Greater Surbiton

The perfect is the enemy of the good

The break-up of Bosnia and the break-up of Serbia ?

Milorad Dodik, the prime minister of Bosnia-Hercegovina’s Serb entity – the Serb Republic or Republika Srpska (RS) – is openly pursuing a policy of secession. Dodik, who is currently running for president of the RS in an election due to take place on 3 October, recently stated that ‘Bosnia is an impossible country, many of you know that better than I do. It has no common history. It has a history of divisions’ – divisions, indeed, that Dodik’s regime is seeking to deepen. Parallel to this, across the border in Serbia, the Muslim/Bosniak-majority region of Sandzak is being described as the ‘Balkans’ latest hot spot.’ There, the more militant elements, led by the Sandzak Mufti Muamer Zukorlic, are demanding autonomy for the region. Serbia’s President Boris Tadic supports Dodik’s secessionist regime and his presidential bid; he recently attended an pre-election rally in the RS town of Doboj, where he described Dodik’s Alliance of Independent Social Democrats as ‘friends who best lead the RS’. Yet if Dodik succeeds in his goal of breaking up Bosnia, which given Western complaisance and Bosniak passivity he may well do, there may be repercussions in Serbia and elsewhere that Tadic might not find so welcome.

During the wars in Croatia and Bosnia in the 1990s, supporters of the Great Serbian cause would frequently pose a specious rhetorical question: if Croatia and Bosnia (or ‘the Muslims’) were allowed to secede from Yugoslavia, why were the Serb populations of Croatia and Bosnia not similarly allowed to secede from them ? They would pose it as if it were a clinching argument for their case, then would be surprised by how easily it was answered: the Serb populations of Croatia and Bosnia were not equivalent to the Republics of Croatia and Bosnia-Hercegovina; rather, it was the Republic of Serbia that was equivalent to the latter, and its right to self-determination was not contested. The Serb populations of Croatia and Bosnia were broadly equivalent to groups such as the Croat population of Bosnia, the Muslim/Bosniak and Hungarian populations of Serbia or the Albanian population of Macedonia, and none of these groups has had its right to secession recognised by the international community.

Indeed, the only such group that has been granted any degree of territorial autonomy under the existing order in the Balkans is the Bosnian Serbs, who possess their own entity, the ‘Republika Srpska’ or Serb Republic, enjoying most of the attributes of statehood. This contrasts with the treatment meted out to the Bosnian Croats, whose own para-state entity – the self-proclaimed ‘Croat Republic of Herceg-Bosna’ – was dismantled following the Washington Agreement of 1994 and the Dayton Agreement of 1995, to the intense annoyance of the Bosnian Croat nationalists. Despite the fact that Serb nationalists, alone of all the nationalists of the former Yugoslavia, have been allowed to carve out a wholly new autonomous entity on the territory of an existing state, the discourse of Serb victimhood continues to paint the Serbs as the perpetual victims of a global anti-Serb conspiracy.

Under Dodik’s leadership, Bosnian Serb nationalists are not resting content with having obtained an entity of their own encompassing a disproportionately large share of Bosnian territory (49% for a Serb nationality that made up 31% of Bosnia’s pre-1992 population), but are aiming at full independence. The ground for this may be prepared with a referendum, and Dodik recently stated that ‘I am convinced a day will come for the Serbian people to decide on their status in a referendum, the status of the RS within Bosnia.’ Yet Dodik is aware that a premature declaration of independence could provoke an international and Bosniak reaction that could prove his and the RS’s undoing. Serb nationalists have a long history of pursuing self-defeating strategies dictated by emotion and bloody-mindedness rather than cool calculation, but Dodik appears cleverer than most. While keeping the secessionist fire burning through his bellicose rhetoric, he is going about achieving his goal in a gradual, piecemeal manner. As he stated recently, ‘We are not adventurists; we shall move carefully.’

Thus, on 14 September, the RS parliament passed a law unilaterally transferring all pre-1992 Bosnian state property located on the territory of the RS to the ownership of the RS. The international community expressed only weak dissent at this act of plunder, with the Peace Implementation Council, the body charged with the overseeing of the international administration in Bosnia, merely stating that it would delay Bosnia’s Euro-Atlantic integration – not a threat likely to impress the pro-Russian Dodik.

Then, on 17 September, Dodik’s government ordered a plan to be drawn up for the demarcation of the Inter-Entity Boundary Line (IEBL) that separates the RS from Bosnia’s other entity, the Federation of Bosnia-Hercegovina. This threatens a serious violation of the Dayton Agreement, which stipulated that adjustments of the IEBL must be carried out with the agreement of both entities, under the supervision of the international military force. A unilateral assertion by the RS of its border vis-a-vis the Federation would be a significant further step toward an independent RS, as well as a potentially dangerous provocation to the Bosniaks and to neighbouring Croatia, whose previous president, Stjepan Mesic, threatened to intervene militarily to prevent the RS’s secession.

Dodik has justified his secessionist drive with reference to Kosovo’s secession from Serbia, and the ICJ’s ruling in July that the secession was not illegal. He commented at the time that the ICJ’s opinion could serve as a ‘guideline for our struggle for the status and the future’ of Republika Srpska; ‘For quite some time, we have not been happy to be a part of Bosnia-Herzegovina….we will not exclude the possibility of additional political struggle for status which, in line with this opinion, would not be in contradiction with international law.’ Such arguments are disingenuous; the Bosnian Serb nationalists seceded from Bosnia and declared their independence already in 1992, long before the West embraced Kosovo’s independence.

In fact, the Western recognition of Kosovo’s independence, however Dodik may use it as a pretext, represented merely the natural culmination of the established policy of the international community, which recognised the right to self-determination of all former members of the socialist federations of the USSR, Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia. Kosovo was a member of the former Yugoslav federation in its own right, and though it was also part of the Socialist Republic of Serbia, it had most of the attributes of a separate republic. By contrast, the West has not recognised the right to independence of the Albanian communities of Macedonia, Montenegro or Serbia proper. If Dodik does succeed in effecting the RS’s secession, this will bring the international community into uncharted waters.

This brings us back to the Sandzak, whose radical Mufti Muamer Zukorlic has stated that the region’s autonomy from Serbia is an ‘inevitable social process’. This does not represent a wise policy; Serbia is potentially a stable and prosperous state, and the Sandzak Bosniaks will be better off as an integral part of it than as some form of distinct entity. Nor will Serbia be likely to countenance Sandzak’s autonomy, given the justified suspicion that this will be merely a stepping stone toward full independence. Violence and repression will be the likely Serbian response to any autonomist move on the part of the Sandzak Bosniaks, who are likely to come out worst from the confrontation. Yet if Bosnia’s Serbs are permitted the right to secede, then there are no possible grounds for denying a similar right to Serbia’s Bosniaks. Even if the international community acquiesces in the Serbian double-standard, and denies the Sandzak Bosniaks a right that the Bosnian Serbs have acquired, this will have a radicalising effect on the Sandzak Bosniaks.

