Greater Surbiton

The perfect is the enemy of the good

We cannot afford to let Gaddafi win

Libya was, in a sense, the place where the disasters that befell Europe in the twentieth century began. In 1911, Italy invaded what is today Libya, which was then part of the crumbling Ottoman Empire. The heavy blow this dealt to the latter encouraged the Balkan states of Bulgaria, Serbia, Greece and Montenegro themselves to fall upon its remaining possessions in Europe. Their victory in turn weakened the position of Germany and Austria-Hungary in the Balkans, prompting these powers to assert themselves aggressively in the next Balkan crisis, occasioned by the assassination of Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo in 1914. The outcome is known to all. The Libyan road to World War I highlights the fact that Libya is part of the European hinterland, and Europe cannot insulate itself from events taking place there.

The allied invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 was, of course, prompted by our desire to strike against al-Qaeda’s terrorist training-camps. That such camps were present in Afghanistan was the product of conditions arising from the state’s collapse and unresolved civil war. We should be very concerned at what the consequences for Europe would be if a similar state collapse and civil war were to be perpetuated indefinitely in Libya – it would be an Afghanistan on our doorstep. An imploded Libya could be a source of terrorism and piracy, as well as of mass immigration into Europe of the kind that sends right-wing politicians apoplectic.

Still more dangerous than a military stalemate between Gaddafi and the rebels would be a victory for the dictator. Such a victory could not be permanent or stable. The regime would reimpose its rule bloodily, prompting elements of the crushed opposition to veer off desperately along radical paths. The civil war would continue to simmer. But most dangerous for us would be what an unstably victorious Gaddafi might be capable of. Already now rejected and osracised by the West and the Arab world, he would be another post-Kuwait Saddam Hussein, permanently in a state of hostility with his neighbours and the wider world. And Gaddafi, be it remembered, was never simply a pedestrian dictator of the Mubarak sort, but the ‘Mad Dog of the Middle East’, in Ronald Reagan’s memorable phrase. Most of us remember his support for the IRA and extremist Palestinian factions, and the Lockerbie bombing. Some may also remember his promotion of war and genocide in Africa, as he pursued his megalomaniacal schemes of expansion; his attempt to annex neighbouring Chad; his promotion of Arab supremacist, anti-black racism and training of Arab militias to murder black Africans. Gaddafi was one of the architects of the janjaweed and the Darfur genocide. We can only guess at what he might attempt if he emerges triumphant from the current Libyan conflict.

Alone among the leaders of the major Western powers, David Cameron and Nicolas Sarkozy have shown some moral backbone in this crisis, and an awareness of what is at stake strategically. As John McCain has said, ‘I appreciate the leadership that Prime Minister Cameron has shown and also President Sarkozy, but unfortunately here in the United States, it seems we are sounding an uncertain trumpet.’ Obama has not proven himself a resolute leader in the Libyan crisis so far, and appears to be replicating all the small-mindedness and vacillation of his Democratic predecessor Bill Clinton over Bosnia in the 1990s. Unbelievably, Obama Administration officials are already arguing that the UN arms embargo on Libya applies not only to the Gaddafi regime, but also to the rebels. In which case, as in Bosnia, the arms embargo is helping the butchers. US Defence Secretary Robert Gates’s claim, that imposition of a no-fly zone would require prior air-strikes against Gaddafi’s air-defence system, likewise smacks of an insincere technical excuse for inaction. A no-fly zone was relatively successfully enforced in Bosnia without any such air-strikes.

Over Bosnia, Clinton’s unwillingness to defeat Milosevic led directly to the war with him over Kosovo in 1999. Obama’s hands-off approach to Libya will merely postpone our inevitable showdown with Gaddafi. In Kosovo, it was Tony Blair who provided the essential backbone to the still-wobbly Clinton and clumsy NATO, and more than anyone else ensured that the war would be fought to a successful conclusion. Cameron has already shown himself a leader with vision, and must not allow himself to be deflected by US and EU irresolution from the path that he has correctly laid out. This trial will prove the efficacy or otherwise of his military entente with France, so there is a lot riding on this crisis for the prime minister’s vision of British strategy.

Britain and France should be prepared to act alone to support the Libyan freedom-fighters, if our allies lack the resolve to act with us. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s stated belief that only the UN should be able to authorise a no-fly zone is tantamount to a green light to Gaddafi to crush the rebellion. It is clearly nonsensical to make any military action in support of our vital interests contingent upon permission from Russia and China. Had we waited for UN Security Council authorisation in 1999, Milosevic would have won in Kosovo, over one and a half million ethnic Albanians would have been driven from their homes, and we should have had a Palestinian problem in the heart of Europe alongside a triumphant genocidal dictatorship.

