The ideal of the European Union presupposes that member-states will pursue national policies that take into account the interests of the union as a whole. This means they should not try to drag the EU behind policies that are wholly against its interests, and that merely reflect the exclusive nationalism of the member-states in question. Yet this is precisely what the EU’s two most south-easterly member-states, first Greece and then Cyprus, have tried to do repeatedly since the early 1990s. In several spheres, Greece and Cyprus are pursuing policies that are wholly determined by nationalist motives, that have nothing to do with EU or Western interests or values and that are potentially highly damaging and dangerous. This cannot be allowed to continue if we are to maintain stability in South East Europe.
Greece threatens to veto the entry of Macedonia into NATO unless Macedonia changes its name. This represents the continuation of one of the most farcical episodes in the history of national chauvinism in Europe in the last two decades: Greece’s attempt since the early 1990s to prevent Macedonia using its name. Greece’s ‘justification’ for this, if that word can be used in this context, is that the historic land of Macedonia was solely ‘Greek’, that the ancient Macedonian conqueror Alexander the Great was ‘Greek’, and that therefore Greece has an exclusive right to the use of the name ‘Macedonia’, rather like a corporation’s exclusive right to its logo.
It should not be necessary to engage in the childish debate about whether Alexander or ancient Macedon really was ‘Greek’ or not – every undergraduate student of nationalism knows that one cannot simply transpose modern national identities back onto ancient historical figures and lands; still less can ancient history be allowed to determine modern geopolitics. The very fact that contemporary Greek politicians and intellectuals attempt to do just this is evidence that Greece has not yet made the transition to genuinely post-nationalist, twenty-first-century politics. The background to Greece’s bizarre hang-up over the Macedonian name is the conquest of part of the Ottoman territory of Macedonia by the Greek state in 1912-13 – a part that was less than 50% Greek in ethnic terms at the time – and the subsequent brutal Hellenisation of this territory through the expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Muslims and Slavs, the settling on it of Orthodox Greek refugees and the forced assimilation of the remaining non-Greeks through the suppression of their language and identity – something that reached its peak under the fascist dictatorship of Ioannis Metaxas in the late 1930s and after the Greek Civil War of the 1940s.
Greece’s policy of denying the existence of a Macedonian nation while asserting the exclusively ‘Greek’ character of historic Macedonia thus represents the last dregs of a nationalist policy of forced homogenisation. It is equivalent to Turkey’s attempt forcibly to assimilate its ethnic Kurds on the grounds that they are ‘really’ Turks and its continued denial of the Armenian Genocide, or to Serbia’s claim to Kosovo as a ‘Serb land’ on the grounds that there are a handful of medieval Serbian monasteries there. If the EU is to have any meaning at all, it has to have a zero-tolerance approach to exclusivist national ideologies of this type. The Turkish Kurds can call themselves Kurds and speak, write and be educated in Kurdish if they want to; the people of Kosovo can decide for themselves if they want to be part of Serbia or not; and the Macedonians and the Greeks both have the same right to use the Macedonian name. End of discussion.
Yet it is not solely for the sake of our values, but also for the sake of our geopolitical interests that we must take a hard line in opposing Greece over Macedonia. The embargo imposed by Greece on Macedonia after the latter seceded from Yugoslavia in 1991-92 and the bullying that forced Macedonia to change its flag, and to enter the UN under the clumsy acronym ‘FYROM’ (Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia) dangerously contributed to the destabilisation of this fragile and strategically sensitive state. Western policy-makers have long been aware that Macedonia could not be allowed to collapse – unlike Bosnia, its collapse could lead to two NATO states, Greece and Turkey, coming into conflict with one another. Hence the US made it clear to Slobodan Milosevic, right from the start in the early 1990s, that Serbia would not be permitted to extend the war into Macedonia; hence Macedonia’s peaceful secession from Yugoslavia; hence NATO’s intervention in Kosovo in 1999, as Milosevic’s ethnic-cleansing of the Kosovo Albanians threatened to upset Macedonia’s own delicate ethnic balance between ethnic Macedonians and Albanians. In recent weeks, Turkey and Greece have rebuked each other over the issue of Macedonia’s name. Although Turkey is wrong about a lot of things (including Cyprus and Iraqi Kurdistan), on this issue it is entirely in the right and playing a constructive role. For the sake of its own fragile stability and the equally fragile stability of South East Europe, Macedonia’s rapid entry into NATO is imperative.
Greece’s obstructionism over Macedonia is not an isolated quirk, but forms part of a wider regional policy guided by nationalist concerns that has significantly damaged Western interests since the early 1990s – although, to be fair, it was not entirely out of keeping with the narrow-minded Western policy toward the Balkans of the first half of the 1990s. Greece supported Milosevic’s Serbia more wholeheartedly than did any other state; Milosevic was more popular in Greece than he ever was in Serbia itself; Greek fascist paramilitaries participated in the Serb conquest of Srebrenica in 1995. The Greek journalist Takis Michas has described the virulence of Greek support, both at the elite and at the popular level, for Serbian imperialism and ethnic-cleansing in his brilliant but shocking book, ‘Unholy Alliance: Greece and Milosevic’s Serbia’ (Texas A&M University Press, 2002). Kostas Simitis’s PASOK government half-heartedly acquiesced in NATO’s intervention against Milosevic in Kosovo in the face of almost total public opposition and an outpouring of anti-American and anti-Western bile that found murderous expression in the assassination in June 2000 of the British defence attache in Athens, Brigadier Stephen Saunders, by the terrorist group ‘November 17’, supposedly in revenge for the Kosovo war. More recently, in January of this year left-wing terrorists launched an anti-tank grenade at the US embassy in Athens. In Greece, as in Serbia and Russia, the extremes of left and right find common ground in hatred of the US and the West. This red-brown current tends to agitate for more extreme nationalistic and anti-Western policies than those actually pursued by Greek governments themselves, which is another reason why such policies should be opposed on principle.