The current dividing line in Sandzak’s politics is between Zukorlic’s radicals, who look toward the Sarajevo and the Bosniaks of Bosnia, and the more moderate elements who favour integration in Serbia and look toward Belgrade. The break up of Bosnia would strengthen the hand of the former against the latter. Zukorlic has warned that the tensions in the Sandzak could erupt into violence, and there is no reason not to take him seriously. Nor would any such instability be confined to Serbia. The historical Sandzak region was partitioned at the end of World War II between Serbia and Montenegro, and a large Bosniak/Muslim population remains across the border in the Montenegrin part of Sandzak. This, too, is an area to which instability could spread. As Zukorlic has stated, ‘The Sandzak is divided between two states, and the concept of cross-border autonomy is something that should be a platform for negotiation. Certainly all specificities must be taken into consideration – Sandzakian, Serbian and Montenegrin.’

Should the RS’s secessionism trigger a counter-secessionism among the Sandzak Bosniaks, sparking a conflagration in Serbia that spreads to Montenegro, it could serve as a catalyst to a further counter-secessionist movement among the Albanian communities of south Serbia, Montenegro and Macedonia, not all of whom are by any means content with the existing territorial status quo. Not to mention encourage further Serbian efforts to redraw international borders – at the expense of Kosovo, and possibly of Montenegro and Macedonia as well.

Support for the right to self-determination does not imply support for each and every irredentist claim. Had Serbia’s leadership in the early 1990s, which claimed to champion the national rights of the Serbs in Croatia and Bosnia, been genuinely interested in the principle of self-determination, it would have recognised that this principle could not be practised through the redrawing of borders between the constituent Yugoslav republics. For all three of the principal states at the heart of the Yugoslav question – Croatia, Bosnia and Serbia – had multiethnic populations that could not be neatly divided along territorial lines into homogenous territories of Croats, Bosniaks and Serbs, and any attempt to do so would simply create more problems than it solved. The borders were drawn where they were between these states by the post-war Yugoslav regime for a reason, and it is a great pity that certain fools in the West were hoodwinked by the Milosevic regime’s propaganda into believing that everything could be solved by certain ‘border corrections’ that just happened to hand over a much larger share of territory to that regime and its proxies. Today, with Dodik’s dangerous secessionist game, we are paying the price for acquiescing in Bosnian Serb irredentist claims, through Dayton back in 1995. It is time that we stopped acquiescing, before we allow yet another Balkan disaster to unfold.

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

Hat tips: Sarah Correia, Andras Riedlmayer and one other friend who asked not to be named.

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Thursday, 30 September 2010 Posted by | Balkans, Bosnia, Former Yugoslavia, Marko Attila Hoare, Serbia | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Bosnia: Weighing the Options

tworoadsThese days, even the most ardent Bosnian patriot or foreign friend of Bosnia-Hercegovina finds it difficult to be optimistic about the country’s future. In its current constitutional form, Bosnia is a state that does not and cannot work. No conceivable solution appears very good, while even bad solutions appear unachievable. Yet the status quo appears worst of all. I have been defending Bosnia-Hercegovina for seventeen years – ever since I campaigned on its behalf when the war broke out there in 1992. In this article, however, I shall weigh up Bosnia-Hercegovina’s different options and prospects as cold-bloodedly as possible.

The Dayton Peace Accords of 1995 established a Bosnia-Hercegovina that was more partitioned than united. For every year that it exists, the constitutional arrangement for Bosnia established by Dayton brings Bosnia another step closer to full and complete partition. Every year, Republika Srpska further consolidates itself as a de facto independent state; the Office of the High Representative declines in power and authority; the international community’s will and ability to coerce the Republika Srpska are that much weaker; the already dim prospect of Bosniaks and Croats returning to Republika Srpska recedes further; and the share of the Bosnian population that can remember the unified, multinational country that existed before 1992 becomes smaller. Despite apparent steps toward reintegration taken while the Office of the High Representative was headed by the energetic and determined Paddy Ashdown, subsequent high representatives have lacked either the will or the international support to continue down Ashdown’s path, with the result that Bosnia has further unravelled in recent years. However monstrous the injustice that Bosnian partition would represent, with every year that passes, the injustice is further forgotten by the world and full partition – like death – draws nearer. We need only look at the other injustices that have become realities on the ground: the three-way partition of Macedonia in 1912-13; the dispossession of the Armenian population of Anatolia; the dispossession of the Palestinian population of present-day Israel – these are realities on the ground. The partition of Bosnia is steadily becoming as irreversible as the partition of Macedonia.

Consequently, the best strategy for Bosnian Serb nationalists who want to achieve an independent Republika Srpska is simply to continue the existing constitutional arrangement while quietly chipping away at Bosnia from within. Ironically, however, the present arrangement may serve the interests of the Bosnian Serb political classes at the present time better than a full partition. A unified, homogenous Serb nation embracing the Serb populations on both sides of the River Drina is a myth; the dominant historical thrust of Bosnian Serb nationalism is toward an independent Bosnian Serb state rather than toward annexation to Serbia. Thus, for the Bosnian Serb political classes, the existing arrangement, whereby the Republika Srpska increasingly enjoys complete de facto independence, may be preferable to a full partition that would threaten them with being swallowed up by Serbia. One day, the Serb population of the Republika Srpska may cease to support annexation to Serbia, as the Greek population of Cyprus has ceased to support enosis with Greece. Until then – and until international conditions are fully favourable to the disappearance of Bosnia – Republika Srpska’s leadership might sensibly desire to stay put.

Conversely, the best hope for supporters of a unified Bosnia may be for Milorad Dodik’s increasingly arrogant regime to continue and escalate its present policy of rocking the boat, inciting Serb-nationalist passion and baiting the Bosniaks and the international community. Eventually, we may hope, Dodik might become sufficiently stupid actually to attempt unilateral secession prematurely, or some other such outrage that would provide Bosnia and the world with a legitimate pretext to overturn the Dayton order and reintegrate Republika Srpska with the rest of the country. This is not a wholly dim prospect, as recent antics on the part of the leaderships of both Serbia and the Republika Srpska highlight the continued Serb-nationalist propensity to self-destructive nationalist confrontation. Last month, Dodik issued a gratuitously offensive denial of the Tuzla massacre of 1995.  This followed hot on the heels of Serbian president Boris Tadic’s recent act of provocation against Bosnia, when he visited the Bosnian Serb entity without Bosnia’s permission, to open a new school named ‘Serbia’ in Pale, the former Bosnian Serb rebel capital outside of Sarajevo.

