Western Balkans
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Unravelling Some Complexities Of The Western Balkans

Abstract: Despite the war ending in former Yugoslavia, which resulted in newly proclaimed nations, the drums never ceased. There have been endless initiatives to stabilise the region, such as the Thessaloniki Summit and the Berlin Process, which can now be considered attempts in vain. One of the biggest issues remains the spread of terrorism in the wider area. Reports indicate that the Western Balkans proved themselves to be an excellent hideout and base of operations for many terrorists planning attacks worldwide. Most decision-makers lack an understanding of the region’s past, resulting in unnecessary delays to the European Integration of the Western Balkans.

Problem statement: Through a historical lens, how can one better grasp the general, unstable situation in the Western Balkans and minimise the terrorism threat in the region?

So What?: What the Western Balkans need the most is an independent, perhaps under the auspices of the European Union, counter-terrorist unit that will both collect crucial intel and execute operations all across the region, with the cooperation of all involved countries.

EU leaders and the leaders of the Western Balkans nations poses for a family picture following an informal summit at the EC headquarters.

Source: shutterstock.com/Alexandros Michailidis

The Balkan Peninsula

The term ‘Balkan Peninsula’ was first introduced by German-born geographer August Zeune in 1808. Zeune thought the Aemos mountain range ran across the entire peninsula, from the Slovenian Alps to the Black Sea. This view, of course, was criticised. What is certain is that the region has been inextricably marked, at least until the accession of Greece, Bulgaria, Romania, and Croatia into the EU, for not belonging to the West’s chariot of reform, democratic and liberal lifestyles, the industrial revolution, the Baroque and rationalism.

On the other hand, historically, the Balkans were the frontier of Christianity. The Habsburg Empire was the frontier of Protestant and Catholic Christianity, and from there onwards, was laying the vast Ottoman Empire. Hence, the Balkans were a cultural frontier, where for centuries, it was accepted that progress was separated from ignorance, humanism from inhumanity and barbarism, and civilisation from the devaluation of ideals. The Balkans, for decades, were the spot where European civilisation was coming across Eastern traditions.

The Habsburg Empire was the frontier of Protestant and Catholic Christianity, and from there onwards, was laying the vast Ottoman Empire.

For most of their history, the South Slavs were in bondage to two great empires: the Ottoman and the Habsburgs. Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia, under the Ottomans, Croatia, and Slovenia under Vienna’s rule. From the Austro-Hungarian campaign of 1908 in Bosnia and Herzegovina onwards, an interesting situation unfolded. Bosnia and Herzegovina found itself in a unique position, being officially annexed by the Austro-Hungarian Empire while still being administered by the Ottoman Empire. This unexpected turn of events brought about a sense of delight among the Bosnians as they were given the opportunity to be part of something other than the Ottoman Empire or Serbia. Their enthusiasm was evident through their loyal service in the Austro-Hungarian Army, with even the emperor himself having his “Bosnians” as his personal guard. It is important to note that the Bosnians did not necessarily love the Austrian occupation. Still, they recognised it as the best chance for their future among all the available options.

After World War I ended and the creation of Yugoslavia, the apple of discord was the Croats demanding greater independence. During World War II, the Axis quickly conquered Yugoslavia, and a series of hatred and war crimes ensued. The Chetniks, a conservative, far-right, and nationalist movement, committed multiple purges aiming at genociding minorities – mainly Bosnians and communist partisans. Many Muslims were killed, houses were burned, and communist sympathisers were targeted.[1]

Josip Broz Tito played a significant role in strengthening Yugoslavia during his leadership. Tito served as the Prime Minister of Yugoslavia from 1944 to 1963 and later as the President of Yugoslavia from 1945 until he died in 1980. One of Tito’s key accomplishments was consolidating a diverse country with different ethnic groups and cultures into a unified federal state. Under his leadership, Tito promoted a policy known as “Brotherhood and Unity,” which aimed to foster a sense of national identity among the various ethnic groups in Yugoslavia. He emphasised the importance of equality, mutual respect, and cooperation among the different nations and ethnicities within the country.

Tito also pursued a non-aligned foreign policy, maintaining independence from both the Soviet Union and the Western bloc during the Cold War. This allowed Yugoslavia to engage in economic and political relations with countries from both sides, gaining international recognition and enhancing its position in the global arena.

