Friday, February 22, 2008

Kostunica and the art of rope-walking

One of the great tragedies of history started in the 1920s when Germany's polical climate became increasingly polarized. On the one side you had the communists and on the other the fascists. And their battle gradually made the center look irrelevant - clearing the way for Hitler.

A similar process of polarisation can be seen in Serbia now. On the one side are the pro-Europeans who are prepared to do anything to get into the EU. On the other side are the Radicals and other nationalists. Kostunica who seemed to have set out a policy to fight the independence with civil obedience and international law seems to become more and more isolated in the center.

Many people have blamed Kostunica for organising the protests and for giving a rousing speech to the demonstrants. But what was the alternative? Should he have left the organisation of the demonstration to the Radicals? That would have given them credit as the defenders of a cause that is supported by a wide majority of the Serbs and might help them to an elections victory. Just like Milosevic rose to power over Kosovo because the sitting policians had ignored the widespread indignation over the treatment of Kosovo's Serbs.

Kostunica is now under fire from both sides. The undiciplined behaviour of the protestors - both in Kosovo and Belgrade - endangers his legal and principled strategy. On the other side of the political spectrum politicians are attacking him for alienating the West. Yet by undermining Kostunica they may well be busy to prepare the road for the Radicals. I find it worrying that Serbia's "reformists" spend more time demanding the removal of Kostunica than demanding concrete solutions like excuses to the countries whose embassy was damaged or an investigation in the underperformance of the police during the demonstration. It seems like this internationally oriented elite looks down on Serbia's common people as barbarians and they can't see them as sensitive humans.

I find a similar sentiment at the B92 site. While there is a lot of attention to violent acts, the good news somehow is missing. You won't I see any article about Kostunica regretting the riots and asking for calm or the hunt of the Serb police for the attackers of the embassies. Even insightful background information like the article of Newsweek about the youth of the protestors is missing. I can understand that the B92 staff is shocked for being attacked in the riots. But that isn't an excuse for these oversights.

Kostunica is not very popular, one can criticize his policies and his shouted rethorics don't attract me either. But at one time he was the only politician who could unite the Serbs against Milosevic. Now the challenge for him is to unite the Serbs in the present turbulent times. If he fails we may miss him dearly.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Reasons why Kosovo should not be recognized now

Readers of this blog will know that I am in favor of an independent Kosovo. But not in the way it happens now.

International consequences
According to international law separations are only possible with the consent of the mothercountry. As this worked very well even with the most recent separations where that principle was respected (Soviet Union and Czecheslovakia) there is no reason to leave that principle here.
The arguments to consider Kosovo as a special case are weak. The death toll (around 5000) is very low compared to many other ethnic conflicts and even the number of refugees (around 800,000) has been exceeded in many other ethnic conflicts. Iraq's Kurds for example count around 250,000 dead and millions of refugees who lived in much worse circumstances.
Serbia may bring the countries that recognize Kosovo before the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague. If this court sides with Serbia this would bring the US and other countries that recognize Kosovo in an uneasy position. The US will probably ignore the ICJ - as it did in the past with the verdict on the Nicaragua-contra case - and it will press Europe to do the same. But as much of Europe's influence on the neighbouring region (like the European Court of Human Rights) is law-based this will put Europe in an uneasy position.

Inside Kosovo
A unilateral declaration of independence will be a full win for Kosovo's nationalists. They have promised to implement the Ahtisaari Plan. But that plan offers only autonomy but offers noting to improve the desparate security situation of Kosovo's minorities. Actually it will deteriorate their situation as it aims ultimately to remove the parallel Serb institution that now protect many of Kosovo's Serbs.
Recent opinion polls showed that 30% of Kosovo's Serbs plan to leave if the province becomes independent. This shows how bad the proposed "solution" is in terms of balancing the needs of both sides.
A unilateral declaration of independence is being pushed by the US as a solution because both sides cannot reach a solution. But according to international law in that case the Serb position should prevail. The most recent Serb proposal (the Finland-Aaland proposal) is generous according all international standards. Given that Serbia has little interest in keeping a dirt poor hostile province except for historical monuments and the Serb minority the Albanians might even get more if they showed themselves cooperative on these aspects. But with the solid American support the Albanians haven't seen any need to do consessions.
Serbia basically has two interests in Kosovo: the Serb minority and the Serb monuments. If Kosovo would be able to give sound guarantees in those areas Serbia would be hard pressed to grant independence. It is not in Serbia's interests to have a poor, hostile province. But until now Kosovo has avoided to give any hard guarantee, claiming that it would violate their sovereignty. The actions of Kosovo's government show that the real reason is that they don't plan to keep their promises and they want the freedom to do so.

