Thursday, December 29, 2011

Preparing for the post-Western world

As the Libyans have experienced and the Syrians still experience Western sanctions come sooner and sooner and are every time better refined to hurt a country. But I wonder about the larger picture.

On the one side there is the issue of globalization. Free trade only works when you can trust that the other side will always deliver. Syria, that had in the last decade done a lot to open its economy is a good example. Now it is paying a price for that openness. I am sure that China and all the other countries that might one day find themselves to be America's newest favorite hate object have taken notice and will try to take precautions. This will hamper further globalization and may well reduce it.

While the Far East has taken over much of our industries finance is still very much a Western monopoly. But the increasing use of financial sanctions - now both against Iran and Syria - must make the Chinese wonder. I expect them to take steps to lessen Western control of international banking.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The EU as modernizer

The EU likes to see itself as the big modernizer. Their favorite success story is how they absorbed the former dictatorships Spain and Portugal and made them into stable democracies. And how later they repeated the trick with Greece.

I have never believed much of that story. On the one hand Spain had become a rather prosperous country and - as I have mentioned before - prosperity - and with it a growing middle class - makes a democracy much more viable. Portugal and Greece also saw a rise in prosperity after becoming EU members, but that was caused to a large extent by money from Brussels and not by real development. We basically bribed those countries to stay democratic. But the price was that those countries have a dubious kind of democracy where you can vote how much you want but nothing really changes. The political dynasties of Greece are a good example of what is wrong. The EU isn't bothered too much about this fake democracy. Most rules come from Brussels nowadays in a very undemocratic way and the EU wants obedience more than anything else.

But nowadays the EU seems to be losing it. They no longer seem able to maintain even a semblance of democracy in all those countries they aim to modernize: they simply have too much to bother about. Nearly half the EU countries are former dictatorships, then they have the Balkans, the former Soviet Union and the Arab World and finally there is also the economic (euro) crisis. They really dropped the ball with Hungary that adopted a couple of very authoritarian laws without being bothered by Brussels. The recent complaints about how Serbia is implementing its judicial reform fall in this category too.

The basic problem is that the EU operates like a mafia. If you don't behave like they like they will send in some tough guys (or girls like Merkel) who make some veiled threats. The EU has strayed so far from its ideals that it no more remembers how it once did the trick with some gentle moral persuasion.

Monday, December 26, 2011

The EU's crazy aviation tax

The craziness with which Western countries try to ignore international law keeps increasing. One good example is the aviation tax that will start with the beginning of next year. On itself there is nothing wrong with a tax on fuel for planes. On the contrary, not being taxed gives air transport an unfair advantage over other types of transport.

The problem is in the extra-territoriality. If there is a flight from Brussels to Tokyo the EU wants to tax the whole route and not just the part between Brussels and the Ukrainian border. If a country like Russia or China had done such a thing the EU would have fumed with anger but nowadays the EU leaders feel just as invulnerable as their American colleagues. Both the EU and the US leaders are incompetent to get their own affairs back on track. It looks like their extremist foreign policy is meant to give their voters the impression that they are still in control.

In the mean time we will likely see that people will get creative evading the tax. One example are ideas to give fights from Hong Kong to Germany a stop in Mumbay. It is 1800 km extra but that will be more than compensated because you have only to pay tax for the distance between Mumbay and Germany.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Comparing communists and the Muslim Brotherhood

There is a considerable similarity between the communist parties at the time of the Soviet Union and the Muslim Brotherhood now:
- In both cases these are parties that are supported by dictatorships that want to export their ideology. in the case of the Muslim Brotherhood the money comes from the Gulf States.
- In both cases party members are known for their loyalty and fanaticism. I suspect that that is caused to a large extent by the fact that there are no real ideological discussions in the party as the ideology is settled by the money supplier. This allows one to be a true believer. Sometimes elements of the ideology may changed by the money supplier but that is still less stressful than seeing an endless ideological battle as often happens in democratic parties.
- Both types of parties are very capable to survive in adverse circumstances like dictatorships.
- Both types of parties can show a wide range of behaviors: from loyal democrats to ruthless Machiavellians and even terrorists. As this is directed by the money suppliers it is hard to predict how they will behave.
- Both tend to have many faces. Some are plain front organizations while in others the party is only contributing in the background.

This all makes it very doubtful how the Arab Spring countries will end even if they have free elections. At the first elections almost inevitably the Brotherhood will win and so they will be happy to participate. But what will happen if at some point the voters get tired of the Brotherhood? Even the leader of the Tunisian Islamists is known to have given some threatening statements on what would happen if they didn't get enough votes.

We know how communism worked. Each "converted" country became a communist dictatorship that tried to export its ideology to its neighbors while making it impossible for its own citizens to get rid of communism. Just as communism Islamism has already been a powerful exporter of terrorism - with Osama bin Laden as its greatest success story - and of ideological fanaticism - as can be seen in many extremist mosques in Europe and the US. If this ideology is allowed to expand things will only get worse.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The EU goes for broke

It is really amazing to see how the eurocrats have managed to once again solve an EU problem with more power for Brussels. It is obvious that to the question "double or quit" they know only one answer "double". Unfortunately - as many gamblers know - this strategy often leads to it that you loose everything. Most likely we will see something similar here too.

Germany keeps advertising that the problem is irresponsible spending of Southern European countries while in fact it is that the countries are no longer competitive compared to Germany. For years Germany has lowered its wages and cuts its government spending in order to become more competitive. But that competitiveness came at the expense of the South Europeans. Now they need to lower their wages and cut their government spending too in order to catch up again. But as Germany keeps doing the same they are facing a moving target and it is doubtful whether they will be able to catch up before the things start to fall apart.

Germany seems very allergic to any proposal that might hurt its exports. It has refused to cancel defense orders from Greece, it blocks an expansive policy by the European Central Bank that might take some pressure from Southern Europe and it forces the Southern countries to very restrictive economic policies that hurt their prospects - in the hope that that way they will be able to pay to Germany. So in the end all those massive European funding programs serve mainly to keep Germany's economy going.

Of course this is window dressing. On the short term Germany gets the other countries to foot its bills. But in the longer term it may find that Southern Europe is not capable to pay every loan it granted back. The damage that it does to the Southern economies will harm Germany's economy in the long term. And one can only hope that the EU will find a nice way out once things are no longer tenable.

The present strengthening of the power of Brussels carries another risk: it may cause Southern Europe to become permanently in debt and dependent on aid from the North. The "great" example is Southern Italy that since Italy's unification in the 1860s has become poorer and poorer and keeps exporting people instead of products.

There is a remarkable similarity between Merkel's behavior in Kosovo and regarding the EU. In both cases she seems totally out of control and no longer capable of common sense. It looks like her power has risen to her head.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Blowing up Europe

Every general knows the term "tactical retreat". It means withdrawing your army because your supply lines are too long, you risk to be cut of from the rest of your troops or another sector of the front needs reinforcement. Such a tactical retreat is exactly what the EU needs at the moment. Unfortunately our eurocrats have gotten used to always wanting more and they simply seem incapable of making a step backwards.

If they had withdrawn a few years ago the euro crisis would have stayed rather small. If they had spent a few billions to grease the transition Greece - whose core problem is a lack of competitiveness - could have left the eurozone without much problems and would by now be refinding its competitiveness. And if they had not forced to accept bad bank loans from speculators in order to avoid trouble with the banks Ireland wouldn't have much problems now. By highlighting that a lack of competitiveness can lead to the exit from the euro they would also have encouraged Spain and Italy to take their problems more seriously.

Now we see instead the eurocrats making another power grab. This time they want automatic fines for countries that have a too large budget deficit. But such a fine would only make the deficit larger. And sometimes budget deficits arrive suddenly like we saw in Spain and Ireland when their real estate bubble burst. The real problem of the eurozone is seldom budget deficits - it is countries that are not competitive and live above their means. Spain and Ireland got into problems thanks to a busting real estate boom, not because they spent too much. But now they have to adjust.

The eurozone has two structural problems and we will need to find an answer to them:
- one is that its economies develop not in sync. The bursting of the real estate bubbles in Spain and Ireland are good examples of that. One could argue that allowing those bubbles to happen was bad economic policy to begin with but as virtually no economists or politicians raised the issue we will have to consider such developments as de facto "natural" developments. It takes painful adjustments for such economies to get back in sync with the rest of the eurozone.
- the other is more structural. I call it the "Southern Italy effect". Since Southern Italy became part of Italy around 1860 it has become poor (much poorer than before) and mafia infested. It have no good theory why that happened, but given the fact that Spain and former Yugoslavia had similar problems between the north and the south there must be some structural cause. I see a great risk that with further integration of the EU the whole of Southern Europe may become caught in such a poverty trap.

It looks like - except for giving in yet again to the power hunger of the eurocrats - the European leaders will today once again attempt to buy time and to evade the structural problems. If they continue that way they might well end up blowing the euro. But maybe that would be the better outcome in the long term. Finding a solution that lets the rot go on just slow enough to be "manageable" might in the long term be yet worse.

Border changes: it is so simple

As I keep hearing people claim that border changes will lead to long term instability I will once again repeat my thoughts on that subject.

My rule is simple: "Don't do it. But if you have to do it anyway then do it good."

The first part is what everyone knows: border changes can generate a lot of trouble. If today you have Congress of Berlin (1878) you will find that some parties will keep grumbling and when after a few decades the power balance has changed you will get a new set of border changes. In addition border changes are often accompanied by soft or hard ethnic cleansing and "population exchanges".

But sometimes you cannot avoid border changes. A secession movement is too strong or the international players are too strongly in favor. In that case the second part of my rule applies and that part is often ignored.

