Greater Surbiton

The perfect is the enemy of the good

2011: The year the worms turned

I cannot remember any year of my life being so exciting, in terms of global political developments, as 2011. In a positive way, too: although many of the great events of last year have been far from unambiguous triumphs for human progress and emancipation, they have nevertheless demonstrated that many of the chains that bind humanity are not as immovable as they previously seemed. Though many of the battles remain to be fought and some will be lost, that they are being fought at all is reason for optimism. I haven’t remotely been able to provide adequate comment at this blog, but here is my personal list of the most inspiring events of 2011 – not necessarily in order of importance.

1. The Arab (and Russian !) Spring.

Cynics regret the fall of the Ben Ali, Mubarak and Gaddafi regimes, and the likely fall of the Saleh regime, in the belief that these acted as Hobbesian leviathans keeping lids on political Islam. They fail to appreciate that these dictatorships, through preventing the emergence of healthy political pluralism and through opportunistic collaboration with Islamism, acted as the incubators of the very Islamist movements they claimed to keep in check. It is pluralism – more so than democracy – that is ultimately the cure for the evil represented by Islamism. The Arab Spring may end badly in some or all of the countries in question, but hats off to the brave Syrians, Yemenis, Tunisians, Egyptians, Libyans, Bahrainis and others who have redeemed the honour of the Arab world through their heroic struggle against tyranny, showing that change is possible. The Arab fighters against tyranny may not win, or they may succumb to a new tyranny, but they are fighting a struggle that needs to be fought. And hats off too to the brave Russians who are raising the banner of freedom in the heart of Europe’s worst police state.

2. International intervention in Libya and Ivory Coast and the fall of Muammar Gaddafi and Laurent Gbagbo.

For all that I supported the US-led intervention to overthrow the Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein, events have proven it was an intervention too far: carried out without any form of mandate from world opinion or support in the country in question and attempting a too-radical overthrow of the existing order, it brought democratic change and emancipated the Shia majority and Kurdish minority, but only at great human cost and immense damage to the West’s reputation and to the political standing of the Western governments that participated. By contrast, the intervention in Libya was everything the intervention in Iraq was not: carried out in support of a genuine popular uprising and at the request of Libyans themselves, with a genuine international mandate, it brought down a dictatorship without any foreign troops setting foot in the country or losing their lives. There has been some whining among wishy-washy moderates that regime-change was carried out under cover of a UN mandate to prevent massacre, and that consequently Western leaders have made it more difficult to obtain international support for humanitarian intervention in future. Nonsense: even the propaganda catastrophe of Iraq did not prevent the intervention in Libya, so the successful intervention in Libya will be far from discouraging future interventions. In fact, like the Kosova intervention before it, Libya shows how humanitarian intervention can work, as did the international intervention that helped bring about the fall of Laurent Gbagbo in Ivory Coast, followed by his arrest and deportation to the International Criminal Court where, we hope, more of his fellow tyrants will end up.

3. The rise in the West of protests at the abuses of capitalism.

For much of the past fifteen years or so of my life, I felt I was gradually becoming more right-wing (from an admittedly extreme-left-wing starting-point), to the point where, at the last British general election, I adopted a bi-partisan standpoint vis-a-vis Labour and the Conservatives. I have seen, and continue to see myself, as a centrist rather than a leftist. Well, the events in the UK, the rest of Europe and the US have certainly served as a wake-up call to me, as the mainstream political right and the super-rich – not to put too fine a point on it – are simply taking the piss. Here in the UK, public services are being massacred while those in the corporate and financial sectors pay themselves vast and unearned bonuses, and the authorities turn a blind eye to their blatant tax-evasion. We’re supposed to believe that cutting the incomes of ordinary working- and middle-class people is necessary in the name of deficit-reduction, while cutting taxes for the rich and for corporations is necessary in the name of economic stimulus ! Well, you can’t have it both ways. In the US, the Republicans have gone so far to the right in their support of selfish and irresponsible tax-cuts for the rich that they’ve gone completely off the rails, seriously jeopardising their government’s ability to navigate the economic crisis. With mainstream centre-left leaders like Barack Obama and Ed Miliband failing to show any backbone over this, it is left to grass-roots activist movements to do so. So three cheers for Los Indignados, Occupy Wall Street, 38 Degrees, UK Uncut and all such movements, for doing what our elected representatives are failing to do. I never thought I’d say that, but there it is.

