Monday, December 04, 2006

PfP membership for Serbia will not stop the SRS

Serbia has been allowed to enter the Partnership for Peace, a kind of waiting room for NATO membership. But it gives me rather mized feelings.

On the one hand I am glad that for this recognition that Serbia needs to become more integrated with the rest of Europe and the world. But I am disappointed that the main motive seems to be to diminish the support for the SRS. I believe that this kind of "social engineering" does not work and often backfires.

The Western intervention in former Yugoslavia has a long history of being motivated by how the West can get those people to do what the West wants. On that basis it assigns rewards and punishments that often seem unrelated to what they are supposed to repair. Instead the West should do better to listen more to what the Balkanians really want.

In the case of Serbia this might be more attention for the Kosovo Serbs - instead of the highly formalistic policy of the Contact Group that considers abstract "principles" more important than the fate of Kosovo's Serbs.

In the case of Croatia this might be some monetary support for the return of the Serbs. One of the strongest argument from Croatia's right against assigning houses to returning Serbs is that it means that means that "Serb war criminals" are advantaged above "Croat war veterans". An EU donation to support the building of extra houses with conditions that a part of them should be assigned to Serbs might do a lot to diminish this criticism. It would also bring Croatia closer to the EU.

Just as Hitler's success was based on the injustices of the Versailles Treaty, so the success of the SRS is based on clear injustices towards Serbs. If the West wants to stop the SRS they should solve those injustices, instead of coming with the PfP, that can easily be discarded by the SRS as an empty gesture.

Unfortunately the world react the same as in 1919. Then too many people saw only the destruction in France and Belgium and considered it normal that the Germans should pay for their crimes. Now the same kind of people sees only Srebrenica and the siege of Sarajevo and cannot understand why the Serbs should complain.

People who feel powerless have a tendency to seek refuge in magic thinking. In Hitlers time it made them accept his "dagger-stab legend" and his hatred against Jews. The dogma's of the SRS seem not more coherent.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Centrifugal Europe: example Brtitain

I have previously posted about how the prospect of EU membership was an important factor in the success of the secession movements in the different republics in fromer Yugoslavia. Today an article from the United Kingdom about nationalism there.

In 1999 London gave Scotland and Wales a great deal of autonomy, believing that that would stop nationalism there. It hasn't. Nationalism is as high as ever. And what is new: the English are getting nationalist too. 51% of the Scottish favor independence now, but from the English 59% favor Scottish independence.

One more illustration that "feeding the beast" is not the solution to solve nationalism. It only makes it stronger. Instead one should primarily work on a central state where everyone feels equal. And if one carefully listens the supporters of the nationalist parties have some specific demands (like keeping more money in the province) that can be solved. More power for the regional parliament usually doesn't bother them: it is more a hobby of the nationalist politicians themselves, not their supporters.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Integration and equality

Until not so long ago the "multi-cultural" society was in fashion. But nowadays the pendulum has swung the other way and it is in fashion to talk about integration.

The most famous example of integration is probably the American "melting pot". Its succes is based several factors: It begins that people expect that they will have to integrate some the when the move to the USA. They may spend their lives in mono-ethnic communities, like the Chinatowns, but the expectation is still there for the next generation. It helps also that people in the US are highly mobile, so many people will move at some time in their lives to areas where their ethnic group is rare, so that they have to integrate.

It is also interesting to notice the limits of the integration: blacks don't integrate very well. This has to do with discrimination. Not the official kind of discrimination: there were laws that discriminated the Chinese too at some point, yet it didn't hamper their integration. The real difference is that the discrimination of the blacks is rests on stereotypes that nearly everyone shares to some degree.

The US is not the only country that integrated its minorities well. France is another example. They did it by suppressing local languages, like that Breton and German. Yet it worked: for example the Alsace has within a few generations been converted from German speaking to French speaking and there is hardly a complaint. The secret: a sense of equality. One of the ways to achieve this is an educational system that is based on achievement. Everyone who manages to qualify for one of the "grand écoles" is nearly certain of a nice carreer.

France is not the only country that has integrated minorities well. Another example is Greece, that has been quite successful in integrating its Vlach, Slavic and Albanian minorities. Many of those people now feel primarily Greek. Iran is another country that until now has been quite successful, but it is still in an early stage of integration and things may yet go wrong.

On the other hand you have for example Turkey that never has been able to give its Kurds the impression that are equal. I consider it more or less inivitable that some day they will have to give up on Kurdistan and give it independence. England had a similar experience with Ireland a century ago. They mostly succeeded in imposing their language, but they failed on creating equality.

Kosovo and integration
That brings me back to Kosovo and the position of the Serbs there. Serbs are demanding autonomy, while Albanians are refusing it in the name of "integration".

To quote some fragments from a recent article:

"We never have said that we don't support decentralisation. But we have been reserved and we still are, especially regarding the creation of mono-ethnic municipalities … We want to integrate the communities, and the creation of mono-ethnic municipalities is in opposition to this,"
"The process might have its difficulties. I don't know how it is functional for a village located 1km from the centre to be part of another municipality that is, for example, 20km away,"

As I tried to prove above, the crucial part of integration is equality. Separate living or municipalities are not important. The US had its China towns and its Little Italy's but it never doubted that they would integrate one day. Similarly, seperate municipalities will not stop Serbs from Lipljan or Gracanica to integrate.

On the other hand, the ongoing discrimination will hinder integration. So the top priority of Kosovo's government should be to stop that discrimination. A very important aspect of that discrimination is the lack of safety, that - among others - makes it impossible for Serbs to work their lands. The best way to achieve this is to give the Serbs responsibility for their own safety (= police).

One shouldn't expect wonders of course: integration is slow process that takes generations. But one can expect that once the Serbs feel really safe enough to go back to the cities (meaning that not only they will not beaten up, but also that they can rent a house without having burglaries every month) it will speed up.

The above does not apply to the land north of the Ibar. The vicinity to the Serbia will make that the Serbs there feel less need to integrate with the Albanians south of the Ibar. But one should wonder if one should try. Respecting the present ethnic border is the easiest thing to do. And it would invite Serbia to do the same in Presevo.

On final note on the language. I consider it only logical that Kosovo's Serbs will learn the Albanian language at school. Unfortunately the gap between the Gheg and Tosk dialects is an obstacle. The present situation - where Gheg is the spoken language and Tosk the official language - makes it very difficult to teach Albanian to the Serbs. If you teach them the official language they will not be able to use it on the streets and as a consequnece they will find it difficult to remember. But if you teach them Gheg they will still be isolated from the official world.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

The ICG and the Serb constitution

After the dissolution of the union with Montenegro Serbia inherited the old Yugoslav constitution and so it was a one country federation. So it needed a new constitution that abolished that superfluous layer of goverment. This offered also the opportunity to update the constitution a bit. But as fits constitutions this update was not meant to be controversial - as was shown by its 96% approval rate.

One might qualify the statement that Kosovo is an essential part of Serbia as controversial. But the writers of the constitution had little choice here. Any softness here would have been interpreted as that Serbia has given up on Kosovo and that would have weakened its negotiation position in Vienna.

Yet the International Crisis Group (ICG) and the NGOs that it funds still found it necessary to attack the constitution from all fronts. I have not the impression that this criticism was meant to achieve improvements. Instead the goal of the attacks seems to demonize Serbia. They show much resemblance with an old election tactic: if you throw enough dirt at someone some of it will stick. If you want to read the dirt the ICG is throwing please read here on James Lyon's blog. Allthough some of his minor criticism is valid, the great majority of it consist of putting things out of context.

After the referendum (end october) the ICG continued its offensive with a report "Serbia’s New Constitution: Democracy Going Backwards". As this is a bit late to correct things this can only be classified as destructive criticism: sowing dissent and arousing hatred.

It is not clear what the aim is of this propaganda. Maybe some people at the ICG fear for their jobs now that the organisation is becoming superfluous in Europe?
But I do believe that mr. Soros should do some serious thinking about what he is doing with his money. His stated aim is to promote democracy in the former communist countries, but the organisations that he supports - like the ICG - seem bent on creating havoc instead nowadays.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Scenario's for the future of Kosovo

IWPR has an interesting article by Tim Judah in which he sketches the most probable future of Kosovo.

The scenario is as follows:
- the UN will assign Kosovo some status, but will avoid the word "independent" that would draw vetoes. It will get an international mission that is patterned on that in Bosnia.
- Kosovo's parliament will declare itself independent and some countries will recognize it.
- Kosovo's Serbs will de facto secede.
- Kosovo will end up looking a lot like Bosnia with an international mission trying to weld together two units that don't want to.

I think this is a very probable scenario.

In a Reuters article today the probable recommendations of Ahtisaari about Kosovo's future were summarised as follows "Kosovo get[s] the right to join world bodies normally reserved for sovereign countries. States would be able to recognise it and it could apply for a UN seat.". It differs a bit from Judah's prediction but the outcome is the same.

I just wonder how long the international community will continue with their fruitless efforts. Both Bosnia and Kosovo give the idea of "nation building" a bad name. Sure, you can have several nationalities live together in one state. But only when that state is prepared to treat them as equals...

How Milosevic intervened in Bosnia and Croatia

B92 has recently aired a documentary "The Unit". It tells the story of how Milosevic intervened in Bosnia and Croatia.

