Karl May in 1906. Photo courtesy Karl May Museum, Radebeul, Germany. Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=14680057

Many youthful German speakers have been reading Karl May. His first six of many dozens of volumes recount the adventures of one Kara ben Nemsi and his indefatigable servant-companion Hadschi Halef Omar Ben Hadschi Abul Abbas Ibn Hadschi Dawud al Gossarah. (My stepfather could still recite the full name decades after he had read the books.) Their adventures in the Middle East of the late-19th century ended in the land of the Skipetary, but they had met Skiptars al along the way. Ethnic mixing has been the norm in the Ottoman Empire. 

I have pointed to local elites with exposure to the idea of national identity wishing to do away with it before. On the Balkans, the consequences have been murderous. Nonetheless, the idea that peace presumes ethnic homogeneity is alive and kicking, adding to the concerns of an EU cought between enlargement fatigue and worries about Russian and Chinese influence in the Western Balkans. At a meeting of EU foreign ministers on 10 May, 2021, EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell has complained about lack of urgency in the matter. (https://euobserver.com/tickers/151826) There is the reluctance of some member states to even consider enlargement. New EU members on the other hand seem keen on yet more of their kind sharing their aspirations of strenghening national identity and what I call ‘territorialism’ (Faludi 2018 [2020]).  

The latest manifestation of this has been a ‘non-paper’ being jargon for documents easily disavowed. It proposed no less than the redrawing, once and for all (all such proposals are for settlements once and for all!) of the Western Balkans map. Rumored to have come from the president of Slovenia, now edging into the Orbán camp, it seems – but who knows? – to have reached its destination Brussels. Dressed up as a solution to the conundrum of Bosnia Herzogovina, the non-paper is said to propose satisfying the Republica Srebska‘s wish to join Serbia (a candidate for EU membership), and for good measure to separate lands inhabited by Croats from those of the Bosniaks within the present State of Bosnia and Herzogovina. Doing so would leave Moslim Bosniaks – being descendants of locals converted to Islam – to remain a bridgehead for old Turkish and new Saudi ambitions in an area which, formally speaking until 1908 (when its occupier Austria-Hungary has annexed it) part of the Ottoman Empire.  

The non-paper seems to go further, proposing Kosovo and Albania to merge, with areas in North Macedonia inhabited by ethnic Albanian thrown into the bargain. (A short-lived Greater Albania has existed, albeit briefly, as an Italian vassal state during World War II; see Gooch . Anyhow, maybe the idea behind it was for Serbia, once it had received Republica Srebska, to swallow its pride and give up Kosovo. This on condition, of course, that Mitrovica be reunited with Serbia, the land swap that has already been mooted – and rejected by the EU – by no less than the former Trump administration. 

One can only guess the reasoning behind this, but it is well-known – to return to the thinking behind the keenness on Western Balkans enlargement of Central and Eastern European EU member to strengthen, rather than to soften national identities. Maybe they are looking for allies, the likes of Serbia joining. The Commissioner for Neighbourhood and Enlargement overseeing the accession process of prospective new member states and relations with those bordering the European Union, Olivér Várhelyi, has been proposed – as is his right – by Orbán. All this while the Conference on the Future of Europe gets under way, officially as from 9 May, 2021 – Europe Day – in the midst of great uncertainty about what European integration is, and should be. 

 

References: 

Faludi, A. (2018 [2020]) The Poverty of Territorialism, Edgar Elgar, Cheltenham. 

Gooch, J. (2020) Mussolini’s War, Allen Lance, London.    

Andreas Faludi

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