Greater Surbiton

The perfect is the enemy of the good

The ICJ’s ruling on Kosovo sets a precedent that is dangerous only for tyrants and ethnic cleansers

The bile of the new champions of colonialism was flowing freely last week after the  International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruled that Kosovo’s declaration of independence did not violate international law. The New York Times‘s Dan Bilefsky referred opaquely to ‘legal experts’ and ‘analysts’ who warned that the ruling could be ‘seized upon by  secessionist movements as a pretext to declare independence in territories as diverse as Northern Cyprus, Somaliland, Nagorno-Karabakh, South Ossetia, Abkhazia, Transnistria and the Basque region.’ The ‘legal experts’ and ‘analysts’ in question remain conveniently unnamed, though they are clearly not very ‘expert’, since if they were, they would presumably have known that most of those territories have already declared independence. The Guardian‘s Simon Tisdall claimed that the ICJ’s ruling would be welcomed by ‘separatists, secessionists and splittists from Taiwan, Xinjiang and Somaliland to Sri Lanka, Georgia and the West Country’, leading one to wonder what the difference is between a ‘separatist’, a ‘secessionist’ and a ‘splittist’.

Let’s get this straight. No democratic state has anything to fear from ‘separatism’, and anyone who does fear ‘separatism’ is no democrat. I am English and British, and I do not particularly want the United Kingdom to break up. But I am not exactly shaking in fear at the prospect of the ICJ’s ruling encouraging the Scots, Welsh or Northern Irish to break away. And if any of these peoples were to secede, I’d wish them well, because I am a democrat, not a national chauvinist. The Cassandras bewailing the ICJ’s ruling are simply expressing a traditional colonialist mindset, which sees it as the natural order of things for powerful, predatory nations to keep enslaved smaller, weaker ones, and an enormous affront if the latter should be unwilling to bow down and kiss the jackboots of their unwanted masters. Can’t those uppity natives learn their place ?!

The Western democratic order, and indeed the international order as a whole, is founded upon national separatism. The world’s most powerful state and democracy, the United States of America, was of course born from a separatist (or possibly a secessionist or splittist) revolt and unilateral declaration of independence from the British empire. The American separatist revolt was sparked by resistance to British-imposed taxes without representation, which seem a less serious grievance than the sort of mass murder and ethnic cleansing to which the Kosovo Albanians were subjected by Serbia. Most European states at one time or another seceded from a larger entity: roughly in chronological order, these have been Switzerland, Sweden, the Netherlands, Portugal, Greece, Belgium, Luxemburg, Serbia, Montenegro, Romania, Norway, Bulgaria, Albania, Poland, Finland, Czechoslovakia, Ireland, Iceland, Cyprus, Malta, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Ukraine, Belarus, Slovenia, Croatia, Macedonia, Bosnia-Hercegovina, Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Montenegro (for the second time). No doubt Northern Cyprus, Somaliland, Transnistria etc. drew some inspiration from this long separatist success story.

Serbia itself has a proud separatist tradition, going back at least as far as the First Serbian Uprising of 1804, when the separatist leader Karadjordje Petrovic attempted to bring about the country’s unilateral secession from the Ottoman Empire. Some might argue that the eventual international acceptance of Serbia’s independence in 1878 was not unilateral, since it was brought about by the Treaty of Berlin to which the Ottoman Empire was a signatory. But this is disingenuous, since the Ottomans only accepted Serbia’s independence after they had – not for the first time – been brutally crushed in war by Russia. Undoubtedly, were Serbia to be subjected to the sort of external violent coercion to which the Ottoman Empire was repeatedly subjected by the European powers during the nineteenth century, it would rapidly accept Kosovo’s independence. Let us not pretend that bilateral or multilateral declarations of independence hold the moral high ground vis-a-vis unilateral ones – they simply reflect a difference balance in power politics.

As an independent state from 1878, Serbia left the ranks of the unfree nations and joined the predators, brutally conquering present-day Kosovo and Macedonia in the Balkan Wars of 1912-1913, thereby flagrantly violating the right of the Albanian and Macedonian peoples to determine their own future in the manner that the people of Serbia already had. In 1918, Serbia became hegemon of the mini-empire of Yugoslavia. So ‘separatist’ became a dirty word for Serbian nationalists who, in their craving to rule over foreign lands and peoples, conveniently forgot how their own national state had come into being. Nevertheless, it was Serbia under the leadership of Slobodan Milosevic whose policy of seceding from Yugoslavia from 1990 resulted in the break-up of that multinational state: Serbia’s new constitution of September 1990 declared the ‘sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity of the Republic of Serbia’ – nearly a year before Croatia and Slovenia declared independence from Yugoslavia. This would have been less problematic if Milosevic’s Serbia had not sought to take large slices of neighbouring republics with it as it set about asserting its own, Serbian national sovereignty from the former multinational Yugoslav federation.

So, plenty of precedents from which separatists, secessionists, splittists and the like could have drawn inspiration, long before the ICJ’s ruling on Kosovo. Why, then, the international disquiet at the verdict ? The simple answer is that the disquiet is felt by brutal or undemocratic states that oppress their own subject peoples, and wish to continue to do so without fear that their disgraceful behaviour might eventually result in territorial loss. Thus, among the states that oppose Kosovo’s independence are China, Iran, Sudan, Morocco, Sri Lanka, Indonesia and India, all of them brutally oppressing subject peoples or territories and/or attempting to hold on to ill-gotten conquests – Xinjiang, Tibet, the Ahwazi Arabs, Darfur, Western Sahara, the Tamils, West Papua, Kashmir, etc. At a more moderate level, Spain opposes Kosovo’s independence because it fears a precedent that Catalonia or the Basque Country could follow. Spain is a democracy, but a flawed one; its unwillingness to recognise the right to self-determination of the Catalans and Basques echoes the policy pursued by the dictator Francisco Franco, who brutally suppressed Catalan and Basque autonomy and culture following his victory in the Spanish Civil War. Likewise, Romania and Slovakia are crude and immature new democracies with ruling elites that mistreat their Hungarian minorities and identify with Serbia on an anti-minority basis.

Of course, states such as these will not be happy that an oppressed territory like Kosovo has succeeded in breaking away from its colonial master. But this is an additional reason for democrats to celebrate the ICJ’s decision: it should serve as a warning to states that oppress subject peoples or territories, that the international community’s tolerance of their bad behaviour and support for their territorial integrity may have its limits. Thus, a tyrannical state cannot necessarily brutally oppress a subject people, then bleat sanctimoniously about ‘international law’ and ‘territorial integrity’ when its oppression spawns a separatist movement that wins international acceptance: it may find that international law will not uphold its territorial integrity. Serbia’s loss of Kosovo should serve as an example to all such states.

Of course, there are states, such as Georgia and Cyprus, whose fear of territorial loss is legitimate. But in this case, the problem they are facing is not separatism so much as foreign aggression and territorial conquest. The ‘secession’ of Abkhazia and South Ossetia from Georgia was really the so-far-successful attempt by Georgia’s colonial master – Russia – to punish Georgia for its move toward independence, and exert continued control over it, by breaking off bits of its territory. Georgia was the state that was seeking national independence – from the Soviet Union and Russian domination – while the Abkhazian and South Ossetian separatists were the ones wanting to remain subject to the colonial master. In Abkhazia, it was the ethnic Georgians who formed a large plurality of the population, being two and a half times more numerous than the ethnic Abkhaz – any genuinely democratic plebiscite carried out before the massive Russian-backed ethnic cleansing of the 1990s would most likely have resulted in Abkhazia voting to remain in Georgia. South Ossetia might have a better demographic case for independence, thought not as strong as the larger and more populous republic of North Ossetia in Russia, whose independence, should it ever be declared, Moscow is unlikely to recognise. In the case of Northern Cyprus, the foreign aggression was more blatant still: there was no ‘Northern Cyprus’ until Turkey invaded the island of Cyprus in 1974, conquered over a third of it, expelled the Greek population and created an artificial ethnic-Turkish majority there. It is above all because of the reality of Russian and Turkish aggression against, and ethnic cleansing of, smaller and weaker peoples, that Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Northern Cyprus should not be treated as equivalent to Kosovo.

Milorad Dodik, the prime minister of Bosnia’s Serb Republic (Republika Srpska – RS), has suggested that the ICJ’s ruling on Kosovo opens the door to the potential secession of the RS. The RS is not a real country, but an entity created by genocide and massive ethnic cleansing; anyone who equates it with Kosovo is at best an ignoramus and at worst a moral idiot. Nevertheless, we sincerely hope that the RS’s leadership be inspired by the Kosovo precedent and attempt to secede – such an attempt would inevitably end in failure, and provide an opportunity for the Bosnians and the Western alliance to abolish the RS or at least massively reduce its autonomy vis-a-vis the the central Bosnian state, thereby rescuing Bosnia-Hercegovina from its current crisis and improving the prospects for long-term Balkan stability.

Finally, if the ICJ’s ruling on  Kosovo really does inspire other unfree peoples to fight harder for their freedom, so much the better. As the US struggle for independence inspired fighters for national independence throughout the world during the nineteenth century, so may Kosovo’s example do so in the twenty first. May the tyrants and ethnic cleansers tremble, may the empires fall and may there be many more Kosovos to come.

This article was published today on the website of the Henry Jackson Society.

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Thursday, 29 July 2010 Posted by | Balkans, Bosnia, Former Yugoslavia, Kosovo, Marko Attila Hoare, Serbia | , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Progress is possible in the Balkans – why can’t the EU push for it ?

There are at least two reasons why the last two months have been good for the Balkans.

The first is that what is left of the propaganda edifice constructed by the Serb nationalists during the wars of the 1990s has received three heavy blows. Serb nationalists and their Western lobbyists spent the best part of these wars trying to convince the world that Serb war-crimes were mostly the fabrication of a hostile international media. For example, apologists such as John Pilger have long claimed that mass graves of Kosovo Albanians were as non-existent as Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction, and that not enough Albanian bodies have been discovered to support the figure of approximately 10,000 Albanians killed by Serbian forces in 1998-1999. Yet on 10 May of this year, Serbia’s War Crimes Prosecution Office announced that a mass grave, thought to contain the bodies of about 250 ethnic Albanians, was discovered at Raska in southwestern Serbia, near the border with Kosova. The slow but steady location and identification of the remains of the victims of the wars are important not only for the relatives of the dead, but for making the publics of the region – and particularly the Serbian public – aware of the incontrovertible reality of the war-crimes.

Another favourite tactic of the Serb-nationalists propagandists was to muddy the water, by arguing that Croatian, Bosnian, Kosova Albanian and NATO forces were as guilty of atrocities as the Serb forces, or even more so. Perhaps the most graphically gruesome assertion used to support this argument was that the Kosova Liberation Army was guilty of systematically removing and trafficking the internal organs of their Serb captives – a rumour that was started by Carla del Ponte, the maverick former chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, then eagerly seized upon by the water-muddiers. Yet shortly after the discovery of the Raska mass grave, the BBC reported that ‘Three parallel international investigations, by war crimes investigators from Serbia, the European Union, and the Council of Europe, have failed to uncover any evidence that the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) trafficked the organs of captives, according to sources close to each investigation.’ Although the KLA did commit atrocities – as all national-liberation movements that resort to armed struggle do – the myth that its atrocities represented a degree of evil equivalent to the Milosevic regime’s systematic ethnic-cleansing of hundreds of thousands of its own citizens has now been laid to rest.

The third blow against Serb-nationalist propaganda was a spectacular own goal. Ever since 1992, Serb nationalists claimed that the war in Bosnia was not a war of aggression waged by Serbia against its neighbour, but a ‘civil war’ between the Bosnian Serbs, Croats and Muslims, in which Serbia merely assisted the Bosnian Serbs. However, Serbia is currently attempting to secure the extradition of former Bosnian vice-president Ejup Ganic from the UK to Serbia to face spurious ‘war-crimes’ charges, and in order to have the legal right to do this, it has had to accept that at the time of Ganic’s alleged crimes, in early May 1992, an ‘international armed conflict’ was taking place between Serbia and Bosnia. Thus, it has casually torpedoed the eighteen-year-old myth of a Bosnian ‘civil war’.