It began after the Plitvice Lake incident at the end of march 1991. Here for the first time the Croats for the first time enployed their army against the Krajna Serbs. The battle itself was unconcluded but it was clear that the Krajna Serbs were in the long term not able to resist the Croat army.

So Milosevic - who until then only verbally had supported the Krajna - now felt the need to give some kind of them military support. He had also more opportunistic reasons to do so: on march 9 1991 there had been protests and riots in Belgrade led by Draskovic. Supporting the Krajna was a nice diversion of the attention. The result was the MUP Special Operations Unit (JSO), a.k.a. the Red Berets - the subject of this 3 part tv documentary. The Tigers and the Scorpions were subunits of the Reb Barets.

This unit - that included Franko Simatović-Frenki and Arkan - operated in rather small units of 40-60 soldiers. Their strategy was to go to a place, wreak chaos and train local militia to take it over.

The whole unit was never bigger as 3000 men. The soldiers were on short time contracts - so people who developped some conscience could easily be sent home.

I expect the people at ICTY to watch the documentary with mixed feelings. On the one hand it shows that Milosevic indeed had an active role in the wars in Croatia and Bosnia. On the other hand there is not a trace of "Great Serbia".

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Iraq and Bosnia

Iraq is looking more like a civil war. Recent reports mentioned continuous fighting between Shiites and Sunites for several days in Balad - a city 80 km north of Baghdad. This was the first time that there were protracted battles between those two parties. Before there were only hit and run attacks and bombings.

The fighting continued despite the government sending troops. The problem was that the government troops tended to side with the Shiites. In the end the Americans had to intervene to end the fighting - that had lasted three days by then.

Recently on B92 the American diplomat William Montgomery explained how the American policy towards Bosnia in the 1990-1995 period was shaped by a belief in a central state like in the US (he fails to explain why the US opposed centralizing Yugoslavia). Interestingly this same policy bias can be seen in Iraq.

My advice for Iraq would be:
- reorganise the provinces on an ethnic basis. Do it in such a way that you end up with just as much Shiites in Sunnite controled provinces as opposite.
- Give provinces a strong role in maintaining their own security.

The advantages of this policy would be:
- there is no gain in ethnic violence for any side. Retributions in areas controled by the "others" will cancel out any effect of local violence.
- if Iraq might fall apart you are prepared and have a fair solution.

For this policy to take affect the State Department will probably have to fire their Balkan experts first. People who imposed the recent "police reform" in Bosnia are ultimately uncapable of implementing such a policy.

Iraq recently has adapted a law that foresees a form of decentralisation. It will only take effect in 2008, so it will long before its effect can be evaluated. But it seems to favor the wealthier provinces with income from oil, while it doesn't pay much attention to security. This looks like the situation in Yugoslavia where the US was very understanding towards the economically based seperatism of Croatia and Slovenia while it had a negative view of the security based seperatism of the Kosovo Albanians and the Serbs of Croatia.

The difference seems to be how the leaders dress. Leaders of economic separatists tend to dress very well: they try to reflect the diplomatic respectability of a state. Leaders of security based separatists tend to dress badly: they try to show their struggling followers that they don't misuse the funds that they get from them (remember Churchill). Unfortunately this doesn't sell well with the elitist international diplomats. An interesting illustration was Kosovo. After the UCK somehow got flush in cash in 1998 and got represented by well dressed people like Thaci the diplomats got interested. And even then the diplomats continued to ignore the much more representative but shabby Rugova. To go back to Iraq, the young generation of Kurdish leaders favor "Western-style business suits--expensive labels, at that-".

Unfortunately this diplomatic priority conflicts with the priorities of a country. A country should give priority to providing its citizens with safety. And it should be very carefull with giving in to the greed of its richer provinces. The disastrous outcome in Yugoslavia was no coincidence.

In psychology you have the term "cognitive dissonance". It basically says that when you are doing something against your beliefs your beliefs will change. I believe that is what has happened with many Western "Balkan experts". They had to explain and support a policy that was driven by certain forces who wanted to get rid of Milosevic at any price - because he was a "communist" who resisted IMF "reforms". To explain that to themselved these experts had to tell themselves that Milosevic was really a bad man in terms that they understood (ethnic cleansing; Great Serbia, etc.) and that his opponents were basically good.

This "cognitive dissonance" has not just obscured their vision on the Balkan. It has also obscured the general vision of minority questions and how to solve them. And that is what makes it so difficult for the State Department to have a clear view of the Iraqi problem. A Hindu would call it "bad karma".

Of course Iraq has more problems (militia, Al Qaeda, etc), but the country first needs a sound structure that gives all sides trust that their interests are safe. Without that trust the other problems will stay unsolvable - except through sheer exhaustion. But the US will give up long before exhaustion sets in.

Instead we see now what always has been the curse of the diplomatic world: the trust in individuals. Montgomery with his trust in Izetbegovic and Gligorov is an example for Yugoslavia. I believe that he would have done better to have some good thinking about the best way forwards for Yugoslavia instead of placing all his trust in a few men who were distrusted by many in Yugoslavia.

In Iraq the International Crisis Group recently showed how ridiculous this diplomatic favorite picking can become when they wrote a report describing Muqtada Al-Sadr as a man who might play an important role in the future of Iraq.

Al-Sadr reminds me of Hitler in the 1920s:
- Both are nobodies who through violence got a repuation for "getting things done". In Hitlers case this was against the communists - in Al-Sadrs case against the Sunnites and Baathists. As we all know violence stayed an important part of Hitlers rule until the very end and I have serious doubts whether Al-Sadr will be different. If we give Al-Sadr the chance he will establish a dictatorship that looks a lot like that of Saddam.
- Both operate militias (in Hitlers case the SS and SA), that they only partly control. Newspapers regularly suggest that this is a weakness and that they are about to loose power. The opposite is true: it allows them to enlist fighters who are too independent to operate in rigid organisation. Another advantage of this structure is that it allows them to deny responsibility even for actions that everyone believes they ordered. This makes that the judiciary cannot get hold of them and gives them an aura of invincibility.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Silajdzic' all or nothing game

William Montgomery is a US diplomat who served in Yugoslavia in its final period. Nowadays he regularly writes a column for B92. Often it is not very interesting, but his recent "deje vu" article certainly was. He compares the present situation in Bosnia with that before the war and finds them very similar. But what interested me most was his vision of the breakup of Yugoslavia.

When one reads Montgomery's article the first impression is that he has learned a lot since then. But on closer observation his core beliefs have stayed the same.

It is very interesting to see how he discards Milosevic's efforts to centralize Yugoslavia without much thought. Obviously he disliked Milosevic and he didn't bother to look after the arguments for his policy. Yet at the same time he finds Izetbegovic's longing for a strong central state in Bosnia very understandable. He even compares it to the American melting pot.

It keeps amazing me when I hear politicians talk about splitting up countries as if they talk about clipping nails. In fact splitting up countries is a very sensitive process that should be done very carefully. It can be done: see the breakup of Czechoslovakia. But in Yugoslavia the international politicians have made a mess of it. Breaking up Yugoslavia and expecting that the same ethnic groups can live happy together in a smaller unit is in my eyes stupidity. The hurt of a badly managed break-up makes it harder - not easier - to live together.

Also very interesting is Montgomery's description of a meeting between Eagleburger and Jovic. He tells how Eagleburger gave a typical American blunt speach before the war. One of its elements was that the Serbs had to accept the idea of an independence referendum in Bosnia. Jovic's reaction was to say calmly and matter of factly "If there is a referendum in Bosnia and independence there, there will be war.". Even now Montgomery sees this only as a threat. He simply doesn't get it that it may have been a warning that he was playing with fire.

This brings me to the recent election victory of Silajdzic in Bosnia. This is the man who does not recognize Dayton and who torpedoed Bosnia's new constitution. If major Serb politicians had behaved in a similar way the OHR would have given serious reprimands and threatened with sanctions. But now it stayed quiet. It looks like the internationals have been sent on a guilt trip by Silajdzic and are no longer capable of logical thinking.

Silajdzic likes to repeat that the Republika Srpska is based on ethnic cleansing. He is partially right of course (some parts had already a Serb majority), but the same applies to much of the Federation. Like it or not, but this is the predictable outcome of an ethnic war. The main question is not the guilt question, but the question how we can best go from here.

During the war the Bosniac government liked to maintain the pretense that they were there for all Bosnians - not just the Muslims. It was on this basis that the Serb occupied part of Sarajevo was allocated to the Bosniac government in the Dayton Agreement. They could have proved there that their propaganda was true. But instead we saw a speedy ethnic cleansing of this part of Sarajevo. Muslims constitute now over 90% of the population and minorities are still leaving. And the Bosniac politicians do nothing to stop this. They give only lame excuses about hurt feelings in the war. So we know what will happen if the rest of Bosnia will come under Bosniac rule. I don't think this is what the international community wants.

Silajdzic most fervent followers are Muslims from places like Srebrenica, Banja Luka and Prijedor, that are now in the RS. One can understand their longing to return to a less hostile climate than the present RS. But this should not be a one-sided right. Bosnias Serbs need a place to live too. The Dayton borders were designed so that at least everyone had a home. When returns happen both ways this works. But when it works only one way Bosnia will end with 100% Muslims.

Silajdzic's game is an all or nothing game. If he wins his followers can return to their original homes - very probably ejecting the other inhabitants. But if he does not win he has only made the ethnic tensions worse and a return for his followers more difficult.

