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).


Bg anon said...

Effective in the sense that state workers and pensioners continue to receive extra benefits in the usually poverty stricken system - in Serbia certainly not a case of the trains running on time. There was massive underinvestment in the railway system.

Also you are aware that Milosevic, a banker, was different from types like Castro. He was not above selling off PTT or trading with Western enterprises like National Westminster. And he also allowed private television stations.

I'm afraid that in the final analysis Milosevic achieved very little. At least in Castro's Cuba the health service functions, some sectors of that health service is the best in the world.

Also think it gives the wrong impression by saying CIA backed revolutions. Milosevic was on the way out even without CIA backing.

I agree that Economic sanctions are both unhelpful and counter-productive. However, I do like so called smart sanctions which should be smartened up still further.

Anonymous said...

Sanctions against such states imply that the West should decide what are acceptable forms of government. The current extreme western superiority will not last. These are steps on a path that will have to be retaken painfully. The West is needlessly creating conflicts.

Cvijus011 said...

Hi Wim (long time no see),

I would like to give you one example of how the West has a low perception of effective policies, better to say the arrogance of the West thinking that their policies are the best:

Eastern Germany had a very effective educational system (which was later adopted by Finland) and one of the best chemical industries in Europe. With the reunification of Germany (some would call it annexation) the educational system was completely reformed, even though it was rated highr than that of West Germany, and the chemical industry was completely shut down. Nowadays, they try to restore back the industry but it can reach it previous power due to wrong privatisation. My point is that the West Germans changed these systems not because they were ineffective, which they weren't, but because they were authored by the East German leadership. Especially in the case of the chemical industry, the result was an extreme rate of unemployment in the local population.

I'm personally against any form of dictatorship, but one should keep in mind that not all of their policies were automatically wrong. In the case of Greece (1967-74) the dictatorial regime builded up the National Electricity Company which functions effectively until today.


Wim Roffel said...

Hello Bg Anon,
It was not just the pensions. You can also look for example at the Kosovo war. In Kosovo nothing functioned after the war, while in Serbia things were much better organised.

Of course Milosevic achieved very little. He left a land ruined by wars and an economic boycot. And his nationalistic schemes had been consistently blocked by the West.

But that is not my point. I look at it from the point of view of the Western politicians and I conclude that both Serbia and the surrounding countries paid a very high price for getting rid of Milosevic - mainly because of a bad analysis of the situation.

Welcome back Cvijus!

I like to call it the politics of hate. Some politicians never seem to have left the children's world of the fairy tales, where someone is either totally good or totally bad. To them Milosevic and communism are evil and they don't even bother to take a more detailed look.

Your East-German example is a good illustration of that.


Bg anon said...

Wim in Kosovo things didnt function before the war either!
I'm certain you know all about that too of how Kosovo was allowed to seperate from the 'official' Serbian system - and even to hold their own elections.

I understand and appreciate the perspective difference but there is a danger from both sides of the perspective of negating looking at it from the other view.

As far as getting rid of Milosevic was concerned - the West hardly did anything until it was too late. After all Milosevic was their man at Dayton. Yeah I get the idea that 'delivery' is very important and I even get the idea that Milosevic looked like a saint in the eyes of a Western policymaker compared with Seselj.

What I dont get is why the West didnt provide the proper or adequate support to Serbian / Yugoslav alternatives when they were stronger. Perhaps Markovic, certainly Panic, even Avramovic.

There were opportunities, perhaps not many but opportunities that could have led to Milosevic's tenure being shortened if they had so desired.

Wim Roffel said...

The direct occasion that made me write this entry were the sanctions against Belarus. So I was not primarily focussed on the Balkan this time.

You are right. Milosevic had his blind spots (like international relations) and he was certainly less competetent than Castro or Lukashenko. But I think he was a rather capable leader, who - when he wanted something - was usually capable to achieve it. Compare this to Gorbatchov, who had nice ideas but had no idea what he was doing when he tried to implement them.

As for Milosevic being the West's man at Dayton: I don't believe so. They played his vanities nice to get what they wanted, but there was absolutely no respect. I don't have the url at hand, but Holbrooke's commentary about Milosevic after his death ran something like: nervous unpleasant man, badly clothed, too much alcohol.

So Milosevic could play the international statesman for a little time, but after that he became again the bad man.

I have the impression that some western and Balkan politicians were not too bothered about Milosevic during the wars. His bad image suited them as it allowed them to discard his talk about the Serb minorities as Great-Serbia nationalism.

By 1991 Markovic was a spent force. The breakup started under his rule and he didn't do a thing to stop it. And by 1991 the negative effects of his economic shock therapy had become so clear that he had lost most of his initial popularity.