Greece remains Serbia’s most loyal ally in the EU, and is currently attempting to lead a Balkan bloc, made up of Romania and a more lukewarm Bulgaria, that favours Serbia’s rapid entry into the EU, irrespective of Serbia’s behaviour over Kosovo and over the arrest of war-criminals. This is damaging to Western efforts to resolve the issue of Kosovo and the war-criminals, and to establish a united diplomatic front vis-a-vis Russia. Ironically, Greece’s behaviour shows why we should not allow countries such as Serbia and Turkey into the EU unless they are prepared to abandon national chauvinism and small-mindedness; we want them in, but as responsible democracies, not as nationalistic trouble-makers.
It is not only in the Balkans where Greece has pursued a selfish and destructive policy at the expense of EU interests. Earlier this decade, indicating just how far it was prepared to jeopardise the entire EU project for its own ends, Greece threatened to veto the EU’s expansion into Eastern Europe unless Cyprus were included in the expansion. There were very sound reasons why a divided Cyprus should not have been allowed to join the EU, and these immediately became clear. In a referendum in 2004, the Greek Cypriot electorate, under the guidance of Cyprus’s crude nationalist president, Tassos Papadopoulos, overwhelmingly rejected the Annan Plan for Cyprus’s reunification. With EU membership already safely in the bag, Papadopoulos judged that Cyprus as an EU member would be in a strong position to extract a better deal from Turkey. Greece’s New Democracy government under Kostas Karamanlis, for its part, refused unambiguously to endorse the Annan Plan, something that might have encouraged the Greek Cypriots to vote in favour; Greece thus studiously failed to help clear up the mess it had made.
Had EU membership been made conditional upon acceptance of the Annan Plan by the Greek Cypriot electorate, the latter would almost certainly have voted in favour, and this old wound in the flank of the Western alliance would finally have been healed. As things stand, a settlement is now less likely than ever. There is every reason to believe that Papadopoulos and other Greek Cypriot politicians prefer the status quo in Cyprus to any reasonable compromise settlement, and are entirely ready in principle to veto Turkish EU membership indefinitely, pending the total Turkish capitulation that will never happen. Paradoxically, of course, the Cypriots do not wish to see Turkey driven away from the EU entirely, as then their veto loses all coercive power; Papadopoulos’s strategy is a contradictory and self-defeating one. However wrong Turkey’s policy toward Cyprus was and remains, over the Annan Plan it showed itself to be the more reasonable and flexible side. Greece’s pursuit of its own nationalist agenda has introduced the Cyprus dispute, like a foreign disease, into the very heart of the EU; last autumn, the EU suspended eight of the negotiating chapters of Turkey’s accession talks in retaliation for Turkey’s refusal to open its ports and airports to Cypriot ships and planes. Cyprus is now in a position to pursue indefinitely its own selfish and self-defeating nationalist agenda at the expense of EU-Turkish relations. The Hellenic tail has wagged the European dog.
One of the smallest and newest EU member-states, Cyprus is also the most hard-line in its outright opposition to Kosovo’s independence. So far as the Papadopoulos regime is concerned, EU unity, Western interests and regional stability count for nothing: all that matters is that Kosovo’s independence should be opposed, lest it set a precedent for the international recognition of Turkish-occupied northern Cyprus. That there are no indications whatsoever that Western states or anyone else will follow up the recognition of Kosovo by recognising northern Cyprus is deemed irrelevant. The Papadopoulos regime, pursuing its own policy of indefinite obstructionism, is no doubt disconcerted by the fact that Serbia’s similar obstructionism over Kosovo is going to be definitely punished by the US and the EU. The so-called ‘Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus’ is simply a creation of the illegitimate Turkish occupation, therefore not equivalent to Kosovo, which was a recognised member of the former Yugoslav Federation. Still, it will do Cyprus no harm if it learns from the Serbian example that the principle of ‘inviolable territorial integrity’ is not a trump card that bloody-minded states can play indefinitely.
For too long, we have allowed Greek nationalism to poison Western policy. To some extent, this is the result of our own policy errors toward the people of Greece and Cyprus over the last sixty years or more. In one of the sorrier episodes of the early Cold War, we allowed a short-sighted anti-Communist agenda to lead us to support the motley alliance of chauvinist and ultra-reactionary elements, many of them former Nazi collaborators, which made up the anti-Communist side in the Greek Civil War, against a Greek left that had led one of the most impressive anti-Nazi resistance movements in all occupied Europe. It is a moot point whether the anti-Communist victory in Greece served our interests any better than the Communist victory in Yugoslavia; Tito’s Yugoslavia proved more than adept at resisting Soviet domination, while the brutal anti-Communist victory in Greece laid down a repressive and chauvinistic legacy for the country that found its most extreme expression in the Colonels’ dictatorship of 1967-74, and from which Greece has still not entirely recovered. The extreme anti-Communist and former Nazi-collaborator, Georgios Grivas, repaid our support to his side in the Greek Civil War by launching an uprising against British rule in Cyprus in 1955 through the EOKA movement; Grivas’s attacks on Turkish Cypriot civilians sowed the seeds of Cyprus’s future tragedy. Our misguided response to the Greek Cypriot national movement for union with Greece was to play Turkey off against Greece over Cyprus; this policy of divide-and-rule, coupled with the suicidal ultra-nationalist policy of first Grivas and then the Greek Colonels, paved the way in 1974 for the Turkish occupation of Cyprus, something that remains a thorn in the side of the Western alliance to this day.
It is time to turn our back on this long and undistinguished tradition of a modus vivendi between the Western alliance and Greek nationalism, one that has proved consistently damaging to all concerned. There must be zero tolerance of Greek and Cypriot obstruction over Macedonia, Turkey and Kosovo (to be fair, Greece itself has bravely come out in support of Turkish EU membership, in defiance of popular Greek opinion, indicating an enlightened stance on this issue at least). Every time the Greeks or Cypriots try to undermine EU policy or drag it behind them for the sake of their own retrograde nationalism, we should pursue a determined effort to isolate them. Such an effort will pay dividends: not only will it put an end to a persistant policy of trouble-making, but it will set an example for how other new EU member-states should behave.
