Monday, May 24, 2010

On being cooperative on Kosovo

The word cooperative has two meanings. Originally it means to cooperate, that is: working together. It implies a kind of equality between the parties involved. But the word has acquired another meaning. When the police talks about a suspect being cooperative they simply mean that he does what they want him to do. And when your boss tells you that he wants you to be more cooperative he usually just wants more obedience.

When the Western countries ask Serbia to be more cooperative one would expect them to use the first meaning. However, often their behavior puts them closer to the second meaning of the word.

Take the issue of the mobile telephone transmitters. If such an issue would arise in a Western country the solution would be pragmatic. It would be recognized that - as Serbia is pumping 500 million a year into Kosovo - missed revenue for Kosovo is not the real issue. It would also be recognized that having cheap phone connections to Serbia is essential to many of Kosovo's minorities. So the most probable solution would be to give those Serbian companies some kind of official license. In exchange they would pay some taxes and maybe the involved Serbian companies would ask to offer some service so that the Kosovo companies can offer their customers cheaper phone access to and inside Serbia.

This is a classical win-win solution as experienced leaders all over the world have been designing for centuries. Unfortunately Western Kosovo policy is defined by idealist NGOers and diplomats who never have felt the need to be pragmatic. As a consequence this issue - like many others - has been hijacked by Albanian nationalists and US officials who see imposing Kosovo's independence on the world as matter of American prestige instead of as a problem between Albanians and Serbs.

A similar issue is at work with Kosovo's participation at international conferences. There was a solution and that worked for some time. Then some countries decided to change the formula in the favor of the Kosovo Albanians and when Serbia balked they accused Serbia of not being cooperative. In fact it was of course those changers who were not cooperative.

Another example was the electricity. Several Western countries offer their citizens the choice between more than one electricity provider. So there was no reason why the Serbian company couldn't get a special status in Kosovo. In fact it would be advantageous as it would make that company responsible for the payment by Kosovo Serbs - reducing the risk of non payment for the Kosovo company to zero. Instead it was chosen to have a solution where Kosovo's Serbs were forced to give in. The fact that the deal was sweated with money obscured for many that this set a precedent that was not about cooperating but about imposing the will of one side. This set the precedent for even more ugly behavior in the case of the mobile phones and the minibuses.

The core of Western democracy is respect for different opinions. So for Kosovo the litmus test for its democratic content is how it treats those people who believe that its independence is illegal. Blowing up transmission towers and forbidding minibuses shows that democracy in Kosovo still has some serious shortcomings. This is not a cooperative attitude, this is the opposite: using any excuse to badger dissenting voices. In a cooperative attitude force would only be used when all other options were exhausted and even then not more than strictly necessary and without losing respect.

One of the main misunderstandings is the idea that any issue is a battleground for (or against) the recognition of Kosovo's independence. Yet cooperation can only work once you allow that some subjects should remain neutral territory. The main effect of making everything a battleground is that it delays the finding of solutions.

I have always believed that the unilateral independence for Kosovo was a stupid mistake. It was based on the belief that Serbs are a kind on evil human sub-race that is incapable of compromise. This idea resulted first in the Ahtisaari negotiations were as a matter of "principle" the Serb side was robbed of all its negotiation chips. Next was unilateral independence and it seems that we have now arrived at the third stage where misguided internationals are prepared to commit serious human rights violations in order to realize their goals.

Experience learns that if they get what they want they may very well be setting the stage for the next Balkan drama. The ethnic cleansing during the Kosovo War was a direct copy of the ethnic cleansing of Croatia 14 years before. The international involvement in that cleansing is one of the darkest episodes of Western involvement. Unfortunately too many Westerners are still proud that they then helped to "restore Croatia's territorial integrity". Milosevic used the same excuse.

Look at how countries like Nepal and El Salvador handled their guerrilla problems. Both recognized that the guerrilla's had some point. And instead of just stating that those guerrilla's were outside the law and should be punished they adopted amnesty laws, employed former guerrilla's in the army and gave them other help to get settled. That is the kind of pragmatic attitude that is needed in Kosovo.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

The Macedonian shooting

On wednesday 12 may four Albanians were shot by the Macedonian police near Radusa on the border with Kosovo. According the police they were trying to smuggle weapons from Kosovo to Macedonia and opened fire when the police wanted to stop them. The men were wearing black uniforms and UCK emblems were found in their car. A day later the Macedonian police searched a house in Novo Selo (Tetovo municipality). They found another weapon stash and arrested four people. This raid was linked the shooting the day before.

