Historian Marie-Janine Kalic: ‘We have terrible déjà vu’ | BR . culture stage

The history of the war of Ukraine – As the war progresses, we are more and more reminiscent of another war history that began exactly 30 years ago in the Balkans. The Bosnian War claimed more than 100,000 lives and tragically culminated in the Srebrenica massacre. Are there systematic similarities between these two wars? If the answer is yes, then what is it. A conversation with historian Marie-Janine Kallick, Professor of Eastern and Southeast European History at Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich.

Tobias Rohland: How has the Ukraine war changed the way you look at the Bosnian war?

Mary Janine Kalick: For a long time there was a tendency to tempt the Balkans, as it were, like an eternal powder keg. Many believed that a war like the one in the Balkans could not happen in Central Europe. And now, somehow, we have terrible deja vu. This applies not only to images of war, but, in my opinion, to prehistoric times as well. There are clear parallels between the authoritarian transformation of Serbia under Slobodan Milosevic with Putin’s Russia. Populism, the exploitation of history and myth, as well as the idea that the Serbian and Russian states now must be brought together, also by military force. It all makes you really think about the ’90s and prehistoric too. In this respect, I think we must get used to the idea or get used to the fact that these events of war not only affect other Europe, the powder keg, but are in fact something European and belong to our history.

Can similar disinformation and propaganda campaigns be observed here with regard to Ukraine?

The Yugoslav war was a war in which the media and propaganda played a very important role. The warring factions used a plethora of professional public relations agencies to spread their version of the events of the war – to spread around the world, primarily in pictures, but of course also in words. This mediation has played a major role in fomenting fear, hatred and war as such, and it has also been used in a very purposeful manner to destabilize international public opinion and win them over to the warring factions.

I had to think about the Kosovo war more recently. A massacre occurred in the village of Rajak in Kosovo shortly before the start of the NATO intervention. There were found about 40 civilian bodies, apparently killed by Serbian security forces. Images of this crime spread around the world at the time, and I believe it played a major role in destabilizing international public opinion and mobilizing it for greater commitment.

What is the current situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina, 30 years after this war? How fragile is this political entity?

Bosnia and Herzegovina is deeply divided in all respects: politically, socially and psychologically. Bosnian Serbs effectively withdrew from the Dayton Agreement last fall. They have reversed more than 200 laws and legal acts affecting the state as a whole. They are demanding their army, judiciary and financial management. All this is very worrying, especially since Bosnian Serbs are not the only ones pushing for secession. The Bosnian Croats also demand a change in the Treaty of Dayton and demand their own entity, their own little entity of their state, so one really has to ask how the state of Bosnia and Herzegovina could ever function in the future.

So, is the Ukraine war a catalyst for this development you describe? This is not a development that only lasted for two weeks.

The Ukraine war brought back terrible memories of the 1990s. And what’s more, everything we hear about the aggressive war against Ukraine tangibly reinforces ethnic divisions. There is a pro-Russian camp in Bosnia and Herzegovina that is clearly aligned with Russia. A more Western European camp favors the use of the EU’s sanctions policy. So ethnic tensions were clearly and very practically exacerbated by this war.

What specific role does Russia play here? For example by supporting Serb nationalists? What are the ulterior motives and strategies?

Russia has become very active in all Western Balkan countries in recent years, primarily with propaganda. Less in the field of economics. It is amazing how insignificant Russian trade and investment in the region actually are.

Politics is more symbolic and it is a policy I always like to refer to as spoilers, i.e. disrupting international relations. Russia plays this card of special relations in the region and the card of disrupting Western policy towards the region. Also in the sense of a symbolic policy to show that it still has something to say at the international level and that it also has a veto. Unfortunately, this was notable for a number of years, including Russia’s demand that the High Representative close his office – a demand also made by the Bosnian Serbs.

As a brief reminder, the High Representative is still monitoring the implementation of the 1995 United Nations peace treaty. Now let’s look at Germany: Foreign Minister Baerbock was in the region herself a few weeks ago and hurt: We’ve got you covered. What can Germany do to stabilize the Balkans?

The strongest incentive is the promise to accept the countries of the region, including Bosnia, in the European Union. Of course, certain conditions must be met. Bosnia must first be a functioning state, and it must offer the rule of law, a market economy, and European laws. It should be a country that communicates with its neighbors. There are certain conditions that must be met. One of the criteria on which Germany has relatively little influence is the other member states. There are major reservations within the EU about including countries like Bosnia, but also others like Albania, North Macedonia, etc., because they are afraid of importing conflicts. And at the moment, the whole policy of the Western Balkans has reached such a dead end that one cannot imagine how this can be resolved in the near future.

This article was published on April 7, 2022 in broadcast kulturWelt At Bayern 2. You can listen to podcasts here participation in.

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