4. The fall of Silvio Berlusconi and popular protests in Greece.

The fall of the corrupt sleazeball is a bittersweet triumph, given that it occurred in the context of the EU’s imposition of brutal austerity programmes across the Eurozone, accompanied by creeping integration that violates both the national sovereignty and democratic will of member states. The cause of deeper EU integration has revealed itself to be a deeply undemocratic, anti-people cause. I have been very critical of the Greek political classes for their criminal regional policies, vis-a-vis Milosevic, Macedonia, etc.; the Greek people, by contrast, in the ferocious fight they are putting up against the EU-imposed austerity measures, have set an example to us all. Let the costs of the economic crisis be born by the bankers and politicians who caused it, not by ordinary people and future generations.

5. The phone-hacking scandal in the UK.

All my life in the UK, I have lived in the belief that the tabloid newspapers and particularly the Murdoch media empire are a great incubus on British politics and society, encouraging everything that is worst in our country: xenophobia, small-mindedness, vulgarity, philistinism, voyeurism and sleaze. So how refreshing and liberating it is, to see them being taken down a peg or two. There is no reason why people’s private lives and feelings should be constantly violated, and intimate personal details splashed all over newspapers, by hack reporters pandering to the worst public instincts; it is time that the UK passed some serious privacy laws, to put an end to the permanent national scandal and embarrassment of our tabloid press. However uninspiring Ed Miliband may be as Labour Party leader, he deserves credit for bravely taking on the Murdoch empire. Let’s hope the Daily Mail goes the way of the News of the World - that would go a long way toward solving our supposed ‘immigration crisis’ !

6. Independence for South Sudan.

What a sad day it is for democracy, when a genocidal dictatorship accomplishes what various flawed democracies seem unable to do, and negotiates the independence from it of an oppressed region. In July, South Sudan formally became an independent state and joined the UN. Congratulations to its people, who have shown that even the most brutal struggle for freedom can have a happy ending ! Meanwhile, Turkey is escalating its terror and repression of its Kurdish population; Serbia continues to block and disrupt Kosova’s independence, with Serb extremists creating chaos in northern Kosova and undermining Serbia’s EU aspirations; and Israel continues to obstruct peace with the Palestinians through its settlement-building programme and Apartheid-style occupation regime in the West Bank – to which its apologists turn a blind eye, while they try to blame the Palestinians for wanting to join the UN and UNESCO ! Shame on the democratic world.

7. Macedonia’s victory over Greece at the International Court of Justice and Palestinian membership of UNESCO. 

Were the democratic world to apply liberal and democratic principles fairly and consistently, it would be extremely easy to bring about solutions to the Macedonian-Greek and Israeli-Palestinian conflicts, that would respect and safeguard the rights of all four nations in question. Unfortunately, the EU over Greece and Macedonia and the US over Israel and Palestine, far from acting as honest brokers in negotiations to end these conflicts, are simply supporting the hardline nationalist agendas of the stronger sides. They hypocritically talk of ‘negotiated settlements’ while ensuring that pressure is only put on the weaker sides, never on the stronger. When they say they want both sides to negotiate, what they really mean is that they want one side to surrender. The Macedonians would have to be stark, raving mad if they followed advice over what’s in their national interest from EU apparatchiks, just as the Palestinians would have to be stark, raving mad if they followed advice from craven US officials. Do they really want their countries to end up like Bosnia, whose leaders in the 1990s were unwise enough to follow ‘advice’ of this kind ?? So what an inspiring example these nations are setting when they refuse to follow the advice of hypocrites, and pursue justice in a dignified, civilised manner through international institutions. Palestine’s admission to UNESCO in October followed by Macedonia’s victory over Greece at the ICJ in December are two blows struck for democracy and human rights that Western leaders seem unable to uphold.

