Javier Solana wins Serbian election

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Yes, the EU’s diplomatic SWAT team came through in Boris Tadić’s knife-edge victory over Tomislav Nikolić. With a margin of barely 100,000 plus change, we can assume that Brussels plenipotentiary Solana played a big role in ensuring the correct outcome, what with giving the electorate the impression that membership of that Napoleonic monstrosity and the associated milk and honey conditions were within their grasp if only they voted the right way. Having already pulled that stroke in the Montenegrin independence referendum, I guess we should thank Javier for demonstrating that you can indeed fool most of the people most of the time.

As I remarked a little while ago, this is one of those situations where language takes on an Orwellian cast. You may think “democracy” is all about a process whereby the people vote for their leaders and can, at least in theory, sack them via the ballot box. That sort of holds true in the metropolitan countries, but in the colonies it’s all about guaranteeing correct outcomes. After all, as the presidents of Venezuela and Belarus have discovered, you can win multiple elections and still be a “dictator”.

The Palestinians have some experience of this. You’ll remember that they democratically elected a Hamas government. Following which, the US, EU and Israel helped engineer a coup by the defeated Fatah in the name of “democracy”. Serbia too is a place where “democracy” has a specialised meaning. On the one hand, it means that the Radicals and Socialists must be kept out of government no matter how many votes they get. On the other, democratic governance in Serbia requires that the country’s two small neo-Jacobin parties, the G17 Plus and the Liberal Democrats (who, as Nebojša quips, are neither liberal nor democratic) must have a major share in power no matter how few votes they get. Your Serbian punter, who will have vivid memories of the “democratic” state of emergency that followed the Djindjić assassination, tends to be rightly cynical about this sort of rhetoric.

It’s probably partly due to the fact that this is Serbia, a country with a severe image problem despite seven years of rule by supine “democrats”, that there aren’t howls of outrage about the Eurocrats interfering in the electoral processes of a sovereign state. But there are other things going on here as well. Yes, you’ve got some unreconstructed Serbophobes crawling out of the woodwork (hats off to Ian Traynor of the Grauniad, who I often read for comedy value), but the thing that’s been most striking about the reportage from Belgrade has been its Cold War tone. There’s been a bit of chest-beating about the Radicals’ role in the Yugoslav wars of secession, when they were indeed involved in some pretty gruesome activities, but actually the media pack have been much keener to go after Nikolić on the basis of his pro-Russian foreign policy. The Eurocrats’ mutterings about Serbia possibly becoming another Belarus also come under this category. Those pesky Serbs and Belarusians, and about half of the Ukrainians, just haven’t grasped yet that their geopolitical role is to make like Latvia and be a useful bulwark against Tsar Vladimir.

The Kosovo question comes into this as well. There can be no doubt that Boris wouldn’t have won if he hadn’t neutralised the Kosovo issue by adapting to the national consensus of defending Serbian sovereignty and rejecting the Albanian separatists’ demands. Belgrade-based diplomats and imperial chancelleries have been spinning to the media that Boris doesn’t really mean what he says. Or maybe he does mean what he says, but he’ll acquiesce in what the Empire does. And, once foreign powers have carved out 15% of the national territory, most Serbs will accept the fait accompli and the Serbian body politic will be purged of the nationalist virus. Yeah, cos that really worked well at Versailles.

Now, let me say up front that I accept there is a strong case in the abstract for Albanian self-determination in Kosovo. I am however opposed to the current independence programme for a number of reasons, partly to do with protection of minorities or the lack thereof, partly to do with unnegotiated secession being extremely illegal under international law, but mainly because Kosovo is a de facto mafia state that, with the attributes of sovereignty, would just show up the Pirate Republic of Montenegro for the comic-opera concern it is. US and EU policy-makers know Kosovo is a disaster in the making, but they seem hell-bent on pressing ahead, apparently on the grounds that not pushing through independence would result in a massive loss of face. Then there’s also the possibility, that, with hardly any Serbs left in the province, the Albanian gangs would turn on the international troops and NGO workers.

This is all by way of being an object lesson for interventionists, in two ways. The Kosovo problem, as well as the simmering Bosnian protectorate, remind me of a conversation I had some years ago with a Greek political scientist. He remarked of the Cyprus question that this was absolutely typical of the Yanks and the West Europeans – they could have mediated a negotiated solution between the local parties decades ago, but they preferred to manage a problem rather than solve it, leaving a low-level dispute where they could continue to have long-term influence. Trouble is, these long-running disputes have a habit of turning around and biting you in the ass.

The second aspect is that the strong showing of the Radicals has put the willies up the Belgrade diplomatic corps in no uncertain fashion. Their huge vote, in a high turnout, goes against the conventional wisdom that the Radicals had a stalwart but rather elderly and rural core vote (this is important also for journalists who spend all their time in Belgrade talking to trendy Anglophone metrosexuals) and were completely incapable of breaking out of that core vote – so, the Radicals could only prosper if there was a low turnout. There’s a lesson here as well. Let’s say you spend a decade and a half treating a country like shit. Even when the “democrats” take over, you still treat the country like shit. Let’s say the “democrats” turn out to be not only undemocratic but, in large part, up to their ears in criminality and corruption. Let’s say the economy is down the dunny, and the response of the Empire is to demand more “free market reforms” like the ones that put it down the dunny in the first place. Would you expect the natives to be grateful to the missionaries, or would you expect them to get the pot boiling?

54 Comments

  1. Rob said,

    February 5, 2008 at 4:16 pm

    One thing I’ve noticed about my lawyerly compatriots is a conflation of liberal democracy, with democracy. So rather than seeing liberal democracy as some sort of lash up between two different political concepts (which of course it is), which can occasionally (one might even say often) clash, they tend to just read liberalism into democracy. This leads to them saying things like ‘democracy is not just about following the will of the majority’, when of course it is. This also leads to an interesting phenomenon where ‘liberalism’ overdetermines democracy. So what counts is no longer whether or not the will of the people is respected, but whether a given set of institutions/operations are present, this can obviously degenerate even further, so that what is required is an identification with a particular agenda. This sort of thing of course reached its most gross form in the Cold War, when elected governments were overthrown by the military to defend democracy (because communism was by-definition anti-democratic).

    Secession is not extremely illegal in the absence of consent. At the very least there is doubt on the matter. Furthermore, the case of Yugoslavia is always complicated by the fact that it was a state in dissolution.

  2. splinteredsunrise said,

    February 5, 2008 at 4:37 pm

    Well, the precedent for not recognising unnegotiated secession goes back to the old Confederacy. There is doubt on the matter not least because states tend to recognise who they want and then construct a legal argument for it.

    But on democracy and liberalism, absolutely. This is why places like Russia or Belarus cause problems, and we hear of smallish groups of liberals being called the “democracy movement”.

  3. Cian said,

    February 5, 2008 at 5:21 pm

    Rob: Yeah, you see something similar happening with the new ratification of the EU treaty in France. The old treaty (quite rightly) was rejected by the French public – so they’re just pushing the same treaty (slightly revised) which will be ratified by parliament alone. Its hard to find a more naked example of how liberal elites see democracy – a rubber stamp of legitimacy for their decisions.

    I’m always depressed by how many people on the soft left buy into this crap. For example, the criticisms of Chavez for trying to dismantle the ogliarchic institutions in Venezuela, because this is undemocratic. Press back and ask how exactly this is undemocratic and they get confused, but they’re convinced it must be. Suggest that liberal institutions exist to protect the interests of the elites, and that democracy is conceived of by those elites as a pressure valve for the unwashed masses (at best), or legitimsing their decisions (at worst) – and they look at you as if you’re insane.

    The worst example of this is the US, which was deliberately set up this way. But good look finding an American who realises this.

  4. Cian said,

    February 5, 2008 at 5:22 pm

    Incidentally, well done on ignoring Marko, Splintered.

  5. Rob said,

    February 5, 2008 at 5:46 pm

    SS. Obviously there is a right to self-determination in international law. This much is certain, by reference to the ICCPR and numerous General Assembly resolutions. Usually, however, this runs into a few problems. Firstly, a ‘people’ entitled to self-determination is usually a people within territorial boundaries. Secondly, international law makes self-determination conditional upon territorial integrity.

    However, this being said, there is the possibility – raised by the Canadian Supreme Court in a Reference Re the Secession of Quebec – that a ‘people’ who is suffering great hardship (human rights violations etc.) and is denied political representation in a larger nation may gain the right to secede. This is independent of the Kosovo issue, but it nonetheless relevant.

  6. Phil said,

    February 5, 2008 at 6:38 pm

    The worst example of this is the US, which was deliberately set up this way. But good look finding an American who realises this.

    To be fair, a lot of right-wingers – including self-proclaimed libertarians, bizarrely – are quite open about this. Try googling “a republic, not a democracy”.

  7. WorldbyStorm said,

    February 5, 2008 at 7:59 pm

    I think theres a fairly strong case in the concrete for Albanian self-determination. But then again there’s a strong case for continued Serbian links. That said I’m dubious about the ‘extremely illegal’ argument. International law is a bit of a lash up and when it comes to the rights of minorities (and of course Albanians are a minority in a Serbian context) the weight of the law appears to tend toward the majority. Whether Kosovo is a mafia state in the making is an interesting question, but more so say than Palestine – and would we seriously hesitate to gift the latter sovereignty if we had it within our power? I genuinely don’t get the idea that the US/EU sees this as a loss of face issue. I think they’re confronted by the basic issue of dealing in a limited geographic and historic context with multiple overlapping and often entirely valid (or at least credible) claims. This is hardly novel. Yugoslavia was faced with precisely these issues which makes its survival for as long as it did rather a miracle (and as I still harbour a residual pro-Yugoslav sentiment I think the situation after was little short of a disaster). And to be honest it causes more problems than it solves for them to acknowledge Kosovo independence, particularly but not only in Bosnia.

    But my own feeling is that the EU should be vastly more imaginative about such things. The zero-sum game that has been played, or allowed to develop, has been pisspoor. The either/or sovereignty approach has been proven time and again to serve people badly in terms of outcomes. That they’re not seriously pushing overlapping sovereignty/autonomy, actual constituent links to Serbia, etc, etc, and as you rightly say the evolution of clear minority rights is depressing. That they’re not trying to fashion structures within the EU to assist these sort of links, and thereby assisting Serbia to join – should it choose to, and on the reading of this vote there appears to be some feeling towards that end – is dismal.

  8. Wednesday said,

    February 6, 2008 at 6:45 am

    I genuinely don’t get the idea that the US/EU sees this as a loss of face issue. I think they’re confronted by the basic issue of dealing in a limited geographic and historic context with multiple overlapping and often entirely valid (or at least credible) claims.

    Oh, come on WBS, the US/EU aren’t concerned in the least with the validity or otherwise of the two territorial claims. If they were, they wouldn’t be declaring Kosovo sui generis while continuing to insist that Transdniestr must remain part of Moldova, Abhkazia and South Ossetia must remain part of Georgia, etc.

    I think the ‘face-saving’ argument is accurate to some degree because the US and EU have invested heavily in the notion that Kosovo ’99 was a NATO success story and the longer things go on as they are, the more apparent it becomes that it was nothing of the sort. But mostly I think they’re just tired of the whole thing and desperate to get out of the place. It’s got to the point where finding a workable solution (even assuming such thing is possible) is less important than finding a ‘solution’ at all. If this creates a Balkan Somalia, as it well might … well, that’s a problem for another day.

    On the elections it seems (from the small sample of Serbs I’ve discussed it with) there was a huge amount of nose-holding in Tadic’s victory.

  9. Cian said,

    February 6, 2008 at 10:05 am

    Phil,
    I’m guessing that they’re a pretty small minority, though. My wife’s from S. Carolina which has a lot of libertarians (their governor, as stupid a man as you might hope to meet, is one) and I haven’t heard anyone make that argument, though I have seen it on the internet. I think if you’re American you probably have to overcome a lot of indoctrination from an early age to see either the constitution, or the government, as anything other than perfect (might be less true if you’re black, or working class).

  10. cameron said,

    February 6, 2008 at 11:05 am

    Rob, democracy is not ‘just’ about the will of the majority. Minorities should continue to have rights, even though that precludes them having a veto over the majority. Many of the regimes of left groups are good examples of those who think democracy means giving rights only to majorities.

  11. Rob said,

    February 6, 2008 at 11:12 am

    Well Cameron, that’s the point isn’t it, you’re succumbing to a conceptual confusion. Democracy is simply the rule by a majority. The protection of the rights of minorities is not in any way relevant to the concept of *democracy*, by definition minority rights place limits on democracy. Now, I am not saying I oppose having protected minority rights/interests, I am only saying that we shouldn’t make this part of a definition of ‘democracy’. This is fine though, because democracy is not the only important value in governance. Trying to lump everything into ‘democracy’ is not useful, it tends to undermine values other than democracy, whilst watering down the core meaning of democracy.

  12. Rob said,

    February 6, 2008 at 11:13 am

    Oh, and minority rights are by definition a veto over the will of the majority, insofar as they (as protected interests) need to trump the will of the majority (if they didn’t then they wouldn’t be much protection).

  13. splinteredsunrise said,

    February 6, 2008 at 2:36 pm

    Which would be why you have a whole battery of constitutions, laws and conventions to restrict what the majority can do. It’s an occupational hazard of the plebiscitary idea of democracy. And this also comes back to your very important point about the distinction between democracy and liberalism.

  14. cameron said,

    February 6, 2008 at 3:49 pm

    Of course one should distinguish real democracy from liberal democracy with its array of mechanisms which seek to inhibit the democratic impulses of the people. Yet it is a very impoverished view of democracy if it is simply reduced to the rule of the majority ( although this is a key aspect of it). When freedom of speech is violated, this is a violation of democracy.

    Or is it?

  15. D.J.P. O'Kane said,

    February 6, 2008 at 4:03 pm

    I always thought that it was ‘majority rule under conditions which allow minorities to become majorities’.

    Northern Ireland under the Stormont regime was ruled by the majority (specifically a Unionist elite within that majority, but even that elite owed its power to the power of the majority), but I wouldn’t say it was very democratic.

  16. Cian said,

    February 6, 2008 at 4:35 pm

    Yet it is a very impoverished view of democracy if it is simply reduced to the rule of the majority

    Hardly – rather you get all kinds of conceptual confusions if you try to lump other “good” things in with democracy. There are good and bad things about democracy – but you can’t have that confusion if muddy the definition by including things that restrict the will of the majority. If democracy needs to be limited, than that needs to be explicit and one needs a clear discussion about what the ramifications of such a limitation are.

    Minorities should continue to have rights, even though that precludes them having a veto over the majority.

    While this is true, in practice this argument seems to be mostly used as a way of giving capital a veto over the will of the majority. See for example the discussions in the US about Venezuela. If one is to avoid such problems, then perhaps it is better to decide in advance what those rights should be, to be explicit about what is inviolate and to defend them that way. And there are ways of keeping the worst instincts of populism at bay. One of the problems with democracy as practiced is that its a spectator sport for the voter, who has no stake in the implementation. Citizen juries are one approach that can be quite successful, and more powerful local politics might be another approach.

  17. Korolev said,

    February 6, 2008 at 5:16 pm

    If we are going to unpick “liberal democracy”, then there are a few other concepts to throw into the ring. A state or political institution may be liberal without being democratic (like, perhaps, mid 19th-century Britain), or democratic without being liberal (the “democratic centralism” of various Leninist groups comes to mind). Its leading bodies may be elected on a franchise which excludes a minority (US blacks before the 1960s), or a majority (apartheid South Africa). Freedoms and democratic rights for the favoured group may coexist with oppression for the outcast groups (present-day Israel). But even where there are contested elections on an equal franchise, there is also the question of accountability – what mechanisms exist to ensure that the people elected are answerable to those who elect them. That seems to be the weakest area of the “democracy” our rulers are trying to spread across the globe at the moment.

  18. Rob said,

    February 6, 2008 at 5:42 pm

    Cameron: the freedom of speech argument is a complex one – which shows that talking about democracy as the will of the majority is *not* an impoverished conception. So firstly, ‘freedom of speech’ is a notoriously difficult concept to unpick – in its liberal version it can be somewhat empty, but an expansive definitive can be seen to undermine its core content. One can defend free speech’s place in democracy in an *instrumental* manner; thus, free speech is necessary (in its broadest sense) because it is what is able to give expression to the will of the people. This being said, I don’t think it would be an affront to democracy (for instance) if Holocaust denial is banned, and the majority support it. There are – therefore – a series of institutions and rights that can be defended as ‘democratic’ precisely because they are necessary for ‘the people’ of democracy to be able to express and develop their political views.

    So, in this respect democracy is ultimately reduced to the will of the majority. This doesn’t mean that institutions etc. aren’t important, but I think it does mean that we can say there are a series of different institutional arrangements, and indeed rights schemes, which nonetheless merit the label of ‘democracy’. Now, I think that ‘democracy’ per se, is the most desirable state, obviously most of us would ultimately prefer some kind of prefix to our democracy – but I still thinks it makes most sense for us to understand that our prefix *is* some variant of, or limit on democracy.

    I think this approach is also useful because people tend to identify democracy *purely* with some set of institutional criteria, as opposed to the substantive question of whether the will of the majority is put into play. I think Zizek has a particularly compelling quote on this:

    This, also, is the reason why, today, “democracy” is more and more a false issue, a notion so discredited by its predominant use that, perhaps, one should take the risk of abandoning it to the enemy. Where, how, by whom are the key decisions concerning global social issues made? Are they made in the public space, through the engaged participation of the majority? If the answer is yes, it is of secondary importance if the state has a one-party system, etc. If the answer is no, it is of secondary importance if we have parliamentary democracy and freedom of individual choice.

    Becuase of course it is entirely possible to have elections, free speech etc. without the will of the majority being respected in any major sense.

  19. cameron said,

    February 6, 2008 at 5:46 pm

    Ah, I now where I’ve being wrong with the concept of ‘party democracy’ all these years. It must be the case that groups like the SWP are, in fact, highly democratic, but not very liberal.

    It follows that the critics the SWP regime are not democrats, but liberals.

    What a load of…

  20. cameron said,

    February 6, 2008 at 6:00 pm

    No, you don’t understand my argument Rob. I am not denying that a vital component is the rule of the majority. However, there is more to democracy than simply this. I do not believe that the rights of minorities, free speech are simply ‘liberal’ rights. Personally, I think denying an idiot like Irving the right to deny the holocaust, is not only an attack on his democratic rights to free speech, but an attack on mine also.

  21. WorldbyStorm said,

    February 6, 2008 at 6:49 pm

    Wednesday, there are so many qualifications and hedges one has to bring to this whole debate that it’s difficult to know where to start. It’s difficult to be certain of motivations on the parts of the actors. But, not all actors act at all times in a cynical fashion. Nor are the EU/US undifferentiated or seamless entities in terms of the foreign policy approaches. Indeed one of the most striking aspects of the early part of the break up of the FYR was just how much pro-Yugoslav sympathy there was in elite circles inside EU member states.

    As regards your other points, the EU/US are there on the ground, something which is not true of the other places you mention. So while rhetorical consistency as regards inalienable rights to self-determination is always good, actual ability to support that is – from their perspective better. In terms of high politics, the US and EU act in bad faith all the time. So does Russia. So does everyone as far as I can make out. That goes with the territory, and I can’t really feel too exercised about it. They’re rubbish, humans are rubbish, etc… etc… Having said that the EU/US has been fairly consistently in support of Russian sovereignty in its former states i.e. by not recognising the Chechen Republic etc, etc.. Now we could read that as a pure cynicism, or we could say that that is a recognition of what is achievable and what is not or what is appropriate or what is not. The end of the Russian Federation is bad news whatever way one cuts it. The final end of the FRY is a different situation since *active* EU/US intervention (as distinct from promptings from individual European capitals) came long after it had begun to disintegrate and the history of the period indicates just how much effort Blair in particular had to expend in order to push the US into any sort of proactive stance.

    Therefore I think that the Georgia, etc, comparisons are somewhat inapposite, if only because of the actual physical location and proximity of Kosovo to EU borders and near to mid-term future EU expansion and the previous involvement of the US/EU in the FYR. The dynamic in the region is for Serbia – amongst all other FRY states to join the EU…(incidentally I want it sooner, Serbia has had a rough time and deserves better both in terms of the language and the actuality – I’m not entirely convinced that Mladic has to appear in the Hague prior to forward movement, but then I too am a pragmatist). In that context the EU would have legitimate interests in seeing a solution, indeed it’s entirely reasonable to suggest that it has a responsibility to same both to those in putative accession states and within its own borders. One may not like that, one may quibble with its approach/role etc, but by its own lights these are entirely logical and consistent interests.

    As for a success story – if the US/EU are entirely cynically motivated (by a base pragmatism at that) then it’s hard to see why they’d be that concerned at this remove over the optics of ‘success’ in Kosovo when it has no purchase on the public imagination. Who cares about it beyond very very limited circles? Withdrawal wouldn’t bring down one EU government. Indeed arguably the sentiment against intervention is now so strong that it might buttress them somewhat.

    That said I agree with you that they’re probably keen to remove themselves from the equation. But precisely the same circumstances as initially were operative – ‘doorstep of Europe’, etc, etc, remain operative.

    As for a Balkan Somalia, I worry about that sort of discourse. Why on earth should it?

    Incidentally, as you’ll note above, my own preferred solution, not that anyone was knocking down my door to hear it, was for a transitional period with joint or overlapping sovereignty. A very very long transitional period… perhaps in near perpetuity in order to safeguard valid cultural claims of the Serbs and legitimate political claims of Kosovan Albanians. And again I’d largely agree with splintered’s orginal contention that – talking about bad faith – Serbia has been poorly treated over the years, and – dispiritingly – particularly in the post-Milosovic era.

  22. Phil said,

    February 6, 2008 at 7:06 pm

    It must be the case that groups like the SWP are, in fact, highly democratic, but not very liberal.

    Separate arguments. Democratic centralism – which clearly doesn’t preserve the rights of the minority or minorities – could be genuinely democratic, without being liberal at all. A genuinely democratic dem. cent. organisation would create opportunities for minority opinion to filter up the structure at all times (at least when there wasn’t a civil war going on), and would have a central council whose main job was to represent the opinions coming up from below and then arbitrate between them. Once the decision had been made it would filter back down through the cadre at lower levels, and that would be that as far as the organisation’s line was concerned – until the next time.

    Obviously that’s not how the SWP works.

  23. cameron said,

    February 6, 2008 at 7:17 pm

    My comment, Phil, wasn’t meant to be taken literally. I was being sarchastic.

    At least, your definition of party democracy recognises the necessity of minorities possessing rights, if somewhat vague.

  24. Worldbystorm said,

    February 6, 2008 at 9:14 pm

    Hmmm… not to butt in on an interesting debate, but having been through a democratic centralist party it’s not somewhere I’d want to go back again. To be honest I find there’s an awful lot of self-deluding rhetoric about these sort of things which seem ultimately to hinge on inflated notions as to the importance of specific political groups. On the other hand one might argue that all political structures – parties, suchlike – of left, centre and right tend towards democratic centralism in functional terms. The discussion about democracy is fascinating because it does get to the core of validating myths of our societies, in fact pretty much all contemporary societies. Which is not to say such myths aren’t important or indeed necessary. But to swing it back to the Kosovo situation, there is a place where competing democratic impulses result in not great outcomes for either side.

  25. Korolev said,

    February 6, 2008 at 9:15 pm

    Not quite sure how the SWP came in there – I’m happy to let its members and ex-members judge where it fits in. It’s no concern of mine. My beef is rather with that elitist model of “democracy” which has free, or free-ish, contested elections, parties and all that, but where the individuals elected are not primarily accountable to their electors, where the control is exercised more from above than from below. The neo-colonial model bestowed on NATO protectorates is the most glaring example, but similar relationships are developing between local and central government in the UK, between national legislatures and supra-national institutions and so on.

  26. Worldbystorm said,

    February 6, 2008 at 9:39 pm

    Korolev, seems to me you’re talking about pretty much all functioning democracies extant today. Whether that is a good or a bad thing is an interesting question but it seems a stretch to describe it as ‘neo-colonialist’.

  27. Phil said,

    February 6, 2008 at 10:40 pm

    I don’t think I said anything about minorities having rights. My point was that the structures of a true democratic centralist party would be such as to enable what the membership thought to filter up to the leadership. The leadership would of course then decide the line – by majority vote – and feed it back down the pyramid.

  28. cameron said,

    February 6, 2008 at 11:07 pm

    Well, Phil, I was obviously being charitable to you. If that’s your vision of ‘true’ democratic centralism, then no wonder it is condemned by many on the left.

  29. yourcousin said,

    February 7, 2008 at 12:53 am

    (started this last night and didn’t get to finish it then here it is now)

    Maybe its because its Fat Tuesday and tomorrow I give up Budweiser for the next six weeks, but here we go. As for the corruption of Latin American countries (for Cian). Yes we Americans do realize that they’re pretty much fucked at our behest. We like to call them “Banana Republics”. I dislike Chavez because he’s a demagogue. If he really wants to help the poor then he needs to create a system that can empower them, not empower him to help them. Just as no one has been able to explain to me how Castro’s imprisonment of librarians forwards the working class revolution? Or how forming committees to spy on one’s neighbors can advance the development of the human spirit to that goal of total liberty?

    As for Serbia…

    This is a tough one. There’s really no simple way to go about it, but since I’m writing a blog comment and not a thesis I’ll give it a go. For me personally I don’t care what the EU/UN/US government has in mind. I didn’t support Clinton’s decision to bomb Serbian hospitals during the intervention in Kosovo. Although I supported the KLA in the abstract sense (ie I wished them well as I read the reports in the papers). For me personally much of Serbia’s legitimacy issues stem from the war in Bosnia as well as the Yugoslavia dimension. And I quote:

    “Ethnic cleansing meant using violence and deportation to remove any trace of the other ethnic communities who had previously cohabitated with serbs in coveted territories. This ‘cleansing’ was the goal of the war, not the unintended consequence. It was not the inability to of the different ethnic groups to live together that brought on the conflict, but rather the political aim of seperating them.”

    “90 percent of the crimes committed in Bosnia-Herzegovina were the responsibility of Serb extremists.”

    Now it should be noted that the West was found wanting for over three years while this tragedy played out and the International court did rule that, “Serbia was not responsible for the genocide but [there’s always a ‘but’] was guilty of failing to prevent and punish it”.

    Now I’m sorry but, yes its going to take a little longer than a decade before I can listen to Serbian complaints about ensuring minority rights with a straight face. WBS brought up the idea of myths and I think this gets closer to the heart of the matter. For the fact that the Battle of Kosovo was umpteen centuries ago and was a royal ass whooping, the Serbs have yet to get over it and I think that it plays a large role in the Kosovo question. Ireland still survives with Rockall in British hands, Hungary exists with 1/3 of Hungarians living outside of its borders and I’m doing quite well myself even with the North Koreans possessing a Navy vessel captured during the Korean War.

    There is certainly a bit of a “Great Game” kind of politics going on here, but thats been going on for centuries and I think that most people who vote wherever they may be do quite a bit of nose holding (at least I do). Just because one side is wrong doesn’t make the other side right.

  30. Phil said,

    February 7, 2008 at 7:53 am

    If that’s your vision of ‘true’ democratic centralism, then no wonder it is condemned by many on the left.

    OK, I’m getting out of my depth here – can anyone versed in the theory of democratic centralism confirm or deny my interpretation? My main point is to say – with Rob – that democracy per se has nothing to do with the rights of minorities. This of course says nothing about whether minority rights are a good thing.

  31. Wednesday said,

    February 8, 2008 at 7:13 am

    if the US/EU are entirely cynically motivated (by a base pragmatism at that) then it’s hard to see why they’d be that concerned at this remove over the optics of ’success’ in Kosovo when it has no purchase on the public imagination. Who cares about it beyond very very limited circles?

    It goes to NATO’s credibility and I think it’s quite foolish to underestimate the importance of that to the US particularly in today’s world. It might well be the case that the average American or European on the street isn’t that fired up by it but that’s not necessarily who the elites concern themselves with.

    Somalia may be an exaggeration, but that Kosovo is incapable of self-government in the forseeable future is not really disputed by anyone watching the situation. See this piece from David Binder a few months back (I don’t normally like linking to the Washington Times, but Binder is the former NY Times journalist who did all those pieces about Kosovo back in the early 1980s – he knows the story there).

    Yourcousin, it’s generally the done thing to indicate what you’re quoting from, especially when you quote statistics like “90% of crimes were committed by Serbs”. In any event Bosnia and Kosovo were very different situations, and regardless of your personal view of the Serb claim to Kosovo – where they were actually the majority of the population until less than 150 years ago – it can’t logically be compared to the Irish claim to an uninhabited piece of rock in the ocean.

  32. Phil said,

    February 8, 2008 at 8:40 am

    Kosovo – where they were actually the majority of the population until less than 150 years ago

    Not that it changes anything either way, but Kosovo was only settled by Serbs less than 150 years ago. There’s a big gap between the Field of Blackbirds and the reconquista by the (original) Chetniks.

  33. Cian said,

    February 8, 2008 at 10:46 am

    Youcousin:
    The US didn’t fuck up S. America, they merely helped the feudal elites defeat popular democracy. Agency was with S. American elites.

    Chavez has helped and empowered the poor – even the Economist agrees on that. He may not have done enough, or he may be overreliant on oil revenues, but that’s a separate argument. Nor is he a demagogue by any definition I’m familiar with (the anti-American stuff isn’t demagoguery – its something else). And as always when confronted by these kinds of arguments – what’s your alternative? Because life for the majority of the Venezuelans now is better than it was – both politically and economically.

    Cuba has mild political repression by global standards. A few political prisoners (a few of whom will have been conspiring with America to overthrow the government, the rest locked up opportunistically at the same time) and some restraints on what people can say. On the other hand nobody gets killed, there’s an open dialogue about the future of the country, people are pretty prosperous by Caribbean standards and Cuba has even developed a global industry (Pharmaceuticals). Its hard to imagine any of this stuff if Barrista (or equivalent US dictator) was still in power, political repression would have been far worse (including violence) and the average citizen would be much poorer.

    So as always, what’s your alternative? Or do you think if a state isn’t perfect, there’s no point even trying?

  34. WorldbyStorm said,

    February 8, 2008 at 6:56 pm

    Wednesday, it’ll hardly come as a surprise that I’m not entirely convinced by your arguments. 🙂 Not least because having debated this before with you I know don’t actually agree with Kosovo independence and all other issues you raise are – frankly – incidental to that.

    Taking NATO. We already see how NATO is fractured over Afghanistan. The idea that Kosovo is of this overwhelming importance to US elites is simply wrong and I think it’s fair to ask what evidence you have for the contention you make? The Republicans largely didn’t care about it or were antagonistic. Clinton’s interventionism is widely discredited. It is difficult to see – say Obama caring one way or another either. I’m also curious as to why you don’t address the obvious issue that Kosovo is part of the future EU expansion area and that per definition makes it a legitimate concern for the EU. That seems to me to be a much more pressing reason why there is continued EU/NATO involvement. Simply put they don’t want any further

    But there’s another problem I have with the whole discourse about Kosovo. I don’t deny that Serbia considers it a crucial political/cultural touchstone of its identity although let’s not overblow these things. A similar case could be made for Britain about Ireland (note the way in which the Irish harp is in the lower left hand quadrant of the British Royal Coat of Arms to this day), that doesn’t cut any mustard, now does it? Or Spain and Catalonia or the Basque region (and lest the historic Serbian claim be put forward as a defence I have thoughts on that in paragraph 3). However, splintered argues that should Albanians declare independence it’s going to be a mafia-state, you suggest Somalia. Both are clear exaggerations (which you admit). And that troubles me because it’s a continual touching on their ‘incapability of self-government’ – and that’s what we’re talking about here self-government by people. I’ve heard much the same about how the Palestinians aren’t able to, the Irish weren’t, etc, etc. I think that line is close to an inverse of the anti-Serbian discourse that was evident during the 1990s and early 2000s, one which despite all the evidence to the contrary painted them as wedded to violence, etc, etc despite the fact that it was small groups within governing elites and within the more dispersed populations across the former Yugoslav Republics who were involved (which incidentally, is one reason I don’t treat Serbian issues as regards minority rights with massive scepticism – I think Serbians have as good a right as anyone else in the region to expect that their rights will be protected).

    The Albanian problem is such that if we believe democracy and representation devolves to smaller and smaller units closer and closer to the people on the ground then there’s an almost overwhelming case for Albanian self-determination, and… it’s fair to argue that people can’t be held hostage to their pasts or – in this case – other peoples pasts. Self-determination ultimately rests on peoples, not territory otherwise we’re held pinned down by intangibles such as ‘spirit of nation’, etc, etc – and look how well that’s worked out in Israel/Palestine. But that necessitates also dealing with the fact that it’s not unconstrained or unlimited by circumstance – hence, although I argue there is an excellent case for allowing Albanian self-determination in Kosovo there are many many reasons it might be reworked in an EU context and demands the retention of clear links to Serbia. And that sort of solution would be vastly better for dealing with the rest of the Balkan legacy conflicts. Therefore Republika Srpska could develop links between Serbia and themselves while retaining them with the BIH, etc, etc… sounds actually a bit like an FRY by stealth. Well, good sez me.

  35. WorldbyStorm said,

    February 8, 2008 at 6:57 pm

    Cian, mild political repression you say. I’m not reflexively anti Cuban or indeed Fidel. He and they have done some remarkable and positive things, and have – as you rightly note – led to outcomes significantly better than their neighbours, but the old sceptic in me wonders how well any of us here would fare in a system that was mildly politically repressive. Not well I suspect.

  36. Cian said,

    February 8, 2008 at 7:26 pm

    Mild as far as political repression goes. And I doubt either of us would do very well, but that wasn’t my point. I’m not defending Cuba’s policies particularly, but its important to see it in context – most of the world falls between mildly and severely politically repressive. I’m not trying to be an apologist for Cuba (and would probably agree with Amnesty’s criticisms of the regime, if I could remember them), but its ridiculous to single them out as particularly bad. Sure if you judge them by Western liberal democracies standards they don’t come out particularly well, but there are “democracies” in S. America (Colombia, Brazil pre, and possibly post, Lulu, Mexico – probably others), Africa and S.E. Asia which are as bad, or worse (better in jail than dead). What does Singapore do with dissidents?

    And if you compare Cuba to any dictatorship in S. America, Asia, the Middle East, the Stans… The criticism is ludicrous.

    I’m not advocating it, or defending it – but there are so called democracies in S. America which are more politically repressive. Colombia, Brazil (not sure under Lulu, but definitely before), plenty of African democracies and probably a couple of S.E. Asian ones.

  37. WorldbyStorm said,

    February 8, 2008 at 8:26 pm

    Instinctively I agree with you, and yet as I try to grapple with the notion I wonder. It seems to me that the single most credible counter argument is one based not so much on political as societal pluralism and that is that in a state like Cuba there simply isn’t space for a strong civic society apart from state organs and structures and proxies to grow. Now, obviously that’s also true of the examples you cite above to a lesser or greater degree, but… orthodoxy and rigidity are their own hells, aren’t they? A further issue is ‘what is the point of the exercise?’. Is it to retain the status quo or is it to develop? That’s why I find what Chavez doing is vastly more interesting – although I suspect there that the reality is probably more limited than some give him credit for, but that’s not entirely his fault. He genuinely appears to be trying to carve out some new space on the left. Whether it is organic and can take root and ultimately incorporate all sections of society (within reason) or is largely cosmetic seems to me to be the crucial issue.

  38. yourcousin said,

    February 9, 2008 at 12:14 am

    Wednesday,
    I got my quotes out of “Crimes of War 2.0”. They cited a report given to the UN by special team of commissioners chaired by Cherif Bassiouni of DePaul University of Chicago. That number also roughly correlates to numbers compiled by the CIA. So if you like, we can call it 1 1/2 sources that I at least am willing to abide by. I thought about citing it at the time but didn’t.

    I accept that Bosnia and Kosovo are not the same thing but they’re also not worlds apart as they both deal with territorial integrity and the issue on other ethnic groups including protection of said ethnic groups inside one state or another. The campaign for a “Greater Serbia” played heavily upon Kosovo (or at least the battle there) and the symbolic birth of a Serbian nation. That is why to me the two are connected. On a footnote regarding sources here, I’ve loaned my books on the Balkans out to friends and so don’t have anything to cite off the top of my head.

    On the issue of mafioso states. I think that many Balkan countries and Soviet Blocs countries share that problem. Hungary for example has a huge issue with organized crime and state corruption. Which is seen as endemic. This can also be seen in the ex-pat. immigrant communities here in the US. Whether or not drawing new lines on maps will worsen it, I couldn’t tell you. Sorry still not sure how do links in blog posts.

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/6254282.stm

    Cian,
    Chavez is a demagogue. I checked to make sure I wasn’t misusing the word (which I’ve been known to do) and found that my Webster’s dictionary has it listed as a “political leader, who gains power and popularity by arousing the emotions, passions, and prejudices of the people”. I’m not saying that Chavez’s government is devoid of an actual political program but that he relies heavily upon his champion of the poor rhetoric to maintain power. His speech at the UN calling Bush “Satan” and his calling of the Former Spanish PM “a snake” are examples of this. I took the Satan comment as linguistic sop to the Iranians with whom he was working with at the time and since I don’t like Bush my feelings weren’t hurt one way or the other. But Chavez does not rely upon cilivilized political discourse to make his case. I probably could find it his domestic speeches but I haven’t trawled through them.

    As for Cuba and Venezuala in context with the rest of Latin America and the world. On that I will readily agree you with but my point is that I hold governments that proclaim leftist ideas to a higher bar than say Chile under Pinochet. My main problem with both Castro and Chavez (aside from what I posted earlier) is that they sought (or are seeking) to personalize the revolutions in themselves. The conversations in Cuba about the future of the country are only taking place because Castro is about to die and Raul is busy training army officers to run private enterprises. The whole point of any leftist program shouldn’t be to empower an elite to act benevolantly on behalf of the masses. That’s aristocracy or Leninism, whichever you prefer ; )

    I also think I owe you an apology for misreading your first post, Sorry. I blame Fat Tuesday, but if it makes anyone feel better we won’t have to worry about me making that mistake again for six weeks. I actually do agree with you on America being set up so that a new elite can run rough shod over the entire country. The most amazing thing is that most of us are thrilled about living in the freeest (is that a word?) in the world. Though also to be fair there are many things about America that many people do envy and we are right to be proud of.

  39. Cian said,

    February 9, 2008 at 9:35 am

    WorldByStorm:
    Well that’s a different argument, and a much more interesting one that the point I was making. I hadn’t considered the distinction between political and societal pluralism before, but its a useful one. Its a good counter-argument to liberal democracy. Yes power needs to be devolved, and needs to be countered with other powerful institutions with a different take/perspective/power base. On the other hand, they also NEED to be democratic. The problem with liberal democracy is that the “democratic” base (scare quotes, because hey, representitive democracy is like representive sex) is countered by other non-democratic bases. I like the idea of stakeholders – be it local stakeholders, professional stakeholders, unions. As long as you have mechanisms for making sure these are representative and democratic institutions (I have no idea how, but this is my fantasy), then it might work.

    BTW, I think Cuba has in recent years come closer to your ideal – a strengthening of civic

  40. Cian said,

    February 9, 2008 at 10:46 am

    Yourcousin:
    Well okay, that seems more reasonable. I agree totally with your points about personalising the revolution and also about training up an elite. I’m not a Leninist, my instincts are more libertarian Marxism. That said…

    Yes its reasonable to hold Cuba and Venezula to a higher bar (so long as this is understood when one criticises them – too often it isn’t), though I’d argue that Cuba is better than many so called democracies and Venezuela is better than most.

    I don’t think there’s much evidence that Chavez “relies heavily upon his champion of the poor rhetoric to maintain power”. Or at least any more than any other political leader who’s elected on a particular platform. He’s popular among the poor because they think their lives have improved (they have doctors, schools, more money, food, etc), and because they loathe/fear the previous government. its pretty hard to promise the kinds of things he has, not deliver and continue to get elected. And as we have seen, when Chavez wants something that his base are indifferent about, he can lose (essentially this is what happened in the recent referendum) He has cultivated a cult of personality to some degree (though its been greatly exagerated by the western media), and I do find this worrying. On the other hand a lot of this is counter-propoganda – I think its important to remember that this is an environment where private newspapers and TV stations pour out the most vile filth about Chavez (and also the poor), and its to Chavez’s credit that he’s largely left them alone. I sometimes wonder how much of what Chavez has done, which we in the comfortable west find troubling, is simply political survival. The US, and his domestic elites, are using all the tools available to them to try and destroy him. This is not a context in which democracy normally survives, and yet it has.

    The speeches at the UN are not about domestic politics, but international politics – either Latin American politics (he sees himself as Simon Bolivar, which is kind of nuts, though he’s done rather well at uniting a segment of Latin American countries), or international politics (essentially constructing a front against the US imperium). Now these policies can be criticised obviously, but you have to understand them for what they are – foreign policy.

    “His speech at the UN calling Bush “Satan” and his calling of the Former Spanish PM “a snake” are examples of this.”

    Well I can’t say I care about civilised political discourse. Polite words prettying up evil schemes seems worse to me. Secondly, have you seen the kind of stuff his political oponents say about him (or his supporters). At least he doesn’t call for people to be murdered.

    As for Bush – well the man has been trying to overthrow/kill him, has said some pretty unpleasant things also, so I imagine that was from the heart. I seriously doubt, btw, that it was a linguistic sop to the Iranians. That relationship is an OPEC/anti-US axis thing.

    The Spanish king thing. Justin would know more about this than me, but that was an argument with the old imperial power. The king had just been doing a tour of the old Spanish colonial empire, and a large chunk of S. America saw the tour of S. America as a continuation (and were pretty pissed off as a result). And the king was hardly the innocent in that argument he was portrayed as. Both were to blame, and I’m not sure Chavez was’t right.

    “The conversations in Cuba about the future of the country are only taking place because Castro is about to die”

    I’m not 100% on this, but I think they began earlier and are connected to the changes that had to happen if Cuba was to survive the fall of the Soviet Union.

    “Though also to be fair there are many things about America that many people do envy and we are right to be proud of.”

    Well on a lot of things Britain is worse. We still have feudalism in parts of the country.

  41. WorldbyStorm said,

    February 9, 2008 at 10:52 am

    Cian you’re right about the centrality of democracy. And yes, that is the problem with liberal democracy, hence the necessity to include the ‘social’ according to taste. Stakeholders is interesting, although it can smack a bit of corporatism.

    I hope you’re right about Cuba. To my mind the greatest missed opportunity there was the continued prominence of an individualised leadership (which in a way is precisely the point yourcousin makes in post 38). However benign, however sincere, the simple fact of Castro(s) at the top for five decades or so just rankles with me. I’ve made this comparison before, but it’s a bit like having Charles Haughey in an unbroken position of leadership from the early 1960s until now. That can’t be right… 😉

  42. Wednesday said,

    February 10, 2008 at 9:37 am

    Kosovo was only settled by Serbs less than 150 years ago. There’s a big gap between the Field of Blackbirds and the reconquista by the (original) Chetniks.

    I’m talking about population, not political control. Serbs remained the majority in Kosovo all throughout those centuries, right up until about the time of the ‘reconquista’.

    WBS, the evidence for US interest in Kosovo is in the way the State Department has involved itself in the dispute – in a way it hasn’t done in the other disputes I mentioned. They’re up to their eyeballs in it, although I accept this may not be apparent if you aren’t following it as closely as I do.

    Your blanket statement that the Republicans didn’t care or were hostile is not accurate. Some were hostile, that’s obviously true. But Bob Dole was the main cheerleader for the Albanians going back before Clinton’s intervention. Both George Bushes were supporters. It’s fair to say that the Republicans who were really part of the Washington establishment were in favour of US intervention, which sort of proves my point. As far as Clinton’s intervention being discredited, well, that depends on who you ask – I’ve certainly found in my discussions on p.ie and similar that a huge number of people don’t think it has been.

    The EU expansion argument doesn’t explain their lack of real interest in Transdniestr, which is also formally part of a country with EU aspirations.

    Re: Britain/Ireland, Spain/Catalunya – we did that to death a couple years ago. You know why I don’t accept they’re analogous. We’ve also been over the problems with the suggestion that “smaller units closer to the people on the ground” is an argument in and of itself for self-determination for anyone who wants it. That could lead anywhere…

    And while Somalia may be an exaggeration – at the moment anyway – a mafia state is not. That’s exactly what many close observers have described it as, the link I posted earlier being just one example – note explicit statement by the Institute of European Policy: “It is a mafia society”. Human Rights Watch recently described it as a “human rights basket case”, more to do with ethnic issues than organised crime – although that gets a mention too – but the bottom line is the same. We aren’t talking about predictions of an independent Ireland being a priest-ridden backwater. It is much, much, much more serious than that. The international community used to insist on “standards before status”. They’ve given up on that now, although nobody suggests those standards have been achieved. Why do you think that is?

    Yourcousin, that DePaul report was published in June 1994 based on events up to April of that year – obviously a lot more occurred (or has come to light) since then. Possibly a better guide now is the Research and Documentation Center report published last year (details here). Admittedly the measures are somewhat different, but I think it does show why earlier figures should be treated with caution. (I’m not claiming it shows the Serbs in a particularly better light btw.)

    Have to run now but if I missed anything I’ll post it later 🙂

  43. WorldbyStorm said,

    February 11, 2008 at 8:08 pm

    WBS, the evidence for US interest in Kosovo is in the way the State Department has involved itself in the dispute – in a way it hasn’t done in the other disputes I mentioned. They’re up to their eyeballs in it, although I accept this may not be apparent if you aren’t following it as closely as I do.

    You still haven’t referenced that. And to be honest I don’t think that SD involvement is as significant as you suggest. A number of points. The obvious reason is ease – it’s easy for the SD to be involved in the area, quite apart from which there are NATO – and more importantly from their point of view US troops on the ground. Worth noting that US and EU interests are not entirely coterminous here either. And it does seem a little like boilerplate conspiracy theory and one that feeds into a discourse of doing down the Serbs. One can be effectively pro-Serb, as I would consider myself, and want to see a just and reasonable dispensation for that country without buying into every element of that particular discourse which can happen when the focus is too narrow.

    Your blanket statement that the Republicans didn’t care or were hostile is not accurate. Some were hostile, that’s obviously true. But Bob Dole was the main cheerleader for the Albanians going back before Clinton’s intervention. Both George Bushes were supporters. It’s fair to say that the Republicans who were really part of the Washington establishment were in favour of US intervention, which sort of proves my point. As far as Clinton’s intervention being discredited, well, that depends on who you ask – I’ve certainly found in my discussions on p.ie and similar that a huge number of people don’t think it has been.

    My ‘blanket statement’ was actually ‘largely Republicans didn’t care or were antagonistic’. Not quite the way you phrase it. Up until 9/11 the isolationist and non-interventionist strain inside the Republican party was clearly in the ascendent (and for more on this go look at the Senate Republicans positions on the KLA and the war – indeed look at how the House of Representatives refused to support the bombing of Yugoslavia). Re Clinton – among the bien-pensants it certainly seems to be discredited whatever the denizens of politics.ie who let’s be honest aren’t the best informed sample of opinion on the planet.

    The EU expansion argument doesn’t explain their lack of real interest in Transdniestr, which is also formally part of a country with EU aspirations.

    Really, I think that’s reaching and it’s also misinterpreting my argument re EU aspiration. The EU has been generally very careful as regards the former SSRs. Whatever way we characterise it none of the former FRY is post-Soviet (nor unlike Trandniestr is there a continuing Russian military presence from the early 1990s). A completely different situation. That Moldova itself (and let’s also be clear, to suggest that Transdniestr can be seen as having any aims in common with Moldova is even further reaching) is pushing for EU accession does not of itself change that. I think it’s important to remember there are two dynamics here, a push effect from within aspirant states as regards the EU and a much more measured and hands off approach from the EU in return. Moldova is not on a list of any state directly on its way to the EU whatever the ambitions of the Moldovan government and the EU-Moldova Action Plan while nice is hardly a blueprint for much more than a reworking and upgrading of Moldovan societal/political structures. That’s going to take a long long time.

    Surely the logic of your argument about Kosovo is that we should see enormous interest by the EU whatever the status of Moldova since they would be massively keen to push forward to the Russian borders. Perhaps the reality is that the EU makes strategic decisions – again just like the State Department – based on proximity, ease of access, depth of military involvement, etc, etc. Some, none or all of these may be noble or otherwise, but they seem pretty logical and pragmatic to me.

    Re: Britain/Ireland, Spain/Catalunya – we did that to death a couple years ago. You know why I don’t accept they’re analogous. We’ve also been over the problems with the suggestion that “smaller units closer to the people on the ground” is an argument in and of itself for self-determination for anyone who wants it. That could lead anywhere…

    Sure, but you’ll also know I’m as equally dubious that ‘historical claims’ that are effectively social constructs generally retrospectively mapped back on to the movement of peoples is an argument in and of itself for the establishment of state control over a territory (moreover as a leftist I’m more than usually cynical about such historical claims which have often – indeed usually – been substituted by elite groups as means of drawing energy/attention away from class issues. I’m sure you’ve read Anderson and Hobsbawm and indeed Edensor on these things. At the very least they leave one sceptical about ‘claims’. At the worst they make such claims seem all but preposterous – without denying the very real power of nationalism to sway minds and hearts). That too could lead anywhere… Which leaves us with the messier layered solutions that I prefer which are reflective of both the reality of extant populations and also appreciate historical/sociopolitial linkages…

    And while Somalia may be an exaggeration – at the moment anyway – a mafia state is not. That’s exactly what many close observers have described it as, the link I posted earlier being just one example – note explicit statement by the Institute of European Policy: “It is a mafia society”. Human Rights Watch recently described it as a “human rights basket case”, more to do with ethnic issues than organised crime – although that gets a mention too – but the bottom line is the same. We aren’t talking about predictions of an independent Ireland being a priest-ridden backwater. It is much, much, much more serious than that. The international community used to insist on “standards before status”. They’ve given up on that now, although nobody suggests those standards have been achieved. Why do you think that is?

    A bit of context by way of response. In a situation where the apparatus of the former FRY which ceded essential autonomy to Kosovo was deconstructed by the Milosovic regime in the 1990s (in a fashion not entirely dissimilar to that carried out by the Israelis vis Palestinian institutions during a similar – if slightly later period, what is the phrase ‘politicide’) I find the resulting chaos hardly a surprise (and that is not to ignore earlier ethnic tensions in Kosovo). That the proposed ‘solution’ is to continue with the status quo seems… unusual… as a progressive response. That the EU and Serbia and the Kosovo populations have been unable to fashion a credible response (and I don’t consider the de facto sovereignty response credible) makes the chaos within Kosovo entirely predictable.

    If beyond that your broader argument (re the reference to ‘why do you think that is?’) is that this is all some sort of animus against the Serbs I find that profoundly unlikely. That such animus exists amongst some is unquestionable but reality has to intrude beyond the perspectives of partisans of either side and that is that the end point of all this is going to be a Serbia inside the EU and a Kosovo (of whatever status – and you know how hesitant I am at the idea of a simple sovereignty solution there) there too.

  44. Wednesday said,

    February 12, 2008 at 6:39 am

    You still haven’t referenced that.

    Well, I don’t have a specific reference and I’m not sure where you’d find one anyway. I’m going on years of reading compiled international media reports and the State Department’s own statements on the subject, plus knowing someone very well who’s in the Serbian counterpart to the State Department. I think the idea that the US isn’t significantly involved would strike most close observers as laughable, frankly. What sort of evidence are you looking for?

    Bad week for me this week but I’ll come back to the rest of this later (briefly though you picked me up wrong on the ‘why do you think that is’ question!).

  45. Wednesday said,

    February 13, 2008 at 6:48 am

    Up until 9/11 the isolationist and non-interventionist strain inside the Republican party was clearly in the ascendent

    I wouldn’t describe them as isolationist and non-interventionist. More like nakedly partisan. Many of the Republicans who opposed intervening in Bosnia and Kosovo did so because they were seen as Clinton’s wars. There was certainly not much isolationism or non-interventionism going around in the immediate aftermath of the Oklahoma bombing, when for a brief time that was assumed to be the work of Middle Easterners. Anyway, the point is how do Republicans feel about it now. There’s opposition from the paleos and from the more Islamophobic element, but the current Republican administration is decidedly pro-independence. I’ve seen a document that’s been circulated among Serbs and Serb-Americans analysing the US presidential candidates’ positions – the only Republican that gets a pass from them is Ron Paul. That should tell you something about mainstream Republicanism’s position on the subject!

    Obviously the p.ie people aren’t the best-informed on this issue, I mean they’re wrong about it 🙂 But their view is widely held. The “bien-pensants”, as you put it, generally didn’t support the war to begin with.

    More later.

  46. WorldbyStorm said,

    February 13, 2008 at 7:48 am

    Me too re: week. Will respond over next couple of days…

    Having said that, I’m far from convinced that the most objective assessments would emanate from either Belgrade or Washington on these matters… (or NATO either although the way the US plays it the latter two seem to be synonymous).

  47. Wednesday said,

    February 14, 2008 at 7:44 am

    Regarding the origin of the chaos in Kosovo, it also isn’t fair to lay the blame purely on the Milosevic regime or even on the present uncertainty. There are frozen conflicts around the world that aren’t in nearly as bad a condition. A lot of it actually goes back to the economic collapse in Albania which immediately preceded (and to a large degree spurred on) the crisis in Kosovo, but anyway, the key issue is how to deal with it. The reason that ‘standards before status’ used to be insisted on was because it was obvious to everyone that just making Kosovo independent before dealing with these problems would likely exacerbate them. That’s still obvious to most – see those links, or any other report by HRW or Amnesty or the like. The UN has made preparations for a flood of Serbian refugees from Kosovo in the event of independence which doesn’t say much for their faith in Albanian self-government.

    Nobody is arguing for the status quo, btw.

    And while my ‘broader argument’ isn’t that this is all an anti-Serb conspiracy, I don’t think it’s really arguable that they’ve been demonised to a degree out of proportion to what they’ve actually done. Compare the media around Milosevic’s death to that around Suharto’s, just to take the most recent example.

    I’m far from convinced that the most objective assessments would emanate from either Belgrade or Washington on these matters

    Again, where do you think an objective assessment would emanate from?

  48. WorldbyStorm said,

    February 16, 2008 at 7:01 pm

    Regarding the origin of the chaos in Kosovo, it also isn’t fair to lay the blame purely on the Milosevic regime or even on the present uncertainty. There are frozen conflicts around the world that aren’t in nearly as bad a condition. A lot of it actually goes back to the economic collapse in Albania which immediately preceded (and to a large degree spurred on) the crisis in Kosovo, but anyway, the key issue is how to deal with it. The reason that ’standards before status’ used to be insisted on was because it was obvious to everyone that just making Kosovo independent before dealing with these problems would likely exacerbate them. That’s still obvious to most – see those links, or any other report by HRW or Amnesty or the like. The UN has made preparations for a flood of Serbian refugees from Kosovo in the event of independence which doesn’t say much for their faith in Albanian self-government.

    That’s a fair point, and the ethnic tensions (and sometime all out conflict) did indeed pre-date Milosevic. However, it’s not entirely unfair to suggest that a nationalist Serbian leader might have more than a slight vested interest in exacerbating the situation for his own political ends within Belgrade, and that the approach taken by Milosevic did exactly that.

    I don’t disagree with standards before status, but another aspect of conflicts is that they tend to run away with themselves. How precisely is EU or the US or NATO meant to deal with a clear upsurge in national feeling within Kosovo? There are limitation to power. And although I don’t for a second deny that the events of the last day might lead to an exodus those sort of movements can be born of perception as much as reality so simply because the UN makes preparations doesn’t per se ‘prove’ that a putative Albanian government will act in a way that might engender such a response (and I doubt it will do so either with the world watching as it is). Cause and effect seem much less clear than you suggest.

    Nobody is arguing for the status quo, btw.

    Well me neither, but what are we arguing for? Is your position on this similar to mine? I think it might be. Incidentally, I was a bit disturbed to hear Putin’s direct comparison with the situation in Northern Ireland at his press conference the other day…

    And while my ‘broader argument’ isn’t that this is all an anti-Serb conspiracy, I don’t think it’s really arguable that they’ve been demonised to a degree out of proportion to what they’ve actually done. Compare the media around Milosevic’s death to that around Suharto’s, just to take the most recent example.

    I don’t disagree at all, but I do think that proximity to western Europe was partially responsible for that. I remember when Slovenia seceded back in … seeing a photo of a JNA fighter buzzing Slovenian positions. I was astounded, not because there wasn’t conflict in Europe but that it was on the scale of close to open warfare between armies. The idea that war could break out in this way was actually quite shocking and that it would happen in Yugoslavia, a place where many of us on the left would have enormous sympathy, worse again.

    I’m far from convinced that the most objective assessments would emanate from either Belgrade or Washington on these matters

    Again, where do you think an objective assessment would emanate from?

    Hmmm…. well let’s not get into relativism and objectivity, 🙂 but… I’d always be cautiously sceptical about internal or public documentation from actors in any process. I’m not saying that everything they say or do is wrong, but simply that because such analyses serve broader political purposes they’re often shaped to fit that purpose rather than to offer

    An objective assessment? Certainly not Kosovo itself. I think we have to muddle through as best we can. Weigh up the information we can get and so on…

  49. Phil said,

    February 16, 2008 at 10:52 pm

    I don’t think it’s really arguable that they’ve been demonised to a degree out of proportion to what they’ve actually done

    Agreed, but I don’t think this is particularly surprising or even particularly significant. Saddam and Noriega were both men the US could do business with in their time, and when their time passed they became pariahs. I don’t think pariahdom says anything positive about them – or anything much at all, beyond that they’d outlived their usefulness.

  50. Wednesday said,

    February 17, 2008 at 2:02 pm

    However, it’s not entirely unfair to suggest that a nationalist Serbian leader might have more than a slight vested interest in exacerbating the situation for his own political ends within Belgrade, and that the approach taken by Milosevic did exactly that.

    … which is why I said the blame shouldn’t be laid purely on Milosevic. Obviously he has a lot to answer for (including playing right into the Albanians’ hands).

    I guess it’s only a matter of time now til we see the repercussions of Kosovo independence.

    Is your position on this similar to mine? I think it might be.

    I think we pretty much came to that conclusion in the p.ie debate didn’t we? Same ultimate positions albeit for strongly dissimilar reasons. Not for the last time I might add 🙂

    I do think that proximity to western Europe was partially responsible for that.

    OK, but only partially. Consider also the lack of attention given to Tudjman’s death and indeed to the things he did during his lifetime even though he was at least as big a bastard as Milosevic. If the Kosovo Albanians have a right to self-determination then surely so did the Croatian Serbs. And for that matter so do the Bosnian Serbs, albeit allowances obviously should be made for those parts of their territory obtained aggressively in the war. Animus against the Serbs did and does have a lot to do with the notable absence of any principled support of a right to self-determination in those cases.

  51. Phil said,

    February 17, 2008 at 4:06 pm

    If the Kosovo Albanians have a right to self-determination then surely so did the Croatian Serbs.

    The two aren’t really comparable. Kosovo was established as an autonomous region within Serbia (along with Vojvodina) to give a voice to a distinct minority without destroying Serbia as a republic. This was possible because neither the Kosovar Albanians nor the Vojvodinan Magyars had any external sponsor within the federation. This consideration militated against setting up an autonomous Serb province within Croatia – or for that matter a Croat province within Bosnia or a Muslim province within Serbia.

    I’d be very much in favour of an autonomous Kosovo within Serbia, incidentally, but we are where we are – Kosovo’s autonomy was effectively revoked getting on for twenty years ago.

  52. parodycenter said,

    February 17, 2008 at 10:01 pm

    The two aren’t really comparable. Kosovo was established as an autonomous region within Serbia (along with Vojvodina) to give a voice to a distinct minority without destroying Serbia as a republic

    Actually, Kosovo was established as an autonomous region within Serbia courtesy of Edvard Kardelj’s 1974 constitution with the intent of curbing ”Serbian dominance” and opposing ”unitarism” in the name of vague self-management ideals (which I think even hardcore Communist would have trouble interpreting), something called ”the harmonization of mutual interests”, and neatly dovetailing with the Comintern’s policies, but casting a retrospective glance, we now see that the true intent of the makers was to prepare the ground for Kosovo’s hijacking. Once the province had been established, it was hermetically sealed off the rest of Serbia, with extremely lax immigration laws allowing for astronomical increases in Kosovar population; meanwhile, an asymmetrical burden was placed on Serbia to put moneys into Kosovo’s development fund (which Slovenia conveniently escaped). This ensured that Serbia was kept in an economically inferior position compared to the Austro-Hungarian (now US-EU) satellites. It is largely to the credit of corrupt Serbian Communists that this never leaked out during Tito’s governance – they either left the country to enjoy the funds they put in Swiss bank accounts, or were simply too immoral to combat the apparently bleak long-term consequences of Tito’s policy. By the time Cosic and company published the SANU Memorandum, revealing the extent of the disaster, it was already too late.

  53. WorldbyStorm said,

    February 17, 2008 at 10:19 pm

    Wednesday, no argument re Tudjman. A grim individual. I also agree with you, this is a Pandora’s box re Bosnia and elsewhere. I really wish the EU had, if not quite stability and standards first, then zero sum sovereignty last.

  54. Wednesday said,

    February 19, 2008 at 6:36 am

    The two aren’t really comparable. Kosovo was established as an autonomous region within Serbia (along with Vojvodina) to give a voice to a distinct minority without destroying Serbia as a republic. This was possible because neither the Kosovar Albanians nor the Vojvodinan Magyars had any external sponsor within the federation. This consideration militated against setting up an autonomous Serb province within Croatia – or for that matter a Croat province within Bosnia or a Muslim province within Serbia.

    That’s hardly the reason Tudjman was allowed to ethnically cleanse the Serbs with no outcry from (indeed with the explicit support of) the west. We’re talking about what happened as Yugoslavia was disintegrating anyway – there was no more federation, at least not one that Croatia would be part of.

    Besides, if the issue was really the right to self-determination, then the reason for the establishment of a particular political boundary around the population shouldn’t matter.


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