After Croatia’s accession to the European Union in July 2013 and the “Enlargement Report” for 2014 of the European Commission – which recommended granting the EU candidate status to Albania and the Western Balkans’ countries including, for the fifth time in a row, the opening of accession negotiations with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia – several other developments in the last part of last year indicate a growing interest of the West towards the Balkan states.
Although most analysts agree that, although the Western Balkans’ countries and Albania are a long way from the European Union, such an interest is justified if the West is to confront a growing presence and influence in the region of the other two main world power actors, Russia and China.
a) In this context, Serbia seems to become more and more a “target”, with Greece (as the EU’s 2014 January-June chairing nation) informing the EU’s foreign ministers in Brussels, on December 17, 2013, that it planned to hold an intergovernmental conference between the EU and Serbia on January 21, 2014, which will mark the start of membership talks between Serbia and the EU. The decision was approved by the European Council and Serbian Prime Minister Ivica Dacić hailed it, especially the fact that the Kosovo issue would not be linked to each of the negotiations’ chapters.
b) Another significant development was seen in the United States Congress, where, last December, Reps. Eliot L. Engel and Robert Aderholt, the co-Chairs of the Congressional Albanian Issues Caucus, and Reps. Ted Poe and Emanuel Cleaver, the co-Chairs of the Congressional Serbian Caucus, sent a letter to the Norwegian Nobel Committee nominating Baroness Catherine Ashton, European Union High Representative for Foreign and Security Policy, Ivica Dacić, Prime Minister of Serbia, and Hashim Thaci, Prime Minister of Kosovo, for the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize for their critical roles in normalizing relations between Serbia and Kosovo.
According to the U.S. congressmen, “the April 2013 agreement between Prime Ministers Dacić and Thaci, facilitated by Baroness Ashton following months of painstaking negotiations, marks a dramatic and historic turning point for both Serbia and Kosovo – and for the turbulent Balkans region as a whole”.
The proposal seems not to consider the fact that most problems remain open, without any good solutions that would at the same time enable a sustainable position of the Serb community in Kosovo, good relations between the Serbs and the Albanians, as well as Serbia and Kosovo’s smooth journey to the EU. Moreover, since 2014 is an election year in Serbia, Kosovo and the EU, most probably talks will have to resume in 2015. 2014 is mostly seen as a “lost” period in terms of establishing trust between the Serbs and the Albanians – both between the Serbs from northern Kosovo and the Pristina government and between the Serbian government and the Albanians from southern Serbia, the region bordering Kosovo.
c) The renewed Western interest in the Balkans was also reflected by the July 2013 inclusion of Serbia among the countries represented in the Trilateral Commission (called by the media “the global shadow government”), which held its 2013 autumn meeting in Belgrade. Serbian media stressed that Prime Minister Ivica Dacić’s participation to the conference may lead to his becoming a full member of the organization after ending his government functions.
The Trilateral Commission is represented in Serbia by a non-governmental organization called “East West Bridge” (IVB) led by former journalist Jovan Kovacić, who is a member of the Executive Committee of the Trilateral Commission. Among the members of this organization are several former and current Ministers of the Government of Serbia, as well as the well-known intellectuals and members of the royal family. Besides Kovacić, the Serbian members of the Trilateral Commission are Dejan Novaković, State Secretary of the Ministry of Energy and Tahir Hasanović, former official of the New Democracy. Both Kovacić and Hasanović are also Masons, members of the Regular Grand Lodge of Serbia.
This “last but not least” development – considering especially the British influence in the Trilateral Commission and the presence in the group of the royal family of Serbia – point out to the British constant interest for the Western Balkans and Eastern Europe, ever since the final days of the Ottoman Empire.
1. The British Crown: in Eastern Europe and the Balkans for over 100 years
Since the mid-19th century, Britain was a significant presence in Eastern Europe and the Balkans, from the direct involvement in border carving and the creation of new states, to the discreet sponsoring of local actors and influencing the course of events.
Britain against the Eastern powers in the Balkans: since the Crimean War
Britain was the leader of the Western European powers during the Crimean war (1853-54) aiming to counter the tsar’s bid to partition the Ottoman Empire. It was the only general European conflict in the hundred years between 1815 and 1914. Since the victors in the Crimean War wanted to prevent Russia controlling the mouth of the Danube, they supported an independent Romania (with Wallachia and Moldavia uniting in 1859). The Romanians being of Latin ancestry, they were considered as a possible bulwark preventing a union of South Slav peoples which Britain feared would enable Russia to fulfill its ambitions in the eastern Mediterranean.
The Crimean war also established the precedent for map changes in the Balkans that were meant to satisfy a precarious balance of power rather than to suit the wishes of the local inhabitants. Local ethnic groups threw in their fortunes with a Great Power in the hope that they could achieve their territorial goals. Prospects of co-operation between the Balkan ethnic groups diminished as outside powers were prepared to sponsor rival nationalisms for short-term goals.
Later on, in 1877, during another Western confrontation with the Ottoman Empire, war between the West (Britain) and Russia appeared imminent, after the Russian victory at the siege of Pleven, when the West feared that Russia might conquer Constantinople. Britain was afraid that an enlarged Bulgaria would become an extension of Russia, and an international conference was held in Berlin in 1878 to arbitrate the dispute.
The diplomatic carve-up of the region that followed the Berlin Congress ruled out the creation of a viable pattern of states, as the Ottoman Empire was gradually forced out of Europe. Decisions were made about Macedonia, Bulgaria and Bosnia which would return to disturb the peace of Europe in subsequent decades (in a somehow similar process to which was to be the famous “Sykes-Picot agreement” of 1915, the consequences of which are still felt in the Middle East).
Rather than sponsoring a Balkan confederation or large ethnically mixed states where minority rights were protected by international guarantees, the European powers left two South Slav states with unsatisfied national programs, which would clash in wars over the next sixty years: Serbia and Bulgaria. Territory was annexed by powers without any connection to it: Bessarabia was taken by Russia despite its mainly Romanian population, while Bosnia had been occupied by Austria-Hungary in 1876. The biggest losers were the region’s Muslim inhabitants, several million of whom were driven out of Serbia, Bulgaria and Bosnia, due to the absence of a powerful protector.
