Following Kosovo’s declaration of independence in February 2008 and its subsequent recognition by the US and most EU and NATO members, various Cassandras told us that this would provoke an avalanche of copycat independence-declarations by secessionist territories all over the world. This did not occur, so following the International Court of Justice’s ruling last month that Kosovo’s declaration of independence was not contrary to international law, the Cassandras then told us it was actually this ruling that would trigger the avalanche of secessions. We are still waiting, and I would advise readers not to hold their breath. But there has been one copycat response to our recognition of Kosovo’s independence: in August 2008, Russia retaliated by formaly recognising the independence of Georgia’s two breakaway territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. However insincere this recognition of the ‘independence’ of what are effectively two Russian colonies may be, Moscow has at least formally broken with its traditional policy, pursued since Tsarist times, of suppressing the independence of the Caucasian peoples, as well as with its insistence that the borders of the former members of the Soviet Union should be respected. This may ultimately prove to be rather more of a trigger for further secessions than the case of Kosovo, which was the only such entity of its kind in the Balkan peninsula. Unlike Kosovo, the former autonomous republic of Abkhazia and autonomous oblast of South Ossetia are entities of a kind with the autonomous republics across the mountains in Russia’s North Caucasus region. One of these republics, Chechnya, already made a bid for independence in the 1990s that Moscow drowned in blood, and the armed insurgency that began there has spread to neighbouring North Caucasian territories. Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s bloody-minded attempt to punish the West for Kosovo by formally sanctioning the dismemberment of the US’s Georgian ally may yet prove to be a spectacular own goal.
The main problem with the model of ‘independence’ for Abkhazia and South Ossetia as championed by Moscow is not that these entities should not enjoy the right to independence in principle. A reasonable case could be made that all autonomous entities of the former Soviet Union should be able to exercise the right to self-determination, irrespective of whether they are located in Russia, Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan or elsewhere. The problem is that Moscow only recognises the right for such entities that have seceded from its enemy, Georgia, but not those that have attempted to secede from Russia, or that may wish to do so in future. Such double-standards cannot be justified on any democratic grounds.
The democratic case for Abkhazia’s independence is highly problematc, given that the ethnic Abkhaz constituted only 17.8% of the territory’s population before the war of the 1990s, whereas ethnic Georgians comprised a plurality of Abkhazia’s population of 45.7%, with Russians, Armenians and other smaller groups comprising the balance. On 17 March 1991, Abkhazia’s electorate actually voted against independence; 52.3% participated in a plebiscite on the preservation of the Soviet Union, of which 98.6% voted in favour. This undoubtedly represented a vote against inclusion in an independent Georgia on the part of the ethnic Abkhaz and of some of the minorities, and a conservative vote in favour of the Soviet status quo on the part of some ethnic Georgians, ethnic Russians and others, but it scarcely represented an unambiguous mandate for independence. Since the war of the early 1990s, the ethnic cleansing of ethnic Georgians from Abkhazia, and the emigration of many of the rest of the territory’s inhabitants, have reduced the population to 215,972 according to the last (2003) census, down from 525,061 in 1989. The number of ethnic Georgians from Abkhazia who remain dispossessed is not much less than the total population remaining in the territory. In such circumstances, whether self-determiantion can have any meaning is a moot point. Certainly, there can be no possible grounds for granting self-determination to Abkhazia while denying it to Chechnya – a country with the same former constitutional status (Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic – ASSR) and two and a half times the population, which in 1991 declared independence on the basis of a solid demographic majority in favour.
Moscow’s double-standard over South Ossetia represents a still more interesting case. Its population of just under a hundred thousand in 1989 was split mostly between ethnic Ossetians and ethnic Georgians roughly 2:1 in favour of the former, giving it a respectable demographic majority in favour of independence, though in terms of viability, a rather weaker case than Abkhazia, Chechnya or Kosovo (the South Ossetians are a community approximately one thirtieth the size of the Kosovo Albanians, and smaller than the Bosniaks/Muslims in Serbia or the Albanians in Macedonia). However, Moscow is paradoxically recognising the right to independence of the autonomous oblast of South Ossetia, but not of the Autonomous Republic of North Ossetia – Alania within its own borders – despite the fact that North Ossetia has a higher constitutional status (autonomous republic as opposed to autonomous oblast) and a population of ethnic Ossetians that was five times as high as South Ossetia’s in 1989 and possibly as much as ten times higher today. It is as if the US and its allies would recognise the independence of the Albanians in Macedonia, but not of Albania itself.
This represents a degree of hypocrisy simply inconceivable for democratic Europe. The international community did not exactly cover itself in glory in its reaction to the break-up of Yugoslavia. Nevertheless, under the leadership of the EEC/EU, it applied the principle of self-determination consistently. Thus, in the early 1990s, the right to independence was recognised for all the republics of the former Yugoslavia (and for the former Soviet Union and Czechoslovakia) equally. The recognition of Kosovo in 2008 meant that the right was extended to all the former members of the Yugoslav federation; in most respects, Kosovo possessed all the rights of the f0rmer-Yugoslav republics, therefore recognition of its independence was ultimately a matter of consistency. And in contrast to Kosovo, which was a member of the former Yugoslav federation, Abkhazia and South Ossetia were not members of the former Soviet federation, therefore Western leaders are not being hypocritical in rejecting any parallel between the two cases.
For all Moscow’s opportunistic attempts at equating its support for Abkhazia and South Ossetia with the West’s support for Kosovo, there really is no parallel. In contrast to the Western alliance’s reluctance acceptance of the break-up of Yugoslavia and reluctant intervention in the conflict, Russia’s constant intervention in the Caucasus since the 1990s has represented the efforts of a colonial power at retaining at least some grip on its former colonies, and at punishing one of them – Georgia – for its rejection of Russian colonial rule. Moscow’s support for Abkhazian and South Ossetian nominal ‘independence’ is a figleaf for its policy of limiting as much as possible the real independence of the entire region. Meanwhile, its colonisation of the two countries is proceeding rapidly. Those looking for a parallel in the West’s own neo-colonial past should not look to the former Yugoslavia, but rather to the policies that France has sometimes pursued in parts of Africa, or that the US sometimes pursued until recently in Latin America. US collusion in the Guatemalan genocide in the 1970s and 80s, or French collusion in the Rwandan genocide in the 1990s, represent episodes of a shameful legacy that we should continue to repudiate. And we have every right and reason to expect Russia similarly to abandon its own colonial legacy in the Caucasus.
Rather than allowing Moscow to paint us as the hypocrites vis-a-vis Kosovo, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, it is time for Western leaders to call Putin’s bluff; to show that, unlike the Putin-Medvedev regime, we stand for the consistent application of universal principles. Let us state, loudly and clearly, that the principle of self-determination for the peoples of the Caucasus, and for the former Soviet autonomous entities, cannot be selectively applied. Let us invite Moscow to discuss with us whether a set of principles can be agreed upon to determine whether and on what basis these entities should be able to exercise the right to self-determination. But this would require that all such entities be treated on an equal basis, irrespective of whether they are located within the borders of Russia, Georgia or any other former member of the Soviet Union. In principle, there is no reason why we should fear such a discussion, provided it is held without prejudice to the final outcome, and the voices of all interested parties are heard – including both the existing post-Soviet independent states, their autonomous entities – whether they are currently attempting to secede or not – and representatives of any refugees.
Such a discussion could consider recognising the right of all such entities to full independence, or other options that fall short of this, such as granting them the right to complete autonomy – virtual independence – within the borders of their parent states. The latter option, indeed, would not amount to a very great departure from the status quo, in which Tbilisi has lost control over Abkhazia and South Ossetia and Moscow has effectively ceded control over Chechnya to its president and despot, Ramzan Kadyrov. Were Moscow to agree to such a discussion, it would open the door to a solution of the remaining national conflicts in the European and Caucasian parts of the former Soviet Union – including the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh. But if, as seems inevitable, Moscow rejects such a discussion out of hand, its hypocrisy over Abkhazia and South Ossetia will be exposed for all to see.
This article was published today on the website of the Henry Jackson Society.
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.
The Balkans are only a step away from normalisation, but it may be a step too far for Western policy-makers.
Normalisation for the Balkans would mean the region’s definite establishment as a set of functioning, democratic nation-states on the model of Western Europe; undivided by serious conflicts or live territorial disputes. The region’s national questions would be resolved, to the point that they would be as unlikely to spill over into large-scale bloodshed as the national questions of Belgium, Scotland or Catalonia. The Balkan states would all be integrated into the EU, and ideally NATO as well.