For the Region
As soon as Kosovo is secured under Albanian control we can expect that emboldened Albanian nationalists will aim to change the borders elsewhere where an Albanian minority lives: south Serbia, Macedonia, Montenegro and Greece. A recent informal poll from the Albanian TV station Vision Plus showed that 90% of the interviewed believed that all Albanians should live in one country.
Albanians will interpret the "special case" argument as meaning that the only thing that counts is having friends on Capitol Hill. The have additional reasons to believe so: The US Army has in the last years several times intervened in Macedonia to save Albanian guerrilla's from certain defeat. And the Ohrid agreement that was more or less imposed on Macedonia by the West is seen by many as a preparation for separation.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Interview with Peter Feith

Note: this is my own translation of an interview of Peter Feith with the NRC Handelsblad (a Dutch newspaper). Please excuse my imperfect english. At one point in the interview it looks like the words police and politics have been confused: this was so in the dutch original.

"Kosovars expect fast a better life"

Ducthman Pieter Feith will supervise Kosovo's government from next week.
The UN withdraws from Kosovo, the EU takes over the mission - under the guidance of Dutchman Peter Feith. A mighty man, who can abolish laws and fire officials.

By our reporter Petra de Koning
Brussel, 16 febr. The Americans - and not the Europeans who now come to help - are the heroes of the Albanians in Kosovo. „They are still seen as the liberators of the repression by the former Serb president Milosevic”, says the Dutch high diplomat Pieter Feith. „But that is going to change now.” From next week he will supervise Kosovo's on behalf of the EU and the international community.

If Kosovo declares independence from Serbia next sunday it is expected that the government of prime minister Hasim Thaci will ask the EU officially for support. But the nearly 2000 cops, judges, prosecutors and officials from EU member states that will travel to Kosovo wiill not be received with flowers like the American soldiers after the NATO bombing of Serbia in 1999. Nine year of UN rule did not bring the inhabitants of Kosovo the prosperity and freedom that they had hoped.

If any Kosovar will be waiting along the roadside when Feith arrives next week in the capital Pristina, they will mostly want to ask the special EU representative something: „The expectations are high”, says Feith. „It is expected that their quality of life and economic circumstances will improve rapidly.”

Feith (63), who prior mediated on behalf of NATO between Serbs and Albanians in South-Serbia and Macedonia, will not only be a representative of the EU . He will also be ‘international representative’ in Kosovo – he leads the international civilian office in Kosovo - in which also Amercicans participate. They pay a quarter of the budget of his office (the EU pays half) and his deputy is an American, Fletcher Burton.

The Kosovaren think that in the end their former liberators will determine what happens. The Americans, says Feith, have „unmistakenly” more authority in Kosovo than de Europeans. „But the EU nor the Amerikans will be able to fullfill their high expectations.”

The Kosovo mission is by the EU. The Kosovars will address the EU when they are not contented.
„That is right.”

The Americans stay their heroes.
„I told prime minister Hasim Thaci already once that Kosovo will never be the 51st state of the United States. But Kosovo does have a chance to become a member of the EU. The memory of 1999 will fade, the future is to the EU. But we will have to explain clearly that durable improvement of life circumstances can only come from the Kosovo government. They have to address the corruption and organised crime.”

What is Kosovo's biggest problem?
„Kosovo must consolidate like a multi-etnic state. The rights of minorities must be respected and fixed in legislation. Another big problem is unemployment of 44 percent. There is little initiative: obviously Kosovo has been too long under UN rule.”

And then, as europarlementarians said previously, arises a ‘protectorate mentatlity’?
„A mentality of dependency: ‘The administrators from outside will have to solve it for us.’ That should change by independence.”

Kosovo must ‘consolidate’ as multi-etnic state, you say. But does it function now? The Serb minority in Kosovo is afraid.
„Maybe they are safer than they feel. The KFOR soldiers are still there. But the feeling of safety should not only depend on that, there must come a natural basis for it. We have also the problem of the return of Serb refugees to Kosovo. That process is manipulated.’’