On thursday 29 april there had been a previous shootout on the border near Blace. Some twelve people were involved, the police found many weapons but made no arrests and no one was hurt. The police tried to dismiss the smugglers as just criminals, but the National Liberation Army, a former ethnic Albanian rebel group, claimed responsibility. Shortly after that incident the Macedonian police found four more weapon stashes.

The monday after this indident (3 may) 4000 Albanians held a demonstration against discriminination. The gathering - announced before the border incident - was organized by 40 Albanian NGOs and supported by the opposition New Democracy Party, but not by other Albanian parties. They claim that the Ohrid Agreement has not been completely implemented and claim ongoing discrimination. One of their aims is to declare Albanian as a second official language. There are other disputes as well.

Then there is the name dispute with Greece. Albanians don't like this because it blocks Macedonia's entry to institutions like NATO. But more important perhaps is the accompanying policy of "antiquisation". Saying that Macedonians descend from the ancient Macedonians and not from the 6th century Slav invasions implies that the Macedonians were first and the Albanians are later intruders.

Of course the tension has never really disappeared. Two and a half years ago 8 Albanians were killed by the Macedonian police. But the tensions end 2007 were more related to a border dispute with Kosovo about some villages (like Tanusevi).

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Why the economic crisis continues

As I have said before I think that uneven trade balances are the greatest threat to the world economic system. China's pegged currency makes sure that it has a trade surplus while the US has a trade deficit. And inside the EU the German trade surplus is linked to the trade deficit in Greece, France and some other countries. At some point the deficit countries will run out of money and the surplus countries will have to adapt. But that is very difficult. The 1930s crisis was mainly about the fact that surplus country the US could not adapt to the fact that the world no longer could or would accept its excessive exports. Similarly Japan has never really recovered from the the Louve and Plaza agreements in 1985 when the West no longer accepted its pegged currency and the resulting trade disbalances.

But at the moment the West is still in denial that there is a problem at all. While the West is digging itself in mountains of debt Asia is running high growth figures. It looks like we still have to wait another few years before this situation meets its inevitable end. Maybe the US will roll over and let Asia rob its prosperity. But the more probable scenario is that at some point it simply will say "no".

For those who like a crisis there is already the Greek debt crisis. Europe keeps increasing the stakes: first it offered only to finance Greece until the end of the year. Then it offered to do it for three years. And now we have a 750 bln euro package that aims to take care of all the excessively endebted EU members. But still there is no policy to repair the trade disbalances inside the EU, so the problems will continue.

In the mean time the europhiles inside the EU keep saying that with a stronger Europe the Greek debt crisis would not be such a problem - just as the Californian debt problem is not considered a big problem in the US. What they often forget is that what makes the difference is not power but money. California is not a big problem because Americans pay most of their taxes to the central government who redistributes in the form of social benefits and orders for companies. To get a similar effect in Greece one would need to have the EU pay out things like unemployment benefits. But given the level of corruption at the moment with EU benefits that will only work when the EU takes also care of the distribution of those unemployment benefits. Related to that you would need European courts to handle complaints by people who think they have been treated unfair by that agency and you would need European police to enforce their verdicts. To summarize: it would be a very big step. Do we really want that?

But even if we want that it would be difficilut to implement given the differences in wealth inside the EU. Romania is much poorer than Germany. When you would give them the same level of benefits it would have a destabilizing effect in Germany - just like happened in Eastern Germany after the reunification. But when you have different levels you get the question which levels should be used. Greece is an expensive country - but mainly because it is living above its means. Should you reward that?

Monday, May 10, 2010

Why Dayton needs more support in Bosnia

I come from a country that always has coalition governments. This gives me a different point of view than people from countries like the UK and the US with their two-party systems where one party nearly always gets the absolute majority. Germany and France have systems that are a bit less extreme but that still value big parties and absolute majorities.

There is a lot of discussion which system is better. People from absolute majority countries tend to boast of the decisiveness of their system. People from coalition countries point out that absolute majority countries usually tend to swing from one extreme to the other, while the governance of their countries shows much more continuity. And the need for compromises tends to create a climate of cooperation that pays off in times of crisis. Thatcher could only happen in an absolute majority country. Also there is the risk in absolute majority country that the ruling party may become captured by a small minority. The influence of the religious right and the Tea Party on the Republicans in the US is infamous in this respect. Such capture often prevents sound policies. It may be no coincidence that the UK and Greece, two of the countries where the economic incompetence of the government at the moment is most obvious, are both absolute majority countries.

This background may explain why people tend to look so different to the Dayton Agreement. Dayton is the perfect example of a coalition system. It is very similar to what other countries with a divided population have adopted. It is also rather close to how Bosnia was ruled in Yugoslav times.