Doing it good means two things: first of all you take into account all things, including the desires of the local populations. Secession according to existing internal borders - without considering the consequences - is in my opinion a fundamental error. In addition the border changes - and how they are implemented - should be mutually agreed. That way it is possible to have peaceful border changes as multi-ethnic countries like Belgium and Switzerland demonstrate.

So what does that mean for Northern Kosovo? As long as opinions vary from Albanians who want it ethnically cleansed from its Serb population and included in Kosovo until Serbs who want it included in Serbia you won't find a solution. Allocating it to Kosovo now will lead to (soft) ethnic cleansing of the Serbs. Allocating it to Serbia will very probably lead to long term territorial claims by Kosovo Albanian politicians.

For that reason I think the solution for the moment should be to decide to give Northern Kosovo very strong autonomy - virtually independence - for the coming 5 years. That is in fact a continuation of the present situation. The big difference is that once you decide to this constellation formally you can also make agreements on how the area should be governed.

Will that lead to another situation like the RS in Bosnia? Actually I think the entity solution hasn't done that badly: compared to Croatia - where we implemented a unitary state - Bosnia has done better in terms of minority returns. The Bosnian solution could have worked even better is we had not consistently sabotaged it by insisting on a unitary state. That polarized the ethnic relations while the entities were meant to take them out of the equation.

The disadvantage of Dayton was that it was to a large extent an imposed solution. An imposed solution leaves room for nationalists to demand more. A real solution has to be negotiated and that takes time. At the moment it is impossible to find any solution that would not lead to one - and maybe even both - negotiators to be seen as traitors as soon as they came back home. Real negotiations make the parties gradually aware of the position of the others and how far that position is real and how it is nationalistic greed. They gradually establish criteria about how you treat people and how you want to be treated.

That takes time. We have recently seen how it took Belgium one and a half year to find a solution for a relatively minor problem. Kosovo very likely will take longer. Problem is that until now real negotiations still haven't started. One can blame for that to a large extent the Western countries that have treated Kosovo mainly as a play-field for their international power games.

What I would like to see is that the West explicitly admits that the treatment of minorities in the rest of Kosovo is still so bad that it is ethically irresponsible to deliver the Northern Serbs to a similar treatment. From there they could decide that Northern Kosovo should keep for at least the next 5 years its present semi-independent status. As that is a temporary solution it could be acceptable for both parties. In contrast to what the EU is doing now it would not leave space for yet more adventurous policies that aim to change the "facts on the ground". It would also clearly establish that the Northern Serbs have good reasons at the moment not to want to be part of Kosovo.

Every border change should be thoroughly negotiated. The trouble in Croatia and Bosnia was a direct consequence of not following that rule. The present trouble similarly is a direct consequence of separating Kosovo from Serbia without proper negotiations.

Negotiating takes time. But it also is a dialogue that forces both sides to take each other seriously. I think Kosovo would be in a much better shape if it had spent the last 12 years negotiating with Serbia. The mafia style posturing that is propagated by the EU and the US takes in the long run much more time and is much more harmful.

Monday, December 05, 2011

The profits of doom

100Reporters has an article The profits of doom about arms smuggling towards ex-Yugoslav republics during the early 1990s.

However, I couldn't find an underlying report.

I don't think that it is that important who profited from the conflict. In our present world there will always be some people who are prepared to supply arms. The real sources of the conflict are to be found in Western diplomatic circles - and they are until now beyond scrutiny.

Friday, December 02, 2011

German views on the recent Kosovo clashes

Looking at the German press about the recent clashes between NATO and protesters in Northern Kosovo the fate of the own soldiers dominates - above all in Austria.

Some headlines:

Mitteldeutsche Zeitung: Kirsch fordert höhere Auslandszulage für Soldaten im Kosovo. Translated: Kirsch (president of a union of soldiers) asks for a higher expat allowance for soldiers who go to Kosovo. Im Kosovo verletzter Soldat: „Beim Bosnien-Einsatz 2012 bin ich dabei“.
Translated: Soldier who was wounded in Kosovo: "I will be there when we are stationed in Bosnia". Kosovo-Fliegerarzt im Talk: "Soldaten bekommen psychologische Hilfe". Doctor on airplane that evacuated soldiers to Austria: soldiers get psychological help.

Thüringer Allgemeine: Verletzter Sondershäuser Offizier will im Kosovo bleiben.
Translated: wounded Officer from Sondershausen wants to stay in Kosovo.

I could go on and mention another dozen similar titles.

A translated quote from one German parliamentarian who visited Kosovo: Johannes Selle was not only as parliamentarian happy to have learned a bit more about the background of the UN mandate in Kosovo. It is important for his decisions in Berlin. Even though the soldiers cannot go into details for security reasons became it clear that the confrontations in the area of employment have changed recently. "The red line of mutual agreements has been crossed by the few Serb militants", cited Selle. And he means that people no longer keep the agreement not to shoot each other.

In addition the Serb hooligans recently place women, old people and children in the street blockades, so that the soldiers can no longer use tear gas when they want to remove street barricades. But the main problems in the regions have been solved and they will deal with the remaining militant hooligans too - so Selle und Hengstermann (an officer) briefly summarize their conversations with soldiers. They have developed a good relationship with most of the people - but the situation is still too dangerous for touristic trips.

I read several reports that in general relations between German soldiers and the Serb population are good. It looks like the Serbs in Kosovo - and specially the protesters - should spend more of their time explaining their cause to those German soldiers.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

We are mishandling the Arab Spring

In less than a month it will be a year ago that the series of protests that we call the Arab Spring started. Although we as Western countries are outsiders we have played an important role in shaping the results of these protests. And I believe our results are rather mixed.


In Tunisia all elements for more democracy were present. It is a prosperous country with a considerable middle class: a configuration in which a democracy is likely to develop and prosper. Wikileaks had undermined the credibility of its leader so that not much was needed for protests to break out.

Too much has been made of the departure of president Ben Ali. As an old man he simply didn’t have the energy to lead the country through a difficult transition. But if he had been 30 years younger he might very well have led the transition to democracy himself.

Revolts are of all times. But usually they just bring another regime of the same type. A transition to democracy demands more than a revolution: it demands another way of thinking. Tunisia had the advantage that such thinking was already present. Other countries need lengthy negotiations before the key players are able to see how democracy can work in their country.

Western media and leaders love black-white thinking in which people are good or bad. However, real bad people like Hitler that are beyond the hope of salvation are extremely rare. The authoritarian rulers of the Arab world are simply products from another age when more forceful methods to keep order were considered acceptable. They have a sense of entitlement but so do most politicians who have been in power for a long time.

Many journalists have tried to explain the insurrections in the Arab world out of the mismanagement of the economy. But countries like Egypt and Tunisia had high economic growth before the protests started. A more likely explanation is the “revolution of the rising expectations”: when people are more prosperous they also expect a better government and things that they previously saw as inevitable are no now longer considered acceptable. The same phenomena could be observed in the West in the 1960 rebellions.

Another often repeated story is that the rapacious elites of the Arab world took all the wealth for themselves and left the rest of the population in poverty. But the economic statistics are clear: countries like Egypt and Tunisia have less inequality than the West – not more.

A third often repeated theme is that the leaders have lost contact with reality. We love to repeat how Saddam’s information minister Mohammad Saeed al-Sahhaf declared that there were no US troops in Bagdad while their sound could be heard in the background and Gaddafi’s “zenga, zenga” speech was parodied. Counterproductive actions like attacks on embassies in Syria are also part of this pattern. Of course when people have been in power for decades they get a bit calcified and their shortcomings become more problematic. But that is not the main cause of this behavior. Rather it is a type of loss processing. The psychiatrist Kübler-Ross has written that people process grief in 5 stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance – not necessarily in that order. Her book is about how people deal with the announcement that they are terminally ill, but people who loose (a part of) their power react very similarly. It is normal that they initially are in denial. And even attacks on embassies do not mean that these leaders are not capable of adapting themselves. What is important in this context is taking time: expecting total surrender in the first round of negotiations is a recipe for disaster.

However, while that may explain the Tunisian revolt it does not necessarily explain the others. In the case of the others there was a lot of copycat behavior. But that may well mean that they have a much lower chance of success.


Egypt is a much poorer country with many local potentates who have considerable ability to direct the vote of the local population and an army that is used to a privileged position. It is a well known fact that democracy doesn’t work very well in poor countries. So it is doubtful how democratic Egypt can become. Most likely non-democratic forces like parts of the Muslim Brotherhood, the army, local strongmen and certain businessmen will keep playing an important role.

Obama made the error to think that the Arab spring is about regime change. That led to his push for the departure of Mubarak. This was a mistake. It directed the discussion away from the question how Egypt should change and democratize. The consequence is that that discussion now still needs to be held. And the bad influence of the Obama decision is still visible: the protesters on Tahrir Square are now asking for yet more people – mainly the army leadership - to go instead of discussing how Egypt’s government can be made more democratic.

There is another reason why it was not good for Obama to push for Mubarak’s departure: it puts Obama in the driver seat instead of the local opposition. This means that Obama robs that opposition of much of its power to negotiate with their regime. Later on that became a serious point in Libya and Syria.

Obama’s recent statement that the military should swiftly start a “full transfer of power” to a civilian government in a “just and inclusive manner” contains a similar problem. Democracy works when the main forces in a country believe in it as a political system and trust each other and the rule of law enough. When that trust is lacking one cannot expect people to just make the jump.

