The distinction between the ‘Left’ and the ‘Right’ in global politics is today increasingly redundant. The dialectic has given rise to, and been superceded by, a new dialectic: pro-Western vs anti-Western. The issues that traditionally divided the Left from the Right – redistribution of wealth, public vs private ownership, a planned economy vs the free market – have not ceased to be relevant, but they are not those that define the battle lines in global politics today. In domestic politics, the extent to which they continue to dominate political discourse varies between countries, but the trend is increasingly toward the middle ground, as represented by Western Europe: both capitalism and the welfare state are here to stay. We may disagree over just how much to tax the rich or whether certain utilities should be publicly or privately owned, but nobody is going to go to war over these issues. Nor are our divisions over them projected outwards onto the world stage. The Left-Right conflict has been essentially resolved through the establishment of a centrist model of welfare capitalism, one that takes a slightly different form in each country (the US model being somewhat to the right of the West European model). Those who continue to talk about abolishing either capitalism or the welfare state are the political equivalent of flat-earthers.
The triumph of the centrist political model has led to one section of the Left and one section of the Right breaking away from their respective comrades and joining up in opposition to this model: this ultimately takes the form of a Red-Brown coalition. Conversely, a second section of the Left and a second section of the Right have likewise broken away from the first sections and come together in support of extending this model globally. This, then, is the principal ideological division in global politics today: pro-Western vs anti-Western; globalist vs anti-globalist; the democratic centre vs the Red-Brown coalition.
This cannot necessarily be used to determine where any given individual or group may stand on a particular issue. Blairites and neoconservatives might find themselves aligned with Muslim fundamentalists against Christian fundamentalists in support of intervention in Kosova, and with Christian fundamentalists against Muslim fundamentalists in support of intervention in Iraq. George W. Bush might be close in many ways to the Christian fundamentalist right in the US, but he has nevertheless been ready to describe Islam as a ‘religion of peace’, attempt the democratisation of two Muslim countries and recognise predominantly Muslim Kosova’s secession from predominantly Christian Serbia. A significant segment of hard-liberal opinion supported intervention in Kosova and Afghanistan but opposed it in Iraq. Pro-Western and anti-Western are not the same as ‘pro-war’ and ‘anti-war’. Nor can this division be projected back onto the Cold War division between the Western and Soviet blocs; the issues today are not the same as they were then; former Cold Warriors and Marxists can be found in both of today’s camps.
The essence of the division is that the pro-Westerners support the extension of the liberal-democratic order across the globe, through the politics of human rights, promotion of democracy, universal values and interventionism (not necessarily always military). The anti-Westerners oppose the liberal-democratic model, at least as a universal model; they admire or support movements or regimes that stand in opposition to the Western alliance or to Western values – all of which uphold religious fundamentalism or nativist nationalism, sometimes combined with a ‘socialist’ veneer, as an alternative to liberal democracy. Anti-Westerners may support military intervention for reasons of ‘national interest’ or religious sectarianism – whether Muslim, Christian, Jewish, Hindu or other – but never for the sake of liberty or ‘Western values'; never for the sake of halting genocide or overthrowing tyranny. They may masquerade as ‘anti-imperialists’, but what they oppose is ultimately not the domination of smaller nations by more powerful ones. Hence they refuse to show solidarity with the people of Tibet, Darfur, Bosnia, etc. By which I don’t simply mean they do nothing – few of us can boast that we’ve actively ‘shown solidarity’ with all the just causes in the world – but that they oppose the idea of such solidarity in principle.
Rather, the anti-Westerners’ ‘anti-imperialism’ means opposing the very ideas of ethical international intervention and of the global triumph of liberal-democratic values. Similarly, their support for ‘national sovereignty’ means supporting the sovereign right of dictators to reject pressure to respect human rights, not the sovereignty of democratically elected parliaments in Baghdad or Pristina. And their support for ‘international law’ never means abiding by the UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, or respecting the jurisdiction of war-crimes tribunals established by the UN Security Council, but essentially boils down to supporting the right of Moscow or Beijing to veto acts of intervention that might halt genocide or overthrow tyranny.
It is often said that ‘fascism’ is used too broadly to mean ‘anything I don’t like’. Lots of people on the Left get very uptight and precious about their own definition of ‘fascism’, insisting it is the only correct one and getting upset when anyone suggests a different one. So I’m going to be very clear how I define ‘fascism': as ‘revolutionary anti-liberal chauvinism'; that is, the ideology and practice of mobilising chauvinism on a popular basis in order to assault liberal values, bring down a liberal order, cement in power an authoritarian regime and/or territorially expand. The regimes of Saudi Arabia and China are both extremely unpleasant; neither is fascist, but in the long run, each may have to choose between liberalisation or increasingly populist-chauvinist authoritarianism. In Russia, the regime has made its choice; in Serbia, the battle is raging.
National or religious chauvinism is the weapon with which opponents of liberal-democratic values seek to defeat them. And ever since the late nineteenth-century, elements of the Left, consumed with hatred for the liberal-democratic order but aware that they were too weak to overthrow it by themselves, have chosen to ally with the nationalist far right against it. The brilliant historian of fascism, Zeev Sternhell, has this to say of the early twentieth century French radical socialists whose hatred of liberalism led them to ally with the nationalist, anti-liberal right in the aftermath of the Dreyfus Affair, when moderate socialists had come to the defence of the liberal order against this same nationalist, anti-liberal right:
Once again, the proletariat had become the bourgeoisie’s watchdog. Once again, in the name of liberty and the Republic, democracy and secularism, it had been cheated by its political leaders, who had persuaded it to save its own exploiters, its own oppressors. The conclusion, then, was simple: since democracy and the bourgeoisie are inseparable and since democracy is the most effective offensive weapon the bourgeoisie has invented, democracy has to be overthrown in order to destroy bourgeois society. Lagardelle, Sorel, Berth and Herve all agreed that not only did democracy not serve the interests of socialism, as Jaures believed, but it was its mortal enemy. In a parallel manner, Maurras and Valois believed that democracy brought the nation to the verge of extinction. Socialism and nationalism thus discovered their common enemy, whose elimination was necessary to their own existence.
Zeev Sternhell, ‘Neither Right nor Left: Fascist ideology in France’, Princeton University Press, 1986, p. 19
The wish to break with the liberal order was the connecting link between the Boulangist rebellion of the Blanquists, the former Communards, and the extreme left-wing radicals and the fascistically inclined or already fully fascist revolt of the neosocialists, the frontists, and the PPF [Parti Populaire Francais]. For both of these groups what really mattered was not the nature of the revolution but the very fact of the revolution. For both of these groups the nature of the regime that succeeded liberal democracy mattered much less than ending liberal democracy. This total rejection of the established order motivated one of the most important factors in the rise of fascist ideology: the transition from left to right.