So while Silajdzic states that he is for a Bosnia without borders and ethnic differences he is in fact for a Bosnia where one ethnic group is allowed to dominate.

Silajdzic's great example is Croatia. The Croats largely got away with cleansing most of their Serbs. The EU and the US could have set Croatia strong targets regarding the number of returning Serbs. Instead they prefer trophy hunting and going after people like Gotovina. I think this is the wrong priority. Restauration of the damage of the war is more important than getting some people behind bars.

It is claimed that tribunals like ICTY can prevent future conflicts from getting so cruel. But I believe that in every conflict every party has its war crimes. And in the climate of a war getting things done is more important than playing by the rules - so they often remain unpunished. In the court room this is played out by pointing to the delicate position of the party that committed the war crimes. And so it comes down to the question whether a party waged a justified war - a question the ICTY is not qualified to answer and which it doesn't try to investigate thoroughly either. The most obvious example is the case of Nasir Oric. As the main militia commander of Srebrenica he was involved in the murder of hundreds of unarmed Serb civilians. Yet in the end he got away with a 2 year verdict. In his defense the court gave a lot of attention to the delicate position of Srebrenica at that time (a besieged and hungry city on the brink of collapse).

The Serbs, Croats and Muslims all managed to get the areas that they control ethnically cleansed. For all three there are strong indications that this was no coincidence - but a well planned policy. All three had a different kind of policy to achieve this. The Croats in Croatia and Muslims in Bosnia relied more on their control of the state to create a unbearable climate for minorities, while the Croats in Bosnia and the Serbs needed violence to create an area under their control first. I believe this is the big picture and this should be the main focus of our attention - not individual war crimes.

Brcko is an example how Bosnia could be. No ethnic group is really dominant and the international comunity keeps a close watch to keep it this way. Similarly all the peace proposals before and during the Bosnian War foresaw territories where one or the other ethnic group dominated.

The heart of democracy is not elections. It is that all men are equal (before the law and before the government). It seems that for mr. Silajdzic democracy means that the Muslims may dominate the Serbs and the Croats because they are with more. But this is not democracy. It is something that is often nichnamed as "the dictatorship of the majority" and it is usually compensated for with special autonomy.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Macedonia: the next step towards separation

Not everyone was enthousiastic about the Ohrid Agreement. It included a municipal reorganisation that merged many Macedonian in West Macedonia into larger municipalities with an Albanian majority. This way it created a nearly homogenous Albanian-ruled block in West-Macedonia: an easy starting point for further separation.

The official justification for this reorganisation was rather weak. It would give the poor Albanian villages access to the richer services of the Macedonian cities. That argument would have held 10 years before when the Albanians were discriminated against and much poorer as the Macedonians. But at the time of the Ohrid Framework the government sector of the economy had imploded, leaving many Macedonians unemployed. In the mean time many Albanians had found work as emigrants and in the shadow economy. So now the income gap has closed and Albanians may even be richer. This made the official argument for the Ohrid municipal reorganisation rather dubious and gave the impression of hidden intentions.

Don't get me wrong. I am not against Ohrid. It has created more equality between Macedonians and Albanians and stabilized the country. But one shouldn't ignore that it also made a future separation much easier.

In the july 2006 elections the social-democrats lost and the right wing VMRO-DPMNE became the new king maker. It formed a coalition that included from the Albanian side the DPA that got 11 seats. The larger DUI/PDP that got 17 seats was not included.

Since then the DUI has been on a war path. They simply can not accept that they - as the largest Albanian party - have been excluded from the government. First they threatened with war, but after international reprimands they withdrew that. But the more recent threats by DUI leader Buxhaku to severe the contact between the Albanian-ruled municipalities and the Gruevski government because "his government doesn't represent the majority of Albanians and can not function in whole territory of Macedonia.". This would be one step closer to a complete separation. Yet it didn't get not such an international rejection.

One gets more and more the impression that the internationals have chosen the side of the DUI. One starts reading about NATO and EU reprimands that Macedonia should do more to implement Ohrid - while not reprimanding the DUI. Newsreports start describing the VMRO-DPMNE as "nationalist".

I believe the DUI is wrong. They were part of a coalition and that coalition has been rejected by the voters. The fact that they did not lose among the Albanian voters does not diminish the fact that they were responsible for a policy that was rejected by the majority of all voters. It should remind them that they are not only in the government to promote the interests of a part of the Albanians, but also to promote the interest of the country as a whole.

90 years ago Edith Durham wrote already about the inability of Westerners to stay neutral when they come to the Balkan and their tendency to become ardent supporters of one side. Today nothing seems to have changed. The diplomats who "befriended" the DUI leaders a few years ago now seems incapapble to understand that it is time to be strict with their friends. Their behaviour endangers the future of Macedonia.

I know that the VMRO-DPMNE has a nationalist past - as has the DUI. But I believe that a government should be evaluated on its actions - not on the past of its parties. And it is the behaviour of the DUI that is by far the most outrageous at the moment. Yet I still have to hear to the first diplomat explain the DUI in public why they should accept their role in the opposition.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Mitrovica: it is time to stop procrastinating

At the end of the Kosovo war many Serbs had to fly. The purges were worst in the cities. Except for Mitrovica none of the larger cities in Kosovo has more than a few hundred Serbs left. The remaining Serbs are concentrated in Serb majority villages and the North of Kosovo.

Since then not much has improved. The killings have stopped. But low level violence (throwing rocks at cars, beating people up, systhematic thefts, etc.) still continue. The situation is bad enough that many people don't venture outside their villages and don't dare to work their land. As the Kai Eide report highlighted: the situation is bad enough that Serbs keep leaving. And many more plan to leave once Kosovo becomes independent.

Kosovo's Serbs are perfectly aware that many of Kosovo's Albanians believe that the departure of all of them would be a very good thing. They believe that that will stop all Serb claims on Kosovo territory. I think this Albanian attitude is rather naive: patent injustice may fire nationalist sentiments for a long time to come. For that reason I believe it is essential to get a reasonable solution for Kosovo.

The level of violence in Kosovo is rather low at the moment. But that is mainly because it suits the Albanian side to give the internationals a moderate impression. The march 2004 riots showed that there are still large numbers of Albanians who are prepared to violence against Kosovo's Serbs. Even more significant was that hardly any Albanian condemned the attacks, including the politicians. This showed itself also in the aftermath of the attacks: under international pressure there were an official investigation and criminal prosecutions. But the investigation went nowhere and the criminal prosecutions ended in a few low sentences.

The Serbs know what independence will bring them. Still less protection against aggression and still more discrimination. The proposed privatisation of the Brezovica ski resort is good example. Everyone knows that in the present uncertain circumstances no Serb will invest in them. So the new owner will be Albanian - probably supported by some international consortium. And as Albanian employers tend to discriminate against Serbs it can be expected that soon the majority of the employees will be Albanians instead of Serbs as is now the case.

Another politically correct excuse for making life hard for Kosovo's Serbs is "integration", like proposals to make Northern Mitrovica a showcase for integration by establishing there new institutions. This means that the area will be flooded with Albanians. As many Serbs still don't feel safe in mixed environments the expectable outcome is a flight of the Serbs - what is very probably the real purpose of the proposers.

So it can be expected that half of the remaining Serbs will flee immediately after independence. And that a continuing hostile climate will soon induce most of the other half to leave too. These circumstances give the negotiations in Vienna a surreal character. All the proposed minority rights will do nothing to change the hostile environment. It reminds me of a prisoner convicted to death who may choose his last meal.

Yet there is one thing that could change the whole situation. It is the split of Mitrovica and the allocation of a special autonomy to the area north of the Ibar. Such autonomy should make sure that the area can resist efforts to Albanisation from Pristina. By allowing such autonomy the Kosovo government would make clear that it is prepared to accept a multi-ethnic Kosovo for the long term.

I believe that this reorganisation should have been introduced several years ago - as soon as was clear how problematic the return of refugees was - specially to the larger cities. It has been proposed many times - most recently in the American "South Tirol" proposal (South Tirol got its autonomy after it protested against an Italianisation policy). However, due to Albanian resistence it has never been implemented.

The uncertainty that is the consequence this non-implementation are clear to everyone. Kosovo's Serbs don't invest in their properties - even north of the Ibar - and enterprising people leave. This comes down to soft ethnic cleansing - with the UN as an accomplice.

Starting the negotiations without this issue being solved was a mistake. This should not be a matter of negotiations but a precondition.

I don't know what moves Belgrade to want to postpone the subject of Mitrovica until the end-negotiations. However, it is clear that making such an essential issue a part of the negotiations puts Belgrade in an awkward position. By agreeing on any solution for Mitrovica they would throw it away as a subject for further negotiations. But on the other hand they want to keep their options open so that they can demand border changes or more far-going autonomy as a price for independence. But this is an all-or-nothing strategy that may fail. And it means giving up on the Serbs south of the Ibar. In this light it is not surprising that Kosovo's Serbs have walked out of the negotiations.

But the main blame for this awkward situation should go to the international community for creating a situation where basic human rights are the subject of negotiations.