In a bid to protect trading routes, secure military objectives, or establish client states, the powers led by Britain sponsored small, unstable and weak states, with conflicting territorial claims and ethnic minorities that had to be assimilated or driven out. They formed unstable local alliances, sought backing from outside powers in order to guarantee security or satisfy national ambitions and, in turn, were used by these powers for their own strategic advantage. The term “Balkanization” has acquired world notoriety to describe the problems arising from such a fragmentation of political power.
The Balkan wars, in 1912 and 1913, degenerated into a bloody fight for territory among rival states. International arbitration guaranteed an independent Albania in 1913. The capacity of the Balkans to trigger a wider conflict was shown by the way the great powers went to war following the assassination of the heir to the Austrian throne, Archduke Franz-Ferdinand, in Sarajevo on June 28th, 1914, by local pro-Serb nationalists.
In Eastern Europe with related royal families
After World War I, the victorious Allied states rejected the precedent of the 1878 Congress of Berlin and instead sponsored territorially powerful monarchical states in the Balkans: Romania, Yugoslavia, and Greece. A new European order based on the national self-determination of peoples and operating under the aegis of the League of Nations was meant to guarantee the peace. But the self-determination principle often only applied where it weakened enemy states, such as Austria-Hungary, and it was disregarded where its consequences proved unfavorable to the victors. Thus Italy acquired the South Tyrol and parts of the Dalmatian coast where non-Italians predominated. Meanwhile, Yugoslavia excluded the Albanians of Kosovo. The burning of villages in the 1920s, followed by the confiscation of land from Albanians in the 1930s, unless they had Yugoslav documents to prove ownership, was a foretaste of future deportations.
As for Britain, at the end of World War I, most of the main states in Eastern Europe were monarchies ruled by families closely related with the British royal family. The British royal family was also related to the Russian Romanov family, with Czar Nicholas II and Britain’s King George V being cousins, related on both the maternal and paternal sides of the family.
The Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen (Romania) and the Saxe-Coburg-Gotha (Bulgaria) houses are closely linked to the British House of Mountbatten-Windsor. While many of these royal lines seem to have German lineages, they have effectively operated in the contemporary historical period as extensions of the British monarchy.
a) The Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen house in Romania is related to the British royal house through King Michael’s grandmother, Queen Marie, a granddaughter of Queen Victoria. Also, Michael’s mother was Princess Helen of Greece, from the same royal house as Prince Philip, Royal Consort to Queen Elizabeth II. Prince Philip was born in Corfu and had to renounce his Orthodox Christianity for Anglicanism when he married (then) Princess Elizabeth. Romanian King Michael is both a cousin and good friend of Philip.
b) In Bulgaria, the royal house of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha is the same as the British royal house, which reigns in Britain under the name of Windsor that was taken by King George V in 1917 due to anti-German sentiment during World War I. Another branch of the Saxe-Coburg-Gotha house reigns currently in Belgium.
c) In Greece, after the overthrow in 1862 of the first king of the independent Greek state (Otto of Bavaria), the Greeks elected in a referendum Prince Alfred, the second son of Queen Victoria, to be king, but the English royal family was vetoed by the Great Powers. But although the accepted king (George I) came from the Danish royal family, he was related to the British royal house through his sister. George’s heir, Constantine, married a granddaughter of Queen Victoria.
d) Unlike the Romanian, Bulgarian and Greek monarchies, which have Germanic roots, the Serbian one was local. The father of the Serbian Karadjordjević dynasty was “Black George”, who led the first Serbian uprising against the Ottomans in 1804. However, Serbia’s Crown Prince Alexander is a godson of Queen Elisabeth, who was born in 1945, in Room 212 of London’s Claridge’s Hotel. Since Yugoslav law required that he had to be born on Yugoslav soil in order to become king, Winston Churchill, Britain’s wartime prime minister, declared the room Yugoslav territory for the day. The newborn was taken to Westminster Abbey, where he was baptised by Patriarch Gavrilo of Serbia, with Britain’s King George Vl and Princess Elizabeth in attendance.
Churchill’s vision: tricked by Tito?
The mutual hostility which poisoned relations between the East European states encouraged a withdrawal of Britain and France from the whole region in the 1930s. The ascendancy of Germany was challenged by Britain and France in 1939 as the threat to the balance of power became too great to ignore. But the eventual defeat of Nazi Germany only resulted in a swop of tyrannical rulers. In October 1944, Churchill concluded his famous “Percentages Agreement” with Stalin which assigned the Soviet Union a dominant role in Bulgaria and Romania, and an equal stake for both powers in Yugoslavia, with Britain enjoying a majority stake in Greece. Despite his great services to the cause of freedom, Churchill was prepared to abandon more countries to a tyrannical fate than Chamberlain actually did at Munich in 1938.
The British concept of the postwar political order in the Mediterranean was based on the vision of a chain of constitutional monarchies. This idea was dear to Churchill, not only because of his dynastic sympathies but also because of his conviction that monarchy in these countries would be an instrument of British domination. His concept was challenged by the resistance movements in the countries concerned, which had different ideas about the future of their nations after the Liberation.
Churchill was not prepared to accept such a trend of events without fighting. He initiated a complex diplomatic activity in order to save his political vision of the Mediterranean area. It is interesting to note that his public utterances at this time were quite different from his more private thoughts and actions. In a major speech, on February 22, at the Commons, he proclaimed in fact: “Here, in these islands, we are attached to the monarchical principle, and we have experienced the many blessings of constitutional monarchy, but we have no intention of obtruding our ideas upon the people of any country…” On the operative level, Churchill took a different approach. His attitude to the different guerrilla movements was very flexible and shaped mainly by three considerations: the strength of the particular movement, its usefulness in fighting the Germans, and the influence which Britain, in his opinion, should and could have after the war in every particular country.
In the Balkans, the guerrilla movements in Yugoslavia, Albania, and Greece were considered a serious threat to British interests in the area. The most powerful of them was the partisan army led by Josip Broz Tito, with whom Churchill thought he could make a political deal: he wanted to convince Tito, in exchange for British aid, to collaborate with the Yugoslav royal government-in-exile, in order to save King Peter’s throne and British influence in the country.
In this context it was also mentioned that Tito used a forged passport provided by the British intelligence service through the Canadian – American network coordinated by Sir William Stephenson, an aspect that was later mentioned in Stephenson’s biography, “A Man Called Intrepid”.
