for accession are not yet met’.” Then Gunther Krichbaum (CDU), Chair of the Europe Committee in the German Bundestag, declared: “At this moment the country is not ready to join.” President of the Bundestag Norbert Lammert explained: “We have… to take the most recent progress report of the European Commission seriously: Croatia apparently is not yet ready to join.” On 15 October, Martin Winter wrote in Süddeutschen Zeitung that Croatia is indeed “not mature enough”, but that it is now too late: “It is a pity: Lammert’s objection comes a bit late.”
These are disturbing warnings. Is the EU about to be weakened through the hasty accession of yet another unprepared member? Doesn’t the EU have problems enough already?
In fact, Croatia’s preparations for accession have been widely recognised as remarkable. Since its application for membership in 2003, Croatia has faced demands that were considerably more challenging than those presented to previous candidates. It not only had to pass EU-compliant legislation, but also demonstrate real progress in implementing what were often challenging reforms. These efforts were recognised by the European Parliament in December, with a vote of 564 to 38 in favour of Croatia’s accession, and by the 16 EU member states that have already ratified the accession treaty. Last week’s European Commission scorecard confirms that Croatia is now completing the process of alignment. It’s ‘top ten’ list of outstanding issues – such as the privatisation of three shipyards, a new law on access to information, a national migration strategy and a new recruitments to the border police – are by no means alarming.
So why the sudden chorus of critical voices?
The only real charge to be brought against Croatia is the problem of corruption. On that issue, however, the European Commission’s most rigorous assessments have been fairly positive. The one demand made by the Commission – that Croatia continue its fight against corruption and organised crime – is one that could be made of many EU members. Transparency International’s most recent corruption index puts Croatia ahead of Italy and indeed the whole of South East Europe, including EU members Greece, Bulgaria and Romania. Over the past three years, Croatia has taken action to root out at corruption at the heart of the state, issuing indictments against a former prime minister and deputy prime minister, various cabinet ministers, the head of the customs administration, numerous managers of state-run companies and even the former ruling party itself. This suggests a country that is seriously committed to tackling the difficult legacy of the
In fact, since 1999 Croatia has been undergoing a process of radical change to its political culture that goes far beyond the adoption of thousands of pages of EU legislation. In 1999, Croatia’s President Tudjman was still supporting the separatist ambitions of Croats in neighbouring Herzegovina, violating minority rights at home, suppressing media freedoms and obstructing the work of the
All this has now changed. Croatia has ceased to disrupt state-building in Bosnia, issuing a formal apology in 2010 for the war crimes committed there in Croatia’s name. It has allowed the return of Croatian Serb refugees, and in 2003 a Serb minority party even entered into a coalition government. It has completed the extradition of all those indicted by the Hague, including the most famous, General Ante Gotovina. In Belgrade, this year’s Gay Pride parade was once again cancelled; in Croatia, government ministers were visible participants in the parade.
Compared to 1999, Croatia is now a much more open and liberal society. It will fit into the European Union with no clash of political culture. But proceeding with Croatian accession is not just about rewarding these efforts. It is also a vital political message for Croatia’s Balkan neighbours. It shows what the path to Europe really consists of: visionary leadership and the courage to take political risks inspired by European values.
None of Croatia’s eastern neighbours are close to joining the EU. Only Montenegro has begun the negotiation process, which requires at least a decade to complete. But it is in the best interests of both the EU and the peoples of South Eastern Europe – in Belgrade, Sarajevo, Tirana and Pristina – that the promise of eventual accession remains a credible one. Because, as Croatia has demonstrated so powerfully, it is the accession process itself that offers the best prospects for lasting political change in the region.
The accession of Croatia in summer 2013 will not weaken the EU. On the contrary, the transformation of Croatia demonstrates the power of the EU to bring about lasting change in a region that is gradually emerging from its troubled history.