Ibid., p. 15
Somthing similar is happening today, but with one significant difference: our contemporary left-right alliance against liberal democracy is attacking not primarily on the domestic front, but internationally: they are seeking to defeat, or to prevent the spread of, liberal democacy in Iraq, in the Balkans, in Russia and Belarus, in Zimbabwe and in Afghanistan. They are ready to undermine our struggle and support our deadly enemies in all these places. The right-wingers among them fear that globalisation, immigration and Euro-Atlantic integration will dilute the ‘nation’ as they understand it. The left-wingers among them fear the final, definite triumph of capitalism globally. Theirs is the rearguard action of declining political traditions, motivated by fear and hatred of the world that is emerging. They have no creative potential; their politics is wholly obstructive and destructive.
Facing them, we have a left-right alliance of our own: the alliance of all honourable socialists, liberals and conservatives in defence of liberal-democratic values and our fellow democrats abroad. We may have our internal differences over taxation or public ownership, as does the other side, but in each case, these are differences within the family. It is the struggle between the supporters of liberal democracy on the one side and the Red-Brown coalition on the other that is the principal struggle of our age. Those who occupy the middle ground are either vacillating between the two sides, or have opted out of the struggle and are standing on the sidelines.
We were warned that recognising Kosova’s independence would open a Pandora’s box, triggering global chaos by encouraging innumerable other secessionist territories across the world to declare their own independence in the hope of recognition. The threatened consequence was always something of a non-sequitur, since the secessionist territories most frequently cited – Northern Cyprus, South Ossetia, Abkhazia and Transnistria – had all already seceded from the countries to which they formally belong. How could recognition of Kosova’s independence spark the secession of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), when the TRNC had already declared independence from Cyprus back in 1983, twenty-five years before Kosova was recognised ? It’s a riddle to which President Vladimir Putin of Eurasia no doubt has the answer, one that he may reveal to us in the course of his current propaganda war against Oceania. Putin is himself fond of the supposed Kosova – TRNC parallel. It is therefore particularly poignant that the recognition of Kosova’s independence appears to be having the exact opposite result to the one that he and other prophets of doom predicted. Namely, on Friday, the Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat and Cyprus’s newly elected president Dimitris Christofias met and agreed to restart negotiations on reunifying the country.
There is reason to believe that this positive development is not unrelated to the independence of Kosova, as Professor Mehmet Ozcan of the International Strategic Research Organisation has persuasively suggested. Under Christofias’s hardline nationalist predecessor Tassos Papadopoulos, it was the Greek Cypriots, not the Turkish Cypriots, who were most to blame for obstructing Cypriot unity. In a referendum in 2004, the UN’s Annan Plan for Cyprus’s reunification was overwhelmingly approved by the Turkish Cypriot electorate but, on Papadopoulos’s urging, overwhelmingly rejected by the Greek Cypriot electorate. Papadopoulos believed that, with Cyprus entering the EU and able to veto Turkey’s entry, he would eventually be able to extract more favourable terms from the Turks than those represented by the Annan Plan. It is also entirely possible that he actually preferred a permanently divided Cyprus to one reunited on the basis of an Annan-style compromise; at the very least, he was prepared to postpone reunification for the forseeable future. From the perspective of most Greek Cypriots who would like in principle to see their country reunited, this strategy only made sense if it was indeed going to lead to unity on favourable terms in the long run. But the upcoming recognition of Kosova’s independence showed them that the international community could not be relied upon to uphold the principle of the inviolability of state borders indefinitely, particularly when it was a question of a country, such as Serbia or Cyprus, whose leaders were behaving consistently unreasonably. Hence the surprise electoral victory of the moderate Christofias last month. Symbolically, the first round of Cyprus’s presidential election, in which Papadopoulos came third and was therefore knocked out, took place on 17 February – Kosova’s independence day.
As leader of the Communist AKEL party, Christofias represented the non-nationalist option. AKEL has long upheld a cross-national ideology of brotherhood and unity between Greek and Turkish Cypriots and has a history of persecution at the hands of both Greek and Turkish extremists. When, prior to his meeting with Talat, Christofias was asked by a reporter whether they would be drinking Greek or Turkish coffee (they are the same drink), Christofias replied ‘Cypriot coffee, we will both be having Cypriot coffee’. Christofias and AKEL should not be viewed through rose-tinted spectacles; they opportunistically collaborated with Papadopoulos, helping to bring him to power and defeat the Annan Plan. Christofias continues to follow the Greek-nationalist line of insisting that Macedonia change its name. Nevertheless, under his leadership, Cyprus’s prospects for reunification seem incomparably better than they did barely more than a month ago.
The other element of the equation is that Talat did not respond to Kosova’s recognition by launching a new separatist drive, as the anti-Kosovar prophets of doom had predicted. Indeed, he explicitly rejected a parallel between Kosova and the TRNC: ‘We do not see a direct link between the situation in Kosovo and the Cyprus Problem. These problems have come up through different conditions.’ And he is right. Although it was the Greek side that was primarily responsible for provoking the crisis that culminated in the Turkish invasion of Cyprus in 1974, and although Turkey arguably had a legal basis for its invasion, nevertheless the form that this invasion took, involving as it did the dismemberment of the country and the ethnic-cleansing of the Greek population of the north, constituted an act of aggression and conquest. The Turkish Cypriot entity that became the TRNC in 1983 was therefore an artificial product of foreign invasion and ethnic cleansing – in contrast to Kosova, which was established as an autonomous region under the legitimate Yugoslav authorities, and whose Albanian demographic majority predated its conquest by Serbia in 1912.
Talat may or may not recognise this distinction between Kosova and the TRNC. But he is undoubtedly aware of something of which the prophets of doom are not, but which is blindingly obvious: the fact that Kosova is being recognised internationally does not mean that other secessionist territories will be recognised internationally. The ‘Pandora’s box’ model would only hold true if a secessionist territory, encouraged by Kosova’s recognition, could translate this sense of encouragement into international recognition. As there is no way for a secessionist territory to do this, the model does not hold. The prospects of South Ossetia, Abkhazia and Transnistria for recognition by Russia may have improved, but this would be because of a conscious policy decision on Moscow’s part, not because the territories in question felt ‘inspired’ by Kosova’s recognition. Talat is no knee-jerk separatist but a rational, moderate politician who supported the Annan Plan; he has no reason to jeopardise the Turkish Cypriot community’s chance to enter the EU because of Kosova.
There is a final lesson to be learned from this. Although Cyprus has much more justice on its side vis-a-vis the TRNC than Serbia has vis-a-vis Kosova, yet it is Christofias who speaks the language of reconciliation and ‘Cypriot coffee’. Serbia’s leaders have never been able to speak in this way to the Kosova Albanians; they did not speak of Kosova and Serbia as lands that belonged alike to Serbs and Albanians, or speak of the fraternity of the two peoples. Christofias may understand something that Serbia’s Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica and President Boris Tadic clearly do not: that if you want to keep your country united and prevent one of its peoples from seceding, you need to treat the latter as your fellow countrymen and women, not as the enemy.
This is a lesson that should be learned by all regimes around the world whose oppression drives subject peoples to secede: if you want to avoid losing part of your territory, it pays to be reasonable. Meanwhile, the leaders of the Western alliance may congratulate themselves on having, with their decision to recognise Kosova, helped to promote stability and reconciliation in South East Europe and the resolution of an old conflict in their ranks.
This article was published today on the website of the Henry Jackson Society.
