The new escalation in the smouldering Kosovo conflict in September 2023 illustrates the explosive political situation in the Western Balkans. Under these circumstances, it is difficult to restore the lost trust between people and states. The author relies on journalists and the media. And on the European Union (EU).
Without a question, the most significant destabilizing force in the Western Balkans is a severely wounded Russia, which is attempting to use Banja Luka and Belgrade to create a new battle zone in the center of Europe after Ukraine.To personalize the problem: Vladimir Putin is persistently trying to provoke an armed conflict in Bosnia and Herzegovina through the political leader of the Bosnian Serbs, Milorad Dodik.
Russia's goal is to destabilize the EU and to demonstrate the incompetence of the NATO alliance by causing chaos and war in this region. The aim is to realize a centuries-old Russian-Serbian dream: the creation of a Greater Serbia, which would include the Republika Srpska, Montenegro and a part of Kosovo.
Tearing Bosnia Apart?
The plan is precise: Bosnia and Herzegovina is to be torn apart under the pretext of fighting Muslims and the ethnically cleansed Republika Srpska is to be annexed to its "mother" Serbia. In Kosovo, a new Republika Srpska is to be founded from the Union of Serbian Communities - and then, in the long term, this region will also become Serbian.
Russia's goal is to destabilize the EU and to demonstrate the incompetence of the NATO alliance by causing chaos and war in this region. The aim is to realize a centuries-old Russian-Serbian dream: the creation of a Greater Serbia.
The Greater Serbian strategists benefit from the fact that Serbs and Montenegrins speak an almost identical language, that they share the Orthodox faith, and that the powerful Serbian Orthodox Church simply devoured the autochthonous Montenegrin Orthodox Church. Serbia has political influence on the Montenegrin government through the Serbian secret service – whose boss has attracted attention in the past due to pro-Russian statements – and huge amounts of money.
Serbia Holds the Keys
Serbia holds the keys to reconciliation and good neighbourly relations in the Western Balkans, whether anyone is willing to admit it or not. Carried by the strong wind from Moscow, Serbia is deepening the already great mistrust between the countries of the former Yugoslavia through the Republika Srpska and the Union of Serb Municipalities in Kosovo.
In this heated political climate, it is difficult to talk about restoring the lost trust between the people and the states in the Western Balkans. Yet that is one of the most important preconditions for neighbours not to look at each other through gun barrels, but to engage in conversation and reconciliation.
Although, at first glance, it may seem paradoxical, I believe it is precisely those who played one of the main roles in causing the war in former Yugoslavia who can have the greatest influence on restoring trust between the peoples and states in the region: journalists and the media.
It may seem paradoxical, but those who played one of the main roles in causing the war in former Yugoslavia can have the greatest influence in restoring trust between the peoples and states in the region: journalists and the media.
It is precisely for this reason that the role of journalists and the media in establishing the truth and reconciliation must be significantly greater than the role they have played in spreading oftentimes monstrous lies, hatred and warmongering.
An old proverb says: when the water gets muddy, let's go back to the source. Let's remember: The then Serbian President Slobodan Milošević started the war in the Balkans with the help of journalists and the media. The responsibility of journalists for the physical and psychological destruction of people and cities, for the disregard of all ethical principles is no less than the responsibility of politicians and generals.
Virus of Hate
It was journalists who so quickly spread the virus of hatred and war, which engulfed the entire territory of the former Yugoslavia. It was journalists who poisoned and terrified peaceful people.
Only after journalists and the media had torn apart former Yugoslavia along ethnic lines did uniformed executioners – various armies and paramilitaries – entered the stage. Tanks, cannons, concentration camps, the genocide in Srebrenica, ethnic cleansing, columns of refugees with no prospect of returning home soon followed. The temptation was obviously great: in the internal conflict between the truth and false patriotism, the so-called "patriotism" prevailed among war-mongering journalists.
Patriotic journalists produced a real massacre in former Yugoslavia, not only with their journalistic stories, but also by disseminating and glorifying the war-inciting speeches of enraged politicians, generals, and war criminals, praising their atrocities. While guns spoke and patriotic journalists glorified war crimes, professional journalism was ostracized and persecuted.
It is a real shame that the monstrous role of the instigators of war, i.e. the journalists and the media, were not recognized and sanctioned by the International Criminal Court. The prosecutors in Nuremberg and Rwanda were well aware of the role of journalists in the generation of war and war crimes: in Nuremberg, the editor of ’Der Stürmer‘ was sentenced to death by hanging for crimes against humanity. The court in Rwanda sentenced a Belgian journalist and a priest to 20 years in prison, each for inciting war.
It is a real shame that the monstrous role of the instigators of war, i.e. the journalists and the media, was not recognized and sanctioned by the International Criminal Court.
