Greater Surbiton

The perfect is the enemy of the good

How to apologise

Image: Croatia’s president and prime minister, Ivo Josipovic and Jadranka Kosor, paying tribute to the victims of Croatian World War II fascism at Jasenovac last month, alongside former Croatian president Stjepan Mesic.

Croatia’s new president Ivo Josipovic has in recent weeks made a series of apologies and expressions of regret for crimes carried out by Croats during the 1940s and 1990s. Last month, he apologised for Croatia’s role in the Bosnian war:  ‘(The creators of) the 1990s policies…. based on the idea that division is the solution for Bosnia-Herzegovina, have sown an evil seed here, but also in their own countries’, Josipovic said in an address to the Bosnian parliament; referring to ‘the death and mutilation of hundreds of thousands and the expulsion of millions of people [and] destroyed economies and families’, he stated categorically, ‘I am deeply sorry that the Republic of Croatia has contributed to that with its policies in the 1990s. .. that the then Croatian policy has contributed to the suffering of people and divisions which still burden us today.’ He followed this up with a visit to the village of Ahmici, where Croat forces carried out a notorious massacre of Bosniak civilians in 1993. This apology was immediately condemned by the leadership of the ruling Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ); HDZ politicians such as Prime Minister Jadranka Kosor and party vice-president Andrija Hebrang disgraced themselves trying to justify the former Croatian policy.

Josipovic went on to attend an event commemorating the sixty-fifth anniversary of an uprising at the Ustasha (Croatian fascist) death camp of Jasenovac in World War II, when he expressed regret for the crimes carried out by the Croatian fascists. Noting that history cannot be changed, he stated that it was not just the victories and successes that had to be accepted: ‘In every event, we must accept it also when it points to the evil that we committed against others. That can be a painful process; a process in which all those who wish our nation well must participate.’ He expressed his ‘deepest regret’ for everything that took place in Jasenovac and other Ustasha execution sites during the Second World War.’ At the time of writing, Josipovic has been visiting the Republika Srpska in Bosnia-Hercegovina, paying tribute to Serbs killed by Croat forces at the north Bosnian village of Sijekovac at the start of the war in 1992.

Josipovic’s actions mark a courageous break with the usual practice of nationalist politicians, not only in the Balkans but also in Western Europe and the US, who seem to feel that it is incumbent upon them to defend ‘my country, right or wrong’. A readiness to acknowledge and apologise for the past crimes of one’s state or nation is something that places the principled patriot and democrat above the ‘patriotic’ hypocrite, who will complain endlessly about the crimes of other states or nations while defending those of their own. Such apologies form a necessary part of the reconciliation process between states that have previously been in conflict with one another, helping to cement a post-conflict democratic order. Nevertheless, the crimes which Josipovic has been acknowledging are not equivalent to one another; nor do they warrant the same kind of apology.

In the case of the Croatian attempt to partition Bosnia in the 1990s and the resulting crimes, the issue is one of a state having the moral duty to apologise to another state and its citizens. The Republic of Croatia carried out military aggression against the neighbouring state of Bosnia-Hercegovina, one that involved atrocities against its civilian population. Although Josipovic personally was not responsible for that policy, he is head of the state that was responsible, therefore, it was his outright duty to apologise on the Republic of Croatia’s behalf to the state of Bosnia-Hercegovina and to its citizens.

In the case of atrocities carried out by the Croatian Army, or by Croat militias supported by Croatia’s leadership, against Serb civilians during operations against the Serb rebels in Croatia and Bosnia in the 1990s, an apology from the Croatian president was also due. It is still the Croatian state that needs to apologise for its past actions, but in this instance, the apology is not owed to another state. The apology is due to the victims and to their relatives and friends, and to the Serb people in those areas, rather than to Serbia, whose citizens they were not. In the case of Croatian Serb civilians killed by Croatian forces, such as during the Medak Pocket operation in 1993 or Operation Storm in 1995, the apology is due to people who were Croatia’s own citizens – victims of the very state whose duty it was to protect them. Thus, the duty to apologise is similar to that acknowledged by Britain’s former prime minister Gordon Brown, when he apologised last year to the tens of thousands of British children forcibly sent to Commonwealth countries under child migrant programmes during the twentieth century, where they were widely exploited and abused.

