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Human Security in the Balkans

Since the fall of the Soviet Union, Eastern and Central Europe have gradually become westernized. One of the biggest sites where westernization is occurring is of the former Yugoslavia, which had historically been its own political and economic entity. Unlike the rest of Eastern Europe, this region was never a member of the Communist Soviet Union. While maintaining its own form of socialism, Yugoslavia engaged in trade with the western countries. In recent history, this region has experienced various horrors, traumas, and attacks in the form of bloody and gruesome events, leaving a wake of instability in their path. This instability has continued through recent years and led to perilous amounts of human insecurity for the citizens and physical security threats for the rest of the world. The increase of democracy within the region led to new policies with regards to human security. According to the Center for Strategic & International Studies (2010), the term ‘Human Security’ encompasses the rights for citizens of a state to be free from basic insecurities which include; economic security, food security, health security, environmental security, personal security, community and political security. (CSIS, 2010). The concept of human security is a reflection of a move away from the traditional focus on the security of the state to the human security approach, which end goal is the protection of people from both traditional (military) and non-traditional (diseases and poverty) threats. Central to human security is the comprehension that the deprivation of human security can undermine both stability and peace within, and between states. On the other hand, over-emphasis on state security can be harmful to human welfare. Although the state is a central provider of security, state security in itself is not an adequate condition for human welfare.  The Independent Commission first expressed the concept of extending security from state to individuals in 1982 on Disarmament and Security issues. The report by the Common Security created a platform for the extension of the security concept by criticizing the purely military approach to security, highlighting the need to devote attention to the relation between individual’s well-being and security. After the Cold War, it was realized that the disappearances of the military threats caused by super powers did not necessarily mean an increased level of security from within nations. The threat to individual’s well-being and lives were extended from military to encompassing social, environmental, economic, and health concerns.

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After the post-Cold War period, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) came up with four main characteristics of human security: its components are interdependent, it is universal, it is people-centered, and it is best ensured through prevention. There are two main approaches to human security: The Freedom from Want (Japanese approach) and Freedom from Fear (Canadian approach). The Japanese approach gives better access to security with regards to health care, education, and economic opportunities. The Canadian approach protects citizens from any direct violence towards them caused by the state (Gjørv, 2018). Although today, former Yugoslavia has been broken down into several countries; Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Slovenia, the security models that were implemented before and after the separation of countries morphed from freedom of fear to freedom from want differently in each country. The surplus of international military forces has tranquilized hostilities between states, however a plethora of other human security problems are affecting each of these countries independently and as a whole. Throughout this paper, I look into the human security situation pre and post the Yugoslavian war in the Balkan area.  Furthermore, I analyze the situation within the region before and after the split, and give possible solutions to resolve the human insecurity that most of the Balkan region is battling. I argue that if the Balkan states adopt the Japanese model of human security, they will be able to advance politically, socially, and economically.

According to Williams (2016), before of the split of Yugoslavia, Marshal Tito had managed to keep the country together through his statesmanship and wisdom. Tito is hailed as the first communist leader to successfully challenge Stalin. He had managed to unite the historic antagonistic Yugoslavia national groups under a stable federation. After the conclusion of World War II, the Communist Party came to power after it had fought Italian, German, and other occupants including fellow Yugoslav military units. The Communist Party was a multinational group advancing for a federal Yugoslavia and equality (Williams, 2016). Unlike their opponents who were nationalists and had a following only inside their own national groups and who alienated large groups of the population through their extremism, the Communist Party had a multi-national outlook which made them win the civil war (Williams, 2016).

During the Cold War, Under Marshal Josip Tito, Yugoslavia had a federal system of republics, which managed some local self-government under the central influence of Tito’s Communist Party. In 1974, Tito executed a new constitution, which passed down a huge amount of governing autonomy to the republics (Williams, 2016). After the death of Tito in 1980, the leaders of the six republics started to remove power from the federal government. Most of these republics advocated for nationalism, which promoted greater unity amongst the dominant ethnic groups in their territories. Out of all the nationalist in the Balkan region, the Serbian nationalist were the most aggressive as they called for unity amongst the Serbs throughout Yugoslavia in order to for a greater Serbian nation (Williams, 2016).

The 1990s saw a violent split as the different republics fought in a bid to establish themselves as sovereign nations. Croatia, Slovenia, Macedonia, and Bosnia-Herzegovina became independent and were each in a conflict with Serbia, which wanted to maintain the old Yugoslavia structure. The end saw Serbia loose its union with other nations apart from Montenegro (Williams, 2016).

