The Perceptions of History, Great Powers and the Balkans
«The Perceptions of History, Great Powers and the Balkans»


by Mladen Mrdalj


Source:   CROSSROADS ­ The Macedonian Foreign Policy Journal (CROSSROADS ­ The Macedonian Foreign   Policy Journal), issue: 04 / 2008, pages: 175­182, on
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at: www. currently he is finishing his mA studies in Security Studies at the same university. .31.175 - . beograd: beogradski izdavačko-grafički zavod. 1972. gen. lt. michael v. in ethnic cleansing in twentiethcentury europe. because their captain djiko said that they had performed better then we did in the battle on debeli brijeg. when i was just a child then? but that is not important! my clansmen were there! We were there a hundred years ago.tHe PerCePtioNS oF HiStorY. foreign researchers often neglect importance of perceptions of history in understanding balkans. uskok. 2003. events have proportions. researching contemporary relations between russia and the eu for his mA thesis. hayden. Steven bela vardy and t. dc. it shows us one event with the air of utmost drama then forgets about it and shows us the eds. 84. it is important since national identities in former Yugoslavia never got fully rid of that way of thinking.. part of the press’ job is to keep things in proportion. it’s not a small issue! it is awful when someone’s heroism is being diminished. greAt PoWerS ANd tHe BAlkANS Mladen Mrdalj “– So why did you fight with them? – Well.hungarianhistory. in real life.doc [20/4/2008] mladen mrdalj holds llb from the law faculty of belgrade university. hunt tooley. “We come to new situations asking. he had conducted fellowship at the georgetown university. “ethnic cleansing”. 3 ibid. tv’s natural tendency is to see the world in shards. “what’s the problem?” when a more appropriate inquiry might be. This translation from Serbian is “ad hoc” for the purpose of this paper. “what’s the story?”2 hayden quotes James fallows as saying: “in the real world.”3 1 2 Simo matavulj. – Just because of that? – Well. 21 . events have a history. part of the press’ job is to explain that history. although that goes against tv’s natural emphasis on the now.. p. and we will be there in a hundred years again!” 1 This small example of self-perception comes from 19th century montenegro. – but you were not even there in that battle! – how could i.

”6 The problem of former Yugoslavia was the existence of several such groups of people unable to find satisfaction in assuming comfortable position within a “super-identity” of Yugoslavism. consequences. narcotics. even passivity of big powers is a way to influence internal balkan affairs. Soviet empire collapsed because it preferred lies in accord with ideology to truths against it. on the claims that their ancestors – in their belief members of the same ethnic group – had had their own state in the past. thanks to the long cultural development. the natural inclination would be to see foreign actions in the balkans as what they are proclaimed to be – purely humanitarian. that the time has come to correct that injustice or that. such as corruption. 1951. This pre-conception is highly relevant for any kind of study in international relations. rather then “sacrifice and love”. p. one has to be clear with one self from the start on his or her views of the prevailing principles of conduct in international affairs. human trafficking. understanding two major problems – popular perceptions of history and great powers relations is essential. moreover. “post-Yugoslav states” toward eu through development of political culture. Thus researcher has to be honest in the approach and risk being boring and often against the mainstream of the mass media. putting all the blame on the warring sides while neglecting interests and actions or omissions of big powers can never lead to a proper analysis. we will discuss perceptions of history. miroslav hadzic. georg. new York: The london institute on World Affairs.176 - . of course. Power Politics.. in dealing with balkan conflict. and other forms of organized crime are not threats of any significance. ibid. deceivers. if one tends to believe in international community. although the number of person listed as such in national censuses was growing. they have become ‘nation-building people’. since they have no direct political causes or implications. if. first. not only balkan affairs. “Such groups base their request for an independent state. All other security problems. his or her view on possible causes of foreign interventions will include some more material and earthly motives as well. etc. these groups were claiming their national 4 5 6 Schwarzenberger. complicated nature of balkan conflicts has led many researchers to simplify and thus err. krizan. ed. dynamics.211. tackling the problem of balkan security demands honesty. mojmir. since he or she would be operating in the realm of “power politics”. on the other side. police cooperation in the region in regard to these issues could be achieved with little or no problems. 2004. it is matter of only political directives. in violent dissolution of yugoslavia – causes. since it could be interpreted by at least one side in conflict as a “green light” for an aggressive action. one sees in the world only international “society” and not “community”5.. . if it is possible in any way. described by german-born english scholar of international relations georg Schwarzenberger as based on sacrifice and love4. This translation from Serbian is “ad hoc” for the purpose of this paper. belgrade: center for civil – military relations. 193 . that it was unjustly taken from them by various invaders.– Mladen Mrdalj – What researchers also neglect is the importance of the relations among great powers.12 Society differs from community in being defined through “interest and fear”.