In the case of the Ustasha genocide of Serbs, Jews, Gypsies and others during World War II, an apology of a different kind is in order. Unlike the aforementioned Croatian crimes of the 1990s, in this case it was not the current Croatian state that was responsible. The Republic of Croatia is not the de jure or de facto successor state of the Ustasha-ruled ‘Independent State of Croatia’ (NDH), which was a puppet state established by the Axis powers on Yugoslav territory. The NDH was never recognised by the Allied powers, which viewed it for what it was: the expression that German and Italian rule took in that part of occupied Yugoslavia, equivalent to the General Government in Poland or to the Reichskommissariat Ukraine. According to the Nuremberg Military Tribunal established by the Allied powers after the war, ‘Whatever the form or the name given, the Croatian Government during the German wartime occupation was a satellite under the control of the occupying power. It dissolved as quickly after the withdrawal of the Germans as it had arisen upon their occupation. Under such circumstances, the acts of the Croatian Government were the acts of the occupation power… We are of the view that Croatia was at all times here involved an occupied country and that all acts performed by it were those for which the occupying power was responsible.’ (quoted in Jozo Tomasevich, War and Revolution in Yugoslavia, 1941-1945: Occupation and Collaboration, Stanford University Press, Stanford, 2001, pp. 271-272). The states with a duty to apologise for the crimes of the NDH are Germany and Italy.

This was reaffirmed this month, when the European Court of Human Rights threw out the case brought by the Association of Second World War Camp Inmates of Republika Srpska against Croatia, for damages to the tune of 500 million euros for crimes carried out by the NDH. Sources suggested that this was because the judges concluded that Croatia was not the legal successor to the NDH, therefore not liable to pay damages for its crimes. Indeed, Croatia was the legal successor of Yugoslavia, and was established as a republic in the 1940s by the Partisans who destroyed the NDH. The Republic of Croatia is not liable to apologise for the NDH’s crimes, any more than the Spanish Republic would have been liable to apologise for Franco’s crimes, had it won the Spanish Civil War. Any more than the current Rwandan government is liable to apologise for the Rwandan genocide. By contrast, although the Ottoman Empire which perpetrated the Armenian genocide was overthrown by Mustafa Kemal’s Turkish nationalist movement, nevertheless Turkey is the legal successor of the Ottoman Empire, and the latter was not simply an insurgent faction or a party to a civil war, but a legally constituted state. As the successor to this state, Turkey does have a moral duty to apologise for the genocide.

This does not mean that Josipovic was wrong to say what he did at the recent Jasenovac commemoration. He cannot – indeed did not – apologise on behalf of the Republic of Croatia, since that state was not responsible. He can however express regret in a different manner and capacity, as the democratically elected leader of the Croatian nation – the nation that produced the Ustashas. He cannot accept that the Croatian nation as a whole was guilty, but he can express regret for the fact that some members of his nation carried out those crimes; for the fact that the Croatian nation produced such monsters. Nations as a whole are not guilty for the crimes committed by some of their members, but nor can they pretend that these crimes have nothing to do with them. We could compare this with the case of an extended family, in which a wayward family member commits a crime. The head of the family might rightfully feel that the family’s honour requires an apology to the crime’s victims, even though neither the family as a whole nor its head can reasonably be blamed. Certainly, such chivalry goes down better than a callous refusal to apologise.

We can compare Josipovic’s expression of regret with the opposition of certain Polish politicians, such as Michal Kaminski, to a Polish apology for the Jedwabne massacre of July 1941 in Nazi-occupied Poland, when Poles under the leadership of Jedwabne’s mayor Marian Karolak massacred the town’s Jews. The Jedwabne massacre was, albeit on a much smaller scale, similar in character to the Ustasha massacres of Serbs and others. Kaminski was undoubtedly correct when he pointed out that the whole Polish nation was not guilty of a massacre carried out by a particular group of Poles in a particular town at a particular time. But this ignores the fact that you do not have to be guilty of something in order to say sorry; nor does an apology imply an admission of guilt. The readiness of Polish president Aleksander Kwasniewski to apologise for the Jedwabne massacre suggests a much more mature sense of national responsibility than that of Kaminski.

