Thursday, December 29, 2005

Will the Serbs be safe when Kosovo becomes independent?

In a recent interview James Lyon, the Serbia project director for the International Crisis Group claims that
At present, the Kosovo Albanians view the Serb presence as an obstacle to achieving their independence aspirations. They view Serbs as agents of the Serbian state that for so long repressed them and conducted an official policy of state terror against them. As long as Kosovo’s status is unresolved, the Albanians will treat them as an unwelcome foreign organism that represents policies of a Greater Serbia. When Kosovo’s status is resolved in favor of independence, then it will be logical to expect that the Albanian majority will no longer view the Serb minority as a threat.

He goes on to say that the present situation is onworkable and that independence is the best solution (without saying why). But in the end it appears that he is perfectly prepared to sacrific Kosovo's Serbs for that "best solution":
The final status of Kosovo will probably be decided sometime in 2006. It is widely expected that Belgrade will refuse any outcome that gives independence to Kosovo. Should Belgrade refuse to sign off, independence will proceed without Serbia, which could have negative repercussions for Kosovo’s Serbian minority and give them far fewer privileges than should Belgrade participate.

But let's go back to the question whether the position of the Serbs will improve if Kosovo becomes independent. In Bosnia and Croatia the situation is rather negative. Many refugees have returned, but very often only to sell their property. And many of the people who do stay are older people. In areas that were still multi-ethnic at the end of the war - like Sarajevo - the minorities are still leaving. But Mr. Lyon does not want to see this.

But let's not be too negative. Bosnians lived peacefull together before the war and at some point they will find common ground again - allthough I doubt if that will be in a common state. For Kosovo the history is much more negative. And I fear that Kosovo's Serbs waits the same fate as Turkey's Greek minority (at about 1/3 of the page), that was slowly driven out until long after the 1922 war. The worst times were probably the anti-Greek riots in 1955, that had much similarity to Kosovo's march 2004 riots.

Allthough many newspapers like to use terms as "revenge attacks" for the Albanian attacks on Kosovo's Serbs they date from far before the war. Edith Durham described allready in 1908 in her book High Albania (chapters 9 and 10) a delicate position for the Serbs. After 1913 (when Serbia conquered Kosovo) the position of the Serbs improved (and the position of the Albanians worsened), but as soon as the Albanians got more power in the 1960s the Serb position worsened again. The 1999 war only made a bad situation worse.

In both Turkey and Kosovo the hostility is based on the desire to rob the minority of their property. Remember the names with claims on the houses in Svinjare after the 2004 riots. This should not be confused with the pilfering that happens in nearly every war. That is stopped once the violence is over and the rule of law is re-established.

The situation is Kosovo and Turkey reminds me more of the anti-Jewish pogroms in 19th century Russia and the anti-Christian pogroms in the Ottoman empire. In all those cases you had a situation where the rule of law was not valued and instead a zero-sum view of society prevailed: "if the others get rich it must be at our expense. And so we are entitled to take it back.".

After the march 2004 drownings one saw in the first 2 days many conflicting versions of what had happened. Only later some standard story appeared. But just as with any pogrom many people were not interested in what really happened. They had a reason to "teach the Serbs a lesson" and that was all they wanted. Even now it is hard to find an Albanian who really regrets the riots - except that it spoiled their image with the foreigners.

But pogroms are just the tip of iceberg. They are used when the minority is getting too self confident. More usually is a situation of harassment and discrmination. In Kosovo many of those incidents happen - not daily, but often enough to prevent people from having a normal life. Things are stolen or destroyed, people beaten up, houses or barns set on fire, occasionally someone is murdered or simply disappears. And usually the Albanian neighbours pretend never to have seen or heared a thing. In this type of climate biased justice and police are the norm. And Kosovo's politicians do just enough to keep the internationals content (usually just some cheap talk), but they don't seem motivated to really improve the situation.

I do believe that Kosovo should become independent. But I am very pessimistic about the future of the Serbs there. The scenario is too predictable:
- the first wave of Serbs will leave Kosovo once it becomes independent
- next we will see the Albanians taking control of Northern Mitrovica and adjacent Zvecan. As there is at the moment no city in Kosovo where still live more than a handfull of Serbs the result is predictable: slowly all Serbs will leave the city.
- this will rob the Serbs in the rest of Kosovo of their nearest shopping and services centre. As many still don't trust to be safe in Kosovo's cities, they will have to drive an hour more for Kraljevo or Nis. This will lead to another wave of departures.
- the remainder is predictable. The pressure will keep on and slowly more will leave. Kosovo's government will very probably play an active role in this. We might even see a "development plan for the North" in order to stimulate Albanian settlement in this now predominantly Serb area.

