Balkan Foreign Fighters Are Coming Back: What Should Be Done?
Exclusive Policy Paper by Asya Metodieva
- Put an emphasis on reintegration instead of criminalization;
- Tailor responses to the returnees based on their motivations to join IS, motivations to return and gender/age dynamics;
- Engage local religious, family and school communities in the process of reintegration;
- Address push factors such as poverty, inequality, and economic insecurity.
The Islamic State (IS) will remain a threat in 2018, experts say. Thousands of foreign fighters are now coming back to their home countries following the collapse of the so-called “caliphate”. From the around 900 people from the Western Balkans who have travelled to Syria and Iraq between 2011 and 2016, 250 have already returned. Despite the different reasons for doing so, returnees raise security concerns, to which local governments should respond.
The key challenge for security actors is how to assess the threat posed by former IS combatants and their families. Although returnees have not contributed to the threat of terrorism locally, they create some degree of risk, not only to the Western Balkans but also to Europe as many returnees have dual citizenship or links to their diaspora communities across the continent.
There are at least three criteria to consider in developing policies. First, returnees vary in their motivations to travel to the battlefield. Second, they are coming back home for different reasons. Third, gender/age characteristics matter. Thus, a tailored approach to each returnee is necessary.
This policy paper addresses the issue of returning foreign fighters to the Western Balkans by analysing the threat and the response. It discusses key actions that local authorities should consider. Recommendations here derive from existing strategies and approaches in other states. “Hard” measures such as prosecution and detention have been already applied by the countries in the region. However, individual risk assessment, as well as “soft” policies like rehabilitation and reintegration, are becoming essential to address the problem in the long term.
Central European governments should consider a more active role in the region by supporting local governments in dealing with the issue of returning foreign fighters. The Visegrad Four states should support the dialogue between Western Balkan countries (especially between Serbia and Kosovo), and to encourage more active security information sharing among the Western Balkans states, and with the EU. Central European countries have also the capacity to assist in reintegration policies and addressing push factors for radicalization in the region.
Where have you been in the 1990s? Western Balkans and the ghosts of its past.
THE NEXT BIG THING
Ever since the posters depicting Ratko Mladić reappeared, and especially since the public suicide of Slobodan Praljak, the question “where have YOU been in the 90s?” emerged from its restless sleep. Instead of asking where should we be in the 21st century, the shadows of the past are coming back again. Sentences now routinely begin with „all due respect to victims of the war, BUT…“ The people of the Balkans are counting the years their countrymen collectively received from the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), comparing the counts to their neighbours. Bosnia’s existence is being questioned again. Mladić is a hero, Praljak is prayed for. Some are asking whether the fact that ICTY concluded on the same day as the celebration of the state day of Yugoslavia, was purposefully symbolic. In addition, the square in Zagreb changed its name from Marshal Tito Square to Republic of Croatia square. Should we be raising eyebrows over these issues or are these just the last remnants of the previous age, coming as an insignificant echo after the end of ICTY?
There are reasons to be concerned. It now almost seems as if we were travelling back in time. The divisions between the Balkan nations came back. It does not mean the cooperation is over, but it definitely means that national-borders are back again. War criminals are becoming heroes. A movie about Ante Gotovina, Croatian general fighting in the Balkan war, is in the making. In Serbia and Republika Srpska, during the trial with Mladić, posters naming him a hero appeared. Slobodan Praljak’s act of drinking up poison likewise served a purpose served a purpose. People are now asking why would an innocent man commit suicide. Was he being brave or was he just a coward? What does it say about the tribunal?
Even though the Haag tribunal is finished and many of its obligations and duties are transferred to local authorities, new stories and charges are still appearing. The war is still very much alive in memory and people are missing a closure. Like when Tito died and the narratives from the Second World War re-emerged and with them the old feuds. Re-emerging narratives about the Balkan war can be kept under control in Serbia under Vučić’s rule. Croatia, although having chauvinistic tendencies, is now homogenous enough to contain disorder. However, Bosnia could once again become the “playground”. The growing divisions are particularly visible because the country has not recovered from the war. With its complicated political system, emigration and brain-drain, and economic hardship it is once again a fertile ground for ethnic animosities.
A conflict comparable to the Bosnian war will not likely erupt again, the destabilisation is not large enough and there is no political will. At least not yet. After Praljak’s death, new tensions appeared and more so inside the Federation of Bosnia and Hercegovina, one of the federal republics of Bosnia, than in the largely homogenous Republika Srpska. Croats in Bosnia are accusing Bosniaks of abusing their political power and rigging the system to appoint sympathetic Croat representatives. The Croat population in Bosnia is feeling marginalized and is dissatisfied with the system of shared administration. And even though it is a domestic problem of Bosnia and Hercegovina, Croatia feels involved. Even after 20 years of independent Bosnia, the present situation is causing uneasiness, and no one seems to know what to do.