I find the recent recommendations from the Contact Group not encouraging. Their talk about "rights to all citizens" seems to imply equal treatment for Serbs and Albanians and to deny this area recognition as a special - Serb majority - case. However, all Western countries with several equal langauges have language borders, and I believe that Kosovo needs one too - that designates the north as Serb speaking with minority rights for the Albanian speakers. The promise of the Contact Group that the international community will stay engaged is not encouraging either: it implies an instable situation without the hard guarantees that real autonomy would offer.

Several objections have been raised against granting the North autonomy:

- "it will leave the Serbs south of the Ibar in the cold": Actually it will strengthen their position. It will covince them that the Albanians are really prepared to live with the Serbs. It will also guarantee them that they will have a Serb city with urban services closeby for a long time.

- "it will reward ethnic cleansing": you may call it the lesser evil. I think it is a necessary step to prevent the cleansing of all Serbs to succeed.

- "the Albanians in Macedonia will demand the same rights": I am sure they will. In fact they do already occasionally - this will be just one more argument. The rashed independence of Yugoslavia's republics has left us with weak countries with which the minorities don't identify. It will take endless negotiations and perseverance to make those states succeed.

The long term
The modern society is not very suitable for living as an ethnic minority. So I expect that even in the best circumstances the size of the Serb community south of the Ibar will continue to decrease... Until at the end only the monastries with some small surrounding communities stay, serving as a tourist attraction that brings Kosovo much money. But under good circumstances this process may take centuries. Only Strpce seems to have a chance to survive as a Serb community. It is the largest remaining Serb settlement south of the Ibar and it lies rather isolated in the mountains. Kosovo's Serbs would like it to have similar autonomy as the North.

Living together
I believe that a democratic society should be based on equality. Unfortunately Kosovo has not known equality for centuries. Always either the Serbs or the Albanians dominated. The present situation is not different: the Serbs are completely at the mercy of the Albanians with the UN in between as a weak buffer. And this mercy is not great: discrimination is widespread. Under these circumstances any minority in a Western country would press for strengthening their position just as the Serbs now do.

Of course there are Serb extremists who believe that one of the two has to dominate and who believe that it should be them. But I believe that it would be a big mistake to discard because of them the justified desire of other Serbs to be treated as equals.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Montenegro's referendum: an evaluation

So Montenegro is independent now. I wish them good luck.

As I wrote in a previous post, secessions are not good for ethnic relations. In its june 23 edition IWPR described how the relations between Serbs on one side and Muslims and Albanians on the other had worsened due to referendum. It describes Serbs refusing to visit a Muslim café any longer, Muslims reproaching the Serbs for getting the best jobs, yet voting "against their country" and a Serb village planning to leave Montengro after hearing their neighbours celebrate the independence with cries like "Montenegro, my dear mother, we will slay the Serbs tonight", "Hang Serbs" and "Traitors, go to Serbia".

In a more recent edition IWPR describes how ethnicity will be much more important in the next elections (september 10) than in the past. Bosnians and Albanians are disappointed that promises about ethnic municipalities have not been kept and the Constitutional Court has annulled part of the Minority Rights Act. And the main Serb party has strengthened because of its anti-independence position.

As on of the articles concludes: some of this sentiment may be temporary and calm down gradually. It may. But people will not easily forget the hard words that have been said.

Of course the Muslims and Albanians have a somewhat inferior position. But I don't believe in revolutionary changes to solve that. Instead of solving problems they tend to make them worse - with people just exchanging the dominant and inferior position.

This brings me to the conditions under which the referendum was held. I think that the adversaries were right: the verdict of the Venice Commission that gave emigrated Montenegrans voting rights while denying the same right to those living in Serbia was unfair. In the ideal situation one should be able to measure how much the immigrants were still attached to Montenegro and only give them voting right when they were enough attached. The number of years that they had lived outside Montenegro might be a good criterion. It might also be reasonable to exclude people who had acquired a foreign nationality. However, the right to vote elsewhere was not a good criterium. It required considerable effort to get voting rights outside Serbia-Montengro, while in Serbia is was automatically. In addition: voting rights in Serbia should be considered as voting rights on the provincial level - not so different from voting rights on the local level that the immigrants in many European countries did have.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Vienna: real negotiations or another Rambouillet?

Since the negotiations on the future of Kosovo have started there have been two currents: one current sees it as real negotiations; the other believes that independence is inevitable and considers the negotiations just some formality before independence can be imposed.

Specially on the American side one can see the latter attitude. The two sides will never agree on the future of Kosovo, so these negotiations are pointless is the reasoning. And so it is inevitable that in the end the international community will have to impose a solution. And so one hears diplomats talking about the end of the year as a deadline. If there is no agreement by then a solution will have to be imposed.

In practice this functions as an encouragement for all three sides to stall the negotiations. For the Albanians it is clear: why should they do concessions when they will get souvereignity (and a much stronger negotiation position) in the end anyway. On the Serb side few politicians will risk making consessions when in the end they will be "rewarded" with an imposed solution. But probably worst is that even on the international side there seems to be little motivation to make the negotiations a success.

For most negotiations it doesn't make a difference whether Kosovo becomes independent or not. If it does not become independent it will be a province with a high degree of self-governance and so the issues of property and minority rights will be the same. In my opinion it is very important that the international community takes an active role in these negotiations. Here there are many issues that some good international negotiator with moral authority could solve in a way that is acceptable to both sides. It is here that even some imposed partial solutions for small problems might have good results.

As for the status: it doesn't take rocket science to understand that no Serb government is going to accept Kosovo's independence if it means that immediately most of Kosovo's Serbs will leave for Serbia. So - allthough I am in favor of independence - it does not astonish or bother me that Serbia only offers autonomy. It just means that the Albanian side will have to stop hiding behind legalistic barriers. As the proverb says: the proof of the pudding is in the eating. Only when most of Kosovo's Serbs want to stay their position is really adequately protected in an independent Kosovo.

Negotiations will about status will be a lot easier when other stumbling blocks have been removed. For Albanians autonomy will become less unacceptable once Serbia is no longer seen as blocking Kosovo's economic progress. And Serbs will be more prone to accept independence once minority rights function well.

Ahtisaari has been an expert in doing the wrong things as a negotiator. He is hardly involved in real negotiations. Instead he speculates about what should happen if the negotiations fail and wants to talk about the status resolution at a moment that the other problems are far from solved (as aI demonstrated above such talks are doomed to fail). I think Ahtisaari is a very good demonstration of why I am against further European centralisation: it is too far from the citizens and so the powers ends often up in the hands of the lobbies - just like in the US. Ahtisaari was formerly involved with the ICG - a lobby group that pleads for Kosovo's independence.

I see some flexibility on both sides and I believe that a real solution for Kosovo is possible. Some real international involvement might help a lot by encouraging both sides to accept reasonable solutions. But there is a danger that the negotiations will end up as a similar farce as the Rambouillet negotiations in 1999 - that served to justify starting the Kosovo war. Statements of Burns and others about deadlines and an imposed "solution" if this deadline is not met piont in that direction. The low level of international commitment to the ongoing negotiations makes this scenario even more credible.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Castro, Milosevic and Lukashenko

Today some musings about three leaders that are not very popular in the Western world and that have been the target of consistent international efforts to bring them down - mostly without effect. Only Milosevic was brought down in the end.

Let's face the similarities:

  • all are very effective leaders, who get the trains running on time and also achieve a lot of other things.
  • all three pursue(d) a policy that is quite popular in their country. Castro's revolution, Milosevic's nationalism and Lukashenko's go-slow reforms all are/were directed at serious problems. Their self-image seems to be that they are working for a good cause.
  • all three are the target of heavy western criticism. However, this criticism is often insincere. While Castro's and Lukashenko's human rights and economic performance are the main targets, the real criticism is their economic policy. And while Milosevic's nationalism was criticised, that of his neighbours was seen with a more benevolent eye - as it favored the Western policy to break up Yugoslavia.
  • all three understand very well how to stay in power. In the course of time they develop dictatorial traits. They emprison people and are occasionally involved in political murder.
  • Western policy consists of sanctions that are aimed to empoverish the country.
  • Experience learns that ousting the dictator (Yanukovich, Milosevic) doesn't make their policies disappear. Both the Ukrain and Serbia still face the same kind of issues and offer to a large extent the same answers.

The whole smells for me like old fashioned power politics. China did follow a similar independent policy with good results. But they are big and can affor to ignore the West. Unfortunately small countries get badgered. The West simply isn't prepared to allow independent politics.

Western support for the opposition has an adverse effect. By favoring those politicians who oppose the popular policy it makes life difficult for opposition leaders who support it and it gives the dictatorial leader the chance to wrap himself in the flag of this popular policy. And so we that people like Milosevic after more than 10 years in power still got nearly 50% at the polls. This is a very impressive result - in most countries politicians last only one or two terms.

Economic sanctions have similar negative effects. Both Milosevic and Saddam used sanctions to enrich their environment and strengthen their grip on power. That now economic sanctions have been announced against Belarus looks to me like a stupid move.

The magic of the CIA-backed "revolutions" in Serbia, Georgia and the Ukrain seems to have finished working. By now every dictator recognizes the mechanism and knows how to stop it before it gets dangerous. And so we are back to the old-fashioned way of dictator fighting from the "bomb them to the stone age" of the Kosovo War to the economic sanctions that have targetted Cuba for decades.

