Greater Surbiton

The perfect is the enemy of the good

It is a mistake to pretend that Kosova is unique

JasamKosovoMost of us can probably remember, at least once in our lives, asking some apparatchik something along the lines of ‘Couldn’t you please, please make an exception, just this once ?’ and getting the reply: ‘I can’t do that ! If I made an exception for you, I’d have to make an exception for everybody. It’d be more than my job’s worth.’ You and the apparatchik both know that he could perfectly well make an exception for you if he wanted to. But you also both know that he is right in saying that there is nothing special about you, and that you are not uniquely worthy of being treated as an exception. The question is: does he like you or doesn’t he ?

Similarly, trying to pretend that recognising Kosova’s unilateral secession from Serbia is legitimate on the grounds that it is wholly unique and without precedent in international relations is unconvincing, firstly because it isn’t true, and secondly because it begs the question: if it can happen once, can it not happen twice or multiple times ? To which the only reasonable answer is: yes. There may very well be occasions in the future when the Western alliance will be forced to recognise an act of unilateral secession by a subject people and territory from the state that rules them. Everybody knows this is entirely possible, and pretending it isn’t simply destroys the credibility of those who do.

Of course, the reason our officials and statesmen are pretending that Kosova is a unique case is in order to avoid scaring away other countries from recognising Kosova’s independence; countries they fear might otherwise worry a precedent were being established that could be applied to a secessionist region or nationality of their own. But this calculation, too, is misguided, because a) it rests upon a fallacy, and b) it represents a bad geopolitical tactic. We shall briefly explain the fallacy, before focusing on the bigger question of why the tactic is a bad one.

a) It is fallacy to point to Kosova as a precedent, because if a precedent has been established, it was established long before Kosova’s independence was recognised. It was certainly established by the early 1990s, when all the members of the former multinational federations of the Soviet Union, Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia who wanted independence were granted it – except Kosova. This was despite the fact that in the case of Yugoslavia, the federal members that declared independence had done so unilaterally, without the consent of either the federal centre, or of all other members of the federation. There is absolutely no reason why the recognition of Kosova’s independence should not be treated as essentially the same as that of Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia-Hercegovina and Macedonia. In contrast to Abkhazia and South Ossetia, for example, which were not members of the Soviet Union but simply autonomous entities within Georgia, Kosova was a full member of the Yugoslav federation in its own right, independently of the fact that it was also an entity within Serbia. As a member of the defunct Yugoslav federation, Kosova was entitled to self-determination after the dissolution of that federation had been internationally recognised, and after other members of the federation had been accorded that right.

More generally, the former Yugoslav states are far from the first unilaterally seceding entities to be accorded international recognition – think of France’s recognition of the US in 1778 and Britain’s recognition of Bangladesh in 1972.

b) There is no need to pretend that Kosova is a unique case to avoid scaring other states away from recognising its independence, for the simple reason that, when all is said and done, other states’ policies on whether or not to recognise Kosova are really not determined by fear of Kosova becoming a precedent – even if these states are faced with separatist threats of their own. Turkey, faced with a very real Kurdish separatist insurgency and bitterly opposed to the secession of Nagorno Karabakh from its traditional ally, Azerbaijan, was nevertheless one of the first states to recognise Kosova’s independence. Turkey has also promoted the break-up of Cyprus, via the unilateral secession of the self-proclaimed ‘Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus’. Russia, which vocally opposes the independence of Kosova, which is faced with secessionist movements within its own borders and which brutally crushed Chechnya’s bid for independence, has nevertheless simultaneously promoted the unilateral secession of Abkhazia and South Ossetia from Georgia. India, which likewise opposes Kosova’s independence and likewise faces secessionist movements within its own borders, was instrumental in achieving Bangladesh’s unilateral secession from Pakistan. In other words, states which might be seen as having as much reason as most to fear a ‘Kosovo precedent’ being established are quite ready to support unilateral acts of secession when they feel it is in their interests to do so.

It might be objected that the states in question are all powerful enough to feel confident that they can crush any secessionist movement they face. Yet fragile Macedonia, which fought an armed conflict with Albanian separatists earlier this decade, and which might have more reason than almost any state to fear a ‘Kosovo precedent’, has recognised Kosova. Fear of the ‘Kosovo precedent’ is not, therefore, a decisive factor in a state’s decision on whether or not to recognise Kosova’s independence (we can make an exception here for states such as Georgia, Azerbaijan and Moldova that are currently in a state of  territorial dismemberment, and that, were they to recognise Kosova, might conceivably suffer retaliation in kind from Belgrade or Moscow)

It may be that, all things being equal, a state faced with a secessionist movement of its own is more likely to sympathise with Belgrade than with Pristina. In one or two cases, such as Spain’s, this sympathy may be electorally significant enough to sway the course of its foreign policy. But so far as almost all non-recognisers are concerned, other factors count for more: a state is likely to oppose Kosova’s independence if it is hostile to the West (Russia, Iran, Venezuela); if it has traditionally enjoyed good relations with Belgrade (Greece, Egypt, Indonesia); or if it simply sees no particular interest in recognising it. All these factors are reasons why it is not only pointless, but actually counter-productive to pander to the opponents of recognition by reassuring them that Kosova is a unique case and will not become a precedent.

As things stand, rogue states have no reason to fear that the international community will ever grant independence to secessionist territories. They therefore enjoy a virtual carte blanche to suppress secessionist movements or other rebellions as brutally as they wish. None of the forms of deterrent threatened against or exerted on the Sudanese regime, from sanctions to international war-crimes indictments, appears to have cooled its bloodlust with regard to Darfur. But were Khartoum to fear that its genocidal actions might potentially result in the loss of territory, it might be less inclined to pursue them. The Western alliance would enjoy that much more leeway in exerting pressure over a rogue state such as Sudan.