Den Anfang machte eine Schlagzeile der Frankfurter Allgemeinen am 9. Oktober: „Brüssel ermahnt Kroatien: ‚Bedingungen für Beitritt noch nicht erfüllt’.“ Dann meldete sich Gunther Krichbaum (CDU), Vorsitzender des Europaausschusses des Bundestages, zu Wort: “Zum jetzigen Zeitpunkt ist das Land nicht beitrittsfähig.” Bundestagspräsident Norbert Lammert erklärte: “Wir müssen … den jüngsten Fortschrittsbericht der EU-Kommission ernst nehmen: Kroatien ist offensichtlich
noch nicht beitrittsreif.“ Und am 15. Oktober schrieb Martin Winter in der Süddeutschen Zeitung, dass Kroatien in der Tat „nicht reif genug ist“, doch dass der Zug schon abgefahren sei. „Nur leider: Lammert kommt mit seinem Einwurf ein wenig spät.“
Es sind beunruhigende Nachrichten, verstörende Warnungen: Wird die EU durch eine überhastete Aufnahme eines unvorbereiteten Landes geschwächt? Hat die EU heute nicht schon genug Probleme?
Kroatien ist ärmer als Deutschland oder Österreich. Allerdings ist sein Durchschnittseinkommen vergleichbar mit dem in Ungarn und höher als in allen anderen Ländern des Westbalkans oder als in Rumänien und Bulgarien.
Kroatien wurde während seiner Beitrittsverhandlungen mehr geprüft als jedes andere Land, das bislang versuchte der EU beizutreten. Es stellte seinen Antrag auf Aufnahme 2003. Vor dem Öffnen und Schließen der 35 Verhandlungskapitel mussten immer konkrete Reformen umgesetzt, nicht (nur) EU-konforme Gesetze verabschiedet werden.
War das Europäische Parlament blauäugig, als es Anfang Dezember mit 564 gegen 38 Stimmen für Kroatiens Aufnahme stimmte? Was ist den 16 EU Mitgliedsstaaten, die Kroatiens Beitrittsvertrag bereits ratifiziert haben, entgangen? Denn man kann davon ausgehen: wäre Kroatien heute noch nicht reif für die EU, dann würde es das wohl auch zum vorgesehenen Beitrittstermin im Sommer 2013 nicht sein. Ernste Probleme lassen sich nicht in ein paar Monaten beheben.
Doch um welche Probleme geht es eigentlich, aufgrund derer dieses kleine Land (mit gut 4 Millionen so viele Einwohner
wie Rheinland-Pfalz) eine mögliche Belastung für die EU darstellen könnte?
Ein oft hervorgehobenes Thema ist Korruption. Hier ist allerdings im Fall Kroatiens der Grundtenor des von Lammert zitierten Kommissionsberichtes positiv. Die einzige konkrete Forderung der Kommission ist eine Selbstverständlichkeit: Kroatien müsse den Kampf gegen Korruption und organisiertes Verbrechen fortsetzen. Im neuesten Korruptionsindex von Transparency International schneidet Kroatien so gut ab wie die Slowakei und besser als Italien und als alle anderen Länder Südosteuropas, einschliesslich der EU Mitglieder Griechenland, Bulgarien und Rumänien. In den letzten drei Jahren gab es eine Serie von Anklagen wegen Korruption, unter anderem gegen einen ehemaligen Premierminister, einen ehemaligen Vizepremier, gegen Minister, den Chef der Zollverwaltung, Manager von Staatsbetrieben und sogar gegen die frühere Regierungspartei. Natürlich gibt es weiter Korruption, in Kroatien so wie in Italien oder Österreich, aber es ist auch gerade in diesem Bereich sehr viel passiert.