2) fervent protection of human rights and 7 8 huntington. but rarely does it end permanently. Although they enjoy fruits of globalized world. too personal. is it possible to change their perception of history? not likely in next several generations. finally achieving their “thousand years” goal.The Perceptions of history. people’s personal experiences are too vivid. it ended violently. The clash of civilizations.323 This translation from Serbian is “ad hoc” for the purpose of this paper.177 - . 2000. trends among youth are quite interesting. Albanians on the other hand are firmly established in their belief in historical rights inherited from their pre-Slavic illyrian ancestors. on the other hand.000 youngsters. ruth. national educational and cultural institutions will preserve basic interpretations of history. the one that is not as bright as presented by leading national authors and institutions. This is the seed of future conflicts. envy toward rich Westerners coupled with despise of western “feminism” and “tidiness” contrasted with their vulgar comprehension of their superior “balkan roughness”. just as much bosnian muslims are rooted in their perception of themselves as descendants of medieval bosnian bogomils. that they had never ceased fighting for it. since they do not remember it. p. mitchell. The observation that “Serbian memory is exceedingly tenacious” and that “The powers will be making a serious mistake if later they ignore this fact”8 could have been ascribed to all sides in the balkan conflicts just as easily. Great Powers and the balkans rights on the same territories. this youth lacks any sense of the terrors of war. recent event in zagreb where neo-ustasha singer marko perkovic “Thompson” gathered crowd of 60. moreover. The solution is mix of nationalist.”7 is this true for former Yugoslavia? Will future generations seek the “right moment” to reclaim “ancestral” territories? Serbs often boast that they had remembered kosovo battle for 500 years in order to avenge it. yet they displayed flaming passion for even the most extreme iconography. new York: garden city publishers. The Serbs chose War. but children learn about it in different ways. while parental instruction will make sure new generations stay “on course”. p. showed an amazing number of people who did not even remember war. in combination with afore mentioned aspects of youth identity. a nation that suffered defeats is much more realistic in viewing past events. The nation that considers itself victorious is less likely to accept another version of history. it seems that globalization influences balkan youth in the direction of aggressive search for an identity. it seems now that Yugoslavia was an ideal solution for territorial disputes of conflicted perceptions of national histories. There are three instruments that could be used to foster cultural change: 1) higher frequency of human contact. in order for someone to change them. Samuel. 57 . in each case. 1943. “parental history lessons” are falling on the hospitable soil. podgorica: cid. while croats often remind that they had an independent state before 1102. The end of Yugoslavian project restarted “historically based” territorial claims. romantic view of their nation. they are very hostile to the national identities of others. “violence caused by inappropriate border may be stopped for a certain period of time.

but the tendency is quite strong all the time. surprisingly. What has to be done in bosnia is to give every group a perception that it got as much as possible politically. in that way not only the best and most open minded students will interact. recent tv documentary aired on Serbian national television showed men from southern Serbia marrying Albanian women. since Serbian women have left for the cities. this means strong international presence in the future. According to lyman bryson’s lecture in columbia university (1953): “The second level (is) cultural change. not only would it cause more grave problems. We will take bosnia and herzegovina as an example. let alone the concept of “bosniak nation” comprised of orthodox. it means that human rights need to be respected to the core. which further stirs up nationalist sentiments. it is impossible to have truly peaceful bosnia as long as bosniaks feel morally obliged to demand and defend the concept of unitary bosnian state. . which. is not the case now. Single case of maltreatment of a fellow Serb. p. but in the same time croats are pushing for their own separate entity10.– Mladen Mrdalj – adjustment of basic political frameworks and 3) helping academic round-tables on history available to public.9 2) There are of course actions that could be taken in short and medium terms by active work on the ground. catholic and muslim bosniaks. on the ground. rise of commerce and frequent contacts among individuals. but programs of student exchange that would last for at least a semester in balkan countries and not out of the region should be encouraged. vance. croat. which is where you must operate… if you want to influence people’s ideas”. constitutional provisions in disputed areas need to be adjusted with the same goal. many require dismantling of republic of Srpska. regardless to the widespread unrest and opposition to unilateral declaration of independence of kosovo proclaimed just couple of months earlier. for example. 220 most notably in 2001. summer schools and seminars are good method. regardless of the nationality of the person and political implications. 1960. bosnian.178 - . As a just compensation and moral obligation. it means decentralization 9 10 packard. Their feeling that their victims and sufferings will be pointless unless they make bosnia a unitary nation has to be softened. which is not the case now. The only “role” for bosnian muslims in post-war period has been the role of the victim. and 2005. and strong international pressure on national authorities in resolving the questions of basic human rights in the region of former Yugoslavia. but the vast majority of youth will be able to meet someone from “the other side”. new York: david mckay company. These actions should lead to effects that would serve as basis for building perceptions morally acceptable to the public. Albanian or macedonian is regarded as a national insult and spinned by domestic medias. Some solutions might clash with the mainstream perceptions. 1) The only chance for progress lies in peaceful passage of time. in practice. inc. The impact on Serbian public was very positive. especially youth. The hidden Persuaders.

