On the night of 11 March 2000, British Prime Minister Tony Blair and his wife Cherie attended a performance in Moscow of the Prokofiev opera ‘War and Peace’, in the company of acting Russian president Vladimir Putin and his wife Lyudmila. This was part of a high-profile intervention in support of Putin’s presidential election bid that month. ‘He was highly intelligent and with a focused view of what he wants to achieve in Russia’, Blair gushed at the time. Meanwhile, Russia’s campaign of killing and destruction in Chechnya was in full swing. The contrast with Blair’s resolute opposition to the similar assault on the Albanian population of Kosovo by Slobodan Milosevic’s Serbia the previous year was glaring.
Those who have demonised Blair as a ‘warmonger’ over NATO’s Kosovo intervention, and particularly over his support for the US-led wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, have been mostly silent over his Russian blunder. This is strange, for whereas the Kosovo war ended forever Milosevic’s military adventures, the West’s Russian strategy since the 1990s has been much more damaging to the cause of world peace. Putin claims his actions over Ukraine have been a response to longstanding Western mistreatment of Russia, but the truth is the opposite: the threat of war hanging today over Ukraine is the ugly offspring of the West’s longstanding enabling of Russian imperialism, of which Blair’s Moscow misadventure was merely an episode.
Continue reading at Left Foot Forward
According to the dictum attributed to Edmund Burke, all that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing. Yet evil will triumph even more easily if good men help the evil-doers. In the Syrian civil war, with more than 80,000 dead and no end in sight, that is what the European Union has been doing, by upholding an arms embargo on the supply of weapons to all sides.
This in practice assists Bashar al-Assad’s dictatorship; freezing in place its military superiority over the poorly armed Free Syrian Army, and enabling the dictatorship better to massacre its own citizens. FSA soldiers, demoralized by their shortage of arms, have been responding by defecting to the relatively well-equipped Islamist militia Jabhat al-Nusra, whose leader Abu Mohammed al-Jolani had pledged loyalty to al-Qaeda.
Meanwhile, Iran systematically violates the arms embargo by sending arms to its Syrian ally.
Continue reading at Left Foot Forward
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 !
William Hague, the new British foreign secretary
‘Compared with a decade ago, this country is more open at home and more compassionate abroad and that is something we should all be grateful for…’. So said Britain’s new prime minister David Cameron, paying tribute to the outgoing Labour government. Britain is embarking on a new political era, and it is sad to see so many self-proclaimed ‘progressives’ still stuck in the same ideological trenches they inhabited in the 1980s, unable to view ‘progressive politics’ in anything other than anti-Tory terms, and damning the Liberal Democrats for their supposed ‘betrayal’. Cameron presented Britain with a historic opportunity to reconstitute our mainstream party of the right as a party of the centre. Had he failed to form a government, the Conservative Party could quite possibly have moved back towards the right. I have been critical of the Liberal Democrats in the past, but Nick Clegg’s decision to form a coalition with Cameron was a supremely responsible act, rescuing Cameron’s ‘progressive Conservative’ project and moderating any right-wing tendencies that a straight Conservative government would have had. The new British government enjoys greater legitimacy than any other combination arising from the election would have done; as much as is possible, it broadly represents what the nation wants, which is a change of government but not a move to the right. The Labour Party will benefit from a rest after thirteen years in office. Those who see British politics purely through anti-Conservative or anti-Labour lenses are still living in the twentieth century; the formation of a Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition shows that old distinctions between ‘left-wing’ and ‘right-wing’ parties no longer apply.
Crucially, the foreign and defence portfolios in the new government are in the hands of Conservatives. Of course, Britain’s last Conservative government under John Major had a disgraceful record in world affairs – either failing to halt or actively aiding and abetting genocide in Iraq, Bosnia and Rwanda, while undermining our alliance with the US. But not all Conservative politicians are the same – Winston Churchill was not Neville Chamberlain and Margaret Thatcher was not Edward Heath. There is cause for concern at the continued influence in the party of elements complicit with Major’s disastrous policies, such as Malcolm Rifkind and Pauline Neville-Jones. But the signals coming from Cameron and from the new foreign secretary, William Hague, are promising.