At this point, we should be clear about what partition would mean. Partition might be appealing for those Bosnian Serbs and Bosnian Croats who would be able to unite with Serbia and Croatia respectively, exchanging their citizenship of a dysfunctional state for citizenship of states that function. But for the Bosniaks, partition would cement their confinement to what is effectively a ghetto comprising the two territorial enclaves around the Sarajevo-Zenica-Tuzla triangle and Bihac respectively. The EU’s recent extension of visa-free travel to Serbia, following on from Croatia, thereby in practice to Bosnian Serbs and Bosnian Croats but not to Bosnia and the Bosniaks, is evidence that this is indeed a ghetto. An ‘independent’ Bosniak entity comprising these enclaves would be non-viable, while its embittered and demoralised population would fall under the influence of the most reactionary form of conservative Islamic politics. Bosniaks would be fully justified in choosing war before accepting such a grim fate.

A territorially fairer form of partition – which one or two of my own Bosniak correspondents have suggested to me – would envisage both Republika Srpska and the Bosnian Croats giving up territory to the Bosniaks in exchange for the right to secede, resulting in a separate Bosniak entity comprising somewhat less than half of Bosnia, with roughly a third going to the Serbs and a fifth to the Croats. This would represent a great injustice to the Serb and Croat inhabitants of the transferred areas, who would suddenly find themselves ethnic minorities in a Bosniak national state. The Republika Srpska, at least, would find such a solution unacceptable, so it would have to be imposed unilaterally – involving, in effect, a new war and ethnic cleansing. This is not something that twenty-first century Europe can sanction.

Any form of outright partition, furthermore, would destabilise Bosnia’s neighbours: Serbia, Croatia and those further afield. Serbia and Croatia have slowly and painfully democratised over the past decade, turning their back on aggression and expansionism. In Serbia, in particular, the struggle between pro-European reformists and aggressive nationalists is far from over. The acquisition of new irredentas would mark a huge setback for this process: the newly expanded states would be unstable as they struggled to integrate the new populations; their party systems would be further fragmented; the expansionist nationalists would be vindicated and revived. Serbia, in particular, would be encouraged by such an annexation to pursue further expansionist goals – possibly against fragile Macedonia or even NATO-member Croatia. Ultimately, what Serbia needs to prosper is to be kept firmly within its existing legal state borders. The reason why Bulgaria and Romania entered the EU before Serbia is that they were fortunate enough to have lost World War II and to have been confined to their own borders, with no prospect of further territorial expansion. Serbia, which came out of World War II ambiguously – neither wholly as victor nor as vanquished – and which appeared to have some prospects for territorial expansion in the 1990s, has paid a heavy price. The last thing Serbia needs is to be tempted off the wagon.

The redrawing of international borders and partition of a sovereign state would encourage those elements in the Balkans that wish to partition Kosovo and Macedonia as well. Partitioning Bosnia outright could open a Pandora’s box, with unforseeable consequences. Yet as we have seen, the status quo – the Dayton system – represents not an alternative to outright partition, but de facto partition with the likelihood of full de jure partition at some point in the future, when circumstances are more favourable to the Bosnian Serb nationalists. In the meantime, the Bosniaks have the worst of both words. Not only have they been squeezed into a ghetto and forced to inhabit a dysfunctional state, but their energies must be expended in permanent political conflict with Serb and Croat politicians who do not want the state to cease being dysfunctional. The Bosnian Croats, meanwhile, suffer as the minority party within the Bosnian Federation, permanently squeezed by the embittered Bosniak majority. The Republika Srpska leadership, by contrast, should feel wholly satisfied with the existing order, which grants it all the cards except one: the right to secede formally one day without complications. Republika Srpska’s lack of the right to secede comprises the only strong card in the hands of supporters of Bosnian unity, though the card is unlikely to remain strong indefinitely.

The Western alliance should have cause to regret the rise of Republika Srpska, which may be relied upon to undermine its interests in South East Europe. In May, Dodik unilaterally withdrew Bosnian Serb soldiers from Bosnia’s participation in NATO exercises in Georgia, which he then boycotted, in a move attributed to pro-Russian sentiment. Nebojsa Radmanovic, the Bosnian Serb member of the Bosnian presidency, recently stated that most Bosnian Serbs oppose NATO membership, and mooted the possibility of a referendum on NATO membership in Republika Srpska. A de jure or de facto independent Republika Srpska will obstruct the Balkans’ Euro-Atlantic integration and serve as a bridgehead for Russian influence in the region.

Supporters of a unified Bosnia-Hercegovina, both inside the country and internationally, must act now if Bosnia-Hercegovina is to be saved. Highlighting the fact that the Dayton system is leading inexorably toward the outright partition of Bosnia-Hercegovina, they must campaign for an end to this system and the restoration of a unified, functioning Bosnian state, through the reintegration of Republika Srpska with the rest of the country. This should not involve the entity’s outright abolition; rather, it should involve the transfer of all meaningful power to the central government in Sarajevo, leaving Republika Srpska a de facto administrative entity. Justification for such a move may be found in numerous places: Dodik’s repeated calls for Bosnia-Hercegovina’s dissolution; his continued denial of the Srebrenica genocide, in disregard of the verdict of the international courts; the Serb failure to arrest Ratko Mladic as the Dayton Accords required; the Republika Srpska’s failure to permit the return of Bosniak and Croat refugees. This is not a good option, but it is the least bad of the possible options.

If they do not wish to or are unable to campaign on this platform, Bosnia-Hercegovina’s supporters might as well give up and accept that at some point in the future, Bosnia-Hercegovina is likely to disappear from the map of Europe.

This article was previously published in Bosnian by BH Dani, and in English by the Henry Jackson Society.

Sunday, 11 October 2009 Posted by | Balkans, Bosnia, Former Yugoslavia, NATO, Serbia | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Macedonia and Greece: What is the basis for a reconciliation ?

VerginaA Greek blogger called Omadeon has written a critique of me, entitled ‘Dr Hoare’s Balkan excesses need… anti-nationalist critics’. Well, I don’t admit to any excesses, but I do welcome anti-nationalist critics. Omadeon deserves credit for writing against Srebrenica-genocide denial and for his statement that ‘I think Greece owes an apology to Bosnia, for the one-sided support of Serbia by most Greeks’. He deserves credit too for his rejection of some of the excesses of Greek nationalism.

Unfortunately, Omadeon nevertheless shares the Greek-nationalist blind-spot with regard to Macedonia. He refers to the Republic of Macedonia in a derogatory manner, as ‘Slavo-Albanian Macedonia’, and puts the words ‘Macedonia’ and ‘Macedonian’ in inverted commas when referring to the Republic of Macedonia and the Macedonian nation. He describes the Macedonian identity as a ‘fiction’. He wrote a letter to the New York Times in April 2008 in which he condemned the newspaper for its criticism of Greek policy with regard to Macedonia, asserted the alleged Greekness of Alexander the Great and the ancient Macedonians, and demanded that the contemporary Macedonians change their name to ‘Slav Macedonians’. Above all, he seems absolutely obsessed with telling the Macedonians that they should abandon the identity that they want to have and adopt the identity that he wants them to have, which is a ‘Slavic’ identity’ (‘A SANE attitude, on behalf of Slav-Macedonia, would be the simple RECOGNITION of their ESSENTIALLY SLAVIC national identity; something they have EVERY RIGHT to be PROUD of….’). But a given identity is something that people either feel for themselves, or they don’t. It is not up to Omadeon and the Greeks to decide what sort of identity Macedonians should have.