Conversely, a close ally such as Turkey, which faces a genuine secessionist insurgency, knows very well that the Western states will never make it the victim of such a precedent: everyone knows that Turkish Kurdistan is not going to be liberated by NATO, as Kosova was; a ‘Kosovo precedent’ will not frighten states like Turkey. But this does not mean that such states can get away with indiscriminate brutality with impunity. Turkey’s treatment of its Kurdish population has dramatically improved over the last ten years, as Ankara’s goal of EU membership has required it to improve its human rights record. Just as NATO acted as the bad cop over Serbia and Kosova, so the EU has acted as the good cop over Turkey and the Kurds. Western allies can be guided toward ending repression and discrimination against national minorities, reducing the appeal of violent separatist movements. Rogue states, on the other hand, should have reason to fear that their brutality may potentially result in a loss of territory. For all states that abuse the human rights of their national minorities, this is a healthy choice to be faced with.

This does not, of course, mean that the Western alliance should indiscriminately threaten states that abuse human rights with territorial penalties. Rather, the ‘Kosovo precedent’ could function rather like the nuclear deterrent, i.e. deter more by its potential than by its actual application, and by its occasional application against only the worst offenders: as was Milosevic’s Serbia; as is Bashir’s Sudan. Nor would a ‘Kosovo precedent’ mean a free-for-all for all secessionist movements. There is a lot of space between the untenable pretense that Kosova is ‘unique’ and the rather comic nightmare-scenario threatened by Kosova’s enemies: of innumerable separatist territories all over the world responding to Kosova’s independence by trying to become Kosovas themselves. Kosova itself, after all, was scarcely given red-carpet treatment by the Western alliance in its move to independence: a decade elapsed between Milosevic’s brutal suppression of its autonomy and its liberation by NATO; almost another decade elapsed between liberation and the recognition of its independence, during which time it was forced to endure international administration and engage in exhaustive negotiations with its former oppressor. Even now, Kosova  is still faced with a very real threat of permanent territorial partition, as the Serbs maintain their hold on the north of the country. The Kosova model may not prove as straightforwardly attractive for other potential secessionists as the Cassandras claim.

Kosova’s independence was recognised as the result of a confluence of multiple factors: its existence as an entity in its own right within the Yugoslav federation; its overwhelmingly non-Serb, ethnic-Albanian population; the brutality of Belgrade’s treatment of this population; the unwillingness of the Milosevic regime to reach an accommodation with the Western alliance over the issue, following on from its years of trouble-making in Croatia and Bosnia; the unwillingness or inability of post-Milosevic Serbia in the 2000s to reach agreement with the Kosovars; and the simple lack of any workable alternative to independence. These were an exceptional set of circumstances. The truth is, that it is possible to envisage a similar set of circumstances leading the Western alliance to recognise the independence of another secessionist territory in the future. Sometimes it is better to tell the truth.

This article was published today on the website of the Henry Jackson Society.

Sunday, 31 May 2009 Posted by | Balkans, Former Yugoslavia, Kosovo, Serbia | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The persecution of Serb civilians in wartime Gorazde

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Review of Savo Heleta, Not My Turn to Die: Memoirs of a Broken Childhood in Bosnia, AMACOM, New York, 2008

It is a truism that there were victims among all national groups in Bosnia-Hercegovina during the war of 1992-95. Though Serb forces were guilty of most of the killing and persecution during the war, and Bosniaks made up the great majority of its civilian victims, yet Serb civilians, too, were victims at the hands of Bosnian and Croat forces. It should not need saying that their suffering was no less real or worthy of recognition than that of other Bosnians. Unfortunately, all too often, accounts of Serb suffering have been instrumentalised by propagandists for the Great Serbian cause, who will for example, highlight the killing of Serb civilians by the Bosnian Army at Kravica in January 1993 and in virtually the same breath deny the Srebrenica massacre. Such abuse of victimhood adds to the sensitivity with which any discussion of Bosniak atrocities against Serbs must be treated. In these circumstances, eyewitness accounts of such atrocities by enlightened Serb witnesses are particularly valuable.

In Savo Heleta’s book Not My Turn to Die: Memoirs of a Broken Childhood in Bosnia, we have one such eyewitness. Heleta has provided a gripping, harrowing account of his family’s suffering in wartime Gorazde. He describes the intimidation, murder attempts, vandalism of property and other abuses to which he, his family and other Serb civilians were subjected at the hands of local Bosniak thugs, as well as lengthy arbitrary incarceration without food, dismissal from employment, humiliating forced labour such as street-sweeping, and enforced virtual starvation at the hands of the authorities. Some Serbs fared worse, and were beaten or murdered. In the words, of Heleta’s father, as quoted here: ‘Everyone in this city is suffering, but we are also seen by Muslims as the enemy. Muslim extremists, hit squads, and even the police and government officials have threatened to kill us. The only reason we are oppressed is because we are Serbs. Many innocent people have already been killed just because they were Serbs and remained in their homes.’

Yet Heleta also describes the support and kindness extended to his family by Bosniak neighbours and friends, including the provision of food and shelter that may have saved their lives; he does not portray the persecution as the work of Bosniaks in general. The official persecution of Serb civilians he attributes to segments of the Bosnian authorities, including the city mayor and senior police officials, but mentions that other Bosnian officials, including senior army officers, disagreed with the persecution and tried to stop it, or intervened to protect Serbs. There is much nuance in this account, though this should not be allowed to overshadow the suffering to which the Heleta family and other Serb civilians were subjected. In one graphic passage, he describres the impression created when his parents, emaciated after months of semi-starvation and abuse, swam in the River Drina: ‘When they took off their clothes, the entire beach turned toward us and stared at them. People whispered in disbelief, asking if anyone knew who the two skeletons were.’

Heleta does not shy away from describing the wider context of the persecution of the Serbs: the Serb shelling and sniper attacks on the town; the arrival of large numbers of Bosniak refugees who had been expelled from their homes elsewhere in the region by Serb forces; and the fear that the town would be overrun by the Serb army, as all other Bosnian towns in the region were. He describes how, in response to NATO airstrikes against Serb forces in the spring of 1994, ‘the Serbian forces, incensed by the NATO attack, went on to brutally and indiscriminately bomb the city.’ And elsewhere: ‘The Serbian snipers often shot at everyone – women, children, and old people – even though they were located on the hilltops not far fromt he city center and could probably distinguish between civilians and soldiers. I saw with my own eyes old women getting shot while scurrying across the street with water canisters in their hands.’ Faced with this existential threat, some Bosniaks looked upon Gorazde’s Serbs as spies or as the enemy within, though as the Serbs often pleaded, they were not responsible for the Serb assaults and were themselves at risk from Serb shelling. The agony of the Gorazde Serbs, caught between a rock and a hard place, is starkly portrayed by Heleta.