The steady collapse of Serb-nationalist wartime mythology in the light of new research and developments is part and parcel of the post-war normalisation of the Balkan region. It means a steadily greater awareness – in Serbia, in the Balkan region and in the world as a whole – of the true nature of the wars of the former Yugoslavia. These were wars for which a single regime – that of Slobodan Milosevic in Belgrade – was overwhelmingly to blame, and responsible for most of the killing. The more Serbia’s citizens become aware of this, the less inclined will they be to support aggressive policies reminiscent of Milosevic, while the more the international public becomes aware of it, the less inclined will the international community be to appease any further such policies. Belgrade’s ongoing attempt to have Ganic extradited is, of course, evidence that Serbia has not completely turned its back on Milosevic’s legacy, but the cup of reform is at least half full, and every myth demolished adds another drop.

The second, and more substantial reason why this has been a good period for the Balkans, is the belated resolution of the Slovenian-Croatian border dispute. In a referendum on 6 June, Slovenia’s citizens voted 51.5%, in a turnout of just over 42%, to permit the border dispute to be resolved through international arbitration. The referendum result removes the last major obstacle to Croatia’s membership of the EU, and marks a major step forward for the Euro-Atlantic integration of the former-Yugoslav region. Despite the low turnout, the referendum result indicates a degree of political maturity on the party of Slovenia’s citizens. The Slovenian attempt to hold up the entire process of EU expansion in the Western Balkans to make a cheap territorial grab has proven extremely damaging to Slovenia’s international standing, and damaging to the wellbeing of the entire region. In rejecting the siren call of nationalism made by the Slovenian opposition under Janez Jansa, in favour of harmony within the EU and the region, Slovenia’s people demonstrated an admirable appreciation of where their national interest lies.

Readers might argue that Slovenia is not part of the Balkans, yet the country has recently joined a Balkan regional body, the Southeast European Cooperation Process (SEECP), that includes all the Balkan states except Kosova, including Moldova and Turkey. Somewhat belatedly, given that the body was established in 1996 and its other members all joined by 2007. Despite their proudly felt Central European identity, the Slovenians realise their national interest lies in participating in and facilitating South East European regional cooperation. Their readiness settle their border dispute with Croatia on a fair basis my be linked to this perception.

The Slovenian case demonstrates that the states of the region are not immune to soft pressure from the international community, even if they do happen to be EU members. It provides a model for a possible resolution of another dispute arising from the break-up of Yugoslavia involving an EU member and a candidate country: the Greek-Macedonian ‘name dispute’. EU and NATO members should put pressure on the parties to this dispute to permit it to be settled by binding international arbitration, in the manner of the Slovenian-Croatian border dispute. With Greece in the throes of acute economic and social crisis, with its social capital expended and its international standing at an all-time low, an ideal opportunity exists to pressurise Greece to accept this. However, bizarre as it may seem to any rational person unaccustomed to the perverse ethics of the EU, the latter has rewarded Greece for its spectacular economic selfishness and irresponsibility with a still more craven appeasement of its anti-Macedonian nationalist policy.

The EU’s failure to resolve the Greek-Macedonian conflict, despite ample opportunity, is contributing to the deterioration in relations between the political parties in Macedonia representing the country’s two principle nationalities: the ethnic Macedonians and ethnic Albanians. Ethnic-Albanian parties, who do not feel particularly committed to the country’s constitutional name, are increasingly frustrated with the Macedonian government’s failure to progress toward EU membership in light of Greece’s veto. In a worse case scenario, this could lead to the collapse of the Macedonian state and a new regional conflagration, drawing in Macedonia’s neighbours and potentially spreading to other Albanian-inhabited Balkan states. If this were to occur, the EU would have only itself to blame.

Thankfully, such a catastrophe does not appear imminent. The same cannot, unfortunately, be said for another consequence of EU vacillation: the alienation of Turkey from the Western alliance. Turkey’s increasingly aggressive policy of Israel-baiting, manifested most spectacularly in its permitting of the Gaza aid flotilla to sail from its shores last month, with predictable bloody consequences, is the bastard child of the Franco-German-led policy of keeping Turkey out of the EU. Turkey’s turn toward Iran and Syria and away from Israel cannot be excused, but it can be understood, as the rising Turkish regional superpower seeks to carve out a new, more Islamic and Middle Eastern role for itself in place of its denied EU role. Instead of being drawn into the club, where it would have to play by the rules, Turkey has been left outside, where it is increasingly going rogue.

It would not require superhuman  efforts on the part of the UK and its allies to keep the Balkans on the straight and narrow. The region is slowly and unsteadily reforming, but faces a number of surmountable obstacles, which we are in a position to help it overcome. Weakened, discredited Greece could be pressurised to lift its veto on Macedonia’s EU and NATO accession, and the EU member  states could make a joint and unambiguous commitment to Turkish membership when certain conditions are met. The tragedy is that even these easy steps are blocked by the selfish and short-sighted interests of certain EU members, above all France and Germany. The UK needs to break ranks more openly with them with regard to both issues, and to campaign loudly and publicly for a change in EU policy. We must point out the potentially catastrophic consequences for Europe and the Middle East of abandoning Macedonia and Turkey, and say openly whose fault it will be if things go further wrong. We might offend our allies now, but that is preferable to having to clean up their mess tomorrow.

This article was published today on the website of the Henry Jackson Society.

Wednesday, 30 June 2010 Posted by | Balkans, Croatia, European Union, Former Yugoslavia, Genocide, Greece, Kosovo, Macedonia, Marko Attila Hoare, Serbia, Turkey | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The difficult road to Balkan stability

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The Balkans are only a step away from normalisation, but it may be a step too far for Western policy-makers.

Normalisation for the Balkans would mean the region’s definite establishment as a set of functioning, democratic nation-states on the model of Western Europe; undivided by serious conflicts or live territorial disputes. The region’s national questions would be resolved, to the point that they would be as unlikely to spill over into large-scale bloodshed as the national questions of Belgium, Scotland or Catalonia. The Balkan states would all be integrated into the EU, and ideally NATO as well.

This is not an ambitious ideal, yet it is far from being realised. Regional progress is still being derailed by a series of conflicts of varying severity between the Balkan states. The Slovenian-Croatian border dispute for a while threatened to derail the entire region’s EU integration, though this appears to have been averted. Greek-Turkish rivalry over Cyprus, the Aegean Sea and other areas remains latent, something for which the anti-Turkish rhetoric on the part of candidates in the recent Greek parliamentary elections has served as a reminder. Both Turkey and Greece are problematic: the first is, under the leadership of the Justice and Development Party (AKP)  in the process of developing a new regional role for itself, one that appears to be taking it closer to authoritarian and radical states like Russia, Iran and Syria; the second is pursuing a damaging regional policy, involving hostility to the fragile states of Macedonia and Kosovo. With its campaign against Macedonia, in particular, Greece is threatening the stability of a neighbouring state where relations between the majority Macedonians and minority Albanians are already dangerously unstable.

Meanwhile, the policies of Serbia and Serb nationalism remain the single greatest source of Balkan instability. Serbia is still failing to arrest war criminals indicted by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, thereby obstructing its own EU integration. But more dangerously, it is pursuing a dog-in-the-manger policy vis-a-vis Kosovo, preventing the newly independent state from consolidating itself and integrating itself properly into the international community. The Serbia-Kosovo dispute poisons regional relations; Belgrade recently rebuked Skopje for the latter’s agreement with Pristina to resolve the Macedonia-Kosovo border dispute.

The most intractable regional problem of all, however, remains Bosnia-Hercegovina. The state is saddled with the unworkable constitutional order imposed upon it by the Dayton Accords of 1995, ensuring that the state cannot function and must remain in a state of permanent political crisis. Bosnia’s recent exclusion, along with Albania, from the EU’s grant of visa liberalisation to the western Balkans, that was applied to Serbia, Macedonia and Montenegro, has further entrenched divisions in the country and the wider region. Milorad Dodik, prime minister of Bosnia’s Serb entity, the Republika Srpska, is openly pursuing Bosnia’s full dismemberment; the aggressive and provocative nature of his policy was recently highlighted by the warm welcome he extended to the convicted war-criminal Biljana Plavsic, following her early release from prison in Sweden.

These home-grown Balkan problems are being exacerbated by the policies of outside powers. The revanchist, neo-Soviet regime in Russia is aggressively backing Serbia over Kosovo, preventing the dispute from being resolved. By doing so, Moscow is not merely undermining Kosovo, but is undermining also Serbia’s own complete transition into a post-nationalist liberal democratic state. Moscow aims to keep the Balkans divided to prevent their full integration into the Euro-Atlantic framework. Hence, Dodik was looking to Moscow when he unilaterally withdrew Bosnian Serb soldiers from participation in NATO exercises in Georgia.

The second major external source of Balkan instability is the weak and vacillating policy of the EU, dominated as the latter is by the Franco-German axis. Germany is pursuing a pro-Russian policy that is making the new East Central European members of NATO and the EU very uncomfortable, while France continues to seek a dissident role in the Western alliance vis-a-vis the Anglo-Saxon powers. Hence, the EU’s muted reaction to the Georgian war; the crushing of Washington’s Georgian ally was not allowed to get in the way of growing EU-Russian collaboration. The Georgian war was facilitated by the Franco-German blocking of the grant of NATO Membership Action Plans to Georgia, along with Ukraine, in the spring of 2008. French President Nicolas Sarkozy, pursuing his Gaullist policy of Mediterranean union, sees fit also to support Greece against Macedonia.

Such an attitude on the part of the EU also involves toleration of Serbian trouble-making vis-a-vis Kosovo and Bosnia. The Netherlands is essentially isolated in its continued insistence that Serbia’s progress on EU accession be linked to its arrest of war criminals. The EU, for its part, would like to see the Office of the High Representative (OHR) for Bosnia closed. Yet the OHR has been the principal integrating force in Bosnia since 1995. Take away the OHR, and Bosnia moves another step toward full partition.

The EU’s resolve over the Balkans is further weakened by the activities of dissident members. No unified EU policy exists over Kosovo on account of the refusal of five EU members to recognise the new state – all for nationalistic reasons. Romania and Slovakia perceive a ‘separatist’ parallel between the Kosovo Albanians and their own maltreated Hungarian minorities. Likewise, Spain is obsessed with ‘separatist’ parallels of its own vis-a-vis Catalonia and the Basque Country. Greece and Cyprus are traditional allies of Serbia; Cyprus also equates Kosovo with Turkish-occupied Cyprus. None of these states’ reasons for opposing Kosovo’s independence are very noble, yet the EU has no means of compelling them to keep ranks with the majority; the EU therefore pursues the policy of the lowest common denominator.

Although the EU has been as an instrument for bringing nations together, its recent policies in the Balkans are having the opposite effect. The veto that EU members enjoy in relation to membership bids by aspiring members places a weapon in the hands of trouble-makers lucky enough to already be in the club. The Slovenian-Croatian border dispute was exacerbated by Ljubljana’s use of its veto against Croatia. Although Ljubljana threatened to use its veto to keep Croatia out of NATO as well, Washington quickly put a stop to this mischief. Unfortunately, the EU states are much less ready than the US to put pressure on their partners to cease misbehaviour, and though Ljubljana did eventually lift its veto, this was not before it had won concessions over the border dispute at Zagreb’s expense.

Still more destructive has been the EU’s exacerbation of the Greek-Macedonian dispute. Despite the thoroughly pre-democratic and chauvinistic nature of Greece’s campaign against Macedonia, EU members have been wholly unwilling to put pressure on Athens to change it. So, rather than the whole club forcing a badly behaved member to behave better, the policy of the trouble-maker is imposed on the whole. The bad apple poisons the whole basket; the tail wags the dog.

The structural factors underlying the EU’s damaging policies vis-a-vis the Balkans are likely to become worse in the years to come. The accession of new members will give more states vetoes to use against aspiring members. After joining the EU, Croatia may use its veto against Serbia. If Macedonia does back down to Athens, Albania might be encouraged to use its veto to keep Macedonia out of NATO, to extract concessions regarding the Albanian minority in Macedonia. For while both Croatia and Albania have pursued responsible regional policies over the past ten years, the EU is sending out to them the wrong signals: that bad behaviour brings dividends.

Meanwhile, the EU’s growing energy dependency on Russia is likely further to dampen the EU’s resolve to resist the mischief of Moscow and Belgrade in the Balkans. Russian plans to build the ‘North Stream’ gas pipeline direct to Germany, bypassing the former-Communist states of East Central Europe, will allow it to exert leverage over its neighbours without simultaneously punishing its German ally.

As the EU moves increasingly to accommodate a dangerous and hostile power, so it is alienating an important power that has long assisted Balkan stability. Paris and Berlin have made it very clear they do not wish to allow Turkey to join the EU. This has had the predictable result that Turkey is losing is faith in the possibility of a European future, and is turning increasingly toward Russia, Iran, Syria and other radical and anti-Western states.  Turkey has made huge strides this decade in improving its human rights record, as required by its bid for EU membership. For the same reason, it has facilitated a resolution of the Cyprus dispute through its support for the 2004 Annan Plan. As the prize of EU membership moves further from its grasp, Ankara may backslide over both human rights and Cyprus as well. There are worrying signs that the pace of democratisation in Turkey is indeed slowing -such as the record fine recently imposed on Dogan Yayin Holding AS – Turkey’s largest media group and critical of the AKP government.

A hardening of Turkey’s stance on Cyprus could lead to the collapse of the Greek-Turkish rapprochement, further damaging the prospects for the Balkans’ normalisation. For all its human rights abuses, Turkey has been playing a constructive role in the region, as the ally of the weak and vulnerable states of Bosnia, Kosovo and Macedonia. We do not know what the full consequences would be if Turkey fully abandons its European moorings and goes off in a new direction.  But at the very least, an authoritarian Turkey headed by an Islamic-populist regime on the border of the Balkans will not have a positive effect on the region.

Unfortunately, alongside Russia and the EU, there is a third external factor whose contribution to Balkan stability currently raises concerns: the Obama Administration in the US. The latter’s abandonment of the Bush Administration’s plans to base a missile-defence system in Poland and the Czech Republic, in order to appease Moscow in the hope of obtaining Russian support vis-a-vis Iran, is a worrying indication of US passivity vis-a-vis Europe and Russia. The capitulation amounts to a betrayal of the security of allies in order to appease a hostile power, with echoes of Cold-War-style sphere-of-influence politics. While it is too soon to press the panic button over Obama’s policy toward Eastern and South Eastern Europe, we should be very concerned if Obama goes any further down this path.

For all these internal and external problems facing the Balkans, the success stories and models for future success are close at hand. Romania and Bulgaria are far from model democracies, and have serious problems with corruption and organised crime. Yet neither has engaged in military aggression or seriously attempted territorial expansionism since joining the free world in 1989; both are members of the EU and NATO. Turkey and Greece, following their heavy military defeats in World War I and the Greco-Turkish War respectively, pursued an enlightened policy of rapprochement vis-a-vis one another, eschewing territorial expansionism. This rapprochement was only derailed by the outbreak of the Cyprus conflict from the 1950s, and later resumed: Greece today is a vocal champion of Turkey’s EU membership. Croatia, too, following its unsuccessful expansionist adventure in Bosnia in the first half of the 1990s has, since the death of Franjo Tudjman in 1999, abandoned expansionism to pursue a responsible regional policy and EU membership.

The key to turning aggressive, expansionist Balkan states into responsible members of the European family, therefore, is for the international community to shut off all avenues for their expansionism and keep them firmly confined within their own borders. With all due qualifications, this is the way it has been for Romania, Bulgaria, Turkey, Greece and Croatia. Where these states have been less than responsible – as, for example, in the case of Turkey vis-a-vis Cyprus or Greece vis-a-vis Macedonia – this has occurred when there have been insufficient limits placed on their ability to coerce neighbours.

The biggest source of instability in the Balkans remains the fact that, thanks to the weakness and vacillation of Western and above all EU policy, Serbia has not been firmly confined within its borders, despite its defeat in the wars of the 1990s. Instead, Belgrade continues to destabilise the neighbouring states of Kosovo and Bosnia. Its ability to do so means that Serbia – unlike Bulgaria, Romania, Croatia, Greece and to an extent Turkey – is unable to develop a post-expansionist state identity; one that does not revolve around territorial aspirations towards neighbouring states. This is bad above all for Serbia itself – the reason why it is still a long way from EU membership, despite being before the 1990s more prosperous, developed and liberal than either Romania or Bulgaria.

The problem is not, however, ultimately with Serbia itself. In parliamentary elections following Kosovo’s independence last year, the Serbian electorate handed victory to the pro-European rather than the hardline nationalist parties, revealing what little stomach it has for renewed confrontation over Kosovo. Belgrade has also played its trump card with its case against Kosovo’s independence before the International Court of Justice (ICJ), and there is every reason to believe that the Court will not rule in its favour, even leaving aside the strength of Kosovo’s case. The ICJ’s judges come from different countries and their verdict will likely represent some form of compromise rather than award outright victory to one side or the other. Anything less than a full victory for Belgrade will effectively be a defeat, ambiguity leaving the door open for more states to recognise Kosovo’s independence while plausibly claiming to do so legally. In other words, both in terms of its range of available strategies and in terms of the popular support it enjoys, Serbian expansionism vis-a-vis Kosovo is a broken reed. With the Kosovo Albanians enjoying a comfortable majority in their country, their ultimate ability to consolidate their state is assured.

The principal problem for the region is the Bosnian question, and the policy of the Western alliance toward it. Unlike for all the other Balkan regional problems, for Bosnia, stability will not come through persuading or coercing the states involved to accept reality or to reach a compromise. For Bosnia, it is the very legal status quo and ‘compromise’, born at Dayton in 1995, that is generating instability for the state and the region. The Dayton order provides a framework that is gradually enabling the Bosnian Serb separatists, currently headed by Dodik, to establish the Bosnian Serb entity as a de facto independent state while preparing the ground for formal secession. The Bosniaks will, however, go to war to prevent this happening. It is a moot point what the outcome of such a military confrontation would be, but it is not something to which we should look forward.

Bosnia remains, therefore, the weak foundation-stone of Balkan stability. Only the transformation of Bosnia into a functioning state, through the transfer of most state powers from the entities to the central government, will guarantee against the outbreak of a new Bosnian war, and provide a final and definite check to Serbia’s expansionism, forcing that state wholly onto the post-expansionist path and removing the principal obstacle to the region’s progress.

Unfortunately, with Western and particular EU policy being what it is at present, such a decisive step seems unlikely. The problems facing the Balkans are neither huge nor insurmountable, yet Western passivity and vacillation seem set to allow these small problems to turn into larger ones. The Balkans look set for a rocky road ahead.

This article was published today on the website of the Henry Jackson Society. A longer version was given as a presentation to the Sussex European Institute on 3 November, entitled ‘How far are the Balkans from normalisation ?’

Monday, 9 November 2009 Posted by | Balkans, Bosnia, Caucasus, Croatia, Cyprus, European Union, Former Yugoslavia, France, Germany, Greece, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, NATO, Russia, Serbia, Slovenia, Turkey | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Noam Chomsky and Amnesty International: Two open letters

ChomskyAI

Open letter to Amnesty International from Ed Vulliamy, 30 October 2009

To whom it may concern:

I have been contacted by a number of people regarding Amnesty International’s invitation to Professor Noam Chomsky to lecture in Northern Ireland.

The communications I have received regard Prof. Chomsky’s role in revisionism in the story of the concentration camps in northwestern Bosnia in 1992, which it was my accursed honour to discover.

As everyone interested knows, a campaign was mounted to try and de-bunk the story of these murderous camps as a fake – ergo, to deny and/or justify them – the dichotomy between these position still puzzles me.

The horror of what happened at Omarska and Trnopolje has been borne out by painful history, innumerable trials at the Hague, and – most importantly by far – searing testimony from the survivors and the bereaved. These were places of extermination, torture, killing, rape and, literally “concentration” prior to enforced deportation, of people purely on grounds of ethnicity.

Prof. Chomsky was not among those (“Novo” of Germany and “Living Marxism” in the UK) who first proposed the idea that these camps were a fake. He was not among those who tried unsuccessfully (they were beaten back in the High Court in London, by a libel case taken by ITN) to put up grotesque arguments about fences around the camps, which were rather like Fred Leuchter’s questioning whether the thermal capacity of bricks was enough to contain the heat needed to burn Jews at Auschwitz.  But Professor Chomsky said many things, from his ivory tower at MIT, to spur them on and give them the credibility and energy they required to spread their poisonous perversion and denials of these sufferings. Chomsky comes with academic pretensions, doing it all from a distance, and giving the revisionists his blessing. And the revisionists have revelled in his endorsement.

In an interview with the Guardian, Professor Chomsky paid me the kind compliment of calling me a good journalist, but added that on this occasion (the camps) I had “got it wrong”. Got what wrong?!?! Got wrong what we saw that day, August 5th 1992 (I didn’t see him there)? Got wrong the hundreds of thousands of families left bereaved, deported and scattered asunder? Got wrong the hundreds of testimonies I have gathered on murderous brutality? Got wrong the thousands whom I meet when I return to the commemorations? If I am making all this up, what are all the human remains found in mass graves around the camps and so painstakingly re-assembled by the International Commission for Missing Persons?

These people pretend neutrality over Bosnia, but are actually apologists for the  Milosevic/Karadzic/Mladic plan, only too pathetic to admit it.  And the one thing they never consider from their armchairs is the ghastly, searing, devastating impact of their game on the survivors and the bereaved. The pain they cause is immeasurable. This, along with the historical record, is my main concern.  It is one thing to survive the camps, to lose one’s family and friends – quite another to be told by a bunch of academics with a didactic agenda in support of the pogrom that those camps never existed. The LM/Novo/Chomsky argument that the story of the camps was somehow fake has been used in countless (unsuccessful) attempts to defend mass murderers in The Hague.

For decades I have lived under the impression that Amnesty International was opposed to everything these people stand for, and existed to defend exactly the kind of people who lost their lives, family and friends in the camps and at Srebrenica three years later, a massacre on which Chomsky has also cast doubt. I have clearly been deluded about Amnesty. For Amnesty International, of all people, to honour this man is to tear up whatever credibility they have estimably and admirably won over the decades, and to reduce all they say hitherto to didactic nonsense.

Why Amnesty wants to identify with and endorse this revisionist obscenity, I do not know. It is baffling and grotesque. By inviting Chomsky to give this lecture, Amnesty condemns itself to ridicule at best, hurtful malice at worst – Amnesty joins the revisionists in spitting on the graves of the dead.  Which was not what the organisation was, as I understand, set up for.  I have received a letter from an Amnesty official in Northern Ireland which reads rather like a letter from Tony Blair’s office after it has been caught out cosying up to British Aerospace or lying over the war in Iraq – it is a piece of corporate gobbledygook, distancing Amnesty from Chomsky’s views on Bosnia, or mealy-mouthedly conceding that they are disagreed with.

There is no concern at all with the victims, which is, I suppose, what one would expect from a bureaucrat. In any event, the letter goes nowhere towards addressing the revisionism, dispelling what will no doubt be a fawning, self-satisfied introduction in Belfast and rapturous applause for

the man who gives such comfort to Messrs Karadzic and Mladic, and their death squads.  How far would Amnesty go in inviting and honouring speakers whose views it does not necessarily share, in the miserable logic of this AI official in Belfast?  A lecture by David Irving on Joseph Goebbels?

Alistair Campbell on how Saddam really did have those WMD? The Chilean Secret Police or Colonel Oliver North on the communist threat in Latin America during the 70s and 80s?  What about Karadzic himself on the “Jihadi” threat in Bosnia, and the succulence of 14-year-old girls kept in rape camps?

I think I am still a member of AI – if so, I resign. If not, thank God for that. And to think: I recently came close to taking a full time job as media director for AI. That was a close shave – what would I be writing now, in the press release: “Come and hear the great Professor Chomsky inform you all that the stories about the camps in Bosnia were a lie – that I was hallucinating that day, that the skeletons of the dead so meticulously re-assembled by the International Commission for Missing Persons are all plastic? That the dear friends I have in Bosnia, the USA, the UK and elsewhere who struggle to put back together lives that were broken by Omarska and Trnopolje are making it all up?

Some press release that would have been. Along with the owner of the site of the Omarska camp, the mighty Mittal Steel Corporation, Amnesty International would have crushed it pretty quick.  How fitting that Chomsky and Mittal Steel find common cause. Yet how logical, and to me, obvious.  After all, during the Bosnian war, it was the British Foreign Office, the CIA, the UN and great powers who, like the revisionists Chomsky champions, most eagerly opposed any attempt to stop the genocide that lasted, as it was encouraged by them and their allies in high politics to last, for three bloody years from 1992 until the Srebrenica massacre of 1995.

Yours, in disgust and despair,

Ed Vulliamy,
The Observer

 

Open letter to Amnesty International from the Society for Threatened Peoples International (STPI), 30 October 2009

You are a genocide denier, Professor Chomsky !

Dear Professor Chomsky,

Dear Friends of Amnesty International,

Once again you find yourself invited to appear in a public forum, this time in Belfast. In the past, Belfast was a city with a long-standing reputation for discrimination against the Catholic population, but today those of us who are familiar with the city’s past history of conflict, crime and disorder are pleased and relieved that the Protestants and Catholics of Northern Ireland have finally emerged from a long dark tunnel.

The focus of our human rights organisation’s work is the support that we give to minority groups who have been the victims of genocide and dispossession. The two guiding principles inspiring us are that firstly we work with the people “Von denen keiner spricht” – the people no-one talks about, and secondly we are “Auf keinem Auge blind” – never turning a blind eye.  We believe that “persecution, extermination and expulsion, the establishment of concentration camps and rape camps are always and everywhere crimes, now just as they were in the past.  Irrespective of which government is responsible and on which continent and in which country those crimes are being perpetrated. The legacy bequeathed to us by all the victims of yesterday is an obligation to come to the assistance of the victims of today”.

You, Professor Chomsky, choose to ignore those precepts.  You call genocide genocide when it suits your ideological purposes.  Who could condone the murkier aspects of American foreign policy or fail to condemn the way that policy has supported and encouraged crimes against humanity? But you express your criticism of the crimes of the recent past in a perverse way, that makes genocide the almost exclusive prerogative of organisations with close links to the US. It is only then that you consider it to be genocide.  And it is only your political/ideological friends who are apparently incapable of committing genocide.

That was the situation in Cambodia.  While the international press was reporting how the genocide of the Khmer Rouge had eliminated one in every three or four of that country‘s inhabitants, you were laying the blame for those crimes at the door of the US.  That was shameful and in any reasonable person stirred memories of Holocaust denial elsewhere in the world.

In the same way you have denied the genocide perpetrated in Bosnia-Herzegovina by Serb forces who killed not only Bosnian Muslims but along with them Bosnian Serbs and Croats as well who had chosen to remain alongside them, in the besieged city of Sarajevo for example.

To deny the fact of genocide in Bosnia is absurd, particularly when both the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague and the International Court of Justice, also in The Hague, have had no hesitation in confirming that that genocide was perpetrated in Bosnia, above all at Srebrenica.

For the benefit of the apparently unpolitical and ideologically uncommitted Friends of Amnesty International we are prepared once again to provide a summary of the facts of genocide in Bosnia and Herzegovina. And we should like to remind you of them, too, Professor Chomsky, in your denial of genocide:

1. 200,000 civilians interned in over one hundred concentration, detention and rape camps.

2. Many thousands of internees murdered in concentration camps including Omarska, Manjača, Keraterm, Trnopolje, Luka Brčko, Sušica and Foča.

3. Members of the non-Serb political and intellectual elites systematically arrested and eliminated.

4. Approximately 2.2 million Bosnians displaced, exiled and scattered to the four corners of the globe.

5. Many thousands of unrecorded deaths still missing from the official statistics, including children, the elderly and sick and wounded refugees.

6. 500,000 Bosnians in five UN so-called “safe areas” (Tuzla, Goražde, Srebrenica, Žepa, and Bihać) and other, fallen, enclaves such as Cerska besieged, starved, sniped at, shelled and many of them killed over a period of as long as four years in some cases.

7. A four year-long artillery bombardment of the sixth UN safe area, the city of Sarajevo, killing approximately 11,000, including 1500 children.

8. Massacres and mass executions in many towns and municipalities in northern, western and eastern Bosnia (the Posavina, the Prijedor area and the Podrinje).

9. Hundreds of villages and urban areas systematically destroyed.

10. The entire heritage of Islamic religious and cultural monuments, including 1189 mosques and madrassas, destroyed, and extensive destruction of Catholic religious monuments including as many as 500 churches and religious houses.

11. Remains of approximately 15,000 missing victims still to be found, exhumed and identified.

12. 284 UN soldiers taken hostage and used as human shields.

13. Over 20 thousand Bosnian Muslim women raped, in rape camps and elsewhere.

14. 8376 men and boys from the town of Srebrenica murdered and their bodies concealed in mass graves.

The history of Kosovo is familiar to people who know Southeastern Europe: After the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, Kosovo was annexed to the Serb-dominated Kingdom of Serbs, Croatians and Slovenes (1918). Following the original occupation and then again in the 1920s, 1930s and 1950s Yugoslavian and Serbian governments expelled the Albanians to Turkey where well over one million people of Albanian origin live today. After the gradual dismantling of Kosovo’s autonomy, proclaimed too late by Tito, Slobodan Milosevic’s army and militia killed some 10,000 Albanians and forced half the population – roughly one million people – to flee.  The NATO military intervention, some specific aspects of which must certainly be condemned, halted the killing and expulsions. 

Someone like yourself, Professor Chomsky, who on various occasions has shown himself unwilling to acknowledge genocide and goes so far as to deny it forfeits all credibility.  That is why we question your moral integrity and call on you to stand up before the public in Belfast and apologise for those hurtful comments of yours concerning the Cambodian, Bosnian and Kosovar victims of genocide.

Yours sincerely,

Tilman Zülch

President of the Society for Threatened Peoples International (STPI)

Monday, 2 November 2009 Posted by | Balkans, Bosnia, Former Yugoslavia, Genocide, Kosovo, Serbia | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Noam Chomsky and genocidal causality

ChomskyCosicIt is with some hesitation that I comment on the exchange between Noam Chomsky and Ian Williams over the question of responsibility for the bloodshed in Kosova in the late 1990s. Chomsky has no expertise and nothing interesting to say on the topic of the former Yugoslavia, and it is only because of his status as the world’s no. 1 ‘anti-imperialist’ guru that his utterances on the topic attract as many responses as they do. Chomsky epitomises the ‘anti-imperialist’ ideologue who believes in two things: 1) that the US is to blame for everything; and 2) that everything the US does is bad. If you share this worldview, then nothing said by Chomsky’s critics, such as Williams or Oliver Kamm, is going to convince you that he may be wrong on Kosova. If, on the other hand, you do not share this worldview, and are not star-struck by the celebrity Chomsky, then his rambling comparisons between the Western response over Kosova and the Western response over East Timor can only appear extremely tortuous and boring. It is tiresome yet again to point out, for example, the absolute falsehood of Chomsky’s claim that ‘the crimes in East Timor at the same time’ as the Kosovo war ‘were far worse than anything reported in Kosovo prior to the NATO bombing’ – it simply isn’t true.

I am using Chomsky, therefore, only to open a discussion on the question of genocidal causality, and the insidious nature of the sophistry employed by Chomsky and his ‘anti-imperialist’ comrades: that Serbian ethnic-cleansing in Kosova occurred in response to the NATO bombing and was therefore NATO’s fault. As Chomsky put it: ‘The NATO bombing did not end the atrocities but rather precipitated by far the worst of them, as had been anticipated by the NATO command and the White House.’ The thrust of Chomsky’s argument is that since NATO commanders predicted that the NATO bombing would lead to a massive escalation of Serbian attacks on the Kosova Albanian civilian population, and since this prediction was borne out, then NATO is responsible for having cold-bloodedly caused the atrocities that occurred after the bombing started.

The falsehood of this logic can be demonstrated if we ask the following questions:

1) Chomsky claims that the bombing precipitated ‘by far the worst’ of the atrocities, but what precipitated the bombing ?

The answer is that the NATO bombing of Serbia in March 1999 was precipitated by Belgrade’s rejection of the Rambouillet Accords. Belgrade was aware that rejecting the Rambouillet Accords would precipitate Serbia being bombed by NATO, but rejected them nevertheless. By Chomsky’s own logic, therefore, Serbia’s own actions precipitated the NATO bombings, and were consequently responsible for those bombings. Since, according to Chomsky, the bombings led to the atrocities, that means that Serbia was responsible for the atrocities after all.

What Chomsky would like us to believe, is that if a US or NATO action produced a predictable Serbian response, then the response was the fault of the US/NATO. But if, on the other hand, a Serbian action produced a predictable US/NATO response, then the response was still the fault of the US/NATO. This is self-evidently a case of double standards.

2) Chomsky claims that the bombing precipitated ‘by far the worst’ of the atrocities, but what would have been precipitated by a failure to bomb ?

From reading Chomsky and his fellow ‘anti-imperialists’, one would almost believe that the bloodshed in Kosova had been – in Edward Said’s words – a ‘Sunday school picnic’ prior to the NATO bombing. Yet this is what Human Rights Watch reported in January 1999, more than two months before the bombing began:

The government forces intensified their offensive throughout July and August [1998], despite promises from Milosevic that it had stopped. By mid-August, the government had retaken much of the territory that had been held by the KLA, including their stronghold of Malisevo. Unable to protect the civilian population, the KLA retreated into Drenica and some pockets in the West.

Some of the worst atrocities to date occurred in late September, as the government’s offensive was coming to an end. On September 26, eighteen members of an extended family, mostly women, children, and elderly, were killed near the village of Donje Obrinje by men believed to be with the Serbian special police. Many of the victims had been shot in the head and showed signs of bodily mutilation. On the same day, thirteen ethnic Albanian men were executed in the nearby village of Golubovac by government forces. One man survived and was subsequently taken out of the country by the international agencies in Kosovo.

The government offensive was an apparent attempt to crush civilian support for the rebels. Government forces attacked civilians, systematically destroyed towns, and forced thousands of people to flee their homes. One attack in August near Senik killed seventeen civilians who were hiding in the woods. The police were seen looting homes, destroying already abandoned villages, burning crops, and killing farm animals.

The majority of those killed and injured were civilians. At least 300,000 people were displaced, many of them women and children now living without shelter in the mountains and woods. In October, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) identified an estimated 35,000 of the displaced as particularly at risk of exposure to the elements. Most were too afraid to return to their homes due to the continued police presence. [our emphasis]

(Contrary to what Chomsky says, the number killed in Kosova prior to the start of the NATO bombing was greater than the number of East Timorese civilians killed by the Indonesians and their proxies during the whole of 1999).

Chomsky is saying that if – instead of presenting an ultimatum to Belgrade at Rambouillet and then proceeding to bomb Serbia when Belgrade defied that ultimatum – the NATO powers had given Belgrade a free hand in Kosova, then Serbian repression in Kosova would simply have continued at what he considers to be an acceptable level. Of course, there is no way of proving one way or the other what would have happened in Kosova if NATO hadn’t gone to war in the spring of 1999, but given the catalogue of horrors in the former Yugoslavia that were demonstrably not ‘precipitated’ by Western military intervention – the destruction of Vukovar, the siege of Sarajevo, the Srebrenica massacre, the killing of at least 100,000 Bosnians, the ethnic-cleansing of 300,000 Kosovars, etc. – the evidence suggests that it would not have resembled Edward Said’s ‘Sunday school picnic’.

3) Chomsky claims that the bombing precipitated ‘by far the worst’ of the atrocities, but even if this were true, would this make those atrocities NATO’s fault ?

Genocides are invariably ‘precipitated’ by something or other. The Armenian Genocide was ‘precipitated’ by the outbreak of World War I and Tsarist Russia’s military advance into Anatolia. The Rwandan Genocide was ‘precipitated’ by the Rwandan Patriotic Front’s offensive against the Rwandan Army, the Arusha Accords and by the shooting down of the plane carrying Rwanda’s President Juvenal Habyarimana. Of course, it is entirely legitimate for historians to interpret instances of genocide as having been ‘precipitated’ by something or other, but anyone who uses such explanations to shift the responsibility away from the perpetrators – whether Ottoman, Hutu, German, Serbian or other – is simply an apologist or a denier.

On 30 January 1939, Adolf Hitler gave a speech to the Reichstag in which he stated: ‘If the world of international financial Jewry, both in and outside of Europe, should succeed in plunging the nations into another world war, the result will not be the Bolshevisation of the world and thus a victory for Judaism. The result will be the extermination of the Jewish race in Europe.’

Hitler therefore made it explicit that the outbreak of a world war would result in the extermination of the Jews in Europe. Indeed, the outbreak and course of World War II ‘precipitated’ the Holocaust. Britain and France, when they declared war on Germany in September 1939, were by Chomsky’s logic responsible for the Holocaust. Some ‘anti-imperialists’ have, in fact, attempted to make this very point.

In sum, Chomsky’s case is a disgrace at the level of plain reasoning, never mind at the level of ethics.

Let there be no mistake about this: atrocities, ethnic cleansing and genocide are the responsibility of those who commit them. Whatever ‘precipitates’ them, they are the fault of their perpetrators. And it would be a sorry world indeed if were were to allow perpetrators to deter us from taking action to stop atrocities, ethnic cleansing and genocide, by their threat to commit still worse crimes in the event that we do take action.

Image: Chomsky agreeing with Dobrica Cosic, the leading ideological architect of the Wars of Yugoslav Succession, on the need to partition Kosova – as reported by the Serbian magazine NIN

Hat tip: Andras Riedlmayer, Daniel of Srebrenica Genocide Blog.

Tuesday, 25 August 2009 Posted by | Balkans, Former Yugoslavia, Genocide, Kosovo, Serbia | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The racist case for partition

MontgomeryWilliam Montgomery, former US ambassador to Bulgaria, Croatia and Serbia-Montenegro and former advisor to President Clinton on Bosnia, has an article in today’s International Herald Tribune, arguing for the partition of Kosova and Bosnia:

In both Kosovo and Bosnia, we need to consider different solutions — ones which we may not like and which will have complications of their own, but which will be really…achievable. This is the only way the international community can bring its involvement in the Balkans to an end. In Kosovo, this probably means some form of partition between the Albanians and the Serbs combined with joint recognition, pledges of full rights for minorities and a variety of sweeteners from the EU. Bosnia is more complicated. There, a solution probably involves shaping a different relationship within Bosnia and permitting the Republika Srpska, the Serbian portion of the divided country, to hold a referendum on independence. This would have to include a lot of guarantees about future relationships, and be done as a complete package led and implemented by the international community.

Montgomery admits that adopting this position represents a policy turn-about on his part. He justifies it thus:

The reality is that no amount of threats or inducements, including fast membership in the European Union or NATO, will persuade the Bosnian Serbs to cede a significant portion of the rights and privileges given them under the Dayton Agreement to the central government, as the Bosnian Muslims (Bosniaks) and the international community are determined to bring about. The Bosnian Serbs are determined to have full control over their own destiny, and fear that if they continue to transfer authority to a central government, the more numerous Bosniaks will end up in control. The end result is continued tension between the two Bosnian entities, a dysfunctional country, and the prospect of many more years of efforts by Western politicians — like Vice President Joe Biden on his recent visit — to pound a square peg into a round hole. I know of what I speak: For more than 15 years, I was one of these pounders. I finally came to understand that the historical experiences in this region have implanted a mind-set very different from our own. We keep expecting the people in the Balkans to think and react as we do: It is not going to happen.

The last two sentences are worth re-reading:

I finally came to understand that the historical experiences in this region have implanted a mind-set very different from our own. We keep expecting the people in the Balkans to think and react as we do: It is not going to happen.

In other words, Montgomery is saying that the Balkan peoples are oriental savages who will never accept the values of civilised humanity. This being so, he feels that their problems can’t be solved by civilised solutions, and the only option is to let the savages wear their grass skirts and bones through their noses, and to enjoy their traditional right to dance round idols and cook other savages in large pots.

It was ever thus. The supporters of appeasement/partition have long tended to justify their abandonment of principle with reference to the fact that the Balkan peoples are supposedly ‘not like us’ and don’t think like ‘we’ do, but are just a bunch of savages in the grip of ‘ancient ethnic hatreds’, to which civilised standards of right and wrong cannot be applied.

But who is this ‘we’ ? In Montgomery’s case, the ‘we’ is the former servants of the Clinton Administration in the US. It is this group of people that bears a very large share of the blame for the mess that Bosnia is currently in. In defiance of mainstream US opinion, Clinton sided with the pro-appeasement Europeans over Bosnia. In the autumn 1995, he rescued Republika Srpska from the jaws of defeat and imposed the Dayton settlement on Bosnia that gave the Serb nationalists most of the territory and autonomy they wanted, and that has ensured Bosnia has never been able to function as a state since. After Dayton, the Clinton Administration refrained from arresting Radovan Karadzic and other war-criminals, being basically content to let the country rot. This was probably related to the fact that Clinton’s envoy Richard Holbrooke made a deal with Karadzic, promising he would not be arrested, and also because Clinton viewed Milosevic, right up until Milosevic’s rejection of the Rambouillet Accords in March 1999, as a partner in maintaing order in the Balkans.

First Clinton’s people create a mess in Bosnia. Then, after the mess has remained a mess for over thirteen years, they blame it on the fact that Balkan peoples don’t ‘think like we do’.

But Montgomery is wrong: there are plenty of people in the Balkans who think like ‘we’ do. In Bosnia, they are Republika Srpska Prime Minsiter Milorad Dodik and the Serb nationalists, who share Montgomery’s thinking about allowing Republika Srpska to secede. Just as the indicted war-criminals Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic shared Clinton’s thinking about the need to establish Republika Srpska in the first place.

Montgomery’s ‘we’ is not the ‘we’ of the principled democratic West. It is the ‘we’ of the war criminals and their appeasers.

Friday, 5 June 2009 Posted by | Balkans, Bosnia, Former Yugoslavia, Kosovo | , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

It is a mistake to pretend that Kosova is unique

JasamKosovoMost of us can probably remember, at least once in our lives, asking some apparatchik something along the lines of ‘Couldn’t you please, please make an exception, just this once ?’ and getting the reply: ‘I can’t do that ! If I made an exception for you, I’d have to make an exception for everybody. It’d be more than my job’s worth.’ You and the apparatchik both know that he could perfectly well make an exception for you if he wanted to. But you also both know that he is right in saying that there is nothing special about you, and that you are not uniquely worthy of being treated as an exception. The question is: does he like you or doesn’t he ?

Similarly, trying to pretend that recognising Kosova’s unilateral secession from Serbia is legitimate on the grounds that it is wholly unique and without precedent in international relations is unconvincing, firstly because it isn’t true, and secondly because it begs the question: if it can happen once, can it not happen twice or multiple times ? To which the only reasonable answer is: yes. There may very well be occasions in the future when the Western alliance will be forced to recognise an act of unilateral secession by a subject people and territory from the state that rules them. Everybody knows this is entirely possible, and pretending it isn’t simply destroys the credibility of those who do.

Of course, the reason our officials and statesmen are pretending that Kosova is a unique case is in order to avoid scaring away other countries from recognising Kosova’s independence; countries they fear might otherwise worry a precedent were being established that could be applied to a secessionist region or nationality of their own. But this calculation, too, is misguided, because a) it rests upon a fallacy, and b) it represents a bad geopolitical tactic. We shall briefly explain the fallacy, before focusing on the bigger question of why the tactic is a bad one.

a) It is fallacy to point to Kosova as a precedent, because if a precedent has been established, it was established long before Kosova’s independence was recognised. It was certainly established by the early 1990s, when all the members of the former multinational federations of the Soviet Union, Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia who wanted independence were granted it – except Kosova. This was despite the fact that in the case of Yugoslavia, the federal members that declared independence had done so unilaterally, without the consent of either the federal centre, or of all other members of the federation. There is absolutely no reason why the recognition of Kosova’s independence should not be treated as essentially the same as that of Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia-Hercegovina and Macedonia. In contrast to Abkhazia and South Ossetia, for example, which were not members of the Soviet Union but simply autonomous entities within Georgia, Kosova was a full member of the Yugoslav federation in its own right, independently of the fact that it was also an entity within Serbia. As a member of the defunct Yugoslav federation, Kosova was entitled to self-determination after the dissolution of that federation had been internationally recognised, and after other members of the federation had been accorded that right.

More generally, the former Yugoslav states are far from the first unilaterally seceding entities to be accorded international recognition – think of France’s recognition of the US in 1778 and Britain’s recognition of Bangladesh in 1972.

b) There is no need to pretend that Kosova is a unique case to avoid scaring other states away from recognising its independence, for the simple reason that, when all is said and done, other states’ policies on whether or not to recognise Kosova are really not determined by fear of Kosova becoming a precedent – even if these states are faced with separatist threats of their own. Turkey, faced with a very real Kurdish separatist insurgency and bitterly opposed to the secession of Nagorno Karabakh from its traditional ally, Azerbaijan, was nevertheless one of the first states to recognise Kosova’s independence. Turkey has also promoted the break-up of Cyprus, via the unilateral secession of the self-proclaimed ‘Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus’. Russia, which vocally opposes the independence of Kosova, which is faced with secessionist movements within its own borders and which brutally crushed Chechnya’s bid for independence, has nevertheless simultaneously promoted the unilateral secession of Abkhazia and South Ossetia from Georgia. India, which likewise opposes Kosova’s independence and likewise faces secessionist movements within its own borders, was instrumental in achieving Bangladesh’s unilateral secession from Pakistan. In other words, states which might be seen as having as much reason as most to fear a ‘Kosovo precedent’ being established are quite ready to support unilateral acts of secession when they feel it is in their interests to do so.

It might be objected that the states in question are all powerful enough to feel confident that they can crush any secessionist movement they face. Yet fragile Macedonia, which fought an armed conflict with Albanian separatists earlier this decade, and which might have more reason than almost any state to fear a ‘Kosovo precedent’, has recognised Kosova. Fear of the ‘Kosovo precedent’ is not, therefore, a decisive factor in a state’s decision on whether or not to recognise Kosova’s independence (we can make an exception here for states such as Georgia, Azerbaijan and Moldova that are currently in a state of  territorial dismemberment, and that, were they to recognise Kosova, might conceivably suffer retaliation in kind from Belgrade or Moscow)

It may be that, all things being equal, a state faced with a secessionist movement of its own is more likely to sympathise with Belgrade than with Pristina. In one or two cases, such as Spain’s, this sympathy may be electorally significant enough to sway the course of its foreign policy. But so far as almost all non-recognisers are concerned, other factors count for more: a state is likely to oppose Kosova’s independence if it is hostile to the West (Russia, Iran, Venezuela); if it has traditionally enjoyed good relations with Belgrade (Greece, Egypt, Indonesia); or if it simply sees no particular interest in recognising it. All these factors are reasons why it is not only pointless, but actually counter-productive to pander to the opponents of recognition by reassuring them that Kosova is a unique case and will not become a precedent.

As things stand, rogue states have no reason to fear that the international community will ever grant independence to secessionist territories. They therefore enjoy a virtual carte blanche to suppress secessionist movements or other rebellions as brutally as they wish. None of the forms of deterrent threatened against or exerted on the Sudanese regime, from sanctions to international war-crimes indictments, appears to have cooled its bloodlust with regard to Darfur. But were Khartoum to fear that its genocidal actions might potentially result in the loss of territory, it might be less inclined to pursue them. The Western alliance would enjoy that much more leeway in exerting pressure over a rogue state such as Sudan.

Conversely, a close ally such as Turkey, which faces a genuine secessionist insurgency, knows very well that the Western states will never make it the victim of such a precedent: everyone knows that Turkish Kurdistan is not going to be liberated by NATO, as Kosova was; a ‘Kosovo precedent’ will not frighten states like Turkey. But this does not mean that such states can get away with indiscriminate brutality with impunity. Turkey’s treatment of its Kurdish population has dramatically improved over the last ten years, as Ankara’s goal of EU membership has required it to improve its human rights record. Just as NATO acted as the bad cop over Serbia and Kosova, so the EU has acted as the good cop over Turkey and the Kurds. Western allies can be guided toward ending repression and discrimination against national minorities, reducing the appeal of violent separatist movements. Rogue states, on the other hand, should have reason to fear that their brutality may potentially result in a loss of territory. For all states that abuse the human rights of their national minorities, this is a healthy choice to be faced with.

This does not, of course, mean that the Western alliance should indiscriminately threaten states that abuse human rights with territorial penalties. Rather, the ‘Kosovo precedent’ could function rather like the nuclear deterrent, i.e. deter more by its potential than by its actual application, and by its occasional application against only the worst offenders: as was Milosevic’s Serbia; as is Bashir’s Sudan. Nor would a ‘Kosovo precedent’ mean a free-for-all for all secessionist movements. There is a lot of space between the untenable pretense that Kosova is ‘unique’ and the rather comic nightmare-scenario threatened by Kosova’s enemies: of innumerable separatist territories all over the world responding to Kosova’s independence by trying to become Kosovas themselves. Kosova itself, after all, was scarcely given red-carpet treatment by the Western alliance in its move to independence: a decade elapsed between Milosevic’s brutal suppression of its autonomy and its liberation by NATO; almost another decade elapsed between liberation and the recognition of its independence, during which time it was forced to endure international administration and engage in exhaustive negotiations with its former oppressor. Even now, Kosova  is still faced with a very real threat of permanent territorial partition, as the Serbs maintain their hold on the north of the country. The Kosova model may not prove as straightforwardly attractive for other potential secessionists as the Cassandras claim.

Kosova’s independence was recognised as the result of a confluence of multiple factors: its existence as an entity in its own right within the Yugoslav federation; its overwhelmingly non-Serb, ethnic-Albanian population; the brutality of Belgrade’s treatment of this population; the unwillingness of the Milosevic regime to reach an accommodation with the Western alliance over the issue, following on from its years of trouble-making in Croatia and Bosnia; the unwillingness or inability of post-Milosevic Serbia in the 2000s to reach agreement with the Kosovars; and the simple lack of any workable alternative to independence. These were an exceptional set of circumstances. The truth is, that it is possible to envisage a similar set of circumstances leading the Western alliance to recognise the independence of another secessionist territory in the future. Sometimes it is better to tell the truth.

This article was published today on the website of the Henry Jackson Society.

Sunday, 31 May 2009 Posted by | Balkans, Former Yugoslavia, Kosovo, Serbia | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Turkey: Time for Erdogan and the AKP to go

erdoganperesWe have long defended the Turkish government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the Justice and Development Party (AKP) in the face of anti-democratic attacks from the Turkish Kemalist establishment and the ultranationalist right. This government has been a reforming force in Turkish politics and society, promoting democratisation and human rights at home and presiding over great economic growth while pursuing a moderate, progressive foreign policy abroad. The AKP government has improved the rights of women and Kurds, pursued detente with Armenia and Cyprus, tried to restrain Turkey’s hawks over the PKK and northern Iraq, and supported the fragile, threatened Balkan states of Macedonia and Kosova.

Nevertheless, any progressive regime that remains in power too long will cease to be progressive. And the indications are that the AKP government has reached this point. Its initially moderately Islamic ideology mirrored, for a time, the moderate Christianity of European Christian Democratic parties, and provided an appealing alternative Islamic message to that of the Islamists. By challenging the Kemalist establishment over the ban on headscarves in universities and the public sector, the government has simply been standing up for the right of religiously observant women to education and a career. Yet the government, whose public support has been declining and which performed badly in local elections last month, is increasingly slipping down the slope from moderate Islam to Islamic populism. In January, Erdogan flounced off the stage during a panel discussion with Israeli president Shimon Peres at the World Economic Forum, after accusing Peres over the Gaza offensive: ‘When it comes to killing, you know well how to kill.’ During the Gaza offensive, Erdogan regularly denounced Israel in Islamist terms, suggesting that ‘Allah would punish’ Israel, whose actions would lead to its own ‘destruction’.

That this had more to do with pandering to Muslim populism and rising anti-Semitism than to any genuine concern at Palestinian suffering is indicated by the fact that Erdogan has not displayed quite the same degree of anger at the crimes of the Islamist Sudanese regime in Darfur. Indeed, Sudanese president Omar Hassan al-Bashir was invited to Turkey in January 2008, when he reviewed a military guard of honour in Ankara in the company of Turkey’s president, the AKP’s Abdullah Gul, who described him as a ‘friend’. Bashir was invited to Turkey again in August, despite his indictment for genocide by the International Criminal Court. The Turkish government has extended a similarly warm welcome to Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, with whom it is developing a close friendship, and who was permitted to put on an anti-American and anti-Israeli display at Istanbul’s Blue Mosque. Ankara is also pursuing an increasingly close collaboration with Russia, and is obstructing the transit of Azerbaijani gas to Europe via the Nabucco pipeline project, thereby threatening a source of energy for Europe that would be independent of Moscow.

Perhaps most worryingly, Ankara has been blocking the accession of Danish prime minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen to become the next secretary-general of NATO, on account of his handling of the Danish cartoon controversy of 2005. In Erdogan’s own words: ‘We are receiving telephone calls from the Islamic world, telling us: “By God, this person should not become the secretary general of Nato and we have to take into consideration all these reactions”.’ The AKP’s Islamic populism is thus threatening the functioning of NATO.

Meanwhile, the Turkish government has hardened its stand on the Kurdish issue, with Erdogan warning the Kurdish people that, with regard to Turkey, they should ‘love it or leave it’, creating major difficulties for the AKP’s own Kurdish deputies in relation to their constituents. This is apparently linked to increasing government paranoia over the role of the US and Israeli intelligence services in the country. This shift may account for the AKP’s poor showing in Kurdish regions in Turkey’s recent local elections.

Erdogan is mutating from a Muslim moderate into a Muslim bigot; his government is becoming a negative force in world politics. It is time for them to go.

Saturday, 4 April 2009 Posted by | Anti-Semitism, Armenians, Darfur, Iran, Islam, Israel, Jews, Kosovo, Kurds, Macedonia, Middle East, NATO, Russia, Sudan, Turkey | 1 Comment

Let’s trade Ratko Mladic for Republika Srpska

srpskaBosnia-Hercegovina, the weakest spot in the European order in the Balkans, may be closer to renewed violent conflict than at any time since the war ended there in 1995. Milorad Dodik, prime minister of Bosnia’s Serb entity, the ‘Republika Srpska’ (RS), openly expresses his opposition to Bosnia’s continued existence, while working methodically to undermine it from within, paving the way for the Serb entity’s eventual secession. His radical stance appears to be catalysed by his desire to avoid investigation for fraud, corruption and misuse of finances by Bosnia’s central bodies. After Bosnia’s State Investigation and Protection Agency sent a report to the state proscutor’s office detailing allegations against Dodik, the latter responded that ‘Even the little faith I had in the state of Bosnia and Herzegovina is now lost due to this farce with the criminal charges against me’ and ‘They have made this country pointless.’ Bosnia’s Muslims, or Bosniaks, are meanwhile preparing to resist the secession of the Serb entity through force of arms. Serbia’s President Boris Tadic, torn between pro-European and nationalist impulses, has aligned himself with Dodik, claiming he is the victim of a ‘daily witch-hunt’. The Bosnian central state has virtually ceased to function. Already last autumn, the former High Representative of Bosnia, Lord (Paddy) Ashdown, and the architect of the Dayton Peace Accords, Richard Holbrooke, wrote in an article in The Guardian that Bosnia ‘is in real danger of collapse’. Yet the situation has only become worse since that article was penned, and shows every sign of deteriorating further.

It is, therefore, clear to anyone who cares to look that the constitutional order established in Bosnia by Dayton, based as it is upon two semi-independent entities (the RS and the Muslim-Croat Bosnian Federation) has ceased to function and has become a danger to regional peace and stability. The question is not whether this order needs to be replaced, but what it should be replaced with. The question ultimately boils down to whether Bosnia should be recentralised and reintegrated, so that the central institutions can function properly again, or whether Bosnia should be allowed effectively to disappear altogether.

Some argue that the RS should be allowed to secede and become an independent state, as Kosova has been allowed to secede from Serbia and Montenegro was allowed to secede from the State Union of Serbia and Montenegro. Yet this is a false parallel that demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of the constitutional nature of Bosnia on the part of those that draw it. Contemporary Bosnia is not a federation of entities that came together formally on the basis of their own individual sovereign wills, as was the old Yugoslav federation. After World War II, Montenegro, Serbia and the other Yugoslav republics came together voluntarily to form a federal union of sovereign members, while Kosova joined the People’s Republic of Serbia formally on the basis of a decision of its own assembly. By contrast, the RS was created as part of the overall peace settlement at Dayton that also created the two-entity Bosnia in place of the old Bosnian republic, and that was based on certain mutually agreed terms and conditions. The trade-off was that, on the one hand, the RS would be recognised as one of Bosnia’s two entities in extremely generous borders encompassing 49% of Bosnia’s territory, despite the fact that Serbs had comprised only slightly over half of the pre-war population of this territory, and only 31% of the pre-war population of Bosnia as a whole. And on the other hand, the RS would recognise that it formed an integral part of a unified Bosnian state.

Secession of the RS from Bosnia would constitute a violation of the terms of the Dayton Accords, therefore nullifying any obligation on the part of the other Bosnian parties and the international community to recognise its existence. Such an act of illegal secession would inevitably result in a Bosniak military response; the Western alliance would then effectively be faced with the unenviable choice between colluding in the illegal secession or colluding in its military crushing by the Bosniaks, with all the bloodshed that would involve. A successful dismembering of Bosnia would further encourage Serb efforts at dismembering Kosova, resurrecting Serbian expansionism and encouraging similar impulses on the parts of other Balkan peoples, such as the secession of the Albanian minority in Macedonia, with potentially catastrophic consequences for the region.

Far better, then, to ensure that the RS does not secede. Those complaining that the Serbs are supposedly being discriminated against by the international community, so far as national self-determination is concerned, should politely be reminded that the Bosnian Serbs are not being accorded any fewer rights in this respect than the Bosnian Croats, or than the Albanians in Macedonia – indeed, they have been accorded a higher degree of autonomy than either. Furthermore, the right to national self-determination also belongs to the non-Serb inhabitants of the territory of the RS who were expelled during the war; like Bosnia as a whole, the RS belongs to all its peoples, not just the Serbs or any other single ethnic group.

Indeed, the recognition of the RS in 1995 was made contingent upon its acceptance of additional terms, including that it permit the return of Muslim and Croat refugees to its territory and cooperate with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY). These terms have not been fulfilled: the RS, whose territory was nearly half Muslim and Croat in 1992, is today still almost entirely ethnically purely Serb, while its record of collaboration with the ICTY is the worst of any state or entity in the region. Ratko Mladic, the architect of the genocidal Srebrenica massacre and one of the two most high-profile Bosnian Serb war-crimes indictees, has still not been delivered to The Hague, while the other, former RS president Radovan Karadzic, was arrested in Belgrade only last year, having previously enjoyed years of fugitive existence in the RS and Serbia, undisturbed by their authorities. Not only has the RS no right to secede, but by violating the terms of the Dayton Accord, it has forfeited the right to exist in the form mandated by Dayton. In the name of both justice and regional stability, we have every reason to scale back the autonomy of the RS and reintegrate it with the rest of the country, so that the Bosnian central institutions are able to function. Bosnia is heading toward either partition or reintegration; since it cannot be partitioned without catastrophe, it must be reintegrated. The RS may continue to exist at the administrative and ceremonial level, as a district of Bosnia with its own flag and other symbols, but real sovereignty over the whole of Bosnia must reside in Sarajevo if the state is to function.

The reintegration of Bosnia can serve to kill two birds with one stone; it can solve the Bosnian problem, and solve the Serbian problem as well. Leaving aside the question of Kosova, the problem with Serbia is that it is not being allowed to join the EU given its failure to arrest Mladic. Yet what the EU views as punishment, the anti-European nationalists in Serbia view as reward: as Sonja Biserko, head of Serbia’s Helsinki Committee, has argued, punishing Serbia over Mladic by keeping it out of the EU is counterproductive, as it further weakens the already weak pro-European element in Serbian politics. Biserko therefore favours Serbia’s unconditional entry into the EU. Yet the Bosniaks would rightly see an end to European pressure on Serbia over Mladic as grossly unfair; they would be entirely justified in responding to such a European betrayal of the terms of the Dayton Accords with more radical measures.

Allowing Serbia to join the EU without arresting Mladic would be a reasonable quid pro quo for the reintegration of the RS into Bosnia, solving both the Serbian and Bosnian problems, bolstering the pro-European element in Serbia while compensating the Bosniaks and Bosnian citizens as a whole for the failure to arrest Mladic. The warrant for Mladic’s arrest can remain outstanding, should he ever resurface.

This would leave the unresolved dispute over Kosova as the principal remaining source of instability in the former Yugoslavia. It is unrealistic to expect Serbia to recognise Kosovo as a condition for EU membership. But the EU could impose more reasonable conditions: firstly, an end to Serbia’s destabilisation of and embargo against Kosova, and to its promotion of parallel structures among the Serb minority there; secondly, a formal undertaking not to veto Kosova’s eventual membership of the EU; and thirdly, an undertaking to respect the autonomy, unity and indivisibility of Kosova, something that Belgrade already formally adheres to. This would leave only an unresolved dispute between Belgrade and the majority of EU states over whether the self-governing, unified Kosova heading toward EU membership is or is not an independent state (and entities do not have to be independent to join or leave the EU – witness Greenland, which seceded from the European Economic Community in 1985 despite the fact that it was an autonomous part of Denmark, which remained in the EEC).

European leaders may baulk at attempting any such ‘radical’ solution. Yet if they do, they may find themselves faced with a much worse crisis in the near future, one that will really require drastic measures to rectify.

This article was published today on the website of the Henry Jackson Society.

Saturday, 28 February 2009 Posted by | Balkans, Bosnia, Croatia, Former Yugoslavia, Genocide, Kosovo, Serbia | Leave a comment

Richard Seymour’s ‘The Liberal Defence of Murder’

seymourThe blogger Richard ‘Lenin’ Seymour of ‘Lenin’s Tomb‘, a member of the Socialist Workers Party (SWP), published his first book last year, entitled The Liberal Defence of Murder (Verso, London, 2008). Rather than review the whole of the book and make points that other reviewers are likely to make, I am going to focus on the section (pp. 190-212) dealing with my own area of special interest: the former Yugoslavia, to see how Seymour’s thesis holds up. I should declare a special interest, in that I am myself quoted critically in passing in this book, and my own parents, Branka Magas and Quintin Hoare, come in for particular criticism in it. Despite this, and despite the fact that I am not exactly a fan of Seymour, his politics or his party, this will be a review in measured tones, as I would like the facts to speak for themselves.

Seymour explains the title in his opening sentence: ‘This book seeks to explain a current of irrational thought that supports military occupation and murder in the name of virtue and decency.’ Broadly speaking, this book is a critique of liberal and left-wing supporters of humanitarian military intervention, as in the cases of Bosnia, Kosova, Iraq and Afghanistan. Nevertheless, in the section of the book dealing with the wars in Croatia and Bosnia (pp. 190-205), Seymour is unable to provide any evidence that any of his liberal targets did, indeed, support ‘murder’ – unless simply being in favour of Western military intervention automatically makes one a supporter of ‘murder’. Even so, there are no quotations in this section dealing with just how, or in what way, the liberals in question did indeed support military intervention. Seymour tells us, in his own words, that Ken Livingstone ‘called for force to be used against the Serbs’; that Michael Foot ‘pleaded for a British humanitarian intervention’; and so on. There are no examples provided of any bloodcurdling war-cries, or calls for the Serbs to be bombed back to the Stone Age, or the like. Seymour does a bit better in the section on Kosova (pp. 206-211), where he does provide a couple of quotes, one of which actually comes across as quite bloodthirsty – by Thomas Friedman of the New York Times, who is quoted here as supporting attacks on the Serbian civilian infrastructure. But that really is just about it: Seymour has no case whatsoever that liberal interventionists supported ‘murder’ in Croatia or Bosnia, and only one quote by one individual that arguably supports his case with regard to Kosova. So we are left with a tautology: support for military intervention is defined as support for murder, therefore any liberal who supported military intervention is evidence of a ‘liberal defence of murder’.

Why, you may ask, did it then take Seymour a whole twenty-one pages to make this point ? How does he fill up those pages ? Well, Seymour’s main argument is not that liberals supported military intervention that might have or did kill Serb civilians. Rather, he attempts to argue that military intervention was wrong because 1) Serb atrocities, and Milosevic’s regime, were not as bad as liberal interventionists made them out to be; and 2) that the Croatians and Bosnians were not worthy of being defended by Western military intervention, because their governments were just as bad as Milosevic’s – possibly worse – and were guilty of the same atrocities. So far from writing a polemic on the evils of Western military intervention, or on the bloodthirsty character of its supporters, Seymour has written a polemic playing down the evils of Milosevic and Serb nationalism, playing up the evils of Franjo Tudjman and Alija Izetbegovic and Croat and Muslim nationalism, then condemning those liberals who – as he sees it – got the balance wrong. The only quotations he actually produces for his prosecutor’s case against the ‘liberals’ in the entire section on Bosnia and Croatia are quotes expressing condemnation of Serb atrocities, or of Western complicity in them. So we have Alain Finkielkraut quoted using the term ‘Guernica’; Bernard-Henri Levi quoted calling for the lifting of the arms embargo against the Bosnians; Christopher Hitchens quoted as claiming that Serbia and Croatia were led by ‘fascist parties’; Michael Ignatieff quoted describing what was happening as ‘genocide’, and so forth. But as Seymour makes clear, he does not believe that Milosevic and his Serb forces were fascist, or that genocide occurred, or that the Serb forces ran concentration camps, etc.

This, then, is the case for the prosecution: not that liberals actually supported murder, or even that they supported military intervention, but that they made Milosevic and Serb ethnic-cleansing out to be worse than they were, when really, they weren’t bad enough to justify military intervention. Before we turn to Seymour’s actual methodology, it is worth pausing to examine what the premise of this argument is. Seymour is saying that if you used terms like ‘fascism’, ‘genocide’, ‘concentration camps’, etc., to describe Milosevic and his forces and what they were doing, you are a liberal supporter of murder. The correct response, in Seymour’s view, to news and images of Serb ethnic-cleansing and atrocities (which Seymour does not deny took place) is not to demand action in defence of the victims, but to ensure that the perpetrators of this ethnic cleansing and these atrocities get a fair coverage and are not condemned in too strong terms. So it really doesn’t take much to be a liberal defender of murder: if you react to images of Serb persecution of Muslim civilian prisoners in camps by using the term ‘concentration camp’, or if you describe a Serb ethnic cleanser as a ‘fascist’, you’re one of the bad guys. Whereas if you try to moderate liberal condemnation of the concentration camps and the ethnic cleansers, as Seymour does, you’re one of the good guys.

Consequently, what Seymour has written is a defence of the Milosevic regime and Serb ethnic-cleansing from their liberal critics. Complaining about the Western media’s treatment of the conflict, Seymour writes that ‘while Izetbegovic was deified, Milosevic received no credit for taking risks with his support by urging the Serbs in Krajina and the Republika Srpska to accept various deals to end the conflict.’ (p. 205) Thus, Seymour condemns Western journalists for failing to portray Milosevic as the peacenik that, in Seymour’s eyes, he really was (as for actual evidence that the Western media ‘deified’ Izetbegovic – Seymour doesn’t provide any).

Seymour’s critique centres not on actual liberal support for military intervention, let alone murder, but on what he sees as a mistaken liberal analysis of what was going on in the former Yugoslavia, and on inappropriate terminology. He condemns the liberals not for having the wrong principles, but for applying them incorrectly. Since there is no real clash of ideals between Seymour and his various liberal targets expressed here, his case rests on how effective his piecemeal demolition job of their case turns out to be.

Rather than bore the reader by going once more into the rights and wrongs of the former Yugoslav conflict, I am going to analyse Seymour’s case entirely in its own terms, by looking in turn at his principal charges against his liberal targets.

1) ‘Backing secession’.

Seymour begins with a critique of my parents, Branka Magas and Quintin Hoare. He quotes a source as saying that ‘when Branka went to visit Zagreb, she flipped over to Croatian nationalism. I mean, she simply backed secession.’ (p. 192) Seymour doesn’t draw any conclusion from this assertion; he simply allows it to speak for itself.

Who is the source in question ? None other than Peter Gowan, a former friend of my mother’s and father’s who parted company with them over the former Yugoslavia. Gowan isn’t by anybody’s standards an expert on the former Yugoslavia; he’s merely a left-wing writer who broadly shares Seymour’s ‘anti-imperialist’ political views and has similar views on the former Yugoslavia. The source is given as ‘author interview with Peter Gowan’.

What Seymour is saying is that he had a chat with his mate Peter, and Peter used to know Branka, and Peter said that Branka supported Croatian nationalism and Croatian secession. We’re talking ‘man in the pub’ scholarship here. But leaving aside the fact that Gowan has zero credibility as an objective judge of Branka’s political evolution, the accusation that Branka ‘backed secession’ is a rather unfortunate one for Seymour to make.

On 31 March 1990, Seymour’s party paper, the Socialist Worker, itself ‘backed secession’ when it wrote: ‘The Lithuanian masses overwhelmingly rejected Russian rule given a chance to vote for the first time recently. They want independence. That is their right. Every socialist should support them.’

On 13 July 1991, the Socialist Worker ‘backed secession’ in Yugoslavia as well: ‘First, the mass of people cannot gain by forcing an ethnic group to stay in a state where it doesn’t want to. That means recognising the right of any national minority to separate from the state if it so wishes, and opposing the murderous activities of the Yugoslav army.’

In other words, Branka is condemned as a liberal defender for murder because she supported exactly the same thing for Croatia – the right to national self-determination – that Seymour’s party supported for Lithuania, and which it initially supported for the Croats as well.

2) ‘Unfair accusations of fascism’.

Seymour accuses his liberal targets that they ‘consistently demonised Slobodan Milosevic as a “fascist” or its equivalent, which was a false and unnecessary embellishment when he was merely a bureaucratic thug’ (p. 194). This complaint comes from someone who routinely describes the British far-right party, the ‘British National Party’, not merely as fascist, but as ‘Nazi’; I don’t particularly object to this, but it is clearly a ‘false and unncessary embellishment’ of the kind that apparently makes one a liberal defender of murder. The only explanation for this double standard is that Seymour supports action against the BNP but retrospectively opposes any action against Milosevic.

But there is no need to trawl through Seymour’s blog to find evidence of his double standards: he devotes nearly a full page (pp. 196-197) to describing the fascist affinities of Croat nationalism. In the space of this one page, he uses the terms ‘fascist’, ‘Nazi’ and ‘Ustashe’ (Croatian fascists) six times in relation to Croatia. It’s true he does not actually describe the Tudjman regime as ‘fascist’ outright. But nor does he mention any equivalent fascist phenomena in relation to Serb nationalism. He does not mention the fact that Serbian paramilitaries called the ‘Chetniks’ – after the Nazi-collaborationist, anti-Semitic, Serb extreme-nationalist movement of World War II – formed part of the Serbian forces, under Belgrade’s control, that assaulted Bosnia in 1992. Or that Milosevic’s sometime collaborator, Vojislav Seselj, was a friend and ally of France’s Jean Marie Le Pen, and had received a decoration from a Chetnik warlord who had fought alongside the Nazis and Ustashe in World War II. Or that the Bosnian Serb nationalists armed and funded by Milosevic’s regime openly embraced the Chetnik heritage. Seymour thus simultaneously defends Serb nationalists from the charge of fascism while accusing Croat nationalists of embracing fascism. He condemns liberals as defenders of murder when they accuse Serb nationalists of the same thing of which he accuses the Croat nationalists.

3) ‘Abuse of the term “genocide”‘

Seymour denies that Serb forces were guilty of genocide, even suggesting that the International Court of Justice may have been guided by political motives when it defined Srebrenica as an act of genocide (p. 204). But while condemning his liberal targets for using the term ‘genocide’ in relation to Milosevic’s Serb forces, he has no qualms at all about tarring Tudjman with the brush of genocide: ‘His [Tudjman’s] position on the question of genocide had been made very clear: “Genocide is a natural phenomenon… Genocide is not only permitted, it is recommended, even commanded by the word of the Almighty.”‘ Seymour is quoting Tudjman to show that he supports genocide (p. 196).

Where did Seymour get this quote by Tudjman from ? Why, from none other than the book To Kill a Nation: The Attack on Yugoslavia, written by Michael Parenti, head of the US section of the International Committee to Defend Slobodan Milosevic (ICDSM). Parenti’s book, like Seymour’s, was published by Verso. Its Serbian-language edition had a foreword written by Slobodan Milosevic himself ! Needless to say, Parenti, like Seymour, hasn’t read anything Tudjman has written; he doesn’t even provide a reference for the quotation.

I, on the other hand, have read what Tudjman wrote in the Croatian original (Franjo Tudjman, Bespuca povijesne zbiljnosti: Rasprava o povijesti i filozofiji zlosilja, Zagreb, 1989, p. 172):

As we were able to conclude from the preceeding study, in the very (Judaic) origins of all our later, Western, civilisation, in that ancient age when the apex of historical-philosophical human thought was expressed by the word of the biblical god Yahweh, genocidal violence is a natural phenomenon, consistent with human-social and mythological-divine nature. It is not only permitted, but even recommended, moreover even found in the words of the all-powerful Yahweh, always when it is necessary for the survival or the restoration of the kingdom of the chosen people, or for the maintenance and spread of their one true religion.

Tudjman, writing as a (third-rate) historian and scholar of genocide, is claiming that the Old Testament god Yahweh endorsed genocide. There is nothing in this passage to suggest that he himself supported genocide. Seymour, however, misquotes Tudjman to suggest that he upheld genocide as an ideal. He does this on the basis of a quotation he got from a book written by an American supporter of Milosevic who has never read anything by Tudjman.

Finally, later in the book Seymour claims that the US’s ‘atrocities in Indochina were certainly closer to genocide than anything that happened in the former Yugoslavia’ (p. 219).  Since he provides no evidence or argument whatsoever in support of this tendentious claim, it would appear his expressed concern at the supposed casual misuse of the term ‘genocide’ by liberal interventionists is not quite sincere.

4) Dodgy source materials and ‘imperialist propaganda’

Since Seymour’s case against liberal interventionists really just boils down to the accusation that their analysis of the Yugoslav conflict and use of terminology were flawed, it is worth examining Seymour’s own scholarly apparatus. Owen Hatherley, the SWP supporter who reviewed Seymour’s book for the New Statesman, claimed: ‘The Liberal Defence of Murder is probably more valuable as history than as polemic.’ But would a genuine scholar have made a judgement about Tudjman’s views on genocide on the basis of a third- or fourth-hand misquotation from a Milosevic lobbyist ?

Indeed, Parenti’s grubby little propaganda book is entirely characteristic of the source material that Seymour relies upon. Seymour cites the opinion of ‘George Kenney, a former State Department Yugoslavia desk officer’, that the Western diplomacy that preceded the Kosovo war was ‘equivalent to the Gulf of Tonkin incident, which had been used to justify escalation in Vietnam’ (p. 208). Seymour fails to inform his readers that Kenney was a Milosevic sympathiser, who wrote to Milosevic in prison to tell him ‘I believed then and still believe that you are innocent of all the charges in the Tribunal’s indictments’.

Seymour cites the views of Edward Herman and David Peterson in support of his argument (p. 203); he does not tell his readers that the two are organisers of the ‘Srebrenica Research Group’, a lobbying group set up to deny the Srebrenica massacre. One of Seymour’s principal ‘sources’ for his claim that ‘the SDA [Muslim nationalist party] was one of the nationalist parties seeking to use secession and military conflict to amplify its own power’ is Kate Hudson’s book Breaking the South Slav Dream: The Rise and Fall of Yugoslavia. Hudson is the leader of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and a member of the Communist Party of Britain, whose newspaper The Morning Star backed the Serb side during the Bosnian war and still publishes Srebrenica-denying articles. Hudson’s book, a propaganda tract that casts doubt on the fact of the Srebrenica massacre, is entirely typical of Seymour’s source material: his endnotes are filled with references to articles by Diana Johnstone, Alexander Cockburn, John Pilger and other authors who have no genuine expertise on the former Yugoslavia but who share his political views, and whose unsubstantiated claims are treated as ‘evidence’ for his case.

Thus, for example, Seymour claims: ‘Izetbegovic later confessed to having confected Serb death camps in order to precipitate bombing raids.’ (p. 200) The ‘source’ for this claim is an article in the American far-left magazine Counterpunch by the Srebrenica-denying Paris-based writer, Diana Johnstone, in which she claims that the Srebrenica massacre was merely a case of Serb soldiers killing Muslim soldiers in battle, and that it was anyway engineered by the Muslims. Johnstone’s source for Izetbegovic’s alleged ‘confession’ was the memoirs of the French politician Bernard Kouchner, but Seymour doesn’t bother to consult the French original; he merely takes Johnstone’s article as a sound source on which to base his argument, as he did with Parenti.

Even if one assumes Johnstone has cited Kouchner accurately, one wonders how Seymour can criticise liberal interventionists for poor methodology, when he takes every single accusation made by Western politicians against Izetbegovic and the Muslims at face value. Never mind that Kouchner’s French government was aiding and abetting Milosevic’s destruction of Bosnia, and maintaining an arms embargo against the Bosnians; we are supposed simply to believe his accusations against Izetbegovic.

Likewise, Seymour cites ‘Philip Corwin, the UN’s chief political officer in Sarajevo during the summer of 1995’ as a witness to the fact that ‘following the Dayton settlement, thousands of Serbs were vindictively “cleansed” from areas of Bosnia by state police forces.’ Seymour continues approvingly: ‘Corwin was relentlessly critical of the media depiction of events…’ (p. 201). What Seymour doesn’t tell his readers is that Corwin was one of the ‘advisors and contributors to the work of the Srebrenica Research Group’, Edward Herman’s Srebrenica-denying outfit, and therefore had political views that might lead a genuine scholar to question the objectivity of his account.

Indeed, one of the unintended achievements of this book is that it marshals enough evidence to demolish convincingly the view that Seymour himself appears to hold: that Izetbegovic’s Bosnian regime was the party favoured by ‘Western imperialism’ while Milosevic and the Serb ethnic-cleansers were the victims of imperialism. Seymour writes (p. 204):

Other stories barely examined [by the Western media] include what might be described as ‘false flag’ operations, such as the massacre of Bosnian Muslims at the Markale market in 1994, which helped precipitate the Nato bombing of Serb positions. Many UN officials believed that the shelling had come from the Bosnian army, and Unprofor accused Bosnian government forces of ‘firing to provoke the Serbs, and of using hospitals and public buildings as cover for such fire.’

So the representatives of Western imperialism in Bosnia accused the Bosnians of massacring their own people in order to blame it on the Serbs, and of ‘provoking’ Serb attacks on hospitals and public buildings. Seymour’s endorsement of these claims means that his argument cannot by any stretch of the imagination be described as ‘anti-imperialist’ – on the contrary, he upholds the claims made by Western imperialist officials against the victims of Western intervention; that they were to blame for their own suffering. This is, it seems, the only way he can construct his critique of the defenders of Bosnia.

5) ‘Inflated casualty figures’

Seymour devotes some space to trying to show that liberal interventionist estimates of Bosnian or Muslim casualty figures in the war have ‘not stood the test of time’ (p. 203). This is taken as evidence of the weakness of the liberal-interventionist case. Consequently, Seymour cites the evidence of the Sarajevo-based Research and Documentation Centre, that calculated the total number of people directly killed in the Bosnian war on all sides, both civilian and military, to be in the region of 100,000, or considerably less than the ‘up to 330,000’ deaths claimed, according to Seymour, by the liberal interventionists.

This being such a key element in his argument, how does Seymour himself deal with the casualty figures for Serb victims ? With regard to the Srebrenica massacre, Seymour writes: ‘In the run-up to that atrocity, a wave of terror, including rape, by Bosnian Muslim forces in surrounding areas had killed thousands of Serbs.’ (p. 204). Yet according to the figures of the Research and Documentation Centre itself, which Seymour himself cites, the total number of Serb civilians killed in the entire wider region of Podrinje,  where Srebrenica was located, during the whole of the war was 849. In other words, the figures that Seymour himself cites – and which were not available to liberal defenders of Bosnia during the war – disprove his own claim that a Bosnian Army ‘wave of terror’ killed ‘thousands of Serbs’ near Srebrenica. In fact, the Research and Documentation Centre has specifically refuted the claim that ‘thousands’ of Serb civilians were killed in the atrocities Seymour cites; it calculates the total number of Serb civilians killed in the locality in question during the war to be 119.

Likewise, Seymour claims that Croatia was guilty of the ‘ethnic cleansing of up to 300,000 Serbs during Operation Storm’ (p. 203). This figure of ‘up to 300,000’ is apparently taken from Hudson, who also writes of a ‘massive population flight of up to 300,000 Serbs’ resulting from Operation Storm (Hudson, p. 119). But what was the real figure ? According to Amnesty International, ‘In May and August 1995, the Croatian Army and police forces recaptured Western Slavonia and the Krajina region. During and after these military offensives, some 200,000 Croatian Serbs, including the entire Croatian Serb Army, fled to the neighbouring Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and areas of Bosnia and Herzegovina under Bosnian Serb control.’ According to the ICTY’s indictment of the Croatian general Ante Gotovina: ‘The “Oluja” offensive resulted in the displacement of an estimated 150,000 – 200,000 Krajina Serbs, who fled or were forced to flee, during, and in the aftermath, of the said offensive.’ The top figure of this range – 200,000 – includes the Krajina Serb army, which numbered about 40,000. The number of displaced Serb civilians was therefore closer to 150,000.

If exaggerating casualty figures is a crime that makes one a ‘liberal defender of murder’, then what does it make Seymour ?

In conclusion, it is really very difficult to work out what Seymour intends to achieve with this poorly researched, poorly sourced, repeatedly self-contradictory and entirely unsuccessful excercise in nit-picking, which amounts, as we have seen, simply to a series of spectacular own goals. But even if we were to concede Seymour’s main points (which we don’t, of course), and to accept that the Milosevic regime was not fascist, did not commit genocide and was not qualitatively worse than the Tudjman or Izetbegovic regimes, would he have a case ? Are people who reacted to the horrors of Omarska, Srebrenica and the siege of Sarajevo by calling for Western military intervention to halt them really defenders of murder ?

This is perhaps what is most shocking about Seymour’s whole, sorry ideological exercise: the perverse obsession with trying to prove that the people who wanted to stop the racist mass-murder and close the concentration camps were the bad guys.

Update: Seymour has written a response to me. He writes:

‘Hoare is scandalised that I impute “political motives” to the International Court of Justice: the problem is that I don’t. He is referring to page 204, which explicitly references the ICTY, a wholly different (and highly politicised) body.’

This is what Seymour writes, on p. 204:

‘Designed to ethnically cleanse the territory and capture it decisively for the Republika Srpska, the operation [against Srebrenica] is now considered by the US-sponsored ICTY and the International Court of Justice as the only instance of “genocide” that can be shown to have occurred. Serbia, however, was cleared of involvement in the massacre. Some scholarly opinion has cast doubt on the verdict of genocide, and it could be argued that the purpose of the judicial process was less to establish the facts of the case than to determine a politically convenient verdict.’

Carry on digging, comrade…

Update no. 2: In his response to me, Seymour is now attempting to justify his claim that a Bosnian Army ‘wave of terror’  in the area around Srebrenica had killed ‘thousands’ of Serbs by insisting he was referring to Serb military casualties as well as civilians:

‘I did say “Serbs” and not “Serb civilians”, and the total number of Serbs killed in that area, according to Hoare’s source, is 5573. He might have been more attentive to what he was reading.’

Even if we accept the extremely dubious proposition that Serb military casualties should be counted as victims of a Muslim ‘wave of terror’, the figures still do not support Seymour’s claim.

Firstly, he has cited the wrong figure: 5,573  refers to the deaths of Serbs from Podrinje, including those killed in other parts of Bosnia. The number of Serbs killed in Podrinje, including those from other parts of Bosnia, is 4,848. But this refers to all Serbs killed in the whole of the Podrinje region during the whole of the war, not just those killed near Srebrenica.

Secondly, and more importantly, the Research and Documentation Centre, whose data Seymour relies upon to make his case, has calculated the total number of Serb civilian and military deaths in the ‘wave of terror’ that Seymour refers to. It puts Serb civilian deaths at 119 and Serb military deaths at 448. This puts the maximum possible number of Serb deaths in Seymour’s ‘wave of terror’ at 567, rather than in the ‘thousands’ that he claims.

Wednesday, 18 February 2009 Posted by | Anti-Semitism, Balkans, Bosnia, Croatia, Former Yugoslavia, Genocide, Kosovo, Red-Brown Alliance, Serbia, SWP, The Left | 1 Comment