NEW INTERNATIONAL THINKING on South Eastern Europe is supported by NATO Public Diplomacy Division

UPDATE: Jessie Hronesova, Dr Adis Merdzanovic and Sir David Madden - all involved with SEESOX, are part of a group of academics and political analysts who have written an open letter to the EU and US in response to the EU's progress report on Bosnia.

The letter to FEDERICA MOGHERINI, High Representative of the EU for foreign affairs and security policy,  JOHANNES HAHN, EU Commisioner for European Neighbourhood policy and Enlargement negotiations,   JOHN KERRY, THE U.S. Secretary of State, and the EU Foreign Affairs Council.

We the undersigned academics and political analysts, appeal to the European Union and the US, as well as foreign institutions of which they are members, to strengthen their commitment to the European future of Bosnia and Herzegovina, to adopt a firm approach toward spoilers of the reform process and to jointly use their leverage potential in a coordinated manner.

The full letter can be read here. A background article written for the European Council on Foreign Relations, Bosnia and Herzegovina – Limping on: time for a new international approach is also available.

NEW INTERNATIONAL THINKING on South Eastern Europe is supported by NATO Public Diplomacy Division: WORKSHOPS

The workshops are convened by:

Dr Othon Anastasakis, Director, European Studies Centre and SEESOX, St Antony's College, Oxford
Professor Richard Caplan, Professor of International Relations, DPIR, Linacre College, Oxford
Jessie Hronesova, candidate in Politics, DPIR and SEESOX, St Antony's College, Oxford
Dr James Ker-Lindsay, Eurobank EFG Senior Research Fellow on the Politics of South East Europe, LSE
Sir David Madden, Former Ambassador; Senior Member, St Antony's College, Oxford

New International Thinking is a series of workshops with leading academics, political experts, representatives of international organizations, and senior policy and decision makers. Their aim is to openly and freely discuss contemporary problems in countries in transition in the western part of South Eastern Europe (SEE) such as economic and constitutional reforms, democratic progress, and inter-ethnic communication. In particular, the workshops focus on the agency of international organizations with a special emphasis on the role of the European Union. The workshops provide a platform to explore challenging and contentious aspects of international engagement in the individual countries in SEE.  Organized in Oxford by DPIR, South East European Studies at Oxford (SEESOX) and LSE’s LSEE under Chatham House Rules, they offer an excellent opportunity to engage in a free and frank exchange of opinions about the currents affairs in SEE.

Engaging representatives of international organizations, which are shaping policies in SEE, such as NATO as the main funder, the EU, and OSCE (Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe), alongside academics and political representatives from the region and other experts creates a unique combination of policy and academic expertise. The policy impact of the workshops is increased by publication of workshop briefs and reports on the SEESOX website and their wide dissemination across social media and associated institutions such as LSEE, American think tank dedicated to Bosnia DialogueBiH 2.0 and the Global Strategy Forum (GSF), which organizes the subsequent presentation of the reports at the House of Lords. Global Strategy Forum as an independent forum promoting research on foreign and international affairs with strong links to Oxford is vital in promoting the research findings across policy makers in the UK, including representatives of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, House of Lords, House of Commons, embassies, RUSI, and journalists. Until now two workshops have been organized – one on the rapprochement between Serbia and Kosovo in November 2013 and one on the current political stalemate in Bosnia and Herzegovina in January 2015.


DPIR, South East European Studies at Oxford (SEESOX), and LSEE-Research on South East Europehave been working on joint projects on contentious political and international issues in the Balkan region for several years. Following a diplomatic breakthrough between Serbia and Kosovo in Brussels in spring 2012, DPIR, SEESOX, and LSEE sought support of NATO’s Public Diplomacy to organize the first workshop on Kosovo to assess the success and repercussions of the EU-brokered agreement between Serbia and its former autonomous unit Kosovo. The positive outcome of years-long and strenuous diplomatic efforts to settle the unresolved Kosovo status, a topic of controversy even within the European Union where it has not been recognized by five member states, resulted in much optimism both on the side of the academic community and practitioners.

The Serbia-Kosovo workshop ushered in a positive exchange of knowledge and experience, well received in Belgrade, Prishtina, as well as London and Oxford. The good feedback led to another similar event, which also gave its trademark name: “Bosnia and Herzegovina: New International Thinking”. In January 2015, another workshop was organized in Oxford, bringing together international diplomats from Sarajevo and London, experts, analysts, and academics with the aim to re-think a somewhat deadlocked post-war development in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The outcome was a report, supplemented by a speech by Paddy Ashdown, which went viral in Bosnian and social media and was quickly translated into Bosnian. The first two workshops – each designed with participation of experts and policy makers who best suited the contours of the debate – set a precedent for future workshops.