Much part of the 1990s saw conflict in the Balkans (Hitchcock, p. 386, 2003). The international communities including the European Union at first were uninvolved with Yugoslavia disintegration but only intervened when there was an ethnic genocide threat. Morley (2017) holds that the 1991 civil war saw the most intense fighting in the region between the three most dominant ethnic groups in the region: the Muslims, Croats, and Serbs. This conflict took place in the Karjina, a Serb enclave along the Croatian-Bosnian border. Both Croatia and Serbia encouraged and supplied weapons to their ethnic brothers. Both Krajina and Bosnian Serbs were effective in carving out mini-states within Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina, pushing non-Serbs out of the region through both direct assault and terror. After the failure of the UN peacekeeping efforts to sustain the violence, NATO took a direct role in the conflict by using limited air strikes in order to stop the war around Sarajevo, the Bosnian capital (Williams, 2016). This eventually led to the signing of the Dayton Peace Accords in 1995, which the leaders of Croatia, Bosnia, and Serbia signed.

Despite the signing of the Dayton Peace Accords, the Balkans continue to experience added human security threats that are non-traditional (Mezzofiore, 2004). According to Emerson & Noutcheva (2018), non-state threats and actors have grown to be chief factors when it comes to the Balkans security. New security threats in the Balkans do not target states, but individuals and societies. Due to this, issues of domestic stability and order must be given priority since they are the key determinants of most conflicts witnessed in the region (Emerson & Noutcheva, 2018). The collapse of communism, which was accompanied by economic and political vacuum of institutions, and the large number of wars and conflicts in the region led to impoverishment amongst the population (Emerson & Noutcheva, 2018). These factors created an ideal environment for the growth and spread of non-traditional security issues. Instability in the Balkans comes from a group of issues amongst the weak states in the region. Macedonia, Albania, and Bosnia-Herzegovina can be categorized as weak states in the Balkans. These weak states can slow down their democratization process and promote reproduction of insecurity and instability.

In the Balkans, the weak states bring about non-traditional security threats in the region not only to individuals but also to communities. The structure of these weak states in the Balkan region supports a number of security problems such as corruption and organized crimes, which become the main obstacles towards the region’s economic development even as military conflict reduces. As seen during the split of Yugoslavia, economic, demographic, and political factors can catalyze the underlying community or ethnic conflict and tension (Emerson & Noutcheva, 2018). In the region, there a risk of a return to violence because of the lack of state functions in some of these countries. Because of this, the states within the region should tackle both social and tangible constructed threats to security using an integrated approach.

Emerson & Noutcheva (2018) indicate that after the end of the Yugoslavian wars, there is little chance of large-scale conflicts within the Balkans area occurring. The chances of this type of conflict occurring has been reduced by the presence of a large number of military forces such as NATO and SFOR in the region. Due to this, the non-military challenges in the region are far more numerous. The Balkans currently suffers from non-traditional security problems such as terrorism, drugs, arms, and human trafficking, the spread of organized crimes, and corruption (Emerson & Noutcheva, 2018). The economic sanctions that were imposed on the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia by the international communities blocked main commercial routes, which in turn brought losses to the neighboring nations. These sanctions created serious internal problems such as corruption, illegal trade, grey economy, and the appearance of organized crimes, which have all led to deterioration of human rights (Ağır, Gürsoy, & Arman, 2016).

Added to the economic problems that face the states, the process of democratic transitions in the post-communist Balkan states has created challenges for new governments in this region. These states have just gained their independence and have full sovereignty, and the population within their border is made of diverse ethnicity, each one having its own political agenda (Emerson & Noutcheva, 2018). During the post-Cold War, while most Eastern and Central European states achieved a democratic model that could work, they were able to maintain domestic security and peace (Emerson & Noutcheva, 2018). However, in the Balkans, most states engage in civil conflict and bloody wars. Given the history of ethnic conflict in the region, the protection of the rights of the minority has grown to become a regional issue.

Another threat to security of the region has been demographic security in the name of human trafficking. Human trafficking is a serious transnational crime and is seen to be a serious human rights issue. The social fabric destruction, which was caused by the war, which led to massive migration and economic collapsed worked in harmony to create a heaven for human traffickers (Cocco, 2017). The Balkans is both the traffic route and the source human trafficking. The people being trafficked fall into two main categories, women to be used as sexual workers, and illegal immigrants to Western Europe. It is estimated that over 120,000 women and children are trafficked through the Balkans yearly (Emerson & Noutcheva, 2018).

Perhaps one of the greatest risks to human security in the Balkans is organized crime. A favorable environment for organized crime was created by the transition from communist rule to democracy, the 1990s war in the region, presence of weak states, and economic blockades. The network that was created by organized crime was as a result of the post-communist transition and conflicts, which resulted from the Yugoslavia break-up (Ağır, 2014, p.85). The social and economic problems in the region such as lack of local employment opportunities catalyzed the formation of these networks. The challenge caused by organized crime has no boundaries and knows no nationalistic or ethnic barriers. The most striking feature of organized crime within the region is its trans-nationalistic status, and draws together the mafia type of structure across the entire Balkan.

