The following interview with me was published in Bosnian translation in Dnevni Avaz on 23 June.
What’s you personal opinion about Britain leaving or remaining in the EU ?
Britain leaving the EU would be a major setback both for Britain and the democratic world. Britain would lose much of its influence in Europe and the world, and would turn inwards, to become a more fearful, xenophobic country. It might trigger a full collapse of the EU, with all the chaos and economic decline that would cause. Or it will result in Europe reconstituting itself as a super-state without Britain. Britain would still have to accept rules made by the EU, contribute to the EU budget and accept EU immigration. But we would have no say in making EU rules. We would be abandoning our friends in Europe; above all, our friends in the Balkans and Eastern Europe. Brexit would also probably trigger the secession of Scotland from the UK; hence, the break-up of Britain.
What consequences would Brexit have for the stability of Europe ?
The likelihood is that a vote for Brexit will encourage anti-EU forces in other countries, such as Marine Le Pen’s National Front in France. Thus, it could potentially trigger the complete break-up of the EU, which would have calamitous consequences for the economy and political stability of Europe. Even if that doesn’t happen, Brexit would destabilise the EU; it would swing the balance of power further towards the Franco-German bloc, particularly Germany itself, and away from those countries that, like Britain, prefer a looser Union. The creeping centralisation that is responsible for much of the anti-EU mood and economic difficulties across the continent would thereby be strengthened. We have seen how the single currency has helped wreck Greece’s economy, in turn destabilising the Union. An EU without Britain would be more prone to such crises.
Some analysts claim that Bosnia-Hercegovina in that case would lose a true friend. Your comment?
Yes. EU policy in the Balkans will be made without Britain, which has been a friend of Bosnia-Hercegovina and other Balkan countries. Britain will retreat from the outside world, and will lose interest in helping BiH and other friends. Ministers on both sides of the Brexit debate, including former good friends of BiH like David Cameron and Michael Gove, have been ready to offend and alienate Balkan allies such as Turkey and Albania in order to score points in the debate. So Cameron has distanced himself from his former support of Turkey’s EU accession, and Gove has stereotyped Albanians as criminals – all in order to appease anti-immigration sentiment in Britain. Whichever side wins, Britain is becoming less of a friend to Balkan states, as a result of the Brexit debate.
What would an eventual Brexit bring for the enlargement process?
Britain’s exit will greatly set back the enlargement process, as Britain has been a key supporter of enlargement. Although the mood in the EU is shifting against enlargement, irrespective of whether Britain stays or goes.
Your comment on the murder of Jo Cox ?
Jo Cox was a great MP; a friend of BiH and other peoples in need of solidarity, including the peoples of Syria and Palestine. Her death is a tremendous loss to Britain. Her murder by a far-right extremist cannot be blamed on the Leave campaigners as a whole, but there is a current of hatred that is being generated by this campaign, and by anti-establishment, anti-European, anti-immigration and anti-Muslim discourse in Britain generally, that should be held responsible and tackled. Her death was not an aberration.
I recently received a pro-Brexit pamphlet through my door that argues I should vote for Britain to leave the EU because of the danger that further EU expansion into the Balkans will result in more immigrants from the Balkans coming over (see image, above).
This echoes an article Michael Gove published in the Daily Mail some weeks ago:
The Albanian Option. It sounds like a John le Carré novel. You imagine a story with political intrigue, huge sums of money going astray, criminality and double-dealing. And you’d be right. But the Albanian Option isn’t holiday reading fiction — it’s diplomatic fact. Albania is on course to join the European Union — alongside four other countries, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Turkey. The already unwieldy group of 28 is due to become a throng of 33. And Britain isn’t just backing this move. We’re paying for it. Every week we send £350 million to the EU. And now millions of your hard-earned taxes are being directed to these five prospective members. Between now and 2020 the United Kingdom will pay almost £2 billion to help these nations prepare for membership of the EU — that’s more than we will spend on the NHS Cancer Drugs Fund over the same period. This bounty will be our greatest gift to Albania since the comic talent of the late Sir Norman Wisdom, that country’s improbable national hero, lit up the dark days of Stalinist dictatorship. Indeed, I wonder if the Albanian people are now convinced that Britain’s Foreign Office is full of Norman Wisdom characters, lovable chumps whose generosity and good-heartedness make them easily gulled into accepting all sorts of bad advice. How else could they explain their good fortune in being on the receiving end of a £2 billion Balkan bonanza?
As Justice Secretary, I am well aware that there are around 10,000 foreign criminals in our jails — and one in 20 of those is Albanian. Of all the prisoners in our jails who come from European countries, 10 per cent come from Albania — yet Albania comprises less than half of one per cent of the overall population of Europe.