Churchill’s main reason for sustaining Tito was the evidence of Ultra decrypts from the Government Code and Cipher School in Bletchley Park that Tito’s Partisans were a “much more effective and reliable ally in the war against Germany”. Churchill announced his decision to support Tito to Soviet leader Joseph Stalin (much to his surprise) at the Tehran Conference in November 1943, and publicly in an address to Parliament on 22 February 1944.
Tito against Mihailović
While not contradicting this reason, historians also revealed that Churchill’s decision to support Tito and abandon the royalist, non-communist guerrillas (Chetniks) led by General Dragoljub “Draža” Mihailović was influenced not only by the cleverness of Tito, but also by a Russian-inspired disinformation campaign.
The Soviet-inspired deception started in 1942. Churchill was led to consider that Mihailović – whom Hitler termed an “uncompromising enemy” whose annihilation was the key to Axis success – was a German collaborator. At the same time, Tito’s claims of troop strength and battle victories were presented as true facts, even if Stalin himself cautioned Tito against such exaggerations. Once set on a course, Churchill was hard to change his opinion. He began to lean strongly toward Tito early in 1943. The firm decision was reached at the end of 1943 and he ordered the abandonment of Mihailović after Tito issued an ultimatum: “It’s him or me”.
Tito himself asserted after the war that he “outsmarted and deceived that old fox Churchill”, and Tito’s postwar ambassador to Britain also gave an amusing account of how he had “indoctrinated” the British intelligence officer who had Churchill’s ear on Balkan matters. Even Heinrich Himmler is quoted as stating that Tito had “fooled and humiliated the British and Americans in a most comical way”.
Already in May 1944, Churchill began to realize that he had supported a dedicated communist, mentioning in a memorandum that Tito was probably aiming to create a soviet Yugoslav state, and that his contacts with Greek and Bulgarian partisans suggested even more ambitious plans (a Yugoslav-Bulgarian-Greek federation). It was only after the war that it occurred to Churchill to request a full dossier on him. “Is it true”, Churchill asked in his request memo, “that he was educated at a communist college?”
In fact, Tito’s history is unclear during the period he spent in Russia as a prisoner of World War I, since he returned to his homeland five years after the war as a convinced Communist and joined the underground Soviet-led apparat as a full-time revolutionary. According to John R. Schindler, former NSA intelligence analyst and counterintelligence officer and professor of national security affairs at the U.S. Naval War College, Tito was a creature of the Soviet secret police, an “illegal” with 33 NKVD cover names to his credit. Stalin knew him as “Walter”, the cover name he used the longest. There is little doubt that in the 1930s, when he perfected his clandestine tradecraft (what the NKVD called konspiratsiya), Tito was in Moscow for extended periods of time. The Yugoslav Communist Party leadership was all but annihilated by the NKVD in 1937-38, and Tito was in control of the party in 1941, when the Axis invaded and dismembered Yugoslavia.
There also were claims that the Croatian-Slovene peasant Josip Broz and the world leader Tito were not the same man, with the implication that the NKVD switched someone else at some point. While there never was hard evidence to sustain this hypothesis, many Yugoslavs felt that Tito never spoke his native language very well, including people in Kumrovec who didn’t seem to recognize him. He made regular grammatical errors and to many, his pronunciation sounded a bit … Russian. When General Dragoljub Mihajlović first met Tito in 1941, he thought that he actually was a Russian. Shortly before the Tito’s death, Cryptologic Spectrum, a classified NSA in-house journal published an article titled “Is Yugoslav President Tito Really a Yugoslav?” where, through close analysis of Tito’s speech patterns, the unnamed author concluded that Tito did not speak Croatian like a native, but like someone whose mother tongue was Russian (or Polish).
Consequently, Churchill became convinced that the policy in the Balkans should be decided on a different level, in direct contact with the superpowers. During the well-known journey to Moscow in October 1944, he went to the meeting with Stalin with the clear consciousness of his weak position (by the end of August, the Soviet forces controlled Romania. In September, they entered Bulgaria, and in the same month Tito secretly flew to Moscow to seek Soviet aid for the final struggle in Yugoslavia). Churchill’s famous “percentage deal” with Stalin about the spheres of influence in the Balkans and in the Danube valley was in fact a bluff, since he offered Stalin what the Red Army had already conquered, but asked for himself what the British troops did not have.
In his turn, Stalin accepted the deal without obviously renouncing his own plans. The development of events took a direction which was quite different from the bargain concluded in Moscow. Churchill realized this and adapted his policy to the harsh reality of the day. Already some months later, he wrote to Stalin: “the way things have worked out in Yugoslavia certainly does not give me the feeling of a fifty-fifty interest and influence as between our two countries….” But, he added, “I do not complain…” And on another paper he mentioned: “Nothing will wrest Yugoslavia from the Russian grip. In this particular theatre the policy is «disengage». On the contrary in Greece it is «hold fast».”
Consequences still felt today
The British “monarchical project” was again felt in Eastern Europe beginning with 1991, after the collapse of the communist regimes, when the old royal families returned in Romania, Bulgaria and Serbia. Some analysts even mentioned an intention to re-impose monarchies in the Balkans, with the royal houses considered as the “extended family” of Queen Victoria. During this project, London was seen as maneuvering to bring the Serbian House of Karadjordjević back into power in Belgrade, and also having in focus Romania and Bulgaria.
In Romania, exiled King Michael of the Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen house returned in 1992. He was interviewed and said that Romania should declare itself a constitutional monarchy, by reinstituting the Romanian Constitution of 1923.
During the same period, the idea of the restoration of the House of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha was launched in Bulgaria, with exiled King Simeon II, based in Madrid, receiving visits from various influent persons from Sofia, who were in favor of a “constitutional monarchy that would put an end to the struggle for hegemony between the three centers of power: Parliament, President, and government”.
Reflecting the events, the London Daily Telegraph published at that moment a lead article entitled “Time to Reconvene the Royal Family of Europe?” and advocated restoring “the family of Queen Victoria” to thrones in the Balkans nations.
