Those who are sufficiently ideologically driven will readily and tenaciously believe a myth that upholds their own ideology, no matter how completely the myth has been exposed and discredited. The Protocols of the Elders of Zion have been used by anti-Semites from the Nazis to today’s Islamists, despite the fact that they were exposed as a forgery a century ago. German anti-Semites sought to explain away Germany’s defeat in World War I in 1918 by a supposed ‘stab in the back’ by the Jews, shifting the ignominy for the murderous Imperial German regime’s military collapse onto an innocent third party. In much the same way, apologists for the former regime of Slobodan Milosevic have for twenty years tried to blame the ignominious break-up of Yugoslavia – which the Milosevic regime deliberately engineered – on democratic Germany’s supposed ‘encouragement of Croatian secessionism’. They have done this despite a complete failure to uncover any evidence to support their thesis.
David N. Gibbs in First do no Harm: Humanitarian Intervention and the Destruction of Yugoslavia (Vanderbilt University Press, Nashville, 2009) is the latest author to attempt to breathe life into the corpse of this myth, arguing that ‘Croatian leaders were assured, well in advance, that Germany, the dominant power in Europe, would support their efforts to establish an independent state and to secede from Yugoslavia’ (p. 78) and ‘the key EC state of Germany was clearly in favour of breaking up Yugoslavia, and was actively encouraging secession’ (p. 91). Rarely have I seen such cynical misuse of sources.
1) For example, Gibbs quotes the memoirs of the former German foreign minister Hans Dietrich Genscher as follows:
‘Genscher himself was openly sympathetic toward the secessionists. In his memoirs, he stated: “It was important for us to establish that the Yugoslav peoples alone had the right to freely determine the future of their nation” – with the implication that the Yugoslav central government could not veto this right. Genscher also affirmed “an individual nation’s ‘right to secede’ from the larger [Yugoslav] polity.’ (Gibbs, p. 79)
Yet here are some statements from Genscher’s memoirs that Gibbs omitted to quote:
‘When it came to recognising Croatia and Slovenia, the Vatican displayed extreme reluctance. During my visit in [sic] the Vatican on November 29, 1991, this attempt to remain aloof was particularly apparent. I understood that attitude; the accusation that on this issue the Vatican and West Germany formed a “conspiracy” is therefore very wide of the mark. No one outside of Yugoslavia was interested in the least in the dissolution of Yugoslavia; it was only the pan-Serbian strife [sic] for hegemony that set the country’s dissolution in motion‘ (Hans Dietrich Genscher, Rebuilding a House Divided, Broadway Books, New York, p. 91)
‘On Wednesday, March 20, [1991,] I received Slovenia’s president Milan Kucan and Foreign Minister Dimitrij Rupel; they also spoke of their concerns and of Slovenia’s increasing move to independence. I urged them to proceed slowly and above all to take no unilateral steps but to be alert to opportunities to hold the confederation together in some other constitutional form. Especially in view of our delicate, historically burdened relationship with the region, two aspects were of particular importance to German foreign policy: one, not to encourage centrifugal tendencies, and two, to make no unilateral changes in our policy toward Yugoslavia.’ (Genscher, p. 491)
‘To return to the situation in mid-1991: From June 19 to 20 the first conference of the CSCE Council of Foreign Ministers was held in Berlin. As the host nation, Germany chaired the meeting. Before the conference, I received a few foreign ministers for bilateral talks. Among them was Yugoslavia’s foreign minister, Budomir [sic] Loncar, because I wanted to discuss with him first of all the question of how to deal with the issue of Yugoslavia – as might be expected, one of the core topics of the conference. Once again we were impelled to emphasise our interest in maintaining a unified but democratic and federated nation; the conference must remain true to the principles established by the Paris Charter a few months earlier.’ (Genscher, pp. 492-493)
So a source quoted selectively and tendentiously by Gibbs to try and squeeze out something approaching ‘evidence’ for his thesis that Germany encouraged Croatia’s secession actually provides rather more evidence that Germany supported a unified Yugoslavia at the time Croatia declared independence in June 1991 [NB since Gibbs falsely accuses me of being unable to read German, I should make clear that I am quoting the English translation of Genscher's memoirs because Gibbs himself relies on the translation, and does not use the German original].
2) Likewise, Gibbs quotes the study of Germany’s policy toward Croatia in 1991 written by former German diplomat Michael Libal (Limits of Persuasion: Germany and the Yugoslav Crisis, 1991, 1992, Praeger, Westport and London, 1997): ‘on 18 July the decision was made in Belgrade to completely withdraw the JNA from Slovenia;… in Germany a sense of euphoria prevailed.’ (Gibbs, p. 94).
Yet Libal’s book in fact demolishes the view that Germany encouraged Croatia to secede; in Libal’s words, ‘No German official advocated the encouragement of separatist tendencies within the Yugoslav republics.’ Libal describes the ‘good, if not excellent relations between Bonn and Belgrade, which Genscher had been building up since the early 1970s… It was almost a special relationship: Germany acted as Yugoslavia’s advocate in the European Community (EC) and was instrumental in bringing about closer cooperation between the two.’ Consequently, ‘Given this excellent state of relations and the strong position Germany enjoyed throughout the whole of Yugoslavia, any idea of destabilising that country and encouraging its breakup would have been lunacy. Yugoslavia as a unitary state was a perfect partner for Germany, as no smaller, more troubled and more difficult partner, or possibly even client state, could ever be expected to be.’ (Libal, p. 5) Gibbs simply ignores the copious testimony and documentation provided by Libal that runs counter to Gibbs’s thesis, treating it as though it does not exist.
3) And again, although he includes in his bibliography the book by Richard Caplan, Europe and the Recognition of New States in Yugoslavia (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2005), Gibbs does not bother to inform his readers of what Caplan wrote, which is that
‘Until fighting erupted at the end of June, Germany had, along with the rest of the EC, supported the continued unity of Yugoslavia. As late as 19 June 1991, Germany voted in favour of a statement by the Conference of Security and Co-operation in Europe (CSCE) expressing support for the “unity and territorial integrity of Yugoslavia”; in fact, it was Hans-Dietrich Genscher, the German foreign minister, who supplied the text of the statement. Even after Slovenia’s and Croatia’s declarations of independence, Germany supported the West European Union (WEU) declaration of 27 June that expressed regret at “the recent unilateral decisions” of the two republics, and urged all political authorities in Yugoslavia to “resume the dialogue with a view to securing the unity of the state”.’ (Caplan, p. 18).
Gibbs does not attempt to tackle this evidence.
4) Or another example of misrepresentation: Gibbs cites an anonymous source in the New Yorker, allegedly a US diplomat who was claiming that Genscher ‘was encouraging the Croats to leave the federation and declare independence.’ Gibbs admits: ‘It is difficult to fully assess this allegation, given the anonymity of the source. However, the New Yorker allegation is supported by the memoirs of US ambassador Warren Zimmermann, which note “Genscher’s tenacious decision to rush the independence of Slovenia and Croatia” [Gibbs's emphasis].’ Gibbs then claims in the endnote to this sentence: ‘Note that Zimmermann does not say that Genscher rushed the international recognition of Slovenia’s and Croatia’s independence; he makes the much more provocative statement that Genscher rushed independence.’ (p. 249)
Yet this is simply untrue, as Zimmermann in his memoirs nowhere accuses the Germans of encouraging Croatia’s secession, but does criticise them for supporting Croatia’s recognition; the idea that when Zimmermann referred to Genscher having ‘rushed independence’ he really meant ‘rushed secession’ is sheer wishful thinking on Gibbs’s part.
5) Yet perhaps the most egregious example of Gibbs’s distortion of sources is his claim that ‘German support for secession and for breaking up Yugoslavia is also noted by former Canadian ambassador to Yugoslavia, James Bissett and by Croatian nationalist Stjepan Mesic’ (p. 79). Bissett is frequently cited by Gibbs, who fails to inform his readers that he is a Srebrenica genocide denier and defender of Milosevic, therefore not an entirely reliable source, and that Bissett’s supposed ‘noting’ of German support for Croatian secession is merely an unsubstantiated allegation.
As for Mesic, it turns out in Gibbs’s endnote that he does not in fact ‘note’ German support for Croatia’s secession at all. Gibbs’s supposed evidence for his claim is an extract from Milosevic’s trial, in which Milosevic is questioning prosecution witness Milan Kucan about what Mesic said on a TV programme in which they (Mesic and Kucan) appeared together. Milosevic states ‘Mesic declared that the former Minister of Foreign Affairs of German Hans-Dietrich Genscher and the Pope John Paul II, by the direct agreement and support designed to break up the former Yugoslavia had practically contributed most to that actually happening’, and Kucan replied ‘Those were the stance of Mr Mesic’.
The supposed ‘noting’ by Mesic of Genscher’s support for Croatia’s secession thus turns out to be actually testimony not from Mesic but from Kucan, who appears to be confirming what Milosevic said. Gibbs considers the extract from the trial to be sufficiently significant that he reproduces the sentence by Milosevic, and puts Kucan’s reply in emphasis: ‘Those were the stance of Mr Mesic’ (Gibbs, p. 250).
What Gibbs does not tell his readers, is that in the following lines of the transcript, not only does Kucan state clearly that he cannot remember what Mesic said, but Milosevic makes clear that the reference is to Genscher’s support for Croatian independence after it was declared, not before.
This is what Milosevic said:
‘Let us just specify something else, please. Do you remember that at the time Mesic said that he came to Belgrade, to the highest position in the federation in order to, through the mediation of the Yugoslav diplomacy at the time, to get in touch with the most influential factors and to persuade them that the survival of Yugoslavia was nonsense? And I have a quotation: “I wanted to convey that the idea of the break-up of Yugoslavia to those who had the greatest influence on its fate, to Genscher and the Pope. In fact, I had three meetings with Genscher. He enabled a contact with the Holy See. The Pope and Genscher agreed with the total break-up of SFRY.” Was that what he said?‘
The ‘highest position in the federation’, i.e. the presidency, was a position Mesic assumed only at the end of June 1991, after Croatia had already seceded.
