Saturday, July 23, 2011

Concessions and blackmail in Arabia and the Balkans

It is well known that giving in to blackmail is a bad idea. It very often leads to higher demands and more blackmail.

This is one of the reasons the Arab Spring isn't going as many would expect. The dictators are usually well aware that their country is ready for some additional freedoms. But they cannot afford to give in too much as it would be seen as weakness and only lead to more protests.

Something similar we see with the "pragmatic" negotiations between Serbia and Kosovo. I was a bit astonished to read the results. What Serbia had conceded was clear but I missed any concrete Albanian concession. It didn't help that some newspaper articles saw Albanian concessions in the fact that they hadn't achieved more.

As I see it the Serbian delegation hadn't done its homework and had not thought up a couple of counterdemands in answer to the predictable Albanian demands. Instead they let themselves be badgered by Cooper who operated with the typical Western arrogance that we often see by Wesern diplomats in the Balkans.

Soon it became clear that my estimate was right. The arrests of Mladic and Hadzic and the concessions at the talks didn't lead to a more benficial view of Serbia. Instead Serbia was seen as a pushover and demands started to stream in. Füle demanded full recognition of Kosovo and Kosovo imposed a ban on the import of Serbian goods.

It looks like Dacic doesn't get this. The primary goal of the EU is to solve the Kosovo problem. But how is of a lesser concern. They will concentrate most of their pressure on that party that seems most likely to give in. At the moment that is Serbia. It looks like the Serbian coalition believes that they can solve all problems and get Serbia into the EU. But you cannot hurry up negotiations. Trying to do so weakens your position and may delay a final solution.

On the other hand I cannot understand the motives of the Kosovo government. The most likely result of the present actions is a reaction from the Serbian government. It may refuse further negotiations or renege the results of the previous negotiations. So Kosovo's boycott will harm its economy and instead of increasing Kosovo's leverage only give it an image of an unreliable partner. The only people who will be benefit from this are Kurti and his ilk.

As a consequence I expect the follow-up negotiations to be much tougher.

Saturday, July 09, 2011

Palestinians and Kosovo Albanians

Some time ago I wrote an entry about the similarities between the struggles of the Kosovo Albanians and the Tamils of Sri Lanka. This time I will list some similarities between another minority that has been source of problems for a long time.

Just like the Albanians of Kosovo the Palestinians were the rulers of Israel for a long time. In both cases the new rulers (Serbs and Jews) were more modern what contributed to the marginalization of the Albanians and Palestinians. Their pride as former rulers contributed to make this backwardness last much longer than necessary. You have to swallow your pride to learn from people you consider inferior. Discrimination didn't help as it obscured the benefits of modernization. The result was an uncertain public led by populist politicians that promised the sky but in reality were mostly busy filling their pockets.

As I pointed out in my previous post the absence of exporting companies plays an important part in the irreality of Kosovo's foreign policy as there is no strong voice that advocates normality. We see the same thing with the Palestinians. Israeli propaganda complains endlessly about Palestinians duplicity. Palestinian leaders - also from the PLO - praise suicide attacks and hold for their own population much more belligerent speaches as for the international audience. It reminds one of the internet articles about Albanians sabotating Serbian companies in Kosovo. It is the resistance of people who don't see they have a stake in their own development.

Nowadays Kosovo hardly exports anything and it survives on international aid and emigrant remittances. Nearly the same applies to Westbank and Gaza.

In my opinion it is useless to criticize the Palestinians and the Kosovo Albanians for this situation. This is the politics of dependency. The only thing that will help is making them more responsible for their own fate. In this context it may be good to remember that many poor countries for a long time found themselves in a similar position when most of their budget came from development aid. Only recently has Western policy towards the developing countries shifted to one where the own responsibility is stressed. This has been partly accomplished by lowering import tarifs for their products.

Sunday, July 03, 2011

Europe, the US and dealing with separatism

Recently I suddenly realized how different traditions Europe and the US have when it comes to dealing with separatism.

The US has a tradition of suppressing rebellions. Its civil war was the most striking of these but in the first decades when the US was independent there were quite a few smaller rebellions.

Europe's experience is quite different. In the last centuries it has developed more and more towards nation-states. The experience is that when people don't want to live together they sooner or later will find a way to achieve that. Sometimes war played a role, like when the Habsburg empire fell apart after World War I and the many smaller border changes along ethnic lines after World War II. Nowadays nobody is worried about the fact that there is a real chance that in the coming decades Northern Ireland and Scotland may choose to leave the UK. Neither is there much worry about the fact that Belgium may fall apart.

Europe has little choice in this. While in the US after a rebellion was suppressed the people involved reentered the great melting pot in Europe your nationality tends to stay with you. If you are on the losing side of an ethnic conflict you may be subjected to discrimination or even ethnic cleansing. It is not totally impossible to create a melting pot in Europe: Turkey is a recent example. But it requires major commitment. And the melting pot is seldom universal: the US had its Indians and its Blacks and Turkey its Kurds and Greek who were not invited. Commitment to a common identity is rare and efforts to impose it from the outside - as we see in Bosnia - are doomed to fail.

It should be noted that the US is not above fueling ethnic tensions among its adversaries. An important reason that the Habsburg empire fell apart was that the US had been fueling nationalism under its minorities as part of its World War I strategy. The US also liked to fuel ethnic tensions in the USSR and has more recently been accused of fueling ethnic tensions in Iran and China.

Regarding Yugoslavia at first the European method of indulgence towards separatism dominated. It led even to ignoring of the Yugoslav constitution and insufficient attention to negotiations. Interestingly later on the US got involved and it put great value on the territorial integrity of Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo. This was according to their tradition.

I think that this mix of traditions has led to a worse result than when either of the traditions had been used consistently.