The democratic choice is an easier one for progressives to make in the UK than it is in the US. Over here, the ruling Labour Party is more progressive than the Conservative opposition on both foreign and domestic issues. But in the US, things are not so simple. Were I an American citizen, I would be inclined to vote Democrat over domestic issues – abortion, taxation, etc. But I have no doubt that the interests of South East Europe would be better served by John McCain as president than by either Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama.
Bill Clinton bears a very large share of responsibility for the problems faced by the Balkans and Caucasus today. These are, in particular, a dismembered, non-functioning Bosnia; an anti-Western, disruptive Serbia; and a dismembered Georgia. The problem was not that Clinton was a particularly reactionary president in world affairs, but that he simply was not very interested in them, something that resulted in a failure of leadership. The mess in Bosnia is above all the fault of the former British Conservative government of John Major and the former French Socialist regime of the late Francois Mitterand; they were the champions of appeasement and the architects, along with Serbia’s Slobodan Milosevic and Croatia’s Franjo Tudjman, of Bosnia’s dismemberment. Clinton could and should have insisted upon a change in Western policy vis-a-vis Bosnia upon becoming president. Instead, he chose to defer to his pro-Belgrade European allies, Britain and France, not wishing to fall out with them over something trivial like genocide in the heart of Europe. This was not only a moral failing, but a betrayal of US interests; the disastrous Anglo-French policy and Clinton’s vacillating support for it greatly damaged both transatlantic relations and the Balkans. There are times when Europe needs American leadership; Bosnia was one of them.
After the initialling of the Dayton Peace Accords in November 1995, Clinton continued to neglect Bosnia, allowing the indicted war-criminals Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic to escape arrest – primarily because he did not want to risk American casualties in arrest operations. Nor does Clinton deserve particular credit over Kosova; it is highly questionable whether the US would have acted to prevent the genocide there in 1999 had not Major and Mitterand been replaced in the meantime by Tony Blair and Jacques Chirac. NATO’s liberation of Kosova should have been followed up by the prompt recognition of its independence, while the Russians were in no position to cause such trouble for us as they are today. We could have ‘punished’ the Serbia of Milosevic with Kosova’s independence, instead of the Serbia of today, led as it is by the relatively pro-Western President Boris Tadic. But that problem, too, was allowed to fester; its resolution today is proving much more difficult than it need have been.
Over Russia and the Caucasus, too, Clinton, like George Bush Snr before him, showed a disastrous failure of leadership. With Russian politics in a state of flux, with the pro-Western Boris Yeltsin in power in Moscow and financially dependent on the West, a golden opportunity existed to push Russian policy in the Caucasus in a less imperialistic direction. The Western powers should have acted decisively to halt the dismemberment of Georgia in the early 1990s and prevent the break-away regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia from falling under Russia’s exclusive control. We should have recognised the independence of Chechnya, preempting Yeltsin’s violent assault on the country in 1994. But as is so often the case, the dovish policy is the one most likely to lead to confrontation in the long-run – think of Neville Chamberlain and Munich. Our failure to engage in the Caucasus, and Blair’s shameful support for Vladimir Putin over Chechnya in 1999, have been richly rewarded: Georgia, an aspiring NATO member, faces perpetual dismemberment, while an aggressive, ungrateful Putin has reentered the Balkans with a vengeance with the deliberate aim of derailing the region’s Euro-Atlantic integration. Chechnya proved to be the poison of Russian democracy and Russian-Western friendship; a Russian president willing and able to use weapons of mass destruction against his Chechen citizens is unlikely to respect democratic freedoms in Russia proper, and an undemocratic, authoritarian Russian regime is more likely to be hostile to the West.
In fairness, Russia is not solely responsible for the mess in the Caucasus; Georgia’s brutally chauvinistic former president Zviad Gamsakhurdia was one of the architects of his country’s dismemberment, as was the Chechen leader Dzhokhar Dudayev, who supported the Abkhazians. The people of Abkhazia and South Ossetia had legitimate grievances against Gamsakhurdia’s regime and its successors in Tbilisi. These are all issues that a more forward-looking US policy could have helped to resolve, but did not.
I fear, therefore, the consequences for South East Europe of a US president who is dovish, uninterested in or unserious about foreign policy. Hillary Clinton has always worked hand-in-glove with Bill in the political sphere, and should share responsibility with him for his disastrous Bosnia policy. Indeed, the story is that her influence made it worse; that she read Robert Kaplan’s truly dreadful book ‘Balkan Ghosts’ and passed it on to her husband; this book, filled as it was with crude stereotypes about the Balkans (along the lines of ‘ancient ethnic hatreds’), encouraged the perception of the Bosnian war as an expression of intractable ethnic conflict in which no moral issues were at stake, militating against any intention Bill might have had to resist Serbian aggression. Be that as it may, Hillary was more frank in welcoming Kosovo’s independence than Obama, who appears to see Balkan politics largely through the prism of his need to win the goodwill of the Serbian and Greek lobbies in the US. Hence his letter to the Serbian Unity Congress, in which he stated: ‘I support and shall help in every possible way development of the dialog between all sides in Kosova because I believe that peace and stability can be reached only by solutions acceptable for all sides’ – not far from an endorsement of the Serbo-Russian position on Kosova, which insists on a Serbian veto on any settlement. Hence also Obama’s endorsement of the Greek-nationalist position on Macedonia. These acts may be motivated by simple electoral opportunism, but they do not bode well for a principled and forward-looking US policy toward the Balkans should Obama become president. In flirting with the US’s Serbian and Greek lobbies, Obama is flirting with groups that encompass ultra-right-wing, Christian-fundamentalist, Muslim-hating bigots.
There are several reasons to believe that McCain would follow a more serious and principled policy toward South East Europe than either Clinton or Obama. He is aware of the importance of what he calls a ‘progressive Turkey’ as a strategic partner of the US and a beacon of Muslim democracy, and of the mutual inter-relatedness of democracy and stability in Turkey and Iraq. Turkey is both the most important Balkan country in world affairs and a state that borders on Iraq; the Balkans and the Middle East are adjacent, interlocking regions; McCain’s commitment to staying the course in Iraq is therefore most likely to promote stability in the Balkans.
McCain was correct to oppose Congressional recognition of the Armenian Genocide (here I break ranks with Norman Geras). The Ottoman Empire in 1915 was undoubtedly guilty of genocide against the Armenians, and Turkey should recognise this genocide. But it is not for an outside power like the US to single out this historic crime as uniquely totemic and worthy of recognition, particularly given that the US Congress has taken no parallel steps to recognise the genocidal crimes carried out by Russia and the Balkan Christian states against Ottoman and Caucasian Muslims during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Why should the US recognise the Ottoman genocide of one million Armenians, but not the Balkan Christian genocide of over six-hundred thousand Ottoman Muslims in 1912-13, when the latter crime was an immediate catalyst of the former ? The Turks would be entirely justified in taking offence at such double standards, and McCain is entirely correct that the US should be developing its relationship with Ankara, not creating new barriers to it – though he is also far from uncritical in his support for Turkey.