This article was published today on the website of the Henry Jackson Society.
The terrorists who have murdered Benazir Bhutto have murdered someone who, as prime minister of Pakistan, was forthright in defending the people of Bosnia-Hercegovina in their darkest hour. On 2 February 1994, Bhutto and Turkey’s Tansu Ciller, both democratically elected women leaders of two of the world’s largest Muslim nations, visited the besieged Bosnian capital of Sarajevo and expressed their solidarity with the Bosnian people: ‘Rarely in the annals of human history has a nation been subjected to such merciless savagery in the full view of the world,’ Bhutto and Ciller said in a statement after meeting with Bosnian officials. Western policy at this time favoured Slobodan Milosevic’s fascist regime in Belgrade and the Bosnian Serb terrorists of Radovan Karadzic; the previous summer, international mediators had put forward the ‘Owen-Stoltenberg Plan’, that offered Karadzic’s Serb rebels 54% of Bosnian territory and the right to secede from the Bosnian state, amounting to an endorsement of Serb war-aims and the destruction of Bosnia. Defying this policy, Bhutto and Ciller publicly called for a lifting of the arms embargo that prevented Bosnia from defending itself. Only three days after their visit to the Bosnian capital, the besieging Serb forces murdered 69 people in a mortar attack on the Sarajevo market-place.
Two and a half years later, in July 1996, Bhutto reminisced that ‘Turkish Prime Minister Tansu Ciller and I travelled to Bosnia, where we wore flak jackets and were surrounded by gunfire. We went to show the commitment of our nations to the Bosnian people and to witness the courage and determination with which the persecuted Muslims faced their aggressors.’
The occasion for Bhutto’s reminiscence was an exhumation of victims of the Srebrenica massacre. She commented: ‘Today, investigators are slowly unearthing the remains of murdered Muslims in the mass graves surrounding Srebrenica. As the dirt is removed and the bodies are identified and laid to rest, a horrible chapter of our modern history is being documented. Now the world has tangible proof of a level of carnage and brutal savagery that defies belief. We have proof of a viciousness seldom seen since the genocide in Cambodia and the on-going terror in Kashmir. No longer can we question whether or not this “ethnic cleansing” is a brutal reality. We know for certain that Western nations stood by as uninterested witnesses to events that bore an uncanny resemblance to Hitler’s Final Solution. So now, as we expose this single great massacre, we should also throw light on the foolishness and ignorance that allowed these events to occur. How could we have let such genocide into our lives again?’
Bhutto concluded her comment by expressing her hope that the world had learned its lesson from the Bosnian war: ‘After all the bloodshed and anguish, what have we learned? That a quick solution to the Bosnian conflict was a necessity. That appeasement and hesitation only encourage elements of disharmony and disorder in other nations. When provided with the right leadership, a peaceful parting of the ways is possible, such as the division that gave birth to the Czech and Slovak republics under the guidance of Vaclav Havel. When leadership is abdicated and responsibility is renounced, we allow the likes of Radovan Karadzic to begin their massacres. That should be our enduring lesson.’
Turkey has launched a large-scale military assault against Workers Party of Kurdistan (PKK) guerrilla bases in northern Iraq – the biggest Turkish attack on the region since the US invasion of Iraq in 2003. This presents the democratic world with a dilemma.
In principle, every state has the right to defend itself from military attacks by neighbouring states, and this includes attacks by guerrillas based in neighbouring states. If a government allows its territory to be used by guerrillas to attack a neighbour, it becomes in practice an aggressor in relation to that neighbour, which then has the right to retaliate. Formally speaking, Turkey is acting within its rights when it carries out attacks on PKK bases in northern Iraq. In this case, however, there are three complicating factors.
The first is that this security problem is of Turkey’s own making. Having subjected the Turkish Kurds to decades of national oppression and forced assimilation, while at the same time outlawing any peaceful and democratic expression of Kurdish national politics in Turkey, Ankara has generated the problem it now faces: the PKK insurgency is its Frankenstein’s monster. There is ultimately no military solution to this problem, which will go away only when Ankara permits its Kurds the option of peacefully agitating for their national rights within the democratic system.
The second complicating factor is that Turkey’s interest in Iraqi Kurdistan is far from purely defensive. Ankara wishes to prevent a powerful, effectively sovereign Kurdistani entity from coming into being in northern Iraq, one that it fears might further catalyse the nationalism of its own Kurdish population. For this reason, Turkey is opposed to the inclusion of the oil-rich city of Kirkuk in the Kurdistan Region in Iraq. Furthermore, Ankara is attempting to use the Turkoman minority in Iraqi Kurdistan as a catspaw with which to destabilise the region; its proxy political force, the Iraqi Turkoman Front, campaigns against the federalisation of Iraq and the incorporation of Kirkuk into the Kurdistan Region. Turkey has long expressed an interest in the territory and, in particular, the oil of northern Iraq, following claims that go back to the 1920s and the foundation of the Turkish Republic. In other words Turkey, which has not been a very good ally to the US and UK over Iraq, is pursuing an entirely selfish and destructive policy at the expense of the Iraqi Kurds, our best friends in the country.
The third complicating factor is that the impetus to attack the PKK in northern Iraq comes less from Turkey’s democratically elected leaders, President Abdullah Gul and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of the Justice and Development Party (AKP), who are more enlightened with regard to the Kurdish question, but from the Turkish military, which is itself hostile to the AKP regime and which is putting pressure on the latter to be more hardline. A Turkish victory in northern Iraq, in the unlikely event that one were to occur, would strengthen the most undemocratic and retrograde elements in the Turkish state.
In these circumstances, it is not in our interest to support Turkey’s anti-Kurdish policy; nor are we under any obligation to do so. By collaborating with Turkey’s war against the PKK and policy of destabilisation of Iraqi Kurdistan, we become collaborators in Turkey’s oppression of the Kurdish people; participants in a nationalist conflict on the side of the party that is, quite frankly, more in the wrong. Yet we cannot ignore Turkey’s legitimate concern at PKK attacks, nor can we afford to turn our backs on this potentially disastrous conflict that pits our allies against one another and threatens our vital interests in all-too-fragile Iraq. We need to address the legitimate fears of the Turkoman and other non-Kurdish minorities in Kirkuk and the Kurdistan Region, and to put pressure on the Kurdistan Regional Government to ensure that all ethnic groups under its jurisdiction are properly protected and represented. But a solution to the Turkish-Kurdish question has to span both sides of the Turkey-Iraq border.
