Sunday, December 23, 2007

Discrimination in Bosnia II

Balkan Insight reports that a Roma has brought a case for the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg that Bosnia's constitution is discriminatory. The problem is that the constitution specifies for many positions whether the position should filled by a Bosniak, a Croatian or a Serb. This means that there is no place for other minorities like Jews and Roma.

If the court agrees with him Bosnia would have to change its constitution. I think this might be a good think, provided it is done in a wise way. One of the most urgent requirements would be the creation of a Croatian entity.

Once such an entity is created Bosnia could switch from a ethnic to a territorial system, where each entity has the right to a post that is now reserved to its majority.

This would also mean the end to the system whereby local government is determined by the ethnic composition is determined by the population of an area before the war. Such a policy is good for returns. But it is bad for local democracy when out-of-towners determine what is going to happen. I think that 12 years after the war we have slowly reached the point where the second consideration should be considered more important than the first.

But this is the optimistic scenario. It could also happen that the question is reframed in a partial way - leading to the next "police reform" crisis.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Discrimination in Bosnia?

I encountered a rather old (july 2006) message on the blog "Allah's Willing Executioners". According to this blog:
A law passed earlier this month allows people living in state-owned apartments that were nationalized under the former Yugoslavia’s socialist regime to purchase the dwellings. But the law – backed by lawmakers from the country’s Muslim majority – provides that any apartment previously owned by the Muslim community cannot be purchased if the community objects to the sale.
“Holders of tenant’s tenure for apartments whose formal owners are wakfs can not buy up those apartments without previous written approval of the apartment’s owner,” the law states, using the Arabic word for a Muslim community endowment.
The Jewish community, as well as the Catholic and Orthodox Churches, was not given the same veto power. [....]

This is clearly a blog with a message so I am curious to hear other visions on this law and its background.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The Kosovo negotiations

Der Spiegel has a nice article about the negotiations on Kosovo's future by the trio Ischinger, Wisner and Bozan-Kharchenko. The long article gives a good description of the people involved and tells a bit about how the negotiations went.

In my opinion the biggest failure of the negotiations remains the onesidedness. When it comes to principles the principle that Belgrade won't rule Kosovo anymore is on top. But the principle that the way in which Kosovo is treating its Serbs is unacceptable and that they need just as hard guarantees keeps missing.

These two principles are to a certain extent contradictory. But I believe that as long we we don't recognize this contradiction the conflict is inresolvable. The claim that the Ahtisaari proposal is enough for Serb minority rights is in my opinion just ridiculous.

The article tries to put the blame for the failed negotiations on the Serb side. It gives as example the Serb reaction to the trio's 14 working points. Yet during the negotiations the Serb position has shifted while the Albanians didn't cede an inch.

As I see it the Serbs have now a proposal that the Albanians can live with once they have swallowed their pride and suspicions. Now it is the turn of Albanians to provide a proposal that the Serbs can live with. This will mean much greater autonomy and maybe border changes.

At the beginning of the negotiations the troika indicated that they were open to talks about partition. But Serbia doesn't want partition if it means giving up on the Serbs south of the Ibar and the Albanians want Presevo in return. And then - rather than tackle those problems - the troika simply dropped the ball.

The present EU proposal is in my opinion just a proposal for ethnic cleansing.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

NATO soldiers as ethnic cleansers

While Kosovo's Serbs are preparing to flee once Kosovo declares independence, the "peacekeepers" in Kosovo prepare to enforce Albanian rule in Kosovo's northern tip. Kosovo's international rulers are still devided but if they push through this will mean the de facto ethnic cleansing of Kosovo's north tip. It doesn't help that the soldiers involved are Germans and Americans - two nations with whom Serbs have some bad memories.

Kosovo's Albanians have had 8 years to prove that they can rule their Serb minority in decent way. They have convincingly proven that they can not. I believe that the UN should draw the conclusion from this and cede the rule of Kosovo's north tip to Serbia. A nice side effect would be that the potential for conflict if Kosovo declares independence would be much reduced.

Election fraud in Kosovo

Balkan Insight is reporting about election fraud during the recent elections in Kosovo. Someone filmed fraud occurring in a voing station in Viti/Vitina. There are reports from other incidents as well. We will probably never know the extent of the fraud. Western elections observers have the habit of labelling election fraud by "friendly" governments as "minor incidents". And these elections were organised by the OSCE.

The low voter turnout in Kosovo seems to confirm that many voters in Kosovo share my concern about these elections: they were only meant to keep Kosovo's present elite in power until long after the status has been settled.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Bosnia Needs A Different Debate on Police Reform

BIRN has a nice article about how Bosnia's "police reform" became such an issue without any need. They refer also to an ESI report that tells that Bosnia's police is doing a better job than the police in many of the EU countries.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

What Lajčák is doing wrong in Bosnia

On 25 april 2006 a proposed reform of the Bosnian constitution did not reach the required 2/3 majority. Most votes against came from the SBiH led by Silajdžić.

Silajdžić was one of the negotiators at Dayton and his signature is under the treaty. Yet he does not recognize the treaty and he says that he only signed it to prevent further killing. He compares it to signing with a gun at your head. According to his view Bosnia's constitution of 1992 is still valid. This has given him the freedom to call for the immediate abolishment of the Serb Republic and to denounce it as a product of ethnic cleansing.

Signing the new constitution would have meant that he committed himself to a constitution that recognises the Serb Republic and most of Dayton. He could still call for the abolition of the RS, but he would have committed himself to rules that make it very improbable to happen. (I attended a meeting of his supporters before the vote: the most heard complaint was that they didn't get enough back in exchange for giving up their rejection of Dayton.) After torpedoing the new constition Silajdzic has increased his rethorics against the RS and won the next elections on that theme.

The attitude of the international community to the rejection of the new constitution was amazing. There was only some soft protest and after that it became silent. Given that Silajdzic is well connected in international diplomatic circles one wonders whether some diplomats condoned or even encouraged his sabotage. The open way in which Silajdzic rejects Dayton would have never been accepted from a Serb leader.

But what I find most problematic are Silajdzic' claims that the RS is the product of ethnic cleansing. This has become a "political correct" way to utter a blatantly racist message. The implicit message (and sometimes Silajdzic has been quite explicit about it) is that all Serbs are ethnic cleansers and murderers and that as such they don't deserve equal treatment and minority rights.

Now Lajčák is rewarding Silajdzic for his obstructionist behaviour. He is going to impose reforms that weaken the Serb position without asking anything from the Muslim side in return.

Parliamentary veto rights
There are two different ways to guarantee minority rights. One is assigning autonomous areas like the Serb Republic. The other is veto rights, like the double majority requirement (the Badinter principle) that guarantees the rights of Macedonia's Albanians.

The rule that Lajčák now abolishes is a very weak version of the Badinter principle. It had been introduced to seduce the Serb Republic to cede some competences to the central government.

Lajčák now claims that exercising these rights amounts to obstruction. But higher houses like the senate in the US and the House of Lords in the UK and the fillibuster represent the same principle: they give minorities the right to block a decision. This makes negotiation necessary but that is part of the political game. That this does not work in Bosnia would rather suggest a lack of willingness to compromise and that comes to a large extent from the Muslim side.

Lajčák claims that he wants to normalise the situation in Bosnia. But he seems not to realise that Silajdžić's rejection of Dayton is hanging as a huge black cloud over Bosnia and that normalisation is not possible as long as it stays there.

Bonn powers
In 1997 the Western countries gave Bosnia's High Representative the "Bonn powers". These were meant to help him overcome obstruction. They have mainly been used to fire some majors who blocked refugee returns.

Now Lajcak is using these powers in a completely different way. The possibility to block decisions with the quorum rule was given to the Serbs by the international community and so one can hardly blame them for using it. If Lajcak believes that the Serbs abused this possibility - and that it was not Muslim stubbornness to compromise that caused them to do so - he should have built a case first - for example by denouncing individual laws that were blocked this way.

The Bonn powers were meant to be used against a few "bad apples". By using it against the Serb community as a whole Lajcak takes a dangerous step. It will certainly not help Bosnia's democracy.

Another strange aspect of Lajcak's ruling is the overkill. His predecssors imposed very specific measures. They might fire some majors but they didn't change the way majors were appointed. Lajcak is doing the opposite: he could have imposed those disputed laws (like the police reform), but he chose to use those specific complaints to change some very fundamental rules.

Christian Schwarz-Schilling
Lajcak's precessor Christian Schwarz-Schilling is often blamed for being too lax. But he nearly achieved a new constitution that would have done much to normalize the situation in Bosnia. With more international support he might well have achieved it.

But it looks like some Western diplomats don't like it when ethnic conflicts are solved the way they should be: with compromises and small steps that - when successful - create trust for the next step. They prefer to have good guys to support and bad guys to pummel.