So I think that we should secede Northern Kosovo from the rest (the Albanians could have a part of the Presevo Valley in return). And if we are really serious about minority right we should use the only type of sanctions that works: territorial sanctions. According to this Kosovo would have to give Serbia some territory if after 10 years more than a certain amount of Serbs have left.

Will a split of Kosovo have negative consequences for the stability of the rest of the Balkan? That depends on how the West behaves. As for mr. Lyon, he should stick to the title of his interview: "Kosovo 'domino effect’ no longer genuine issue".

Monday, December 12, 2005

Is it really better if Kosovo is not united with Albania?

Up until the 1999 war many Kosovo Albanians saw unification with Albania as the ultimate goal. In the time of Tito the propaganda from communist Albania was quite strong in Kosovo and it promissed a golden future.

Then came the war and many Kosovars landed as refugees in Albania. It was a sobering experience that undid much of Enver Hoxha's propaganda. The Kosovars found Albania poor and chaotic (it was only 2 years after the pyramid riots). And the Albanians found the Kosovars ungrateful and a bit arrogant. The disappointment is reflected in opinion polls, such as a recent poll that showed that only 8% of Kosovo's citizens supports unification.

Western leaders - with their fear of a great Albania - see this as a positive sign and want to fix the situation in a Kosovo treaty. I think that this fear is more destabilising than the possibility of a greater Albania itself. Even if all Albanians were united in one state it would be only 6 million people - less than in Serbia or Greece.

But a public opinion is volatile. In 10 years the Kosovars may think very differently. I see good reasons to expect that in 10 years Albania will be richer than Kosovo and that might very well change Kosovo's public opinion in favor of a union:
- A look at the map learns that Albania borders Greece and Italy while Kosovo is surrounded by poor contries. So Kosovo will have to try harder just to achieve the same result.
- Everyone who regularly visits Albania knows that the country is modernising fast. In contrast to this the Kosovar leaders are used to blame all Kosovo's problems on outsiders, in the past the Serbs - now the internationals.
- Albania's citizens are better educated. The decade of home education in Kosovo under Milosevic has left a whole generation undereducated.
- Kosovo's bad treatment of its minorities may very well continue after independence - leading to international sanctions. It will also negatively cloud its relations with its neighbours - resulting in bad commercial relations.
- The territories have been united in the past: both in the Ottoman empire and during World War II.
- I estimate that at least a quarter of Kosovo's population descends from people who immigrated into Kosovo during World War II. You can't expect those people to feel very much attached to a seperate Kosovar identity.

If Kosovo's citizens at some time really want to unite with Albania there is nothing that will stop them. If the international community tries to stop them it may very well have a destabilising effect on the region.

The thinking seems to be that if their is no unification there will be no trouble in Macedonia. I think this is naive. Once Kosovo becomes independent you can expect trouble in Macedonia.

The international community tends to work with very rude guidelines in the Balkan: it's favorite of the moment is "no borders should be changed". Unfortunately you can't guide a region through a a turbulent period with such abstractions. Instead you need to look at the details of what both parties want and believe and what seems fair. "No borders changed" is miles from what the local people believe to be fair.

I am fully aware that a unification has some disadvantages too. My point is that the international community should not set this kind of restrictions unless it has very good arguments and it is sure that it can enforce them. Otherwise we are only creating camera opportunities for some rogue local politicians.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Albanian leaders on stability: A warning or a threat?

In the recent months Albanian leaders from around Kosovo have repeatedly warned that splitting up Kosovo would lead to seperatist demands in Macedonia. Among them were Macedonian (Albanian) party leader Xhaferi and Albanian foreign minister Mustafaj.

When in the past Serb leaders warned that independence of Kosovo would lead to demands for independence for the Serbs in Bosnia they immediately got a reprimand from the international community. Nowadays such statements are not even taken seriously. The Albanian side is now playing it more subtle: instead of suggesting that THEY will make demands if Kosovo is split up they just suggest that SOMEONE will make those demands. They sound like worried outside observers when they talk about the stability of Macedonia.

