Balkan Wars at 100: Four Roads to Good Neighborhood*

EDITORIAL, 15 Oct 2012

#241 | Johan Galtung

Empires come and go. The Ottoman-Muslim Empire was among the better whereas the Iberian-Catholic and the European-Protestant were among the worst.

The religions of the kitab were respected and Turkish language was not imposed. Religious-linguistic entities in the Balkans survived, as opposed to those in Latin-Caribbean America. National independence movements succeeded: Greece in 1829, Serbia and Romania in 1878, Bulgaria in 1908, Albania in 1912.

But the nation-states were incomplete. And on October 8, 1912–a century ago—the Balkan League–Serbia-Bulgaria-Greece-Montenegro–declared war on the Ottoman Empire; and won.  Then came the Second Balkan war in 1913, among the victors, Serbia-Greece-Romania against Bulgaria over Macedonia. Bulgaria lost.

Today this all sounds disturbingly familiar; but it is very far from Kant’s “eternal peace”.  The wars may be over right now but recent ones have claimed many more lives than the Balkan Wars of 1912-13, estimated at 122,000 killed in action, 20,000 from wounds and 82,000 from disease. Positive peace seems far away; there is only some unstable negative peace.

This keynote will use a four factor formula for positive peace:

Cooperation for mutual and equal benefit, empathy for emotional harmony, reconciliation to reduce the violence from trauma, and resolution processes to reduce violence from conflicts. The conclusion will point in the direction of a Balkan Community–not only West Balkan–in Southeast Europe, corresponding to the Nordic Community in the Northwestern corner.  A new and positive meaning to “balkanization”.

The Balkans were doubly divided in the 11th century: the schism between Catholic and Orthodox Christians in 1054–like the split between the Western and Eastern Roman empires in 395 AD, Rome vs Constantinople–and then the declaration of war on Islam by Pope Urban II on 27 November 1095.

Two dividing lines meeting in Sarajevo, in Bosnia-Herzegovina (BiH) the Ground Zero for Euro-quakes. The Hapsburgs from the Northwest of Europe annexed BiH in 1908. The Ottomans, from the Southeast, defeated the Serbs in 1397, themselves to be defeated in the 1912 Balkan War, leaving behind Slavic and Albanian Muslims. A couple of years later, 1918, the Hapsburgs too went the way of empires: Fall, down. The end.

The Soviets came, and went, in the same way in 1991; the US Empire is following suit–by 30 years?–meeting its fate not in the Balkans but in Afghanistan, where empires are said to go to die. Do competing empires need each other, that is, if one goes so does the other?  Anyhow, today the Balkans are run by Brussels; by the deeply troubled European  Union with “high” representatives, and by a NATO-North Atlantic Treaty Organization led by a bankrupt country.

Wars, wars, wars. The West uses the Balkans as a projection for its own repressed cruel history, but Balkan countries-nations also carry their own burden of responsibility.  Greater Austria and Greater Turkey are gone. But put greater Hungary-Croatia-Bosnia-Serbia-Albania-Macedonia on the map, and it becomes dark at the overlaps.

And then: a look through peace lenses: what a fascinating part of the world, from Austria to Greece, from Dalmatia to the Aegean, Moldavia!  What a diversity–add symbiosis, and equity, and we are almost there!

The Nordics made it. Denmark-Copenhagen ruled over Norway-Faroe-Iceland-Greenland for many centuries; Sweden ruled over Finland and Norway. Sweden and Denmark fought horrible wars. We were not born peaceful, we became that way. The Nordic Community is meticulously equitable, there is much empathy for each other, past traumas show up as jokes, a rolling agenda with items loaded with conflict–open borders without passport and duties (by and large), a joint labor market (more Swedes in Norway now than during the domination), etc.  Handled rather well.

And not only for the five states but also for the four nations without states: Aland, Faroe, Greenland, and the Samis (Norway-Finland).

The parts of former Yugoslavia–for which many, including myself, feel nostalgia–today often find more common ground as a community, a space, than inside their fractured newly-born countries.

Hypothesis: a Balkan region could one day play the same role. For it to start all that is needed is a Balkan Commission with an Assembly, one chamber for the states and another for the nations. The Nordic experience shows that the community will survive even with three states inside and two outside the EU.  Give the nations a veto in matters of vital importance to their identity, like in the Swiss “magic formula” 3-2-1-1 for the four nations inside a seven-member cabinet.  The task is to find an equilibrium. The Swiss seem to have done so for more than 700 years.

Everybody must be represented, everybody must feel at home, the benefits must be reasonably mutual and equal; so also risks and costs.

Educators can make the traumas and glories of all states and nations a shared property; for empathy, for harmony.  Historians can bring perpetrators and victims closer to each other by producing histories acceptable to both. Politicians, and diplomats, can become more creative and find new conflict solutions, not lukewarm compromises.