This is what Kucan replied:
‘Your Honours, this programme which I participated together with Mr. Mesic, I can confirm that. But to be able to confirm each and every word, I’d need either a transcript or a video in order to be able to confirm it. These are very weighty words, and to testify like this wouldn’t — just wouldn’t do.’
So Mesic was not ‘noting’ that Genscher had supported Croatia’s secession. And Milosevic was not alleging that Mesic had ‘noted’ this. And Kucan was not confirming that what Milosevic said was true. Gibbs has simply falsified the source yet again.
7) In his endnotes, Gibbs writes, ‘In memoirs, the Slovene defense minister Janez Jansa downplays the role of foreign support, but he concedes that by July 1, “Genscher strongly supported our cause”.’ (Gibbs, p. 249). Of course, this citation merely suggests that Germany supported Slovenia’s cause after independence had already been declared, not that Germany actually encouraged secession.
What Gibbs does not tell his readers is that, according to Jansa, Germany actually discouraged Slovenia from declaring independence. Jansa writes ‘Even the German parliament in its debate in February 1991 did not support our dissociation from Yugoslavia’ (Janez Jansa, ‘The Making of the Slovenian State 1988-1992: The Collapse of Yugoslavia’, Zalozba Mladinska knjiga, Lljubljana, 1994, p. 91)
8 ) Gibbs cites the opinion of journalist David Halberstam: ‘According to David Halberstam: “The Slovenians were already aware [by February 1990] that the Germans… favoured their independence.”‘ The opinion of a journalist with no expertise on the former Yugoslavia does not count for much; particularly so in this case, as in February 1990, the pro-independence nationalists had not even taken power in Slovenia, which was still ruled by Communists formally committed to Yugoslav unity !
9) Gibbs’s last remaining ‘source’ that Germany encouraged Croatia to secede is a statement by the State Department official John Bolton, but this turns out to be another case of misrepresentation. Gibbs writes ‘State Department official John Bolton later stated that Germany “induced the Slovenes and the Croats to jump ship,” that is, to leave the federation.’ (Gibbs, p. 79)
Yet when the quote is given in full, there is no suggestion that Bolton was accusing Germany of having induced Croatia and Slovenia to secede before they did so; merely that he accused Germany of having induced the EU states to recognise their independence after they had done so:
‘Initially, Germany, based largely on its historical interests in the region, insisted that EU members recognize the independence of Slovenia and Croatia. While this precipitous change alone was not enough to cause the ensuing carnage and ethnic cleansing in the region, Bosnia-Herzegovina unquestionably saw a declaration of independence as the only way to extricate itself from Serbia’s grasp, hoping thereby to find security in a united European front against Serbian force. Having thus induced the Slovenes and Croats to jump ship, and having pushed the Bosnians, Germany then concluded that it was constitutionally barred from undertaking any military activities that might actually stop the Serbian (or Croat) war machine.’
Thus, none of Gibbs’s sources turns out to support his contention that Germany encouraged Croatia or Slovenia to secede from Yugoslavia, and some actually refute it.
10) Gibbs also claims that ‘French Air Force general Pierre M. Gallois asserts that Germany began supplying arms to Croatia, including antitank and antiaircraft rockets, in early 1991 – before the war began.’ (Gibbs, p. 78) He neglects to tell his readers that Gallois was – like his favourite source James Bissett – another Milosevic supporter, who actually wrote a preface to a book comprising a dialogue between Milosevic and one of his other supporters, and to which Milosevic also contributed the foreword, entitled ‘The trial of Milosevic or the indictment of the Serb people’. In this book, Gallois praises Milosevic for his ‘intelligence’ and his ‘honour’. The value of his assertion that Germany had been arming Croatia from early 1991 should be assessed with this allegiance in mind.
11) There remains Gibbs’s claim that Germany was involved in building up Croatia’s intelligence services prior to Croatia’s declaration of independence:
‘Germany’s covert intervention began in 1990, while Yugoslavia was still an integral state. In that year, German officials from the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BFV), a subdivision of the Interior Ministry, assisted in building up Croatia’s intelligence service, the National Security Office (UNS). In the course of this activity, German officials would openly collaborate with extreme nationalists in Franjo Tudjman’s HDZ party. This early German intervention, though little known, is nevertheless well documented.’ (Gibbs, p. 77)
Since, as Gibbs has pointedly informed us in his reply to my first post about him, he is a ‘tenured full professor’, it is surprising to learn what he considers the definition of ‘well documented’ to be: in this case, two short articles, neither of which provides any evidence or even references to back up its assertions, which do not even support Gibbs’s assertions, which contradict each other, and one of which is the work of a Srebrenica-genocide-denying outfit of extreme-right-wing Islamophobic crackpots.
The first of these articles, ‘Croatia’s intelligence services’ by Marko Milivojevic, published in Jane’s Intelligence Review on 1 September 1994, has this to say: ‘Dating back to as early as 1990, when Croatia was still a constituent republic of an internationally recognised state, German involvement with Croatia’s intelligence services began with the UNS whose name was a direct copy of Germany’s BfV (Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution.’ Milivojevic does not provide any evidence to back up his claim. Be this as it may, he merely speaks vaguely of Germany’s ‘involvement’ with Croatia’s UNS at this stage; he does not claim what Gibbs claims, that German intelligence began ‘building up’ Croatia’s UNS already in 1990. His article covers the period up to 1994; he writes that ‘As regards the type of assistance provided by Germany to Croatia’s intelligence services, staff training has reportedly been the most important input.’ Gibbs has turned this unsourced ‘reportedly’ into ‘well documented’, and simply assumed it refers to as far back as 1990.
Milivojevic does not give any sources, but he appears to have simply regurgitated a lot of the allegations made in Gibbs’s other source, which Gibbs cites second in his book but which was actually published first: Gregory Copley, ‘FRG helps develop Croatian security’, Defense and Foreign Affairs Strategic Policy, February-March 1994. This article claims that ‘The Croatian leadership decided, at the beginning of 1991, to organise its own intelligence and security services.’ It thereby contradicts the claim made by Milivojevic, that these intelligence services already existed in 1990, and Gibbs’s claim, that Germany was already ‘building up’ Croatia’s intelligence services in 1990. This article claims that ‘German intelligence officers provided significant support and training at all stages, both in Croatia and in Germany.’ It does, therefore, agree with Gibbs that the support and training began, if not in 1990, then at least at the start of 1991, prior to Croatia’s declaration of independence. It does not, however, provide any evidence to back up its allegations.
The value of Copley, president of the ‘International Strategic Studies Association‘ as an authority on the war in the former Yugoslavia may be gleaned by the fact that he has made statements such as the following: ‘the Clinton Administration had, during the war, facilitated the Islamist terrorist activities because of the Clinton Administration’s need to demonize the Serbs in order to provide a casus belli for US-led military actions in the area to distract from domestic US political problems’. Copley condemned the possibility of ‘an admission of guilt of Serbs for killing thousands of Muslims who, in fact, were not known to have been killed. Several hundred bodies have been found as a result of the fighting in and around Srebrenica, but the Islamists and their supporters have claimed figures which grow higher with each telling, with figures now claiming some 15,000 alleged deaths.’ Furthermore, according to Copley, ‘the Islamist propaganda [regarding Srebrenica], supported by Ashdown — who has long been disavowed in the UK by his former colleagues in the Royal Marines because of his unequivocal acceptance of Islamist propaganda — is accepted as fact by the R[epublika] S[rpska] Government, thereby admitting guilt for crimes never committed.’
Indeed, Copley is a member of a body of Srebrenica deniers who went on record in September 2003 to claim that ‘the official alleged casualty number of 7,000 victims’ is ‘vastly inflated and unsupported by evidence.’
That, then, is the sort of source that Gibbs relies on to ‘prove’ that Germany encouraged the secession of Croatia.
With thanks to DW and JG
Update: Gibbs has admitted his inability to respond: ’I will make no pretense that I answer all of Hoare’s allegations, which I find impossible, given the huge quantity of his charges.’ Anyone who has followed this exchange will draw the appropriate conclusions, though the sort of bone-headed left-wing fundamentalists who read his book and subscribe to his thesis won’t be put off by any refutation, however crushing. For who cares about the truth when you uphold the righteous ideology of ‘anti-imperialism’, right ?
I posted the following conclusion about Gibbs at Americans for Bosnia:
‘Quite apart from Gibbs’s deficiencies as a scholar, the reason why he and similar revisionists fail so badly is that – as I mentioned in my initial post about him – they don’t treat the wars in the former Yugoslavia as a serious subject of scholarly enquiry, but merely as another battlefield for their ideological campaign against “Western imperialism”.
Any attempt at open-minded research would force them to examine carefully then abandon as worthless the Serb-nationalist or “anti-imperialist” myths about the wars, and to develop more objective interpretations. But since their priority is to uphold the myths, not to carry out open-minded research, they are stuck supporting the ridiculous.
In trying to write a book on that basis, Gibbs failed as soon as he began.’
Image: Greek farmers protest at subsidy cuts on the border with Bulgaria.
