Sunday, May 25, 2008

Nikolic interview in Der Spiegel

Tomislav Nikolic had an interview with Der Spiegel. The questioning was very aggressive. Nikolic performance varied. Sometimes he has to-the-point answers. It seems that when he doesn't know how to react he gets aggressive.

The interview starts with the EU/SAA subject with Nikolic claiming that he is in favor of the EU and wants a dialogue with it. He is doing this reasonably well. But then the attention turns to Kosovo. First Nikolic makes the usual complaint that decisions about Kosovo shouldn't be taken "over Serbia's head". He even says that Serbia might consent to an EU mission in Kosovo if it was consulted.

When he complains about the chaos in Kosovo the interviewer sees his chance and retorts "The chaos only gets worse with Serbia establishing a parallel state and provoking violence.". Here Nikolic is weak when he answers with threats "The international community is getting what it wanted. [..] We won't allow a Kosovo-Albanian army there." This reaction confirms all Western prejudices. For the journalist it is good as it offers him some nice headlines. But for both Nikolic and Serbia it is devastating. A better reaction might have been top point out that Kosovo has had two parallel societies since the war in 1999, that it is only thanks to protection by KFOR and support from Belgrade that there are any Serbs left in Kosovo and that the Ahtisaari Plan will leave those people with insufficient protection so that they will end up as refugees.

The journalist senses that his attacks work and he continues "Doesn't Serbia realize that ignoring reality is only hurting Serbia and, especially, the Serbs in Kosovo? You as a realist should understand that Kosovo will never again be a part of Serbia." This "reality" argument can often been heared from Western politicians. But again Nikolic knows only a threat as an answer: "Who says? We will use our veto to prevent Kosovo from becoming a member of almost all world organizations.". This leads to a "who is the strongest" discussion with the journalist pointing out that in that Kosovo might evade that by a fusion with Albania. Nikolic still can't control his urge to attack and even threatens that that might lead to war. A much better approach would have been turn the "reality" argument upside down and point out that the majority of the countries does not recognize Kosovo, that most who do recognize it did so only after heavy pressure from the US, that even inside Western countries many doubt the legality of Kosovo's independence and that when the nothing improves in the human rights area in Kosovo countries may very well decide to withdraw their recogniztion.

The discussion about Mladic goes better with Nikolic suggesting that he might be brought to trial inside Serbia. On Srebrenica he only points to "the murders of the 2,600 Serbs who died in the villages surrounding Srebrenica.". He also manages the question about he love for Russia quite well, seeing it not as an alternative for the EU, except (in the improbable case) when the EU might decide for a boycot because of a Radical government.

In the end it goes wrong again. The journalist asks "Yet you of all people are known for attacking and insulting your political opponents …". Nikolic reacts with "There is also plenty of swearing in the German parliament.".. Unfortunately the journalist doesn't continue on this subject. But I guess the interview dates from before Seselj's remarks that compared the murderer of Djindjic with Gavrilo Princip.

In another post I may discuss Seselj's remarks. But I want to read the whole text and ICTY puts its texts only about a month later online. I wonder whether it was an accidental remark or that it was targetted to the present situation. In the latter case it might be seen as a warning for Nikolic that in the end Seselj is the boss and that Nikolic shouldn't concede too much in the negotiations. This evokes the question whether Seselj might become a nuisance when there comes a coalition with the Radicals.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The silent boycott: more than just medicine

Reports about medicine imports from Serbia being blocked at the border appear to be just the tip of the Iceberg. Balkan Insight reports that exports from Serbia to Kosovo have almost ahlted since the 17 februari independece declaration.

The article mentions the following causes:
- import forms in Serbia are required to treat Kosovo as a Serb province; but then they aren't accepted in Kosovo.
- Kosovo license plates are not allowed in Serbia
- intolerance in Serbia against Albanians after February 17: making Albanians from Kosovo more reluctant to visit
- even many smugglers have halted their business

I find the article incomplete: the license plates have not hindered previous trade and hostility increased before (july 1999, march 2004) without stopping trade. That leaves "paper work" as the only really new obstacle. As the Serb position hasn't changed that would suggest that since 17 februari UNMIK has allowed Kosovo's government to implement a silent boycott of Serb goods.

There are two reasons to suppose that this is a deliberate policy. Albin Kurti previously called for a boycot of Serb goods. It is my impression that he is the informal voice of Kosovo's clan leaders who comes out to say what might be considered politically uncorrect by Kosovo's Western minders. In the case of his call for a boycott there wasn't Western protest so now Kosovo's government seems to feel free to implement it. A second reason is that the smuggling has come to a halt too. Obviously this is not because of paperwork. In this context I also remember that shortly before 17 februari a smuggler was found murdered some 6 kilometers form the Banja (Zubin Potok) border crossing. At that time it was discarded by the Kosovo authorities as just another feud between criminals, but in retrospect it may have been the "warning" that stopped the smuggling. If anyone can find a link about this murder it would be welcome.

Not all smuggling has stopped: for gasoline North Kosovo is nowadays a smugglers paradise.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

The Kosovo precedent in Latin America

Latin America stands out because nobody has yet recognized Kosovo. Part of the resistance may be due to old memories: the independence of Panama was very similar to that of Kosovo. It used to be a province of Colombia but the Colombian government was not cooperative enough concerning the canal so the US organised and uprising in 1903.

But, as Straight Goods reports, at the moment is has three regional uprisings that are supported by the US: Eastern Bolivia, Guayaquil in Ecuador and Zulia in Venezuela. In all three countries the ruling governments are too left for the taste of Uncle Sam.

Final proof: Philip Goldberg is now the US Ambassador to Bolivia. He was the US chief of mission in Kosovo from 2004 to 2006 where he helped prepare Kosovo's independence declaration. Prior to that he was assistant to Holbrooke at the time of Dayton.

Jim Shultz does not believe that the US is out to carve up Bolivia. He thinks that his main mission is the fight against coke (Goldberg also served in Colombia). But I find his arguments weak and non-specific. The fact that his organisation is partly financed by the Open Society Institute doesn't help his case either with me.

Postscript 1: Here and here are updates.

Postscript 2: here an article about a "Kosovo-style" guerrilla group in Bolivia that was "dismantled" in Santa Cruz (Bolivia) in april 2009.

A losing victory for Tadic?

Sometimes you win and yet you loose. The most famous example was probably Pyrrhus (319-272 BC) whose victories cost more than they delivered. A famous example in Dutch politics is the "losing victory" (overwinningsnederlaag) of the social-democrats in 1977. The victory had made them so arrogant and demanding that in the end a coalition was formed without them. It looks now like Tadic has placed himslf in a similar situation.

On the surface it looks like Tadic had a solid victory. But underneath it looks rather problematic:
- The DSS and the SPS used to be counted among the "reformers" that would be more inclined to form a coalition with Tadic than with the Radicals. Yet Tadic has alienated them so that both now prefer the Radicals.
- With its "majority decision" policy that ended up bringing the cabinet down the DS showed itself an unreliable coalition partner. The whole idea of a coalition is that you find together a compromise and that you then defend that together in parliament. And so "majority decisions" in a coalition is just an euphemism for betraying your partner.
It is my impression that since his victory in the presidential elections Tadic has been looking for an opportunity to repeat his success in national elections. As any political advisor will tell you that voters don't like it when you break up a coalition he behaved instead in such a way that Kostunica felt forced to initiate the break up.
- On Kosovo - one of the most important political topics - the DS seems divided. While Jeremic was engaged in successful diplomacy against the recognition of Kosovo other politicians seemed to have different ideas. Dinkic proposed to stop paying Kosovo's debt - what easily could be explained as giving up. And in a previous job Assistant Foreign Minister Delevic was even more radical. She foresaw that in the end Serbia would have to recognise Kosovo in its present borders as a price for EU membership. A normal government would have worked out a compromise on this. But the DS's majority policy made this impossible.
- Then there is the hate speech. Westerners are so used to hearing that hate speech is a property of the Radicals that they fail to ignore that part of this image is the consequence of the hateful way in which Tadic and friends paint their opponents. The DS likes to paint its opponents as primitive, violent, anti-European, pro-Russian and irresponsible. This works well to win an election. But the problem with these labels is that people start to believe them - even those who thought them up. And that makes it very difficult to cooperate later in a coalition. Mutual respect is a basic requirement for democracy and I find that conspicuously lacking with the DS.
Of course the Radicals have their own hate speech. Calling the democrats "traitors" is rather irresponsible in a country where political murders are not uncommon. But at least their scolding is connected to a concrete subject (Kosovo) and the DS is capable of defending itself by explaining their Kosovo policy. The scolding from the DS on the other hand seems primarily intended to humiliate and denigrate the others. This is not about politics but about connecting them to the bad things of the Milosevic era in the public image.
Another thing one should take into account is that the Radicals are a populist party and that means the use of simplistic language. It means for example not complaining about corruption but flatly saying that someone is a thief. The label "traitor" can be explained similarly. But as a big party they will need to behave more responsible. Some time in government might help to accomplish this change.
I get the impression that Tadic listens too much to American advisors. In the US and some other big countries you have basically two big parties. Both sides can afford to malign each other as they usually don't have to work together in a coalition. Smaller Western countries tend to have a more open system with smaller parties that need to form a coalition. Such a system is more democratic but in larger countries (more than 50 million inhabitants) the fragmentation becomes so much that the system becomes unworkable. It is probably no coincidence that one quite often hears Tadic supporters demand a more American system for "clarity". They have no use for cooperation.
- This brings me to another aspect: respect for democracy. Allthough I was in favour of the SAA and consider the Radical suspicions exaggerated, I certainly was not in favor of the way Tadic signed it against the will of the parliament. Whether it was against the letter of the law I leave to the lawyers, but it certainly was against the spirit of the law. Democracy is based on trust and that is why you have the rule that you don't use the period between a governmment resignation and elections for controversial measures.

This is not the profile of a party that anyone would like to work with. So if the DS ends up in the opposition they only can thank themselves.

In the Netherlands the social-democrats never really recovered from their loss of power in 1977. Let's see what happens in Serbia.

Organ trade

The Komsomolska Pravda (from Russia) went to Kosovo to investigate the accusations that imprisoned Serbs were killed in order to sell their organs. They came back with a series of three articles. It is rather chilling to see how widely known the rumours were and how much little pieces of evidence they found.

I am curious whether any Western journalist will take up the subject and make a similar report. The HRW report on the subject can be found here.

Follow-up: on 9 july B92 had an article under the title "UNMIK covered up organ trafficking" that claims that an UNMIK official with the name Jose Pablo Baraybar was responsible for the subject and blocked further investigations.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Nikolic, another Milosevic?

With his high ratings in the opinion polls Nikolic is getting a lot of publicity in the Western press. A review starting with Nikolic's assertion that he differs from Milosevic.

Lets start with a symbolic similarity: both men have some association with death. Nikolic is "the undertaker" and Milosevic had suicidal parents.

Nikolic blames Milosevic for not completing the actions in Bosnia and Croatia. He says that he would have gone "all the way". To a certain extent he is right: openly sending troops and claiming that the right to do so would have been a better strategy than what Milosevic did and might have prevented the steady erosion of the Serb position in Croatia after the 1992 ceasefire. It also would have prevented him from being dependent on the irresponsible leaders of the RSK and the RS. But this would have required a smart legal strategy that would have denounced the recommendations of the Badinter Commission and I doubt Nikolic could have accomplished that.

Another thing that Nikolic has in common with Milosevic is disregard for public relations in the West. Milosevic lost much support because of the cruelties committed by Serb troops. But there were also missed chances: Serb refugees from Croatia and inside Bosnia were virtually invisible in the Western media. Nikolic seems not much different when he says that Mladic and Karadzic will not be extradited. He has some point when he says that that would mean that he did the same as the present government with the only difference that he is honest about it. But he will need to use stronger arguments like the death of Milosevic to convince the Western public of that strategy.

One of the weak points of Milosevic was that he seemed to feel inferior towards the Western negotators. That led to servile behaviour to "please" them. But sometimes he had to come back on those gestures or he couldn't deliver: that give him an unreliable image. And at other times he gave more than he should have. In a recent IHT article Nikolic was described by anonymous Western diplomats as "more pragmatic" than Kostunica who was seen as a "19th-century, anti-Western, romantic nationalist". That may indicate a similar "pleasing" leaning in Nikolic.

Another weak point of Milosevic was his lack of strategic thinking. Milosevic reacted to situationa and seemed not to have a long term strategy. Obviously he didn't foresee the shift of power that ended with Operation Storm until it was too late. By demanding less in the beginning he might have achieved more. If I look at Nikolic I can't see any grand strategy either.

Nikolic chooses for at least two policies that are in conflict with Western wishes (Kosovo and Mladic/Karadzic). This is not impossible but to pull this off he will need both strong public relations to explain the Western public what he is doing and a consistent strategy. Milosevic was in a similar position and he failed miserably. I see no indications that Nikolic will do better.

Friday, May 02, 2008

The problem with non-violent resistence

I encountered this nice article from the USIP websitewith the title "Whither the Bulldozer? Nonviolent Revolution and the Transition to Democracy in Serbia" that explains how the resistance against Milosevic was organized with the help of American organisors. A lesson in Nonviolent Action.

You can also read this New York Times article about Otpor or this WSJ one about Gene Sharp, the ideologue of non-violent resistance.

Here is an article about other color revolutions and here a video("The Revolution Business").

Here is a lecture by Gene Sharp on "Principled Non-Violence". It starts with an introduction. Sharp starts to talk after about 7 minutes. The talk is spread over 6 YouTube videos.

Guerrilla's without guns has a couple of articles on this "non-violent" strategy.

The other main figure in "non-violent protests" is Robert Helvey, former US soldier and diplomat who pioneered the application of Sharp's ideas in Burma.

The problem with this approach is that it is a negoative approach. Its main aim is not to repair policies that it finds disgusting but to undermine the present government. And for that purpose all present problems (which country doesn't have them?) are enlarged and even distorted. The predictable effect is that the government will go in survival mode and won't even think about reform.

Proponents of "non-violent resistence" like to point out the statistics that countries which had a non-violent uprising tend to be better off than those who had a violent uprising when you look ten years laters. That applies even when the uprising fails. What they forget to mention is that those non-violent uprisings work out better because they are more constructive. Their primary aim is to improve the country, not to change the people in charge. Unfortunately Gene Sharp's methods may be non-violent but it are definitely not constructive.

For that reason it is no surprise that the color revolutions have worked out so badly - both when they succeeded and when they failed.