Arab authoritarian leaders – including the Egyptian army - like to forecast chaos when they are gone. Western leaders and media tend to discard such statements as propaganda and like to stages incidents where those authoritarians try to prove that they are needed – like the incidents with the Copts in Egypt. However, this does not take away that both these leaders and many citizens in those countries sincerely believe this point. The present chaos – and the preceding civil war - in Libya show that their fears are not totally unfounded.


The Libyan uprising was a typical copycat uprising. Once the regime became serious in its suppression the uprising collapsed like a house of cards. What “saved” it was the fact that the West took up its case. But this Western involvement had little to do with the internal situation in Libya. With his active and erratic foreign policy Gaddafi had made many enemies in the West and now they saw their chance.

The Western aversion went so far that it consistently sabotaged efforts to come to a negotiated solution. The consequence was that the conflict was fought till the bitter end and probably about 50,000 people died – about one percent of the population. In addition there was considerable devastation and the country is left in a state of near anarchy. There are still many Western leaders who advertise this operation as “humanitarian” but I think “war crime” would be a more suitable term. In this context we should also consider how deadly NATO bombings are: very likely they have killed over 10,000 people.

Western involvement in this type of cases knows a typical pattern of blowing up incidents and then crying for sanctions. These sanctions are an important psychological tool. By committing ourselves to sanctions we committed ourselves with the US against Libya. At first sanctions are typically very small and we tend to disregard their effect. What we forget is that their main effect is on us. We will become more likely to commit ourselves to more sanctions later on (psychologists and salesmen call this the “foot in the door technique”) and we will find it very difficult to withdraw sanctions as long as any conflict is going on. We are sold on each step with the message that with just a little more pressure the regime will topple – what obviously never happens.

In Libya this pattern started with the indictment of Gaddafi by the ICC for shooting some protesters. I think this was a bad mistake. Even in Western countries the police sometimes shoots protesters. This is something countries should handle themselves. The ICC should concentrate on more important issues.

The next step was the Security Council that asked NATO to protect Libya's civil population. It was achieved by misrepresenting a threat of Gaddafi towards the rebels as a threat towards the whole population of Benghazi. There were no reports of large scale retaliations by Gaddafi troops in the large area that they had already conquered so it was no reason to explain his word as more threatening than they were.

It is amazing to see how many Western observers cling to the idea that the more a regime is removed the better. They consider revolutionary changes like in Iraq and Libya as better than partial changes like in Tunisia and Egypt. This view saw its summit in the disastrous de-Baathification policy in Iraq. What these observers fail to see it that even amongst the officials of the most ugly regime there are many people who just want to serve their country. Removing them creates a vacuum that is difficult to fill. With negotiated gradual transitions one can keep most of those dedicated people in place.

It would have been much better for Libya to have a negotiated solution. Gaddafi probably would have gotten a nice retirement somewhere near Sirte and his family would be absolved for any crime it had done during the regime or the war. But this would have been a small price to pay for saving ten thousands of lives, preventing a lot of devastation, anarchy and tense intertribal relations.


In many places in the Arab world the power is concentrated in the hands of some ethnic groups or clans but Bahrain is unique as the only case where ethnic discrimination is the main issue. Being part of the Shiite majority in Bahrain means that your chances for a decent job are considerably smaller. So unlike the other Arab countries Bahrain has a systemic problem.

In that light the disinterest of the West to the suppression in Bahrain looks specially bad. It highlights that Western interests – in this case an American basis in Bahrain – are more important than human rights.


Yemen had seen many false starts before president Saleh finally signed an agreement to leave. Yet I think this is how things should go.

Far going changes nearly always take a lot of time and negotiations. Belgium recently took one and a half year to solve a conflict between its main ethnic groups. So we shouldn’t be surprised when it takes a lot of time to negotiate the terms under which a dictator leaves. All the talking and thinking about the future makes the chance greater that the new political constellation will work and not disintegrate into anarchy or strife.

Such negotiations are not always nice. People will come back on what they have promised and sometimes they will lie and evade. At other times they will feverishly defend unreasonable positions. But often there is logic in the madness as “unreasonable” demands may hide much more reasonable concerns that may not be considered politically correct at the moment. Long negotiations also result in the main players learning – and sometimes trust – each other.

One should not underestimate the stress this places on the diplomats mediating in such conflicts. They should be nearly completely egoless to be able to deal with the endless setbacks. Forget the Dayton Agreements on Bosnia that were finished in a couple of days thanks to bulldozer diplomacy by Richard Holbrooke: that is not how it works and it is probably no coincidence that the implementation of Dayton is still mired in controversy. Too many details were not discussed.

Every time the West has tried to evade such lengthy negotiations it has resulted in a bloody mess. We saw it recently in Libya. And previously we saw it in former Yugoslavia where the West avoided real negotiations about how the country should be partitioned by declaring the inner boundaries as external boundaries and declaring previous internal Yugoslav agreements void.

Tunisia and Egypt had much less negotiations and yet no revolution. But that means that the transition is only partial and that a lot of subjects still have to be negotiated later on. That in Tunisia a further transition was possible was mainly an effect of stronger trust between the players.

Yemen has been saved from war because no country found it important enough to send soldiers and only its neighbors even bothered to try to mediate the conflict. If it had been a more important country we would very likely have mishandled it into a war.


The risks that Syria will fall into a civil war are well known. Given the size of its population and its ethnic fragmentation such a war might cost well over a 100,000 lives. Yet this aspect has suddenly disappeared from the discussion about how we should deal with Syria. Instead we see a pattern of blowing up incidents and demanding sanctions that looks very similar to that in Libya.

One often hears the figure of more than 3500 killed. What is amazing about this figure is that over a third of them are police and soldiers. This means that about 2 protesters and rebels have been killed for every cop or soldier. This figure is extremely low. When faced with an insurrection or guerrilla most governments are much more deadly. So – although there are without doubt excesses – we should also give the Syrian troops some credit for the prudent way in which they handle the situation: the US troops in Iraq were considerably more deadly when they faced armed opposition.

The Syrian opposition is united in two coalitions. One is the NCC (National Coordination Committee) that unites the groups in Damascus. The other is the SNC (Syrian National Council) that was only recently formed and unites a number of groups outside Syria. The NCC is prepared – under certain conditions - to negotiate with the regime but the SNC is only prepared to negotiate about the transfer of power. Many see the SNC as a creation of Western diplomacy. Very probably it will fall apart when its only goal is met. Lessons from the former Yugoslavia plea against too much involvement of emigrants: they tend to be more radical and more inclined to favor the use of violence.

The West has resolutely chosen for the SNC. US ambassador Ford went so far as to sabotage a planned meeting between the regime and the NCC by going to Hama a few days before and making some radical statements that spoiled the mood for compromise. US diplomats have also repeatedly said that Assad should go. Just as in the case of Libya negotiations with the regime seem to be out of the question for the Western leaders. That that may mean a civil war seems to bother no one.

Here just as in Libya global considerations play a role. Syria supports Hezbollah and Hamas and is considered an ally of Iran. But by clothing these goals in human rights rhetoric the West is turning the latter into a bad joke. It isn’t very good long term thinking either. A messy transition like in Libya generates a lot of instability that may lead sooner or later to the rise of another adventurous dictator.

In bringing Syria into its present spot at the brink of civil war the Arab League has played an important role. Consciously or unconsciously it has followed exactly the script that the West would like it to follow to drive Syria into a corner:

An example is the demand to Assad to withdraw his troops from the cities. This does not make sense in a situation where the opposition is armed. It would mean that the government leaves the cities to the opposition that would be free to declare them “liberated” areas. The minimum the League could have done to be impartial is ask the opposition to lay the arms down too. If you combine this with the fact that the SNC only wants to talk about regime chance the conclusion is that the Arab League is asking Assad to give up. This is not mediating or finding a solution: it is taking sides in a way that makes the conflict unsolvable and brings civil war nearer.

The same lack of impartiality can also be seen in the criticism of human rights violations. While the Assad government certainly has dirty hands the opposition has too. Yet somehow neither the Arab League nor the Western countries criticizes the opposition or is bothered that it might not be an improvement.

Their recent demand for observers is little better. Usual the function of observers is to look onto it that both sides stick to an agreed solution. But in the case of Syria there is no agreed solution: there is a low level civil war in which both sides not always respect human rights. When there is no trust between the parties and no will to make a solution work observers are worthless. We have seen in Kosovo that observers can be very partial and instrumental in bringing on a foreign intervention. It looks like the Arab League is aiming for a similar scenario.

Amazing was the statement by some diplomats that Assad by not following the demands of the Arab League had insulted it. It looks like these people don’t understand what mediation means.

In Syria the main opponents are the government that is dominated by Alawis and the opposition that is dominated by extremist Sunnis who have waged a guerrilla war before – the one that ended with the Hama massacre. These Sunnis are far from harmless: there are already numerous reports of Alawis being targeted for killing and of their flight from some cities. Only a carefully negotiated solution can avoid a deadly civil war. This will inevitably be a long and tedious process.


The similarities between the wars in former Yugoslavia and the Arab Spring are striking. In both cases Western involvement worsened the situation and resulted in much more deaths. If Syria descends into a civil war the number of Arab deaths will nearly certainly exceed that in the Balkans.

The elements involved are remarkably similar:
- Western governments that try to inject their own political goals: in Yugoslavia anti-communism, in the Arab world anti-Iranian sentiments and an aversion to adventurist leaders who finance and arm guerrilla and political movements.
- Impatience in negotiations. Incapability to understand that this is about subjects that may take many months to negotiate. Demonization of some parties that makes it difficult to take them seriously during negotiations. A tendency to impose solutions.
- A contempt for the local population that becomes visible in a tendency to ignore their opinions and not to bother about violence. Most Western diplomats and politicians reason from the point of view of power politics. They seem incapable to understand that helping a country in its process towards democratization requires a fundamentally different point of view.