Maybe one day the Aegean, with the islands, will become a binational sea, jointly administered, under the aegis of both the Balkan Community and the EU?  Maybe Cyprus joins?  And the borders between Hungary-Romania and Romania-Moldavia so open that ownership becomes common?

Needless to say, such processes take time, but much bilateral groundwork is being done.  Yes, the city of Mostar divides BiH.  But there was, and is again, a bridge – maybe BiH with a smoother federation could become a bridge between three Balkan nations?  And how about a federal Serbia, Kosovo, Macedonia?–all within an overarching Balkan Community, doing well on all four peace tasks, building symbiosis among its beautifully diverse parts? As model for Europe and the world? Balkans of all kinds, unite! You have only your self-pity to lose.

*Keynote Speech, Istanbul, Hacettepe University, 4 October 2012.


Johan Galtung, a professor of peace studies, dr hc mult, is rector of the TRANSCEND Peace University-TPU. He is author of over 150 books on peace and related issues, including ‘50 Years-100 Peace and Conflict Perspectives,’ published by the TRANSCEND University Press-TUP.

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3 Responses to “Balkan Wars at 100: Four Roads to Good Neighborhood*”

  1. satoshi says:

    Overall, the history of the Balkans is the history of the colonized, politically and/or economically. (Here in this comment, the “Balkans” means mostly the “so-called former Yugoslav area plus Albania”.) Two thousand years ago, the Balkan was the colony of the Roman Empire. From the Medieval Age to WWI, the Balkan was partially a colony of the Ottoman Empire, partially a colony of the Hapsburg Empire. It should be noted that rulers of the Balkans came both from east and west. From the east, the Ottoman Empire until WWI (and again since the last few years especially in Bosnia, in the form of business). From the west, the Roman Empire in the ancient times; the Hapsburg until WWI, and then, the Western continental European collective powers (especially Germany, France and Italy) after and economically.

    Peoples of the Balkans, under the rule of the powers from outside over the last two thousand years, have learned how to survive by being ruled. As the result, they have acquired a wealth of wisdom for deceiving their ruler(s) while pretending being ruled. But this also means that they did not learn how to rule themselves by themselves. Fortunately or unfortunately for the Balkan peoples, democracy is to rule themselves by themselves. Western countries have learned how to rule themselves by themselves. Overall, except the Roman Empire Era, Western European countries were overall not colonized by outside political powers. Thus, after the fall of the Roman Empire, they have learned how to rule themselves by themselves over the centuries. Unfortunately, the Balkans has not learned the self-ruling. This is one of the main features of the character of the Balkan peoples. And that was how the character of the Balkan peoples has been formulated over the centuries and millennia.

    Prof. Galtung proposes, “But there was, and is again, a bridge – maybe BiH with a smoother federation could become a bridge between three Balkan nations? And how about a federal Serbia, Kosovo, Macedonia?–all within an overarching Balkan Community, doing well on all four peace tasks, building symbiosis among its beautifully diverse parts? As model for Europe and the world? Balkans of all kinds, unite!” This is a great proposal, almost ideal. But who takes its initiative? The Balkan peoples themselves? Perhaps Serbs? It was Serbs who achieved the independence, first among other Balkan peoples, from the fallen Hapsburg after WWI. But is it realistic to think today that Serbs will take the initiatives in preparing a Balkan union — federal Serbia – Kosovo – Macedonia? (Furthermore, know the tense relation between Serbia and Kosovo. Serbia will never recognize Kosovo as an independent state, while Kosovo will never forget the atrocities under Serbia’s rule. Know also the tense relation between Kosovo and Macedonia. A quarter of the Macedonian population is ethnic Albanians who aspire to merge their residential areas with Kosovo and Albania. How could common Macedonians accept that? So, how such union is possible? It takes time? Well, centuries, not decades.)

    To take initiative in doing something means that you have learned how to rule yourselves by yourselves. But, as mentioned above, what the Balkan peoples have learned over the last two millennia was “how to be ruled”. But they have NOT learned “how to rule themselves by themselves”. If they have learned how to learn themselves, Yugoslavia could have not been dissolved during the 1990s. (In that regard, please note that one of the main causes of the destruction of Yugoslavia was not the ethnic conflict. Their ethnic conflict was a phenomenon or a process of the conflict, not the cause. Remember that it is the earthquake that creates tsunami that destroys cities along the coast. If you focus too much on the destructive power of tsunami, you may forget about the earthquake. Analyze the earthquake. Study the earthquake. Understand what actually the earthquake is. Know why and how it occurs. Then, you will study geology (and/or Earth science) eventually, and you will not be focusing on tsunami too much anymore.) Furthermore, it was probable that without the support of the outside powers — especially those of the Anglo-American powers, Tito’s Yugoslavia could have never been possible. Ask: “Who/which countries politically supported Tito’s Yugoslavia? Who/which countries financially supported his Yugoslavia?” The answer(s) is/are clear. (Your enemy’s enemy is your friend. Support the enemy’s enemy. Stalin was Western countries’ enemy. Tito was against Stalin, meaning that Tito was Western countries’ enemy’s enemy; this was very true, more than true, especially for Anglo-American powers. Therefore, Western countries, especially Anglo-American powers supported Tito while he was alive. But when Western countries did not need Tito’s Yugoslavia anymore, what Western countries did to Yugoslavia? You know that. But the discussion about it is out of the scope of this comment.) As such, the movement of the Balkans is impossible without any intervention of outside powers.

