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Hey Obama, What About Serbia’s “Territorial Integrity”?

…Or Yugoslavia’s for that matter. The level of western cynicism on “territorial integrity” is far greater than you probably know. The Kosovo-Crimea discrepancy is just the tip of the iceberg

by Marko Marjanovic at Russia Insider

Earlier this month Obama gave an earful to Putin (from a G7 meeting held 2,000 kilometres away from Moscow) complaining that this day and age you just can’t go around violating the “territorial integrity” and “sovereignty” of other countries:

Does he continue to wreck his country’s economy and continue Russia’s isolation in pursuit of a wrong-headed desire to recreate the glories of the Soviet empire? Or does he recognize that Russia’s greatness does not depend on violating the territorial integrity and sovereignty of other countries?”

That’s a rather strange statement I think because evidence Obama’s regard for sovereignty of other countries is in a rather short supply.


You’d think under Obama US military didn’t occupy Iraq and Afghanistan and bombed Libya (as well as drone bombed a bunch of others albeit with the consent of their notional governments.) Also there’s scarcely anyone who needs to be reminded of the fact that US helps the demise of governments and hand picks their replacements in foreign countries on a regular basis – not the least it did so in Ukraine itself.

Nor is there evidence of any principled regard of Obama, the US or the West for the notion “territorial integrity” of other countries. Under his presidency the US continues to pressure foreign governments and international bodies to accept the dismemberment of Serbia that it orchestrated under Clinton and Bush.

The hypocrisy of Washington and its lesser partners which severed Kosovo from Serbia, but “lambasts” Russia for incorporating Crimea is something that will not escape many. However, few are aware of the full extent of western cynicism and lack of principle on this matter.

Opportunistic western flip-flops on territorial integrity did not start with Kosovo and Crimea, but much earlier and accompanied the entire break up Yugoslavia.

Green = states which recognize Kosovo as not part of Republic of Serbia

Green = states which recognize Kosovo as not part of Republic of Serbia

In 1991 Slovenia and Croatia, constituent republics of Yugoslavia, unilaterally declared independence from federal Yugoslavia. The Yugoslav central government (headed by the Croatian Ante Marković) opposed this, holding that the two did not follow proper procedure and their attempt to remove themselves from the federation was illegal.

Indeed, the Yugoslav Constitution was clear that just like the borders of constituent republics could not be altered without their consent, so the borders of the federation could not be altered without the consent of all the constituent republics. Thus while the law in Yugoslavia theoretically allowed for a secession of a constituent republic, this required the consent of all the other republics, which Slovenia and Croatia did not acquire.

Rather than respect Yugoslavia’s territorial integrity and sovereignty the west championed Slovenia’s and Croatia’s independence. EU offered moral and diplomatic support for Slovenia and Croatia separating from Yugoslavia and Germany, which was the most animated on the issue, also covertly provided intelligence. All of this had started before the two had even declared independence.

Supposedly western states held that international borders were inviolable and even confirmed this notion in the Helsinki Accords, but then came up with a convoluted reason why Yugoslavia was the “exception” where they didn’t need to – the EU ruled that Yugoslavia was “in the process of disintegration” and therefore normal rules did not apply.

The next year with western encouragement and support (this time mainly American rather than German) Bosnia and Herzegovina also declared independence as the third Yugoslav constituent republic to do so.

Slovenia was nationally homogenous, but within the borders of Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina both was a large Serbian population which wished to remain in Yugoslavia. Quickly they took control of the areas where they lived and declared their own political entities – hoping to be allowed to remain a part of a single state with Serbs of Serbia. The west would have none of it, but instead fought them tooth and nail.

According to western states Yugoslavia’s territorial integrity did not need to be respected – ergo the support for independence of its republics, but the territorial integrity of these new controversial states which had only come into existence as subjects of international law five minutes ago had to be absolute. Croatia could secede from Yugoslavia, but Croatian Serbs could not counter-secede from Croatia to remain a part of Yugoslavia. Bosnia and Herzegovina could secede from Belgrade, but the Serbs of Bosnia and Herzegovina could not counter-secede to remain under Belgrade.

Although the EU had rejected the notion that Slovenia and Croatia needed the consent of other Yugoslav republics to secede legally as called for by the Constitution of the federal state, it insisted the notion that their own borders may not be changed without their own consent must be upheld.

Although they had championed the secession of Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia, western states militantly opposed the secessionist projects of Croatian and Bosnian Serbs. They fought it diplomatically, waged a massive propaganda effort against it, condemned it at the UN, instituted a comprehensive sanctions regime against Belgrade for supporting it, funneled arms to Croatian and Bosnian Muslim forces, installed themselves as less than fully impartial peacekeepers in the conflict and eventually directly intervened against it militarily in NATO’s “Operation Deliberate Force”.

The next western flip flop on territorial integrity in former Yugoslavia followed with Kosovo.

Albeit the west had previously insisted that the territorial integrity of what had been constituent republics of Yugoslavia was absolute, it now came up with a reason (the Serbs’ bad behavior) why this didn’t apply to Serbia.

Whereas it had helped prevent local Serbs from seceding from Croatia and Bosnia, the US championed the independence of Kosovo Albanians from Serbia thus redrawing the borders of a former Yugoslav constituent republic that west had claimed was a no-no in the other cases.

Naturally as the US sponsored the independence of Kosovo in repeatedly warned the Kosovo Serbs (who form a solid majority in its northernmost bit) against any thought of counter-seceding in order to remain under Serbia.

So let us recount the western position:

  • It claimed to uphold the sovereignty and territorial integrity of other countries and the inviolability of borders in Europe
  • However, this did not extend to the sovereignty and the territorial integrity of Federal Yugoslavia which could be trampled at will
  • Nonetheless, albeit the territorial integrity of Federal Yugoslavia itself wasn’t worth anything, the territorial integrity of its constituent republics seeking independence was holy
  • Albeit the territorial integrity of the Yugoslav constituent republics of Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina was holy, the territorial integrity of Serbia was not
  • Albeit Slovenes, Croats and Bosnian Muslims could leave Yugoslavia, Serbs could not leave Croatia and Bosnia
    Albeit Serbs could not leave Croatia and Bosnia, Kosovo Albanians could secede from Serbia
  • Albeit Kosovo Albanians could secede from Serbia, Kosovo Serbs could not secede from Albanian-run Kosovo
  • Albeit Kosovo could unilaterally secede from Serbia under NATO military control, Crimea could not unilaterally secede from Ukraine under Russian military control

May world be spared hunger, plague and western principles.


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Categories: empire watch, Europe, Serbia
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