Charles Crawford, a former British ambassador to Belgrade, said the language used by Mr Nikolic represented a drastic change from his previous questioning of the scope of the atrocity.
Coming a week after Serbia sealed a deal with Kosovo to end a stand-off over who governs ethnic Serbs in Kosovo, the statement will boost Serbia's ties with the EU as it bids to join the bloc.
"He's gone a long way. Certainly for someone from his nationalist background to have struck this tone is impressive," Mr Crawford said.
Well, of course I said a number of other things too, but that was the one line they used.
This story is all about Serbia President Tomislav Nikolic telling a Balkan TV journalist that he "goes on his knees and asks for forgiveness for the crime that was Srebrenica", and then apologises "for all crimes done in the name of Serbia or the Serbian people by any individual from our nation". Pressed to agree that Srebrenica was really an act of genocide, Nikolic replied that everything that happened in the wars of the former Yugoslavia had the characteristics of genocide.
Here is the B92 story with the link to the video of the interview. In Serbian, for those who like their Balkan meat raw.
"Genocide did not take place in Srebrenica. This is about individual guilt of members of the Serb people. The Serbian parliament condemned this crime, but did not say it was genocide. No Serb recognizes that genocide took place in Srebrenica, and I am no different."
He wanted to strike a note of humility and constructive reconciliation with Bosnia, complementing the much praised deal between Serbia and Kosovo and the European Union a few days earlier. Most people would think that he did a good enough job here. Yet was he even now choosing his words rather too carefully?
The point is that most Bosniacs want the Serbian President to acknowledge not just that Srebrenica was a 'crime' or a 'war crime'. They want to hear him agreeing and accepting that it was specifically an act of genocide, and that Serbia as a state played a part in committing that act of genocide.
Nikolic of course does not want to use that formulation for various reasons, some political and some legal, so he carefully skirted round it using the language above. Plus he used a familiar tactic to 'relativise' the Srebrenica massacre by citing it in the context of the wider supposedly genocidal wars that marked Yugoslavia's disintegration.
All that aside, perhaps more immediately significant than this interview was the pragmatic and non-confrontational tone that emerged from a visit to Belgrade by two of the three-man BH Presidency, namely Bakir Izetbegovic (Bosniac, son of Alija Izetbegovic) and Nebojsa Radmanovic (Serb). Nikolic this time sent a not-too-subtle signal to the Bosnian Serbs to work with Sarajevo: "for me, Serbs from Republika Srpska are Bosnians, even if some of them don't like to be called that".
Let's have a little sympathy for President Nikolic in all this. He's just doing what any Western chattering pundit does. If you're embarrassed or dismayed about what someone has done that your political rivals are exploiting, you quickly rush to argue that that person was a 'lone wolf' or some other form of nutty individual - nothing to see here folks about any wider issues, so move along.
So a murdering gunman unambiguously proves the case for banning most if not all guns, whereas a murdering abortionist tells us nothing whatsover about scaling back abortion. Organisations like the police are denounced as 'institutionally racist' because of what a few bad apples do, but radical Islamist organisations are essentially benign even if rather too many of their members gorge themselves on terrorist propaganda.
If we all agree when it suits us to do so that most bad stuff just comes down to the horrible behaviour of a few deluded or even wicked individuals, why should anyone else apologise?
Kosovo did better on symbolism than substance. It won agreement that Serbian officials in the municipalities concerned would henceforth be paid by Pristina, not Belgrade, and come under Pristina’s overall legal and political authority. And by the very fact of Belgrade and Pristina signing an ‘international’ agreement, the Kosovo Albanians can now assert that de facto Belgrade has recognised Kosovo.
But to get this, Pristina conceded substantive autonomy to the ethnic Serbian communities in most major policy areas (health, education and especially police – in the Balkans control over the police is all). And it gave Serbia the chance to press on with its EU membership without recognising Kosovo.
Serbia in turn did better on substance than symbolism. Northern Kosovo and other Serbs in Kosovo have been promised far-reaching devolved powers that need never be ceded and allow them to work very closely with Serbia. Nothing real has been conceded on Serbia’s bottom-line issue of principle, namely Kosovo’s independence. And Serbia can get on with its EU integration processes without Kosovo-inspired blackmail.
Yes, the Albanians’ argument that Serbia has de facto recognised Kosovo is vexing. But Belgrade still has the diplomatic firepower to hold the line in the key capitals that matter (Moscow and Beijing) to stop Kosovo joining the United Nations except on Belgrade’s terms.
Brussels ended up with some substance (the prospect of easing wasteful tensions in that part of the Balkans, and getting the impossible Balkanites bogged down in EU accession bureaucracy) and some symbolism (a much needed diplomatic triumph amidst all that Eurozone misery and a show of leadership for the EU method).
Of course, this is just one way of looking at it. Back in real life plenty of people in the Northern Kosovo Serb community are feeling well and truly sold out, suggesting that Serbia lost heavily on both Symbolism and Substance. But NB it may be the case that Serbia qua the current Serbia leadership did a relatively good job in the negotiation but Serbs in general and Kosovo Serbs in particular did much less well.
So, goes the argument, Serbia surely has effectively renounced its claim to control that last part of Kosovo it (sort of) controlled. That must mean that Serbia has given up on Kosovo finally? And does that not mean that Kosovo 'therefore' is now accepted by Belgrade as independent?
Maybe. But in international law and politics a lot turns on what people say, as well as what they do.
Belgrade will find plenty of sympathetic ears out there in the world community of nations when it complains that it had 'no choice' but to go along with this bullying EU-led push, and that whatever happens it will not recognise Kosovo's 'illegal' secession. Note President Nikolic's carefully chosen words describing the deal: “the only possible way to guarantee to Serbia that Kosovo will never be a state accepted in the United Nations”.
This is Serbia's bottom line, and as diplomatic bottom lines go it is quite a good one. Even if Kosovo is a state 'accepted' by many countries, Kosovowill(he asserts) never be recognised as a full member of the international community without Belgrade's consent. Unless Russia and China agree, Kosovo can not enter the United Nations as a normal country just as all the former Yugo-republics have done.
This in turn means that Kosovo is highly unlikely ever to get accepted in world sporting bodies and most international organisations. It will have a sui generis twilight-zone status, recognised by roughly half the countries in the world but not the other half, including some of the biggest heavy-hitters in the 'non-Western' camp. Palestine, now recognised as a state by over 130 countries, is in a similar ambiguous position but with most of the states that have recognised Kosovo on the other side of that argument.
Meanwhile Kosovo is hoping that Serbia's concessions this time round will help persuade the likes of China/Russia/India/Brazil that Serbia is giving up the fight - why should they be holding out against recognising Kosovo, when Serbia's core position is eroding and (arguably) negotiable?