While Eastern Europe and the Balkans did not revert to monarchy, the royal families – with or without influence from the British establishment – eventually found a place in the new republican systems. In Bulgaria, Simeon II even became prime minister (July 2001 – August 2005). King Michael of Romania played a discreet but significant role in the process of the country’s accession to NATO and the European Union, and in Yugoslavia members of the royal family are active in the “East-West Bridges”, bringing the country closer to the Trilateral Commission (see supra).
Similarities with the Middle East
Historians and analysts note the similarities of the British/Western interest to develop and protect client-states in the Balkans of the 1920s and the developments in the Middle East, where sectarian division, ethnic tension and internal violence have been traditionally exploited by the West. Western-style democracy has been a requirement only for those Middle Eastern states which do not conform to the West’s political demands. Saudi Arabia and Jordan are examples of undemocratic states that had no problems because they are aligned within the Anglo-American orbit or sphere. Additionally, the United States blocked or displaced democratic movements in the Middle East from Iran in 1953 (where a U.S./U.K. sponsored coup was staged against the democratic government of Prime Minister Mossadegh) to Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Turkey, the Arab Sheikdoms, and Jordan where the Anglo-American alliance supports military control, absolutists and dictators in one form or another.
The Middle East, in some regards, is a parallel to the Balkans and Central-Eastern Europe during the years leading up the First World War. In the wake of the First World War, the borders of the Balkans and Central-Eastern Europe were redrawn. This region experienced a period of upheaval, violence and conflict, before and after World War I, which was the direct result of foreign economic interests and interference. Now most historians agree that the reasons behind the First World War were, in fact, economic, and that the American involvement in a large scale war was discussed as early as 1908 by the Carnegie Foundation, which brought together the powerful individuals who controlled the finances, policies, and government of the United States.
As shown by the so-called “New Middle East” project and the map developed by Lieutenant-Colonel Ralph Peters, the overhaul, dismantlement, and reassembly of the nation-states of the Middle East have been packaged as a solution to the hostilities in the Middle East. However, they show that the redrawn boundaries do not address the causes of the problems and conflicts in the Middle East. Moreover, they show that the kingdoms and families that are loyal to the West’s interests are in a clear territorial advantage, including the possibility to sponsor so-called “religious states” that may become alternatives for a non-Turkish originated “caliphate”. The redrawing and partition of the Middle East from the Eastern Mediterranean shores of Lebanon and Syria to Anatolia (Asia Minor), Arabia, the Persian Gulf, and the Iranian Plateau responds to the broad economic, strategic and military objectives of the Western agenda.
2. The Non-Aligned Movement: battleground for influence
The liking for improvised, short-term solutions to complex problems that ignore the wishes of local populations and are enforced by tyrannical leaders characterized the major powers’ approach to the Balkans before and after 1945. Similarly, the penchant for diplomatic quick-fixes epitomized the West’s engagement with Yugoslavia as it dissolved into fratricidal conflict in the 1990s.
During the Cold War, the West identified with the efforts of countries like Poland and Czechoslovakia to throw off the Soviet yoke, but in the Balkans, the course was to back a strong leader or strong regional power capable of keeping “ancient ethnic hatreds” in check and preserving a balance of power that would prevent the superpowers coming to blows there. Thus, Marshal Josip Broz Tito, the architect of Communist Yugoslavia (but also a former protégé of Churchill), became a recipient of Western support after he broke with Stalin in 1948.
While Tito-led Yugoslavia became in fact a communist country, Tito’s “separation” from the Soviet Union (and also, maybe, the “echoes” of the “50-50” Stalin-Churchill agreement) would make it an important player in the development of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), a project that historians link to the end of the British Empire and the decolonization process.
From Empire to Movement
The dismantling of the British Empire between 1947 (independence of India) and 1980 (independence for Zimbabwe) generated the coming on the international stage of a significant number of newly independent countries that became members of the emerging Third World.
In 1960, Britain’s Prime Minister Harold Macmillan made his famous “wind of change” speech in Cape Town, South Africa, signaling that Britain had accepted decolonization as its policy for the remainder of the empire. In the case of Egypt, which was not formally part of the British Empire, but was within the British sphere of influence, the Suez crisis led to the official separation of the Nasser regime from the West and the joining of the Third World and the Non-Aligned Movement.
This complex policy also allowed Britain to keep for a long time the new states under its own sphere of influence. The Non-Aligned Movement was founded by five statesmen who came from countries of the British Empire or its sphere of influence (India, Egypt, Yugoslavia, joined by Ghana and Indonesia).
The first position of non-acceptance of the bloc policy was expressed in March 1947, at the Delhi conference on “problems of relations between Asian countries”, where the participant countries clearly expressed their wish not to participate in military blocs and alliances. The next major event was the “Asia – Africa Conference” in Bandung (Indonesia), in April 1955, when the 29 participant countries formulated ten principles for cooperation.
The so-called “spirit of Bandung” acquired a universal nature when it became actively promoted by Josip Broz Tito’s Yugoslavia. In 1961, Tito co-founded the Non-Aligned Movement with Egypt’s Gamal Abdel Nasser, India’s Jawaharlal Nehru, Indonesia’s Sukarno and Ghana’s Kwame Nkrumah, in an action called “The Initiative of Five” (Tito, Nehru, Nasser, Sukarno, Nkrumah).
The first summit took place in Belgrade in 1961, with 25 countries participating. On 1 September 1961, Josip Broz Tito became the first Secretary-General of the Non-Aligned Movement. This is considered the official beginning of the Non-Aligned Movement, having as main criteria of membership: an independent foreign policy, support for the national liberation movements, not to be a member of any multilateral military alliance concluded in the context of the great powers’ conflicts. An interesting feature of the movement is the inclusion among the NAM principles of the “struggle for the formation of a new world order”.
During the Cold War, the Non-Aligned Movement was seen as a battleground for influence between the West and the Soviet Union, up to a point which made a diplomat point that, in fact, there were “only two really non-aligned countries: the United States and the USSR”.
The fact that the countries maintained the features that made NAM a “movement”, a forum rather than an organization is seen as a main factor for its development and its survival after the disappearance of the military blocs’ confrontation. Although it does not claim to be an organization but a “movement”, the NAM is – with 120 member states and 17 with observer status in 2012 – the biggest group of countries after the United Nations.