Tito also pursued a non-aligned foreign policy, maintaining independence from both the Soviet Union and the Western bloc during the Cold War.

Economically, Tito implemented a system known as “self-management” in Yugoslavia. This model aimed to decentralise economic decision-making by giving workers more control over their enterprises and promoting workers’ self-governance. It also provided a certain degree of economic autonomy to the different regions within Yugoslavia.

Although relative harmony was achieved at first, Tito’s death brought to the surface the intolerable problems that had remained unresolved for so long.[2] With his rise, Milosevic used Serbian nationalist rhetoric to draw political power, while Serbia experienced rapid centralisation and growth among the other states. At the same time, violence and unrest were prevalent in Kosovo from its large Albanian minority. Belgrade used harsh tactics to deal with them, but in doing so, it strengthened similar secessionist movements in Croatia and Slovenia. In effect, Serbia sought to unite those Serbs who lived outside its borders – in its official state – while Slovenia and Croatia wanted more independence. The battle thus began on June 25, 1991, when the latter two states declared independence and met armed resistance from Belgrade.[3] What’s more interesting is that even though Both Croatia and Slovenia vowed to leave Yugoslavia together, when the government of Slovenia decided to carry on on its own, and the Yugoslavian Army was dispatched to stop what was considered a rebellion, Croatia did absolutely nothing at first. They even provided free military access to the Yugoslavian Army and almost welcomed them with open arms.

Former Yugoslavia Demography[4]

Former Yugoslavia Demography[4]


The religious mix in Albania is multi-layered but not particularly problematic. It is estimated that Albania is home to 58.8% Muslims, 16.8% are Christians, and the rest of the sample is either irreligious (2.5%) or undeclared. 5.7% of the total population follows another religious doctrine.[5] Albania is home to large minorities, such as the Greek minority, numbering around 250,000-300,000, although this number is disputed.[6] At the same time, there are minorities of Kosovars, Serbs, Montenegrins, North Macedonians, and other minorities.[7] The Albanian “civil war”, as it was later called in 1997, is significant.

The roots of the conflict can be traced back to the early 1990s when Albania transitioned from a communist state to a multi-party democracy. This transition led to various economic and political challenges as the country struggled to adapt to the new system. One of the key factors leading to the conflict was the rise of pyramid schemes in the mid-1990s. These schemes promised high returns on investments and attracted many Albanians, who saw them as an opportunity to escape poverty and improve their financial situations. Many people invested their life savings in these schemes, hoping to get rich quickly. By 1997, the pyramid schemes had grown unsustainable, and their collapse became inevitable. As more people invested money, the schemes struggled to pay out the high returns they had promised. Eventually, the pyramid schemes collapsed one after another, leading to a massive loss of savings for the Albanian population.

Accusations of corruption and mismanagement within the government exacerbated the crisis. There were allegations that some high-ranking officials and politicians were involved in the pyramid schemes or were protecting the interests of those running them. As the schemes collapsed, the anger and frustration of the people were directed not only at the financial institutions but also at the government. With the collapse of the pyramid schemes, public trust in the government and financial institutions was shattered. The people felt betrayed and began taking to the streets in protest. The civil unrest quickly escalated, and the situation spiralled out of control. Protesters clashed with police, government buildings were attacked and looted, and the country was engulfed in chaos and anarchy.

In May of the same year, the country was thrown into chaos. There were desertions in the military and police, and more than 1 million weapons were stolen from the national outposts. The unrest that erupted left over 2,000 human casualties, and many parts of the country moved out of government control while the economy was dramatically falling apart.[8] During this time, foreign nationals were evacuated from the country in exclusive extraction operations, such as the American Operation Silver Wake[9] and the German Operation Libelle[10].


Since its formation, Serbia has been a hotbed of unrest, political assassinations, and immense instability, as has every state in the region. The minorities living on Serbian territory are mainly Albanians,[11] Bosnians (1.82%),[12] 70,000 Croats (most Roman Catholic),[13] and about 25,847 citizens with roots in North Macedonia.[14] Other minorities are Slovaks,[15] Vlachs, and Romani (250,000-400,000).[16]

Since its formation, Serbia has been a hotbed of unrest, political assassinations, and immense instability, as has every state in the region.