My guess is that Kosovo will not get much further down the international recognition road as a result of this agreement. Why? Because those large countries holding out against recognising Kosovo can't care less about the Kosovo/Serbia problem itself. They are making their stand against the idea that international borders can be changed by Western powerplay (where does that end?), and because it is never a bad idea to oppose on principle what 'the West' wants. Apart from anything else, the more you oppose it the more likely you are to get something in return for eventually changing position!
Anyway, soon the fun over local symbolism begins. It is one thing agreeing that Pristina henceforth will have ultimate responsibility for what happens in northern Kosovo and a growing grip on people there by paying salaries to public sector employees. It is quite another to expect that those Serb employees put up a picture of the Kosovo president in their offices or wear Kosovo insignia or otherwise doff their caps to symbols of Kosovo authority and legitimacy.
All that will drag wearily on. And on.
The point is that unless and until there is a deal involving Belgrade on Kosovo's independence the whole idea of Serbia and Kosovo joining the EU edges towards either complete stalemate or a new outcome of unfathomable diplomatic ingenuity. Back to Commentator:
Well into the future the European Union will have to decide whether to admit Serbia without recognising Kosovo and/or to admit Kosovo that is not a state recognised by the international community as a whole: A Euro-style Mexican stand-off.
This week Brussels, Belgrade and Pristina joined forces to kick decision-day well down the road. They all know that that fateful moment will come. But they’ll double-cross that bridge when they finally reach it. Oh, and who knows what the European Union itself will look like then?
Back in Belgrade in communist Yugoslavia in 1984 or thereabouts, the then Ambassador and an unusually smart Ist Sec Econ pored over a diplomatic despatch that sought to draw attention to the dismal state of the state's finances.
The basic problem was that Yugoslavia did not have Honest Money. Yes, dinars sloshed through the economy and you could buy things with dinars. But the intellectual underpinning of a successful currency was not there.
One particularly big problem was that under the so-called Yugoslav socialist self-management system responsibility for anything in particular was dispersed to the point of vanishing completely. This meant that what looked like normal banks were 'really' extensions of the enterprises that had parked their money in these organisations. So when a bank lent an enterprise a lump of dinars to (say) build a new factory, in effect the enterprise was lending money to itself on its own terms.
This in turn meant that there was no real business distance between a bank and the borrower to check how far a new investment might or might not be commercially viable. So loans could accumulate to finance stupid projects for the aggrandisement of enterprise bosses and their political sponsors backed by ... not much.
Add to all this intrigue the untransparent and corrupt ethno-political machinations between the different republic leaders, and there was everything needed for a complete fiasco. As duly occurred.
Thus the Ambassador finally sent his long and of course prescient report back to London. He warned that accelerating economic crises in Yugoslavia might lead to dangerous political tensions in this plucky post-Tito country that presented itself to a naive FCO as 'a pillar of stability in the Balkans' haha. To make it readable he made a reference in the title and text to the Green Parrot game (where you look at a complicated picture and try to find a green parrot hidden in it). The idea was that there was a lot more to the Yugo-banking scene than met the immediate eye.
This droll drafting duly amused the FCO mandarins, but did nothing to change their complacency about the prospects for Yugoslavia. What could go seriously wrong there? Nothing! Everyone knew that the place was a "pillar of stability in the Balkans"! Gad, sir, the FCO's own briefing said so!
Multifarious ruinously expensive catastrophes later, we know just how wrong they were.
Meanwhile back in 2013 Slovenia (now a full EU member and general EU goody-twoshoes) we see the Financial Times scrutinising the unfolding Slovenian banking crisis in terms that seem oddly familiar (my emphasis - link may be paywalled):
Just as in the Cypriot case, Slovenia’s troubles originate in its wobbling banking sector. The former communist country never fully privatised its lenders. These took excessive risks and gave preferential treatment to other state-owned companies. The recession exposed the limits of the cosy ties between politics and banking. Non-performing loans have jumped to 14 per cent of the banks’ portfolios, or about €7bn.
That pesky Yugoslav/Commy Green Parrot. It just never flies away.
This week marks the 10th anniversary of the murder of Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic.
Here is the piece I wrote on the 8th anniversary. It mentions the proliferation of insane Serbian conspiracy theories somehow hinting that I was linked to the assassination and/or lobbied for the then Deputy Prime Minister Nebojsa Covic to replace him:
These loony theories take on a life of their own eventually, as was shown by a feisty TV reporter on the supposedly sensible B92 station who asked to interview me when I was in Belgrade las t week on what happened around the time of the killing. Her questions showed the strange lines of thinking which now prevail:
Q: Did the British government warn Djindjic that he might be at risk? (Idiotic insinuation #1: that we knew about these dangers and did or did not do everything possible to help avert them)
A: I talked to Djindjic myself a couple of days before he died. I had no need to tip him off as he himself was very well aware of the risk he was running, but breezily dismissed his would-be killers as 'cowards' who would never dare take the fatal step
Q: Did the British government lobby to end the state of emergency after his death just when the investigation was getting close to eg Kostunica? (Idiotic insinuation #2: that eg HMG were 'behind' the full truth coming out)
A: HMG and other European governments fully supported the imposition of the state of emergency, but after a few weeks it started to look like weakness, not strength, a point made by many governments in a friendly way. No more than that
Q: Why had I been so close to so many politicians at the time? (Idiotic insinuation #3: that the US and UK Ambassadors were playing a full and devious part in key political decisions)
A: Because that was my job, duh. There was a huge effort on in 2001/02 to help the Djindjic government drive forward its reform programmes, with senior delegations from Western capitals arriving all the time. Of course I had to keep close to Djindjic and others to help get things done.
And so on.
Plus it has extended extracts from one of my finest FCO telegrams, sent the day after the assassination attempting to summarise Djindjic's role and significance in the Serbian story:
So a brilliant career - but an ambiguous legacy. The key thing for us is that unlike most post-Yugoslavia leaders Djindjic really understood modern Europe. He felt at home with European friends, talking fluent English and German. If he was corrupt, he wanted Serbia to move to normal European levels of corruption. He realised that to lead the bewildered and demoralised Serbia population to Europe required a vast upheaval, however unpopular that might be. His government bravely drove forward reform laws at unprecedented speed, albeit at the cost of declining ratings.
I came to know Zoran Djindjic fairly well, and saw for myself his wit, energy and insight. I will miss him. Serbia loses an all too rare local European hero. We lose an all too rare true Balkan friend.
I have been running through sundry Google searches this afternoon seeing what new nonsense and lies are being written about me.
