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[Yugoslavia Memory of a disaster] Europe's ten missteps

(BRUSSELS2) If comparing one crisis to another is always risky, we can nevertheless note that detailing – using the different points of view of the actors or observers of this crisis – the position of Europe (of the Twelve then) at the early 1990s during the wars in former Yugoslavia may be of interest for the current crises (particularly in Georgia). We can identify around ten errors (unpreparations, inconsistencies).

1. unpreparedness for the crisis visibly rising.

This unpreparedness lasts for many years. And, event after event, we do not learn from previous mistakes. The reaction to news is based on the instruments of the previous crisis: first silence when diplomacy is needed, then diplomacy when observers are needed on site, finally unarmed observers when the military is needed, etc. ... Europe was thus surprised at least four times: in Kosovo, Slovenia and Croatia (1991), then in Bosnia (1992).

2. The refusal to recognize the aggressor

By considering opponents as equals for a long time (feeling particularly present for the French government), without pointing out the main aggressor, Serbia, Europe thus gave a bonus to the aggressor.

3. Sending a surveillance mission (July 1991)

These observers are unarmed, in small numbers, without precise reaction capacity. Which was also a sign of helplessness (and encouragement) given to the aggressor(s). The observers often “observed” well, reported, and if necessary knew how to delay or intervene in the face of certain attacks. But they were often overwhelmed by the

4. The arms embargo (July 1991)

He favored the strongest (the Serbs) and diminished the capacity of resistance of the Croats first, but above all of the Bosnians.

5. The refusal of a military intervention (September 1991)

Contrary to popular belief, there have been several intervention projects (by the French or the Germans, by the Dutch and the WEU). But they all ended up dead, born dead. The role played by the British here is quite murky. The United Kingdom was reluctant for several reasons, notably the fear of repeating a difficult commitment as in Northern Ireland but also the refusal to trigger an autonomous NATO intervention and thus achieve a Europe of Defense and a political Europe that They refused (we are in the middle of negotiating the Maastricht Treaty). A military intervention at this time could have changed the face of the conflict, most of the speakers recognize this. By refusing to follow through on an intervention project, the Europeans are giving “carte blanche” to supporters of weapons.

Read also: The military option at the start of the Yugoslav conflict

6. Solo recognition of independence (December 1991)

The solo recognition of Croatia (by Germany) signified to outsiders the disunity of Europe, especially as it followed the meeting of a European Council and preceded a possible joint decision on recognition.

7. The request for a referendum to be held (January 1992),

This request made to Bosnia to be recognized as independent, without providing for other provisions, particularly protection, seals the partition of Bosnia-Herzegovina, especially as another Franco-German duel is being played out between the EMU and political Europe which monopolizes minds and diplomacies.

8. Broken Ceasefires

This lack of respect gives an image of proven helplessness. Everything says the cantonization plan – proposed by the Portuguese ambassador Cutileiro in 1992 and which will serve as a model, roughly speaking, for the Dayton peace accords – puts a premium on force. THE successive peace plans, (in Bosnia in particular) stimulate in the belligerents the immediate desire to take or defend, by force, contested positions.

9. The refusal to accept refugees (1991-92)

When the Serbs freed the refugees, few countries agreed to welcome them (Austria, Germany, Hungary were the main “volunteers”). Missing in particular are France and the United Kingdom.

10 The unilateral acts “heroism”

Like Mitterand's solitary escape in Sarajevo (June 1993), they above all made it possible to postpone the deadline for sanctions against the aggressors.

We can also read “The real Balkan lessons of the Georgia conflict” by Gordana Kneževic, former wartime political leader of Oslobodenje (Sarajevo), and now director of Radio Free Europe, South Slavic section. He draws an (interesting) parallel between Russian policy in Georgia and Milosevic's intervention in the republics of the former Yugoslavia.


Nicolas Gros Verheyde

Chief editor of the B2 site. Graduated in European law from the University of Paris I Pantheon Sorbonne and listener to the 65th session of the IHEDN (Institut des Hautes Etudes de la Défense Nationale. Journalist since 1989, founded B2 - Bruxelles2 in 2008. EU/NATO correspondent in Brussels for Sud-Ouest (previously West-France and France-Soir).

One thought on “[Yugoslavia Memory of a disaster] Europe's ten missteps"

  • certainly a vision of the facts but as always and this is normal partial and therefore oriented.
    Serbia appeared as the aggressor, but this fails to take into account the reality of the facts. who published the letter from the UN Secretary General addressed to the Bosnian President, in order to warn him about the consequences of his declaration of independence?
    The reality was much more complex, Admiral Schmith, boss of IFOR, will himself recognize in SARAJEVO in June 96 a reality quite different from that imposed on the particularly complacent media.
    The farce of the elections which took place in September 96 was another illustartion, but who agrees to say it?

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