With Lajcak this type of diplomat is back in charge and they may well push Bosnia again in the abyss, just as they did in the early 1990s when they at several stages encouraged Bosnia's Muslims not to sign compromises but instead to hold out for something better.

The ethnic balance
Ethnic relations are based on trust. Outside interventions that favor one side above the other can easily destroy that trust. On the losing side it generates a lot of distrust, while on the winning side it gives ultra-nationalists a feeling of invincibility that easily leads to racism and ethnic cleansing.

Bosnia lost that inter-ethnic trust with the Wests rashed recognition and refound it with Dayton. Now Lajcak is out to destroy that trust again with possible disastrous consequences. We should not let this happen.

The role of the USA
In recent years the visible American role in Bosnia had been rather minor. But while European diplomats have generaly reacted rather puzzled to the recent crisis the Americans have reacted resolutely in support of Lajcak's measures. In a short time we saw supporting statements for Lajcak from the US ambassadors in Bosnia and Serbia, Gregorian and several State Department officials. At the same the ambassador in Serbia attacked the RS for separatism and a Soros funded foundation lanced a rabid attack on the Serb psychiatric system.

See also the rather misleading statements by Lajcak's deputy - the American Raffi Gregorian - for the US Helsinki commission. Gregorian is acting here as if the US government is his second boss: it would be unthinkable to see Lajcak before a Slovene parliament commission.

This all makes me believe that this is a well orchestrated campaign of some American diplomats with Lajcak and Silajdzic to change the balance of power in Bosnia once and for all.

My expectation how this will play out is as follows:
- Lajcak will continue to ignore all criticism and questions about the effects of his actions on Bosnia's ethnic balance. Instead he will adopt a "presidential" attitude and repeat that he is acting in the interest of Bosnia's integration into the EU. This is a man who just like Ahtisaari has sold his soul in exchange for an international carreer.
Lajcak's ultimatum ends on 1 december. Bosnia's Serbs have anounced to withdraw from parliament if he imposes his decisions. Lajcak will not budge.
- the American diplomats (Gregorian, English, Burns, etc.) will continue to act as the attack dogs. They will interpret any criticism of Lacjak as an attack against the international community and criticize any Serb move as another manifestation of their evil nationalism.
US policies are very much driven by interest groups and my guess would be that there is some oil money behind this policy.
- The big question is what Europe will do. American Balkan policies typically consist of a lot of propaganda and pressure after which it lets Europe do the irreversible steps. We saw this with the recognition of Slovenia and Croatia and the Badinter commission. The recognition of Kosovo will probably be played in the same way. For the moment Europe is just confused about what is happening in Bosnia. But when Lajcak keeps seeking the confrontation they will have to chose sides at some time.

Monday, October 29, 2007

More on the Steven Schook investigation

Some time ago UN's second in command in Kosovo Steven Schook told the press that he was under investigation by the UN for aggressive behaviour, unprofessionalism, too close ties with some Kosovo Albanian politicians and misconduct with women.

Now Inner City Press - a website that specialises in investigative reporting on the UN - bring some more news on this subject. Schook is closely involved in Kosovo's privatision policy and specially the privatisation of the power plants. According to Inner City Press, he would favor a Czech company with connections to Ceku and a American firm in which William Walker is involved. It looks like Walker is aiming for a reward for helping to start the Kosovo war.

Update 1: on 8 november Inner City Press published an update claiming that the investigation had been widened.

Update 2: On 18 december Balkan Insight reported that Schook will leave. His contract will not be extended after december 31. It will be interesting to see who will succeed him. Somehow these American second men in Kosovo and Bosnia remind me of the Asian republics of the Soviet Union, where the second man was always a Russian who had the real power.

Update 3: Schooks successor has been appointed. It is an American with the name Larry Rossin. According to the article: Rossin, a career officer of the United States Foreign Service, and a former U.S. Ambassador to Croatia, served as the Principal Deputy Special Representative for the UN in Kosovo between 2004-2006. He has also served in the UN Mission in Haiti and was a Senior International Coordinator for the 'Save Darfur' Coalition.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Problems with the Ahtisaari plan

The problem with the Eide Report
Ahtisaari's mediation effort was the result of the recommendations of Kai Eide in october 2005 and its problematic outcome was the result of errors in Kai Eide's Report.

Kai Eide concluded that the "standards before status" principle did not work and that instead negotiations should be started immediately. As a pious footnote he mentioned that "standards implementation must continue with greater commitment and results.". He did no concrete recommendations in this respect and nothing has come of it. In my opinion he should have recommended that the UN should take a more active role in achieving those standards and be less passive towards Kosovo's government.

The present situation is the result of a war that was adopted by the UN and afterwards a UN administration. So the UN is responsible for the present situation and a good evaluation report should contain a chapter "what went wrong and how should we have done it better". This is even more important as Kosovo is often seen as a model for future "humanitarian interventions".

The unwilling attitude of Kosovo's government is no exception. You will see an intolerant nationalist attitude on all sides after any war. And it just stupid to transfer power to one side in such a situation and to expect them to improve the rights of the other side. So the interventionists should take care that powers and rights are sufficiently balanced when they hand over power. More concrete: in a climate where it is political suicide for an Albanian politician to propose better minority rights the UN should take the responsibility and impose them.

How could the UN have improved the situation:
- it could have started with a more aggressive enforcement immediately after the war. Even if they had been incapable of arresting every Albanian who behaved aggressively towards they could at least have arrested many and confiscated the weapons (including knives) from the others. Even such a symbolic act as the confiscation of knives would have contributed to erase the climate of impunity.
- KFOR (and specially the US) did regular searches for arms in Serb settlements. There were no similar searches in Albanian settlements. This communicated in a very powerful wat that the Serbs were now second class citizens who had less rights than the Albanians. UN headquarters in New York should have stopped this.
- if you have used war (the ultimate extra-legal means) to ascertain the rights of one group you cannot hide behind legalistic nicities when it comes to ascertain the rights of other groups.
- rather soon the UN started to transfer responsibilities to local government bodies. This was rather inevitable as it is very hard to rule an area without cooperation of the local population. But the centralised way in which this was done meant that all power went to the Albanians and this strengthened the cleansers in their effort to drive out more Serbs.
- the UN should have imposed Serb-majority municipalities. As winners of the war they should do whatever it takes to achieve the "standards". Instead the UN abolished the Gorani-majority Gora municipality - helping the cleansers. The passivity of the UN in this area was not motivated by respect for some constitutional process. It came rather from Macchiavellian international diplomats who believed that the Serbs' basic human rights could be used as bargaining chips to achieve independence for Kosovo.

The Ahtisaari plan: standards for status
Ahtisaari's nagotiations changed "standards before status" into "standards for status". In Ahtisaari's view Kosovo's Serbs (and Serbia) should be glad to have their basic human rights respected in exchange for accepting Kosovo's independence. This made it a travesty of honest negotiations. And - as can be expected when you make basic human rights the subject of negotiations - it leads to a view where a minimum is enough.

The Ahtisaari Plan creates new Serb municipalities and gives them some powers - including some control over the local police. This satisfies many demands from Kosovo's Serbs. But Ahtisaari creates here some deliberate confusion. What the Serbs demanded - and he offered - are some rights that they need just to live a normal life in Kosovo. As such they should have been granted by the UN long ago.

But there is no certainty that these rights will be sufficient. Kosovo's courts of law are highly biased and may form a major problem for the Serbs in the future. The lack of control over the privatisation of the local industries may form another problem and lead to the transfer of the employment to Albanians (this problem is most acute in Strpce). Unsafety travelling outside the enclaves is still a problem. Very problematic may also be that the Serbs don't have any influence over the central government. The influence of the Serb representatives in the parliament in Pristina is literally zero as their proposals are just ignored. In Macedonia the Albanians have veto power over all laws but in Kosovo the Serbs don't even have that power with those laws that specifically target them. A territorial autonomy for some areas like the north would have restricted the power of Pristina, but Ahtisaari rejected that. Ahtisaari doesn't have any solution for the more than 100,000 refugees who now live in Serbia. Many of them come from the totally cleansed cities where still no Serb dares to live. He doesn't address the problem of discrimination either

This list of probable problem points is far from complete. It is also very difficult to solve. In my opinion there is only one decent road towards independence for Kosovo: implement most of the Ahtisaari recommendations for Serb rights now, spend the next few months to finetune that so that you get an acceptable level of "standard" compliance and restart then the negotiations about independence.

The main argument of Kosovo's Albanians for independence is that they want to be assured that a situation like in 1989-1999 will not be repeated. It is their good right to ask such assurance. But Kosovo's Serbs have a similar right to ask assurance that the situation of the the last 8 years will not continue or come back at a later time. Yet the Ahtisaari plan is short of asurances for the Serbs: it is far from sure whether the plan will be enough and its consessions can rather easily be revoked.

What if Ahtisaari's plan was implemented now?
I consider Ahtisaari's plan in its present form a proposal for ethnic cleansing. If Kosovo is given independence under these conditions it is very probable that in 10 years there will be no Serb left in Kosovo.