Here is a classic passage from a piece last year at the Pescanik website, a strongly liberal and ostensibly sensible Serbian website that this time has made a complete fool of itself (my translation):
The day after the assassination British Ambassador Charles Crawford appeared at the HQ of the Democratic Party (DS) and recommended Covic as Prime Minister. This weirdo with diplomatic immunity brought kangaroos from a Belgrade zoo to a reception, he gave political asylum at his Belgrade residence to fiery English football fans whom the police had shut up in a hotel, and he handed his letters of accreditation to Kostunica instead of Milosevic
Haha. So many banal errors in so few words.
Just for the record (again), I met a senior DS official Aleksandra Joksimovic on the day after the killing of Zoran Djindjic to try to find out what the DS leadership was going to do about appointing a new Prime Minister - not surprisingly London was keen to know what was likely to happen next. I forget what exactly I said, but the essence of it was that Deputy PM Nebojsa Covic was presumably a strong candidate: he had done a superb job in working tirelessly to stabilise the restless Albanian community in southern Serbia and to promote intelligent Serbian policies on the Kosovo problem. If he got the position, London would support him as it would support any new PM in these terrible circumstances
Joksimovic (not surprisingly nervous and stressed out by the events of the previous day) angrily took this as me pushing Covic's case at the expense of other DS candidates (Covic was not a DS party member). I told her that this was definitely not my intention, but I liked Covic and thought that he would do a good job. Anyway, it was up to DS to decide so let them get on with it.
When a few days later the DS announced that the new Prime Minister would be Zoran Zivkovic, locally famed as the black leather-jacketed mayor of Nis, I reported to London that this was a solid choice and that he had made a powerful first impression when addressing the diplomatic corps.
This modest episode has metastised in the Democratic Party's neurotic imagination into something far more sinister and far-reaching, namely a key moment in a fiendish UK/US plot to overthrow and even kill the key UK/US political ally in the region.
Why would we do this ostensibly stupid thing? No-one says. But the very fact that it is blatantly ridiculous makes the depth of the conspiracy all the deeper!
And lo, as the years pass the role of Weirdo Crawford in the murky circumstances of the killing of Zoran Djindjic tends to become an article of Fact.
Two actual facts for Serbia to consider. On my last day as Ambassador in Belgrade I paid a private visit to Djindjic's grave and laid flowers in his honour. And I gave our family trampoline to his wife for their children to enjoy.
Zoran Djindjic was a politician who resembled an arcade video-player - he swerved through political asteroids and explosions, however fast and furious they came in his direction. I remember suggesting to him that his rival Kostunica had just made a good statement about something or other. "Yes, but it was about ten days too late!" came back the instant astute reply. I realised that what he had said made perfect sense - Djindjic had a startling insight into political timing.
I also recall sitting in when Djindjic at No 10 was talking with PM Tony Blair about Kosovo or war criminals or somesuch. Tony Blair said something to the effect that the most important thing in politics was holding course when things got tough. Djindjic shot back that the most important thing in politics was getting votes. Haha.
Basically, Djindjic was far too smart and far-sighted to be a successful post-Yugoslav politician. But because he was so smart and far-sighted he was a threat to all sorts of vile political/criminal interests, and so they murdered him. What a loss for Europe and his own ungrateful country.
And if (as you do) you want More on the interminable drivel that comes with being a leading foreign diplomat in the former Yugoslav space, try this exchange.
I should be ashamed of myself! Both in general and particular!
And I am.
UPDATE The good folk at Pescanik have been in touch and agreed that the article they carried was 'unstable' insofar as it referred to me. It was part of a series carrying different points of view on the Djindjic assassination, including from non-Pescanik writers. They are truly penitent:
We really hate to imagine you, somewhere at that green and rainy island of yours, upset again with some crazy Serbs
Hvala - nema problema - sve u redu! Takve stvari se desavaju.
Back in 1998/99 I was one of the first people to point out that Bosnia's new post-war Constitution as promulgated by the Dayton Accords had a unique feature.
The Constitution was unconstitutional! It included obviously discriminatory clauses working against the interests of many citizens who were denied the chance to run for President in either Entity.
And lo!, eventually the European Court of Justice ruled as I had expected. Here is a long but steady analysis by Katie Engelhart of the history of the matter. She does not do justice to the ethno-constitutional machinations of the SFRY that set the framework for the Dayton deal, but no-one is perfect.
The issue is simple. The Constitution defines four 'constituent peoples' in Bosnia: Bosniacs, Serbs, Croats and 'Others'. The collective Presidency of BH is elected thusly: a Serb elected from the territory of Republika Srpska (one Entity), and a Bosniac and Croat elected from the territory of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina (the other Entity).
What's wrong with this? 'Others' (eg Roma, Jews) get squeezed out completely. And a Serb living in the Federation or a Bosniac and Croat living in Republika Srpska can't run for President. Trivially discriminatory and unfair. These ethnic quota provisions have many other echoes at different levels of government in the two Entities and at the BH level, making it a serious obstacle to progress.
So how best to solve the problem? Not easy without a complete rewrite of Dayton?
The Bosnian Serbs have come up with an elegant (enough) if not crafty solution. To keep the three-person Presidency comprising one person from RS and two from the Federation, but not mention ethnicity at all except negatively: "No one constituent people can have more than one member represented in the Presidency".
That formula seems to do the job. It maintains a territorial element of representation and thereby respects the two-Entity Dayton deal, but it also means that in practice a Serb (99% certainly from RS) and a Bosniac and Croat (98% certainly from the Federation) will be elected. Plus anyone anywhere in Bosnia can campaign to be elected President. Freedom!
But will it be ruled out just because the Serbs have proposed it? Maybe not. Has anyone any better ideas?
Back from the crazy dynamism of Hanoi to the somewhat less than crazy dynamism of rural Oxfordshire.
While pulling together some pictures for a presentation next week on Moral Dilemmas in Diplomacy, I rummaged around in the Internet for images of the 1984 Sarajevo Winter Olympics. I was the British government's representative dealing with the organisational aspects of the Games and so became an Olympic Attache - formally part of the British team, living in the Olympic Village.
The highpoint? This. If you haven't seen it for a while, sit back and relax - and wait for the scores.
It took us 18 years to win another Winter Games gold medal - in curling!
Here's even more from me at TransConflict on the Metaphysics of Bosnia:
Izetbegovic’s problem was real enough. If the Serbs, Croats and Muslims/Bosniacs retained their equal status as ‘constitutive peoples’ of Bosnia and Herzegovina, that allowed the Serb and Croat leaders an effective veto against the Muslims/Bosniacs, worked up in coordination with Belgrade and Zagreb. In other words, by piously insisting on ‘equality’ they could jam up the works and guarantee strategic inequality in their own favour in Bosnia.
On the other hand, if he asserted (as he did) the argument that Bosnia was primarily ‘for’ the Muslims/Bosniacs, the republic’s Serbs and Croats necessarily would feel that they risked ending up as second-class citizens.