This could bring Serbian radical party to power in combination with the radicalization of the premier kostunica’s party. but across the Atlantic as well. on the other side. This direction could easily lead to their offering of Serbia’s geopolitical position in exchange for support in reclaiming kosovo anytime in future. supporters of the conservative block are predominantly motivated by what they perceive as injustices of the West. 3) fostering discussions among academics from the region will help the public hearing other sides of the story. p. taxes and ability to travel. bosniaks will have to be assured that bosnia will stay together. unilateral declaration of independence caused national frustration among the Serbs. Great Powers and the balkans with establishing third. delivering another blow to the mission of the eu. new Serbian foreign policy direction would isolate Serbia simultaneously pushing the region back. op. pro-western block will lose that part of voters. the questions of history and identity will gradually lose their sacred place and will be challenged by everyday questions of standard of living.balkantimes. once balance of power in global politics changes.179 - . 17 .cit. which is their primary goal. first blow has been eu’s inability to reach common ground on kosovo status followed by attempts of the uS to secretly influence eu member states in favor of kosovo independence. Serbs and croats would feel relaxed and their hard-liners will step back. in that way. but they will have to face the fact that pushing for unitary bosnia is not possible without serious consequences. not necessarily only between east and West.The Perceptions of 2008/01/27/nb-04 [21/04/2008] Schwarzenberger. since the “…secret diplomacy is a necessary ingredient of power politics”12 11 12 “Slovenia centre of kosovo status issue scandal” 27/01/2008 at: http://www. along with significant economic development and confirmed international backing of bosnia and herzegovina as a country. with higher frequency of airing such round-tables on tv stations. What is interesting is that the support enjoyed by pro-western block is partly derived from fear of conflict with nAto. their own perceptions will become relative and not absolute truths. before we discuss the influence of foreign powers in the balkans. croat entity. albeit comprised of three entities. and not by their affection toward russia. moreover. The easier way to soften bosnian reaction in respect to creation of croat entity would be to support some serious investigations of war crimes committed by members of bosnian muslim army during the war. we will look at the implications of kosovo’s independence as the strongest and the most recent example.11 Acts of this kind bring us back to the question of the character of present day international relations. adding another insult to another injury. though “started” in the balkans. new York: random house. Some are drawing a rather surprising parallel between parliamentary elections scheduled for may 11th world/2002/apr/07/1 [21/04/2008] kennedy. Serbia will follow other examples from its diplomatic history. and hitler’s ultimatum back in 1941. competing foreign powers (today it is russia. since it presented a threat in german backyard after violent rejection of bilateral treaty on march 27th 1941 in a coup. The rise and Fall of the Great Powers.16 during the cold War Yugoslavia was a major prize for the West. Among ourselves. The crimean war and the “eastern question” in 19th century were basically concerned with preventing russian advance toward the mediterranean. kingdom of Yugoslavia was crushed by german forces in World War two. and then it was england) are having different as it is the only international subject ready and capable of military prevention of the non-desired outcomes. french fear of habsburgs led to de facto alliance with muslim invaders in certain periods. especially if china and russia maintain their rise. public is having a negative attitude based on previous encounters without ability to grasp the situation.15 later on. since german unification in 1866 prevented habsburgs’ ambitions in northern areas. 1987. but it will not calm down others around the globe. since not only it affects the region. pre-emptive attack.13 Such perception caused their firm opposition in the un Security council and made kosovo Albanians’ declaration of independence illegal under international law. This time. . paul. chapter 2. but it has some global implications. namely the wise reaction after Austria-hungary annexed bosnia in 1908. whatever is necessary to deal with those who still live in the nineteenth century world of every state for itself. Serbia is surrounded with superior forces of allied foreign powers.– Mladen Mrdalj – moreover. robert francis. we operate on the basis of laws and open cooperative security.180 - . when belgrade was full of passionate protesters demanding war with Austria-hungary. nor it will help stability in the balkans if Serbia shifts foreign policy goals. double standard like this may have been rooted in cooper’s “new liberal imperialism”14. it was Austria-hungary trying to spear its influence through the balkans. kosovo independence is therefore larger then itself.” cooper. elite is divided. which painted uS actions as unilateralism and imperialism. we need to revert to the rougher methods of an earlier era . April 7th 2002. in fact triggered already prepared network of european alliances. but borders have never been in question and the threat of Wmds seemed plausible. 13 14 15 16 “The challenge to the postmodern world is to get used to the idea of double standards. The first World War. at:http://www. napoleon supported turkish suppression of first Serbian revolution since they needed turks as allies against russia. As then. the view among many countries such as russia and china but some eu members as well is that kosovo is a precedent. but when dealing with more old-fashioned kinds of states outside the postmodern continent of europe. iraq has been invaded in breech of international law. emotional and geographic attachment of Serbs to kosovo could prove disastrous in the long run. balkans highly reflects big powers’ relations. domino effect in bosnia-herzegovina and macedonia after kosovo’s declaration of independence is at the hands of the uS (nAto). Also. deception. it shines toward other groups deserving independences no turkish ottoman empire and christian states had their major battleground in the balkans for centuries. now we can put kosovo episode in context. underestimating religious. Observer.

