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Aftermath and Legacy

While the violence in Yugoslavia ended there were questions as to how firm the peace would be and if Bosnia-Hercegovina could last as an ethnically divided state. The process of going from brutal ethnic conflict to being a fully functioning state would not be an easy task, to be sure. IFOR had indeed been successful in keeping the peace and ending violence, but many other factors would prove critical in determining the long-term peace and stability of Bosnia-Hercegovina and the former Yugoslavia as a whole.

One factor that had to be dealt with was the issue of prosecuting war criminals. Richard Holbroke, one of the key US negotiators at the Dayton peace talks believed that this was absolutely essential. The figures under indictment were Radovan Karadzic, former president of the Republika Srpska, and Ratko Mladic, former general in the Bosnian Serb army. To date, many war criminals from all sides of the conflict have been indicted, put on trial at The Hague, and sentenced. The most high-profile figure to be tried so far is Slobodan Milosevic, who was arrested shortly after he was toppled from power in 2000. But Karadjic and Mladic (as well as others) remain at large and are currently probably hiding somewhere in Serbia or the Republika Srpska. While NATO has continued to try to apprehend these individuals, they continue to evade capture and are almost surely receiving some sort of help to avoid arrest. The arrest of war criminals has been a key item in Serbia & Montenegro, as the new pro-western President Boris Tadic has called for the arrest of war criminals and has furthermore called for them to be tried in The Hague by an international tribunal. Contrary to this is the position of Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica, who has been reluctant to arrest war criminals and would prefer that they be tried in Serbian courts. In any case, the issue of war criminals is one of the most pressing in the former Yugoslavia.

Slovenia has unquestionably been the most successful of the former Yugoslav republics, having recently joined NATO and the European Union. Unfortunately, Slovenia is the only former republic that can claim this.

Croatia has made considerable gains since the end of the fighting. The death of Franjo Tudjman was a clear turning point for Croatia, as civil and political rights had been limited under his rule, corruption was rampant, and the economy was a mess. But with Tudjman gone his radical HDZ was voted out of power and Croatia began to make reforms such as shifting power away from the president, opening up the economy, joining the World Trade Organization, and other similar reforms. Croatia has also taken the important step of cooperating with the international tribunal in The Hague and has arrested a number of generals associated with massacres of Serbs and Muslims. The country also submitted its formal application for EU membership and is due to begin accession talks in 2005.

The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia was thankfully spared from the violence seen in much of the former Yugoslavia and was able to win its independence rather painlessly, but had its own problems to deal with after independence. First there was a minor conflict with Greece who refused to recognize FYR Macedonia because of the dispute with the name of the new country. Greece claimed that Macedonia was the name of a Greek province and nothing else. After a protracted dispute and economic sanctions against the FYR Macedonia, a compromise was reached where the new country was to be recognized as the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. While this has managed to pacify most Greeks, the name issue is still a point of dispute between the two countries. FYR Macedonia also experienced a conflict between its majority Slavs and its minority Albanians. Fighting broke out in early 2001 with the Albanians demanding increased minority rights and this set off a wave of refugees. While the fighting eventually subsided with the government approving constitution changes to protect Albanian rights. However a dispute arose about redrawing local boundaries to give Albanians more autonomy in areas they are the majority. The plan led Slavic nationalist parties to hold a referendum blocking the measure, but the vote was invalidated because of low turnout, much to the relief of most international observers and government officials. The country has applied to the EU but formal talks are rather far off as the country has considerable progress to make with the economy, combating corruption, and ensuring long- term stability.