As Izetbegovic later put it to me himself, he represented two million Bosniacs hemmed in by 14 million Serbs and Croats. One false move and his community could be lost for ever. What room for manoeuvre did he have? I could see his point. He was in a Bosnian-style asymmetrical Mexican stand-off, in which the other two sides might well be bent on ganging up on him...
... Mr Mujanovic tries to be reasonable:
I should like nothing more than if every significant government post in the whole of BiH were occupied by a self-identifying Serb, provided they were actually qualified for the position and pursued responsible, responsive, and democratic policies, which reflected the interests of all the citizens of BiH
Fine. But what if a large bloc of responsible, responsive democratic self-identifying (sic) Serbs (or Croats, or Bosniacs, or Kosovars) conclude that they would rather the borders of the region’s republics were changed to allow them to run their own affairs, in much the same way that Switzerland’s different ethno-linguistic communities do within their cantons? Is that to be ruled out a priori, and if so on what moral basis?
The Dayton deal (messy as it was) created conditions for ruling out certain options and managing the remaining options peacefully, thereby enabling other, slower processes to unfold. These, as it happens, probably favour the Bosniacs in the greater scheme of things.
The smart short-term policy for the largest community in Bosnia (ie the Bosniacs) in such circumstances was to use generous international assistance to create a dynamic, transparent mini-tiger economy that Serbs and Croats clamoured to join.
From the point of view of this Bosniak nationalist policy, it is not important that Bosnia will fall behind on the road to modernisation, because the harder life is in Bosnia the faster will the project of a two-thirds majority be realised, since Croats and Serbs will simply move to Croatia and Serbia.
In this historical perspective, twenty or thirty years signify little when it comes to the one thousand years of Bosnia’s history; and a degree of economic decline of the country is a worthwhile price to pay for the realisation of their supreme project – the creation of a national Bosniak state in Bosnia-Herzegovina.
That’s the nub of it – how to deal with mutually incompatible claims to territory as an insurance policy for existential security?
Serbia’s former Deputy Prime Minister Nebojsa Covic in 2000 told me how an elderly Albanian in southern Serbia had put it to him straight: “Mr Covic, you have two children. I have six. I am prepared to sacrifice two of my children to the cause. How many of yours are you prepared to sacrifice?”
Not a question that academics in Canada or ex-diplomats in the UK can easily answer within the usual analytical categories?
By the way, @JewsandBosniaks (sic) on Twitter accuse TransConflict's Ian Bancroft of being a "Serbian sympathizer and moral relativist". You have been warned.
Anyone reading this blog regularly will know my views on the Bosnia story and the underlying struggles it epitomizes.
But as there is never enough of a good thing, here is a new longer piece from me over at TransConflict:
Basically, Yugoslavia was a set of sui generis contradictory and dishonest nationalist-socialist structures that for 45 years played down ‘national’ ethnicity for some purposes, while cementing it in to political life in others.
Approaching Dayton, the Americans were dimly aware of some of this, but it did not much matter to them. They were not interested in changing local mindsets or being reluctant imperialists.
The Americans defined the Dayton process not to fit Bosnia, but to fit Dick Holbrooke’s ambition and Bill Clinton’s timetable. They felt that they had made a huge new dangerous commitment to agree to US troops being on the ground in Bosnia – now the overwhelming priority was to get them home as soon as possible, preferably immediately after the 1996 BiH elections.
There was no prospect of the Americans or anyone else taking on a long-term responsibility to run Bosnia as a protectorate and sternly transform it into a modern democracy. On the contrary, the Dayton deal was designed to give Bosnians themselves and not the international community the leading role in running their country after its first ever free and fair elections. The so-called Bonn Powers of the High Representative (that I helped invent) were imposed later (arguably illegitimately) to try to make up for lost time...
Thus Dayton was a grimy US-driven deal cut with the territory’s “violent chauvinist elites” to stop the Bosnian war and create some chances for sensible pluralist political evolution. To make that happen the Americans incorporated their own unhappy creation of the ‘Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina’ and this meant ceding to the Serbs ‘their’ Entity.
Yes, ‘Others’ as a distinct category were marginalised at Dayton and so thereafter. But their numbers, like the numbers of ‘Yugoslavs’ in SFRY, were small enough to be ignorable – and ignored. And that will remain the case far into the future.
Mr. Mujanović here has a strong if overstated point:
Dayton has created, instead, an exclusionary and particularistic linkage between particular “ethnic groups” (whose homogeneity is falsely assumed, as I have previously argued) and particular territories whose present demographic structures are the direct result of ethnic cleansing and genocide. In the process, such a constitutional order has effectively disenfranchised persons of other ethnicities, minorities, persons from mixed-marriages and, most of all, civically-inclined individuals who do not identify either as Bosniak, Serb or Croat.
All I am saying is that Dayton drew heavily (and necessarily) on legal forms and precedents taken from the Yugoslav coercive socialist self-management ideological toolkit, which in turn drew on wider European/Soviet precedents.
And I say that this was not illogical or malevolent or even unwise. Because Dayton was set-up in this way, it gave the three dominant different ethno-religious communities as such strong political internationally supported guarantees. This ended the war, allowing generous international assistance to flood in.
Have the Bosnian elites used this investment well? No. The excuse that their wretched failings and corruption over 17 years are caused by the evils of the Dayton constitution does not convince me. Within that flawed framework, a transformative amount more could have been done – and still can be done – to improve living standards and bring in good democratic civic processes.
The whole point is not the one advanced by Mr Mujanovic, our young left-anarchist of Bosnian roots in faraway Canada.
It is that Diplomacy has Limits. Some things can be done, and of the things that can be done most of them involve unpleasant compromises. There is an eternal struggle between Is and Ought - between pragmatically accepting unhappy outcomes and striving (maybe vainly) for supposedly happier outcomes that meet a higher standard of decency and freedom. Both pragmatism and idealism have their merits.
If Mr Mujanovic can persuade the mass of Bosnians to adopt social networked media tools and campaign to bring down the inept ethnic leaderships now running the place in favour of his anarchistic anti-capitalist plans, good for him. I suspect he won't.
That said, I have often wondered how Dayton might have been done differently a few years later as Internet web-based technologies took off (back in 1995 remember that even email was a novelty for most people). That technology gives us quite different options for empowering citizens and bringing in far higher transparency in the public and private sectors alike. Peace deals can now be stacked in that direction. If anyone is interested.
The ultimate limit of diplomacy is that it is run by diplomats, not anarchists. Holbrooke was not a moral philosopher. He was a ruthless fixer, determined to drive through a Dayton peace deal for Bosnia, partly to help Bosnia as he saw it, and partly to impress President Clinton and help his own rise towards becoming US Secretary of State.
