Greater Surbiton

The perfect is the enemy of the good

Gavrilo Princip was a terrorist, but he was not Radovan Karadzic

Princip

This interview with Marko Attila Hoare was conducted by Bisera Fabrio for Jutarnji list and published in Croatian on 20 June 2014

Who started the war ?

World War I was a conflict with multiple layers. It began as a Balkan conflict between the two Balkan powers, Austria-Hungary and Serbia, but quickly expanded to become a war of Germany against the Franco-Russian alliance, after which other Great Powers and Balkan powers joined the war on one side or the other. So it did not have one single aggressor. The Sarajevo assassination was engineered by leaders of the extreme-nationalist, terrorist Serbian organisation ‘Unification or Death’, also known as the ‘Black Hand’, which must bear responsibility for provoking the Austro-Hungarian declaration of war on Serbia. However, the assassination did not reflect the policy of the Serbian government, and Vienna’s decision to go to war against Serbia was an expression of long-standing Austro-Hungarian imperialist plans. Austria-Hungary and Serbia each had predatory, expansionist designs against each other. However, Austria-Hungary, as the much bigger power, whose leadership officially decided on war, bears the greater responsibility for the outbreak.

Was the fatal shooting by Gavrilo Princip the true cause or simply the formal pretext for a great war that had long been ‘cooking’ ?

The Sarajevo assassination was the spark for the outbreak of a conflict that would almost certainly have happened anyway. However, it was not accidental that the conflict broke out over an event in the Balkans. Austria-Hungary had for decades sought to control Serbia, but Serbia had in the years before 1914 – particularly since 1903 – increasingly moved away from Vienna’s influence. Serbian leaders had long-term plans to ‘liberate’ or annex South Slav territory in Austria-Hungary, and the Black Hand supported terrorist acts like the Sarajevo assassination as part of a deliberate expansionist strategy. Austria-Hungary, for its part, sought to extend its imperial influence southward into the Balkans and viewed Serbia as lying in its natural path for expansion. Beyond this, Germany viewed the Balkans and the Ottoman Empire – the Near East – as a key sphere of influence, after it had largely been shut out of other areas for imperial expansion by the British and French. Russia viewed the possibility of Austro-German expansion into the Balkans as a mortal threat. France competed with Germany for influence over the Balkan states, while Italy competed with Austria-Hungary for influence over the Albanian lands. So the Balkans and Ottoman Empire were a key area of dispute – probably the most important area of dispute – between the Great Powers. Consequently when the assassination crisis broke out in June 1914, neither Austria-Hungary nor Germany nor Russia felt it could retreat.

Was it possible that the citizens of Austria-Hungary, that early summer in 1914, really did not expect any kind of military conflict, let alone a long war that would bring down the Monarchy ?

The citizens or subjects of the Habsburg monarchy were divided over how they viewed the crisis that erupted in June 1914. The war party, represented most prominently by the joint Austro-Hungarian foreign minister Count Leopold von Berchtold and by Chief of General Staff Conrad von Hoetzendorf, was determined to attack Serbia following the assassination, but they did not foresee that this action would result in a general European war lasting over four years, and they certainly did not predict that the war would result in the Habsburg Empire’s collapse. Others, particularly the Hungarian prime minister Istvan Tisza, hoped after the assassination that war could be avoided. Ironically, Hungarian resistance to a Habsburg war against Serbia helped to delay its outbreak, so that Vienna lost the chance to occupy Serbia quickly and present the other Great Powers with a fait accompli. This ensured that when war did break out, it would not remain localised between Serbia and Austria-Hungary, but become a general European war.

What did Serbia actually want ? What were its intentions toward Bosnia ?