Of course this is mostly a cultural difference. Serbs tend to be outspoken and tell you what they think - even if you don't like it. Albanians tend to be more polite and to put much effort in hiding the differences - often by simply denying that they exist. Both Xhaferi and Mustafej are influential figures and if Albanians in Macedonia would make an effort to become independent one can be sure that they have been involved. In a later interview Xhaferi has called Macedonia artificial and pleaded for unification of Kosovo with Albania. So much for his neutrality.

In that light the recent statement by Ahtisaari in which he praised the position of the Albanian government as "the best possible" seems rather naive.

A split of Kosovo seems improbable at the moment. Yet the West is making a big mistake by ignoring those "warnings". The underlying message is that the allegiance of Macedonia's Albanians is conditional. If Kosovo is not split they will find another excuse tomorrow.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Why the Czechs believe Kosovo should be divided

UPI has an article about how divided Europe is about Kosovo. The official position is that the question should be resolved by negotiations. However, Slovenia has already spoken out for an independent Kosovo. On the other hand Spain, Greece and Italy seem reluctant to make Kosovo independent.

Most interesting is the position of the Czech Republic, that wants to split Kosovo along ethnic lines. It should be remembered that the Czechs managed the breakup of Czecho-Slowakia without violence, so they know what they speak about. And this splitup did involve border changes.

In a discussion paper Mikulas Fabry described this split as follows: "After the split of Czechoslovakia in 1993, for instance, Czech and Slovak officials worked out a settlement in which they swapped four disputed hamlets and held plebiscites in two border villages after their inhabitants had protested at being left on the wrong side. To foreclose the search for diplomatic consensus on some issues may in truth bring more harm than good."

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Bosnia: a common police, but the struggle continues

Bosnia's Serbs have given in: Bosnia will get a common police. But the struggle continues. Next on the wishlist are a common central bank, a single president and much more.
The sad thing is that one of the basic principles of keeping peace is violated: keep your appointments. Just as it is not wise to change sensitive borders it is not wise to keep changing sensitive treaties. It creates distrust and its keeps people focussed on the conflict instead of on the things that they have in common. It is no coincidence that the ethnic seperation in Bosnia is only increasing - not decreasing. As the ICG reports: except for Tuzla in all cities one ethnic groups now constitutes over 90% of the population.

Colonial style
The European stability Initiative (ESI) wrote in 2003 a report "Travails Of The European Raj" in which it compared the role OHR in Sarajevo with the colonial administration in India. At that time the report got much approval, but nothing changed and now it is half forgotten. This is unfortunate because the similarities go even further as the report describes. One of the fates on colonial rule is that it ends up favouring one group above the other. It is unavoidable because without local support you cannot rule a colony (or Bosnia). A truely neutral position is impossible because it will sooner or later put off both sides. And so we see that the "peacekeepers" in Bosnia (and also in Kosovo) have ended up in a very partial position. It could have been largely avoided by giving them a very restricted mission, but this hasn't been done.

War crimes
This brings me to the warcrimes - the main excuse for the continuing intervention. Major warcrimes should be punished, but in this case the warcrimes have become a tool for one party to hammer the other. So instead of making peace acceptable it serves to keep the conflict alive. To avoid this I think we should apply the following rules:
- make a distinction between war criminals and passive accomplices. In a war situation people are under strong pressure to be "nationalist". People who went along in such situation (often they had no choice) and were passively involved in warcrimes shouldn't be classified as war criminals.
- an effort should be made for objective history writing. This should begin with the fraudulent referendum that gave Bosnia its independence (or even before that). By focussing on a few things like the Srebrenica massacre we are creating a fake history. This is not recognizable as the truth for many people. And by covering uip many things it gives other people a license to do them again.
If this seems a weird suggestion, please consider that it was how the South African truth commsision worked.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Opposition to US foreign policy "unites" EU

Maria Strömvik of the university of Lund (Sweden) has made a study of the European foreign policy. She investigated the effects of fights with the US, like recently about the Iraw war. On first sight this looked to have a very divisive effect as countries who supported the US fought with countries who opposed it. But - this policologist concludes - in the end it stimulated the EU countries to formulate a common security strategy.

This sound very nice but it reminds me of those politicians who spend half their lives in prison fighting some dictator. When they finally come to power they prove to be just as rude. The dictator was their only role model and now they are doomed to repeat his mistakes.