It was only a matter of time. Once it became clear that the EU was not bending over backwards to bail Greece out of the debt crisis created by the latter’s own profligacy and corruption, it was inevitable that loud voices would be raised in Greece presenting the country as the victim of dastardly plotting foreign imperialists. Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou led the charge, loudly turning reality on its head to complain that it was actually the EU that was failing Greece and was responsible for Greece’s crisis, rather than the other way around: ‘Greece is not a political or an economic superpower to fight this alone. The EU gave political support in the last few months of this crisis, but in the battle against impressions and the psychology of the market it was at the very least timid.’ Indeed, according to Papandreou, the EU’s errors went beyond ‘timidity’ in response to the Greek crisis, to actually being guilty of creating the crisis in the first place: ‘There was speculation about our country which created a psychology of imminent collapse, prophesies which risked becoming self-fulfilling’. Indeed, ‘There was a lack of co-ordination between various bodies of the union, the commission, the member states, the European Central Bank, even different opinions within those bodies.’
Deputy prime minister Theodoros Pangalos has responded to Germany’s unwillingness to bail Greece out by bringing up the Nazi occupation of Greece in World War II: ‘They [the Nazis] took away the Greek gold that was in the Bank of Greece, they took away the Greek money and they never gave it back.’ Consequently, ‘I don’t say they have to give back the money necessarily, but they have to say thanks. And they [the German government] shouldn’t complain much about stealing and not being very specific about economic dealings.’ It may seem inappropriate for the deputy head of a democratically elected government of an EU and NATO member-state to bring up the Nazis just because Germany does not want to pay for someone else’s mess, but Pangalos’s views are entirely representative of the wave of anti-German bile currently washing over Greece. Margaritis Tzimas of the opposition New Democracy party asks rhetorically ‘How does Germany have the cheek to denounce us over our finances when it has still not paid compensation for Greece’s war victims?’ Deputies of the Left Coalition party last week not only demanded that the government press Berlin over the issue of reparations, but blamed Germany for Greece’s financial crisis: ‘By their statements, German politicians and German financial institutions play a leading role in a wretched game of profiteering at the expense of the Greek people.’
One step further down in tastelessness is the joke apparently doing the rounds in Athens, concerning the government’s attempt to make citizens collect receipts to flush tradesmen out of the black market: ‘For every VAT receipt not collected, the Germans will shoot 10 patriots.’ This Greek sense of victimhood is attaining comical levels. As Reuters reports, ‘Greeks recall that Greek “Gastarbeiter” (guest workers) were among migrants who contributed to Germany’s economic miracle in the 1960s and 1970s while their homeland was ruled by a military dictatorship backed by NATO, of which West Germany was a member.’ In other words, Germany should feel both grateful to Greece for sending it immigrants and guilty because Greece was ruled by a dictatorship.
Of course, the reality of who has helped whom economically is somewhat different. Germany is by far the largest contributor to EU funds, while Greece is the largest net recipient of EU funds after Poland and alongside Romania, and the largest per capita recipient after Luxembourg and Belgium, according to Open Europe’s figures. Germany claims that it has contributed 33 billion deutschemarks in aid to Greece since 1960, both bilaterally and in the context of the EU, on top of 115 million deutsche marks for war reparations. Given the gratitude the Germans are now receiving for these vast sums, it is unsurprising they are somewhat reluctant to cough up still more.
Yet in one sense, the Greeks are right, and the EU must bear some of the responsibility for the Greek financial mess. It is, after all, the EU which has been subsidising Greek profligacy for the past three decades, although Greece’s public sector corruption, high levels of tax evasion, overblown bureaucracy and low retirement age have been no secret. The EU is like the mother who spoils her child rotten, then must suffer its ingratitude and tantrums when it doesn’t have every one of its demands met. Ultimately, the mother does bear responsibility if her child is a spoilt brat who doesn’t respect her. Greece’s current anti-German tantrum is not an isolated quirk; the country is a veritable hotbed of anti-Western nationalism, even descending into terrorism, as the brilliant Greek journalist Takis Michas has described. The paradox of why a country that has received so much from the West – from huge EU subsidies, through military protection against the Warsaw Pact during the Cold War to diplomatic support over Cyprus and Macedonia – should be so awash with anti-Western sentiment may not be such a paradox after all: it is a case of biting the hand that feeds.
While Greece’s EU-encouraged financial irresponsibility is now being widely remarked upon, it is less frequently noted that Greek irresponsibility, and EU encouragement of this irresponsibility, extend beyond the economic sphere. Greece has been found by the European Court of Human Rights to be in breach of the human rights of both its ethnic Macedonian and its Turkish minorities, but it continues to defy the Court’s rulings without incurring any penalties from the EU. Greece was the most enthusiastic ally of the Serbian regime of Slobodan Milosevic in the 1990s; it helped to undermine the UN’s 2004 Annan Plan to reunify Cyprus; it is one of only five EU members that has broken ranks over the issue of Kosova’s international recognition (and the only one that cannot justify this through reference to its own fears of separatism); and, most dangerously of all, it is vetoing the neighbouring Republic of Macedonia’s attempts to join both NATO and the EU, on account of its nationalistic hostility to Macedonia’s use of its own name.
On the other hand, according to February 2010 figures, Greece is currently contributing only 15 troops to NATO’s mission in Afghanistan, as against 165 from Macedonia – a non-member with one fifth of Greece’s population; 175 from Georgia; 255 from Albania; 295 from Croatia; 540 from Bulgaria; 945 from Romania; and 1,755 from Turkey. It would appear that those Balkan countries that were on the wrong side in the Cold War are somewhat readier to contribute to the Western alliance’s military efforts today than the only Balkan Christian country which enjoyed NATO protection during the Cold War, although Turkey appears readier to contribute too, despite being predominantly Muslim.
We can sum up the terms of the relationship between Greece and the rest of NATO and the EU as follows. We defend Greece’s security; we fund Greece’s prosperity with massive subsidies; and we give Greece unwarranted diplomatic support vis-a-vis Macedonia and Cyprus. Greece pursues policies that destabilise the EU economically and South East Europe politically, while making the minimum possible contribution to the security of the democratic world. And the Greek political and intellectual classes complain endlessly about the evils of Germany, the US and Western imperialism in general.
This must stop. The reforms demanded of Greece by the EU as the price of a bail-out cannot be limited to the economic sphere, but must extend to the political as well. As an absolute minimum, Greece must recognise the rights of its national minorities, including the right to freedom of association, conscience and self-definition, and must immediately announce it will comply with all rulings of the European Court of Human Rights as regards these rights. And it must lift its veto of Macedonia’s membership of both NATO and the EU, announcing that its dispute with Macedonia will not be resolved through blackmail or at the price of South East Europe’s Euro-Atlantic integration.
The EU is moving to strip Greece of control over its own taxation and spending policies if it does not comply with austerity demands. Some German officials are reportedly demanding that Greece also be denied a vote in all EU matters while it remains in ‘receivership’. This would be eminently sensible. Greece’s economic and political irresponsibility are two sides of the saim coin, and there is no point in the EU demanding that the country behave responsibly in the economic sphere while giving it a blank cheque to pursue nationalistic policies that destabilise South East Europe. The nationalism that leads the Greek political classes to abuse their membership of the Euro-Atlantic club to try to force Macedonia to change its name is the same nationalism that leads them to milk the EU for all it is worth, then engage in crude xenophobic and anti-imperialist tantrums when the bottle is taken away. Greece can be selfishly nationalistic or it can be a responsible member of the European family. It is up to the EU to make clear that it expects the latter.
This article was published today on the website of the Henry Jackson Society.
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 ?’
The likelihood that Ireland will vote in favour of the Lisbon Treaty in its referendum this October brings a federal Europe one step closer. In the probable event that the Conservative Party wins the next general election in Britain, it will then be in a quandary over how to respond to this reality. Now, more than ever, is the time to evaluate – not whether we are for or against the EU, but what kind of EU it is that we want. And the sad truth is that a more centralised EU is likely to result in weaker, not stronger European intervention in world affairs.
The Lisbon Treaty will create the posts of President of the European Council and High Representative for Foreign Affairs, in theory promising a more unified voice for EU foreign policy. Yet there are reasons to be skeptical about whether ‘unified’ means the same as ‘good’. Despite the notorious claim by Luxembourg’s Jacques Poos following the outbreak of the war in the former Yugoslavia in 1991, that ‘the hour of Europe has dawned’, the EC/EU proved itself wholly ineffective in bringing an end to the fighting, which dragged on for another four years. The war was finally ended, not by the European states getting their act together – which never happened – but by the US under the Clinton Administration reluctantly assuming leadership of Western intervention in the crisis, and imposing a more robust policy than the Europeans were ready to adopt on their own initiative. The negotiation of a peace settlement for the Bosnian war in Dayton, Ohio, by US diplomats in November 1995 was a US triumph that put the Europeans to shame.
The European failure over Bosnia in the first half of the 1990s cannot be put down solely to poor leadership, although this was clearly a major factor. There are, rather, structural factors why the EU, as a body, is unlikely ever to play as robust a role in global affairs as the US. With 27 members favouring different policies, EU policy inevitably must essentially be that of the lowest common denominator. Even though 22 out of 27 EU members have recognised the independence of Kosovo, including all the larger and West European members except Spain, the fact that five members have not done so has prevented the adoption of a common EU policy on Kosovo’s independence. Yet even a single member, if it is sufficiently stubborn, can impose its will on the whole of the rest of the Union, if no other member feels particularly strongly enough to oppose it. Thus, the accession of Croatia and Macedonia to the EU is being held up by Slovenia and Greece respectively. Slovenia would like to annex part of Croatia’s sea territory while Greece would like to force Macedonia to change its name, and Slovenia and Greece are obstructing the EU accession of their victims until their demands are met. Even though this amounts to outright blackmail and abuse of the accession process, there appears to be no way in which the EU can bypass them given the absence of will to do so on the part of other members. Thus, EU expansion is held up by a couple of troublemakers. It is very difficult to pull EU foreign policy forward decisively, but very easy to drag on it until it slows to a snail’s pace.