Another point of comparison is the declaration issued in March by the Serbian parliament condemning the Srebrenica massacre, which involved also an apology. The apology, less than a sentence long, was inserted at the end of a paragraph; it was made only to the relatives of the victims rather than to the people of Srebrenica or of Bosnia as a whole. It was an apology only that ‘everything possible had not been done to prevent the tragedy’, rather than for Serbia’s role in organising, arming and financing the Bosnian Serb forces that carried out the massacre, or for the Yugoslav Army’s collusion with these forces during the massacre. It avoided using the word genocide, albeit recognising this genocide in a roundabout way, by condemning the massacre ‘in the manner established by the ruling of the International Court of Justice’. And although it avoided condemning any of the other crimes carried out by Serbs during the war, it nevertheless included an ‘expectation that the highest authorities of other states on the territory of the former Yugoslavia would also condemn the crimes committed against the members of the Serbian people in this manner, as well as extend condolences and apologies to the families of the Serbian victims’. In fairness, such a grudging and mealy-mouthed declaration was probably the most that its authors could have pushed through parliament; even in this form, it barely scraped together enough votes to pass. But it does not suggest much genuine contrition on the part of Serbia’s lawmakers.

Serbia can and has done better than this. On 15 June 2005, the Council of Ministers of the State Union of Serbia and Montenegro stated: ‘Those who committed the killings in Srebrenica, as well as those who ordered and organised that massacre represented neither Serbia nor Montenegro, but an undemocratic regime of terror and death, against whom the majority of citizens of Serbia and Montenegro put up the strongest resistance. Our condemnation of crimes in Srebrenica does not end with the direct perpetrators. We demand the criminal responsibility of all who committed war crimes, organised them or ordered them, and not only in Srebrenica. Criminals must not be heroes. Any protection of the war criminals, for whatever reason, is also a crime.’ In that year, the president of Serbia and Montenegro and the president of Republika Srpska attended the tenth anniversary commemoration of the Srebrenica massacre at Potocari. More recently, however, the Republika Srpska’s leadership has been regressing; Prime Minister Milorad Dodik has been engaging in revisionism and denial in relation to Srebrenica and to other Serb war-crimes.

State apologies for past crimes will always be a sensitive manner; the politicians who make them will always be treading a fine line; the extent of an apology issued, and the reaction it receives at home, will reflect the degree of a nation’s democratic maturity. All the more reason to watch them closely; to interpret the degree of contrition that they actually represent, and to see who is for them, and who is opposed.

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

Monday, 31 May 2010 Posted by | Balkans, Bosnia, Croatia, Former Yugoslavia, Genocide, Serbia | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Miliband brothers and New Left Review

Readers will, I hope, forgive the name-dropping, but it isn’t every day that a childhood friend is one step away from becoming Labour leader, and two steps from becoming our next prime minister. I haven’t seen Ed or David Miliband for over twenty years, but at the age of around eleven and twelve, I used to meet up regularly with Ed to, ahem, exchange ZX Spectrum games, and I still remember the note of despair in his voice, when one of our laborious attempts to ‘back up’ a game proved unsuccessful. I saw less of David, who was older, but the last time we met made a vivid impression on me, when he was a rising star in Neil Kinnock’s Labour Party of the late 1980s. Kinnock was then desperately trying to modernise the Labour Party, thereby earning the hatred of left-wing hardliners, who viewed him as a traitor to socialism (‘Kneel’). I was one such Kinnock-hating hardliner; a teenage member of the Labour Party Young Socialists, which was dominanted by the Trotskyist ‘Militant’ tendency, with which I was then in sympathy. David turned up at a party, dressed immaculately in suit and tie, looking more like a business executive than the activist of a left-wing party, and I thought to myself, ‘He really has sold out’. I told him that I was feeling very disillusioned with the turn the Labour Party was taking. He knew exactly what I meant, but didn’t want to argue with me; ‘Faith !’, he urged me.

Of course, it was the people like David who turned out to be the revolutionary pioneers, and the people who stuck to the politics that I then adhered to who were the reactionaries. The Milibands’ parents Ralph and Marion, and my own parents, belonged to a broadly Marxist and ‘New Left’  intellectual and social circle, some of whose members were close to the journal New Left Review (NLR) and the publishing house Verso, or were members of the International Marxist Group, the British wing of the ‘Fourth International’ originally founded by Leon Trotsky. Other members of this circle included Tariq Ali, Susan Watkins, Robin Blackburn, Perry Anderson, the late Peter Gowan and others. Some of these people have evolved politically over the past quarter of a century, while others have not, but to the best of my knowledge, not one of their children – children like me, David and Ed – has remained true to that vision of politcs as it was in the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s.

