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
This interview appeared in Bosnian translation in Dnevni Avaz on 12 January 2014.*
How real, if there is any basis for it at all, is the fear that Bosnia and the Bosniaks could be left outside of the EU due to the growing resentment in the EU towards Muslims in general ?
I believe the principal obstacles to Bosnia entering the EU are, firstly, the unresolved constitutional status of the country, its dysfunctional political order and the Sejdic-Finci question, and secondly enlargement fatigue among European policy-makers. Anti-Muslim prejudice may be an aggravating factor, however. EU membership for Bosnia and Serbia might actually accelerate the disintegration of Bosnia, as the West would lose leverage against the leaders of Serbia and the RS.
Bosnia-Hercegovina, in other words, must on no account enter the EU and must employ all means to prevent the entry of Serbia ?
I believe Bosnia’s future lies in the EU, and that the country and its citizens need the opportunities that membership offers. Bosnia has no future outside the EU if Croatia, Serbia and Montenegro are in. But Bosnians need to enter in full awareness of possible consequences. This should serve as an additional motive for preparing a resistance strategy to save the country from partition.
It looks as if the West has, regardless of that, already given up on Bosnia-Hercegovina.
The West gave up on Bosnia during the war of 1992-95, when it effectively engineered the partition of the country, and rescued the RS from defeat and destruction in the autumn of 1995. However, in the late 1990s and first half of the 2000s, there was a partial reversal of policy as the international community, via the OHR, particularly under Paddy Ashdown, took major steps toward the reintegration of the country. Unfortunately, that momentum was lost as Western leaders wrongly believed that the progress achieved could permit them to reduce their presence in, and supervision of the country. Now the EU and US have lost the will to push for the reintegration of Bosnia and are once again appeasing the separatism of the RS leadership.
That means that the fear of the collapse of Bosnia-Hercegovina is justified ? Will the West, nevertheless, react if it comes to that ? Should Bosnia count on such action ?
The experiences of 1992-95 should have taught Bosnians that they can never count on the West. A scenario can be envisaged whereby Bosnia and Serbia eventually join the EU; the RS then declares independence, and its independence is recognised by Serbia, Russia and maybe some other countries. Sanctions would be difficult to enforce against those within the EU. Right-wing Islamophobic opinion across Europe would support the RS. In such circumstances, why should we expect the West to take action, when it has failed to act to reverse the partitions of Cyprus or Georgia ? No: if Bosnians want to save their country, they will have to rely on their own strength.
But are the Bosnian Serbs really intending to declare secession ? That is still a risky move.
I believe the RS leaders will not go for secession in the short term, as the status quo suits them: they enjoy most of the benefits of independence, without having to take the risks involved with formal secession. So long as Bosnia and Serbia remain outside the EU, then the RS and Serbia will always be vulnerable to sanctions and isolation. But in the long run, when the right moment comes, I believe the RS will attempt secession. So Bosnians need to start preparing themselves right now to confront that threat.
You worked for the ICTY. How does that institution now look to you ?
The tribunal’s achievements have been poor overall, but they should not be dismissed completely. The recent convictions of Zdravko Tolimir and the Herceg-Bosna six were significant successes, and the reversal of Radovan Karadzic’s acquittal on one count of genocide was also positive. The acquittals of Jovica Stanisic and Franko Simatovic represented a terrible failure of justice, but it is possible that the appeal against them will be successful. The ICTY’s failure to prosecute or convict the principal military and political officials of the JNA, Serbia and Montenegro for war-crimes in Bosnia remains its biggest disgrace. Nevertheless, the eventual conviction of Karadzic and Mladic will count for something, particularly if they are convicted on one, or ideally two counts of genocide. So there is a lot left to hope for from the ICTY. Anger at the acquittals of Momcilo Perisic, Stanisic and Simatovic has understandably led some Bosnians and friends of Bosnia to dismiss the ICTY’s verdicts as ‘political’, but this is a mistake as it undermines the legitimacy of the tribunal, and of any future convictions.
The UK is preparing to have elections. Could they bring about a change in the foreign policy of that state when it’s a question of Bosnia?
No; I believe that British policy toward Bosnia will remain the same regardless of which party wins the next election. Britain’s role in the Bosnian war is almost universally recognised as a disgrace, so neither Labour nor the Conservatives are likely to want to revert to the anti-Bosnian policy of the 1990s. But this has not stopped the Labour leadership from sabotaging effective British intervention over Syria, similar to the way that the Conservative government in the 1990s obstructed effective international action over Bosnia !
How, in your opinion, are Bosnia-Hercegovina’s neighbours behaving ? What are the real policies of Serbia and Croatia when Bosnia-Hercegovina is in question ?
Serbia’s policy toward Bosnia remains what it has been since the late Milosevic era – with variations in intensity – which is to preserve the country in its dismembered, dysfunctional state, and preserve the RS. However, I am deeply concerned that Croatia, which under Stipe Mesic pursued a positive policy toward Bosnia, is indeed now reverting to Tudjman’s policy of collaboration with Belgrade and the RS on an anti-Bosnian basis. In Croatia, as was the case with other countries in the region such as Hungary and Bulgaria, entry into the EU has removed restraints on bad behaviour, and the Croatian right-wing is on the warpath: as witnessed in the campaign against gay marriage and against the Cyrillic alphabet.
On the other hand, another cause for concern is the role being played by Dejan Jovic, who is Chief Analyst and Special Coordinator at the Office of the President of the Republic of Croatia. Jovic recently wrote a book review in the Croatian journal ‘Politicka Misao’, in which he praised a book by David Gibbs, ‘First Do No Harm: Humanitarian Intervention and the Destruction of Yugoslavia’, as ‘excellent, original and convincing’. This book is a propaganda tract that denies the genocide in Srebrenica and accuses the Bosniaks of provoking the massacre, and also accuses the Bosnian armed forces and government of having shelled their own civilians in Sarajevo, and of having deliberately increased their suffering during the siege, in order to blame it on the Serbs. Gibbs’s book regurgitates the Serb-nationalist interpretation, whereby Yugoslavia was destroyed, and Serbia victimised, by hostile Western powers. When the Croatian president’s chief analyst and special coordinator praises a book containing such views, Bosnia has to be afraid.
What is it about the anniversary of World War One that so arouses Serb feeling ?
According to the traditional Serbian patriotic interpretation, World War I was for Serbia a heroic national struggle against Austro-Hungarian and German imperialism, and straightforward war for self-defence and for the liberation and unification of the South Slavs. However, the reality is somewhat more complicated. It is true that Serbia by 1914 had experienced decades of bullying by Austria-Hungary, which sought at all times to subordinate it to Habsburg imperial interests. On the other hand, Serbia had its own expansionist goals directed toward Austro-Hungarian territory, particularly toward Bosnia-Hercegovina. The extreme-nationalist, terrorist organisation ‘Unification or Death’ (the ‘Black Hand’) was deeply embedded within the Serbian Army and exercised a great deal of influence over Serbian politics, and it was responsible for the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo in June 1914. Serbia was not to blame for the fact that World War I happened, as it was ultimately caused by the competing imperial interests of the great powers – Britain, France, Russia, Germany and Austria-Hungary, all of which were guilty. But an objective analysis of the reasons why the war broke out must necessarily challenge the traditional Serbian patriotic view of the conflict.
* The meaning of certain passages was altered slightly in translation and editing in the version published in Dnevni Avaz. These passages have been highlighted here.
The Daily Mail’s leaking of Mehdi Hasan’s letter to Paul Dacre did not reveal Mehdi’s hypocrisy, merely an uncomfortable truth: these days, if you want to write for any outlet, you will probably have to disregard profound political differences with it while capitalising on the ground you share. That a left-wing journalist like Mehdi should admire some of the Mail’s values while loathing others is almost inevitable. For though the model of a simple binary political division between the Left and the Right may have appeared plausible during the 1980s, today it no longer does, and boundaries are increasingly blurred.
According to the dictum attributed to Edmund Burke, all that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing. Yet evil will triumph even more easily if good men help the evil-doers. In the Syrian civil war, with more than 80,000 dead and no end in sight, that is what the European Union has been doing, by upholding an arms embargo on the supply of weapons to all sides.
This in practice assists Bashar al-Assad’s dictatorship; freezing in place its military superiority over the poorly armed Free Syrian Army, and enabling the dictatorship better to massacre its own citizens. FSA soldiers, demoralized by their shortage of arms, have been responding by defecting to the relatively well-equipped Islamist militia Jabhat al-Nusra, whose leader Abu Mohammed al-Jolani had pledged loyalty to al-Qaeda.
Meanwhile, Iran systematically violates the arms embargo by sending arms to its Syrian ally.
