Greater Surbiton

The perfect is the enemy of the good

The importance of national patience

AlexSkopjeLast month, I was interviewed by the Macedonian daily newspaper Nova Makedonija. The edited text of my interview was published in the Macedonian language. I reproduce here the full interview in English.

What kind of policy steps are you suggesting for the Macedonian government to take in order to get the invitation for NATO?

The Macedonian government has to accept that, on account of the Greek veto, it will not be able to join NATO in the short term. It must therefore pursue a long-term strategy in this regard. This means showing itself to be a staunch friend of NATO and in particular of the US, for example through support for the allied military effort in Afghanistan, and playing a constructive role in the Balkan region. Macedonia must continue to reform and develop its military, maintain the Ohrid Agreement, and show itself to be a mature and responsible democratic state. This will pave the way for NATO membership in the long run.

You are calling Greece a ‘regional troublemaker’ and you ask for the Western leaders to bring a real pressure to bear on our neighbour. But it seems that not only do they not press Greece, but also they hold down Macedonia by saying we will not be able to join NATO or the EU till the name issue is resolved. In this kind of situation how real is it to expect that the veto might be overturned ? Why is there a lack of will to press Greece?

The problem is not so much that the Western leaders support Greece, as that they don’t perceive enough of an interest in supporting Macedonia. With other problems facing them globally, Western leaders find it easier to do nothing about Greece and Macedonia. And since Greece, as a NATO and EU member, has the upper hand vis-a-vis Macedonia, the Western leaders are effectively siding with Greece by default. Macedonia must be patient, and try to win the battle for European and Western public opinion, by systematic lobbying, and by developing close bilateral relations with those countries that are sympathetic to it – such as the US, UK, Turkey, Italy and Russia.

The winner of the presidential election in Macedonia, Gjorge Ivanov, said that his first priority is to resolve the name issue, stressing that direct negotiations between Macedonia and Greece could unblock the process. What do you think about this idea?

I am very skeptical that direct negotiations between Greece and Macedonia can unblock the process, because Greece is unwilling to accept any reasonable compromise. My personal suggestion for a compromise would be ‘Republic of non-Greek Macedonia’ – Mr Ivanov could try that, though I suspect Athens would think up some objection…

Greece refuses to admit that the negotiations are not only about the name, but also about the Macedonian identity. How could we resolve this problem with Greece, which is crucial for our integration into NATO and the EU and at the same time not lose our identity?

Macedonia must be patient. The Greek veto is not going to be lifted any time soon, but Macedonia cannot surrender to Greece without losing its identity. The Greek policy is to make the international community de-recognise the existence of a Macedonian nation, hence, it wants to force the Republic of Macedonia to adopt a name that turns ‘Macedonia’ into a geographic, rather than a national term. So long as Athens thinks it can bully Skopje into backing down, it’s going to try. And so long as the EU believes that Greece is more uncompromising than Macedonia, it will encourage Skopje, as the more reasonable side, to back down. That is the way the EU operates – it always rewards the stronger and more unreasonable side. So it doesn’t pay to be conciliatory.

I think it’s important, therefore, that Macedonia should not view membership of NATO and the EU as a shibboleth. Macedonia must accept that it won’t join either organisation soon, but that this is not the end of the world. It should try to achieve as many of the benefits of membership as it can, by forging a close economic and military relationship with the NATO and EU states, as well as with Russia and other countries. In the long run, Skopje must make both Athens and the EU realise that it isn’t going to back down, no matter how long it has to wait to join NATO and the EU. In the meantime, Macedonia has friends, and it isn’t going to collapse.

Are you an optimist that in the near future we could find a solution to the problem?

No. A solution depends upon the democratisation of Greece, and a shift in Greek political culture to one that is post-nationalist, rather than nationalist. It is a slow process, but it will happen eventually. We can compare this with Turkey’s attitude to the Armenian genocide: official Turkey still won’t recognise this genocide, but more and more educated Turkish citizens are willing to speak about it. Greece will gradually democratise, and as it does, educated Greeks will challenge the nationalist paradigm over Macedonia. Macedonians must be patient and accept that they must wait for democratic change to take place in their southern neighbour.

According to you, is it a good idea that the EU help Macedonia and Greece to resolve the problem in the way thay are helping Croatia and Slovenia? The negotiation process under the UN seems to be in a dead end, but on the other hand, some argue that EU mediation is not such a good idea because Macedonia is not an EU member so they will not be on an equal footing with Greece.

I am skeptical about a negotiated settlement in both the cases of Slovenia and Croatia, and of Greece and Macedonia. In both cases, the EU is refusing to distinguish between right and wrong, and negotiations will necessarily favour the stronger side; i.e., the side that is already in the EU, and that wields the veto. Ultimately, Macedonia needs to resist EU pressure to accept an unprincipled compromise – not just for its own sake, but for the sake of all Europeans. I, as a European citizen, do not want to live in an EU that supports territorial expansionism – as in the case of Slovenia vs Croatia – or that supports racism – as in the case of Greece vs Macedonia. I want to live in an EU that does distinguish between right and wrong. So, for the sake of all Europeans, I hope Croatia and Macedonia do not back down.

Do you think that Macedonia will win the process in The Hague where we are suing Greece for violation of the Interim Accord, with its veto at the Bucharest summit last year? Greece is claiming that that was the unanimous decision of all NATO members.

I think Macedonia has a reasonably good chance. But, whatever the international court decides, it is just one battle in a struggle that will continue regardless.

Beside the remarks of international organisations such as the UN and the Council of Europe in reports on Greece’s refusal to recognise the Macedonian minority in Greece, Athens keeps denying the rights of this minority. Why is there no international pressure over Greece, seeing that, as a member of the EU, it must respect minority rights?

The failure of the EU to pressurise Greece on the question of the ethnic Macedonian minority in Greece is an absolute disgrace. Again, it comes down to inertia and a lack of perceived interest on the part of the EU members.

You say that Greek determination to keep Macedonia out of NATO and the EU has been bolstered by the opportunistic support of Sarkozy and that there is no contrary support for Macedonia from within EU ranks. Why there is no support for Macedonia in the EU; is that a result of our diplomacy, or something else ?

Macedonia has been very unlucky in France’s choice of president. Ultimately, a relatively small country like Macedonia has only a limited ability to influence the states of Europe. Macedonia has not been as unlucky as some in the treatment it has received from the EU and its members – you need only to look at how Bosnia was treated in the 1990s, or how long it took for Kosovo to achieve international recognition.

Macedonian diplomats need to lobby hard, but propaganda that appeals to the educated European public is also important. The Greek position, that people speaking a Slavic language cannot really be ‘Macedonian’, is simply racist. Educated Europeans need to be reminded of this. Also, as Macedonia develops its tourist industry, more and more Europeans will visit the country and become aware of the problem. Macedonians must be firm but appear reasonable – nobody respects nationalists.

Do you think that NATO and the EU will learn the lesson that by allowing the ‘rogue NATO and EU members’, as you call them, to blackmail their neighbours by using their vetoes, is creating a dangerous precedent facilitating aggressive nationalist demands?

I hope so, but this will depend on Macedonians, Croatians and their friends making the point as frequently and as effectively as they can. The position of Macedonia and Croatia is the one that the West must uphold, rather than that of the aggressive nationalist countries, Greece and Slovenia – satisfying the latter will open a Pandora’s box, encouraging other EU and NATO members to adopt similar aggressive demands against their neighbours. Europe needs to be made aware of this.

Do you think that it is possible that the right of individual NATO and EU states unilaterally to veto the membership of aspiring members will be abolished ? Surely, for this there would have to be a new NATO agreement that could be vetoed by Greece, and even if this happens, there could be other member states close to Greece that could support her veto – France for example ?

It won’t happen soon, but that is no reason not to talk about it. Talking about abolishing the veto is the first step to achieving it. Once people begin to talk about it, even as a distant possibility, then it is on the agenda, and European and Western politicians will start having to acknowledge the issue. Then they might begin to feel that by pandering to the trouble-makers, they are simply creating more problems for themselves for the future.

What kind of risk does this kind of blackmailing bring to the Balkans ? Do you think that the peace in this region could be infringed if Macedonia remains outside of NATO and the EU any longer ?

It is in Macedonia’s vital interest to join NATO and the EU in the long term, but that doesn’t mean it’s the end of the world if it doesn’t do so in the short term. As I said, a temporary alternative would be to forge a close military and economic relationship with these bodies, and develop close bilateral relations with their friendlier members, such as the US, UK, Italy and Turkey, as well as other powers, such as Russia. Serbia could provide a model – it has strengthened its position vis-a-vis the EU by developing its friendship with Russia. Ultimately, I am afraid that if Macedonia and Croatia back down to Greece and Slovenia, it will encourage more aggressive nationalist demands by individual NATO and EU members, and that that will destabilise the Balkans and retard the region’s Euro-Atlantic integration.