During the late medieval and modern times, Kosovo was the centre of the Serbian kingdom and later on of the Serbian state, both culturally and geographically. Kosovars, after the death of Tito – who largely succeeded in keeping the highly problematic ethnic mixture under one banner – began to rise. Worth noticing was the student uprising in Pristina in 1988, demanding annexation to Albania under the motto “we are Albanians, not Yugoslavs”. A brutal repression by the Yugoslav military and the police followed, leading to injuries, deaths, dismissals from government positions and the closure of Albanian stations – television and radio. Soon, the Serbian parliament effectively wrested the autonomous status from Kosovo and centralised all executive decisions of Pristina into Serbia.

Ethnically, Kosovo carries an overwhelming number of Albanians (80% according to the 1991 census[17]). The 2011 census revealed that the Albanian population may be 92.9%, although this survey was considered faulty and was boycotted by the Serbians.[18] The Serbian population is gathered in scattered hotspots, especially in northern Kosovo. There are entire villages and towns, with most of their population being Serbians. These are all lawfully protected minorities, and they form the last pockets of a strong Serbian presence in the area despite Pristina’s assimilative policies.

One can discern that with this huge Albanian population cluster being included in the total population of Kosovo, the problems cannot cease to exist. The question of unification, or not, with Albania is still present today, and in light of the war in Ukraine, the situation may soon lead to a conflict. Geopolitical rivalries and external influences add further complexity, potentially intensifying existing divisions. Once again, the war in Ukraine may embolden certain groups, provide a model for asserting sovereignty, or even prompt intervention by external powers seeking to extend their influence, weakening the united front that the European Union is trying to form against Russia. This combination of factors increases the risk of conflict in the Western Balkans, as the situation could rapidly escalate if diplomatic efforts and regional stability measures are not prioritised. The idea of unification between Albania and certain neighbouring regions, particularly areas with a significant Albanian ethnic population, dates back to the early 20th century. Following the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire and the end of World War I, the concept of Greater Albania emerged, envisioning a unified Albanian state encompassing all ethnic Albanian territories. This historical context has contributed to the persistence of the unification question.

One can discern that with this huge Albanian population cluster being included in the total population of Kosovo, the problems cannot cease to exist.

The presence of ethnic Albanian populations in neighbouring regions such as Kosovo, parts of North Macedonia, Montenegro, and southern Serbia has been a driving force behind the unification aspirations. These communities often share linguistic, cultural, and historical ties with Albania, fostering a sense of identity and a desire for closer political ties. The unification question has been closely linked to nationalist sentiments in Albania and the regions with Albanian populations. Nationalist movements in the past have fueled the desire for territorial expansion and have occasionally led to tensions with neighbouring countries, who view such aspirations as a threat to their sovereignty and stability.

Given the volatile history of the Balkans, regional stability remains a significant concern. Any moves towards unification with Albania could spark tensions with neighbouring countries and escalate into potential conflicts. The situation in Ukraine serves as a reminder of how territorial disputes and nationalist ambitions can quickly escalate into armed conflicts, impacting regional peace and security. External actors, including major powers with interests in the region, could also play a role in exacerbating or mitigating the unification question.

Their involvement may be driven by geopolitical interests, regional alliances, or attempts to maintain influence, further complicating the situation. The prospect of unification with Albania raises questions regarding the involved regions’ NATO and EU membership aspirations. Any attempts at unification could impact their chances of accession to these organisations, leading to diplomatic challenges and potential opposition from other member states.

Ethnic Composition of Kosovo 1991[19]

Ethnic Composition of Kosovo 1991[19]

Bosnia and Herzegovina

The Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina is perhaps the most populous state in the Western Balkans. With a proportion of 31% Serbs, 18% Croats and 41% Muslims – the main religion of Bosnia and Herzegovina – to this day, the country still encompasses the Serb Republic – not to be confused with the Republic of Serbia. This separation actually ended the Bosnia and Herzegovina War after the Dayton peace agreement.[20] Bosnia and Herzegovina shook up Greek and Western foreign policy, as Europe feared creating a powerful Islamic state on its south-eastern edge, and Türkiyeoffered extensive support for it.

Bosnians were expelled during the war, while the attempted ethnic cleansing aimed at them in certain areas needs no bibliographical citation. Bosnia and Herzegovina were at the centre of the fighting and turmoil, with instability still existing today.

