A Tale of two Balkan Conspiracies
Exclusively for The Geopost: Janusz Bugajski
Two major conspiracy theories in the Western Balkans revolve around the ultimate resolution of persistent regional conflicts. The two theories contain a variety of evidence and it is incumbent on analysts to try and discern fact from fiction. The yare based on the conviction that growing frustration in Washington and Brussels in settling outstanding disputes two decades after the Yugoslav wars have spawned two radical solutions – the partition plan and the tripartite plan.
Both alleged plans assume that the core conflict in the Western Balkans is between Serbs and Albanians, and if this is subdued or terminated then the region can settle down to a prolonged period of peace and stability.
The partition plan gained prominence during the Donald Trump administration to resolve Serbia’s non acceptance of Kosova’s statehood. Trump’s diplomats believed that the fundamental problem was ethnic conflict not political ambition and that the current map did not correspond to ethnic allegiance. They were also convinced that Belgrade needed a sufficiently large carrot to satisfy its aspirations.
The idea of partition was phrased as redrawing borders or conducting territorial adjustments. Leaders in Belgrade, Prishtina, and Tirana were brought into the process to devise a workable territorial solution. In particular, Serbia and Albania were enticed with a potential division of Kosova between them. Hence, the frequent and cordial interactions between Prime Minister Edi Rama and President Aleksandar Vučić.
US policy makers believed that this would provide victories for all three sides. Belgrade could claim it had gained Serbian land and encompassed the Serbian population in northern Kosova, without having to recognize the renegade state because it would disappear.
Tirana could claim that it had established a larger ethnic Albania in line with historical aspirations. And presumably Prishtina would be satisfied in Kosova’s absorption within Albania despite ceding some territory.
This conspiracy plan fell apart primarily because the Hashim Thaci government did not want to lose territory without gaining Albanian majority municipalities in southern Serbia and it did not welcome becoming a provincial administration in an enlarged Albania.
As the plan leaked into the media, it also stirred fears of fresh Balkan wars, as numerous ethnic groups forming majorities in border districts would view it as a precedent for territorial division and annexation by kindred states. As a result, the partition option was gradually sidelined, although it could return in a future disguise.
Under the Joe Biden administration a new plan avowedly materialized to settle the major Western Balkan disputes. It is based on the premise of a tripartite division of influence – between Serbia, Albania, and Croatia – without necessitating border changes or outright territorial partition. The blueprint has not been made public, which leaves the terrain open for speculation and even deeper conspiracy theories.
The framers of the tripartite plan believe that the region could be stabilized if Belgrade, Tirana, and Croatia are rewarded with political and economic dominance over smaller neighboring states. Hence, Belgrade would largely control the Serb entity in Bosnia-Herzegovina, pursue its Serbianization of Montenegro, and develop its Open Balkans initiative.
In such an arrangement, Belgrade could even recognize Kosova’s independence de facto if not de jure, as the current French-German proposal envisages. Meanwhile, Albania and Kosova could move closer together even without a formal merger and Zagreb could establish a de facto Croatian entity in Bosnia-Herzegovina that would assuage its own regional ambitions.
The tripartite plan would evidently ensure the dominance of three regional powers and under international pressure the smaller states would be expected to comply. However, this three-way schema also contains three major defects.
First, Montenegrins, Bosniaks, and Kosovars, whose distinct national and state identities have been strengthened since the collapse of Yugoslavia, will resist any attempts to limit their independence and subordinate them to any broader political arrangements.
Second, Serbia, Croatia, and Albania can interpret the tripartite plan as simply an initial step toward outright territorial capture approved by Washington and Brussels. And third, the tripartite plan would enable even greater Russian penetration in the region by cultivating more Balkan clients for the Kremlin.
In this way, a plan designed to permanently settle all outstanding disputes would in practice spawn fresh regional conflicts.
Although one needs to be careful in believing all conspiracy theories, one must also be watchful in case of conspiracy practices. /The Geopost/
Janusz Bugajski – is a Senior Fellow at the Jamestown Foundation in Washington DC. His new book is “Failed State: A Guide to Russia’s Rupture“