Britain and the US must engage with the PKK in an effort to bring its insurgency peacefully to an end, on the basis of a negotiated compromise, similar to that which has been successfully reached in Northern Ireland. Turkey’s conflict with the PKK is scarcely more intractable than was our own conflict with the Irish Republican Army; the coexistence of ethnic Turks and Kurds at the grass-roots level is rather better than that between Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland. There is absolutely no reason, therefore, why Ankara cannot pursue a similar negotiated settlement with the PKK, as we pursued it with the IRA. However comical the image of Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness as partners at the helm of the new Northern Ireland might be, it is at the same time symbolic of how even the bitterest enemies can come to collaborate when given the right inducements. It might prove difficult to persuade the PKK to lay down its weapons, but our interests are sufficiently at stake for it to be worth the effort.
The concession that Ankara would have to give in exchange for a cession of PKK violence would be the lifting of all restrictions on the peaceful expression of Kurdish nationalist politics in Turkey. Kurdish parties in Turkey should be free to organise and to campaign for Kurdish national rights – for language and cultural rights, autonomy and even secession and independence, just as in the UK we permit Sinn Fein, the Scottish National Party and Plaid Cymru to campaign for a united Ireland, independent Scotland and independent Wales respectively. Ankara has to realise that the territorial integrity of a democratic nation-state ultimately rests upon the consent of its citizenry, for which repression and coercion cannot substitute.
Turkey should, however, be reassured in the belief that ending the repression of its Kurdish population and permitting it full political freedom would be highly unlikely to lead to the emergence of an independent Turkish Kurdish state, for the simple reason that such a state would not be in the interests of the Kurdish people of Anatolia. Ethnic Kurds and Turks in Anatolia are too intermingled to make a bloodless drawing of a border between them feasible, even if the Turkish state were incomparably more enlightened and well intentioned than it is – more likely would be something similar to the intercommunal massacres that beset fledgling India and Pakistan in the 1940s. A particularly high price would be paid by the Kurds who would remain behind in a rump Turkey; they would be transformed at a stroke from ‘Turks’ into foreigners. Independence would cut the Turkish Kurds off from the prosperous cities of western Anatolia, the natural destination of their economic migration, and confine them to an impoverished and landlocked state wedged between unstable Iraq and hostile Turkey. As citizens of Turkey, by contrast, they are only a step or two away from Europe.
Self-determination does not mean simply drawing lines on a map as though it were a blank slate; one cannot disregard decades of history. However unjust the division of the Kurdish people following World War I between Turkey, Iraq, Iran and Syria may have been at the time, the clock cannot simply be turned back. The transformation of Turkey into a bilingual state with Kurdish as an official language – as Swedish is an official language in bilingual Finland – while Iraqi Kurdistan enjoys widespread autonomy, might represent the best possible solution to the Kurdish question. Europe’s German-speakers are, after all, divided between the states of Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Italy’s South Tyrol, and the arrangement is entirely satisfactory to all concerned.
A bilingual Turkish national state in which both Turkish and Kurdish are official languages would not be some arbitrary Western imposition; Turkish nationalists have traditionally viewed Kurds as Turks, while Kurds for their part were ready to fight in large numbers in defence of the common Anatolian homeland in Turkey’s War of Independence in the 1920s, against the European invaders and their local Greek and Armenian allies; Ismet Inonu, the most important of the founders of the Turkish Republic after Kemal Ataturk, was himself of partly Kurdish background. So too was the former Turkish prime minister and president Turgut Ozal, a pioneer in the lifting of restrictions on the Kurds.
In attempting to suppress all manifestations of the Kurdish language and identity, Ataturk, Inonu and their successors may have been doing what they saw as necessary in their endeavour to create a homogenous Turkish nation-state in place of the ruined Ottoman Empire. But today’s Turkish leaders have to realise that with the Turkish Republic a securely established fact, it is time for them to moderate a policy that has been too rigid for too long and that has come to threaten the very national unity it is supposed to uphold. Indeed, the ruling AKP has already taken major steps towards improving the rights of the Turkish Kurds, and it is imperative that Western leaders further encourage them in this direction, and help them to overcome the resistance of hardline nationalist elements in the army and elsewhere.
While the danger of radical Islam in Turkey is not to be neglected, yet it is ultra-nationalism that has proven to be the most dangerous force in contemporary Turkish politics, as witnessed by the assassination at the start of this year of the Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink, and by the attempt to prosecute the great Turkish writer Orhan Pamuk, in both cases for the ‘error’, in nationalist eyes, of raising the question of Turkey’s historic crimes against the Armenians. This ultra-nationalism is ruinous to Turkey’s own interests. A Turkey that allows Kurdish political parties freely to operate and the Armenian Genocide to be freely discussed would be much more attractive as a member of the European Union, which is where Turkey rightfully belongs. So much is at stake in an untangling of the Turkey-Iraqi Kurdistan-PKK triangle that we cannot afford not to attempt it, difficult though it will be.
This article was published today on the website of the Henry Jackson Society.
David Zarnett has written a devastating critique for Democratiya of Edward Said’s disgraceful record over Kosovo, about which I have been meaning to comment since it appeared at the start of this month. Some time ago, David wrote to me asking my opinion as to whether an article on Said and Kosovo would be a worthy endeavour; I remember expressing to him a certain scepticism as to whether Said had written enough about Kosovo to make an in-depth study feasible. I am sorry to say that my scepticism has proven unfounded and that David’s judgement as to the relevance of this topic has been entirely vindicated – Said wrote much more about Kosovo than he should have. I am sorry, because it means that yet another eminent left-wing intellectual may be added to the list of those prepared to denigrate the peoples of the former Yugoslavia and minimise their suffering, for the sake of the ‘higher cause’ of scoring cheap points against the US. Said was not, as I had imagined, someone who had simply added his voice casually to the ‘anti-imperialist’ chorus at the time of the Kosovo War in 1999, but a dyed-in-the-wool anti-American zealot to whom the question of whether the Kosovo Albanians would be able to live in their own country, or whether they would become the Palestinians of Europe, mattered absolutely nothing. Indeed, he was much happier with the idea of the Kosovo Albanians losing their homeland and becoming a diaspora than he was with the idea of the US intervening militarily.