The imposition of a no-fly zone over Libya could scarcely be portrayed as Bush-style unilateralism or old-style imperialism, given that the Arab League itself has endorsed the idea. Britain and France should join the Arab League in continuing to push hard for this, while taking what immediate steps we can to assist the rebels. This should include providing them with arms – again, since the rebels themselves have called for arms, this cannot credibly be portrayed as unilateralism or imperialism. Britain should also follow France’s lead and recognise the National Council in Benghazi as the legitimate government of Libya, while withdrawing recognition from Gaddafi’s regime. We should prepare to employ air-strikes to defeat further advances by Gaddafi’s forces toward Benghazi. And we should attempt to involve Egypt in our military actions – a country that has both a vital interest in seeing Gaddafi defeated, and a powerful military capable of contributing to this goal. Egypt, be it remembered, made a significant contribution to the defeat of Saddam Hussein in Kuwait in 1991.

The urgency of the situation in Libya is one that calls for immediate, decisive leadership. David Cameron must rise to the challenge.

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

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Sunday, 13 March 2011 Posted by | Arabs, Libya, Marko Attila Hoare, Middle East | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Echoes of a Genocide: The Turkish prime minister’s anti-Armenian outburst

For all the criticisms that I and others have levelled against the chauvinism of Balkan states such as Serbia and Greece, it must be conceded that such chauvinism has one redeeming feature: it is the chauvinism of relatively small states, hence always somewhat ridiculous. The nationalist posturing of such states, replete with references to mythologised glorious histories, is the posturing of the little man who walks into a bar and brags about how big he is. In this sense, such chauvinism and posturing can never quite compare to that of a really large, powerful state. The threat of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, to expel 100,000 ethnic Armenians from Turkey, is therefore uniquely terrifying: ‘There are currently 170,000 Armenians living in our country. Only 70,000 of them are Turkish citizens, but we are tolerating the remaining 100,000. If necessary, I may have to tell these 100,000 to go back to their country because they are not my citizens. I don’t have to keep them in my country.’ The threat was made in response to moves by the US Congress and the Swedish parliament to recognise the Armenian Genocide of 1915. Such posturing is that of a thug who really is one of the biggest and strongest in the bar. At the same time, Erdogan has not only rejected the term ‘genocide’ in relation to what happened to the Armenians in 1915, but denied that Turkey had even every been guilty of atrocities: ‘Our warriors always respected ancestral laws and did not kill innocent people even on the battlefield. I should underline that this country’s soldier is bigger than history and that this country’s history is as clean and clear as the sun. No country’s parliament can tarnish it.’

Erdogan’s chauvinistic outburst proves that the extreme Turkish nationalism responsible for the Armenian Genocide and for the killing or expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Greeks during the 1920s (many of whom were Turkish-speaking Anatolians deemed ‘Greek’ only by virtue of being Christians) still very much dominates the mind-set of the Turkish political classes. It is a nationalism born out of the decay of the Ottoman Empire, in which repeated interventions by Christian Europe on behalf of the Ottomans’ Christian subjects and the resulting Ottoman territorial losses gave rise to a genocidal Turkish impulse vis-a-vis Anatolian Christians, identified as they were as agents of foreign enemies and threats to the territorial integrity of the state. The Turkish War of Independence of the 1920s was at once a legitimate war of national liberation against West European imperialism and Greek aggression, and a murderous assault on the remaining Anatolian Christians that culminated in the burning of the city of Smyrna in 1922 and the massacre of its Greek and Armenian inhabitants. The Turkish victory in that war and the establishment of the Turkish republic halted the Ottoman/Turkish territorial decline, but the readiness to attack and expel members of Christian nationalities remained. As late as 1955, the Turkish government of Adnan Menderes orchestrated a massive anti-Greek pogrom in Istanbul, as a way of pressurising Greece over the Cyprus question, resulting in the virtual disappearance through emigration of Istanbul’s up-till-then large and thriving Greek community. Against this background, Erdogan’s anti-Armenian outburst needs to be taken seriously.

Ironically, Turkey’s governing Justice and Development Party (AKP), to which Erdogan and President Abdullah Gul (who recently won the Chatham House Prize for 2010) belong, represents the moderate wing of traditional Turkish nationalism. The AKP government has improved the rights of Turkey’s Kurdish minority and pursued detente with Cyprus and Armenia. On the other hand, the AKP government has developed a populist Islamic chauvinism of its own, involving demagogic diatribes against Israel, flirtation with anti-Semitism and support for Omar Hassan al-Bashir’s genocidal Islamist regime in Sudan. Erdogan has denied that the latter is guilty of genocide in Darfur, claiming that ‘Muslims don’t commit genocide’. This Islamic populism has gone hand in hand with increasing government assaults on the media, most notably the imposition of a $2.5 billion fine on Dogan Yayin Holding, Turkey’s biggest media group. Meanwhile, Ankara is developing increasingly close friendships with authoritarian states in the region hostile to the West, above all Russia, Iran and Syria.