Friday, November 11, 2011

good fences make good neighbors

"Good fences make good neighbors" is an English saying that clear appointments make it easier to be on friendly terms with someone. This is exactly the reason why changing borders is so risky: everything has to be agreed again. Putting minority rights on paper helps only a little bit. You cannot legislate discrimination and contempt. After some time in most cases there develops a kind of mutual respect but that takes time and sometimes involves confrontations.

However, once you are changing borders everything is in play. The Western countries are still pretending that blowing up Yugoslavia was not the changing of borders but they are just deceiving themselves and trying to deceive the rest of the world. What they did put all ethnic relations in play and made it necessary to find new power balances and new ways of living together.

In such unstructured circumstances it is a matter to find a structure as soon as possible. However, as long as there are open points of conflict this will be difficult, although not impossible. That implies that subjects for conflict should be minimized. The first and most simple way to do this is to apply ethnic borders. This reduces the risk for long time border conflicts and also conflicts about the government trying to impose its will in the minority area - often involving efforts to change the ethnic balance. Next is to settle all conflicts as soon as possible. Kosovo's thousands of real estate conflicts for example should have been settled long ago with some special procedure. Similarly perpetrators of crimes against the other ethnic group should be convicted fast: the punishment might be somewhat lower to compensate for a less careful procedure as usual.

For that reason I have already often repeated that the rule should be: "Don't change borders, but if you do it do it good". That is: take into account ethnic borders and other practical considerations so as to minimize the number of inherent conflicts.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Syria's stupid protesters

For a moment there was hope. The Arab League's mediation seemed to succeed after Assad had consented to talks with the opposition. He even promised to withdraw his troops from the cities. But then he seemed to do the opposite and increased the army actions against the protests. So what went wrong?

It was the behavior of the opposition. They chose to explain the behavior of Assad as an admission of defeat. And they announced that they would intensify they demonstrations. This was clearly a show of force meant to show that Assad had lost and that they now controlled the cities.

But Assad had not meant it that way. And when confronted with this behavior he had no choice but to stay in the cities. What he meant was a kind of armistice where the protesters kept low key and in exchange the army withdrew.

The protesters would have had little to loose to wait and see whether Assad was really serious. They could always come back on the street. By staying home and waiting they would have shown that they are real democrats who want to solve things with talks. It would have shown maturity and promised well for the future. By instead keeping on the protests they showed that they are only interested in getting power for themselves.

The EU short term memory on border changes

Once again the EU has stated that "If we are talking about territories, we believe that there shouldn't be any more changes of borders in the Western Balkans. Therefore, this is something that the EU stands on".

Strange how principles can change. Just 4 years ago EU diplomats were open to a division of Kosovo.

Monday, November 07, 2011

How not to win a propaganda war

Serb nationalists have published a video that an Albanian newspaper found quite useful. It shows NATO soldiers removing a barricade with primitive means while elsewhere Serbs are using better material to strengthen their barricade. In the mean time some Serbs youth are standing around teasing the soldiers with the words "Arbeit" (German for work).

These youth stroke me as totally stupid. They should try to convince NATO of their point of view, not turn it into an enemy. Obviously they don't understand the power of NATO and how nasty it can be. It raised for me the question whether there were any Serb adults in the area. And if they were - why they didn't interfere. One should give those youth banners and slogans that serve their cause but one should withhold them from this kind of self-destructive actions.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Mafia politics in Kosovo and Bosnia

Before Hitler started his real wars he had a period in which he just got his way by establishing fact-on-the ground. He did it when he invaded the Rhineland, when he announced to have an airforce, with the annexation of Austria and finally with the annexation of Sudetenland and Czechoslovakia. It was a prelude to war. Far from leading to stability it led to an ever increasing appetite.

Now we have the West implementing a similar policy in the Balkans. Just as Hitler had his philosophy of Untermenschen here we have Robert Cooper's theory about pre-modern states where we as civilized Westerners can basically do whatever we want to bring civilization. The result is that we now see both in Bosnia and in Kosovo an attempt to establish facts-on-the-ground.

In both cases it starts with a unilateral act by the West's favorite party. The act is clearly illegal but close enough to the rules to be defended in front of ignorant journalists. It is then also defended by the US ambassador and there is even active Western support for it.

In Bosnia it started when the Bosniaks usurped the presidency by installing as Croat member of the presidency a Croat who had been chosen nearly exclusively with Muslim votes. Later on they captured also the government of the Federation. These are clear attempts to undermine the Dayton Agreement. Western support became visible when the OHR overruled the Central Election Commission who had condemned the Bosniak move.

In Kosovo it started with the Albanian attempt to capture the border posts in the Serb-controlled north. Western support became visible when it helped transport Albanian police to the border after they had been driven away.

The combination of these two events makes it clear that the real actor behind these events must be somewhere in Washington or Brussels. This and the underhanded way it is executed makes me very pessimistic that we will see a speedy solution in either area. When people with moral consciousness of Machiavelli are determining what happens anything can happen.

It is good to remember the sorry end of Machiavelli himself. The kind of behavior he advocated may bring victories but it destroys trust. And that means that in the everyone ends worse. Solving ethnic conflicts requires trust more than anything.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Fighting corruption in Bihar

Bihar in India used to be one of those places where corruption and crime linked politicians make all progress impossible. Now, according to this article ("How Bihar Went from Basket Case to Case Study") that is no longer the case. It praises a local politician, Nitish Kumar, for the turnaround. The article is a nice illustration how fast such corruption basket cases can be changed.

It should be noted that neighboring Uttar Pradesh has simultaneously undergone a similar transformation. So maybe it is not only the presence of an idealist politician but was it also somehow "in the air".

Postscript. Foreign Policy had in januari 2012 another article ("The battle for Bihar") on the subject. It compares the situation in Bihar with that elsewhere in India where corruption is increasing.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Lost decades in Eastern Europe

The NY Times has an article about the Hungarian economy. They note that one pharmaceutical company - Richter - does almost half the R&D of the country. For the rest there came some car industry but much foreign investment was about "service centers". Problem is that the car industry and service centers don't produce self-sustaining growth. That is only done by companies like Richter. And the economic climate hasn't been favorable to them:

But through the previous decade the forint was buoyed by a speculative carry trade in which investors borrowed euros at low interest rates to buy the higher-yielding Hungarian currency, creating a headache for exporters. Mr. Bogsch referred to this period as a “lost decade.”

While things are easier now, the pressures remain intense. Profitable companies are a tempting source of revenue for a cash-strapped government, which recently slapped a €13.5 million crisis tax on Richter.

More fundamentally, Mr. Bogsch said he worried that the difficulty in attracting capital to Hungary would make hiring and retaining talented staff ever harder.

So much for the benefits of being an EU member and having a neo-liberal currency policy.

This is one of a series of a NYT special report on Central European business. Others are:
In Euro Zone or Not, Countries of Central Europe Are Buffeted
In Romania, Start-Ups Gain Strength

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

KFOR lies

KFOR claims that it insists on "unconditioned freedom of movement for all citizens and international missions".

This sounds nice. But beneath it are a few lies:

- there is no real freedom of movement in the South of Kosovo. The cities are still nearly mono-ethnic Albanian, most minorities live in enclaves, refugee returns are virtually nonexistent and just a year ago Amnesty International wrote a report about the maltreatment of Roma returnees. The Serbs in the North have good reason to want to stay free of this kind of "freedom".

- the Albanian police men and border guards are neither just citizens nor part of an international mission. They are officials who want to impose their rule. Nobody contests their right to visit Northern Kosovo as a tourist but they have different intentions. So when KFOR spokesman Nowitzki provides this argument for the KFOR position he misses the contradiction in his own words.

Friday, October 21, 2011

NATO promotes violence in Kosovo

In the past month Kosovo has seen two violent deaths of Serbs in Kosovo's South. This comes after a long quiet period so the question is justified if this may be related to the tensions in the North. I think it is and I think this makes NATO responsible for those deaths.

The standard role of peace keepers - as NATO still wants to call itself - is to guard the peace while either the parties involved negotiate for a solution or some international authority like the ICJ or the Security Council takes a decision. This means that peace keepers should guard the status quo, only make changes when absolutely necessary and then do that preferable in agreement with the parties involved.

NATO is clearly overstepping its role as peace keeper and following a pro-Albanian policy. The message from this to the population - both sides - is that NATO is partial. That message is not restricted to Northern Kosovo but is visible to everyone. You can see it in Kosovo Albanian politicians who speak with more confidence. You can see it on internet forums where Albanians write with more confidence and you see it also in the increase in incidents that seem to reflect a growing Albanian assertiveness in Southern Kosovo.

The latest incident, involving usurped Serb-owned land, is in this respect illustrative. Usurped land has been a problem in Kosovo for decades and it has become specially acute after the 1999 war. A lot of effort has gone in handling them but the procedures stay vague and progress is slow. There are still many thousands similar property disputes that could get out of hand.

Peacekeeping is supposed to create stability, but NATO has created a climate where everything is fluid and Albanian efforts to grab more are rewarded rather than discouraged. One may not like the stability because it contains some injustices, but it is not the task of peacekeepers to judge what is unjust or to solve injustices. As the murders in Kosovo show there is a balance between injustices. Repairing those for one side while ignoring those for the other creates problems rather than solving them.

One could argue that NATO just wants to create a better equilibrium. But changing an equilibrium is always risky. Not only the loser has to consent. The winner has to consent too that there are still limits to his power. And until the new equilibrium has been accepted both parties may do anything to improve their position.