It is still unsafe for many to travel or to work their land. And many others regularly find their means of living sabotaged or stolen. Serb majority municipalities will improve this situation but is far from certain whether they can provide enough protection against the hit-and-run tactics of large gangs. The attitude of Kosovo's government - that still aims for an Albanisation of the whole of Kosovo - certainly won't help. The consequence is that many minorities live in absolute poverty. The only reason that they haven't left yet is that they hope for a better future. But if Kosovo becomes independent they will give up and leave.

There are many small newspaper articles like the following: 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.

Kosovo is far from multi-ethnic. Except for Northern Mitrovica all cities have been totally cleansed of their Serbs. Most Serbs live either in Serb-only villages or in the north or Strpce where the Serbs dominate. In the few remaining mixed villages there are regularly incidents and the Serbs are slowly leaving. Kosovo's government does nothing to improve this climate. Yet they claim to value a "multi-ethnic" Kosovo. In practice this means that they envie the relative safety of the Serbs in their enclaves and that they are determined to expose them to the intolerant climate that drove out the minorities from the rest of Kosovo.

It is a popular line of thinking that once Kosovo is independent the Albanians will become more tolerant towards the Serbs and other minorities. Serbs have largely stopped leaving Croatia after the war was settled, so why couldn't something similar happen in Kosovo? The problem is that the expulsion of the Serbs in Kosovo is an old phenomena that predates the Milosevic rule (and caused it). And it has always been connected with criminal elements trying to get hold of the Serb possessions. As it is generally believed that many of Kosovo's elite have personally profitted from appropriating Serb properties after the war and many (like Thaci and Haradinaj are also suspected of mafia ties) this situation may continue for a long time...

Better negotiations
The proposals in the present negotiations comes for the Serb side down to chosing whether Kosovo will be Serb-free in 5 years or 10. So it is no wonder that until now the Serb delegation has preferred to stick to the principle of territorial integrity. When the safety of Kosovo's Serbs is guaranteed they will instead have to look at the practical disadvantages of hostile minority inside their borders - such as in parliament. I think that in that situation the negotiations will go much smoother.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Kosovo's grim (?) future

After an article from Der Spiegel there is now also an article in the Washington Times about the Bundeswehr report of last januari. The report was written by Mathias Jopp and Sammi Sandawi from the Institute for European Policy for the Bundeswehr. According to this article the original report can be found somewhere on the internet on a blog, but I haven't found it. Please let me know when you find it.

The core of the summary is that Kosovo is controlled by mafiosi and that for that reason it is improbable that Kosovo will be capable of some meaningfull economic development when it becomes independent. Combined with the rapid population growth that would make quite a mess. The reports suggestion: open Europe's labor markets.

I found that the report had remarkable similarities with a BND report from februari 2005. Both for example name the same three criminal leaders: Haradinaj, Thaci and Haliti.

I don't share the conclusions of the report. Albania and Turkey also have close connections between government and mafia and yet their economy is growing fast. Turkey is now a fast industrializing country that seems to have made the transit. So I don't believe that mafia influence in Kosovo's government will doom its economy.

Kosovo's biggest problem is its dependent attitude. The belief that everything will be better when Kosovo becomes independent masks a passivity to improve anything now. In the past Istanbul and Belgrade were supposed to improve life and UNMIK is just the newest mommy from which Kosovo expects everything - while doing nothing by itself. And just as in the past when Kosovo doesn't get enough for its taste it becomes destructive and demands independence. In the mean time the aid that they do get is wasted. Once Kosovo spent its Yugoslav aid on the most luxurious university of Yugoslavia where they mainly teached useless subjects like history and literature. Recently Pristina municipality spent 1.7 million euro to refurbish a boulevard with marble sidewalks. And the sabotage of the Yugoslav factories may very well one day be substituted by sabotage of factories owned by international companies.

At some point the international community will have to leave Kosovo on its own to get its act straight. Harsh medicine will be the only thing that works.

Mafia dominance is bad news for minority rights. A mafia dominated Kosovo will break every promise it makes towards its minorities. There is money to be made with driving out minorities.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

How to negotiate Kosovo's future

Mediation strategies
Negotiating is an old art about which many books have been published. Two principles stand out:
- look for common ground and start from there
- keep the discussion broad to avoid yes/no deadlocks.

Unfortunately the Ahtisaari negotiations were conducted in such a way that they did end in such a yes/no deadlock. More recently US ambassador Michael Polt said that "a new round of talks between the Belgrade government and Kosovo's ethnic-Albanian leaders won't solve the problem of who would govern Kosovo". If you frame the negotiations this way that will indeed happen.

Recent statements by Surroi indicate that the Kosovo-Albanian delegation wants to talk only about independence - without partition. If the Troika indulges those restrictions the talks are doomed.

Until now I haven't read anywhere how the Troika plans to conduct the negotiations - except that they will talk separately with the delegations. I would suggest a system whereby at least four different scenarios are discussed: independence and reconnection with Serbia, both with and without border changes. This would force both delegations to formulate conditions for those options that they find inacceptable. And that would also guarantee that all the other items like minority rights, refugee returns, ownership questions and financial separation are discussed.

An alternative would be to start from absolute minimums: for Albanians that would be a guaranteed control over their own fate and for Serbs protection for minorities and monuments. The mediators would discard all proposals that do not satisfy these minimum requirements.

For the Serb side this would be rather easy. They could for example copy the autonomy laws of the Basques, add some international guarantees to it and that would be it. Copying the pre-1989 laws wouldn't make much sense as they were written for a communist dictatorship and don't deal with the complexities of capitalist democracies.

The Albanian side would have to prove that their proposal guareentees the Serbs adequate rights. I believe that this would be considerably more difficult and that even the Ahtisaari proposal would not qualify.

A third strategy seems most probable at the moment: letting both parties make their statements and then pressure them over the details:
- we see this in the pressure on Serbia to provide details on how it wants to integrate Kosovo. Obviously they want to hear more than Serbian as obligatory subject on the schools and swearing allegiance for government officials. They want also some sacrifice like promises of government investment in Kosovo or reseved seats for Albanians in the Serb parliament.
- a similar strategy towards the Albanians would demand details on refugee returns and confidence building measures now. Unfortunately I haven't seen any such pressure yet.

Finding a balance
The situations in Iraq and Kosovo are quite similar. In both places a US led coalition first created an almost racist situation where one or more minorities where severely repressed. Then they appointed a local government where the minorities had hardly any influence. Later they started to pressure that government to do more for minority rights. But those governments have a weak power base and are operating in a climate of ethnic tensions. So - except for some lip service - they resist the international pressure.

One of the main provisions of the Ahtisaari proposal was the formation of some Serb majority municipalities. One can only wonder why this hasn't been implemented 7 years ago. Even if it had not been enough it would have helped. But instead the only change of municipal borders that UNMIK indulged in was the abolishment of the Gora municipality - which had a Gorani majority.

Kosovo Albanians hold nearly all the cards in these negotiations (the fate of the minorities and Serb monuments, NATO and US support). Serbia has only a few left (status and some influence over Kosovo's Serbs). Yet this lack of balance only makes the negotiations more difficult because it puts the Serbs in the position were the gains achievable are so small that they rather not sign.

Refugees and minority rights are in my opinion more important than status for the moment. It can be expected that after Kosovo becomes independent we will have a similar situation as in Croatia where it has proved very hard to achieve improvements after independence.

According to OSCE figures nearly half of Kosovo's Serbs have left. It is generally expected that without serious changes the great majority of Kosovo's Serb refugees will never return. And that if Kosovo becomes independent 10,000s more will flee the province. Many of them consider their position desparate and will consider independence as a signal that improvement is improbable for many years.

And it will not stay with that. Kosovo's government has consistently refused any type of territorial autonomy and there are many signals that they may try to Albanize the minority areas after independence. For example Northern Mitrovica would get new government offices that attract many Albanians, Leposavic will get hunderds of Albanian soldiers on its army base and Strpce will see its main employer privatised to an Albanian owner who will gradually fire the Serbs in order to employ Albanians.

Given the tense ethnic relations these policies would soon push the Serbs and other minorities to leave.

Despite this probable scenario the Ahtisaari proposal did not address this topic. Ahtisaari's approach is: let the peacekeepers do their job and those people that want to return will return. That it hasn't worked for the past 8 years doesn't seem to bother him. Or maybe he is afraid of the consequences if he does take it into account. It would mean that he had to introduce more controversial aspects to his proposal. However, without such additions his proposal is just a license to cleanse 200,000 people.

I believe that to repair the Ahitisaari proposal one would have to add stronger minority rights so that they are better able to resist the pressure. Crucial however would be numerical targets for returns and sanctions if the number of minorities keeps decreasing.