The 16th Summit of the Non-Aligned Movement took place in Teheran from August 26 to August 31 2012, with delegations representing the majority of the world’s population as well as the world’s economy. It was considered a significant proof that NAM managed to adapt itself to the post-bloc, global world.
According to Russian analyst Gennady Yevstafiev, retired Lieutenant General of the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service, the main feature of the 2012 NAM summit was (besides its location in Iran) the presence of the Egyptian President (at that moment) Mohamed Morsi, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood who decided to renew the contact with Iran, interrupted since the beginning of the Khomeini regime. Egypt was eager to reoccupy its seat as a NAM founding member. Shiite Iran considered it a major priority to uncouple Cairo from Saudi Arabia and was ready to bypass the conflict which has been opposing it to the Muslim Brotherhood, thus aiming to position itself as an arbiter between rival Sunni states. Qoms (the city of Shiite theologians) endorses the Al-Azhar University in Cairo to the detriment of Saudi TV preachers.
West’s shadow over the Brotherhood
The Russian analyst also pointed out that the Muslim Brotherhood has been largely controlled by the Anglo-Americans and financed by the Gulf Cooperation Council, although it is attempting to become more autonomous, at a time when their access to power in several North African countries is supplying them with significant resources and giving them financial independence.
The setback of the Brotherhood in Egypt did not apparently affect its relationship with Britain, which sees the organization’s potential for influence not only over the numerous Muslim communities at home, but also in the former colonies, in the former Ottoman Empire region and in the non-Arab Muslim areas.
On November 23-24 2013, several British politicians attended the sixth “Global Peace and Unity” conference, an event which was started in 2005 by Mohamed Ali Harrath, a leading figure in the British Muslim community. Although he claims the events are designed to “promote dialogue, exchange ideas and information, and work towards dispelling misunderstandings surrounding the multiculturalism and co-existence of faiths”, speakers at the recent event included Ebrahim Rasool, a vocal supporter of the Palestinian Hamas, as well as Zakir Naik, an Indian Islamist preacher recently banned from entering the UK (whose Peace TV recently began broadcasting in Albanian, in Kosovo) and several Muslim Brotherhood supporters and apologists.
Mohamed Ali Harrath is a leading Muslim Brotherhood member. He has a conviction in Tunisia for terrorism-related offenses, and is the CEO of the “Islam Channel”, which was accused by a Muslim think tank, the “Quilliam Foundation”, of promoting extremist groups and encouraging hatred. He also owns a company called “Veritas Consultancy”, that is known to have provided services to groups such as “Interpal”, a US-designated terrorist organization.
In spite of the radical position of the organization, British politicians and public officials speaking at the event included Andrew Slaughter MP, the shadow Justice Minister; Sadiq Khan, the Shadow Secretary of State for Justice; Lord Falconer of Thoroton QC, a Labour Peer; Simon Hughes MP, deputy leader of the Liberal Democrats; Khurshid Drabu, a senior immigration Judge; and Shahid Malik, former Minister for International Development.
From Yugoslavia to the Arab Spring: the case of Otpor!
The Muslim Brotherhood was not the only player in the so-called “Arab Spring” which resulted (so far) in a diminishing power of the state in countries where the Western powers had strategic interests.
Some analysts linked the “Arab Spring” to the project of “Greater Middle East”, that is to create a vast geopolitical area under U.S. control, with a maximum of small states, of micro-states, if possible religious or ethnic groups in a process often called “balkanization”.
In this context it was noted that “April 6 Youth Movement”, the group that triggered the upheavals against the regime of Hosni Mubarak was helped by the Serbian Otpor! (“Resistance”) movement that caused the collapse of the Yugoslav regime in 2000. Created in 1998 and promoting non-violent methods to oppose the Milosevic regime, in the course of two-year of nonviolent struggle, Otpor! spread across Serbia and attracted more than 70,000 supporters, being credited for their role in the successful overthrow of Slobodan Milosevic on 5 October 2000.
The main figure of Otpor! was Srdja Popović, who founded the movement as a student of 25 with a dozen of his biology classmates, in a restaurant in Belgrade University where they developed the rules of a new resistance movement, inspired by Mahatma Gandhi and the struggle against apartheid. But they gave their movement a different image, attracting young people, even the apolitical ones. Challenging and mocking the regime through whimsical actions and getting an increased attention from the media became their trademark.
Otpor! received substantial funds from the U.S., through the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), the International Republican Institute (IRI), and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). In 2003, Srdja Popović and other Otpor! veterans co-founded the Center for Applied Nonviolent Action and Strategies (CANVAS), an organization focused on the use of nonviolent conflict to promote human rights and democracy. One of their books, called Nonviolent Struggle: 50 Crucial Points, a “how-to” guide to nonviolent struggle, also financed through a U.S. grant, can be downloaded for free in six languages from their website and was downloaded some 20,000 times in the Middle East, mostly by Iranians. CANVAS has been labeled an “Academy of Revolution”, while Popović and others involved in the organization have been referred to by various media outlets as “professors of revolution”, “revolution consultants”, “professional revolutionaries” and “revolution exporters”. Since 2008, a CANVAS-related graduate program functions in cooperation with University of Belgrade’s Faculty of Political Science.
CANVAS disseminated the lessons learned from Otpor!’s successful nonviolent struggle through trainings and workshops around the world, including Egypt, Palestine, Western Sahara, West Papua, Eritrea, Belarus, Azerbaijan, Tonga, Burma and Zimbabwe as well as labor, anti-war, and immigration rights activists in the United States. In November 2011, Foreign Policy Magazine listed Srdja Popović as one of the “Top 100 Global Thinkers” of 2011 for inspiring the Arab Spring protesters directly and indirectly and for educating activists about nonviolent social change in the Middle East. In interviews, the leaders and consultants of Otpor! described their involvement in the planning, coordination and implementation of the 2011 “Arab spring” revolutions.
3. Radical Islam’s useful destabilizing power
If Serbian Otpor!’s “revolution experts” had an instrumental role in forming and training the groups that generated the Arab Spring upheavals, Radical Islam is rapidly becoming a destabilizing factor that may result in the creation of separatist enclaves on the former Yugoslav territory.
The separatist trend in Yugoslavia was blocked during the Tito regime, whose internal policies included the suppression of nationalist sentiment and the promotion of the “brotherhood and unity” of the six Yugoslav nations. After Tito’s death in 1980, tensions between the Yugoslav republics emerged and in 1991 the country disintegrated and went into a series of civil wars and unrest that lasted the rest of the decade and continue to impact most of the former Yugoslav republics to this day.