8. The fall of Dominique Strauss-Khan and the acquittal of Amanda Knox.

At one level, the collapse of the sexual assault case in New York against Dominique Strauss-Khan suggests that even in the US, it may be legal for a rich sexually to assault a hotel maid, provided the maid in question has a personal history that’s marginally less unblemished by sin than that of the Virgin Mary, and has done something satanically evil like telling a lie during her asylum application. As has long been said, in rape cases it’s often the victim rather than the rapist who is on trial. For all that, Nafissatou Diallo’s accusation against Strauss-Khan did succeed in ending the political career of a violent misogynist with a history of attacking women, forcing his resignation as IMF chief and wrecking his French presidential bid. And in encouraging other female victims of sexual assault, at the hands of him and of others, to come forward. Another spectacular victory over misogyny was won in October, when Amanda Knox was acquitted by an Italian court on appeal of murdering her flatmate, having been originally convicted in something resembling a medieval witch-trial. Again, she was convicted not on the basis of the evidence against her, since there wasn’t any, but because she was good looking and sexually active, pursued what was in conservative Italian eyes an unorthodox lifestyle, and did not behave like a tearful female stereotype after her flatmate’s murder. Soon after, an apparently respectable boy-next-door, Vincent Tabak, was convicted of murdering his neighbour, Joanna Yeates. Initially overlooked by police until he incriminated himself, he turned out to have a secret fixation with strangling women. So there you have it.

9. The killing of Osama bin Laden and the arrest of Ratko Mladic.

Justice finally caught up in 2011 with two mass-murderers whose long evasion of justice made them symbols of ‘resistance’ for the worst kind of extremists. Mladic turned out not to be as brave as he had been when he was directing the genocidal massacre of defenceless Bosniak civilians at Srebrenica, and surrendered quietly to the Serbian police. Bin Laden was, by contrast, whacked in Pakistan by US special forces, as was his follower Anwar al-Awlaki by a US drone attack in Yemen later in the year, in both cases prompting much hand-wringing by wishy-washy liberal types of the Yasmin Alibhai-Brown variety, who seem to be under the impression that it’s possible for the US peacefully to arrest terrorists based in countries like Pakistan and Yemen, in the middle of an ongoing armed conflict with those terrorists, as if the latter were pickpockets in New York. They would do well to remember the Allied assassination of Holocaust-architect Reinhard Heydrich in 1942, and of Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, the architect of Pearl Harbour, the following year – we certainly didn’t try to arrest them ! And of course, based on what happened to former Republika Srpska vice-president Biljana Plavsic, an international court might have just sentenced bin Laden to a few years in prison, then let him out early.

10. The referendum defeat for the ‘Alternative Vote’ in the UK.

Not as significant as the above events, but it made me happy anyway.

Happy New Year !

Sunday, 1 January 2012 Posted by | Arabs, Britain, Egypt, Greece, Islam, Israel, Italy, Libya, Macedonia, Marko Attila Hoare, Middle East, Misogyny, NATO, Russia, Sudan | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Angels can tell the difference

Readers are invited to watch the above video, and see if you can tell in which city it was filmed. Here’s a clue: it’s not a city where a taxi driver is likely to say ‘mamma mia’.

I bring this up by way of an introduction. A minor nationalist tantrum recently erupted in Italy after former Croatian President Stjepan Mesic was invited to attend the opening of a museum, dedicated to the famous medieval explorer Marco Polo, in the Chinese city of Yangzhou. At the ceremony, Mesic was quoted as describing Marco Polo as a ‘Croatian-born world traveller who opened China to Europe’. Polo was, according to some (disputed) accounts, born on the Dalmatian island of Korcula, which was populated by Croats, in the town of the same name. The island was possessed by various different medieval states and rulers, including Croatia, but was ultimately conquered, along with other Dalmatian territories, by the Venetians, who ruled it for hundreds of years until the Venetian Republic was destroyed in the French Revolutionary Wars at the end of the nineteenth century.

The Italian daily Corriere della Sera responded to the ceremony at Yangzhou by accusing Croatia of having ‘kidnapped’ Marco Polo, and added a little nationalist rant about how ‘the island that Croatians now call “Korčula” was culturally Venetian, as is obvious from the old town, the Marcian Lions over the doors and the cathedral of St Mark’, adding for good measure a reference to the expulsion of ethnic Italians from Dalmatia and Istria by the Croatian Partisans following World War II, as well as a further complaint about the late Pope John Paul II’s reference to the medieval Croatian Christian heritage of Split – Croatia’s second city, which was also under Venetian rule. Corriere della Sera asked rhetorically ‘How is it possible that the Italian government and diplomatic service allowed someone as incredibly famous among the Chinese as the author of Il Milione to slip through their fingers, to the possible detriment of friendly relations, commerce and tourism?’

It should not need stating – again – that modern national identities cannot simply be projected back only ancient or medieval territories or individuals. That the actual identities of ancient and medieval – and indeed modern – territories were complex, nuanced and multifaceted. That modern nations have ethnically and culturally diverse roots; roots that should be celebrated, not denied in the name of crude nationalist models of homogeneity. Just look at the ethnic range of individuals who play a key part in English and British national history: the Norman-French William the Conqueror; the Dutch William of Orange; the Irish Duke of Wellington; the half-American Winston Churchill; and so on and so forth. The British royal family was originally German; its name was change from ‘Saxe-Coburg and Gotha’ to ‘Windsor’ in 1917. Think of the diverse ethnic backgrounds of leading British politicians today: Labour leader Ed Miliband (Polish Jewish); Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg (Dutch, Russian); London mayor Boris Johnson (Turkish); former Conservative leader Michael Howard (Romanian Jewish); former British foreign secretary Malcolm Rifkind (Lithuanian Jewish) – and that list is, of course, both incomplete and itself an oversimplification. Etc. etc. etc.

Arguments between nationalists over the possession of ancient or medieval historical figures of the ‘He’s ours ! No, he’s ours !’ variety have all the seriousness of primary school children fighting over possession of a particular lego brick or action man. But as with children’s toys, so with ancient and medieval historical figures, the best policy is to share. So the Duke of Wellington belongs to both Britain and Ireland; Charlemagne belongs to both France and Germany; Alexander the Great belongs to Greece, the Republic of Macedonia, Albania and others; Mother Theresa belongs to India, Albania and Macedonia; and so on.

Marco Polo, or Marko Polo, likewise belongs to both Italy and Croatia. The origins of his family are disputed, but I have never seen any evidence that he identified himself as either Italian or Croatian by nationality. The Venetian Republic of Marco Polo’s time was not an Italian national state; it ruled a far-flung multinational empire that stretched at times all the way into the Black Sea and Eastern Mediterranean – for example, Cyprus was under Venetian rule for nearly a century, and the Venetian influence can be seen prominently in the walls that surround the old town in Nicosia, still known as the ‘Venetian walls’.

Of course, Venetian rule in Korcula and other Dalmatian and Istrian territories was the rule of a colonial master, but that is no reason for Croats today to deny the strong Venetian influence on their culture – any more than Indians and Pakistanis should stop loving cricket; a sport bequeathed to them by British imperialism. Any more than Italians should deny the influence on their own culture of those who occupied parts of Italy over the course of hundreds of years: Normans, Arabs, Spanish, French, Austrians and others helped to shape the Italian nation that we have today. Any more than Croats should deny the influence on their culture of Serbs, Hungarians, Austrians and others. Culture doesn’t divide neatly along national lines.

The question arises, therefore, of why a supposedly respectable Italian newspaper should throw its rattle out of its pram just because a Croatian rather than an Italian politician was invited to attend the inauguration of a museum in China dedicated to Marco Polo. This may be put down in part to the legacy of Italian irredentism, and of the trauma of its defeat, with regard to the Croatian (and Slovene) Mediterranean coastal territories, following attempts to conquer them in both World War I and, under Mussolini and the Fascists, in World War II. Despite the enormous brutality inflicted by Fascist Italy on the inhabitants of these territories, the Italian attempt was ultimately defeated almost completely. By 1945, the Yugoslav Partisans had liberated all South-Slav-inhabited territories that had been annexed by Italy since 1918. So far as the Croat inhabitants of Dalmatia and other Croatian coastal territories were concerned, the Partisan struggle was above all a Croatian war of national liberation from the traditional Italian enemy. Apart from the great port of Trieste (which would have gone to Slovenia had the Western Allies not insisted it be returned to Italy), the Yugoslavs were, thanks to their military victory, able to keep all these territories after the war, so Dalmatia and most of Istria were reunited with Croatia, while the rest of Istria and other Slovene-inhabited territories were reunited with Slovenia.

Although the lands in question had overwhelming ethnic-Croat and ethnic-Slovene majorities, yet nationalistic Italians – not just Fascists – experienced this as a grievous loss of Italian national territory – particularly as regards Istria and the port of Rijeka, which had been annexed by Italy between 1918 and 1924. Italian resentment was undoubtedly exacerbated by the killings and expulsions of ethnic Italians in the territories in question by the victorious Partisans and the confiscations of their property, yet there is no equivalent degree of enduring German nationalist bitterness against Poland and the Czech Republic, where the post-war ethnic cleansing of Germans occurred on an incomparably larger scale. Italian nationalists simply disregard the actual ethnic composition of the terriories and the history of Italian Fascist expansion there, and view them through the prism of Italian victimhood and loss. Hardly surprising, therefore, that an Italian insistence that Marco Polo be considered Italian should slip effortlessly into an angry restatement of the traditional nationalist claim of coastal Croatia’s ‘Italian’ character.

Which brings us back to the advert at the start of this post. The Italians and Dalmatian Croats are close to one another in their culture and heritage; close enough that a Croatian city can plausibly be passed off as Italian-speaking in an advert for an international audience; and close enough also for many Italians not to appreciate the distinction. But the Dalmatian view is different. In Marco Polo’s alleged birthplace of Korcula town, a Partisan war-memorial depicts a Partisan with a sword slaughtering a Venetian lion. A peculiar product, it could be said, of a cultural symbiosis between two neighbouring peoples that stretches back to the time of Marco Polo and beyond, and of which the famous explorer may himself have been a product.

PS As an aside, those familiar with the city in question will note that it’s impossible for the hero to be standing beside that particular statue and to see the angels walking towards him across the piazza. But the makers of the advert can be forgiven for wanting to make the most of the scenery…

Friday, 6 May 2011 Posted by | Croatia, Former Yugoslavia, Italy, Slovenia | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Kosova’s independence cannot remain hostage to the will o’ the wisp of Serbian goodwill

vetevendosjeOnce 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.

Sunday, 30 November 2008 Posted by | Balkans, Bosnia, Croatia, Former Yugoslavia, France, Germany, Italy, Kosovo, Macedonia, NATO, Russia, Serbia, Spain | Leave a comment

An appeal to the British intellectual community to show support for a national referendum in Italy against ad personam legislation

berlusconiLast July the Italian government succeeded in passing a law granting the President, leaders of the upper and lower chambers, and Prime Minister (the four highest offices of the state) immunity from investigation whilst in office.

The ongoing investigations into current Prime Minister Signor Berlusconi’s affairs, which include allegations of corruption, bribery and attempts to pervert the course of justice, question the motives behind such legislation. It is the ad personam nature of these laws which makes them unacceptable. Not only is the idea of equality before the law traduced, but a clear message is sent that the position of lawmaker may be abused for personal gain.

The most fundamental principle of the rule of law is that all are treated equally under it. If such ad personam laws were passed today by a soi-disant democratically elected leader of an Eastern European or African state, it is likely that we would be swift in our condemnation of the act, and there would likely follow calls for action. European member states should be an example to the international community in setting the principle that all in society are equal before the law. Italy should be no exception.

Under Italian law, legislation passed by Parliament may be challenged by referendum, provided that 500 000 signatures calling for such action are collected within a period of 90 days. Despite little or no coverage in the Italian media, 200 000 signatures were collected in a single day, following the formation by some Italian politicians and intellectuals (including Nobel laureate Dario Fo) of a referendum committee. The support of the wider intellectual community is crucial in getting this issue into the Italian media and highlighting the need for a public referendum on this question.

The above message is from the website of Energie in fuga.

Members of the British academic community who would like to sign the appeal should click here.

Wednesday, 19 November 2008 Posted by | Italy | 1 Comment

   

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 122 other followers