McCain was an early supporter of Kosova’s independence. He stood by the oppressed Kosova Albanians before it became fashionable in Washington to do so, and continued to do so despite the support given by many right-wing Republicans – largely for anti-Clinton and anti-Islamic reasons – to the anti-Albanian policies of Milosevic and subsequent Serb-nationalist politicians. A Republican president who is ready to put a combination of US strategic interests and morality above petty sectarian domestic feuds and religious hatred is more likely to act in South East Europe’s best interests.
Finally, McCain led a delegation of US senators to Tbilisi in August 2006, to express unconditional support for Georgia’s territorial integrity and to challenge the presence of Russian peacekeepers in South Ossetia, suggesting they be replaced by a UN or OSCE force. Although Moscow likes to draw a false parallel between Kosova and South Ossetia, in reality, secessionist South Ossetia is more like the Serb-controlled enclave in northern Kosova – an expression of the imperialism of a larger neighbour that seeks to punish a former colony for seeking independence by dismembering it. Georgia is not Russia’s backyard, and any policy that treats it as being so will only bolster the anti-Western Russian neo-empire that has arisen under Putin to become a dangerous enemy of the West. McCain is entirely correct in his belief that in defending Georgia, the West will be defending itself. His suggestion that Russian peacekeepers in South Ossetia be replaced by a UN force should be welcomed by all multilateralist opponents of unilateral intervention by great powers in the internal affairs of other countries. But don’t hold your breath.
The trial of Croatian General Ante Gotovina, who spearheaded the liberation of the Serbian-occupied areas of central Croatia in ‘Operation Storm’ in August 1995, began this week in The Hague. Gotovina is accused of playing a leading role in a Croatian ‘joint criminal enterprise’, whose purpose was, according to his indictment, ‘the forcible and permanent removal of the Serb population from the Krajina region, including by the plunder, damage or outright destruction of the property of the Serb population, so as to discourage or prevent members of that population from returning to their homes and resuming habitation.’
Every Croatian democrat should be pleased that this trial is taking place. If Gotovina is innocent, then the trial should result in his acquittal and rehabilitation. If he is guilty, then his victims deserve justice and he should be punished. But either way, the trial will force Croatia to confront the dark side of its national-liberation struggle and the murderous nature of the regime of Franjo Tudjman that was in power while this liberation struggle was taking place. Not only did Tudjman sabotage this liberation struggle at every step (see postscript), but he discredited it with the campaign of murder and terror that he waged against Croatian citizens of Serb nationality. Though the Croatian Serbs have made a tremendous historical contribution to Croatia, they were treated as an enemy population rather than as a population to be liberated. This resulted in large-scale war-crimes, to which Croatia needs to face up if it is to become a fully democratic country.
The trial of Gotovina is therefore good for Croatia. As for Gotovina the individual: I do not know if he is personally guilty for the crimes that undoubtedly took place, or whether other individuals were responsible. But he is entirely unworthy of any sympathy. His selfish, cowardly attempt to escape being tried, and to become an international fugitive, threatened to derail Croatia’s accession to the EU until he was embarrassingly arrested in the Canary Islands in 2005. In any normal army with a modicum of dignity, a soldier is prepared to risk and, if need be, sacrifice his life for his country. But the governing ethos of the corrupt, criminal Tudjman clique was that the country existed to serve its interests and line its pockets. So it was entirely natural that Gotovina, as a typical representative of this clique, should be prepared to jeopardise Croatia’s chances of joining the EU in order to save his own skin. His behaviour may be contrasted with the patriotic readiness of another indicted Croatian general, Rahim Ademi, immediately to turn himself in to the Hague Tribunal. The judges will hopefully take the contrasting behaviour of Gotovina and Ademi into account in the event that either is sentenced.
I say this by way of a preliminary, for despite all the crimes against Serb civilians that accompanied Operation Storm, the fact remains that it was an entirely necessary, legitimate military action that should rightly be celebrated. Although the US under Clinton played a far from glorious role in the war in the former Yugoslavia, yet it deserves credit for giving Croatia the go-ahead for Operation Storm, without which the craven Tudjman would probably not have dared to order it. Operation Storm and its aftermath killed roughly betweeen 700 and 1,200 Serb civilians. But it 1) saved the lives of tens of thousands of Bosnian Muslims; 2) defeated the Great Serbian project; 3) liberated Croatia, allowing it to become a normal, independent state (rather than another Cyprus, which it would have become had Operation Storm not taken place); and 4) led directly to the Dayton Peace Accords, which belatedly ended the war in Bosnia. Moreover – and this is usually overlooked – Croatia was legally obliged to carry out the operation. Had Operation Storm not occurred, Croatia’s crime would have been much greater. Finally, although supporters of the Great Serbian cause have claimed that Operation Storm was ‘the largest ethnic-cleansing operation that occurred in the whole Yugoslav war’, not only is this untrue (the Serbian assault on Bosnia in 1992 was an ethnic-cleansing operation far larger in scale), but Croatia’s role in the exodus of at least 150,000 Serb civilians from the so-called ‘Krajina’ region was entirely subordinate and secondary to the Milosevic regime’s own role.
Operation Storm was an entirely defensive operation. Its immediate cause was the Serb conquest of the ‘UN safe areas’ of Srebrenica and Zepa in July 1995, followed by the Serb assault on the ‘UN safe area’ of Bihac and the surrounding Bosnian-government territory. The conquest of Srebrenica involved the genocidal massacre of 8,000 Muslims by Serb forces, out of a Muslim population of about 40,000. It provided further proof – if any were needed – that the international community was entirely unwilling to take action to protect ‘safe areas’ or Bosnian civilians in general. The Bosnian government had every reason to fear that, if the assault on Bihac succeeded, the 200,000 Muslim inhabitants of the Bihac pocket would have been subjected to an even larger genocidal massacre. At the same time, the Serb conquest of Bihac would have essentially won the war for Serbia and defeated both Croatia and Bosnia, resulting in the establishment of a Great Serbian state incorporating two-thirds of Bosnia and one-third of Croatia. This represented a deadly threat to both countries. In response to the Serb assaults, Tudjman and Bosnian President Izetbegovic signed the Split Agreement on 22 July, according to which, on the grounds of the ‘ineffectiveness of the international community’, the ‘Republic and Federation of Bosnia-Hercegovina called upon the Republic of Croatia to extend military and other assistance to their defence against aggression, especially in the Bihac area, which the Republic of Croatia has accepted.’
The ‘Republic of Serb Krajina’ was the name of the Serbian-occupation regime on Croatian territory. The UN General Assembly on 9 December 1994 resolved that it was ‘Alarmed and concerned by the fact that the ongoing situation in the Serbian-controlled parts of Croatia is de facto allowing and promoting a state of occupation of parts of the sovereign Croatian territory, and thus seriously jeopardizing the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Republic of Croatia’. Thus, the UN General Assembly itself recognised that the ‘state of occupation’ was ‘jeopardising’ Croatia’s ‘sovereignty and territorial integrity.’ The Krajina Serb leadership had failed to abide by the terms of the Vance Plan, on the basis of which Croatia had signed a ceasefire with the Krajina Serbs in January 1992, and instead made use of the UN presence to cement its separation from Croatia. It rejected the internationally proposed Z-4 Plan, which would have represented a Serbo-Croat compromise establishing Krajina as a state within a state in Croatia. The Croatian government had every reason to believe that there was no alternative to the use of force to restore its control over the occupied territory.