Silent cleansing
The cleansing in Kosovo is the same kind of silent ethnic cleansing that we have seen (and still see) in Croatia and Bosnia too. The goverments of former Yugoslavia have developed a whole set of tools to achieve the departure of unwanted minorities. In Kosovo the policies tend to be harsher because the ethnic relations have been worse for a long time.

Slovenia started these policies with its administrative "erasures". Soon Croatia and Serbia (in Kosovo) followed with loyalty declarations as an excuse to fire minorities from their job. Later people were also fired without excuses or under the pretext of economic reform. After a war there was always the excuse of war crimes. Croatia was most creative with secret indictments so that each returnee had to fear arrest (and it might take months behind bars to get your name cleared).

Besides those creative rules that "just happen" to harm only minorities there is also the general hostile climate.

Discrimination is omnipresent and complaints are dismissed as just another symptom of how whining and powerhungry those minorities are. History is presented in a way that intentionally hurts minority feelings: a favorite trick is to glorify people who recently or in the past committed war crimes against the minority.

A third push factor is personal safety. There are increased numbers of thefts, vandalism and occasional beatings. Yet the police behaves uninterested and mostly concerned with playing down their significance. Occassional murderous attacks are similarly downplayed and every trick is used to be able to say that the attacks were not ethnically motivated. At the same time you sometimes see the publication of lists of "war criminals" - an obvious invitation for ethnically motivated murderers.

The standard international reaction is one of passivity. There are no big crimes and so there is no reason for an international outcry. It is often forgotten that it is this kind of silent cleansing played an impotant role in starting the war in Croatia. And the possibility that a similar policy might be introduced played an important role instarting the Bosnian conflict. Forcing thousands of people to relocate is an act of war - even if no one is killed.

Sometimes Western diplomats do notice the acts of obstruction, like recently when the OSCE mentioned the problems with Serb property rights in Kosovo. But they consider these as accidents and approach it as such. I believe that this approach is naive. There are enough indications that Kosovo's government is not exactly enthousiast about making its Serb minority content - let alone encouraging the refugees to return.

However, once you admit that the attitude of the Kosovo government is a problem it becomes clear that the OSCE approach is insufficient. By fighting individual policies you will always lag behind the nationalist politicians who think up ten new policies for each that you get abolished. There are many ways to harrass minorities if you really want.

A recent Reuters article gave a good example how this silent cleansing works. It tells of an inhabitant of Svinjare, the village near Mitrovica that was in the march 2004 riots burned down. His house was rebuilt. However, since then it has been burgled or vandalized thirteen times. No one can live that way in the long term.

Sanctions that bite
UNMIK used to have a "standards before status" policy, but it did not work. Kosovos politicans were too well aware that the status of Kosovo is UNMIKs problem too. And they preferred pressuring UNMIK above working on the "standards".

As delaying independence does not work there are few options left to pressure Pristina. Financial incentives are out of the question as Kosovo gets much of its budget from international sources and the international community would be the one who in the end footed the bill of any punishment.

That leaves only territorial consessions as an option to put pressure on Kosovo's government. The international community or a treaty that results from the present status negotiations could set limits that if at a certain time Kosovo does not contain a certain number of minorities it should give up certain territories. There are a couple of nearly uninhibited territories along Kosovo's northern border that would be suitable for such consessions. This could include even the Trepca mine.

But allthough I believe that the international community should use sanctions that bite I doubt whether this will work.

Kosovo has populist politicians who most probably will ignore the threat of sanctions and instead will blame the internationals and the Serbs when they finally happen. For the minorities it wouldn't deliver much: the territories are empty because they are infertile mountain land, so much resettlement is not possible. Only Trepca could bring some money that might be used to indemnify the refugees.

But if one admits that there is no way to pressure the Kosovo government the conclusion is the minority rights should be restored to an adequate level before independence is granted. Or at least that the situation should be changed in such a way that the Kosovo government can do a minimum level of harm.

Partition would then be the first option. It is easy to implement. If Kosovo would get compensation in the Presevo Valley it wouldn't be too controversial. But it would apply only for a part of the minorities. So partition alone can never be enough to solve the situation.

I believe that northern Mitrovica, Zvecan, Leposavic, Zubin Potok and Strpce should go to Serbia. The Trepca mine and the road from Mitrovica to Pudojevo should stay with Kosovo. Albanians would get the right to pass through Strpce without special documents.

In exchange parts of the Presevo Vally might be added to Kosovo. This would involve most of the Presevo municipality (over 90% Albanian). Giving a history of shooting incidents over the Kosovo border Serbia might get a safety distance between the border and the road to Macedonia. Bujanovac municipality (60% Albanian) would be split with the west going to Kosovo and the east - including Bujanovac city - to Serbia. Medvedja municipality (30% Albanian) would cede some Albanian majority villages to Kosovo.

Some people claim that border changes will deteriorate their position. I disagree. Instead it will improve their position as it will stress the Albanian domninance of Kosovo. There will be less reason to see the minorities as Trojan horses who might one day serve as an excuse for a Serb invasion. Even if Kosovo would stay with Serbia this would be with ethnic borders that make clear that in Kosovo Albanians are the boss.

Population exchange
Population exchanges were popular up until 1945 to solve minority related problems between neighbours. It was often very unbalanced with one side sending several times as much people as the other side. Respect of human rights was not very high: many of those transfered lost all they had. Some of those "exchanges" were arrangements that sought to give at least some decency to ethnic cleansings that had already started. Besides that there was the price in people believing that "our peoples cannot live together". This intolerant conviction was very probably one of the sources of the holocaust. But for all there shortcomings they were at least solutions that were accepted by both sides.

Population exchanges reached their climax at the end of World War II when there were a few dozen exchanges (including one between Italy and Yugoslavia). The most infamous were those that moved millions of Poles and Germans in order to satisfy Stalin's desire to move Poland to the west. At the same time however the Nuremberg Trial took the line that population transfers in which people were forced to move against their will was a war crime and a crime against humanity. This position has since then been reinforced by international treaties.

However, in the face of the situation in Kosovo one seriously has to consider a "population exchange" as the least bad solution that at least gives everyone a home in Kosovo. In the rest of this section I will investigate how such an exchange might look in order to get at least a reasonably decent outcome.

The first step would be decent census data. We would need to know how many Serbs and other minorities still live in Kosovo, how many live in Serbia and how many elsewhere. Next we would need to know many of those in Kosovo plan to leave when Kosovo become independent. They would be candidates for exchange. People who have left Kosovo would be counted in all cases. Whether they actually plan to return is not of interest: ethnic cleansing should under no condition be rewarded.

Albanian families tend to be bigger than Serb ones, so one could argue for exchanging families instead of individuals, but I believe that would cause more problems than it solves.

The next problem is determining an area that Kosovo would have to give up. The area west of Mitrovica would probably fall off because of its thin connections to Serbia - making it difficult to give it a viable economy. The Presevo Valley has not been involved in the violence that has driven out so many Serbs in the last eight years, so it would be a bit odd to punish them with a population exchange.

That leaves two areas: Mitrovica and Pudojevo-Kamenica. From the point of view of city-countryside mix Mitrovica with surroundings would be most suitable: many of the exiled Serbs come from cities (40,000 from Pristina alone). But as this automatically would include the Trepca mine this might evoke Albanian objections. The only alternative would then be in the Pudojevo-Kamenica area. The area ceded to Serbia would then be bigger and might include Gracanica.

A population exchange without force is impossible. However, there are a number of ways to attenuate the process.

Pensioners should be excluded: old people are often extremely attached to their homes and this should be respected.

Exchanges of whole villages should be encouraged.

A population exchange would cost a lot of money to encourage people to move and to compensate for the costs.

Security is another issue. One needs to take care that houses are not vandalised once they have been abandonned. And homeowners whould be encouraged to leave their houses in a decent state for the new inhabitants.

It would be naive to see Kosovo as a stand-alone case. The world is full of minorities and minority conflicts. Whether one likes it or not Kosovo will be used as a precedent.

Some people like to stress that what in Kosovo happened is so horrible that special treatment is necessary. But compared with other ethnic conflicts Kosovo with its estimated 10,000 dead was a minor case: Biafra had a million dead, in Turkish Kurdistan the counter stands at about 40,000, Chechnia had some 40,000 to 100,000 dead and so on.

Abchazia illustrates better than anything else the consequences of the policy according to the Ahtisaari/Kosovo model.

The Abchazian ethnic group consisted before the war of only 18% of the population. In the 1992/1993 war they threw out most of the other ethnic groups so that they now form about half the population - giving them solid control. According to the Ahtisaari/Kosovo model the Abchazians would become the new rulers and the refugees would de facto have to give up both on returns and compensation (except for a possibility to sell their house). In theory they would keep these rights, but this would only serve to keep anyone from advocating stronger measures to help them.

