Ten pointers toward a peace process in Ex-Yugoslavia

By Johan Galtung

July 7, 1993

1. A Conference on Security and Cooperation in Southeast Europe, CSCSEE, UN and OSCE sponsored, modeled on Helsinki, in addition to the London/Geneva conference.  All concerned parties (also sub-, super- and non-state) to be invited, with all relevant themes on the agenda; possibly lasting 3-5 years.  Outsiders to the region should be present as observers with right to speak, there being no disinterested outside states. A possible long term goal: A Southeast European Confederation.

2. CSCSEE Working Groups on priority areas to consider:
– Bosnia-Herzegovina as a tri- or bi-partite confederation; with the right to self-determination after some time.
– Kosovo/a s a bipartite confederation with the right of self-determination after some tim, respecting Serbian history;
– Macedonia: a Macedonian confederation should not be ruled out, but can only emerge within a broader setting ([1]) above.
– ex-Yugoslavia: as long-term goal, a confederation this time.

3. Increase UNPROFOR by an order of 10+, with 50% women, creating a dense blue carpet to supervise truces and stabilize the situation. Soldiers must be adequately briefed and trained as conflict facilitators, working with possible civilian peacekeeping components.  Avoid big power participation.

4. A network of municipal solidarity with ex-Yugoslavia, for refugees, conscientious objectors, relief work, reconstruction: Cause Commune.

5. Let 1,000 local peace conferences blossom, support local peace groups, organize dialogues, let people’s ideas flow electronically together in a pool of conflict ideas.

6. International Peace Brigades as Hostages for Peace, unarmed foreigners, e.g., professionals like doctors (IPPNW?), living in threatened areas, communicating, dampening violence.

7. Intensify ecumenical peace work, using nonviolence and peace traditions in Catholic-Orthodox Christianity-Islam.

8. Permanent contact for persons, groups, states working for peace within the state system ([1]-[3]), municipal system ([4]) and civil society system ([5]-[7]); letting ideas flow.

9. Arrange a “Peace Ladies Conference” parallel to the London/Geneva conference among the War Lords in- and outside ex-Yugoslavia.

10. Demand professionalism from the media, less violence, elitism, bias; more focus on common people and peace efforts.

11. In the spirit of future reconciliation:
– drop the sanctions, they hit innocent and harden conflicts;
– drop the War Crimes Tribunal except as moral individual judgment, there is no road to the future through revenge and punishment, adding to all the traumas and the martyrs;
– have inside and outside specialists search for understanding of what went wrong; for positive past and present experiences that can inspire a common, even if more separate, future.


[1]  A new start is needed; and the format of the Helsinki conference (CSCE), one of the rare successes of the state system in the Cold War setting, is probably the most promising.  For reasons to be explored below the conference must be open to all interested parties, all themes must be on the agenda, time is essential.  But very efficient working groups, benefiting from this more global and holistic approach, are also essential. What is badly needed is a country playing the role of Finland as go-between, disinterested, yet a part of it.  The country should be neither Muslim, Catholic/non-Slav, nor Orthodox/Slav.  Thus, the elimination principle leads to Romania (non-Slav/Orthodox).

Like for the Helsinki conference a neutral, or at least balanced sponsorship should be found, and the best would probably be what came out of the Helsinki conference, the CSCE, possibly under a UN mandate, or with the UN as co-sponsor.  The EC and some of the member countries are too much of a party to the conflict, and will at any rate play a major role regardless of the setting.  The Council of Europe and the European Human Rights court may also play a role.  but the basic assumption would be that the future of the Southeast Europe (not “former Yugoslavia”, nor Balkan) will have to be the work, as much as possible, of the countries directly concerned.