Yet Croatia also had a legal and moral obligation to launch Operation Storm. The Krajina Serb army was engaged in an offensive, from Croatian territory, to conquer the Bihac enclave of the neighbouring state of Bosnia. Had Croatia not acted to prevent this, it would have become an accomplice to this Serbian act of aggression against Bosnia, perhaps even guilty of failure to prevent genocide under international law. Whether or not these considerations entered into the minds of the Croatian leadership, they are undoubtedly reasons why Croatia should have intervened. Croatia’s action against the Krajina Serbs may be compared favourably to Lebanon’s failure to act against Hezbollah’s attacks on Israel, that provoked the recent Israeli assault on Lebanon.
Operation Storm resulted in the exodus of at least 150,000 Serb civilians. This was not a case of Croatia rounding up the Serb civilians and transporting them out of the territory; it was a planned evacuation carried out by the Krajina Serb leadership itself. As I do not expect the reader to take my word for this, I shall quote here Milisav Sekulic, a Serbian officer and member of the Krajina Serb General Staff at the time of Operation Storm. Sekulic writes in his account of the fall of Krajina, published in 2001:
At the [Supreme] Council of Defence [of the Republic of Serb Krajina] the worst possible decision was taken – for the evacuation of the population. It would be shown that that was worse even than the decision to capitulate. The Supreme Council [of Defence of the Republic of Serb Krajina] could have taken one of the following decisions. The first would have been: to have continued with the defence and to have, on the night of 4-5 August  organised its units and prepared the command for the action that needed to be taken in the following days. The basis for such an action would have been the taking of all possible measures and actions forseen by the plan, including action against the Croatian towns. An integral part of this option would have been to turn to UNPROFOR, the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, the Republika Srpska… [ellipsis in the original] The second decision could have been: to offer a ceasefire and accept negotiations with Croatia, through the mediation of the Security Council. However the negotiations went and however unfavourable they might have been for the RSK [Republic of Serb Krajina], the people would have remained on the terrain and its status would have been incomparably better than going into exile. The third possible decision would have been to have evacuated only that part of the population that was endangered at that time, and those were the parts of northern Dalmatia and the southern part of Lika. Unfortunately, the option that the Supreme Council of Defence took meant the evacuation of the entire civilian population, as well as the police and army, from the entire territory of the western part of the RSK. Those who took such a decision on evacuation must have known well and knew, that they had taken the entire people and army into exile. If this was not realised by certain members of the Supreme Council of Defence, present at the session was the commander of the General Staff of the Serb Army of Krajina, who certainly knew it. It was his obligation and duty to tell members of the council what it meant to take such a decision, to warn them, and that if it was nevertheless carried, to define it as it was envisaged – the evacuation of the people, police and army from the western part of the RSK.
Milisav Sekulic, ‘Knin je pao u Beogradu’ (‘Knin fell in Belgrade’), Nidda Verlag, Bad Vilbel, 2001, pp. 178-179.
Note that ‘the western part of the RSK’ refers to the territory of Krajina proper, as opposed to the geographically separate and distant territory of Eastern Slavonia, which was on the border with Serbia. Note also that the commander of the Krajina Serb forces at the time was Mile Mrksic, who had been appointed by Belgrade shortly before to preside over the assault on Bihac, and who then presided over the evacuation of the Serb population.
This does not mean that Croatia was innocent in the exodus of the Krajina Serb population. According to the Hague indictments of Gotovina and of Mladen Markac and Ivan Cermak, the Croatian Army killed and terrorised Serb civilians and burned and plundered Serb homes and property, while Croatian broadcasts encouraged the Serb civilian population to leave. These are, of course, the charges of the Prosecution; it remains to be seen whether the Tribunal will convict the indictees. Nevertheless, Croatia undoubtedly encouraged the Serb exodus by brutal means. Had there been no evacuation by the Krajina Serb authorities, the death-toll would undoubtedly have been greater. But although the death toll of up to 1,200 Serb civilians was up to 1,200 too many, the lives of tens of thousands of Bihac Muslims were saved.
The Croatian victory and destruction of Krajina was the turning point of the war. Combined with NATO air-strikes against Bosnian Serb rebel forces later that month and further Croatian and Bosnian military victories, it led to the Dayton Peace Accords in November 1995 that ended the war in Bosnia. Prior to these defeats, Karadzic’s Bosnian Serb rebels were simply unwilling to agree to even the over-generous Contact Group Peace Plan, that awarded them 49% of Bosnia. Operation Storm hastened the end of a war that had seemed unending, and saved many more lives.
The US, too, played its part in this. Its military collaboration with Croatia, in the fields of training and intelligence, and above all the simple fact of its authorisation of the offensive, all helped make the success possible. The Western powers undoubtedly have much blood on their hands for their collusion in the Serbian genocide in Bosnia, but had the US not enabled Operation Storm, it would have been responsible for an additional act of genocide. The credit for this should not go to Clinton, who wanted nothing more than to go along with the Anglo-French policy of appeasing Milosevic and Karadzic, but to the principled US opposition represented by such individuals as Bob Dole, Marshall Freeman Harris, Steve Walker, Joe Lieberman, Frank McCloskey, Albert Wohlstetter, Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle and others, whose relentless pressure forced a reluctant Clinton to take belated action to counter the Serbian aggression.
In its ruling last year, the International Court of Justice ruled that the Srebrenica massacre, alone of all Serb massacres in the war, was an act of genocide. Had it not been for the Croatian Army and the US oppostion in 1995, Serb forces might last year have been found guilty of two genocidal massacres, not just one. This is one reason why Serbia, almost as much as Croatia and Bosnia, should be thankful for Operation Storm. As for Croatia and the US, they succeeded in preventing the genocide of a Muslim population. In these times, when being anti-American is often seen as fashionable and when the US is widely demonised as being anti-Muslim, this is a success that needs to be trumpeted.