Every modern country consist of equilibriums. We have constitutions and laws that define them. For example the power distribution between the states and the federal government in the US is clearly defined. If the federal government would transgress its boundaries anything could happen. But where the US accepts internally such boundaries it behaves to the outside as if it is the absolute superpower who should determine everything. This is a very dangerous thing that does not only harm the relations of the US but also all the situations it wants to influence.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Should EULEX be abolished?

Last Thursday I attended a lecture by Johan van Vreeswijk who until last July was an EULEX prosecutor. As he made some fame as a crime fighter in Kosovo I had expected to hear a lot about how the rule of law is strengthened in Kosovo.

Instead he spent nearly the whole lecture defending the present escapades of EULEX and KFOR in the North of Kosovo. Unfortunately he is no expert in international law and he couldn't convince me. On criminal law - his expertise - he was very short: he expressed great confidence in his Albanian colleagues. It took a question from the public to have him say something about the Limaj case and then he only said that he regretted it that it took two years just to hear Limaj on his corruption charges due to dysfunction in the EULEX organization.

Obviously if the Albanians are doing so well it raises the question whether EULEX is still needed. My gut feeling was that EULEX is a complete failure and that they are now behaving like a third rate Balkan politician who has failed to improve the life of his voters and now uses nationalism as a cheap way to appear useful anyway.

Friday, October 07, 2011

Belgrade's Gay Parade

Belgrade has forbidden its Gay Parade for this year.

I think they have a point in this. Demonstrating and rioting against Belgrade's Gay Parade has become a kind of meeting point for Serbia's extreme rightists. Given the upheaval about Kosovo they would probably be stronger than ever and their protests might even attract people who don't have anything against gays but who do believe in the extremist cause.

In that light I think the EU position that the Parade should be held is disingenuous. I suspect that they see the Parade as a win-win-win situation. If Serbia's government manages to keep order it would be a loss for Serbia's extreme right. If there are riots it would be used against Serbia in the Kosovo negotiations and if they forbid the Parade that is used against them.

There is no doubt that Serbia should do more to get its right extremists under control. But using the gays as decoy birds for that purpose seems to me a bad move.

On the death of Agim Zogaj

The death of protected witness Agim Zogaj in the process against Kosovo minister Limaj has once again highlighted that some people in Kosovo are above the law. The question is what EULEX can do to fight this culture of silence and intimidation.

One error EULEX makes is making its cases too big. They should learn the lessons the US had learned when it sent mafia boss Al Capone to jail for tax evasion. There was little doubt Al Capone was responsible for numerous murders and other crimes. But by concentrating on the one issue that could be proved without endangering numerous witnesses they avoided exactly the kind of trouble that we see in the Haradinaj and Limaj trials.

The ICTY and EULEX like to make their cases in a kind of documentary of all that went wrong in former Yugoslavia. But that isn't a suitable tactic in the case of Kosovo where witnesses are both endangered and sometimes unreliable. Instead they should just concentrate on one or two relatively easily provable incidents and condemn people for those.

11 years for tax evasion - as Al Capone got - may be a bit too tough and not achievable in Kosovo. But even a much shorter sentence would stress the principle that nobody is above the law.

Another legal tactic is that of the "criminal organization". Here the fact that a person was member of an organization is considered enough to hold him responsible for the crimes of that organization. This can be applied in human rights cases too as was recently done in the Demjanjuk case. The fact that Demjanjuk worked as a guard of a concentration camp was considered enough to hold him partially responsible for the mass murder that was committed in that camp.

Another error the EULEX makes is that it thinks it can have it both ways. That on the one hand it can prosecute Kosovo's leaders for mafiose behavior and on the other hand it can use the mafia tactics of establishing facts on the ground, violence and intimidation when it comes to Northern Kosovo. What Kosovo needs is a change of political culture, but EULEX just has adopted the mafia culture.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Where are Serbia's allies?

There is no longer any hiding in diplomatic niceties: the NATO raids in Northern Kosovo have finally forced Serbia to talk openly about splitting Kosovo so that the North tip can join Serbia. It has generated the predictable negative reactions (such as REFRL calling it a "tirade") but as I wrote previously that was predictable. It is easier for Western diplomats to discard Serbia's politicians as crazy or nationalistic than to change their opinions. To achieve a change of opinion will demand persistent campaigning and explaining.

What has been until now however are allies. Sure, some university professors and former politicians have spoken out. But I have been astonished that none of the NATO members that do not recognize Kosovo have spoken out publicly against the behavior of the NATO "peace keepers". Neither has any major active international politician spoken in favor of a partition of Kosovo. Those that did were unimportant enough or did it discrete enough for the international press and the Western diplomacy to ignore.

Yet the nonsensical ban on partition is potentially harmful to many other countries as well. Spain for example would face a similar problem with Navarra if the Basques might ever secede.

Many countries have provincial borders that are centuries old. More often than not if they had to be drawn today they would be different. Changing them raises so many emotions and interests that it usually better to spend political capital on more productive issues. For that reason the US position that a partition of Kosovo should have been done before is in my opinion disingenuous. The only right time to do it is when there is an urgent need to do so. And there was not such a need in the 1990s. It is there only now when we are discussing Kosovo's independence and the bad position of Kosovo's minorities since the 1999 war.

Sunday, October 02, 2011

Kosovo's North: the Swiss and Finnish look

Swiss and Italian taxfree areas
This article drew my attention to the fact that Kosovo's North is not the only area in Europe with a tax-free status.

Of course Europe has its tax paradises, like Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Monaco and the Channel Islands. But there are also small taxfree areas like Samnaun, Livigno and Campione d'Italia. They are just municipalities without special autonomy that for historical and geographical reasons got a tax-free status:

- Samnaun in Switzerland is on the Austrian border and could until 1905 only be reached over Austrian soil. Nowadays Swiss tourist have to pay taxes (in Martina) when they leave Samnaun for the rest of Switzerland.

- Livigno in Italy is a small municipality in the Alps at the border with Switzerland. For centuries it was a very poor place that in the winter was often isolated from the outer world. Diverse motives have been mentioned for its tax-free status: the fear that everyone might leave and the area might become uninhabited and the poverty and local resistance against tax. Nowadays it is rich - thanks to tourism - but still tax free.

- the Italian municipality Campione d'Italia on the Lugano lake is an enclave that is on all sides surrounded by Swiss territory. It has taken over many Swiss systems: the legal coin of the area is the Swiss franc - although the euro is widely accepted too; car plates are Swiss; most phones are on the Swiss network and if you send mail to the place you can both address it to Italy and use the Italian postal codes or use the Swiss equivalent.

The Åland Islands
One could also compare North Kosovo with the Åland Islands as there are a lot of similarities in the situation.

Sweden had for centuries ruled Finland and Swedish had become the language of the ruling class while Finnish was the language of the farmers. Only the last century before independence (1809-1917) was Finland ruled by Russia. In 1917 Swedes still formed 15% of the population on the mainland and they were overrepresented in the upper classes. Nowadays this has decreased to 6%. The Åland Islands are on the sea between Sweden and Finland and when Russia conquered Finland they took the islands too. When Finland declared independence the islands - that are nearly completely Swedish speaking but adjacent to Finland - wanted to join Sweden but the Finnish government objected. In contrast to the brutal politics that we see now regarding Kosovo in 1921 the case of the status of the Åland Islands was brought to the League of Nations. These ruled that the Islands should stay with Finland but get far reaching autonomy so that they should keep their Swedish character.

The League of Nations decision in the case of the Åland Islands was a close call and might just as well have gone in favor of the Swedes. But the maturity with which the case was handled stands in great contrast with the swashbuckling diplomats and generals that we see now in Kosovo. Another contrast is that while in Kosovo "freedom of movement" is taken as an excuse for a policy that is in essence one of ethnic cleansing on the Åland Islands the opposite has been done: you need special permission to settle on the islands.

Monday, September 26, 2011

A coward gets no respect

I am puzzled at Serbia's reaction to the situation in Northern Kosovo. The situation clearly asks for a repeating - again and again - of Serbia's position and arguments and of replying to any statement made by Western diplomats.

But Tadic seems strangely quiet. His behavior reminds me of that of that conference in Belgrade where the Russian ambassador asked whether there was any Serb in the room as no one seemed ready to take up the subject of what is happening to the Serbs in Kosovo now.

As I have stated before only a principled approach and a consistent to any undesirable statement of Western or Kosovar diplomats and leaders will gain the respect that will bring Western policy changes.

Sure, such a policy will initially evoke condemnation from Western actors. No one wants to change and it is only human to protest rather than change one's way of acting. That is psychology 101. It will take persistence - without allowing oneself to be provoked - to achieve results.

Of course Tadic shouldn't do it alone. Serbia's opposition is just as absent. Someone should remember Germany of its harmful role in the violent breakup of Yugoslavia. And someone should make it clear that the policy of Merkel and US ambassador Dell is one of ethnic cleansing. Traditionally this is the role of the opposition that less hampered by diplomatic niceties. Albin Kurti in Kosovo is a perfect example of how this is done.

Serbia has a tendency to take indefensible positions. Not paying for electricity, the petrol smuggling in the North and the cadastre problems were such positions. I believe that Serbia should get rid of such positions. They evoke unilateral reactions and are internationally hard to defend. But one can wonder whether negotiations are really the best way to achieve that. In some cases unilateral gestures - in consultation with the Western countries - might be a better solution.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Kosovo and the German Constitution

As President Koehler experienced a year ago the German Constitution as explained by the German Federal Constitutional Court is against sending German soldiers on attack missions outside NATO territory.