The reason this is particularly shocking in Said’s case is, of course, because he was himself a Palestinian; indeed, the most eminent intellectual champion of the Palestinian cause in the Western world. Said perceived a parallel between the fate of the Kosovo Albanians in 1999 and the fate of the Palestinians in 1948; in an article published during the Kosovo War, he wrote of the ‘persecution, ethnic cleansing and continued oppression of Albanians in the province of Kosovo by the Serbian forces of Slobodan Milosevic’, before adding that ‘for Palestinians, 1948 was like this minus CNN: at that time 780,000 were evicted from their houses and property by Zionist forces. They remain a nation in exile fifty-one years later.’ But his perception of this parallel did not lead him to express the slightest solidarity with the Kosovo Albanians – on the contrary…
I do not wish to plunder Zarnett’s splendid article for quotes showing just how far Said was prepared to go in minimising both the suffering of the Albanians and the crimes of the Milosevic regime; I’d recommend instead reading the article directly. Suffice to say that Said used the term ‘Sunday school picnic’ in reference to the fate of Milosevic’s Albanian victims. A fate that was, in his opinion, similar to that which befell the Palestinians in 1948, only with added CNN coverage.
On Tuesday, the door of my institution, Kingston University, was darkened by John Pilger, a virulent denier of the crimes of Slobodan Milosevic’s Serbian regime against the Kosovo Albanians, who had been invited to speak. Pilger is someone who claims that no mass graves of Albanian victims of Milosevic’s regime have ever been found; he puts the term ‘mass graves’ in quote marks when referring to Kosovo. He even cites Milosevic supporter Neil Clark in support of his position. Pilger’s claim that no mass graves have ever been found in Kosovo is, of course, false. Untrue. In conflict with the facts. Contradicted by the evidence. A lie refuted by Amnesty International, among others.
I challenged Pilger on his denial, in front of the audience of academics, students and others that he was addressing. I told him that I taught a course on the history and politics of mass murder here at Kingston University; that I had been studying the former Yugoslavia for many years; and that those, such as himself, who denied that Serb forces had been guilty of mass murder and genocide had been proven wrong. So as not to appear rude and lower the tone of the discussion, I did not accuse him of anything worse than having been wrong.
Rather than attempt to defend his record, Pilger tried to play the numbers game with me (people like Pilger are under the impression that if the total number of victims in a campaign of mass murder turns out to be lower than some of the earlier estimates, it vindicates the deniers and the apologists). He asked me what I thought the death-toll in the Kosovo conflict was. I replied that it was about ten thousand (1). He then countered that no, the number of bodies found, including both civilians and combatants and members of all ethnic groups was ‘only’ four thousand, according to members of forensic teams working in Kosovo. This, it should be pointed out, is something of an upward revision for Pilger, who as recently as a year and a half ago was claiming that the total death-toll in Kosovo was ‘only’ 2,788, and that therefore the justification for the NATO operation against Serbia was an ‘invention’.
I reminded Pilger that the Milosevic regime had systematically concealed and destroyed the bodies of its Kosovo Albanian victims; that more mass graves were being discovered as time went by; and that the body count was therefore likely to rise. He did not appear to have a counter-argument; his only response was to tell me ‘you clearly have an agenda’ and ‘you shouldn’t be teaching here’. Which, given that I was teaching at the invitation of, and in conjunction with, senior members of the same faculty and university as those who had invited him to speak, was something of an insult to his hosts. He then tried to shift the discussion away from the topic of the body-count (that he had himself introduced) and to claim that ‘the NATO war was to destroy the state called Yugoslavia’. I told him that was ‘nonsense’, and he decided that this was the time to move on to the next question. After the meeting and in the following days, several Kingston students and staff members approached me to tell me how shocked they had been at his reaction to my question and his inability to address it.
Unknown to either myself or Pilger, a forensic expert who had worked on-site in Kosovo examining the bodies was also present in the audience. After the meeting, she approached him, told him who she was, challenged his version of events and asked him to tell her who the alleged forensic experts he had cited were, because they were probably people she knew personally. Pilger’s response was ‘I have to go now’. Although when I passed him in the entrance to the auditorium, he was talking to someone else and did not appear in any great hurry to leave.
As I noted above, deniers such as Pilger are under the impression that if they can ‘win’ the numbers game – if the death-toll in Kosovo turns out ‘only’ to have been four thousand rather than ten thousand, for example – then they believe it will prove their case that genocide did not occur, the assumption presumably being that four thousand deaths are ‘too small’ to count as genocide.
Pilger is an Australian, and it is interesting to note what the implications of his line of reasoning are for our understanding of one of the most prominent cases of total genocide in human history: the genocide of the native Tasmanians in his homeland, Australia. The native population of Tasmania was perhaps 5,000 at the start of the nineteenth century, possibly fewer (2). This population was totally eradicated over the course of several decades, largely through diseases and the destruction of its society by the European settlers, with a smaller number directly murdered and only some mixed-race individuals surviving.