Postscript: it would be bestowing undue recognition on Tudjman to describe him as having ‘led’ the Croatian struggle for independence; he was a traitor and a stooge of Slobodan Milosevic and the Yugoslav People’s Army (JNA). Tudjman in 1990-91 sabotaged the plan of his own defence minister, General Martin Spegelj, to defeat the JNA through a pre-emptive strike, preferring to restrain Croatian resistance in the hope of appeasing and collaborating with the JNA and Milosevic; he refused to come to the aid of Slovenia when it was attacked by the JNA in June 1991, ensuring that Croatia would in turn enjoy no Slovenian military assistance when it was attacked; he rejected any collaboration with Ibrahim Rugova’s Kosova Albanians, telling Rugova to his face that Rugova should be talking to Milosevic, not to him; he refrained from besieging and storming JNA garrisons on Croatian soil until well after the Serbian aggression had begun, even arresting Croatian patriots who took such actions on their own initiative; he halted key military operations under pressure from the international community, including an operation to lift the JNA siege of Vukovar; he rescued the JNA from defeat in late 1991, halting the successful Croatian Army operation to liberate Western Slavonia and leaving Serbian forces in control of large parts of Croatia for another three and a half years; he maintained his ceasefire with Serbian forces in Croatia while Serbia and the JNA attacked Bosnia; his agents sabotaged the successful operation of his own, Croatian Army in October 1992 to sever the Serb forces’ northern corridor that linked Serb-occupied western Bosnia and central-Croatia to Serbia, because he wanted to partition Bosnia with Milosevic, even at the price of maintaining the Serb control of central Croatia; he attacked Croatia’s own Bosnian allies in the back in collusion with Croatia’s own Great Serbian enemies; he planned to hand over bits of Croatian territory to Milosevic and Karadzic in return for bits of Serb-held Bosnian territory; and he halted the successful operation to defeat Bosnian Serb rebel forces in western Bosnia in 1995, because he wanted to continue collaborating with Milosevic and to partition Bosnia. Croatia was liberated despite Tudjman, not because of him, and Tudjman was, more than any other individual, the architect of the partial Great Serb victory in the Bosnian war. Tudjman was Croatia’s Draza Mihailovic – a traitor, chauvinist and collaborator with the occupiers.
This article was published today on the website of the Henry Jackson Society.
Macedonia hopes to be invited to join NATO at the alliance’s summit, which is to be held in Bucharest, Romania in early April. However, Greece has threatened to veto Macedonia’s accession, on the grounds that it objects to Macedonia’s name. Based on its own blinkered, nationalistic and pre-democratic interpretation of history, Greece claims exclusive right to use the term ‘Macedonia’, and is entirely prepared to bully this much smaller and more vulnerable nation until the latter gives up its name, regardless of the cost to regional stability and to NATO. It is difficult to express the degree of disgust and contempt that such behaviour makes one feel.
Greece argues that it has a province of its own called ‘Macedonia’, and the existence of a ‘Republic of Macedonia’ implies a territorial claim on this Greek province. This is belied by the fact that the Republic of Macedonia has existed since the 1940s, initially as a member of the Yugoslav Federation, while Greece only named the province in question ‘Macedonia’ as recently as 1989, presumably with the deliberate, cold-blooded intention of having an excuse to provoke the current dispute when Macedonia declared independence from Yugoslavia. Having spent the best part of the twentieth century forcibly assimilating or dispossessing its own Slavic Macedonian minority, it was also presumably only in 1989 that Greece felt it was safe to do this, without undermining this same policy of national homogenisation.
The second Greek argument is that Macedonia is allegedly trying to ‘steal’ Greek history; supposedly, as the Macedonians are a Slavic people, they have no right to use the name of the country of Alexander the Great, whom the Greeks claim as ‘theirs’. This, of course, involves a selective view of history; as the Macedonians are fond of pointing out, the Ancient Greeks are widely on record as having viewed the Macedonians as non-Greek barbarians. In the fourth century BC, the Athenian Greek orator Demosthenes, a prominent opponent of the Macedonians, said of Alexander the Great’s father, Macedonian King Philip II, that he was ‘not only no Greek, nor related to the Greeks, but not even a barbarian from any place that can be named with honours, but a pestilent knave from Macedonia, whence it was never yet possible to buy a decent slave’. But even to make this point is to descend to the level of the Greek nationalists, who try to hijack ancient history, imposing their contemporary nationalist stereotypes upon it in order to use it as propaganda.
I appreciate that it may be difficult for a sane person to understand what is happening here: try to imagine the English fighting with the Welsh over whether Boadicea was ‘English’ or ‘Welsh’, or with the French over whether Richard the Lionheart was ‘English’ or ‘French’. Try to imagine the French fighting with the Germans over whether Charlemagne was ‘French’ or ‘German’. This is something that no mature, democratic nation would do. Yet in the twenty-first century, it is apparently possible for NATO expansion and Balkan stability to be jeopardised over something like this. In fact, the implications are even more dangerous: if Slavs are not allowed to share in the heritage of Alexander the Great, are British citizens of West Indian or Asian origin allowed to share in the heritage of Boadicea or Richard the Lionheart ? Are German Jews allowed to share in the heritage of Frederick Barbarossa, or Italian Jews in the heritage of Julius Caesar ? If we permit Greece to impose racial homogeneity on ancient history, what is left of Western values ?
Macedonia should under no circumstances back down on this question. The whole point of joining NATO is to acquire security. But what meaning does ‘security’ have if one is not even allowed to use one’s own name ? NATO will be discrediting itself if it allows Greek national chauvinism to veto its expansion.
Macedonia’s position is not so weak. The Western powers will never allow Macedonia to collapse; the country’s strategic position; the possibility of its break-up leading to conflict between Greece and Turkey; the growing Russian encroachment in neighbouring Serbia and in Bosnia’s Serb Republic – all these are reasons why Macedonia can feel confident that the West cannot afford to abandon it. Furthermore, Greece’s own position is not so strong; northern Cyprus is under Turkish occupation, and Greece and Cyprus ultimately need US and European goodwill if this issue is ever to be resolved. Some of us may feel that, if Greece continues with its current policy over Macedonia, and if Cyprus continues to follow the Greek line, then these two nations have forfeited any right to Western support for Cyprus’s reunification. Macedonia may have to wait a while longer to join NATO, but it will survive, while Greece may end up paying a heavy price.
In resisting this aggression, Macedonia is upholding not only its own honour, but NATO’s and the West’s. Macedonia must stand up for itself, for in doing so, it is standing up for Europe, for democracy and for the dignity of small nations. If the Macedonians under Alexander the Great could conquer Persia and go as far as India with their armies, I am sure today’s Macedonians can face off a tin-pot neighbourhood bully.
Readers of this blog will probably already know of two excellent, recently published books that raise the question of where the Left has gone wrong, and why it has reached its current state of moral degeneracy: Nick Cohen’s What’s Left and Andrew Anthony’s The Fallout. For anyone who hasn’t already, I’d strongly recommend reading them both as an introduction to the subject. Although they have produced many replies from among the ranks of those whom they target – the Guardianista soft-left and the harder, ‘anti-imperialist’ left – these replies have tended to be along the lines of ‘whatabout Iraq’, and without exception have failed to address Cohen’s and Anthony’s central accusation: that moral relativism, obsessive anti-Westernism and a fundamental lack of interest in the struggle of foreigners against oppression at the hands of other foreigners have led leftists in the West to abandon those they should be supporting (such as democrats and trade unionists in Iraq, or Muslim women abused at the hands of their families and communities) and lining up with those who should be their mortal enemies (Baathists, Islamists, etc.). We are still waiting for an alternative explanation from the ranks of Cohen’s and Anthony’s critics as to why this happens, or why it is wrong to resist this tendency.
Cohen and Anthony field a range of arguments to explain what is going wrong, most of which I agree with. But the one argument that both of them make, and that fails to convince me, is their claim that the degeneration of the Left is related to its abandonment of the working class. For Cohen, the readiness of liberals in the US to achieve major reforms, such as the legalisation of abortion, through the courts and the judges rather than through campaigning among the working class has led to a working-class alienation from liberal values. For Anthony, guilty white-liberal idolisation of non-white and non-Christian minorities has led to a readiness to denigrate the white working-class; this is a theme to which he has recently returned, and which a new BBC 2 programme is apparently also addressing.