A siege definitely is a form of attack and the behavior of the German Army in Northern Kosovo has a lot of a siege. So it would be interesting to see what would happen when someone went to this Court with a complaint over the behavior of the German Army in Kosovo.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Up to World War III?

The situation now is starting to look more and more like that on the eve of World War I. It is often thought that the rise of Germany was the main cause but I think the general climate in that period was more important. Geopolitical changes like the rise of Germany are happening all the time. What differs is how people deal with them.

Before World War I there had been a long relatively peaceful period and nobody expected anything serious. People were very nonchalant about war. There were even reports of people celebrating when their country declared war and the general expectations were that within a few weeks "our" troops would be home celebrating victory.

We see now increasingly the same thing happen. The speed within which the US undertakes new wars keeps increasing while its respect for international treaties and organs keeps diminishing. And the recent enthusiasm in Europe about the Libya war and Germany's behavior in Kosovo show an increasing war-loving Europe too.

In 1914 it went wrong when the adversary proved too strong and the diplomats were incapable of finding more peaceful solutions. Now the West may one day find itself facing China or Russia and have the choice between real war and compromise. It might well end up with real war.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Diplomatic "successes"

Western diplomats are still celebrating their success in bringing down Gaddafi. Never mind that it took 30,000 to 50,000 Libyan lives. Never mind that the fact that half of the dead are Gaddafi soldiers most probably means that at least a third of all the dead were killed by NATO. Never mind too that a negotiated solution was possible and that it would very probably bring in the long run more democracy, stability and prosperity. Our most evil politicians had another "bad guy" to pummel in order to increase their popularity at home and that was what counted.

Our diplomats in the Balkans aren't sitting still either. They just managed to solve the problem of Kosovo's custom stamps. Never mind that it was a non-issue as Kosovo has virtually no exports and saw the issue merely for its propaganda value. Never mind too that the "solution" brought increased ethnic tensions, replaced negotiations with establishing "facts on the ground" and the use of violence and led to rabid nationalism in Pristina. Never mind too that the issue could have been solved with a little Western pressure, some small inducements and some token Albanian concessions... We had to feed the blood hounds at home.

Now we are heading for the next showdown in Kosovo. At stake this time is Kosovo's "lawless North". As I have written previously I think it is in reality about the money that the Kosovo government is missing due to smuggling. Here too Kosovo's government has partly to blame itself and its uncompromising attitude. The West could adopt a minimalist attitude and refrain from going beyond the immediate problem in an evenhanded manner. But they there is a risk that they will attempt to bring Kosovo's North under Albanian rule. This might result in open ethnic conflict and large scale ethnic cleansing. But our diplomats are so used to blaming everything that goes wrong on their "pre-modern" victims that this seems to be less of a mental obstacle as it should be.

Monday, September 05, 2011

Serbian blindness

EUObserver reports some Serbian reactions to the custom stamp deal. According to the article:
For his part, Serbia's minister for Kosovo, Goran Bogdanovic, on Sunday told press that Kosovo customs officials will still not be allowed to man crossing points in northern Kosovo and that customs income based on the new stamps will not be allowed to go to Pristina.

Radenko Nedeljkovic, the head of Serb enclave's local authorities, put it more bluntly. "I am sure that there will be no Albanian customs officers at the Brnjak and Jarinje crossings. As far as the stamp is concerned, it can be used south of the Ibar River," he said, referring to the river that separates the enclave from Pristina-controlled Kosovo.

I don't understand the exact meaning of this. However, if it means that Serbia intends to keep allowing the smuggling like it always happened it is bound to fail. As I have written before I think Kosovo's budget deficit due to its quarrel with the IMF is one of the reasons for the present trouble. So Kosovo needs every cent it can lay its hand on and it has an urgent need to repair holes like the one in the Northern border. If Serbia wants to keep the initiative the best it can do is to dictate the new situation itself: it should collect customs at the border and send part of it to Pristina. But it could shape the situation by keeping some of the money for the North itself and for costs, not accepting Albanian custom officers, making a difference between the North and the rest of Kosovo, demanding "exit" stamps near the Ibar, etc. The alternative is to expect that Kosovo build border posts along the Ibar and I don't see that happen.

In the recent incidents there is a division of labor between the US and the EU. The US provides the ideas, while the EU takes care of the implementation. An important role is played by Robert Cooper - the EU "negotiator". In his articles and books Cooper has written that one should use "rougher methods" when dealing with "pre-modern" states: But when dealing with more old-fashioned kinds of states outside the postmodern continent of Europe, we need to revert to the rougher methods of an earlier era - force, pre-emptive attack, deception, whatever is necessary to deal with those who still live in the nineteenth century world of every state for itself. Among ourselves, we keep the law but when we are operating in the jungle, we must also use the laws of the jungle..

When one considers that this kind of interventionist ideas came into being as a consequence of the Balkan wars of the early 1990s there can be little doubt that he sees the countries there as "pre-modern". It is this kind of colonial thinking by the Badinter Commission that started the problems in Yugoslavia. I consider it very harmful as it dehumanizes those "primitive" people and justifies all kinds of outrages against them. This is how America's Indians got eradicated. In my opinion we should always look at what valid arguments people have - even if we consider them "pre-modern". In some cases like ethnic cleansing special targetted measures may be justified - but who dares to say after Hitler that only "pre-modern" politicians do such things?

The recent trouble started when Cooper got closer involved with Kosovo. I don't doubt that US ambassador Dell and others have formulated the goals. When Cooper was Blair's senior advisor on foreign policy he followed US policy too with his "poodle" politics: Cooper has more ideas about the means than about the ends. If he is now happy to implement US policy it is only a continuation from his previous behavior.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Bühler seeks the confrontation again

Bühler had some interview with Associated Press. He announces operation in collaboration with EULEX. I am still looking for an article with the complete text, but the excerpts look bad.

According to Google News:
But he said Tuesday that more tension is likely as international authorities seek to indict local Serbs who blocked roads and also fired at NATO peacekeepers. "I mean heavy reaction in terms of demonstrations, roadblocks denying freedom of movement for the troops, rhetoric and so on," Buehler said. "We can handle such a situation."

He said NATO has given evidence in the border crossing cases to the European Union rule of law mission and that arrests by the EU's 3,000-strong police mission are pending.

Buehler met Tuesday with Robert Cooper, an EU envoy who mediates an ongoing dialogue between Kosovo and Serbia representatives. The next round of talks is scheduled for Friday.

According to Mercury News:
He said NATO peacekeepers have deployed to support the EU police in the tense area controlled by minority Serbs that refuse to cooperate with international authorities and reject Pristina's authority.

The move comes a day after the top NATO commander in Kosovo Maj. Gen. Erhard Buehler warned of renewed tensions in the area pending arrests of local Serbs suspected of involvement in the recent violence.

In an interview with The Associated Press on Tuesday, Buehler said he expected "a heavy reaction" from Serb extremists as international authorities seek to indict suspects.

"I mean heavy reaction in terms of demonstrations, roadblocks denying freedom of movement for the troops, rhetoric and so on," Buehler said.

In my opinion clear and open fact finding and only then prosecution would be a better way to prevent future violence. What Bühler is doing looks more like a classical FUD operation.

The link with Cooper is interesting. It suggests that this is also about putting pressure on Serbia before the negotiations.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Kosovo's unwise strategy

After the "technical negotiations" had achieved some results the most visible reaction in Kosovo was one of disappointment and protests. Kosovo had accepted some aspects of the Serb parallel structures and it had given up on some symbols of its independence. According to the protesters this put the universal recognition of its independence further away.

The reasoning behind this is that there is only one way to achieve full recognition: getting Serbia to accept it step by step. As Kosovo doesn't have much means to pressure Serbia this strategy relies heavy on international pressure on Serbia. It is a strange strategy for conflict "resolution" as it totally gives up on compromise and mutual interests.

As a consequence the prospect for further "technical negotiations" is bleak. Kosovo has already announced that it will not change its custom stamp. Not even a symbolic change as a face-saving gesture towards the Serbs. This is not negotiating: this is dictating. It is a strategy born out of fear as it is feared that any concession might harm Kosovo's prospects. But no concession often means no agreement and as a consequence Kosovo is now in many areas more handicapped by its dubious status as necessary.

One has to wonder whether this strategy has any chance. It is basically a continuation of Kosovo's strategy since the beginning of the Ahtisaari negotiations and it hasn't brought much. Recently Kosovo has raised the stakes by using its special police while also KFOR has used the threat of violence. But is a risky strategy. Jeremic will not hesitate to use the violent character of Kosovo's present strategy as an illustration of the illegal character of its independence. And if Serbia doesn't give in enough it will simply mean a continuation of the stalemate of the previous years. If there is one lesson from Bosnia it should be that the stronger the international pressure to solve a conflict in a lopsided way the more unsolvable that conflict becomes.

In my opinion the wiser alternative would be to embrace the "technical negotiations" and accept that it will occasionally have to make minor symbolic concessions and accept the status quo in the North until status negotiations result in a final solution. It looks likely that Kosovo can achieve a lot in that way. Nearly all costly workarounds of the present situation could be repaired. However, two prices would evade Kosovo: official recognition and control over the North. Those could only be solved in status negotiations.

Kosovo's status could easily be solved with some kind of deal where Kosovo accepts border changes in the North and some additional rights for Kosovo's Serbs. However, the greatest obstacle are the Western countries who oppose even extra autonomy for the North on the pretext that that would have consequences elsewhere in the Balkans. The West posts as Kosovo's friend but with this position I think the old saying applies "with these friends, who needs enemies?".

