Balkan Strategic Studies

January 31, 1993

The New “Euro-Bantustans”

Analysis. By Gregory R. Copley, Editor. European governments and successive US administrations fought vigorously against the attempts in the 1970s and early '80s by South Africa to divide itself into nationally-based "homelands": bantustans (after "bantu," meaning "people"). This was based on the understanding that modern statehood automatically meant the acceptance of citizens of diverse ethnic, linguistic, religious and cultural backgrounds. Indeed, Europe carried this modern concept of statehood (as opposed to nationhood) further, with the creation of the extremely diverse new superstate, the European Community. It was surprising, then, when, without further thought, the European Community bowed to Germany's first major post-World War II initiative to recognise the individual sovereignty of the member units of the federation of Yugoslavia. Germany argued successfully for the recognition of individual states for the Slovene and Croat ethnic groups, and to give a state (more-or-less) to Muslim Serbs in Bosnia and Herzegovina. This process was a complete reversal of the European Community's own approach to statehood, and also to its views on what should occur in South Africa.

Clearly, the views represented a double standard: what was not acceptable for South Africa was acceptable for the former Yugoslavia. The only problem was that the "national" boundaries devised for "Croatia," "Slovenia" and "Bosnia and Herzegovina" were totally artificial, having been drawn up by former Yugoslav President Josip Broz Tito (a Croat) for his own internal management purposes. These were not borders which were meant to be workable representations of population groups, economic units, or anything else. Indeed, they were specifically designed so that they could not be used as sovereign boundaries; that would have encouraged the break-up of Yugoslavia. What has become increasingly apparent is that none of the borders of the now-separate former Yugoslav states is an adequate reflection of popularly-supported boundaries. The only people who accept without reservation the new borders of the former Yugoslav stats are officials in Germany, the EC itself, the US and -- because the major powers have told them to do so -- the UN. the Serbs, Croats, Muslims and (although to a lesser extent) Slovenes, all recognize the impracticality of what are now recognized as the national borders of these Balkan states. The fact that they are so unworkable as to be the basis for war has already been demonstrated.

Why is the "international community" attempting to force upon the former Yugoslavia borders which have been proven to be patently unworkable and which are known to be unacceptable to all the parties to the partition of that former federation? Are borders there merely for the convenience of the "international community" or should they reflect the declared interests of the residents and citizens of those states? And, while we're at it, perhaps we should attempt a little greater consistency in applying standards for other countries to follow.

This publication was approached in January by members of the intelligence service of a NATO state asking for further information on certain aspects of the Balkan crisis. The information was not sensitive. Indeed, it was commonplace, deriving from a number of books on recent history in the area. We referred the callers to their own research library, to be told: "We no longer have a normal research library. We couldn't get the budget to maintain it. So, if it isn't available electronically -- from a research database -- we can't check on it." All of the major electronic information databases, commercial and government, dwell primarily on current events, and its difficult enough for them to keep up with the news. Few have the capacity for extensive historic archives. Even the ubiquitous Nexis, owned by Mead Data Central in the US, has had to abandon storage of Encyclopedia Britannica and Defense & Foreign Affairs Handbook, to make way for current news. So, unless historical background has been published within a current article, analysts in many government intelligence organizations do not have ready access to the essential background to today's crises.

Never before has history been so important to an understanding of the world's troubles, whether they be in the Balkans, the former Soviet Empire (and before that the Russian Empire), or in Ethiopia. And yet today we see intelligence services moving more and more toward becoming handlers of current data -- able to report solely on current events and current statements -- and losing all ability to understand the history and geography of events. Which is why history must repeat itself so often.