You said that ‘With Albania set to join NATO and significant ethnic-Albanian minorities present in Serbia, Montenegro and Macedonia, Tirana could, if it so wished, create a veritable nightmare for the Western alliance by making issues out of the latter’. Could you please explain what do you mean by this remark?

Just imagine if Macedonia were to capitulate to Greece, and if Albania were to draw the conclusion from this that it, too, as a member of NATO, could impose unreasonable demands on NATO candidate countries, including Macedonia. What then ? I do not wish to cast aspersions on Albania, which has behaved very responsibly in its regional policy, but in principle, Tirana could for example demand that Macedonia, Montenegro or Serbia grant it border rectifications, or grant their ethnic Albanian minorities territorial autonomy, if they want to join NATO. Where would you be then ? I’m not saying that this will happen, but a Macedonian capitulation to Greece would encourage this sort of thing.

It doesn’t pay to back down to aggressors. And, as I said, the EU, as a fundamentally unprincipled body, will generally reward unreasonable behaviour and put pressure on those who appear ready to bend. Macedonia may discover that sacrificing its name and identity will increase rather than solve its problems.

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Saturday, 9 May 2009 Posted by | Balkans, European Union, Former Yugoslavia, Greece, Macedonia, NATO | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 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

A no-brainer: NATO and the EU should not facilitate aggression and expansionism in South East Europe

sloveniaOne of the biggest arguments in favour of the European Union is that it has, along with its precursors, helped to keep the peace in Europe for nearly sixty years, turning previously hostile neighbours into partners in a common supranational, democratic European project. Meanwhile, NATO defended democratic Europe from Soviet expansionism. Today in the Balkans, however, both institutions are playing the opposite role: they are aiding and abetting regional predators in the pursuit of aggressive policies against neighbouring states. This is happening despite the fact that these aggressive policies are undermining both Western security and regional stability, and are contrary to the common interests of the EU and NATO member states. It is happening because existing members of both organisations enjoy the right to veto the accession of new members. Such a veto would be somewhat less problematic if all existing members were genuinely democratic states with no aggressive or expansionist ambitions. But unfortunately, this simply is not the case.

Last April, Greece vetoed Macedonia’s entry into NATO’s Membership Action Plan, because of the unresolved ‘name dispute’ between the two countries. Greece objects to Macedonia’s constitutional name, ‘The Republic of Macedonia’, and demands that Macedonia change it. The reason is that Greece does not recognise the existence of a Macedonian nation. In 1912-13, Greece conquered the portion of the Ottoman territory of Macedonia that today comprises Greek Macedonia. Since then it has pursued a policy of forced Hellenisation of the territory, involving varying policies of extermination, expulsion and forced assimilation of the non-Greek population. Thanks to these measures, a territory that was barely over two-fifths ethnic Greek in 1912 is today almost ethnically pure. This policy of enforced ethnic homogenisation has involved denying the existence of an ethnic Macedonian minority in Greece. When Yugoslavia broke up in the early 1990s, Greece expanded this policy to try to wipe the newly independent Macedonian nation-state, which had emerged from the former Yugoslavia, off the map, by forcing it to change its name, a policy whose pettiness was noted by David Cameron, currently leader of Britain’s Conservative Party, in a defence of Macedonia he wrote back in 2003.  Consequently, Greece is blocking Macedonia’s entry into NATO.

Greece is a regional troublemaker of long standing that has repeatedly acted against Western interests in South East Europe. Its veto of Macedonia’s NATO bid was a violation of an international agreement, the Interim Accord of 1995, whereby Greece had undertaken not to block Macedonia’s entry into international organisations under the provisional name ‘Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia’. Macedonia has proven a better ally of the democratic world than Greece, contributing the same number of troops to the allied forces in Afghanistan as Greece, despite being a non-NATO country with a fifth of Greece’s population. The exclusion of Macedonia from Euro-Atlantic structures threatens to destabilise this fragile state, with potentially catastrophic consequences for Balkan regional stability. Yet by meekly acquiescing in Greece’s misuse of its veto, NATO effectively endorsed an act of petty Balkan nationalist aggression.

With Greece threatening to exclude Macedonia from the EU as well, the lesson had not been lost on other regional bullies. Slovenia is now threatening to keep Croatia out of the EU unless Zagreb cedes it territory on both land and sea. Because there is no actual legal validity to Slovenia’s territorial claims against Croatia, Slovenia is rejecting the idea that the case be resolved by the International Court of Justice, unless the latter’s decision is based on factors other than international law. As Xinhua News Agency diplomatically put it: ‘Slovenia has opposed taking the border issue to the ICJ unless the court uses the equity principle (ex equo et bono) in coming to a decision. This means the court can include any kind of circumstances, even if the valid international law does not [sic] (like historical facts), in order to reach a fairer verdict.’ Put simply, the Slovenes feel that because they don’t have much of a coastline, and Croatia has a long one, the Croats should give them some of theirs. Rather like demanding, on the principle of ‘fairness’, that someone who is richer than you are should hand over to you part of their savings. Since its territorial claim is political rather than legal, Ljubljana naturally prefers the idea of EU mediation to an ICJ legal ruling. Although not on an equivalent scale, this has disturbing echoes of the way in which Slobodan Milosevic successfully enlisted EU mediators such as David Owen and Carl Bildt to pressurise Bosnia’s leaders to accept an unprincipled settlement to the war of the 1990s. Great Serbia and Great Croatia have failed to come into being, but we may yet see the establishment of a Great Slovenia – thanks to the fact that Slovenia, unlike the expansionist Serbia and Croatia of the 1990s, is in the EU.

Thus, by colluding in Greece’s blackmail of Macedonia, Western leaders have given a green light to Slovenia’s blackmail of Croatia. Indeed, the far-right Party of the Slovenian People’ has been campaigning for Slovenia to veto Croatia’s entry into NATO as well, though so far without success. The Slovenian leadership has retreated from its own threat to obstruct Croatia’s entry into NATO under pressure from the US, which has, on this occasion, stood up to the local troublemaker for the sake of the Western alliance. This shows that, where there is a will on the part of the major NATO and EU states, a rogue member of the alliance can be pressurised to desist from its bullying of an aspirant member. 

The unwillingness of the NATO and EU states, therefore, to exert enough pressure on Athens and Ljubljana to end their obstruction of Macedonia’s and Croatia’s Euro-Atlantic integration stems from a lack of will. In the case of Greece, its determination to keep Macedonia out of NATO and the EU has been bolstered by the opportunistic support of French President Nicolas Sarkozy – presumably an expression of his Mediterranean ambitions and of a residual Gaullism that conflicts with Washington’s support for Macedonia. Yet there has been no contrary support for Macedonia from within EU ranks. A sign of the unprincipled, pessimistic times is that even the International Crisis Group, once a voice of principled moderation, has advocated a Macedonian surrender in the name dispute in return for a Greek recognition of the Macedonian national identity.

It is, of course, easier for Western leaders simply to go with the flow, and appease the unprincipled nationalist demands of rogue NATO and EU states. Yet the more such appeasement occurs, the more problems are generated for the Western alliance. Croatian Prime Minister Ivo Sanader has taken the principled position, that Croatia will not obstruct Serbia’s entry into the EU as Slovenia’s has obstructed Croatia’s: ‘Croatia will not be to Serbia what Slovenia is to us’. Yet if EU diplomacy does result in a Croatian cession of territory to Slovenia, there is nothing to prevent an embittered Croatia from reversing Sanader’s position, and imposing territorial or other unreasonable demands on Serbia, Montenegro or Bosnia – all of which possess territories that Croat nationalists have traditionally claimed. With Albania set to join NATO and significant ethnic-Albanian minorities present in Serbia, Montenegro and Macedonia, Tirana could, if it so wished, create a veritable nightmare for the Western alliance by making issues out of the latter. There are already enough obstacles in the way of the smooth Euro-Atlantic integration of the remaining Balkan states, without us encouraging those who might wish to create more of them. Then there are Cypriot objections to Turkey’s EU membership; potential Ukrainian and Moldovan differences over Transnistria; differences between Turkey and Armenia and between the Transcaucasian states. The national – or to be more accurate, nationalist – veto of new NATO and EU members by local rivals that are already members represents a very dangerous barrier to European unity and handicap for the Western alliance. If we ignore the problem, it will only get worse. NATO and the EU, which are supposed to act – and in the past have acted – as solvents of nationalist conflicts, will increasingly threaten the stability of the wider European world, by providing one side in a nationalist dispute – usually the side that’s in the wrong – with an unassailable advantage over its victim.

