Saturday, July 24, 2010

The ICJ verdict

The ICJ has spoken: Kosovo's declaration of independence does not violate international law. I haven't read the whole thing, but some parts of it. Some impressions:

- In comparing the Kosovo question with the question of Quebec in 1998 the court says (in point 56): The question put to the Supreme Court of Canada inquired whether there was a right to “effect secession”, and whether there was a rule of international law which conferred a positive entitlement on any of the organs named. By contrast, the General Assembly has asked whether the declaration of independence was “in accordance with” international law. The answer to that question turns on whether or not the applicable international law prohibited the declaration of independence.
In article 79 it talks about the many colonies who declared themselves independent and concludes: There were, however, also instances of declarations of independence outside this context. The practice of States in these latter cases does not point to the emergence in international law of a new rule prohibiting the making of a declaration of independence in such cases.. In article 82/83 they go on to say that the question whether Kosovo's independence can be justified as a matter of self-determination is beyond the requested opinion. Doing this they try to evade creating a precedent for other minorities.

- the Rambouillet "Accords" are repeatedly mentioned. The judges notice that these are mentioned in two places in resolution 1244 and draw the conclusion that resolution 1244 supports Rambouillet. This is a rather murky aspect of 1244 and I don't understand why Russia agreed to their inclusion: Rambouillet is not even an "accord" as not all sides agreed to it. The court seems to consider the reference to Rambouillet - with its reference to the "will of the people" - more important than the text of 1244 itself - with its reference to Serbia's territorial integrity. But as everywhere with this verdict: they only suggest it; the never say it in clear language.

This is the dangerous part: by explaining the "will of the people" as meaning the right to independence the ICJ sets the door wide open for other minorities worldwide.

- the verdict is written as an extensive history lesson. All the famous lies about "extensive negotiations" and "minority rights" are there. It looks like the judges have restricted themselves in this respect to their papers and didn't bother to have a look at how things really are.

- the verdict pays a lot of attention to how the declaration of independence was done. It notes that it was done by the parliamentarians and some others like the president, but that they were not in their function as members of Kosovo's provisional institutions and as such they were not subject of the UN regulations that govern Kosovo.

- the last part they try to explain away 1244. According to the text the resolution was meant for an interim situation. They notice that the resolution nowhere explicitly forbids Kosovo's Albanians to declare independence while in the past there have been other resolutions that did forbid so (for example for Bosnia's Republika Srpska and Northern Cyprus). If this sounds rather sophisticated, it is: the RS resolution stresses the territorial integrity of Bosnia just like 1244 stresses that of Serbia.

The verdict left me with the feeling that it was a political verdict. It discusses lots of details and it looks like it agrees every time with the Albanian view - often with convoluted arguments. But it never draws any conclusion from it - other than the empty statement that there is nothing in international law that forbids Kosovo to declare independence. The consequence is that everybody can read into it what it wants. And that applies also to separatists all over the world. The US will be happy with such a verdict. It allows them to keep up their "might makes right" policies.

But not saying something is telling too. Given the pro-Albanian bent in the verdict the absence of any clear words about the legality of Kosovo's independence can only be explained as that the court believes it is not legal. If the court had believed it was legal it would not have kept silent about it.

Postscript: According to Louis Bernard, a strategist for the Quebecan nationalists, the Hague ruling on Kosovo [is a] boost for Quebec. According to the article:
Louis Bernard, noting the 1998 Supreme Court of Canada ruling that if there is a clear vote in a clear referendum, Canada must negotiate with Quebec, said that the World Court decision strengthens Quebec's hand.

If those negotiations are going nowhere, he explained, "It is possible for Quebec to declare its independence unilaterally."

Postscript 2: Serbia's foreign minister Jeremic wrote in an opinion piece for the Wall Street Journal:
After many months of deliberation, the court delivered its findings. It neither endorsed the view that this unilateral declaration of independence was a unique case, nor Pristina's claim that Kosovo is a state. Moreover, the court failed to approve the province's avowed right of secession from Serbia, or any purported right to self-determination for Kosovo's Albanians.

