Tuesday, January 31, 2006

In memoriam: Ibrahim Rugova

For many West Europeans and Americans Rugova was the Kosovar Ghandi. I am much less positive about his reign.

First of all I am not a big fan of Ghandi either. I believe it was no coincidence that India fell apart in violence (over 500.000 killed and 15 million driven from their homes) immediately after becoming independent. Just as it was no coincidence that the rule of Rugova resulted in Milosevic (he would not have ruled so long if the Albanians had not boycotted the elections) and war.

Non-violent resistence has more to do with resistence as with non-violence. In both India and Kosovo it was a way to mobilize a population that was had given up on resistance against a foreign rule and tried to adapt itself. By giving new hope for the resistance it also encouraged more violent-prone people to start armed struggle for the same goals.

But non-violence goes further. It states that you do not accept the dominant order and that is a very dangerous position that undermines the whole society. It is a kind of autistic behaviour that places your own ideas about right and wrong above those of the government and everybody else. This undermines the position of the government and invites other people to do the same.

For that reason I believe that non-violent resistance should only be used in very extreme cases and then only for a short time. Just look to the US. After Bush won his first election in 2000 many believed he thanked it to fraud. Yet all Americans believed at some point that they had to accept it because "nonviolent resistance" that denied Bush his right to govern would be too destabilizing for the country.

A good example in India was the protest against the partition of Bengal in 1905 with a boycott of British goods. The real reason of the protests was that Eastern Bengal had a Muslim majority and many Hindu's didn't like that. As such this protest polarized the ethnic relations.

However, this was the first protest that succeeded in mass mobilisation and as such Ghandi held it often as an example to his followers. Not that he was anti-Muslim - on the contrary. But he was a one-dimensional man who was totally focussed on ending the colonial rule. Other things - like the Muslim-Hindu relations he neglected until it was much too late.

Similarly in Kosovo the situation after the war was not such that it justified this kind of protest. The communist Yugoslav government was committed to a multi-ethnic society. Sure, it was far from perfect. But life nowadays in Kosovo would have been much better if the Albanians had embraced the federation instead of turning their back on it. Even their chances for independence would have been much better - poverty and lack of order are nowadays two of the most important arguments against independence.

Rugova remembers me most of Enver Hoxha. Both isolated their subjects from the surrounding world. Rugova didn't have border guards to achieve this, so instead he formulated a philosophy that kept the Albanians as much isolated as possible from the rest of Yugoslavia and the world. People should not learn Serbo-Croatian. They should study useless subjects as history and literature that wouldn't bring them in contact with the evil outside world. They should see the Yugoslav state as occupying force that they should ignore as much as possible. And instead of the communist paradise he promised the independent paradise.

Much of this was already in place when Rugova became a leader. But he embraced it and he kept to it long after Hoxha died. For him it was similar to Ghandi's plea to weave your own clothes.

Just as with Hoxha the result was devastating for the people concerned. Kosovo became the poorest part of Yugoslavia and even today its government has hardly any economic policy. And after many years of refusing to recognise the government we see a people that finds it hard to accept the rule of law - resulting in a climate where everyone has to fend for himself.

This brings me to my principal objection against the Ghandi ideas: it is about an abstraction. People want prosperity and independence is just a tool to reach that goal. The blind focus on independence results after the goal is reached in a vacuum. After independence India experienced 50 years of economic stagnation. Independence for Kosovo may well have the same effect.

Ghandi had some nice ideas about democracy and equality of people. On that basis at least he left a good heritage. But Rugova didn't share that trait of him. If something like march 2004 had happened in India Ghandi would have spoken out against it and he would have gone on hungerstrike. Rugova kept silent.