Bin Laden and the Balkans: The Politics of Anti-Terrorism
Bin Laden and the Balkans: The Politics of Anti-Terrorism
Table of Contents
  1. Executive Summary
Changing Dynamics in the Western Balkans
Changing Dynamics in the Western Balkans
Report 119 / Europe & Central Asia

Bin Laden and the Balkans: The Politics of Anti-Terrorism

The global focus on Islamist extremist-inspired terrorism resulting from the 11 September atrocities has raised the question of the potential for such terrorist activity in, or emanating from, the Balkans.

Executive Summary

The global focus on Islamist extremist-inspired terrorism resulting from the 11 September atrocities has raised the question of the potential for such terrorist activity in, or emanating from, the Balkans.

Given the presence of ex-mujahidin in Bosnia, the tens of thousands of former military and paramilitary fighters in Bosnia, Kosovo and Macedonia who are Muslims by nationality, if not for the most part by observance, and the large deployments of U.S. and other troops in the region, some (though by no means all) senior Western sources describe the potential terrorist threat as significant.  In this context,  international officials and organisations in parts of the region, as well as certain governments, have taken extra security precautions, and clamped down on individuals and groups suspected of possible links to terrorist networks.

Although heightened security precautions are obviously appropriate at this time, it is important that the issue of Islamist extremism in the Balkans, and the risk of terrorism associated with it, not be painted as a larger problem than it is.  While Osama  bin Laden himself may have visited Albania several years ago, and individuals with links to his organisation have passed through the Balkans, it appears that only Bosnia has significant numbers of potential Islamist extremists. Elsewhere the potential for Islamist-inspired violence seems  slight, and to hinge on the weakness of institutions rather than ideological sympathies with the enemies of the West.

From this perspective, and in the absence of further evidence demanding a more robust response, the best way to prevent deadly violence in or emanating from the Balkans may simply be continued engagement by the international community across the spectrum of peace keeping and peace building tasks.

There is no doubt that, in the Balkans as elsewhere, the new and overwhelming Western foreign policy priority has triggered some energetic attempts to borrow or co-opt the anti-terrorist agenda. Many politicians and propagandists in Serbia, Bosnia and Macedonia have been given the opportunity to puff fresh air into stereotypes of fanatical bearded mujahidin, myths of Muslim ‘backwardness’, and theories about the ‘civilisational’ abyss separating Islam from the West that served sinister purposes in the 1990s.

In this context, it is important that the international community should not be distracted by the wave of anti-Muslim opinion and propaganda that has washed through Serbia, Macedonia, and the Serb-controlled parts of Bosnia. In these countries, and also in Albania, Western capitals must reward governments’ overall democratic performance, not the volume of their denunciations of terrorism.

Belgrade/Podgorica/Pristina/Sarajevo/Skopje/Tirana/Brussels, 9 November 2001

Changing Dynamics in the Western Balkans

This week on War & Peace, Olga Oliker talks to Crisis Group expert Marko Prelec about the precarious situation in the Western Balkans, as Serb separatism in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and the frozen Kosovo-Serbia dispute continue to stoke regional instability.

The Western Balkans, a region defined in part by not being in the European Union, also contains several countries that were devastated by war in the 1990s. Now it faces new troubles, driven in part by the legacies of the old. Bosnia and Herzegovina is confronted with calls for secession in the autonomous Serb-dominated region, Republika Srpska, as well as the ongoing electoral grievances of its Croat minority. Meanwhile, efforts to resolve Kosovo’s dispute with Serbia over its independence have come to a standstill, leaving minority communities on both sides of the border vulnerable.

This week on War & Peace, Olga Oliker talks to Marko Prelec, Crisis Group’s Consulting Senior Analyst for the Balkans, about why ethnic tensions persist in the region and whether there is any risk of a return to conflict. They discuss the prospects for European integration, asking whether the promise of EU membership remains an effective incentive for resolving these longstanding disputes. They also consider what impact Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has had for stability in the Western Balkans, a region where painful memories of war are still very salient today.



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For more of Crisis Group’s analysis, make sure to check out our Balkans regional page and keep an eye out for our upcoming report on the risk of instability in the Western Balkans.

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