Monday, December 27, 2010

Thaci is proving himself guilty

I am a bit amazed about the reactions to the Marty report. For me the most striking allegation was not that Thaci may have known and even ordered the organ harvesting. That is the past. The world knows more former guerrilla leaders who had made their hands dirty but who proved to be great statesmen later on. Begin in Israel is a good example. The real interesting conclusion was that Thaci still is a mobster and still is involved in heroin trade and other illegal activities. If that is true then Western politicians who are supporting Thaci are not only obstructing justice regarding some war crimes but also doing Kosovo a bad favor by obstructing the rise of cleaner politicians who might be able to help Kosovo to clean its act so that finally the economy can take off. In diplomatic terms: it is no longer in the benefit of Kosovo's stability that Thaci stays on.

In this context I also want to highlight the position of US ambassador Dell. Normally ambassadors are regularly rotated in order to prevent them from "going native" and seeing the world too much from the point of view of their host government. However, Dell, who was appointed US ambassador in july 2009 was before that head of the US mission in Kosovo in 2000-2001. This was only one year, but it was in the emotional period shortly after the war: hardly a time to keep one's distance and objectivity. Besides that he had been in the region since 1997 as Deputy Chief of Mission in Bulgaria and may have had some involvement with Kosovo from there. If the US would have any inclination to make Kosovo a normal country it would have sent someone fresh who would be capable of criticizing Kosovo's politicians without feeling awkward because he had previously cooperated with the same guys in rebuilding Kosovo after the war.

We know Thaci's reputation and the widespread fear of retaliation against witnesses against former guerrilla leaders (Marty on witness security, impartial probe). In that light the demands for more evidence by some seem not the right answer. I suppose EULEX made those demands because James Albrecht - its main responsible for corruption and organized crime - was recently target of what looked like a warning. It may have been no coincidence that that day elsewhere in Kosovo a KPS cop was killed. Now it looks like EULEX is afraid and only wants the case when all the evidence is already there. Marty has already suggested that the ICC or a special tribunal should deal with the case.

The West should deal with Thaci like it dealt with Milosevic. Although it was clear to anyone what that Milosevic had a rather detrimental effect on the conflicts in former Yugoslavia even the ICTY never produced a smoking gun that linked him directly with war crimes. This didn't prevent the West from pushing for his departure and indictment. I think we should deal similarly with Thaci. Marty has produced some evidence and pointed to to intelligence reports that suggest Western governments know much more. If our governments believe those to be true they should do everything they can to keep Thaci as far away from power as they can.

In the mean time it looks like Thaci is trying to look like the mobster he is accused to be. He has threatened both Marty and Marty's witnesses. The announced publication of the names of those who spoke with Marty can only be seen as a threat not to cooperate if the EU or UN might decide to have the case investigated by a prosecutor.

I am very curious whether Wikileaks will turn up any interesting cables about Kosovo. There must have been some communication about the anarchic situation after the 1999 war. They might also shed a better light on Ambassador Dell's actions at that time.

* B92 has the awkward habit of changing its links. For that reason I mention for B92 articles also the title so you can look them up with Google when necessary.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Deadly sanctions

Many people will already have heard about the estimates of the death toll of the UN sanctions of the Iraq of Saddam Hussein. These hundreds of thousands alone made any expectation that the Iraqi population would greet the Americans as liberators ridiculous.

Now we see the first signs that the sanctions against Iran are deadly too. To counter the international gasoline embargo Iran has switched existing petrochemical plants to the production of gasoline. However, this gasoline seems to contain more aromatics and these result in particles in the air when burned. The result has been an enormous increase in smog. The health ministry estimates that there were 3600 smog related deaths in the first 9 months of this year. As the sanctions are just starting and as it takes some time before pollution does its full harm this count can only increase.

Friday, December 17, 2010

The Marty Report

On this page of the Council of Europe you can find links to Dick Marty's Report on organ trade (preceded by a draft resolution) and an explanatory map.

The main new element seems to me that he lists a whole range of places in Albania that should be involved. This way he discards previous arguments that saw organ harvesting as improbable because the yellow house near Burrel was such a remote and illogical place to do such a thing.

The report refers to two leaked German intelligence reports (in German!): one is Operationalisierung von SSR (Security Sector Reform) auf dem Westlichen Balkan (2007). The other is from 2005. But it is hosted on Wikileaks and it looks like Wikileaks has problems that make it unavailable. Mail me if you want a copy.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Wikileaks and Kosovo

Some journalists like Timothy Garton Ash say their opinion if the State Departmentment has gone up due to the Wikileaks cables. The opinion of others like Catriona Luke has gone down. I side with with the latter. What Ash sees as a high point in US diplomacy - a description of an extravagant Dagestani wedding - is for me the illustration of the problem. All humans have their quirks - and some third world leaders even more - but that doesn't mean that they don't have a serious side that is worth considering.

A good example where things went wrong is Georgia. And one of the causes was that the US relied almost exclusively on Georgian sources.

On Kosovo, the cable probably summarizes US Kosovo policy better than anything else: "Lack of activity or even access by Kosovo authorities in Northern Kosovo is a constant irritant for Kosovo's leaders and the country's majority Albanian population, and it represents for both the very real threat of the partition of Kosovo -- a reversal of ten years of USG policy and a grave threat to stability in Kosovo and the Western Balkan region.".

What we see here at work is similar to what we have seen elsewhere: the US has hooked up its fate with one side in an ethnic conflict and tries to placate that side. That side answers by upping the demands every time its present demands seem to be met. A good example is justice in Northern Kosovo. At the moment the Serbs seemed to consent we saw additional Albanian demands: asking that only Kosovo-Albanian law be applied and rejecting Serbian judges. In fact if you just want to restore the rule of law and address issues like theft and murder it doesn't make much difference which laws are applied.

There is no way that Kosovo's politicians ever will ever be satisfied until a full surrender and departure of Kosovo's minorities. Of course their mainstream politicians won't ask it the way Albin Kurti (who rejects the Ahtisaari Plan and minority rights) does. Instead they always will find just one more little demand that is justified with fashion words like "sovereignty". As long there is a good chance that the US will support a demand an Albanian politician risks being seen as non-patriotic if he doesn't ask for it.

The effect of this US policy is that nationalism stays at the heart of Kosovo's politics and more mundane subjects like corruption and economic policy stay a side show. This hurts Kosovo.

In Northern Kosovo there are hardly Albanians living. So the main motive to control it is blind land hunger. By supporting this - and even rejecting compromises like local autonomy - the US is not contributing to peace but actually stoking the nationalistic fires.

Now the arguments for this position: a partition of Kosovo would be "a reversal of ten years of USG policy". This is not a real argument. It looks like ambassador is presenting himself like a faithful apparatchik who sticks to a doctrine just because it is 10 years old and it might mean loss if face when given up.

Because that is not enough the ambassador continues with stating that partition would be "a grave threat to stability in Kosovo and the Western Balkan region". Here he sounds like a religious fanatic who claims that you will come in hell when you don't do what he does. He claims a doom scenario without any real argument. In fact there is no reason at all why the loss of the north would threaten the stability of Kosovo, let alone the Balkans.

How to negotiate with Iran

According to Wikileaks the British ambassador in Tehran gave the Americans a few lessons on how to negotiate with Iran. Be tough but not aggressive. It looks like the US can use the reminder.

See here how the Wikileaks have been abused to suggest that the Arabs are in favor of an attack on Iran while they are not.

The book "Manufactured Crisis: The Secret History of the Iranian Nuclear Scare" by Gareth Porter claims that crucial documents that are used to claim that Iran aims for nuclear arms are forged.

How to talk to Iran list the errors the US made in the past while negotiating with Iran.

Building Blocks: The obsession that is preventing a nuclear deal with Iran discusses the Western demand to inspect Parchin. The accusation is that Iran should have tested there conventional explosives for use in a nuclear bomb. However, this falls outside the IAEA mandate that is only about the spread of nuclear material.

How the U.S. and Iran Keep Failing To Find a Peace They Both Want discusses how Bush and Obama failed. The article sees the election fraud as the big game changer - combined with Saudi, Israeli and other lobbies. It discusses also the calculations at the Iranian side.

As Israelis Press Obama on Iran, Let’s Remember they Urged Iraq War, Too: on his blog Juan Cole remembers us that Israel lobbied heavily for an attack on Iraq too ten years ago. Netanyahu himself wrote an article in the Wall Street Journal with the title "The Case for Toppling Saddam".

Ryan Crocker says U.S. is fumbling on Iran's nuclear program: Longtime U.S. diplomat Ryan Crocker says that when dealing with Iran, negotiations and concessions would be far more effective than tougher sanctions.

Iran nuclear negotiations: lessons from 10 years of failures

Talk to Iran, It Works by Ryan C. Crocker.

No, Sanctions Didn't Force Iran to Make a Deal

Friday, December 10, 2010

On the Dutch Serbia position

As we all know the Dutch government is often the most fierce opponent of further EU integration of Serbia, asking that that there should first be full cooperation with ICTY.

Recently I attended a seminar where someone brought up the question whether Brammertz is the right person to judge on that issue. He is the prosecutor. His task is to keep up the pressure on Serbia to catch Mladic. Even if he has the impression that Serbia is fully cooperating he can never be 100% sure. And so his best strategy is to keep up the pressure. But if we want an evenhanded evaluation of Belgrade's cooperation we should ask him (and others) to hand over his evidence to an independent diplomat who can draw his own conclusions.