If one were to accept Pilger’s figures of 4,000 dead in the Kosovo conflict, this puts Milosevic’s killing of Kosovo Albanians on a scale very similar to that of the British and Australian destruction of the native Tasmanians, with a roughly equivalent death-toll, though accomplished in a matter of months rather than decades (NB the attempt by Pilger and others to claim that some of the Albanian dead in Kosovo were ‘combatants’ and therefore not proper victims of genocide could equally be made in relation to some of the native Tasmanians killed by the British and Australians, though it is questionable how much meaning the civilian/combatant distinction has in cases of genocide – one need only think of the Jewish fighters in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, for example – or indeed what ‘combat’ really means when groups with vastly superior technology, fire-power and resources, such as the Serb forces in Kosovo or the British and Australians in Tasmania, wage campaigns of destruction against civilian populations defended by poorly armed guerrillas). And, of course, Milosevic’s campaign of mass murder in Kosovo, unlike the British-Australian destruction of the native Tasmanians, was halted by outside intervention and was therefore unable to fulfil the intentions of its perpetrators.
Australian deniers of the Tasmanian Genocide use many of the same techniques that Pilger does in relation to Kosovo, above all attempting to revise downward the death-toll of massacres, or to claim that they were ‘fabricated’ altogether. Pilger’s position on Kosovo mirrors and reinforces that of the deniers of the Tasmanian Genocide.
In reality, genocide is not a matter of numbers.
For more on Pilger’s denial, see Martin Shaw.
1) a scientific study by Paul B. Spiegel and Peter Salama of the Centre for Disease Control, ‘War and mortality in Kosovo, 1998-99’, published in the Lancet on 14 July 2000, estimated 18,800 total deaths in Kosovo in this period, of which 12,000 from war-related trauma; a second scientific study by a team of experts led by Patrick Ball, dated 2 January 2002 and submitted by the prosecutor to the trial chamber of the International Criminal Tribunal of the former Yugoslavia on 15 February 2002 estimates that 10,356 Kosovo Albanians were killed. See also here.
2) Mark Levene in ‘The rise of the West and the coming of genocide’ (I.B. Taurus, 2005, p. 38), gives a figure of 3-4,000 for the population of native Tasmanians at the time of the arrival of the first British settlers, based on Lyndall Ryan’s work, ‘The aboriginal Tasmanians’ (Allen and Unwin, 2nd ed., 1996, p. 14)
I recently posted about the shameful reaction of a number of Western left-wingers to events at Nandigram in West Bengal, in which villagers attempting to resist being evicted from their land to make way for a foreign-owned petrochemical plant were attacked, raped and murdered by the paramilitary thugs of the Communist government of West Bengal. The Western left-wingers, who include Noam Chomsky, Tariq Ali and Victoria Brittain, wrote an open letter to Indian critics of the Communist regime, warning them against trying to ‘split the Left’, imploring them to restore unity with the regime in the higher interest of opposing the US, and expressing their satisfaction with the Communist regime’s supposed readiness to curb its abuses: ‘This is not the time for division when the basis of division no longer appears to exist.’
The anger and disgust that this open letter provoked among Indian leftists has spurred Chomsky, Ali and some of its other signatories to respond with a second open letter, attempting to justify the first one. They write:
‘We are taken aback by a widespread reaction to a statement we made with the best of intentions, imploring a restoration of unity among the left forces in India –a reaction that seems to assume that such an appeal to overcome divisions among the left could only amount to supporting a very specific section of the CPM [Communist Party of India – Marxist] in West Bengal. Our statement did not lend support to the CPM’s actions in Nandigram or its recent economic policies in West Bengal, nor was that our intention. On the contrary, we asserted, in solidarity with its Left critics both inside and outside the party, that we found them tragically wrong. Our hope was that Left critics would view their task as one of putting pressure on the CPM in West Bengal to correct and improve its policies and its habits of governance, rather than dismiss it wholesale as an unredeemable party. ‘
Chomsky, Ali, Brittain and co. are, in other words, again asking Indian left-wing critics of the Communist regime in West Bengal for a ‘restoration of unity’ with a regime that has murdered and raped villagers attempting to resist its brutal policies. They do not view the murders and rapes in question as ‘criminal’ or as ‘brutal’, but merely as ‘tragically wrong’ – the sort of term one might use in reference to something that happens in a Shakespeare play, such as Juliet’s faking of her own death or Hamlet’s failure to kill Claudius when he first had the chance. They present the task of Indian leftists not as overthrowing the government responsible for the crimes or as bringing the murderers to justice, but merely as ‘putting pressure on the CPM in West Bengal to correct and improve its policies and its habits of governance.’
They go on:
‘We realize now that it is perhaps not possible to expect the Left critics of the CPM to overcome the deep disappointment, indeed hostility, they have come to feel towards it, unless the CPM itself takes some initiative against that sense of disappointment. We hope that the CPM in West Bengal will show the largeness of mind to take such an initiative by restoring the morale as well as the welfare of the dispossessed people of Nandigram through the humane governance of their region, so that the left forces can then unite and focus on the more fundamental issues that confront the Left as a whole, in particular focus on the task of providing with just and imaginative measures an alternative to neo-liberal capitalism that has caused so much suffering to the poor and working people in India.’
The goal, therefore, is for the CPM to remain in power in West Bengal and engage in the ‘humane governance of the region’ and for its critics ‘to overcome the deep disappointment, indeed hostility, they have come to feel towards it’. The goal is not, of course, to show solidarity to the ordinary people resisting the regime and its policies and fighting to defend their livelihoods; nor is it to encourage Indian leftists in their campaign against the regime’s abuses. Indeed, this campaign is dismissed as being less important than the ‘more fundamental issues that confront the Left as a whole’.
It seems to me ‘tragically wrong’ that, nearly two decades after the fall of the Berlin Wall, left-wingers of the Chomsky-Ali variety should be unable to envisage a left-wing agenda as involving anything other than keeping brutal Communist regimes in power. It also seems to me ‘tragically wrong’ that a more honourable left-winger such as Chris Bertram of Crooked Timber should feel the need to leap to Chomsky’s and Ali’s defence by claiming ‘that Chomsky, Ali et al have now, in response to reactions to their first intervention, issued a second statement which is much more clearly critical of the CPM’. The second open letter discussed above can only be described as ‘much more clearly critical of the CPM’ by someone wearing the most deeply rose-tinted of spectacles. I respect Chris, but I am disappointed he should still feel the need to flog the dead horse of a unifed, ‘progressive’ left that encompasses defenders of brutal regimes.