    In that regard, let me point out this: All non-EU member countries in the Balkans are eager to be members of the EU. They know that to be members of the EU means to be dominated (politically and economically) by Brussels (= Western European powers). Nonetheless, these Balkan countries wish to be members of the EU. Why do they not establish a Balkan Union by themselves, instead of aspiring to become members of the EU? Again, the answer is clear. The Balkan peoples know that they have not learned how to manage themselves over the course of millennia of history. They know that it is either difficult or impossible for them to rule themselves properly. Evidence: At the end of the War in the Balkans in the 1990s, there were demonstrations in Serbia. Serbs chanted, “We need the king to rule us!” Compare Serbs with a Western people, say, French, for instance, in this case: French people in that situation would chant, “We do not need the king! We will rule ourselves by ourselves. This is the beginning of democracy!” Another evidence: Ask any common Croats in Croatia. Nine out of ten, they wish Germany to rule Croatia. Many common Croats want Croatia to be a part of Germany. They are tired of being independent. They know that their fellow Croatian politicians did nothing but degraded the living standard and economy of Croatia as well as almost all other aspects of Croatia. Both Serbs and Croats wish a ruler from outside the Balkans to rule them even though they chant “sovereignty” or “democracy” in front of Western “democratic” countries. How about Bosnian Muslims? They adore their former ruler, Turkey. They welcome Turks. Most of Bosnian Muslims do not welcome their own politicians, democratically elected by fellow Bosnians. They say, “Democracy? We need a Tito [type dictator] who rules us, and who satisfies our basic needs. In fact, Tito was a dictator but he fed us properly. But look at our democratically elected politicians! They do not feed us at all! Our living standard fell drastically, not just because of the Bosnian War; it is mainly because of our politicians who are democratic but who are incapable to feed us, common people. Then, what is the use of the so-called democracy if they do not feed us?” Ask Macedonians. Ask Kosovars. Most of them would answer the same or the similar as Serbs, Croats and Bosnian Muslims would; they wish someone ruler (a king, a dictator, or a Western country/countries) to rule them to feed them. They are reluctant to rule themselves by themselves because they know their own fellow “democratically elected” politicians can hardly feed them.

    Ask any common Balkan peoples/common Balkan voters, “What is democracy?” Who can answer this question satisfactorily, especially in the Balkans? This implies that few people in the Balkans understand what democracy really is. Democracy is a system of the self-rule. This is the system that the Balkan people can hardly understand, because they have been ruled by outsiders over centuries and millennia. Without understanding the spirit of the self-rule, how is it possible for the Balkan peoples to prepare by themselves any type of union (a Balkan union or whatever union) in their region?

    Now, let’s go back to Prof. Galtung’s proposal. Once again, let me dare to ask: “Who/which countries take the initiative in preparing for a new union of the Balkans? One or a few countries in the Balkans or outside powers?

    It is unlikely that the Balkan peoples take its initiative. Why? Please recall the characteristic feature of the Balkans as mentioned above. Are you going to challenge their characteristic feature that has been formulated over the centuries and millennia? Anything is possible? Yes, but it takes time, centuries (perhaps millennia, who knows?), not decades, as mentioned above.

    If outsiders/outside powers assist the Balkan peoples to prepare such a union, it is highly likely that the Balkan peoples understand that such assistance is another form of (or another step toward) the rule of the Balkans by outsiders/outside powers. So, the result will surely be the same old story for the Balkan peoples. History repeats itself: the Balkan peoples have been ruled by outsiders/outside powers. That is to say, this time in the 21st Century, it is deemed that the Balkan peoples might think the “Balkan union” as another type of ruling mechanism/system over the Balkans, proposed by outsiders/outside powers. In fact, Prof. Galtung’s proposal itself is that proposed by an outsider (i.e. by Prof. Galtung = a Norwegian); even though how the proposal may be great, it was not proposed by any of the Balkan peoples. What would the Balkan peoples think of the good proposal made by “someone outside the Balkans”? That is the key point.

  2. Akifumi Fujita says:

    It is indeed astonishing to see that very rich, complex construction of positive peace can be woven from a very simple four factor formula. Some questions may be asked.
    Is it a universal formula? Yes, it is very universal because the factors that constitute the formula are universal. Is it realistic? Yes, it is realistic because the formula can be applied only to some negative peace which is the nagation of some violent status quo. What interests me most is that the conclusion derived from the formula will point to the direction for us to go. How long we need to go will depend upon concrete conditions of the conflict. Anyway,thank you very much for showing us how we think about positive peace. It is very inspiring!