Bosnia had formed a key goal of Serbian expansionist plans ever since Ilija Garasanin’s (in)famous ‘Plan’ (Nacertanije) in 1844. Following the Austro-Hungarian occupation of Bosnia-Hercegovina in 1878, those Serbian statesmen who favoured collaboration with Vienna – most notably Prince, later King Milan Obrenovic – chose to disregard Bosnia-Hercegovina and concentrate on southward expansion. But Bosnia-Hercegovina remained a long-term goal for nationalist Serbians, and the change of regime in Serbia in 1903, when King Aleksandar Obrenovic was murdered and replaced by Petar Karadjordjevic, brought to power those who certainly intended Serbia’s eventual expansion westward. This meant, firstly, the People’s Radical Party under Nikola Pasic, and secondly, the extreme nationalist army officers who had carried out the murder of King Aleksandar and who went on to found ‘Unification or Death’ in 1911. When Austria-Hungary annexed Bosnia-Hercegovina in 1908, Pasic called for preparations for war, and something of a war psychosis gripped Serbia, with the formation of the ‘National Defence’ (Narodna Odbrana) organisation to wage guerrilla warfare in Bosnia-Hercegovina. However, when he subsequently became prime minister in 1912, Pasic pursued a more moderate policy toward Austria-Hungary, since he was focused on Serbia’s southward expansion against the Ottomans. After the Balkan Wars, Pasic wanted a period of peace to enable Serbia to assimilate the territory in Old Serbia (Kosovo) and Macedonia it had taken. It was the Black Hand, whose leading officers Dragutin Dimitrijevic-Apis and Vojislav Tankosic were behind the assassination, who were the real war-mongers on the Serbian side: they supported terrorism and aggression in Bosnia-Hercegovina, against Montenegro’s King Nikola, against Bulgaria, etc., as part of a consistent policy.

What was the state of inter-religious and interethnic relations in Bosnia-Hercegovina in 1914 ?

Inter-religious and interethnic relations in Bosnia-Hercegovina in 1914 were better than they would later be within the Yugoslav kingdom. Serbs and Muslims were divided by the question of land reform, since the majority of Orthodox Serb peasants in Bosnia-Hercegovina remained subject to Muslim landlords. Croats and Muslims were divided over the issue of Catholic proselytising. However, there was also a general degree of solidarity among members of the Serb, Croat and Muslim elites. Conservative Serb and Muslim leaders had collaborated in their demands for church and school autonomy from the Habsburg regime, and for Bosnian autonomy. Some of the more liberal Bosnian politicians favoured inter-religious and inter-ethnic collaboration on a pro-Yugoslav basis against the regime. The actions of Gavrilo Princip and his fellow assassins were those of an extremist fringe, and were condemned by mainstream Bosnian Serb political and religious figures. Although the assassination provoked a wave of attacks on Serb properties in Sarajevo, these were condemned by Catholic Archbishop Josip Stadler and by Reis ul-Ulema Dzemaludin Causevic. Yet even Princip’s Young Bosnia movement encompassed Croats and Muslims as well as Serbs. Inter-ethnic and inter-religious relations in Bosnia-Hercegovina would deteriorate sharply as the result of the establishment of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes.

What was Young Bosnia ? Was it a Serb conspiratorial group, a wing of the Black Hand or an authentic Bosnian illegal organisation ?

Young Bosnia was an ill-defined, loose network of Bosnian student radicals. It was numerically dominated by Serbs and many of its supporters were at least unconsciously inspired by the tradition of Serb Orthodox Christianity. However, its political goals bridged the gap between Great Serb nationalism and pro-Yugoslav ideas, and its adherents came to support common South Slav unification based on the overcoming of religious and ethnic differences between Serbs, Croats and Muslims. Consequently it was able to recruit Croats and Muslims as well as Serbs. Young Bosnia was an indigenous Bosnian movement, but it was co-opted by the Black Hand which sought to use it to advance its own expansionist goals. The Black Hand organised a guerrilla training school in Prokuplje in Serbia that prepared young people from Bosnia-Hercegovina to engage in terrorist activities. The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, engineered by Apis and Tankosic and carried out by Bosnian Black Hand agents – Princip in conjunction with others – represented the culmination of these activities. The assassination cannot be understood unless both the indigenous Bosnian element (Young Bosnia) and the external Serbian element (Black Hand) are both taken into account together.