Hat tip: Chris Bertram, TheIrie.
Florence Hartmann, former spokeswoman for Carla del Ponte, chief prosecutor at the International Criminal Tribunal (ICTY) for the former Yugoslavia, has responded to my last post. You can read her response here, and my response to her response here.
Since working under del Ponte as a Research Officer at the Office of the Prosecutor of the ICTY back in 2001, I have come to be extremely critical of her policies as chief prosecutor. I blame her in particular for the ICTY’s failure to indict the principal Serbian and Montenegrin war-criminals. I explain this here and here. However, it would be a mistake to blame the ICTY’s failures on a single individual; ultimately, the institution has not worked very well because of its deep structural flaws and because of obstruction and manipulation by outside forces. And there are undoubtedly other senior officials at the ICTY, in addition to del Ponte, who are responsible for the disastrous policies of the Office of the Prosecutor.
Florence Hartmann, who worked at the ICTY much longer than I did, has written a book, Paix et châtiment. Les guerres secrètes de la politique et de la justice (Flammarion, 2007) that seeks to explain the reasons for the ICTY’s failures and to name the senior officials responsible. In particular, she apparently points the finger at Geoffrey Nice, lead prosecutor in the trial of Slobodan Milosevic, and Graham Blewitt, deputy chief prosecutor under del Ponte. Both Nice and Blewitt have, since quitting their jobs at the ICTY, publicly criticised del Ponte’s handling of the role of chief prosecutor. ‘Paix et chatiment’ is no. 1 on my reading list of books that I plan to read now that term is coming to an end and I no longer have teaching commitments; given the importance of its subject matter (not to mention the fact that my French is rather rusty), it will require the devotion of quality time, after which I shall be able to evaluate it properly. But I think it safe to say that this book will be required reading for anyone wishing to understand the failures of the ICTY.
Hartmann argues that Mladic has evaded capture not just because of Serbia’s unwillingness to arrest him, but also because certain Western governments have deemed it not in their interest that he be arrested – she explains this in more detail here than she did in her response to me. In principle, I find this entirely plausible. The genocidal massacre at Srebrenica, for which Mladic is responsible, occurred because Western governments and the UN were willing to allow Serb forces to conquer the ‘safe area’. The extent of Western and UN complicity in the Srebrenica massacre runs very deep, and it is entirely possible that Mladic could greatly embarrass Western governments with everything he could say, and that this may be a reason why he has not been arrested. However, as I explain in my response to Hartmann, one cannot draw such a conclusion without firm evidence. Furthermore, it would need to be explained why the international community was prepared to countenance Milosevic’s deportation to the Hague but not Mladic’s; Milosevic presumably possessed the most embarrassing material on Western complicity with the genocide in Bosnia, had he chosen to reveal it (I find Hartmann’s attempt to resolve this paradox unconvincing). Finally, Western complicity in Mladic’s evasion of arrest cannot have been consistent, given the very real pressure on Serbia to apprehend him. This does not mean that there was no such complicity; the left hand may not know what the right hand is doing. But this requires a complex and nuanced explanation.
The Western powers and the UN were undoubtedly complicit in the genocide in Bosnia, and nothing that they have done since 1995 has delivered justice to the victims. We do not yet know the full extent of this complicity, but more evidence will surface as time goes by. This is one more reason why we should hope that Mladic is eventually arrested, and, if Hartmann is right, one reason why he may never be.
Carla del Ponte, chief prosecutor at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), is complaining that Serbia is unlikely to arrest the fugitive Bosnian Serb indicted war-criminal Ratko Mladic because the prospect of Kosovo’s independence being recognised is ‘distracting’ Belgrade. “Politically it is a very delicate situation,” del Ponte told Reuters in an interview; “In the end the Kosovo decision, in my personal evaluation, prevents the arrest of Mladic.”
What she is saying is that Serbia should be rewarded for its failure to arrest Mladic by having the recognition of Kosovo’s independence postponed. You couldn’t make it up. Serbia’s not-very-bright retrograde nationalist prime minister, Vojislav Kostunica, could almost intepret this as an incentive to avoid arresting Mladic in the hope of getting Carla’s help in further postponing the recognition of Kosovo.
Del Ponte’s disastrous tenure as chief prosecutor has witnessed the failure to indict almost any senior figure from Serbia or Montenegro for war-crimes in Croatia or Bosnia – a handful of secondary figures were indicted, but not a single member of the political and military leadership in Belgrade that planned and carried out the aggression against Croatia and Bosnia, other than the deceased Slobodan Milosevic; the failure to convict a single member of this leadership; the failure to arrest the top Bosnian Serb war-criminals, Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic; and a political deal between the ICTY and Belgrade that prevented Bosnia from using the uncensored minutes of the Yugoslav Supreme Defence Council as evidence in its case against Serbia for genocide at the International Court of Justice, something that was very likely responsible for Serbia’s acquittal. All this is, of course, not solely the fault of del Ponte; her senior colleagues at the ICTY share responsibility, as does the international administration in Bosnia and the international community in general. But she has played a major role in these fiascos. I have explained the ICTY’s failure in greater detail here and here.
There are various possible explanations for the failure of Serbia to arrest Mladic, of which the most convincing, in my opinion, is the one given to me by a Serbian journalist whom I recently met; she told me that Mladic could provide evidence of Serbia’s involvement in the Srebrenica genocide, thereby challenging Serbia’s acquittal by the International Court of Justice, and that therefore the Serbian government will never allow him to fall into the ICTY’s hands. But whatever the truth, we can be sure that the failure to arrest Mladic is not due to the ‘distraction’ of Kosovo. Why, in Milosevic’s day, the Serbian security services had no difficulty bumping off any number of senior officials, no matter what kind of ‘distraction’ the regime was faced with elsewhere…
We are constantly being warned that recognising the independence of Kosovo will instantaneously lead to hundreds of separatist territories all over the world breaking away from their parent states, from Scotland, Catalonia and the Basque Country all the way to Taiwan.