Some people think that Dayton will perpetuate the divisions between the ethnic groups. I beg to differ. There are sharp divisions between the ethnic groups. It was the decision by the Muslim elite to go alone towards independence that triggered the civil war. Bosnia needs a system where such far reaching decisions can no longer be taken without the explicit agreement of al three groups.

Far from solidifying the divisions such a coalition system can strengthen the cooperation between the groups. The Netherlands where I live was once divided between protestants, catholics and social-democrats. Now that division is nearly totally gone - thanks to steady cooperation. Something similar could happen in Bosnia.

Bosnia's greatest problem is that many Western diplomats have been undermining Dayton. By maintaining the hope that it can be changed towards an absolute majority system they have prevented Bosnia's politicians from fully committing themselves to a system of cooperation. And so they have maintained the antagonism.

Accepting Dayton means accepting that for each of the three groups there is a part of Bosnia where the form a solid majority and where as a consequence they are the rulers. Accepting these facts clears the road for more attentions to human rights and treatment of minorities in the different territories.

Some people believe that accepting that Bosnia is divided in a Serbian, a Bosniak and a Croat part means accepting ethnic cleansing. I disagree. All plans before the war consisted of dividing Bosnia in autonomous regions where one ethnic group or the other had the majority. So this is a completely accepted principle. The only thing that was changed by the war where the borders between those territories.

Some other people believe that when you just do as if everyone is equal the result will be that everyone is treated as equal. Their point of reference are multi-ethnic cities like New York where nobody cares about your nationality. What they forget is that how you treat others is a matter of habit: once you are in a bad habit it is very difficult to give that up. The US with all its multi-ethnicity has not been able to give an equal treatment to its black community or its latino's - even now the black are hugely overrepresented in its prisons. The greatest step forward came when the US recognized in the 1960s that it was discriminating its blacks and it introduced policies of "positive discrimination" and quotas to repair this situation. Similarly Bosnia needs to recognize that there are in Bosnia many people who look to people of other ethnic groups with a mix of fear and contempt and to introduce policies that can contain this situation.

Will it lead to division of Bosnia? I think that the risk that Bosnia will fall apart will stay there for a long time. I don't think that a coalition system will change the chances that it will happen. But if it happens it will certainly help making it a more peaceful event.

Is Dayton perfect? No. There is the verdict of the European Court of Human Rights that forbids explicit defining the ethnicity of the presidents (my favorite solution would be that presidents can be appointed by specific areas: one by the RS, one by the Federation and one by the Croat majority municipalities). Dayton is also rather complex. But I expect that changes towards more efficiency will only come once all sides have come to recognize that the principles of Dayton are the right way to go.

Although the Dayton formula can lead to reconciliation one should not make the mistake to think that after some time a more centralized form of government will become possible. Extinguishing ethnic hatred takes generations. The war crimes and fights of World War II still had a profound effect on the interethnic trust in Bosnia 45 years later. There is no reason to suppose that this time will be different.

Saturday, May 08, 2010

On the arrest of Sabit Geci

On 6 may Sabit Geci was arrested on the accusation of involvement with human rights abuses at a secret KLA prison camp in Kukës in Albania. Just like the searches in the Transport Minitry this seems to indicate a more active role for EULEX.

The Center for investigative reporting claims its investigations led to the arrest. Their article contains a lot of interesting links regarding this article. In an interview their investigator Michael Montgomery says that his investigations started as a search for the Serbs who went missing after the war. In this context it is interesting to note that nearly simultaneously with the arrest EULEX came with the news that it has put its investigations in the organ harvesting case on a low level claiming lack of evidence. It didn't help that they didn't get help from Belgrade. Dick Marty from the Council of Europe is continuing his investigations. The Serbian prosecution claims that Geci also was involved in the organ trade.

Just as with the organ trade case Albania is refusing to ccoperate in the investigations in the Kukës camp.

I am still wondering how EULEX hopes to get these cases processed through Kosovo's judicial system, given the problems that the Kurti trial faces.

Postscript: the BBC has a nice background article on UCK prison camps in Albania during the war.

Friday, May 07, 2010

Eastern Europe keeps lending in euro's

The New York Times has an article about how East Europeans keep lending in euro's instead of the local currencies. The article focusses on Hungary and Romania, but I suppose it applies to other countries too.

Some highlights:
- In Hungary, foreign-currency loans slipped to 63 percent of all loans at the end of 2009
- After the currencies sank last year defaults rose, but only a bit. For example, nonperforming loans at Erste Bank grew to 8.5 percent in Eastern Europe. By comparison, bad loans in Erste Bank’s home country, Austria were 6.3 percent.
- Economists consider it dangerous for governments now to stop those loans. I beg to disagree.