Gavrilo Princip was in the period of Tito’s Yugoslavia treated as an extraordinary historical figure; as a revolutionary who initiated the emancipation of the Yugoslav peoples; the forerunner of the people’s heroes of the Second World War. Today he is, at least in Croatia, looked upon differently – some consider him a murderer and terrorist, and others an exponent of Serb nationalism…

He is a figure that understandably divides Serbs, Croats and Bosniaks today. His political goals stood on the border between Great-Serb nationalism and Yugoslavism; he was very much Serb in his background, but he came to embrace a form of South Slav unification that stressed unity between Serbs, Croats and Muslims. He expressed violent hatred for the Sarajevo carsija, that from a contemporary perspective reminds us of Radovan Karadzic. However, his patriotic hatred was directed primarily against the foreign, Habsburg occupier, rather than against Croats or Muslims. His assassination set off a chain of events that had disastrous consequences for the South Slavs. Serbia was militarily crushed by the Central Powers in World War I, and only ended up on the winning side by luck: it was the US’s intervention in World War I that led to an Allied victory, in which Serbia was freed from occupation. The establishment of Yugoslavia was disastrous for Bosnia-Hercegovina’s peoples, and to a lesser extent for Croatia’s: it led to the Chetnik and Ustasha genocides of 1941 and to Milosevic’s and Karadzic’s genocide in the 1990s. We can reasonably view the assassination, leading to the establishment of Yugoslavia, as a historic wrong turn for the South Slav peoples of the Habsburg Empire. Some Young Bosnia supporters became notorious Chetniks in World War II. But it is important to remember that Princip was not Karadzic; he did not plan or engage in genocide.

Was the assassination of the heir to the throne Franz Ferdinand a terrorist act, as the Austro-Hungarian authorities understandably treated it at the time and as it is today treated by some historians, or was it in fact a patriotic act, as it is treated by the majority of Serb and pro-Serb historians ? If it was patriotic, what kind of patriotism was it ? Serb ? Bosnian ?

The assassination was undoubtedly a terrorist act, and it enjoyed no general support or democratic sanction among the Bosnian population – not even among the Serb population. So it cannot be considered as a legitimate act of a genuine national-liberation movement. But the assassins viewed themselves as patriots, and were undoubtedly sincere in their belief that they were acting in the best interests of their people. They did not have clearly worked out political goals – they were very young people, largely teenagers. They supported the liberation and unification of the South Slavs in general terms. Their patriotism was of a kind that blended Serb patriotism, Serbo-Croat patriotism, Bosnian patriotism and Yugoslav patriotism.

Was the goal of Young Bosnia to ‘expel’ Austria-Hungary from Bosnia-Hercegovina, which would then become an independent state, or to annex Bosnia to Serbia ?

Young Bosnia was a loose network with an imprecise membership – it was not a proper political organisation, and it did not have a precise programme. Its members broadly believed that Serbs, Croats and Muslims were the same nation, and they broadly sought Austria-Hungary’s expulsion from the South Slav lands so that these could be united with Serbia in a common South Slav state. In general, Young Bosnia’s members believed that Bosnia-Hercegovina belonged neither to Serbia nor to Croatia, but to both equally. At his trial, assassin Vasa Cubrilovic described his identity as ‘Serbo-Croat’, while Trifko Grabez said ‘I was not led by Serbia but solely by Bosnia’.

How much did the new, post-war (1918) geopolitical picture of the Balkans influence the fact that at the end of the twentieth century a number of national states were established ?

Those who defend the Versailles settlement claim that it permitted the liberation of the subject peoples from the former European empires – particularly the Habsburg Empire – and enabled them to form their own national states. However, from the point of view of the South Slav inhabitants of the Habsburg Empire – roughly speaking, the peoples of the lands that today comprise Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia-Hercegovina and Vojvodina – 1918 arguably resulted in the exchange of one slavery for another. In the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, both Croatia and Bosnia-Hercegovina lost the parliaments and autonomy they had enjoyed in the Habsburg Empire, and relations between Serbs and non-Serbs became worse, not better. In retrospect, we can view the Yugoslav period (1918-1992) as a transitional phase on the road to independent national statehood for the Croats and Slovenes (although the Bosnian question remains unresolved today). The establishment of Yugoslavia on a centralised, Serbian-dominated basis in 1918-1921 made it very likely, if not inevitable, that the country would eventually break up in favour of independent national states.

Was Austria-Hungary a precursor to the European Union ?

No; Austria-Hungary was a multinational dynastic state that predated the independent national statehoods of its peoples, whereas the European Union is a multinational union built from independent nation-states. Only by freeing themselves from rule by the Austro-Hungarian, Ottoman, Russian and other empires and establishing themselves as independent states, could the European nations go on to establish something like the European Union.

What was the key cause of the break-up of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy ? The burning, militant nationalism of its various peoples or the rigid centralism of Vienna and Budapest ? We see that in contemporary Europe nationalism is rising…

Historians debate how inevitable the break-up of Austria-Hungary was; whether it might have survived had its leaders been more accommodating toward its non-German and non-Magyar peoples, or if there had been no World War I. But I believe pre-national multinational unions like Austria-Hungary and Yugoslavia ultimately had no future. As a general rule, unless a state is underpinned by a common national identity shared by most of its citizens, then it cannot survive in the face of democracy. Because people will generally want their nation to be free and independent, not to be ruled by an alien master. The question is today how many more independent nation-states will one day appear in Europe: Scotland, Catalonia, Chechnya, etc. ?

What kind of lesson can Europe today draw from the Great War ?

That the peace of Europe is best secured when the continent is organised on the basis of independent, democratic national states in which the rights of national minorities are fully respected. And when these states are united in trans-national unions or associations – political, economic and military – that provide a common framework for interaction while respecting the sovereignty of each member.

If, after a hundred years, historians from either side of the Drina cannot even agree on who started the war, let alone who was really to blame for it, how can we expect that this part of Europe will truly be stabilised politically ? It turns out that the debate over the First World War is itself the pretext for a new war, at least among historians if not politically…

The establishment of the former Yugoslav lands as seven fully-functioning, fully sovereign states – Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia-Hercegovina, Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia and Kosovo – and their unification within the European Union and NATO would provide the best guarantee for the region’s stabilisation. In such a case, the disputes of the past will matter less. Unfortunately, this process is stalled, and the futures of Bosnia-Hercegovina, Kosovo and Macedonia, in particular, appear uncertain. If Europe’s leaders remain unwilling to take the necessary steps to restore Bosnia-Hercegovina as a functioning state and to bring it into the EU along with Kosovo and Macedonia, then they will be responsible for any new conflict that breaks out.

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Friday, 27 June 2014 Posted by | Balkans, Bosnia, Central Europe, Croatia, Former Yugoslavia, Marko Attila Hoare, Serbia | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vote Conservative or Labour

Let’s face it, whatever the results of tomorrow’s British general election, the world isn’t going to end. Not since the 1970s has so little divided the principal British political parties. Watching the three televised debates between Labour’s Gordon Brown, the Conservatives’ David Cameron and the Liberal Democrats’ Nick Clegg, the striking thing was how similar were their political visions. Where one of the party leaders stood out from the consensus – as Cameron did over Europe, or Clegg over Trident – he was attacked by his opponents in moderate, civilised terms. This is as it should be: the great ideological conflicts of our age have been resolved in the domestic sphere, and the choice is principally over who will best manage the existing order. In this sense, we are a step ahead of the US, where such battles are still being fought out.

Cameron and Clegg have placed a lot of emphasis on the appeal for ‘change’. This is highly ironic, given that the British people do not want real ‘change’. If they did, there would be real electoral benefit to be had for politicians in adopting radical policies. The fact that all three principal British parties adopt such moderate policies shows their awareness of the fundamentally conservative (with a small ‘c’) inclinations of the British electorate; to threaten real ‘change’ would be electoral suicide. Cameron’s and Clegg’s talk of ‘change’ is simply an attempt to play up to our spoilt, cry-baby, navel-gazing culture of political commentary. Some countries face real problems; here we have the MPs’ expenses scandal – for all the whining that it provoked, you’d think we were the victims of a veritable genocide. A year ago, on the way to the airport, I met a young man who had served as a soldier in Afghanistan; after spending time there, he told me, he found it ridiculous how much we Britons like to complain about so little. This explains the relentless media hounding of our current prime minister; unexciting and undistinguished as he is, Brown has been reasonably competent at his job; he certainly does not deserve such vicious treatment.

Of course, there are things wrong with our country; top of the list, I would put the atrocious quality of our schools, and the consequent deleterious effect that poor education has on the morals of our youth. But distressingly, education barely featured in the three leadership debates. It was sad to hear all three party leaders pander to the moronic anti-immigration consensus; Clegg at least had the courage to advocate an amnesty for long-term illegal residents of the UK. Mass immigration is economically necessary and culturally beneficial for any thriving, dynamic modern society; the only way drastically to curb immigration would be to have an economy so poor that nobody much wanted to come and work here.

Instead of educating our population about immigration’s benefits, our politicians find it easier to pander to tabloid-driven popular xenophobia. I am, however, reassured that their talk of curbing immigration is just in order to placate the masses; as Clegg pointed out in the third leadership debate, the Conservatives’ talk of an annual ‘cap’ on immigration makes no sense if most immigrants come from the EU and can’t be prevented from coming. Yes, Mr Cameron/Brown, of course you’ll curb immigration if you win the election, nudge nudge, wink wink. If it keeps the less sophisticated part of our electorate from voting for the fascist parties, I’m happy for you to pretend. But really, it would be better if you challenged popular prejudice instead of playing up to it.

This does not mean the election is irrelevant. The first big question is, if Cameron wins, whether he will prove to be a Conservative Tony Blair, and firmly cement his party in government, as in opposition, as a forward-looking party of the centre. Or whether he will prove a wolf in sheep’s clothing, and the Conservatives will ape their divisive predecessors of the 1930s and 80s. I am cautiously optimistic that the first scenario is more likely.

The second big question is, of course, whether we will get a hung parliament and, consequently, electoral reform. The existing electoral system cannot really be justified on democratic ground, but I cannot honestly pretend to be heartbroken that the little parties – the BNP, UKIP, Greens, Respect, etc. – are effectively excluded from parliament – God forbid that any of them should exercise influence over our foreign policy, or that any of them except the Greens should exercise influence over our domestic policy.

A system of proportional representation that resulted in a three-party system might be more democratic than the current two-party system, but it would also be more rigid; at present, elections offer the chance of real change of government in response to public dissatisfaction; a three-party system could condemn us to a succession of similar coalitions. A case could be made that this is the price we must pay for something less arbitrary and unfair than the present first-past-the-post system, with so many votes wasted and so many voters denied a real choice. But it is not a simple question.

The main parties’ differences over foreign policy are greater than their differences over domestic policy, and it is here that the Liberal Democrats’ talk of change is ominous. A party whose leader puts the word ‘illegal’ in front of ‘war in Iraq’ should not be in government: it is one thing to oppose the war in Iraq for honourable reasons; quite another to adopt the ideological jargon of the deeply reactionary ‘anti-war’ movement. Being opposed to ‘illegal’ wars translates as only favouring military intervention abroad when it is authorised by the UN Security Council; in other words, when it is supported by Russia and China. Clegg complains that the Conservative Party is allied with homophobes and climate-change deniers in the European Parliament, yet he seems to feel that our military intervention abroad should be contingent on the approval of two of the world’s most brutal and dangerous regimes.

What is more objectionable: the Conservatives forming a new European Parliamentary grouping with a Latvian party, some of whose elderly members commemorate the SS, and with a Polish party hostile to homosexuality ? Or the Liberal Democrats upholding the sanctity of a UN Security Council whose Russian member uses weapons of mass destruction against its own Chechen citizens, ethnically cleanses Georgians from South Ossetia, racially persecutes Caucasians, murders human rights activists and carries out terrorist bombings against its own population ? To say nothing of its Chinese member… Let us not forget: the reason that there are any ethnic Albanians left in Kosovo today is because NATO waged an ‘illegal’ war in 1999 to halt Slobodan Milosevic’s genocidal campaign against them. 

When David Cameron courageously spoke out in defence of Georgia from Russian aggression in 2008, Liberal Democrat shadow foreign-secretary Ed Davey shamefully condemned him for ‘macho talk’. Davey believes in the need to ‘talk to Tehran’, to avoid ‘antagonising the Russians’, to ‘engage Russia and China’, to ‘fully back the UN’. A foreign policy decided by the Liberal Democrats would ensure that, were another Bosnia- or Darfur-style genocide to occur, Britain would avoid doing anything ‘macho’ that might actually stop it, but would work through the UN, in partnership with Russia and China, to ensure that absolutely nothing meaningful would be done. Davey is my local MP here in Kingston and Surbiton, and as the electoral race here is a two-horse one between the Liberals and Conservatives, with Labour running a distant third, I am going to vote Conservative.

For Labour and the Conservatives are the only two credible parties of government. Labour has pursued a reasonably sound foreign policy, correctly both pro-European and pro-American, though since the uninspired Brown replaced the brilliant Tony Blair, Britain has been punching beneath its weight in world affairs.

The Conservatives, on the other hand, have taken a courageous stand to break with the federalist-conservative Sarkozy-Merkel bloc in the European Parliament; to strike a blow against an inward-looking fortress Europe. As I have written elsewhere, the accusation that the Conservatives in the European Parliament are allied to extreme reactionaries is a red herring, given that both the Sarkozy-Merkel federalist bloc in the European Parliament and the Labour Party’s allies in the Council of Europe include some equally reactionary elements – Russian anti-Semites, Turkish genocide-deniers and Italian ‘post-fascists’. The question is whether the Conservatives in office will build an alliance for a broader, non-federalist model of Europe – as I hope they will – or retreat into the narrow-minded national realism that characterised John Major’s government.

I greatly admire the record of the Labour government since 1997, and am glad I voted Labour in the last election. I am hopeful, if not quite confident, that a Cameron government would be a worthy successor. If you feel optimistic, give the Conservatives a chance. If you want to play it safe, vote Labour.

Wednesday, 5 May 2010 Posted by | Britain, Marko Attila Hoare | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Why David Cameron is right to break ranks with Sarkozy and Merkel

CameronDavid Cameron, the British Conservative leader and probable next British Prime Minister, has been coming under harsh criticism for his decision to take the British Conservatives out of the conservative Euro-federalist bloc in the European Parliament, the European People’s Party, and to form a new anti-federalist group: the European Conservatives and Reformists, whose most prominent other members are Poland’s Law and Justice Party and the Czech Republic’s Civic Democratic Party. Critics have pointed out that the new group includes racists, homophobes, climate-change-deniers and politicians with far-right backgrounds. The European Conservatives and Reformists is chaired by Michal Kaminski, an admirer of Augusto Pinochet and opponent of Polish moves to apologise for the Polish massacre of Jews at Jedwabne during World War II. They have argued that Cameron is marginalising Britain within the EU.

So far as Cameron’s critics from the ranks of the Euro-federalist wing of the Conservative Party and of Britain’s Labour Party are concerned, it is a case of the pot calling the kettle black. The European People’s Party, supposedly the voice of moderate, centre-right conservatism, includes the ruling Italian party, Silvio Berlusconi’s ‘People of Freedom’. The latter, formally founded this spring, includes the heirs to Italy’s Fascist movement, including Gianfranco Fini’s National Alliance and Alessandra Mussolini’s Social Action. Poland’s homophobic Civic Platform is also a member of the European People’s Party. Stefan Niesiolowski, deupty speaker of the Polish Sejm and a member of Civic Platform, has described lesbians as ‘sickening‘ and as a ‘pathology‘. The European People’s Party includes also as observers or associates Turkey’s Justice and Development Party (AKP), which denies the Armenian Genocide and flirts with anti-Semitism, and Serbia’s Democratic Party of Serbia, whose leader Vojislav Kostunica presided over the burning down of the US embassy in Belgrade last year.

Meanwhile, the Labour Party’s members in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe sit in the Socialist Group, which includes Russia’s fascist Liberal Democratic Party, headed by the overtly racist and anti-Semitic Vladimir Zhirinovsky, who called publicly for the ‘preservation of the white race’ and warned that ‘it’s all over for you once you’re Americanised and Zionised’. The Socialist Group also includes ‘Just Russia’, which incorporates the racist, far-right Rodina party – several of whose members in the Russian Duma have called for all Jewish organisations in Russia to be closed. Another member of the Socialist Group is Turkey’s anti-Kurdish Republican People’s Party, which not only denies the Armenian Genocide but opposed even the Turkish government’s own measures to lift restrictions on the Kurdish language.

This sort of point-scoring is very easy. Geopolitical alliances are not equivalent to domestic political alliances, in which there can be no excuse for allying with bigots or fascists. The reality of geopolitics is that the majority of the world’s states have not achieved Western-democratic standards of democracy, tolerance and human rights. Consequently, even democratic states are frequently forced to have unsavoury allies. We had to ally with Stalin to defeat Hitler; with Saudi Arabia and Hafez al-Assad’s Syria to drive Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait in 1991; with the Northern Alliance to defeat the Taliban in 2001. NATO has long included the highly chauvinistic states of Turkey and Greece, which discriminate against their national minorities in a manner that is wholly at odds with the standards of democratic Europe. The UK shares membership of the EU with states, such as Italy and Poland, that tolerate fascism or bigotry to an extent that would be unacceptable to the UK’s politically conscious public. We share membership of the Council of Europe with states whose democratic credentials are still more flawed, such as Turkey and Russia. A British party sitting in the European Parliament or the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, that does not wish wholly to isolate itself, has little choice but to join blocs that include some highly unsavoury members.

Of course, one could take the principled position that international isolation would be preferable to any alliance that includes bigots or extremists. Yet this is the opposite of what Cameron’s critics, such as Denis MacShane and Nick Cohen are saying, which is that he should have kept the British Conservatives in the European People’s Party in order to preserve British influence through membership of the dominant mainstream centre-right bloc, as represented by Angela Merkel’s German Christian Democrats and Nicolas Sarkozy’s Union for a Popular Movement. 

I have great respect for both Denis MacShane and Nick Cohen, but I must beg to differ. The biggest internal threat to the EU is not the homophobia or anti-environmentalism of Polish and Czech rightists – disgusting though these are. A rather bigger threat comes from the Euro-federalist project that, with only slight oversimplification, can be defined as follows: forge a strategic partnership with Russia at the expense of Eastern Europe; undermine the Western alliance in the interests of ‘independence’ from the US; keep Turkey out of the EU, at whatever cost to Western strategic interests; keep Ukraine and Georgia out of NATO, consigning them to the status of buffer zone vis-a-vis an appeased Russia; and build a narrow, inward-looking ‘Fortress Europe’ that would certainly not pull its weight in the global struggle with the enemies of freedom and human rights. Such is the policy of the dominant Franco-German bloc in the EU, currently led by Merkel and Sarkozy.

Sarkozy hardly scores higher in terms of political correctness than does Kaminski. He is on record for opposing Turkey’s entry into the EU on the grounds that ‘Turkey is in Asia Minor’ and that ‘I won’t be able to explain to French school kids that Europe’s border neighbors are Iraq and Syria.’ (This from the head of a state that, via its overseas department of French Guiana, shares a land border with Brazil). Treating Turkey, which was part of the Ancient Greek world and the Roman Empire and whose largest city was for a time the Roman capital, as an Asian ‘other’ with no right to be part of Europe, scarcely marks Sarkozy out as a respectable centre-right statesman free of bigoted views. Nor does his vocal support for the Greek-nationalist campaign to force the Republic of Macedonia to change its name, motivated as this is by the racist belief that a Slavic-speaking people has no right to use the Macedonian name of the ‘Greek’ Alexander the Great, and that the Macedonian nation has no right even to exist.

Sarkozy and Merkel were responsible in April 2008 for the failure to grant a NATO Membership Action Plan to Georgia and Ukraine, effectively announcing to Moscow that the Western alliance was not standing by these countries – a message that Vladimir Putin took to heart when he attacked Georgia soon after. Sarkozy and Merkel were then in the forefront of the appeasers who pushed to ensure that Moscow’s aggression would not be allowed to stand in the way of EU-Russian collaboration. At the height of Russia’s aggression against Georgia, while France held the EU Presidency, Sarkozy travelled to Moscow to reassure the Russians that ‘It’s perfectly normal that Russia would want to defend the interests both of Russians in Russia and Russophones outside Russia.’ Sarkozy’s negotiations, in Toby Vogel’s words, ‘yielded a badly drafted ceasefire agreement and provided space for numerous Russian violations that the EU was in no position to counter’. Merkel, meanwhile, is in coalition with the German Social Democratic Party – the champion of collaboration with Russia, whose former leader Gerhard Schroeder described Putin as an ‘impeccable democrat’.

The Franco-German policy of excluding Turkey permanently from the EU – an integral element in the Euro-federalist strategy – has borne bitter fruit. The once reformist government of the AKP in Turkey, persistently disappointed in its ambition to join the EU, is turning away from the West and toward an increasing alignment with Russia, Iran and other tyrannical states of the Islamic world. For the current leaderships of France and Germany, cementing strategically crucial Turkey’s membership of the Western alliance is simply less important than their goal of an introverted federalist Fortress Europe that they would dominate. Meanwhile, Poland, the Czech Republic and other NATO members from the former Communist bloc are increasingly apprehensive at the possibility of a Western rapprochement with Russia that would see their security interests sacrificed – as the recent open letter to the Obama Administration from a stellar panel of Eastern and Central European statesmen makes clear. We can be certain that it will not be Sarkozy and Merkel who will be reassuring our Eastern and Central European allies.

In sum, Sarkozy and Merkel are taking the EU down the wrong path – a path, moreover, with which British public opinion is deeply uncomfortable. The policy of Gordon Brown’s government so far has been to keep rank with the French and Germans. This policy has not achieved results.

It would be wrong to read too much into Cameron’s move, which is apparently the result principally of internal Conservative Party politics rather than geostrategic considerations. Despite promises to the contrary made at the time of the Georgian war last summer, the Conservatives are continuing to sit with Putin’s United Russia party in the European Democrat Group in the Council of Europe. But in principle, Cameron’s formation of the European Conservatives and Reformists shows a welcome readiness to shake up EU politics and power structures and break ranks with elements that are taking Europe down the wrong path. The European Parliament is not where power lies in the EU, but in principle, the new group – small as it currently is, and containing as it does some undeniably unsavoury elements – could grow to provide a powerful voice for Europeans, particularly East and Central Europeans, who are uncomfortable with the federalist project and with the Franco-German preponderance in the EU, and who staunchly support the US alliance. It is to be hoped that this new group will serve as a building block for a new, alternative European project in keeping with Cameron’s professed vision of ‘progressive conservatism’, and not as a haven for European reactionaries.

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

Update: Stephen Pollard has written a convincing defence of Kaminski from the charge of anti-Semitism.

Hat tip: Dave Weeden, Aaronovitch Watch.

Hat tip:

Friday, 31 July 2009 Posted by | European Union | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a 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 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