I find the international position on border changes hypocrite. Kosovo cannot be compared to Bosnia. Its history of ethnic relations is much worse and unlike Bosnia there is a linguistic gap between the communities. Multi-lingual countries usually have one of two properties to make it work: either there is a lingua franca like Hindi and English in India or it is beneficial to learn the main language because it offers good job perspectives. In the case of Kosovo there is no lingua franca - although Gemana and English slowly get some of that status - and neither learning Serbian nor learning Albanian offers good perspectives for a job.

My advise for Kosovo would be:
- Act in good faith in the "technical negotiations" and be prepared to compromise. Don't worry too much about symbols. Solve all the major points like telecom, customs and energy. With some Hong Kong-like status you might even participate in sports events. Make also agreements on property rights.
- Accept that the North will stay separate for the time being and that the status will stay unresolved for some time.
- Concentrate for the time being on economic development
- Nobody expects EU membership to become an option even for Serbia before 2020. So don't worry too much about it. Tell the EU instead that more trust needs to built between Kosovo and Serbia before a final solution is reached.
- Become more serious about refugee returns. I still see regularly Kosovo Albanian posters on the Internet claiming that expelled Serbs "deserved" it. This should stop and Kosovo's leadership is responsible for that. This is not only about minorities: it is also about the rule of law and openness to foreigners. Consider the position of an American who thinks about investing in Kosovo. When he looks at how the Serbs are treated and how Kurti is talking about Americans he will inevitably conclude that one day he may be targeted too and robbed of his investments while Albanian nationalists cry that he deserves it.
- Stop with unilateral moves like we have seen with electricity, mobile telephone, the border posts and the trade boycott. They signal to local Albanian nationalists that Serbs are fair game, they lead to an increase of harassment - both by nationalists and by government officials - and they destroy trust between the communities. This kind of moves may provide some minor tactical wins but for the long term they mean strategical losses. These moves go also against the rule of law. This may seem counterintuitive to some - given all the propaganda that the Pristina government is restoring the rule of law - but one of the main functions of the rule of law is to make life predictable. From that point of view these measures are major violations. No one wants to invest in such a climate.
This doesn't mean that everything in the present situation should be accepted. No electricity without paying and no smuggling are general principles. But there should be flexibility in the implementation.
- From the Serbian perspective Kosovo's recognition is its negotiation chip. In return it mainly wants protection of Kosovo's Serb minority. So if Kosovo wants Serbia to do concessions on the symbolic level it should be prepared to give hard guarantees that for example exclude unilateral actions like the recent ROSU intrusions in Kosovo's North.
- One day the status will come up for resolution. By then Kosovo should at least have a stronger position so that it is less dependent on internationals. By then also other regions in the Balkans might have become more stabilized so that "precedent" fears regarding border changes will be less important. There would be more trust between Serbs and Albanians. At that time it might either be decided to have border changes in exchange for recognition or the existing position of Northern Kosovo might be formalized as some kind of far-reaching autonomy in a recognized Kosovo.

On the Euro Crisis

As the crisis in the Eurozone keeps deepening I want to make a few notes:

- The core of Europe's problems are internal tensions. Compared to Germany the Southern European wages are much too high. This leads to trade imbalances and as a consequence the South is becoming more and more indebted to the North. For a long time the pattern was masked because the North bought companies and real estate in the South, attracted by a self-reinforcing bubble in real estate prices. But this no longer works and now we will have to break this pattern. The fact that this comes on top of the financial problems that were exposed by the crisis of 2008 only complicates the matter.

- the Eurocrats keep pushing for more centralization. They want a common European economy, taxation, etc. In their view Europe should become something like the US. I don't believe that is a good option and I doubt whether even 10% of Europe's population would support such a proposal. But even if everyone wanted it it would be a surreal discussion: we live no longer in 1776 and working out the details of a federation would take at least a decade. For now we should draw the obvious conclusion that we have gone a bridge too far and that some kind of retreat is inevitable.

- the Eurocrats have a history of never wasting a crisis and always bringing in more centralization as the solution for problems that arise. The euro was brought to us at least partly as a solution for the problems of the snake. Eurocrats are used to get their way and it will take a major shock for them to admit that this time has to be different. They are also well aware that the setback may mean that they won't see the federal Europe they long for in their lifetime.

- as I have written elsewhere I think the Eurocrats are betting on the wrong horse. One should give countries time to adapt to Europe. The Irish and Spanish real estate bubbles were vivid illustrations that these countries were not ready for the euro. Their adaptations to the EU real estate market should have happened while they still were outside the euro so that they had the tools to regulate the bubble. Also I think slowly integrating the former Soviet block and the Arab world should get more attention. We may never want Turkey and the Arabs inside our Brussels decision making apparatus but we should be open to economic and other kinds of integration.

- I don't believe in formal rules like the 3% limit on government deficits or the recent attempt of Spain to put that kind of provisions in its constitution. It is window dressing that treats future generations like little children. It evokes exactly the kind of evasion as we have seen with Greece.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Did Dell instruct Bühler?

Looking at the Wikileaks cables from Belgrade and Pristina I noticed one cable from ambassador Dell from januari 2010 in which he utters claims on Northern Kosovo that seem rather closely related to what Bühler more recently has stated.

Some quotes:
¶2. (C) Currently, we have a growing, if still somewhat
fragile, consensus within the international community in
Pristina that the time is right to end the years of drift on
the north and to alter the dynamic of a hardening partition
between the north and the rest of Kosovo. In part, this is
sparked by the new willingness among Kosovo Serbs to engage
with Kosovo institutions. It also stems from Belgrade's
increasingly aggressive actions in the north (e.g., seizure
of the Valac electrical substation; unilateral appointment of
Serb judges to illegal parallel courts) that have underscored
to representatives of the international community on the
ground the risks of continuing to do nothing. For ten years,
we told the Kosovars to trust us -- "let us handle the
situation, and we will protect you" -- and now the government
of independent Kosovo is increasingly asking us when we are
going to make good on that commitment. KFOR is drawing down
(in six months NATO could take a decision to cut its forces
in half). We need to take advantage of a unique opportunity
that has crystallized and act now while we still have a KFOR
presence capable of handling any contingency.
We know, however, that there will be difficult
challenges that pose risks. For example, EULEX must get
serious about rolling up organized crime networks in the
north that feed the parallel structures and make the current
situation unsustainable. The northern Serbs are the first
victims of these thugs, and there is a growing body of
reports that they would welcome a change if EULEX can deliver
it. We must, also, deal with the blatant theft of Kosovo
property that has allowed Serbia to, in effect, seize the
northern power grid in Kosovo. Dealing with these issues
will require hard choices and fortitude.
In recent meetings with Boris Tadic, both Angela Merkel and Nicolas
Sarkozy reportedly emphasized that Serbia's path to Brussels
runs, in part, through constructive relations with Pristina.
This is the perfect message. Brussels needs to repeat it --

It looks like Bühler has heard he same story. However - as the pressure on the Northern Serbs with border blockades shows - Bühler and Dell in the end don't believe their own story.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Kosovo going the way of Bosnia

At the moment Belgium has been more than a year without a government. Few Belgians worry. They are used to the fact that when the conditions under which the Flemish and the Walloon live together need some update it takes a long time. You have two very large groups with different ideas and many people have seldom contact with members of the other group. And many that do have contact will try to avoid the subject as it might spoil the relationship. But in the contacts that there are slowly a compromise will arise. Politicians may love taking extreme positions but people discussing with friends will find some kind of compromise. It takes a lot of time before such ideas have trickled up and a consensus has been reached.

Unfortunately the West didn't have that patience when the Bosnians needed to agree on how to go further after the Dayton Agreement. Instead of waiting until some compromise arose Western diplomats couldn't resist to choose the side of the Muslims. Initially it seemed to help. But in the end it led to a near complete stagnation.

The problem was that once the Muslims saw they had Western support they increased their demands up to the point where the Serbs even with Western pressure wouldn't agree. The most problematic aspect however was that this changed the communication. Where in the past Muslims had to convince the Serbs (and the other way around) of the reasonableness of their proposals they now only needed to convince the internationals. This meant that real communication between Serbs and Muslims stopped. And without real communication you cannot find a solution.

At the moment the same development is happening in Kosovo. The internationals have chosen sides. At the moment they are still in the phase of self-congratulation - believing they have achieved something. But in the long run it threatens to lead to complete stagnation.

It already went wrong with the issue of the custom stamps. I am really amazed that what exactly happened is still shrouded in mysteries. In my opinion openness would have been the solution. Both the Serbs and the Albanians should explain in details what happened and why they took the position they took - including the concessions they were prepared to make. If there is any disagreement of facts - let the international mediators clarify them. Then let the Kosovar and Serbian public opinion do its work and sooner or later they will agree on what is a reasonable solution in the given circumstances. As Kosovo hardly exports anything there is no real reason for hurry.

Instead the internationals allowed Kosovo to do a grab for the border posts in Kosovo's North. It was a clear violation of the agreement before the "technical talks" that during the talks no one should unilaterally try to change the "facts on the ground", but the internationals chose to ignore that and even defended the Albanian actions. They suddenly "discovered" that the Kosovo government had the right to control Kosovo's whole territory. Never mind that that right was once denied because it would have led to massive ethnic cleansing - something KFOR is supposed to prevent.

It is popular in diplomatic circles to see Balkanians as irresponsible children who would immediately make war if you gave them such basic rights as to negotiate with each other over borders. The decision to create "forgone facts" in the negotiations between Kosovo and Serbia fits in the same tradition. This attitude was in the 1990s the most important cause of the wars. We can only hope that the damage will this time be more restricted.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The NATO files on Kosovo Serb leaders

The newspaper LajmeShqip is publishing leaked NATO files on Kosovo Serb leaders. Until now they have published 8 of the 430 files they have.