Tragically, it was the very Serb civilians who stayed in Gorazde and endured the Serbian assault alongside their Bosniak neighbours who were inevitably likely to end up most wholly alienated from their once multiethnic town. As Heleta relates: ‘After thugs and the police had terrorized my family so many times over the course of the previous months, I didn’t feel I was living in the same city. I no longer felt safe anywhere. I didn’t know most of the people in my neighbourhood anymore. Most of them were refugees. Those people I did know I didn’t feel like I knew anymore. I knew many of them hated my family. They lied that my parents were spies, that they should be killed. Some talked about this even in front of us. I started seeing my city and the majority of the people in it in a different light than before the war. They were now a source of degradation, forcing me to lose all connections to the world outside my circle of family and close friends.’

Though the narrator generally comes across as a sympathetic individual in difficult times, he is not uncritical of himself; he confesses that his anger at his family’s wartime treatment drove him, among other things, to throw rocks at Bosniak cars that drove between Gorazde and Sarajevo after the war, sometimes smashing windscreens and windows: ‘It hardly crossed my mind at the time that perhaps those people in the buses and trucks had not done anything bad to my family. Some of them could even have been those who had helped us. Maybe even the man who gave us his last loaf of bread. I was completely blinded by fury.’ This book is valuable reading for anyone wishing to understand how a multiethnic society can be pulverised by war; it was not simply a question of the authorities destroying multiethnic coexistence from above, but of ordinary people – Serbs and Bosniaks alike – responding to suffering and injustice at the hands of officials or thugs from the opposing side by adopting a generalised hostility to the entire other nationality.

Unlike nationalist Serbs who responded to the Bosnian war by embracing the crackpot politics of genocide-denial and anti-Western conspiracy theory, Heleta has, to his credit, spoken out against instances of persecution and injustice in other parts of the world in the years since his ordeal. I do not agree with all of his politics, but he has, in his blog and elsewhere, genuinely attempted to be consistent in his condemnations of killing and human rights abuses, and has spoken out against the regimes in Iran, Zimbabwe and Sudan – and in particular over Darfur – while being strongly critical of US and Israeli policy as well. If he has a weak spot, it is in his readiness somewhat to gloss over Serbian wrongdoing; his book makes no mention of Serbia’s role in engineering the Bosnian war, which he blames vaguely on ‘nationalist politicians’ and ‘bad leadership’. He also rather unfortunately describes the Nazi-collaborationist Chetniks of World War II as having ‘fought against the Nazis’.

On his blog, Heleta downplays the killing of Kosova Albanians by Serbian forces in the late 1990s, and complains of the fact that the Western alliance intervened in Kosova but not in Darfur: ‘Western governments are eager and ready to send troops, equipment, aid, and money to stop conflicts in Europe, while conflicts in Africa are ignored. They have done this in the case of Bosnia in the early 1990s, while ignoring the Rwandan genocide in 1994. They are doing this again in Kosovo since 1999, while ignoring the Darfur conflict and suffering of millions since 2003. Whether it is due to skin color, geographic location, natural resources, or effective lobbying, it seems that some people do matter more than others.’ Critics of Western policy are often fond of making this sort of point, though it begs the questions: Should the West intervene neither in Kosova nor in Darfur, or should it intervene in both ? And if it intervenes to stop the persecution only in one place and not the other, is this not better than intervening in neither ? The answer one gives to these questions reveals if one is genuinely opposed to persecution and injustice, or whether one is merely exploiting it opportunistically to score points against the West. I believe that Heleta is sincerely opposed to injustice, but there are a couple of wrinkles in his political ethics that he needs to address. But this does not detract from the value of his moving memoir.

Monday, 25 May 2009 Posted by | Balkans, Bosnia, Former Yugoslavia | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The false god of national unification

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Review of Srdja Pavlovic, Balkan Anschluss: The Annexation of Montenegro and the Creation of the Common South Slav State, Purdue University Press, West Lafayette, Indiana, 2008

Garibaldi has a lot to answer for. This is a conclusion that can reasonably be drawn from a survey of the train-wreck of contemporary Italian politics. Spectacular endemic corruption, rampant xenophobia, exceptionally brutal police, fascists at the centre of mainstream political life, moves to rehabilitate wartime fascists, state fingerprinting of gypsies, laws against ‘un-Italian’ food, an exceptionally vulgar populist prime minister with a burgeoning personality cult, boring football – all are characteristic of the country that was the model for ‘successful’ national unification in the nineteenth century. Nor is this an ephemeral phenomenon – Italy, the principal incubator of the fascist virus in the interwar period, simply has never worked very well as a country. Vast repression and bloodshed, claiming tens of thousands of lives, were required to impose Piedmontese rule on southern Italy in the 1860s. The unnatural imposition, in the 1860s and 70s, of a unitary national state on a peninsula that had experienced centuries of regional diversity in its forms of government, has produced a polity whose dysfunctionality appears incurable.

Italy merely exemplifies the dubious benefits brought to us by the nineteenth-century fad for joining smaller pieces of territory up to produce bigger states. After two world wars and one Holocaust, nobody should try to claim that the unification of Germany has been an unmixed blessing for humanity. After Italy and Germany, it was Romania that produced probably the most powerful indigenous fascist movement in interwar Europe, in the form of the Legion of Archangel Michael or Iron Guard- a Romania that was formed from the merger of diverse lands during the second half of the nineteenth and first decades of the twentieth centuries: Wallachia, Moldavia, Northern Dobrudja, Southern Dobrudja, Transylvania, Bessarabia, Bukovina. Indeed, the rise of dictatorships across Central and Eastern Europe in the interwar period was not unrelated to the fact that many of the states of the region had been formed from mergers of diverse territories. Polities that had developed along organically distinct paths for centuries were suddenly ‘unified’ and forced to function as seamless wholes, despite having had no tradition of doing so. The resulting internal political fragmentation and instability provided fertile ground for dictators to impose ‘order’, while the need to create and staff new state bureaucracies meant the churning out of large numbers of impoverished university graduates who could be, as in the case of Romania, natural recruits for fascist movements.