Exploiting insecurity, chaos, non-existence of the rule of law, lack of proper organization, organized crime networks have managed to create a strong foundation and network in the region and further created deeper links with parts of the military establishment and high-ranking political officials. In the Balkans, organized crime structures is linked to the state operations, and further linked to the culture of corruption in the region (Ağır, Gürsoy, & Arman, 2016). Corruption in the region is linked to organized crime, and this tie creates an even bigger problem in the region especially when the two find inroads into the political and state structures.

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According to (Ağır, 2014), terrorist and terrorism easily thrive in areas that have or have gone through ethnic and national conflicts. If minority groups are unsatisfied the status quo or when nationalist groups are strengthened, they might become terrorist or terrorism organizers. After the Bosnian wars, which led to the radicalization of Muslims in the region especially after September 11, there has been large concerns over the possibility of international terrorist groups infiltrating the Balkan countries. There was a huge risk to the regions security after the power vacuum in Albania, which created an ideal environment for political terrorist groups (Ağır, 2014, p.65). While Al-Qaida tried to establish their network in Muslim populated areas of the Balkan region, the locals rejected them. Terrorism is considered as a national threat to the security of Bosnia, after the International Strategic Studies Association linked it to the Madrid and London bombings in 2004 to the country. Until the region becomes fully stabilized, terrorism remains a threat to human security in the region.

The last security concern in the contemporary Balkan states is the availability of small arms and light weapons. The war amongst the Yugoslavian states left massive quantities of weapons and other military hardware outside government control (Ağır, Gürsoy, & Arman, 2016). During the Yugoslavian conflict, a great number of weaponry were transported within the region. The 1997, the partial collapse of Albanian state also fuelled smuggling of illegal weapons in the Balkans. In an environment that is characterized by high rates of unemployment, fast democratization, corruption, wild privatization, unsolved war-related issues, internally displaced people, painful memories, and refugees who cannot and do not want to the return, the availability of illegal weapons can create an alternative way of solving one’s problem through violence (Emerson & Noutcheva, 2018).

According to Pratto et al (2017), despite the challenges in the Balkan region regarding human securities, it is important to note that it has made progress after the end of the war. The European Union has either recognized most of these countries as candidate or potential candidate countries. However, for these countries to be fully incorporated into the EU, they must adopt to the EU laws, and reform their laws so that they much the organization’s (CSIS, 2010). They should also provide adequate human security.

The South-Eastern Europe development plan should revolve around the human security vision (Gjørv, 2018). The main themes suggested by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) is the belief that in order to better the weak states within the Balkan region, the efforts must start with human development as opposed to attacking state political practices. The thought behind this is that it would be better to develop better conditions for citizen so that they have the chance to better their livelihood, bettering day to day lives, and with time the states will also begin to strengthen. Within the states of former Yugoslavia besides Albania and Slovenia, who already have a Japanese (freedom from want) human security approach, the rest practice the Canadian (freedom from fear) approach to human security (Heynen, 2016). Only two countries in the Balkans state are practicing the Japanese approach to human security, which is a great start to bettering the lives of the citizens of these states because would be by adapting the freedom from want approach like Albania and Slovenia already practice. The switch of approaches will better the educational systems for the citizens along with giving them overall better resources around health and wellness. Switching over to the Freedom of want approach, human security will also better the economy within the countries and within the region. The governments of these states need to encourage investors to invest in their economies by creating an ideal environment. This will ensure that there will be better jobs available for those who so choose to work, along with a better education system within these countries which will in the long-term lead to stronger states. As it was previously stated, Slovenia is one of the only countries within that region of the world that already have the Japanese approach to human security, which is quite important because they are also the only former European communist state to be a member of the Human Security Network, which is aimed for the better development of themselves and other countries to give human being better livelihoods (Heynen, 2016). With Slovenia being dedicated to better human security for their citizens, they are a great template for how the rest of the Balkans should act to fix the human insecurities within their countries. With Slovenia being the only post-communist country to be a member of the Human Security Network, it is a perfect template for the Balkan Region, especially since it comes from the same unique history that the rest of the countries of former Yugoslavia have (Fakiolas & Tzifakis, 2019).