The Western democratic world faces serious opponents and enemies, from the regimes in Moscow, Tehran and Pyongyang to the Taliban and al-Qa’ida. We are faced with serious questions of how to organise our defence against these threats; how to reconcile the demands of security with the principle of civil liberties; how far to proceed with European integration; how to assimilate diverse religious and ethnic minorities to ensure the functioning of our multiethnic nation-states; how to protect the environment; and so forth. It beggars belief that our ability to respond to these challenges should be hampered by selfish members of our alliance that do not appear to understand the meaning of post-nationalist democracy upon which our Euro-Atlantic institutions rest.

Britain, the US and their friends should exert sufficient pressure – be it diplomatic, political or other – on Athens, Ljubljana or any other rogue member of our alliance, to desist from their unreasonable nationalist demands. We should furthermore be working, as the Henry Jackson Society has advocated, to abolish the right of individual NATO and EU states unilaterally to veto the membership of aspiring members. The dog should wag the tail, not vice versa.

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

Update: The image below shows how Slovenia would like to redraw its maritime border with Croatia:

piran

Thursday, 26 March 2009 Posted by | Balkans, Caucasus, Croatia, Cyprus, Former Yugoslavia, France, Genocide, Greece, Macedonia, Moldova, NATO, Serbia, Slovenia, Transnistria, Turkey | Leave a comment

Popular protest in South East Europe bolsters the democratic world

otpor1Idealism is the new realism, it has been said. Nowhere has the adage proved more pertinent than in South East Europe, where socially fired popular protests against despotic regimes have consistently worked to strengthen the position of the Western alliance and the democratic world generally. It was, of course, thanks to the great wave of democratic revolutions in 1989, culminating in the overthrow of Nicolae Ceausescu, that the two East Balkan countries of Romania and Bulgaria – not so long ago bastions of the worst kind of Communist tyranny – are today members of NATO and the EU. Serbia’s turn toward the West began with the revolution of October 2000 that overthrew Slobodan Milosevic; though this turning point turned out to be less sharp than was first imagined, Serbia’s evolution into a democratic state with credible ambitions to EU membership has been steady, if not exactly smooth, since then. Georgia and Ukraine, too, turned westward with the Rose and Orange Revolutions of 2003 and 2004.

Some might be inclined to view this through Cold War lenses, and to say that such upheavals are to be desired when directed against hostile regimes, but less so when directed against those that are our allies. Yet this would be to fail to grasp the political realities of the late 2000s. For there is a very good case to be made that states today that are less than democratic are necessarily less than perfect as allies, and that being subject to democratic change can only improve them in this regard. This is because authoritarian regimes tend inevitably to present pressure for democratic change in occidentalist, nativist terms, as part of an alien, Western imperialist, possibly Jewish assault on the nation. And rhetoric of this kind inevitably serves to undermine any alliance we may have with them, even if purely geopolitical factors should work in favour of such an alliance. Conversely, genuine democrats in non-democratic or democratising states will usually look to the US and EU as beacons of light.

This may be demonstrated by a look at the southern flank of South East Europe – Turkey and Greece. Both countries have been committed members of NATO for many years, but anti-democratic tendencies in both have rendered them less than model allies. Turkey’s brutal suppression of its Kurdish population, and the resulting war between the Turkish security forces and Kurdish PKK rebels, has persistently spilled over into northern Iraq, further undermining stability in that already barely stable country. Turkey is a strategically crucial member of the Western alliance, yet its human rights abuses, its restrictions on free speech and its military’s interference in politics have helped to keep it out of the EU. Turkey’s gradual democratisation in recent years, under the guidance of the moderately Islamic, pro-EU Justice and Development Party (AKP), has ironically, according to some sources, led extremist elements from the ranks of the secular Turks to begin closing ranks with the Turkish Islamists on an anti-democratic, anti-Western basis. It is the democratising elements that look westward, while their opponents seek to defend the nation and/or faith from corrupting Western influences.

As for Greece, though its restrictions on democracy and human rights abuses are not on the scale of Turkey’s, as an ally of the West it scores much lower than its eastern neighbour – precisely because it is not a mature democracy. Greece’s disgraceful role in regional politics; its past support for the Milosevic regime; its undermining of the fragile states of Macedonia and Kosova – all are the result in large part of a Greek ultranationalism that also hates the West as the mortal enemy of the Orthodox East, as Greek journalist Takis Michas has brilliantly described. Greece is, furthermore, among the most anti-Semitic countries in Europe, something that the Greek media’s reaction to the Gaza conflict has only confirmed.

Both Greece and Turkey are, however, countries whose internal politics are very much in states of flux. Greece has in recent weeks been the scene of a huge explosion of social anger on the part of youth and workers, directed against the very government of Costas Karamanlis that has been proving such a menace to regional stability. The protests have included riots, vandalism and assaults on police officers, something that can only be condemned without reservation. But the violent element cannot obscure the large numbers of Greeks who have been protesting and striking peacefully. Although the protests have now passed their peak, the social struggle in Greece is not over; Greek farmers are currently blockading roads and border crossings in Greece in protest at the low prices of farm produce. It would be a mistake to see these protests purely in social terms; as was the case with the Romanian revolution of 1989 and the Serbian revolution of 2000, the Greek protests, fired as they are by social grievances, may have positive political effects. There is every reason to hope that these protests will hasten the end of the Karamanlis regime and contribute to a political rejuvenation of Greek politics, resulting in a country more at peace with itself and with its neighbours.

There was a time, perhaps still not completely past, when radical socialists would see in every wave of social protest the harbinger of the overthrow of capitalism, and many members of the conservative right would fear such protest for the same reason. Yet saner heads today know this is false: ordinary people are fundamentally conservative with a small ‘c’. They do not want the overthrow of capitalism, or revolution for revolution’s sake, but engage in social protest defensively, when the system seems to be letting them down. What they want is stability, prosperity and the pursuit of happiness – things that liberal democracy is better able to offer than any other political system. For all the Cassandras’ talk of how recognising Kosova’s independence in February 2008 would drive the Serbian people into the arms of the extreme nationalists, most Serbian people are fundamentally less interested in Kosova than they are in feeding themselves and their families – as was proved when pro-European elements won the Serbian parliamentary elections that followed soon after international recognition of Kosova’s independence. Bread and butter issues will, in the last resort, trump nationalist pipe-dreams; Turkish Cypriots abandoned the unrealisable goal of an independent Turkish Cypriot state when in 2004 they voted overwhelmingly in favour of Cyprus’s reunification on the basis of the Annan Plan, because they wanted to enjoy the benefits of EU membership. Greek students who had a better chance of finding decent jobs and pursuing more promising careers after graduating would be less likely to go out on to the streets to fight the police. Thus, the ordinary people of the Balkans, like the rest of us, have an interest in the spread of stable, post-nationalist liberal democracy. 

Quieter, but perhaps ultimately more significant than the social explosion in Greece, is the movement to apologise for the Armenian genocide currently under way in Turkey; more than 28,000 Turkish citizens to date have signed a petition drafted by a group of Turkish intellectuals apologising for what happened to the Armenians in 1915. Turkish state prosecutors have announced they will not take action against the organisers of the petition. This campaign, the work of entirely mainstream Turkish academics, journalists and others, marks a tremendous step forward for Turkish democracy; a step toward a Turkey that will, it is to be hoped, enjoy normal relations with neighbours like Armenia, Cyprus and Iraq, and whose commitment to, and sharing of the values of, the Western democratic bloc will be unquestioned. Yet this process of democratisation depends entirely on the initiatives of brave individuals, such as the organisers of the apology petition.

No southeast European nation is a stauncher friend of the West than Kosova. Here, a particularly active protest movent exists, directed against the international administration of the country but catalysed by social discontent, and spearheaded by Vetevendosje. Given the dismal record and stupendous corruption of the United Nations Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) and the pusillanimity of the EU in resisting Serbian efforts to destabilise Kosova, the frustration and anger that have spawned this movement can only be described as entirely legitimate and justified. The people of Kosova are as deserving of full democracy as any other nation, and full democracy requires full international independence. If we allow the international administration of Kosova to drag on indefinitely, without any meaningful progress on the reintegration of the Serb-controlled areas, we shall only have ourselves to blame for any future popular explosions in Kosova in which the international administration finds itself on the receiving end.

We can, at the very least, learn something from the Russians about how not to treat one’s allies. After the Russians cut gas supplies to the Balkans in the course of their dispute with Ukraine, citizens of Russia’s supposed ‘ally’ Serbia, in the industrial city of Kragujevac, burned a Russian flag earlier this month in protest at being left without heat during the winter. And as one elderly Belgrade resident was quoted as saying, ‘Russians always gave us nothing but misery. They should never be trusted, as this gas blackmail of Europe shows’. Resentment of Russia is not limited to Serbia, but has spread across eastern Europe. In the words of one elderly citizen of Bulgaria, another country frequently described as traditionally pro-Russian: ‘This is a war without weapons in which Russia has used its control of energy supply to flex its muscles in front of the world… I am cold and angry. We have always been dependent on Russia, and this crisis shows that the situation hasn’t changed. Instead of bombs or missiles, they want us to freeze to death.’ In the Bulgarian port of Varna, residents demonstrated in front of the Russian consulate, holding banners that read ‘Stop Putin’s gas war’. Moscow’s mistake has been to wage its gas war indiscriminately, without taking into account the effect this would have on South East Europeans upon whose goodwill its geopolitical ambitions ultimately depend.