There was a time when foreign support for political parties was frowned uppon. It distorts the political landscape and destabilises a country. It still amazes me that Western leaders have to such an extent embrazed such a dubious policy. Their belief that they can't do wrong because they fight for the right cause sound to me like hubris.

Semi-dictatorships like Milosevic's tend develop along a certain path. Just as with every politician they wear out. Their good ideas are implemented and become mainstream while their weaknesses become more and more apparent. The Western intervention however makes that the original idea keeps its appeal. The US will never get on with Cuba as long as they attack his whole model including successes like health care. No Western politician will attack the welfare state - even if they personally hate it - but when it comes to international politics this feeling for the attainable seems to get lost.

The continuing attacks on the basic policy also make it harder for these semi-dictators to move on. It is believed that acknowledging the points where they are right will strengthen their position. But in fact the opposite is true. The criticism makes them feel that they are needed and that their achievements might be endangered once they leave. It gives them even some justification for human rights violations.

Politicians seldom get much rewards for what they have done. Instead the voters look to what they can do in the future. The most famous example of this is probably Churchill who lost the elections just when he had won the war. What politicians can achieve is establishing their credentials. Hitler's successful occupation of the Rhineland for example only gave him only a short during popularity. However, it established his authority as an expert versus the military. But this was only relevant because the military at that time was the factor in the country that still could challenge his authority.

This explains why some of the western policies versus Milosevic were failures. The exodus of Serbs from Croatia and Kosovo for example was greated by quite a few Western leaders with a self-satisfied "that will teach them". In fact it teached Serbia's voters that Milosevic was right: the Serbs in the new republics were indeed endangered. A policy aimed at solving those questions in a decent way would have worked much better: it would have confronted Milosevic with the question about his achievements in other areas - mostly the economy.

Similarly it explains why Western support for Serbia's opposition was such a failure. As it was widely believed that the Serbs were endangered most opposition leaders followed the same line. Western support for the few politicians who thought different only divided the opposition.

Pinochet is a good example of the better strategy. He was prepared to step down after he was given some guarantees that his policies would be continued.

I would like to see a policy that gives countries more freedom to pursue their own policies. Dictators should be harassed - but only for what they do wrong - not for what they just do different. A dialogue should begin with recognising what those dictators do right. That gives us moral power to critisise them for what they do wrong (human rights - corruption).

Saturday, June 17, 2006

The myth of peacefull separation

Once international law on borders was simple: borders were sacred and inside those borders a state had full authority. Separatists were completely dependent on the goodwill of the mother country. It was sometimes (Biafra, Kurdistan, Eritrea) rude, but everyone knew what to expect. And the net effect was a rather peacefull world.

However, it was not perfect and so the pressure for something better remained. We had allowed the colonies to become independent, so why shouldn't we allow minorities who had been colonized by neighbouring countries to become independent? This was the right of "self determination" too.

An important argument to be soft on seperatists is that Western countries have been quite successfull in pacifying separatists by giving them more autonomy. So seperatism is seen as something that stimulates countries to pay attention to minority rights.

Unfortunately this ignores that the Western situation is a very special situation:

The principle in the West is still the inviolability of borders
In the West the idea of the inviolability of borders is still quite strong. So all parties negotiate under the conviction that there is no alternative. This helps very much in finding a solution that is agreeable for all.

When secession becomes a real possibility everything changes. Look at the negotiations in Kosovo where virtually no progress has been possible even on simple things because the Albanians don't want to do anything that might endanger independence (and the Serbs anything that furthers it). Sensible proposals are so defeated because they might mean some implicit recognition. Recently in Bosnia Muslim extremists rejected a new constitution because it would mean recognising the Dayton agreement - that they reject.

Yugoslav politics between 1981 and 1989 was largely paralized because several republics aimed for independence and didn't want to do anything that might strengthen the federal state.

Secession is a zero-sum game: if one side wins the other looses. And because the stakes can be so high and the step is more or less irreversible both sides will defend their position fiercely.

Even in democratic Quebec one can hear irreconcilable language. The separatist claim that "50% plus 1" is enough while the government wants a higher threshold (without specifying it). One wonders what will happen when other issues have to be solved.

Separatists is seldom about ethnic things first
When 90% of the Ukrainians voted for independence in 1990 it was mainly a vote against communism and the unpopular Gorbachov.

Similarly the independence referendums in former Yugoslavia were mainly a vote against communism. In this case the economic motive was even stronger as the EU promissed membership and the US economic aid. Yet at the same time Yugoslavia as a country was still very popular among the population. If the EU and the US had pushed for national elections and reforms on that level Yugoslavia might very well have been saved.

Separatists are often from rich provinces, who believe that they will be better of without the motherland. In the West this has been (partially) neutralized by giving economic autonomy. The premature independence of its republics made that impossible in Yugoslavia.

As Clinton said: it's the economy, stupid!

Sometimes you see arguments that are neither economic nor ethnic. At the Bosnia independence referendum the Croats voted en masse for independence. At that time it felt in logical in view of the war that was going on between Serbs and Croats in Croatia. But now some of them probably regret it.

Poor countries are seldom perfect democracies
Democracy supposes a certain level of wealth. People should be able to buy newspapers, to understand other languages good enough to see what happens outside the country and to travel around to see what happens elsewhere. In poor region without such preconditions it is the local elite that determines what people believe and how they vote.

Kosovo's separatism was long fed by the belief that everything was be better in Albania. When finally many people came in Albania in 1999 it was a shock for them to discover that it was Europe's poorest country. But the myth just shifted: after 1999 one saw instead the belief that Kosovo's mineral wealth was enough to make it a rich country.

Another example is Montenegro. In 1992 the elite was in favor of a union and in an independence referendum 95% voted to stay inside Yugoslavia. In 2006 the elite had changed its mind and 55.5% was in favor of independence.

Secessionists are often extremists
Separatists tend to be political extremists. Many had suffered for a long time in the political margin for their extreme ideas before the political winds blew their way.

Separatism is also often connected with non-democratic organisations. Croatia became a semi-fascist state under Tudjman, where dissent was suppressed and militias intimidated the governments afversaries. The ETA in democratic Spain is a very similar organisation. In Kosovo too the margins for free thinking are quite narrow.

Secession very often induces discminination
Just being greedy doesn't sound good as a motive and so we see the need for a more ideological explanation. This is always something that explains that "we are different" and such it often comes quite close to rascism. Slovenia "erased" many of the migrants from the rest of Yugoslavia. Croatia maltreated its Serbs. Macedonia initialy ignored its Albanians. Bosnia even now treats its Croats and Serbs as second rate citizens. Many of the former Sovjet Unions Asian republics now have a steady outflow of Russians - partially motivated by rascism. And so one can go on.

There is also the problem of the cost of the separation. Allthough secession may be profitable in the long turn it can have a heavy price in the short turn (administrative reorganisation, economic stagnation, war) and voters don't like that. So the nationalist government will be tempted to let the minorities pay the bill.

Given this mechanism that I believe we should be very careful in giving some area independence because a government is repressive. Very probably the government of the new separatist state will be worse.

Etnnic cleansing has many stages
When Quebec had its first wave of nationalism many companies and people left Montreal for the English speaking parts of Canada. The lost the independence referendum. But when they had won they would very probably have introduced more maws that made life uneasy of English speakers. And as a consequence more people would have left. Would this be ethnic cleansing?

In former Yugoslavia too one saw around 1990 the introduction of laws that were meant to induce the minorities to emigrate, specially in Croatia and Kosovo. These laws were much harsher as in Quebec and they robbed the minorities of their job.

Legal discrimination is often accompanied by illegal discrimination and other forms of harassment. It legalises not only those specific actions but also changes the climate to something where discrimination is acceptable.

In former Yugoslavia one could see all the steps from simple harrassment up to mass murder. I believe that the international community should have intervened when it was still in the phase of discrimination. Now they only got awake when people were being killed. And even then they were to much consumed by the power game (in which they were involved) to see the humanitarian fundamentals.

The supremity of the state
In 1991 the Soviet Union send in its army into the Baltics who claimed independence. In Lithuania and Latvia there was some resistance but given the overwhelming force this was mainly token. I believe that this is exactly what saved the Baltics from worse. The primacy of the state was maintained and so the dispute was forced into the political realm.

Compare this to Slovenia that attacked the Yugoslav troops, who had as orders to restore order without violence. In Slovenia the consequences were rather restricted. But in Croatia the concept that everybody with a gun can declare himself independent and shoot at those who don't accept that proved disastrous.

The same now applies to Kosovo. In my eyes the obvious solution would be to press Serbia to give Kosovo independence - under Serbia's conditions. This very probably would include border changes. The present idea of negotiations between equals is in my opinion a mistake. Serbia holds the key (souvereignity and the power to give or withhold independence) and that should be recognized.

The Yugoslav constitution contained the right to secede. However, I believe that the souvereignity of a state is absolute. When a memberstate seceded it would still be an internal affair and it would be up to the Yugoslav government to decide whether the conditions for independence had been met. And in this they might include the consideration that the constitution was meant as communist rethoric, not as actual rights.

The consideration of the Badinter Commission that Yugoslavia was a state in dissolution I also consider false. Sure, some states wanted to secede and the Presidium was paralised. But the fact that it was a dictatorship with a temporary power vacuum doesn't mean that it was in dissolution. Many elements of the federal state still worked - including the army. It is conspicuous that no Western leader has dared to declare Somalia a "state in dissolution" and recognize Puntland. The arguments there would be much stronger.

The course of action I propose might have left Milosevic with more power. But that is a different problem. I may come back on that in another blog post.

Monday, June 12, 2006

The emptiness of trophy hunting

With the fall of Mogadishu in Somalia to Islamic militias, a heated discussion has started about the role of the CIA in Somalia. The CIA is believed to have supported the war lords with lots of money. The goal was to get their help in finding Al Qaeda fugitives and (to a lesser extent) to strengthen their position versus the Islamic militias. However, it would have alarmed and united the Islamic militias, resulting in the fall of Mogadishu. The main criticism is that the CIA had only short term goals and no longterm strategy.

So far the summary of this NY Times article.

This reminds me very much of the Balkan. Here we have trophies like Milosevic, Mladic, Karadzic and Gotovina that have all the attention of the US and Europe. And here too a larger strategy seems to be lacking.

Trophies are empty victories. In fact nothing changes. And so after one trophy has been catched the focus immediately shifts to the next. Once it was believed that if only Milosevic was in The Hague everything would be over. But then the focus shifted to Mladic and Karadzic. And only the naive believe that when they have been caught we won't hear about some new "indicted war criminals" who absolutely have to be arrested.

The trophy hunting for Milosevic didn't stop after he was arrested. Next we saw a prosecution that tried to make its trophy as big as possible by overcharging. In the end they never got beyond circumstantial evidence and even there their performance was stained by many unreliable witnesses. No wonder many observers found Milosevic the most rational and credible man in the courtroom.

It leaves one wondering what would have happened if Milosevic had stayed in Belgrade. Very probably he would now be in jail for some political murder or corruption. But even when he was still politically active he would have been put in a political straightjacket just like Meciar in Slovakia.

A similar case applies to Mladic and Karadzic. Getting them in The Hague will be satisfying for their victims. But it is very doubtful whether it will deliver political results. From the political point of view it is irrelevant whether they are in some remote refuge in Bosnia, Serbia or Montenegro or in a jail in The Hague. They will land in jail sooner or later and until that they will be largely polical irrelevant. It is just a waste to spend lots of political energy on them.

Kosovo's Albanian war criminals are very interesting in this respect because here the international community has adopted a more pragmatic approach. Of course it helps that there is less media attention and as a consequence less trophy value in those people.

There is an age-old strategy to deal with popular extremist groups: fight them, but also listen to them and pick up their valid points so that they will loose appeal. Unfortunately the Western trophy hunters do exactly the opposite: their focus on their trophy is so strong that they identify the whole nationality with the trophy. This has as effect that the local people (just as everywhere else mostly innocent people) start to odentify with the war criminals and to believe that they can't be that bad.

In my opinion we should stop trophy hunting and instead concentrate on creating a stable situation. As for the war criminals: indict them, arrest them when possible and for the rest ignore them. They are politically irrelevant.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Jessen-Petersen still can't get it right

It is going well in Kosovo. At least that is what UNMIK chief Søren Jessen-Petersen tells us. Only 19 potentially ethnically motivated crimes in the first quarter of 2006. And as only in 12 cases the victims were Serbs, the Serbs seem even overrepresented as aggressors.

Yet there is something fishy about those figures. The official statement mentions also that the police has an operation "Stringent Security" aimed at improving the security of the minorities and that this has led to 1735 people being arrested. There are no further details but it certainly looks as if there is more wrong than those 12 cases.

Many Serbs are still afraid to work on their lands, returns are still low and Serbs are still leaving Kosovo. To blame this all on propaganda from Belgrade seems just cheap to me.

Just today HRW published a report Not on the Agenda that discusses the failure to bring people to court after the march 2004 riots. Work to do for the SRSG...

Jessen-Petersen has all rights to be proud of his achievements. But he should give a honest description of the present situation and not hide the remaining problems under vague generalities. By being honest he will give both sides homework to do and he will build trust that there is progress towards some common future.

What mr. Jessen-Petersen is doing now is just making propaganda aimed at promoting the independence of Kosovo in the Western world. Inside Kosovo it will have only negative effects. The Albanians become complacent that everything is right and they don't have to do any more. And the Serbs (and some other minorities) loose the trust that he is really working to guarantee a position for them in a future Kosovo.

Mr. Jessen-Petersen has been appointed to take care that Kosovo is governed in an acceptable way. Instead he is working as a goodwill ambassador for the Kosovo government. In a case like this he is doing so to such an extent that it is detrimental to his real job.

Unfortunately he is stepping in a long tradition at the UN and UNMIK. Many UN diplomats prefer not to rock the boat. They will leave in one or two years anyway. By ignoring problems they don't get associated with them and they don't risk making errors. Unfortunately that leaves it to outsiders like Kai Eide to formulate the problems.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

The lessons from Bosnia's reform debacle

It was a big disappointment for many Western leaders. American diplomats and the European Venice Commission had put a lot of effort in uniting the Bosnian political parties. And then rejection by radical parties on all sides made it miss the quorum.

Some commentators are nostalgic for Ashdown who would have pushed the Bosnians until they did what he wanted. But others note that any reform will only work if the people really want it.

Some arguments for reform are valid: Bosnia needs for example a ministry of Agriculture if it wants to receive EU subsidies. But I find the argument about too many officials always a bit risky: there are more reasons for that than Dayton.

But changing a constitution is a dangerous process. It provokes radicals from all sides who believe that the fight for control is open again. And so we see Serb radicals who want to block every centralisation and Bosniac radicals who see their chance to attack the RS.

The Bosniac argument is rather tricky. They deny the legality of the Dayton agreements as a constitution for Bosnia because it didn't follow all the procedures for constitutional change. And they see the reform as some cosmetic improvements that would force them to accept something very similar to Dayton - including the hated Republika Srpska. By rejecting Dayton they reject the very basis for a dialogue. They know that a second and a third phase of reform are planned but they don't trust that it will really happen.

Bosnia's independence was not a product of Bosnian nationalism but a product of Muslim nationalism. It's core document was the Islamic Declaration by Izetbegovic that promoted the traditional Muslim beliefs about Islamic states. And allthough it didn't stress that point most Bosnians knows their Ottoman history and are well aware of the inferior "dhimmi" status of the Christians in that period.

It is not that Bosnia was in danger of becoming fundamentalist. The secular tradition is strong enough. But the document provided an ideological basis for Bosnia's Muslim elite to aim for independence.

The danger is for the other ethnic groups to become second rate citizens who are discriminated against on the labor market and elsewhere. A Croatian party that voted against the reform mentioned discrimination as their main reason.

It is very seductive for a nationalist party that gains control and independence to follow a policy that pushes the other ethnic groups out. Croatia could not resist this tendency: that was a major reason for its war. In Bosnia with its bloody past one sees tendencies to follow a similar path.

Dayton was meant to be a guarantee against such discrimination. The entities as a territorial solution it is a clumsy solution for a mixed population. But for the moment it is the best there is. The canton model as proposed before the war already looks a lot better. So it would be logical to decentralise to the district level so that the entities become more or less superfluous.

The road from here seems clear to me. Each of the ethnic groups should work on improving the situation in the territory under their control. And as that procedes trust will increase and the ethnic borders become less important. The question is whether all groups want to do this.

As I argued before in a previous post, the basis for minority rights is respect. That is the reason why discriminated minorities want their own institutions. Even if these institutions are inefficient and corrupt they form a better basis for emancipation than plain integration. There is a lot of conflict between those institutions. But I think that we should see those conflicts are a reflection of the general distrust between the communities. So the solution is not to impose a unitary structure where one side has all the power, but a tedious process of dialogue where the differences are worked out into a solution that is acceptable for all.

In the beginning the Serbs were the most recalcitrant. But more and more the Muslims are taking over. We see a continuing propaganda that tries to assign a kind of collective guilt to the Serbs and the Croats. The does not bode well for the future. You cannot have a fruitful dialogue when you use the word "genocide" in every other sentence.

There was a war and many Serbs and Croats committed war crimes. But Bosniacs committed war crimes too. And from all populations most people are innocent.

In my opinion the West should give the Bosniacs an ultimatum: if they don't stop this propaganda and don't accept the Serbs and Croats as equal citizens there is no common future for Bosnia and the West will support partition. It is impossible to have a real democracy where half the population consists of second class citizens.

At the moment there is still some ethnic balance in Bosnia. But the Muslim population is growing faster than the others. And discrimination and propaganda is driving Croats and Serbs away. Some publications already estimate the Muslims above 50%. The CIA World Fact Book has an estimate of 48%. Whatever the real figure, it is clear that guarantees for the Serbs and Croats will become even more important in the future.

It is also interesting to note that opinion polls show that the Bosniac population generally supports the reforms while the Serbs and Croats have more reservations. Yet with the politicians it was exactly opposite: the largest group of opposing politicians were Bosniacs. This suggests that - in contrast to what the international community often wants to believe - it is the Bosniac politicians who play the most active role inciting ethnic polarisation, while the Serb and Croat give a moderate version of what their voters believe. If the international community wants to reverse the ethnic polarisation in Bosnia it definitely should pay more attention to the Bosniac politicians.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

How careless discrimination creates war crimes

One of the most successfull strategies in wars is the incitement of each other's minorities. The Allied forces used this trick with great success in World War I and the result was the creation of a number of new states, including Czechoslovakia, Poland and Hungary. The Allies were indulgent towards their new states and gave them more than the ethnic borders justified. Czechoslovakia got Sudetenland with the argument that the old borders of Bohemia shoulf be respected and Poland got the so called "Polish Corridor" because it wanted access to the sea.

Both areas were populated mainly by Germans, who would have preferred to stay with Germany or Austria, but the Allies determined differently. The situation was most painfull in Sudetenland. Allready on januari 1919 the Czech president Masyrek had said (in an interview with Le Monde) that the German population was the result of immigration and that only very loyal Germans had a future in Czechoslovakia. For the rest he expected that the German element would fastly disappear. This announcement of an assimilation or emigration policy did not have any effect. In september of that year the Treaty of Saint-Germain definitively allocated the area to Czechoslovakia.

Many elements of this period are very reminiscent of the present situation in former Yugoslavia, including a strong Czech lobby in the US and France insisting on keeping as much Germans as possible in Czechoslovakia in order to weaken Germany.

Sure, the Czech government had signed a treaty in which it promissed to protect its minorities. But this did not prevent them from a policy of Czechization and from pursuing a policy that changed the Germans from the richest population group into poverty. But the real danger was in the long term. Only a piece of paper protected the Germans from a hostile government. And for anyone who has studied history this is a very poor protection. In 1945 it would prove to be insufficient indeed when they were actually chased from their homes. The Allies - including those in the West - knew it would happen and did not object in any way.

It is usually believed that the cruel behaviour of the Germans in Poland and the Sovjet-Union during World War II was a consequence of a theory that saw the Slavs as Untermenschen. I believe it is the other way around:

For the Czechs the Treaty of Saint-Germain may have been just a matter of nationalism. But for the Germans it was a matter of survival. Allocating Sudetenland to a country that made it clear that it wanted to purge them was a crime that must have made an enormous impression on a man with a sense of history like Hitler. I believe that the obsession about Lebensraum and the dislike of the Slavs was a direct consequence of this situation. The Untermenschen theory was a just a justification for an existing feeling when it was translated in policies.

The situation in former Yugoslavia has many similarities with that after World War I. Here too we see the Allies playing the ethnic game in order to weaken an enemy - in this case the "communist" Milosevic. And in this case too the Allies tend to give the new states more territory than strict ethnic criteria would allow them.

Tudjman was brutally clear about the Serbs. During the 1989 elections he made his infamous remark that he thanked God that his wife was neither a Serb nor a Jew. And on Serb complaints about discrimination he asked why they didn't go to Serbia if they liked it better there.

Yet the international community insisted that the Krajna and the other Serb-majority areas should stay with Croatia. For the international community it was just a matter of making a good treaty that guaranteed minority rights. But for the Serbs no treaty could make up for the fact that they would live on borrowed time in a country that would use the first available excuse to throw them out.

I think this explains much of the war crimes. While the Croats and the Muslims lived in a world where the international community would interfere if the situation got too much out of hand the Serbs lived in an existential void. If they didn't defend themselves there was no hope.

In Kosovo the international community is once again in the same situation. It is clear to everybody that many Albanians want all Serbs out and that there is a big chance in 10 years no Serbs will be left in Kosovo. Yet the international is moving forward with the same cynical opportunism as in Sudetenland and the Krajna towards a solution that will give the Serbs - even those in the Serb-majority north - only some token guarantees that are bound to be worthless in the long term.

I am worried about the despair and distrust that this will leave. I cannot predict the future, but it certainly has the potential to be very destabilising, both for the Balkan and the rest of the world.

Like it or not, ethnicity is the only valid argument for creating new states nowadays. All other arguments come down to the use of force - whether it is by barbarian soldiers or polished diplomats.

One of the first things newly independent countries usually do is trying to prove their ethnic credentials. Minorities are marked as intruders without rights or as apostates who should be assimilated back into the nation. Ethnic territories outside the borders are claimed.

This nationalistic first phase of new nations has obvious risks for ethnic minorities. For that reason I believe that the international community should be careful that new nations are formed along ethnic lines.

Instead the intenational community has chosen a policy that declares some "historic" borders sacred. Behind this is usually some partiality on the international side. In the case of the Sudeten the policy was that Germany should be as weak as possible and that to achieve that as much Germans as possible should stay behind as minorities in neighbouring countries. It seems that the international community has nowadays a similar policy towards Serbia and the Serbs.

It is interesting to note that in all three cases local politicians feel a bit uneasy about the situation. The presence of the minority undermines their nationalistic claims. It would be political suicide for them just to give up the contested territory. But if the international community would exert some pressure they would be happy to use that as an excuse.

Treaties alone cannot protect minorities. Every nationalist knows the tricks to make life hard for minorities without violating the letter of those treaties. This varies from the subtle economic and linguistic discrimination in Sudetenland to the situation in Kosovo where the Serbs are denied the most basic police protection.

"Special circumstances" form a good excuse to push treaties aside altogether, as the Sudeten Germans experienced in 1945. If necessary, such circumstances can be created, as the Greeks in Turkey experienced in 1955 and the Serbs in Kosovo in march 2004.

With many ethnic conflicts in the world still waiting to be resolved it would be fortunately when the international community finally realized that it cannot pursue its personal grudges without great risk of the stability of the whole world.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Minority rights, respect and the balance of power

The mystery of Sarajevo
It has often been noted that while Sarajevo was under siege many Serbs were living in the city and participating in its defense on the Muslim side. It is less known that since the war ended many of those Serbs have left. And Serbs and Croats are still leaving Sarajevo. This is often explained as a resentment from the war. But this does not explain why this hostility increased after the war had ended.

I believe there is another explanation. After the war the Bosniac army fired its non-muslim commanders and Bosniac parties started a campaign that blamed the Serbs (and to a lesser extent also the Croats) for the war and painted the Muslims as innocent victims. The presence of peace keepers and other internationals didn't help very much: most of them have learned from the media at home that the Muslims are the good guys and the Serbs the bad guys. And as they stay often less than a year they don't have much time to develop a more nuanced picture.

As a consequence the social status of the Serbs has sunk. "war criminal" is now a label that is sticking on every Serb - indepently of what he did in the war. I think the phenomena is quite similar to painting Jews as the "murderers of Christ". Justified indignation about crimes is being used by bullies as a tool. It is a very effective tool to keep a minority in an inferior position.

Bosnia had a civil war. But the war was about something. It was about the distribution of power in Bosnia. Under Tito the Muslims had dominated the government. But the central government in Belgrade formed a counterweight so the Serbs didn't worry. Yugoslavia was a dictatorship anyway. But with democracy coming and Bosnia becoming independent they wanted guarantees. Not surprising for anyone who has read the book of Izetbegovic where he talks about Muslims grabbing power and sees Pakistan is the ideal Islamic state. So this was a real conflict and people can respect each other in comflict - even when war crimes are committed. There are good and bad people everywhere.

That history is now rewritten. Instead we are told about some mad power-hungry Milosevic who in collaboration with the local crazy Serbs attacked an innocent Bosnia. This is slowly poisoning the ethnic relations in Bosnia and may have far-reaching consequences in the future.

One of the consequences of less status is less power and this is very clear with the Serbs. At the moment the Dayton Treaty is torn up piece by piece and the Serbs are bullied into submission by threats from the OHR. Sure, Bosnia needs reforms, but these should be the result of an agreement of Bosnia's ethnic groups. Instead the Muslims decide alone and the West helps them to impose their will.

I remember one of Bosnia's internationals saying that the Serbs will have to go through the dust like the Germans after 1945 before the Muslims will be able to accept them again. Unfortunately this kind of ignorant people are quoted in newspapers as experts. They do not understand that they are comdemning a whole nation for the crimes of a few. Neither do they understand that they are condemning Serbs to being a kind of second class citizens like gypsies are in many countries. And least of all they don't understand that you cannot have a stable democracy where more than a third of the population is treated like second class citizens.

So now Bosnia is an instable state with bad prospects for real democracy - because democracy is based on equality. And the internationals are doing their best - with the best intentions - to make it worse.

In Bosnia there was a balance of power before the war and the Serbs, Croats and Muslims where reasonable equal. Kosovo has a quite different history in which at some time the Serbs and at other times the Albanians were at the top. And each of them had the habit to treat the other like second class citizens. Because of these experiences both sides tend to be much more radical than the people from Bosnia in order to secure their dominance.

This became clear immediately clear after the war when many Serbs were chased away, their properties stolen and some killed. The KFOR soldiers looked the other way and many of them thought that the Albanians were entitled to have some revenge after what the Serbs had done to them.

Unfortunately such violence is not just some onetime revenge. It builds a society where violence against minorities is considered normal and minorities are inferior citizens. Since then the UN has never been able to break this pattern. Often they are even sucked into it. When there is some attack like a bombing in a Serb village for example American soldiers start first with searching houses in the Serb village. Only when that doesn't give a result will they consider that that it might have been an Albanian from a neighbouring village.

A concrete example is this recent news report: Home of Danilo Dzolic (75) was attacked by armed group at about 1 a.m. this morning in Kosovo village of Tucep, RTS reports. No one was injured during the attack but the house in which Dzolic and his wife were at that moment is damaged. The attackers most probably wanted to steal Dzolic’s tractor because so far four tractors had been stolen in the village. Tucep residents chased away the attackers by firing their hunting guns, which Kosovo police and KFOR confiscated today. The Serbs living in the village expressed their concerns the attacks might happen again.
One sees it again: the victims are the only ones who are punished. There is no search in neighbouring villages for tractors and there is no decision to establish a police post in the village. By disarming the villagers KFOR is actually helping the attackers.