Consequently, I am afraid that Omadeon, although he appears to be an honest and decent individual in most respects, is very far from being an ‘anti-nationalist’. In fact, his writings on Macedonia highlight the erroneous way in which ethno-nationalists interpret modern national politics. This includes:

1) A belief that modern nations can be traced back, in unbroken continuity, to ancient or medieval peoples: the modern Greeks to ancient Greeks; the modern Macedonians to medieval Slavs; etc.

2) A consequent belief that one has, on the basis of one’s own ethno-nationalist interpretation of ancient and medieval history, the right to accuse other nations of being ‘invented’ or having ‘fictional’ identities.

3) An inability to understand the difference between language and nationality.

In this case, Greek nationalists – on the basis of their erroneous understanding of ancient and medieval history, and of the meaning of modern nationhood – believe that they have the right to decide what the ‘true’ identity of Greece’s northern neighbour should be. Since they erroneously believe that the majority population of the Republic of Macedonia is descended from Slavs who arrived in the area during the Middle Ages, and since they equally erroneously believe that modern Greeks are descended in unbroken continuity from ancient Greeks (among whom they include the ancient Macedonians), they believe they have the right to pronounce that the Macedonians are ‘not really’ Macedonians, that the Macedonian identity is a ‘fiction’, and that they – the Greek nationalists – on the basis of their ‘objective’ reading of ancient and medieval history have the right to pronounce what the Macedonians’ true name and identity should be.

From this, it follows – according to the Greek nationalist logic – that since their own interpretations of history and of the meaning of modern nationhood are the correct ones, then Macedonians who dispute this are ‘nationalists’, and those who support them in this rejection – such as myself – are supporting ‘ultra-nationalism’, which is what Omadeon accuses me of.

In this way, the Greek nationalists turn reality on its head. Macedonia is not threatening Greece or its national identity; the Macedonians are not saying that the Greek language and nation do not exist; or that Greece has to change its name. They are not trying to impose their own version of Greek identity on the Greeks. They are not even denying the right of the Greek inhabitants of Greek Macedonia to call themselves ‘Macedonian’. Yet for the crime of rejecting the Greek-nationalist interpretation of history, and of asserting their own identity, then it is they who become the bad guys in Greek-nationalist eyes. And before you know it, the whole of NATO and the EU have to shape their policies around the Greek-nationalist misinterpretation of history. Such is the world we live in.

Nationalists do not appreciate the fact that, in a democratic world, everyone has to be free to define their identity as they wish; no nation or individual has the right to decide what the identity of another nation or individual should be. Nationalists do not appreciate that there is no one, single, ‘objective’ interpretation of history; historians, archaeologists and others must be free to put forward different interpretations about Antiquity, the Midde Ages and so forth. No group or nation can impose its own version of history on the rest of the world.

Nationalists also do not appreciate the fact that all modern European nations – all of them – have very mixed ethnic origins. The modern Macedonians – the majority population of the Republic of Macedonia – are descended from a mixture of ancient Macedonians, Slavs and others. And modern Greeks are likewise descended from a mixture of ancient Macedonians, ancient Greeks, Slavs, Turkish-speaking Anatolians and others. Something similar applies for all European nations: English, Scots, French, Germans, Italians, Serbs, Croats, Albanians, Turks, etc.

There is no such modern ethnic group as the ‘Slavs’ – ‘Slavs’ do not exist as an ethnic group in the modern world, any more than do Angles, Saxons, Franks, Gauls, Visigoths or Vikings. ‘Slavic’ is a linguistic, not an ethnic category. The Macedonians speak a Slavic language, and in that sense they are ‘Slavic’, just as the English and Dutch are ‘Germanic’ and the Italians and French are ‘Latin’. Greek nationalists demanding that the Macedonians call themselves ‘Slavs’ is like someone demanding that the English and Dutch call themselves ‘Germanics’ or that the Italians and French call themselves ‘Latins’. It is up to the Macedonians alone whether they feel their identity to be ‘Slavic’ or not – nobody else has the right to impose such an identity on them.

Ironically, in terms of their genetic origins, non-Slavic-speaking Greece and Albania are more Slavic in their origins than the modern Macedonians and Bulgarians; spoken language is a very poor guide to ethnic origins. But does this mean that the Greeks and Albanians are not really Greeks and Albanians ? Of course not ! Modern nationhood does not derive from ancient or medieval ethnicity, but from a shared sense of identity in the present. Omadeon’s describing of the Republic of Macedonia as ‘Slavo-Albanian Macedonia’ is equivalent to describing Greece as ‘Slavo-Albanian-Turkish-Greek Greece’, or England as ‘Celtic-Anglo-Saxon-Viking-Norman England’. If the people of Greece feel themselves to be Greek; if the people of Macedonia feel themselves to be Macedonian – that is all that matters. Trying to deny the existence of a modern nation by pointing out its ethnically diverse roots, or by reducing it to a number of ethnic components, is the action of a chauvinist. We all have ethnically diverse roots. We should be proud of them.

In an age of globalisation and mass immigration, nations will become more, rather than less ethnically diverse. This, too, should be viewed positively. There are English people today whose grandparents were all born in Pakistan, or in Jamaica. They are no less ‘English’ than English people who claim ‘pure’ Anglo-Saxon descent. Black or brown Englishmen and women have as much right as white Anglo-Saxon Englishmen to lay claim to the heritage of English or British historical figures: the Celtic Boadicea; the Norman-French William the Conqueror; the Dutch William of Orange; the Irish Duke of Wellington; the half-American Winston Churchill. In the same way, Alexander the Great is part of the heritage of Greeks, Macedonians, Bulgarians and Albanians alike, and of all those nations which have arisen on the territory that he once ruled. Alexander the Great belongs to Iranians, Afghans and Pakistanis, too.

Omadeon accuses me of opposing reconciliation between Macedonia and Greece, and of not being even-handed in my treatment of Macedonian and Greek nationalism. I make no pretence at being even-handed: I am on the side of the victim (Macedonia) and against the aggressor (Greece), and will always encourage the national resistance of a victim against an aggressor. Siding with a victim against an aggressor is the only honourable position to take: it means siding with Cyprus against Turkey in 1974; with Croatia against Serbia in 1991; with Bosnia against both Serbia and Croatia in 1992-95; with Chechnya against Russia in 1994 and 1999; and with Georgia against Russia in 2008. There can be no ‘even-handedness’ in treating an aggressor and a victim, or in treating their respective nationalisms. Greek nationalism is threatening Macedonia. Macedonian nationalism is not threatening Greece. The two are not equivalent.

As for the question of ‘reconciliation’, this can only rightfully be based on justice, not on the capitulation of the weaker side to the stronger. The only just compromise between Greece and Macedonia would be along the following lines:

1) The Macedonian nation and language, and the Greek nation and language, exist. Anyone who says they do not is an anti-Macedonian or anti-Greek chauvinist.