Those prisoners currently cost the British taxpayer almost £18 million a year to keep in custody. And that’s before Albanian citizens even have the right to move to the UK! The Home Secretary knows the problem is very far from diminishing. Already this year we’ve seen 20 gangsters from Albania convicted of running a brutal drugs ring in Manchester.
Of course, as the Home Secretary rightly noted, Albania is not the only accession country with an organised crime problem. Albania’s neighbour on the Adriatic Sea, Montenegro, has a breathtakingly beautiful coastline and romantic interior. It also, unfortunately, has mafia gangs, a reputation as a centre for money-laundering and a record for narcotics trafficking. The prime minister, Milo Djukanovic, has been a leader of the country almost continuously for the past 30 years. He started as a Communist apparatchik and friend of the murderous Serbian dictator Slobodan Milosevic. But today he is a fan of the European Union and chummy with EU power brokers.
Has everyone got that ? Albanians and Montenegrins are basically all criminals and we need to leave the EU to stop them flooding into our country and swamping it. Huge, China-sized countries that they are. Gove’s exploitation of stereotypes of Albanians and Montegrins as criminals echoes the sort of propaganda popular among the supporters of Slobodan Milosevic and his successors, who first attempted to destroy the Albanian people of Kosovo as a group, then to deny their state international recognition. Note that Gove does not distinguish between Albanian criminals and Albanian people in general. Consider this sentence: ‘I wonder if the Albanian people are now convinced that Britain’s Foreign Office is full of Norman Wisdom characters, lovable chumps whose generosity and good-heartedness make them easily gulled into accepting all sorts of bad advice. How else could they explain their good fortune in being on the receiving end of a £2 billion Balkan bonanza?’ He is concerned that ‘the Albanian people’, not just Albanian criminals, might consider British officials to be ‘chumps’.
Albania has been one of Britain’s staunchest allies over the past two decades. Its troops have fought alongside ours, sustaining casualties in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Gove is, of course, a neoconservative who strongly supported the US-led intervention in Iraq to overthrow Saddam Hussein. While the Albanian troops were shedding their blood in support of the unpopular intervention in Iraq, while other British allies refused to step forward, Gove did not say at the time ‘Go home; we don’t want you on our side as you’re a bunch of criminals and scroungers.’ No, he waited until the Brexit campaign cynically to stab them in the back. Though it is not inconceivable that he launched his anti-Albanian tirade in a fit of pique after his suggestion that the UK could form part of a ‘free-trade zone’ of countries outside the EU, along with Albania, was trashed by the Albanian prime minister, Edi Rama.
His portrayal of Montenegro’s Djukanovic as a ‘friend of the murderous Serbian dictator Slobodan Milosevic’ is another exercise in cynicism, given that Djukanovic has been a longstanding ally of the West who, as Montenegro’s president, visited Tony Blair in London during the Kosovo War in 1999 to declare his opposition to Milosevic’s policy – at considerable personal risk, given Montenegro was then under the military control of Belgrade’s forces.
Gove was, until 2011, a trustee of the neoconservative Henry Jackson Society, whose policy at the time was to support the expansion of the EU to include the Western Balkan countries and Turkey. According to its manifesto, The British Moment, published in 2006 and currently selling on Amazon for as little as 29p, ‘The EU should contemplate expanding to include Turkey, Croatia, Bosnia-Hercegovina, Serbia, Montenegro, Kosovo, Macedonia, Albania, Bulgaria, Romania, Moldova, Ukraine, Belarus and Georgia.’
Gove did not express any dissent from this policy at the time. He thus subscribed to a political vision that was outward-looking, seeking to combat totalitarianism and human-rights abuses, and promote Western liberal-democratic values across the world, and that sought to embrace Albania, Montenegro, Turkey and other Balkan states as allies in this project. He has now done a 180-degree turn, and subscribes to a political vision that is inward-looking and isolationist; the counterpart of Donald Trump’s call for a wall to be built against Mexican immigrants. Instead of seeking to export our positive values, Gove wants to keep the outside world out. No longer allies, Balkan states in Gove’s eyes are now threats; sources of immigrants who will come over, import crime with them, steal our jobs and scrounge off our taxpayers. The tension in neoconservatism was always present between its positive, optimistic, liberal-interventionist tendency that perceived a world inhabited by sisters and brothers in need of solidarity and freedom, and its regressive, pessimistic, Islamophobic and anti-immigration tendency that perceived a world inhabited by hordes of unredeemable economic migrants and jihadis. Orcs, one might say. Gove’s definite defection to the second tendency is a powerful indication of the movement’s degeneration.
What a disgraceful, miserable political evolution Gove has undergone. A powerful European union of democratic states including all the countries of the Western Balkans and, one day, a fully democratic Turkey is one we Brits should be proud to be part of.
Vote REMAIN on 23 June
- 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