Far from a more unified EU resulting in more decisive European intervention globally, such an EU will increasingly tie the hands of those states that do wish to act, forcing them into line alongside more dovish, do-nothing members. Though Britain’s response to the Russian assault on Georgia last year was among the more forthright, Britain was ultimately forced to remain in step with the French and Germans, who quickly made it clear that they would not allow Russia’s misdeeds to get in the way of their burgeoning cooperation with Moscow. For the problem with the EU is not that it has too many members, but the way in which some of its members behave. The EU has grown up around its Franco-German core, yet France perennially chafes against Anglo-Saxon leadership of the Western alliance, while Germany is intent on developing its partnership with Russia. The dominance of the Franco-German axis within the EU therefore militates against the adoption of forward and progressive foreign policies by the Union as a whole; ones that would strengthen the Western alliance while promoting democracy and human rights globally.
At issue are two rival visions of what the EU should look like. Proponents of a federal Europe, or of extreme vertical integration, favour increasing centralisation and homogenisation of an inward-looking, geographically limited Europe. They will not sacrifice this centralisation for the sake of horizontal expansion beyond a certain point. They seek to exclude Turkey from the EU, in part because because the inclusion of a not very rich or sophisticated country of over 70 million would render their vision of a homogenous, federal Europe unachievable. With a geographically restricted Europe increasingly centralised, its separation from the rest of the world sharply increases. European countries excluded from EU expansion – such as Turkey, Ukraine, Belarus, Georgia and perhaps Moldova – would form a buffer zone vis-a-vis Russia, which would be a natural partner – Fortress Russia in collaboration with Fortress Europe. An EU built on this model would itself increasingly serve as a buffer zone between Russia and the US, restraining US intervention worldwide.
The alternative vision is of an EU that looks outwards instead of inward. Such an EU would eschew excessive centralisation in favour of expansion to take in Turkey, Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia, and ultimately perhaps Belarus, Armenia and Azerbaijan as well. Indeed, there are no natural limits to its possible expansion, something that might one day stretch to include countries such as Cape Verde, Israel and Morocco. Rather than being a Fortress Europe, such an EU would be accessible to new members, consequently a catalyst to democratisation in all Europe’s surrounding areas. Rather than collaborating with an authoritarian Russia, a Europe built on this model would seek ultimately to incorporate Russia within the democratic world. The incorporation of more East European countries and Turkey would strengthen the EU’s Atlanticist element and dilute the domination of the Franco-German core. Such an EU would promote the democratisation of the world, rather than hinder it, as the first version of Europe would.
The second vision of Europe is more in keeping with the sentiments of the political classes and publics of the more Euroskeptic countries, such as the UK, which are uncomfortable with the excessive transfer of power from their own parliaments to Brussels, as well as with those of former Communist bloc countries that are deeply unhappy with the readiness of the Western alliance to appease Russia, an unhappiness indicated by the recent open letter to the Obama Administration on the part of a stellar panel of Eastern and Central European statesmen. It is these countries to which Britain should be looking for allies within the EU, as counterweights to the more pro-federalist and pro-Moscow states of Western Europe.
But resisting the drive toward a federal European super-state is not simply a matter of seeking allies; it is also a matter of putting forward winning principles. If it wants to resist this drive, Britain can and should highlight each and every one of the EU’s ethical failings – over Croatia, Macedonia, Georgia and so forth - which stem from the politics of the lowest common denominator and the obsession with consensus and not rocking the boat. In each of these cases the principle of national sovereignty is under attack, for the EU’s politicians and bureaucrats have repeatedly made clear that the national sovereignty of Croatia, Macedonia, Georgia and in principle any state is expendable in the interests of internal EU harmony and pacific foreign relations.
The British government must also point out the national and geostrategic importance of including Turkey within the EU. Turkish EU membership would halt the drive toward the federal Europe so out of tune with the British public’s aspirations. It would also lock this strategically crucial and economically and culturally vibrant state within the Euro-Atlantic democratic framework, halting its slide toward alignment with the hostile states of Iran and Russia. Rather than keeping Turkey out of the club and watching as it backslides on its democratic reforms and pro-Western orientation, the inclusion of Turkey would secure one of the world’s most important countries for the democratic bloc, strengthening our position in Iraq and vis-a-vis Iran and the Arab world. British public opinion has traditionally been receptive to Turkey’s EU membership, and it would be a terrible defeat for British policy if we were to allow this receptivity to be eroded by ill-informed fears about greater immigration and Islam.
For too long, the Euro-federalists have been allowed to get away with pretending that they are the only true ‘pro-Europeans’. Yet any vision of Europe that permanently excludes a large part of the continent’s population cannot rightfully be considered ‘pro-European’. It is the supporters of a broader, more inclusive, more outward-looking Europe – and the supporters of national sovereignty within the EU – that are the true pro-Europeans. True European unity and national sovereignty are complementary, not contradictory. Only by making this point, loudly and consistently, will be achieve the Europe that we want.
This article was published today on the website of the Henry Jackson Society.
Ever since the war in Bosnia, the phenomenon of international tribunals to prosecute war crimes and crimes against humanity has been growing. The creation of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in 1993 has been followed by the creation of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda; the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia; the Special Court for Sierra Leone; and, above all, the International Criminal Court. The last of these has gained particular prominence with its indictment this summer of Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir. Yet for all the significance of its role as pioneer of international justice, the ICTY has been plagued with controversy since its creation and has been heavily criticised over its performance, not only by its opponents but also by its supporters. Most spectacularly, one of its most vocal champions, Florence Hartmann, former spokeswoman for Chief Prosecutor Carla del Ponte, has herself been indicted by the tribunal for contempt of court, for allegedly revealing classified information; Hartmann was trying to expose the ICTY’s internal politics and machinations that have compromised its pursuit of justice, above all in the case against Slobodan Milosevic. The Hartmann indictment symbolises the way in which this institution, through its failings, has now become the target of the very people who once believed in it most strongly.
To explain the failings of the ICTY it is worth comparing it with the tribunals that conducted the Nuremberg trials of Nazi war-criminals after World War II, in particular with the International Military Tribunal (IMT), that tried twenty-one of the most senior Nazi German leaders. The difference in aim and organisation between the IMT on the one hand and the ICTY on the other go a long way to explaining the difference in results.
The Nuremberg trials have been condemned by critics as a case of ‘victors’ justice’. Yet in fact, they represented the moderate option for the Allied powers, that had been victims of Nazi aggression or assault and that were determined that the German leaders be punished. Britain’s Winston Churchill and the US’s Franklin D. Roosevelt both initially favoured the idea of summarily executing hundreds or even thousands of leading Germans without trial, something to which the Allied publics would not have been averse. Yet in the end, it was the proposal of the US secretary of war, Henry Stimson, that the Nazi leaders be given fair trials, that was adopted. Thus, the Nuremberg trials were a case of victors’ justice rather than of victors’ injustice. Indeed, the contrasting experiences of the Nuremberg trials and of the ICTY suggest that victors’ justice may be the only effective kind.
The Nuremberg trials were organised and carried out by Allied powers that had absolutely no intention of allowing the German leadership to go unpunished. The trials followed on from a war of unparalleled brutality in which the Allied armies, despite enormous losses, had totally crushed and occupied Nazi Germany. There was therefore no problem, as was the case with other such trials before and since, of risking Allied soldiers’ lives to apprehend war-criminals; the sacrifice had already been made to defeat the Nazis, and the Allies were in a position to arrest war-criminals without incurring further losses of troops. Nor was there any question, of course, about trying Allied leaders for any war-crimes they might have committed against German or other civilians; the Nuremberg trials proceeded from the premise that Germany had begun the war and that it was wholly to blame for it, and this would determine which side would do the prosecuting and which side’s leaders would be tried. The trials were about punishing the aggressor, not about justice for all, and certainly had nothing to do with the idea of ‘reconciliation’. The entire weight of political pressure pushed the Allies toward harshness, not toward leniency.
The rights and wrongs of the war, rather than the crimes committed in the course of the war, were foremost in the minds of the Allied leaderships that established the IMT; German leaders were tried for conspiracy to commit crime against peace and for planning, initiating and waging a war of aggression, with crimes against humanity – including even the Holocaust – receiving secondary prominence. The IMT has been described as being a ‘multinational tribunal’ rather than an ‘international tribunal’: it was organised by the Allied powers directly, rather than by an international body such as the UN; the Allies had ‘done together what any one of them might have done singly’. The IMT pursued and tried the leading war criminals, including such senior figures as Hitler’s successor as Fuehrer, Karl Doenitz; Interior Minister Wilhelm Frick; air-force chief Hermann Goering; former deputy Fuehrer Rudolf Hess; High Command Chief of Operations Alfred Jodl; Chief of Staff Wilhelm Keitel; Commander-in-Chief of the Navy Erich Raeder; and Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop. It was these big fish whom the Allied leaders had considered shooting without trial, and who were then the focus of the IMT, while lower-ranking offenders were dealt with subsequently by national tribunals organised by the Americans, Germans, Poles and others. Of the twenty-one prisoners sentenced by the IMT, eighteen were convicted of which eleven were sentenced to death, while the rest received sentences ranging from ten years to life.
The ICTY was different from the Nuremberg tribunals on almost every count. It did not follow a victorious war and was not imposed by the victims upon the vanquished, nor was it driven by massive pressure from the public and political classes for harsh action. On the contrary, the ICTY was conceived as a substitute for genuine action against the Serbian organisers of the war. The first steps leading to the establishment of the tribunal were taken by the outgoing administration of George Bush Snr in 1992, an administration which otherwise had taken virtually no action to halt Serbia’s aggression or punish its leaders. The ICTY was a sop to that section of political opinion in the West – at the time still the minority opinion – that was genuinely outraged by what was happening in Bosnia and demanded action. The ICTY was established by a UN Security Council resolution in 1993, while Western appeasement of Serbia was at its height, and should rightly be viewed as a fig-leaf concealing the sheer extent of this appeasement. It was only in the late summer of 1995 that Bill Clinton’s US administration was pushed, kicking and screaming, by Congressional opposition into taking serious military action against Bosnian Serb forces; even so, the peace imposed by the Clinton Administration on Bosnia, in the form of the Dayton Accord, snatched a Serb victory from the jaws of defeat, halting a victorious Croatian and Bosnian military advance and awarding 49% of Bosnia to the Serb rebels.