Ethnic Composition of Bosnia-Herzegovina 1991[21]

Ethnic Composition of Bosnia-Herzegovina 1991[21]


The population of Montenegro is approximately 600,000 thousand,[22] of which 43% are Montenegrins and 32% are Serbs. Most of the population are Christian Orthodox, while Islam has little ground among a small number of believers. What is special is that Montenegro, since the 19th century, has kept its traditions and peculiar cultural values. It was together with Serbia almost until the total break-up of Yugoslavia in 2007. Thus, we see that in Serbia and Montenegro, the main religion is Christianity, while in Albania and Bosnia and Herzegovina, it is Islam.

The ‘Problematic’ Balkans

The Western Balkans bear a particular ethnic model. The “Each nation, a different state” doctrine, strongly prevalent until the 20th century, could not be applied to the Western Balkans. After the Dayton agreement, the main issues remain: Kosovo continues to demand unification with Albania, with the latter pursuing it just as vigorously. Against this rhetoric, Western countries seek to maintain the status quo, knowing that the implementation of Albanian nationalism will only cause harm in the region. On the other hand, Türkiye’s influence in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the creation of a hard core of Turkish influence, is a real issue that should be solved. The arms race continues in all countries, with recent Croatian-Serbian confrontations (purchase of French Rafale fighters – willingness to buy Russian anti-air systems). Two years back, the Kosovo-Serbia border became an active battleground again when the former country started not recognising Serbian vehicle plates. At the same time, in the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the unrest never stopped. In 2023, war almost broke out twice so far, with the immediate intervention of KFOR and the involvement of the European Union, stopping the renewal of the conflict, while the war in Ukraine is raging, making things more and more difficult.

The arms race continues in all countries, with recent Croatian-Serbian confrontations.

The Clash of Civilizations: Why Is Terrorism Taking Refuge in the Western Balkans?

“Wars between clans, tribes, ethnic groups, religious communities and nations have dominated every era and every culture simply because they are rooted in people’s identities… they tend to be vicious and bloody fundamentalist issues are at stake; in addition, they tend to be temporal; they may be interrupted by ceasefires or peace agreements but usually these are violated, returning again to the conflict that preceded it. A decisive military victory by one camp usually increases the likelihood of a genocide… Fault Line conflicts are a battle for control over people. More often, it’s a battle for control over territory. The goal of at least one of the participants is to conquer some territory in order to liberate it from the rest of the people by either displacing them or killing them-or doing both, which is called ethnic cleansing. These conflicts tend to be violent and horrible, as both sides engage in rape, mass murder, torture and terrorism… (Kashmir, West Bank, Kosovo).”[23]With these words, Samuel Huntington, in his book “The Clash of Civilizations”, describes Fault Line conflicts. The Western Balkans have been a safe haven for international terrorism precisely because they are a point of clash of civilisations.

NATO, after the end of the Cold War and the fall of communism, stated that Islamic fundamentalism was as dangerous as communism.[24] The common enemy is the driving force of our existence and the basic cog in our progress. He forces us to rally, gives us a common vision, increases our efficient production, and gives us the will to fight, work and produce. With the fall of communism and the break-up of Yugoslavia, the new states that were created precisely faced this problem, perhaps the most important of all: an identity crisis.

Radical Islam and Jihad

“All these crimes and sins committed by the Americans are a declaration of war on Allah, his messenger, the Muslims… Jihad is everyone’s duty if the enemy destroys Muslim countries… as for fighting to repel the enemy, it is aimed at defending the religion and duty… On this basis in submission to God’s command, we issue the following fatwa to all Muslims: the decision to kill Americans and their allies, civilians and military, is a personal duty for every Muslim who can do so, in whatever country it is possible.” These, among other things, were the words Osama bin Laden uttered in the World Islamic Front’s “Proclamation for a Holy War against the Jews and the Crusaders” on February 23, 1998.[25]

Jihad means “struggle”, “fight”, or even a “hard effort for a noble cause”. It does not mean Holy War, as the word “war” in Arabic is Harb.[26] Disagreements over the term come strongly from Muslims themselves. In the Qur’an, mostly Jihad refers to fighting in the way of God, describing war against the enemies of the Ummah in the early years of Islam.[27] The world, moreover, according to the Hadith (Hadith in English or حديث in Arabic), is divided into Dar-Al-Islam (World of Islam) and Dar-Al-Harb[28] (World of War), where it equates to all lands not under Muslim occupation. Islam does not command the complete subjugation of all other religions through violence and endless warfare. The Qur’an states (2:256) that “there is no compulsion in religion”.[29]

Islam does not command the complete subjugation of all other religions through violence and endless warfare.