This meant that he was not interested in subtle questions going (say) to the way the first BH elections in 1996 were run. Different voting mechanisms and ways to arrange parliamentary seats might have led to very different and more reconciliatory outcomes. All that sort of thinking was pointy-headed European namby-pamby limpness.
Ah yes, they hoot, but all this is irrelevant and pernicious. Don't you see that it was all down to a Milosevic/Serbian genocidal master-plan?
Perhaps it was. But even if it was, what would have happened if Alija Izetbegovic had not pushed for the fatal referendum to force Bosnia to break from the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia in the teeth of furious Serb opposition, but instead had called in international experts to help Yugoslavs and Bosnians design a new set of substantively democratic constitutional arrangements?
Things would have been appallingly messy and unpleasant for a long time. But might not many tens of thousands of people who died in the war still be alive today, and Bosnia a far happier and more prosperous place now?
If you let things get so bad that you need to outsource your new constitution to the Americans, don't be too surprised if you dislike the outcome?
My piece over at Transconflict about Bosnia has attracted all sorts of the usual lively comments.
Including the magnificent Owen:
The stale odour of complacent Majorite neo-realism, sexed up with an intro of pure, ineffable Foreign Office superiority and disdain for lesser breeds
Then there's several from bosniak-Radislav, which get my name wrong but rather make my own point that many Bosniaks think that the whole territory is 'for' them or otherwise theirs::
“The main problem is that the various Bosniak leaderships all hate the idea, as it further denies their core instinct that the whole territory of Titoist Bosnia and Herzegovina is ‘for’ them. And if the largest community in BiH won’t buy it, that change won’t happen.”
What exactly is Titoist Bosnia Herzegovina? I do love how Crawford starts his article by diminishing Mujanovic, as to cover up for teh fact that he´s article could have have been written by Matthew Parrish or Damain Duff.
“The Serbs have no reason to give up or redefine ‘their’ share of BiH, and have all sorts of legal ways to block constitutional reform.”
Crawford fails, deliberatly one thinks to mention that it´s not their share, unless ethnic cleansing and genocide are okey by his standards?
... Bottom line, some 50% of bosnia´s population live on 24% of the countrys areal, as result of clansing and genocide, many are displaced around the globe, and frankly it´s time for those who consider themselvs bosnian to take back what whas stolen from them, so that inte the future we don´t waste time commenting articles written by Matthew Parrish Marko Prelec or James Crawford… Just nullify the issue
Betty is on my side:
Great response. I was going to write a response to Jasmin’s article as well along similar lines but couldn’t get the energy to respond to such drivel.
The tension in all this is the timeless one between Is and Ought. How far should the 'international community' accept the consequences of injustice, even if the IC can work out what is just and unjust in any given situation?
Jasmin Mujanovic, a self-styled 'proud Wobby' young left-anarchist based in Canada but with Bosniak roots, has written at some length on the problems of the Dayton Peace Accords. He offers his suggestions for making progress, seemingly a BH-wide series of open meetings at which Bosnians define for themselves new constitutional principles. What could go wrong?
Here is my reply. I have tried to defend the Dayton BH constitution (a bit) by pointing to its intellectual origins in former Yugoslavia and before that, not least the infamous National Question:
This issue posed special problems for Marxists. How to reconcile global revolutionary ambitions with the reality that for many unique communities across Europe their very existence rather than class struggle was their main concern? Hence a vast bloc of theoretical work on the so-called National Question. The Soviet Union made enormous efforts to institutionalize and codify national identities at all levels of society, on a scale never before seen. Most European countries have given legal and/or political expression to ethnic rights in different forms. As does Canada.
Communist Yugoslavia took on some of the then current Soviet-style legal classifications. Ethno-linguistic communities whose homeland was Yugoslavia (Serbs, Slovenes, Croats etc) were called ‘narodi’ (‘nations’); those whose homeland was another country (Hungarians, Romanians, Albanians etc) were called ‘narodnosti’ (‘peoples’). Other small, ad hoc communities were called ‘manjine’ (‘minorities’). Today’s independent Slovenia still gives constitutional protection to “autochthonous ethnic communities” (Italians and Hungarians) and, crucially, links their rights to specific territorial areas.
In other words, there is nothing a priori bizarre or insane or chauvinistic in devising constitutional arrangements that a) give formal recognition to distinct categories of people (e.g. ‘Serbs’) and b) link political rights to identified territory.
On the contrary, this explains the sustained decades-long pressure within Yugoslavia from the significant community of people living mainly in Bosnia and Herzegovina that did not identify itself as Serb or Croat, but rather as a group with unique Bosnian and, specifically, Muslim roots. Wikipedia:
In the 1948 census Bosnia and Herzegovina’s Muslims had three options in the census: “Serb-Muslim”, “Croat-Muslim”, and “ethnically undeclared Muslim”. In the 1953 census the category “Yugoslav, ethnically undeclared” was introduced and the overwhelming majority of those who declared themselves as such were Muslims. The Bosniaks were recognized as a ethnic group in 1961 but not as a nationality and in 1964 the Fourth Congress of the Bosnian Party assured the Bosniaks the right to self-determination. In 1971 the Muslims were fully recognized as a nationality and in the census the option “Muslims by nationality” was added.
In other words, the ‘Bosniaks/Muslims’ wanted to achieve the ‘top’ status of a narod, which they finally secured in 1971. The significance of this when Yugoslavia started to break-up was enormous.
The republic of Serbia was accepted by all as being ‘for’ the Serbs, Croatia was ‘for’ the Croats and Slovenia was ‘for’ the Slovenes. The Bosniaks, in effect, argued that as they were the largest community in Bosnia, it made sense that Bosnia and Herzegovina be ‘for’ them (or at least mainly for them). This was angrily contested by the Serbs in Bosnia and Serbia alike, many of whom who believed that the Titoist post-WW2 version of Bosnia had been created deliberately to cut Serbia down to size and had no intrinsic legitimacy.
If BiH was not for any one community, it would have to be shared or maybe even abolished. But how? Conflict!
Now that Bosnia is in this constitutional and moral tar-pit, there is no easy escape:
Now what? No-one knows. The Serbs have no reason to give up or redefine ‘their’ share of BiH, and have all sorts of legal ways to block constitutional reform. The Bosniaks and Croats bicker within ‘their’ Entity as they can not agree on what should replace it: a package of checks and balances that suits the relatively large Bosniak community does not suit the much smaller Croat community. The result? Deadlock and stagnation, and incredibly poor returns on the generous investment from the international community in Bosnian reconstruction.
My own conclusion is that some sort of confederation – within which each main community has its own defined territorial space – is a better outcome for now.