The AKP regime’s drift away from the West and from Western values must be blamed in large part on Ankara’s increasing loss of confidence in the prospect of EU membership, above all on account of French and German opposition. The appointment of the strongly anti-Turkish and anti-Islamic Herman Van Rompuy as President of the European Council last autumn has only increased the justified impression in Turkey that Europe fundamentally does not want it. ‘Turkey is not a part of Europe and will never be part of Europe’, said Van Rompuy in 2004; ‘An expansion of the EU to include Turkey cannot be considered as just another expansion as in the past. The universal values which are in force in Europe, and which are also fundamental values of Christianity, will lose vigour with the entry of a large Islamic country such as Turkey.’ This is something of a self-fulfilling prophecy. The carrot of EU membership was a major catalyst for the impressive democratisation of Turkey that took place during the early years of the AKP government. With the carrot apparently unattainable, a major incentive to democratise has gone. The Western alliance is now paying a heavy geopolitical price for French and German selfishness and narrow-mindedness, and for Islamophobia of the Van Rompuy variety.

For all its increasing authoritarianism and Islamic populism, the AKP government remains in one respect a driving force behind further democratisation: it is successfully taming the Turkish military, which has been responsible for overthrowing several democratically elected Turkish governments in the past. The Turkish government has every right to pursue and punish elements in the military that plot coups and internal disorder. Yet there are reasons to fear that the huge ‘Ergenekon’ investigation of these elements is also being used to hound the AKP’s political opponents. The democratically elected AKP government is successfully overturning an old authoritarian order, but threatens to establish a new authoritarianism in its place. In the struggle between the old Kemalist establishment and the new Islamic middle class represented by the AKP, a total defeat for either side would be bad for democracy; the two sides should rather become the two wings of a pluralistic Turkey – like the Social Democrats and Christian Democrats in Germany, or the Republicans and Democrats in the US.

Turkey, in other words, is a country at a political crossroads: between democracy, authoritarianism and political chaos at home and between a Western and anti-Western authoritarianism abroad. It is in the vital interests of the Western alliance to steer Turkey as much as possible in a pro-democratic, pro-Western direction. The alternative is an authoritarian, anti-Semitic regime – either in Islamist or extreme-nationalist Kemalist garb -allied to the West’s enemies abroad.

In these circumstances, parliamentary resolutions in Western countries recognising the Armenian genocide are equivalent to pouring petrol on the flames. Such resolutions are objectively anti-Turkish: many members of the Western alliance, not to mention of the wider international community, have historically been guilty of genocide or of crimes on a par with genocide, yet it is Turkey alone – alone – whose historic crimes are being singled out for parliamentary recognition by its own supposed allies. If the Armenian Genocide is being recognised by parliaments that have absolutely no intention of recognising the genocide of the Native Americans or the Australian aborigines, for example, or the European powers’ colonial crimes in Africa and Asia – some of which undoubtedly constituted genocide or were on a par with it – then Turkey has every reason to view such recognition as aggressive and hostile. Many citizens of Turkey are descended from Balkan and Caucasian Muslim peoples who were the victims of genocidal crimes at the hands of Russia and the Balkan Christian states during the eighteenth, nineteenth or early twentieth centuries; the hypocrisy of Western states that remain silent about these crimes while formally recognising the Armenian Genocide is clear to everyone in Turkey.

The tragedy is that such Western hypocrisy discredits the cause of Armenian Genocide recognition in Turkey itself and hands a powerful trump card to the Turkish government, which has long been aggressively persecuting those Turkish citizens brave enough to speak about about what happened to the Armenians in 1915. Defying popular chauvinism and government intimidation, over 22,000 Turkish citizens signed a petition in 2008 apologising for the crime against the Armenians: ‘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.’

This growing movement in Turkey to reject the national chauvinist paradigm and come to terms with the country’s historical crimes represents an essential part of Turkey’s democratisation. Turkey will only become a genuine democracy when its citizens are free to discuss what happened to the Armenians in 1915, and to call it genocide if they wish, without fear of persecution or arrest. The tragedy is that clumsy, hypocritical genocide resolutions actually set this process back. As the New York Times reported earlier this month: ‘Turkish intellectuals had made some progress at pushing the [Armenian] issue into the public debate. Ethnic Armenians in Turkey fear that passage of the [genocide]resolution by the full House — which would be unprecedented — would seriously harm those efforts.’ As Turkish university professor Soli Ozel said back in December 2008, ‘If they were to free Turkey of the pressures [of these bills], we would be able to talk about the issue in a more desirable way.’ So long as the Turkish government can present the campaign for the recognition of the Armenian Genocide as the work of the international Armenian lobby and hypocritical anti-Turkish governments, it only weakens the position of those brave and principled Turks who wish to wish to raise the issue at home. As Ergodan’s chauvinistic outburst threatens, there is always the danger that the AKP government, frightened for its political future, will respond to further foreign recognitions of the Armenian Genocide by retaliating against its own Armenian minority. This is quite apart from the fact that such recognitions will only further alienate Turkey and the Turkish public from the Western alliance and push them into the arms of our enemies, and that they are highly problematic from the point of view of genocide scholarship as well.