Here you will see one example. The articles are in Albanian but Google Translate is your friend. Here for example is the Google translation of the above article.

You should click on the image of the NATO document to see its full size. It is not downloadable or linkable as far as I can see. Under the heading "Rezultatet e kërkimit :" you will find links to the other published files. These links are only visible in the original, not in the Google translate version.

Actually these NATO files bring very little news. They are in French so few people will be able to fully read them. All the content is about the years 2000 and 2001. Much of it seems to be copied from the Serbian press.

It seems that KFOR has lots of these documents - also about Albanians. They have lots of intelligence officers that make an inventory of the locals to keep busy. But most their intelligence is skin deep. The pieces that have been published are full of articles from local newspapers, rumors and superficial observations in the style of "A met B at time t". The longest files are 5 to 6 pages long. I considered translating one piece but it looked all so harmless that I didn't consider it worthwhile. Instead I will analyze interesting parts of one piece at the end of this post.

To me the main "contribution" of publication of these files seems to be to bring back to life the much more conflictuous and lawless climate of shortly after the war. People have evolved and we should deal with them as they are now - not ten years ago.

Here is an article (in Serbian) with a reaction of some of those involved.

The file on Milan Ivanovic
So let's have a look at one of the files. I have chosen Milan Ivanovic. Together with Jaksic he seems to attract most attention in the media.

At one point it is claimed that Ivanovic is "xenophobe". Here is the context: "He claims that foreign aid organizations favor Albanians and that the Serbs get less aid. He distrust foreign Albanians who illegally come to Kosovo. He wants the disarming of the UCK that he accuses of a campaign to exterminate the Serbs and other minorities. He favors a multi-ethnic Kosovo. He is a xenophobe. He gives speeches blowing hot and cold. He doesn't speak English. He distrusts Kosovars who are capable of communicating with foreigners."

He has some distrust - in a situation where just 2 years ago there was a war in which the West attacked him and he is still amidst refugees from that war. Can you really blame him for that? Maybe it is just the Westerners who are insulted that he doesn't speak more and more openly with them and that he distrusts their intentions?

Another issue is his supposed involvement in organized crime. The main text concerning this issue is "He is supposed to control fuel, medicine and building materials in Northern Kosovo. Competent businessman (smuggling?), quite sportive, has a certain influence on the population but doesn't have much idea of the hierarchy and methods of security. Takes regularly word at meetings or manifestations. Little Charisma.".

So he should control some important trades but the document is not sure whether he is involved in smuggling. Also his lack of interest in the hierarchy and methods of security suggests that he is not involved in some criminal organization. It looks as if someone has written down a couple of rumors without bothering with contradictions.

On the date 14/05/01 it is mentioned that "at the moment" there is a barricade near Zubin Potok where truck drivers must pay 1000 DM. Part of it would be for the people on the barricades and part for Vuk Antonijevic and Milan Ivanovic.

Near the end of the document it is mentioned that they are against the arrival of Covic in Kosovo because they believe that a representative from Belgrade would restrict them in their present relative liberty: "Comment from the source: that way those 3 persons have numerous advantages. Also, mr. Dimkic can obtain finances from UNMIK thanks to his position as director of Trepca while, in the case of Marko Jaksic and Milan Ivanovic they enjoy a total liberty to let flourish their dishonest activities."

Interestingly, in the Jaksic file one finds the statement that these "dishonest activities" serve to finance the bridge watchers. So the term seems to say more about the biased attitude of the analyst and his informer than of Ivanovic. Ivanovic may just be an informal leader who organizes an informal tax. This is the more probable as the text says nothing about extraordinary richness. Probably the Jaksic and Ivanovic files were composed by two different intelligence officers, illustrating the chaotic nature of these files.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Autonomy for the North of Kosovo?

An increasing stream of articles from the Kosovo Albanian press suggests that the EU is working towards more autonomy for Kosovo's North. The municipalities should get a part of the receipts at the border crossings. Interestingly, the head of the Serbian negotiation team has denied that it is at the moment an issue. But as the EU likes to work around Belgrade in Kosovo whenever possible and mainly consults it when pressure on the local Serbs is needed it may be that Stefanovic is simply kept out of the loop. So lets have a look at the plan.

The first problem is that it contains the same problem as much of the Ahtisaari Plan: it is not real autonomy as they still will need approval from Pristina for nearly every decision they make. As the article says: "The municipalities will have a special budget line that will be controlled by Pristina." The firing of police commanders in the North a month ago showed just how little such Pristina monitored autonomy is worth.

Thereby comes that the attitude of the Pristina authorities hasn't changed much as events a few months ago showed: the ethnic Albanian Kosovo Special Forces entered the Serbian side of the divided city of Mitrovica and began to forcibly remove Serbian licence plates from vehicles, seized ID cards and passports and other Serbian documents. Even student discount cards issued to university students by the Republic of Serbia’s government were seized. Those who did not produce these documents on demand were forcibly searched.. As this outrageous behavior - there were similar reports from Kosovo's South - was clearly ordered by the government it shows how Pristina really thinks of minority rights.

A second problem that only can be found in Albanian language original of the article is the criminality in the North. According to the article such autonomy would be impossible as long as organized crime rules there with people like Marko Jakšić, Milan Ivanovic and the parallel structures.

This seems to me a rather unhelpful approach. First of all it not is very helpful to equate parallel structures with organized crime. It ignores that they have primarily a nationalist function. A second problem is that while Kosovo claims that all its problems come from its unresolved status it is the truth in the North. Very few people will invest there knowing how Serbs and Serb businesses are treated elsewhere in Kosovo. So smuggling is seen as a natural alternative. And the Serbs in Northern Kosovo are certainly not the only to accept help from criminals in their ethnic struggle. Support from Albanian criminals for the KLA was widely known and in the Bosnia war all sides had support from local criminals.

So this approach creates a kind of chicken and egg problem where the end of criminality is demanded as a condition for creating the kind of climate where criminality is no longer seen as needed to support the ethnic survival. It might help if the advocates of this approach studied the failure of "standards before status".

Thaci is in serious financial trouble. The wage hikes he gave before the elections were against his commitments with the IMF and the IMF has answered with sanctions - meaning less loans. Other organizations like the EU follow the IMF in this and it is estimated that in total Kosovo gets some 200 million dollar less. I wouldn't be surprised if one of these days Thaci is no longer able to pay wages. I suppose that this financial trouble was one of the main reasons for the attack on the border posts. The amount of money Serbia invests in Kosovo to support the Serb minority more than offsets the losses Kosovo makes at the border but that doesn't count in this context. I suppose Thaci's financial difficulties are also considered a problem by Western diplomats and that they won't be satisfied with a solution that doesn't at least partially addresses this problem.

Then there is the problem of the US. In the past the US has not exactly been cooperative when it came to proposals for more autonomy. An often heard objection is that they don't want a second Bosnia with its ossified ethnic relations. However, I think they misread Bosnia. The problem in Bosnia is not so much the entities, it is that these entities are constantly under threat to be abolished.

There is an old saying: "good fences make good neighbors". Its message is that when you don't trust each other completely on some subject you should make the agreement on that subject explicit. That removes that subject as a potential source of conflict and opens the way for a better relationship. For a similar reason rich people marry often with a detailed marriage contract. In the same way the entities serve as a guarantee that neither ethnic group will ever be completely powerless as they will always have their "own" area to fall back on. Just recently we have seen how the lack of such guarantees for the Croats evoked an escalation in the relation between Muslims and Croats.

The US may be pacified by calling it not autonomy but a "special status". It unclear to me what that will mean in practice.

border changes
As I have repeatedly mentioned I would prefer border changes in Kosovo. With their clarity they can avoid of a lot of the trouble that we see in Bosnia where - unfortunately egged on by outsiders - there is disagreement about the purpose of the agreement and some want to change it. The Western countries have raised objections but in my opinion they don't hold.

According to international law countries have the right to decide in mutual agreement to border changes. In the West this right might well be exercised in the near future, for example in Northern Ireland, Scotland or Belgium and no one objects to that. However, at the same time the West is denying similar rights to the Balkans. To me it seems that one more time - after 1878, 1919 and 1920 - the West imposes borders on the Balkan and believes that they will be eternal.

An often heard objection is the domino effect: other minorities like the Bosnian Serbs and the Macedonian Albanians would demand the same and the result would be an avalanche of ethnic conflicts. My position is that these negotiations should have been held already in 1991. They weren't because of intellectual laziness of Westerners that didn't want to be bothered with tedious negotiations about often minute details. They also hoped that once a new country was formed the issues would solve themselves but if things were so easy the border changes of 1878, 1912, 1918 and 1945 would each have settled things already. The interethnic relations are nowhere as bad as in Kosovo and I am convinced that these other countries can resolve their internal problems peacefully. Although of course it could help if some real mediators from the West kept an objective eye on it.

Some Americans and Europeans like to declare that a partition of the North is impossible because the Albanians reject it. However, some months ago we saw in the press one Albanian after another discussing partition. The discussion abruptly ended with the visit of an US official to Pristina. Albanians publicly reject partition primarily because they believe that it will diminish American support for their case - not because they are fundamentally against it. Westerners who see a fierce rejection are just hearing what they want to hear. It is their fear of a domino effect that is the primary obstacle - not Albanian extremism.

It will be great help if the West when new negotiations happen finally stops with its habit of rewarding violence as it did on many prior occasions, like the 10 day war in Slovenia, the 2001 war in Macedonia and most recently Kosovo's grab of the border posts. This policy of rewarding violence makes peaceful negotiations more difficult.