Continue reading at Left Foot Forward
In an opinion piece in the Guardian entitled ‘We eurozoners must create a United States of Europe’, the Cambridge historian Brendan Simms calls for ‘the immediate creation of an Anglo-American style fiscal and military union of the eurozone’ as a means of resolving the eurozone crisis. This should, Simms argues, involve ‘the creation of a European parliament with legislative powers; a one-off federalising of all state debt through the issue of union bonds to be backed by the entire tax revenue of the common currency zone (with a debt ceiling for member states thereafter); the supervised dissolution of insolvent private-sector financial institutions; and a single European army, with a monopoly on external force projection.’ Such a union should be modelled on the successful examples of the Anglo-Scottish union of 1707 and the United States of America: ‘The British and the American unions made history. If we eurozoners do not act quickly and create a single state on Anglo-American lines, we will be history too – but not in the way we had hoped’ (‘we’, because the author is Irish, as well as German on his mother’s side).
In a follow-up piece in the Evening Standard, subtitled ‘Only Germany can be trusted to restructure the failed eurozone into a democratic single European state’, Simms argues:
‘Last week, one British journalist described Frau Merkel as a potential European Abraham Lincoln. What we require, however, is not somebody to defend the current union — which is broken beyond repair — but to create a new one. The better analogy is with the 19th-century Prussian Chancellor Otto von Bismarck, who created the Second German Empire out of the ruins of the old and ineffective German Confederation. Today, the eurozone needs a democratic Bismarck, probably though not necessarily from Germany.’
This is a particularly interesting proposal, given that Brendan is the founder and titular president of the Henry Jackson Society (HJS), of which he is also a trustee. He founded the HJS as a centrist, pro-European political force, but it has since lurched in a right-wing and Europhobic direction, and its leading figures actively despise the pro-European principles espoused by those such as their own nominal president.
The HJS’s Associate Director, Douglas Murray, appointed in April 2011, is on record as having stated that ‘the EU is a monstrosity – no good can come of it… The best thing could just simply be for it to be razed to the ground and don’t start again [sic]‘).
Prominent HJS supporter William Shawcross, who was appointed as a trustee of the organisation in October 2011 and resigned a year later to avoid a conflict of interest, is on record as claiming that ‘New Labour has forced Britain to become a mere piece of the bland but increasingly oppressive Bambiland of the E.U., promoting such PC global issues as gay rights (except in Muslim lands) and man-made climate change.’ Furthermore, ‘The Lib-Dems are in many ways even more dangerously authoritarian than Labour. Clegg is an extreme Europhile. They want the Euro and total control by Brussels, amnesty for hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants, disarmament, and attacks on wealth-creating businesses like Marks and Spencer.’
The HJS’s Executive Director Alan Mendoza – the real owner and controller of the HJS – attacked the EU at the conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) in March of this year, accusing it of being hostile to Israel. As reported by the Washington Jewish Week‘s Suzanne Pollak, he blamed this on the EU’s supranational character and on its rising immigrant and Muslim population:
‘European countries should be electing economic experts, but instead they are “responding by moving toward extremism. Europe has lost its sense of greatness. They have lost faith in their abilities” to deal with their specific problems, he said. Immigration is also a reason for rising anti-Israel feelings. In 1998, 3.2 percent of Spain was foreign-born. In 2007, that percent had jumped to 13.4 percent, Mendoza said. In cities such as London, Paris and Copenhagen, 10 percent of residents are Muslim. “The European Muslim population has doubled in the past 30 years and is predicted to double again by 2040,” he said.
For all the benefits that immigration has brought, it has been difficult for European countries to absorb immigrants into their society given their failure to integrate newcomers. Regardless of their political views, Muslims in Europe will likely speak out against Israel whenever any Middle Eastern news breaks, just as they will against India in the Kashmir dispute. Their voices are heard well above the average Europeans, who tend not to speak out Mendoza said, adding that the Muslim immigrants do this with full knowledge that they would not be allowed to speak out like that in many Middle Eastern countries.
Yet another reason Israel is demonized is that it is a nationalist state, but Europe turned against that concept following World War II. “They are supernational, and Israel is just national,” he said.’
Thus, in the view of the people at the head of the HJS, the EU is a ‘monstrosity’; an ‘oppressive Bambiland’ containing too many Muslims and immigrants, whose ‘supernational’ character leads it to despise ‘nationalist’ states such as Israel, and that ought to be ‘razed to the ground’.
How is it possible for such an extremely anti-European outfit to retain, as its titular president, a visionary supporter of deep European integration; of a ‘United States of Europe’, no less ? After all, James Rogers, who along with Simms was the other leading creator of the HJS, was repudiated by the organisation because he published a letter in The Times calling for Britain’s signature of the EU constitution treaty, and signing it with his HJS affiliation. Part of the answer is that Simm’s articles, unlike those of other HJS staff members, simply do not appear on the HJS website. This is the case not only for articles arguing a position which for the HJS is anathema – such as greater European integration – but also for those with which it agrees, such as the need for intervention in Syria. Despite being an incomparably more serious intellectual figure than the other HJS staff members, as well as the organisation’s principal founder, his name does not even appear on its list of authors. Conversely, Simm’s articles do not mention his HJS affiliation.
The ‘Project for Democratic Union‘, which Simms established to promote his ideas about Europe, has a name that recalls the HJS’s ‘Project for Democratic Geopolitics’, but is otherwise entirely separate from – and unendorsed by – the HJS. The two organisations did jointly host a talk by Simms on the project of a ‘United States of Europe’, at which he apparently argued that ‘the Democratic Union should then work closely with the other great democracies, especially Great Britain and the United States… while British support for such a project is highly desirable, her involvement in the new state would be incompatible with national sovereignty, and in any case unnecessary. What is now required is not a European Britain but a British Europe.’ Arguing for deeper eurozone – as opposed to EU – integration may be a way of reconciling the HJS’s Europhobia with Simms’s Europhilia. Yet an alliance of convenience between hard-line British Eurosceptics on the one hand, and non-British Euro-federalist supporters of deeper integration for a geographically narrower Europe without Britain on the other, may not ultimately prove fruitful.
Brendan, in fact, supports a much deeper model of European integration than the HJS ever previously did, even at the time of its pro-European inception, when it favoured a broader, looser EU expanded to include Turkey and former-Soviet states such as Ukraine and Georgia. His new vision is not one that I share. The successes of the Anglo-Scottish and American unions were built upon radical measures that cannot feasibly be translated to the eurozone context: in the case of the first, the abolition of Scotland’s separate statehood and parliament; in the case of the second, the actual military conquest and crushing of the South by the North in a brutal civil war. As for the precedent of Bismarck and the German Second Reich – it should not need pointing out that their legacy has not been entirely positive. ‘Democratic Bismarck’ is an oxymoron, of course.
I feel relieved that Britain has avoided joining the euro, with the concomitant erosion of national sovereignty and democracy that this would have involved; a loss that Greece, Cyprus, Portugal and other South European states in particular are feeling. Yet the establishment of a United States of Europe incorporating only the eurozone and excluding the rest of the EU would consign Britain and other non-eurozone members to the geopolitical backwater of a second-tier Europe. Britain has traditionally sought to prevent the domination of Europe by any foreign power, and it is unclear why abandoning this policy now should be in our interest. While there may be Brits who love European unity so much that they are willing to sacrifice the national sovereignty of the Portuguese, Spanish, Italians, Greeks and others in order to save it, I cannot help but feel that the double standard will not pass unnoticed among these nations, and that they will be rightly reluctant to make a sacrifice that Britain, equally rightly, does not want to make itself. Finally, if Mendoza’s reasoning is correct, then the United States of Europe, as a ‘supernational’ state, will presumably be extremely anti-Israel, and may even criticise a West Bank settlement or two.
Nevertheless, Brendan is right that eurozoners, and leaders and citizens of the EU generally, have to think as Europeans, not as narrow nationalists, and take radical measures to rescue European unity. Absorption in a federal European super-state would not be in the national interest of Britain (or of any EU member), yet it is the anti-European separatists who pose a greater threat to Britain’s national interest, as they threaten to consign us to the status of an isolated, inward-looking geopolitical irrelevance – a UN Security Council permanent member aping Norway or Switzerland.
What a pity that the HJS, a think-tank established in part to promote a powerful Britain at the heart of a vibrant, expanding European Union, has been hijacked by those working for the opposite goal.
Update: Since this post was published, HJS Associate Director Douglas Murray has published, in The Wall Street Journal, what can only be interpreted as an outright rebuke of Simms: ‘For as Brussels and its foxes throughout Europe kept crashing the continent into walls, they also kept pretending that their way of ordering things—an undemocratic, increasingly expensive United States of Europe—was the only reasonable option.’ The article, which carries Murray’s HJS affiliation, lauds the UK Independence Party (UKIP), which favours Britain’s secession from the EU.
Another article written at about the same time by a senior HJS staff member – Raheem Kassam, at the time HJS Director of Communications, subsequently removed from the post, though he remains an HJS Associate Fellow – has called for a Tory-UKIP electoral alliance, arguing ‘it seems the Tory-UKIP rollercoaster is determined, like most rollercoasters, to have us a) wondering how and why the hell we got on this ride and b) despite some vomit-inducing moments, hoping it will never stop.’ Kassam, as editor of The Commentator, which is published from the HJS office, is on record as stating ‘I also loathe the European Union’.