Yes, it is based on more ethno-territorial classifications that can be abused and are objectionable (to some) in principle. But it is at least crudely ‘fair’; as this term is understood in that part of the world. It gives each community an element of operational political insurance and, therefore, in due course may create the psychological space for more radical economic compromises (and, perhaps, a lot more grassroots pressure for further reforms).
The main problem is that the various Bosniak leaderships all hate the idea, as it further denies their core instinct that the whole territory of Titoist Bosnia and Herzegovina is ‘for’ them. And if the largest community in BiH won’t buy it, that change won’t happen.
Thus the political space for any change narrows down to small, crab-like manoeuvres that look ridiculous and largely change nothing much, performed – if at all – within Bosnia’s EU accession processes. Undignified? Yes. Wasteful? Definitely. Depressing? Utterly.
Mr Mujanovic again:
... the result of more and more supposed political and ethnic homoginzation (sic) is that political conduct and behaviour in BiH has become less and less clear and rational
Not really. It's all very rational once the idea of seeing politics through national 'group' spectacles takes hold.
Maybe he's right after all. Bring on anarchist grass-roots democracy!
But what if the grass-roots agree with their fine leaders? Or if the Republika Srpska grass-roots vote en bloc to leave BiH completely?
The position had been uncontested since 1991, the different regional groupings deciding for themselves in turn which unopposed candidate to put forward. This time it was different. Lithuania’s candidate had expected to get the group’s nomination, but Jeremic entered the running. Lithuania accused Russia of pushing Jeremic into the contest to punish Lithuania for insisting that the end of the Second World War had brought freedom to western Europe, but for Lithuania only Soviet occupation and new oppression. A wider new Russian political power-play to re-affirm influence at the UN and elsewhere? Probably.
At the Russian Embassy National Day reception last night I was told on very good authority that Jeremic picked up some eight EU votes (mainly southern European - plus Holland?) and a majority of G20 votes. Ukraine and Belarus boted for the Lithuanian to show themselves different from Russia haha.
As far as Kosovo is concerned, Serbia faces the reality that most EU states have recognised Kosovo and that without some sort of political settlement it will not achieve EU membership. But Serbia also knows (as does Kosovo) that Kosovo is going nowhere important without full international recognition.
Deep in the undergrowth of diplomacy fierce battles rumble on to decide whether Kosovo makes it eg into the Eurovision Song Contest and European and global sporting bodies. Determined opposition led by Russia usually swings things Belgrade’s way. Serbia is a 100 per cent internationally recognised state with levers to pull. Kosovo isn’t
Underpinning all this is the hard fact that Russia (with China) can block any move by the UN Security Council to propose Kosovo as a full UN member, and without that top-level acknowledgement of statehood many sporting and other international organisations prefer to avoid the problem.
With Vuk Jeremic presiding over the UN General Assembly in 2013 and then Serbia’s OSCE Chairmanship to follow, Kosovo can see its sluggish progress towards full recognition going even slower for a good while to come. Time to heave a sigh and cut a messy deal with Belgrade?
My last piece on Serbia at the Telegraph prompted the usual stream of thoughtful points from readers:
Biased piffle from a leftist nobody.
Crawford - I wonder if some dim memory at the Colonial Club ever pierces your mind, that it was YOU and your Foreign Office wankers who BOMBED Serbia????
Any vague memory of that in your gin-addled shrunken brain????
The reason Serbs reject you, and your neocon garbage, is that they already saw how much you "love" them.... when you and the RAF bombed their major cities to rubble, you public-school berk.
Charles you are racist and a hatefilled ugly man, we will sue you and your creepy news outlet.
Noteworthy that the latter two at least have some very non-Serbian names - good to see them following Balkan things so closely!
Ann Althouse reminds us of a fascinating account of what was going on in President Gerald Ford's mind when back in 1976 he made his ruinous observation (at least probably ruinous for his election chances) that there was "no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe":
JIM LEHRER: Let's go back at the time you said that. I'm sure you've replayed this in your mind a million times. I don't have to remind you what happened. You gave that answer, and then there was a follow-up, and you repeated it, so my question is did you have any idea that you had said something wrong?
PRESIDENT GERALD FORD: Not at the time. Not at the time, because as you may remember, I included Yugoslavia, and Hungary, I believe, and Poland in the initial answer, and I said the Soviet Union does not dominate these countries. They're autonomous, and of course, it related to an earlier comment I had made about the Helsinki accord, which had established the borderlines of all the Eastern and Western European countries. So at the time, I did not feel that I had made an error. In retrospect, obviously, the inclusion of a sentence or maybe a phrase would have made all the difference in the world.
It seems that he wanted to convey the idea that Soviet psychological domination would never succeed in these plucky places. Though that is not what in fact he said.
And even then it made no sense to put Hungary and Poland as two Warsaw Pact countries (whose political, security and military systems were for most practical purposes steered by Moscow) in with supposedly 'non-aligned' Titoist Yugoslavia. 'Autonomous'? No.
Still, central and eastern Europe are tricky places, where a misplaced word or phrase can create a serious mess. As now President Obama has found with his bungled 'Polish death camp' remark. Look at this Telegraph piece and behold the nearly 1400 comments, and rising (the effect of a Drudgealanche)
Here for all Balkanphiliacs is an interview with me in the Belgrade publication Svedok.
In the unlikely event you don't speak Serbian and/or Google translator blows up under the pressure, here is the English text I sent them which as far as I can see has been reproduced in Serbian more or less 100%.
After the election of Tomislav Nikolic as the new Serbian president, do you expect the Russian influence to be strengthened?
Influence is an interesting concept. Russia and Serbia have plenty of cultural, historical and commercial ties - most of them (but not all) seen by both sides as positive - and no doubt look to develop them. Why not? Plus of course Serbia’s leaders want to increase their influence in Moscow.
It’s hard to say how far such trends will lead to Russia’s ‘influence’ being enhanced, in the sense that Russia’s opinions in fact affect what the Serbian leadership do in other policy areas. EU countries’ economic weight and investment potential in Serbia are far greater than Russia’s. Governments tend to be pretty pragmatic about such things.
Do you expect Tomislav Nikolic to be more pro-European then Boris Tadic? Do you expect his election to accelerate the Serbian EU bid?
Insofar as I have followed Mr Nikolic’s earlier positions, I expect him to adopt at least on the rhetorical level a ‘balanced’ approach in his foreign policy moves (such as visiting Moscow before his inauguration and then Brussels soon after it?). That said, Serbia is patiently working towards eventual EU membership, and it is not easy to see why Mr Nikolic would want to change that trend substantively. There is a huge amount of technical work to be done to take Serbia up to EU standards and further delays will do the country no good: reaching these standards is in Serbia’s own interests.
