Monday, July 21, 2008

Kosovo's Serb enclaves

The Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Serbia made some visits to the Serb enclaves in Kosovo and wrote two reports about it. The first report is about Strpce, Musnikovo (Zupa Valley) and Orahovac and the second report about Gojbulje (Vucitrn), Srpski Babus and Babljak (Urosevac) and Staro Gracko (Lipljan).

The Helsinki Committee (HC) is one of those foreign funded organizations that recognize Kosovo's independence and as a consequence the reports contain some "political correct" general discussions about the politcal situation in Serbia and Serbia's Kosovo policy that can best be skipped (this includes the first four pages of the second report). But it is interesting to look at the problems of the enclaves and how the HC is dealing with them.

First there is the problem of the usurped land. The villagers of Staro Gracko for example use only 30% of their land. Of the remainder part is not used and part is usurped by Albanians from neighbouring villages. The HC recommends a dialogue with those neighboring villages as a solution. To me this is nonsense. This land robbery reflects an uneven balance of power and the only structured way to repair this is by changing that balance.

It is well known that the procedure for the return of the occupied lands is broken. The procedures take years and when there is a verdict it is often simply ignored - after which you have to appeal to that (what takes again years). In any normal country this would be a reason to streamline the procedure - giving more rights to the owners and less to the occupiers. Yet UNMIK and Kosovo's government have systematically refused to do so. Instead they periodically promise that the problem will be solved within a few years - a promise that is never kept. Of course this damages not only the minorities but it also hinders Kosovo in its development into a normal society.

A related problem is that of Albanian cattle trespassing on Serb land. The reports writes about it as "They (KPS) said there were not in the position to prevent Albanians’ stock from trampling on Serbs’ farms for they could not watch all locations all the time. Obviously, the problem can be solved only through direct communication between local Serbs and their Albanian neighbors, with KFOR mediation.".

Again, this is nonsense. The police doesn't have to stop every tresspassing. But when they do see such a trespass they should maintain the law and the cattle owner should be forced to pay - both to the police for breaking the rules and to the landowner. That is how it works in the rest of the world too. Negotiations will only work when both sides know that there is a law that will be maintained when they cannot solve it between themselves.

HC is often very critical about the complaining of the villagers. For example: "The villagers of Gojbulje take that the Kosovo authorities and international organizations have done little for the village and made no investment. Actually, the elementary school, presently attended by some 30 pupils, has been constructed, along with several hundred meters of road connecting the village with its local church. The road was constructed with international donations, American in the first place. Representatives from Kosovska Mitrovica intervened and prevented construction of yet another road that would have improved the village’s infrastructure.".

So, according to the HC, many of the complaints of the villagers don't hold on scrutiny. HC doesn't convince me. I miss the crucial question about what the villagers believe Kosovo and the internationals could have done more. And it seems to me that a village that sees nearly all its land usurped and its church regularly destroyed has some reason to complain.

A returning theme are also the bad Radicals, in the above quote mentioned as "representatives from Kosovska Mitrovica". Here some more: "They were mostly critical of the representatives from Kosovska Mitrovica, who, as they put it, constantly obstruct their integration into the Kosovo society. Those people are coming but offer almost nothing but “patriotic” slogans. They promise to help the villagers but never keep their promises. For instance, they refused to pay the driver of the bus traveling twice at week the Gojbulje-Kosovska Mitrovica distance. They forbade the villagers to accept any subsidies (170 Euros per person) from the Kosovo government. However, the amounts are regularly paid to their bank accounts and they can use their money at will. Despite the fact that they fear reactions from Kosovska Mitrovica, most villagers are aware of the new reality in Kosovo and would gladly change their lifestyle.".

One can imagine that the HC delegation didn't like those "representatives" who chased them out of Strpce. Yet it reads like propaganda. If these "representatives" never keep their promises, does that mean that the villagers don't get any money from Belgrade? And what is meant with the villagers "changing their lifestyle" or "integrating"?

The HC is rather schizophrenic about contacts between villages and the Albanians surrounding them. Any trading contact with Albanians is brought as a kind of moral victory. It makes the people from the HC sound to me like inverted Radicals. Just as the Radicals they seem incapable to accept that people just look for the best deal in their economic transactions. Instead both see trading with Albanians as a kind of recognition of Kosovo's independence - what sounds as nonsense to me.