2) Macedonia and Greece both have the right to call themselves what they want, and to define their national identities as they wish.

3) The people of the Republic of Macedonia, Greek Macedonia and Bulgarian Macedonia have an equal right to call themselves ‘Macedonian’ and to lay claim to the heritage of Ancient Macedonia and of Alexander the Great, if that is what they wish.

4) Greeks and Macedonians alike are descended from a mixture of ancient Macedonians, Slavs and others. The common ethnic heritage of the two nations should be stressed, not denied, by those seeking reconciliation.

5) The symbol at the start of this post – the Star of Vergina – is dear to both Greeks and Macedonians and belongs to them both. Two nations that love the same symbols and revere the same ancient historical figures should naturally be friends. 

Anyone who calls themselves an ‘anti-nationalist’, irrespective of whether they are Greek or Macedonian, should have no difficulty subscribing to these principles.

Saturday, 29 August 2009 Posted by | Balkans, Greece, Macedonia | , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Dressing chauvinistic hatred up as ‘class warfare’ or ‘anti-imperialism’ does not make it a good thing

One of the most insidious things about the radical left-wing discourse of class warfare and imperialism is the way in which it is increasingly providing a cover under which the worst forms of bigotry, even murderous or genocidal bigotry, can masquerade as something ‘progressive’. So effective is this propaganda technique that today it is increasingly being adopted by members of the right and far right as well. Indeed, right-wing and left-wing opponents of our contemporary, cosmopolitan, global civilisation are increasingly resembling each other, dressing up anti-Semitism and other forms of racism as resistance to imperialism or capitalism.

Take the example of anti-immigrant racism. The BNP regularly presents its racism in class-warfare terms: ‘The only political party in Britain that is opposed to the immigration racket and its devastating effect on British jobs is the British National Party. We are poised to throw the entire weight of our campaigning machinery into action in support of striking British workers. We, unlike the unions and Lib-Lab-Con, will stand by our own people no matter what the cost. For decades we have had a simple slogan explaining our position: BRITISH JOBS FOR BRITISH WORKERS!’

But even less crude opponents of immigration are ready to play the class-warfare card. In the words of Jeff Randall, writing a couple of years ago in the Daily Telegraph: ‘By lowering wages, migrants enable the middle classes to hire more home-caterers, dog-walkers, house-cleaners and hedge-trimmers for less cost than before. Very nice, if you’re an investment banker in Kensington. Not so hot, if the last job you had was polishing his Bentley.’ Of course, working-class families might also benefit from Polish plumbers charging less than British plumbers, but this particular Telegraph columnist has learned the value of dressing up his right-wing viewpoint in quasi-Marxist clothes.

He is far from alone. Writing in the Yorkshire Post, Bernard Dinneen complains that in permitting mass immigration, ‘Labour politicians were the culprits; they betrayed the working class. ’[] Sue Reid, in the Daily Mail, wrote an article entitled ‘The great white backlash: Working class turns on Labour over immigration and housing’. She argued that in light of increasing ‘white working-class’ receptivity toward the BNP, ‘Perhaps this should serve as a timely warning to Hazel Blears and the rest of the New Labour hierarchy, who many feel have let down the ordinary people who put them in power.’

The problem is not that the language of the left is being cynically misused by racists and right-wingers, but that the links between left-wing discourse of ‘class warfare’ and ‘anti-imperialism’ on the one hand, and racism and anti-Semitism on the other, are much deeper than leftists are often ready to admit. When Ukrainian peasants rebelled against their Polish aristocratic landlords in 1648, their ‘class warfare’ was directed in particular against the landlords’ Jewish estate-managers; in practice against Jews in general, tens of thousands of whom were slaughtered. I hope it is unnecessary to point out that anti-Semitic slaughter of this kind does not become acceptable simply because it is an expression of ‘class struggle’.

For modern socialists and anarchists, hostility to capitalism frequently went hand in hand with hostility to Jews, as evidenced by the anti-Semitism of Proudhon, Fourier, Bakunin and others, including Marx himself. Fascism itself had radical socialist origins, as the brilliant historian of fascism Zeev Sternhell has demonstrated. Early fascists replaced the class struggle with the national struggle as the weapon for attacking liberalism and democracy; they believed redistribution of wealth and power should occur between nations, rather than – or in addition to – between social classes.

The most radical ‘national socialist’ experiment was, of course the one undertaken by Hitler and the National Socialist German Workers Party. As Hitler said: ‘We are socialists, we are enemies of today’s capitalistic economic system for the exploitation of the economically weak, with its unfair salaries, with its unseemly evaluation of a human being according to wealth and property instead of responsibility and performance, and we are all determined to destroy this system under all conditions.’ Hitler saw the task of his National Socialists as freeing the German workers from the influence of ‘Jewish’ international socialism, and of freeing the German economy from the control of ‘Jewish’ international capital. In power, the Nazis expropriated the wealth of Jews and of other nations, redistributing it in favour of Germany and German ‘Aryans’.

Yet genocidal impulses are scarcely an aberration in the revolutionary left’s tradition. Notoriously, Marx and Engels believed in the existence of ‘counter-revolutionary nations’ fit only to be exterminated. In 1849 Engels called for a ‘war of annihilation of the Germans against the Czechs’ as the ‘only possible solution’; he described the Croats as a ‘naturally counter-revolutionary nation’ and looked forward to the day when the Germans and Hungarians would ‘annihilate all these small pig-headed nations even to their very names.’

Left-wing radicals, unrestrained by any belief in the virtues of moderation and restraint, will frequently slip down the slope from aggressive radicalism into outright chauvinistic hatred, with their radical ideology simply a means by which their inner rage against particular groups of people can find socially acceptable expression. And in recent years, the more the prospect of revolutionary social change in the direction of socialism has receded in the advanced capitalist world, the more radical leftists and their fellow travellers have been ready to descend into the gutter of chauvinism directed against ‘counter-revolutionary nations’.

During the Wars of Yugoslav Succession of the 1990s, a considerable portion of left-wing opinion in the West made it abundantly clear that it did not respect the right of ‘counter-revolutionary nations’ such as the Croats, Bosnian Muslims and Kosovo Albanians even to exist, let alone to receive solidarity in their struggles for national survival. The genocidal campaigns of the regime of Slobodan Milosevic were invested with an ‘anti-imperialist’ content, so had to be defended against ‘Western media bias’ and ‘demonisation’. What was chilling at the time was that, once the nations in question had been marked as ‘pro-imperialist’, their only legitimate option – as far as the ‘anti-imperialists’ were concerned – was to lie down and die. Any attempt at resistance to their national destruction on their part was condemned as a crime equivalent to – indeed worse than – the original Serbian assault on them, while any expression of solidarity for them by others in the West was condemned as ‘support for Western intervention’.