There is absolutely no reason why the Conservative commitment to greater British sovereignty within the EU is ‘anti-European’; on the contrary, it is the Franco-German-dominated Euro-federalist bloc that is anti-European, as it seeks to divide Europe between the ‘ins’ and the ‘outs’, and to exclude countries like Turkey and Ukraine from the European family. In his recently leaked memo, Hague has made it clear that his government will be ‘firm supporters of enlargement’ and ‘favour an outward looking Europe’.
Hague has also said that his government will ‘want to see a more muscular EU approach in Bosnia’. He has consistently spoken up for Bosnia; last year, he criticised the ‘weak and confused’ EU response to the ‘pressure to fragment the country’ and said: ‘It is moving slowly in the wrong direction and – despite all the efforts and all the bloodshed and all the sacrifices there – it’s moving in the wrong direction without alarm bells sounding in most European capitals.’ He warned that the crisis in Bosnia threatened to derail efforts to expand the EU to include Serbia, Croatia and Turkey, and promised: ‘People think the Balkans are what we debated in the 1990s and now we can forget about it. In fact, it’s a crucial area in foreign policy in the next five to 10 years and will get a lot of emphasis in the next Conservative administration.’ Earlier this year, Hague wrote to his predecessor, Foreign Secretary David Miliband, to express his concern at Britain’s arrest of Bosnia’s former vice-president Ejup Ganic.
Cameron, too, has spoken out for the rights of the vulnerable nations of South East Europe. As early as 2003, before he became Conservative leader, Cameron wrote a stirring defence of Macedonia; ‘the country – and I am determined to call it Macedonia – has a perfect right to exist. The population is overwhelmingly Macedonian, with a distinctive language, culture and history.’ Criticising ‘Greek pettiness’ toward Macedonia, Cameron called for an active policy to support it and the former Yugoslavia generally: ‘Let Macedonia into Nato and guarantee its borders. Ensure there is a speedy framework for getting the former Yugoslav republics into the EU so they can benefit from free trade and structural funds. Recognise the fact that Macedonia paid a substantial price for looking after Albanian refugees from Kosovo during the war – and pay aid in respect of it. Above all, stay involved to give the region the stability that it needs so badly.’
When Russia attacked Georgia in August 2008, Cameron was quicker to react than Gordon Brown and more forthright; he flew to Tbilisi to stand shoulder to shoulder with Georgia’s leaders, and to state that ‘I think it’s important that the world’s oldest democracy must stand with one of the newest when it’s been illegally invaded by another country… We wanted to come to express the strongest possible support of the British people, British government and British opposition for Georgia, its independence and integrity.’ He later drew the parallel between Russia and 1930s Germany: ‘Russia’s pretext — that it has a right to step in militarily to protect its citizens — has chilling echoes from Czech history, and dangerous implications if it is now the basis of Russian policy. Such a doctrine cannot be allowed to stand.’ Far from being ‘anti-European’, Cameron defended Georgia from a pro-European perspective: ‘We should not accept that while the Czech Republic, Poland and the Baltic States are in Nato and the EU, with their full measure of independence and liberty, other countries on Russia’s periphery that have not yet become members are somehow condemned to exist in a political no-man’s-land.’
Cameron’s audacious move to form an alliance with the Liberal Democrats, outflanking the right wing of the Conservative Party and reshaping British politics, indicates that he may be a bold world leader in the years ahead. Let us hope so. The US and EU have dithered over the worsening crisis in Bosnia – as did the UK under Brown. A British government committed to a broader, more outward-looking Europe, committed to supporting and defending the states of East and South East Europe, is exactly what Europe needs.
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 ?’
These days, even the most ardent Bosnian patriot or foreign friend of Bosnia-Hercegovina finds it difficult to be optimistic about the country’s future. In its current constitutional form, Bosnia is a state that does not and cannot work. No conceivable solution appears very good, while even bad solutions appear unachievable. Yet the status quo appears worst of all. I have been defending Bosnia-Hercegovina for seventeen years – ever since I campaigned on its behalf when the war broke out there in 1992. In this article, however, I shall weigh up Bosnia-Hercegovina’s different options and prospects as cold-bloodedly as possible.