A final aspect is that of the absentee ownership as in the following quote: "Neither the Albanians interviewed by the teams could tell the number of the people living in the houses or visiting them from time to time. The teams left under the impression that “visitors” were more interested in keeping their property than in return. Hectares and hectares of farmland are left uncultivated. Unpainted houses that have not been fenced off indicate that the return is still a faraway prospect. Actually, house owners just come to the village to receive humanitarian aid from the Greek KFOR and other donors.[...] Given that their farms are close to Prishtina and the highway, the price of real estate would surely grow. As it seems, house owners are waiting to sell their farms at better price.".

I guess that even the villagers in this village (Srpski Babus) themselves don't know what they will do. Given a widespread trespassing problem in this village few villagers will be able to live of their lands. So they will have little choice but to look elsewhere. And as they don't know what will happen in the future (even a Serb exodus from Kosovo is still possible) they will hedge their bets.

It is good that the Helsinki Committee pays attention to the Serb enclaves in Kosovo. But they could have written a better report if they had left their ideological luggage at home.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The other Serbia

I mentioned before my disgust about how some "reformist" Serbs talk about their countrymen who don't agree with them. No I find a nice post by Grac Falcon on "the other Serbia". It is a translation from a book with discussions from the Peščanik show on B92.

What I found most striking is the anti-democratic attitude with quotes like "Oh, if everyone heeded the will of the people, we'd have all been fucked, The very worst thing here is that the elected politicians follow the will of the people", "The government has to listen to the citizens, yes, but those citizens have to have certain values".

I becomes brutally fascist with quotes like "Either we get them, or they will get us. We need to attack, but not piecemeal, but straight at the head, where they are most dangerous", "I have only one thing to say about the Serbian elite: Napalm is all!".

This is the attitude that brought us Franco, Mussolini and Pinochet. These people form only a part of the "reformists". But I think it is dangerous to ignore them or to consider them as innocent enthousiasts. If these people get the power Milosevic will start to look like Mother Teresa.

Partition again

BBC monitoring brings a discussion on Pink TV on partition of Kosovo. The BBC brings it is "both sides agree that partitioning is not a solution". As an advocate of partition I think that that is a distortion of the discussion.

First of all: partition can never be the only solution: many Serbs live in isolated villages and some in mixed villages. You cannot solve the problems of those people with partition. But that doesn't mean that partition cannot be part of the solution. Let's be honest and admit that being a minority is always less agreeable than being part of majority. So if you can reduce the number of people who live as a minority without creating impossible borders that is a definite advantage.

Some quotes from the discussion and my reaction:

[Deda]Should Kosovo be partitioned, then two monoethnic entities will be created.
Nonsense. Partition is something different than a population exchange. You will still have minorities on both sides who need minority rights. You are just reducing the number of people that has to live as a minority.
Or is Deda threatening with ethnic cleansing???

[Unidentified UNMIK official] It is very important that it is one political space
Why? One space means that one group is in control. The core of minority rights is that you give people some control over their own fate when due to discrimination the majority doesn't provide adequate government.

[Unidentified UNMIK official] the entire Contact Group, all the principle players, have agreed that partition is not an answer here in Kosovo.
Resolution 1244 does not exclude the option of partition. It is unfortunate that instead of dealing with the actual situation in Kosovo - what is their job - the Conatct Group instead has indulged in abstraction like this "no partition" principle. Principles are the job of the Security Council, not of the Contact Group.

About partition: [Reporter] Everyone agrees that such a solution would be bad for both sides.
This is a lie and he knows it.

[Reporter] Serbs living south of the Ibar River fear that, if the EU mission [EULEX] fails, Americans could take control in spring, who would then verify the current state of affairs, which could prompt new migrations, and even regional upsets.
Translation: the US is threatening to repeat their ethnic cleansing of the Krajna. They oppose partition when it doesn't suit them and instead favor cleansing the minorities that they don't like.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Zimbabwe and Sudan

International justice is very much in the news at the moment with the ICC prosecutor wanting to prosecute president Bashir of Sudan and an effort to impose sanction on Zimbabwe vetoed by Russia and China.