The lack of attention to the refugee problem in Kosovo in the previous negotiations places in doubt whether the international community really believes in a multi-ethnic society. And as at the same time they don't want to give up their "no borders changed" dogma they tend to end with the conclusion that the Serbs have had bad luck. And in order not to seem unfair they blame it on the victims who shouldn't have engaged the fight in the first place. Of course this makes ethnic conflicts a risky business: either you win and get everything or you lose and become a refugee. This kind of conviction is bound to make future ethnic conflicts even more bloody.

A final question would be who would propose what at the negotiations. I think that the main burden will be on the Albanian delegation. At the moment that the international mediators no longer qualify their proposals as satisfactory they will have to find ways to keep more Serbs on Kosovo's territory. It is to them to decide whether they want to achieve this with extra rights, border changes, population exchanges or other means.

In this all the "A house for everyone" principle that I introduced in a previous post will be crucial.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Language and religion

Separatism is usually based on either language or religion. In Yugoslavia Slovenia, Kosovo and Macedonia wanted to separate on linguistic criteria, while Croatia and Bosnia used religious arguments. I think it is good to make a distinction between both as such separations work out very differently.

As countries modernize there is a natural tendency towards linguistic separation. As countries modernise they become increasingly dependent on documents and communication. As a consequence it become increasingly expensive to provide services in all languages. This applies also to the individual people who need to speak more than one language in order to qualify for their jobs. Adding to this is that with the advance of international languages like English fewer people learn the languages of neighbouring ethnic groups. You see the same in Western countries. For example Belgium has an official language border. The only area that is still officially bilangual - Brussel - has become de facto French speaking (about 90%). And much of the communication between the french and dutch speaking communities is nowadays in english. In Canada too Quebec has adopted a policy that stresses the french speaking character of the province.

Most people understand this logic of linguistic separation. The separation of Slovenia and Macedonia went nearly effortless. Kosovo is a bit more complicated as the population is more mixed. But the main problem there is that the international community is pushing for terms of separation that are seen as extremely unfair by the Serb side.

Religious separation is a completely different thing. Unlike linguistic differences there are no special policies necessary to keep a multi-religious society working. One only needs to keep track that there isn't too much discrimination. With religious differences people tend to live much more mixed and are often not even aware of their differences. However, once the process of separation starts it tends to be self-reinforcing.

Separatism is primarily motivated by economic motives. Usually it are the rich provinces that believe they would be better of when they no longer had to subsidize the poorer provinces. But - as Yugoslavia demonstrated - the promise of financial support by other countries and membership of a rich club like the EU will do the trick too. However, an economic motive is not enough - it looks egoistic and it would give all the people who will be disadvantaged a claim for compensation. And so there is a need for some ideological justification.

This is usually found in ethnic differences. With linguistic differences this is easy to do and generally accepted. But invoking religious differences is rather unconvincing. It is probably no coincidence that both Bosnia and Croatia invented new languages to strengthen their claim of specialness. Another trick is provoking conflicts with for example "loyalty declarations" and distoring history in a way that is bound to anger the others.

Separation has two opposite effects. One the one hands it ends a conflict, but on the other hand it stresses the differences between people and often leads to the complete disappearance of the minority group from the separated territory.

With linguistic separation the balance is usually on the positive side. There is little need for stressing the differences as they are clear and the population often already lives separated. And so the polarisation stays restricted. But with religious separatism the damage done is usually much more severe and one needs to wonder whether it is worth the trouble.

I think that for the international community the main lesson should be to pay more attention to the details of discrimination. In the case if Yugoslavia this should have started with Slovenia. The case of the "erased" might have been considered too tiny when Slovenia was the only separating province. But in the case of Yugoslavia it set a bad precedent and should have been punished with heavy sanctions and refusal of recognition. Similarly, Croatia's "loyalty declarations" and mass firings of Serbs should have been heavily critized and sanctioned.

I have always considered it stupid to see the dissolution of Yugoslavia as desirable because the Serbs had become too dominating. Bosnia and Croatia faced exactly the same dilemma's of dominant groups and minority rights. Interestingly both before and after the dissolution there was little international attention for discrimination in Yugoslavia.

Instead all the attention went to Serb nationalism. I found this rather strange as I see nationalism as a sign of democratisation. Besides their crazy points the Serb nationalists had some good points that really needed to be repaired. It is often stated that the Croat and Slovene nationalism was a reaction against the Serb nationalism. But I think that is only true for a minor part. Mostly it was just a matter of long repressed nationalists who finally found a good excuse to seek the spotlight again. Nothing wrong - they had their good points too - but I have never understood the eagerness with some some diplomats adopted their case. It would have been better to use them as the basis for negotiations and not accept any outcome that did not protect all groups involved.

The advantage of a stable situation is that it usually brings a reasonable standard of human rights. Revolutions however bring radicals to power and a general deteriorisation of human rights. The first time it went wrong in Yugoslavia was the Serb take-over in Kosovo. But instead of concluding from this that revolutions were not desirable the West promoted its own revolutions in Slovenia, Croatia, etc. And even today we see internationals obsessed with constitutional reforms in Bosnia - while they ignore the dynamics of equality and discrimination in the inter-ethnic relations.

In Iraq the Americans made a false start with the dismissal of the whole army and the de-Baathisation - two measures clearly meant to trouble the Sunnites. Nowadays they are a bit wiser but they face the challenge to convince a government dominated by Shiite radicals that they should treat the Sunnites as equals. I think they have only a chance when they make it core of their mission. They should really believe that the best thing that they can leave behind is a democratic Iraq where everyone is treated equally. At the moment the policy of appeasement of the Sunnites is mostly a tactical ploy. The nationalist clique around Cheney would still prefer to keep their radical Shiites happy and has only (temporarily?) changed because the price seemed too high.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Language trouble in Macedonia

Balkanalysis pays attention to a speach by OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities Rolf Ekéus on "the role of education in building a pluralist and genuinely democratic society". Most interesting is the point he makes that the minority should learn the language of the majority - otherwise you end with a country where the two ethnic groups don't speak each others language. Balkananaysis notes that Albanians already increasingly don't learn Macedonian.

In fact this is a mondial problem. A century ago it was logical in countries that you learned each others language. But nowadays it is more profitable to spend your time on learning English or German. In Belgium you see the same thing happening.

In Kosovo the learning of Serbian plummeted when the province became de facto self-governing in the 1960s. It looks like the Ohrid agreement has created a similar effect among the Macedonian Albanians.

This development might endanger the long term future of Macedonia.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

The colony Kosovo

The Polish/Swedish journalist Maciej Zaremba has written a critical series of articles about the situation in Kosovo (links to the English versions are at the top of the page). It is mostly a critical account of how the UN rule works and how it generates corruption. Zaremba sees the structure of the mission as the main problem.

Part 1: report from UNMIKistan, land of the future contains an interview with Albin Kurti and a story about corruption at the airport.

Part 2: The UN state and the seven robbers starts with the case of Jo Trutschler, a German swindler who managed to become senior manager at the electricity company KEK (his fraudulent CV was never checked), tells how many UN employees - specially "consultants" - become employed through "connections". It follows with another airport story and the mobile phone contract.

Part 3: Complain in Azerbaijan is about the "legal immunity" of the mission with several examples.

Part 4: Prowess, courage and plastic socks starts with the story how Swedish soldiers in march 2004 in a day long battle saved Gracanica from being burnt. It continues describing how some other militairy missions did much worse and it ends with the international police.

In two final articles present UN governor Joachim Rücker gives his reaction to the articles ("article is very unbalanced") and Zaremba's reaction.

It makes you wonder whether it wouldn't have been better when the UN had followed resolution 1244 to the letter. It stipulated that after a short UN reign there should come an interim government (that respected Yugoslavia's territorial integrity - so it would probably look something like before 1989 with the Albanians in charge and the peacekeepers as a kind of mediator). After that negotiations should be started for a definitive status. Obviously international government is not the success that we hoped.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

A house for everyone

The recent Martic verdict of the ICTY was for me a reason to look again into what happened in the Krajna.

I find it very worrying that Croatia could cleanse most of its Serb community and get away with it. Many internationals like to say that these Serbs somehow deserved it. But I don't buy that. Each ruler is responsible for his own territory and is obliged to make sure that it is not ethnically cleansed. Once you start accepting excuses you open the gate for everyone to find his own excuse. Besides, there are enough indications that Croatia under Tudjman had a policy of actively "encouraging" Serbs to emigrate both by robbing them of their jobs and by symbolism that was designed to bring the horrors of World War II in memory.

I think it is no coincidence that the ethnic cleansings in Kosovo of Serbs and Albanians after march 1999 had much similarity with that in the Krajna in 1995. The unconcern of the international community towards Kosovo's Serb refugees and towards the prospect of more refugees if the Ahtisaari proposal is accepted seem related too.