The Dayton Peace Accords of 1995 established a Bosnia-Hercegovina that was more partitioned than united. For every year that it exists, the constitutional arrangement for Bosnia established by Dayton brings Bosnia another step closer to full and complete partition. Every year, Republika Srpska further consolidates itself as a de facto independent state; the Office of the High Representative declines in power and authority; the international community’s will and ability to coerce the Republika Srpska are that much weaker; the already dim prospect of Bosniaks and Croats returning to Republika Srpska recedes further; and the share of the Bosnian population that can remember the unified, multinational country that existed before 1992 becomes smaller. Despite apparent steps toward reintegration taken while the Office of the High Representative was headed by the energetic and determined Paddy Ashdown, subsequent high representatives have lacked either the will or the international support to continue down Ashdown’s path, with the result that Bosnia has further unravelled in recent years. However monstrous the injustice that Bosnian partition would represent, with every year that passes, the injustice is further forgotten by the world and full partition – like death - draws nearer. We need only look at the other injustices that have become realities on the ground: the three-way partition of Macedonia in 1912-13; the dispossession of the Armenian population of Anatolia; the dispossession of the Palestinian population of present-day Israel – these are realities on the ground. The partition of Bosnia is steadily becoming as irreversible as the partition of Macedonia.
Consequently, the best strategy for Bosnian Serb nationalists who want to achieve an independent Republika Srpska is simply to continue the existing constitutional arrangement while quietly chipping away at Bosnia from within. Ironically, however, the present arrangement may serve the interests of the Bosnian Serb political classes at the present time better than a full partition. A unified, homogenous Serb nation embracing the Serb populations on both sides of the River Drina is a myth; the dominant historical thrust of Bosnian Serb nationalism is toward an independent Bosnian Serb state rather than toward annexation to Serbia. Thus, for the Bosnian Serb political classes, the existing arrangement, whereby the Republika Srpska increasingly enjoys complete de facto independence, may be preferable to a full partition that would threaten them with being swallowed up by Serbia. One day, the Serb population of the Republika Srpska may cease to support annexation to Serbia, as the Greek population of Cyprus has ceased to support enosis with Greece. Until then – and until international conditions are fully favourable to the disappearance of Bosnia - Republika Srpska’s leadership might sensibly desire to stay put.
Conversely, the best hope for supporters of a unified Bosnia may be for Milorad Dodik’s increasingly arrogant regime to continue and escalate its present policy of rocking the boat, inciting Serb-nationalist passion and baiting the Bosniaks and the international community. Eventually, we may hope, Dodik might become sufficiently stupid actually to attempt unilateral secession prematurely, or some other such outrage that would provide Bosnia and the world with a legitimate pretext to overturn the Dayton order and reintegrate Republika Srpska with the rest of the country. This is not a wholly dim prospect, as recent antics on the part of the leaderships of both Serbia and the Republika Srpska highlight the continued Serb-nationalist propensity to self-destructive nationalist confrontation. Last month, Dodik issued a gratuitously offensive denial of the Tuzla massacre of 1995. This followed hot on the heels of Serbian president Boris Tadic’s recent act of provocation against Bosnia, when he visited the Bosnian Serb entity without Bosnia’s permission, to open a new school named ‘Serbia’ in Pale, the former Bosnian Serb rebel capital outside of Sarajevo.
At this point, we should be clear about what partition would mean. Partition might be appealing for those Bosnian Serbs and Bosnian Croats who would be able to unite with Serbia and Croatia respectively, exchanging their citizenship of a dysfunctional state for citizenship of states that function. But for the Bosniaks, partition would cement their confinement to what is effectively a ghetto comprising the two territorial enclaves around the Sarajevo-Zenica-Tuzla triangle and Bihac respectively. The EU’s recent extension of visa-free travel to Serbia, following on from Croatia, thereby in practice to Bosnian Serbs and Bosnian Croats but not to Bosnia and the Bosniaks, is evidence that this is indeed a ghetto. An ‘independent’ Bosniak entity comprising these enclaves would be non-viable, while its embittered and demoralised population would fall under the influence of the most reactionary form of conservative Islamic politics. Bosniaks would be fully justified in choosing war before accepting such a grim fate.