After the collapse of communist regimes in Eastern Europe, socialist Yugoslavia was perceived as being the first potential candidate for Euro-Atlantic integration. Instead, the federal country fell into a series of violent conflicts which have stalled its democratic, economic, and social development. Seven countries emerged from the wars – each with its own burden of political, ethnic, and economic problems, that have in different measures hindered their progress towards the EU and NATO. Each of them, although to a different degree, had to grapple with unresolved inter-ethnic issues, huge demographic changes, captured economies, and politicized public services.

International guidance, leverage and in the case of Bosnia and Kosovo even full trusteeship have had a major impact on the political direction of what the European Union termed the Western Balkans (including also Albania but not Slovenia). The Bosnian War of 1992-5 was ended by the internationally brokered Dayton Peace Accords, the 1999 Kosovo War via NATO-led international intervention, and the lurking conflict in Macedonia by the 2001 Ohrid Agreement negotiated by the European Union. From novel institutions such as the Office of the High Representative or the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia to new political mechanisms in the form of Stabilization and Association Agreement, the former Yugoslav region have staged some of the most robust international guardianship in post-1989 history.

International agency has thus been shaping political and economic development in South Eastern Europe after the end of a series of conflicts in the 1990s. The over twenty-year long international democratization efforts have led to mixed results, teaching international actors multiple lessons, which need to be reflected upon.

General objectives

  • Facilitate and open debate about existing international approaches to individual countries of South Eastern Europe under Chatham House Rules;
  • Gather leading international policy makers and analysts on the individual countries (either international or both local and international);
  • Create a collection of analytical reports on South Eastern Europe, which inform policy.

Particular aims

  • The purpose of the workshops is to take stock of the current political, economic, and social situation; identify the main challenges, including the potential deadlocks and spoilers; and suggest possible ways forward.
  • Explore the current political, economic and social situation and stress failures and successes;
  • Identify main challenges and deadlocks for further democratic development;
  • Analyse existing international approach and policies towards the individual countries;
  • Assess the role of international agencies and organizations;
  • Identify areas and policy, which should be prioritized by international agents;
  • Examine the regional context and the role of neighbours;
  • Suggest possible ways forward.

Initial Findings from Kosovo/Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina workshops:

  • Role of international agents is limited unless domestically accepted as legitimate and credible;
  • Consistency and concerted efforts in key policy reform areas – especially social security, economy, and education – cannot be traded for quick fixes;
  • European Union membership is the only game in town but must be perceived as credible;
  • Implementation is far more difficult than signing an agreement;
  • There is a trigger effect in the former Yugoslav region, i.e. improvement in one country can often be immediately felt in another;
  • Local ownership is important but strong international policy guidance is necessary.

Main non-academic partners

  • NATO Public Diplomacy Division as the main communication section of NATO engages in a series of discussions and dialogues with the public and experts in order to promote cooperation with leading academic institutions has long supported SEESOX policy-relevant research on the region.
  • Global Strategy Forum as an independent forum promoting research on foreign and international affairs with strong links to Oxford is vital in promoting the research findings across policy makers in the UK, including representatives of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, House of Lords, House of Commons, embassies, RUSI, and journalists.

Dialogue BiH 2.0 as a media platform created at Tufts University promoting research and information about Bosnia in a bi-lingual fashion has been the main partner of Oxford in local media dissemination.

Workshop I

“Serbia/Kosovo: The Brussels Agreements and Beyond”

23 November 2013


“Serbia/Kosovo: The Brussels Agreements and Beyond” was the title of the first workshop organized at St Antony’s, Oxford, on 23 November 2013. The gathering was aimed to facilitate an open exchange of ideas and think about lessons learnt from the first successful round of negotiations on normalization in relationships between Kosovo and Serbia. With participation of a wide array of local (from Kosovo and Serbia) and international decision makers and analysts, the event marked the beginning for a sui generis format of gatherings in Oxford. The questions the Oxford-led workshop put on the table in November 2013 were: How have the parties come to the negotiation table? What led them to agree and finally find a partial solution to some of their problems? At the same time, apprehensive of the potential future avenues, the aim was also to see and discuss what the next potential steps and development could look like. Four separate panels were organized, each covering a different aspect of the negotiations: the background, the course of negotiations, the subsequent problems with the implementation of the agreement, and future prospects of success. The day-long workshop was ended with a keynote lecture by Robert Cooper, whose summary can be found in the workshop report.

Main Findings

1. Getting to the table

Prior to Kosovo’s independence, there was a lack of progress. Since the chances of a negotiated solution were meager, some international actors decided to support Kosovo’s unilateral declaration of independence as a way out of the deadlock, while others – most notably Serbia backed by Russia, and five EU members – decided to oppose it for a variety of reasons. After the subsequent decision of the International Court of Justice that Kosovo’s declaration of independence did not represent a breach of international law, the way opened for a more strategic debate about how to solve the status quo.