Plus Mr Nikolic will have to find a way to manage the Kosovo issue. Will making ‘tougher’ noises or even some supposedly tougher moves necessarily bring Serbia any real lasting advantage on any level?
For many analysts and journalist in Serbia, the election of Tomislav Nikolic came as a shock. On the other hand, in the parliamentarian elections his Serbian progressive party, which he formed and presided over until his election as the new president, achieved the best result winning the largest present of the votes. How do you comment on that?
I suspect that some of those analysts and journalists allowed their hopes to confuse their judgement. Opinion polls look at big picture results and do not easily cope with relatively low turnouts and underlying mood/motivation.
While most media, analysts and pool-companies argued that Boris Tadic would probably win the elections, and in many cases often forced this opinion on the public, the voters in Serbia reacted completely different and elected Tomislav Nikolic. How would you assess this fact?
Given the first round results it looked difficult for Mr Tadic to win easily, and he didn’t.
Has the long going policy “Europe has no alternative” been the cause of Boris Tadic’s demise?
I’d say probably not, and if anything the opposite - Mr Nikolic went out of his way to make reassuring general statements on ‘Europe’, a clear sign that he spotted the political mainstream moving in that direction and away from what we might call primitive declamatory Milosevic-Seseljism.
The main problem for Mr Tadic looks to have been a clear feeling of disappointment within his own traditional support-base, perhaps from a sense that the Democratic Party have had too much power for too long and have failed to deliver the results they promised. Many of the policy criticisms that might previously have been aimed convincingly at Mr Nikolic ended up being aimed at the Democratic Party and Mr Tadic too. In other words, there were fewer reasons to vote for Tadic and more reasons to vote against him. There were more reasons to vote for Nikolic and fewer reasons to vote against him. The majority of Serns looked at this situation and stayed at home!
How do you comment on the great return of the Socialist party of Serbia, making third place in the parliamentarian elections with almost 15 percent of the votes (which made it the breaking factor for the formation of the future government)?
The Socialist Party won 570,000 votes or about 8% of the available vote. That is probably more than it deserves after its catastrophic record when it was in power down the years. It nonetheless may have a role in shaping Serbia’s policies. Why should anyone see that as a helpful development for Serbia?
On the day of the second round of presidential elections, a letter from the EU arrived at 4 p.m. congratulating Nikolic on his win over Tadic, although there were 4 more hours of voting. Later the EU apologized asking the media not to publish that as it could have effect on the voting process, but the word was already on the street. Was that just a mistake by a bureaucrat in Brussels or would you say there is something else behind that?
Stupidity has no limits.
What is your opinion on Boris Tadic and Tomislav Nikolic?
I don’t think I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Mr Nikolic for any length of time, if at all. I enjoyed my various meetings with Mr Tadic. He always gave me the impression of someone trying to deliver a methodical and measured approach in the very difficult circumstances left by the Milosevic years
How common is it that a person who just lost the presidential elections afterwards heads the government and how does that affect the institutions?
We have a monarchy where such problems tend not to arise.
How do you assess the fact that in most elections in the EU the ruling parties and politicians who played in favor of the ongoing EU policies on “tightening the belt” suffered a defeat, except in Poland?
It is alas understandable that many tens of millions of people across Europe have got used to high levels of state funding and ‘social’ policies, and naively press for that way of life to continue. Unfortunately for them, world markets rightly have no faith in this model: it is fundamentally unproductive and, more important, unsustainable.
(a) Will Greece eventually have to leave the euro, and (b) will this mean the end of the EU as we know it?
Probably. (b) Maybe. The issue is whether that will be a good thing or a bad thing. I think that it will be a good thing, albeit perhaps dangerously painful – the current European ‘social model’ is unaffordable because it rewards too many people for not working. Reality does not go away just because populist politicians and greedy voters don’t like it.
Let me add just one question: Do you consider it to be normal that Mr Tadic who just lost the election now probably will head the new government?
It’s obviously not ’normal’ in the sense of frequent: people who have been a national president tend to have a high opinion of themselves and don’t like to step ’down’ to a hard executive role. But that does not make it a bad thing. If President Nikolic and PM Tadic find a way to work together in Serbia’s interests – and particularly if they identify a solid but creative shared position on where Kosovo fits in to national policy-making – it could be a big step forward. If ’co-habitation’ leads to an idiotic political/economic policy stalemate and endless feuding over who gets what job, Serbia’s poor performance will just last longer.
Back in the mid-1980s I was the Foreign Office speechwriter working for Sir Geoffrey Howe. Exciting times. Mikhail Gorbachev was leading the Soviet Union in what looked like a strongly positive new direction. In Poland the Solidarity movement was down but not out. Communist Yugoslavia was quietly rotting, but the scale of decay was not widely understood. Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher were working to respond firmly but positively to these momentous changes.
Sir Geoffrey asked me to work up some speech ideas for an after-dinner event. I came up with the following vivid lines:
Imagine people locked up for many years in a dark, disgusting dungeon. Finally the light is turned on, and they are told they are free to leave. How will they react?
Will they be delighted that their ordeal is at an end? Or will they be furious when they see for the first time the horrible conditions and the miserable state they’ve been reduced to?
I compare and contrast former Yugoslavia with Russia and Poland. Russia:
According to one widely held and (in my view) ridiculous analysis, Western governments treated Russia badly during the 1990s by imposing humiliating capitalist ‘shock therapy’ on a society unprepared for anything so radical. This created horrible inequality, greedy oligarchs and endemic corruption, opening the way for Vladimir Putin’s ‘managed democracy’.
‘Humiliating’ is an interesting word, with both objective and subjective meanings. Actions may be done with the intent to be humiliating. Or they may be done through good intentions, yet be interpreted as humiliating by others. Plus, as in the Russia case, millions of Russians themselves felt embarrassed and angry – humiliated – at the pitiful collapse of the Soviet Union.
What is not understood is that the real shock to Russia came from 70 long years of communist brutality and wastefulness on an insane scale. Marxism-Leninism created something never before seen in the economic history of the planet: value-subtracting industries, processes and factories which turned out clunky products worth less than the raw materials used to make them. For all his reassuring political noises, Gorbachev did nothing to set private business free. When he finally resigned there was scarcely a single banana to be seen across the USSR’s 11 time-zones.
Finally in autumn 1991 the madness stopped, almost overnight. The only way forward was to invest in the future, not try to resuscitate the wheezing Soviet industrial base. Western governments at first feared widespread starvation and scrambled to get food aid into Russia: at last the EU’s infamous CAP butter mountains came in handy. Western experts poured into Moscow to help the new leadership make sense of it all. New laws were drafted. The UK Know-How Fund helped start the Russian stock-market.
