Friday, July 31, 2009

Peacekeeping and blackmail

B92 reported from Strpce, Kosovo about the struggle to get electricity restored there: Mihajlović blames foreign KEK managers from the U.S. embassy for the situation, claiming that they are putting new conditions to the Serb side every time a general agreement is reached. The struggle is specially about a building from the Serb electricity company that the Kosovo electricity company KEK wants to get transfered into its possession.

Peacekeeping is about restoring trust between ethnic groups. Unfortunately blackmail - such as by not providing electricity has exactly the opposite effect. It creates distrust and resentment at the losing side while it gives the winning side the feeling that they are above the law. Of course American KEK managers are not peacekeepers but they should be aware that they are undermining the peacekeeping done by other Americans.

It is a bit like the torture discussion. The law is clear but somehow people with the power to do it have a tendency to think that their case is different.

We have seen this from the beginning of the Yugoslav conflict. International and Yugoslav law was clear that a negotiated solution was needed. Lord Carrington worked on it but Germany thought they had a "special case" and started the road to war by recognizing Slovenia and Croatia.

In Bosnia we see the same process: Brussel keeps making new demands: police reform, central passport emission, etc. Everything is presented as necessary for Bosnia becoming an EU member while in fact many are not necessary at all and for the others there work-arounds could easily been found. Kosovo's independence was also presented as needed for Kosovo's welfare. It is no coincidence that it is always the Serbs who have to give in. In their core these "reasons" are just excuses for a partial policy. Similar demands on the other side would never be made. A good example is the discussion about "reforming" the Dayton Agreement that claimed that the RS should be abolishhed because it made Bosnia inefficient. When the discussion shifted to the inefficiency and impossible structure of the Federation (that were worse than the RS) the call for reform fell silent.

I can understand these people. They have been raised on newspaper articles claiming that the Serbs are the bad guys and the others the good guys. So what's the problem with helping the others a bit?

Problem is that you can't be two things at the same time. You cannot be both an ally of one side and a neutral peacekeeper. If you want to be a neutral peacekeeper you have at some point to take a distance and tell both parties that you are done. If neither party wants to give in that will result in a frozen conflict. If that happens: so be it. As a neutral peacekeeper you will guard that neither party resorts to forcefull methods but you won't interfere.

The Friedrich Ebert Stiftung wrote in its recent report "Der Kosovo nach der Unabhängigkeit" that (my translation from German) "The deep contrasts between the Albanian majority and the Serb minority harden increasingly into an institutionalized "frozen conflict"". This reflects a deep fear of "frozen conflicts". Unfortunately that same fear perpetuates the conflict as it tells one side that they don't have to do concessions as you will always be there to support them if the other side doesn't give in. That is how the international community has operated in former Yugoslavia from the beginning of the conflict in 1991. The result is that there hasn't been for a second a really frozen conflict in which the parties had time to negotiate while there were lots of "hot" conflicts.

A similar fear to let go can be seen in a recent ICG report: "Worse, a party that values a particular EU reward less can use a veto threat to extract unrelated concessions from the others.". At best this sounds hopelessly naive to me. Trading unrelated subjects is an essential part of reaching solutions.

The international community should give up its fear of a frozen conflicts and recognize that the local players will only solve their conflicts when the internationals stop taking sides. In Bosnia this recognition seems slowly to take root with vague plans to close the OHR office, but in Kosovo it may take considerably more time. Dayton offers the balance of power that makes negotiation possible. Ahtisaari's independence puts the internationals in an uneasy position between being neutral and supporting this independence.


Anonymous said...


Something is wrong here! You have a community with a political agenda(the Serbs) and a company that is exerting its rights. A simple case. If the community had paid its bills and not gotten its electric, then your judgment would have been rational. There is this tendency in you to support the Serbs, be they right or wrong.

Wim Roffel said...


I don't say a word about the question whether the Serbs should pay their electricity bills. I talk about KEK using the occasion to demand the transfer of some building that is still in the hands of the Serbian electricity company.

Anonymous said...

"started the road to war by recognizing Slovenia and Croatia."

This was not the road to war. The wars were entirely of Serbia's choice.

Wim Roffel said...

"The wars were entirely of Serbia's choice"

Really? Even the war between the Croats and the Bosniaks?

stories said...

You are as usually completely wrong about this issue. We some 400 euro in debt to KEK and they came and said we will cut your electricity. We had to go and pay in order to avoid this. Serbs have like 10 000 Euros in debt per household since they have not paid a cent since 1999. Why shouldn't they pay? They are better economically than most of Albanians in Kosovo, receiving financial support from both Kosovo and Serbian Governments. Serbs can as much as they want politicize this but for us with Balkan experiences the behavior of KEK seems highly suitable. They have waited 10 years to collect their bills from Serbs.