This is not an ambitious ideal, yet it is far from being realised. Regional progress is still being derailed by a series of conflicts of varying severity between the Balkan states. The Slovenian-Croatian border dispute for a while threatened to derail the entire region’s EU integration, though this appears to have been averted. Greek-Turkish rivalry over Cyprus, the Aegean Sea and other areas remains latent, something for which the anti-Turkish rhetoric on the part of candidates in the recent Greek parliamentary elections has served as a reminder. Both Turkey and Greece are problematic: the first is, under the leadership of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) in the process of developing a new regional role for itself, one that appears to be taking it closer to authoritarian and radical states like Russia, Iran and Syria; the second is pursuing a damaging regional policy, involving hostility to the fragile states of Macedonia and Kosovo. With its campaign against Macedonia, in particular, Greece is threatening the stability of a neighbouring state where relations between the majority Macedonians and minority Albanians are already dangerously unstable.
Meanwhile, the policies of Serbia and Serb nationalism remain the single greatest source of Balkan instability. Serbia is still failing to arrest war criminals indicted by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, thereby obstructing its own EU integration. But more dangerously, it is pursuing a dog-in-the-manger policy vis-a-vis Kosovo, preventing the newly independent state from consolidating itself and integrating itself properly into the international community. The Serbia-Kosovo dispute poisons regional relations; Belgrade recently rebuked Skopje for the latter’s agreement with Pristina to resolve the Macedonia-Kosovo border dispute.
The most intractable regional problem of all, however, remains Bosnia-Hercegovina. The state is saddled with the unworkable constitutional order imposed upon it by the Dayton Accords of 1995, ensuring that the state cannot function and must remain in a state of permanent political crisis. Bosnia’s recent exclusion, along with Albania, from the EU’s grant of visa liberalisation to the western Balkans, that was applied to Serbia, Macedonia and Montenegro, has further entrenched divisions in the country and the wider region. Milorad Dodik, prime minister of Bosnia’s Serb entity, the Republika Srpska, is openly pursuing Bosnia’s full dismemberment; the aggressive and provocative nature of his policy was recently highlighted by the warm welcome he extended to the convicted war-criminal Biljana Plavsic, following her early release from prison in Sweden.
These home-grown Balkan problems are being exacerbated by the policies of outside powers. The revanchist, neo-Soviet regime in Russia is aggressively backing Serbia over Kosovo, preventing the dispute from being resolved. By doing so, Moscow is not merely undermining Kosovo, but is undermining also Serbia’s own complete transition into a post-nationalist liberal democratic state. Moscow aims to keep the Balkans divided to prevent their full integration into the Euro-Atlantic framework. Hence, Dodik was looking to Moscow when he unilaterally withdrew Bosnian Serb soldiers from participation in NATO exercises in Georgia.
The second major external source of Balkan instability is the weak and vacillating policy of the EU, dominated as the latter is by the Franco-German axis. Germany is pursuing a pro-Russian policy that is making the new East Central European members of NATO and the EU very uncomfortable, while France continues to seek a dissident role in the Western alliance vis-a-vis the Anglo-Saxon powers. Hence, the EU’s muted reaction to the Georgian war; the crushing of Washington’s Georgian ally was not allowed to get in the way of growing EU-Russian collaboration. The Georgian war was facilitated by the Franco-German blocking of the grant of NATO Membership Action Plans to Georgia, along with Ukraine, in the spring of 2008. French President Nicolas Sarkozy, pursuing his Gaullist policy of Mediterranean union, sees fit also to support Greece against Macedonia.
Such an attitude on the part of the EU also involves toleration of Serbian trouble-making vis-a-vis Kosovo and Bosnia. The Netherlands is essentially isolated in its continued insistence that Serbia’s progress on EU accession be linked to its arrest of war criminals. The EU, for its part, would like to see the Office of the High Representative (OHR) for Bosnia closed. Yet the OHR has been the principal integrating force in Bosnia since 1995. Take away the OHR, and Bosnia moves another step toward full partition.
The EU’s resolve over the Balkans is further weakened by the activities of dissident members. No unified EU policy exists over Kosovo on account of the refusal of five EU members to recognise the new state – all for nationalistic reasons. Romania and Slovakia perceive a ‘separatist’ parallel between the Kosovo Albanians and their own maltreated Hungarian minorities. Likewise, Spain is obsessed with ‘separatist’ parallels of its own vis-a-vis Catalonia and the Basque Country. Greece and Cyprus are traditional allies of Serbia; Cyprus also equates Kosovo with Turkish-occupied Cyprus. None of these states’ reasons for opposing Kosovo’s independence are very noble, yet the EU has no means of compelling them to keep ranks with the majority; the EU therefore pursues the policy of the lowest common denominator.
Although the EU has been as an instrument for bringing nations together, its recent policies in the Balkans are having the opposite effect. The veto that EU members enjoy in relation to membership bids by aspiring members places a weapon in the hands of trouble-makers lucky enough to already be in the club. The Slovenian-Croatian border dispute was exacerbated by Ljubljana’s use of its veto against Croatia. Although Ljubljana threatened to use its veto to keep Croatia out of NATO as well, Washington quickly put a stop to this mischief. Unfortunately, the EU states are much less ready than the US to put pressure on their partners to cease misbehaviour, and though Ljubljana did eventually lift its veto, this was not before it had won concessions over the border dispute at Zagreb’s expense.
Still more destructive has been the EU’s exacerbation of the Greek-Macedonian dispute. Despite the thoroughly pre-democratic and chauvinistic nature of Greece’s campaign against Macedonia, EU members have been wholly unwilling to put pressure on Athens to change it. So, rather than the whole club forcing a badly behaved member to behave better, the policy of the trouble-maker is imposed on the whole. The bad apple poisons the whole basket; the tail wags the dog.
The structural factors underlying the EU’s damaging policies vis-a-vis the Balkans are likely to become worse in the years to come. The accession of new members will give more states vetoes to use against aspiring members. After joining the EU, Croatia may use its veto against Serbia. If Macedonia does back down to Athens, Albania might be encouraged to use its veto to keep Macedonia out of NATO, to extract concessions regarding the Albanian minority in Macedonia. For while both Croatia and Albania have pursued responsible regional policies over the past ten years, the EU is sending out to them the wrong signals: that bad behaviour brings dividends.
Meanwhile, the EU’s growing energy dependency on Russia is likely further to dampen the EU’s resolve to resist the mischief of Moscow and Belgrade in the Balkans. Russian plans to build the ‘North Stream’ gas pipeline direct to Germany, bypassing the former-Communist states of East Central Europe, will allow it to exert leverage over its neighbours without simultaneously punishing its German ally.
As the EU moves increasingly to accommodate a dangerous and hostile power, so it is alienating an important power that has long assisted Balkan stability. Paris and Berlin have made it very clear they do not wish to allow Turkey to join the EU. This has had the predictable result that Turkey is losing is faith in the possibility of a European future, and is turning increasingly toward Russia, Iran, Syria and other radical and anti-Western states. Turkey has made huge strides this decade in improving its human rights record, as required by its bid for EU membership. For the same reason, it has facilitated a resolution of the Cyprus dispute through its support for the 2004 Annan Plan. As the prize of EU membership moves further from its grasp, Ankara may backslide over both human rights and Cyprus as well. There are worrying signs that the pace of democratisation in Turkey is indeed slowing -such as the record fine recently imposed on Dogan Yayin Holding AS – Turkey’s largest media group and critical of the AKP government.
A hardening of Turkey’s stance on Cyprus could lead to the collapse of the Greek-Turkish rapprochement, further damaging the prospects for the Balkans’ normalisation. For all its human rights abuses, Turkey has been playing a constructive role in the region, as the ally of the weak and vulnerable states of Bosnia, Kosovo and Macedonia. We do not know what the full consequences would be if Turkey fully abandons its European moorings and goes off in a new direction. But at the very least, an authoritarian Turkey headed by an Islamic-populist regime on the border of the Balkans will not have a positive effect on the region.
Unfortunately, alongside Russia and the EU, there is a third external factor whose contribution to Balkan stability currently raises concerns: the Obama Administration in the US. The latter’s abandonment of the Bush Administration’s plans to base a missile-defence system in Poland and the Czech Republic, in order to appease Moscow in the hope of obtaining Russian support vis-a-vis Iran, is a worrying indication of US passivity vis-a-vis Europe and Russia. The capitulation amounts to a betrayal of the security of allies in order to appease a hostile power, with echoes of Cold-War-style sphere-of-influence politics. While it is too soon to press the panic button over Obama’s policy toward Eastern and South Eastern Europe, we should be very concerned if Obama goes any further down this path.