A territorially fairer form of partition – which one or two of my own Bosniak correspondents have suggested to me – would envisage both Republika Srpska and the Bosnian Croats giving up territory to the Bosniaks in exchange for the right to secede, resulting in a separate Bosniak entity comprising somewhat less than half of Bosnia, with roughly a third going to the Serbs and a fifth to the Croats. This would represent a great injustice to the Serb and Croat inhabitants of the transferred areas, who would suddenly find themselves ethnic minorities in a Bosniak national state. The Republika Srpska, at least, would find such a solution unacceptable, so it would have to be imposed unilaterally – involving, in effect, a new war and ethnic cleansing. This is not something that twenty-first century Europe can sanction.
Any form of outright partition, furthermore, would destabilise Bosnia’s neighbours: Serbia, Croatia and those further afield. Serbia and Croatia have slowly and painfully democratised over the past decade, turning their back on aggression and expansionism. In Serbia, in particular, the struggle between pro-European reformists and aggressive nationalists is far from over. The acquisition of new irredentas would mark a huge setback for this process: the newly expanded states would be unstable as they struggled to integrate the new populations; their party systems would be further fragmented; the expansionist nationalists would be vindicated and revived. Serbia, in particular, would be encouraged by such an annexation to pursue further expansionist goals – possibly against fragile Macedonia or even NATO-member Croatia. Ultimately, what Serbia needs to prosper is to be kept firmly within its existing legal state borders. The reason why Bulgaria and Romania entered the EU before Serbia is that they were fortunate enough to have lost World War II and to have been confined to their own borders, with no prospect of further territorial expansion. Serbia, which came out of World War II ambiguously - neither wholly as victor nor as vanquished - and which appeared to have some prospects for territorial expansion in the 1990s, has paid a heavy price. The last thing Serbia needs is to be tempted off the wagon.
The redrawing of international borders and partition of a sovereign state would encourage those elements in the Balkans that wish to partition Kosovo and Macedonia as well. Partitioning Bosnia outright could open a Pandora’s box, with unforseeable consequences. Yet as we have seen, the status quo – the Dayton system – represents not an alternative to outright partition, but de facto partition with the likelihood of full de jure partition at some point in the future, when circumstances are more favourable to the Bosnian Serb nationalists. In the meantime, the Bosniaks have the worst of both words. Not only have they been squeezed into a ghetto and forced to inhabit a dysfunctional state, but their energies must be expended in permanent political conflict with Serb and Croat politicians who do not want the state to cease being dysfunctional. The Bosnian Croats, meanwhile, suffer as the minority party within the Bosnian Federation, permanently squeezed by the embittered Bosniak majority. The Republika Srpska leadership, by contrast, should feel wholly satisfied with the existing order, which grants it all the cards except one: the right to secede formally one day without complications. Republika Srpska’s lack of the right to secede comprises the only strong card in the hands of supporters of Bosnian unity, though the card is unlikely to remain strong indefinitely.
The Western alliance should have cause to regret the rise of Republika Srpska, which may be relied upon to undermine its interests in South East Europe. In May, Dodik unilaterally withdrew Bosnian Serb soldiers from Bosnia’s participation in NATO exercises in Georgia, which he then boycotted, in a move attributed to pro-Russian sentiment. Nebojsa Radmanovic, the Bosnian Serb member of the Bosnian presidency, recently stated that most Bosnian Serbs oppose NATO membership, and mooted the possibility of a referendum on NATO membership in Republika Srpska. A de jure or de facto independent Republika Srpska will obstruct the Balkans’ Euro-Atlantic integration and serve as a bridgehead for Russian influence in the region.
Supporters of a unified Bosnia-Hercegovina, both inside the country and internationally, must act now if Bosnia-Hercegovina is to be saved. Highlighting the fact that the Dayton system is leading inexorably toward the outright partition of Bosnia-Hercegovina, they must campaign for an end to this system and the restoration of a unified, functioning Bosnian state, through the reintegration of Republika Srpska with the rest of the country. This should not involve the entity’s outright abolition; rather, it should involve the transfer of all meaningful power to the central government in Sarajevo, leaving Republika Srpska a de facto administrative entity. Justification for such a move may be found in numerous places: Dodik’s repeated calls for Bosnia-Hercegovina’s dissolution; his continued denial of the Srebrenica genocide, in disregard of the verdict of the international courts; the Serb failure to arrest Ratko Mladic as the Dayton Accords required; the Republika Srpska’s failure to permit the return of Bosniak and Croat refugees. This is not a good option, but it is the least bad of the possible options.