The situation in the Balkans is getting ever more complicated. After years of efforts to cooperate between countries in the region as well as with the European Union, bitterness is growing. The inability to move over the past is complicating not only the cultural reconciliation but also the economic progress. With the feelings of uncertainty, nationalism is growing too. The conclusion of ICTY makes people remember and brings the will for retribution, not just for the crimes but also for the trial sentences. Accusations are flying from everywhere and the chances of cooperation within Bosna are fading away. Crimes done in the 90s were covered but not buried. Not buried means still alive and ready to be used.
Author: Dominika Kubišová
NATO and the Western Balkans: From Neutral Spectator to Proactive Peacemaker
STRATPOL Brief Review
With the accession of Montenegro in the summer of 2017, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) strengthened its foothold in the region of the Western Balkans. It might be useful to step back and look at how NATO developed into its current form and shed light on the possibilities the future may provide.
How did the relationship between NATO and the countries of the Western Balkans change since the collapse of the Soviet Union? What did the Alliance learn from the mistakes made during the wars in Yugoslavia? What further courses of action might the Alliance take in the region? These are some of the issues explained and explored in the new book by Niall Mulchinock, a professor at University College Cork who specialises in the historical development of NATO.
The main theme of the book is not a chronological description of important events, but rather the explanation of how the relations between the Alliance and countries of the Western Balkans developed. The author uses three distinct perspectives to find an answer. Firstly, he uses the perspective of individual states, both, within the Alliance and within the region. Second is the perspective of international organizations and their interaction with the Western Balkan countries. Lastly, he looks at how the role of the Secretary General in the Western Balkans changed in the past almost three decades.
There are in total six chapters dealing with the historical development of the relations between the Alliance and states of the Western Balkans. The second chapter, after the introduction, analyses the first years of the Yugoslav conflicts. Here, the author examines the decision-making process of the Alliance, which led to the much-discussed failures to intervene in critical moments, such as in the case of Srebrenica. The third chapter analyses NATO’s involvement in Bosnia. Considerable attention is paid to the operation Deliberate Force, which was a sustained air campaign in Bosnia and Herzegovina carried out in 1995. The fourth chapter deals with the conflict in Kosovo and with the NATO’s Operation Allied Force launched to prevent a looming crisis. The fifth chapter discusses NATO’s first two peace enforcement missions, IFOR and SFOR. The sixth chapter is then devoted to the analysis of the successes and failures of the KFOR mission in Kosovo. The last chapter deals with NATO’s response to the 2001 insurgency in the Republic of Macedonia.
In the conclusion, the author examines the lessons learned from NATO’s involvement in the Western Balkans over the years. He claims that the Alliance’s direct involvement in the stabilization of the Western Balkans has proven to be one of the central components in its transformation since the end of the Cold War. This involvement set important precedents and made the Alliance realize that in order to remain relevant in the future, it has to commit itself to operations and duties outside of the NATO area. Regarding the historical development of the Alliance, the author remains positive and claims that the Alliance has been capable of learning from its past mistakes, especially from the atrocious Bosnian war. The first of these lessons learned was to make an early intervention a prerequisite in the case of any future outbreak of violence in the region. Simply put, the Alliance cannot tolerate another Srebrenica. Secondly, there was a need for the construction of a more cohesive and dynamic relationship between the Alliance and the EU. The third lesson was to avoid the future resumption of major transatlantic disputes, such as the one in 1994-1995, between NATO and the UN, which to great extent eventually caused the paralysis in Bosnia. These principles were then applied to Kosovo in the 1998–99 period and to the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia in 2001.
Regarding the future courses of action, the author claims that NATO’s role in the Western Balkans is to incorporate any remaining countries into the Alliance. But he also argues that the role of the Alliance in the Western Balkans is going to diminish gradually as more and more tasks are being delegated to the EU. NATO will still have a residual role to play in the future stability and security of the region but assuming Kosovo is “handed over to the EU” at some point, NATO’s functions will be much less central than the EU in the region.
By its specific character, the book can serve as an excellent source of data for military professionals and decision-makers aiming to understand the messy process which shaped NATO into its current form. The book will also prove useful to academics and students of political science, international relations or security studies.
The book’s main selling points are its highly analytical approach, rich informational value and useful references for further reading. Overall, the book presents a much-needed contribution to the literature devoted to the understanding of the transformations taking place within NATO in recent decades.
Author: Samuel Žlinčík
Responsible editor: Ondřej Zacha
Vedran Smailović playing in the partially destroyed National Library in Sarajevo in 1992 | Source: WikimediaCommons / Mikhail Evstafiev (CC BY-SA 2.5)
First session of ICTY | Flickr / UN International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (CC BY 2.0)
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