For all these internal and external problems facing the Balkans, the success stories and models for future success are close at hand. Romania and Bulgaria are far from model democracies, and have serious problems with corruption and organised crime. Yet neither has engaged in military aggression or seriously attempted territorial expansionism since joining the free world in 1989; both are members of the EU and NATO. Turkey and Greece, following their heavy military defeats in World War I and the Greco-Turkish War respectively, pursued an enlightened policy of rapprochement vis-a-vis one another, eschewing territorial expansionism. This rapprochement was only derailed by the outbreak of the Cyprus conflict from the 1950s, and later resumed: Greece today is a vocal champion of Turkey’s EU membership. Croatia, too, following its unsuccessful expansionist adventure in Bosnia in the first half of the 1990s has, since the death of Franjo Tudjman in 1999, abandoned expansionism to pursue a responsible regional policy and EU membership.
The key to turning aggressive, expansionist Balkan states into responsible members of the European family, therefore, is for the international community to shut off all avenues for their expansionism and keep them firmly confined within their own borders. With all due qualifications, this is the way it has been for Romania, Bulgaria, Turkey, Greece and Croatia. Where these states have been less than responsible – as, for example, in the case of Turkey vis-a-vis Cyprus or Greece vis-a-vis Macedonia – this has occurred when there have been insufficient limits placed on their ability to coerce neighbours.
The biggest source of instability in the Balkans remains the fact that, thanks to the weakness and vacillation of Western and above all EU policy, Serbia has not been firmly confined within its borders, despite its defeat in the wars of the 1990s. Instead, Belgrade continues to destabilise the neighbouring states of Kosovo and Bosnia. Its ability to do so means that Serbia – unlike Bulgaria, Romania, Croatia, Greece and to an extent Turkey – is unable to develop a post-expansionist state identity; one that does not revolve around territorial aspirations towards neighbouring states. This is bad above all for Serbia itself – the reason why it is still a long way from EU membership, despite being before the 1990s more prosperous, developed and liberal than either Romania or Bulgaria.
The problem is not, however, ultimately with Serbia itself. In parliamentary elections following Kosovo’s independence last year, the Serbian electorate handed victory to the pro-European rather than the hardline nationalist parties, revealing what little stomach it has for renewed confrontation over Kosovo. Belgrade has also played its trump card with its case against Kosovo’s independence before the International Court of Justice (ICJ), and there is every reason to believe that the Court will not rule in its favour, even leaving aside the strength of Kosovo’s case. The ICJ’s judges come from different countries and their verdict will likely represent some form of compromise rather than award outright victory to one side or the other. Anything less than a full victory for Belgrade will effectively be a defeat, ambiguity leaving the door open for more states to recognise Kosovo’s independence while plausibly claiming to do so legally. In other words, both in terms of its range of available strategies and in terms of the popular support it enjoys, Serbian expansionism vis-a-vis Kosovo is a broken reed. With the Kosovo Albanians enjoying a comfortable majority in their country, their ultimate ability to consolidate their state is assured.
The principal problem for the region is the Bosnian question, and the policy of the Western alliance toward it. Unlike for all the other Balkan regional problems, for Bosnia, stability will not come through persuading or coercing the states involved to accept reality or to reach a compromise. For Bosnia, it is the very legal status quo and ‘compromise’, born at Dayton in 1995, that is generating instability for the state and the region. The Dayton order provides a framework that is gradually enabling the Bosnian Serb separatists, currently headed by Dodik, to establish the Bosnian Serb entity as a de facto independent state while preparing the ground for formal secession. The Bosniaks will, however, go to war to prevent this happening. It is a moot point what the outcome of such a military confrontation would be, but it is not something to which we should look forward.
Bosnia remains, therefore, the weak foundation-stone of Balkan stability. Only the transformation of Bosnia into a functioning state, through the transfer of most state powers from the entities to the central government, will guarantee against the outbreak of a new Bosnian war, and provide a final and definite check to Serbia’s expansionism, forcing that state wholly onto the post-expansionist path and removing the principal obstacle to the region’s progress.
Unfortunately, with Western and particular EU policy being what it is at present, such a decisive step seems unlikely. The problems facing the Balkans are neither huge nor insurmountable, yet Western passivity and vacillation seem set to allow these small problems to turn into larger ones. The Balkans look set for a rocky road ahead.
This article was published today on the website of the Henry Jackson Society. A longer version was given as a presentation to the Sussex European Institute on 3 November, entitled ‘How far are the Balkans from normalisation ?’
It’s official – Serbs are the agents of Western imperialism ! This, at least, is what the xenophobic Communist dinosaur Vladimir Voronin, President of Moldova, seems to believe; he has claimed that nine Serb nationals, working for the US, were responsible for organising protests in the Moldovan capital of Chisinau. Indeed, just as the Poles and other Central Europeans spearheaded the revolution against Communist tyranny that swept across the Eastern Europe and the Balkans in 1989 and the former Soviet Union in 1989-91, so it was the spectacular popular revolution against the Milosevic regime in 2000 that presaged the subsequent ‘colour revolutions’ in Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan. As democratisation spreads eastwards, so nations that were yesterday in the firm grip of tyranny are today viewed as sources of the democratic contagion by the tyrants and xenophobes who remain.
Moldova is not a one-party dictatorship and Voronin’s regime may enjoy the support of a majority of Moldova’s citizens. Yet the regime’s reaction to the popular protests against the Communists’ disputed electoral victory earlier this month shows that Voronin and his clique are anything but democrats. While the activists of Moldova’s ‘Twitter Revolution’ carried US flags and demanded EU integration, Voronin resorted to the familiar demagogue’s tactic of blaming evil foreign influences for the resistance to his regime. In addition to Serbs, he has singled out ‘imperialist’ Romania as the instigator of the protests – the former land of Ceausescu is apparently now a dangerous source of democracy. The Romanian ambassador to Moldova has been ordered out of the country and the Moldovan envoy from Bucharest recalled, while a visa regime for Romanian visitors is being reintroduced.
Natalia Morar, the supposed architect of the Twitter Revolution, has been placed under house arrest and may be charged with ‘inciting mass disorder’. A UN investigation has found evidence of the beating in prison of detained Moldovan protesters. Three people in total may have been killed in custody; the corpse of one, twenty-three-year-old Valeriu Boboc, was returned to his parents covered in bruises. Indeed, the torture meted out to prisoners has echoes of Serb concentration camps in wartime Bosnia. According to one victim, Ion Butmalai, ‘We were made to stand with our hands up facing a wall… They beat us with truncheons, and with their fists, and kicked us. They also hit us with rifles, on different parts of our bodies, in the head, in the back, in the legs.’ After being made to spend three or four hours outside in the cold, Butmalai says they were taken inside and forced to strip naked, then beaten again: ‘We were beaten until some of us were covered in blood, falling over. After that we were taken to the cells, 15 or 16 people to a cell.’
Police brutality, persecution of dissidents, extra-judicial killings and raging xenophobia are precisely what one would expect in response to popular protests from the regime of a president who, after being elected in 2001, pledged at a rally celebrating Lenin’s birthday: ‘Moldova must hold out in Europe as Cuba is holding out on the American continent… We will hold out to the end as Cuba is holding out among imperialist predators.’ You can take the apparatchik out of the Communist dictatorship, but you can’t take the Communist dictatorship out of the apparatchik. Yet Voronin’s tyranny does not exist in a vacuum: he is simply one of the clients of the Russian despot Vladimir Putin’s neo-Soviet empire. For Moldova never fully achieved independence following the break-up of the Soviet Union, as Moscow responded to Moldovan independence by providing decisive military support to separatists in Moldova’s Transnistria region, ensuring that this considerable slice of Moldovan territory would remain a Russian imperial outpost. Voronin has pursued a pro-Russian and anti-NATO foreign policy and soft-pedalled Moldova’s pursuit of the reintegration of Transnistria in return for the Kremlin’s backing. Moscow has ‘rewarded’ its Moldovan client by not formally recognising the ‘independence’ of Igor Smirnov’s grotesque neo-Soviet puppet-regime in Tiraspol, as it has with Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which it similarly hacked out of Georgia.
