April in Central Europe: has a Pandora’s Box just been opened in Slovenia?5 min read
Slovenia is not normally a country embroiled in international scandal, nor the centre of political statements that could destabilise the continent. Yet this month, this is exactly what has happened. An inflammatory paper, allegedly linked to Slovenia’s President Borut Pahor and Prime Minister Janez Jansa, has been leaked to Slovenian news site Necenzurirano, with whispers of tacit approval within certain EU Circles. This paper proposes the final dissolution of the last vestiges of Yugoslavia and the redrawing of borders along ethnic lines within the Balkans. Pahor and Jansa have both denied their involvement but accounts given by members of the Bosnian Presidency seem to contradict this.
This paper primarily focuses on the Bosnian question, seeing the future of Bosnia and Herzegovina as being absorbed into Serbia and Croatia, with the rest forming an independent Bosniak state. The future of a multi-ethnic Bosnia and Herzegovina has been on a form of internationally sponsored life-support since the Dayton Accords in 1995. Until now, few would have openly proposed the dissolution of the entity along ethnic lines, for fear of reigniting interethnic strife. However, and perhaps more impactful for the wider region, the paper also proposes redrawing borders beyond Bosnia. Kosovo, Albania, Serbia, and North Macedonia would also be affected. Whilst Bosnia remains a state divided, with an impending expiry date without significant reform, other countries named, such as North Macedonia, have fewer problems in this regard. Any changes to borders proposed here are about preventing future, rather than current issues.
The homogenisation of much of Europe following the Second World War has arguably contributed to much of the stability seen in the decades since. Minority groups, especially large minorities who have a neighbouring kin state have always been a source of uncertainty and suspicion (however unfairly), and for much of the 20th Century an excuse for intervention and invasion. As we have seen in more recent years in Ukraine and Georgia, the ‘protection’ of kin-national minorities remains a potent justification for military violation of national sovereignty. So, it is perhaps unsurprising that the redrawing of borders and population transfer in the aftermath of World War Two have made for a region more comfortable with their neighbours. Though, this came at a catastrophic cost on a humanitarian, cultural, and societal level, which has contributed to the modern fear of border changes.
The paper has been publicly condemned around the world, not least by the United States who acts as a form of guarantor of the status quo in Bosnia and Kosovo. However, being allegedly linked to an EU head of state and with some EU sympathies – the controversy of the paper is unlikely to be quickly diminished.
The paper, if genuine, raises some significant questions. If ethnic homogeneity is seen or portrayed as the solution to instability, and the redrawing of borders the method of achieving harmony – this undermines years of international efforts and norms. If that is the case, whilst this paper only focuses on the former Yugoslavia, it has clear ramifications for Central Europe and indeed the whole continent. Many borders do not follow ethnic boundaries, and whilst many of these conflicts have been subdued by the continued insistence upon the indivisibility of borders in the international system, they remain a source of friction only just hidden beneath friendly diplomacy.
The most obvious candidate is Hungary, whose modern borders separate the country from millions of its kin nationals in neighbouring states, most notably Romania and Slovakia, but also Ukraine and Serbia. The truncation of the Hungarian nation at the Treaty of Trianon in 1920 still looms over the modern Hungarian psyche and it is a cause picked up and promoted, albeit carefully by Viktor Orbán’s FIDESZ party. Kin-nationals in neighbouring states have been courted and actively engaged, granted greater rights to residency, citizenship and voting. This has caused a great deal of friction and suspicion amongst Hungary’s neighbours, most notably Ukraine, where ethnic Hungarians have been accused of being fifth columnists. Whilst this remains primarily about cultural influence and a rather cynical attempt by FIDESZ to gain a large and loyal electoral base, the potential for a more sinister future is written in the sand if given life by the precedent outlined in the Slovenian Papers. The fact that the paper is alleged to have been written by Jansa, a staunch and vocal ally of Orbán within the EU, suggests – at least in terms of aligned thinking – this concern may not be too far fetched.
A solution for the Bosnian questions needs to be found and the current situation isn’t workable. To claim otherwise is to ignore the obvious facts on the ground. Could the solution proposed by the Slovenian Paper really be the answer? Could such moves be contained to Bosnia and Herzegovina or would the impact be uncontrollable? Undoubtedly these are questions on the minds of politicians and diplomats across the region at the moment. The Slovenian Paper may be successfully suppressed and passed over as a poorly thought-through solution, yet it also has the potential to spark a new wave of irredentism and desire for border changes, digging up old claims and grudges thought long buried.
As Covid restrictions lift, the people of Slovenia can now enjoy a piece of Kremsnita looking over the tranquil waters of Lake Bled, but has a Pandora’s Box been opened that could threaten the fabric of modern Europe?