The biggest advantage that the democratic world has over its enemies is that its governments govern with the consent of the people. We must never forget this, as we strive to deal with the difficult set of problems facing us in South East Europe.

jebitese

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

Wednesday, 28 January 2009 Posted by | Balkans, Cyprus, Former Soviet Union, Former Yugoslavia, Georgia, Greece, Kurds, Macedonia, NATO, Russia, Serbia, Turkey | 1 Comment

Germany threatens to block Poland’s entry to the EU

hitchamThe EU has warned Poland that a negotiated and mutually acceptable solution to its dispute with the neighbouring state of Nazi Germany must be reached before it can start accession talks. Adolf Hitler, Fuehrer of the Third Reich, has made it clear that Berlin will veto Polish membership of the EU unless Poland agrees to cede to Germany the so-called ‘Polish Corridor’, change its name to the ‘General Government’ and place its Jewish population in ghettoes.

Berlin fears that if Poland were to join the EU before a settlement to the border dispute were reached, it would prejudice the outcome for Germany. ‘The Reich has reservations concerning seven (EU accession) chapters, since the documents presented by Poland could prejudge the common border’, the Fuehrer told journalists. Berlin also opposes Poland’s use of the name ‘Poland’, claiming it implies a territorial claim to German territories in Prussia, which were once part of medieval Poland. ‘Our demand that Warsaw resolve the name dispute is backed by NATO and the United Nations. It is not true that we are stubbornly rejecting a compromise or reacting sentimentally. But a compromise is important to the security and stability of the region’, Joachim von Ribbentrop, the Reich Foreign Minister, said in a recent interview.

Neville Chamberlain, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, which currently holds the EU Presidency, has admitted that Poland might face hurdles in beginning accession talks. ‘There are some conditions that need to be met which are not completely in the remit of the EU institutions’, Mr Chamberlain said. Diplomats say Poland’s EU bid is also weighed down by slow reforms of the judiciary, public administration and economy and the lack of concrete results in the fight against corruption and crime. ‘Maintaining good neighbourly relations, including a negotiated and mutually acceptable solution on the border and name issues, remains essential,’ said a draft final statement from a meeting of EU leaders.

The Fuehrer nevertheless made clear that serious efforts were being undertaken to find a solution for Poland’s EU negotiation documents that would dispel any concerns about the Reich trying to prejudge the border and name disputes. ‘If such a solution is found – and Germany together with the British presidency is striving for this – then the Thousand Year Reich will probably not see any obstacles or problems in supporting a continuation of negotiations between Poland and the EU’, Mr Hitler explained following a meeting with European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso.

Greater Surbiton News Service

Saturday, 24 January 2009 Posted by | Croatia, Greece, Macedonia, Slovenia | Leave a comment

Reasons to be optimistic

greenlandIf there has been one cause that has long inspired me above all others, it is the cause of small nations struggling to free themselves from oppression or domination by larger ones. Even before the outbreak of war in the former Yugoslavia made me interested in the politics and history of that region, when I was in still in school, I was greatly moved by the history of the Irish struggle for freedom and independence from Britain. I have long felt that the cause of freedom for oppressed nations has not figured as prominently as it should in progressive political thinking, and have always found national-chauvinistic ideologies that justify the suppression or forced assimilation of subject peoples to be uniquely horrifying. In the most extreme cases, such ideologies underpin acts of genocide – the most extreme form that national oppression can take. And for myself and kindred political spirits, genocide is the greatest evil humanity has produced.

Progressive thinking has, likewise, traditionally paid insufficient attention to the phenomenon of genocide. The inability of the Left to respond adequately to genocide was made abundantly clear by the events in the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda in the 1990s. For some of us, this deficiency has been a catalyst to our disenchantment with left-wing politics in their traditional form. Not just because genocide-prevention has usually been assigned a lower priority than ‘class’, ‘anti-war’ or ‘anti-imperialist’ causes, but because it presupposes outside intervention, something to which a large proportion of ‘progressive’ opinion has traditionally been averse.

Yet for all this, an unprecedentedly large number of nations have achieved national independence since the early 1990s, and the cause of genocide-prevention has entered the progressive consciousness in a way it never did before. In the spirit of the Christmas season, I’d like to highlight recent developments in these fields that should give us cause for optimism; developments that I really should have written about more fully and promptly, if only one had unlimited time as a blogger…

1) While the youth of Greece is still battling on the streets for its social and economic emancipation, a quieter, but perhaps ultimately more significant movement for progressive change is taking place in neighbouring Turkey. More than 22,000 Turkish citizens have signed the following apology: ‘My conscience does not accept the insensitivity showed to and the denial of the Great Catastrophe that the Ottoman Armenians were subjected to in 1915. I reject this injustice and for my share, I empathize with the feelings and pain of my Armenian brothers and sisters. I apologize to them.’

To apologise for the Armenian genocide should be, for Turkey, a matter of national honour. But it is also a matter of self-interest for any Turkish citizen who wants to live in a democracy. In Turkey, as in Serbia, Croatia, Greece and other South East European countries, national-chauvinist ideology is the single biggest enemy of democracy; the taunt of ‘traitor’ is used to silence dissent, while minority rights are trampled over in the name of the ‘nation’. Yet in the words of Cengiz Aktar, professor of EU studies at Istanbul’s university of Bahcesehir and one of the principal organisers of the Turkish campaign to apologise: ‘From now, anyone who speaks about the Armenian question will have to take into account this expression of consciousness. It’s a new element in the debate.’ Readers of this blog will be aware that I do not support the campaign for the US or UK officially to recognise the Armenian genocide, or any other historic genocide that has taken place in a foreign country, for reasons that I have explained in detail. The organisers of the campaign in Turkey likewise appear ambivalent about such campaigns in the US and elsewhere. It is only through a democratic campaign in Turkey itself that the country can gradually come to recognise what happened to the Armenians.

2) While progressive Turks are striking a blow against genocide ‘from below’, a blow has been struck ‘from above’, with the conviction and jailing for life of Theoneste Bagosora, the mastermind of the Rwandan genocide, and two of his collaborators by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. Described by prosecutors as ‘enemies of the human race’, they were found guilty of genocide, crimes against humanity and war-crimes. The record of the war-crimes tribunals for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia has been less than perfect, but in this instance, at least, justice has been done.

3) A new genetic study apparently proves that twenty per cent of the population of the Iberian peninsula has Sephardic Jewish ancestry, and ten per cent has Moorish ancestry. Another study proves not only that the ethnic origins of the Balkan nations are extremely mixed – which everyone knows, of course – but that the populations of Greece and Albania are genetically more Slavic in origin than the Slavic-speaking populations of neighbouring Macedonia and Bulgaria. Scientists have already proven the genetic kinship of Jews and Arabs.

The myth that ethnic differences are based on genetic differences remains surprisingly pervasive, not just among nationalists – of whom we expect no better – but among ‘educated’ opinion in general. Ethnic differences or identities that are disapproved of are frequently counterposed to ‘real’ ones in discussions about civil wars and other conflicts. Just as nationalists like to imagine their own group has been ethnically pure since Antiquity or earlier, so leftists are frequently fond of portraying ethnic differences as having been ‘invented by imperialism’, or some such nonsense. Yes, the modern nations of the world are largely the products of imperialism, colonialism and genocide, and many ethnic identities have been deliberately fostered by imperial overlords or other interested parties. So what ? All ethnicities are ultimately human constructs, with little or nothing to do with genetic differences. They are only as ‘real’ as their members or their persecutors feel them to be. The more that scientific studies undermine the disgusting, racist myth of ‘real’ ethnic differences, the better for human enlightenment and emancipation.

4) Kalaallit Nunaat, or Greenland, voted last month to increase its autonomy from Denmark, in what may be a step toward full independence. The Greenlandic independence movement is fuelled both by economic factors and by simple national feeling on the part of the predominantly Inuit population. I am fascinated by the Nordic world, not least because it has proven adept at managing the transition to independence of its constituent nations in a peaceful and civilised manner. It is up to the people of Greenland alone to decide whether they want to secede from Denmark, of course; nobody else can or should exercise a veto over this process. But should they choose to, the peaceful acceptance of their decision that Denmark will undoubtedly demonstrate should serve as a model for states all over the world, from Spain to India.

On this note, I wish readers a very merry Christmas and happy New Year.