The sequel to this article is: Alan Mendoza’s Henry Jackson Society and William Shawcross’s Charity Commission
Alan Mendoza’s twitteraudit score – 93% fake !
Earlier this year, I resigned from the Henry Jackson Society (HJS) and requested that my name be removed from its website. The HJS is a UK think-tank frequently described as ‘neoconservative’. It includes among its Trustees Michael Gove, the current Secretary of State for Education, and it is alleged to have influenced the foreign policy of David Cameron and William Hague. It currently serves as a secretariat, at the House of Commons, to the All-Party Parliamentary Groups for Transatlantic and International Security and for Homeland Security. I had held a senior post within this organisation for seven years, first as Greater Europe Co-Director, then as European Neighbourhood Section Director. However, I reluctantly had to face the fact that the HJS has degenerated to the point where it is a mere caricature of its former self. No longer is it a centrist, bipartisan think-tank seeking to promote democratic geopolitics through providing sober, objective and informed analysis to policy-makers. Instead, it has become an abrasively right-wing forum with an anti-Muslim tinge, churning out polemical and superficial pieces by aspiring journalists and pundits that pander to a narrow readership of extreme Europhobic British Tories, hardline US Republicans and Israeli Likudniks. The story of the HJS’s degeneration provides an insight into the obscure backstage world of Conservative politics.
There are three factors that define this degeneration. The first is that almost all the people who founded and established the HJS have either left or been edged out of the organisation. According to its Wikipedia entry as it currently stands, ‘The society was founded in March 2005 by academics and students at Cambridge (mostly affiliated with the Centre for International Studies), including Brendan Simms, Dr. Alan Mendoza, Marko Attila Hoare (who has since severed his links with the society), Gideon Mailer, James Rogers and Matthew Jamison.’ The list should include also John Bew, Martyn Frampton and Gabriel Glickman. None of these people are now left, except Mendoza as Executive Director, and Simms as nominal president (or possibly president of the Cambridge branch; the website is ambiguous on this point, probably deliberately). Simms is the only intellectually serious figure still attached to the organisation, but no longer has much – if any – influence over it.
The second factor is that there is absolutely no internal democracy in the HJS, nor any transparency or rules of procedure. Absolutely none whatsoever. Less than in the Islamic Republic of Iran. Probably less than in the Syrian Arab Republic. As someone with an early background in far-left politics, I grew up with groups like the Socialist Workers Party, in which total power is held by one or two leaders, but the totalitarianism is disguised by window-dressing consisting of branch meetings, annual conferences, meetings of the Politburo and the like. Well, the HJS is like that, but without the window-dressing: there isn’t even the pretence of democracy or consultation. Instead, the organisation operates on the basis of cronyism and intrigue. Sole power is held by one individual – Executive Director Alan Mendoza. He was not elected to the post and is not subject even to formal or technical restraints, nor to performance review and renewal of contract.
The third factor is that, although the HJS was intended to be a centrist, bi-partisan organisation, its leadership has now moved far to the right, and abandoned any pretence of being bi-partisan or pro-European (its Associate Director, Douglas Murray, is on record as having stated that ‘the EU is a monstrosity – no good can come of it… The best thing could just simply be for it to be razed to the ground and don’t start again [sic]’). Most of the people who left or have been purged are of a broadly centre-left outlook and background: Rogers and Jamison are Labour Party supporters; I came from an early background in Trotskyist politics; Mailer and Bew also came from left-wing backgrounds.
Things were not always this way. When the HJS was founded on the initiative of Brendan Simms back in 2005, it was an organisation intended to transcend the left-right divide, uniting Labour and Conservative supporters on a platform of supporting a progressive, forward foreign policy, involving the promotion of democracy and human rights globally. It was set up as a reaction against the conservative-realist right and the anti-imperialist left, whose hostility to the idea of progressive intervention abroad led them to line up behind dictators such as Slobodan Milosevic and Robert Mugabe. The HJS was supposed to be both pro-American and pro-European. It was Simms’s insight that, in order to be an important player on the world stage, Britain had to be centrally involved in European affairs. As he explained in his book Three Victories and a Defeat: The Rise and Fall of the First British Empire, 1714-1783 (Penguin, 2008), Britain’s defeat in the American War of Independence and loss of its American colonies was the direct result of its withdrawal from European affairs.
The HJS’s members were young academics, most of them graduate students of Simms’s, and it was run in a collegiate and democratic manner. There were regular meetings at which policy and organisational activities were discussed. Simms was the de facto leader, by virtue of being the founder and the oldest and most senior individual, but everyone was free to participate and express themselves, it being recognised that there were significant political differences amongst us, and that this was a good thing, since the HJS was supposed to be a broad church.
In those comradely early days of the HJS, it was difficult to appreciate just how important it should have been to establish clear rules of procedure, rights of membership and good governance. Unfortunately, this was not done, and the organisation grew exponentially while remaining dangerously informal and opaque in its internal organisation. When, after all the hard work and efforts of the founding members, the HJS was able to acquire a London office, it was at once the mark of its success and the start of its internal degeneration. It was now no longer so easy to assemble the still mostly Cambridge-based team for regular meetings. The move to London occurred shortly after Brendan Simms, the HJS’s President and founder, opted to retreat from day-t0-day management of the organisation, while James Rogers, the Director of Operations, scaled back his activities. Mendoza, the Executive Director, took over the central role in managing the organisation. By default, power fell into his lap.
Alan Mendoza is an ambitious young professional politician of the Conservative Party and a former Tory local councillor in the London Borough of Brent. According to his HJS page, he is ‘Founder and President of the Disraelian Union, a London-based progressive Conservative think-tank and discussion forum, and has worked to develop relationships and ideas between political networks in the United Kingdom, United States and Europe. He is also Chief Advisor to the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Transatlantic & International Security and the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Homeland Security’. However, unlike Rogers and Simms, Mendoza is not someone with a grand vision or a developed geopolitical philosophy to put forward. He has not produced much in the way of analysis, and did not contribute to The British Moment; the HJS’s manifesto, published in 2006 and still one of the very few genuine publications that this think-tank has produced. The HJS website, at the time of writing, contains only two articles by Mendoza – one from March 2011 and one from May 2012. Instead, Mendoza’s field was administration: he had helped run such bodies as the Disraelian Dining Society and the Cambridge University Conservative Association. Once he took over the running of the HJS from Rogers and Simms, Mendoza had his hands on all the levers of power within the organisation, of which the most important was control of the website. Mendoza set about converting the HJS into his personal fiefdom, packing its staff with his own apparatchiks recruited via his personal network.
The practice of regular staff meetings was now ended, and staff members were no longer consulted or even informed about major policy or organisational decisions. In practice, Mendoza just did whatever he wanted to, adding or removing staff to and from the website and inventing or erasing their virtual job-titles as and when he felt like it. For example, a certain Duncan Crossey was one of two founders and co-presidents of a Conservative organisation called the Disraelian Union. The other founder and co-president was Mendoza. It was thus perhaps not entirely for meritocratic reasons that Crossey was appointed for a while to the grandiose but meaningless title of ‘Political Director of the Henry Jackson Society’. I’m not aware of him having done much political directing while he held this virtual title, but it’s something he can put on his CV.
The other Old Bolsheviks lasted only until they had outlived their usefulness, and until Mendoza was in a position to get rid of them. In my own case, Mendoza once informed me that having established experts such as myself in the HJS allowed it to ‘punch above its weight’ as a think-tank. He needed my name and reputation as a Balkan expert to lend credibility to the HJS, while it was still in the process of establishing itself.
On 31 July 2007, James Rogers had a letter published in The Times, arguing in favour of Britain’s signature of the EU constitution treaty. He signed the letter ‘Director of Operations of the Henry Jackson Society’. This letter provoked the ire of one the HJS’s right-wing Eurosceptic supporters, who sent a complaint to the Society about the pro-European line it was endorsing, along with an ultimatum that Rogers’s letter be repudiated. The gentleman in question was oblivious to the fact that the HJS’s statement of principles explicitly supported European defence integration. Nevertheless, Mendoza published a ‘correction’ prominently on the HJS website, stating that Rogers had incorrectly and wrongly attributed his personal views to the HJS as a whole. Mendoza did this entirely on his own initiative, without consulting Simms (who was out of the country at the time) or Rogers himself. It was a very public repudiation by the HJS of Rogers – the man whose hard work over a long period had done more than anyone’s to launch the Society – and prompted his resignation as Director of Operations and withdrawal from virtually all HJS activity.