The Western leftists who defended Milosevic’s genocidal campaigns internalised the Serb-nationalist ethnic stereotypes of Croats as ‘Ustashas’, Bosnian Muslims as ‘fundamentalists’ and Kosovo Albanians as ‘criminals and drug smugglers’. There were plenty of ironies in the sort of arguments used to deny the right of these peoples to national existence. Opportunistic anti-Semitic statements made by Croatian president Franjo Tudjman in his book Wastelands of Historical Truth were cited to tar the entire Croat nation with the brush of fascism by leftists who have consistently turned a blind eye to – if not actively apologised for – the far more extreme and integral anti-Semitism of groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah or of the Iranian and other Muslim regimes. The Bosnian president Alija Izetbegovic, who never expressed any chauvinism toward Christians or Jews and who presided over a secular state, was condemned as a reactionary Muslim by leftists who would soon be supporting ‘resistance’ to ‘imperialism’ and ‘Zionism’ in Israel, Palestine, Iraq and Afghanistan on the part of genuine murderous Islamists, or uniting with British Islamists to form the ‘Respect’ party.

Leftist stereotyping of Kosovo Albanians as drug smugglers and criminals is simply the same stereotyping as that employed by the BNP against Albanians and other immigrants or ethnic minorities. Thus, the Socialist Unity website cited popular left-wing blogger ‘Splintered Sunrise’ to back up its own opposition to Kosovo’s independence, quoting him as saying ‘I’m opposed to independence for Kosovo because the place is run by a bunch of mafiosi, its economy is based on the trafficking of drugs, arms and women, and giving this basket case the attributes of statehood will make a bad situation worse.’ The BNP, too, opposes Kosovo’s independence on similar grounds, arguing ‘Albanians are spread all over Europe and especially in the criminal underworld. They are notorious for their effectiveness, unpredictability and incredible cruelty. Their main advantage to the other organized crime [sic] is the fact that they speak language [sic] nobody understands, their organization is based on family ties and if someone dares to speak out that person is being brutally murdered. In Europe, today the Albanian mafia is the main engine of traffic of drugs and humans, theft and falsification of passports, weapons and human organs trade, abductions, extortions and executions. In London these people control the entire network of prostitution, in Italy and Greece they deal with weapons and drugs’ smuggling. There are entire towns in Italy where the business is controlled by Albanians.’ However, ‘Splintered Sunrise’ attributed the BNP’s support for Serbia over Kosovo not to anti-Albanian racism, but to the Albanians’ own alleged sins: ‘the new BNP position has its roots in Londoners’ fear and loathing of violent Albanian gangsters’.

What is horrifying is not that the leftists in question are accusing Croatian, Bosnian and Kosovar leaders of things they are often not guilty of, or that the leftists in question are inconsistent or hypocritical. It is that such accusations are simply so many pretexts to support the destruction of the nations in question. These leftists do not want to give solidarity to progressive Croats who oppose anti-Semitism, or progressive Bosnian Muslims who support secularism, or progressive Albanians who oppose organised crime, with the goal of making Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo better places. On the contrary, the leftists are seeking to provide ammunition to those who would like to wipe these countries off the map altogether.

But for all the venom directed by ‘anti-imperialist’ leftists at the successor states of the former Yugoslavia, there is one state that they hate even more. Israel, in their eyes, is the ‘counter-revolutionary nation’ par excellence; its Jewish majority citizens condemned as ‘settlers’ (unlike immigrants in the West, who are not so condemned); its academics boycotted. Such leftists will line up with the most murderous and bigoted elements in the Muslim world against even the most progressive nationally conscious Jews on an ‘anti-Zionist’ basis; their need to deny Israel’s legitimacy as a nation and state trumping any opposition to anti-Semitism, fundamentalism, misogyny or homophobia they might be expected to have. Once again, they oppose Israel’s settlement building in the West Bank or discrimination against its Arab citizens not because they wish to align themselves with progressive Israelis who also oppose these things, but because they would, fundamentally, like to see Israel destroyed altogether.

The pretext for this left-wing hatred of Israel is that it is a ‘hijack state’ based upon the dispossession of most of the Palestinians who lived there until the 1940s. But this ignores the fact that other states are based upon similar or even larger-scale dispossessions of national groups, without their right to exist being called into question. For example, the Czech Republic’s relative ethnic homogeneity stems from the Czechs’ expulsion, following World War II, of two and a half million ethnic Germans from what was then Czechoslovakia. Likewise, modern Turkey is founded upon the extermination of a million Armenians and hundreds of thousands of Greeks during the 1910s and 1920s, and the expulsion and dispossession of hundreds of thousands more. But nobody claims the Czech Republic or Turkey is an illegitimate nation-state. It is Israel alone which is deemed to have forfeited its legitimacy as a nation on account of its leaders’ crimes of decades ago.

In each of the examples presented here, extremists try to dress up their bigoted hatred of whole ethnic groups or nations in radically progressive clothes. So the BNP will present its hatred of immigrants in terms of ‘supporting the British working class’, and radical leftists justify their hatred of ‘counter-revolutionary nations’ on the basis of ‘anti-imperialism’. Chauvinistic hatred does not become progressive simply because it is dressed in progressive clothes, and it is always worth looking beyond the window dressing to see what the agendas of such groups and individuals really are. Equally, it is time to acknowledge the problematic nature of such radical left-wing concepts as ‘class warfare’ and ‘anti-imperialism’, and the reasons they lend themselves so readily to abuse. When they are increasingly becoming the justification for the most extreme reactionary politics, something is very wrong.

This article was published on 10 August by Engage.

Friday, 14 August 2009 Posted by | Anti-Semitism, Balkans, Former Yugoslavia, Genocide, Israel, Jews, Middle East, Red-Brown Alliance, SWP, The Left | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The false god of national unification

Garibaldi

Review of Srdja Pavlovic, Balkan Anschluss: The Annexation of Montenegro and the Creation of the Common South Slav State, Purdue University Press, West Lafayette, Indiana, 2008

Garibaldi has a lot to answer for. This is a conclusion that can reasonably be drawn from a survey of the train-wreck of contemporary Italian politics. Spectacular endemic corruption, rampant xenophobia, exceptionally brutal police, fascists at the centre of mainstream political life, moves to rehabilitate wartime fascists, state fingerprinting of gypsies, laws against ‘un-Italian’ food, an exceptionally vulgar populist prime minister with a burgeoning personality cult, boring football – all are characteristic of the country that was the model for ‘successful’ national unification in the nineteenth century. Nor is this an ephemeral phenomenon – Italy, the principal incubator of the fascist virus in the interwar period, simply has never worked very well as a country. Vast repression and bloodshed, claiming tens of thousands of lives, were required to impose Piedmontese rule on southern Italy in the 1860s. The unnatural imposition, in the 1860s and 70s, of a unitary national state on a peninsula that had experienced centuries of regional diversity in its forms of government, has produced a polity whose dysfunctionality appears incurable.