This is not surprising when you consider the respective achievements of those who did remain true to that vision of politics, and those who ‘sold out’ and moved toward the centre or moderate left. The New Labour revolution, of which David and Ed were pioneers, brought the UK the minimum wage; freedom of information; gay civil partnerships; peace in Northern Ireland; devolution in Scotland, Wales and London; a more multiethnic population through mass immigration; and in foreign affairs, humanitarian interventions in Kosovo, Sierra Leone, Afghanistan and Iraq, at least three of which have been successful. By contrast, the only ‘achievement’ in the same period of the members of the New Left circle who remained hardline anti-capitalists and ‘anti-imperialists’ has been to contribute to the anti-war demonstrations over Iraq in the first half of the 2000s that, although large, dissipated after failing to prevent or halt the war, leaving nothing behind.

Shortly after the Kosovo war of 1999, I spoke with Tariq Ali and his partner Susan Watkins, the editor of NLR, who bemoaned David Miliband’s role in supporting the British intervention in Kosovo: ‘What would his father say ?’ Ali, Watkins and Perry Anderson – NLR‘s intellectual guru - have by contrast remained faithful to the politics of anti-capitalism and ‘anti-imperialism’, which has meant the publication by NLR and Verso of books and articles sympathetic to the regimes of Slobodan Milosevic, Fidel Castro and Kim Jong-il. According to a Guardian editorial earlier this year celebrating NLR‘s fiftieth birthday, probably written by Seumas Milne, ‘Left-wing in an age in which prospects for the left are so bleak, serious in a celebrity culture and thoughtful in a time of instant opinions, the NLR remains a necessary publication.’ Necessary, perhaps, for ageing lefties of Milne’s type, who have an emotional need to convince themselves that the dead-end politics of yesteryear are still somehow ‘radical’. For what young person today honestly believes that Castro’s Cuban dictatorship is a harbinger of a better world, as opposed to a clapped-out anachronism ? 

What is most offensive about this brand of politics isn’t even its moral bankruptcy. It is the peculiar combination of intellectual bankruptcy and unwarranted arrogance. Ali, Anderson and co. simply haven’t had any original political ideas since the 1980s at best; they stopped evolving over two decades ago, yet still feel they represent the cutting-edge, radical alternative to the neo-liberal order. They are like old-age pensioners sitting on the park bench, muttering to one another about how the whole world has gone to pot, and how things were much better in the old days, and periodically shouting at teenagers that they didn’t fight in the War so that young people could go around dressed like that. Or like ageing baby-boomers who are still awestruck by how technologically advanced are their calculator digital-watches and portable cassette-players, with which they listen to the music of dangerous, anti-establishment bands like Wham and Duran Duran. The NLR is the political equivalent equivalent of a calculator watch; it is ‘new’ in the same way that the People’s Democratic Republic of Korea is ‘democratic’.

The Miliband brothers were born of Marxist parents at a time when radical left-wing politics still had some rationale; they took what was best in their parents’ politics and moved forward. Others have been left behind.

Thursday, 20 May 2010 Posted by | Britain, The Left | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

David Cameron and William Hague look set to help South East Europe

William Hague, the new British foreign secretary

‘Compared with a decade ago, this country is more open at home and more compassionate abroad and that is something we should all be grateful for…’. So said Britain’s new prime minister David Cameron, paying tribute to the outgoing Labour government. Britain is embarking on a new political era, and it is sad to see so many self-proclaimed ‘progressives’ still stuck in the same ideological trenches they inhabited in the 1980s, unable to view ‘progressive politics’ in anything other than anti-Tory terms, and damning the Liberal Democrats for their supposed ‘betrayal’. Cameron presented Britain with a historic opportunity to reconstitute our mainstream party of the right as a party of the centre. Had he failed to form a government, the Conservative Party could quite possibly have moved back towards the right. I have been critical of the Liberal Democrats in the past, but Nick Clegg’s decision to form a coalition with Cameron was a supremely responsible act, rescuing Cameron’s ‘progressive Conservative’ project and moderating any right-wing tendencies that a straight Conservative government would have had. The new British government enjoys greater legitimacy than any other combination arising from the election would have done; as much as is possible, it broadly represents what the nation wants, which is a change of government but not a move to the right. The Labour Party will benefit from a rest after thirteen years in office. Those who see British politics purely through anti-Conservative or anti-Labour lenses are still living in the twentieth century; the formation of a Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition shows that old distinctions between ‘left-wing’ and ‘right-wing’ parties no longer apply.

Crucially, the foreign and defence portfolios in the new government are in the hands of Conservatives. Of course, Britain’s last Conservative government under John Major had a disgraceful record in world affairs – either failing to halt or actively aiding and abetting genocide in Iraq, Bosnia and Rwanda, while undermining our alliance with the US. But not all Conservative politicians are the same – Winston Churchill was not Neville Chamberlain and Margaret Thatcher was not Edward Heath. There is cause for concern at the continued influence in the party of elements complicit with Major’s disastrous policies, such as Malcolm Rifkind and Pauline Neville-Jones. But the signals coming from Cameron and from the new foreign secretary, William Hague, are promising.

There is absolutely no reason why the Conservative commitment to greater British sovereignty within the EU is ‘anti-European'; on the contrary, it is the Franco-German-dominated Euro-federalist bloc that is anti-European, as it seeks to divide Europe between the ‘ins’ and the ‘outs’, and to exclude countries like Turkey and Ukraine from the European family. In his recently leaked memo, Hague has made it clear that his government will be ‘firm supporters of enlargement’ and ‘favour an outward looking Europe’.

Hague has also said that his government will ‘want to see a more muscular EU approach in Bosnia’. He has consistently spoken up for Bosnia; last year, he criticised the ‘weak and confused’ EU response to the ‘pressure to fragment the country’ and said: ‘It is moving slowly in the wrong direction and – despite all the efforts and all the bloodshed and all the sacrifices there – it’s moving in the wrong direction without alarm bells sounding in most European capitals.’ He warned that the crisis in Bosnia threatened to derail efforts to expand the EU to include Serbia, Croatia and Turkey, and promised: ‘People think the Balkans are what we debated in the 1990s and now we can forget about it. In fact, it’s a crucial area in foreign policy in the next five to 10 years and will get a lot of emphasis in the next Conservative administration.’ Earlier this year, Hague wrote to his predecessor, Foreign Secretary David Miliband, to express his concern at Britain’s arrest of Bosnia’s former vice-president Ejup Ganic.

Cameron, too, has spoken out for the rights of the vulnerable nations of South East Europe. As early as 2003, before he became Conservative leader, Cameron wrote a stirring defence of Macedonia; ‘the country – and I am determined to call it Macedonia – has a perfect right to exist. The population is overwhelmingly Macedonian, with a distinctive language, culture and history.’ Criticising ‘Greek pettiness’ toward Macedonia, Cameron called for an active policy to support it and the former Yugoslavia generally: ‘Let Macedonia into Nato and guarantee its borders. Ensure there is a speedy framework for getting the former Yugoslav republics into the EU so they can benefit from free trade and structural funds. Recognise the fact that Macedonia paid a substantial price for looking after Albanian refugees from Kosovo during the war – and pay aid in respect of it. Above all, stay involved to give the region the stability that it needs so badly.’

When Russia attacked Georgia in August 2008, Cameron was quicker to react than Gordon Brown and more forthright; he flew to Tbilisi to stand shoulder to shoulder with Georgia’s leaders, and to state that ‘I think it’s important that the world’s oldest democracy must stand with one of the newest when it’s been illegally invaded by another country… We wanted to come to express the strongest possible support of the British people, British government and British opposition for Georgia, its independence and integrity.’ He later drew the parallel between Russia and 1930s Germany: ‘Russia’s pretext — that it has a right to step in militarily to protect its citizens — has chilling echoes from Czech history, and dangerous implications if it is now the basis of Russian policy. Such a doctrine cannot be allowed to stand.’ Far from being ‘anti-European’, Cameron defended Georgia from a pro-European perspective: ‘We should not accept that while the Czech Republic, Poland and the Baltic States are in Nato and the EU, with their full measure of independence and liberty, other countries on Russia’s periphery that have not yet become members are somehow condemned to exist in a political no-man’s-land.’

