Former Ambassador Perina delivers first Polvony lecture of 2010-2011

Maggie Brickner

Last Monday, former ambassador and Stephen Edward Scarff Memorial Distinguished Visiting Professor Rudolf Perina spoke about the ongoing ethnic conflicts in former Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union.
The first in the 2010 Povolny lecture series, the lecture marked the 15th anniversary of the Dayton Accords, the peace agreement that ended the Bosnian war. During the Dayton Accords, Perina acted as the United States’ representative to Serbia.
The lecture was well attended by students, community members and even by Emeritus Professor of Government and Henry M. Wriston Professor of Social Sciences Mojmir Povolny himself.
Perina’s lecture was titled “Europe’s Post-Cold War Conflicts: The Prospects for Peace in the Successor States to Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union.”
In the lecture, he gave an overview of both the history of successions in these regions and whether or not the regions can hope to become legitimate states. Perina focused mainly on the conflicts in Bosnia, Kosovo, Moldova and Transnistria.
Perina introduced the lecture by saying, “The end of the Cold War was good news. I find it rather remarkable that at the end of the Cold War we find really only the conflicts I will be talking about tonight, this is not to say it is to say that they were not terrible, but it is to say that they could have been much worse.”
Despite the fact that the conflicts could have been “much worse,” the discord in Yugoslavia over the past 20 years has been the biggest conflict in Europe since World War II.
The conflicts, although they arose for various reasons, were mostly based on ethnic differences. Perina expressed this sentiment when he asked, “Why should I be a minority in your state when I can succeed and you will be a minority in mine?”
History, geography, poor leadership and outside intervention only heightened the ethnic tensions in these areas.
For example, international aid from the United States, Russia and later the European Union often only worsened the conflicts. The Dayton Accords, on the other hand, represent one international effort that actually did help to decrease violence in the region.
According to Perina, “[The Dayton Accords] had three objectives: to stop the war, to reverse the territorial gains of ethnic cleansing and to preserve Bosnia as a single state by preventing Bosnian Serb succession.” In his opinion, the peace agreement was successful on all three counts.
As he looks toward the future, Perina is pessimistic. He sees an era of international disagreement in the current post-Dayton Accords period, but Perina also views aid from the European Union as beneficial. He sees the prospects for gradual resolution are somewhat better in Yugoslavia than the former Soviet Union “simply because the EU is closer.”
In his lecture, Perina echoed Associate Professor of Government and Edwin & Ruth West Professor of Economics and Social Science Claudena Skran’s introductory words. In her introduction, Skran said, “There are a lot of underlying economic conflicts and being in the European Union would help to solve this.”
In closing, Perina added: “In an era of globalization, ethnic diversity should be seen as an attribute rather than a problem by those who have the interests of their ethnic groups truly at heart.” Perina took several questions from the audience before concluding.