Very important in this connection is not to fall into the key political trap of using conferences to give voice only to extremists because they are in power.  Intergovernmental conferences tend to commit this sometimes fatal mistake.  In ex-Yugoslavia the overwhelming majority, at least 90% (and higher for the women) want nothing of a war kept alive by a combination of unscrupulous leaders and the ressentiment and tremendous violence potential of the male part of the lower echelons of society.   Conferences giving voice only to the latter and not to the former are doomed to fail.  Three possible formulas:
– have anti-war opposition groups participate in the conference;
– have them, like NGOs for UN conferences, in parallel sessions;
– establish a link between state-system and non-state system conferences, as indicated in [8] below.

Obviously, these three approaches do not exclude each other.

[2]  The strength of a multi-lateral, multi-issue approach, with sufficient time at the disposal of the participants is at the essence of a conference of this type.  The worst conflict to solve (transcend, transform) is of type (2,1), two parties quarreling, fighting over one issue. There is almost no room for bargaining, only withdrawal or compromise.  But in human and social reality conflicts are always of the (m,n) variety, m parties and n issues or themes, permitting a lot of bargaining given some time and imagination.  The tragedy, however, is that in the heat of a conflict reductionism to the (2,1) type takes place, also known as polarization.  Intellectually this is the type easiest to understand, and for that reason preferred by mass media.  In addition, Western culture already has this type of thinking as a mind-set so it comes almost automatically, and usually with strong evaluations clipped onto the two parties.  One is guilty, the other is the victim.

Thus, it took much time before the world understood that the conflict in Croatia was at least trilateral (Zagreb, Beograd and the Serbs in Croatia; even that being a grotesque simplification).  And even more time to understand that the conflict in Bosnia-Herzegovina was not only (at least) trilateral, the three cultural groups, but that all three parties were guilty of hideous violence.

In a deeply rooted conflict the parties sit deeply anchored in their hatred and polarized images of reality.  And yet it is probably by the Croats conceding something to the Serbs on Croat territory and the Serbs something to the Albanians on Serb territory that progress can be made.  Having said this, it is also clear that if the Albanians could concede something to the Croats, then trilateralization would bear fruits.

Or, more realistically: quadrilateralization.  The Albanians concede something to the Bosnian Muslims and the latter something to the Croats, closing the cycle of concessions.  For this time is needed, perhaps also conflict facilitators.  The latter, however, definitely must have no interest in the conflict, and that rules out an EC dominated by its Four Big (all with histories of interventionism) and Germany in particular.

[3]  A real enforcement action, air, ground or both, “with all necessary means” (SC Resolution 678, legitimating the Second Gulf war) will cost very many lives, and add to traumatization and the hatred to be tapped in future wars (including against the UN, cops who shoot much tend not to become popularly accepted in any setting).  Sending troops from any country that has exercised in the past some kind of outside intervention is a major mistake, and that includes not only Germany and Austria/Hungary, but also England, Italy, France, and the US and Russia.  Trigger-happy troops should be avoided (Pakistanis in Somalia?).

But leaving this aside there is no doubt that a case can be made for military intervention to save lives.  The question is how this can be done without violence breeding even more violence, now or in the future.  Here are two possible formulas:
–  preventive deployment; which is what should have been done in Bosnia-Herzegovina in April 1992, in time for the (/too/ “early, selective and uncoordinated”, to quote the letter to Genscher from Javier Perez de Cuellar of 14 December 1991).  Kosovo/a and Macedonia would be obvious places for preventive deployment.
–  creating a “blue carpet”; in other words, so many blue helmets that a mass effect arises, a “transition from quantity to quality”.  However, UN troops only retain an aura of invulnerability as long as they themselves do not practice any large scale violence, and they should definitely be much better briefed and trained in nonviolent ways of handling conflicts than has been the case so far.

These two approaches by no means exclude each other, but actually should preferably be practiced jointly.

[4]  This municipal solidarity is already proceeding and should be strengthened.  Very important is the avoidance of paternalism (the word “adoption” should be avoided).  Respect for the Yugoslav side, in general they will probably know better how assistance can most usefully be applied to the desperate situation.  On the other hand, the outside is also entitled to make sure that there is no waste or even corruption; both of them likely to follow in the wake of such efforts.

[5]  Both the political process known i.a. as the “London Conference”, and the media focus on the political elites in general and the extremists in particular, i.e. those who stand for cultural purity or cultural dominance one way or the other work against such conferences.  And yet the general ex-Yugoslav population just wants one thing: not necessarily status quo ante, that may be too late anyhow, but peace, rebuilding the countries, reconciliation, get started again. They should be encouraged wherever they are (many of them are abroad; some of them, belonging to the old ruling class, sit in their apartments in Belgrade, Zagreb, Split trying to find out what happened).  Many still insist on being referred to as “Yugoslavs”.

One of the best investments in a peace process would be to help those who oppose the war in their effort to dialogue, with fax machines, computers/modems, etc., and for heaven’s sake by not adding to economic sanctions complete communications sanctions against rest-Yugoslavia.  People have ideas, the problems is how to promote communication and visibility.

[6]  There is room for civilians, from the outside, in all these operations, provided they are not a burden on the local population, already under tremendous stress and strain, and provided they have a specific function (like doctors, medical people).  They could come in connection with [3], [4] or [5] above, adding to the military peace-keeping.

An interesting point comes up very quickly: assistance to, or even presence in, the part of ex-Yugoslavia hit by the (selective) sanctions.  Relief to people yes, but would assistance in reconstruction, however useful as a sign of solidarity relinking rest-Yugoslavia to the outside world, be compatible with the reformative/punitive hypotheses underlying sanctions?  Would this be a reason for a country not to be member of the United Nations?  Sooner or later these questions will be asked, and the answers are by no means obvious.

[7]  The groups we are talking about in ex-Yugoslavia are above all identified religiously, which does not mean that they are strong believers or that the conflict is theological (although there are also such elements).  Although religious institutions may have played a negative role, there is also heavy instrumentalization by political leaders.  But such tactics would never have worked if they had not fallen on a soil of hatred and centuries of divisiveness and clarity about who shall kill whom.

There is an enormous amount of ecumenical work to be done among the three branches of occidental religiousness, and it is  ever too late to get started.  The Dalai Lama could possibly work as an “honest broker”, the problem with the Pope being similar to the problem with EC/Germany: a party to the conflict.

[8]  It is strange that in our era of excellent communication there should be such a paucity of contact between the forces presumably working for peace.  For the various anti-war committees and what is left of free press in ex-Yugoslavia part of the explanation is economic, much of it is partly due to the war itself, making communication difficult.  Sanctions against rest-Yugoslavia make it very difficult to establish contact with the peace forces, isolating them, leaving the public stage to the nationalist extremists.

But there is also another factor at work: the state-system and the nonstate-system do not trust each other.  Neither of them have much to show for themselves.  To the extent the state-system has been EC-dominated, i.e. Germany-dominated (and behind that the Vatican and Austria) the role played has been highly counter-productive, against the strong warning by then Secretary-General of the United Nations, Javier Perez de Cuellar.  But if those who are strong have not been doing the right thing and those who think they are on the right track (whether they are called the peace forces, civil society, the people-system or what not) certainly are not strong they should at least cooperate.  The epitomy of tragedy would be conflict, not only lack of communication between those working for peace on parallel tracks.

[9]  The media inside and outside Yugoslavia have been with almost no exception (Der Spiegel?, The Independent?, The Guardian?) unspeakably bad, pouring gasoline on the fires from the very beginning.  Would the foreign media have done so in their own country or is there also a factor of contempt for “the Balkans” at work?  At any rate, it is never too late to start course activity for journalists, including using the better of them with Yugoslav field experience as resource persons.  And a permanent jury, e.g. coming out of the Verona Forum, could distribute praise and blame, issuing a weekly bulletin, recording major mistakes.  Prizes would be useful, and they could focus not only on gold reporting, but also on reporting for peace.  The WarReport, published by the Institute for War & Peace Reporting (formerly Yugofax) might be a good forum.  The press itself would hardly be an appropriate judge in such matters.

[10]  The twin ideas of sanctions and a war crimes tribunal grow out of a mind-set where sin-guilt and penitence-punishment play a dominant role, in other words the Christian-legalistic mind-set.  Without in any way denigrating the importance of these approaches at the micro-level of ordinary human day-to-day  behavior and in domestic (municipal) law, serious problems arise when applied to collectivities like nations.  The norms and values appealed to may encounter positive resonance under more ordinary circumstances.  But when fully mobilized for national/cultural conflict the leaders and many/most of their followers see themselves as duty-bound by even higher norms related to their historical myths.

In former Yugoslavia this applies to all groups.  In addition, there is the revenge for traumas suffered in the past, not to mention the present and the very recent present, and how to prevent such horrors from revisiting them in the future.  “Secure borders”, in other words.  But is it obvious that secure borders are geographical?

The Serbs, but also some of the other nations, will add to this a sense of being the outcast, the scape-goat; very unjustly being made responsible for the outbreak of the First world war (by people curiously ignorant of the Austrian occupation of Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1908, the type of event that normally fosters a resistance movement).  The megalo-paranoid collective person all of this has fostered, and they are not alone in former Yugoslavia, nor in Southeast Europe in that regard, will interpret sanctions and tribunals, particularly when they alone are singled out for such attention as one more confirmation of a key part of their world view. Conflicts will harden.  The last “moderates” may disappear, the real hardliners may come into power, making the reasoning behind the sanctions/courts a self-fulfilling prophecy. The outside will be blamed, not the leaders.  The economy will suffer serious decline.  But the agricultural base is rich and small-scale industries will emerge quickly.

The problem is that such measures are not easily withdrawn once decided upon, lest that looks like capitulation or at least acquiescence.  Moreover, lack of “success” may also strengthen the voices of those who argue full-scale intervention, including “bombing Belgrade”.  At this point the lack of understanding of the level of autonomy in a peasant army, essentially guerrilla and essentially run by the lower echelons of society enters: any capitulation high up or far away may be irrelevant.  Intervention will then lead to occupation which will lead to endless guerrilla fighting and skirmishes in general (at a much lower level Somalia may perhaps serve as an example).  It is worth having in mind that for many of the peoples of Yugoslavia this would be only one more chapter in a history of at least 600 years of outside intervention, usually with some noble purpose in mind (religious, civilizational, pacifying, modernizing, etc.)

In no way does this mean that the world community should not give strong expression to a generally felt sense of condemnation.  There are ways of doing this without invoking the criminal law analogue in its entirety.  But the problem is that the generally propagated construction of Yugoslav reality with the Serbs cast into the role as the only guilty does not hold up against facts, at the same time as it would be ridiculous to put the blame only on those who launched the first act of war (the Slovenes) or the first act of “ethnic cleansing” (the Croats).  Very much sanctioning, intervention, bombing (Belgrade and Zagreb?) and sentencing will have to be carried out if this mind-set is to be enacted completely, and very quickly leads us in absurdum.

The very opposite of this approach would yield much more of a “peace dividend”: have experts, among them historians from all sides and analysts of the very recent past, first of all try to arrive at an explanation of what happened, then look for past and present models that can give some hope to Yugoslav peoples so badly treated by a cruel history.  This work should proceed parallel to the conference mentioned in [1] above, and make inputs into that conference, and in close cooperation with the conference mentioned under [7] above.

Two dangers should be avoided:
– political action may be so well explained that even the most violent and/or irresponsible act comes out as determined, giving the actor no moral choice at all; and/or
– political action may be criminalist so effectively that there is no room left open for an explanation that leads to understanding  (erklaren vs. verstehen).

If the Christian/legalist mind-set mentioned above tends to bring in its wake the latter, historians and social scientists easily fall into the first trap.  Some good common sense might make it possible to steer clear of both.

That common sense is very much needed in this deep tragedy.

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