Wednesday, 24 December 2008 Posted by | Armenians, Balkans, Denmark, Former Yugoslavia, Genocide, Greece, Greenland, Macedonia, Middle East, Political correctness, Racism, Rwanda, Scandinavia, Spain, The Left, Turkey | Leave a comment

Victory to the Greek revolution !

wide-greece-cp-5973209The uprising that is taking place in Greece should serve as a verdict on the corrupt and aggressive government of Costas Karamanlis and New Democracy. Rioting and violence are to be deplored, but they are symptoms of the deep malaise from which Greece is suffering. They should not be allowed to obscure the legitimacy of the Greek popular struggle that has broken out against poverty, corruption and police brutality. While I condemn all acts of violence and vandalism, I should like to express my complete solidarity with the youth, workers and other citizens of Greece who are protesting and striking peacefully. Democracy means that the government and state can be held accountable for a country’s woes. And when the youth of Greece is rioting on such a scale, in a manner that transcends social classes, it is a sign that the government and state have gone very badly wrong. Mr Karamanlis and his government should resign; Greek politics and the Greek state are in desperate need of a thorough rejuvenation.

For those of us who have been as bemused as much as horrified by the lunacy of Athens’s escalation of the ‘name dispute’ with Macedonia this year, we now have an explanation: Greece’s bullying of Macedonia has been the behaviour of a man on the verge of a nervous breakdown, who lashes out at colleagues, neighbours and family members. But this has not come from nowhere. In a Balkan neighbourhood of unhealthy, dysfunctional states, Greece is one of the sickest. And it is not a new sickness. As Maria Margaronis writes, in one of the best articles on the crisis, the contemporary order in Greece was built on the defeat of the anti-fascist movement in World War II and the Greek Civil War in the 1940s. In one of the most shameful episodes of the Cold War, Britain and the US backed the Greek rightists, their hands stained with collaboration with the Nazis, in their murderous campaign against the anti-fascist left, laying the basis for a post-war Greece whose political classes have behaved with almost unparallelled brutality and irresponsibilty, both toward their own people and toward their neighbours.

The right’s victory in the Greek Civil War set the seal on a post-war Greek state for which persecution of leftists and ethnic minorities would be intrinsic. The victory involved the renewed crushing of the ethnic Macedonian minority in Greece, and ensured the continuation of the pre-war fascist regime’s policy of its forced assimilation, culminating in the campaign in the 1990s to force the newly independent Republic of Macedonia to change its name. Fear of a centre-left electoral victory in 1967 provoked a military coup and the establishment of the Colonels’ junta, which persecuted leftists and democrats, murderously suppressed a student uprising in November 1973 and provoked the Turkish invasion of Cyprus by its adventuristic attempt to annex the island.

Thus, the same brutal, corrupt and unreconstructed Greek state has trampled on Greece’s citizens, ethnic minorities and neighbours alike. The fall of the junta in 1974 did not lead to a thorough democratisation of this state, which continues to this day to persecute its ethnic Macedonian (‘Slavophone’) and its Turkish (‘Muslim’) minorities. Regarding both minorities, Greece has been found guilty of violating their rights by the European Court of Human Rights. Whether in their support for Slobodan Milosevic’s Great Serbian imperialism, persecution of the Republic of Macedonia or obstruction of international recognition of Kosova’s independence, Greece’s political classes have long played a thoroughly regressive role in Balkan regional politics.

The mass mobilisation of youth, spearheaded by anarchists and other radical elements, in response to the police shooting of the teenager Alexandros Grigoropoulos in Exarchia in Athens, is an indication of the extent to which the Greek state is viewed as an alien oppressor by some segments of the population; the police are hated by many Greeks as they are hated among some ethnic minorities in the US and other Western countries. Yet the corruption of the Greek political classes is not limited to the parties of the right; the socialist PASOK actually exceeded New Democracy in the extent of its anti-Macedonian chauvinism and support for Milosevic’s regime in the early 1990s. Nor does PASOK enjoy much greater public confidence than the ruling New Democracy: according to a recent poll, 55% of respondents said neither party appeared competent to handle the situation.

The Communist Party of Greece, for its part, is a Red-Brown party whose chauvinism and xenophobia exceed those of New Democracy and PASOK, as indicated, for example, by its championing of Milosevic and support for the anti-Macedonian campaign. Indeed, in Greece, perhaps more than in any other Balkan country, national chauvinism and anti-Western xenophobia seamlessly unite hardline left-wing and right-wing currents.

After Russia, Belarus and Turkey, Greece is the European country perhaps most in need of a democratic revolution to shake up its political classes and introduce a genuinely democratic culture that will respect the rights of its youth, workers, ethnic minorities and neighbours alike. In these circumstances, it would be a mistake to dismiss the Greek popular protests simply because of the destructive actions of the hooligans who have been smashing up shops, or because of the infantile politics of anarchists and other extreme left-wing elements. As Margaronis notes: ‘Anarchist groups dreaming of revolution played a key part in the first waves of destruction, but this week’s protests were not orchestrated by the usual suspects, who relish a good bust-up and a whiff of teargas. There’s been no siege of the American embassy, no blaming Bush, very few party slogans.’

Indeed, as Takis Michas points out, the unwillingness of the government to halt the violence is itself further indication of its irresponsibility and bankruptcy: ‘Anyone watching this absurd scene could be excused for concluding that a secret deal had been struck between the government and the rioters: We let you torch and plunder to your heart’s content, and you let us continue pretending that we are in charge.’ The political bankruptcy of the mainstream parties has allowed extremists to hijack popular discontent. Yet this does not mean that in Greece – where one in five lives below the poverty line and 70% of those aged 18-25 are unemployed – the people do not have genuine grievances. Only a thorough programme of both democratic and social reforms, an alleviation of social misery and a tackling of corruption, can rescue Greece from the hands of the extremists of both right and left and lay the basis for a functioning Greek democracy. It is to be hoped that the events of the past week will catalyse such a programme of change.

That is why I say: long live the youth, workers and citizens of Greece ! Victory to the Greek revolution !

Monday, 15 December 2008 Posted by | Balkans, Cyprus, Former Yugoslavia, Greece, Kosovo, Macedonia, Red-Brown Alliance, Serbia, Turkey | 2 Comments

Kosova’s independence cannot remain hostage to the will o’ the wisp of Serbian goodwill

vetevendosjeOnce again, Europe has become a serious threat to stability in the Balkans. The UN Security Council has voted to deploy EULEX, the EU’s law and order mission in Kosova, on the basis of the six-point plan of UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon. The plan panders simultaneously to a Serbia that appears determind to keep fighting a war it has already lost, a Russia whose own ill-will and lack of faith have been demonstrated in Georgia, and EU members for which toadying to Russia is an end in itself. Although the UN Security Council vote did not formally mention the plan, and although the US has been at pains to stress that Kosova’s opposition to the plan has been respected, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that this is merely a fudge intended to mollify Kosovar opinion. Deploying the EU force in Kosova only on the basis of agreement with Serbia and Russia represents a dangerous precedent and unnecessary concession to ill-willed parties. This policy of ‘anything for a quiet’ life must be halted to avoid serious damage to our interests, both in the Balkans and in Europe as a whole.

The Ban plan has been rejected by the Kosovar leadership and by all sections of Kosovo Albanian political and public opinion, as contrary to Kosova’s constitution and damaging to its territorial integrity, and it is worth pausing for a minute so see why this is so. The plan bases itself on UN Security Council 1244, which guaranteed the ‘sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia’. As the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia was transformed into the ‘State Union of Serbia and Montenegro’ in 2003, and as this union then dissolved in 2006 when Montenegro voted to become independent, talk of its ‘territorial integrity’ being maintained from 1999 is meaningless. The Ban plan has adopted this form to appease Belgrade, which wants to turn the clock back to before the international recognition of Kosova’s independence of this year, and sees reaffirming the Resolution 1244 as a way of doing this. But paradoxically, Belgrade wishes to do this in order ultimately to move the clock forward – to impose a territorial partition on Kosova as the price for its independence, a partition that it has already enacted on the ground. By confining the EULEX mission to the areas of Kosova under the control of the Albanian-dominated government, and by maintaining separate police, courts and customs for the Serb enclaves under UN rather than EU control, the Ban plan will, if put into practice, solidify this soft partition, thereby appeasing Serbia on this score as well. Again, the US claims that the Security Council vote allows for the deployment of EULEX throughout Kosova, but whether EULEX will really be allowed to assume responsibility in the north appears uncertain.

It is, perhaps, a sign of how far several of the Balkan states have progressed in terms of democracy and responsibility, that they show greater awareness of the dangers inherent in this scenario than the supposedly mature democracies of Western Europe. According to Albanian Prime Minister Sali Berisha, ‘The plan has serious problems, since it favours a soft partition of Kosova.’ After meeting with Berisha, Montenegrin Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic warned that a partition of Kosova would destabilise the region, consequently ‘The division of Kosova along ethnic lines is a buried plan’. And in the words of Croatian President Stipe Mesic: ‘The division of Kosova based on Serb appetites is a dream of Serbia which reminds us of the epoch of the Milosevic dictatorship. And if it really happens as Belgrade intends, this means a step backwards. It means the realisation of the dream of Great Serbia.’ Although the sabre-rattling in which Serbia has engaged in recently in relation to Croatia and Montenegro as well as to Macedonia and the Western powers over Kosova is essentially empty, concessions of the kind represented by the Ban plan may serve to persuade Serbia that, despite its past defeats, aggressive behaviour does pay after all.