In reality, Rogers had not violated the HJS’s rules and procedures, which did not exist in any written or codified form. He had, in fact, previously published several letters in British newspapers on his own initiative, signed with his HJS affiliation, without being so much as criticised privately by his HJS colleagues, let alone publicly repudiated. The ‘correction’ was simply an expression of Mendoza’s personal policy and control of the website, and his desire to appease a relatively minor Conservative Party figure. In the years to come, Mendoza would do much more on his own personal initiative than simply publish a letter in a newspaper, but would issue policy statements, merge the organisation with other organisations, and change senior staff members’ job titles or purge them altogether – all without consulting his colleagues.
The HJS was organised on the basis of ‘Sections’ for different parts of the world, with ‘Section Directors’ responsible for analysis in their own area. Soon after the HJS’s creation, Simms and Rogers devised a scheme, whereby Section Directors would, every month, write one report in their field and republish one other article from an external website or author. Eventually, we would receive in return a nominal payment of £50 per month. Section Directors could post their articles directly onto the website. While it lasted, this system ensured that the HJS’s analysis did not represent the views of just one or two leaders at the top, but rather those of a range of regional experts. It guaranteed the organisation’s pluralism, but only until the Section Directors had served their purpose, Mendoza’s personal fiefdom had been established and he could jettison them.
One example of how this jettisoning was done was the case of Matthew Jamison, Section Director for Britain. Jamison had been centrally involved with the HJS from its foundation, and organised the very first meeting of the embryonic society at Peterhouse, Cambridge in autumn 2004. He was a principal organiser of many events and roundtable discussions and seminars, including the HJS’s Westminster launch in November 2005 and the book launch of The British Moment in July 2006. However, he was never paid for any of the work he did, nor did he receive expenses for the times he hosted guests of the Society for PR purposes (though the guests’ meals were paid for). He did not receive payment for the analytical pieces he wrote for the HJS either. In effect, he subsidised the HJS over a period of years. But this effort was not rewarded or appreciated – on the contrary. One day, Jamison woke up to find that on the HJS website, he was no longer listed as ‘Section Director for Britain’, and that someone else’s name appeared in his place. This occurred without any prior warning or consultation; it was simply the personal decision of the Executive Director. Eventually, Jamison’s name would be removed from the website altogether – again without any prior warning or consultation. This sort of treatment has been the norm.
The people who replaced the HJS founders at the head of the organisation were staff members of another think-tank: the Israel-advocacy organisation ‘Just Journalism’, of which Mendoza was a member of the Advisory Board and which shared the HJS’s London office. At the time of Just Journalism’s launch in March 2008, the Spectator columnist Melanie Phillips wrote of it that ‘A very welcome and desperately-needed initiative has just been launched to monitor distortions, bias and prejudice in British media coverage of the Middle East.’
(Following the international recognition of Kosovo’s independence in February 2008, Phillips wrote in the Spectator: ‘It was at the Battle of Kosovo in 1389 that some 70,000 died to keep the Islamic Ottoman Empire from advancing further into Europe. What is the point of fighting the jihad in Iraq when we are cheerfully opening the door to it in that very same place?’ Despite, or perhaps because of such a worldview, Phillips’s books were until recently advertised on the HJS website).
Just Journalism was forced to close in September 2011, only three and a half years after its launch, due to lack of funds, but not before this financially destitute outfit had taken over its financially thriving room-mate. Just Journalism’s Executive Director, Michael Weiss, joined the HJS staff in March 2010. His title has been redefined at least a couple of times and at one point he was ‘Acting Director of Research’, then as ‘Director of Communications and Public Relations’.
Image: Michael Weiss
Some months before Just Journalism closed, Weiss had ceased to be its Executive Director, serving for a while as its spokesman. He says he was taken by surprise by the news that the organisation was to be closed. However, by that time he was safely ensconced in the HJS. I was aware that he had joined the team but otherwise knew nothing about him, though I had accepted his ‘friend’ request on Facebook (temporarily, as it turned out). I became rather more aware of him last autumn, when he tried unsuccessfully to prevent me publishing my regular monthly report on the HJS website, on the grounds that, as ‘Acting Director of Research’, it was up to him to decide what was published there. I had by then been contributing articles to the HJS website for six years, and that was the first time I had ever heard of that rule, or of that title. (‘Acting’ was the operative word, for Weiss didn’t appear to direct much in the way of research while he held that virtual title. This virtual title was short-lived, and Weiss was then listed for a while as ‘Director of Communications and Public Relations’, while the HJS apparently managed to function without any ‘Director of Research’, ‘acting’ or otherwise. Now Weiss is again listed as ‘Director of Research’, though it is possible that his title will change again in a couple of months).
Since the report that I had written and that Weiss tried to veto was scarcely out of keeping with the HJS ‘line’, and since I had never had any previous dealings with Weiss, I do not attribute his behaviour to political or personal differences with me. Indeed, the report was subsequently republished by The Commentator, the website of senior HJS staff-member Robin Shepherd. Weiss was either attempting to throw his weight around in the section of Mendoza’s fiefdom assigned to him, or was enacting Mendoza’s policy of squeezing out what remained of the other HJS founding members.
On the occasion in question, Mendoza overruled Weiss, and agreed to publish my report on the HJS blog. Given that the HJS had contracted me to write a monthly report, he may have been legally obliged to do this. But at our last meeting, Mendoza did confirm to me that it would henceforth be up to ‘them’ to approve who published what on the website. Under Weiss’s direction, the website has been not entirely ungenerous in providing space for the promotion of his own work: at the time this article was first drafted, no fewer than five of the ten ‘commentary’ articles and three of the ten ‘blog’ articles on the HJS website were by Weiss. And Weiss is not, be it remembered, an academic expert on Syria and the Middle East in the manner of someone like Daniel Pipes, but merely an activist with strong views who follows events there closely.
Recently, Weiss has reinvented himself also as an expert on Russia – about which he has no more academic expertise than he does about the Middle East – using as his launch-pad the HJS website. The latter now hosts a Potemkin-village ‘Russia Studies Centre’, which describes itself grandiloquently as a ‘research and advocacy centre’, but is really just a website where Weiss blogs about Russia. Such amateurism is now the norm: of the staff members listed for the London office, Mendoza alone appears to be educated to PhD level, while the average age for those working there is below 30. The website has even started to include anonymous blogger types among its authors, at one point including a certain ‘Brett’, whose surname wasn’t listed.
In addition to Weiss, two other members of Just Journalism’s Advisory Board joined the HJS’s senior staff: Robin Shepherd as ‘Director of International Affairs’ and Douglas Murray as ‘Associate Director’. Thus, four of the six top posts in the HJS are now held by former managers of Just Journalism. They have ensured that the HJS’s political goals have departed radically to those with which it was founded.
Murray was and is also the director of another outfit, the ‘Centre for Social Cohesion’. Or rather, he is the Centre for Social Cohesion: the ‘About Us‘ section of its website says only that ‘Douglas Murray is the Director of the Centre for Social Cohesion. Murray is a bestselling author and political commentator who regularly appears in the British and foreign press and media. A columnist for Standpoint magazine, he writes for a variety of other publications, including the Sunday Times, Spectator and Wall Street Journal. He is an Associate Director at the Henry Jackson Society. As of the 1 April 2011 CSC personnel has joined the Henry Jackson Society. CSC will continue to operate as a non-partisan independent organisation specialising in studying radicalisation and extremism within Britain.’ That is how the organisation defines itself.
In April 2011, the Centre for Social Cohesion merged with the HJS. This merger was engineered by Mendoza without consulting or even informing in advance other HJS staff members; I and others learned about it only from the announcement on the public mailing list. The merger was incongruous, since whereas the HJS was intended to be a bi-partisan organisation promoting democratic geopolitics, Murray’s interest lay in opposing Islam and immigration (thus, a few days after the announcement of the merger, Murray published an article in The Express entitled ‘Britain has let in far too many foreigners’).
‘Conditions for Muslims in Europe must be made harder across the board: Europe must look like a less attractive proposition. We in Europe owe – after all – no special dues to Islam. We owe them no religious holidays, special rights or privileges. From long before we were first attacked it should have been made plain that people who come into Europe are here under our rules and not theirs. There is not an inch of ground to give on this one. Where a mosque has become a centre of hate it should be closed and pulled down. If that means that some Muslims don’t have a mosque to go to, then they’ll just have to realise that they aren’t owed one. Grievances become ever-more pronounced the more they are flattered and the more they are paid attention to. So don’t flatter them.’
‘It is late in the day, but Europe still has time to turn around the demographic time-bomb which will soon see a number of our largest cities fall to Muslim majorities. It has to. All immigration into Europe from Muslim countries must stop. In the case of a further genocide such as that in the Balkans, sanctuary would be given on a strictly temporary basis. This should also be enacted retrospectively. Those who are currently in Europe having fled tyrannies should be persuaded back to the countries which they fled from once the tyrannies that were the cause of their flight have been removed.’
