A Meeting in Sarajevo

On the last day of May, an op-ed signed by Hillary Clinton, Catherine Ashton, and Miguel Angel Moratinos appeared on the website of the UK newspaper The Guardian, promoting the upcoming "summit" meeting in Sarajevo. It was filled with standard platitudes about how EU and NATO membership brings peace, prosperity and progress, and how the EU and the Empire really wanted to see the Balkans join their "democratic and unified Europe"… eventually.

No doubt Sarajevo is indeed a symbol of "opportunities and challenges of European and Euro-Atlantic integration," as the authors put it. After all, without the Bosnian adventure, NATO would have perished from lack of purpose, and the EU would have hardly become the transnational bureaucracy with aspirations of statehood that it is today. But for all their promises to "stand ready to assist the citizens and leaders of the region in building a better future together," Empire’s top diplomat and her EU and Spanish colleagues have managed to say a whole lot of nothing.

The actual summit, held on June 2, accomplished about as much.

High Hopes

For Washington and Brussels, Sarajevo was most of all an image-booster. The Empire was there to lord it over the Europeans with a clear message as to who actually ran the "Atlantic" portion of the "Euro-Atlantic integrations," and make sure the continental vassals were behaving. The EUrocrats, for their part, wanted to present a picture of strength and confidence, shaken in the past months by the Greek financial collapse and its reverberations in the Eurozone.

For a decade now, the prospect of EU membership has been the carrot — and stick — with which the shards of Yugoslavia were goaded to obedience. It would hardly help the cause of European envoys, NGOs, human rights groups, or bankers if the natives got a bit restless after ten years of chasing a dream always out of their reach. Or, Heaven forbid, realizing the dream isn’t all it is cracked up to be.

Certainly, the biggest hopers and dreamers were the local politicians, who came to the Sarajevo meeting convinced it would help them advance their own agendas. For the Albanians of the "Independent state of Kosovo," this was a recognition of their separation from Serbia. For the Serbian government, it was a validation of its proskynesis before Brussels and Washington, and an affirmation of their "European path." Bosnian politicians fished for validation of their agendas before the coming general elections this fall. Likewise, the governments of Bosnia and Albania hoped for a specific announcement that the EU would include their countries in the visa-free travel regime. Brussels had proposed such a course of action in the days prior to the summit, but no dates were mentioned.

Smoke and Mirrors

The summit concluded with a vacuous declaration that the "future of the Western Balkans lies in the European Union," to which was appended a caveat: while EU enlargement will remain a prospect, its achievement will depend on strict conditionality for individual countries. In other words, absolutely nothing has changed from the status quo.

The Sarajevo Summit was smoke and mirrors, a desperate attempt to hoodwink the denizens of the "Western Balkans" that their hopes and dreams of EUtopia will eventually, some day, almost there, just about, any day now, could perhaps, possibly become a (sort of) reality. Maybe.

Mistaking this ephemeral phantasm for any sort of specific plan for the future would be madness.

That aside, however, there is another incongruity worth pointing out. Twenty years ago, there was still a country called Yugoslavia where today exists only the euphemistically called "Western Balkans." The very same governments that fought tooth and nail to destroy Yugoslavia and establish "independent" states in its stead, now pledge undying commitment to surrender that sovereignty to Brussels. For that matter, the EU actually precipitated the Wars of Yugoslav Succession by ruling that the country was "in the process of dissolution." And now it wants to integrate the shards of what it helped disintegrate in the first place? That just makes no sense.

Unless one notes the whole "conditionality" part, that is. Brussels does desire to have the entire continent under its rule, to the point of considering any holdouts to be a threat to its continued existence. However, before it accepts the submission of the new satrapies, they must be remade in its image. Thus the hundreds of thousands of pages of laws, rules and codes, the "reforms," the conditions, all designed to transform the candidate country into something that the EU can digest. It is hardly the candidates’ fault that the Greek financial meltdown is currently giving Brussels a bad case of heartburn.

Soothing the Panic

Even the most fanatical EUrophiles in the Balkans could not fail to notice that the financial crisis diminished their prospects for finding a place at the Brussels trough. Fear of being left out in the cold led Serbian president Boris Tadic to plead last week that halting the EU expansion would be a "giant and irreversible mistake that would leave terrible consequences in the region."

No doubt the Sarajevo Summit and its meaningless declaration of commitment to possibility were, therefore, calculated to soothe the panicking "Westbalkanians." But Tadic should not celebrate prematurely. Not only is EUtopia still at least a decade away, one of the key demands on the road to submission will be Belgrade’s recognition of the "Independent State of Kosovo." How the Serbian public will react when Tadic’s government attempts to obey will demonstrate exactly how far along the EU-engineered "transformation" of Serbia has progressed — or not.

And Another Thing

One of the expectations in the run-up to the Sarajevo Summit was that the EU would appoint a special envoy for the Balkans. There was even a specific name in the running, that of Paddy Ashdown, onetime viceroy of Bosnia. A former leader of the Liberal Democrats — now part of the ruling coalition with the Tories — Ashdown also enjoys the strong support of the new British foreign minister William Hague, and shares his line on Bosnia. Yet the Summit has come and gone, and the rumors of Ashdown’s triumphant return to the Balkans appear to have been greatly exaggerated.

Much like the whole "Euro-Atlantic" pipe dream, really.

Author: Nebojsa Malic

Nebojsa Malic left his home in Bosnia after the Dayton Accords and currently resides in the United States. During the Bosnian War he had exposure to diplomatic and media affairs in Sarajevo. As a historian who specializes in international relations and the Balkans, Malic has written numerous essays on the Kosovo War, Bosnia, and Serbian politics. His exclusive column for Antiwar.com debuted in November 2000.