My own background in left-wing politics is somewhat different to Nick’s and Andrew’s, and it has led me to the opposite conclusion: that the radical left’s obsession with class and class interests, over and above ideals and principles, is at the root of its degeneration. The Militant Tendency and the Socialist Workers Party (SWP), two far-left groups to which I was close in the late 1980s and early 1990s, were always whinging on about the ‘working class’. The phrase ‘only a socialist party based on the working class’ is indelibly marked in my memory, but I’m not even sure if it belonged to one of these groups, or to several of them.
The point was always to support the ‘working class’ and oppose the ‘ruling class’, not because of what they were doing, but because of what they were. Something was only worth supporting if it had the correct ‘class character’. A strike by ambulence workers was a worthy cause; the campaign for proportional representation in the British parliament led by Charter 88 was not, because there was nothing ‘working class’ about it.
I discovered that this meant that, in the war in the former Yugoslavia, comrades from the Militant and the SWP were fundamentally uninterested in such mundane questions as opposing genocide or national oppression, and wanted to see Serb, Croat and Muslim workers joining together against the bosses of all nations, before the comrades would muddy their hands in this particular conflict. Indeed, I am still holding my breath, waiting for the workers’ revolution that the SWP suggested might stop the war in Bosnia.
Of course, this obsession with class was not just about supporting the working class, but also about opposing the ruling class. This may explain one of the enduring mysteries of SWP politics, one for which only a Nobel-Prize-winning scientist might be capable of providing a full explanation. Namely, over the Balkans, the SWP would berate defenders of Bosnia such as myself, for ‘lining up with one group of nationalists against another’, when all these nationalists supposedly had the same ‘class basis’ and were equally reactionary. Meanwhile, in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the SWP lines up with one group of nationalists against another, even though all these nationalists supposedly have the same class basis and are equally reactionary. The SWP opposed the Croatian struggle for national independence in the early 1990s by pointing out that Croatian President Franjo Tudjman had mentioned that he was glad his wife was neither Serbian nor Jewish; it nevertheless supports the Palestinian struggle for national independence, even though Hamas and other Palestinian groups have a much worse record on anti-Semitism than Tudjman’s Croat nationalists (the SWP itself probably does as well, but that’s a whole different article). I’m not a Nobel-Prize-winning scientist, but if I understand correctly, the disparity can be explained by the fact that the SWP views the Croatian nationalists as being ‘on the side of the ruling class’ (i.e. the Western ruling-class) while the Palestinian nationalists are ‘not on the side of the ruling class’. Accusations of anti-Semitism are purely instrumental and opportunistic in the goal of opposing the ruling class.
It should be easy to see why this should lead to moral relativism. Whatever the ‘ruling class’ does is for the sake of its class interests, therefore whatever it does should be opposed. If it arms and finances Saddam, it should be opposed; if it bleeds Iraq dry with sanctions, it should be opposed; if it invades Iraq to overthrow Saddam, it should be opposed. The Iraq War is opposed not because it will increase the suffering of the Iraqi people or involve large-scale civilian casualties or because it violates international law – such arguments are purely instrumental – but because it’s ‘all about oil'; i.e. it serves ruling-class interests. Leftist arguments levelled against Western leaders are made not because the leftists necessarily believe in them, but because they want to oppose the Western leaders whatever they do. Hence, the principles put forward in such arguments are inherently insincere and liable to be abandoned as soon as they are no longer necessary: emphasise Croatian anti-Semitism, ignore Palestinian anti-Semitism; emphasise ‘working-class unity’ over national liberation in the Balkans, emphasise national liberation over working-class unity in Palestine; etc.
Conversely, one is supposed to support the working class no matter what it does; all strikes should be supported, regardless of what the workers are striking over. Anthony complains that moral relativism leads liberals to ditch the white working-class in favour of even reactionary Muslims and homophobic black rappers. But it is difficult to see how this is any different from denigrating the middle class or aristocracy and idolising the working class; it simply involves a reclassification of the same old categories of groups one likes and groups one dislikes.
Unfortunately, even the most honourable traditionalist left-wingers cling to the certainties of ‘class politics’, and this leads them either into some extremely dubious company – or into no company at all. The summer before last, my fellow Eustonite Philip Spencer and I spoke at the annual conference of the Alliance for Workers Liberty (AWL), a Trotskyist group which is fairly sympathetic politically but incredibly dogmatic, in order to argue the merits of the Euston Manifesto. And what a dismal experience it was – being berated by a room-full of Trots for the fact that the Euston Manifesto says nothing about the class struggle, and about how disgraceful it was to support a manifesto that even a Labour minister would have no trouble supporting.
There is a very good reason why the Euston Manifesto is not concerned with the ‘class struggle’ (in the Marxist sense of supporting the ‘working class’ against the ‘ruling class’) – it is an anti-fascist, anti-fundamentalist manifesto whose purpose is to reaffirm a commitment to liberal, democratic and progressive principles that the Left has increasingly tended to jettison. Were the ‘class struggle’ to be inserted into this manifesto, it would involve splitting the anti-fascist front for the sake of obsolete Marxist principles. It would mean jettisoning non-Communist anti-fascists in order to remain part of a ‘Left’ that includes fascists and their fellow travellers. Indeed, the AWL apparently responded to the wonderful split in the Respect coalition (the British manifestation of the Red-Brown alliance) between the SWP and the supporters of George Galloway, by coming down on the side of the SWP. The AWL’s Sean Matgamna wrote an open letter to the SWP’s Chris Harman last autumn, appealing for the SWP to return to its socialist principles by opposing Galloway: ‘Comrade Harman, the revolutionary politics which you spent most of your life working for are still worth fighting for! In the SWP they will have to be fought for against the leaders and their “theoreticians”, such as you. Comrades of the SWP, the socialist ideas which the SWP claims to represent are worth fighting for! Break with Galloway!’
So long as support for the ‘working class’ against the ‘ruling class’ trumps support for Enlightenment values as values worthy of support in their own right, even a relatively honourable group of Trotskyists such as the AWL will not be immune to the temptation to ally with one Red-Brown faction against another, and against the ‘ruling class’, leaving more politically mainstream elements to do the serious work of resisting fascism and fundamentalism. Alternatively, insistence upon class-based politics may lead to self-imposed isolation, whereby the honourable left-wing traditionalist rejects allies both among the Red-Brown alliance and among the liberal mainstream, leading him to feel ‘desperately lonely’, as Bill Weinberg of WW4report complains. But even in this loneliness, it is difficult to escape moral relativism so long as one is determined to oppose the ‘ruling class’ no matter what it does; Weinberg has consistently spoken up for the oppressed Kosova Albanians and their right to self-determination, but is less than enthusiastic about Kosova’s independence now that it has been recognised by the US.
Anthony is right to condemn moral relativists for their grovelling before Muslim fundamentalists and homophobic black rappers. But in his defence of ‘white working-class’ Jade Goody from the charge of racism, on the grounds that her critics are anti-white-working-class, he falls into the same moral relativist trap.