Instead, the court chose to narrowly examine the language of the unilateral declaration of independence. This strictly technical approach made it possible to say that the text of the declaration itself did not violate international law.

Postscript 3: Professor Tibor Varady, a member of the Hague Permanent Court of Arbitration and formerly the chief legal representative of Serbia gave an elaborate interview to EurActiv about the verdict.

Postscript 4: For the lovers of judicial matters is here an article by Marko Milanovic, a former advisor of the Serbian government. It was written before the verdict, but it is worth reading as it is lengthy article that gives an overview of the arguments.

Postscript 5: Here the view of Gideon Rachman at the Financial Times. He thinks the court opinion is politically convenient, avoiding to decide anything sensitive.

Postcript 6: Also interesting is the blog of Nebosja Malic. His article contains quotes from the dissenting judges.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Serbia and WAZ Media

WAZ Media Group is Germany's third largest publisher. It started with the Westdeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung, but is now a big media group that makes 40% of its sales and 70% of its profits abroad. It is specially well represented in the Balkans. In Bulgaria and Macedonia it controls 70% of the newspaper market. A de facto monopoly position.

The company has been criticized for using dubious means to achieve such large representation. It is also accused of lowering editorial standards and interfering with editorial policy to push certain political views. From the initial belief that Western control would have a "civilizing" influence in the Balkans little is left. Now many tend to believe that the net effect of WAZ's dominance has been negative.

At the moment a struggle is going in Serbia with WAZ at its core. What exactly is going on is not clear to me. WAZ controls Politika and according to now German-Foreign-Policyit wanted to take over Vecernje Novosti - giving it the two largest newspapers in Serbia - but was a denied so by the government. Now WAZ says that it wants to leave Serbia. Most probably it will sell its shares to some other German company like Springer.

It looks like it made losses due to falling circulation in a time of economic crisis and wanted to solve that by acquiring a monopoly position and when that didn't work out it pulled the plug. Another version is that the compnay is leaving because the Serbian press had linked it to underworld figures. Economy minister Dinkic called WAZ for its shady deals "not a good investor".

According to B92:According to still unofficial information, Germany's WAZ has announced it would withdraw from Serbia because it is dissatisfied with it financial losses, public slander that had linked them with the underground and with the inefficiency of the domestic institutions and corruption.

Unofficially, however, Tanjug reports, the company does not intend to fully drop its ownership in Serbia but only that of the daily Politika in order to be able to take full control of the Večernje Novosti daily.

Judicial oversight of EU laws

One of the peculiarities of the US is that the supreme court can reject laws as unconstitutional. I have always thought that that is a bad idea. It gives citizen less influence on politics, it makes it more difficult for politicians to rule the country as their laws can unexpected be revoked by some court and it invites politicians to rule "over their grave" by appointing judges who share their political opinions.

This lawyers are advancing in the EU too. For a long time already national governments have seen their laws subject to the European Court of Human Rights. And now the EU itself is becoming subject to it too. I don't think this is a good development.

Hungary and the EU/IMF

Hungary is in open conflict with the EU and the IMF about its finances. Panic in the financial markets may follow.

After the economic crisis Hungary, just like many East-European countries had gotten loans from the IMF and the EU in exchange for economic austerity. They obediently did it, but it wasn't popular: last elections the sitting government was routed, the main opposition party got two thirds of the vote and a right extremist party got much bigger.

The new government wants to slow down the shrinking of the budget deficit (still 3.8%) and the EU and IMF understandably said "no". But they also said "no" to new taxes on the banks or rich citizens under the pretext that they would harm growth. Instead they said that the only way allowed to reduce the budget deficit is "cutting public services and privatisation.".

This is pure nonsense. Economists don't agree on those issues. Many privatizations have ended up harming growth and costing the public more. And Western Europe and the US have surprisingly little to show for the lenient ways in which they treated their rich citizens in the last decades.

Kosovo as a moral issue

I wrote a piece for Eurasia Review with the title Kosovo as a moral issue.

In my opinion the question what should happen with Kosovo is basically a moral issue that should be discussed with the fate of the people who live there (and who used to live there in case of the refugees) as the central issue. Arguments about European unity as a reason for the 5 countries who do not recognize Kosovo to do so sound to me as bombastic. I don't like assertions that a partition may set a precedent for other countries either. Deliberately putting people in a bad position will set a much worse precedent. Has anyone forgotten how the harsh treatment of Croatia's Serbs made the Bosnian conflict unnecessarily cruel and even served as a blueprint for Milosevic in his treatment of the Albanians during the Kosovo War?

On the Serbian side we see the same neglect of the moral issue. Tadic and Jeremic keep talking about the ICJ and Serbia's rights. But this will convince hardly any Western diplomat. They might achieve much more by talking about refugees or the treatment of minorities in Kosovo.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

The ever expanding US

It is estimated that that the US has some 700 to 800 bases and 250,000 soldiers outside the US. A good book about they work is Robert Kaplan's book "Imperial Grunts: The American Military On The Ground".

Despite Obama's rhetoric the expansion of the US presence around the world is going on. The newest goal seems to be encirclement of China , but the encirclement of Russia is going on too. Of course it is not Obama alone. He is under serious pressure from the increasingly extremist views in the Republican party.

The problematic aspect of this is that nearly every country in the world is put for the choice whether it is for or against the US. Being for the US implies accepting US bases, military training and often some symbolic participation in Afghanistan. I find this disturbing and destabilizing.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Revolutionary guard in Iran profts from sanctions

According to the Irani opposition leader Karoubi the Revolutionary Guard profits enormously profits from the sanctions:

Opposition leader Mehdi Karroubi has said Iran's elite Revolutionary Guards back sanctions against Tehran as they make "astronomical profits" from the punitive measures, a website said on Sunday.

"I believe that part of the Iranian rule as well as the Revolutionary Guards are in favour of sanctions as they make gigantic and astronomical profits from them," Karroubi was quoted as saying on opposition website

The Guards regularly shrug off international sanctions imposed on Iran for its defiant nuclear programme, with some top commanders expressing willingness to take on projects abandoned by Western companies, including in the energy sector.

Just like with Saddam; just like with Milosevic. Sanctions are opium to make the public in the West feel good. If you really want to make a difference you need to highlight information that is negative for the regime, like corruption and incompetence.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

An act of war

I was already planning to write a post with this title before the Kosovo government talked about sending special police units to the north and Tadic reacted by calling this "war mongering".

My point is that the opening of the government office in the north was already an act of war. The basis of minority rights is that both sides agree not change things unilaterally. Yugoslavia started to destabilize when Milosevic changed the rules. It destabilized much more when the West recognized the secessionist republics before they had reached an agreement with Belgrade as was required by the constitution.

The problem of such an unstable situation is that the "winners" will feel that they can do whatever they want with facing sanctions while the "losers" feel that they are with their back to the wall and have nothing to loose. As a consequence people on both sides will feel more inclined to use violence. The grenade at the demonstration and the shots at the parliamentarian were a logical consequence of the unilateral opening of the office in N.Mitrovica.

What amazed me was that Kosovo minister Hyseni got away with stating that the grenade must have been thrown by a demonstrator. It is exactly this racist attitude why it is such a bad idea to bring Northern Kosovo under the rule of Pristina.

Sunday, July 04, 2010

EULEX in Guatemala

The New York Times has an article about Cicig, the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala. Guatemala, where organized crime and its links to the government form a much bigger problem than in Kosovo, has given some judicial powers to this UN institution in order to overcome political interference in the judicial process.