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.