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.