Wednesday Night #1354 — with Misha Crnobrnja

While we cannot avoid keeping a weather eye on the ever-changing political winds to the south, we are happy to turn to developments in Europe and elsewhere this week.
In the company of one of our favorite (and only Balkan) experts, Misha Crnobrnja, former ambassador, author, banker, environmental economist, professor of European Integrations and Economy of Transition, we are bound to have an enlightening evening. Misha – Former Ambassador of the Former Yugoslavia to the Former European Community, and author of “The Yugoslav Drama” – is now the Vice Dean of the Centre for Advanced European Studies and Research (CAESAR) of the University of Novi Sad in Belgrade
With recent developments in Serbia and the threatened declaration of Kosovo‘s independence, Misha is that rara avis – knowlegeable observer and analyst, who imbues his topics with passion. Few of us will forget the wonderful evening spent in his company last February when he and Tom Windmuller explored such questions as the existence of a European identity, the Balkans as emerging economies, Russia’s role as an economic power and the encouraging comment that “Despite the cost of the Iraq war, the U.S. economy is actually a bright spot”.
And Lo!, a year may have passed, the sands (and ice floes) shifted slightly, but the topics remain.
Aforementioned Serbia and Kosovo are very much with us.
The European identity is no better defined, and while France has now “reclaimed its place at the heart of Europe” by ratifying the Lisbon Treaty, President Sarkozy said on Sunday the 27-member European Union now had to define clearly what its goals were. Will the new Treaty, which virtually replaces the discredited constitution, solve all the problems? Not according to Christopher Booker of The Telegraph (Europe’s parliaments rush into impotence).
Russia appears more threatening this year than last, although exactly a year ago, Vladimir Putin was accusing the U.S. of attempting to establish a uni-polar world Now as he steps down (though hardly away), in last Friday’s speech on Russian strategy, while pointing to the country’s ever-strengthening economy, he renewed attacks on NATO and to a lesser degree on free trade and investments that cloak grabs for natural resources. Somehow, we don’t think he was talking about China’s Africa policy. Although we have not read the entire text, we suspect the Arctic featured in his thinking.
[The Guardian, February 13
Putin issues nuclear threat to Ukraine over plan to host US shield Need we say more?]
For lively and informative views on the Russian election and backroom power struggles, we recommend Reuters Operation Successor: Russia’s 2008 elections
The U.S. economy has not evolved as predicted. A year ago there was no talk of subprime mortgages, ABCPs, nor much about sovereign wealth funds. A few cyclical mavens spoke of a healthy “correction”. Certainly not the only-partially-veiled gloom of the G7 finance ministers’ statement that “In the United States, output and employment growth have slowed considerably and risks have become more skewed to the downside,” diplospeak for things are getting really tough.
No doubt the Bush Economic Stimulus package will be considered in this context.

The Report

The hills of Kosovo have been a source of dispute for generations

For those who would like to delve further into Balkan history, we found TWENTY-FIVE LECTURES ON MODERN BALKAN HISTORY ; A more concise history is Albanians and Serbs in Kosovo: An Abbreviated History; the BBC also offers excellent background ); finally, given the amount of discussion about the 1389 Battle of Kosovo Polje, we point you to “The History and Effects of the Kosovo Polje Mythology” and the briefer (but with nice pictures of the battlefield today) Balkan Military History: Kosovo 1389
As well, there is current news and analysis on our Serbia & Kosovo page.


Welcoming Misha, Diana recalled that in May of 1999 , we eagerly greeted his return from a teaching ‘gig’ at William & Mary anticipating an update on the Kosovo question. Tonight, on the eve of Kosovo’s declaration of independence from Serbia , we again welcome Misha’s clear-eyed views of the issues, what will happen and where it is likely to lead.
There is one change. This Wednesday Misha introduced his son, Lav (‘Lion’ in Serbian, Bosnian, Croatian, Montenegrin) who has a degree in electrical engineering from Dawson, graduated in Business & Finance from Concordia and is with the real estate arm of GE; he is also an accomplished musician and a deejay when time permits.

Serbia has never come to grips with its own history

Wars have been most frequently fought for the perceived benefit to an individual or group of individuals. One of the tragedies of civilization remains the apparent inability on the part of contemporary leaders and citizens of some countries to forget past battles, thus foregoing the advantages of cooperation with former adversaries. The Europeans, however, have succeeded in doing so to their benefit, but in some countries, tribal rivalries persist to the economic detriment of their citizens.
After viewing a short video clip of background on the current situation, Misha elaborated, pointing out some of the misconceptions that prevail in the western media.