Interestingly I found this opinion confirmed in one of the WikiLeaks cables where it is stated that "Cooper said we are caught in a vicious circle with Brammertz, who feels he cannot utter the words "full cooperation" but is trying to indicate as much in other terms.".

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Russia in trouble

The Economist has an article about Russia and its corruption. The bottom line is that Russia is more and more consuming and less and less investing and that that is unsustainable. So they forecast a breakdown - but think it still may take quite a while.

The article sees Putin as obsessed with order: a man of the 1990s whose capacities becomes increasingly irrelevant. Medvedev is a more modern man but he is rather weak.

It looks to me that Russia once again needs economists. One can only hope for the country that this time they will choose better and more mainstream economists and not the kind of extremists that destroyed the country in the early 1990s.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

The Assange story

In case you have missed it, here you can find the rather incredible story of the sexual assault complaints against mr. Assange from Wkileaks. And here is the view of the New York Times on whether what happened was rape.

Also interesting: The Man who spilled the Secrets at Vanity Fair. It tells about Assange's relationship with the newspapers - mainly the Guardian. This article tells about his relationship with the New York Times.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Battling organized crime

Organized crime in the Balkans is a recurrent theme. According to WikiLeaks it is farther east an even larger problem. Today some musings about how you can battle organized crime.

For battling organized crime some resolve is necessary. This relates badly with our present over-juridicized society. The only one to defeat the mafia in Italy was Mussolini and his great advantage was that he didn't have to adhere to the the law. Unfortunately when the Americans invaded Sicily they did this in alliance with the mafia who so got its power back. Similarly Al Capone, the famous crime boss in Chicago, was sent to prison for tax evasion. Obviously when battling organized crime you must be prepared to go to the limits of the law.

A good example is the case of Khodorkovsky in Russia. No one believes he got rich by strictly adhering to the law. So I am rather amazed by all those human rights activists who defend him because of some legalistic details. You can't make exceptions in the battle against organized crime because someone shares your political views.

I see a great similarity in how the US supported the mafia in Italy in 1944 and how it helped the Russian mafia with its support to Yeltsin. And these are not the only examples of harmful foreign influence. In many privatizations and major government projects in the Balkans foreign pressure to give the orders to their companies was obvious. I am curious what Wikileaks will tell us about the order for the Albanian highway to Bechtel or the sale of the Serbian steel industry.

I good example of the aspects of battling organized crime is Saakashvili in Georgia. In the beginning he did some high profile reforms, that included the firing of 80% of the police force. That police reform worked: nowadays over 85% of the population trusts the police - much more than in other former Soviet states. Similar reforms took care that businesses need less different permits and pay less types of taxes.

So he reduced low level corruption. But there remain complaints about an overbearing tax office and pressure on businesses to invest in government pet projects like tourism at the Black Sea coast. As a consequence who gets rich is still to a considerable degree dependent on having the right connections. And that is exactly what corruption is in the end about.

Friday, December 03, 2010

Truths that will contribute to a lasting peace

John Shattuck and Richard Goldstone have published with an article in the Boston Globe in which they conclude after a recent visit that four truths are arising in former Yugoslavia about what went wrong and what should be done:
- the war was caused by bad — often criminal — leadership
- enduring peace cannot be imposed from the outside
- when genocide and crimes against humanity have been committed there can be no peace without justice
- change occurs when there is pressure from civil society

I leave it to the reader to read the article him- or herself. Instead I want to write about the West that in my opinion that carries in my opinion most blame.

At the end of the 1980s the dominant vision in the West about the communist world was a very simplicistic one: the people there were oppressed and given a chance they would vote for freedom. I will call it the RFERL (Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty) view.

I think this was a gross overvaluation of freedom. In my opinion people primarily look at their wallet and are prepared to accept quite a few restrictions in exchange for money. Hitler is a good example of a politician who stayed popular despite a lot of terror.

It is also an underestimation of how free the communist world in the 1980s really was. The 1940s and 1950s had been cruel with thousands of executions. But in the 1980s the climate had become much milder and it were mostly deliberate "dissidents" who got into trouble. It was only a little worse than the West where at that moment "political correctness" was the norm and you could get in quite serious trouble if you didn't follow that ideology. In fact the main appeal of "pro-Western" parties in the East was not about freedom but about bringing the wealth of the West. The RFERL view also ignored the nationalist anti-Russian aspect of those parties.

When the Iron Curtain fell in Poland and Czecheslovia the anti-communists (Solidarnosc and Havel) rose to power and this seemed to confirm the RFERL view. Then came Milosevic who didn't give up his communist heritage completely and became popular despite that. The RFERL view blamed him for being nationalist. In fact in most new democracies nationalism plays an important role. And as Yugoslavia didn't have Russian troops nationalism focussed on internal divisions.

In democracies ethnic divisions are a subject of permanent re-negotiations. Usually richer provinces are capable of aquiring more autonomy than poorer ones, but cultural awareness plays also a role. Periods of more and less autonomy tend to alternate. But instead of encouraging such negotiations and creating a climate for them the West did everything to turn the situation in an unsolvable conflict. Yugoslavia's republics got independence after a much too short process - breaking off ongoing negotiations. And by assigning them absolute "territorial integrity" any negotiation on autonomy or border changes was cut short.

As a consequence of this RFERL view the West encouraged separatism in the other Yugoslav republics - a major crime in international relations. It also encouraged the rise of politicians there who - except for being openly anti-communist - were not much better and in some respects even worse than Milosevic.

Many see Milosevic as the symbol of evil. I see him as a rather typical cynical politician. Unfortunately cynical politicians are rather common and when I heard for example Bush carelessly talk about civilian deaths in Iraq it was hard to tell the difference. Milosevic's main weakness was not his cynicism but his lack of diplomatic insight that made him time and again make the wrong bets in a time of turbulence. Normal Western diplomacy might have solved this by doing some handholding. But as the West had chosen to treat Milosevic as an adversary they were usually incapable to do so - with the exception of Dayton.

In search of America's diplomatic conscience

I haven't seen much news yet in the WikiLeaks cables regarding the Balkans. Discussions about how to make Kosovo independent are about tactics. The preceding strategy discussion is more important and until now lacking in the diplomatic mail.

In one of the articles I read about the Wikileaks an old diplomat complained that about the low quality of the communication. In his days it was on a much higher intellectual level. This may be nostalgia of a retired old man but I share the feeling. Every politician has its quirks. But in the days of the Cold War there was more of a feeling that you had to work out things together. Nowadays US international politicy is made in isolated "think tanks" in Washington with often a strong input of lobbyists and diplomats have been reduced to pawns who have to impose it on the foreign politicians. In their frustration they resort to calling those politicians names.

Some of the things I would like to see are:
- anything about human rights. My feeling is that they only serve as an excuse to criticize but that no one really cares.
- any discussion about Kosovo's independence declaration. It would have been a good working strategy if - before making the decision - the US had asked its diplomats to give their vision on whether it was the best strategy and how it would work out.
- anything about the 1995. With their support of Operation Flash and Storm in Croatia the US had embraced a policy of ethnic cleansing. It would be interesting to see how that was seen in the diplomatic corps.
- anything about the period 1990-1992 when Yugoslavia started to fall apart - for which the West bears much guilt.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Montgomery's book

William Montgomery, former US ambassador to Serbia and Croatia, has written a book "Struggling with Democratic Transition: After the cheering stops" about his period as ambassador. He tells some things about helping the opposition against Milosevic but it is obviously that this part of the book has been censored a bit by the State Department. He writes about close contacts between politicians and criminals like between Đinđić and Legija and between Jovanović and Spasojević. He is very negative about Carla del Ponte who he sees a bull in a china shop. He also mentions a meeting with Milosevic's wife who said that her husband would rather die than serve a prison sentence.

I am not certain where to buy the book outside the Balkans. It is not on Amazon.

Monday, November 22, 2010

How not to handle the economy

The best way to explain the Irish crisis is to explain it in very simple terms.

Suppose the economy is divided in two groups: the haves and the don't-haves. The haves have big bank accounts, shares and other possessions; the don't-haves are dependent on their wages.

Now some big bank goes bust. The consequence is that as a country we are a bit poorer and the question is how this loss should be divided. The logical way to handle this is that the shareholders and the creditors of the bank should carry the burden. So only the haves would pay the bill. They still will be haves but they will just own a little bit less.

But that was not how it worked in the last crisis. Under the excuse that the stability of the financial system was threatened governments took much of the burden upon them. But as the government doesn't own much of itself this means that in the end everybody in the country - both the haves and the don't-haves - will have to pay the bill. But as the don't haves are financially weak and the haves have ways to evade taxes this brings the government soon in a very difficult position.

In Ireland the government had taken full responsibility for a bank that had lent much money to real estate developers and that fell into problems when real estate prices cratered.

Socialists like to scold the capitalist way of thinking as "privatize the profits, socialize the loses" and in this case this is exactly what we have done. The problem is that until we recognize what we have done and that it is unsustainable we will keep running into problems like Ireland has now.

