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.


Simun said...

I'm going to take issue with a couple of things you've mentioned in your post.

I. Your proposal for "fairness" in dividing territory is untenable. It can be shown in any number of ways, for example:

- all territory is not worth the same. Who gets to decide who gets which parts?

- what if population ratios change? Do territory ownership ratios change too? Who decides when and how?

II. About Croatian ethnic cleansing of Serbian minority. (Just to be clear: I'm a Croat.)

You are completely mistaken when claiming that Croatia forced Serbs out for sheer pleasure of owning their houses. The truth is that Serbs had previously rebelled against the government, occupied almost 1/3 of Croatia and expelled all non-Serbs from those territories, probably more than 200 000 people (I don't know the exact figure).

After five years Croatia moved to recover authority over those territories and to allow those who were expelled to return home.

The leadership of Croatian Serbs quickly saw that they can't win and retreated into Bosnia, issuing orders for civilians to do the same. Vast majority of them did so.

Croatian Army had orders to not advance to close their exit routes. If it had done so, it would have presumaly suffered much more casaulties as retreating Serbian army and civilians desperately tried to break through (they would have suffered more too). Croatian quick victory was made possible partly by the fact that exit routes were intentionally left open for Serbian troups and civilians.

The case of Eastern Slavonia (formerly also a Serbian-occupied territory and today a part of Croatia) where Serbs continue to live shows that getting rid of all Serbs and "taking their houses" wasn't the primary goal in Croatian war for liberation. The goal was restoration of rule of Croatian government on the entire territory of Republic of Croatia.

Wim Roffel said...

Hi Simun,

Thank you for your reaction.

I. My proposal of "fairness" is meant to decide after the dust has settled of an ethnic conflict whether the outcome is fair or lopsided. To decide what happens next you have both diplomacy and international courts.

I am not certain what you mean with changing population ratios. However, I think that you should use the data from the eve of the conflict. It should have no influence that later one side had a higher birth rate or that a lot of people from one side were killed in the conflict.

II. "Serbs rebelled against the government": that's your definition of the conflict. The Serbs had another view. Besides, rebellion is not an excuse for cleansing: just try to imagine that Badinter had decided that the Croat insurrection was illegal. Would it have been allowed to cleanse the Croats?

Serbs had conquered and cleansed almost a third of Croatia: if they had kept it my conclusion would have been now that they had to give up a lot of territory.

Your list of what the Croat army did in Operation Storm is incomplete: they destroyed many of the Serb houses and killed many of the (usually old) Serbs that stayed behind. Is there is clearer way to say: you are not welcome any more?

Just to be complete: my proposal is meant to make the balance when a conflict has been settled. Inside an ethnic conflict ethnic cleansing is probably inevitable - because the "others" are potential traitors. In a climate where soldiers are being killed people are not very tolerant for that. But I believe that after the conflict you should make up the balance and end with a fair outcome.

Wim Roffel said...

Just one additional thought: there are many ethnic insurections in the world: the tribes of Birma, Muslims in the Philippines, Thailand and Kasjmir, Pathans and Beluchi in Pakistan, tribes in the Assam area in eastern India, Kurds in all the countries where they live, etc., etc. Your logic would mean that all those people risk to be driven out one day.