According to Serbian investigative journalist Marko Lopusina, Serbia is facing a “geopolitical coalition” formed by the West (represented by the U.S. and the European Union) and the Islamist forces, aiming to break the country into four parts, with Kosovo, Vojvodina, and Raska/Sandzak being torn away and the name of Serbia remaining only for the area from Belgrade to Vranje, currently seen as being “dominated by NATO”.
The journalist also said that Western intelligence services, together with the secret service of Albania and Turkish and Bulgarian agents are active in Southern Serbia, training Albanian Muslim nationalists with the techniques of disobedience in order to undermine Serbia’s legal authority, as well as with the ways to ethnically cleanse Serbs from this region so that the Muslims could ethnically dominate and eventually seize the area for themselves.
World War II roots
According to some historians, the Muslim separatist movements in Yugoslavia have also roots in the World War II. The Bosnian Muslim leader Alija Izetbegović joined the organization “Young Muslims” (Mladi Muslimani) on March 5, 1943 and was engaged in recruiting young Muslims for the “SS Handschar Division”. It was said that Izetbegović was recruited by the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Hajj Mohammad Amin el-Husseini and that, in the spring of 1943, as leader of the Muslim youth in Sarajevo, Izetbegović welcomed al-Husseini to Sarajevo.
Mohammad Amin el-Husseini, Grand Mufti of Jerusalem and one-time President of the Supreme Muslim Council of Palestine, was an important member of the Muslim Brotherhood and is considered the most active Nazi sympathizer in the movement (although the Muslim Brotherhood’s official position was that Egypt should refrain from participating in the Second World War). From May 1941, the Grand Mufti was based in Berlin and played a pivotal role in training the Muslim “Handschar” division which became the largest of Hitler’s Waffen-SS divisions, composed of 20,000 Muslims who volunteered to fight for the Nazis in Croatia and Hungary. According to some historians, after the war he helped and was helped by the British and U.S. intelligence agencies with the transfer of many Muslim Nazis to Saudi Arabia, where they became religious teachers and mixed Nazism with Wahhabi Islam, in what would become the ideology of Osama bin Laden (one of their students) and al-Qaeda.
In 1946, Izetbegović was sentenced by the Yugoslav Supreme Military Court to three years imprisonment and two years of deprivation of civil rights for these activities.
Bosnia-Herzegovina: Creation of a new State
Alija Izetbegović is also the author of the “Islamic Declaration”, published in 1969-70 and republished in 1990 in Sarajevo, where he presented his views on Islam and modernization.
The book was used against him and other pan-Islamists in a trial in Sarajevo in 1983, which resulted in his condemnation to 14 years of penal servitude for an “attack against socialism (and) willingness to build an Islamic State in Bosnia”. Izetbegović was also accused of organizing a visit to a Muslim congress in Iran. After international protests, Izetbegović’s sentence was reduced to twelve years and in 1988, as communist rule faltered, he was pardoned and released after almost five years in prison.
The “Islamic Declaration” is a treatise about the relationship between Islam and politics. It tries to conciliate Western-style progress with Islamic tradition, and an Islamic Bosnia is not mentioned. However, some of the theses are considered as belonging to Islamic fundamentalism, such as the belief that an Islamic state should ban alcohol, pornography and prostitution. It also mentions a vision of Islam not only as a private belief but as a public lifestyle with a social and political dimension, and the transcendence of national borders by the brotherhood of the whole Islamic world, the Ummah.
In the context of the 1991-1992 nationalist clashes that led to the separation of Croatia and Slovenia, Alija Izetbegović (supposedly encouraged by Warren Zimmermann, the U.S. Ambassador to Yugoslavia at the time) refused to accept an ethnic-based partition of Bosnia. In February 1992, Izetbegović called a national referendum on independence and the Bosnian parliament, already vacated by the Bosnian Serbs, formally declared independence from Yugoslavia on 29 February and Izetbegović announced the country’s independence on 3 March.
Case study: the “Green Traverse”
During the same period, the Muslim National Council established in February 1992 announced the goal to create an Islamic State within the borders of Bosnia-Herzegovina. Taking into account that south-eastern Bosnia already had demographic and Islamic connections with Sandzak (Serbian name Raska) and Kosovo in Serbia, the serious problem remained North-Eastern Bosnia and the Srebrenica area.
In that context, the Bosnian Muslim groups were accused of trying to create a “Green Corridor” from Bosnia through Sandzak/Raska to Kosovo. This would separate Serbia from Montenegro and Greece and facilitate Albanian pressures on Montenegro and Macedonia, with their Albanian minorities.
According to the so-called “Srebrenica report”, the Muslim saw the necessity to draw a corridor between Serbs in eastern Bosnia and Serbs in Serbia and, under these circumstances, a large Muslim gathering was organized in Bratunac (Srebrenica area) in February 1992, where Bratunac was declared “geographic center of Muslims for the whole Yugoslavia” and the intention of arming the Muslims against the Serbs was expressed. From May 1992 to January 1994 as many as 192 Serbian villages were robbed and burned, 8000 Serbian houses were assaulted and 5400 houses were completely demolished. More than 1000 persons were killed, most of them civilians.
In the context of the Serbian-Bosnian Muslim war, Arab volunteers came through Croatia to join the Bosnian Army and were organized into detachment called El-Mujaheed. These caused particular controversy: foreign fighters, styling themselves mujahedeen, turned up with Croatian identity documents and passports. They quickly attracted heavy criticism amplified by Serbian and Croatian propaganda, who considered their presence to be evidence of violent Islamic fundamentalism at the heart of Europe. They also became unpopular with the population. However, Izetbegović regarded them as a symbolically valuable sign of the Muslim world’s support for Bosnia.
Currently, numerous Muslims living in the so-called “Green Traverse” represent a recruitment pool for Radical Islam and Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo and the Sandzak/Raska region are frequently used as Jihad source for Europe, as well as for other regions. Antiterrorist experts estimate that the Wahhabis are active in parts of Sandzak/Raska, Rozaj and Sarajevo. Salafis are strong in Bosnia as are terrorists from the al-Nusra front and al-Qaeda.