By switching the approach of Human Security within the countries of former Yugoslavia, there becomes a large change for the citizens of these countries. First and foremost, with the transition to the Japanese approach on Human Security, there would be a larger push with policies to better human capital. With switching, the citizens will no longer have to worry with regards to their very basic health concerns, like being able to get treated for illness, because there would be increase spending to revamp the health service system within the country. There would also be an increase in spending towards education so that the citizens would be able to get better paying jobs, which will in the long run better the economic structure of the state. There needs to be a holistic approach towards solving the Balkan human security problem (Gjørv, 2018). This can be done by investing in areas that will better the human capital of a country, the country will be able to sustain itself and self-regulate with everything they have going on.  Lastly there would be better regulations on the economy as to strengthen it, which would lead to a larger amount of jobs for all those citizens. Given the opportunity to have jobs, citizens will not need to work with organized crime organizations because they will be able to support themselves. With a stronger economy, the people will have a larger confidence for the government which will lead to increase stability for these governments, especially given that many of the citizens still remember a time when the state would provide them with all their basic necessities.

To better stabilize this region, the international community, must be willing to go in and help these weak governments that have been in power for only a decade or so. For instance, international bodies such as EU and UN can advise these states on how they can put new policies in place that lead to better self-regulation. This will help these nations create a system that prevents past events, like the genocide in Bosnia. Europe must also be alert to what is going on within these countries to prevent such events recurring. With self-regulation, the government of these states must implement policies to better manage the different Adriatic Sea ports. With better government regulation, there will be a decrease in the number of drugs and weapons smuggled into the continent, which will lessen the amount of criminal and terrorist activities with the Balkan region, more specifically Bosnia. Furthermore, they should advise them on how to better distribute their government spending and how to implement better policies aimed towards having more effect on human security efforts. Additionally, outside actors must be willing to help government infrastructures, such as the economy. With outside investments to better the economy, there will be an increase in both unskilled and skilled jobs for citizens looking for work. With investments from outside and better policies in place, there will be both government related positions to help with regulation that are going to be put in place, there would be an increase in job security and opportunities to find employment, which will stray people from needing to work with organized crime organizations. With higher employment rates the government will have a larger amount of money available to continue to better their education and health care systems to continue to better their Human Security.

Within recent years, there have been slight improvements with regards to economics in the Balkan region as compared to the end of the war. During the time when former Yugoslavian countries were beginning to fall, the newly formed countries had large amounts of unemployment and very low wages (Hromadzic, 2011). With things that have been done to date, the increases in the current median wage for the citizens slowly lowered the unemployment percentage within the countries. Currently with the slow development within the region, these countries are looking at developing (Shleifer et al., 2014, p. 4). There is an overwhelming thought of what could have been and the possibilities of what is still to come. With such potential, there is a lot of room for growth. With proper guidance and management of the economy of their prospective states, there is potential for stronger economic powers. Along with the proper advising on putting policies in place to better their economies, there will also need to be proper investments into these economies to help put them on the right path. With the right guidance from outside entities, along with proper investments, then the potential is endless for these untested economies. With a better economy and investment into education then the people can begin to rebuild their lives after such destruction.

The history of the Balkan region is one that is merged by human security problems (King, Delev, & Gerovski, 2017). These problems have moved away from the traditional military to the non-traditional challenges. With these newly sovereign states having no historical precedence to look back on due to the fact that they were not long-ago part of Yugoslavia before the death of Tito, which ultimately led to the complete fall of Yugoslavia. With the fall of Yugoslavia, there have been war and genocide as a result of state funded propaganda and terrorism. This resulted to the bloodshed that occurred during this dark time within the history of the Balkan region. The effects of what occurred are still felt today with the large number of organized crime organizations and terrorism groups that have come to be because of the instability in the region. All this instability has led to very weak states that have been breeding grounds for corruption because of the fact that organized crime organizations were the only entities that could afford to fund such liberation movements like what can be seen in Kosovo. It is in the European Union’s best interest and the international organizations to help stabilize the region that is near other nation’s borders, especially since large amounts of the illegal drugs and weapons are brought into the rest of Europe (Fakiolas & Tzifakis, 2019). There have also been large ties between the terrorist organizations within the Balkans and terrorist activities that have occurred around the world. With all of this activity going on so close to the borders of the countries of the European Union, the lack of human security within this region will continue to be a large security threat for Western Europe. The human insecurity within the region should be the number one priority for the European Union because with better human security within the Balkans there will be less of a physical insecurity to the rest of the world. With the help of the international community, Balkan states can learn from other developed nations on ways that they can implement better policies that are able to improve human security within the region.

In conclusion, the Balkans states unlike in the 1900’s civil war have new threats to security. The threats are from within and are non-traditional ranging from corruption to human trafficking. In order to better protect its citizens, the states in these regions need to adopt the Japanese model of human security, which represent a holistic approach towards protecting human beings. The current approach being used by most of these nations, freedom from fear will not solve the security problems that these nations are facing.


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