Serbia blocks the return?

Serbia will certianly not stop to do that after Kosovo's independence.
„That is very likely. But must we reign to that? Serbia wants to be a part of the EU too.”

Will you as a EU representative in Kosovo also jusge whether Serbia behaves well enough to become a EU member?
„As EU we want to project our values, like those about a well functioning multi-ethnic state. If serbia keeps rejecting that you can wonder whether it qualifies for the next step towards Europe.”

In your contact with Serbia that will be your source of power: you are the forward EU post that looks if Serbia satisfies.
„That will indeed give me some preponderance, when you assume that my recommendations will be followed in Brussel. It can not be that the Serbians isolate Kosovo and also continue towards Europa.”

Will they understand that fast?
„I think that after an initial period of obstruction the moods will calm down.”

Inside Kosovo too your power will be based on the wish to become a EU member.
„I have executive powers. I can annul legislation, fire corrupt officials, cancel government decisions. But I am impressed with the intentions of Kosovo's politicians. Today or tomorrow a constitution will be published, that will be checked by me and my organisation and will be approved by parliament tomorrow.”

But also without special powers you would have authority by your judgement of Kosovo as a prospective EU member.
„Yes, and Kosovo gets offered a treasure of experience. The future is to the Kosovars, I don't want them to have excuses not to help the country forward. But we will do it differently than in Bosnia where the international community still takes important decisions. We are concerned to hand over responsibilities.”

A French ex-general leads the mission of police and jurists. You are the highest international representative. Who is the boss?
„If it concerns politics, I advice the french commander.”

Can you imagine that in a couple of years Serbia and Kosovo will be EU members?
„Over m├íny years. It is primarily about the perspective. That is an encouragement to keep reforming. The willingness to help them is large.”

Because of their conflict.
„Yes, but one of the first conditions will be to improve their mutual relations. It would be a serious mistake to add two new member states who have a conflict.”

The EU already has Cyprus, that has a conflict with prospective member Turkey. That is complicated enough.
„You say that.”

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

The impossibility of peacekeeping

Sometimes peacekeeping works. This is usally when the peacekeepers have to separate two well-armed factions. In that case there is no easy win and both faction see an advantage.

The situation becomes different when one or both sides believe that they have a chance to win. In that case it is very difficult to maintain te peace. There are two variations on this theme:
- in one scenario both sides believe that they have a chance to win. For example Croatia in 1991/1992, Bosnia, Kosovo before the war, or Darfur. In such cases we see regularly breaks of the armistice and even if one side is really committed they often give up when the other side keeps violating it. The peacekeepers are sitting in between and can do little more than register the violations.
- in the other scenario one side is definitely weaker and the main job of the peacekeepers is to protect them. In reality this is nearly impossible. We saw it in Croatia 1994/1995, regionally in Bosnia and in Kosovo after the war. The dominant party an ignore the peacekeepers when it suits them and they can do nothing against it.

Peacekeepers have tried a variety of strategies to remedy this powerlessness:
- In Kosovo they have been able to improve the situation by promising independence and pointing out that violence hurts that prospect. But such an approach has two weeknesses: it doesn't help for the light violence that doesn't reach the newspapers and it won't work anymore after the promissed independence has been delivered.
- Another strategy is to choose sides. The bombing of Serb targets in 1995 and 1999 worked along these lines. But while it changes the balance of power it just increases the chance that the supported side will become the aggressor.
- A final trick is to support the violations. The way the West reacted when the Serb enclaves in Croatia were destroyed was an example of this strategy. Aggression was relabelled as justified action.

I believe that all these strategies are lacking. In my opinion the only thing that works is empowerment. Give the weaker party control over its own safety. Do not ask them to give up their arms. But don't choose sides and be prepared to censor the weaker side when they become aggressive.

In my opinion missions like KFOR or Eulex in Kosovo are inherently flawed as they do not follow this criterium. This is because there starting-point is not a balance but the conviction that one side has to dominate. In my opinion this is a very dangerous idea as domination is associated with superiority and discrimination. Eulex has two missions: protecting Kosovo's Serbs and dispowering them. These policies are contradictory and will in the end do more harm than good.