2. Negotiations

EU’s mediating role was crucial during the negotiations. At the start of the dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina in early 2011, EU mediators approached the talks with a list of thorny issues rather than anything like a strategy. Questions of practical significance such as registry books held at Belgrade, freedom of movement, and customs stamps were first to be resolved in order to build trust. It was possible to open more complex issues after elections in Serbia in 2011, which clearly showed that EU was Serbia’s priority. This was the ultimate seal of approval for opening debates about more important topics such as political representation of Serbs in Kosovo, which resulted in the design of the so called Association of Serb Municipalities, a de facto self-governing administrative structure. The debates organized in Brussels, on neutral grounds were effectively able to reach an agreement, which has been dubbed the Normalization Agreement or Brussels Agreement between Prishtina and Belgrade.

3. Implementation

The actual implementation turned out to be the main problem, though. The Agreement created a de facto dual governance in Kosovo but did not bring in milestones to reach. Since the Agreement was more of a plan, rather than a roadmap, it did not present ultimate solutions on how to reconcile Kosovo’s status with Serbian constitutional order. An idea presented was to create an ad hoc way how to “legalize” Kosovo’s legal system and political structures for the Serbian constitutional and legal system. Implementation has thus been lagging behind. This has also been caused by the fact that citizens were not clearly consulted on the actual negotiation. In Kosovo, the negotiations were considered as behind closed doors and as hostages the Serbia-EU negotiations, while in Serbia they were accepted as a necessary sacrifice to make for the sake of joining the EU. Moreover, citizens of Kosovo have not been delivered much after the talks – education remained divided and since Kosovo’s unresolved status prevents many people from travelling or participating in world sports or cultural events, the perceived effects on a daily life have been meager. This is why the main finding was that only technical issues have so far been resolved (recognition of diplomas, civil registries, personal documents, and regional meetings) but the main problem with free movement of people has remained to resolve in the future.

4. Outlook

Confidence seems to be the primary precondition for the success of the agreement. So far, the track record of the implementation is rather poor, which has undermined the initial positive prospects. Additionally, elections in the fall of 2013, which were accompanied by violence and rather low turn out from the Serb population in Kosovo, only further demonstrated that there is a lack of trust in the ongoing discussions from among the population. On the other hand, non-participation of Kosovo Serbs during the negotiations was viewed as of marginal importance, since most followed Belgrade’s lead. As far as potential large-scale violence is concerned, representatives from both Serbia and Kosovo ruled this option out. As opposed to the situation ten years ago, security risk was now very low and the level of violence also negligible.

From a long-term perspective, locking in the process of Europeanization, which requires clears sticks and carrots for both Serbia and Kosovo, is the key. Kosovo’s agenda is no longer driven by security but by economy and freedom of movement. Economic mismanagement is destabilizing and can have serious societal repercussions. Social rapprochement between the two groups will also be significantly boosted by focusing on independent media and education. Subsequent agreements should also be, in the view of Kosovo representatives, clearer and with a set roadmap in order to improve implementation. In sum, both optimism and pessimism were present in the room, pointing towards the prevailing precariousness and delicacy of the bi-lateral relationships. As Mark Twain noted, “prediction is difficult, especially about the future.”

The workshop Report can be downloadedhere. The report was first presented at the Global Strategy Forum at the House of Lords in February 2014. Since its publication, the workshop report has been cited in multiple research papers.

Workshop II.

Bosnia and Herzegovina: New International Thinking

30 January 2015

The success of the Serbia/Kosovo workshop was followed up in January 2015 by a similar event on Bosnia and Herzegovina, which has, unlike Kosovo, not witnessed any major breakthrough in the past decade. Titled “Bosnia and Herzegovina –New International Thinking”, the workshop’s emphasis was on international agency in the country and how to increase credibility of the multitude of external actors in the country. Unlike the first workshop, this event was primary directed at internationals, who also formed the majority of participants. Cognizant of the severity of the challenges facing BiH, speakers emphasized the need to maintain a positive outlook given the many successes to date (all too often overshadowed by failures), while keeping a sense of purpose and creating a new momentum to re-activate Bosnian society. Participants pointed to the prospects for positive change in BiH residing at the subnational level and among the civil sector, which needs to be encouraged, supported, and empowered. The day-long workshop was again divided into four panels: the current situation, political, security sector, and constitutional reform, economic development, and social relations. At this workshop a new approach was adopted to the output – rather than a report as for the Kosovo workshop. The main conclusions of the workshop are summarized in the form of the ‘Action Points’, a succinct summary of the debate.