Serbia & Montenegro may have turned the corner from its recent nationalist past, but there are still too many factors at work to be certain of this. The republics of Serbia and Montenegro remained joined after the war and continued to use the name Yugoslavia. It came to the world's attention once again in 1998 as Slobodan Milosevic began a massive campaign of ethnic cleansing against the Kosovar Albanians, forcibly expelling them from Kosovo and creating a refugee crisis in Albania and FYR Macedonia. In 1999 NATO responded with an extensive air campaign against Serb forces and other Serb targets, and Serb forces were eventually driven out of Kosovo and the UN took over administration of the region with KFOR acting as peacekeepers. Although the situation in Kosovo has somewhat settled, a final agreement has yet to be reached and ethnic riots are not uncommon. Milosevic himself was ousted from power in October 2000 following large street protests in reaction to the presidential election results that gave Milosevic the victory. Milosevic stepped down and is currently on trial at The Hague on charges of genocide and human rights abuses. The trial is ongoing. Vojislav Kostunica, a moderate nationalist, took power as president immediately after Milosevic with western-oriented liberal Zoran Djindjic as prime minister. Djindjic was primarily responsible for turning over Milosevic to The Hague, as well as implementing a series of liberal reforms to make Yugoslavia more oriented towards the west and the European Union and less of the pariah state that it was during the 1990s. However Djindjic was assassinated in 2002, allegedly by members of Yugoslavia's powerful mafia in response to Djindjic's anti-mafia campaigns. Boris Tadic, another pro-western reformer, currently holds the presidency and has attempted to continue westernizing reforms, but conflicts with Prime Minister Kostunica have raised some questions as to the possible efficacy of President Tadic's plans. Lastly, Yugoslavia was officially dissolved in March 2002 and was replaced by the more decentralized and looser union of Serbia & Montenegro. But this has not ended the ethnicity debate, as there have been several disputes between the Serbs and Montenegrins in regards to the degree of autonomy, and even the shade of blue on the new country's flag. While Serbia & Montenegro have certainly come a long way since the days of Milosevic and there is much cause for optimism, it is simply to early to be certain that the country will permanently join the western democratic fold.

Even more questions remain in Bosnia-Hercegovina. The Dayton Peace Accord established two distinct entities (the Muslim /Croat Federation of Bosnia and Hercegovina and the Republika Srpska) each with its own president, government, parliament, military and police. There was also a Bosnian central government with a rotating presidency. In addition there is also the Office of the High Representative, which is currently held by Paddy Ashdown. The High Representative has the power to override local decisions and to intervene in cases where local authorities cannot agree. Many feared that Dayton would simply reinforce the division of Bosnia's ethnicities and undermine a unified Bosnia by creating entities with too much power and autonomy. Indeed, these fears are not unfounded considering that the Croat and Serb entities have acted almost like independent states. The Croat entity issued Croatian license plates, money, police uniforms, and its citizens acted as citizens of Croatia, not Bosnia. The Serb entity was no better. The Republika Srpska acted almost as an independent state, with its own government, state symbols, president, parliament, customs and border guards, and even had its own airline. Thankfully this extreme sort of autonomy has started to subside, notably in 2003 with the beginning of the integration of Bosnia's military forces. There has also been some success in regards to the return of refugees, as about half of the 2 million refugees had returned to their pre-war homes. But there is also considerable cause for concern. Despite this success, Bosnia remains ethnically divided and there are clear divisions between ethnicities where previously there were none. For example, Sarajevo is primarily a Muslim city, the Republika Srpska is primarily Serb, Mostar is primarily Croat, and so on. Another issue would be the failure to apprehend key war criminals such as Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic. They continue to remain at large despite repeated attempts and even more promises to arrest these individuals. So far the most prominent war criminal to be brought to justice is Biljana Plavsic, former president of the Republika Srpska, who is currently serving an 11-year sentence after pleading guilty to one count of crimes against humanity. However much of the attention has been more focused on the failures to arrest Karadzic and Mladic, and there has been increasing controversy surrounding these failures. Earlier this year Paddy Ashdown sacked several police officials and the US imposed a travel ban on government members, including Bosnia's foreign minister Mladen Ivanic, in response to these failures. The move did not come without controversy however, as Ivanic resigned in protest along with several other ministers and the entire government of the Republika Srpska. Also worrying was the recent success of nationalist politicians during the 2002 parliamentary elections, causing many to worry that most Bosnians favored separatism and nationalism over integration. These factors, coupled with high levels of crime and corruption, and high unemployment have caused many to worry that it is only a matter of time before the next Bosnian crisis and that the country would simply fall apart if not for the peacekeeping forces present. These fears may be overstated, but there is no question that the situation in Bosnia remains unstable and that it is far from being a functioning state.

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One Billion Americans: The Case for Thinking Bigger - by Matthew Yglesias

Page last modified: 11-07-2011 03:30:31 ZULU