Cameron’s audacious move to form an alliance with the Liberal Democrats, outflanking the right wing of the Conservative Party and reshaping British politics, indicates that he may be a bold world leader in the years ahead. Let us hope so. The US and EU have dithered over the worsening crisis in Bosnia – as did the UK under Brown. A British government committed to a broader, more outward-looking Europe, committed to supporting and defending the states of East and South East Europe, is exactly what Europe needs.

Thursday, 13 May 2010 Posted by | Balkans, Bosnia, Britain, Caucasus, European Union, Former Soviet Union, Former Yugoslavia, Georgia, Greece, Macedonia, Marko Attila Hoare, NATO, Russia | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Vote Conservative or Labour

Let’s face it, whatever the results of tomorrow’s British general election, the world isn’t going to end. Not since the 1970s has so little divided the principal British political parties. Watching the three televised debates between Labour’s Gordon Brown, the Conservatives’ David Cameron and the Liberal Democrats’ Nick Clegg, the striking thing was how similar were their political visions. Where one of the party leaders stood out from the consensus – as Cameron did over Europe, or Clegg over Trident – he was attacked by his opponents in moderate, civilised terms. This is as it should be: the great ideological conflicts of our age have been resolved in the domestic sphere, and the choice is principally over who will best manage the existing order. In this sense, we are a step ahead of the US, where such battles are still being fought out.

Cameron and Clegg have placed a lot of emphasis on the appeal for ‘change’. This is highly ironic, given that the British people do not want real ‘change’. If they did, there would be real electoral benefit to be had for politicians in adopting radical policies. The fact that all three principal British parties adopt such moderate policies shows their awareness of the fundamentally conservative (with a small ‘c’) inclinations of the British electorate; to threaten real ‘change’ would be electoral suicide. Cameron’s and Clegg’s talk of ‘change’ is simply an attempt to play up to our spoilt, cry-baby, navel-gazing culture of political commentary. Some countries face real problems; here we have the MPs’ expenses scandal – for all the whining that it provoked, you’d think we were the victims of a veritable genocide. A year ago, on the way to the airport, I met a young man who had served as a soldier in Afghanistan; after spending time there, he told me, he found it ridiculous how much we Britons like to complain about so little. This explains the relentless media hounding of our current prime minister; unexciting and undistinguished as he is, Brown has been reasonably competent at his job; he certainly does not deserve such vicious treatment.

Of course, there are things wrong with our country; top of the list, I would put the atrocious quality of our schools, and the consequent deleterious effect that poor education has on the morals of our youth. But distressingly, education barely featured in the three leadership debates. It was sad to hear all three party leaders pander to the moronic anti-immigration consensus; Clegg at least had the courage to advocate an amnesty for long-term illegal residents of the UK. Mass immigration is economically necessary and culturally beneficial for any thriving, dynamic modern society; the only way drastically to curb immigration would be to have an economy so poor that nobody much wanted to come and work here.

Instead of educating our population about immigration’s benefits, our politicians find it easier to pander to tabloid-driven popular xenophobia. I am, however, reassured that their talk of curbing immigration is just in order to placate the masses; as Clegg pointed out in the third leadership debate, the Conservatives’ talk of an annual ‘cap’ on immigration makes no sense if most immigrants come from the EU and can’t be prevented from coming. Yes, Mr Cameron/Brown, of course you’ll curb immigration if you win the election, nudge nudge, wink wink. If it keeps the less sophisticated part of our electorate from voting for the fascist parties, I’m happy for you to pretend. But really, it would be better if you challenged popular prejudice instead of playing up to it.

This does not mean the election is irrelevant. The first big question is, if Cameron wins, whether he will prove to be a Conservative Tony Blair, and firmly cement his party in government, as in opposition, as a forward-looking party of the centre. Or whether he will prove a wolf in sheep’s clothing, and the Conservatives will ape their divisive predecessors of the 1930s and 80s. I am cautiously optimistic that the first scenario is more likely.

