Monday, February 24, 2014

Three extremist Poles keep the Cold War going

Anti-Russian sentiments have always been strong in Poland but they have never been as influential as they are now.

In the US America's Russia policy is dominated by Zbignew Brzezinski on the democrat side and Richard Pipes on the Republican side. Both are now very old (85 resp. 90 years) but through they are still influential. And through their academic career they have formed a generation of US academics and diplomats who see Russia as the cradle of evil instead of just another country. Both men are Poles. They arrived in the US in resp 1938 and 1940.

Many of Obama's foreign policy appointments are Brzezinski pupils. And his policy of trouble making at Russia's doorstep that we now see in Ukraine is a carbon copy of Brzezinski's trouble making in Afghanistan in order to provoke Russia.

In the EU the situation isn't much better. In the Ukrainian crisis EU policy is dominated by the Polish foreign minister Sikorski, who is a well known Russia hater.

It is a common problem that in big empires policies can get dominated by a very small group of extremists. The Floridan anti-Cuba lobby in the US is a famous example. In the case of Russia however, the stakes are much bigger. It is time our politicians take their responsibility and sideline the extremists.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Ukraine gets the Yugoslav treatment

Remember Yugoslavia? First you had the West encouraging Slovene and Croat protest while Milosevic was painted as a dictator. Now the same is happening In Ukraine.

Remember how the Habsburg past of Croatia and Slovenia was glorified as a sign that they had completely different values as the Byzantine Serbs? Now something similar is happening in Ukraine.

Remember how the Croats and Slovenes were encouraged first to ignore the central government and then also to take up arms against it? The same is now happening in Ukraine. In both cases the "pro-European" violence is condoned - and its fascist elements ignored - while any government repression is severely criticized and sanctioned.

I am sorry to see how the US and the EU are driving yet another country towards civil war.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Some thoughts on reforming Bosnia

I won't address here the complaints of the rioters in Bosnia. Addressing corruption is mainly hard work: both keeping up the pressure in individual cases and pushing for structural reforms. Instead I will focus on Bosnia's state structure and its potential for reform.

As I have written before the main problem with Dayton is not that it provides safeguards for minority rights - that is just a decent thing to do in view of the hatred remaining after the war - but the fact that it is done in a different way for the Serbs and the Croats. That creates a situation where you have three parties with three different interests.

In my opinion the best way to reform Bosnia is to partition it in six provinces: one Croat majority, two Serb majority (focused on Pale and Banja Luka) and three Bosniak majority: (one centered on Sarajevo, one centered on Tuzla and one composed of Bihac and the Bosnian Krajna). Having more than one Serb and Bosniak province will create a situation where those provinces have different interests. So a conflict between provinces will not automatically be translated into an ethnic dispute.

Those provinces should have considerable autonomy: one should look at the Swiss cantons for ideas. Such decentralization can also reduce corruption as it puts the decisions closer to the citizens.

One shouldn't be too strict about the borders of those provinces. This is not a preparation for a partition. So one shouldn't gerrymander the borders too much as that harms government efficiency. Instead one should try to balance the number of people of a nationality within "their" provinces and those outside so that - if there ever might be a partitioning - you can have an equal exchange of territory.

The three headed presidency should be abolished. The ethnic veto should instead be entrusted to the provinces. When two thirds of the parliamentarians of the provinces of one ethnic group declare themselves against a proposal of the central government it should be considered vetoed. For this purpose those parliamentarians should considered in function as long as their successors haven't been elected. So dissolving a provincial parliament would make no difference. The governors of the provinces would have the authority to hold up any decision of the central government for a week so that the provincial parliamentarians have time to organize themselves. To diminish the reliance on politicians there should also be the option to have a referendum. Again a two third majority of the people living in the province(s) controlled by one ethnic group would be needed to torpedo a proposal.

By having the veto power assigned to the provinces one won't need any reference to ethnicity in the constitution.

In the area of education there should be more freedom and more efforts to have things in common. Pupils should learn at least some of the things that the "others" learn and they should also read some literature from the "others". Efforts to maximize the differences should be ridiculed - as they deserve.

Thursday, February 06, 2014

Deja vu in Ukraine

What is happening now in Ukraine reminds me of what happened in Yugoslavia around 1990. Then too the West demonized the leader of that country (Milosevic - Yanukovich). Then too it supported parts of the opposition that were deemed "reasonable" while in fact their wishes were deeply destabilizing. Just as the push for independence of Croatia and Slovenia blew up Yugoslavia so the attempt of the protesters in Ukraine to overthrow their democratically elected government destabilizes Ukraine.

Similar is also Western propaganda that highlights the mistakes of those leaders. Never mind that most people would make mistakes in such unusual circumstances. Then it was Milosevic's handling of minority questions. Now it Yanukovich's handling of the protests. Yet both were more reasonable than it seems. In the communist era minorities had in theory self rule while below the surface the communist party held the country together. So Milosevic was right that something had to be done when the communist party fell away. Similarly the communist party maintained order with a few very general laws about state security. With the end of communism these fell away but those countries didn't introduce the detailed Western laws that regulate protest. In no Western country would it be possible that protesters held the central square and the city hall of the capital occupied for months. So Yanukovich was right to introduce new laws. He overdid it a bit but no one is perfect.

Of course there is nothing wrong with democratic protests against such measures. And it is only good when that leads to improvements. But democratic protest assumes that the monopoly on violence of the government is respected. What happens in Ukraine looks more like a kind of coup than democratic protest.

The problem for the Ukrainian government is that its police does not have the skills to deal with the kind of highly sophisticated opposition that it is facing now. The situation requires a kind of controlled violence. But the badly trained and disciplined police is bound to use more violence than is strictly necessary. And even then it faces a significant chance that it will loose the battle. And to augment the problem the Western countries are bound to magnify any real or imaginary mistake that they will make.

Yanukovich is corrupt. But so was Berlusconi. Yet no one ever suggested to attack him with the kind of protests that are now happening in Ukraine. Neither is it likely that a victory of the protests in Ukraine will lead to a decrease of corruption. If anything, it will likely lead to an increase, as any oligarch will add organizing protests to his arsenal of tactics to force the government to do his liking.

The intercepted telephone call between US diplomats shows once more what makes US diplomacy so harmful: the "winner" mentality that refuses to understand that democracy is about dialogue and compromise.

The most important thing now in Ukraine is that order is restored. Even if that takes drastic police action. There are things that are more important than democracy.