Radical Islam, like any extremist outbreak, has its roots in the colonial rule these territories experienced in the 19th and 20th centuries. After the end of the Second World War, Islam took on an active role, stepping out of theory towards practical acts. The main motives of these movements are opposition to Western culture and modernisation, where they are often presented as evil influences to alter and rid the world of Islam of its specificities.


There is a variety of active terrorist organisations in the global terrorist network. The largest of these are, for example, the Taliban, with an area of action in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the Islamic State, with a global reach, Boko Haram, active in Africa, Al-Shabab in East Africa (Somalia), the Haqqani network in Pakistan and Afghanistan, Hezbollah in the Middle East, Hamas in Palestine and Al-Qaeda, which also operates globally.

Al-Qaeda’s roots lie squarely in the Soviet-Afghan war, where the CIA’s Operation Cyclone,[30] under President Reagan, strengthened in every sector the Mujahideen leaders who were waging war against the communist government that Moscow had established. Saudi Arabia was also providing support. The U.S. was conveying its support through Pakistan’s intelligence agencies, which later became enemies of the U.S. Al-Qaeda formed in 1989, under the leadership of Osama bin Laden, with a basic philosophy of war against the “Jewish and Christian crusaders” who had occupied the holy lands. Al-Qaeda was blamed for the attack on the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001, and after a decade of warfare, Osama bin Laden was neutralised in 2011. After that, Ayman al-Zawahiri has taken over the leadership of the organisation, but the organisation’s capacity and actions have diminished. Nowadays, Al-Qaeda is ruled by Sayf Al-Adl.

Islamic State and Examples

The Islamic State, known as ISIS/ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria/Islamic State of Iraq and Levant), was officially created in 2014 when it defeated Iraqi forces, capturing several cities and effectively became a splinter group from Al-Qaeda itself, to which it had declared allegiance since 1999. ISIS/L’s current leader (June 2023) is Abu Mohammad al-Adnani, who took over from Abu Al-Hasan Al-Hasimi, following his elimination after a U.S. counterterrorism operation in October 2022. They aim to create a caliphate, with the doctrine of Salafi Jihad based on the Sunni branch of Islam.

Although the two organisations have the same common goal, as Mitsidis C. points out, Al-Qaeda targets the distant enemy: the U.S. and its allies. In contrast, the Islamic State targets the near enemy of the Caliphate, i.e. those it considers apostates from Islam (Bashar Al-Assad’s Syria, Hezbollah). Thus, the rivalry between them genuinely exists. At this point, it’s important to note the number of Muslims in the Balkan Region:

  • Serbia: Sunni Muslims: 231,750 (3.20%);
  • Bosnia and Herzegovina and Herzegovina: Sunni Muslims 1,879,144 (43.80%);
  • Montenegro: Sunni Muslims 105,069 (17.74%);
  • Kosovo: Sunni Muslims 2,223,621 (93.52%); and
  • Albania: Sunni Muslims 2,605,759 (77.49%).

Albania officially joined the Organization of the Islamic Conference in 1992, which helped in the shipment of arms by the Muslim Brotherhood, Saudi Arabia and other Islamic countries during the Yugoslav war, despite the UN blockade.[31]

Also, during the war, Bosnia and Herzegovina, as the region’s strongest (alongside Kosovo) Islamic front, enjoyed huge support from Islamic countries (Iran, Saudi Arabia) regarding war-experienced volunteers and weapon deliveries. During the war, a large number of potential future terrorists were met and trained there, including one of the 9/11 plotters, while Osama bin Laden himself had a Bosnia and Herzegovina passport.[32] At the end of the war, some fanatical Islamists, influenced by the preaching of their leaders, remained in the region. Therein lies the root of one of the biggest problems in the Western Balkans.

Bosnia and Herzegovina, as the region’s strongest Islamic front, enjoyed huge support from Islamic countries regarding war-experienced volunteers and weapon deliveries.