Instrumental in collaborating with Clinton’s envoy Richard Holbrooke to impose peace on the Bosnians was the principal architect of the war himself: Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic. Milosevic was ready to sign the Dayton Accord, despite the fact that it pledged all the Bosnian authorities, including the Bosnian Serbs, to cooperate with the ICTY. At this stage, the tribunal had indicted the Bosnian Serb leaders Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic – Milosevic’s rebellions proxies, who had defied him during the war – but not any senior official of Serbia itself. Like Milosevic, Clinton and Holbrooke were ready to sacrifice Karadzic and Mladic, but they continued to view Miloševiæ himself as a necessary collaborator and pillar of the peace.
We can imagine what the Nuremberg trials would have looked like if they had followed on from a war that ended with the Nazis being awarded 49% of Poland, and from a peace agreement between the Allies and Hitler in which Hitler was looked upon as a crucial partner. An IMT organised in these conditions, naturally, would not have tried and executed Hitler’s interior minister, foreign minister and chief of staff. So it was with the ICTY, which was the product of concession, compromise and collaboration, not of victory and the desire for retribution. The ICTY was not imposed by the victims over the vanquished, but by outside powers over the victims and aggressors alike. It made no presumption as to the rights or the wrongs of the war as a whole, indeed it was not authorised to try crimes against the peace or of aggression. Rather, it was mandated to try only individual war-criminals from all sides. Even on this limited basis, it was really only the US, of the major Western powers most involved in the war, that showed any interest in the project; the tribunal suffered, in its early years, from the almost complete lack of support, even obstruction, from Britain and France.
The IMT had been set up by the Allied powers themselves; it proceeded briskly and efficiently, with the executions carried out a mere year after the trials had begun, and a year and a half after the war ended. By contrast, the ICTY was a body of the UN – an organisation with which inefficiency, bureaucratism, corruption and nepotism are synonymous. Fifteen years after the tribunal’s establishment, and thirteen years after the war’s end, the trials are still plodding along; some have not yet even begun. Milosevic’s trial lasted four years and ended, incomplete, with his death in custody by natural causes. This has had the inevitable effect of reducing public interest in the trials, above all in the world outside the former Yugoslavia. The powerful body of Western, above all US public opinion that, outraged by what was happening in Bosnia, provided the decisive catalyst for the tribunal’s emergence, has largely faded away over the years; what has remained has been a tribunal bureaucracy subject to its own momentum. As an autonomous body in world affairs, it has not enjoyed the support that the IMT received from the victorious allies; as Hartmann recounts in her published memoirs, Chief Prosecutor Carla del Ponte had to struggle for attention and support from the Western powers.
With no driving idea of which side was to blame, which of its leaders had orchestrated the mass murder and who should therefore be punished, the ICTY prosecution has proceeded to indict individual suspects on a piecemeal, haphazard basis, beginning with small-fry like the concentration camp guard Dusan Tadic, and largely leaving the top leadership of Serbia untouched. Although the Office of the Prosecutor entered a more ambitious phase in 1999, during the Kosovo War, when Milosevic, as President of Yugoslavia, was indicted along with the Serbian president, Yugoslav deputy prime-minister, Serbian interior minister and Yugoslav chief-of-staff, for war-crimes against Kosovo Albanians, this proved the exception rather than the rule. Not only has the ICTY had no mandate to try crimes of aggression, but the prosecutions have overwhelmingly been for crimes carried out by the perpetrators within their own state, rather than against the inhabitants of neighbouring states. Thus, the aforementioned top Serbian leaders were indicted for war-crimes against the Albanian inhabitants of Kosovo, then a Serbian province. Bosnians have been indicted for crimes against other Bosnians; Croatians for crimes against Croatian Serbs and vice versa. But very few officials from Serbia have been indicted for war-crimes against the people of the neighbouring republics of Croatia and Bosnia.
Thus, over Bosnia, where the greatest part of the mass killing occurred – organised, initiated and executed by the Miloševiæ regime in conjunction with the Yugoslav People’s Army (JNA) – only six officials from Serbia were ever indicted: Slobodan Milosevic, Zeljko Raznatovic-Arkan, Jovica Stanisic, Franko Simatovic, Vojislav Seselj and Momcilo Perisic. Other than Milosevic himself, they were all officials of secondary importance or lower at the time the crimes were committed. The most senior of these was probably Stanisic, who was Serbian interior minister during the Bosnian war, while Perisic became Yugoslav chief of staff only in 1993, after the crimes directly executed by Serbia in Bosnia had already been carried out and Serbia’s direct participation in the war in Bosnia ended. None of the six has yet been convicted. With Milosevic and Arkan dead, the maximum number of officials from Serbia who might be convicted of war-crimes against Bosnians is four. In addition to these, a further seven officers of the JNA, all relatively minor figures, were indicted for war-crimes in Croatia, only one of whom has received a sentence of more than a few years. The total number of officials from Serbia who have been indicted, at twenty-one, is smaller than the number of indicted Bosnian Croats, at twenty-six. The number of officials from Serbia indicted for war-crimes in Bosnia, at six, is smaller than the number of indicted Republic of Bosnia-Hercegovina officials, at ten.
The most senior officials of Serbia, Montenegro and the JNA who planned and carried out the aggression against Croatia and Bosnia were, however, never indicted. They include Yugoslav Presidency members for Serbia and Montenegro, Borisav Jovic, Jugoslav Kostic and Branko Kostic; the most senior JNA officers, Yugoslav defence secretary Veljko Kadijevic and Chief of Staff Blagoje Adzic; their deputies Stane Brovet and Zivota Panic; Montenegrin president Momir Bulatovic; and JNA intelligence chief Aleksandar Vasiljevic. Four of these – Jovic, Branko Kostic, Kadijevic and Adzic – escaped indictment despite having been named as members of the ‘Joint Criminal Enterprise’ in Milosevic’s indictment for war-crimes in Bosnia and Croatia. By any standards, Serbia has got off extremely lightly – virtually unpunished – for the wars in Croatia and, in particular, Bosnia.
The indictments policy of the ICTY prosecution requires some explaining. At Nuremberg, the Allies knew who was guilty, wanted to get them and set out to do so. By contrast, the ICTY was set up more for the sake of appearances than for the sake of results, and the choice of indictees was made by prosecutors according to their own agendas, which had little to do with actually punishing those principally responsible for the war. One of the factors that influenced the prosecutors’ policies was the fact that Serbia, unlike Germany, was a defeated but not a crushed and occupied country. The Hague prosecutors could not simply rely on occupation forces to arrest suspects and seize documents, but had to negotiate their handover with the Serbian authorities themselves. The latter have, of course, not only been far from forthcoming – to the point where Serbia was convicted last year by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) of failure to punish genocide – but have repeatedly accused the tribunal of anti-Serb bias. Meanwhile, the Western powers have been uneven in their readiness to apply pressure on Serbia to surrender suspects and documents. Even with regard to ‘Republika Srpska’, where there were international troops on the ground, the Western powers have been wary about offending the Bosnian Serb leaders or risking the lives of their troops to apprehend war-crimes suspects. They may even have entered into secret arrangements that allowed leading war-criminals, such as Radovan Karadzic, to evade capture for many years.
The need to negotiate and compromise with the Serbian authorities, and to counter accusations of ‘anti-Serb bias’, appears to have politicised and skewed the prosecution’s indictments policy. Contrary to myth, in terms of numbers indicted, Serb war-crimes suspects have been under-represented in proportion to their share of the crimes. By any reckoning, Serb forces were responsible for well over 80% of the civilian casualties in the wars of the former Yugoslavia combined, and non-Serb forces (Croatian, Bosnian/Muslim, Kosovo Albanian, Macedonian and NATO) for less than 20%. Yet of 159 indictees, only 108 or 68% were Serb officials (including non-Serbs who fought on the Serb side, like Drazen Erdemovic and Franko Simatovic) and 51 or 32% were Croatian, Bosnian, Kosovo Albanian or Macedonian officials. The percentage reflects not the respective proportions of killing carried out by Serbs and by non-Serbs, but the respective resources devoted by the prosecution to investigating Serb crimes and non-Serb crimes. Thus, when I was working as a Research Officer at the Office of the Prosecutor in 2001, out of eleven investigative teams, only seven – less than two-thirds – were devoted to investigating Serb war-crimes, and four to investigating non-Serb war-crimes.
Thus, the ICTY prosecutors distributed their human resources so as to guarantee that Serb war-criminals – responsible for over four-fifths of the killing of civilians – would comprise only two-thirds of indictees. And of the 108 Serb indictees, only 21 were from Serbia itself; the remainder were mostly Bosnian Serbs (83) and a few Croatian Serbs (4). Even with regard to the Serb share of indictments, Serbia itself has been largely spared while its local collaborators in the countries it attacked – above all Bosnians – have borne the brunt. And while the top Serbian/JNA commanders who planned and executed the Serbian aggression against Bosnia and Croatia have escaped indictment, the top Croatian and Bosnian commanders who led the defence of their countries – Janko Bobetko, Sefer Halilovic and Rasim Delic – have been indicted for crimes much smaller in scale, or for which they were not directly responsible. Thus, Kadijevic and Adzic escaped indictment for Vukovar or for what happened in Bosnia up to 19 May 1992, which was when the Yugoslav Army officially withdrew from Bosnia. But Bobetko was indicted over Croatian Army crimes committed at the Medak pocket in 1993, and Delic for crimes carried out by the foreign mujahedin.