There is a simply way in which the Armenian Genocide issue can become a help rather than a hindrance to Turkey’s democratisation: instead of passing resolutions recognising the Armenian Genocide, Western parliaments should pass resolutions calling upon Turkey to permit the issue to be freely debated at home and abroad; to desist from arresting, persecuting or intimidating anyone for stating their opinion about what happened to the Armenians in 1915. Unlike parliamentary recognition of genocide, there would be nothing hypocritical about this: the US, Britain and other EU and NATO members do not for the most part recognise their own or each other’s historic acts of genocide, but they do permit these crimes to be freely discussed and debated.

A democratic Turkey’s membership of the EU would tremendously strengthen Western security. But so long as Turkey threatens its minorities and criminalises mention of the Armenian Genocide, it does not deserve membership. Turkey should be encouraged to become a pillar of Europe, rather than an embarrassment to it.

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

Friday, 26 March 2010 Posted by | Armenians, Balkans, Genocide, Turkey | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Anti-Balkan racism in academia and on the Left

Image: Serbo-Croat-speaking Podlings in the 1982 film Dark Crystal.

Credit goes to Srebrenica Genocide Blog, Oliver Kamm, Balkan Witness and other websites and individuals that have been leading the fight against those who continue to deny or apologise for the Srebrenica massacre and other atrocities of the Wars of Yugoslav Succession, from dabblers like Noam Chomsky to dyed-in-the-wool propagandists like Diana Johnstone, Ed Herman and David Peterson.

I have come to feel that, poisonous though they are, the deniers are ultimately less guilty than members of the political and intellectual mainstream who may disagree with their extreme views, but nevertheless not only tolerate them, but defend them as individuals entitled to respect.

In my last post, I criticised those blogs, such as Harry’s Place, which tolerate vicious personal abuse on the part of those posting comments. I believe that nobody – not even Nazis, racists or war-criminals – should be subject to such abuse, or attacked on the basis of their ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, class background, physical appearance or similar. All human beings – even the most evil or obnoxious – are entitled to a degree of respect by virtue of the fact of being human. Vicious personal abuse of a vulgar or bigoted nature demeans the abuser as much as the abused. It falls into the same category as torture; as something that civilised society simply should not tolerate.

However, there is an opposite extreme: the readiness of supposedly respectable individuals to shield from harsh but legitimate criticism those who hold racist, misogynist, genocide-denialist or other views that ought to disqualify them from such solidarity. I shall not hurl vicious personal abuse at a genocide-denier, but I do feel it is my right and duty to call them a genocide-denier in no uncertain terms.

Unfortunately, there are those who are far less offended by genocide denial than they are by those of us who take the genocide deniers to task. I have come across such people both in my experience with left-wing politics and in my work as an academic. They may disagree with the genocide-deniers, but they feel that the genocide-deniers’ status as left-wingers or as members of the academic community should somehow disqualify them from being the objects of attack for their genocide-denial.

My own alienation from traditional left-wing politics was not simply due to the very large number of prominent and less prominent left-wingers who supported or apologised for the Milosevic regime’s genocidal policies in the 1990s. It was, if anything, more due to the fact that other left-wingers who were not themselves deniers or apologists continued to treat the latter as fellow members of a common ‘Left’. Leftists of this kind tend to be much less outraged by left-wingers who deny genocide or support fascism, than they are by those of us who denounce such ‘comrades’.

Leftists of this kind are not bothered by the enormous hurt and offence among the survivors of genocide in the Balkans and their friends, caused by the anti-Balkan racism of a Michael Moore, the genocide-denial of a Noam Chomsky or the support for Milosevic of a Harold Pinter. They are, however, upset when the former respond to anti-Balkan racism, genocide-denial or support for Milosevic by attacking the left-wing celebrities in question. For such leftists, Western left-wing celebrities are real people in a way that the nameless, faceless untermenschen persecuted by Milosevic’s forces in the Balkans are not.

I have encountered a similar attitude on the part of some of my fellow members of the academic community. There are those academics who respond to a genocide in their area of specialisation by speaking out and agitating against it, and there are those who do not. Quite simply, those who do not have less to feel proud about than those who do. In order to succeed, genocide requires bystanders as well as perpetrators. The genocide in Bosnia was largely successful; had fewer informed international bystanders remained passive, it might not have been.

I do not condemn scholars of the Balkans who failed to speak out against the atrocities in the Balkans in the 1990s. But I thoroughly despise those who try to present their inactivity as making them somehow better or more objective scholars than the rest of us. Instead of boycotting the work of their genocide-denying colleagues, scholars of this kind tend to collaborate with them, bestowing undue respectability on their work. They are thoroughly embarrassed and upset when scholars like myself expose their collaborators for what they are.*

This attitude is itself a form of racism. It is the racism of those who view their own Western society, and in particular their own political or intellectual circle, as being composed of real people; of being the real world. Whereas they view war-torn Bosnia (or Darfur or Iraq) as not being the real world; of not being inhabited by real people with real lives and feelings.

For the authors of Living Marxism, the magazine that pioneered Bosnia genocide-denial, the Bosnian war was an issue only in the UK and other Western societies; an issue, as they saw it, over which the ‘consensus’ had to be challenged and ‘freedom of speech’ upheld for the sake of their own, British concerns. What was or was not happening in Bosnia was, in and of itself, of no importance to them, since to them Bosnia was not a real place and the people who lived there were not real people. They were quite ready to parrot Serb hate-speech against Croats and Bosniaks, since they did not care about what happened to the latter. They viewed the case that ITN brought against them for libel as a greater crime than the murder of tens of thousands of Bosnians.

Left-wingers and academics who defend their genocide-denying or fascist-supporting comrades or colleagues from thoroughly justified criticism are not, essentially, any different from the supporters of Living Marxism. Or from the UN bureaucrats who were repeatedly ready to sacrifice the lives of thousands of Bosnian civilians rather than even slightly risk harm befalling their overpaid ‘peacekeepers’.

There is something genuinely disgusting and offensive about people who can watch a genocide or other tragedy unfolding on their television screens, and not only remain unmoved, but actually feel proud of being unmoved; who believe that cold-bloodedness is the correct response to such a tragedy. As the tragedy unfolds; as the corpses pile up; they indulge in their own comfortable little left-wing or academic parlour games; their little conferences, discussions, meetings and debating societies; with their genocide-denying, fascist-supporting comrades or colleagues. They do not appreciate having these games disrupted by those of us who find the spectacle grotesque.

In a democracy, people must enjoy freedom of speech. People are free to deny that the Srebrenica massacre happened; or to claim that it was simply a ‘response’ to Bosniak ‘provocation’; or that Serb ethnic-cleansing was fabricated by the Western media; or that the Bosnian army shelled its own people in order to blame it on the Serbs; or that Yugoslavia was destroyed by a Western imperialist conspiracy. But equally, the rest of us are free – indeed, we are obliged – to call such people by their true names: genocide-deniers; disseminators of anti-Bosniak hate-speech. To stifle such naming and shaming – on the grounds that left-wingers,  or academics, or others should be above being criticised in this way by virtue of being left-wingers or academics or whatever – is to strike a blow against frank public discourse in favour of Orwellian doublespeak; to legitimise genocide denial while de-legitimising its critics.

By choosing to deny genocide and promote hatred against its victims, genocide-deniers have forfeited the right to be treated with intellectual or political respect. It is with the feelings of the victims and the enormous hurt and offence caused them by the genocide deniers, that we should be concerned. A spade should be called a spade.

 

*Such scholars forget that any historian, sociologist, political scientist or the like who claims that his or her work is ‘politically neutral’ is, quite frankly, a liar. There are academics who are honest and open about their political beliefs, and academics who are not, but who claim to be ‘above politics’; the latter have less integrity than the former – it’s as simple as that. Great historians tend to be open about their political orientation, whether ‘Whig’, conservative, Marxist or other – one need only think of Leopold von Ranke, Thomas Babington Macaulay, G.M. Trevelyan, Lewis Namier, Isaac Deutscher, E.P. Thompson, Christopher Hill, etc. Mediocre historians, by contrast, often dress their boring, cowardly writing up as ‘non-political’ .

I apologise for the dearth of posts here recently. Readers of this blog may or may not be pleased to learn that I was recently promoted to Reader at Kingston University; this has, however, meant a substantially increased teaching load, and this autumn I have been teaching for 14-15 hours per week, leaving little time and even less energy for blogging.

Sunday, 13 December 2009 Posted by | Balkans, Former Yugoslavia, Genocide, Political correctness, Racism, Red-Brown Alliance, The Left | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Greenland moves toward independence – who’s afraid of ‘separatism’ ?

greenland-flagYesterday, Kalaallit Nunaat – Greenland – moved a step closer toward independence from Denmark. The Arctic country has become a subject in its own right under international law; its language, Kalaallisut, has become the sole official language; and it is taking over control of its own police and judiciary, as well as greater control over its natural resources. This move was based on a referendum that took place in November, in which 75% of Greenlandic voters opted in favour.

The festivities in the Greenlandic capital of Nuuk marking yesterday’s event were attended by Denmark’s Queen Margrethe and its prime minister, Lars Loekke Rasmussen. For the Greenlanders are fortunate in having, in Denmark, one of the world’s most enlightened imperial overlords. This is the same Denmark that has proven a staunch member of the allied coalition in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the object of Islamist hatred over the Danish cartoon controversy. We may compared Denmark’s enlightened readiness to permit the peaceful secession of one of its territories and its sterling record as a member of the Western alliance, with the sorry record of Spain, Slovakia and Romania. These countries’ exaggerated fears of ‘separatism’ have led them, despite being members of NATO, to break ranks with most of the rest of the alliance to oppose Kosova’s independence from Serbia, and to align themselves instead with hostile Russia. Denmark, the more enlightened country on the issue of national self-determination, is the better member of the Western alliance.