‘We do have a problem; we have a problem when the failures of Islam throughout the world; the failures of all Islamic societies come here into Britain. Their intolerance of freedom of conscience; their intolerance of apostates; their intolerance of freedom of expression and freedom of speech; their intolerance of minorities, other religious minorities, sexual minorities; their intolerance of gays; their dislike and distrust of half of the population – women; and many, many other things. And they call, what is more, for a parallel legal system within Britain and European societies. This is monstrous; no other group behaves like this – asks for parallel laws. This is a fundamental problem, and it’s one we’re going to have to deal with. It’s a problem between a society – Western Europe – that believes that laws are based on reason, and Islam that believes that they are based on revelation. Between these two ideas, I’m not sure there is very much compromise for Europe. It is not Europe that has let down its Muslims, but the Muslims of Europe that have let down Europe. … It is not Europe that has failed its Muslims; it is Islam that has failed Europe.’
Murray is also on record as saying of Robert Spencer (the director of Stop the Islamization of America, proprietor of the viciously anti-Muslim website Jihad Watch and a loud denier of the Srebrenica genocide): ‘I happen to know Robert Spencer; I respect him; he’s a very brilliant scholar and writer’.
Image: Douglas Murray with Robert Spencer of Jihad Watch
I was shocked that someone with such extreme views about Muslims and Islam should be appointed Associate Director of the HJS. I published an article on my blog explaining how it had been foisted on the HJS without consultation with senior staff members, and condemning his views on Muslims and Islam (after informing Mendoza and Simms well in advance that I would do so). After this article was published, Mendoza phoned me to try to pressurise me to remove it, claiming that Murray would otherwise sue me for libel. By way of warning, he pointed out that Murray had previously threatened legal action against Sunny Hundal, editor of Liberal Conspiracy, forcing him to remove a reference to him on Hundal’s website. On another occasion, he had apparently pressurised the Huffington Post into removing references to him as well. In the words of The Commentator, the website of senior HJS staff-member Robin Shepherd: ‘Murray warned the Huffpo that its time in Britain would be short if it persisted in libeling people in this manner. At which point, the Huffington Post agreed to remove references to Murray from the story.’
I refused to delete or substantially alter the content of my article, but I agreed to make some minor changes. I had quoted some not entirely unambiguously negative comments that Murray had made about the English Defence League (EDL), and at Mendoza’s express request, I agreed to insert into the text a somewhat more negative statement that Murray had previously made about the EDL. The modified article therefore balanced the less-than-negative statements that Murray had made about the EDL with a more negative one, so did greater justice to his vacillating opinion on this organisation. Mendoza also asked me to delete my description of Murray’s views on Islam as ‘bigoted and intolerant’; I agreed to delete ‘bigoted’ but refused to delete ‘intolerant’. Thus, my article about him concluded with ‘I consider his views on Islam and Muslims to be intolerant, ignorant, two-dimensional and, frankly, horrifying.’
Video: Douglas Murray, Associate Director of the HJS, comments on the EDL in November 2011
Murray’s behaviour, in this instance and in the others mentioned above, was somewhat hypocritical, given that he has appeared as a speaker at entire conferences dedicated to attacking Muslims for employing libel ‘lawfare’ to silence criticism of Islam. On at least one such occasion, he did so alongside Mendoza. Or as he put it: ‘If there were one thing I would wish Muslims in Europe could learn today, as fast as possible, it would be this: you have no right, in this society, not to be offended. You have no right to say that because you don’t like something, you would use violence or you would like something to be stopped or censored…’.
In retrospect, I should have resigned from the HJS at this point, but I was encouraged to stay by the fact that all three of the founding members with whom I discussed my article (apart from Mendoza) sympathised or agreed with it. I wrongly believed that this constituted some guarantee that the HJS would remain true to its founding principles and retain a pluralistic character. I didn’t realise the extent to which the Just Journalism clique had expropriated all power within the organisation, and that the other founding members were all now wholly irrelevant within it.
By appointing as his ‘Associate Director’ a pundit known primarily for his polemics against Muslims and Islam, Mendoza signalled a change, not only in the HJS’s political orientation, but also in its tone. Since then, instead of sober analytical pieces providing analysis and suggesting strategy, the HJS website has been filled with republished op-eds of a more polemical nature, seemingly calculated not so much to influence policy-makers as to pander to the HJS’s increasingly right-wing readership. Thus, the HJS has published or republished several articles attacking the marginal, maverick far-left UK politician George Galloway (Douglas Murray, ‘Behind Galloway’s Grin’; George Grant, ‘Galloway back in parliament: Not free from imperialist yoke yet’ and ‘George Galloway is no friend of the Arab world’; as well as a video of ‘Houriya Ahmed on George Galloway’s election’).
Conversely, the HJS’s coverage of more serious international political issues has been less copious. For example, it has made virtually no attempt to provide any strategic analysis, or suggest policy, regarding the Eurozone crisis (James Rogers would have been ideally qualified to do this, had he remained in the organisation). The HJS has effectively given up on analysis of most parts of the world. Its founding member Gideon Mailer was an Africa expert and had written the chapter on Africa in The British Moment, but he too has long ceased to have any voice in the organisation, so the HJS has given up on covering sub-Saharan Africa, except in relation to the Islamist threat. Its geographical focus is now mostly limited to the Middle East and Russia, with some coverage of British and US domestic affairs. The ‘France’ category of the HJS contains, at the time of writing, seven articles: four on the Islamist perpetrator of the Toulouse killings; one in support of the jailing of a French Muslim woman for violating the burkha ban; and one attacking President Sarkozy for his hostility to Binyamin Netanyahu. And the seventh doesn’t say much about France either.
Coverage of the Middle East has, indeed, largely squeezed out the rest of the world, and has become less about policy and more about commentary. But even here, the increasingly blog-like character of the website has taken its toll so far as quality and consistency are concerned. As recently as August, Weiss rejected the possibility of Western military intervention in Syria on the grounds that ‘in contrast to Libya’s expansive geography, Syria is a densely-packed country where the proximity of military installations to civilian population centers is too close to allow for an aerial bombardment campaign without incurring heavy civilian casualties.’ This article has been removed from the HJS website, but is available elsewhere. Four months later, he argued the opposite: that civilian losses could be ‘minimized given the technological and strategic superiority of Western powers.’ Either the second conclusion is questionable or the first was made too hastily.
In exchange for abandoning its geopolitical, policy-making focus and its coverage of most global regions, the HJS has inherited Murray’s obsession with British Islamism and Islam generally. But it has shown no equivalent concern with white or Christian extremism; there are no articles on its website concerning groups like the British National Party or EDL. It has published at least four articles on the Toulouse killings by a lone Islamist, but none on the massacres carried out by Anders Behring Breivik in Norway in July. Actually, as European Neighbourhood Section Director, I did publish an article on Breivik and the European anti-Islamic far-right, in which I concluded that ‘The Islamophobic, anti-immigration far-right is the no. 1 internal threat in Western Europe to European society and Western values today.’ This article was immediately removed from the website and resulted in me having my right to post articles directly to the HJS website revoked.
Mendoza’s last reorganisation of the website, earlier this year, resulted in all the remaining founding members of the HJS being removed from the online staff-list, including myself, Mailer, Bew and Jamison – all without prior consultation or notification. When one of my colleagues, so purged, contacted Mendoza to ask about this, he was told that the HJS was ‘reducing its online presence’, and that he (Mendoza) had written to inform staff members of this, but had forgotten to include the colleague in question’s name on the mailing list. This was false, as none of us had been informed.
My own name nevertheless remained on the HJS’s list of authors, along with my biography and photo; when I wrote to ask about this, I was told I had been assigned a ‘new position’. If this was true, I have absolutely no idea what that ‘new position’ was, and whatever it was, it was certainly not one I had been invited to take up, let alone agreed to do so.
The leadership of the reconstructed HJS does not appear actually to believe in the liberal or democratic transformation of the Middle East – at least if Murray’s views on the subject are anything to go by. Yet its support for war against Middle Eastern regimes, in particular Iran, is very vocal. The HJS has thrown out the progressive and democratic baby but kept the pro-war bathwater.
Update: The right-wing anti-Muslim and anti-immigration views espoused by Murray have not become more moderate since he joined the HJS, and far from being tamed by his membership of this think-tank, it appears that the latter’s staff, above all Mendoza himself, are now espousing similar views.
In March 2013, Murray wrote: ‘To study the results of the latest census is to stare at one unalterable conclusion: mass immigration has altered our country completely. It has become a radically different place, and London has become a foreign country. In 23 of London’s 33 boroughs “white Britons” are now in a minority…
We long ago reached the point where the only thing white Britons can do is to remain silent about the change in their country. Ignored for a generation, they are expected to get on, silently but happily, with abolishing themselves, accepting the knocks and respecting the loss of their country. “Get over it. It’s nothing new. You’re terrible. You’re nothing.”
For what it is worth, it seems to me that the vindictiveness with which the concerns of white British people, and the white working and middle class in particular, have been met by politicians and pundits alike is a phenomenon in need of serious and swift attention.’
