Saturday, February 24, 2007

The mafia culture of dependency

When I studied antropology I wrote my bachelor paper about the "mafia" - a phenomena that has fascinated me ever since. The difference between mafia and normal crime is that maffia has a stronger connection with government.

Mafia's usually appear when the government is weak. Sometimes they are only temporary. Many formerly communist countries for example went through a phase where organised crime and government were closely connected. The possibility to make much money with fraudulent privatisations was an important factor in this.

Mafia's come often into existence as "protectors" of some minority. The US, with its many streams of immigrants has seen them all: Irish, Jewish, Italian, Russian, Vietnamese, Japanese, Chinese, etc.. In the US they tend to disappear when the minority intergrates.

But sometimes the mafia is more permanent. A good example is Sicily. The mafia mentality is believed to have originated when the island was a province of Spain.
The Spanish tended to depend on local leaders to govern the province. And so you got the typical middle men: towards the population they could offer connections with the government and towards the government they could offer control of the population. This pattern was so strong that it continued after Sicily became part of Italy: Rome just substituted the position of the Spanish.

A second factor in the development of the Sicilian mafia were the large estates owned by absentee landlords. Their administrators used to employ troops of armed men to keep the tenants in check. These would develop into the "soldiers" of the mafia.

Important in keeping control was also the omerta: the with violence enforced rule not to betray the strongmen to outsiders.

I have the impression that Kosovo is quite similar:
- A century ago its elite prided itself in its good connections with the Turks.
- Later they positioned themselves as the mediator between the Yugoslav state and the local population. The pressure for independence from the 1960s falls in this pattern. It served to keep the Albanians from integrating into Yugoslavia - what would have lessened the grip of the local elite. It was an ideology of dependency: Yugoslavia was blamed for not donating enough money, but the local elite spent the donated money on not-productive investments and did nothing to stimulate the economy.
- Nowadays it is the same with the UN having taken the place of Yugoslavia. The Kosovo press is full of every misstep of UN officials and likes to highlight how much money they are making. Yet the frustration of the UN to get anything done is hardly discussed. The only way to get things done seems to be by accepting corruption (see the privatisation).

Kosovo has its own version of the omerta, usually called the "wall of silence". It is still very active as is shown by the fate of the people involved in the recent process against the "Dukagjini group" that was accused of war crimes. Since the process three witnesses and two of the investigating policemen have been killed.

A recent Spiegel International article gave a good description of how it works in Kosovo. When the Decani monastry was shelled at the commanding NATO general simply called Haradinaj. But the price is that Haradinaj is treated like a statesman despite being suspected of war crimes (32 bodies were found near the family farm) and heroin trade.

And allthough the article doesn't discuss it, this kind of dependency is easy to manipulate. It may be very well have been Haradinaj himself who initiated the shelling. It is in his interest to be indispensable. The disappearing witnesses in his ICTY trial show that we may never know.

This has consequences for how one should consider the future of Kosovo:

- As long as the UN stays they will be part of the game. So provisional independence is not a good idea. Instead Kosovo should become fully independent. Some UN soldiers should stay but only interfere when the minorities are threatened. In the economic sphere the internationals should withdraw. There will be corruption and we will sometimes not like how they handle privatisation, but we should leave it to the Kosovars themselves to solve that.

- A union with Albania is at the moment not a good idea. It might put Kosovo in another "foreign rule" situation (like Sicily). First Kosovo should become independent and get itself in order. Only much (15 to 20 years) later one should consider a union.

- When Kosovo is independent there is a good chance that the minorities will be set up as the next external "enemy". The present climate in Kosovo, where any consession to minorities is criticised doesn't promise much good. This is yet another argument for ethnic borders.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

International intervention: strategies that work

The municipal elections in Albania last sunday (februari 18th) have criticised by "international community". Yet I want at this place to stress the positive aspects. From a fierce confrontation the parties have come to a compromise about how the elections should be organised. Some more pressure may be needed to solve some local problems. But this is how I believe the international community should operate: as a voice of reason that mediates a solution that is acceptable to both parties.

This is a kind of compromise that you cannot impose. It leaves the main initiative with the local community.

Compare this to Bosnia. Since Dayton the international community has constantly hang on the side of the Bosniacs pressuring for more centralisation. Yet in doing so they have produced an intolerant climate that has only lead to more separation between the ethnic groups.

One of the motives to demand centralisation is disfunctional government. Yet most problems are with the Federation. So rather one would expect that folding the RS into the federation will only increase the problems. So it seems that the solution is rather in more autonomy for the Croats in the Federation. If the international community would take this line the pressure will soon stop.

Peacekeeping should concentrate on maintaining a neutral climate and keeping polarising issues away. One such controversial issue is of course centralisation. Another is the genocide complaint against Serbia. I believe in fact finding: the truth helps reconciliation. And I would love this fact finding to be extended to the political domain. But this complaint isn't about fact finding: it is about putting a label on someone. And I cannot see how that can be helpful. The international community should never have allowed this complaint to be filed.

There is considerable international attention to the (lack of) returns to cities like Sreberenica. However, somehow attention to the continuing departure of Croats and Serbs from the Bosniac controlled area is missing. Yet these facts are related. How can you expect Serbs and Croats to be enthousiastic about the return of Bosniacs when they see how their own people are treated by Bosniacs.

Does this mean that Bosnia never would be more centralised. It might be, but as a compromise between local parties - maybe mediated by the international community - just as the compromise in Albania. The compromise a few months ago came close - until the international community allowed Silajdzic to spoil it.

The peace keeping mission in Kosovo has from the first day been overshadowed by the threat of Albanian violence. It worked: allthough the mission was well aware and also sympathic to the problems of the minorities it kept giving priority to Albanian interests. This became even more clear in march 2004: afterwards the general impression was that the Albanians had won. The only punishment was that the Kosovo government was supposed to pay the rebuilding. But there was no tax increase to drive this point home and it was clear that in the end the international would pay the bill.

It could have been otherwise. For example in 2004 the international community could have grabbed power back from the Kosovo government and used it to give the Serbs autonomous municipalities. It could even have asked Serb troops or police in - if only temporarily for Leposavic to release the peacekeepers there for elsewhere in Kosovo.

Similar strategies could have used before. For example by setting ultimatums to the Kosovo government to solving certain problems.

A peace mission needs to keep to stay neutral and to achieve that it needs strategies to use when either side grabs the power.

Peacekeeping is about building the basic blocks of living together - including elementary human rights. Only that basis can you have a real peace proces and reconciliation. In this regards the mission in Kosovo has failed.