Germany, the EU and former Yugoslavia

By Johan Galtung
Presumably mid-1993

Germany, meaning here the former foreign minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher (and behind him the chancellor, Helmut Kohl and Alois Mock from Austria), was the key player responsible for the recognition of Croatia and Slovenia on 15 January 1992 (but actually agreed upon 16 December 1991), and of Bosnia-Herzegovina 6 April 1992.

There were clear warnings. Lord Peter Carrington, then the EC negotiator, wrote in a letter of 2 December 1991 to Hans van den Broek, foreign minister of the Netherlands, then President of the EU (then still EC) Council of Ministers:

“There is also a real danger, perhaps even a probability, that Bosnia-Herzegovina would also ask for independence and recognition, which would be wholly unacceptable to the Serbs in that republic in which there are something like 100,000 JNA troops, some of whom have withdrawn there from Croatia. Milosevic has hinted that military action would take place there if Croatia and Slovenia were recognized. This might well be the spark that sets Bosnia-Herzegovina alight”.

And from Javier Pérez de Cuéllar, then Secretary General of the United Nations, in a letter to Genscher of 10 December 1991:

“In his report to me today, Mr Vance has described widely expressed apprehensions about the possibility of premature recognition of the independence of some of the Yugoslav republics and the effect that such a move might have on the remaining republics. Leaders of Bosnia-Herzegovina and Macedonia were among the many political and military figures who last week underscored to Mr. Vance their own strong fears in this regard. More than one of his high-level interlocutors described the possibly explosive consequences of such a development as being a “potential time bomb”.

Genscher argues his position to de Cuéllar in a letter of 13 December 1991:

“Refusal to recognize the republics who want their independence can only lead to further escalation of the violence of the People’s Army because they will see in this a confirmation of their politics of conquest. I would like to point out that for Europe, after the Final Act of Helsinki and the Paris Charter, the borders are inviolable and cannot be changed by force. The EC has for that reason demanded respect for the inner and outer borders of Yugoslavia.”

Pérez de Cuéllar’s response to Genscher of 14 December 1991:

“Let me recall that at no point did my letter state that recognition of the independence of particular Yugoslav Republics should be denied, or withheld indefinitely. Rather, I observe that the principle of self-determination is enshrined in the United Nations Charter itself. The concern that I continue to have relates to the prospect of early, selective and uncoordinated recognition.”

And de Cuéllar points out to Genscher that the Twelve (EU foreign ministers) had stated in a Declaration 8 november 1991 that “the prospect of recognition of those Republics wishing it, can only be envisaged in the framework of an overall settlement”, and, referring to Bosnia-Herzegovina and Macedonia, that “early selective recognition could result in a widening of the present conflict to those sensitive areas.”

These are strong and prophetic words against Genscher’s position. We shall never know what would have happened without the recognition as independent countries of these internal parts of former Yugoslavia. But to believe that the Serbs in Croatia, and the Serbs and Croats in Bosnia-Herzegovina would have accepted living under what they see as Ustasha or Islamic/Sharia rule is either extremely naive, or – granting deep German acquaintance with Yugoslavia and the Balkans – Machiavellian. They knew perfectly well that in this area there are people with an extremely violent tradition (Ustasha Croats, “Grenzer” and hill Serbs, Bosniak Muslims). Was the bloodletting calculated?

At the same time as a Yugoslavia policy with catastrophic consequences was decided the EU also negotiated the Maastricht Treaty on European Union. One seems to have been traded for the other: Bonn bought the others with “Maastricht currency”.

England got Germany’s support for the exception from the social dimension, and the less developed EU members, Ireland, Portugal, Spain and Greece with internal EC distribution funds (Andreas Zumach in Tageszeitung, 6 April 1993).

In the corridors of the EU there is mention of German support for the prolongation of the Common Agricultural Policy in return for the French agreement. No doubt there must also have been another element in this sad deal: German willingness to share economic deals (including reconstruction?) with others.

Thus, the surface events seem clear; the problem is the underlying motivation. The need for a common EU foreign policy is clear. But that could have been brought about by Germany yielding to the others rather than vice versa, or by negotiating a compromise along the lines of Pérez de Cuéllar: not too early, not selective, not uncoordinated.

What were the German motives? Of course, a political act, like any human act, is the result of multiple motives. Here is a short catalogue:

– East Germany had emerged from communism, and Germany wanted to extend the pattern of “self-determination” to others who had been incorporated in a state/system against their will.
But then the problem is: if so, how can one then deny self-determination to Serbs in Croatia, to Serbs and Croats in Bosnia-Herzegovina, and so on?

– Germany was united 3 October 1990; “that which belonged together was growing together” was the theory. Why should others not benefit from the same, like Slovenia and Croatia finding their place in Central Europe.
But then the problem: Serbs, Croats and others in ex-Yugoslavia may say exactly the same;

– Germany was again in a position to play a major role, liberated from extreme carefulness eastward and submissiveness westward; willing to tell the world who is a major power (and a major chancellor and a major foreign minister) in Europe;

– Events were happening in one of their classical spheres of interest, the Southeast, the other being to the East: Poland, Ukraina, Russia. The Berlin-Ankara-Baghdad axis had, possibly, played a role in the investment, including arming of Saddam Hussein (impossible without the consent of Bonn). Good relations with Turkey were endangered by neo-nazism; a pro-Muslim policy in Bosnia-Herzegovina was needed, particularly for the United States after Gulf.

But more fundamentally, Yugoslavia had always been in the way of German dominance of the Balkans. Yugoslavia emerged the first and second time after Germany had been defeated in two world wars; after reunification we got Germany strong and Yugoslavia weak.

– Slovenia and Croatia were old religious and political friends of Germany. The problem was Serbia, the strongest part, with a record of conflict with Austria-Hungary and Germany.

But what does Germany want? An economic periphery in German-speaking territory, no doubt. Possibly general political-military influence, and more particularly a buffer zone relative to the two potential centers of conflict with EU and Germany: Russia and Turkey. Austria seems to encourage this type of policy reminiscent of the Habsburg empire; possibly also revenge for the 28 June 1914 in Sarajevo.

This joint German-Austrian policy needed EU legitimacy and may have succeeded so far. Except for the blood on Twelve pairs of hands, particularly Genscher’s and those behind him.

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