The more closely one examines the record of ‘national unification’, the worse it appears. The union of Scotland with England to form a united kingdom of Great Britain worked fine, if one believed in the common Anglo-Scottish project of trampling the Irish, fighting the French, fighting Papists generally and conquering the lands of darker-skinned people. But many Scottish people understandably feel today that their country is marginalised in the union with England. As for the union of Great Britain and Ireland to form the United Kingdom – the less said about that the better. The imposition of a centralised, uniform administrative system on France during the French Revolution, binding together a formerly diverse medley of traditional territorial entities, grew inexorably into the most aggressive programme of territorial expansionism that post-medieval Europe had ever seen, in which the French armies reached as far as Moscow.

More recently, the attempt by Croat fascists to incorporate the whole of overwhelmingly non-Croat Bosnia within a Great Croatia in World War II involved genocide against the Serb population of Bosnia, and has cast a shadow over the subsequent history of inter-ethnic relations in the country. Cyprus’s contemporary misfortunes stem from the suicidal efforts of extreme Greek nationalists, after Cypriot independence in 1960, to pursue union with Greece, which eventually provoked the Turkish invasion of the country. The history of Serbia in the 1990s needs no comment.

Conversely, countries that have escaped incorporation in greater nation-building projects have generally not suffered for it. The people of Luxembourg, Liechtenstein and Austria are hardly suffering today from the fact that they are not part of Germany. Cyprus certainly benefits from being an independent state with its own UN seat, rather than a provincial backwater of a Greater Greece. Indeed, the most successful, stable democracies in Europe have generally been those with relatively small populations that have retained the same borders and continuity of administration for long periods: Switzerland, the Nordic and the Benelux countries.

Yet of all experiments at national unification in modern European history, few, if any, have been such an unmitigated disaster as the attempt to unify diverse South Slavic lands within a single, Yugoslav state. Whereas the territorial unifications of Italy and Germany have been successfully achieved at enormous bloodshed and dubious long-term benefit for the populations in question, in the case of Yugoslavia, the price in blood was paid, but territorial unification was merely transient, and at least one of the lands involved – Bosnia – appears to have been irredeemably ruined by the experience. This is partly, of course, because Yugoslavia was not merely an experiment in national unification, but in unifying different nations to form a supranational whole. It may nevertheless be fruitful to situate the Yugoslav case in a wider European context.

The story of Serbia and Croatia and their unhappy experience of shared statehood is a familiar one. Although there was more of an overlap in nationhood between the Serbs and the Croats than some Croat nationalists in particular like to admit – as exemplified by individuals such as the Bosnian Nobel laureate Ivo Andric, who belonged to both nations – the Serbs and Croats were already two distinct nations when Serbia and Croatia united with each other, and with other countries, to form the ‘Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes’ in 1918 – subsequently renamed ‘Yugoslavia’.

A less familiar story, but one that follows more closely the European pattern of national unification as outlined above, is the story of the unification of Montenegro with Serbia in 1918, which immediately preceded the establishment of the Yugoslav state. For the first time, we now have an excellent introduction to the topic for the English-language reader, in Srdja Pavlovic’s ‘Balkan Anschluss: The Annexation of Montenegro and the Creation of the Common South Slavic State’. Although Pavlovic does not discuss his use of the term ‘Anschluss’ to describe Serbia’s annexation of Montenegro in 1918, the reason becomes apparent as his account progresses; he is not comparing Serbia’s rulers with the Nazis, but rather drawing an informed analogy as to what ‘unification’ meant for Montenegro. For if at one level the annexation represented the fulfilment of the goal of Serb national unification as understood by one section of the Montenegrin political nation, yet it was also an act of usurpation carried out by radical nationalists, in violation of Montenegro’s constitutional system and state traditions; one that necessitated bloody repression against those Montenegrins who, though accepting union with Serbia, wanted it on terms more respectful of Montenegro’s individuality.

Montenegro before 1918 was in many ways to Serbia what Austria before 1938 was to Germany. Pavlovic presents the Serb national identification as being wholly dominant among Montenegro’s political and intellectual classes by 1918, yet as he explains, it did not follow from this that Serbia’s absorption of Montenegro on the Piedmontese model was universally desired. Contrary to what nationalists believe, a nation is not a seamless garment. As Pavlovic describes, during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Montenegro’s own rulers – who bore the title of ‘vladika’ or ‘prince-bishop’ – themselves held different views of Montenegro’s national destiny, viewing it either as the attainment of Montenegro’s independence within enlarged borders, on the basis of Montenegrin state-right, or as submersion in a larger empire – either Christian, Slavic or Serbian. Montenegrin national discourse therefore possessed two traditions.

Montenegrins were bitterly divided over the question of union with Serbia in 1918. As Pavlovic explains, the tendency of existing historiography to present this division as being between unionists (‘Whites’) and separatists or reactionaries (‘Greens’) does not do justice to the latter’s case. For those Montenegrins who opposed unification as it was carried out by the Whites themselves accepted the need for Montenegro’s unification with Serbia in principle. However, they believed that this unification should be on the basis of Montenegro’s constitution and laws, with Montenegro becoming a constituent part of the new South Slavic union in its own right. They objected to the unconstitutional, arbitrary way in which the unification was carried out, and to the simple absorption of the country by Serbia, without any respect for its state tradition or individuality. They were, in sum, the more enlightened and far-seeing as well as moderate of the two camps.

Serbia, which controlled the Montenegrin army during World War I, pursued a strategy that ensured that neither this army, nor the Montenegrin state, would survive the war, so that they would prove no obstacle to the eventual annexation, or to the deposition of Montenegro’s King Nikola and his Petrovic-Njegos dynasty. The act of union was carried out while Montenegro was under Serbian military control; the elections to the ‘Great People’s Assembly’ that was to proclaim the union, and the proceedings of the assembly itself, were manipulated by the Serbian-backed unionists to ensure that the Greens would lose. In the run-up to the elections, possible opponents of union were prevented by the Serbian army from returning to the country, as was King Nikola himself. A prominent supporter of union, Janko Spasojevic, himself admitted before the Assembly that its declaration of union represented ‘a coup d’etat by peaceful means’.

The manner in which unification was engineered represented a violation of the rights of that section of the Montenegrin people that opposed it, and provoked a civil war that continued well into the 1920s, which the regime in Belgrade won only with much bloodshed and repression. The fissure that was created between Montenegrins was enormously damaging to the country, and ensured that when civil war erupted again, under Axis occupation during World War II, the loss of life would be enormous.

The brutal act of unification also represented a blow against the possibility that the new Yugoslav state itself might be established on a healthy basis. The Assembly’s resolution on unification made no mention of Yugoslavia or the wider South Slavic context. By annexing Montenegro outright, Serbia’s preponderance in relation to the other Yugoslav lands was made still greater, helping to ensure the domination of the Serbian political classes over the new state. The imposition of a centralist constitution, in violation of the national aspirations of most non-Serbs, was thereby facilitated – an act from which all Yugoslavia’s subsequent woes followed. Had Montenegro entered Yugoslavia as a distinct entity, the internal Yugoslav imbalance between Serbia and the western South Slav lands would have been that much less. Montenegro’s annexation was, therefore, a tragedy for the whole Yugoslav experiment.

Pavlovic’s book is a balanced work on a neglected topic that avoids polemical excesses and presents both the ‘White’ and the ‘Green’ points of view. He reminds us that nationhood is not black and white, and what it means to belong to a particular nation is frequently unclear or disputed among members of the nation themselves. His study is testimony to the damaging effect of attempts to impose a one-size-fits-all model of nationhood on diverse territories with their own particular traditions and nuanced identities. Damaging, among other things, for the goal of national unification itself – the attempt to unite Montenegro with Serbia, like the attempt to unite Austria with Germany, was ultimately unsuccessful, despite the enormous cost in blood.

Today, Montenegro and Serbia exist as independent states, wholly separate from one another, the unionist dream having ended in nothing. Both countries are likely to be happier for that.

Thursday, 21 May 2009 Posted by | Balkans, Former Yugoslavia, Montenegro, Serbia | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Nationalism and cowardice

GlavasWe have commented here on more than one occasion on the less than fearless character of our contemporary South East European chauvinists, Serbs and Croats alike. Whether they were forgoing resistance in order to collaborate with the Nazis and Fascists in World War II, beating defenceless prisoners and raping women in camps in the 1990s, fleeing before enemy armed forces or trying to evade trial at The Hague, the national chauvinists have, for the most part, exhibited cowardice as a defining feature. Indeed, the cowardice of chauvinists is often in proportion to their greed for territorial expansion.

So far as the Great Croat chauvinists are concerned, one of their defining moments came in May 1941, when the Ustasha leader Ante Pavelic, newly installed at the head of the Nazi-puppet ‘Independent State of Croatia’, signed a treaty that ceded without struggle a large part of the Croatian coast to Fascist Italy. He then proceeded to try to divert the popular anger of the outraged Croatian public away from the Italians and against the apparently defenceless Serb civilian population of the Croatian puppet state – only to find that his anti-Serb genocidal campaign generated a popular resistance, among Serbs and others, that his sorry armed forces were incapable of suppressing, leading him to ever-greater acts of grovelling dependency on his German and Italian masters. Pavelic and his fellow leading Ustasha murderers fled the country in 1945, leaving the remnants of the puppet Croatian army and the civilians who had remained loyal to it to bear the brunt of Partisan retaliation.

Franjo Tudjman, the next chauvinistic despot to rule Croatia, did not approach Pavelic’s degree of murderousness, but he was his equal when it was a question of grovelling to the strong while mercilessly persecuting the weak. Tudjman was terrified at the prospect of taking on Serbia and the Yugoslav People’s Army, and attempted to obstruct and defuse Croatian resistance efforts at every step, while seeking to reach a deal with Slobodan Milosevic at the expense of those further down the pecking order – above all, the Bosnian Muslims. This involved offering Milosevic and the Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic bits of Croatian or Croat-inhabited Bosnian territory in exchange for other bits of Bosnian territory. This did not stop the Serbian aggression against Croatia, and Croatia was saved from military disaster and dismemberment only by the heroism of its ordinary defenders and by the military and political bankrupcty of the Great Serbian project. Operation Storm, and the liberation of Serbian-occupied central Croatia, came only after Tudjman had received assurances that it would incur neither a Yugoslav Army counter-offensive nor US displeasure. But just as Pavelic’s surrender to the Italians went hand in hand with his slaughter of Serb civilians, so Tudjman’s slavishness to Milosevic went hand in hand with his merciless campaign against Bosnia and the Muslims. Only naturally, the Bosnian Army, poorly armed though it was, proved more than a match for Tudjman’s Bosnian Croat proxies, and routed them all across Central Bosnia in 1993 until they were ignominiously rescued from defeat by US diplomacy.

After that, the very Great Croat chauvinists who had bravely slaughtered Muslim and Serb women, children and old people proved not quite so brave when it was a question of standing trial at The Hague and attempting to justify what they had done, and were quite ready to obstruct Croatia’s EU accession in order to save their own skins. This glorious tradition of evading imprisonment is now being continued by the Croatian politician and former warlord of the northern Croatian city of Osijek, Branimir Glavas. Glavas, who openly identifies with the World War II Ustasha movement, was sentenced by a Croatian court on 8 May to ten years’ imprisonment for war-crimes against Serb civilians, after which he fled Croatia to Bosnia, whose citizenship he possesses, and is now fighting an extradition battle, while ranting bombastically against the Croatian government and judiciary.

Not all nationalists or even all fascists are cowards, and the type of ‘patriotic’ mentality represented by individuals such as Tudjman and Glavas requires some explaining…

The Nationalist Coward’s Manifesto

1) Words count for more than deeds. The biggest patriot is the one who shouts most loudly about his nation. It really is as simple as that.

2) Ethics are for suckers. Only the naive really believe in principles such as ‘rights for ethnic minorities’, ‘inviolability of state borders’, ‘resistance to the occupiers’ and so forth, whereas the cunning one, unhampered by such delusions, has the edge when dealing with the naive. The nationalist coward wins by violating ethical rules and lying about it successfully.

3) The Raskolnikov syndrome. Since violating ethical rules gives one the edge, it is necessary for the nationalist coward to do this if he wants to achieve great things for his nation. Slaughtering civilians, destroying villages, transferring populations and the like, are an escapable part of nation-building, therefore of being a patriot.

4) Heroism is also for suckers. From steps 2) and 3) it follows that dying or even fighting for one’s nation against a superior enemy is also the pointless, stupid act of a naive hothead; much better for the nationalist coward coolly to reach an unethical, therefore ‘patriotic’ agreement with the occupier to get what he wants for his nation.

5) Being a patriot means being proud to be an arsehole. Since only by doing bad things can the nationalist coward serve his nation, he should not be ashamed to be accused of being a ‘war-criminal’, ‘dictator’, ‘fascist’, ‘Chetnik’, ‘Ustasha’, etc. He should take pride in such compliments ! In fact, he should act so as to provoke more of them…

6) To the victor, the spoils. Having served his nation by collaborating with the occupier and slaughtering civilians, it is only right that the nationalist coward should reward himself for his efforts, by expropriating the wealth of the state for himself and his family and friends, and by appropriating all power within it. A nation must reward its best sons, after all. To borrow a quip from Vuk Karadzic: the nationalist coward loves his country like a swine loves a forest full of acorns.

7) L’etat – c’est moi ! As one who has built his nation, the nationalist coward understands that the nation is simply an extension of his own ego. Consequently, unpatriotic elements who attack him for war-crimes, corruption or abuses of the legal or democratic processes are simply attacking the nation, and should be condemned on those grounds as aliens and traitors.

8 ) ‘Don’t worry, no-one will ever find out’. The nationalist coward realises that other people, particularly representatives of Western powers and members of his own public, are fundamentally stupid. The best way for him to get away with doing bad things is simply to pretend he is doing the opposite. For example, he can spend World War II collaborating with the Nazis, but pretend to be leading a resistance movement. Or he can offer to sell bits of his country to the enemy, while pretending to be defending it ! The cunning village huckster will always trick the clueless inhabitants of the big city.

9) You’ll never take me alive, copper ! Since patriotism requires that one violates an ethical rule or two, it is the worst possible affront to the nationalist coward when he is actually, finally, indicted for war-crimes. Why, he carried out these war-crimes because he sincerely believes in the principle that a patriot has the right and duty to do bad things. And now you’re telling him that he has to answer for these things before an unpatriotic court of law ? Never ! There’s nothing more patriotic than sacrificing one’s country to save oneself.

10) Za dom spremni !

Monday, 18 May 2009 Posted by | Balkans, Bosnia, Croatia, Former Yugoslavia, Serbia | , , , , , | Leave a comment

The importance of national patience

AlexSkopjeLast month, I was interviewed by the Macedonian daily newspaper Nova Makedonija. The edited text of my interview was published in the Macedonian language. I reproduce here the full interview in English.

What kind of policy steps are you suggesting for the Macedonian government to take in order to get the invitation for NATO?

The Macedonian government has to accept that, on account of the Greek veto, it will not be able to join NATO in the short term. It must therefore pursue a long-term strategy in this regard. This means showing itself to be a staunch friend of NATO and in particular of the US, for example through support for the allied military effort in Afghanistan, and playing a constructive role in the Balkan region. Macedonia must continue to reform and develop its military, maintain the Ohrid Agreement, and show itself to be a mature and responsible democratic state. This will pave the way for NATO membership in the long run.

You are calling Greece a ‘regional troublemaker’ and you ask for the Western leaders to bring a real pressure to bear on our neighbour. But it seems that not only do they not press Greece, but also they hold down Macedonia by saying we will not be able to join NATO or the EU till the name issue is resolved. In this kind of situation how real is it to expect that the veto might be overturned ? Why is there a lack of will to press Greece?

The problem is not so much that the Western leaders support Greece, as that they don’t perceive enough of an interest in supporting Macedonia. With other problems facing them globally, Western leaders find it easier to do nothing about Greece and Macedonia. And since Greece, as a NATO and EU member, has the upper hand vis-a-vis Macedonia, the Western leaders are effectively siding with Greece by default. Macedonia must be patient, and try to win the battle for European and Western public opinion, by systematic lobbying, and by developing close bilateral relations with those countries that are sympathetic to it – such as the US, UK, Turkey, Italy and Russia.

The winner of the presidential election in Macedonia, Gjorge Ivanov, said that his first priority is to resolve the name issue, stressing that direct negotiations between Macedonia and Greece could unblock the process. What do you think about this idea?

I am very skeptical that direct negotiations between Greece and Macedonia can unblock the process, because Greece is unwilling to accept any reasonable compromise. My personal suggestion for a compromise would be ‘Republic of non-Greek Macedonia’ – Mr Ivanov could try that, though I suspect Athens would think up some objection…

Greece refuses to admit that the negotiations are not only about the name, but also about the Macedonian identity. How could we resolve this problem with Greece, which is crucial for our integration into NATO and the EU and at the same time not lose our identity?

Macedonia must be patient. The Greek veto is not going to be lifted any time soon, but Macedonia cannot surrender to Greece without losing its identity. The Greek policy is to make the international community de-recognise the existence of a Macedonian nation, hence, it wants to force the Republic of Macedonia to adopt a name that turns ‘Macedonia’ into a geographic, rather than a national term. So long as Athens thinks it can bully Skopje into backing down, it’s going to try. And so long as the EU believes that Greece is more uncompromising than Macedonia, it will encourage Skopje, as the more reasonable side, to back down. That is the way the EU operates – it always rewards the stronger and more unreasonable side. So it doesn’t pay to be conciliatory.

I think it’s important, therefore, that Macedonia should not view membership of NATO and the EU as a shibboleth. Macedonia must accept that it won’t join either organisation soon, but that this is not the end of the world. It should try to achieve as many of the benefits of membership as it can, by forging a close economic and military relationship with the NATO and EU states, as well as with Russia and other countries. In the long run, Skopje must make both Athens and the EU realise that it isn’t going to back down, no matter how long it has to wait to join NATO and the EU. In the meantime, Macedonia has friends, and it isn’t going to collapse.

Are you an optimist that in the near future we could find a solution to the problem?

No. A solution depends upon the democratisation of Greece, and a shift in Greek political culture to one that is post-nationalist, rather than nationalist. It is a slow process, but it will happen eventually. We can compare this with Turkey’s attitude to the Armenian genocide: official Turkey still won’t recognise this genocide, but more and more educated Turkish citizens are willing to speak about it. Greece will gradually democratise, and as it does, educated Greeks will challenge the nationalist paradigm over Macedonia. Macedonians must be patient and accept that they must wait for democratic change to take place in their southern neighbour.

According to you, is it a good idea that the EU help Macedonia and Greece to resolve the problem in the way thay are helping Croatia and Slovenia? The negotiation process under the UN seems to be in a dead end, but on the other hand, some argue that EU mediation is not such a good idea because Macedonia is not an EU member so they will not be on an equal footing with Greece.

I am skeptical about a negotiated settlement in both the cases of Slovenia and Croatia, and of Greece and Macedonia. In both cases, the EU is refusing to distinguish between right and wrong, and negotiations will necessarily favour the stronger side; i.e., the side that is already in the EU, and that wields the veto. Ultimately, Macedonia needs to resist EU pressure to accept an unprincipled compromise – not just for its own sake, but for the sake of all Europeans. I, as a European citizen, do not want to live in an EU that supports territorial expansionism – as in the case of Slovenia vs Croatia – or that supports racism – as in the case of Greece vs Macedonia. I want to live in an EU that does distinguish between right and wrong. So, for the sake of all Europeans, I hope Croatia and Macedonia do not back down.

Do you think that Macedonia will win the process in The Hague where we are suing Greece for violation of the Interim Accord, with its veto at the Bucharest summit last year? Greece is claiming that that was the unanimous decision of all NATO members.

I think Macedonia has a reasonably good chance. But, whatever the international court decides, it is just one battle in a struggle that will continue regardless.

Beside the remarks of international organisations such as the UN and the Council of Europe in reports on Greece’s refusal to recognise the Macedonian minority in Greece, Athens keeps denying the rights of this minority. Why is there no international pressure over Greece, seeing that, as a member of the EU, it must respect minority rights?

The failure of the EU to pressurise Greece on the question of the ethnic Macedonian minority in Greece is an absolute disgrace. Again, it comes down to inertia and a lack of perceived interest on the part of the EU members.

You say that Greek determination to keep Macedonia out of NATO and the EU has been bolstered by the opportunistic support of Sarkozy and that there is no contrary support for Macedonia from within EU ranks. Why there is no support for Macedonia in the EU; is that a result of our diplomacy, or something else ?

Macedonia has been very unlucky in France’s choice of president. Ultimately, a relatively small country like Macedonia has only a limited ability to influence the states of Europe. Macedonia has not been as unlucky as some in the treatment it has received from the EU and its members – you need only to look at how Bosnia was treated in the 1990s, or how long it took for Kosovo to achieve international recognition.

Macedonian diplomats need to lobby hard, but propaganda that appeals to the educated European public is also important. The Greek position, that people speaking a Slavic language cannot really be ‘Macedonian’, is simply racist. Educated Europeans need to be reminded of this. Also, as Macedonia develops its tourist industry, more and more Europeans will visit the country and become aware of the problem. Macedonians must be firm but appear reasonable – nobody respects nationalists.

Do you think that NATO and the EU will learn the lesson that by allowing the ‘rogue NATO and EU members’, as you call them, to blackmail their neighbours by using their vetoes, is creating a dangerous precedent facilitating aggressive nationalist demands?

I hope so, but this will depend on Macedonians, Croatians and their friends making the point as frequently and as effectively as they can. The position of Macedonia and Croatia is the one that the West must uphold, rather than that of the aggressive nationalist countries, Greece and Slovenia – satisfying the latter will open a Pandora’s box, encouraging other EU and NATO members to adopt similar aggressive demands against their neighbours. Europe needs to be made aware of this.

Do you think that it is possible that the right of individual NATO and EU states unilaterally to veto the membership of aspiring members will be abolished ? Surely, for this there would have to be a new NATO agreement that could be vetoed by Greece, and even if this happens, there could be other member states close to Greece that could support her veto – France for example ?

It won’t happen soon, but that is no reason not to talk about it. Talking about abolishing the veto is the first step to achieving it. Once people begin to talk about it, even as a distant possibility, then it is on the agenda, and European and Western politicians will start having to acknowledge the issue. Then they might begin to feel that by pandering to the trouble-makers, they are simply creating more problems for themselves for the future.

What kind of risk does this kind of blackmailing bring to the Balkans ? Do you think that the peace in this region could be infringed if Macedonia remains outside of NATO and the EU any longer ?

It is in Macedonia’s vital interest to join NATO and the EU in the long term, but that doesn’t mean it’s the end of the world if it doesn’t do so in the short term. As I said, a temporary alternative would be to forge a close military and economic relationship with these bodies, and develop close bilateral relations with their friendlier members, such as the US, UK, Italy and Turkey, as well as other powers, such as Russia. Serbia could provide a model – it has strengthened its position vis-a-vis the EU by developing its friendship with Russia. Ultimately, I am afraid that if Macedonia and Croatia back down to Greece and Slovenia, it will encourage more aggressive nationalist demands by individual NATO and EU members, and that that will destabilise the Balkans and retard the region’s Euro-Atlantic integration.

You said that ‘With Albania set to join NATO and significant ethnic-Albanian minorities present in Serbia, Montenegro and Macedonia, Tirana could, if it so wished, create a veritable nightmare for the Western alliance by making issues out of the latter’. Could you please explain what do you mean by this remark?

Just imagine if Macedonia were to capitulate to Greece, and if Albania were to draw the conclusion from this that it, too, as a member of NATO, could impose unreasonable demands on NATO candidate countries, including Macedonia. What then ? I do not wish to cast aspersions on Albania, which has behaved very responsibly in its regional policy, but in principle, Tirana could for example demand that Macedonia, Montenegro or Serbia grant it border rectifications, or grant their ethnic Albanian minorities territorial autonomy, if they want to join NATO. Where would you be then ? I’m not saying that this will happen, but a Macedonian capitulation to Greece would encourage this sort of thing.

It doesn’t pay to back down to aggressors. And, as I said, the EU, as a fundamentally unprincipled body, will generally reward unreasonable behaviour and put pressure on those who appear ready to bend. Macedonia may discover that sacrificing its name and identity will increase rather than solve its problems.

Saturday, 9 May 2009 Posted by | Balkans, European Union, Former Yugoslavia, Greece, Macedonia, NATO | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A defeat for ethnic cleansing in Cyprus – and for the EU’s moral idiocy

ncypldThe European Court of Justice (ECJ) has ruled against Linda and David Orams, a British couple that bought a property in northern Cyprus that had been confiscated from its Greek Cypriot owners following the Turkish invasion of the island in 1974. Meletis Apostolides, who was driven off his family’s property by the Turks, has been fighting a legal battle for its return since 2004. After winning his case in Nicosia, Apostolides sued in a British court to compel enforcement. Although he lost his case in Britain, the British appeals court referred it to the ECJ, which has ruled in his favour. The Oramses, who have built a luxury holiday villa on Apostolides’s property, must now demolish this villa, return the land to Apostolides and pay him rent. If they do not comply, the Oramses, who have been represented by Cherie Blair, could face the confiscation of their property in Britain.

The decision of the ECJ has negative implications for the thousands of foreigners, in particular Britons, who have bought property in Northern Cyprus that belonged to Greeks prior to the 1974 invasion, and for the Turkish Cypriots who are selling such properties to foreigners. It is, in effect, a blow to all those who, consciously or not, have sought or are seeking to profit from ethnic cleansing, and a victory for the victims of ethnic cleansing. As Paul Owen, chief executive of the Association of International Property Professionals (AIPP), said, ‘This is an extreme example in Northern Cyprus, because of the disputes over land ownership, but it serves as a timely reminder to anybody that, no matter where you’re buying, you really need to do your homework and get independent legal advice.’ In other words: don’t buy goods that may be stolen.

Turkey had every right to intervene in Cyprus in 1974 to prevent the attempt by Greek fascists to annex the island to Greece. But Turkey had no right to dismember the island state, expel roughly 170,000 Greek Cypriots from their homes, confiscate their properties and establish an ethnically pure Turkish statelet on the northern third of the island – where Greek Cypriots had previously constituted the majority. Whatever the rights and wrongs of the Cyprus dispute, the dispossessed Greek Cypriots of northern Cyprus – like the roughly 50,000 Turkish Cypriots expelled and dispossessed by the Greeks in the south following the Turkish invasion – are innocent victims of the conflict who have every right to restitution.

Some Turkish analysts, viewing the case purely through nationalist spectacles, have condemned the ECJ’s judgement. According to Mensur Akgün, the head of the Istanbul-based Küresel Siyasal Eğilimler Merkezi, or Center for Global Political Trends, ‘We need to seek technical solutions that will make the court’s decision meaningless and find a way to push Greek Cypriots into a corner’. Yet every Turkish democrat should rejoice at this defeat for Turkish ethnic-cleansing and expansionism.

A similar utter disregard for the rights of the individual has apparently been shown by the European Commission, which is reported as expressing concerns that allowing the order to be enforced against the Oramses could upset the talks aimed at resolving the Cyprus conflict. As is so often the case, the EU has shown itself to be the institutional equivalent of a moral idiot, for which justice is always dispensable in the interest of a ‘negotiated settlement’, i.e. of political expediency. We can define this as follows:

The European Union Rule of ‘Negotiated Settlement’ (aka ‘Appeasement’)

1. Settlement to an international dispute can only come through negotiation.

2. Since the EU is generally unwilling to apply sufficient pressure on both parties to force an end to a dispute, a ‘negotiated settlement’ will invariably favour the stronger side.

3. Since stronger states are inevitably much more likely to victimise weaker states than vice versa, the stronger side is more likely to be the party that is in the wrong.

4. Ergo, the favoured EU policy in resolving international disputes is for the victimised party to make sufficient concessions to the victimiser until ‘compromise’ is achieved; i.e. to surrender.

5. From here, it is only a short step for the EU actually to apply diplomatic pressure to the victims of injustice to surrender, as the quickest way of achieving a ‘negotiated settlement’.

So it was in Bosnia in the 1990s. So it is in Greece vs Macedonia and Slovenia vs Croatia today.

In the case of Cyprus, it is not so much the Republic of Cyprus itself which is being pressurised to surrender, since with both Cyprus and Greece in the EU, Turkey is not straightforwardly the stronger side. Indeed, with the 2004 Annan Plan, international pressure favoured the Greek side; on that occasion, it was consequently Turkey and the Turkish Cypriots that strove for a compromise settlement and the Greek Cypriots that rejected it. Rather, it is the wretched individual victims of ethnic cleansing, like Meletis Apostolides, whose rights are apparently expendable in the quest for a ‘negotiated settlement’.

On the other hand, for anyone who believes that justice should take precedence over political expediency, and that a ‘negotiated settlement’ should accommodate itself to the demands of justice rather than vice versa, Apostolides’s victory is to be celebrated.

Friday, 1 May 2009 Posted by | Cyprus, European Union, Greece, Turkey | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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