The second big question is, of course, whether we will get a hung parliament and, consequently, electoral reform. The existing electoral system cannot really be justified on democratic ground, but I cannot honestly pretend to be heartbroken that the little parties – the BNP, UKIP, Greens, Respect, etc. – are effectively excluded from parliament – God forbid that any of them should exercise influence over our foreign policy, or that any of them except the Greens should exercise influence over our domestic policy.

A system of proportional representation that resulted in a three-party system might be more democratic than the current two-party system, but it would also be more rigid; at present, elections offer the chance of real change of government in response to public dissatisfaction; a three-party system could condemn us to a succession of similar coalitions. A case could be made that this is the price we must pay for something less arbitrary and unfair than the present first-past-the-post system, with so many votes wasted and so many voters denied a real choice. But it is not a simple question.

The main parties’ differences over foreign policy are greater than their differences over domestic policy, and it is here that the Liberal Democrats’ talk of change is ominous. A party whose leader puts the word ‘illegal’ in front of ‘war in Iraq’ should not be in government: it is one thing to oppose the war in Iraq for honourable reasons; quite another to adopt the ideological jargon of the deeply reactionary ‘anti-war’ movement. Being opposed to ‘illegal’ wars translates as only favouring military intervention abroad when it is authorised by the UN Security Council; in other words, when it is supported by Russia and China. Clegg complains that the Conservative Party is allied with homophobes and climate-change deniers in the European Parliament, yet he seems to feel that our military intervention abroad should be contingent on the approval of two of the world’s most brutal and dangerous regimes.

What is more objectionable: the Conservatives forming a new European Parliamentary grouping with a Latvian party, some of whose elderly members commemorate the SS, and with a Polish party hostile to homosexuality ? Or the Liberal Democrats upholding the sanctity of a UN Security Council whose Russian member uses weapons of mass destruction against its own Chechen citizens, ethnically cleanses Georgians from South Ossetia, racially persecutes Caucasians, murders human rights activists and carries out terrorist bombings against its own population ? To say nothing of its Chinese member… Let us not forget: the reason that there are any ethnic Albanians left in Kosovo today is because NATO waged an ‘illegal’ war in 1999 to halt Slobodan Milosevic’s genocidal campaign against them. 

When David Cameron courageously spoke out in defence of Georgia from Russian aggression in 2008, Liberal Democrat shadow foreign-secretary Ed Davey shamefully condemned him for ‘macho talk’. Davey believes in the need to ‘talk to Tehran’, to avoid ‘antagonising the Russians’, to ‘engage Russia and China’, to ‘fully back the UN’. A foreign policy decided by the Liberal Democrats would ensure that, were another Bosnia- or Darfur-style genocide to occur, Britain would avoid doing anything ‘macho’ that might actually stop it, but would work through the UN, in partnership with Russia and China, to ensure that absolutely nothing meaningful would be done. Davey is my local MP here in Kingston and Surbiton, and as the electoral race here is a two-horse one between the Liberals and Conservatives, with Labour running a distant third, I am going to vote Conservative.

For Labour and the Conservatives are the only two credible parties of government. Labour has pursued a reasonably sound foreign policy, correctly both pro-European and pro-American, though since the uninspired Brown replaced the brilliant Tony Blair, Britain has been punching beneath its weight in world affairs.

The Conservatives, on the other hand, have taken a courageous stand to break with the federalist-conservative Sarkozy-Merkel bloc in the European Parliament; to strike a blow against an inward-looking fortress Europe. As I have written elsewhere, the accusation that the Conservatives in the European Parliament are allied to extreme reactionaries is a red herring, given that both the Sarkozy-Merkel federalist bloc in the European Parliament and the Labour Party’s allies in the Council of Europe include some equally reactionary elements - Russian anti-Semites, Turkish genocide-deniers and Italian ‘post-fascists’. The question is whether the Conservatives in office will build an alliance for a broader, non-federalist model of Europe – as I hope they will – or retreat into the narrow-minded national realism that characterised John Major’s government.

I greatly admire the record of the Labour government since 1997, and am glad I voted Labour in the last election. I am hopeful, if not quite confident, that a Cameron government would be a worthy successor. If you feel optimistic, give the Conservatives a chance. If you want to play it safe, vote Labour.

Wednesday, 5 May 2010 Posted by | Britain, Marko Attila Hoare | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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