cit. op.The Perceptions of history. it damaged pro-western block in Serbia as well as any moderate voice among kosovo Albanians. These two tasks themselves are preconditions for the solution and could be achieved only through the eu efforts and nAto military presence.181 - . intolerance and even more demagoguery in the political life. in the course of history. mishandling the kosovo issue. This situation is putting more weight on uS shoulders in regard to this area. mishandling of the Yugoslav crisis in the beginning of the 1990’s worsened the situation. The chance to rely on international law as a pillar of stability has been lost. thus strengthening nAto presence as well as the need for it. though helpful. balkan ethnic groups were always used as additional manpower by all sides. cooper again) should be aware of the fact that improved living standard. policy-makers from “post-modern” world (to use the term of robert f. unveiled system of power politics in international relations will make life incredibly harder for moderate reformers not only in small balkan countries. recent judgment in the international criminal tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in the case of ramus haradinaj has not helped a lot in that way. rejection of the fact that there was more then one bad guy protracted the conflict17 just in order to bring the uS in the position where it had to act tough in order to finish the conflict. where Albanian ballots combined with the efforts of democratic opposition led by the late premier djindjic could have ousted milosevic from office was one of the lowest moments. Great Powers and the balkans since it was detached from Stalin’s empire. which in turn would start the spiral of harder economic troubles naturally followed by nationalism. it is only uS presence that prevents further violent changes in the political landscape. The effects on global scale are profound.” hayden. which will have to be done by future generations. but in more powerful countries in the east and in the West as well. no matter how unwanted that is in the eyes of the political elite and most of the nation. Such changes would drive foreign investments away. today. 17 “…in our view. is not by itself the cause of peace. real battle will be in changing people’s perceptions on justice and injustice while having the aforementioned two preconditions fulfilled. the overall result of outside humanitarian assistance had been to prolong the conflict with aide donors largely acting as the quartermasters of the warring factions and shielding the leadership from the natural consequences of continued fighting at the expense of normal economic activity. the push toward kosovo independence led by the uS is throwing Serbia in the arms of russia. What to do now? The only way to prevent such effects or at least to minimize them in the short run would be to support balkans economically and freeze all conflicts. rather it is awareness that the time is not ripe to “correct the injustice”. 25 . once the balance of power changes. p. it is very dangerous and could be called “self-fulfilling prophecy” that Serbia is nothing but the russian pawn.

terms of this kind are dangerous.”19 What is crucial in saving balkans from another tragedy once balance of power changes again is that balkans will be firmly and forever part of the cooper’s postmodern world based on laws and care for the rights of the individual. 16.– Mladen Mrdalj – As Schwarzenberger wrote: ”…The permanent interests of powers.cit. from the old scholar: “conception such as State sovereignty and sovereign equality are merely ideological symptoms of a reality which they symbolize or disguise.99 . op.182 - . 18 19 Schwarzenberger. They strengthen the illusion that all that is needed to remedy the situation is to deal radically with the legal superstructure to which they belong.17 ibid. are remarkably stable within a system of power politics…”18 Again. p. regardless of state borders. pp. and especially great powers.

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