In Bosnia and Herzegovina, young Caucasians Bosnians are being recruited to avoid bearing characteristics that Western agencies have noted as common in Arab terrorists, with the ultimate goal of strengthening the so-called white al-Qaeda.[33] In 1997, an attack was carried out in the Bosnia and Herzegovina city of Mostar by a war veteran Islamist after he booby-trapped a car with a bomb, causing 29 injuries and much destruction.[34] The U.S. embassy in Nairobi, Kenya, was also hit in 1998, killing 224 people. Links to the attack were made to a terrorist enclave in Albania.[35]

This was a precursor to terrorist activity in the Western Balkans under Islamic terrorist influence. At least two terrorists who crashed U.S. Airways planes into the Pentagon were veterans of the Yugoslav War. In 2007, al-Qaeda members of Kosovar and North Macedonian origin were arrested while planning an attack in New Jersey at the Fort Dix U.S. base.[36] In 2009, a person of Bosnia and Herzegovina origin was arrested for planning an attack on the New York City subway and the United Kingdom.[37] In 2011, an Albanian Kosovar assassinated two U.S. soldiers at a German airport.[38]

In 2002, an extremist murdered a Croatian family at the behest, as he claimed, of God. In 2007, another extremist murdered his mother because she did not want to follow God’s way. The following year, a man was killed in a bomb blast in a shopping centre in Vitez in Bosnia and Herzegovina. In 2010, a policeman was killed and five injured in an explosion at a police station in Bugogno in Bosnia and Herzegovina. In 2011, a Bosnian jihadist attacked the U.S. embassy in Sarajevo with a firearm. The same year, five jihadists were arrested, preparing to poison the lake’s water that supplies Pristina, while in Albania, Islamic State supporters fired on police forces in the village of Lazarati.[39]

Sorting Out the Current Issues

The Western Balkans are a safe haven for terrorism and an actual and active source of terrorists. Kosovo and Bosnia and Herzegovina rank first in terms of the percentage of the population fighting for the Islamic State per million (in Europe). Kosovo leads with 125 fighters per million, while Bosnia and Herzegovina is second in line with 85 fighters per million.[40]

The motives of the terrorists, regarding what makes them radicals and extremists, usually differ. According to the United Nations reports, it is useful to look at them. Some factors are the regional political situation, economic exclusion, political isolation, inequality, inability to administer justice and corruption, economic, political and social frustration, low levels of security, and the rejection of diversity.[41] Similar factors are the lack of police cooperation between the involved countries at the operational or informational level. Joint police cooperation between Kosovo and Serbia, for example, or the latter with Croatia, could resolve much of the problems. However, the hatred and animosities that have never been overcome make this impossible for now.

The deficient economic situation of these countries is also a key issue and a major factor of instability and, therefore, a significant cause of the existence and maturation of terrorism. Albania is first, with the lowest per capita income, with Bosnia and Herzegovina in second place, Serbia in fourth, and Montenegro in fifth. Thus, poverty and low standard of living, which are always implied for obvious reasons, provide a fertile ground for all criminal activity in general and, by extension, for all terrorist cells to thrive.

The deficient economic situation of these countries is also a key issue and a major factor of instability and, therefore, a significant cause of the existence and maturation of terrorism.

The poor economic situation leads to a lack of civilian infrastructure. Shortages of hospitals, accredited educational institutions, and even roads in remote areas contribute, in one way or another, to terrorism. An intelligence service needs money, as does a good police and security network with appropriate equipment and resources, and proper border security is also extremely costly. The peacekeeping force in some areas may take on a share of this obligation. Still, without measures to improve the domestic security of the region, stability will never be possible. Ultimately, the victims of terrorism may end up being Muslims themselves. Rational and humanitarian education is needed, and investigative journalism free from fake news and propaganda must be strengthened to avoid the phenomena of Islamophobia and racial hatred.

GDP and AIC Per Capita[42]

GDP and AIC Per Capita[42]

A Trans-Balkan Counter-Terrorist Agency

It is well known that all the Western Balkan states and the vast majority of the world are part of Interpol, while Europol has liaisons in Albania, Serbia, and Montenegro. Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo are absent from the latter organisation. On the other hand, countries such as Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo and Serbia, Montenegro and Kosovo would seldom agree to cooperate. This would require the exchange of crucial intelligence, cordial cooperation, mutual concessions, and compromises, acts that neither country is easily willing to do with the other. An independent counter-terrorist agency is needed, with the main purpose of fighting terrorism and sharing information from and to each Balkan country in general. The benefit will be threefold: global terrorism will lose a strong bastion of its activities, and therefore, the number of terrorist acts will be critically reduced, while Europe will stabilise the last core of instability in its soft underbelly. At the same time, Europe will be strengthened, with new member states, almost entirely uniting the continent.