At the conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) in March, Mendoza gave the following explanation for what he claimed was the EU’s hostility to Israel (as reported by the Washington Jewish Week‘s Suzanne Pollak):
‘Immigration is also a reason for rising anti-Israel feelings [in Europe]. In 1998, 3.2 percent of Spain was foreign-born. In 2007, that percent had jumped to 13.4 percent, Mendoza said. In cities such as London, Paris and Copenhagen, 10 percent of residents are Muslim. “The European Muslim population has doubled in the past 30 years and is predicted to double again by 2040,” he said.
For all the benefits that immigration has brought, it has been difficult for European countries to absorb immigrants into their society given their failure to integrate newcomers. Regardless of their political views, Muslims in Europe will likely speak out against Israel whenever any Middle Eastern news breaks, just as they will against India in the Kashmir dispute. Their voices are heard well above the average Europeans, who tend not to speak out Mendoza said, adding that the Muslim immigrants do this with full knowledge that they would not be allowed to speak out like that in many Middle Eastern countries.
Yet another reason Israel is demonized is that it is a nationalist state, but Europe turned against that concept following World War II. “They are supernational, and Israel is just national,” he said.’
(Thanks to JC)
Review of Josip Glaurdic, The Hour of Europe: Western Powers and the Breakup of Yugoslavia, Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 2011
The break-up of Yugoslavia has generated an enormous literature – much of it poor, some of it acceptable and some of it excellent. There are several decent introductory accounts of the break-up that competently summarise familiar information. There are some very good studies of Slobodan Milosevic and his regime that do justice to the break-up as well. There are some excellent studies of sub-topics or related topics. But there have been few truly groundbreaking studies of the process as a whole. Too many of the older generation of pre-1991 Yugoslav experts had too many of their assumptions shattered by the break-up; too many journalists and casual scholars flooded the market in the 1990s with too many under-researched, third-rate works; too many younger scholars were handicapped by political prejudices that prevented them from addressing the truth squarely. Furthermore, the body of relevant primary sources has been vast and growing exponentially while the body of good supporting secondary literature has only slowly grown to a respectable size. In these circumstances, to write a groundbreaking general study of the break-up of Yugoslavia has been a difficult task that has required both a lot of talent and a lot of patient hard work.
Josip Glaurdic’s The Hour of Europe: Western Powers and the Breakup of Yugoslavia is such a study. As far as general accounts of the break-up go, there are only two or three that rival this work; none that is better. A great strength of this work lies in Glaurdic’s careful balance between the domestic and international dimensions of Yugoslavia’s break-up; he gives equal space to each and shows carefully the interaction between them. As far as the domestic dimension is concerned, he has skilfully summarised and distilled the existing knowledge about the subject as well as anybody before him. But where this book is truly original and groundbreaking is in its analysis of the international dimension. For this is the best serious, comprehensive, scholarly analysis of the role of the West – specifically, of the US, European Community and UN – in the break-up of Yugoslavia.
The mainstream literature has tended to present the West’s involvement in the break-up in terms of a reaction after the fact: Yugoslavia collapsed and war broke out due to internal causes, and the West responded with a weak, ineffective and primarily diplomatic intervention. Some excellent studies of the responses of individual Western countries have appeared, most notably by Michael Libal for Germany, Brendan Simms for Britain and Takis Michas for Greece. Apologists for the former regime of Slobodan Milosevic or for the Great Serb nationalist cause have, for their part, churned out innumerable versions of the conspiracy theory whereby the break-up of Yugoslavia was actually caused or even engineered by the West; more precisely by Germany, the Vatican and/or the IMF. But up till now, nobody has attempted to do what Glaurdic has done, let alone done it well.
Glaurdic’s innovation is to begin his study of the West’s involvement not in 1991, when full-scale war broke out in the former Yugoslavia, but in 1987, when Milosevic was assuming absolute power in Serbia. This enables him to interpret the West’s reaction to the eventual outbreak of war, not as a reflex to a sudden crisis, but as the result of a long-term policy. He places this long-term policy in the broader context of the evolution of the West’s global considerations in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The most important of these considerations concerned a state incomparably more important than Yugoslavia: the Soviet Union.
Yugoslavia’s principal significance for the Western alliance during the Cold War was as a buffer state vis-a-vis the Soviet Union and as a model of an independent, non-Soviet Communist state. These factors became less important in the second half of the 1980s, when Mikhail Gorbachev ruled the Soviet Union and the Cold War was winding down. Milosevic was initially identified by some influential Western observers as a possible ‘Balkan Gorbachev’; a Communist reformer who might bring positive change to Yugoslavia. The most important such observer was the veteran US policymaker Lawrence Eagleburger, who became deputy Secretary of State in January 1989. In his confirmation hearings in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on 15-16 March 1989, Eagleburger stated that ‘there is no question in my mind that Milosevic is in terms of economics a Western market-oriented fellow… [who] is playing on and using Serbian nationalism, which has been contained for so many years, in part I think as an effort to force the central government to come to grips with some very tough economic problems.’ (Glaurdic, p. 40).
This initial US appreciation for Milosevic dovetailed with a more important consideration: the fear that a collapse of Yugoslavia would create a precedent for the Soviet Union, weakening the position of Gorbachev himself. Of decisive importance was not merely that Western and in particular US leaders viewed Gorbachev as a valued friend, but the extreme conservatism of their ideology as regards foreign policy. Simply put, the US administration of George H.W. Bush valued stability above all else, including democratic reform, and actually preferred Communist strongmen, not only in the USSR but also in Poland, Hungary and Czechoslovakia, to the democratic opposition to them. Bush and his team feared the collapse of the Soviet Union and the destabilisation that this threatened – given, among other things, the latter’s nuclear arsenal. This led them to acquiesce readily in Soviet repression in Lithuania, Latvia, Azerbaijan and Georgia. Their acquiescence in Milosevic’s repressive policies was a natural corollary.
As Glaurdic shows, this conservative-realist worldview led the Bush Administration, right up till the end of 1991, to champion Yugoslavia’s unity rather than its democratic reform. Though the US gradually lost faith in Milosevic, its animosity in this period was above all directed at the ‘separatist’ regimes in Croatia and Slovenia. The irony was not only that Croatian and Slovenian separatism was a direct response to the aggressive policies of the Milosevic regime, but also that the latter was promoting the break-up of Yugoslavia as a deliberate policy. Through its unwillingness to oppose Milosevic and its hostility to the Croats and Slovenes, Washington in practice encouraged the force that was promoting the very break-up of Yugoslavia that it wished to avoid.
The problem was not that the Bush Administration lacked accurate intelligence as to what Milosevic’s regime was doing, but that it chose to disregard this intelligence, instead clinging blindly to its shibboleth of Yugoslav unity, indeed of Yugoslav centralisation. Thus, as Glaurdic shows, a ‘conservative realist’ ideology resulted in a highly unrealistic, dogmatic policy. In October 1990, the CIA warned the US leadership that, while the latter could do little to preserve Yugoslav unity, its statements would be interpreted and exploited by the different sides in the conflict: statements in support of Yugoslav unity would encourage Serbia while those in support of human rights and self-determination would encourage the Slovenes, Croats and Kosovars (Glaurdic, p. 110). The Bush Administration nevertheless continued to stress its support for Yugoslav unity.
This meant not only that the West failed to respond to Milosevic’s repressive and aggressive policy, but that Milosevic and his circle actually drew encouragement from the signals they received from the West. Milosevic scarcely kept his policy a secret; at a meeting with Western ambassadors in Belgrade on 16 January 1991, he informed them that he intended to allow Slovenia to secede, and to form instead an enlarged Serbian stage on the ruins of the old Yugoslavia, that would include Serb-inhabited areas of Croatia and Bosnia and that would be established through the use of force if necessary. This brazen announcement provoked US and British complaints, but no change in policy (Glaurdic, pp. 135-136).
The problem was not merely ideological rigidity and mistaken analysis on the part of Western and particular US leaders, but also sheer lack of interest. Glaurdic describes the paradoxical Western policy toward the Yugoslav Federal Prime Minister, Ante Markovic, who – unlike Milosevic – really did want to preserve Yugoslavia, and whose programme of economic reform, in principle, offered a way to achieve this. In comparison with the generous financial assistance extended to Poland in 1989-1990, no remotely similar support was offered to Markovic’s government, because in US ambassador Warren Zimmermann’s words, ‘Yugoslavia looked like a loser’. (Glaurdic, p. 68).
The US’s dogmatic support for Yugoslav unity was shared by the West European powers. Glaurdic demolishes the myth – already exploded by authors like Libal and Richard Caplan – that Germany supported or encouraged Croatia’s and Slovenia’s secession from Yugoslavia. When the president of the Yugoslav presidency, Janez Drnovsek, visited Bonn on 5 December 1989, German chancellor Helmut Kohl expressed to him his ‘appreciation for Yugoslavia’s irreplaceable role in the stability of the region and the whole of Europe’. On the same occasion, German president Richard von Weizsaecker informed the Yugoslav delegation that he supported a ‘centralised’ Yugoslavia (Glaurdic, p. 59). A year later, on 6 December 1990, German foreign minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher told his Yugoslav counterpart, Budimir Loncar, that Germany ‘has a fundamental interest in the integrity of Yugoslavia’, and consequently would make ‘the Yugoslav republics realise that separatist tendencies are damaging to the whole and very costly’ (Glaurdic, pp. 124-125).
This German opposition to Croatian and Slovenian independence continued right up till the latter was actually declared in June 1991, and beyond. According to Gerhard Almer, a German diplomat and Yugoslav specialist at the time, ‘Everything that was happening in Yugoslavia was viewed through Soviet glasses. [Genscher’s] idea was, “Well, Yugoslavia disintegrating is a bad example for Soviet disintegration, and this was bad for us since we needed a Soviet Union capable of action because we needed to get a deal with them on our unity”. This was widely accepted in the ministry.’ (Glaurdic, p. 160). Contrary to the myth of anti-Yugoslav imperialistic tendencies on the part of Helmut Kohl’s Christian Democratic government, the latter’s support for the Yugoslav status quo in the face of Belgrade’s abuses was so rigid that it provoked strong resistance from the Social Democratic opposition.
Genscher, subsequently demonised as a supposed architect of Yugoslavia’s break-up, actually resisted this pressure from the Bundestag for a shift in German policy away from unbending support for Yugoslav unity and toward greater emphasis on human rights and self-determination. The turning point for him, as Glaurdic shows, came with his visit to Belgrade on 1 July 1991, after the war in Slovenia had broken out. The combination of the overconfident Milosevic’s aggressive stance in his talk with Genscher, and the Yugoslav government’s inability to halt the Yugoslav People’s Army [JNA] operations against Slovenia, destroyed the German foreign minister’s faith in the Belgrade authorities, leading to his gradual shift in favour of Croatia and Slovenia. Eventually, after a lot more Serbian intransigence and military aggression, Germany would reverse its traditional policy by 180 degrees, and come out in favour of the recognition of Slovenia’s and Croatia’s independence, while the EC would split into pro- and anti-recognition currents of opinion.
Nevertheless, as Glaurdic shows, Germany’s change of heart was a double-edged sword, since it aroused the anti-German suspicions and rivalries of other EC states, particularly France and Britain, which consequently hardened their own stances against recognition. On 6 November 1991, while the JNA’s military assaults on the Croatian cities of Vukovar and Dubrovnik were at their peak, Douglas Hogg, the UK’s Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, explained to the Foreign Affairs Committee of the House of Commons that his government was opposed to the recognition of Croatia since it would create an ‘obstacle’ to territorial adjustments in Serbia’s favour and at Croatia’s expense. Several days later, the French president, Francois Mitterand, made a similar public statement, indicating that he saw Croatia’s existing borders as a ‘problem’ that prevented its recognition (Glaurdic, pp. 253-254).
The Bush Administration, meanwhile, acted as a brake on the EC’s shift against Belgrade and in favour of recognition, teaming up with the British and French to counter Germany’s change of policy. US Secretary of State James Baker and his deputy Lawrence Eagleburger, as well as the UN special envoy Cyrus Vance (himself a former US Secretary of State) waged a diplomatic battle in this period against any shift away from the West’s non-recognition policy, and against any singling out of Serbia for blame for the war – even as the JNA was massively escalating its assault on Vukovar in preparation for the town’s final conquest. Eagleburger had signalled to the Yugoslav ambassador in October that, although the US was aware that Milosevic was attempting to establish a Greater Serbia, it would do nothing to stop him except economic sanctions, and even these only after Greater Serbia had been actually established (Glaurdic, pp. 243-246). As late as December 1991, Vance continued to oppose recognition and to support the idea of a federal Yugoslavia, and continued moreover to put his trust in Milosevic, the JNA and Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, while viewing the Croatians dismissively as ‘these Croatian insurgents’ (Glaurdic, pp. 264-265).
Glaurdic has marshalled an enormous wealth of documentary evidence to show that the British, French and Americans, far from reacting in a weak and decisive manner to a sudden outbreak of war, actually pursued a remarkably steady and consistent policy from before the war began, right up until the eve of full-scale war in Bosnia-Hercegovina: of vocally supporting Yugoslav unity and opposing Croatian and Slovenian secession; of resisting any singling out of Serbia for blame or punishment; of opposing recognition of Slovenia and Croatia; of seeking to appease Milosevic and the JNA by extracting concessions from Croatia as the weaker side; and finally of appeasing the Serb nationalists’ desire to carve up Bosnia. EC sanctions imposed in November 1991 applied to all parts of the former Yugoslavia equally, while there was no freezing of the international assets or financial transactions through which the JNA funded its war. The UN arms embargo, whose imposition had actually been requested by the Yugoslav government itself, favoured the heavily-armed Serbian side and hurt the poorly armed Croatians. Although, largely on account of Germany’s change of heart, the EC at the start of December 1991 belatedly limited its economic sanctions to Serbia and Montenegro alone, the US immediately responded by imposing economic sanctions on the whole of Yugoslavia.
According to myth, the Western powers applied the principle of national self-determination in a manner that penalised the Serb nation and privileged the non-Serbs. As Glaurdic shows, the reverse was actually the case. In October 1991, Milosevic rejected the peace plan put forward by the EC’s Lord Carrington, which would have preserved Yugoslavia as a union of sovereign republics with autonomy for national minorities, in part because he feared it implied autonomy for the Albanians of Kosovo and the Muslims in Serbia’s Sanjak region. Carrington consequently modified his plan: Croatia would be denied any military presence whatsoever in the disputed ‘Krajina’ region, despite it being an integral part of Croatia inhabited by many Croats, while Serbia would be given a completely free hand to suppress the Kosovo Albanians and Sanjak Muslims. Carrington’s offer came just after leaders of the latter had organised referendums for increased autonomy, and after the Milosevic regime had responded with concerted police repression (Glaurdic, p. 242).
Milosevic nevertheless continued to reject the Carrington Plan in the understandable belief that the West would eventually offer him a better deal. He consequently asked Carrington to request from the EC’s Arbitration Commission, headed by Robert Badinter, an answer to the questions of whether the Serbs in Croatia and Bosnia possessed the right to self-determination, and of whether Serbia’s borders with Croatia and Bosnia should be considered borders under international law. Carrington submitted these to the Commission, along with a third question, of whether the situation in Yugoslavia was a case of secession by Slovenia and Croatia or a case of dissolution of the common state. That the Arbitration Commission ruled against Serbia on all three counts was, in Glaurdic’s words, a ‘terrible surprise for Milosevic and for many in the international community’ (p. 260), given that Badinter was a close associate of President Mitterand, whose sympathies were with Serbia’s case. The Badinter Commission’s ruling dismayed both Carrington and French foreign minister Roland Dumas, and paved the way to international recognition of Croatia and Slovenia. But it did not fundamentally change the West’s policy.
Glaurdic’s account ends with the outbreak of the war in Bosnia, which as he argues, should be seen as the logical culmination of this policy. The failure of the EC foreign ministers to recognise Bosnia’s independence in January 1992 along with Croatia’s and Slovenia’s was, in Glaurdic’s words, ‘the decision with the most detrimental long-term consequences, all of which were clearly foreseeable… The EC had missed a great chance to preempt a war that would soon make the war in Croatia pale in comparison. Of all the mistakes the European Community had made regarding the recognition of the Yugoslav republics, this one was probably the most tragic.’ (pp. 281-282). Recognition of Bosnia at this time would have upset Milosevic’s and Karadzic’s plans for destroying that republic; instead, they were given every indication that the West would acquiesce in them.
Thus, on 21-22 February 1992, Bosnia’s politicians were presented with the first draft of the plan of the EC’s Jose Cutileiro for the three-way partition of Bosnia-Hercegovina into loosely linked Serb, Croat and Muslim entities. Since the plan, based on the ethnic majorities in Bosnian municipalities, offered the Bosnian Serb nationalists ‘only’ 43.8% of Bosnian territory instead of the 66% they sought, the latter’s assembly unanimously rejected it on 11 March. Once again, the EC abandoned universal standards in order to accommodate Serb intransigence, and Cutileiro modified his plan so that the three constituent Bosnian entities ‘would be based on national principles and would be taking into account economic, geographic and other criteria’ (Glaurdic, p. 294), thereby opening the way for a Serb entity with a larger share of Bosnian territory than was justified on demographic grounds.
