Friday, February 13, 2015

How the Ukrainian conflict resembles the Yugoslav one

Nearly 25 years after the breakup of Yugoslavia another country in the periphery of the EU is burning. Again there is a fight between pro-Western and pro-Russian forces mixed with local ethnic antagonisms. It could be a coincidence. But there are many similarities that seem to indicate that the EU plays an active role in the destruction of its neighborhood.

The problems started in periods when those countries were paralyzed politically and simultaneously suffered serious economic problems. Yugoslavia had failed to find a replacement for the party to tie the country together. Such a things takes time and it wasn’t granted that. Ukraine still hasn’t managed to restrict the power of the oligarchs.

In this situation of a weak state the West started to promote “pro-Western” forces. In Yugoslavia Slovenia and Croatia were encouraged to secede. In Ukraine a color revolution was organized. Vague promises of EU membership – seen by many as a promise of wealth - were used to attack supporters among the population.

In the process international law was violated. The secession of Slovenia and Croatia went not according to the Helsinki Declaration and the Yugoslav constitution, which both prescribed mutual agreement. The encouragement of the protesters on the Maidan by Western political leaders was a clear violation of the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries.

In the next step the West presented the results of these actions as the new reality. But the losers in the situation didn’t accept that. This made communication difficult. It didn’t help that the West refused to accept compromises. In Bosnia and Croatia their independence was presented as a new reality and from that it was concluded that those countries were now free to deal with their minorities as they wished. In the meantime their Serb minorities believed that their position was unsettled and needed to be negotiated first.

Such obstacles, like the Croatian Serbs who demanded autonomy or the Ukrainians who rejected the Maidan revolution, form a problem for the West. It doesn’t sound very democratic to demonize a whole segment of the population. And so their actions are attributed to the influence of some evil genius like Milosevic or Putin. Of course this is denigrating for those people, but most observers in the West won’t notice.

Role Play
Different segments of the “West” play different roles in those tragedies:

- Germany is inclined to ham-handed power politics. In the case of Yugoslavia it was its early recognition of Croatia. In Ukraine it was its refusal to let the EU pay attention to Ukraine’s relationship with Russia when it was negotiating a trade treaty with the EU.

- The EU is inclined to jump to conclusions when faced with problems in its neighborhood. This is due to a mix of feelings of responsibility, fear of irrelevance and US pressure. Unfortunately its bureaucratic nature makes it very difficult later to change its position. In the case of Yugoslavia it became stuck when it adopted the legalistic excuses of the Badinter Commission to ignore international law. In the case of Ukraine It was its adaptation of the Maidan protests.

- For the US the Cold War has never ended and every excuse is grabbed to reenact it. It is the US that helps “pro-Western” forces with training, arms or whatever they need. In the neocon view that is dominant in the US every compromise is a partial victory for Putin and for that reason repugnant. When Croatia and Kosovo seemed ready to talk about border changes this was blocked by the US. In Ukraine too they have pushed the government to be uncompromising.

In this constellation the West still regularly triest to achieve peace but it never succeeds. Every agreement is soon violated by both sides. And although both sides carry guilt only the “anti-Western” forces are sanctioned. When things go badly on the battle field for the “pro-Western” side you see a push for an armistice. But that truce is only an opportunity to rearm, not to achieve peace. Occasionally European politicians become hesitant. Then Washington sends in some high ranking guys like Biden or Kerry to put them under pressure. With help from friends from the Baltics and Poland they often achieve what they want.

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