Action Points

Euro-Atlantic integration

  1. Advancing EU membership is the single most important task at this stage. Experience has shown that the closer a state moves towards the EU, the more willing it is to accept difficult changes and compromises. Make progress on as many fronts as possible and present it as a beneficial process. (Leave the more sensitive reform (e.g. Sejdic-Finci) until later.)
  1. Political conditionality should be used very carefully and sparingly. Tying the NATO or EU accession process to a very narrow issue, as happened in the case of Sejdic-Finci and military properties, is counterproductive and provides spoilers with an ideal chance to block integration.
  1. Constitutional change is possible but needs to be broken down into sections. It has already been achieved on the question of military reform. The key is to start by concentrating on very specific areas where change can be made with minimal opposition from the sides. On more contentious issues, packaging a number of changes as mutual trade offs is beneficial.
  1. Avoid falsely claiming that a specified change is required for EU membership. This was the mistake made in the process of police reform. In most areas, there is not a European one-size-fits-all approach and states have significant space to adopt their own tailored designs. Efforts to try to introduce constitutional change through subversion will be quickly discovered, undermining EU credibility.
  1. The single surest way to encourage Bosnia to move towards the EU and NATO is by integrating the rest of the Western Balkans. ‘Fix the region, fix Bosnia’.



  1. There are far too many unnecessary domestic institutions and their work is duplicated at the three levels of governance. Focus on trade-offs to reduce their numbers. Ask whether the balance of centralisation and decentralisation is correct. The EU works best on the principle of subsidiarity. The same could apply to Bosnia. Are there institutions with competencies that are better performed at another level? And can the loss of a body at one level be compensated for by the devolution or centralisation of power at another?
  1. Even where there may be a move to centralise powers, this does not translate into a geographical centralisation of institutions. New state-wide institutions can be established in locations other than Sarajevo.
  1. Do not over-engage with party leaders. Instead focus on representatives of institutions. Empower the state bodies, not factional interests.
  1. The international community must be more willing to point the finger of blame for the lack of progress on a particular issue. Political figures that stand in the way of EU and/or NATO integration should be publicly ‘named and shamed’.


Economic development

  1. Economic development is a priority. Focus on Bosnia as single economic space, but concentrate on ‘sensitive sequencing’ for the Compact for Growth. Look to make rapid gains by concentrating on areas where there is little likelihood of political pushback such as job creation for the youth.
  1. More needs to be done to simplify doing business. Where can red tape be reduced or abolished? For example, start with easier administrative procedures. Again, encourage and balance centralisation and decentralisation as appropriate.
  1. The social security system needs to be reformed as a matter of urgency to focus on the most vulnerable. This will help to encourage a sense of social justice and will also remedy some of the socio-economic injustice created by the war.

Social relations

  1. Every effort should be made to encourage the people of Bosnia to respect their country and the unity of the state. However, efforts to encourage a de-ethnicised Bosnian nationality must be handled carefully. The more attention is given to pushing people beyond ethno-national identities, the more threatened they feel and the stronger such identities become. Evidence elsewhere in Europe shows that such identities must evolve over time and without pressure.
  1. Civil society needs to be enhanced. Look beyond organisations that mimic international rhetoric and merely seek external attention. Fund and develop bodies that lead in less high-profile areas that have a real day-to-day impact on the most disadvantaged parts of society (e.g. chronically ill, long term unemployed, children, the elderly and the disabled).
  1. Independent media and investigative journalism need to be encouraged and directly supported. Provide journalistic training and resources so that journalists can move beyond mere informative reporting. Experience has shown that media can become a partner of change when mobilized.
  1. Encourage educational reforms. In as many areas as possible, especially in those subjects where there is no obvious ethnic component, steps should be taken to improve national curricula. Teacher training should include as many cross-community components as possible. Enable teachers to acquire professional teaching methods.
  1. Provide youth with as many opportunities as possible to interact across ethnic lines and provide more programmes to travel and study abroad, ideally in a cross-community manner (such as mixed sports teams).


  1. Emphasise the successes that have occurred. Pessimism can lead to apathy and lethargy when the goal is activation. Many reforms have been carried out, changing BiH in twenty years into a functioning, though problematic, state. More can be done with careful planning and by tackling the less controversial ‘low hanging fruit’ first.

The workshop Programme can be downloaded here and the report is available here. An interactive design of the report can be accessed here. The report was first presented at the Global Strategy Forum at the House of Lords in March 2015 and can be listened to online. Paddy Ashdown’s speechafter the presentation at the House of Lords was taken over by main Bosnian media. Subsequently, the workshop as such received a high media attention in Bosnia. An international think tank Dialogue BiH 2.0 translated the report and disseminated it across Bosnian media channels. An article about the workshop in one of the main Bosnian dailies, Slobodna Bosna, in Bosnian can be found here. An article by Balkan Insight in English titled Oxford Report Demands New Approach to Bosnia can be accessed here.


New International Thinking on South Eastern Europe