Similarly the European foreign policy is starting to look more and more like the American. Europe is so focussed on the US that it fails to see that it is giving up its own ideals and interests in the process.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Bosnia's police: how the West sets up a new ethnic conflict

Bosnia is a state that never would have become independent if the case had been considered objectively. Unfortunately international opportunism prevailed and now we are stuck with a mess.
Ever since the Dayton Agreements were signed both the Bosniaks and the international community have tried to undo it. There is a continuous pressure for "reform" and somehow all reform means centralization. After getting the army under central command the pressure is now to achieve the same with the police. The government of the Republika Serbska and the great majority of the population there are against, but this has not stopped the pressure.
The most important pressure comes at the moment from the EU that made police reform a precondition for the signing of a Stabilization and Association Agreement.
The main complaint about the present situation is that criminals can easily cross borders and so evade police prosecution. However, many European countries have a fragmented police and crossing borders is easy between the Schengen states too. Experience learns that after one or a few incidents the police forces involved will work out a work-around. In fact something similar has already happened in the Sarajevo region.
Another complaint is the interference by politicians. But there is no reason to expect that national politicians (read Bosniaks) will be less interfering as their Serb collegues.
A last demand from the EU is that the borders between the police regions should be based on "technical criteria". Somehow this is supposed to mean that those regions will completely ignore the boundery between Bosnia's two entities.
The Serbs certainly have reason to be afraid for the consequences. As a follow up to the recent army reform the central government has proposed to move most of the troups to the Serb and Croat regions where they will function as a kind of occupation army in order to prevent any separatist thoughts.
In the Osman empire the Christians were second rate citizens when it came to justice and protection. Some muslims still dream about regaining their superior position and unfortunately the man who led Bosnia to independence was one of them.
Nowadays you can hear very confident Bosniaks (a.k.a. Muslims) who see it as their birthright to rule Bosnia because they are the biggest ethnic group (43%). It is their idea of democracy that the biggest group should rule. Because the West armed and trained their army after the Dayton agreements they are very confident that they can support their rule with arms if necessary.
If Bosnia is to become a viable democratic state it must be a state where the different groups respect each other. Such respect can only be built from strength. By weakening one party and strengthening another the West is creating a very instable construction.
Sure, Bosnia's ethnic groups lived mixed together without much problems before the war. But by declaring itself independent it created a separation. If the Bosniaks cannot live with the Serbs in Serbia it is an implicit declaration that they cannot live with the Serbs in Bosnia too. This effect might have been mitigated by careful negotions with the local Serbs. But the Bosniaks chose the confrontation and the international community was (and still is) so foolish to support them.
It would be a much better policy to stimulate the two entities to develop themselves. Stop tinkering with the Dayton Agreements - this creates only distrust and is rightly considered as a breach of contract. If there are problems - like at the moment with the police - they can be solved with simple pragmatic solutions.
I see with disgust how the central government and the international community are hampering the economic development of the Serb republic and how the OHR is promissing the Serb population that they will be punished for refusing the police reform. This is the sowing of hatred and distrust - not the confidence building that Bosnia needs.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005


This blog is about that strange institution that is hardly understood: the nation-state. It has been the driving force behind state formation since the 1800s, yet it is seen as archaic in some circles.

A major problem is that our ruling classes (diplomats, politicians and industrialists) live in a multinational world with lot of international contacts. In such an environment it is easy to forget that for the great majority of the population the world looks different. As a consequence the nation-state is often left to the populists - contributing to the bad name of the nation-state.

Most nation-states are about language. In a few cases other factors like race or religion is the discerning factor, but in those cases (like Northern Ireland) there is a history of discrimination.

There are two factors that have made the nation-state a hot topic:
- the government became much more important as an employer and with that ethnic discrimination became a major problem.
- when people worked on the land it didn't matter which language they spoke. But collaboration in big companies and organisations requires that people can understand each other very well. With the increase in office work the problems of a multi-lingual environment have only increased.

In underdeveloped countries like India or Africa you can still find the traditional situation that you could see in Europe too before 1800, with different ethnic groups living mixed. But in the developed world ethnic minorities have become rare. Many are slowly absorbed into the mainstream. In a few cases special minority rights allow two groups to live together, but these rights are hard to get. Cities like London and New York may look very multi-national, but they are basically melting pots.

Have a nice reading!