In the Sandzak/Raska and Kosovo areas, Saudi, Pakistani, Iranian, Syrian and Palestinian agents are seeking to mobilize the new generation of the extremist Muslims. In Syria there are about 1,000 Islamists from Bosnia, Macedonia and Kosovo, including about 50 from Serbia. These battle-trained local Muslims might come back to the region and eventually open up another Balkan front if such orders come from Sarajevo’s Bosnian Muslims or the Saudis who are funding them.
Risk analyses for 2014 for the area point out that many “European” jihadists who traveled from Western and Northern Europe to fight in Syria will eventually leave the area, and many are likely to get “trapped” in the Balkans on their way back, since the authorities in the countries where they came from will likely not permit them to come back. Following the established routes, such persons might find shelter in Bosnia, as well as Albania and Kosovo, and perhaps the Sandzak region of Serbia and Montenegro, where they might stir up trouble.
Radical Islam organizations
In 2008, the Serbian anti-terrorist expert Darko Trifunovic mentioned several Islamist Wahhabi organizations linked to al Qaeda, which operated from bases in Bosnia and Southern Serbia’s Sandzak/Raska Muslim area. One of these organizations was “Kvadrat”, founded in Sarajevo in 1995, which reportedly uses children orphaned during the Bosnia-Herzegovina civil war. “Kvadrat” sends its trained personnel through the so-called “Green Traverse” – the Islamist and narco-trafficking safe-haven corridor from Bosnia and, through Turkey and Georgia, to the North Caucasus region.
Bosnian sources said that “Kvadrat” was operating in the triangle area between Zenica, Tuzla and Sarajevo, in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Pezo Adnan is believed to be the operational leader of the group, although he “takes his orders” from a leader in Vienna, Austria, that may be businessman Mohammed Porča, a Bosnian Muslim who apparently is linked to other Islamist organizations in Austria and Germany, and is also involved in fundraising for “Kvadrat”.
Muhamed Fadil Porča, a Bosnian cleric and head of the Al-Tawhid mosque in Vienna, served as the representative of the Saudi High Commission for Aid to Bosnia (SHCAB), and the Saudis used him to funnel money to Bosnia in order to purchase land for Salafi settlements. A former associate of Muhamed Porča, Nedžad Balkan, who studied at the Islamic University in Al-Madina, Saudi Arabia and is known for his extreme views similar to those of Takfir Wal-Hijra, runs a radical group of Muslims from former Yugoslav countries, called Kelimetul Haqq, also based in Vienna.
“Kvadrat” gets funding from the High Saudi Committee for Children without Parental Care (VSK) based in the King Fahd Cultural Center, in Sarajevo, Bosnia. VSK’s offices in Bosnia have, in the past, been raided by NATO Stabilization Force (SFOR) personnel over issues related to the support of terrorism. “Kvadrat” also receives support from “Al-Haramain” charities, a Saudi Arabia-based organization which was declared on September 9, 2004, by the US Treasury Department to be a terrorist-related organization.
Charity is also used as a cover for fundraising and recruitment of people. Money circulates through the so-called “hawala” system, with the money and other commodities being transferred directly, without the involvement of banks and practically impossible to trace. Basic funding derives primarily from the production and distribution of narcotics – specifically heroin, which is produced in Afghanistan, then distributed to Western European and US markets through a sophisticated network.
Since 2004, “Kvadrat” has been opening offices around Bosnia and in the southern Serbian region of Sandzak/Raska, which is adjacent to Bosnia’s Gorazde Corridor, which links the Muslim area of Bosnia with Serbia. “Kvadrat”’s extending its offices into the Raska area indicates that it may be linked into funding from narco-trafficking, the logistical lines for which, in Europe, include movement of narcotics from the East (i.e.: Afghanistan through Iran, Azerbaijan into Russia, or through Iran and Turkey) eventually into Albania and then through Kosovo and Raska areas of Serbia, into Bosnia and thence into Western Europe.
Another such organization is the association of citizens “Furqan”, registered in Sarajevo as a “non-governmental, non-political organization” which has as main goal the “establishment of Bosnia-Herzegovina as a state ordered under the Shari’a and true Islamic values”. “Furqan” has offices in Zenica, Zavidović, Konjic, Visoko and Ilijaš, and instructors are lecturers from Islamic universities in Saudi Arabia and the Emirates. Among the domestic instructors, there is Nezim-effendi Halilović Muderis, imam of the “King Fahd” mosque and Islamic center in Sarajevo, and one of the Wahhabi leaders in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Halilović is considered responsible for war crimes against the Serb civilians in the municipality of Konjic.
In most of the Muslim areas, the local population did not welcome the Islamist Wahhabis and their alleged Saudi patrons. Bosnian chief Islamic cleric Mustafa Ceric issued a document stating that “the most perilous force destabilizing the umma presently is from the inside”. According to Ceric, the Bosnians are “determined to protect the originality of the centuries-long tradition of the Islamic Community in Bosnia-Herzegovina”. In October 2006, Imam Dzemo Redzematovic, leader of the Slavic Muslim minority in Montenegro denounced the Wahhabis for “introducing a new approach to Islamic rules” and claiming “exclusive right to interpret Islamic rules”. Later on, professor Resid Hafizovic of the Faculty of Islamic Studies of the University of Sarajevo, an outstanding Balkan scholar of Sufism or Islamic spirituality, identified the Wahhabi trail of blood traced through the past decade and asked the civil and religious authorities to “immediately take responsibility for preventing the hell Wahhabis are constructing in this country”.
Spreading across the Western Balkan region
However, the still unresolved ethnic and religious problems facilitate the spreading of radical Islam in former Yugoslavia and the separatist tendencies.
Historians also link the present conflicts with the creation by the late Yugoslav leader, Tito, of a separate “Muslim nationality”, a regression to the system which had operated under Turkish rule. So long as Islam is treated as a nationality in the former Yugoslavia, multi-faith, poly-ethnic entities are ruled out by the radical Muslim organizations’ drive to impose the Sharia.
In Macedonia, the first Wahhabi inroads began in 1992, following Macedonia’s independence from Yugoslavia. With the Orthodox Church weak, and the official Islamic Community (IVZ) almost immediately in turmoil, wealthy backers from Saudi Arabia and other Islamic states started to fund the fundamentalist movement through charities and secret payments.