Greenlandcoa#

Denmark’s ready acceptance of Greenland’s right to secede is in keeping with a proud Nordic tradition of enlightened resolution of national questions. Norway seceded peacefully from Sweden in 1905, as did Iceland from Denmark in 1944. Territorial disputes between Sweden and Finland over the Aland Islands in the 1920s and between Denmark and Norway over eastern Greenland in the 1930s were peacefully resolved by international arbitration. Finland granted autonomy to the Aland Islands in 1920; Denmark to Greenland in 1979, allowing the latter to secede from the EU in 1985. 

The contrast between the enlightened Nordic acceptance of the right of nations to self-determination on the one hand, and the nationalist resistance to ‘separatism’ on the part of Spain, Slovakia and Romania on the other, is not unrelated to the fact that, whereas Denmark has a long history of liberal constitutional government, Spain was still a dictatorship less than thirty-five years ago; Slovakia and Romania twenty years ago. Spain’s continued refusal to recognise the right of the Basque Country and Catalonia to self-determination is a continuation, in softer form, of the repression of these countries by the fascist dictatorship of Francisco Franco. For their part, Slovakia and Romania have been among the most unreconstructed of the former Eastern bloc countries to join NATO and the EU.

Further still from the Danish ideal of tolerance of secession are repressive states with ruling ideologies hostile to liberal democratic Western values, such as Russia, Iran and China. These states rely on massive violence or forced assimilation to crush subject peoples. They are able to do this precisely because they reject Western values. Equally, as they are unconstrained by concern for human rights, they are ready to support other states that brutally suppress subject peoples. Thus, on 27 May of this year, Russia and China were among those members of the United Nations Human Rights Council that voted for a resolution in praise of Sri Lanka’s brutal campaign against the Tamil Tigers, who are fighting for a separate Tamil state, while Britain, France, Germany and other democratic states voted against. Other states that voted for the resolution included Saudi Arabia, Cuba, Egypt, Nigeria, the degree of whose concern for human rights is suggested by their alignment on this question.

The reality is that, by and large, the more enlightened and democratic a state is, the more ready it will be to accept the secession of a constituent territory or subject people. Conversely, the more repressive and undemocratic a state is, the less willing it will be to countenance such a move, and the more ready it will be to support the brutal suppression of such a move by another such state. It is very possible that Scotland will eventually secede from the United Kingdom; conceivable that Wales will do so, or that Puerto Rico will secede from the US. But while we Britons and Americans may or may not hope against such acts of secession, few of us are enraged by the prospect.

This being so, it is not in the interests of the Western alliance rigidly to uphold the principle that subject peoples should not be allowed to secede unilaterally from existing independent states. Western respect for human rights means that Western states will never be able to support acts of repression by other states against subject peoples as unequivocally as our undemocratic enemies, while even moderate Western expressions of concern at human rights abuses committed during such acts of repression will earn us the ire of the states in question. Western support for Russia against Chechen rebels during the 1990s did not earn us any Russian gratitude, but Western criticism of Russian human-rights abuses in Chechnya certainly earned us Russian ire. Meanwhile, Russia’s crushing of Chechnya strengthened its grip on the Caucasus region, making possible the assault on our Georgian ally last summer. Simply put, Western support for Russia against Chechnya was a blunder; the democratic world should have recognised Chechnya’s independence in 1991, alongside the Soviet republics that declared independence at the same time. Equally, in the event that democratic Taiwan should declare independence from Communist China, while we may regret the clash with the latter that this will inevitably occasion, support for Taiwan would be the only honourable policy. In supporting Kosova’s secession from Serbia, Western statesmen have erred in pretending that this instance of secession is unique. Erred both because it is factually untrue that Kosovo is a unique case, and because pretending that it is will only tie our hands in the future, when dealing with states ruled by hostile, repressive regimes carrying out acts of mass violence against subject peoples.

Genuine democracies have nothing to fear from ‘separatism’; dictatorships and other repressive states do. It is time to accept the principle that, in certain circumstances, subject peoples should be permitted to secede unilaterally from a parent state. Such circumstances might include those where the subject people in question has suffered particularly extreme persecution, or conversely where it has proved itself worthy through practising good, democratic governance. Should they ever choose to exercise this right, the people of Darfur would qualify under the first condition; the Taiwanese under the second. Other conditions or combinations thereof might also warrant qualification. Kosova, for example, qualified not only because of the extreme persecution its people had suffered under Serbian rule, but also because of the constitutional status the territory had enjoyed in the former Yugoslavia. The question of whether a subject people has earned the right to secede should ultimately be decided in the court of public opinion in the democratic world.

