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.