Italy merely exemplifies the dubious benefits brought to us by the nineteenth-century fad for joining smaller pieces of territory up to produce bigger states. After two world wars and one Holocaust, nobody should try to claim that the unification of Germany has been an unmixed blessing for humanity. After Italy and Germany, it was Romania that produced probably the most powerful indigenous fascist movement in interwar Europe, in the form of the Legion of Archangel Michael or Iron Guard- a Romania that was formed from the merger of diverse lands during the second half of the nineteenth and first decades of the twentieth centuries: Wallachia, Moldavia, Northern Dobrudja, Southern Dobrudja, Transylvania, Bessarabia, Bukovina. Indeed, the rise of dictatorships across Central and Eastern Europe in the interwar period was not unrelated to the fact that many of the states of the region had been formed from mergers of diverse territories. Polities that had developed along organically distinct paths for centuries were suddenly ‘unified’ and forced to function as seamless wholes, despite having had no tradition of doing so. The resulting internal political fragmentation and instability provided fertile ground for dictators to impose ‘order’, while the need to create and staff new state bureaucracies meant the churning out of large numbers of impoverished university graduates who could be, as in the case of Romania, natural recruits for fascist movements.

The more closely one examines the record of ‘national unification’, the worse it appears. The union of Scotland with England to form a united kingdom of Great Britain worked fine, if one believed in the common Anglo-Scottish project of trampling the Irish, fighting the French, fighting Papists generally and conquering the lands of darker-skinned people. But many Scottish people understandably feel today that their country is marginalised in the union with England. As for the union of Great Britain and Ireland to form the United Kingdom – the less said about that the better. The imposition of a centralised, uniform administrative system on France during the French Revolution, binding together a formerly diverse medley of traditional territorial entities, grew inexorably into the most aggressive programme of territorial expansionism that post-medieval Europe had ever seen, in which the French armies reached as far as Moscow.

More recently, the attempt by Croat fascists to incorporate the whole of overwhelmingly non-Croat Bosnia within a Great Croatia in World War II involved genocide against the Serb population of Bosnia, and has cast a shadow over the subsequent history of inter-ethnic relations in the country. Cyprus’s contemporary misfortunes stem from the suicidal efforts of extreme Greek nationalists, after Cypriot independence in 1960, to pursue union with Greece, which eventually provoked the Turkish invasion of the country. The history of Serbia in the 1990s needs no comment.

Conversely, countries that have escaped incorporation in greater nation-building projects have generally not suffered for it. The people of Luxembourg, Liechtenstein and Austria are hardly suffering today from the fact that they are not part of Germany. Cyprus certainly benefits from being an independent state with its own UN seat, rather than a provincial backwater of a Greater Greece. Indeed, the most successful, stable democracies in Europe have generally been those with relatively small populations that have retained the same borders and continuity of administration for long periods: Switzerland, the Nordic and the Benelux countries.

Yet of all experiments at national unification in modern European history, few, if any, have been such an unmitigated disaster as the attempt to unify diverse South Slavic lands within a single, Yugoslav state. Whereas the territorial unifications of Italy and Germany have been successfully achieved at enormous bloodshed and dubious long-term benefit for the populations in question, in the case of Yugoslavia, the price in blood was paid, but territorial unification was merely transient, and at least one of the lands involved – Bosnia – appears to have been irredeemably ruined by the experience. This is partly, of course, because Yugoslavia was not merely an experiment in national unification, but in unifying different nations to form a supranational whole. It may nevertheless be fruitful to situate the Yugoslav case in a wider European context.

The story of Serbia and Croatia and their unhappy experience of shared statehood is a familiar one. Although there was more of an overlap in nationhood between the Serbs and the Croats than some Croat nationalists in particular like to admit – as exemplified by individuals such as the Bosnian Nobel laureate Ivo Andric, who belonged to both nations – the Serbs and Croats were already two distinct nations when Serbia and Croatia united with each other, and with other countries, to form the ‘Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes’ in 1918 – subsequently renamed ‘Yugoslavia’.

A less familiar story, but one that follows more closely the European pattern of national unification as outlined above, is the story of the unification of Montenegro with Serbia in 1918, which immediately preceded the establishment of the Yugoslav state. For the first time, we now have an excellent introduction to the topic for the English-language reader, in Srdja Pavlovic’s ‘Balkan Anschluss: The Annexation of Montenegro and the Creation of the Common South Slavic State’. Although Pavlovic does not discuss his use of the term ‘Anschluss’ to describe Serbia’s annexation of Montenegro in 1918, the reason becomes apparent as his account progresses; he is not comparing Serbia’s rulers with the Nazis, but rather drawing an informed analogy as to what ‘unification’ meant for Montenegro. For if at one level the annexation represented the fulfilment of the goal of Serb national unification as understood by one section of the Montenegrin political nation, yet it was also an act of usurpation carried out by radical nationalists, in violation of Montenegro’s constitutional system and state traditions; one that necessitated bloody repression against those Montenegrins who, though accepting union with Serbia, wanted it on terms more respectful of Montenegro’s individuality.

Montenegro before 1918 was in many ways to Serbia what Austria before 1938 was to Germany. Pavlovic presents the Serb national identification as being wholly dominant among Montenegro’s political and intellectual classes by 1918, yet as he explains, it did not follow from this that Serbia’s absorption of Montenegro on the Piedmontese model was universally desired. Contrary to what nationalists believe, a nation is not a seamless garment. As Pavlovic describes, during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Montenegro’s own rulers – who bore the title of ‘vladika’ or ‘prince-bishop’ – themselves held different views of Montenegro’s national destiny, viewing it either as the attainment of Montenegro’s independence within enlarged borders, on the basis of Montenegrin state-right, or as submersion in a larger empire – either Christian, Slavic or Serbian. Montenegrin national discourse therefore possessed two traditions.

Montenegrins were bitterly divided over the question of union with Serbia in 1918. As Pavlovic explains, the tendency of existing historiography to present this division as being between unionists (‘Whites’) and separatists or reactionaries (‘Greens’) does not do justice to the latter’s case. For those Montenegrins who opposed unification as it was carried out by the Whites themselves accepted the need for Montenegro’s unification with Serbia in principle. However, they believed that this unification should be on the basis of Montenegro’s constitution and laws, with Montenegro becoming a constituent part of the new South Slavic union in its own right. They objected to the unconstitutional, arbitrary way in which the unification was carried out, and to the simple absorption of the country by Serbia, without any respect for its state tradition or individuality. They were, in sum, the more enlightened and far-seeing as well as moderate of the two camps.

Serbia, which controlled the Montenegrin army during World War I, pursued a strategy that ensured that neither this army, nor the Montenegrin state, would survive the war, so that they would prove no obstacle to the eventual annexation, or to the deposition of Montenegro’s King Nikola and his Petrovic-Njegos dynasty. The act of union was carried out while Montenegro was under Serbian military control; the elections to the ‘Great People’s Assembly’ that was to proclaim the union, and the proceedings of the assembly itself, were manipulated by the Serbian-backed unionists to ensure that the Greens would lose. In the run-up to the elections, possible opponents of union were prevented by the Serbian army from returning to the country, as was King Nikola himself. A prominent supporter of union, Janko Spasojevic, himself admitted before the Assembly that its declaration of union represented ‘a coup d’etat by peaceful means’.