Kosovo Polje: View to the north and the Serbian positions.

The Serbian state and the Serbian Orthodox Church have their origins in Kosovo, which explains their emotional attachment, even though 86% of Serbs have never set foot in Kosovo. Although Albanians claim to trace their origins to the Illyrians of Greek and Roman times, the Slavs were certainly more recent arrivals, sometime in the 6th century. The root of today’s problem, however, lies in the Middle Ages. The centrepiece of Serbian nationalist mythology is the June 28 1389 Battle of Kosovo Polje (variously translated as the Field or Plain of Blackbirds) which it would appear was a draw insofar as both the Serbian King and the Ottoman Sultan were killed and the Turks withdrew for a while, but eventually prevailed.
The Ottoman Empire simply did not permit ethnic problems, so Serbs, who had a recognized albeit feudal state (a successor to the earlier Serbian Kingdom), and Albanians, who did not have a state, lived in peace until 1912 when the first Balkan War broke out. The Serbians won Kosovo back – having been the original overlords during the Middle Ages.
During World Wars I and II, the Serbs were on the “right” side with the allies, while the Albanians were on the losing side. During both periods, the Albanians harassed the Serbian population; the Serbs exacted vengeance after World War I. After World War II, Marshall Tito placed Kosovo under military rule (the only part of Yugoslavia to have this fate). Under Tito’s regime matters and until 1988 were relatively stable.
But in 1988, Slobodan Milosevic jailed the popular – and pro-Yugoslavia – Albanian leader for no reason, an act that inflamed the Albanians and represents the turning point in Serbian-Albanian relation. Henceforth there were two communities in Kosovo; the Serbs who were oppressive and the Albanians who, under a pacifist leader, responded by setting up an alternative social infrastructure – schools, universities, hospitals, etc. The situation continued for 10 years until February 1998 when Milosevic sent troops to crush a new ethnic Albanian uprising in Kosovo.
At this time, elements of ethnic cleansing were perceptible – and greatly exaggerated by the international media. International attention focused on Kosovo and NATO, celebrating its fiftieth anniversary, seized on the opportunity to solidify the alliance by intervening in the conflict. This was the first offensive as opposed to defensive action by NATO and it became evident that the expectation of a quick campaign was an illusion. Member states, unwilling to sacrifice ground troops, opted for heavy bombing, often of non-military targets. While Milosevic was unquestionably largely responsible for the fomenting the problems between the ethnic Serbs and Albanians, the NATO allies also bear some responsibility for the carnage in the Balkans.

What next?
There is clearly no way that Albanians and Serbs can live together, however, there must be a solution that permits Albanians and Serbs to not live together. A solution that comes with time and permits the newly sworn-in and pro-western president of Serbia some breathing space/negotiating room – what is worrisome is the sense of urgency in the western world that a solution must be found quickly, despite the evidence (Israel-Palestine) that such (tribal) conflicts are not quickly resolved.
The haste surrounding Kosovo’s declaration of independence, expected on Sunday the 17th, is unseemly and gives rise to many questions. What will happen to the predominantly Serb northern part of Kosovo? Can it be folded into Kosovo, or will it remain in some sort of federated relationship with Serbia? Will UN/NATO forces implement the totality of Kosovo’s territory?
Furthermore there are regional ramifications: it is likely that in its wake, there will be explorations of secession in Macedonia and Bosnia – already, there is talk of similar break-aways in regions as remote from the Balkans as Indonesia and the western Sahara, not to mention the phantom Republic of Kurdistan. [Editor’s note: Breakaway regions look to Kosovo precedent]
Kosovo is desperately poor and has the highest birthrate in Europe. The unemployment rate is currently 66%, the average age, 27½, and its population mostly Muslim (about 80%), but also Greek Orthodox and even Catholic. What happens if in the next 5-10 years, Kosovo wants to unite with Albania – and take some parts of Macedonia with it?
Serbian nationalism is the main cause of all of the problems in recent history, but the next phase may well be one of Albanian nationalism growing around a ‘Greater Kosovo’