Voronin may be aspiring to be a Moldovan Putin and retain power behind the scenes after he steps down to make way for his presidential successor, but he is far from the worst of the Kremlin’s clients. That honour probably goes to the Russian-installed tyrant of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov. Although Moscow justified its murderous and destructive reoccupation of Chechnya with the claim that it was fighting Islamist terrorists, it is Moscow’s own protege, Kadyrov, who has introduced an exceptionally crude and brutal Islamic regime in the country. He was recently reported as justifying the murder of seven young Chechen women in honour killings on the grounds that they had ‘loose morals’ and deserved to die. In the words of the New York Times: ‘Kadyrov describes women as the property of their husbands and says their main role is to bear children. He encourages men to take more than one wife, even though polygamy is illegal in Russia. Women and girls are now required to wear head scarves in schools, universities and government offices.’ Meanwhile, Kadyrov has shown himself to be an adept instigator of international terrorism, systematically assassinating his exiled Chechen opponents from Vienna to Dubai. With Russia this month declaring its military operations in Chechnya over, the results of its Pyrrhic victory are all too clear: the creation of a Islamist, terrorist Frankenstein’s monster enjoying arguably as much real independence as the rebel Chechen regime of the 1990s ever did, but exercising it with a great deal more brutality.
The nature of the regime in Moscow is such that it works ceaselessly to prevent democratisation and stabilisation in the region. Following his energy dispute with Russia in 2007, Belarus’s Alyaksandr Lukashenka has moved closer to the EU and relaxed the reins of his dictatorship. Yet Russian pressure on him to recognise the breakaway Georgian regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia may, in the entirely possible event that he succumbs to it, drive a new wedge between Belarus and the EU and derail the country’s reform.
In Georgia, meanwhile, pro-Western president Mikheil Saakashvili is far from being a model democrat. Yet as the Economist notes, he is showing a willingness to reform: following a heavy-handed crackdown against protesters in November 2007 and resulting international disapproval, Saakashvili has responded with restraint to recent demonstrations against his rule, in a manner that contrasts favourably with Voronin’s behaviour. Even Eric Fournier, the French ambassador in Tbilisi, recently praised the Georgian government’s reaction to the protests as proof that ‘Georgia is developing as a democratic country.’ Yet the democratisation of Georgia, too, is being sabotaged by Moscow. In a manner reminiscent of Slobodan Milosevic’s use of Kosovo Serb demonstrators to threatend and destabilise other Yugoslav republics, Moscow recently attempted to send a convoy of vehicles carrying activists of ‘Nashi’, the Kremlin’s youth movement, into Georgia. The aim was to join the anti-government protests in Tbilisi, or failing that, to stage an incident at the demarcation line between Russian-held South Ossetia and government-held Georgia.
The Nashi foray was a continuation by other means of the Kremlin’s brutal assault on Georgia last year; an attempt to prevent the country’s transition into a functioning, economically successful Western-style democracy, and keep it within the Russian imperial sphere. Hardly surprising, then, that Saakashvili should be apprehensive about the possibility of a US detente with Russia in which Georgia would be sacrificed in return for Russian support for the US in other parts of the world: ‘I used to idealize America under Bush, when ideas were above pragmatic politics. Now it is a new time, when pragmatic politics are in charge of ideas. That might spoil the America I know.’
There are worrying signs that the Obama Administration may be seeking an entente with Russia at the expense of the US’s alliance with Central and East European states – Poland, the Czech Republic, Ukraine and Georgia – in the hope that Moscow will prove cooperative over Iran, Afghanistan and other areas. Such a policy would be disastrous. For quite apart from ethical objections to sacrificing relations with allies to appease an enemy, it simply will not work. The Russia of Putin and Dmitri Medvedev sees itself as a great power with the right to its own imperial sphere of influence in eastern and southeastern Europe, one that it sees as rightfully extending over countries that aspire to join NATO and the EU. Organised as it is along fundamentally authoritarian and populist-nationalist lines, the Putin regime is aware that maintenance or extension of this sphere is fundamentally irreconcilable with democratisation of the countries that lie within it, and with acceptance of the same set of international legal norms employed by the European democratic family. The present Russian regime is, in other words, structurally incapable of playing by the rules and of being a good neighbour.
To counter this Moscow-inspired corrosion of the eastern flank of democratic Europe, the Western alliance must insist loudly on respect for democracy, law and human rights. Flawed democratic allies such as Georgia must be firmly pressed to reform, but equally, we must take a very hard and vocal line against abuses of the democratic process in Moldova; against violations of international law by Belarus; and against acts of international terrorism and persecution of women by Chechnya. States whose police beat up and kill peaceful protesters or imprison pro-democracy activists, or that collude in the territorial dismemberment of other states, or that assassinate their dissidents abroad, must learn that they will pay a very heavy price in terms of their relations with NATO and the EU. In the case of Chechnya, which is not an independent state, Russia should be named and shamed for promoting an Islamist-terrorist regime within its own borders.
Romania has responded to the Moldovan regime’s behaviour by proposing that up to one million Moldovan citizens be granted Romanian citizenship. As Paul Bisca notes in the Washington Post, it is indicative of the EU’s pusillanimity in its reaction to the Moldovan events, that it has been more upset by the supposed danger to regional stability represented by the Romanian plan than by the behaviour of the Voronin regime in the first place. In fact, if the Romanian plan helps to destabilise the order represented by Putin, Medvedev, Lukashenka and Voronin, it should be welcomed, not feared. There can ultimately be no modus vivendi in Europe between democracy and neo-Soviet tyranny. The other side appreciates that; it is time we did as well.
This article was published today on the website of the Henry Jackson Society.
A no-brainer: NATO and the EU should not facilitate aggression and expansionism in South East Europe
One of the biggest arguments in favour of the European Union is that it has, along with its precursors, helped to keep the peace in Europe for nearly sixty years, turning previously hostile neighbours into partners in a common supranational, democratic European project. Meanwhile, NATO defended democratic Europe from Soviet expansionism. Today in the Balkans, however, both institutions are playing the opposite role: they are aiding and abetting regional predators in the pursuit of aggressive policies against neighbouring states. This is happening despite the fact that these aggressive policies are undermining both Western security and regional stability, and are contrary to the common interests of the EU and NATO member states. It is happening because existing members of both organisations enjoy the right to veto the accession of new members. Such a veto would be somewhat less problematic if all existing members were genuinely democratic states with no aggressive or expansionist ambitions. But unfortunately, this simply is not the case.
Last April, Greece vetoed Macedonia’s entry into NATO’s Membership Action Plan, because of the unresolved ‘name dispute’ between the two countries. Greece objects to Macedonia’s constitutional name, ‘The Republic of Macedonia’, and demands that Macedonia change it. The reason is that Greece does not recognise the existence of a Macedonian nation. In 1912-13, Greece conquered the portion of the Ottoman territory of Macedonia that today comprises Greek Macedonia. Since then it has pursued a policy of forced Hellenisation of the territory, involving varying policies of extermination, expulsion and forced assimilation of the non-Greek population. Thanks to these measures, a territory that was barely over two-fifths ethnic Greek in 1912 is today almost ethnically pure. This policy of enforced ethnic homogenisation has involved denying the existence of an ethnic Macedonian minority in Greece. When Yugoslavia broke up in the early 1990s, Greece expanded this policy to try to wipe the newly independent Macedonian nation-state, which had emerged from the former Yugoslavia, off the map, by forcing it to change its name, a policy whose pettiness was noted by David Cameron, currently leader of Britain’s Conservative Party, in a defence of Macedonia he wrote back in 2003. Consequently, Greece is blocking Macedonia’s entry into NATO.
Greece is a regional troublemaker of long standing that has repeatedly acted against Western interests in South East Europe. Its veto of Macedonia’s NATO bid was a violation of an international agreement, the Interim Accord of 1995, whereby Greece had undertaken not to block Macedonia’s entry into international organisations under the provisional name ‘Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia’. Macedonia has proven a better ally of the democratic world than Greece, contributing the same number of troops to the allied forces in Afghanistan as Greece, despite being a non-NATO country with a fifth of Greece’s population. The exclusion of Macedonia from Euro-Atlantic structures threatens to destabilise this fragile state, with potentially catastrophic consequences for Balkan regional stability. Yet by meekly acquiescing in Greece’s misuse of its veto, NATO effectively endorsed an act of petty Balkan nationalist aggression.
With Greece threatening to exclude Macedonia from the EU as well, the lesson had not been lost on other regional bullies. Slovenia is now threatening to keep Croatia out of the EU unless Zagreb cedes it territory on both land and sea. Because there is no actual legal validity to Slovenia’s territorial claims against Croatia, Slovenia is rejecting the idea that the case be resolved by the International Court of Justice, unless the latter’s decision is based on factors other than international law. As Xinhua News Agency diplomatically put it: ‘Slovenia has opposed taking the border issue to the ICJ unless the court uses the equity principle (ex equo et bono) in coming to a decision. This means the court can include any kind of circumstances, even if the valid international law does not [sic] (like historical facts), in order to reach a fairer verdict.’ Put simply, the Slovenes feel that because they don’t have much of a coastline, and Croatia has a long one, the Croats should give them some of theirs. Rather like demanding, on the principle of ‘fairness’, that someone who is richer than you are should hand over to you part of their savings. Since its territorial claim is political rather than legal, Ljubljana naturally prefers the idea of EU mediation to an ICJ legal ruling. Although not on an equivalent scale, this has disturbing echoes of the way in which Slobodan Milosevic successfully enlisted EU mediators such as David Owen and Carl Bildt to pressurise Bosnia’s leaders to accept an unprincipled settlement to the war of the 1990s. Great Serbia and Great Croatia have failed to come into being, but we may yet see the establishment of a Great Slovenia – thanks to the fact that Slovenia, unlike the expansionist Serbia and Croatia of the 1990s, is in the EU.
Thus, by colluding in Greece’s blackmail of Macedonia, Western leaders have given a green light to Slovenia’s blackmail of Croatia. Indeed, the far-right Party of the Slovenian People’ has been campaigning for Slovenia to veto Croatia’s entry into NATO as well, though so far without success. The Slovenian leadership has retreated from its own threat to obstruct Croatia’s entry into NATO under pressure from the US, which has, on this occasion, stood up to the local troublemaker for the sake of the Western alliance. This shows that, where there is a will on the part of the major NATO and EU states, a rogue member of the alliance can be pressurised to desist from its bullying of an aspirant member.
The unwillingness of the NATO and EU states, therefore, to exert enough pressure on Athens and Ljubljana to end their obstruction of Macedonia’s and Croatia’s Euro-Atlantic integration stems from a lack of will. In the case of Greece, its determination to keep Macedonia out of NATO and the EU has been bolstered by the opportunistic support of French President Nicolas Sarkozy – presumably an expression of his Mediterranean ambitions and of a residual Gaullism that conflicts with Washington’s support for Macedonia. Yet there has been no contrary support for Macedonia from within EU ranks. A sign of the unprincipled, pessimistic times is that even the International Crisis Group, once a voice of principled moderation, has advocated a Macedonian surrender in the name dispute in return for a Greek recognition of the Macedonian national identity.
It is, of course, easier for Western leaders simply to go with the flow, and appease the unprincipled nationalist demands of rogue NATO and EU states. Yet the more such appeasement occurs, the more problems are generated for the Western alliance. Croatian Prime Minister Ivo Sanader has taken the principled position, that Croatia will not obstruct Serbia’s entry into the EU as Slovenia’s has obstructed Croatia’s: ‘Croatia will not be to Serbia what Slovenia is to us’. Yet if EU diplomacy does result in a Croatian cession of territory to Slovenia, there is nothing to prevent an embittered Croatia from reversing Sanader’s position, and imposing territorial or other unreasonable demands on Serbia, Montenegro or Bosnia – all of which possess territories that Croat nationalists have traditionally claimed. 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. There are already enough obstacles in the way of the smooth Euro-Atlantic integration of the remaining Balkan states, without us encouraging those who might wish to create more of them. Then there are Cypriot objections to Turkey’s EU membership; potential Ukrainian and Moldovan differences over Transnistria; differences between Turkey and Armenia and between the Transcaucasian states. The national – or to be more accurate, nationalist – veto of new NATO and EU members by local rivals that are already members represents a very dangerous barrier to European unity and handicap for the Western alliance. If we ignore the problem, it will only get worse. NATO and the EU, which are supposed to act – and in the past have acted – as solvents of nationalist conflicts, will increasingly threaten the stability of the wider European world, by providing one side in a nationalist dispute – usually the side that’s in the wrong – with an unassailable advantage over its victim.
The Western democratic world faces serious opponents and enemies, from the regimes in Moscow, Tehran and Pyongyang to the Taliban and al-Qa’ida. We are faced with serious questions of how to organise our defence against these threats; how to reconcile the demands of security with the principle of civil liberties; how far to proceed with European integration; how to assimilate diverse religious and ethnic minorities to ensure the functioning of our multiethnic nation-states; how to protect the environment; and so forth. It beggars belief that our ability to respond to these challenges should be hampered by selfish members of our alliance that do not appear to understand the meaning of post-nationalist democracy upon which our Euro-Atlantic institutions rest.
Britain, the US and their friends should exert sufficient pressure – be it diplomatic, political or other – on Athens, Ljubljana or any other rogue member of our alliance, to desist from their unreasonable nationalist demands. We should furthermore be working, as the Henry Jackson Society has advocated, to abolish the right of individual NATO and EU states unilaterally to veto the membership of aspiring members. The dog should wag the tail, not vice versa.
This article was published today on the website of the Henry Jackson Society.
Update: The image below shows how Slovenia would like to redraw its maritime border with Croatia:
The following letter appeared in today’s Guardian:
Today is World Chechnya Day. On this day in 1944 Stalin deported the entire Chechen population of 500,000 people to Siberia and Kazakhstan, where almost half of them perished in 13 years of exile.
Sixty-five years on, the Chechen people are still suffering. After the collapse of the Soviet Union Chechnya existed as an independent state in all but name before Russian troops invaded in 1994. Following a bloody war, a peace accord was signed and democratic elections were held in Chechnya in 1997, only for Vladimir Putin to order its invasion in 1999, resulting in the displacement of several hundred thousand refugees and the death of another 100,000 civilians.
The Kremlin now claims that the war is over and that there is peace and stability in the region. The reality is that the intensive bombings have been replaced with a regime of fear and oppression which has eroded civil society in Chechnya and suppressed any open and democratic voice. Visits are carefully choreographed for western journalists and dignitaries. They do not see the daily realities of Moscow-imposed Ramzan Kadyrov’s rule.
The facade of stability is dangerous. The only way to establish lasting peace in Chechnya is through free and fair elections, which last took place over 10 years ago. On this World Chechnya Day, we urge President Medvedev to find a genuine political settlement that will finally put an end to an entire people’s suffering.
Ivar Amundsen Director, Chechnya Peace Forum,
Malcolm Rifkind MP, Andrew Motion, Ken Loach, Prof AC Grayling, Dr Benjamin Zephaniah, Andre Glucksmann, Aki Kaurismäki, Prof Brendan Simms, Jonathan Heawood, Glen Howard, Danny Alexander MP, Raymond Jolliffe, Nicolas Rea, Peter Tatchell
‘Left-wing people are always sad because they mind dreadfully about their causes, and the causes are always going so badly.’ – Nancy Mitford, The Pursuit of Love
Greater Surbiton became one year old on 7 November. Some weeks before that, it passed the figure of 100,000 page-views. Many thanks to all my readers. Well, at least to some of them. As it has been a very busy academic term, I have not had the time until now to write a suitably self-indulgent birthday post. I apologise in advance for the rambling that follows.
I had two principal aims in mind when launching this blog: to discuss what progressive politics might mean in the twenty-first century, and to provide commentary on South East European affairs. The second of these has tended to predominate, partly because it has been such an eventful year in South East Europe, with the international recognition of Kosova, the failed nationalist assault on the liberal order in Serbia, the escalation of the conflicts between Greece and Macedonia and between Turkey and the PKK, the failed judicial putsch against the AKP government in Turkey, the arrest of Radovan Karadzic, the Russian invasion of Georgia, and so on. Although the recognition of Kosova and the defeat of anti-democratic initiatives in Serbia and Turkey gives us reason for optimism about the region, all the indications are that events there will not cease to be ‘interesting’ in the forseeable future. Key struggles are either being decided now, or are simmering: for the international recognition of Kosova and its successful functioning as a state; for the defence of Macedonia’s name and nationhood; for the democratisation of Turkey; for the resolution of the Cyprus conflict; for the defence of Georgia’s independence and territorial integrity; and for the reintegration of Bosnia.
While I remain cautiously optimistic about at least some of these, reason for concern is provided by the direction in which EU policy is tending. This includes support for UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon’s disgraceful six-point plan for Kosova, which will reinforce the country’s ‘partition lite’. It includes also support for a new partnership with Russia, in violation of the ceasefire agreement over Georgia (from which Russian forces have refused fully to withdraw) and at the expense of the military defence of the states of Eastern Europe. All this indicates a new appetite for appeasement, for which France, Germany, Italy and Spain are principally responsible. The big unknown, at the time of writing, is precisely what the Obama Administration’s policy toward the region will be. I am somewhat Obamaskeptic and have voiced my concern about this already, but we really won’t know what Obama will do until he assumes office. In the meantime, I am happy to note that our own, British ruling classes show no indication of going back down the road shamefully trodden by John Major’s government in the 1990s: David Miliband’s performance as Foreign Secretary with regard to South East Europe has on the whole been commendable, while David Cameron’s response to Russian aggression in Georgia was magnificent. Whichever party wins the next British general election, the UK is likely to act as a brake on some of the more ignoble impulses of our West European allies.
It is fortunate, indeed, that the only political parties likely to win the next general election are Labour and the Conservatives, both of them respectable parties of government, rather than some irrelevant fringe group. Such as the Liberal Democrats. I have written to my various MPs several times in the course of my life, and on a couple of occasions to other elected politicians. The only one who never wrote back was my current MP Ed Davey, the MP for Kingston and Surbiton, to whom I wrote to ask to support the campaign to provide asylum in the UK to Iraqi employees of the British armed forces. No doubt, as Mr Davey has assumed the immensely important job of Liberal Democrat Shadow Foreign Secretary, he will have even less time to waste on trivial matters such as writing to his constituents, and no doubt democracy would anyway potter along so much better if we all stopped pestering our MPs. And the fruits of Mr Davey’s labour are there for all to see – such as this empty, incoherent, waffling attack on ‘neo-Cons, from Dick Cheney to David Cameron’, for being too ‘macho’ over Georgia. One can always rely on a certain type of wishy-washy liberal to be infinitely more offended by resolute calls for action against aggression than they are by the aggression itself. The line isn’t to oppose aggression, comrades; the line is to oppose people who oppose aggression. The electoral contest here in Kingston and Surbiton is a straight fight between the Conservatives and the LibDems; readers may rest assured I won’t be voting for the LibDems.
Indeed, as a point of principle, progressives can no longer automatically back the left-wing candidate against the right-wing candidate; we need to think hard before deciding whether to back Merkel or Schroeder; Sarkozy or Royal; Livingstone or Johnson; Obama or McCain; Cameron or Brown. Politicians and parties of the left or of the right may be a force for positive change, while both the parliamentary left and the right must move toward the centre if they want to win elections. Thus, the US presidential election was fought between two centrist candidates, lost by the one who waged the more divisive and partisan campaign, and won by the one who reconciled a message of change with a message of healing and reconciliation. About a billion commentators have pointed out the signficance of a black man being elected president of the US, yet it was the reviled George W. Bush who appointed the US’s first black Secretary of State, Colin Powell, in 2001, and first black woman Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, in 2005, something to which even the Guardian’s Gary Younge pays tribute.
Only joking. In his article at the start of this month on how inspiring the possibility of a black president is for young black people in the US, Younge actually complained that Obama hadn’t been all good, because he had voted to confirm Rice as Secretary of State. A couple of years ago, Younge said: ‘Of course, on one level it’s important that black people have the right to fuck up and to be bad, but we have to separate progress of symbols and progress of substance. At a symbolic level, Condoleezza Rice does represent some kind of progress, but if that’s where we are going with this thing I’m getting off the train now.’ Has everyone got that ? The election or appointment of black politicians to senior posts in the US should only be celebrated as symbolic of positive change if they’re politically sympathetic in the eyes of Guardian journalists.
If there’s one blogging decision I took that I was initially unsure about, but now definitely do not regret, it was the decision not to have comments. I realise that this makes me a social outcast in the blogosphere – something equivalent to a leper during the Middle Ages. But do you know what, dear readers ? I really don’t care. Just as I don’t like dog turds, half-eaten kebabs and squashed bubble gum littering the parks and pavements where I walk, let alone on my doorstep, so I don’t want my nice clean blog littered with comments from the assorted riff-raff of the internet: Chetniks; Ustashas; national chauvinists; genocide-deniers; Stalinists; Nazis; ‘anti-imperialists'; ‘anti-Zionists'; Islamophobes; Islamofascists; BNP supporters; SWP supporters; Red-Brown elements; ultra-left sectarians; toilet-mouthed troglodytes; Jeremy Kyle fodder; ‘Comment is Free’ types; and others like them. And I particularly don’t want flippant, inane comments that take ten seconds to think up and write, by Benjis who don’t bother to read the post properly in the first place. Thank you very much.
Let’s face it, members of the above-listed categories generally comprise about half of all the people who comment on blogs dealing with my fields.
Of course, all credit to those bloggers who do succeed in managing comments in a way that keeps the debate lively and the trolls and trogs to a minimum. But I see no reason why every article has to be followed by comments. While I applaud the democratisation of the means of communication that the blogging revolution represents, this democratisation has come at a price. The ubiquitous nature of online discussion and the generally inadequate level of comments moderation has resulted in a vulgarisation of public discourse. Where once the letters editor of a paper could be relied on to reject automatically semi-literate, abusive or otherwise bottom-quality letters for publication, now many, if not most, online discussions are filled with outright filth and rubbish. Well, I’m doing my bit for the online environment.
Related to this is the unfortunate fashion for blogging and commenting anonymously, which inevitably results in a ruder, nastier online atmosphere. I’m not going to judge any individual who chooses to remain anonymous – you may have a valid personal reason. But really, comrades, is all this anonymity necessary ? So long as you live in a democracy, and the secret police aren’t going to come round to visit you just because you express your opinion, then the default position should be to write under your real name.
Greater Surbiton has received plenty of intelligent criticism in the one year of its existence, and not a small amount of really stupid criticism. So, to round off this too-long post, I’m going to announce an award for Most Ill-Informed Attack on Something I Have Written. In this inaugural year, the award goes jointly to Hak Mao of the Drink-Soaked Troglodytes and to Daniel Davies of Aaronovitch Watch (unless you really have nothing better to do, you may want to stop reading at this point – it’s my time off and I’m having a bit of pointless fun with my sectarian chums).
‘There you are, minding your own business and then you read this steaming pile of bollocks: The most important change of opinion I’ve ever had … was realizing that ‘anti-imperialism’ … was something highly negative and reactionary, rather than positive and progressive. Can’t spell Vietnam, Laos, Amritsar, Bay of Pigs or Salvador eh? You are welcome to compose your own list of atrocities committed in the name of the ‘West’. And one of those whose historical contribution to human emancipation I most appreciate [is] … Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. The emancipation of Armenians was particularly heartwarming.’
This criticism is being made by someone who is a born-again Leninist and Trotskyist religious believer, whose favourite book is still Lenin’s ‘State and Revolution’, who views Trotsky’s martyrdom the way Christians view the crucifixion, but who nevertheless writes for a pro-war, Christopher-Hitchens-worshipping website.
The Bolshevik regime of Lenin and Trotsky armed and funded Mustafa Kemal’s Turkish nationalists. It signed a treaty ceding to Turkey territory that had been inhabited and claimed by the Armenians; the US president Woodrow Wilson had wanted the Armenians to receive much more territory than the Bolshevik-Turkish treaty gave them. The Turkish slaughter of Armenian civilians in Smyrna in 1922 was made possible by Bolshevik military and financial support for the Kemalists. The Bolshevik regime was therefore utterly complicit in Turkish-nationalist crimes against the Armenians.
Someone like Hak Mao, properly equipped with a Scientific Theory of Class Struggle, who is faithful to the Principles of Revolutionary Socialism and well versed in Marxist-Leninist Scripture, can simultaneously 1) revere Lenin and Trotsky, 2) ignore their support for Mustafa Kemal and their complicity in his crimes against the Armenians; 3) denounce bourgeois reactionaries like myself who write favourably about Mustafa Kemal; and 4) justify all this in ‘scientific’ Marxist terms. And of course, everyone knows that, were Lenin and Trotsky alive today, they would undoubtedly, as good anti-imperialists, have joined with Christopher Hitchens in endorsing George W. Bush’s presidential campaign, in welcoming the Bush dynasty to the campaign against Islamic terror, and in supporting Bush’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. And naturally they would still have denounced apostates and traitors to the cause of anti-imperialism, such as myself, in the strongest possible terms.
Anyone with a proper understanding of Dialectical Materialism can only reach this conclusion. If you do not reach this conclusion, it is because you do not have a proper understanding of Dialectical Materialism. And anyone without a proper understanding of Dialectical Materialism is an ignorant pleb whose views don’t count, and who should defer to a vanguard comprised of professional revolutionaries with a proper understanding of Dialectical Materialism.
Here’s a joke for the comrades:
Q. What do you call a racist, anti-Semitic, Great German nationalist supporter of capitalism, the free market, globalisation, Western imperialism and colonialism ?
A. Karl Marx
(NB I’m also pro-war over Iraq and Afghanistan, and I agree with Christopher Hitchens more often than not. But I don’t pretend to be an ‘anti-imperialist’.)
‘Bill Clinton collaborated with Slobodan Milosevic and the Taliban.’
Davies (‘Bruschettaboy’) replied:
‘call me a bad blogger, but I would shed very few tears and protest only halfheartedly at our terrible UK libel laws if it turned out that there were some sort of consequences for saying something like that.’
This is what Ahmed Rashid, one of the most eminent journalists of Afghanistan and the Taliban, writes in Taliban: Islam, Oil and the New Great Game in Central Asia:
‘Between 1994 and 1996 the USA supported the Taliban politically through its allies Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, essentially because Washington viewed the Taliban as anti-Iranian, anti-Shia and pro-Western. The USA conveniently ignored the Taliban’s own Islamic fundamentalist agenda, its suppression of women and the consternation they created in Central Asia largely because Washington was not interested in the larger picture.’
Hopefully, Rashid will agree to be my defence witness in the event that Clinton follows Daniel’s advice and takes me to court.
As for Milosevic, Davies clearly has not heard of the Dayton Accord, but I assume everyone else who reads this blog has (certainly everyone who reads it as assiduously as Daniel does), so I’ll confine myself to posting this picture of Clinton’s man Richard Holbrooke, the architect of Dayton, carrying out Western imperialist aggression against the anti-imperialist Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic:
You see, comrades from the ‘Indecent Left’ like Daniel see their mission as defending the leaders of Western imperialism and their record over crises like Afghanistan or Bosnia, from condemnation coming from the ranks of the ‘Decent Left’, and they do so in the most strident and aggressive manner – even when the condemnation is totally justified. And there I was, thinking we were all part of the same left-wing extended family.
Honestly, what a bunch of splitters.
Update: Davies isn’t now trying to defend his previous claim that Clinton never collaborated with Milosevic or the Taliban, and that I deserve to be sued for saying so, but is taking refuge in the defence that he didn’t understand what I was saying, because I wasn’t expressing myself clearly.
What do you think, readers, is the sentence ‘Bill Clinton collaborated with Slobodan Milosevic and the Taliban’ at all difficult to understand ? Is the grammar or vocabulary at all complicated ? Perhaps I’m using opaque academic jargon that a non-specialist might find difficult ?
Or could it be that Daniel simply isn’t the sharpest tool in the box ?
It may be that I have spent too much time living in Serbia and studying it, and that some of that fabled Serbian inat, or bloodymindedness, has rubbed off on me (readers may be surprised to learn that, as an adult, I was christened in the Serbian Orthodox Church, something that occurred not because of religious belief – of which I have none – but because I was once married to a Serbian woman). Or it may be just that I don’t like jumping on bandwagons. Be this as it may, I’m not prepared to follow the herd and endorse Obama for US president. That said, there are some powerful arguments to be made in favour of Obama, which I have been hearing from Obama supporters – such as my own girlfriend, as well as my mother – for some time now. The strong reasons for supporting McCain, however, which I have outlined in previous posts, remain. Each of the candidates offers a very different set of advantages and disadvantages, and a US citizen deciding whom to vote for should weigh them up very carefully before deciding.
One of the paradoxes of this election is that Obama is perceived by much of the liberal intelligentsia in the West as being the progressive, anti-establishment candidate, even though his likely election victory will owe much to the fact that his campaign has enjoyed much greater financial resources than McCain’s. The richer candidate is spending his way to victory; even if a large part of this funding has consisted of small donations, the hated representatives of American capitalism have hardly been falling over themselves to fund his Republican opponent. Yet Obama’s greater popularity among the liberal intelligentsia, and indeed among international opinion generally, is undeniably because he is more widely – and unfairly – seen as less quintissentially American than McCain. Obama may be just another liberal Democrat in the tradition of Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter, but for various reasons – in part because he would represent a dramatic break with the politics of George Bush, in part because he is black, and in part because he is undeniably charismatic – he has been invested with much greater belief on the part of the outside world as a force for change than he probably warrants.
But perception matters. And here is the strongest reason for voting for Obama. A President Obama would restore the world’s goodwill toward the US. The outside world will give him the benefit of the doubt, and the US a second chance to enjoy the degree of international popularity it enjoyed before 9/11. Conversely, a victory for McCain – particularly after such a strong and sustained poll lead enjoyed by Obama for so long – would produce another great outpouring of anti-American bile across the world, and above all from the ranks of the European chattering classes. The Republicans would, once again, be viewed as having unfairly stolen the election; their regime would enjoy little international credibility or goodwill. McCain will be painted as a continuation of Bush, and continue to be punished for the sins, real or perceived, of his predecessor. Obama would, therefore, be better able than McCain to restore the US’s network of alliances and connections, rejuvenating the US’s world leadership, or what is termed on the left as ‘American imperialism’.
Yet the reason why Obama would enjoy such international goodwill, and be able to restore the US’s world image and standing, is also the reason why one should think twice before supporting him: the world prefers soft US presidents, and Obama will undoubtedly be a much softer president than McCain. George Bush Snr betrayed the Iraqi Kurds in 1991 and acted to keep Saddam Hussein in power; Bill Clinton collaborated with Slobodan Milosevic and the Taliban, and strove hard to keep the US from having to intervene to stop genocide in Rwanda and Bosnia; yet neither has earned the kind of opprobrium incurred by the current US president for the crime of overthrowing Saddam. Obama has shown himself to be less committed than McCain to the defence of democratic Iraq and of independent Georgia; his restoration of US popularity globally may come at a high price.
Obama’s choice of the tough and experienced Joe Biden as his running mate does something to allay one’s concern at the foreign-policy implications of his presidency. Biden deserves credit for his opposition to aggression and ethnic cleansing in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s. But his instincts have not always been so good: he has supported the partition of Iraq. Biden is, like Obama, pro-Greek and anti-Turkish; they would be taking over leadership of the US at a time when, given the threats posed by the hostile regimes in Moscow and Tehran, we need to maintain the Turkish alliance, and at a time when Greece’s merciless bullying of the fragile Republic of Macedonia potentially threatens disaster in the Balkans.
So the choice between Obama and McCain revolves around the question of whether it is better to have a US president who can restore the US’s global popularity and standing but is likely to be less resolute in resisting the enemies of the democratic world, or a president who will be globally unpopular but more determined in resisting our enemies.
Some readers may feel that US domestic policy should count for more in this weighing up. All well and good; I prefer Obama to McCain on domestic issues, but there are 6.7 billion people in the world, and only 300 million of them are Americans. The United States is a sophisticated system of decentralised democracy and constitutional checks and balances, and the battle between conservatism and liberalism will continue to be fought out at multiple levels throughout the country, regardless of which candidate wins. But it is foreign policy where the president’s voice counts for most. I would discount on principle the idea that one should vote on the basis of the candidate’s age or skin-colour; Winston Churchill was presiding over the Normandy Landings when he was only a year or two younger than McCain is today, and was several years older when he became prime minister for the second time, while the social changes that have made it possible for the US presidency to be within reach of a black candidate have occurred, and will continue to occur, regardless of who wins. The fact that Obama supposedly is friends with various dangerous radicals is a big red herring; most of us probably have been, one way or another. But it is no more a red herring than the big Sarah Palin bogey; Palin was brought in by McCain to mobilise the Republican base; she will not determine US policy. McCain might die in office and leave the inexperienced and very right-wing Palin as acting president. But probably not. Finally, I have faith that US capitalism will rejuvenate itself, regardless of who is managing the economy.
So for me, it boils down to a choice between the man who will capture the world’s hearts and the man who will fight the world’s enemies. While there are strong arguments to be made for each, I would always support the candidate who, when the chips were down, defended a small nation against a brutal aggressor, against the candidate who has supported an aggressor against a fragile small nation.
Others may draw the line in a different place.
According to a popular left-liberal viewpoint that has become widespread since the run-up to the Iraq War, US unilateralism threatens an otherwise stable global order that rests on international law underpinned by the UN. The latter, so the argument goes, is the institutional safeguard protecting the world from the unhindered exercise of power by the US; the guarantor of weak or independently minded nations that rightly fear American imperialism.
Some of us, however, suspected that this ‘multilateralist’ viewpoint was, more often than not, expressed insincerely by those who were much more interested in opposing the US than they were in upholding international law. We have only had our suspicions confirmed by the tepid international reaction to the Russian assault on Georgia. This unilateral invasion of a sovereign state, occurring without UN Security Council authorisation, has provoked rather less left-liberal outrage than the US invasion of Iraq, though it represented by any standards a much greater violation of the principle of state sovereignty – involving, as it did, territorial dismemberment and the unilateral redrawing of international borders – and though it was directed against a state that, unlike Iraq, represented no threat to its neighbours and was a democracy, albeit highly flawed. There has been no million-strong demonstration in London against the Russian invasion of Georgia. Still more pointed has been the support for the Russian aggression expressed most strongly by the very states, left liberals might have argued, that are most in need of the UN as a safeguard against the US.
The defection of the Libyan regime of Muammar al-Gaddafi from the ‘Axis of Evil’ has often been cited as one of the achievements of the Bush Administration and its tough policy on rogue states. Yet Libya has welcomed the Russian assault on Georgia. ‘What happened in Georgia is a good sign, which means America is no longer the sole world power setting the rules of the game,’ Seif al Islam al-Gaddafi, son of the Libyan leader and head of the Gaddafi Foundation, has been quoted as saying; ‘There is a balance in the world now. Russia is resurging, which is good for us, for the entire Middle East.’ Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, who in the 1980s successfully sued the US at the International Court of Justice, is the first head of state apart from Russia formally to recognise the ‘independence’ of the break-away Georgian territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, denouncing as he did so ‘political hegemonies’ that were ‘trying to surround Russia’. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has blamed the US, Georgia and ‘Zionists’ for the war in the Caucasus: ‘In our opinion, if Georgian officials had acted properly and not allowed outside forces to interfere, the situation wouldn’t have taken on its current dimensions’. Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, too, supports Russia’s dismemberment of Georgia: ‘Russia has recognized the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. We support Russia. Russia is right and is defending its interests.’ Chavez has announced that Venezuela will host Russian troops and warships and carry out joint military exercises with Russia. According to Cuba’s Raul Castro, ‘It’s false that Georgia is defending its national sovereignty'; he went on to claim that the ‘Autonomous Republic of South Ossetia historically formed part of the Russian Federation’. Syria’s Bashar al-Assad, in the course of offering to host Russian missiles on Syrian territory, stated ‘I think that after the crisis with Georgia, Russia has become only stronger'; furthermore, ‘It’s important that Russia takes the position of a superpower, and then all the attempts to isolate it will fail.’
Thus, far from seeing the UN and international law as desirable safeguards against ‘US imperialism’, those states – one or two of them headed by left-liberal icons – that are actually most in conflict with the latter are rushing to demolish these supposed safeguards. Russia is providing a banner behind which the West’s enemies can unite, even if this means tearing up the UN Charter and colluding in the invasion and dismemberment of a UN member-state.
Yet if the closing of ranks of the West’s enemies behind a nuclear-armed aggressor is a reason for consternation, we can draw comfort from a definite success story: one former rogue state, at least, appears definitely to have reformed. In Serbia, pro-Western parties emerged successful from parliamentary elections this spring; the new government appears to be cooperating with the war-crimes tribunal in The Hague, and has arrested the fugitive former Bosnian Serb warlord Radovan Karadzic; the leading Serbian anti-Western political force, the neo-Nazi Radical party, has imploded. The Serbian case is particularly significant because it is over Serbia that the Western alliance has frequently been condemned for acting ‘unilaterally'; i.e., without UN authorisation. That is, NATO went to war with Serbia in 1999 without UN sanction, then the US and most NATO and EU countries recognised the independence of Kosovo this year, again without UN sanction.
It is NATO and the EU, rather than the UN, than have proved the motors of change in Serbia; the promise of a European future has been the bait that has lured Serbian voters away from the nationalist parties, and the Serbian government toward collaboration with The Hague, while it was the question of whether to support Serbia’s Stabilisation and Association Agreement with the EU that occasioned the split among the Radicals. Far from the recognition of Kosovo’s independence driving Serbia into the arms of the nationalists, it has hastened the nationalists’ political decline. True, Serbia is still seeking to have the International Court of Justice rule the recognition of Kosovo’s independence illegal. But while we may deplore this move, it nevertheless represents a civilised way of conducting a dispute; a tremendous step forward from the rioting and attacks on foreign embassies that took place in Belgrade in February in response to international recognition of Kosovo’s independence.
The Western approach to Serbia has therefore proved a successful one: stick and carrot; military firmness combined with economic incentives and democracy promotion – mostly conducted independently of the UN. An approach of this kind is often stereotyped by its critics, whether from conservative-isolationist or left-liberal schools of opinion, as amounting simply to military aggressiveness. Yet the military-deterrent aspect of the Western policy that has guided Serbia toward Europe has ultimately proved less decisive than the economic carrot of EU integration. That this is so is highlighted by the failure of Western policy regarding a coutry that should, logically, be firmly in the Western camp but that may be slipping away: Turkey. Although Turkey is a loyal NATO member of long-standing; although it has long been committed to joining the EU; although it has responded relatively well to diplomatic and economic incentives to democratise; and although it historically fears Russian imperialism, yet Turkey is developing increasingly friendly relations with both Russia and Iran. Ahmadinejad visited Istanbul last month, and Ankara and Tehran reached agreements on a number of areas, though a full energy pact was not signed on account of US objections.
Heavily dependent on Russian trade and energy supplies, Ankara has meanwhile refused to support Georgia’s membership of NATO, resisted talk of modifying the Montreux Convention limiting naval access to the Black Sea by the US and other outside powers, and barred two US warships from entering the Black Sea in support of Georgia. Ankara is meanwhile promoting a ‘Caucasus Stability and Cooperation Pact’ that would group together Turkey, Russia, Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan – its essential purpose is to enable Turkey to establish a working regional collaboration with Russia that bypasses the US. Ankara’s drift toward friendship with two of the Western alliance’s most dangerous enemies is an all-too-predictable consquence of the declining attraction of the EU option for Turkey, resulting from open French and German opposition to Turkey’s EU membership. Given events in Georgia, the Franco-German alienating of Turkey appears increasingly short-sighted. The Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline, that goes through Turkey, is the only pipeline transporting Caspian crude oil that does not go through Russia. Turkey’s strategic importance is increasing exponentially just as Franco-German cold-shouldering is having its negative effect.
Events on the world stage this summer have shattered the multilateralist, soft-liberal dream of a post-Cold-War world presided over by the UN, in which UN members live harmoniously according to its rules. Instead, the UN is resuming its Cold War role as merely one, ineffectual forum in which the conflict between the Western alliance and the anti-Western bloc is played out. In these circumstances, there is no point in believing in illusions about a UN-governed world that our enemies do not share. As the Serbian example shows, democratisation and integration into the democratic family of nations are the best way to remove the threat from a rogue state; even when not overtly hostile, dictatorships – from Pakistan to Libya – make unstable, unreliable allies. We should be foolish indeed if we were to abandon our support for democracy and human rights abroad, through diplomatic, economic and where necessary military means. The enemies of liberal democracy will always play by their own rules; we should play by ours.
This article was published today on the website of the Henry Jackson Society.
‘Georgia has lost South Ossetia and Abkhazia for good’—one can almost taste the relish in the Guardian’s editorial of 15 August, as it argued against even peaceful, diplomatic measures to punish Russia for attacking Georgia. For a significant strand of left-liberal opinion in the UK, the default position on the Russia-Georgia conflict is that it is payback for earlier western sins in Iraq and Kosovo; that US, not Russian, warmongering is the problem. Yet none of this is true. Russia’s intervention in Georgia and recognition of Abkhazia’s and South Ossetia’s ‘independence’ are not equivalent to western action over Kosovo or Iraq, and we allow them to go unpunished at our peril…
[The rest of this article can be read at Prospect]
- Basque Country
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