I think that the problem is rooted in the fact that the international community has only one set of concepts to deal with in this kind of situations: "ethnic cleansing" and "right of return". But in view of the situation in Bosnia those concepts have lost their power. Bosnia has hundreds of thousands of refugees who live now somewhere else where they have settled and from where they don't intend to return to their original place. This gives the concept of the right of return an air of arbitrariness. In practice it means often only that you can ask some money for the house that you left behind.

What I am missing in the international vocabulary is the concept of fairness. If area A sends 500,000 refugees to area B and area B sends 500,000 others to area A there is at least a balance. Such a balance can be found to a certain extent in Bosnia. But in Kosovo and Croatia the cleansing is nowadays completely onesided.

This is not just an academic discussion. Nobody will be enthousiastic about cleansing if he knows that there is to be a balance - because it implies that his own people will be involved too. However, when he cleansing is onesided it becomes profitable.

As a consequence I believe that it would be good international policy to promote fairness in international conflicts. In Bosnia such a policy was present and in the end we got a territorial division that somewhat reflects the size of the ethnic groups. But I believe that we could have improved on the proces by being clear on the principle from the beginning by hinting that the Serbs - being 33% of the population before the war - were supposed to control an area that contained 33% of the population before the war, Muslims 43%, etc.

Having such a rule might have a very healthy influence in Bosnia. Many Bosiaks seem to see Bosnia as "their" nation-state and wouldn't mind some "encouragement" for Croats and Serbs to emigrate. In fact Silajdzic already provides such encouragement. Many Serbs and Croats sense this threat and are for that reason afraid of a more centralized state.

This model is not perfect of course. Croats in Bosnia lived so spread that it would be difficult to let them control a part of Bosnia according to their number in a democratic way. And with the migration of many Bosnian Croats to Croatia one could argue that Bosnia and Croatia have to be considered together to determine the fairness.

Such fairness considerations would also have consequences for refugee returns. It would suggest that it is not fair if one side is returning en masse while at the same time they are blocking the returns for the other side. I think the UN should be clear about these fairness criteria. It might prevent useless discussions about situations in specific cities or villages.

When fairness is threatened in Bosnia the international community can be repair situations with relatively small policy changes. But the situation with Croatia and Kosovo is different. Even if you take the immigration of ethnic Croats from Bosnia and Serbia in account Croatia has exiled about 200,000 people more than it has absorbed. The international community should make it clear that this inacceptable. We will have to grudgingly accept the population exchanges that have taken place. But we can't accept one ethnic group throwing out another just for the pleasure of possessing their lands and houses. So we will need to make some ultimatum.

My preference would that the Security Council gives Croatia one year to repair the situation. If it doesn't manage to do so it should have to give up territory to house 200,000 people.

This wil be controversial. But it will make it clear that the international community is committed to a balanced outcome. If such a policy had been in place before:
- the Serbs in Croatia and Bosnia and the Croats in Bosnia would at some point have stopped to conquer more territory because they would know that even in the most favorable outcome for them they would have to give up the excess.
- the Croats would have behaved differently in Operation Storm
- the Serbs would not have tried to cleanse Kosovo during the 1999 war.
- destruction of houses would have been limited as the parties would have been aware that they would need the houses for their own people.

Such an outcome oriented policy will also force countries to adapt their policy. Nowadays it is profitable to keep the ethnic hatred alive. It prevents returns and that fits some people well, either for emotional reasons or because they wants the property of the displaced minorities. But with such policy in place countries will follow the opposite policy and stress the faults and crimes committed by the own side in order to decrease the resistance against returns. The alternative of giving up territory is less attractive.

One might argue that such a policy promotes "population exchanges". But in fact it is completely neutral in this respect. The formula says that in an ethnicaly mixed territory each groups should rule over a percentage of the population that is equal to its percentage in the total population. So both sides will have a similar quantity of minorities and know that cleansing will harm their own side too.

Context and restrictions
It should be stressed that I recommended this policy only for those cases where a high percentage of a minority has been expelled for the long term. It is not the solution to all problems. But I believe that it is an indispensable tool in the toolbox of diplomacy that deals with ethnic conflicts.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Speech control

Ideas often come before actions. And so it is good to look what ethnic leaders say and to make them accountable for it. As I see it there are three kinds of "dangerous" remarks:
- remarks that describe the others as inferior or having less civil rights
- complaints and accusations about behavior by the others
- demands for more ethnic rights

1. Remarks that describe the others as inferior or having less civil rights
I find these by far the most problematic as they are explicit. The other kinds of remarks may be quite legitimate, but here there is no doubt about the intent. Yet the international community pays these kinds of remarks the least attention.

The war in Yugoslavia began for me when I heard that Tudjman had said that if the Serbs didn't like it in Croatia they should leave for Serbia. This made it clear that they had less civil rights than the Croats. I still find it unbelievable that the international community did not react.

The recent remarks of Silajdzic about Serbs having been "raised as fascists and criminals" falls in the same category. Everyone understands that criminals should be kept under close control and not be allowed much freedom. And so he implicitly condemns the Serbs as a life as second rate citizens. In nearly every Western country such utterings are punishable under anti-racism laws.

Peacekeepers tend to ignore these kind of remarks. As they see it, these people are not fighting and not making demands and so it is rather innocent. But these ideas lay the framework from which fighting and nationalistic demands follow.

2. Complaints and accusations about behavior by the others
This category can be divided between personal attacks and attacks on an ethnic group.

In the case of attacks on a person or a small group (for example accusing them of being a war criminal, a thug or corrupt) one should keep to the principle that everyone is innocent until proven otherwise. This is the only way to keep the political discussion clean. Peacekeepers should be careful to maintain decorum in this area. When there is some proof - of course - charges should be investigated.

Attacks on ethnic groups come in a wide variety. They vary between the 1987 report of the Serb Academy of Sciences about discrimination of Serbs in Croatia and Kosovo to charges that the RS is the "product of ethnic cleansing".

One should try to look to these charges first in the wider context. What is the accuser trying to achieve? Accusations without suggestions how to improve are not very credible. See further under point 3 (demands).

Next one should analyze the complaint. Both "Serbs are discriminated" and "the RS is the product of genocide" are generalisations that are difficult to prove. The discrimination should be made exact with examples and statistics. The "product of genocide" seems to be a combination of a demand for abolishment of the RS and a generalisation about genocide. One might claim that the RS is for a part the product of genocide, but one cannot deny that many other other factors contributed to the arising of the RS.

I think that peace keepers should demounce generalisations and push for concrete complaints. These complaints should be thoroughly investigated and when found grounded there should be a search for concrete solutions.

I good example of how not to handle complaints is the memorandum of the Serb Academy of Sciences in 1986. Sure, the Memorandum contained some bombastic statements, but the study on the positions of the Serbs in Kosovo was a detailed and serious study and deserved a serious answer, not some propagandistic statement about Serb nationalism. I wouldn't be surprised if this was the reason why Milosevic chose to revoke the Kosovo autonomy and to grab for control over the presidium. ialogue obviously didn't work.

It is often thought that the core of democracy is voting or a free market. But I belief that the core is the realisation that you are all together in the same country and working together to bring that country forward. Of course everyone tries to promote his own interests, but it is part of the democratic ideology that you do not cross the borders of fairness.

Yugoslavia in 1986 was on the border of democracy. People started to speak up about their complaints. Institutions like an independent judiciary - that normally guarantees fairness in a democracy were not yet there. And so it was up to the politicians to do it. They failed.

Democracies everywhere have to deal with nationalisms. The trick is to solve the real complaints and to mostly ignore the nationalistic rethoric. Yugoslavia failed to do this and ended by falling apart in war. But nowadays the successor republics face the same challenges.

3. Demands for more ethnic rights
It is a fundamental aspect of democracy that everyone is free to try to improve his position. So there is nothing wrong with ethnic demands - even when they include changes of borders.

However, two principles should be maintained:
- the democratic rules of law as used in that country should be respected.
- no discrimination.

The main task of internationals should be to guide those discussions about those demands. What will the demands mean for the other group(s)? How will the details be filled in? What do they hope to achieve? They should also try to place the discussion in a broader context.

If one takes the "abolishment of the RS" demand one has immediately to conclude that the "product of genocide" claim is about the past. It says nothing about the reason why it should be desirable to abolish the RS now and what should be in its place. As such it clouds the discussion and should be avoided.

I believe peacekeepers should create an open atmosphere for discussions. Discussions should be about real arguments and not be decided by "that is unacceptable for us". And it should be accepted that even when the arguments are good that is no guarantee that it becomes democratically accepted.

For me the word "genocide" is completely meaningless in the context of former Yugoslavia. Is killing 7000 people in Srebrenica genocide? But what if you kill everybody in a village of 300 people? What if you eliminate one complete family of 10?

I strongly prefer to stop talking about genocide in the context of Yugoslavia and instead to start talking about concrete events and facts. The word "genocide" is reducing dialogue and reconciliation to calling names. Let's call a murder a murder and stop pretending that some murders are infinitely worse than others because someone has decided to label them as genocide.

Peacekeepers should also take an active part in shaping the public discussion about what happened in the war. Unfortunately many of them know only fragments of what happened and they tend to listen mainly to one side.

At the moment the international community focusses its attention on war crimes. I think this should be widened. The conflicts began with words and politics. This side should get much more attention.

Peacekeepers should function most of the time as discussion leaders. Doing this they should use the same rules that are used in Western countries.

Friday, June 15, 2007

How peacekeeping missions loose their focus

Peacekeepers have a lot in common with the police. Both maintain some written text: the peace agreement or the law. And both have the authority to use force, but are supposed also to use persuasion to achieve conformity to the peace agreement or law.

If one analyses the peacekeeping missions in Bosnia and Kosovo it is easy to see that something has gone wrong. They are not real peacekeeping operations but something somewhere between peacekeeping and a colonial occupation.

Take Bosnia. The Dayton Agreement was rather clear. But instead of just maintaining it the internationals let themselves be convinced that Dayton was not good enough and needed improvement. No wise cop will not allow himself to be drawn in a discussion about the validity of the laws. He may be flexible on details, but they will not allow you to undermine the core of their mission. Unfortunately what happened in Bosnia.

In my opinion the internationals (both EUFOR and the high representative) should restrict themself to maintaining Dayton. Any discussion about independence for the RS or abolition of the RS should be discarded with a simple "that is not in Dayton".

In Kosovo the situation was even more extreme. Resolution 1244 was clear about Serbia's territorial integrity. It foresaw negotiations to establish an interim government that respected the territorial integrity. After that final negotiations could be started. Serb diplomats were ready and started soon after the war to hint at several solutions including partition. But the internationals rejected this and instead kept Kosovo in limbo for 7 years - after which they started negotiations about a final solution chaperoned by a partial negotiator and handicapped by Contact Group principles that excluded the option of partition.

Resolution 1244 foresaw a short period of UN rule and as a consequence didn't give extensive instructions on how to rule the province. UNMIK was supposed just to keep things running. When the mission continued for years it got inevitably involved in legislation. This was something for which they had no clear mandate and as a consequence it handicapped them in their peace keeping mission.

The problem with changing your basis is that the mission gets off-balance. The discussion is no longer about how the mission can achieve its goals. Instead it becomes torn by conflicting demands from all sides. This undermines also the agreement that forms the basis of the peacekeeping mission. So instead of promoting peace the mission is undermining it. The effect can be clearly seen in Bosnia where the conflict about status of the RS has poisoned the relations between the ethnic groups and instead of returns has led to continuing departures of minorities.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

The Badinter mistake

In august 1991 the EU created an "Arbitration Commission" for legal advice on how to handle the situation in Yugoslavia. This commission is usually known as the Badinter Commission after its president. On 20 november the commission published its first conclusion. The remainder followed on 11 januari 1992.

The composition of the commission was rather unusual: all 5 members were famous constitutional lawyers - but not specialists in a relevant field: no international lawyers, no Balkan experts and no specialists in ethnic conflicts.

When judges don't know about a subject they are supposed to investigate the subject with an open mind and without prejudice. It is dubious whether these lawyers conformed to that image. Yugoslavia was hotly debated in the newspapers at that time and Badinter himself was known as an activist lawyer who had become famous for fighting against the death penalty in his homeland France. Also 3 to 4 months seems rather short to develop a balanced view on a completely new subject. This raises the question whether the commission was selected for rubberstamping and justifying the existing EU policy instead.

The EU policy at that time was a mix of contradicting interests. You had - specially in the US - people who saw Yugoslavia as the last communist bastion and who considered encouraging separatism as a nice way to topple it. You had also the Germans, Austrians and Hungarians who had historical ties to Slovenia and Croatia and would love to see them independent. And lastly there was the desire to keep the policy consistent with that towards the Soviet Union (most Soviet republics were recognised in december 1991).

As a result the policy was from the beginning contradictory. Slovenia declared itself independent on june 25 1991. The first reaction of the EU was not to recognize it. But the next thing it did was to send a troika to Zagreb to broke a cease-fire that meant a de-facto recognition.

To understand this blunder one should imagine the EU sending a mediator to Spain to mediate between the government and the ETA and to conclude a binding truce. The Spanish government would never accept this. They would insist to have the negotiations with the ETA alone. That way it would be their decision and it would also only their decision to end the truce. They might accept mediation to lay the contact but they would never third party involvement in the negotiations. In a normal situation third party involvement in negotiations would only be acceptable when the parties were in a military stalemate.

The core of the advice of the commission was that Yugoslavia was "in dissolution" and that the republics could be recognized when they declared themselves independent. Their borders were considered to have the same inviolability as those of independent states. This was not the first time the West tried to "dissolve" Yugoslavia: previously Lord Carrington already had made an effort.

International law knowns two types of ways a new country can come into existence. One way is that of former colonies. When colonialism ended in Latin America and Africa the existing colonial borders were maintained as the borders of the new states. The other way is separatism. Here the law is much stricter: the mother country has nearly absolute power to deny independence. A status as republic like in Yugoslavia does not automatically help: the International Court of Justice has decided that Quebec is not allowed to secede without consent of Canada.

From my viewpoint as a social scientist this distinction makes sense:
- Both in Latin America and in Africa the borders were meaningless from the ethnic point of view and there was no structured popular demand to change that. Demands for border changes tended to come from overambitious local leaders. Giving in to these commands would only cause unrest and lay the basis for future conflicts.
- In the case of separatism the situation is very different: it is usually the outcome of a long process of ethnic polarisation. Minorities on both sides of the existing borders will desperately try to have the borders changed. And everyone is aware that you will pay a price when you finish on the wrong side of the border. Even if you are not blatantly discriminated there are the small problems that come for example from speaking a minority language.
Giving the power to the motherland makes sense in this situation. It makes separatism impossible when there is not an open democratic climate. It forces the separatist firebrands to think up an acceptable solution for both sides. If they don't do so the present situation - that is usually not that bad - will stay and there is no risk for war. A revolutionary transfer of power to another ethnic group is less desirable: it can easily get out of hand - both because of protests from groups who lose priviliges and because revolutionaries tend to exaggerate in their "reforms".

The border between those two models is unclear. But situations in between had never happened and so there was no jurisprudence.

The falling apart of the Soviet Union was somewhere in between the two models. In the case of the Baltics nationalism was strong and it looked like separatism. But in many other republics independence was caused by a combination of dislike of communism and power politics by Yeltsin. So separatism and nationalism were no immediate problems and it looked a bit like the postcolonial model. Yet on the other hand the republics had been designed as belonging to one nationality and as such they implicitly became nation states pretending to further the interests of one nationality. As a consequence nationalism did rise later and many of the republics did develop ethnic and/or border problems. So both models fitted partially. The international community gave Russia the freedom to choose - in effect applying the separatism model. The situation was decided by the speedy and unconditional recognition of the other republics by Yeltsin's Russia. Although he was not formally the leader of the Soviet Union he had enough authority to decide the situation.

However, even in the former Soviet Union not everything worked. Quite a few conflicts arose and due to the excesses of newly invented nationalisms many millions found themselves forced to move to another republic. The border between Armenia and Azerbajdzjan gave immediately problems and obviously never worked. I find it amazing that Western "mediators" keep clinging here to the mantra of territorial integrity. Something similar applies to a lesser degree to Moldova.

In Yugoslavia the situation was different. Croat and Slovene nationalism had a long history and were clearly rising. This was a clear case of separatism. To arrive at the opposite conclusion the Badinter Commission used a lot of legalistic wizardry that centered on declaring Yugoslavia as "in dissolution". Others have done a good job analyzing this wizardry (see the book of Radan). I will restrict myself as a social scientist to analyzing the sorry consequences of this policy.

Normally separatism manifests itself in mass demonstrations and boycotts. If the mother country opposes it has no choice but keeping pushing. Occassionally some terrorism may develop, but this will not change the balance of power. Usually separatist leaders are careful not to break the law as this might give the national government an excuse to imprison them. As the Kosovo Albanians knew for decades: if the mothercountry opposes you don't have much of a chance.

Croatia and Slovenia however, behaved much more self-confident around 1990. It did help that they already had a considerable degree of autonomy. But even that could not explain their extreme boldness: Slovenia fired the first shots in the dissolution of Yugoslavia - aimed at conscripts with a "no shoot" order. And both Slovenia and Croatia locked Yugoslav army units in their baracks - an extreme provocation. They felt free to do so because of foreign support - both diplomatic and with massive arms supplies.

But let's consider for a moment what a commission of international lawyers might have decided. First they very probably would have concluded that this was an internal affair of Yugoslavia and that other countries had no business here. Yugoslavia was free to deny Croatia and Slovenia independence or to impose them any condition it wanted. The commission might well have gone one step further and investigated why the situation in Yugoslavia was so getting out of hand. Encouraging separatism in other countries is illegal under international law and so they might have recommended a profound investigation and prosecution of the countries involved in the arms supplies and diplomatic support to Croatia and Slovenia. Suspected countries were Germany, Austria, Hungary and the US and so this might have become very painful for the EU.