The Balkans and the European Union
In all probability the future of the Balkans lies in membership in the European Union. The future of Europe lies in European countries declaring themselves as European and logic would dictate that the Balkans be integrated ahead of Turkey. This, however, is highly unlikely. At any event, membership is not a panacea and does not prevent such low level violence as occurs in Ireland and Spain.
The Serbian population is split evenly, generally along urban/rural lines with 50% who dwell on the past and 50% who eagerly look forward. The pro-European forces are generally young, urban and educated. That said, starting in 2002, polls were conducted asking how the respondents would vote if a referendum were held immediately on whether Serbia should join the EU. Over a number of years there was a consistent 70% or better affirmative response. However there were two control questions. The first was “How much do you know about the European Union?”. Only 4% responded that they knew all they needed to about the European Union; 11% declared knew something; 15% said they did not know enough and the rest said they knew nothing. The second control question was: “What would your response to the referendum question be if a condition of entry into the EU was that (Ratko) Mladic be turned over to the War Crimes Tribunal at The Hague?” Immediately, support for entry dropped to 37%.
With the exception of Greece, integration into the European Union takes about eight years.
Due to the nature of its membership, it is improbable that the EU will ever be a truly comprehensive entity. There will always be the North-South differentiation with different economic aspirations and labor legislation, along with what might be termed Old (pro-American Eurpeans) and new Europe. In the absence of a true comprehensive European identity, Europe (the EU) will derive its strength from economic partnerships, major trade deals and through a strong role in the WTO. The highly successful French trade mission to China led by President Sarkozy in November was not only good for France, but had a European envelope (Airbus for example). The euro has been a successful factor in the cohesion of the EU, although three countries (Sweden, Denmark and Britain) remain outside the euro zone. There is always a possibility that at some point some countries will seek higher or lower interest rates with consequences for this monetary union, but this is not considered a concern in the medium term.

In some opinions, the 21st century is devoid of statesmanship with the exception of Vladimir Putin who has a 70% approval rating and has found a way to communicate with all segments of Russian society while restoring Russia’s economic power.
Russia will never be a major power in the same sense as in the past – because of India, China and possibly the European Union which is currently an economic giant and a political pygmy. Russia has natural resources and also a number of excellent scientists and should soon be able to export highly competitive technology.


3 Comments on "Wednesday Night #1354 — with Misha Crnobrnja"

  1. Diana Thébaud Nicholson February 16, 2008 at 12:42 pm ·

    (The Telegraph) Russia overshadows Kosovo independence bid
    By Harry de Quetteville in Pristina
    Kosovo is poised to declare its independence from Serbia tomorrow, despite threats that Russia may encourage separatist movements elsewhere in response. As a first step, Russia’s foreign ministry announced it would review its relations with two breakaway regions of neighbouring Western-backed Georgia.
    “The recognition of the independence of Kosovo will be taken into account as far as the situation in Abkhazia and South Ossetia is concerned,” it said.
    It underlined that Kosovo’s independence “presupposes a revision of commonly accepted norms and principles of international law” that govern separatist movements from Moldova to Indonesia.

  2. Diana Thébaud Nicholson February 18, 2008 at 11:03 pm ·

    The History and Effects of the Kosovo Polje Mythology
    Abstract : The mythology surrounding the 1389 Battle of Kosovo Polje, in present-day Serbia, is the foundation for the Serbian cultural identity and is a prism through which Serbs view and interpret the past, present, future. The mythology, created out of necessity to cope with Ottoman conquest and the hardships of peasant life, began with early eulogies to the Serbian knights who were defeated on the Kosovo plain. It evolved through oral folklore tradition, epic poetry, and literature while being preserved and cultivated by the Serbian Orthodox Church. Epic themes of Serbian religious sacrifice, heroism, martyrdom, and struggle combined with victimhood, betrayal, and revenge provides the foundation of the mythology. Heroic and villainous characters evolved to dramatize the story from the deified Serbian Prince Lazar and warrior-hero Milos to the traitorous Vuk Brankovic and the occupying Ottoman Turk. The effects of the epic mythology range from simple first-order effects such as individual beliefs to second and third order effects such as cultural mobilization and war.

  3. Diana Thébaud Nicholson February 26, 2008 at 4:50 pm ·

    Just as Misha suggested might happen
    Today, the Stratfor Geopolitical Diary reports:
    The Russians appear to have made their move on the Kosovo issue. They have supported the idea of the mainly Serbian region of northern Kosovo breaking away from Kosovo and rejoining Serbia proper if the region wishes.

Comments are now closed for this article.