The main effect of such "protection" is to humiliate the Serbs and to diminish the respect that they get in society. It is a self-reinforcing process. The next time the Serbs have a problem many American soldiers will not feel very motivated to help "those losers".

This pattern of helping aggression has a long history. When in 2001 massive Albanian protests were planned in Mitrovica and it was feared that North Mitrovica would be overrun the USA sent soldiers to North Mitrovica to search Serb houses for weapons. And when in march 2004 UN spokesman Derek Chappell questioned that the drowning of 3 Albanian children had been the work of Serbs he was transfered to a position without press contact - making the road free for the riots.

The many occupied houses and lands from Serbs have never really bothered the UN. They payed lipservice that it was a problem but they didn't do anything. After the recent Kai Eide report a new commission has installed to attack the problem but I am pessimistic whether this will be for real. Of course occupied property is another symbol of the Serbs and other minorities as inferior people.

Most of the violence in Kosovo nowadays is the so-called low level violence. This covers throwing stones at people, houses or cars, stealing cattle and other properties, setting fires in sheds or sometimes also houses, beatings, etc. A example of how this works is this recent report from Tanjug (UNMIK translation 21 april): The inhabitants of the village of Straze, in the region of Gnjilane, have announced, following a number of robberies, that they will sell their houses and land and move somewhere else, KiM Radio from Caglavica reported. Cedomir Ivkovic from Straze says he doesn’t feel safe on his property ever since his dog was killed in the yard. “We stay awake all night long, only the dogs are protecting us, while the Albanians come to ask us whether we want to sell the house,” said Cedomir’s sister Smilja, adding that her family is under great pressure and that she is afraid to stay in the village.

The attitude of the UN is that these kind of things could at best be ignored. According to the UN the good thing is that it doesn't lead to large scale clashes. Yet it is very effective.

I disagree. This low level violence keeps alive the climate of violence. The eruption of march 2004 was possible exactly because of this climate. One can compare it to Nazi Germany. Auschwitz didn't appear out of nothing. It started with small harrassment, then came the Kristallnacht and later the Stars of David and the ghetto's. Kosovo is quite far on this road and it will need coordinated effort to bring it back to normal ethnic relations.

The problems of Kosovo are much worse than those in Bosnia. Here we have to deal with violence and witnesses who keep silent out of fear. It is difficult to establish the rule of law in such a climate and it requires a hands on style of government with an attention to detail. Unfortunately the UN seems not even to have recognized the problems.

The Yugoslavia Tribunal has played a rather strange role. For a long time it seemed to restrict itself to Serb suspects. The few Albanians, Bosniacs and Croats that are indicted seem mainly to serve to avoid criticism. And even today only politicians from the Serb side are prosecuted.

I have the impression that the judges and prosecution at the ICTY are blinded by the ambition to go into the history books as the next Nuremberg. In order to achieve that they need a simple story: good guys versus bad guys.

Few people seem to realize that it was Auschwitz that made Nuremberg a success. These were facts - not abstract theories about who was guilty of the war. The verdicts about the latter are nowadays largely forgotten. In fact many people believe until today that World War II would not have happened if the Versailles Peace Treaty of 1919 had not been so partial.

For that reason I believe that the ICTY would have much better results if it concentrated on facts instead of theories. War crimes should not be linked to political aims or parties. Instead the tribunal should focus on the Geneva Treaties: there are standards of behaviour in war time and those standards should be maintained. The judges will find this boring: instead of unmasking the big Serb complot they will become a kind of traffic cops writing tickets for bad behaviour in the war. But it would have a much bigger moral impact on the region and work much better in preventing similar behaviour in a next war.

At the moment prosecution of war crimes has become highly politicised. It is not only the Serbs who protest and drag their feet. Bosniacs and Croats protest just as hard when their people are indicted. All parties use statements about war crimes by the others as a tool to paint the other side as bad - while ignoring the crimes of their own side.

We are told that a warcrime tribunal is necessary is order to reestablish trust between the parties after the war. As far as I can see the ICTY is doing the opposite: it politicises something that should be non-political.

I believe that the population of the Balkan is very well capable of deciding for themselves what their politicians did wrong that got them into this mess. We should just provide them with the facts. They should decide for themselves in an open discussion and dialogue about the political consequences.

I found the ICTY's effort to prove that all wars were a result of Milosevic's aim for a Greater Serbia just ridiculous. It doesn't even fit his psychological profile as an opportunist without clear convictions. Instead they would have done better to link Milosevic to one of the concrete war crimes. And if they couldn't link Milosevic to such crimes: why did they indict him them?

Reconciliation and respect
In most of the world respect is a very important term. It has not the western meaning of admiring someone. Instead it is more related to the respect you have for a man with a gun: you don't mess with him. You may like a person you respect, but it is not necessary.

In the Western world the word has lost most of this meaning. With the rule of law and the principle that all people are equal before the law there is no longer much need for this kind of respect. Only discrminated minorities like America's blacks still talk a lot about respect.

There are many projects in Bosnia and Kosovo where idealistic foreigners try to bring the different ethnic groups together in some project. The idea that is that when these people know each other better they will hate each other less. In Kosovo many of these projects have stopped after march 2004. Too much Serbs had lost their faith in those projects after they had seen their Albanian project "friends" participate in the riots.

What these internationals miss is that the main issue is not reconciliation or frienship: it is respect that is the most basic. Only when respect has been established is real friendship possible.

A parallel example from history is slavery. Many plantation slave owners had been raised by caring black nannies and friendly black house servants. Yet that didn't stop many of them to become cruel towards their slaves. Here too respect was missing.

The role of the UN as interim government
Building respect between people requires maintaining law and order. It requires also doing your best to treat all parties as equals. This is hard work and until now it has been shunned by our peacekeepers.

One of the worst aspects of colonialism was that it picked favorites among the local population and on that basis laid the basis for later ethnic conflicts. They did this not out of evil, but because it was the easiest way to rule. Without local allies it is very difficult to rule a foreign country. The best allies are usually those who could not govern on their own strength - so they remain dependent on the coloniser. Of course this is a very good argument to stay forever.

The UN rulers in Kosovo and Bosnia are following exactly the same pattern. And in both Bosnia and Kosovo one sees that with the years the distribution of power is becoming increasingly lopsided in favor of the UN's favorite. Just as with decolonisation this may give major troubles once the UN has left.

For this reason I believe that the UN should formulate and exit strategy from the beginning and put much more trust in the Balkan's own capabilities of solving problems.

In Bosnia the UN had an exit strategy in the form of the Dayton agreement. The UN should have implemented it and left. Instead they started tinkering with the treaty. Now we are told that Bosnia has too many layers of government and that many tasks are executed on too many levels. The UN is making three mistakes here. First of all Dayton stipulates on which level which responsibilities should be. If other levels implement the same responsibilities it should be clear that they are the ones who are wrong. Next comes that this is a discussion about economic efficiency. I don't think it is a task of the UN to impose economic efficiency. This should be left to the local parties. And last but not least: a peace treaty is a kind of sacred document. Tearing it up because one party claims that it is not economically efficient is for me a kind of blasphemy. There are thousand other ways to increase economic efficiency without undermining the fundament of the country.

The balance of power
In the Ottoman and the Habsburg empires and even in Yugoslavia many ethnic groups lived together without much trouble. Many people believe that if just the Serbs or the Croats or whoever hadn't become so nationalistic we could have maintained that kind of peace.

I don't believe so. Both these empires and Yugoslavia were dictatorships. The rulers saw themselves as typical upperclass people standing above the small national interests. With democracy this picture changes: parlementarians depend on having supporters and those are usually from one ethnic group. So the parliament becomes an arena of representatives of different ethnic groups competing for power and money. After some time one sees the development of ground rules and a balance of power that inhibits one party from claiming all the spoils. But this takes time and is preceded by a period of turmoil in which much can go wrong.

In Yugoslavia this process was aggravated by two factors. The country was in a period of economic turmoil in which some groups became much richer and others much poorer. So there were many people who were very motivated to pursue their interests in politics. The second factor was the federal structure that had been constructed after Tito's death. Its distribution of power did not reflect the democratic distribution so it was bound to give problems. More important perhaps was that it gave too little power to the central government: there was nobody who was above the parties.

I think that the main task of international mediation and peace keeping in this region should be to build up te ground rules and the balance of power in the parliament. We should function as the party above the parties that Yugoslavia missed. As I stated before: respect is very much related to power. So when we achieve a balance of power we achieve also a better respect for human rights.

Unfortunately many "peacekeepers" have another idea. They believe that one party is good and the other is bad and they let one party convince them that they can recreate the unity of Tito's time. Obviously they don't understand how democracy works.

One sees a similar misunderstanding in Kosovo at the moment. Kosovo's Albanian leaders are praised by American negotiator Wisner for "reaching out" to Kosovo's Serbs. But this "reaching out" is just PR talk. It won't shift the balance of power and result in more respect and a better treatment of Kosovo's Serb citizens. For that concrete measures like autonmy are necessary.