The policy of Arab states such as Saudi Arabia, UAE, Kuwait, etc. has been to increase the influence of Islam in Europe, through the Balkans. Using the proceeds of the zakat charity tax applicable to Islamic financial transactions, Muslims in Macedonia are paid to adopt the Wahhabi doctrine. Some of these paid Wahhabis begin their experience through higher education in the Arab world, and others are exposed to radical Islamic in mosques in Western Europe, for the many migrant workers among Balkan Muslim populations. The major center of control for the Macedonian Muslims of the south, especially, is Graz, Austria as well as Treviso, near Venice in Italy.
Finally, it is believed that Wahhabi leaders in Macedonia help support the heroin trade so as to develop resources for future conversions.
The Wahhabi organizations in Macedonia are somewhat decentralized. While leading figures are all in the Skopje area with strong Kosovo connections, Wahhabi representatives are also present in the villages.
Analysts warned that the Islamist threat might increase as the Albanian population is going closer to its religious identity, which may become more important than the national one.
In Kosovo, the launching in 2012 of fundamentalist Islamist preacher Zakir Naik’s Peace TV, broadcasting each day in Albanian from 9:30 a.m. to 10 p.m., is considered to be an element in a novel campaign by radical Islamists to establish a foothold among Europe’s indigenous Balkan Muslims. Peace TV is coordinated in Kosovo by a local “Center for Islamic Studies”, which appears to exist only online and via television. Peace TV’s message is hard-line Wahhabism, and it broadcasted interviews in Albanian with Kosovo Muslim figures under the influence of Wahhabis. Radical Islamists have also been relocating to Macedonia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Montenegro, and Serbia.
4. The quest for Greater Albania: affecting inter-ethnic relations (case study)
Another element being used in the process of dismantling the state configuration in the Western Balkans is the Albanian nationalism and the quest to create a “greater Albania” or, alternatively, several new ethnic Albanian (and Muslim-dominated) states, such as Kosovo.
Albanian nationalism is a general grouping of nationalist ideas and concepts formed at the beginning of the 19th century in what was called the “Albanian National Awakening”. These ideas comprise a national myth that establishes precedence over neighboring peoples (Slavs and Greeks) and allow movements for independence and self-determination, as well as irredentist claims against neighboring countries.
According to some historians, the “Albanian question” in the Balkan Peninsula is partly a consequence of the decisions made by the Western Powers in late 19th and early 20th century, since the 1878 Treaties of San Stefano and Berlin assigned Albanian inhabited territories to other States. This triggered local efforts for the unification of an even larger area into a unique territory under Albanian authority, such as the “League of Prizren”, an organization of the 19th century whose goal was to unify the Albanian inhabited lands (and other regions) into a single autonomous Albanian Vilayet within the Ottoman Empire. However, the concept of a “Greater Albania” was only ever implemented de facto and de jure under the Italian and Nazi German occupation of the Balkans during World War II.
This ideology was also partly adopted during Enver Hoxha’s communist regime (1945–1991), when it was more focused on the Illyrian-Albanian continuity issue, appropriating Ancient Greek history as Albanian. The ideology is still partly present in Albania, as well as in Kosovo and the Republic of Macedonia.
In Kosovo, the struggle for the liberation from Serb rule became the struggle for the recovery of the ancient “land of the Dardanians” (a branch of the Illyrians who had allegedly inhabited the region for many centuries before the arrival of the Slavs). The Kosovars believe that their nation is the oldest in the Balkans, and some Kosovo Albanians refer to Kosovo as “Dardania”. Former Kosovo President Ibrahim Rugova was an enthusiastic backer of a “Dardanian” identity and its flag and presidential seal refer to this national identity. Orthodox Christianity is considered a Slavic characteristic and Roman Catholicism is preferred as the claim is that the Dardanians were Roman Catholics and that the invading Slavs usurped and turned their Catholic churches into Orthodox ones. Albanians in Kosovo believe that they are the direct descendants of the Illyrians, the first Christians in Europe and that St. Paul had been in “Dardania” first.
The term Greater Albania or Ethnic Albania as called by the Albanian nationalists themselves, refers to a concept of lands outside Albania’s borders which are considered part of a greater national homeland by most Albanians, based on the present-day or historical presence of Albanian populations in those areas. The term incorporates claims to Kosovo, as well as territories in Montenegro, Greece and the Republic of Macedonia. In 2012, during the celebrations for Albania’s 100th anniversary of independence, then Prime Minister Sali Berisha spoke of “Albanian lands” stretching from Preveza in Greece to Presevo in Serbia, and from the Macedonian capital of Skopje to the Montenegrin capital of Podgorica, angering Albania’s neighbors. He called for every single member of the “nation” to contribute “every minute, every hour and every day” to the realization of national unification for Albanians, taking care, however, to stress that this unification would take place “in the bosom of Europe”.
The celebrations marking 100 years of the establishment of Albania were held not only in Albania, but also in Pristina (Kosovo) and Skopje (Macedonia), and Berisha’s comments were inscribed on a parchment that will be displayed at a museum in the city of Vlore (Albania), where the country’s independence from the Ottoman Empire was declared in 1912.
In February 2013, during the Munich Security Conference, Sali Berisha also spoke out against “the unjustified separation of the nation amongst five states” and against “Albanophobia” in the region.
The remarks triggered intense discussions in Albania’s media about the future prospects for an Albania defined by its “natural” (i.e ethnic) borders. That would mean a unification of Albania with Kosovo (almost 90% Albanians), western Macedonia (25% Albanians), and possibly territories in southern Serbia and Montenegro that are mainly inhabited by Albanians. The promoters of “greater Albania” stressed upon the benefits of unifying Albanian territories in the region from economic and social perspectives. A bigger domestic market could be created, which would lead to a more efficient division of labor and an increase in trade, investment, and employment. Politically, the “extended” Albanian state would be more willing to accept political requirements coming from the European Union and to speed up the construction of stable state institutions. As a NATO member, the “natural” Albania would then be subject to the organization’s discipline, which would strengthen regional security.
Towards a “pivot state”?
According to Russian analysts, the Western encouragement of the Albanian nationalism’s revival, including the support for Kosovo&rsquo