Ultimately, Bosnian president Alija Izetbegovic rejected the plan. But as Glaurdic writes,
‘The damage that the Cutileiro plan did to Bosnia cannot be overstated. By accepting the ethnic principle for the reorganisation of the republic, Cutileiro in essence recognised the platforms of the SDS [Serb Democratic Party led by Karadzic] and the Boban wing of the HDZ [Croat Democratic Union] and opened a Pandora’s box of ethnic division that still mars Bosnia to this very day. Cutileiro’s intent was obviously to appease the Bosnian Serbs and their Belgrade sponsor into not implementing their massive war machinery. However, instead of lowering tensions and giving the three parties an impetus to keep negotiating, the plan actually gave them a “charter for ethnic cleansing”.’ (p. 290)
In these circumstances, the West’s belated recognition of Bosnia’s independence in April 1992 was naturally not taken seriously by the Serb leaders; Milosevic rather wittily compared it to the Roman emperor Caligula declaring his horse to be a senator (Glaurdic, p. 298).
My principal regret is that Glaurdic did not fully apply the logic of his iconoclastic analysis to his consideration of the Croatian dimension of the Yugoslav tragedy. He carefully and correctly highlights the retrograde nationalist ideology of Croatian president Franjo Tudjman, including his equivocal statements about the Nazi-puppet Croatian regime of World War II and his promotion of the partition of Bosnia-Hercegovina. Yet he does not properly stress the extent to which Tudjman’s repeated retreats in the face of Serbian aggression merely encouraged the latter, just as did the similar retreats of the Western leaders. Thus, Tudjman capitulated to the JNA’s bullying in January 1991 and agreed to demobilise Croatia’s reservists and arrest Croatian officials involved in arms procurement, including the Croatian defence minister Martin Spegelj himself. Glaurdic argues that this ‘defused the [JNA] generals’ plan for a takeover’ and brought Yugoslavia ‘back from the brink’ (p. 134), but it would be more accurate to say that such Croatian appeasement merely encouraged further Serbian assaults, and that the killing in Croatia began only weeks later.
Glaurdic has carefully described the Milosevic regime’s secessionism vis-a-vis the Yugoslav federation, but one significant detail omitted from his book is the promulgation on 28 September 1990 of Serbia’s new constitution, which stated that ‘The Republic of Serbia determines and guarantees: 1 the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of the Republic of Serbia and its international position and relations with other states and international organisations;…’. In other words, Serbia declared itself a sovereign and independent state before either Croatia or Bosnia did. This is relevant when evaluating not only the Milosevic regime’s hypocrisy regarding ‘separatism’, but the extent of the West’s policy failure. Milosevic posed as Yugoslavia’s defender while he deliberately destroyed it. Western leaders were hoodwinked: they sought both to uphold Yugoslavia’s unity and to appease Milosevic’s Serbia. As Glaurdic has brilliantly demonstrated, their dogged pursuit of the second of these policies ensured the failure of the first.
Commenting on Sunday’s referendum victory in Croatia in favour of joining the EU, the veteran Guardian journalist Ian Traynor, a man with a long experience of covering former-Yugoslav affairs, has this to say:
Croatia has voted to join the EU by a sweeping majority, delivering a greater than expected yes vote in a referendum watched nervously in Brussels for fear of a backlash… The endorsement means that Croatia, barring any last-minute hiccups, will become the EU’s 28th member country in July next year, symbolising its break with the Balkans and former Yugoslavia and anchoring it strongly in the European mainstream as well as Nato.
How exactly does Traynor think that Croatia’s entry into the EU will ‘symbolise its break with the Balkans and former Yugoslavia’ ? Three Balkan states (Greece, Bulgaria, Romania) and one former-Yugoslav state (Slovenia) are already members of the EU, and the others are seeking to join. The likelihood is that most, if not all, will eventually succeed, and that EU membership will therefore unite Croatia firmly will the rest of the former Yugoslavia and the wider Balkans. Far from ‘symbolising its break with the Balkans and the former Yugoslavia’, Croatia’s entry into the EU will reaffirm its close relations and common destiny with them.
Traynor’s lazy sentence hints at a perceived dichotomy between ‘Europe’ and ‘the Balkans’, whereby the former represents things like law, democracy, progress and human rights and the latter represents things like primitivism, nationalism, authoritarianism and looking backwards. Joining ‘Europe’ would therefore mean abandoning the ‘Balkan’ world of primitivism, nationalism, authoritarianism and looking backwards. Traynor’s sentence hints that the nationalism and wars in the former Yugoslavia of the 1990s were a product of the region’s ‘Balkanness’; of traits inherent to it as a Balkan rather than a European region. In reality, Western and Central Europe have had, if anything, worse records of extreme nationalism, imperialism and genocide than have the Balkans.
Ian Traynor should know better.
The spoilt teenager is fed up with suffering under his parents’ oppressive rules and restrictions while continuing to eat their food and avoid responsibility for himself. He is thinking of walking out on them to make his own way in the world. If he does, he will find it hard going; he may have to sleep rough and work menial jobs for a while. But in the end, he will grow up to be a man. Let us not forget that, however selfish and irresponsible his behaviour may have been, the real blame lies with the parents who brought him up so badly, pampering him while pushing him into a role that merely pandered to their own fancies. It is they, as much as he, who need to be taken down a peg or two.
‘The people’ in Greece (or anywhere else) should not be idolised, as many idealistic lefties do, as a supposedly noble body that could turn the world into Paradise if only it could overthrow its ruling class. Nor should the Greek people be viewed through racist spectacles, as condemned to economic failure by a supposed inherent fecklessness arising from their national character.* Many ordinary Greeks may have contributed to their country’s economic crisis through tax evasion, or by taking ridiculously early retirement, or by receiving salaries for non-jobs in the bureaucracy. Other ordinary Greeks work hard at honest jobs and pay their taxes. Nations are collections of individuals who do not share a collective guilt. Yet the guilty and innocent alike will suffer the effects of the savage austerity measures being forced upon the nation by the EU. Young Greeks who are only now reaching adulthood and who really are not to blame for the errors of their parents’ generation will suffer in particular.
Responsibility for the crisis lies, of course, with the Greek political and economic elites. But it lies also with the political and economic elites of the EU, which subsidised and indulged their Greek clients. For all that Greece undermined European peace and stability over Milosevic, Macedonia, Kosova and Cyprus; for all that it abused the human rights of its ethnic Turkish and Macedonian minorities; for all that its public discourse was infected with virulent anti-Western sentiment, the EU elites continued to give it a blank cheque. Now, to save their own ill-thought-out Euro project and minimise the losses for their own banks and investors, they are forcing austerity measures on Greece; measures that penalise those who are not responsible for the crisis in order to protect the interests of those who are.
There are, of course, economic arguments both for and against a Greek acceptance of the EU bailout package. Yet the question is not merely an economic one, but concerns issues of democracy, justice and the political shape of the future EU.
In Greece as elsewhere in Europe, spending cuts and austerity measures are undoubtedly necessary, yet it is in the interest of ordinary people to fight them tooth and nail – not in order to torpedo them altogether, but to ensure that as much of the burden as possible is shifted to the richer sections of society, and in the case of Greece to the rest of the EU. Here in the UK, Conservatives tell us that cutting taxes for the rich will stimulate growth, while cutting incomes and benefits for the rest of us is necessary to reduce the deficit – a form of reasoning that does not inspire confidence. In Greece, the austerity measures look set to depress the Greek economy further and severely hurt people’s living standards without actually ending the debt crisis. Essentially, Greeks are being asked to sacrifice their own living standards, not for the sake of their own long-term future wellbeing, but for money that will largely go straight through them to their creditors. My sympathies, therefore, are very much with the ordinary Greeks striking and protesting against the austerity measures; I would prefer them to suffer less, and rich tax-dodgers and European banks and investors to suffer more. If the Greek electorate rejects this bailout deal, they may simply receive a better one. Let them fight for a skinhead’s haircut.
On the other hand, the success of any bailout deal will merely prop up the corrupt, unhealthy relationship of dependency between Greece and the EU that created the mess in the first place. There is therefore some reason for thinking that a complete collapse in European efforts to ‘rescue’ Greece, although painful for all concerned in the short term, might prove beneficial in the long run. It would restore to the Greek nation control over, and responsibility for, its own destiny, and necessitate a much-needed radical restructuring of Greek economic and political life. And its repercussions might likewise force a change in direction for the EU, away from misguided moves toward greater integration at the expense of democracy and accountability, toward a looser and more flexible union; one in which member states have more control over and responsibility for their own respective destinies, and are more responsive to the wishes of their citizens.
Four years ago, I warned that the Hellenic tail must not wag the European dog. The consequences for allowing this to happen turned out to be much more serious than even a strong critic of Greek behaviour such as myself could have imagined. Now, however, I am beginning to wonder if a bit of wagging of the European dog by the Hellenic tail might not be such a bad thing.
* For a true pearl of anti-Greek, anti-Balkan chauvinism, here’s the Daily Mail: ‘Greece has always had a siege mentality. It is very different from the rest of the EU. It was part of the Ottoman Empire for centuries before it became an independent country in the early 19th century, and psychologically is as much a part of Turkey and the Middle East as it is of Europe. It has few shared traditions with Western Europe.’
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