The manner in which unification was engineered represented a violation of the rights of that section of the Montenegrin people that opposed it, and provoked a civil war that continued well into the 1920s, which the regime in Belgrade won only with much bloodshed and repression. The fissure that was created between Montenegrins was enormously damaging to the country, and ensured that when civil war erupted again, under Axis occupation during World War II, the loss of life would be enormous.

The brutal act of unification also represented a blow against the possibility that the new Yugoslav state itself might be established on a healthy basis. The Assembly’s resolution on unification made no mention of Yugoslavia or the wider South Slavic context. By annexing Montenegro outright, Serbia’s preponderance in relation to the other Yugoslav lands was made still greater, helping to ensure the domination of the Serbian political classes over the new state. The imposition of a centralist constitution, in violation of the national aspirations of most non-Serbs, was thereby facilitated – an act from which all Yugoslavia’s subsequent woes followed. Had Montenegro entered Yugoslavia as a distinct entity, the internal Yugoslav imbalance between Serbia and the western South Slav lands would have been that much less. Montenegro’s annexation was, therefore, a tragedy for the whole Yugoslav experiment.

Pavlovic’s book is a balanced work on a neglected topic that avoids polemical excesses and presents both the ‘White’ and the ‘Green’ points of view. He reminds us that nationhood is not black and white, and what it means to belong to a particular nation is frequently unclear or disputed among members of the nation themselves. His study is testimony to the damaging effect of attempts to impose a one-size-fits-all model of nationhood on diverse territories with their own particular traditions and nuanced identities. Damaging, among other things, for the goal of national unification itself – the attempt to unite Montenegro with Serbia, like the attempt to unite Austria with Germany, was ultimately unsuccessful, despite the enormous cost in blood.

Today, Montenegro and Serbia exist as independent states, wholly separate from one another, the unionist dream having ended in nothing. Both countries are likely to be happier for that.

Thursday, 21 May 2009 Posted by | Balkans, Former Yugoslavia, Montenegro, Serbia | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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.

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

A defeat for ethnic cleansing in Cyprus – and for the EU’s moral idiocy

ncypldThe European Court of Justice (ECJ) has ruled against Linda and David Orams, a British couple that bought a property in northern Cyprus that had been confiscated from its Greek Cypriot owners following the Turkish invasion of the island in 1974. Meletis Apostolides, who was driven off his family’s property by the Turks, has been fighting a legal battle for its return since 2004. After winning his case in Nicosia, Apostolides sued in a British court to compel enforcement. Although he lost his case in Britain, the British appeals court referred it to the ECJ, which has ruled in his favour. The Oramses, who have built a luxury holiday villa on Apostolides’s property, must now demolish this villa, return the land to Apostolides and pay him rent. If they do not comply, the Oramses, who have been represented by Cherie Blair, could face the confiscation of their property in Britain.

The decision of the ECJ has negative implications for the thousands of foreigners, in particular Britons, who have bought property in Northern Cyprus that belonged to Greeks prior to the 1974 invasion, and for the Turkish Cypriots who are selling such properties to foreigners. It is, in effect, a blow to all those who, consciously or not, have sought or are seeking to profit from ethnic cleansing, and a victory for the victims of ethnic cleansing. As Paul Owen, chief executive of the Association of International Property Professionals (AIPP), said, ‘This is an extreme example in Northern Cyprus, because of the disputes over land ownership, but it serves as a timely reminder to anybody that, no matter where you’re buying, you really need to do your homework and get independent legal advice.’ In other words: don’t buy goods that may be stolen.

Turkey had every right to intervene in Cyprus in 1974 to prevent the attempt by Greek fascists to annex the island to Greece. But Turkey had no right to dismember the island state, expel roughly 170,000 Greek Cypriots from their homes, confiscate their properties and establish an ethnically pure Turkish statelet on the northern third of the island – where Greek Cypriots had previously constituted the majority. Whatever the rights and wrongs of the Cyprus dispute, the dispossessed Greek Cypriots of northern Cyprus – like the roughly 50,000 Turkish Cypriots expelled and dispossessed by the Greeks in the south following the Turkish invasion – are innocent victims of the conflict who have every right to restitution.

Some Turkish analysts, viewing the case purely through nationalist spectacles, have condemned the ECJ’s judgement. According to Mensur Akgün, the head of the Istanbul-based Küresel Siyasal Eğilimler Merkezi, or Center for Global Political Trends, ‘We need to seek technical solutions that will make the court’s decision meaningless and find a way to push Greek Cypriots into a corner’. Yet every Turkish democrat should rejoice at this defeat for Turkish ethnic-cleansing and expansionism.

A similar utter disregard for the rights of the individual has apparently been shown by the European Commission, which is reported as expressing concerns that allowing the order to be enforced against the Oramses could upset the talks aimed at resolving the Cyprus conflict. As is so often the case, the EU has shown itself to be the institutional equivalent of a moral idiot, for which justice is always dispensable in the interest of a ‘negotiated settlement’, i.e. of political expediency. We can define this as follows:

The European Union Rule of ‘Negotiated Settlement’ (aka ‘Appeasement’)

1. Settlement to an international dispute can only come through negotiation.

2. Since the EU is generally unwilling to apply sufficient pressure on both parties to force an end to a dispute, a ‘negotiated settlement’ will invariably favour the stronger side.

3. Since stronger states are inevitably much more likely to victimise weaker states than vice versa, the stronger side is more likely to be the party that is in the wrong.

4. Ergo, the favoured EU policy in resolving international disputes is for the victimised party to make sufficient concessions to the victimiser until ‘compromise’ is achieved; i.e. to surrender.

5. From here, it is only a short step for the EU actually to apply diplomatic pressure to the victims of injustice to surrender, as the quickest way of achieving a ‘negotiated settlement’.

So it was in Bosnia in the 1990s. So it is in Greece vs Macedonia and Slovenia vs Croatia today.

In the case of Cyprus, it is not so much the Republic of Cyprus itself which is being pressurised to surrender, since with both Cyprus and Greece in the EU, Turkey is not straightforwardly the stronger side. Indeed, with the 2004 Annan Plan, international pressure favoured the Greek side; on that occasion, it was consequently Turkey and the Turkish Cypriots that strove for a compromise settlement and the Greek Cypriots that rejected it. Rather, it is the wretched individual victims of ethnic cleansing, like Meletis Apostolides, whose rights are apparently expendable in the quest for a ‘negotiated settlement’.

On the other hand, for anyone who believes that justice should take precedence over political expediency, and that a ‘negotiated settlement’ should accommodate itself to the demands of justice rather than vice versa, Apostolides’s victory is to be celebrated.

Friday, 1 May 2009 Posted by | Cyprus, European Union, Greece, Turkey | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment