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Serbia And Croatia, On The Road To The EU

December 13, 2011

The ethnic cleansing that took place following the breakup of Yugoslavia in the early 1990’s shocked Europeans on many levels. For one thing, this violence destroyed illusions that such things were a part of Europe’s past; ethnic bloodshed, it was assumed, was a shameful legacy that would fortunately never recur again on the continent. After all, the European integration project that started with the European Coal and Steel Community and culminated in the European Union had brought unity between former bitter political rivals such as France and Germany, created prosperity from the ashes of the Second World War, and cemented liberal democracy as the only legitimate political order on the continent. Furthermore, the collapse of communist regimes, among them Yugoslavia, promised to end the historic divide between East and West.



In 1991, the various ethnic republics of the federal Yugoslav state began declaring independence. Although Slovenia managed to secede with little bloodshed (although there was a brief conflict that resulted in several dozen casualties), the Serb dominated military aggressively responded to Croatian and Bosnian declarations of independence. Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina would eventually emerge victorious, but at enormous costs. Most sources indicate that about 20,000 were killed in the Croatian conflict and over 100,000 in the Bosnian war. Atrocities were committed on all sides. As was mentioned in the on-air broadcast, former Bloomington mayor and Indiana Representative Frank McCloskey was an active player in trying to resolve the Balkan conflicts. He visited the Croatian village of Vocin in 1991 only several hours after Serb forces carried out a massacre. He was one of the first observers to describe Serb actions in Croatia and later Bosnia as genocide, and he continued to play a role in the region even after losing his reelection bid in 1995.

The impression that Western Europe stood by and largely did nothing while these atrocities were occurring in its own backyard prompted a great deal of discussion about what the role NATO and the European Union should play in peacekeeping and security policy. NATO eventually carried out bombing campaigns against Serb forces in 1995. The European Union launched a police mission in 2003, which took over the functions of a United Nations-led peacekeeping operation. The European Union Police Mission in Bosnia would serve as a model for the European Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo, which launched in 2008. Both of these missions represent bold tests of the EU’s goal to expand its Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP).

Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic; Source: The Guardian

Meanwhile, both Croatia and Serbia have made steps towards joining the European Union. Croatia is likely to become a member in 2013, following a favorable recommendation from the European Commission to grant the country membership. Serbia has passed an important hurdle on the way to membership by apprehending three war crimes suspects, which the EU had demanded before formal talks could begin. Radovan Karadzic, former president of the self-declared Republic of Srpska, was detained in 2008. Ratko Mladic, the Bosnian Serb military commander accused of carrying out the infamous Srebrenica massacre, was arrested in May 2011. Finally, former Croation Serb general Goran Hadzic was arrested in July 2011. Serbia likely still has a long road before it on the way to EU membership, especially given enlargement fatigue among many existing members. Nevertheless, the EU’s approach to Serbia raises an interesting question: to what extent can the prospect of future EU membership induce “good behavior” in transitional countries that would like to join? And thinking more broadly about the lessons from the Balkan conflicts: does the EU have the mechanisms and structures in place to respond to future humanitarian crises? Should the EU even set that goal for itself?

For more information on the One State, One World series, please visit  This episode of One State One World is produced in partnership of WFIU Public Radio and the EU Center at Indiana University with support from the European Union.

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