In this counter-terrorist, trans-Balkan service, it will certainly not be acceptable for the other countries involved to put one of its rivals in the lead. Greece and Romania, as EU member states, NATO allies, and members of the OSCE (among others), could take the lead in this initiative. Being among the largest Balkan powers, Athens and Bucharest could potentially lead a Balkan counterterrorism campaign to be third-party mediators, not involved in the hostility between the Western Balkan states. The key to counterterrorism is the circulation of intelligence. Then come operations and investigations, but without the first clause, it is all in vain. The National Intelligence Service (NIS) and the Romanian Intelligence Service (SRI), in direct contact with the foreign ministries and security and foreign policy advisers, could coordinate this agency.

The creation of a counter-terrorist organisation between all the Balkan states, with a purely informational character but with executive bodies assisted by the police and the military, is an ideal scenario. Still, at the same time, so necessary and useful, which would solve a huge part of the problem so that European integration could take place, the Balkans could leave its bloody past behind and perhaps come closer together in mutual and constructive cooperation.

The creation of a counter-terrorist organisation between all the Balkan states, with a purely informational character but with executive bodies assisted by the police and the military, is an ideal scenario.

Reconciling the Western Balkans

Terrorism finds refuge in the Western Balkans for several reasons: inadequate border security, unsatisfactory policing and the complete absence of cooperation between states due to poverty and low living standards, and endless regional radicalisation. The Western Balkans, with brief examples presented, seem not only to house fighters of terrorist organisations but also to be a repository of weapons, a base for attacks and a refuge for fugitives – due to the particular geomorphology of the area and the wider instability. Centuries of history contribute to this absolute turmoil. The causes of the conflict in the Balkans are deeply historical, social, and ethnological. The ethnic models called upon to coexist cannot do so. This cannot be resolved except by educating and training the new generations.

The causes of the conflict in the Balkans are deeply historical, social, and ethnological. The ethnic models called upon to coexist cannot do so.

To strike terrorism at its root, whatever its causes, some of which have been presented recently, a definitive and decisive solution is needed. To this end, it is crucial to establish a counter-terrorist organisation that will unite all the countries of the Western Balkans and push them towards a continuous exchange of information, joint training, operational missions, joint programs, and further initiatives. Any action that brings these divided peoples closer together will bring a positive outcome and undoubtedly positive results.

Europe’s aim should be a continuous effort to reconcile the Western Balkans with endless diplomacy and dialogue, understanding on all sides and mutual concessions for the common good, peace and maintaining stability, the status quo. The Western Balkans may, therefore, be a safe haven for modern, international terrorism.

Dimitris Takos is an undergraduate student at the Department of History and Ethnology at the Democritus University of Thrace, Greece. He is editor-in-chief at the EU Youth Hub under the auspices of the Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy, an advisory foundation of the Hellenic Ministry of Foreign Affairs. His interests include Cold War history, counterterrorism, Middle Eastern Affairs, and regional security. The views contained in this article are the author’s alone.

[1] T. Sindbæek, “The Fall and Rise of a National Hero: Interpretations of Draža Mihailović and the Chetniks in Yugoslavia and Serbia since 1945,” Journal of Contemporary European Studies, 17:1, (2009), 4-5.

[2] D. Anderson, “The Collapse of Yugoslavia: Background and Summary,” Commonwealth of Australia: Parliamentary Research Service, 1995, 11-12.

[3] Idem.

[4] Ibid., 7.

[5] CIA, The World Factbook, “Albania, People and Society,” last accessed May 03, 2023, https://www.cia.gov/the-world-factbook/countries/albania/#people-and-society.

[6] M. Vickers, “The Greek Minority in Albania – Current Tensions,” Defence Academy of the United Kingdom, 2010, 4.

[7] INSTAT, Albania Population and Housing CENSUS, 2011, 73-75.

[8] C. Jarvis, “The Rise and Fall of Albanian’s Pyramid Schemes, Finance and Development,” March 2000, 47-48.