In the meantime in Yugoslavia happened what nearly always happens when you give separatists free reign: excesses. In all new republics you saw discrimination and administrative ethnic cleansing. Slovenia "erased" its minorities, Croatia refused its Serbs minority rights and used loyalty declarations as an excuse to rob them of their jobs, Macedonia treated its Albanians as second class citizens and Bosnia didn't even bother to include its Serbs in the independence process. Yet Europe preferred not to notice this and restricted itself to token reprimands.

These twin failty Western "principles" - accepting an independence based on violence and ignoring administrative ethnic cleansing - were the basis on which Milosevic based his policies in Croatia and Bosnia. After the West had shown even to ignore massive ethnic cleansing (operation Storm) Milosevic applied that principle too in Kosovo. It is popular to paint Milosevic as a kind of Hitler, but to a large extent he just showed us in an enlarged form our own lack of principles.

What troubled the discussions about Yugoslavia most in the 1991-1995 period was that Milosevic made no explicit demands. It was clear that he wanted to secede Serb areas from Croatia and Bosnia. Yet he never made claim to specific areas. If he had done so he would have had to come with (demographic) arguments and he would have had to indicate the limits of the Serb claims (no Adriatic harbour for example). Milosevic also stayed vague about whether the areas should be independent, joined wit Serbia or autonomous. This vagueness created a kind of unholy alliance between Milosevic, Bosnia and Croatia and the West. The West could keep to its Badinter principles, Bosnia and Croatia could continue to deny consessions and Milosevic could have his Serbs conquer much more territory than their numbers justified. When territorial claims were made by Serbs in negotiations it was always on an ad-hoc basis based on what they controlled at that moment. Arguments on demographic or other objective data were scarce.

The price of this situation was that the negotiations never got to the core of the problem. Normally it is the job of the negotiators to get the demands of both parties on the table together with their motives and arguments.

The vagueness had even more consequences. It allowed Western countries to support who they liked - usually Croatia or Bosnia. This had the usual harmful effects that all foreign interventions have: it created an unpredictable situation where the power distribution was not clear and shifting. Because the parties cannot estimate their strength versus the others this creates unrealistic expectations on all sides and prolongs the conflict.

It is interesting to compare this situation with two others. The partition of Czecheslovakia in 1993 happened peacefully with some minor border changes but without international mingling. I am can convinced that this was possible in Yugoslavia too. The second situation is that of Kosovo. Learning from Milosevic's mistake Serbia takes nowadays a highly formalistic approach that highlights its sovereignty. Many people in the EU interpret this as nationalism, but it is in fact just demanding the rights that every country has towards separatist provinces. It is my impression that Serbia is prepared to let Kosovo go, but on its conditions - as it is allowed to do under international law. As these conditions include an acceptable position for Kosovo's Serb citizens and monuments this may take some time. The international tendency to reward violence that is still visible in Kosovo today only prolongs this process as it leads to a worsening treatment of Kosovo's Serbs.

Officially Europe rejects border changes unless both sides agree - that is what is in the Helsinki Treaty. But in practice it does not tolerate border changes under any condition. Although an exchange of Presevo against Northern Mitrovica is a quite acceptable solution for both many Serbs and Albanians the Contact Group for Kosovo explicitly forbade it in its "principles".

The EU is afraid that border changes in Kosovo will work as a precedent for other republics like Bosnia and Macedonia. This highlights that the Badinter process has started a domino effect. In fact Kosovo is already the second stone in the domino. The Badinter Commission denied it independence, but after some time and a few fights the Western countries now feel themselves compelled to grant it independence too. And although they are still denying it it is clear to any observer that more dominos will follow. Once you start using opportunistic arguments instead of applying the law you create a free for all.

In maintaining this policy the EU is not above using tricks. One trick is pretending that when Kosovo's borders are changed all Serbia's borders will come into play. This deligitimizes the internationally accepted process for handling separatism. Even more troubling is that the West has become a bit of a defender of ethnic cleansing to adapt the population to the borders. The first time we saw that happening was in Croatia where the EU and the US hardly critisised the cleansing of the Krajna. Next in line to be cleansed are Kosovo's Serbs - half of them are gone already.

After Kosovo the situation is most serious in Bosnia. The EU still hasn't accepted that the Serbs have (and should have) some real influence. As a consequence they keep reacting like Pavlov dogs when the racist Silajdzic sends them on a guilt trip. The consequence has been a continuing polarisation that - if not stopped - will end in either separation or ethnic cleansing. The latter option is certainly possible: on forums one sees regularly Bosniaks state that Serbs will be allowed to stay only if they accept Muslim dominance (a similar type of "tolerance" is quite common in Kosovo too) and on his blog ICG's James Lyon threatened separatist Bosnian Serbs with a scenario that would end with "more Serbs on red tractors".

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Sunnites and Serbs

The New York Times is bringing the news that the Sunnites in Iraq are threatening to leave the cabinet because they feel unable to achieve anything for their ethnic group.

This development looks surprisingly similar to what happened in Kosovo after the 1999 war. Initially the Serbs participated in the government but after some time they gave up because they felt that they were only being used for propaganda purposes.

It looks like the West is making in both areas the same kind of mistakes. They are following the traditional colonial script that has been used since ages by any conqueror: support one side and give it the free hand. In areas where just the control has shifted from one ethnic group to another this is bound to give rise to repression and intolerance.

In a normal country - even an undemocratic one - government are under some pressure to treat all ethnic groups with a certain decency. If they don't they risk uprisings and violence and the government may be toppled. But in an occupation like Iraq of Kosovo there is no risk because they can be sure that any uprising will be quelled by foreigners. And so the only effect of harrassing minorities is an electoral award amongst the rascist segment of the majority population.

The alternative is to strive for a balance where both sides get some influence and are forced to arrive at a compromise.

In Kosovo UNMIK should have granted the Serb majority areas autonomy years ago. And in Iraq the US military should simply refuse to intervene in Sunnite majority areas when they are not assisted by Sunnite Iraqi soldiers and working with an elected Sunnite provincial government.

If this sounds like surrendering to Al Qaeda consider that Al Qaeda is just a small part of the resistance. When the sunnite population turns against it Al Qaeda will soon loose its strength. Consider ths situation in Anbar province. In this province that is nearly totally Sunnite the population had enough of the Al Qaeda violence and they turned against it by siding with the Americans and government troups. Many enlisted with the police. This led to a strong reduction of Al Qaeda violence. This can only happen in tbis province because in the absense of a Shiite population there is no fear to become victim of Shiite violence that is supported by government troups.

Both Iraq and Kosovo have been advertised as "humanitarian" interventions. This supposes a kind of neutrality where we are fighting principaly on the side of justice and fairness. In reality however the Western and specially the American troops have never really been able to cut the ties that tie them to side side for whom they interfered.

It is time to realize that a humanitarian can only restore a balance of power between ethnic groups that has become too onesided. But after have restored a rough balance the interventionists should retreat and leave it to the local population to work out a practical solution.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

KFOR is not prepared for violence

KFOR and international leaders keep repeating that they are ready to quell potential violence in Kosovo.

On februari 10 they could show what they were worth when 3000 demonstrators tried to storm government buildings. Two demonstrators were killed. This resulted in a lot of discussion - mostly in Kosovo - about what went wrong and that way we get some inside view in how security in Kosovo really operates.

Some conclusions:
- Kosovo's police (KPS) was not involved in the preparations and did a poor job. They don't have rubber bullets.
- There is not one water cannon in Kosovo.
- Only the Polish, Rumanian and Ukrainian units possessed riot gear. So none of the members of the Kosovo Contact Group have it.

Although in this case on the police was involved one gets the impression that the internationals in Kosovo are just as badly prepared as in 2004. There is no reason to believe that the soldiers are better prepared.

This somehow confirms my fears. NATO or KFOR spokesmen nearly always stay stuck in generalities when they tell how prepared they are. They only time they get more specific is when they say that KFOR has moved more troops to the north of Kosovo. It makes me wonder what NATO secretary Jaap de Hoop Scheffer really means when he says "Let nobody in Kosovo have any illusions that they should test KFOR ... That goes for the majority and the minority". Does he mean that KFOR is only prepared for violence from the minority?

My recommendations would be:
- introduce an exam for international policemen. It should contain both basic police skills and UN specific rules. The candidates should also have at least two years of experience as police man. The tests should be in English as the candidates should be fluent in that language.
- Both KFOR soldiers and international policemen should in their first month in Kosovo get an exercise that gives them an experience with violent demonstrations and their control. This should be done in a realistic test-village that the exercise protesters may try to burn down. This should also test the chain of command.
- Put more trust in Kosovo's police. They should be the first line of defense and should be equipped as such.