All social classes and ethnic groups should be judged by the same standard; none has any inherent nobility greater than the others; all should be subject to criticism but defended when necessary. So long as one places the support of groups above the support of principles, then principles will inevitably degenerate. It is principles, not groups, that should be supported: support social justice and trade-union rights, rather than the ‘working class’ as such; national self-determination, not Croats or Palestinians as such; religious tolerance, not Muslims as such; anti-racism, not Jews or black people as such.
It is humanity as a whole that should be supported; the only principles worth supporting are those that apply to the whole of humanity.
I am half-Croatian, and I shall confess to having a specifically Croatian agenda for opposing the right of Bosnia’s Serb Republic (Republika Srpska) to secede from Bosnia, and for rejecting the idea that such an act of secession would be in any way equivalent to Kosova’s entirely legitimate secession from Serbia.
Namely, if one were to support the right of Republika Srpska to secede from Bosnia, one would have to support a similar right for the Croat-controlled part of the Bosnian Federation. This would lead, effectively, to the emergence of a Great Croatia. As an opponent of Great Croatian nationalism, this is not something I could accept. Every true Croatian democrat and anti-fascist is the sworn opponent of Great Croatian nationalism, consequently of the partition of Bosnia. Not only would this be an enormous injustice to the people of Bosnia, but it would reward the worst elements in Croatian politics – Ustashas, Tudjmanites and other chauvinists. It would be a betrayal of all those true Bosnian Croat patriots – Stjepan Kljuic, Ivo Komsic, Ivan Lovrenovic and others – who valiantly defended their Bosnian homeland against the Great Croats during the 1990s and thereafter.
Support for the right of national self-determination is about supporting democracy, but it is also about opposing oppression and injustice; about standing up for the rights of smaller, oppressed nations against colonial masters or predatory neighbours. It is therefore wholly at odds with the idea that such predatory states should be allowed to manipulate the right of national self-determination to expand their borders at the expense of those smaller and weaker than themselves. This is what Serbia attempted to do vis-a-vis Croatia in the 1990s. It is what both Croatia and Serbia, at the same time, attempted to do vis-a-vis Bosnia. It is what Russia is attempting to do vis-a-vis Georgia. And it is what occurred in the most notorious instance of the abuse of the right to self-determination: the 1938 Munich Agreement.
It could be argued, however, that no matter how one tries to justify it, this remains hypocritical. Let us take up the challenge and say:
1) We should recognise the right of Republika Srpska to secede from Bosnia – provided Republika Srpska recognises the right of its former Muslim- or Croat-majority areas to secede from it (with all those expelled and non-resident allowed to participate in the vote), and provided Serbia recognises the same right to Muslim-majority areas in the Sanjak and Hungarian-majority areas in Vojvodina;
2) We should recognise the right of the Bosnian-Croat-held areas to secede from Bosnia – provided Croatia recognises the right of its former Serb-majority areas to secede (again, with all those expelled and non-resident allowed to participate in the vote);
3) We should recognise the right of South Ossetia to secede from Georgia – provided Moscow recognises the right of North Ossetia to secede from Russia;
4) We should recognise the right of Abkhazia to secede from Georgia – provided Moscow recognises the right of all its autonomous republics in the Russian North Caucasus to secede.
I strongly suspect that once you insist that the strong be subjected to the same principles that they would like to impose upon the weak, then their own enthusiasm for these principles would vanish.
The right of nations to self-determination is an undeniably thorny issue, above all because there are so many areas where the rights of two or more nations overlap, and where it is difficult or impossible to grant the right to one nation without denying it to another nation – or even destroying the second nation altogether. This is why, when considering how to apply the right, so many factors must be taken into account – rather as in the case of a judge or jury weighing up numerous factors in a court case. I would, however, suggest two general rules of thumb:
1) The right of self-determination, since it is a democratic right, cannot belong to nations that have achieved an artificial majority through ethnic cleansing, since the right belongs to the whole population of the territory in question – including those expelled;
2) The right of self-determination should not be used by larger, stronger nations that already enjoy independent statehood, to expand their borders at the expense of smaller, weaker ones whose state would be consequently destroyed. Thus, although I sympathise with the Albanian minority in Macedonia, given its history of oppression and discrimination, I would not support its right to secede and join Albania or Kosova – simply because there are already two Albanian states in existence, because the Macedonians are a much smaller people than the Albanians, and because Macedonia would be unlikely to survive such an act of secession.
If anyone responds by saying that I have imposed too many qualifications, I would reply that democratic rights are never perfect or absolute. I support freedom of speech and expression – but not to inciters of racial violence or distributors of child pornography. I support freedom of assembly – but not for uniformed, private armies. I support freedom of the press – but not the freedom of newspapers to practice libel.
National self-determination, furthermore, is inherently imperfect – however one draws the borders, there are always likely to be some members of a particular nationality who are stuck on the wrong side. The very concept of majority-rule implies that someone has to be in the minority. The problem with national self-determination is in fact a problem with democracy itself.
Most of the objections to the idea of a right of nations to self-determination are made by people positing hypothetical, extreme cases – such as the supposed danger of a Muslim-majority part of London seceding, or the possibility of a ‘Kosovo in the Galilee’. One could oppose just about any democratic principle by citing hypothetical, worst-case scenarios.
The secession of a Muslim-majority part of London ? That’s a risk I’m prepared to live with. ☺
The EU’s prospects of joining Serbia appear to be in jeopardy following a statement yesterday by Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica. “We should not be divided over the issue of joining the EU”, Mr Kostunica told reporters, “rather, it is best and necessary to be united and tell the EU that it can only count on a Serbia with Kosovo, as its province, becoming its member.” Although the EU had hoped to join Serbia as early as 2012, this now appears unlikely in view of the Serbian PM’s statement.
The EU has already endured years of international isolation from Serbia as a result of its role during the break-up of Yugoslavia, and its subsequent refusal to cooperate with Serbia over the non-arrest of war-criminals indicted by the UN tribunal in the Hague. It now appears likely that the EU will endure further international isolation.
The latest setback to the EU’s hopes for joining the Serbian Union comes as a result of its refusal to recognise that the disputed territory of Kosovo is part of Serbia. The Serbian PM’s recognition last month that Kosovo was part of Serbia sparked riots across Europe; the Serbian embassy in Brussels was burned down by an angry crowd, waving EU flags and chanting “Kosovo is Europe !” But analysts suggest that the genuine popular anger in Europe over Kosovo’s inclusion in Serbia conceals the fact that European public opinion is deeply pro-Serbian. European citizens overwhelmingly favour membership of the SU, in the belief that this will bring improved living standards. The EU leaders’ tough stance on the Kosovo issue may therefore be out of harmony with European popular aspirations in the long run.
EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana has insisted that “as long as the European people exists, Kosovo will be Europe”. The EU’s stance is staunchly supported by its close ally, the US, which is concerned that Serbia’s actions violate international law. The US has warned that the inclusion of Kosovo in Serbia, which it terms “illegal”, will never be approved by the UN Security Council.
With neither side appearing ready to back down, the dispute looks set to continue.
(Greater Surbiton News Service)
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