[9] Naval History and Heritage Command, National Museum of the U.S Navy, 1990-1999: Humanitarian Actions, March 1997 – Albania (Operation Silver Wake), last accessed May 03, 2023, https://www.history.navy.mil/content/history/museums/nmusn/explore/photography/humanitarian/20th-century/1990-1999/1997-albania-operation-silver-wake.html.

[10] “Operation Libelle,” Tirana ’97: Das erste Gefecht der Bundeswehr, RP Online, March 14, 2007, last accessed May 03, 2023, https://rp-online.de/politik/deutschland/tirana-97-das-erste-gefecht-der-bundeswehr_aid-11312537.

[11] Organisation For Security and Co-Operation in Europe, “Ethnic Minorities in Serbia, An Overview,” February (2008), 7.

[12] Ibid., 9.

[13] Ibid., 12.

[14] Ibid., 18.

[15] Ibid., 23.

[16] Ibid., 24.

[17] D. Anderson, “The Collapse of Yugoslavia: Background and Summary,” Commonwealth of Australia: Parliamentary Research Service, 1995, 8.

[18] M. Musaj, “Kosovo 2011 Census: Contested Census within a Contested State,” Contemporary Southeastern Europe, An Interdisciplinary Journal on Southeastern Europe, 2(2), 84-98,(2015), 89-90.

[19] D. Anderson, “The Collapse of Yugoslavia: Background and Summary,” Commonwealth of Australia: Parliamentary Research Service, 1995, 8.

[20] Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, “Dayton Peace Agreement,” PDF version of 1995, https://www.osce.org/bih/126173.

[21] D. Anderson, “The Collapse of Yugoslavia: Background and Summary,” Commonwealth of Australia: Parliamentary Research Service, 1995, 12.

[22] G. Visoka and E. Gjevori, “Census politics and ethnicity in the Western Balkans,” East European Politics, 479-498, (2013), 486-487.

[23] S. P. Huntington, “The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of the World Order,” The Free Press, 1996, 252.

[24] Ibid., 215.

[25] G. M. Knapp, “The concept and Practice of Jihad in Islam,” Parameters 33, no.1 (2003), 82.

[26] Idem.

[27] Ibid., 83.

[28] Idem.

[29] Idem.

[30] R. D. Jr Billard, “Operation Cyclone: How the United States Defeated the Soviet Union,” Undergraduate Research Journal at UCCS, Volume 3.2, University of Colorado, (October 2010), 1-3.

[31] Ebi Spahiu, “Foreign Fighters, Religious Radicalism and Violent Extremism in Albania and the Western Balkans,” Violent Extremism in the Western Balkans, 31st workshop of the Study Group Regional Stability in South East Europe, (Belgrade, 2015), 67.

[32] Danuta Gibas-Krzak, “Contemporary Terrorism in the Balkans: A Real Threat to Security in Europe,” The Journal of Slavic Military Studies, 26:2, 203-218, (2013), 211.

[33] Idem.

[34] Nevenko Vranješ, Velibor Lalić, Mile Šikman, “Social Threats, Challenges and Risks in Bosnia and Herzegovina: Social Security Perspectives,” Social Security in the Balkans: An Overview of Social Policy in Croatia, Albania, Bosnia and Hercegovina, Greece, Romania and Bulgaria, Vol. 1, 65-66.

[35] J. Mayer, “The dark side: The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned Into a War on American Ideals,” New York: Doubleday, (2008), 114-115.

[36] D. Russakoff, D. Eggen, “Six Charged in Plot to Attack Fort Dix,” The Washington Post, (May 07, 2007).

[37] D. Johnston, A. Baker, “Denver Man Admits to a possible Al Qaeda Connection, Officials Say,” The New York Times, (18th of September 2009).

[38] Danuta G. K, “Contemporary Terrorism in the Balkans,” 217.

[39] Μητσίδης Γ, “Τζιχάντ και οργανώσεις στα Δυτικά Βαλκάνια,” (2018), 25.

[40] E. Venetis, ”Islam Emerging in the Balkans,” ELIAMEP, Athens, 2015, 11.

[41] United Nations Development Programme, “Preventing Violent Extremism,” UNDP, New York, 2016.

[42] Eurostat, “Purchasing power parties (PPPs), price level indices and real expenditures for ESA,” online data, code: prc_ppp_ind, last accessed May 08, 2023.

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