It is not only over indictments policy, but also over evidence collection, that the ICTY has allowed political or tactical considerations to sway its pursuit of justice. Serbia was required to submit to the ICTY judges in the Milosevic case the minutes of the Supreme Defence Council of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia – the body made up of the presidents of Serbia, Montenegro and Yugoslavia – i.e. of Milosevic and two of his allies. This body initially had command over all Bosnian Serb forces, up until 19 May 1992, and subsequently remained in command of the Yugoslav Army up to and after the time of the Srebrenica massacre, during which it collaborated with the Bosnian Serb forces. The judges at the ICTY, however, allowed Serbia to withhold certain passages from this set of documents in the version seen by the public and by the ICJ. Bosnia could not therefore use these crucial documents for its case against Serbia for genocide at the ICJ. This, combined with the ICJ’s own concessions to Serbia, helped ensure Serbia’s acquittal. Phon van den Biesen, a member of the Bosnian team, has gone on record to say that the full documents would probably have demonstrated that the Bosnian Serb forces were under Serbia’s control during the Srebrenica massacre, which has been legally established to have been an act of genocide by both the ICTY and the ICJ.
This brings us on to the crime of genocide, which has assumed much greater international prominence as a result of the events in Bosnia and Rwanda in the 1990s. With its successful prosecution of the Bosnian Serb officer Radislav Krstic for genocide at Srebrenica, the ICTY is the first of three international courts to determine that Serb forces were guilty of genocide in Bosnia; it has been followed by the ICJ and by the European Court of Human Rights. In this respect, the ICTY has gone further than the Nuremberg trials went, for although the IMT indictment accused the German leaders of ‘deliberate and systematic genocide’, it did not charge them with this crime, as the term ‘genocide’ had then only recently been coined, and the concept was only beginning to gain credence. Thus, the German leaders were charged merely with ‘crimes against humanity’, though it is for the genocide of the Jews, of all their crimes, that they are principally remembered.
Yet despite its importance in determining that genocide occurred in Bosnia, the ICTY has proved, in this regard as in others, to have been a toothless tribunal. It has successfully prosecuted only one individual, the lowly deputy corps commander Krstic, for a genocide-related offence. A second Bosnian Serb officer, Vidoje Blagojevic, was convicted of genocide but subsequently acquitted on appeal of all genocide-related charges, while Momcilo Krajisnik, a member of the Republika Srpska presidency, was acquitted of genocide straight out. Thus, the ICTY has established the occurrence of a genocide for which almost nobody – and nobody senior – has yet been found guilty. The ICTY is not, of course, solely to blame for these meagre results: the international community has so far failed to pressurise Serbia into handing over Ratko Mladic, suspected as the mastermind behind the Srebrenica massacre, to the tribunal.
One final difference separates the IMT from the ICTY: the issue of ‘reconciliation’. The UN Security Council resolution establishing the tribunal justified it as something that would ‘contribute to the restoration and maintenance of peace’, and its supporters frequently argue that prosecution of individual war-criminals is necessary in order to free the respective former-Yugoslav peoples of the stigma of collective guilt, thereby facilitating reconciliation between them. Paradoxically, however, it was the more overtly retributive IMT and subsequent Nuremberg tribunals, by determining in advance that one side was guilty and efficiently punishing its top surviving leaders, that appear to have been more effective in achieving reconciliation between Germany and the nations it attacked. For Germany has not been allowed to escape condemnation as the side guilty for the war, while those it attacked have witnessed that justice has been done.
By contrast, there is no evidence to suggest that the ICTY – with no prior allocation of guilt to one side in the war, by treating war-crimes on a purely individual basis, and by lumping together war-criminals from all sides – has made any contribution to reconciliation between the former Yugoslavs. On the contrary. Unlike after World War II, the international community has failed to impose a narrative of who was to blame for the War of Yugoslav Succession, and to force each side to accept it. Consequently, each side continues to see itself as the victim in the conflict, and to see the tribunal’s record purely in terms of how too many of its own people and/or too few of the other sides’ have been indicted, or how the other sides’ indictees have been wrongfully acquitted or received too short sentences. According to a recent study by an international team of scholars led by Vojin Dimitrijevic and Julie Mertus: ‘The hope that it [the ICTY] might promote reconciliation between the peoples of the region does not appear to have been realised.’
There is a lesson to be learned from the respective experiences of the IMT and ICTY: so far as war-crimes are concerned, there can be no real justice without the real defeat of the perpetrators.
Once again, Europe has become a serious threat to stability in the Balkans. The UN Security Council has voted to deploy EULEX, the EU’s law and order mission in Kosova, on the basis of the six-point plan of UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon. The plan panders simultaneously to a Serbia that appears determind to keep fighting a war it has already lost, a Russia whose own ill-will and lack of faith have been demonstrated in Georgia, and EU members for which toadying to Russia is an end in itself. Although the UN Security Council vote did not formally mention the plan, and although the US has been at pains to stress that Kosova’s opposition to the plan has been respected, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that this is merely a fudge intended to mollify Kosovar opinion. Deploying the EU force in Kosova only on the basis of agreement with Serbia and Russia represents a dangerous precedent and unnecessary concession to ill-willed parties. This policy of ‘anything for a quiet’ life must be halted to avoid serious damage to our interests, both in the Balkans and in Europe as a whole.
The Ban plan has been rejected by the Kosovar leadership and by all sections of Kosovo Albanian political and public opinion, as contrary to Kosova’s constitution and damaging to its territorial integrity, and it is worth pausing for a minute so see why this is so. The plan bases itself on UN Security Council 1244, which guaranteed the ‘sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia’. As the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia was transformed into the ‘State Union of Serbia and Montenegro’ in 2003, and as this union then dissolved in 2006 when Montenegro voted to become independent, talk of its ‘territorial integrity’ being maintained from 1999 is meaningless. The Ban plan has adopted this form to appease Belgrade, which wants to turn the clock back to before the international recognition of Kosova’s independence of this year, and sees reaffirming the Resolution 1244 as a way of doing this. But paradoxically, Belgrade wishes to do this in order ultimately to move the clock forward – to impose a territorial partition on Kosova as the price for its independence, a partition that it has already enacted on the ground. By confining the EULEX mission to the areas of Kosova under the control of the Albanian-dominated government, and by maintaining separate police, courts and customs for the Serb enclaves under UN rather than EU control, the Ban plan will, if put into practice, solidify this soft partition, thereby appeasing Serbia on this score as well. Again, the US claims that the Security Council vote allows for the deployment of EULEX throughout Kosova, but whether EULEX will really be allowed to assume responsibility in the north appears uncertain.
It is, perhaps, a sign of how far several of the Balkan states have progressed in terms of democracy and responsibility, that they show greater awareness of the dangers inherent in this scenario than the supposedly mature democracies of Western Europe. According to Albanian Prime Minister Sali Berisha, ‘The plan has serious problems, since it favours a soft partition of Kosova.’ After meeting with Berisha, Montenegrin Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic warned that a partition of Kosova would destabilise the region, consequently ‘The division of Kosova along ethnic lines is a buried plan’. And in the words of Croatian President Stipe Mesic: ‘The division of Kosova based on Serb appetites is a dream of Serbia which reminds us of the epoch of the Milosevic dictatorship. And if it really happens as Belgrade intends, this means a step backwards. It means the realisation of the dream of Great Serbia.’ Although the sabre-rattling in which Serbia has engaged in recently in relation to Croatia and Montenegro as well as to Macedonia and the Western powers over Kosova is essentially empty, concessions of the kind represented by the Ban plan may serve to persuade Serbia that, despite its past defeats, aggressive behaviour does pay after all.
It is paradoxical that this UN plan for Kosova – rejected by Kosova, favoured by Serbia and unpopular with Serbia’s Balkan neighbours – has won EU approval, despite British and US reservations. Paradoxical, given that 22 out of 27 EU members, including all the larger ones except Spain, have recognised Kosova’s independence: the EU has ended up favouring a plan opposed by the side in the conflict whose position its members mostly support, and supported by the side that opposes the views of most EU members. This only makes sense if we consider the dynamics of European geopolitics. The EU’s foreign policy chief is Spain’s Javier Solana, considered by some at Brussels to have been rather quick off the mark in backing the Ban plan, and to have done so on the basis of Spanish rather than EU political considerations. Spain is, of course, the only larger EU member, and the only West European country, that refuses to recognise Kosova’s independence, and that indeed continues actively to lobby against it.
Meanwhile, the big three of the continental EU, France, Germany and Italy, are motivated by a general policy of conciliating Russia on all fronts, therefore of mollifying the Serbia-Russia bloc over Kosova. France holds the EU presidency, and at the EU-Russia summit this month at Nice, French President Nicolas Sarkozy attempted to undermine the US plan for a missile defence system for Europe – to the consternation of the Czechs and Poles - and called for an EU-Russia pact, despite Moscow’s failure to honour the terms of the ceasefire in Georgia. Appeasement of Serbia, consequently of Russia over Kosova is of a kind with this policy orientation, one that directly sacrifices the interests – and in some cases the sovereignty – of the Czech Republic, Poland, the Baltic states, Ukraine, Georgia, Croatia, Montenegro, Macedonia, Albania and, of course, Kosova.
Sarkozy’s Gaullist pursuit of an independent French line, in a manner that undermines the unity of the Western alliance, is not limited to appeasement of Russia, however; he has vocally supported Greece in its ‘name dispute’ with Macedonia, in contrast to the US’s support for Macedonia – despite the potentially tremendous damage that Greece’s aggressively nationalistic policy may do to the Balkans, and despite the fact that Macedonia has in recent years been a much better supporter of the Western alliance than has Greece. Sarkozy’s determination to keep our crucial Turkish ally out of the EU, expressed and justified in the crudest terms, is a further example of his pursuit of narrow French interests at the expense of common Western interests.
In Kosova, the consequences of EU appeasement of Serbia are beginning to make themselves felt, with the Kosovars – up till now the most pro-Western nation in the Balkans – uniting in opposition to the form EU policy is taking. Their opposition is manifesting itself in mass demonstrations, but there are ominous signs that resistance is also taking a more extreme form: on 14 November, a bomb attack was carried out on the EU representative office in Pristina, with a group calling itself the ‘Army of the Republic of Kosova’ claiming responsibility, and threatening further attacks against Kosovo’s Serb minority. Pursuing the will o’ the wisp of Serbian goodwill over Kosova, we have consequently let down our own Kosovar ally to such an extent that we risk engendering a new terrorist-extremist threat in this sensitive spot.
Things are going badly in the Balkans because Britain and the US, Kosova’s two strongest supporters in the Western alliance, have been far too reticent in standing up for our ally, and have allowed Russia, Serbia and their West European appeasers to make the running. Nor have we been sufficiently active on the world stage in promoting the cause of Kosova’s independence. Egypt, one of the opponents of Kosova’s independence, blocked Kosova’s participation at an Organisation of the Islamic Conference event in Cairo; despite being one of the largest recipients of US aid, the corrupt regime of Hosni Mubarak obviously has no qualms about undermining Western diplomacy in this gratuitous manner. Similarly, in last month’s UN General Assembly vote on whether the International Court of Justice should rule on the legality of Kosova’s independence, it was left to the US and Albania, virtually alone, to vote against; the EU members that recognised Kosova’s independence all abstained, while the five EU members that reject Kosova’s independence all voted in favour. So it is the troublemakers – Spain, Greece, Romania, Slovakia and Cyprus; the ones that are blocking a common EU policy on Kosova – that aggressively promote their own policy, while Britain pursues the line of least resistance.
The rot must be stopped. If Britain and the US are to prevent further deterioration of the situation in the Balkans, discourage Serbia’s escalating policy of revanchism, dampen the slide toward extremism in Kosova, make it clear to Moscow that its mischief-making will be met with resistance, and put a brake on the Franco-German-Spanish-Italian appeasement drive, we must be much more forthright and vocal in promoting our policies and interests and in standing up for our friends. This means waging a much more active diplomatic and public campaign in defence of Kosova. Diplomatic pressure should be brought to bear on the five EU members that have so far refused to recognise Kosova’s independence; in particular Spain which, as the only large and West European country among them, bears a particular responsibility for the failure to achieve EU unanimity on this question. Bad allies such as Egypt should be made to understand that they will suffer diplomatic and financial consequences if they continue to undermine us in the Balkans.
A successful diplomatic campaign is one half of winning the battle of Kosova. The other half is to achieve facts on the ground that make this victory an irreversible fact. Serbian attempts to undermine Croatia’s independence and annex parts of Croatian territory came to a definite end when the Croatian state became strong enough to assert its authority unchallenged across the whole of its territory. Similarly, Kosova’s independence will became a reality, irrespective of Serbian opposition, when a strong Kosovar state exercises full control over the whole of Kosova, including the area north of the River Ibar. Consequently, the EULEX mission must not be allowed to become a permanent international protectorate that prevents the emergence of a genuinely independent Kosova, but must work rapidly to put such a Kosova on its feet. Bosnia, where the international protectorate has wholly failed to create a functioning state or a stable political order, and where the situation is increasingly critical, should serve as a salutary warning of where a similar policy over Kosova might lead.
Britain and the US must therefore work together to ensure that the EULEX mission is a means to the end of a genuinely independent, territorially united Kosova, not to the end of keeping a lid on things indefinitely so as to appease Serbia and Russia. The very aim of Belgrade and Moscow is to undermine us and promote Balkan instability; they will use our weakness and our fear of confrontation to ensure that the lid comes off. The corollary of this is that we cannot establish an independent Kosova and stabilise the Balkans so long as we are pursuing the will o’ the wisp of consensus with these regimes. We must choose: to acquiesce in the destabilisation of the Balkans by two regimes that are taking us for a ride, or to move forward and resolve the situation once and for all, at the price of a few impotent howls from them. It should not be a difficult choice to make.
This article was published today on the website of the Henry Jackson Society.
‘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 ?
The presidential contest currently under way in the US has generated unprecedented interest in the UK and Europe. Were it left to us on this side of the pond, Barack Obama would win with a landslide. On account of his youth, his colour and his relatively liberal views, Obama is the darling of Europe’s liberals, while not only they, but also European conservatives widely look forward to his presidency as a welcome departure from the hawkish, abrasive unilateralism of George W. Bush’s administration. Yet while Obama as US president would be likely to go down well with the European and, indeed, the world public, this would above all be for the negative reason that – like Clinton before him – he probably would not do very much in the field of foreign affairs. By not rocking the boat or rapping knuckles, a President Obama would appease European liberals and conservatives alike. But by the same token, he may prove inadequate in meeting very real threats to peace and stability in Europe. Nowhere are these threats more real than in the south-eastern borderlands of our continent: the Balkans, Turkey and the Caucasus…
[The rest of this article can be read at Standpoint.Online]
After we watched the Croatian national team humiliate itself in the penalty shoot-out against Turkey last Friday, my friend Venichka pointed out to me that I now knew what it felt like to be English. The English, as everyone knows, specialise in losing at penalty shoot-outs, though I’m not sure even they could match the spectacular Croatian achievement of missing three penalties out of four. But then, I’m not qualified to offer any expert judgement on this, as I don’t follow football very closely. This is because I generally find it – and indeed all spectator sports – extremely boring. It only becomes interesting when it’s different countries playing each other, and one can indulge in a bit of socially acceptable national chauvinism. So every second summer, when it’s either the World Cup or European Cup, the underdeveloped and usually dormant part of my male brain activates itself and I watch a bit of football. Though the silver lining of Croatia being knocked out is that I haven’t felt obliged to watch any more matches.
Ven was right: despite being half-English, it was only for the first time last Friday that I felt the pain that watching one’s team lose at penalties involves; my national identity has never felt less conflicted. Here at Greater Surbiton we support the Croatian team. Failing that, we support either England, or any other former-Yugoslav team (except Slovenia). I’m not like Stephen Pollard or other defensive Jews, who resent being asked whether they support the English or the Israeli team, because it implies suspicion of a dual loyalty. In fact, I rather resent the assumption that, just because I’m English, I’ll be supporting England. I make no bones about having a dual loyalty, and I don’t care if that means I fail Norman Tebbit’s cricket test. Unlike many of my fellow British citizens, I support our boys where it actually matters.
Having become steadily less left-wing as I’ve grown older, I’ve now reached the point where I would support England in a match against just about anyone except Croatia. Part of the reason that this hasn’t been an easy point to reach is the usual right-on national nihilism, but part of it is the revulsion that I – a notorious snob – have always felt for English football culture. Our English football fans do so often seem to embody one of our quintissential national characteristics: possession of the mistaken belief that there is something funny or liberating is being loud, vulgar and obnoxious; in wallowing in our own boorishness. We are a genuinely sexy and charismatic nation – swaggering and staggering all over the Continent, vomiting and spreading venereal diseases. Going all the way over to Eastern Europe just so we can get drunk more cheaply, and engage in the same disgusting and offensive behaviour that we engage in at home, only with even less shame.
Why are we English like this ? I suspect that it’s our way of rebelling against our traditionally rigid system of manners, inbued as it is with class deference, and of finding an outlet for our sexual repression. But rudeness and vulgarity are not the alternative to rigid class-based manners, any more than promiscuity is the solution to sexual repression. It’s just a case of Jekyll and Hyde; of two halves of the same, schizophrenic national personality.
Be this as it may, the English have been better Europeans than the other large countries of Old Europe during the last ten years or so, therefore more worthy of support in an international football tournament. I was hoping that all these countries would be knocked out in the first round, but now, at the semi-final stage, there are still a couple of them left, and we may even have to rely on the Spanish or the Germans to stave off the nightmare scenario of a Russian victory. Of course, a German victory could be seen as a Russian victory-by-proxy, as the Federal Republic of Germany is nowadays not much more than a satellite of Russian imperialism (not entirely dissimilar to how the old German Democratic Republic was a satellite of Soviet imperialism).
In between plundering Croatia’s fishing stocks and posthumously decorating their Fascist police chiefs from World War II, the Italians find time to play the world’s most boring football, for which they are renowned the whole world over. So I was sorry they made it through to the second round – even more sorry than I was pleased at France being knocked out in the process. But the Italians received their comeuppance on Sunday when they were knocked out by Spain in a penalty-shoot out after a goalless draw. Never has such a typical Italian footballing result given such pleasure.
Here at Greater Surbiton we support the right of our Basque and Catalan sisters and brothers to national self-determination, and we are not best pleased by Spain’s mindless nationalistic obstruction of Kosova’s international recognition (my own feeling is that if countries like Spain, Slovakia, Romania and Cyprus insist on conflating Kosova’s secession from Serbia with the ‘separatist’ threats that they themselves face, then we should take them at their word, and seriously consider whether some of these ‘separatist’ territories might not in fact deserve to have their right to self-determination recognised. If the Slovaks and Romanians insist that their Hungarian minorities are equivalent to Kosova, who are we to question this ?). But with this caveat in mind, we would rather Spain wins the tournament than either Russia or Germany.
Readers of this blog may be surprised to learn that in the last European Cup, I was rather pleased that Greece won – they were the South East European underdog, and they played extremely well. But I can reassure my readers that I did not feel that way this time around. Greece’s three defeats in three games were one of the more satisfying results of the tournament. It’s almost as if the Orthodox God chose to smite Greece out of anger at its persecution of its neighbour and fellow Orthodox country, Macedonia. Or one could view it more prosaically as simply a matter of Greece returning to form after an uncharacteristic showing four years ago.
After everything has been taken into consideration, I am supporting the Turks in tonight’s game, and will be supporting them in the final if they defeat Germany. Poor Turkey is in a bad way politically right now; its progressive, reforming government is on the verge of being ousted by the nationalistic dinosaurs of the Kemalist establishment. Meanwhile, some of our fellow ’Europeans’ – if one can grace them with that term – seem determined to prevent Turkey from joining the EU. A victory in Euro 2008 would provide Turkey with a much needed shot in the arm, in every respect.
And they also play good football.
Five days ago on 12 June, the Swedish parliament overwhelmingly rejected a motion to recognise the 1915 Ottoman genocide of the Armenians. However counter-intuitive it may seem, the result of this vote should not be mourned by anyone who believes in the need to educate the world public on genocide and its history.
The Armenian Genocide happened. As Donald Bloxham argues in his book The Great Game of Genocide: Imperialism, Nationalism and the Destruction of the Ottoman Armenians (Oxford University Press, London, 2005) – which I recommend as an intelligent and balanced introduction to the debates surrounding the topic - there is no reason whatsoever why the genocide-deniers should be allowed to set the agenda, and force us to justify the use of the term ‘genocide’ when we discuss the fate of the Armenians. Let us be clear about this: genocide deniers are not simply those who prefer to use a term other than ‘genocide’ – such as ‘systematic mass-murder’ or ‘extermination’ – when describing what happened to the Armenians, or to the Rwandan Tutsis in 1994, or to the Srebrenica Muslims in 1995. Rather, a true genocide-denier is one who, in the course of denying that a genocide occurred, seeks to whitewash the crime, minimise its magnitude and the tragedy of the victims, and usually also to shift the blame away from the perpetrators and on to the victims themselves. In other words, genocide deniers have an ideological agenda, and a very obnoxious one at that.
The Armenian case is perhaps alone, at least among the cases of genocide with which I am at all familiar, in that some historians who are in other respects actually very serious and competent are ranked among the deniers. There is always a temptation among foreign historians, who depend upon the hospitality and collaboration of the academic community and archivists of the countries they are studying, to become spokespeople for the nationalist or regime agendas of the countries in question. This is something that reflects badly on all those who fall into this trap. It is one thing for historians to be discreet or diplomatic when touching upon such issues, or to to use euphemisms like ‘extermination’ or ‘destruction’ instead of genocide, if that is the only way to keep the archives open. But if you start agitating on a denialist platform to ingratiate yourself with your hosts, you have crossed a line. As a historian, I am proud to say that I have always referred openly to the Armenian genocide; to the genocide of the native Americans; to the Soviet genocide of the Chechens, Crimean Tatars and others; to the Ustasha and Chetnik genocides in Axis-occupied Yugoslavia during World War II; and to the Bosnian genocide of the 1990s – both when writing about these topics and when teaching my students. If that ever means that some doors are closed to me that might otherwise be open, so be it. Some of us, at least, value our integrity more than our careers or our connections.
This is important, because it is ultimately historians and other scholars and teachers upon whom the task falls of educating the public about past acts of genocide. There are very sound reasons why the recognition of historic genocides in foreign countries should not be undertaken by national parliaments. In the case of the Armenian genocide – which, I repeat, should not be denied by respectable scholars – there are two crucial reasons why national parliaments should not actually vote to recognise it. The first reason concerns the context of the Armenian genocide itself, while the second reason concerns the concept of ‘genocide’ more generally.
The Armenian genocide was one of the last, and probably the largest-scale, of the series of acts of mass murder and expulsion that accompanied first the contraction, then the destruction of the Ottoman Empire and its replacement by several nation-states in the Balkans and Anatolia. The emergence from the Ottoman Empire of Greece, Serbia, Montenegro and Bulgaria as autonomous or independent nation-states during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries involved the extermination or expulsion of much of the Ottoman Muslim population that had inhabited the territories of these countries under the Ottomans. A related phenomenon was the southward expansion of Russia during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, across the northern coast of the Black Sea and into the Caucasus and the Balkans, often in collusion with local Christian peoples and similarly involving the killing or expulsion of vast numbers of Muslims – indeed, of entire Muslim peoples such as the Crimean Nogai and the Caucasian Ubykhs.
These acts of killing and explusion culminated in the Balkan Wars of 1912-13, when Serbia, Greece, Bulgaria and Montenegro finally destroyed the Ottoman Empire in Europe. According to Justin McCarthy (Death and Exile: The Ethnic Cleansing of Ottoman Muslims, 1821-1922, Darwin Press, Princeton, 1996, p. 164), the Balkan Wars resulted in the death of 27% of the Muslim population of the Ottoman territories conquered by the Christian Balkan states – 632,408 people. This is a figure comparable to death-toll of the Armenian genocide from 1915, which Bloxham estimates as claiming the lives of one million Armenians or 50% of the pre-war Armenian population of the Ottoman Empire, with another half million Armenians deported but surviving (Bloxham, p. 1).
These massacres and expulsions of Ottoman Muslims, and particularly the Balkan Wars, were both precursors and catalysts for the Armenian genocide, which was launched only a couple of years after the Balkan Wars ended. This was because a) Muslim Turkish nationalists copied the model of European-style nationalism already adopted by the Balkan Christian nationalists, involving the same principle of ethno-religious homogeneity; b) the decades of explusions of Ottoman and Caucasian Muslims to Anatolia, culminating in the Muslim exodus from the Balkans during and after the Balkan Wars, provided a constituency of embittered refugees and their descendants whom the Turkish nationalists could mobilise in the 1910s to attack Anatolian Christians; c) the settlement of these Muslim refugees in Anatolia began the process of Muslim colonisation of historically Armenian-inhabited lands that paved the way for the genocide; and d) the Turkish nationalists who ruled the Ottoman Empire in 1915 viewed the extermination of the Armenians as the necessary alternative to what they feared would be the establishment of an Armenian state in Anatolia under Russian protection, on the model of the Balkan Christian states and involving the same acts of killing and expulsion of Ottoman Muslims that the establishment of the latter had involved (NB to point this out is not to justify the genocide; any more than pointing out Hitler’s undoubtedly sincere belief in a ‘Jewish threat’ to the Aryan race justifies the Holocaust).
The question is, therefore, why national parliaments in Europe or elsewhere should recognise the Armenian genocide while according no recognition whatsoever to the series of Christian crimes against Ottoman and Caucasian Muslims that both led up to and catalysed it. Historians can debate how decisive this catalyst was, or whether and to what extent the earlier crimes against Muslims should rightfully be labelled ‘genocide’. But this requires a degree of nuance and sensitivity to history of which blunt, clumsy parliamentary resolutions framed by historically ignorant parliamentarians are simply not capable. At the very least, the similarity of these crimes to the Armenian genocide should not be denied; nor should they be deemed less worthy of recognition. In singling out the Armenian genocide for recognition while ignoring the destruction of the European Ottoman and Caucasian Muslims, a parliament would be saying that the victims of the one are more worthy of recognition than the victims of the other. And this is something that the Turkish public cannot legitimately be expected to swallow – given that it is itself partially descended from the survivors of the Christian crimes in question, therefore much more aware of the double standard than are most Europeans.
This brings us to the second reason why parliaments should not recognise the Armenian genocide, or indeed any other historic genocide carried out by a foreign regime in a foreign country: the danger that a genocide will only be considered a ‘real’ genocide if recognised by a national parliament. All those who would like to turn a blind eye to genocidal crimes – whether in Iraqi Kurdistan, Bosnia, Rwanda, Darfur or elsewhere – tend to do so by arguing that they are not ‘really’ genocide. They like to present genocide as something that almost never happens. Hence, they apply the term ‘genocide’ to only a very few historic cases – generally, to only the Holocaust, the Armenian genocide, the Cambodian genocide of the Khmer Rouge and the Rwandan genocide – or not even to all of those. Conversely, those who actually wish to see greater international efforts to prevent genocide, as well as most scholars writing about the phenomenon of genocide today, usually prefer to apply the term to a much larger number of historic crimes of mass murder. The point is not that these latter crimes are necessarily less worthy of the ‘genocide’ label than the destruction of the Armenians or Tutsis, but that they are less well known internationally.
In principle, therefore, recognition of the Armenian genocide should be followed by the recognition of other genocides: of the Herero people of German South West Africa in the early twentieth century; of the Chechens, Crimean Tatars and other Soviet peoples in the 1940s; of the Mayan population of Guatemala in the 1970s and 80s; and so forth, amounting to dozens or hundreds of cases. But we are unlikely ever to have international teams of scholarly experts deciding which of these cases warrant recognition as ‘genocide’ - more likely, genocide will only be recognised under the pressure of powerful and determined lobbies, as has been the case with the Armenians in several European countries. This would be bad for any genuine understanding of what genocide is and bad for the memory of the innumerable victims of what will be consigned to the category of ‘unrecognised genocides’. But it will be good for all those apologists for murderous regimes who will be only too happy to claim that it is only the Holocaust and the Armenian genocide that are recognised as genocide, and that we should all turn a blind eye to ‘lesser’ crimes.
No, parliamentary recognition of historic genocides is not the way forward. Rather than alienating Turkey by singling out its historic crimes for unique recognition, we should do better to encourage its further democratisation, to the point where its intellectuals can publicly acknowledge and discuss the Armenian genocide without fear of persecution or arrest. This, ultimately, is the only way to ensure that the memory of the Armenian victims is kept alive among those who most need to remember them.
This article was published today on the website of the Henry Jackson Society.
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- Middle East
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- South Ossetia
- The Left