Of course, any democrat would recognise that nations or countries such as these do have the right to self-determination, should they wish to exercise it. As an Englishman and a Briton, I would be very sorry if Scotland or Wales chose to secede from the United Kingdom, but I respect the right of Scotland or Wales to do so if that is what its people want. I would bear a seceding Scotland or Wales no ill will; I would wish it all the best in its new life as an independent country; and if the British state were to react to its secession with violence, I would support Scotland or Wales in the resulting war. However, I am confident that the UK, as a democratic state, would never resort to violence in this manner, and that a Scottish or Welsh secession would occur peacefully.
If the recognition of Kosovo’s independence inspires other unfree nations to struggle for freedom, then it can only be a good thing. But I very much doubt it will. Secession is a serious and often mortally dangerous business; nations secede because they are suffering from oppression, or because their people believe they will enjoy a happier existence as an independent state; they do not do so merely because some other nation in a different part of the world has successfully seceded. The Tamils in Sri Lanka, the Kurds in Turkey or Iraq, or the Taiwanese are not naive enough to believe that if Kosovo’s independence is recognised, then they too have been given a green light by the international community to set up their own independent state. When people cite the possiblity of the recognition of Kosovo’s independence encouraging secessionism in other parts of the world, they are usually scaremongering.
Georgia is the country most often cited as the one that would pay the price for Kosovo’s secession, given that two of its own autonomous territories, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, have broken away with Russian support. So it is noteworthy that Georgia’s Prime Minister Lado Gurgenidze himself has just publicly rejected the idea that Kosovo’s independence would create a precedent for Georgia: “We hope our friends and allies in the west take a firm position on the inapplicability of the Kosovo case to Georgia. In other words, Kosovo is sui generis”. He nevertheless expressed his fear that Russia would respond to the recognition of Kosovo by itself recognising the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. If this were to occur, it would have nothing to do with any natural spin-off effect from Kosovo’s independence, and everything to do with Russian troublemaking; i.e. a new crisis in the Caucausus would be the result of actions by Russia, not by Abkhazia or South Ossetia.
Neverthless, the Financial Times reports: ‘Mr Gurgenidze won support for his position on Kosovo on Thursday from Benita Ferrero-Waldner, the EU’s external relations commissioner, with whom he held talks in Brussels. “We do hope also that Russia will understand that, certainly on South Ossetia and Abkhazia, things should remain as they are,” she told reporters.’ Furthermore, ‘Some EU officials doubt that Russia, beset with restive minorities of its own on its southern borders, would go so far as to recognise Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states.’
Indeed. If Russia were to recognise the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, it would raise the question of why Chechnya, with its much larger population, should not also have the right to self-determination.
Food for thought.
The Communists who run the Indian state of West Bengal are implementing a brutal Chinese-style development policy that favours the interests of big business over local people. They are attempting to turn over paddy fields at the village of Nandigram to a special economic zone for an Indonesian-owned petrochemical complex. Local protests have been met with violence; last month, Communist thugs raided Nandigram, murdered six people, raped local women and demolished homes. It is a case of state-sanctioned looting and rape by criminal militias. When Indian writers and artists demonstrated at Kolkata in protest, they were attacked by police.
West Bengal is today the site of a genuine, mass popular protest, backed by left-wing opinion throughout India, against a regime that is promoting the most brutal form of capitalism. So it is entirely natural and in keeping with their tradition that left-wing celebrities in the West, including Noam Chomsky, Tariq Ali and Howard Zinn, should sign an open letter of protest – directed not at the West Bengal authorities, but at the left-wing Indians who are publicising their crimes. The open letter warns the Indian leftists against splitting the left at a time when the US is threatening war against Iran:
‘News travels to us that events in West Bengal have overtaken the optimism that some of us have experienced during trips to the state. We are concerned about the rancour that has divided the public space, created what appear to be unbridgeable gaps between people who share similar values. It is this that distresses us. We hear from people on both sides of this chasm, and we are trying to make some sense of the events and the dynamics. Obviously, our distance prevents us from saying anything definitive.
We continue to trust that the people of Bengal will not allow their differences on some issues to tear apart the important experiments undertaken in the State (land reforms, local self-government).
We send our fullest solidarity to the peasants who have been forcibly dispossessed. We understand that the government has promised not to build a chemical hub in the area around Nandigram. We understand that those who had been dispossessed by the violence are now being allowed back to their homes, without recrimination. We understand that there is now talk of reconciliation. This is what we favour.
The balance of forces in the world is such that it would be impetuous to split the Left. We are faced with a world power that has demolished one state (Iraq) and is now threatening another (Iran). This is not the time for division when the basis of division no longer appears to exist.’
Indian leftists have expressed their anger at this betrayal by supposed comrades in the West. Veteran Indian Trotskyist Kunal Chattopadhyay writes, in an open letter to Tariq Ali, ‘I read, and re-read, with a growing sense of wonder, shame and above all anger, the statement that some of you have signed.’ He then goes on to tear the Ali-Chomsky open letter to shreds, for its apologising for a brutal regime, its dismissal of the popular protests as ‘rancour’, its readiness to accept the Communists’ phoney assurances that grievances were being addressed and its talk of ‘reconciliation’. It would not do justice to Chattopadhyay’s damning letter to summarise it; I strongly recommend reading the original.
Chattopadhyay should not be surprised at this betrayal. When it is a question of showing solidarity with ordinary people defending their homes and livelihoods, or showing solidarity with a Communist or Socialist regime, no matter how brutal or murderous, a certain type of Western leftist will always show solidarity with the Communist regime. Time and again, this led leftists of this kind to minimise or apologise for the crimes of Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot and Milosevic. They will never change.
Genuinely progressive politics are defined in opposition to leftists of this kind, and in opposition to all apologists for oppression and injustice.
- Basque Country
- Central Europe
- East Timor
- European Union
- Faroe Islands
- Former Soviet Union
- Former Yugoslavia
- Holocaust denial
- Marko Attila Hoare
- Middle East
- Political correctness
- Red-Brown Alliance
- South Ossetia
- The Left
- World War II