If they do not wish to or are unable to campaign on this platform, Bosnia-Hercegovina’s supporters might as well give up and accept that at some point in the future, Bosnia-Hercegovina is likely to disappear from the map of Europe.
Leaders of the US’s East European allies have hailed the move by US President Barack Obama to abandon the Bush Administration’s plans to base an anti-missile defence system in Poland and the Czech Republic. The move was made in response to Russian concerns that such a defence system would threaten the security of Russian missiles in the event that they were launched at Polish or Czech cities. ‘In attempting to restrict our ability to slaughter huge numbers of civilians in Eastern Europe, the US was clearly indicating an aggressive intent with regard to Russia’, President Dmitry Medvedev said at a press conference earlier this week. ‘We welcome President Obama’s new readiness to respect the security of Russian missiles aimed at Poland and the Czech Republic.’
US officials had been quick to point out that the planned missile shield was intended to defend against a missile strike from rogue states such as Iran or North Korea, not from Russia. ‘We want to indicate to the Russians that we fully respect their right to launch missiles at our NATO allies’, said President Obama, who has been perceived as eager to distance himself from the hawkish unilateralism of the Bush Administration. ‘It’s the Iranians who aren’t allowed to launch missiles at Eastern Europe, not the Russians. Admittedly, abandoning the missile shield will make it easier for the Iranians to do just that, but we’re vaguely hoping that this gesture will make Moscow more cooperative in countering the Iranian nuclear programme.’
Although they had previously supported the missile shield, the leaders of Poland and the Czech Republic have been quick to hail the US turnaround. ‘We have a long history of problems with Iran’, said Polish President Lech Kaczynski; ‘In 1939, Iran joined with Nazi Germany to partition our country, and massacred thousands of our officers and soldiers at Katyn Forest in 1940. Even today, the Iranians appear remarkably unapologetic about this. With the Russians, by contrast, we have never had any problems. Coordinating our defences with the Russians seems like a really good idea.’
Czech Foreign Minister Jan Kohout agrees: ‘In 1968, the Iranians invaded our country to stamp out our experiment in “Islamism with a human face”. With President Obama’s new move, we feel safer from the Iranians than ever before. We feel that NATO is serving its purpose, and will happily send out troops to fight alongside the Americans in places like Iraq or Afghanistan. Our faith in the US has never been stronger.’
Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili had some reservations about the US move, but remained positive overall: ‘Despite having been the third largest contributor of allied troops to Iraq, we find that large parts of our country are still under Russian control. But thanks to President Obama, we feel safer than ever before from the threat of Iranian invasion.’
‘Both Russia and NATO have a wealth of experience in missile defence. We should now work to combine this experience’ said NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, while unveiling a statue of Stalin at the NATO headquarters in Brussels last month to commemorate the seventieth anniversary of the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact.
Greater Surbiton News Service
Last month, I was interviewed by the Macedonian daily newspaper Nova Makedonija. The edited text of my interview was published in the Macedonian language. I reproduce here the full interview in English.
What kind of policy steps are you suggesting for the Macedonian government to take in order to get the invitation for NATO?
The Macedonian government has to accept that, on account of the Greek veto, it will not be able to join NATO in the short term. It must therefore pursue a long-term strategy in this regard. This means showing itself to be a staunch friend of NATO and in particular of the US, for example through support for the allied military effort in Afghanistan, and playing a constructive role in the Balkan region. Macedonia must continue to reform and develop its military, maintain the Ohrid Agreement, and show itself to be a mature and responsible democratic state. This will pave the way for NATO membership in the long run.
You are calling Greece a ‘regional troublemaker’ and you ask for the Western leaders to bring a real pressure to bear on our neighbour. But it seems that not only do they not press Greece, but also they hold down Macedonia by saying we will not be able to join NATO or the EU till the name issue is resolved. In this kind of situation how real is it to expect that the veto might be overturned ? Why is there a lack of will to press Greece?
The problem is not so much that the Western leaders support Greece, as that they don’t perceive enough of an interest in supporting Macedonia. With other problems facing them globally, Western leaders find it easier to do nothing about Greece and Macedonia. And since Greece, as a NATO and EU member, has the upper hand vis-a-vis Macedonia, the Western leaders are effectively siding with Greece by default. Macedonia must be patient, and try to win the battle for European and Western public opinion, by systematic lobbying, and by developing close bilateral relations with those countries that are sympathetic to it – such as the US, UK, Turkey, Italy and Russia.
The winner of the presidential election in Macedonia, Gjorge Ivanov, said that his first priority is to resolve the name issue, stressing that direct negotiations between Macedonia and Greece could unblock the process. What do you think about this idea?
I am very skeptical that direct negotiations between Greece and Macedonia can unblock the process, because Greece is unwilling to accept any reasonable compromise. My personal suggestion for a compromise would be ‘Republic of non-Greek Macedonia’ - Mr Ivanov could try that, though I suspect Athens would think up some objection…
Greece refuses to admit that the negotiations are not only about the name, but also about the Macedonian identity. How could we resolve this problem with Greece, which is crucial for our integration into NATO and the EU and at the same time not lose our identity?
Macedonia must be patient. The Greek veto is not going to be lifted any time soon, but Macedonia cannot surrender to Greece without losing its identity. The Greek policy is to make the international community de-recognise the existence of a Macedonian nation, hence, it wants to force the Republic of Macedonia to adopt a name that turns ‘Macedonia’ into a geographic, rather than a national term. So long as Athens thinks it can bully Skopje into backing down, it’s going to try. And so long as the EU believes that Greece is more uncompromising than Macedonia, it will encourage Skopje, as the more reasonable side, to back down. That is the way the EU operates – it always rewards the stronger and more unreasonable side. So it doesn’t pay to be conciliatory.
I think it’s important, therefore, that Macedonia should not view membership of NATO and the EU as a shibboleth. Macedonia must accept that it won’t join either organisation soon, but that this is not the end of the world. It should try to achieve as many of the benefits of membership as it can, by forging a close economic and military relationship with the NATO and EU states, as well as with Russia and other countries. In the long run, Skopje must make both Athens and the EU realise that it isn’t going to back down, no matter how long it has to wait to join NATO and the EU. In the meantime, Macedonia has friends, and it isn’t going to collapse.
Are you an optimist that in the near future we could find a solution to the problem?
No. A solution depends upon the democratisation of Greece, and a shift in Greek political culture to one that is post-nationalist, rather than nationalist. It is a slow process, but it will happen eventually. We can compare this with Turkey’s attitude to the Armenian genocide: official Turkey still won’t recognise this genocide, but more and more educated Turkish citizens are willing to speak about it. Greece will gradually democratise, and as it does, educated Greeks will challenge the nationalist paradigm over Macedonia. Macedonians must be patient and accept that they must wait for democratic change to take place in their southern neighbour.
According to you, is it a good idea that the EU help Macedonia and Greece to resolve the problem in the way thay are helping Croatia and Slovenia? The negotiation process under the UN seems to be in a dead end, but on the other hand, some argue that EU mediation is not such a good idea because Macedonia is not an EU member so they will not be on an equal footing with Greece.
I am skeptical about a negotiated settlement in both the cases of Slovenia and Croatia, and of Greece and Macedonia. In both cases, the EU is refusing to distinguish between right and wrong, and negotiations will necessarily favour the stronger side; i.e., the side that is already in the EU, and that wields the veto. Ultimately, Macedonia needs to resist EU pressure to accept an unprincipled compromise – not just for its own sake, but for the sake of all Europeans. I, as a European citizen, do not want to live in an EU that supports territorial expansionism – as in the case of Slovenia vs Croatia – or that supports racism - as in the case of Greece vs Macedonia. I want to live in an EU that does distinguish between right and wrong. So, for the sake of all Europeans, I hope Croatia and Macedonia do not back down.
Do you think that Macedonia will win the process in The Hague where we are suing Greece for violation of the Interim Accord, with its veto at the Bucharest summit last year? Greece is claiming that that was the unanimous decision of all NATO members.
I think Macedonia has a reasonably good chance. But, whatever the international court decides, it is just one battle in a struggle that will continue regardless.
Beside the remarks of international organisations such as the UN and the Council of Europe in reports on Greece’s refusal to recognise the Macedonian minority in Greece, Athens keeps denying the rights of this minority. Why is there no international pressure over Greece, seeing that, as a member of the EU, it must respect minority rights?
The failure of the EU to pressurise Greece on the question of the ethnic Macedonian minority in Greece is an absolute disgrace. Again, it comes down to inertia and a lack of perceived interest on the part of the EU members.
You say that Greek determination to keep Macedonia out of NATO and the EU has been bolstered by the opportunistic support of Sarkozy and that there is no contrary support for Macedonia from within EU ranks. Why there is no support for Macedonia in the EU; is that a result of our diplomacy, or something else ?
Macedonia has been very unlucky in France’s choice of president. Ultimately, a relatively small country like Macedonia has only a limited ability to influence the states of Europe. Macedonia has not been as unlucky as some in the treatment it has received from the EU and its members – you need only to look at how Bosnia was treated in the 1990s, or how long it took for Kosovo to achieve international recognition.
Macedonian diplomats need to lobby hard, but propaganda that appeals to the educated European public is also important. The Greek position, that people speaking a Slavic language cannot really be ‘Macedonian’, is simply racist. Educated Europeans need to be reminded of this. Also, as Macedonia develops its tourist industry, more and more Europeans will visit the country and become aware of the problem. Macedonians must be firm but appear reasonable – nobody respects nationalists.
Do you think that NATO and the EU will learn the lesson that by allowing the ‘rogue NATO and EU members’, as you call them, to blackmail their neighbours by using their vetoes, is creating a dangerous precedent facilitating aggressive nationalist demands?
I hope so, but this will depend on Macedonians, Croatians and their friends making the point as frequently and as effectively as they can. The position of Macedonia and Croatia is the one that the West must uphold, rather than that of the aggressive nationalist countries, Greece and Slovenia – satisfying the latter will open a Pandora’s box, encouraging other EU and NATO members to adopt similar aggressive demands against their neighbours. Europe needs to be made aware of this.
Do you think that it is possible that the right of individual NATO and EU states unilaterally to veto the membership of aspiring members will be abolished ? Surely, for this there would have to be a new NATO agreement that could be vetoed by Greece, and even if this happens, there could be other member states close to Greece that could support her veto - France for example ?
It won’t happen soon, but that is no reason not to talk about it. Talking about abolishing the veto is the first step to achieving it. Once people begin to talk about it, even as a distant possibility, then it is on the agenda, and European and Western politicians will start having to acknowledge the issue. Then they might begin to feel that by pandering to the trouble-makers, they are simply creating more problems for themselves for the future.
What kind of risk does this kind of blackmailing bring to the Balkans ? Do you think that the peace in this region could be infringed if Macedonia remains outside of NATO and the EU any longer ?
It is in Macedonia’s vital interest to join NATO and the EU in the long term, but that doesn’t mean it’s the end of the world if it doesn’t do so in the short term. As I said, a temporary alternative would be to forge a close military and economic relationship with these bodies, and develop close bilateral relations with their friendlier members, such as the US, UK, Italy and Turkey, as well as other powers, such as Russia. Serbia could provide a model – it has strengthened its position vis-a-vis the EU by developing its friendship with Russia. Ultimately, I am afraid that if Macedonia and Croatia back down to Greece and Slovenia, it will encourage more aggressive nationalist demands by individual NATO and EU members, and that that will destabilise the Balkans and retard the region’s Euro-Atlantic integration.
You said that ‘With Albania set to join NATO and significant ethnic-Albanian minorities present in Serbia, Montenegro and Macedonia, Tirana could, if it so wished, create a veritable nightmare for the Western alliance by making issues out of the latter’. Could you please explain what do you mean by this remark?
Just imagine if Macedonia were to capitulate to Greece, and if Albania were to draw the conclusion from this that it, too, as a member of NATO, could impose unreasonable demands on NATO candidate countries, including Macedonia. What then ? I do not wish to cast aspersions on Albania, which has behaved very responsibly in its regional policy, but in principle, Tirana could for example demand that Macedonia, Montenegro or Serbia grant it border rectifications, or grant their ethnic Albanian minorities territorial autonomy, if they want to join NATO. Where would you be then ? I’m not saying that this will happen, but a Macedonian capitulation to Greece would encourage this sort of thing.
It doesn’t pay to back down to aggressors. And, as I said, the EU, as a fundamentally unprincipled body, will generally reward unreasonable behaviour and put pressure on those who appear ready to bend. Macedonia may discover that sacrificing its name and identity will increase rather than solve its problems.
We have long defended the Turkish government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the Justice and Development Party (AKP) in the face of anti-democratic attacks from the Turkish Kemalist establishment and the ultranationalist right. This government has been a reforming force in Turkish politics and society, promoting democratisation and human rights at home and presiding over great economic growth while pursuing a moderate, progressive foreign policy abroad. The AKP government has improved the rights of women and Kurds, pursued detente with Armenia and Cyprus, tried to restrain Turkey’s hawks over the PKK and northern Iraq, and supported the fragile, threatened Balkan states of Macedonia and Kosova.
Nevertheless, any progressive regime that remains in power too long will cease to be progressive. And the indications are that the AKP government has reached this point. Its initially moderately Islamic ideology mirrored, for a time, the moderate Christianity of European Christian Democratic parties, and provided an appealing alternative Islamic message to that of the Islamists. By challenging the Kemalist establishment over the ban on headscarves in universities and the public sector, the government has simply been standing up for the right of religiously observant women to education and a career. Yet the government, whose public support has been declining and which performed badly in local elections last month, is increasingly slipping down the slope from moderate Islam to Islamic popularism. In January, Erdogan flounced off the stage during a panel discussion with Israeli president Shimon Peres at the World Economic Forum, after accusing Peres over the Gaza offensive: ‘When it comes to killing, you know well how to kill.’ During the Gaza offensive, Erdogan regularly denounced Israel in Islamist terms, suggesting that ‘Allah would punish’ Israel, whose actions would lead to its own ‘destruction’.
That this had more to do with pandering to Muslim populism and rising anti-Semitism than to any genuine concern at Palestinian suffering is indicated by the fact that Erdogan has not displayed quite the same degree of anger at the crimes of the Islamist Sudanese regime in Darfur. Indeed, Sudanese president Omar Hassan al-Bashir was invited to Turkey in January 2008, when he reviewed a military guard of honour in Ankara in the company of Turkey’s president, the AKP’s Abdullah Gul, who described him as a ‘friend’. Bashir was invited to Turkey again in August, despite his indictment for genocide by the International Criminal Court. The Turkish government has extended a similarly warm welcome to Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, with whom it is developing a close friendship, and who was permitted to put on an anti-American and anti-Israeli display at Istanbul’s Blue Mosque. Ankara is also pursuing an increasingly close collaboration with Russia, and is obstructing the transit of Azerbaijani gas to Europe via the Nabucco pipeline project, thereby threatening a source of energy for Europe that would be independent of Moscow.
Perhaps most worryingly, Ankara has been blocking the accession of Danish prime minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen to become the next secretary-general of NATO, on account of his handling of the Danish cartoon controversy of 2005. In Erdogan’s own words: ‘We are receiving telephone calls from the Islamic world, telling us: “By God, this person should not become the secretary general of Nato and we have to take into consideration all these reactions”.’ The AKP’s Islamic populism is thus threatening the functioning of NATO.
Meanwhile, the Turkish government has hardened its stand on the Kurdish issue, with Erdogan warning the Kurdish people that, with regard to Turkey, they should ‘love it or leave it’, creating major difficulties for the AKP’s own Kurdish deputies in relation to their constituents. This is apparently linked to increasing government paranoia over the role of the US and Israeli intelligence services in the country. This shift may account for the AKP’s poor showing in Kurdish regions in Turkey’s recent local elections.
Erdogan is mutating from a Muslim moderate into a Muslim bigot; his government is becoming a negative force in world politics. It is time for them to go.
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