As can be seen in this article ("IMF: Markets Significantly Overestimate Risk of Advanced Econ Default"), the IMF still hasn't gotten the idea when it states that the main problem is "primary fiscal deficit". That is not true. Those deficits are in most cases a direct consequence of governments taking on debts from the private sector.

Governments should not take on any debt from the private sector and if needed pressure for liquidation so that the property relations reflect the economic reality. In times of crisis it needs all the means it has to compensate for falling tax receipts and to stimulate the economy.

A similar reallity rule exists for wages. A country can not live above its means in the long term. This applies also to stimulation of the economy. Stimulation of the economy should concern things that add to the economy like new roads or product development. This disqualifies everything that does not add to the economy: too high wages, new roads that are not needed or bank rescues.

Friday, November 19, 2010

The precedent excuse against partition of Kosovo

Last week several reports appeared about the Western Balkans. See here for an overview.

It is good to see that after the International Crisis Group also an article in Survival, the journal of London’s International Institute for Strategic Studies saw some merit in partition of Kosovo.

On the other hand however, Daniel Serwer of the USIP once again published a report and an article in which he attacks the option of partition as a way to settle conflicts in Kosovo and Bosnia. He seems a bit confused about the subject sometimes - he falsely claims for example that the recent UN resolution on Kosovo asks for technical talks only - but as his institute is directly financed by the US Congress we have to take him seriously.

According to him if borders were changed in Kosovo this would "open up border questions" in Bosnia and Macedonia and likely also in Albanian inhabited areas in southern Serbia and Montenegro. It is a modern version of the Domino Theory and just as dubious when you have a closer look:
- when Kosovo declared independence there were also people who predicted that that would lead to the secession of the RS in Bosnia. Nothing happened as everyone knew that the Western countries wouldn't allow it. Similarly when Czechoslovakia split and there were some border changes between Czechia and Slovakia nobody even suggested that that would or should have consequences for the Hungarian minority in Slovakia. So there is no reason to suppose that a border agreement between Kosovo and Serbia will have automatic influence on Bosnia and Macedonia.
- The solution in Bosnia has always been obvious: extend the principle of self-determination - on which Dayton is based - to the Croats. Unfortunately by pressing the other way the West has created a hostile stalemate. The longer this lasts the lesser the chance that Bosnia will survive as a state. This has nothing to do with Kosovo.
- A major factor in Albanian separatism in Macedonia is the belief that the US (and to a lesser degree the EU) is an ally of the Albanians against the Slavs. Both in Kosovo (1999) and in Macedonia (2001) the West intervened in a war started by the Albanians and then imposed major changes in favor of of the Albanians. A refusal to change borders in Kosovo - despite the sorry position of its minorities - only strengthens the impression that the West supports the Albanians no matter what they do. The recent weapon catches on the Kosovo-Macedonian border show that preparations for another war are already going on.
- not changing borders has consequences too. In Croatia not changing borders - and just as in Kosovo refusing to discuss real autonomy - led to a war and in the end some 400,000 permanent exiles. At the moment the position of Kosovo's minorities is so bad that it is generally expected that those remaining will gradually leave when the situation doesn't improve. This soft cleansing has an effect that is more destabilizing than border changes.

The Poland-Lithuania conflict

The Economist had a little article about the recent diplomatic row between Poland and Lithuania. On the surface it is only about the right of the Lithuania's Polish minority to write their names with the Polish alphabet. But as can be seen by the enormous number of comments (326 at the time I write this) there must be a lot of underlying frustration.

Buying elections

As I mentioned in previous posts about the color revolutions, the US subsidizing parties in the former communist countries through its NED (National Endowment for Democracy). Other Western organizations (political parties, Soros, etc) are doing the same. Although there is nothing wrong with explaining to newly democratic countries how democracy is supposed to work in practice this means that "pro-Western" parties are supported while parties that are despised as "nationalist" or "pro-Russian" or "communist" are not. So in fact we are buying votes - exactly the reason why nearly all Western democracies frown upon or forbid foreign donations to their political parties.

Now it looks like the Russians are learning the game too. The following is a fragment from a story about Moldova:

There will be an election Nov. 28. The country has billboards with various candidates all around and rallies throughout the country. Western nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) are there. Some are funded, we were told, by the American National Endowment for Democracy, others supported by NATO and so on. The Russians, too, have learned the NGO gambit from the West by watching the various color revolutions. Russian-supported NGOs are in the country, and as one journalist told me, they are serving wine and cheese to young people. That appears to be having an impact.

Postscript: another trick used in Russia is the use of opinion polls. Just like both democratic politicians worldwide and many dictators Russia's leaders look at opinion polls to look for clues on which which subjects they could increase their popularity. I gives me mixed feelings. On the one hand it is good that Russia's leaders are at least somewhat listening to the public. On the other hand it distracts from what really counts and it leads to people like Tony Blair and Obama where polls and power games seem more important than reaching political goals.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The situation in Belgium

Mostovljanin asked me to write something about the situation in Belgium that held elections in June and still hasn't been able to form a government. I haven't followed the situation very closely but I hope to be able to provide some background. Warning: as a Dutch my point of view may be a bit colored.

The population of Belgium is divided in Flemish (Dutch speakers) and Walloons (French-speakers). There are also some 74,000 German speakers in the East but they don't play a role in the political conflict.

Some history
In the 1500s the Netherlands and Belgium were one and the whole was known as The Netherlands. The name Belgium dates from the independence in 1830. Before that the area was known as the Southern Netherlands. At that time the Netherlands were the richest area in the Western world.

In the mid-1500s the Dutch started an independence fight that was motivated both by religion (protestantism became popular in the Netherlands and the Spanish king tried to crush it with the Inquisition) and by complaints over too high taxation. This is the 80-years War (1568-1648). In the end the North became independent while the South stayed with Spain. Later it became ruled by the Austrian Habsburgs. It may be good to remember that in those times French was the language of the elite just as English is now, so in those times Belgium was ruled by a French speaking elite.

In 1795 Belgium was annexed by Napoleon. It stayed with France until 1815 when it became part of the Netherlands. However, in 1830 Belgium seceded and became independent.

Much has been written about why Belgium seceded at that moment. The Netherlands had at that time an activist king Willem I who did a lot for the economy but the rather backward Belgian areas felt that his policies favored the North. Then there was the language. The king established Dutch as the dominant language in Flanders and that was resisted by the French speaking elite at that time. Just as 200 years before religion was still important too and the Catholic Church was a major source of resistance (in the North at that time there was still a protestant state church, although religion was mostly free). Finally there was the support of France and from French immigrants who had settled during the Napoleonic times. France would have loved to annex Belgium again but Europe's other great powers resisted that at that time.

Belgium became now a country dominated by the French speaking. Despite a Dutch speaking majority French became the only language for the government and in education. It would take more than a century to turn that back and in fact the struggle is still going on.

The present conflicts:

- money

At the beginning of the 20th century Wallonia was by far the richest part of Belgium. It had a lot of coal mines and heavy industry and most government investment was there. But - just as elsewhere - the Steel Belt changed into a Rust Belt and after the closure of the mines and the modernization of the steel industry Wallonia became an area of high unemployment.

While Wallonia sank Flanders rose and modernized and it is now the richest part of Belgium. From the point of view of Flanders the Walloons now are aid addicts who refuse to take the painful steps to modernize their society. The Socialist Party is by far the biggest in Wallonia.

So Flemish politicians are now asking for more financial autonomy. When Wallonia would have to pay its own unemployment benefits - instead of getting them from Flanders - it might be more motivated to reform. Predictably Walloon politicians resist. They like to point to neighboring northern France where the situation is rather bad too.

- territory
French is one of the world's most important languages and was for centuries the language of diplomacy and the international lingua franca. Dutch is a regional language spoken by some 22 million people. Inside Belgium French was the language of the elite and you had to speak French for the better jobs. Add to that the nationalism promoted by the French government and you understand that it is for a French speaking Belgian a bigger step to learn Dutch than for a Dutch speaking Belgian to learn French.

This plays out when the two groups meet each other. Shopkeepers who don't hear you when you speak the wrong language, restaurants that won't serve you, etc. It is not violence, but it is pressure and the French speaking usually are pressing the hardest. As a consequence the French language slowly won territory.

In reaction the Flemish have demanded the language border - introduced in 1962. North of that border Dutch is the language and if you don't speak Dutch it is bad for you but you have to adapt.

But there are holes in the language border. One are the "facility municipalities". These are municipalities where there was a significant minority of the other language before the language border and they got special minority rights. The other was Brussels, that officially became bilingual.

Brussels was originally as Dutch speaking city that after the independence in 1830 slowly was frenchified. Nowadays only 7% of the the inhabitants of Brussels speak only Dutch. Another 9% is bilingual at home.

Due to better job opportunities the frenchification among native Belgians has largely stopped and an increasing number of French speaking Belgians is learning Dutch. However, at the same time immigration has increased and the immigrants overwhelmingly favor French. So the frenchification of the area around Brussels goes on.

As Brussels is thoroughly frenchified the real problems are now in the suburbs. The conflict about the BHV (Brussel-Halle_Vilvoorde) voting district is about this problem. At the moment the French speaking minority in the area around Brussels has the right to vote for French speaking politicians in the national elections. Flemish speakers don't have similar rights in the French speaking areas. So the Flemish want to have this right abolished.

This may seem like a rather arcane matter. But as the Flemish see it this is about the French speakers recognizing that they live in Flanders. At the moment some French politicians seem to aim to frenchify the region around Brussels and specially the area between Brussels and Wallonia so that when Belgium splits there will be a French-speaking corridor and Wallonia and Brussels can become independent as one country "Wallo-Brux".

The present crisis
The present problems started when the nationalistic N-VA got 28% of the Flemish vote. Near Brussels it got even 40%. The other Flemish parties saw this as a signal that they had to take the message of the N-VA seriously and they gave it a leading role in the government formation.

The question is why the support of this party increased so much. The issues of financial decentralization and BHV had been high in the news for some time but otherwise I don't see any special incident(s) that might have caused this. But I do see a similarity with the Dutch elections 4 days earlier. In the Dutch elections the PVV of Wilders, another nationalist party, got a record number of votes. And both in Flanders and the Netherlands the Christian Democrats scored very bad - lower than ever before. The N-VA is a much more mainstream party than the PVV, but it might be (partly) a kind of protest vote related to the economic crisis. Another factor may be the rise of national consciousness under influence of continuing immigration. This can also be seen in the increasing popularity of national symbols. For example: where in the past pictures of windmills and clogs were considered as kitsch for tourists they are becoming increasingly popular for normal use.

Anyway, the proposals sponsored by the N-VA were flatly refused by the PS, the biggest Walloon party and now there now seems to be an impasse. The PS didn't even show an openness to negotiate.

I get the impression that the PS and the Walloons hope that they can seduce the other Flemish parties to consider the N-VA as nationalist extremists whose proposals should be ignored. However, it is a risky play as it looks like the other Flemish parties feel insulted by the rude PS response to the proposals - that they support.

If the Flemish parties stick to their guns the Walloons have a problem as they will have to take the Flemish position seriously. The most logical response for them would be to do some concessions to placate the Flemish as they have most to loose when Belgium falls apart. The Flemish have a vibrant economy while they depend on money transferred from Flanders.

Belgium has been through a lot of struggles between the Flemish and the Walloons. This feels just like one more and no one seems to be too worried. There is the feeling of having a common culture and a common heritage so the situation isn't too antagonistic. At both sides there is a wide majority to keep Belgium together. That could change if the political conflict might somehow escalate but that seems improbable. What is worrying more Belgians is that with each constitutional reform the ties between the two parts become weaker. They wonder whether falling apart will be the logical last step.

After breaking up
A final question is what would happen if Belgium falls apart:

Will the Walloons join France and the Flemish the Netherlands? Both independence and joining have considerable support but most people don't seem to care very much at the moment. I think that the chance that the Walloons will join France is greater as that way its politicians might avoid painful budget cuts that would be necessary when it no longer receives money from Flanders. Wallonia has also a smaller population and is landlocked.

The fate of Brussels is also uncertain. Brussels is a mostly French speaking enclave inside Flanders and its economy is tightly integrated with that of Flanders (some 250.000 people from Flanders work there). Most people in Brussels would prefer to be independent but that brings its own problems as the Brussels population is rather poor.

Postscript: the Economist had a Charlemagne post about the situation in Belgium. The article itself is not very special but it has an elaborate discussion with 350 posts.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Why the US is so religious

The economist has a short article explaining why the US is so religious. Very short: it was a deliberate policy of the Eisenhower administration to push religion as an antidote against communism.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Louise Arbour on self-determination

Louise Arbour, formerly Chief Prosecutor of the ICTY and nowadays head of the International Crisis Group, has given a speech on when secession should be allowed. It is an effort to derive general rules from the ICG's support for independence of some groups (Kosovo, Montenegro, South Sudan) and its opposition to others (the Tamils on Sri Lanka, Iraqi Kurdistan).

According to her secession is allowed, except in the few cases where the security council has explicitly forbidden it (Southern Rhodesia in 1965, Northern Cyprus in 1983 and of the Republika Srpska in Bosnia in 1992) because of other violations of international law. She claims that "when a state is unable or unwilling to provide for the internal fulfillment of the right to self-determination" "a people" has a right to secede. She denies that right to the Tamils because they treat their minorities badly.

It strikes me as a highly theoretical exercise that misses all the delicate issues:

- first there is the territorial delimitation. Which territory has the right to secede? Should existing provincial borders be respected - even when that brings in considerable minorities who don't want to secede? But that would mean that Milosevic could have split up Kosovo among Serbia's provinces so that there was no province left with an Albanian majority and that then nobody would have the right to secede. It strikes me as absurd that a state - by giving a minority local autonomy in a territory where they are the majority - would strengthen their rights to secede.

- Arbour defines "self determination" in a very legalistic abstract way. In her view when a minority is represented in parliament is has its rights. It looks like a convoluted way to approve Kosovo's treatment of its minorities.

If she would be honest and define "self determination" like control over your own fate she would have to admit that the minorities in Kosovo's parliament are powerless figureheads and that in fact Kosovo's minorities are subject to heavy discrimination and that it is nearly impossible for them to make a living in Kosovo. The logic conclusion would be that Kosovo's minorities are in worse position and have more right to secede from Kosovo than the Albanians in 1999 had to secede from Serbia.

- Arbour somehow misses the fact that secession is usually about money. Usually it are the rich provinces that want to secede - believing that they will be richer when they no longer have to subsidize their poorer countrymen. Slovenia and Croatia in Yugoslavia, the Basques and Catalans in Spain and the North Italians are all good examples. Southern Sudan would be less enthusiastic to secede when it wouldn't have the oil. Kosovo's Albanians' enthusiasm for independence would have been considerably reduced without the Trepca mines.

So the dynamics of deteriorating ethnic relations that usually precede secessions are often not caused by maltreatment by the majority but by the greed of the minority.

- Arbour misses also the dynamics of a fight in which sub-minorities tend to get trampled. There is great similarity between the fate of minorities in Kosovo and that of the minorities in the Tamil controlled areas in Sri Lanka. From this point of view it is hard to defend to support one and reject the other.

- Arbour ignores the question of how secession should proceed. In order to succeed secession nearly always needs external support. But that makes those external forces also responsible for how secession happens. It looks like the US doesn't understand this as a responsibility and only uses it as opportunity for macho politics.

In my view there can be only one criteria: a minimum of damage. This should take into account that secessions tend to be costly in terms of human rights - even when they are peaceful. The fates of the minorities in the former Soviet Union and Slovakia are good examples.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Vietnam redone?

When the US withdrew from Vietnam after 1972 it implemented a policy of Vietnamization. This worked reasonable well, but failed when Congress cut the US funding of those Vietnamese troops. Now US Congress is following a similar policy in Iraq where it has cut the funding for civilian support. Doing so they may take away the leverage the US has to influence policy in Iraq.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Afghanistan strategy

With Woodward's new book about the discussions in the Obama administration it is good to list the facts amid the many myths.

Myth 1 concerns the Taliban. Many people claim that as it is a strong factor in Afghanistan we should negotiate with them. This is based on the old notion that a guerrilla movement is rooted in the population and a such involving them is kind of democratic. Problem is that this does not apply to the Taliban: in opinion polls it comes below 10%. The Taliban does not represent the opinion of a considerable part of the Afghan population: it is just the creation of the Pakistan's intelligence service ISI. And the ISI has repeatedly killed Taliban leaders that it believed too soft.

This brings me to myth 2 that we can work with Pakistan to fight the Taliban. Pakistan's trauma is the 1971 independence of Bangladesh. It is fearful that a similar split will happen at its west side. It has good reasons to do so because the Indus in the heart of Pakistan is often seen as the border between the Persian and the Indian worlds. West of the Indus are the Beluchi and the Pashtun who just as nearly all Afghans speak Persian languages. Pakistan has adopted two strategies to compensate for that. It's first strategy is stressing the Islam: the only thing its citizens have in common. The second is to keep those Persian speakers - both in Pakistan and Afghanistan - poor and backwards. The Taliban - both the Afghan and the Pakistani - is serving those goals.
This fear is heigthened by fear that India might help such a splitup - just as it once helped Bangladesh to become independent.

Myth 3 is that we need a strong administration in Afghanistan to take over when we leave. This has brought us to impose on Afghanistan an extremely centralized constitution and - except for some grumbling - to ignore the corruption of its government. Both have proved ineffective against the Taliban but a major obstacle to a more effective government.
Behind this desire for a strong administration is the desire to keep strong American influence. Provincial governors with strong local support would be much less sensitive to American desires than Karzai, the corrupt "major of Kabul".

Myth 4 is that Al Qaeda is gone from Afghanistan and that we are now fighting only the Taliban. So if they win it will be just a problem for the Afghans. In fact recent reports mention that there are many foreigners fighting among the Taliban. It can be expected that when the Taliban wins many of them will move to other countries to fight there. Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan look very vulnerable at the moment.

So what lessons can we draw:

- ad 1: forget about negotiating with the Taliban. They will only accept the kind of outcome that will enable them later on to take over all power. If the Taliban was a real political movement some compromise would be possible that gave government jobs and political concessions to the Taliban. But while we can co-opt individual Taliban leaders we will never be able to do so with the Taliban as an organization; Pakistan will sabotage such an effort.
Forget also about winning this guerrilla war. As long as Pakistan is spending money there will be Afghans who are prepared to fight for the Taliban.

- ad 2: We have to address the root of Pakistan's behavior and force it to accept development of both its western regions and Afghanistan. This means abolishment of the agencies - that remainder of colonial rule in Pakistan's west side. It also means more local autonomy. To achieve this the US has to become involved in internal discussion in Pakistan: this is something you can't just impose. The US should address Pakistan's fears and ambitions: it is stupid for Pakistan to think that it should be India's equal. Instead it should strive for cooperation. And the best way to improve life for India's Kashmiri's is to stop supporting guerrilla fighters there.
For a long time the US has considered Pakistan as a counterbalance to India. This made sense in the time of the Cold War when India was considered an ally of the USSR. But the Cold War has been over for 20 years now and the real dichotomy in Asia is nowadays between India and China. The balance is in favor of China and that is generally considered to be not in the US interest. Yet Pakistan is serving as a pawn for China and the US is supporting that. This policy doesn't make sense neither from a regional nor from a geopolitical perspective.

- ad 3: we should aim for a decentralized Afghanistan. And forget about US influence: truly democratic leaders will be focused on their voters - not on US interests. The US should encourage that, take a servile role and keep in mind that this is a necessary step if it wants to leave Afghanistan with a strong governmental system.

- ad 4: as long as Pakistan keeps up training Muslim extremists and keeps up allowing training camps of Muslim extremist organizations it will be a source of danger for the world and the next 9/11 may be just a matter of time. There is no clear boundary between Al Qaeda and the Taliban.

Postscript: readers of this post may also like the article Allies in War, but the Goals Clash in the NY Times. According to the article Pakistan prefers to have Pashtun dominance of Afghanistan while the northern tribes are India's traditional allies. Unfortunately the article describes the Pakistan-India conflict as nearly unsolvable and completely ignores the role the US has played in antagonizing the two.

Monday, September 27, 2010

The power of trust

Gerard Gallucci has written an article about how the Ahtisaari Plan could be adapted in the present negotiations. In general he proposes to give some powers that are now allocated to the Pristina government to the internationals. I admire Gallucci for his knowledge of details and his balanced view of the Ahtisaari Plan. But I have a fundamentally different view of autonomy.

Modern democratic government with its separation of powers is based on the notion that it is a bad idea to concentrate all powers in one government. Many countries have embraced decentralization as a means to further improve the democratic character of their society: most recently France. Even in the US and Germany - where regional ethnic groups don't constitute a problem - the regional government jealously guard their powers. Decentralization where possible, centralization where necessary is the slogan in many Western countries.

Keeping countries together with the threat of violence carries a high cost. Trust works much better and that is how Western societies are organized. I find it a stupid idea that the EU and the US are promoting centralization as the best way to govern countries in the Balkans. It is no coincidence that the Federation in Bosnia is its least functional part: the power is not decentralized according to the ethnic composition and this dysfunctional organization invites abuses. A logical way to achieve more coherence would be a split of the Federation. Similarly it would be logical to give northern Kosovo - with its own language - the power to arrange its own affairs. It is a lack of (recognized) decentralization that gives people influence on the affairs of others and it is that what leads to the ethnicalization of political life. It is not the partition in entities that leads to ethnic parties in Bosnia: it is the continuing attempts to undermine the entities and the refusal to recognize the underlying principles and create a Croat entity that make ethnicity a problem in Bosnia.

Take Kosovo schoolbooks. Ahtisaari gives Pristina a veto right on Serb schoolbooks. In my view Pristina should have the rights to ask that some Kosovo-specific subjects are included in the curriculum, but the Serbs should be free to choose their own schoolbooks. Could this right be abused to include anti-Albanian comments? Sure! But Serbs have nothing to say about Albanian schoolbooks. In that context giving Albanians the right to censor Serb books amounts to denying the equality of Serbs and Albanians. There is no need to do so either: the Serb enclaves in the south are close to Albanian settlements. Anything inappropriate in their schoolbooks would raise indignation from their Albanian neighbors and harm the inter-ethnic relations on which those Serbs depend. That will be enough feedback to prevent excesses. In my own country - the Netherlands - freedom of education is established in the constitution and it would be unthinkable that the government violated the rights of the schools to select the books they use.

Another example is the police. The internationals are insisting on a unitary structure - both in Bosnia and Kosovo. But this is a militaristic idea of how a country works. Many countries - also in the EU - don't have central control of the police. In some places in the US the head of police is even elected. In fact for most of the police tasks - keeping order, regulating traffic and solving little crimes - local control works very well. Only for some specialized work like environmental laws and laboratory forensic research is centralization helpful.

Or take Kosovo's telephone networks. There is nothing that prevents the Kosovo government from recognizing the Serbian mobile and fixed line networks. In fact Kosovo's insistence that all connections should be disconnected and the Serb provider should start a new endless registration procedure can only be described as criminally racist. These providers have historic rights and their treatment by both the internationals and now the Kosovo government most probably wouldn't stand in an international courtroom. Of course some issues still have to be worked out - like taxation - but there is no reason for extraordinary hurry where the Kosovo government has shown itself very lazy in other areas.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Ahtisaari II?

It is still unclear what EU concessions made Tadic modify his UN resolution. It would have been foolish if this had been only about EU membership. Serbia has seen moments of EU friendliness before after the fall of Milosevic, after his extradition and after the extradition of Karadzic, to name just a few of them. Typical of those moments is that they pass and after some time the EU returns to its usual anti-Serb moods. If Serbia wants to improve its chances for EU membership it would do better to attack crime, corruption and bureaucracy.

In this context it may be good to remember what made the Ahtisaari negotiations fail. Ahtisaari bound himself to the "principles" of the Kosovo Contact Group, that included that Kosovo's borders might not be changed. He added his own "principle" that Kosovo should never again be under Serbian rule. The consequence was that there was nothing left to negotiate. The Albanians already had their independence virtually conceded and saw no need to do any more concessions than strictly needed to keep the internationals happy. Seeing the internationals blocking a border change in the north and applying no pressure at all on the Albanians to do real concessions Serbia saw no reason to do concessions from its side.

Since then the Western countries have repeated pressed for "technical" negotiations on "practical issues". They wanted Serbia to do concessions so that Kosovo could function as much as possible as a normal state. They forgot that these are Serbia's negotiation chips and that in addition any concession from Serbia on these items could easily be interpreted as giving up on Kosovo. Kosovo's leadership didn't help as they didn't even try to make some meaningful concessions in return. It is also good to remember that many of the Kosovo Albanian complaints are self-inflicted wounds. This applies for example to the custom stamps and forms that Kosovo insists on maintaining despite the economic damage.

The big question is whether the coming negotiations will be any different. Will the EU pressure the Albanians for meaningful concessions or will they simply continue their past policy of pressuring Serbia for concessions while accepting the Albanian excuse that any concession from their side would be a violation of their "sovereignty"? In that case the negotiations will be just as doomed as the Ahtisaari negotiations and the negotiations on technical issues.

The first rumors are not very good. Enlargement Commissioner Fuele's agenda would include the same practical issues as previous negotiations.

We will soon know...

In the mean time it is good to remember why the Ahtisaari Plan was not such a good idea. It is a very detailed plan that gives Kosovo's Serbs many specific rights. There are three problems with this:
- The first is that it is not very difficult for any Albanian with a grudge against Serbs to find holes in those rights and ways to hit at the Serbs. The recent attempt by a Kosovo minister to forbid the minibuses that connect the Serb enclaves with Serbia are a good example. The attempt was thwarted by the internationals - but they will not always be around.
- The second problem is that virtually no one knows all those details - certainly not the internationals who tend to be replaced after a a year or so. This has given the Kosovo government the freedom to ignore much of those details. It has also given it the freedom to pretend that it has implemented much of the Ahtisaari Plan while in fact there is a lot left to do.
- The third problem is that the Ahtisaari Plan pretends that in Kosovo the rule of law is reigning supreme. This ignores the about 220,000 refugees who cannot return, the rampant discrimination on the labor market, the thousands of remaining property disputes where minorities are usually the damaged party, the continuing complaints of pressure to leave and sell your property and the continuing complaints about lack of safety. Not to mention the sometimes dubious neutrality of the Albanian ruled police and judges... Given those circumstances it would be best to err on the side of too much autonomy.

A good example is education: a sensible plan would give the Serbs total control over their education and allow Pristina only to make some marginal demands like learning the topography of Kosovo and a bit of the Albanian language - with only limited sanctions when this is not done. Instead the Ahtisaari Plan has given Pristina much more power and Pristina has regularly abused that power to close schools. According to Ahtisaari Pristina has the right to reject Serb schoolbooks. I think this is nonsense: the Serbs don't have the right to reject Albanian schoolbooks that they don't like. By establishing a one-sided right in en ethnic conflict Ahtisaari opens the floodgates to abuses.

The Western countries often mention that Serbia should "accept reality". They might do better by starting to accept reality themselves: at the moment in Kosovo the climate for minorities is so hostile that one can speak of soft ethnic cleansing and that it is generally expected that their communities will slowly die out as the young have no choice but to leave Kosovo for work. This happens in many new states - specially after a war - so to a certain extent it may be unavoidable. But that doesn't take away the responsibility of the international community to its best to protect those minorities. In this respect Serbia's demands for border changes in the north and better minority rights are certainly reasonable.

As long as the West refuses to accept this reality I remain pessimist about the negotiations.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

EU judges befriend gambling kings

The power hunger of the Eurocrats never ends. Now the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg has decided that Germany has to give up its gambing monopoly. According to the court it had undermined its consumer-protection argument by letting state-run gambling companies engage in "intensive advertising campaigns" and by permitting a proliferation of automated gambling machines, which the court said were highly addictive.

Gambling is one of the "sins" that are used as cash cows by governments with their "sin taxes". The most famous are the taxes on alcohol and tobacco. On gambling many governments prefer to keep monopolies because the bookkeeping of gambling dens is usually highly unreliable - and as a consequence they pay too little - and because it allows the government to keep tight control over the ways gambling is promoted.

What the court now is doing is:
- it denies Germany the right to one of the sin taxes. Please note the the right to taxation is one of the most fundamental national rights.
- it diminishes Germany's control over the ways in which gambling is promoted
- it ignores that governments need to promote national gambling in order to prevent losing market share to illegal operations.
- it pretends that gambling is a market. But there is no way in which gambling can be more "efficient". The only benefits from a free markets here are that we give some shady people with low moral standards a license to prey on other people.

The case of Singapore

For the rootless cosmopolitans it is paradise: Singapore. One of those rare places where it doesn't count which nationality you have and where everything is well organized.

But Lee Kuan Yew, who was its leader from 1965 to 1990, is not so optimistic. He explains that it is due to that diversity that he didn't introduce democracy in Singapore - as its main effect would be ethnic parties.

Singapore is 75% Chinese, but the Chinese are divided in dialects.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

How to battle discrimination

Sometimes countries face a situation where one group is nearly totally impoverished and discriminated. Think of the Blacks in the US after slavery was abolished, the Blacks in South Africa after Apartheid and the Untouchables in India. A similar problem happens also in much of South East Asia where the Chinese minority dominates the economy. How can government achieve a more equal society?

South Africa and Malaysia have chosen for a system of positive discrimination where jobs are reserved for the poor majority. In neither of them it has helped and it is generally seen as a corrupt system as many of those who get their position under these systems get it not on merit but due to connections. It looks now that Malaysia is trying to reduce the system that favors Malays over Chinese and Indians. At least the government wants it but it is dubious whether it can overcome popular resistance among the Malays.

Interesting in this respect is an article in the NY Times that compares North and South India. In the south the caste system is slowly disappearing while in the north it has only become more important as caste based parties have arisen. According to the article this is also the reason why the south is doing economically so much better. But why? This is how the article explains it (Nadars are a low caste that form the focus of the article):

Unlike northern India, where caste-based political movements are a fairly recent phenomenon, lower castes in southern India began agitating against upper-caste domination at the beginning of the 20th century. Because these movements arose before independence and the possibility of elected political power, they focused on issues like dignity, education, and self-reliance, Mr. Varshney said.

Nadars created business associations to provide entrepreneurs with credit they could not get from banks. They started charities to pay for education for poor children. They built their own temples and marriage halls to avoid upper caste discrimination.
As a result, when independence came the southern lower castes, who had already broken the upper caste monopoly on economic power, enjoyed political power almost right from the start. Tamil Nadu set aside 69 percent of government jobs and seats in higher education for downtrodden castes, which helped rapidly move lower caste people into the mainstream. The north put in place affirmative action policies, but because education was widely embraced, southern people from lower castes were better able to take advantage of these opportunities than northerners.
It remains to be seen if the political agitation around caste in northern India will produce prosperity for lower caste people there, experts say. In India’s liberalizing economy these communities must prepare themselves to compete, not simply demand a bigger slice of the shrinking government cake...

My advice for South Africa and Malyasia would be: gradually abolish the positive discrimination. Put instead a system of progressive taxation that puts an extra burden on the rich and use that money to build education and infrastructure.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

The discussion about partition

A few days ago Ian Bancroft and Gerard Gallucci published an article "Crafting A Special Status For Northern Kosovo" in which they pled for a condominium status for norther Kosovo. I doubt that solution, but here I want to highlight one of the comments that was posted by readers of the article. This comment - written by some "jeremiah" from Pristina - repeated all the usual arguments against partition. Problem is that they aren't true. So let's begin with the comment by "jeremiah":
Even with the ICJ opinion being so clearly in favor of Kosovo's independence, there's a continuing attempt from Serbia, and those who support Belgrades position (including the authors of this article here) to turn the clock back.
Now, the autonomy of the north, while it might sound good enough for those who are not informed well about Kosovo, is the worst thing that could happen to the region.
If North is to gain special rights, there would be no incentive for Serbs to live outside of this area, just as there would be no reason for the Albanians to continue implementing the Ahtisaaris multethnic concept for Kosovo.
Bosnia, mentioned in this article as preceden for Kosovo, is acctually the perfect example why this sort of division makes the whole state non-functional.
In short, if North was to get autonomy, Ahtisaari's plan would be officialy dead, Kosovo would become another Bosnia (a disfunctional, torn appart kind of state, with hatred and ethnicity still determining the future of the country), while Serbia will be left to continue dreamming of the day of coming back to Kosovo.
Simultaneously, it would give many reasons for Albanians in Souther Serbia (Presevo Valley) and Western Macedonia to rethink their position within respctive states, just as it would further inspire Serb nationalists in Bosnia, and Bosniaks in Serbia's Sandjak region.
Ultimately, with ethnic division as the core feature of this "solution", the European social values would be thrown out of the window, in favor of returning to the typical Balkan ethnic isolationism.
At the end of the day, autonomy for the northern Kosovo would not even be a solution to a problem. it would simply be continuation of a frozen conflict, with rich rewards for hardliners on both sides (serbs who oppose living with Albanians, and Albanians who say that Ahtisaari's plan and multiethimic Kosovo is not possible).
If international community would go this way, as sugested by Mr. Bancroft and Mr. Galluci, then it shuld finally drop all the talk about minority rights, and multethnic conceps, and european values. it should go back to pre WW2 european practices and ideologies, which favored teritorial exchanges and deportations as legal and efficient way of solving painful problems.

So let's analyze this comment:
- I have commented elsewhere on the ICJ opinion. It certainly isn't so strongly in favor of Kosovo's independence as J. suggests.
- J. suggests that after a border change there would be no incentive for Kosovo's Serbs to stay south of the Ibar. This is a very strange statement. People tend to be attached to the place where they live and don't want to move just because fifty km further a border has changed. When Croatia became independent no one suggested that now all the Croats from Bosnia and Serbia would want to leave for Croatia.
- J. suggests that there would be "no reason for the Albanians to continue implementing the Ahtisaaris multethnic concept for Kosovo". This may be the real reason for his previous suggestion: the idea that the Albanians might get frustrated and turn violently on the remaining Serbs.
Let me begin by stressing that the Ahtisaari Plan was written with the situation in Southern Kosovo - where the Serbs are a minority - in mind. The plan doesn't have any special provisions for the north. In a place like Leposavic - about 30 km from the Albanian majority area - it just sounds silly that the Serb population should learn Albanian to get things done.
Border changes should be part of a total package. Kosovo might get Presevo. But it should at least get concrete concessions like recognition of the Kosovo passports and access for Kosovo goods to the Serbian market.
As I indicated in my previous post, the Western countries have a lot of influence on how violent Kosovo turns. If they don't want it and take the appropriate measures it won't happen.
- Then Jeremiah compares Kosovo to Bosnia: "Kosovo would become another Bosnia (a disfunctional, torn appart kind of state, with hatred and ethnicity still determining the future of the country), while Serbia will be left to continue dreamming of the day of coming back to Kosovo.".
Obviously Jeremiah doesn't have a clue what is wrong with Bosnia. The problem in Bosnia there is that there is no agreement between the parties on how to proceed. There is the Dayton Agreement, but the Muslims want to tear it up and in reaction the Serbs consider leaving. This is not that different from the situation in Kosovo now. When there would be an agreement on Kosovo both parties would have a common vision. They might still agree over many details but the question who has how much power where would be solved. Serbia would have rights in Kosovo but it would recognize that it would never again control it.
Jeremiah is just misleading when he suggests that Kosovo now is not a country with "hatred and ethnicity still determining the future". Kosovo is now an Albanian country and its identity is very much anti-Serb and anti-Slav.
- He continues with the famous precedent argument: "Simultaneously, it would give many reasons for Albanians in Souther Serbia (Presevo Valley) and Western Macedonia to rethink their position within respctive states, just as it would further inspire Serb nationalists in Bosnia, and Bosniaks in Serbia's Sandjak region."
One thing at a time:
Presevo: this might be part of the deal.
Macedonia: I expect the Macedonian Albanians to start making trouble again once Kosovo is settled. You can't have missed the reports about weapon transports and the complaints that the Albanians still don't have enough rights. Just like Bosnia Macedonia is a country where the ethnic groups have never really agreed on how to live together. Kosovo can become an example how ethnic groups can solve such a situation. It can also become an example of how conflicts are solved with violence and cleansing. Has anyone forgotten that during the Kosovo War Milosevic copied Croatia's ethnic cleansing tactic (Operation Storm) that had been treated with so much respect by the Western countries?
Sandjak: the Muslim majority municipalities are at the side of Kosovo and not at the side of Bosnia. So border changes couldn't be a solution here.
- Jeremiah keeps trying to please his liberal "multi-ethnic" readers: "Ultimately, with ethnic division as the core feature of this "solution", the European social values would be thrown out of the window, in favor of returning to the typical Balkan ethnic isolationism.".
Self determination of ethnic groups has been a core European value since World War I. There is no denying that as a minority ethnic group your position is worse than when you are the majority. You may have to learn another language for any meaningful career. You may be regularly discriminated. And for certain studies you will either have to emigrate or you have to accept to be teached in another language.
Multi-ethnicity can only exist when there is no dispute about which values and which language dominate. In northern Kosovo there is such a dispute. You can't polish such differences away by giving one side all power and then suggesting that at the other side are irredentists when they don't agree with that.
- Jeremiah ends with throwing up the old bogeyman: World War II. He claims that a mutual agreement would mean "pre WW2 european practices and ideologies, which favored territorial exchanges and deportations as legal and efficient way of solving painful problems".
The ideal of a unity was given up when we accepted the conclusions of the Badinter commission that Yugoslavia should be split up. In fact rich provinces that want to secede are common all over the world and usually that can be solved by giving them the right to keep most of their money. Instead we fell for the Croatian propaganda about the bad Milosvic. Never mind that it was Croatia that blocked national elections for Yugoslavia although they would have taken away the appeal and dominance of Milosevic. Europe had good reasons to oppose partition. Not only was there the risk for ethnic conflicts (everyone knew what had happened there in World War II), but it was was also clear that partition would carry considerable economic costs and the EU taxpayer would partly have to pay for that as the Balkan was in line to become part of the EU.
Once we had given up on unity we de facto had the choice between "territorial exchanges and deportations" as one new country after another proved itself very unfriendly towards its minorities. This was no coincidence: new countries are always nationalistic and intolerant towards their minorities. What else can you expect?: they have been founded on an ethnic base. That is exactly the reason why new countries should only be created with respect to existing ethnic borders.
Consider that other experiment with partitioning along existing borders: the Soviet Union. The partition went largely peacefully due to its suddenness. But since then many millions have left their home because the new state they lived in proved to be too hostile.

The protection of the monasteries and the threat of violence

Last month Gerard Gallucci mentioned in his blog:

Now I understand that in the period before the ICJ decision in July, a senior official in the US Embassy in Pristina was telling certain Kosovo Albanian political leaders that if the Serbs did not end their obstinate rejection of Kosovo independence, the Albanians should teach them a lesson. The official reportedly said that only Decani should be spared.

This puts the decision to remove the KFOR protection from 4 monastries in a very special light. It becomes either a threat with violence or a preparation for violence. Quite a different reason than the trust in Kosovo's police - what KFOR spokesmen talk about. I wonder whether our European governments really understood what they consented to when they approved this. This talk about violence raises also the question whether the ICJ has been blackmailed with the threat that an undesirable verdict might result in more violence in Kosovo.

The US has a long history of supporting violence as a means to achieve its goals. It even supported death squads in El Salvador and Guatemala in the 1980s. Sometimes the dark forces of the CIA and the State Department even ignored their own government - as for example happened in the 1991 coup against Aristide in Haiti that was supported by CIA men while the Bush administration condemned it. Nowadays the government in the US seems a bit more enlightened, but many of the people who were involved in those events are still on the payroll of Uncle Sam.

US behavior around the march 2004 riots was and is quite suspicious. Compared with the other countries the US had very little trouble controlling the riots in its zone and it seemed to have good contacts with relevant Albanian leaders. After the riots none of the riot leaders was indicted or even pointed out. I can't believe that that was just because UNMIK was afraid for Kosovo's stability.

The US is threatening with violence in other ways too - for example when the US ambassador in Kosovo called the Serbs in North Kosovo terrorists. And the regular threats from Kosovo's Albanian leaders against the northern Serbs don't receive the strident international condemnation that they deserve.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

The hurdles for border changes in Kosovo

Finally the Crisis Group has found some wisdom. In their last report they discus for the first time border changes as a way to solve the Kosovo conflict. They argue that their main objection - that it might serve as a precedent for Macedonia and Bosnia - no longer applies. It is still not their favorite solution and they "forget" to elaborate on the minority situation in Kosovo as an argument for partition. But it is some progress.

The reactions are predictable. Just as when after Ahtisaari's negotiations failed the Troika for a short time opened the option of a partition both sides have refused. This is part of the nagotiation game and one can only hope that the international diplomats are this time better in handling it:
- for Serbia accepting partition would mean an implicit recognition of Kosovo.
- for Kosovo accepting partition would mean accepting that their present independence is not valid.

Besides that botb sides have other demands outside border issues. The Serbs want better (stronger) minority rights that make Kosovo's Serbs less dependent on the whims of radical politicians in Kosovo. And Kosovo needs better access to Serbia to get its economy started.

The solution has to be some package deal in which everything is solved at once. This can only work if the US and the EU are behind it. As long as the US and the EU stay put the present stalemate will continue. Even if the Albanians will do concession the Serbs will suspect that they may withdraw them later on - with Western support - while claiming that the Serb concessions mean that the Serb position is weakening.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Obama: the unpresidential president

President Obama gives me more and more the impression to be a man who doesn't know how to be a president and who - as a consequence - keeps making errors of judgment. A little overview:

- when the army asked for more troops in Afghanistan Obama let his adversaries pressure him to make a stupid promise: that the troops would be withdrawn again within a short term. Instead he should just have accepted that some people would not like him for sending extra troops. By doing concessions to them he restricted his freedom for future action in Afghanistan and he weakened the resolve of the US and its allies in Afghanistan.

- with the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico we saw the same pattern. Obama let himself be pressured to forbid drilling in the Gulf and engage in anti-British/anti-BP demagogy. He would have done much better to just ask for a thorough review of oil drilling in the Gulf and how the government controls it. If he had specific points he could have asked his underlings to leak them so that his own hands stayed clean. He may have feared the same fate as Bush whose popularity never really recovered from hurricane Katrina. But Bush lost his credibility for a combination of disaster mismanagement and a lack of compassion for the victims. Obama could have shown his compassion by allocating some money for those people whose income was hit by the disaster - like fishermen and people working in tourism.

- the newest item is the mosque that should be built near the location of the old WTC that was destroyed in 9/11. Obama doesn't have any authority here so he shouldn't have interfered in the first place. Also he seemed unable to understand that - whatever the initial credibility of the project - it has lost that by now. You can't build a center for "dialogue" that is opposed by 70% of the American population. If you insist on doing that you just show that you aren't serious about dialogue.

A president should not involve himself in any conflict that comes up. Instead he should set a course and let others fill in the details. And when he involves himself it should be as the final judgment, not as just another opinion.

Nobody will like every decision that he makes, but that is ok. In the end we judge our leaders on their results and not on their individual decisions. I think Obama is showing here his lack of leadership experience. A good leader should know how to delegate to others.

The impression is that Obama interfered with the mosque to placate his left-wing supporters. But who cares about a mosque? As Clinton once said "it's the economy, stupid" and the economy is still going badly. There is some growth again but unemployment keeps rising and as the stimulus loses its effect the growth starts to stall too. As a matter of impression management Obama should have allowed the economy to tank in his first months in office: he could blame that on Bush. Then once the economy had bottomed out he would have been able to claim credit for the new growth. Now the main effect of his stimulus has been to delay and decrease the crisis. From an economic point of view this may have been wise but certainly not from a political point of view.

Given the bad state of the economy the main area where Obama could have made a good impression was the financial sector, that had caused the crisis. But he has handled this sector with kid gloves, raising the impression that he is not really different from Bush.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The impossibility of calling a spade a spade

If Serbia had been totally honest the question for the ICJ would have been something like: "is it right that a coalition of countries occupies a part of your country and then let it claim independence - in spite of an UN resolution?". But that would have been too insulting for the tender nerves of EU and US diplomats.

Now with the Serbian resolution for the UN General Assembly we see the same dilemma. The resolution says that unilateral secession is not an acceptable way to solve territorial issues. Again the fact that it is a foreign supported secession is not mentioned.

In fact this is the real issue: the Latin-Americanization of the Balkans. The same freedom of action the US has allowed itself in Latin America it applies now also in the Balkans. The destabilizing effect of such actions results then in a chaotic situation that serves as an excuse for yet more intervention. Sure, sometimes they have good intentions and sometimes these work out well, but often not.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

How Kosovo affected Abkhazia and South Ossetia

When Georgia started a war in 2008 Russia, Abkhazia and South Ossetia took the opportunity to bring Abkhazia and South Ossetia up-to-date to Kosovo standards. That meant at least three things:
- They occupied regions with a Georgian majority that until then they had left under Georgian rule. This was a reflection of the US sponsored policy on the "territorial integrity" of Kosovo. Until then it was my impression that they were prepared to give up those regions one day in exchange for recognizion by Georgia.
- They declared independence.
- They started policies aimed at forcing their Georgian minority to recognize their independence and to diminish contact between those minorities and the Georgian government.

All together the EU/US influence via the Kosovo precedent can hardly be called "civilising".

Postscript: "Georgia's Lonely Unilateralisms" is an article that discusses EU policy towards Georgia and its secessionist problems. Besides EU frustration with Georgian stubbornness it also discusses the internal contractions in the EU policy.

Postscript 2: New Blueprint Proposed For Georgia, Abkhazia, South Ossetia is an article about a proposal of Moscow Carnegie Center Director Dmitry Trenin for a solution for the two areas. He proposes independence for Abkhazia in exchange for giving up some Georgian-majority areas including Gali. For South Ossetia he proposes an Andorra-like status: semi-independent but still somewhat under Georgia rule.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

The partition of India

To analyze why partitioning has a bad name I did some study of the partition of India in 1947. In that event some 12.5 million people were displaced. Estimates of the number of death vary from a few hundred thousand to a million. No one had expected it: everyone expected just another peaceful change of an administrative border. Since then partitioning has a bad name. I think this is not really justified as there were other factors that made the partition of India so deadly.

Relations between Muslims and Hindus had become worse in the previous decades. Some like to blame British policies that made a distinction between the groups, such as the 1905 partition of Bengal and reserved seats in elections. Others blame the Muslims for demanding secession and threatening with violence. But I think the real reasons are elsewhere.

The partition of Bengal in 1905 deserves some special consideration as it was the first time Muslims and Hindu's stood on opposite sides of an issue. Bengal at that time was a very big province that included Assam and parts of Orissa and contained a quarter of India's population. The colonial administration considered it too big and wanted it partitioned. But instead of following linguistic lines - what before and after that was the usual habit in India - he cut the province in a Eastern and a Western half. In the Eastern half the Muslims had the majority (about 60%). The official explanation was that there were natural barriers between the East and the West side and few connections and so it made sense to place the border there. But many suspected (and there is good reason to believe) that the British also wanted to diminish the power of the Bengals who had become a major opposition against the colonial rule. The motor of the opposition were Hindu landlords who didn't want to live under Muslim rule. The Congress Party organized major opposition against the "division of the Bengal nation" and it is considered one of the highlights in Indian resistance against British rule. In 1911 the partition was withdrawn and a partition along linguistic lines was introduced instead.

In the decades before the war the British had a policy of gradually handing more power to the Indians. Initially this was to rather small elite groups. This basis was gradually widened but even in the last elections before independence only 10% of the population was allowed to vote. Universal suffrage only arrived after independence.

One consequence of this policy was that each change might affect the power distribution in a region. Where one day the Muslims controlled the local government the next day the Hindus might receive control - and opposite. Such power changes offered the opportunity to set things your way and to retaliate for past injustices. But the lack of stability made it difficult for people to find permanent solutions.

Another factor was that the British allowed local governments to appoint the people on the boards that settled tenancy disputes. This mixed up justice and politics and the effect was predictable: in Muslim ruled areas Hindu landlords had a hard time to collect rents from Muslim tenants (and opposite). As it are usually the rich people who finance the political parties this had a major effect on politics.

A third factor were the youth movements. In the 1930s these were very popular worldwide. Boy Scouts, Komsomol, Hitler Jugend, Young Socialists and others offered all a culture of discipline, physical fitness and exploration of the world while teaching their values. Muslim and Hindu organizations started similar youth movements. Soon this developed into "self-defense" groups and militia. The British didn't do anything to stop this as they didn't see it as a threat to their rule.

The next factor was the war (World War II). The Congress - the main political party - tried to exploit the war to force the British to concessions. As a consequence the main Congress leaders were imprisoned. This allowed smaller - and often more extremist - political parties to flourish during the war.

Over two million Indians had fought on the side of the British in World War II. Now that they came back many lent their expertise to the militia or joined them.

The next factor was the lack of clarity. The call for an independent Pakistan only arose in the 1930s and it was unclear what it meant. Many Muslims expected that a much larger part of India would go to Pakistan. Some even believed that Pakistan would mean Muslim rule over all of India. As a consequence there were very few Muslims who worried what would happen to them if they would end up at the wrong side of the border after a partition. The British or the Congress Party could have created more clarity but they didn't. Muslim leaders deliberately kept it unclear and created an atmosphere where you were traitor if as a Muslim you were against the creation of a separate Muslim state.

For a long time there were only occasionally clashes between village militias. These were usually about religious issues: building permits for mosques, the right of (noisy) Hindu processions to pass mosques where people were praying, Muslims slaughtering (sacred) cows in the village, etc. Occasionally someone died in those clashes but these stayed local issues.

Violence reached a new level with the Calcutta Killings in 1946. Jennah, the Muslim leader, had called for a National Action Day in their struggle for Pakistan. The local Muslim leaders interpreted it so that they sent a large mob of Muslims pilfering and murdering Hindus. Police didn't do anything (Bengal was ruled by Muslims) and as a retaliation the Hindu militias immediate held a counterpogrom among the city's Muslims. Some 5000 people died that day. Local governments often supported "their" people and the British resorted to collective punishment: a fine for all Muslims or Hindus in a region. This only helped to unite the local population behind the extremists.

One effect of the violence was rumors. Just like in Yugoslavia rumors about violence by the others - and its use as propaganda - often served to justify violence or extremist actions. Information was hard to find and in the information that reached the people was biased and usually painted their own group as a victim.

To understand the British one has to consider the era. They knew independence was coming and as a consequence the British government was making little new investment in the colony. It meant also that there were few new recruits for the colonial service and that many colonial officials just bided their time until it was over. It didn't help that for many the last time they had been to England was before the war. On the other side the Indians became less obedient as they had nothing to fear from the English administrators who would be gone in a couple of months. Unfortunately this diminishing of British power was not counterbalanced by an increasing power of Indian institutions, so there was a power vacuum. In fact many Indian institutions were falling apart as they underwent their own partition.

The British announced the decision for a partition on 3 june 1947. 2 1/2 month later, on 15 august, India became officially independent. So there was a very short time to arrange the partition. The definitive border was only decided on 12 august and only published on 17 august. All borders had been determined by two British commissions within 6 weeks so they didn't have the time to visit the border regions themselves. The inevitable inconsistencies would never be corrected. Rumors claimed - as did some politicians - that those staying behind might lose their political rights or worse (in fact there were decent minority rights). Some politicians encouraged "their" people to flee from areas dominated by the other group.

The government of the new Pakistan decided to settle their new capital in Karachi. This was the biggest city and a center of the British administration. But it was in the province Sindh that had its own character. As a capital it would attract many refugees of other ethnic groups in the population exchange and that gives up to the present day trouble. It would have been a much better idea to have the new capital in the Punjab - as many refugees came from the eastern Punjab.

Partition also concerned the institutions. The army was slowly split. Government employees got the choice whether they wanted to stay where they were or to go to the area of their group. As the situation escalated police and army found it increasingly difficult to stay neutral.

For a long time both new countries more or less ignored the refugees. As a consequence as long as they were on "wrong" territory they were frequently robbed or even murdered. Even trains with refugees were regularly ambushed. At the end of august 1947 the governments finally took a more active position in regulating the refugee stream. But that created its own problems as some local officials took this as a license to tell their minority community that they had to leave.

Partition meant literally partition for the provinces Punjab and Bengal. These were also the provinces where most of the violence happened. Between East and West Punjab there was a nearly complete population exchange (remaining populations < 2%). In Bengal the cleansing was less complete: Bangla Desh still has 9% Hindus and West Bengal has 25% Muslims.

Could it have been different?
There has been a lot of speculation about how things could have been different. Much blame has gone to the Muslims for their demands and the extremist language and means they used to achieve it. Blame has also heaped on Hindu extremist organizations like the RSS for their violent militias. But I like to take the extremists for granted and to look how the British or the Congress Party could have reacted differently.

Would have helped not to partition Punjab and Bengal in which case they would have gone as a whole to Pakistan? I doubt it. It might have worked. But it might also have resulted in the cleansing of all the Hindus in the whole Punjab and resulting revenge cleansings of Muslims all over India. Hindus might also have reacted by not accepting the solution in which case you would have had open war over an undetermined border.

Maintaining provincial borders was for some time popular after the dissolution of the Soviet Union where it seemed to lead to a peaceful transition. But it didn't work in Yugoslavia. And the gradual cleansing of the Russians from the Central-Asian republics, the large scale cleansing in the Caucasus and the recent events in Kyrgyzstan suggest that it didn't work in the Soviet Union as well. In fact it is hard to find ethnic relations that have not deteriorated due to the dissolution of the Soviet Union. The initial quietness was just a consequence of the surprise effect. Georgia's cleansing of over a third of its minorities before it ran into real resistance in South Ossetia is a good example: it hardly reached the international news.

On the other hand the partition of India shows that just having a shotgun agreement is not enough. The Congress Party, the Muslim League and the British had all agreed to the partition plan and it had been agreed that there would be decent minority rights. But those minority rights had been badly communicated and the dynamics of violent militias creating "facts on the ground" proved hard to stop.

In my opinion it is the suddenness of the change that causes most problems. At the side of the "winners" it brings nationalist extremists in power who deal harshly with the new minorities. At the side of the "losers" it creates distrust and suspicion. According to this vision the best way to deal with ethnic conflicts is to make changes gradual.

Another issue is militia's. This was the era of fascism where radical parties had militias. This applied to both the Muslim League and the RSS. I believe militia's are very harmful on the political process. For example I never understood the lenient attitude of the Americans towards Al Sadr in Iraq.

In other ways too the strategies of Jennah were classical fascist. The way he managed to be seen as the sole representative of India's Muslims and the way he sidelined all other Muslim voices were typical.