But this does not mean that every secessionist movement or act should be supported indiscriminately – far from it. For the right of nations to self-determination is open to abuse. There are cases where an expansionist, predatory state conquers part of a neighbour’s territory, using the pretext of support for a national minority; the predatory state then ethnically cleanses the unwanted population from the conquered territory, creates an artificial demographic majority in favour of ‘independence’, then declares that this artificial majority has the right to ‘self-determination’. This is what Serbia did in Bosnia, Turkey in Cyprus and Russia in Abkhazia. There are cases where the population of a territory is split relatively evenly between supporters and opponents of secession, or where the secessionists are in the minority.

Clearly, in such cases, support for the right to secede should not be the default position. Rather, each demand for secession has to be judged individually, on its own merits – like a case in court. The example most often cited by opponents of national self-determination is that of the southern US states’ attempted secession in the 1860s; as this secession was motivated by the desire to preserve the barbaric institution of slavery, it is not an example that can be used to deny the right to secede to secessionist peoples with more legitimate motives.

The very real possibility that the democratic world might intervene to support a secessionist movement on its territory would act as an incentive for repressive states, both to improve their treatment of their subject peoples and to lessen their hostility to the democratic world. The possibility of losing Darfur would be likely to act as a greater deterrent to Khartoum’s genocidal policies there than the toothless indictments of the International Criminal Court. Conversely, where it is a case of a repressive state allied to the West, pressure to reform would take a different form. Because Turkey is a member of NATO and an EU candidate country, there is no possibility that the Western alliance will intervene militarily to end Turkey’s rule over its Kurdish-inhabited regions; Turkey’s territorial integrity is therefore secure. But the ‘price’ that Turkey pays for this is that it is required to improve its treatment of its Kurds and its human-rights’ record generally – something that, over the past decade, it has actually done. So long as Turkey continues to democratise, Kurdish support for secession is likely to wane, or at least to be increasingly channelled away from support for violent insurgency to support for peaceful, constitutional nationalist parties.

As surely as night follows day, more peoples that today are unfree will join the ranks of the Eritreans, Croatians, Kosovars and others which have already seceded in recent decades after fighting bitter wars of independence. There is no point regretting this, or attempting to halt the process. The Western alliance should be on the right side of history.

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

Monday, 22 June 2009 Posted by | Denmark, Greenland | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

It is a mistake to pretend that Kosova is unique

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The persecution of Serb civilians in wartime Gorazde

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Review of Savo Heleta, Not My Turn to Die: Memoirs of a Broken Childhood in Bosnia, AMACOM, New York, 2008

It is a truism that there were victims among all national groups in Bosnia-Hercegovina during the war of 1992-95. Though Serb forces were guilty of most of the killing and persecution during the war, and Bosniaks made up the great majority of its civilian victims, yet Serb civilians, too, were victims at the hands of Bosnian and Croat forces. It should not need saying that their suffering was no less real or worthy of recognition than that of other Bosnians. Unfortunately, all too often, accounts of Serb suffering have been instrumentalised by propagandists for the Great Serbian cause, who will for example, highlight the killing of Serb civilians by the Bosnian Army at Kravica in January 1993 and in virtually the same breath deny the Srebrenica massacre. Such abuse of victimhood adds to the sensitivity with which any discussion of Bosniak atrocities against Serbs must be treated. In these circumstances, eyewitness accounts of such atrocities by enlightened Serb witnesses are particularly valuable.

In Savo Heleta’s book Not My Turn to Die: Memoirs of a Broken Childhood in Bosnia, we have one such eyewitness. Heleta has provided a gripping, harrowing account of his family’s suffering in wartime Gorazde. He describes the intimidation, murder attempts, vandalism of property and other abuses to which he, his family and other Serb civilians were subjected at the hands of local Bosniak thugs, as well as lengthy arbitrary incarceration without food, dismissal from employment, humiliating forced labour such as street-sweeping, and enforced virtual starvation at the hands of the authorities. Some Serbs fared worse, and were beaten or murdered. In the words, of Heleta’s father, as quoted here: ‘Everyone in this city is suffering, but we are also seen by Muslims as the enemy. Muslim extremists, hit squads, and even the police and government officials have threatened to kill us. The only reason we are oppressed is because we are Serbs. Many innocent people have already been killed just because they were Serbs and remained in their homes.’

Yet Heleta also describes the support and kindness extended to his family by Bosniak neighbours and friends, including the provision of food and shelter that may have saved their lives; he does not portray the persecution as the work of Bosniaks in general. The official persecution of Serb civilians he attributes to segments of the Bosnian authorities, including the city mayor and senior police officials, but mentions that other Bosnian officials, including senior army officers, disagreed with the persecution and tried to stop it, or intervened to protect Serbs. There is much nuance in this account, though this should not be allowed to overshadow the suffering to which the Heleta family and other Serb civilians were subjected. In one graphic passage, he describres the impression created when his parents, emaciated after months of semi-starvation and abuse, swam in the River Drina: ‘When they took off their clothes, the entire beach turned toward us and stared at them. People whispered in disbelief, asking if anyone knew who the two skeletons were.’

Heleta does not shy away from describing the wider context of the persecution of the Serbs: the Serb shelling and sniper attacks on the town; the arrival of large numbers of Bosniak refugees who had been expelled from their homes elsewhere in the region by Serb forces; and the fear that the town would be overrun by the Serb army, as all other Bosnian towns in the region were. He describes how, in response to NATO airstrikes against Serb forces in the spring of 1994, ‘the Serbian forces, incensed by the NATO attack, went on to brutally and indiscriminately bomb the city.’ And elsewhere: ‘The Serbian snipers often shot at everyone – women, children, and old people – even though they were located on the hilltops not far fromt he city center and could probably distinguish between civilians and soldiers. I saw with my own eyes old women getting shot while scurrying across the street with water canisters in their hands.’ Faced with this existential threat, some Bosniaks looked upon Gorazde’s Serbs as spies or as the enemy within, though as the Serbs often pleaded, they were not responsible for the Serb assaults and were themselves at risk from Serb shelling. The agony of the Gorazde Serbs, caught between a rock and a hard place, is starkly portrayed by Heleta.

Tragically, it was the very Serb civilians who stayed in Gorazde and endured the Serbian assault alongside their Bosniak neighbours who were inevitably likely to end up most wholly alienated from their once multiethnic town. As Heleta relates: ‘After thugs and the police had terrorized my family so many times over the course of the previous months, I didn’t feel I was living in the same city. I no longer felt safe anywhere. I didn’t know most of the people in my neighbourhood anymore. Most of them were refugees. Those people I did know I didn’t feel like I knew anymore. I knew many of them hated my family. They lied that my parents were spies, that they should be killed. Some talked about this even in front of us. I started seeing my city and the majority of the people in it in a different light than before the war. They were now a source of degradation, forcing me to lose all connections to the world outside my circle of family and close friends.’

Though the narrator generally comes across as a sympathetic individual in difficult times, he is not uncritical of himself; he confesses that his anger at his family’s wartime treatment drove him, among other things, to throw rocks at Bosniak cars that drove between Gorazde and Sarajevo after the war, sometimes smashing windscreens and windows: ‘It hardly crossed my mind at the time that perhaps those people in the buses and trucks had not done anything bad to my family. Some of them could even have been those who had helped us. Maybe even the man who gave us his last loaf of bread. I was completely blinded by fury.’ This book is valuable reading for anyone wishing to understand how a multiethnic society can be pulverised by war; it was not simply a question of the authorities destroying multiethnic coexistence from above, but of ordinary people – Serbs and Bosniaks alike – responding to suffering and injustice at the hands of officials or thugs from the opposing side by adopting a generalised hostility to the entire other nationality.

Unlike nationalist Serbs who responded to the Bosnian war by embracing the crackpot politics of genocide-denial and anti-Western conspiracy theory, Heleta has, to his credit, spoken out against instances of persecution and injustice in other parts of the world in the years since his ordeal. I do not agree with all of his politics, but he has, in his blog and elsewhere, genuinely attempted to be consistent in his condemnations of killing and human rights abuses, and has spoken out against the regimes in Iran, Zimbabwe and Sudan – and in particular over Darfur – while being strongly critical of US and Israeli policy as well. If he has a weak spot, it is in his readiness somewhat to gloss over Serbian wrongdoing; his book makes no mention of Serbia’s role in engineering the Bosnian war, which he blames vaguely on ‘nationalist politicians’ and ‘bad leadership’. He also rather unfortunately describes the Nazi-collaborationist Chetniks of World War II as having ‘fought against the Nazis’.

On his blog, Heleta downplays the killing of Kosova Albanians by Serbian forces in the late 1990s, and complains of the fact that the Western alliance intervened in Kosova but not in Darfur: ‘Western governments are eager and ready to send troops, equipment, aid, and money to stop conflicts in Europe, while conflicts in Africa are ignored. They have done this in the case of Bosnia in the early 1990s, while ignoring the Rwandan genocide in 1994. They are doing this again in Kosovo since 1999, while ignoring the Darfur conflict and suffering of millions since 2003. Whether it is due to skin color, geographic location, natural resources, or effective lobbying, it seems that some people do matter more than others.’ Critics of Western policy are often fond of making this sort of point, though it begs the questions: Should the West intervene neither in Kosova nor in Darfur, or should it intervene in both ? And if it intervenes to stop the persecution only in one place and not the other, is this not better than intervening in neither ? The answer one gives to these questions reveals if one is genuinely opposed to persecution and injustice, or whether one is merely exploiting it opportunistically to score points against the West. I believe that Heleta is sincerely opposed to injustice, but there are a couple of wrinkles in his political ethics that he needs to address. But this does not detract from the value of his moving memoir.

Monday, 25 May 2009 Posted by | Balkans, Bosnia, Former Yugoslavia | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment