Greater Surbiton

The perfect is the enemy of the good

Rihanna and Cyprus

The beautiful and talented singer Rihanna is due to perform on 7 September at the opening of the new luxury Fashion Castle Hotel in the town of Kyrenia in Turkish-occupied Northern Cyprus. Rihanna is, apparently, a personal friend of 2006 Miss Universe Zuleyka Rivera Mendoza, whose husband Yılmaz Bektaş is the owner of the hotel. The news has prompted the launch of a campaign by Greek Cypriots and others to stop the performance from taking place. Last month, singer Jennifer Lopez was successfully dissuaded from performing in Turkish-occupied Cyprus by a similar campaign, with twenty-three thousand people apparentlly joining a Facebook group in opposition. Lopez initially justified the cancellation of her visit to Northern Cyprus with a statement on her website citing human rights violations, but subsequently removed it and apologised to Turkish Cypriot fans.

One can sympathise with Greek Cypriot campaigners who wish to see an end to the Turkish occupation of their country. Yet there can be no justification for a campaign of this kind. The Turkish Cypriot population, supported by the current Turkish government, voted overwhelmingly in a referendum in 2004 for the reunification of Cyprus on the basis of the UN’s Annan Plan. The Annan Plan was torpedoed by Greek Cypriot nationalist opposition led by the then Cypriot president, Tassos Papadopoulos. Although there were legitimate reasons for Greek Cypriot dissatisfaction with the terms of the plan, its rejection also reflected the fact that significant sections of the Greek Cypriot population favour the status quo in Cyprus. These include holiday resort proprietors who fear the competition from Turkish Cypriot competitors; refugees from the invasion who received property as ‘temporary’ compensation that was superior to what they had owned in the North, and who do not wish to switch back; nationalists opposed to any compromise with the Turks; and many ordinary citizens who resent paying for Turkish Cypriot healthcare and benefits.

In these circumstances, and in view of the fact that a settlement of the Cyprus question has proved elusive for thirty-six years, it is monstrously unfair to keep the North permanently cut off from the outside world. The independence of the ‘Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus’ should not be recognised, as that would amount to legitimising Turkish aggression and ethnic cleansing. But nor should the international community provide unequivocal and unconditional support to the Greek Cypriot side, particularly in light of the destructive regional policy that Greece and Cyprus are pursuing vis-a-vis Kosovo and Macedonia. There is no reason still to believe, after thirty-six years, that a settlement of the Cyprus question will come through continuing the embargo on, and isolation of the North. Continued progress towards Turkish EU membership will provide the best incentive for Turkey to reach a settlement.

In the meantime, the people of Northern Cyprus should enjoy Rihanna’s visit.

Tuesday, 17 August 2010 Posted by | Cyprus, European Union, Greece, Marko Attila Hoare, Turkey | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The difficult road to Balkan stability

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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 ?’

Monday, 9 November 2009 Posted by | Balkans, Bosnia, Caucasus, Croatia, Cyprus, European Union, Former Yugoslavia, France, Germany, Greece, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, NATO, Russia, Serbia, Slovenia, Turkey | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A no-brainer: NATO and the EU should not facilitate aggression and expansionism in South East Europe

sloveniaOne 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:

piran

Thursday, 26 March 2009 Posted by | Balkans, Caucasus, Croatia, Cyprus, Former Yugoslavia, France, Genocide, Greece, Macedonia, Moldova, NATO, Serbia, Slovenia, Transnistria, Turkey | Leave a comment

Popular protest in South East Europe bolsters the democratic world

otpor1Idealism is the new realism, it has been said. Nowhere has the adage proved more pertinent than in South East Europe, where socially fired popular protests against despotic regimes have consistently worked to strengthen the position of the Western alliance and the democratic world generally. It was, of course, thanks to the great wave of democratic revolutions in 1989, culminating in the overthrow of Nicolae Ceausescu, that the two East Balkan countries of Romania and Bulgaria – not so long ago bastions of the worst kind of Communist tyranny – are today members of NATO and the EU. Serbia’s turn toward the West began with the revolution of October 2000 that overthrew Slobodan Milosevic; though this turning point turned out to be less sharp than was first imagined, Serbia’s evolution into a democratic state with credible ambitions to EU membership has been steady, if not exactly smooth, since then. Georgia and Ukraine, too, turned westward with the Rose and Orange Revolutions of 2003 and 2004.

Some might be inclined to view this through Cold War lenses, and to say that such upheavals are to be desired when directed against hostile regimes, but less so when directed against those that are our allies. Yet this would be to fail to grasp the political realities of the late 2000s. For there is a very good case to be made that states today that are less than democratic are necessarily less than perfect as allies, and that being subject to democratic change can only improve them in this regard. This is because authoritarian regimes tend inevitably to present pressure for democratic change in occidentalist, nativist terms, as part of an alien, Western imperialist, possibly Jewish assault on the nation. And rhetoric of this kind inevitably serves to undermine any alliance we may have with them, even if purely geopolitical factors should work in favour of such an alliance. Conversely, genuine democrats in non-democratic or democratising states will usually look to the US and EU as beacons of light.

This may be demonstrated by a look at the southern flank of South East Europe – Turkey and Greece. Both countries have been committed members of NATO for many years, but anti-democratic tendencies in both have rendered them less than model allies. Turkey’s brutal suppression of its Kurdish population, and the resulting war between the Turkish security forces and Kurdish PKK rebels, has persistently spilled over into northern Iraq, further undermining stability in that already barely stable country. Turkey is a strategically crucial member of the Western alliance, yet its human rights abuses, its restrictions on free speech and its military’s interference in politics have helped to keep it out of the EU. Turkey’s gradual democratisation in recent years, under the guidance of the moderately Islamic, pro-EU Justice and Development Party (AKP), has ironically, according to some sources, led extremist elements from the ranks of the secular Turks to begin closing ranks with the Turkish Islamists on an anti-democratic, anti-Western basis. It is the democratising elements that look westward, while their opponents seek to defend the nation and/or faith from corrupting Western influences.

As for Greece, though its restrictions on democracy and human rights abuses are not on the scale of Turkey’s, as an ally of the West it scores much lower than its eastern neighbour – precisely because it is not a mature democracy. Greece’s disgraceful role in regional politics; its past support for the Milosevic regime; its undermining of the fragile states of Macedonia and Kosova – all are the result in large part of a Greek ultranationalism that also hates the West as the mortal enemy of the Orthodox East, as Greek journalist Takis Michas has brilliantly described. Greece is, furthermore, among the most anti-Semitic countries in Europe, something that the Greek media’s reaction to the Gaza conflict has only confirmed.

Both Greece and Turkey are, however, countries whose internal politics are very much in states of flux. Greece has in recent weeks been the scene of a huge explosion of social anger on the part of youth and workers, directed against the very government of Costas Karamanlis that has been proving such a menace to regional stability. The protests have included riots, vandalism and assaults on police officers, something that can only be condemned without reservation. But the violent element cannot obscure the large numbers of Greeks who have been protesting and striking peacefully. Although the protests have now passed their peak, the social struggle in Greece is not over; Greek farmers are currently blockading roads and border crossings in Greece in protest at the low prices of farm produce. It would be a mistake to see these protests purely in social terms; as was the case with the Romanian revolution of 1989 and the Serbian revolution of 2000, the Greek protests, fired as they are by social grievances, may have positive political effects. There is every reason to hope that these protests will hasten the end of the Karamanlis regime and contribute to a political rejuvenation of Greek politics, resulting in a country more at peace with itself and with its neighbours.

There was a time, perhaps still not completely past, when radical socialists would see in every wave of social protest the harbinger of the overthrow of capitalism, and many members of the conservative right would fear such protest for the same reason. Yet saner heads today know this is false: ordinary people are fundamentally conservative with a small ‘c’. They do not want the overthrow of capitalism, or revolution for revolution’s sake, but engage in social protest defensively, when the system seems to be letting them down. What they want is stability, prosperity and the pursuit of happiness – things that liberal democracy is better able to offer than any other political system. For all the Cassandras’ talk of how recognising Kosova’s independence in February 2008 would drive the Serbian people into the arms of the extreme nationalists, most Serbian people are fundamentally less interested in Kosova than they are in feeding themselves and their families – as was proved when pro-European elements won the Serbian parliamentary elections that followed soon after international recognition of Kosova’s independence. Bread and butter issues will, in the last resort, trump nationalist pipe-dreams; Turkish Cypriots abandoned the unrealisable goal of an independent Turkish Cypriot state when in 2004 they voted overwhelmingly in favour of Cyprus’s reunification on the basis of the Annan Plan, because they wanted to enjoy the benefits of EU membership. Greek students who had a better chance of finding decent jobs and pursuing more promising careers after graduating would be less likely to go out on to the streets to fight the police. Thus, the ordinary people of the Balkans, like the rest of us, have an interest in the spread of stable, post-nationalist liberal democracy. 

Quieter, but perhaps ultimately more significant than the social explosion in Greece, is the movement to apologise for the Armenian genocide currently under way in Turkey; more than 28,000 Turkish citizens to date have signed a petition drafted by a group of Turkish intellectuals apologising for what happened to the Armenians in 1915. Turkish state prosecutors have announced they will not take action against the organisers of the petition. This campaign, the work of entirely mainstream Turkish academics, journalists and others, marks a tremendous step forward for Turkish democracy; a step toward a Turkey that will, it is to be hoped, enjoy normal relations with neighbours like Armenia, Cyprus and Iraq, and whose commitment to, and sharing of the values of, the Western democratic bloc will be unquestioned. Yet this process of democratisation depends entirely on the initiatives of brave individuals, such as the organisers of the apology petition.

No southeast European nation is a stauncher friend of the West than Kosova. Here, a particularly active protest movent exists, directed against the international administration of the country but catalysed by social discontent, and spearheaded by Vetevendosje. Given the dismal record and stupendous corruption of the United Nations Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) and the pusillanimity of the EU in resisting Serbian efforts to destabilise Kosova, the frustration and anger that have spawned this movement can only be described as entirely legitimate and justified. The people of Kosova are as deserving of full democracy as any other nation, and full democracy requires full international independence. If we allow the international administration of Kosova to drag on indefinitely, without any meaningful progress on the reintegration of the Serb-controlled areas, we shall only have ourselves to blame for any future popular explosions in Kosova in which the international administration finds itself on the receiving end.

We can, at the very least, learn something from the Russians about how not to treat one’s allies. After the Russians cut gas supplies to the Balkans in the course of their dispute with Ukraine, citizens of Russia’s supposed ‘ally’ Serbia, in the industrial city of Kragujevac, burned a Russian flag earlier this month in protest at being left without heat during the winter. And as one elderly Belgrade resident was quoted as saying, ‘Russians always gave us nothing but misery. They should never be trusted, as this gas blackmail of Europe shows’. Resentment of Russia is not limited to Serbia, but has spread across eastern Europe. In the words of one elderly citizen of Bulgaria, another country frequently described as traditionally pro-Russian: ‘This is a war without weapons in which Russia has used its control of energy supply to flex its muscles in front of the world… I am cold and angry. We have always been dependent on Russia, and this crisis shows that the situation hasn’t changed. Instead of bombs or missiles, they want us to freeze to death.’ In the Bulgarian port of Varna, residents demonstrated in front of the Russian consulate, holding banners that read ‘Stop Putin’s gas war’. Moscow’s mistake has been to wage its gas war indiscriminately, without taking into account the effect this would have on South East Europeans upon whose goodwill its geopolitical ambitions ultimately depend.

The biggest advantage that the democratic world has over its enemies is that its governments govern with the consent of the people. We must never forget this, as we strive to deal with the difficult set of problems facing us in South East Europe.

jebitese

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

Wednesday, 28 January 2009 Posted by | Balkans, Cyprus, Former Soviet Union, Former Yugoslavia, Georgia, Greece, Kurds, Macedonia, NATO, Russia, Serbia, Turkey | 1 Comment

Time for an Israeli-Palestinian Rambouillet ?

gaza1In deciding to comment on the conflict in Gaza, I’m reminded of the old joke from the time of the siege of Sarajevo, in which someone is alleged to have written on a Sarajevo wall, ‘Comrade Tito, please come back to us’, and someone else then wrote below, ‘I am not so stupid’. The bitterness of the polemics over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is certainly on a par with the bitterness of those over the former Yugoslavia, which is enough to make even a Balkan veteran such as myself think twice before venturing onto the Gazan terrain. Yet it is increasingly difficult to remain silent in the face of the escalating calamity of the Palestinian and Israeli peoples.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is, in essence, a national conflict similar to those over Bosnia, Kosova, Cyprus and Turkish Kurdistan. Yet for all the similarities, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is also unique, in the peculiar symmetry of the legitimate causes of each of the two sides. There is or was no justice whatsoever in Turkey’s oppression of the Kurds, in Serbia’s oppression of the Kosova Albanians, in Turkey’s dismemberment of Cyprus or in Serbia’s and Croatia’s dismemberment of Bosnia. Any discussion of these cases must proceed from the basis that the respective instances of national oppression or aggression, in each case, are injustices that must be addressed, and that the injustices carried out or threatened by the other sides in each conflict are simply of a lower order of magnitude. For example, no amount of irritation at Greek Cypriot behaviour in recent years, or sympathy for the current Turkish government’s honourable attempts to reach a settlement over Cyprus, can obscure the fact that the Turkish partition of Cyprus is an injustice that should never be recognised. In the case of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, however, the absolute legitimacy of the Israeli quest to survive in the face of sections of the Arab and Muslim world that do not recognise its right to exist is matched by the absolute legitimacy of the Palestinian quest for national independence and statehood.

Thus, it does not make sense to attribute to either side in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict the role of national oppressor equivalent to Serbia with regard to the Kosova Albanians or Turkey with regard to the Kurds. Israel’s horrific oppression of the Palestinians is an absolute, and the existential threat to Israel represented by Arab and Muslim rejectionism is also an absolute. Hamas is at once the representative of the oppressed Palestinians of Gaza and the spearhead of the Islamist campaign to wipe Israel off the map. This peculiar symmetry may be attributed to the fact that while on the one hand the conflict is the fault of the Arab states, on account of their refusal since the 1940s to recognise Israel or reach a just settlement as well as their refusal to absorb the Palestinian refugees, on the other hand, the overwhelming weight of the suffering in the conflict has been borne by the Palestinian people. The legitimacy of each side’s case makes for exceptionally rigid discussions about the conflict.

Paradoxically, however, the very intractability of the Palestinian conflict is matched by the obviousness of what the solution should be in the eyes of most reasonable people: firstly, two states based on Israel in its pre-1967 borders and a Palestine comprising the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, with any departure from these borders being based on entirely equitable territorial swaps; and secondly, a Palestinian abandonment of the right of return in favour of just compensation for refugees, matched by just compensation for the Jews expelled from Arab countries after 1948. Such a settlement would be eminently fair and should be welcomed by moderates on both sides, as the alternative to a continuation of the conflict that is increasingly likely to lead to calamity for at least one of them, possibly both. 

This being so, the international community should rescue Israel and the Palestinians from their current impasse by imposing a just peace of this kind upon them. An element of coercion is necessary as, without it, domestic opposition might make it politically difficult for the leadership of either side to accept such a compromise. Given the equal justice of both the Israeli and the Palestinian causes, to be acceptable to both the parties and to the international community, the coercion would have to be applied to both sides.

A possible model for the imposition of a fair compromise on Israel and the Palestinians might be the 1999 Rambouillet negotiations to resolve the Kosovo dispute. Less important than the actual compromise offered was the method of compulsion, involving a threat against both sides. As Tim Judah recounts: ‘While the Serbs were being told that if they failed to sign up to the draft proposals they would be bombed, the Albanians were, in effect, being told that if failure was their fault, they would be left to the tender mercies of the Serbian security forces and paramilitaries.’ This follows the dictum of Conor Cruise O’Brien, that ‘Conflicts don’t have solutions. They have outcomes.’ In the case of Israel and the Palestinians, the international community should impose a just settlement by threatening to come down like a ton of bricks on whichever side rejects the settlement. But this should not, let us be categorical, involve a threat of direct military action against either side.

A possible punishment for a rejection by the Palestinians might be international recognition of Israel’s annexation of East Jerusalem and the West Bank settlements and support for its crushing of Palestinian resistance by any means necessary, coupled with military support against any retaliation from the Arab or Muslim world. Should the settlement be accepted by Mahmoud Abbas’s Palestinian leadership but rejected by Hamas, the Palestine Liberation Organisation could avert this punishment by joining with Israel to drive Hamas out of the Gaza Strip, after which the path to a settlement would be clear. Conversely, a possible punishment for a rejection by Israel might be a unilateral recognition of an independent Palestine in the proposed borders and punitive sanctions against Israel, coupled with international support for Palestinian efforts to drive the Israeli Defence Forces from the West Bank. Hopefully, such a double deterrent would ensure acceptance of the settlement by both sides, but if it did not, there would at least be an outcome.

If this proposal sounds harsh, I should reply that allowing the conflict to fester, leading eventually to an attempt at a more radical solution by one side or the other, would be much more harsh.

Wednesday, 14 January 2009 Posted by | Bosnia, Cyprus, Former Yugoslavia, Islam, Israel, Kosovo, Kurds, NATO, Palestine, Serbia, Turkey | 2 Comments

Victory to the Greek revolution !

wide-greece-cp-5973209The uprising that is taking place in Greece should serve as a verdict on the corrupt and aggressive government of Costas Karamanlis and New Democracy. Rioting and violence are to be deplored, but they are symptoms of the deep malaise from which Greece is suffering. They should not be allowed to obscure the legitimacy of the Greek popular struggle that has broken out against poverty, corruption and police brutality. While I condemn all acts of violence and vandalism, I should like to express my complete solidarity with the youth, workers and other citizens of Greece who are protesting and striking peacefully. Democracy means that the government and state can be held accountable for a country’s woes. And when the youth of Greece is rioting on such a scale, in a manner that transcends social classes, it is a sign that the government and state have gone very badly wrong. Mr Karamanlis and his government should resign; Greek politics and the Greek state are in desperate need of a thorough rejuvenation.

For those of us who have been as bemused as much as horrified by the lunacy of Athens’s escalation of the ‘name dispute’ with Macedonia this year, we now have an explanation: Greece’s bullying of Macedonia has been the behaviour of a man on the verge of a nervous breakdown, who lashes out at colleagues, neighbours and family members. But this has not come from nowhere. In a Balkan neighbourhood of unhealthy, dysfunctional states, Greece is one of the sickest. And it is not a new sickness. As Maria Margaronis writes, in one of the best articles on the crisis, the contemporary order in Greece was built on the defeat of the anti-fascist movement in World War II and the Greek Civil War in the 1940s. In one of the most shameful episodes of the Cold War, Britain and the US backed the Greek rightists, their hands stained with collaboration with the Nazis, in their murderous campaign against the anti-fascist left, laying the basis for a post-war Greece whose political classes have behaved with almost unparallelled brutality and irresponsibilty, both toward their own people and toward their neighbours.

The right’s victory in the Greek Civil War set the seal on a post-war Greek state for which persecution of leftists and ethnic minorities would be intrinsic. The victory involved the renewed crushing of the ethnic Macedonian minority in Greece, and ensured the continuation of the pre-war fascist regime’s policy of its forced assimilation, culminating in the campaign in the 1990s to force the newly independent Republic of Macedonia to change its name. Fear of a centre-left electoral victory in 1967 provoked a military coup and the establishment of the Colonels’ junta, which persecuted leftists and democrats, murderously suppressed a student uprising in November 1973 and provoked the Turkish invasion of Cyprus by its adventuristic attempt to annex the island.

Thus, the same brutal, corrupt and unreconstructed Greek state has trampled on Greece’s citizens, ethnic minorities and neighbours alike. The fall of the junta in 1974 did not lead to a thorough democratisation of this state, which continues to this day to persecute its ethnic Macedonian (‘Slavophone’) and its Turkish (‘Muslim’) minorities. Regarding both minorities, Greece has been found guilty of violating their rights by the European Court of Human Rights. Whether in their support for Slobodan Milosevic’s Great Serbian imperialism, persecution of the Republic of Macedonia or obstruction of international recognition of Kosova’s independence, Greece’s political classes have long played a thoroughly regressive role in Balkan regional politics.

The mass mobilisation of youth, spearheaded by anarchists and other radical elements, in response to the police shooting of the teenager Alexandros Grigoropoulos in Exarchia in Athens, is an indication of the extent to which the Greek state is viewed as an alien oppressor by some segments of the population; the police are hated by many Greeks as they are hated among some ethnic minorities in the US and other Western countries. Yet the corruption of the Greek political classes is not limited to the parties of the right; the socialist PASOK actually exceeded New Democracy in the extent of its anti-Macedonian chauvinism and support for Milosevic’s regime in the early 1990s. Nor does PASOK enjoy much greater public confidence than the ruling New Democracy: according to a recent poll, 55% of respondents said neither party appeared competent to handle the situation.

The Communist Party of Greece, for its part, is a Red-Brown party whose chauvinism and xenophobia exceed those of New Democracy and PASOK, as indicated, for example, by its championing of Milosevic and support for the anti-Macedonian campaign. Indeed, in Greece, perhaps more than in any other Balkan country, national chauvinism and anti-Western xenophobia seamlessly unite hardline left-wing and right-wing currents.

After Russia, Belarus and Turkey, Greece is the European country perhaps most in need of a democratic revolution to shake up its political classes and introduce a genuinely democratic culture that will respect the rights of its youth, workers, ethnic minorities and neighbours alike. In these circumstances, it would be a mistake to dismiss the Greek popular protests simply because of the destructive actions of the hooligans who have been smashing up shops, or because of the infantile politics of anarchists and other extreme left-wing elements. As Margaronis notes: ‘Anarchist groups dreaming of revolution played a key part in the first waves of destruction, but this week’s protests were not orchestrated by the usual suspects, who relish a good bust-up and a whiff of teargas. There’s been no siege of the American embassy, no blaming Bush, very few party slogans.’

Indeed, as Takis Michas points out, the unwillingness of the government to halt the violence is itself further indication of its irresponsibility and bankruptcy: ‘Anyone watching this absurd scene could be excused for concluding that a secret deal had been struck between the government and the rioters: We let you torch and plunder to your heart’s content, and you let us continue pretending that we are in charge.’ The political bankruptcy of the mainstream parties has allowed extremists to hijack popular discontent. Yet this does not mean that in Greece – where one in five lives below the poverty line and 70% of those aged 18-25 are unemployed – the people do not have genuine grievances. Only a thorough programme of both democratic and social reforms, an alleviation of social misery and a tackling of corruption, can rescue Greece from the hands of the extremists of both right and left and lay the basis for a functioning Greek democracy. It is to be hoped that the events of the past week will catalyse such a programme of change.

That is why I say: long live the youth, workers and citizens of Greece ! Victory to the Greek revolution !

Monday, 15 December 2008 Posted by | Balkans, Cyprus, Former Yugoslavia, Greece, Kosovo, Macedonia, Red-Brown Alliance, Serbia, Turkey | 2 Comments

Greater Surbiton first birthday post

rulingclass1

‘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).

Hak Mao, in response to my Normblog profile:

‘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’.)

Daniel Davies, in response to my post ‘Weighing Obama versus McCain’:

I wrote:

‘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:

holbrooke

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 ?

Friday, 28 November 2008 Posted by | Afghanistan, Anti-Semitism, Armenians, Balkans, Bosnia, Caucasus, Croatia, Cyprus, Former Soviet Union, Former Yugoslavia, France, Genocide, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Iraq, Islam, Jews, Kosovo, Kurds, Macedonia, Middle East, NATO, Neoconservatism, Political correctness, Racism, Red-Brown Alliance, Russia, Serbia, SWP, The Left, Turkey | 1 Comment

Gordon Brown blunders over Cyprus

Following Gordon Brown’s failure, at the NATO summit in Bucharest in April, to support the US on the question of Macedonia’s, Ukraine’s and Georgia’s NATO integration and to oppose the French and German appeasement of Russia and pandering to Greek nationalist megalomania, one might be forgiven for wondering if our new prime minister has any vision whatsoever in the field of foreign affairs. Unfortunately, his latest initiative vis-a-vis Cyprus does not give much ground for optimism. On the 5th of this month, Brown received the President of Cyprus, Dimitris Christofias (pictured), and signed with him a Memorandum of Common Understanding. The text commits Britain and Cyprus to the common goal of a bi-zonal, bi-communal federal Cypriot state based on a single sovereignty as a solution to the long-running Cyprus dispute. The agreement was immediately condemned by Mehmet Ali Talat, the moderate leader of the internationally unrecognised Turkish Cypriot entity, because it pledged Britain to a model for a resolution of the Cyprus dispute that went beyond what Talat’s administration is prepared to concede, at least openly. As Ilter Turkmen of the Turkish Daily News writes, ‘One feels an urge to ask whether the support that the Gordon Brown government gives Turkey is weakened, compared to that of Tony Blair.’

Brown’s move is a blunder on every count. Christofias and Talat are both moderate leaders who seemed genuinely committed to reaching a mutually acceptable settlement; Britain has now helped to drive a wedge between them. However laudable the model for a Cyprus settlement outlined in the Memorandum may be, it is difficult to see how simply affirming support for it, in a manner that alienates one of the sides whose consent would be essential for its realisation, in any way helps to promote a settlement. The Memorandum has damaged the moderate Talat’s own domestic standing; he has now come under fire at home for having prepared the ground for it by allowing his Greek Cypriot counterpart to set the agenda in the reunification talks. The Greek Cypriot side was the one responsible for torpedoing the 2004 Annan Plan for Cyprus’s reunification; by undermining the moderate Turkish Cypriot leader and encouraging Greek Cypriot intransigence, Brown is making a solution to the Cyprus dispute less, rather than more likely.

Talat is the protege of the reformist, pro-European regime of the Justice and Development Party, currently in power in Turkey in the form of President Abdullah Gul and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The undemocratic, ultra-nationalist elements that control the Turkish state apparatus are currently attempting to oust this regime through a judicial coup d’etat; any regime that replaces it is likely to be less democratic, more oppressive of the Turkish Kurds, more aggressive vis-a-vis northern Iraq and, indeed, less cooperative over Cyprus. Brown’s Memorandum with Christofias represents a further blow to our beleaguered friends in Istanbul. With France and Germany working to keep Turkey out of the EU while appeasing Russia in the Black Sea region, a region where we need Turkey’s cooperation, Brown’s blow against Istanbul is simply nonsensical.

Finally, and most inexplicably of all, Brown has chosen to reward Cyprus, a country that, relative to its size, is pursuing the most selfishly and destructively anti-European policy of any EU member. Although Christofias is undoubtedly an improvement on his bone-headed predecessor Tassos Papadopoulos, Cyprus under his presidency nevertheless remains committed to undermining, for its own petty nationalistic reasons, the two most threatened states in the Balkans (aside from Bosnia) – Kosova and Macedonia. Britain really ought to be punishing Cyprus, not rewarding it.

Nice one, Gordon.

Thursday, 12 June 2008 Posted by | Balkans, Caucasus, Cyprus, Former Yugoslavia, Georgia, Greece, Kosovo, Macedonia, NATO, Russia, Serbia, Turkey | Leave a comment

Where can Macedonians go on holiday ?

‘When Alexander saw the breadth of his domains, he wept for there were no more worlds to conquer.’ – Alan Rickman

Geography poses a very different problem for today’s Macedonians. It was reported last week that Greece’s transport ministry had rejected a request from Macedonia’s national airline, ‘MAT – Macedonian Airlines’, to fly into its territory, because it objects to the airline’s – and the country’s – use of the name ‘Macedonia’. Greece has spent the best part of the twentieth century trying to eradicate all traces of the Macedonian nationality and language from its territory, and since the early 1990s this has grown into a campaign to try to force the newly independent Republic of Macedonia, which emerged from the break-up of Yugoslavia, to change its name. So obsessive has Greece’s campaign to deny the Macedonian nation the right to exist become, that it not only vetoed Macedonia’s bid to join NATO, but even forced Dustin the Turkey, Ireland’s representative in the Eurovision Song Contest, to change the lyrics of its entry to the latter competition, because they referred to all the countries of Europe, including Macedonia.

Dustin the Turkey – the new threat to Greece and champion of Greater Macedonian irredentism.

Now Macedonia Airlines will be prevented from flying Macedonian holiday-makers to the Greek island of Corfu this summer.

This should not pose a problem for Macedonians, because there are pleny of other destinations for anyone wanting a Mediterranean beach holiday, many of them undoubtedly more lovely than Corfu. The most beautiful Mediterranean beaches and coastline are, of course, in Croatia. But after Croatia, the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus may be an attractive destination, boasting beautiful, uncrowded, unspoilt beaches at a reasonable price combined with plenty of pretty towns, villages and places of historical interest for the more discerning tourist. Highlights include Kyrenia, described by the Rough Guide to Cyprus as ‘Cyprus’s most attractive coastal town’ with a ‘ruthlessly picturesque harbour’; St Hilarion castle; Nangomi, the ‘Golden Beach’, with its sea-turtles and birdlife; and the Gothic and Ottoman architectural treasures of North Nicosia.

Information about North Cyprus beach holidays can be found here, here, here and here.

Monday, 21 April 2008 Posted by | Balkans, Cyprus, Former Yugoslavia, Greece, Macedonia, Turkey | Leave a comment

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