It is paradoxical that this UN plan for Kosova – rejected by Kosova, favoured by Serbia and unpopular with Serbia’s Balkan neighbours – has won EU approval, despite British and US reservations. Paradoxical, given that 22 out of 27 EU members, including all the larger ones except Spain, have recognised Kosova’s independence: the EU has ended up favouring a plan opposed by the side in the conflict whose position its members mostly support, and supported by the side that opposes the views of most EU members. This only makes sense if we consider the dynamics of European geopolitics. The EU’s foreign policy chief is Spain’s Javier Solana, considered by some at Brussels to have been rather quick off the mark in backing the Ban plan, and to have done so on the basis of Spanish rather than EU political considerations. Spain is, of course, the only larger EU member, and the only West European country, that refuses to recognise Kosova’s independence, and that indeed continues actively to lobby against it.

Meanwhile, the big three of the continental EU, France, Germany and Italy, are motivated by a general policy of conciliating Russia on all fronts, therefore of mollifying the Serbia-Russia bloc over Kosova. France holds the EU presidency, and at the EU-Russia summit this month at Nice, French President Nicolas Sarkozy attempted to undermine the US plan for a missile defence system for Europe – to the consternation of the Czechs and Poles – and called for an EU-Russia pact, despite Moscow’s failure to honour the terms of the ceasefire in Georgia. Appeasement of Serbia, consequently of Russia over Kosova is of a kind with this policy orientation, one that directly sacrifices the interests – and in some cases the sovereignty – of the Czech Republic, Poland, the Baltic states, Ukraine, Georgia, Croatia, Montenegro, Macedonia, Albania and, of course, Kosova.

Sarkozy’s Gaullist pursuit of an independent French line, in a manner that undermines the unity of the Western alliance, is not limited to appeasement of Russia, however; he has vocally supported Greece in its ‘name dispute’ with Macedonia, in contrast to the US’s support for Macedonia – despite the potentially tremendous damage that Greece’s aggressively nationalistic policy may do to the Balkans, and despite the fact that Macedonia has in recent years been a much better supporter of the Western alliance than has Greece. Sarkozy’s determination to keep our crucial Turkish ally out of the EU, expressed and justified in the crudest terms, is a further example of his pursuit of narrow French interests at the expense of common Western interests.

In Kosova, the consequences of EU appeasement of Serbia are beginning to make themselves felt, with the Kosovars – up till now the most pro-Western nation in the Balkans – uniting in opposition to the form EU policy is taking. Their opposition is manifesting itself in mass demonstrations, but there are ominous signs that resistance is also taking a more extreme form: on 14 November, a bomb attack was carried out on the EU representative office in Pristina, with a group calling itself the ‘Army of the Republic of Kosova’ claiming responsibility, and threatening further attacks against Kosovo’s Serb minority. Pursuing the will o’ the wisp of Serbian goodwill over Kosova, we have consequently let down our own Kosovar ally to such an extent that we risk engendering a new terrorist-extremist threat in this sensitive spot.

Things are going badly in the Balkans because Britain and the US, Kosova’s two strongest supporters in the Western alliance, have been far too reticent in standing up for our ally, and have allowed Russia, Serbia and their West European appeasers to make the running. Nor have we been sufficiently active on the world stage in promoting the cause of Kosova’s independence. Egypt, one of the opponents of Kosova’s independence, blocked Kosova’s participation at an Organisation of the Islamic Conference event in Cairo; despite being one of the largest recipients of US aid, the corrupt regime of Hosni Mubarak obviously has no qualms about undermining Western diplomacy in this gratuitous manner. Similarly, in last month’s UN General Assembly vote on whether the International Court of Justice should rule on the legality of Kosova’s independence, it was left to the US and Albania, virtually alone, to vote against; the EU members that recognised Kosova’s independence all abstained, while the five EU members that reject Kosova’s independence all voted in favour. So it is the troublemakers – Spain, Greece, Romania, Slovakia and Cyprus; the ones that are blocking a common EU policy on Kosova – that aggressively promote their own policy, while Britain pursues the line of least resistance.

The rot must be stopped. If Britain and the US are to prevent further deterioration of the situation in the Balkans, discourage Serbia’s escalating policy of revanchism, dampen the slide toward extremism in Kosova, make it clear to Moscow that its mischief-making will be met with resistance, and put a brake on the Franco-German-Spanish-Italian appeasement drive, we must be much more forthright and vocal in promoting our policies and interests and in standing up for our friends. This means waging a much more active diplomatic and public campaign in defence of Kosova. Diplomatic pressure should be brought to bear on the five EU members that have so far refused to recognise Kosova’s independence; in particular Spain which, as the only large and West European country among them, bears a particular responsibility for the failure to achieve EU unanimity on this question. Bad allies such as Egypt should be made to understand that they will suffer diplomatic and financial consequences if they continue to undermine us in the Balkans.

A successful diplomatic campaign is one half of winning the battle of Kosova. The other half is to achieve facts on the ground that make this victory an irreversible fact. Serbian attempts to undermine Croatia’s independence and annex parts of Croatian territory came to a definite end when the Croatian state became strong enough to assert its authority unchallenged across the whole of its territory. Similarly, Kosova’s independence will became a reality, irrespective of Serbian opposition, when a strong Kosovar state exercises full control over the whole of Kosova, including the area north of the River Ibar. Consequently, the EULEX mission must not be allowed to become a permanent international protectorate that prevents the emergence of a genuinely independent Kosova, but must work rapidly to put such a Kosova on its feet. Bosnia, where the international protectorate has wholly failed to create a functioning state or a stable political order, and where the situation is increasingly critical, should serve as a salutary warning of where a similar policy over Kosova might lead.

Britain and the US must therefore work together to ensure that the EULEX mission is a means to the end of a genuinely independent, territorially united Kosova, not to the end of keeping a lid on things indefinitely so as to appease Serbia and Russia. The very aim of Belgrade and Moscow is to undermine us and promote Balkan instability; they will use our weakness and our fear of confrontation to ensure that the lid comes off. The corollary of this is that we cannot establish an independent Kosova and stabilise the Balkans so long as we are pursuing the will o’ the wisp of consensus with these regimes. We must choose: to acquiesce in the destabilisation of the Balkans by two regimes that are taking us for a ride, or to move forward and resolve the situation once and for all, at the price of a few impotent howls from them. It should not be a difficult choice to make.

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

Sunday, 30 November 2008 Posted by | Balkans, Bosnia, Croatia, Former Yugoslavia, France, Germany, Italy, Kosovo, Macedonia, NATO, Russia, Serbia, Spain | Leave a comment

Greater Surbiton first birthday post

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‘Left-wing people are always sad because they mind dreadfully about their causes, and the causes are always going so badly.’ – Nancy Mitford, The Pursuit of Love

Greater Surbiton became one year old on 7 November. Some weeks before that, it passed the figure of 100,000 page-views. Many thanks to all my readers. Well, at least to some of them. As it has been a very busy academic term, I have not had the time until now to write a suitably self-indulgent birthday post. I apologise in advance for the rambling that follows.

I had two principal aims in mind when launching this blog: to discuss what progressive politics might mean in the twenty-first century, and to provide commentary on South East European affairs. The second of these has tended to predominate, partly because it has been such an eventful year in South East Europe, with the international recognition of Kosova, the failed nationalist assault on the liberal order in Serbia, the escalation of the conflicts between Greece and Macedonia and between Turkey and the PKK, the failed judicial putsch against the AKP government in Turkey, the arrest of Radovan Karadzic, the Russian invasion of Georgia, and so on. Although the recognition of Kosova and the defeat of anti-democratic initiatives in Serbia and Turkey gives us reason for optimism about the region, all the indications are that events there will not cease to be ‘interesting’ in the forseeable future. Key struggles are either being decided now, or are simmering: for the international recognition of Kosova and its successful functioning as a state; for the defence of Macedonia’s name and nationhood; for the democratisation of Turkey; for the resolution of the Cyprus conflict; for the defence of Georgia’s independence and territorial integrity; and for the reintegration of Bosnia.

While I remain cautiously optimistic about at least some of these, reason for concern is provided by the direction in which EU policy is tending. This includes support for UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon’s disgraceful six-point plan for Kosova, which will reinforce the country’s ‘partition lite’. It includes also support for a new partnership with Russia, in violation of the ceasefire agreement over Georgia (from which Russian forces have refused fully to withdraw) and at the expense of the military defence of the states of Eastern Europe. All this indicates a new appetite for appeasement, for which France, Germany, Italy and Spain are principally responsible. The big unknown, at the time of writing, is precisely what the Obama Administration’s policy toward the region will be. I am somewhat Obamaskeptic and have voiced my concern about this already, but we really won’t know what Obama will do until he assumes office. In the meantime, I am happy to note that our own, British ruling classes show no indication of going back down the road shamefully trodden by John Major’s government in the 1990s: David Miliband’s performance as Foreign Secretary with regard to South East Europe has on the whole been commendable, while David Cameron’s response to Russian aggression in Georgia was magnificent. Whichever party wins the next British general election, the UK is likely to act as a brake on some of the more ignoble impulses of our West European allies.

It is fortunate, indeed, that the only political parties likely to win the next general election are Labour and the Conservatives, both of them respectable parties of government, rather than some irrelevant fringe group. Such as the Liberal Democrats. I have written to my various MPs several times in the course of my life, and on a couple of occasions to other elected politicians. The only one who never wrote back was my current MP Ed Davey, the MP for Kingston and Surbiton, to whom I wrote to ask to support the campaign to provide asylum in the UK to Iraqi employees of the British armed forces. No doubt, as Mr Davey has assumed the immensely important job of Liberal Democrat Shadow Foreign Secretary, he will have even less time to waste on trivial matters such as writing to his constituents, and no doubt democracy would anyway potter along so much better if we all stopped pestering our MPs. And the fruits of Mr Davey’s labour are there for all to see – such as this empty, incoherent, waffling attack on ‘neo-Cons, from Dick Cheney to David Cameron’, for being too ‘macho’ over Georgia. One can always rely on a certain type of wishy-washy liberal to be infinitely more offended by resolute calls for action against aggression than they are by the aggression itself. The line isn’t to oppose aggression, comrades; the line is to oppose people who oppose aggression. The electoral contest here in Kingston and Surbiton is a straight fight between the Conservatives and the LibDems; readers may rest assured I won’t be voting for the LibDems.

Indeed, as a point of principle, progressives can no longer automatically back the left-wing candidate against the right-wing candidate; we need to think hard before deciding whether to back Merkel or Schroeder; Sarkozy or Royal; Livingstone or Johnson; Obama or McCain; Cameron or Brown. Politicians and parties of the left or of the right may be a force for positive change, while both the parliamentary left and the right must move toward the centre if they want to win elections. Thus, the US presidential election was fought between two centrist candidates, lost by the one who waged the more divisive and partisan campaign, and won by the one who reconciled a message of change with a message of healing and reconciliation. About a billion commentators have pointed out the signficance of a black man being elected president of the US, yet it was the reviled George W. Bush who appointed the US’s first black Secretary of State, Colin Powell, in 2001, and first black woman Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, in 2005, something to which even the Guardian’s Gary Younge pays tribute.

Only joking. In his article at the start of this month on how inspiring the possibility of a black president is for young black people in the US, Younge actually complained that Obama hadn’t been all good, because he had voted to confirm Rice as Secretary of State. A couple of years ago, Younge said: ‘Of course, on one level it’s important that black people have the right to fuck up and to be bad, but we have to separate progress of symbols and progress of substance. At a symbolic level, Condoleezza Rice does represent some kind of progress, but if that’s where we are going with this thing I’m getting off the train now.’ Has everyone got that ? The election or appointment of black politicians to senior posts in the US should only be celebrated as symbolic of positive change if they’re politically sympathetic in the eyes of Guardian journalists.

If there’s one blogging decision I took that I was initially unsure about, but now definitely do not regret, it was the decision not to have comments. I realise that this makes me a social outcast in the blogosphere – something equivalent to a leper during the Middle Ages. But do you know what, dear readers ? I really don’t care. Just as I don’t like dog turds, half-eaten kebabs and squashed bubble gum littering the parks and pavements where I walk, let alone on my doorstep, so I don’t want my nice clean blog littered with comments from the assorted riff-raff of the internet: Chetniks; Ustashas; national chauvinists; genocide-deniers; Stalinists; Nazis; ‘anti-imperialists’; ‘anti-Zionists’; Islamophobes; Islamofascists; BNP supporters; SWP supporters; Red-Brown elements; ultra-left sectarians; toilet-mouthed troglodytes; Jeremy Kyle fodder; ‘Comment is Free’ types; and others like them. And I particularly don’t want flippant, inane comments that take ten seconds to think up and write, by Benjis who don’t bother to read the post properly in the first place. Thank you very much.

Let’s face it, members of the above-listed categories generally comprise about half of all the people who comment on blogs dealing with my fields.

Of course, all credit to those bloggers who do succeed in managing comments in a way that keeps the debate lively and the trolls and trogs to a minimum.  But I see no reason why every article has to be followed by comments. While I applaud the democratisation of the means of communication that the blogging revolution represents, this democratisation has come at a price. The ubiquitous nature of online discussion and the generally inadequate level of comments moderation has resulted in a vulgarisation of public discourse. Where once the letters editor of a paper could be relied on to reject automatically semi-literate, abusive or otherwise bottom-quality letters for publication, now many, if not most, online discussions are filled with outright filth and rubbish. Well, I’m doing my bit for the online environment.

Related to this is the unfortunate fashion for blogging and commenting anonymously, which inevitably results in a ruder, nastier online atmosphere. I’m not going to judge any individual who chooses to remain anonymous – you may have a valid personal reason. But really, comrades, is all this anonymity necessary ? So long as you live in a democracy, and the secret police aren’t going to come round to visit you just because you express your opinion, then the default position should be to write under your real name.

Greater Surbiton has received plenty of intelligent criticism in the one year of its existence, and not a small amount of really stupid criticism. So, to round off this too-long post, I’m going to announce an award for Most Ill-Informed Attack on Something I Have Written. In this inaugural year, the award goes jointly to Hak Mao of the Drink-Soaked Troglodytes and to Daniel Davies of Aaronovitch Watch (unless you really have nothing better to do, you may want to stop reading at this point – it’s my time off and I’m having a bit of pointless fun with my sectarian chums).

Hak Mao, in response to my Normblog profile:

‘There you are, minding your own business and then you read this steaming pile of bollocks: The most important change of opinion I’ve ever had … was realizing that ‘anti-imperialism’ … was something highly negative and reactionary, rather than positive and progressive. Can’t spell Vietnam, Laos, Amritsar, Bay of Pigs or Salvador eh? You are welcome to compose your own list of atrocities committed in the name of the ‘West’. And one of those whose historical contribution to human emancipation I most appreciate [is] … Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. The emancipation of Armenians was particularly heartwarming.’

This criticism is being made by someone who is a born-again Leninist and Trotskyist religious believer, whose favourite book is still Lenin’s ‘State and Revolution’, who views Trotsky’s martyrdom the way Christians view the crucifixion, but who nevertheless writes for a pro-war, Christopher-Hitchens-worshipping website.

The Bolshevik regime of Lenin and Trotsky armed and funded Mustafa Kemal’s Turkish nationalists. It signed a treaty ceding to Turkey territory that had been inhabited and claimed by the Armenians; the US president Woodrow Wilson had wanted the Armenians to receive much more territory than the Bolshevik-Turkish treaty gave them. The Turkish slaughter of Armenian civilians in Smyrna in 1922 was made possible by Bolshevik military and financial support for the Kemalists. The Bolshevik regime was therefore utterly complicit in Turkish-nationalist crimes against the Armenians.

Someone like Hak Mao, properly equipped with a Scientific Theory of Class Struggle, who is faithful to the Principles of Revolutionary Socialism and well versed in Marxist-Leninist Scripture, can simultaneously 1) revere Lenin and Trotsky, 2) ignore their support for Mustafa Kemal and their complicity in his crimes against the Armenians; 3) denounce bourgeois reactionaries like myself who write favourably about Mustafa Kemal; and 4) justify all this in ‘scientific’ Marxist terms. And of course, everyone knows that, were Lenin and Trotsky alive today, they would undoubtedly, as good anti-imperialists, have joined with Christopher Hitchens in endorsing George W. Bush’s presidential campaign, in welcoming the Bush dynasty to the campaign against Islamic terror, and in supporting Bush’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. And naturally they would still have denounced apostates and traitors to the cause of anti-imperialism, such as myself, in the strongest possible terms.

Anyone with a proper understanding of Dialectical Materialism can only reach this conclusion. If you do not reach this conclusion, it is because you do not have a proper understanding of Dialectical Materialism. And anyone without a proper understanding of Dialectical Materialism is an ignorant pleb whose views don’t count, and who should defer to a vanguard comprised of professional revolutionaries with a proper understanding of Dialectical Materialism.

Here’s a joke for the comrades:

Q. What do you call a racist, anti-Semitic, Great German nationalist supporter of capitalism, the free market, globalisation, Western imperialism and colonialism ?

A. Karl Marx

(NB I’m also pro-war over Iraq and Afghanistan, and I agree with Christopher Hitchens more often than not. But I don’t pretend to be an ‘anti-imperialist’.)

Daniel Davies, in response to my post ‘Weighing Obama versus McCain’:

I wrote:

‘Bill Clinton collaborated with Slobodan Milosevic and the Taliban.’

Davies (‘Bruschettaboy’) replied:

‘call me a bad blogger, but I would shed very few tears and protest only halfheartedly at our terrible UK libel laws if it turned out that there were some sort of consequences for saying something like that.’

This is what Ahmed Rashid, one of the most eminent journalists of Afghanistan and the Taliban, writes in Taliban: Islam, Oil and the New Great Game in Central Asia:

‘Between 1994 and 1996 the USA supported the Taliban politically through its allies Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, essentially because Washington viewed the Taliban as anti-Iranian, anti-Shia and pro-Western. The USA conveniently ignored the Taliban’s own Islamic fundamentalist agenda, its suppression of women and the consternation they created in Central Asia largely because Washington was not interested in the larger picture.’

Hopefully, Rashid will agree to be my defence witness in the event that Clinton follows Daniel’s advice and takes me to court.

As for Milosevic, Davies clearly has not heard of the Dayton Accord, but I assume everyone else who reads this blog has (certainly everyone who reads it as assiduously as Daniel does), so I’ll confine myself to posting this picture of Clinton’s man Richard Holbrooke, the architect of Dayton, carrying out Western imperialist aggression against the anti-imperialist Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic:

holbrooke

You see, comrades from the ‘Indecent Left’ like Daniel see their mission as defending the leaders of Western imperialism and their record over crises like Afghanistan or Bosnia, from condemnation coming from the ranks of the ‘Decent Left’, and they do so in the most strident and aggressive manner – even when the condemnation is totally justified. And there I was, thinking we were all part of the same left-wing extended family.

Honestly, what a bunch of splitters.

Update: Davies isn’t now trying to defend his previous claim that Clinton never collaborated with Milosevic or the Taliban, and that I deserve to be sued for saying so, but is taking refuge in the defence that he didn’t understand what I was saying, because I wasn’t expressing myself clearly.

What do you think, readers, is the sentence ‘Bill Clinton collaborated with Slobodan Milosevic and the Taliban’ at all difficult to understand ? Is the grammar or vocabulary at all complicated ? Perhaps I’m using opaque academic jargon that a non-specialist might find difficult ?

Or could it be that Daniel simply isn’t the sharpest tool in the box ?

Friday, 28 November 2008 Posted by | Afghanistan, Anti-Semitism, Armenians, Balkans, Bosnia, Caucasus, Croatia, Cyprus, Former Soviet Union, Former Yugoslavia, France, Genocide, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Iraq, Islam, Jews, Kosovo, Kurds, Macedonia, Middle East, NATO, Neoconservatism, Political correctness, Racism, Red-Brown Alliance, Russia, Serbia, SWP, The Left, Turkey | 1 Comment

Weighing Obama versus McCain

It may be that I have spent too much time living in Serbia and studying it, and that some of that fabled Serbian inat, or bloodymindedness, has rubbed off on me (readers may be surprised to learn that, as an adult, I was christened in the Serbian Orthodox Church, something that occurred not because of religious belief – of which I have none – but because I was once married to a Serbian woman). Or it may be just that I don’t like jumping on bandwagons. Be this as it may, I’m not prepared to follow the herd and endorse Obama for US president. That said, there are some powerful arguments to be made in favour of Obama, which I have been hearing from Obama supporters – such as my own girlfriend, as well as my mother – for some time now. The strong reasons for supporting McCain, however, which I have outlined in previous posts, remain. Each of the candidates offers a very different set of advantages and disadvantages, and a US citizen deciding whom to vote for should weigh them up very carefully before deciding.

One of the paradoxes of this election is that Obama is perceived by much of the liberal intelligentsia in the West as being the progressive, anti-establishment candidate, even though his likely election victory will owe much to the fact that his campaign has enjoyed much greater financial resources than McCain’s. The richer candidate is spending his way to victory; even if a large part of this funding has consisted of small donations, the hated representatives of American capitalism have hardly been falling over themselves to fund his Republican opponent. Yet Obama’s greater popularity among the liberal intelligentsia, and indeed among international opinion generally, is undeniably because he is more widely – and unfairly – seen as less quintissentially American than McCain. Obama may be just another liberal Democrat in the tradition of Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter, but for various reasons – in part because he would represent a dramatic break with the politics of George Bush, in part because he is black, and in part because he is undeniably charismatic – he has been invested with much greater belief on the part of the outside world as a force for change than he probably warrants.

But perception matters. And here is the strongest reason for voting for Obama. A President Obama would restore the world’s goodwill toward the US. The outside world will give him the benefit of the doubt, and the US a second chance to enjoy the degree of international popularity it enjoyed before 9/11. Conversely, a victory for McCain – particularly after such a strong and sustained poll lead enjoyed by Obama for so long – would produce another great outpouring of anti-American bile across the world, and above all from the ranks of the European chattering classes. The Republicans would, once again, be viewed as having unfairly stolen the election; their regime would enjoy little international credibility or goodwill. McCain will be painted as a continuation of Bush, and continue to be punished for the sins, real or perceived, of his predecessor. Obama would, therefore, be better able than McCain to restore the US’s network of alliances and connections, rejuvenating the US’s world leadership, or what is termed on the left as ‘American imperialism’.

Yet the reason why Obama would enjoy such international goodwill, and be able to restore the US’s world image and standing, is also the reason why one should think twice before supporting him: the world prefers soft US presidents, and Obama will undoubtedly be a much softer president than McCain. George Bush Snr betrayed the Iraqi Kurds in 1991 and acted to keep Saddam Hussein in power; Bill Clinton collaborated with Slobodan Milosevic and the Taliban, and strove hard to keep the US from having to intervene to stop genocide in Rwanda and Bosnia; yet neither has earned the kind of opprobrium incurred by the current US president for the crime of overthrowing Saddam. Obama has shown himself to be less committed than McCain to the defence of democratic Iraq and of independent Georgia; his restoration of US popularity globally may come at a high price.

Obama’s choice of the tough and experienced Joe Biden as his running mate does something to allay one’s concern at the foreign-policy implications of his presidency. Biden deserves credit for his opposition to aggression and ethnic cleansing in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s. But his instincts have not always been so good: he has supported the partition of Iraq. Biden is, like Obama, pro-Greek and anti-Turkish; they would be taking over leadership of the US at a time when, given the threats posed by the hostile regimes in Moscow and Tehran, we need to maintain the Turkish alliance, and at a time when Greece’s merciless bullying of the fragile Republic of Macedonia potentially threatens disaster in the Balkans.

So the choice between Obama and McCain revolves around the question of whether it is better to have a US president who can restore the US’s global popularity and standing but is likely to be less resolute in resisting the enemies of the democratic world, or a president who will be globally unpopular but more determined in resisting our enemies.

Some readers may feel that US domestic policy should count for more in this weighing up. All well and good; I prefer Obama to McCain on domestic issues, but there are 6.7 billion people in the world, and only 300 million of them are Americans. The United States is a sophisticated system of decentralised democracy and constitutional checks and balances, and the battle between conservatism and liberalism will continue to be fought out at multiple levels throughout the country, regardless of which candidate wins. But it is foreign policy where the president’s voice counts for most. I would discount on principle the idea that one should vote on the basis of the candidate’s age or skin-colour; Winston Churchill was presiding over the Normandy Landings when he was only a year or two younger than McCain is today, and was several years older when he became prime minister for the second time, while the social changes that have made it possible for the US presidency to be within reach of a black candidate have occurred, and will continue to occur, regardless of who wins. The fact that Obama supposedly is friends with various dangerous radicals is a big red herring; most of us probably have been, one way or another. But it is no more a red herring than the big Sarah Palin bogey; Palin was brought in by McCain to mobilise the Republican base; she will not determine US policy. McCain might die in office and leave the inexperienced and very right-wing Palin as acting president. But probably not. Finally, I have faith that US capitalism will rejuvenate itself, regardless of who is managing the economy.

So for me, it boils down to a choice between the man who will capture the world’s hearts and the man who will fight the world’s enemies. While there are strong arguments to be made for each, I would always support the candidate who, when the chips were down, defended a small nation against a brutal aggressor, against the candidate who has supported an aggressor against a fragile small nation.

Others may draw the line in a different place.

Monday, 3 November 2008 Posted by | Balkans, Caucasus, Former Soviet Union, Former Yugoslavia, Genocide, Georgia, Greece, Iran, Iraq, Kurds, Macedonia, Middle East, Russia, Serbia, Turkey | 4 Comments