Bezüglich der Umsetzung von EU-Gesetzgebung in Kroatien stellt der Kommissionsbericht fest: „Kroatien hat weitere Fortschritte in der Verabschiedung und Implementierung von EU Gesetzgebung gemacht und vollendet nun seine Angleichung mit dem acquis.“ Nicht alles ist gut: „Die Kommission hat Bereiche identifiziert, in denen weitere Bemühungen notwendig sind, und eine begrenzte Zahl von Aspekten, für die verstärkte Bemühungen erforderlich sind.“ Die Kommission nennt überdies noch zehn offene Punkte, auf die sie besonderen Wert legt, darunter die Vollendung der Privatisierung dreier Schiffswerften; die Verabschiedung eines neuen Informationszugangsgesetzes und einer Migrationsstrategie; den Ausbau zweier Grenzposten; oder weitere Anstellungen bei der Grenzpolizei (das wird, bis zu Kroatiens Schengenbeitritt, ein Thema bleiben).
Das sind alles sinnvolle Ziele. Doch entscheiden diese Punkte darüber, ob Kroatien als Mitglied die EU stärken oder schwächen würde?
Denn der tiefgreifendste und wichtigste Wandel in Kroatien seit 1999 ist neben der Umsetzung der EU Gesetze die Veränderung seiner politischen Kultur. Noch 1999 unterstützte Präsident Tudjman separatistische Kroaten in Bosnien. Er weigerte sich mit dem internationalen Strafgerichtshof zusammenzuarbeiten. Er trat Minderheitenrechte, Pressefreiheit und andere demokratische Grundwerte mit Füßen. Als er im Dezember 1999 starb, war sein Land international isoliert.
Danach begann sich Kroatien dramatisch zu verändern, angefangen mit der Politik gegenüber Bosnien. Die Rückkehr vertriebener Serben wurde ermöglicht. Es kam 2003 sogar zu einer Koalition zwischen Tudjman’s ehemaliger Partei, der HDZ, und der Partei der kroatischen Serben. Alle vom Den Haager Tribunal angeklagten mutmaßlichen Kriegsverbrecher
Kroatien ist heute ein anderes, offeneres, liberaleres Land als 1999. In Serbien werden weiterhin von manchen die Massaker in Bosnien in Frage gestellt. 2010 besuchte Kroatiens Präsident Josipovic hingegen Bosnien und bat für im Namen Kroatiens
begangene Verbrechen um Verzeihung. In Belgrad wurde die Gay Parade erneut abgesagt; in Kroatien nahmen Minister an der Parade in Split teil.
Genau darin aber liegt auch die wichtigste Botschaft eines kroatischen Beitritts an seine Nachbarn in Südosteuropa: um eines Tages EU-Mitglied werden zu können, braucht es Verantwortung, Führung und den Mut, politische Risiken einzugehen. Es
braucht Ausdauer und einen starken nationalen Konsens. Es ist in jedem Fall ein Marathonlauf, wenn nicht gar ein Triathlon, und kein Sprint.
Auf absehbare Zeit wird keiner von Kroatiens südlichen Nachbarn der EU beitreten. Verhandungen brauchen auf jeden Fall viele Jahre. Bislang ist es nur Montenegro gelungen, diese zu beginnen. Doch ist es im Interesse, sowohl der EU als auch der Region, dass dieses Ziel glaubwürdig bleibt, in Belgrad, in Sarajevo, in Tirana, in Skopje.
Der Beitritt Kroatiens im Sommer 2013 wird die EU nicht schwächen. Im Gegenteil, schon jetzt haben die Veränderungen im Land, die das Versprechen eines EU Beitritts verursacht hat, den Einfluss der EU in Südosteuropa gestärkt. Es gibt viele Gründe, sich über den Beitritt Kroatiens zu freuen und diesen als kleinen, aber wichtigen europäischen Erfolg zu sehen.
Am Sonntag, 21.10.2012, wird auf ORF 2 um 23.05 der von ESI mitgestaltete Dokumentarfilm „Kroatien: Heldendämmerung“, eine neue Folge der preisgekrönten Serie „Balkanexpress – Return to Europe“, ausgestrahlt.