Zimbabwe has been a de facto dictatorship for quite some time. For that reason the sudden international indignation about unfair elections doesn't make much sense to me. It is also surreal: in a continent were millions have died in Congo alone the noise we make about a few thousand political killings in Zimbabwe sounds hollow. And when Western leaders criticize Mugabe for his bad handling of the economy it sounds downright hypocritical: much of the the economic distress has been caused by Western sanctions during the last decade. It looks like for some Western leaders Mugabe is just a whipping boy to set an example for the rest of Africa.

Southern Africa is two decades behind the rest of Africa in its development. Most of black Africa became independent in 1961. In Mozambique and Angola blacks came to power in 1975, in Zimbabwe in 1979 and in South Africa gradually between 1990 and 1994. After 1961 most of Africa went through a period of dictatorships and authoritarian leaders and only recently democracy has become more accepted. But at that time nobody in the West cared as we were focused on the Cold War. Now Southern Africa is going through a similar dictatorial period and the West is upset. What makes it specially upset is the eviction of the white farmers. Yet many people believe that that that was an unavoidable part of the decolonization process. Don't count on Tsvangirai to undo it.

The West has supported this 84-year old dictator long after he stopped to behave decently. In my opinion it would be better to focus on South Africa. South Africa has a serious risk to become the next Zimbabwe - as is symbolized by the support that Mugabe gets from South Africa. We should focus on this ideological battle and not on some shoot-from-the-hip international policy. But that requires diplomats who study their subjects in depth - something not popular in the State Department nowadays.

Western democracy is founded on the "Trias politica" principle that separates government, parliament and the judicial system as three separate pillars. This forms a recognition that the judicial system and the division of power are two separate things. How the taxes are divided between the rich and the poor for example is a typical subject that is decided by the executive power and outside the influence of the judges.

However, there is an increasing tendency for the judicial system to take on more powers. Governments - specially from the smaller countries - are more and more caught in web of treaties that restricts their power. The problem is that those treaties are often conceived in a very undemocratic way as can be seen in for example the EU and the ACTA.

The ICTY and the ICC form another side of this judicial takeover. And just as the international treaties one has to ask whether they really provide justice or just petrify inequalities. The eagerness of the US to get other countries into court while it refuses even to sign the ICC treaty give to think.

There is also a practical aspect. Dayton would have been impossible if Milosevic, Tudjman and Izetbegovic had all been indicted by the ICTY (as they deserved according to its laws). The arrest of Taylor despite the guarantees that had been given to him will certainly not encourage other dictators to give up power voluntarily. The recent refusal by Joseph Kony in Uganda to give up his Lord Resistance Army was partly motivated by the fact that the ICC made it impossible to grant him amnesty.

A third problem is the problem of proof - as we have seen in the Milosevic trial. The prosecution may maintain that they had enough proof for conviction, but the trial was far from convincing for those who watched it in the media. So even if Milosevic had been convicted few Serbs would have been convinced.

As mentioned in this comment the prosecutor hopes to convict Bashir on the principle of "perpetrator behind the perpetrator". Such a principle has been used to convict a leader of the Argentinian junta (the prosecutor comes from Argentina and was involved in this process). However, it looks to me like the conviction of Al Capone for tax fraud. It was convincing because Al Capone was a famous mobster and the crimes of the Argentine junta were well known. But in Sudan we will need to build a case that convinces Africa and that can only be done by building a solid case - not some judicial trick.

I don't see what the indictment of its president will help. This is a matter of power - not of lawyers. If we are going to indict every president who violates human rights we will end up with nearly every president who fights a guerrilla war in jail.

The Alternative
My alternative would be to stick with what works: exposing and prosecuting specific cases. Omarska is probably the most famous example as it caused a change in the handling by the Serbs of their prisoners. Operation Lightning was a case where things went wrong. By not prosecuting and even diplomatically protecting (the US blocked a condemnation in the Security Council) the ethnic cleansing of West-Slavonia the West paved the way for Srebrenica.

The ICTY handling of Srebrenica was in this context certainly helped setting the limits of what is acceptable in Kosovo: there were no massacres on that scale. Unfortunately the condoning of Operation Storm paved the way for the mass expulsion of Albanians in a very similar pattern in the Kosovo war.

In the case of Sudan that would mean the identification of one very lethal raid. That raid would then become the target of intense investigations aimed at identifying both victims and killers and establishing the exact order of events. And its commanders would be indicted. This could result in a detailed report that even the OAU and the OIC would feel obligated to support. I don't expect any of them to support an indictment or to help with an arrest of Sudan's president.

Such a report and prosecution of army officers has a much better chance to achieve a change in behavior in Sudan than an arrest of Sudan's president that even if it succeeded will be seen in Sudan and its neighbors as more a Western complot than related to human rights.

The New York Times has an article detailing how the threat of the indictment is received in Sudan. Most of the opposition has declared support for Bashir. They fear that the country could fall apart in an everyone-for-himself civil war if he is removed. They also note that Bashir is seen inside Sudan as a moderate who has supported the peace agreement with the south against radicals in his own party. One Western observer is quoted as saying that the government plays a minor role in Darfur at the moment and that the main fighting nowadays is between local groups. For that reason he believes that the term "genocide" is not applicable in the present situation.
The only more positive note is that the Sudan government seems more open to foreign aid and peace keepers.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

The myth of Serbian obstinacy on Kosovo

There is a myth nowadays that it is due to Serbian obstinacy that it took so long to solve the Kosovo case and that the "final solution" is lopsided against Serbia. Serbia is accused of not having never made constructive proposals. It is hard to dismiss the Finland/Aaland proposal as not constructive but in that case the pundits like to say that it is too late for that. By being late Serbia would have lost certain rights. The most recent to repeat this myth is Dusan Lazic of the Forum for International Relations in Serbia. It is also the myth that is used in Western diplomatic circles to justify the imposed independence of Kosovo.

- within a year after the Kosovo war Serbian government officials made suggestians how Kosovo could be solved. But instead of using this as a start for negotiations UNMIK said that first the situation inside Kosovo had to stabilize before negotiations could start. In my opinion this was a stupid decision: the ethnic troubles in Kosovo were related to the subject of the negotiations
- then there is the "Standards before Status" policy as formulated by Steiner from 2002 on. There is nothing wrong with standards. But they are usually enforced with punishments - someting UNMIK consistently refused to do despite the results in Bosnia. Offering "status" as a reward to one party automatically goes at the expense of the other party. Officially the formula only concerns the start of the negotiations but it establishes the idea that the Albanians are entitled to something.
- opinion polls in Serbia show that a large segment of the population believes that partition is the best solution for Kosovo. As a partition more or less automatically implies independence this belies the often heared statement that there is no will to seriously negotiate on the Serb side. Yet the Kosovo Contact Group chose "no partition" as one of its "principles". With this they closed the solution with the most widespread support.
On the Albanian side there was resistance against partition. But this resistance was not principled but centered on the wish to include Presevo in such a partition. The sensible way would have been for the Western countries to suggest that Presevo should be talked about in the negotiations too. But this would have required subtle negotiations. Unfortunately the present diplomatic scene is dominated by Holbrooke-type bulldozers who don't understand subtle negotiations. So the rude confrontation was chosen instead.
- Serbian representatives did participate in Kosovo's parliament from very early on. But their influence was zero and their Albanian collegues competed to show who could insult them the best. This is until the present day the main argument in favor of Serb self-rule in Kosovo. And Kosovo's Serbs had a good reason to refuse to participate as they were only abused as a showcase for a not existing multi-ethnic Kosovo. Yet here too the international community failed. They didn't even bother to publicly criticize the Albanian politicians for their immature behaviour - let alone punish them. Instead they only criticised the Serbs for not participating.
- Ahtisaari's mediation was handicapped by his own "principle" that Kosovo should not return under Serb rule and by the Contact Group principle of "no partition". Neither "principle" is supported by Resolution 1244 or international law. Because of this I don't believe that his role can be classified as honest mediation.
It is also interesting to note that Ahtisaari went to Belgrade with the message that the only thing to negotiate for them was the position of the Serbs in Kosovo. Yet at the same time inside Kosovo Kosovo's Albanian politicians refused to negotiate with Belgrade in the negotiations about decentralization and minority rights there. They stated that these were internal affairs that they wanted to discuss only with Kosovo Serbs. And the international community went along with that.

Of course there was Serb obstinacy - just as there was Albanian obstinacy. But this is not the reason why Kosovo wasn't solved before in some mutual agreement. The reason for the latter failure rests solely with partial Western diplomats who didn't take their responsibility.