When I asked the International Criminal Court’s prosecutor Carla del Ponte at an event in Sarajevo why she did not act like her colleagues from Rwanda and Nuremberg, she replied that she did not have the mandate to do so. It is a huge pity that there has been no prosecution of the warmongering journalists.
This is why, for the most part, there was no catharsis in the territory of the former Yugoslavia when it comes to hate speech and warmongering. And that had a stimulating effect on today's proponents of the politics of ”blood and soil”. The countries of the Western Balkans have returned to the 1990s when that policy was at its pinnacle.
The truth, reconciliation and restoration of trust between peoples who have been at war are, above all, a question of catharsis. Let me remind you: even though more than seven decades have passed since the defeat of Fascism, Germany does not diminish its responsibility for the Nazi period of its past. On the contrary: in the centre of Berlin there is a museum dedicated to the Holocaust, close to the institutions that reflect the greatness and power of the German people.
Breaking the fear from the other and the different in the region of the Western Balkans is a long and difficult process. Reconciliation, forgiveness, and restoring the trust among the Balkan states cannot be brought to an end by themselves.
Through the skilful manipulation of naming and blaming other nations for collective guilt, even for crimes committed centuries or decades ago, politicians block the paths of reconciliation through their tycoons, their media and their journalists. They thus try to avoid any thought of individual responsibility not only for the past war but also for their personal involvement in massive corruption and crime.
Through the skilful manipulation of naming and blaming other nations for collective guilt, even for crimes committed centuries or decades ago, politicians block the paths of reconciliation through their tycoons, their media and their journalists.
Therefore, everything should be done to restore trust, promote coexistence in the Western Balkans, resolve all open issues, and secure an unhindered flow of people and capital. Respect for human rights, diversity and security are also essential in this politically and security threatened area.
A key role in this process should be played in addition to political leaders, by journalists, the media, writers and intellectual elites. Not only from the Balkans, but also from the European Union. Unfortunately, the countries of the Western Balkans cannot fight alone against Russia’s influence and against the Greater Serbia's territorial claims towards Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, and Montenegro without significant help from the European Union, which appears to be indifferent, particularly to corrupt leaders who do not want their states to become orderly and ruled by law.
Therefore, I think that the EU, especially its strongest member, Germany, should become more actively involved in solving the Balkan problems, especially by asserting its great political and economic influence, particularly in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Dealing With the Past
The European Union and its member countries can significantly help with various ideas, initiatives, and projects, as well as with concrete technical and financial assistance to non-governmental sector. They can encourage journalists, writers, filmmakers, and others to support a culture of dialogue, reconciliation, diversity, and memory in the Western Balkans. Dealing with the past helps build a better future.
For this purpose, the European Union should establish a special fund alongside its political action. This is about connecting people and nations rather than dividing them.
It would also be valuable if summer camps and other meetings were held under the auspices of the European Union, in which children and young people from Serbia, Kosovo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Montenegro participate. There they would make friends at an early age and form a judgment about "the other and the different". In an atmosphere of tolerance, respect and love should be fostered, instead of incitement of hatred.
It would be valuable if summer camps were held under the auspices of the European Union, in which children and young people from Serbia, Kosovo, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Montenegro participate.
On the other hand, the EU could impose an entry ban for politicians, journalists, cultural workers, athletes and others who propagate hate speech and warmongering in the Western Balkans and announce secessions or border changes. Of course, however, freedom of speech and expression should be fully respected. The staff of the embassies of the EU countries are undoubtedly able to distinguish between freedom of speech and hate speech.
If the EU has the political will, it could launch a foreign policy initiative and take a strategic move, which would change the balance of power on the ground and bring peaceful coexistence in the region. This implies for all countries of the Western Balkans to join the European Union as soon as possible.
Therefore, the European Union should do now what it already did in 2004 when in the so-called “Big wave” it took in as many as ten countries all at once: Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, Hungary, Malta, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia. Three years later Bulgaria and Romania joined. And then, finally, Croatia. This was done despite to the fact that some of those countries did not meet all the strict criteria for joining the EU; some of them still do not.
However, with the decision of European and world leaders at the time, those countries more or less resolved decades-long divisions, territorial and other disputed issues under the auspices of the EU. And from bitter rivals they have become political partners. This way, the European Union would help both the Western Balkans and itself: instead of problematic neighbours, it would get peaceful neighbours and stable partners in all spheres of life. This, ultimately, would strengthen the European Union in the face of attacks on it from both the East and the West.
About the Author
Journalist, Author and Screenwriter
Šeki Radončić is a Montenegrin journalist, writer, screenwriter, director, producer, anti-war and human rights activist. He is the founder and director of the non-governmental organisation "Document", which investigates human rights violations, civil rights abuses, police torture and war crimes. Radončić is a member of the Montenegrin P.E.N. Centre, co-founder of the Montenegrin Helsinki Committee and the Independent Daily News.
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