But the key factor was the fact that the Russians’ own energy and cleverness were once again unleashed, with amazing results. Food appeared in shops. Tens of thousands of cars poured into Moscow every month, bought not by Westerners flaunting their wealth but by Russians doing things for themselves. Within about 200 weeks of the end of communism Moscow had its first plump Yellow Pages directory of private businesses, none of which had existed or even been allowed to exist previously.
It’s true that in such chaotic circumstances and with state structures in disarray some wily Russians made colossal windfall gains, while millions of others (especially older people) have suffered mightily. But were Western policies ‘humiliating’ for Russia?
I don’t think so. There was no policy template in Moscow or in Western capitals for dealing with such a sprawling calamity. We and the Russians alike all had to improvise. If a large part of the Russian population felt humiliated, this arose primarily from the ghastly realisation that for 70 years they had been enslaved by their own leaders, their life’s work taken for almost nothing: their proud, supposedly strong Russia had been reduced to needing so much outside help…
Conclusion? People react in different ways when those dungeon lights are turned on. Some prisoners start fighting each other. Others blame the West for their sorry state, ignoring the fact that, actually, they incarcerated themselves. And others stride out into the sunlight to start a new life.
Russia, Yugoslavia. Poland. Guess which country falls into which category.
Why did Boris Tadic lose and Tomislav Nikolic win? This piece sums it up (as written from the point of view of frustrated Serb liberals):
This indeed is the main factor that made Tomislav Nikolić a more palatable option for voters: not that he has moved toward the DS but rather that the DS began doing the things people had been warned his own SNS might do. Bring the parties of the old regime back to power? Done. Rehabilitate and glorify war criminals? Done. Escalate tensionswith neighbouring states? Done. Undermine democratic institutions and the independence of the judiciary and civil service from political parties? Done. All the harm people had been warned to expect from Tomislav Nikolić had already been inflicted by Boris Tadić.
In media shorthand the accurate description of President-elect Nikolić would be “a pro-EU moderate nationalist.” In reality it is hard to be both, of course, but many decent Europeans are trying to square the circle, from Scotland and Catalonia to Poland and Slovakia. The only issue on which the winner draws the line is “Kosovo or Serbia?” Unlike his defeated opponent, he realizes that it is impossible to compromise on a first-order priority—the country’s territorial integrity—for the sake of what is a second-order objective of joining an organization...
How many eminently clubbable “Europeans” would agree to cede their country’s current sovereignty over Alsace-Lorraine, or South Tyrol, or Sudetenland, or Transylvania, or Schleswig-Holstein, or South Dobrudja, or Silesia (to name but a few of historically contentious provinces) for the sake of remaining in “Europe”?
... In the end Tadić suffered the fate of Slobodan Milošević. He became cocky, arrogant, and convinced of his own infallability. Just like Milošević, he cut his presidential mandate short, convinced he could manipulate the electorate by controlled media and pliant institutions. Just like Milošević in the fall of 2000, he lost—only one-fifth of all eligible voters supported him—because Serbia is still a real country composed of real people...
Why do you British cool cats hate Serbian Christians so much? You are supposed to be the beacon of light to the world yet you are full of racism and hate towards Serbs? Tell me, why hasn't one of you British educated gentlemen write about the 500 churches burned and desecrated in Kosovo? How many Serbian Christians live in Pristina? You must know since you know so much about Serbia right? How many? 7! 7 Christians live in Pristina!
What about poor Muslim Sarajevo? Tell Mr. Crawford, how many Serbian Christians live in Sarajevo? How about you go to Sarajevo and see for yourself? 2000 Serbs left over from 300,000 - what happened, the poor poor Muslims were so innocent right? They didn't want Sharia right?
Serbia will never live under Sharia but one day you will, and Serbs will help kill you and your children and then they will say they are so great, write articles about their leaders, and talk about the great humintarians they are...
Stop your racism and hatred, it is vomiting out of your type.
And one Vladimir Gagic who appreciates my talents:
Typical nonsense again from Mr. Crawford. Instead of Mr. Crawford's rambling "analysis" (yes Mr. Crawford, you are very smart and witty and an excellent writer blah blah blah), the truth is Serbs voted for Mr. Nikolic for one reason only, the same reason Clinton won in 1994, Tadic in 2004, and Romney will beat Obama: "it's the economy, stupid".
With clever friendly analysts like SueDoNim (geddit?), Serbia can't go wrong:
You never understood Serbia when you were Ambassador CW and you still don't now, neither did any of your successors for what it's worth. This is a country, really a people, that has survived by very cunningly playing Moscow off against Berlin; the one time it detracted from that during the break-up nearly spelt the end. So they've gone back to their old wily ways - Nikolic as President (not a very powerful post, something you forget to mention) and the same old pro-EU rabble running Parliament. One will pander to Berlin, the other Moscow, you'll all be taken in by it and the Serbs
Yup. Seems likely that Berlin and Moscow will stupidly allow a few politicians in Belgrade to divide and manipulate them. Let's hope they don't spot this fiendish Serb plan - and adjust accordingly.
In a result unexpected by me at least (I am not following Serbia's goings-on too closely these days, and the polls suggested that Tadic would win again) Tomislav Nikolic as leader of the Serbian Progressive Party has won Serbia's Presidential Elections today by a clear nose, ousting former President Boris Tadic.
Serbia has some 6,700,000 voters. Less than half of them voted in this second-round run-off. Nikolic has won with some 1,500,000 votes, ie just over 50% of those who voted and well less than 25% of total voters overall. Tadic has conceded, on a total of 1,490,000 - a miserable result given his 2,300,000 votes in 2008.
Boris Tadic is a fine, reasonable, honorable European-style leader, with hunky shoulders from his water-polo days. He will need to draw on all his reserves of physical and political strength to deal with the looming drama of a Kosovo declaration of independence.
A win for the nationalist Nikolic would have made the Kosovo Albanians' immediate ambitions far easier presentationally. Tadic's new mandate perhaps will incline leaders round Europe and beyond to be rather more cautious about dumping an explosive Kosovo problem in his lap as his elections victory gift.
I used obnoxiously to opine that when Serbs were confronted with a clear choice between (a) taking a positive, optimistic, steady path to likely success, and (b) a thorny, barren, twisting road probably heading for yet another Disaster, they would ask for an extended time-out to think about it.
This time they chose promptly - and chose well.
Well, in 2012 they have chosen differently.
Nikolic is a typical bluff old-style Serbian opportunist who has meandered round the hard-core end of the conservative/nationalist political spectrum and ended up as a supposedly moderate 'centrist' making 'social' noises tolerable in polite European society. Latterly he has been helped in that fine direction by engaging my former US Ambassador colleague Bill Montgomery as a communications consultant.
That said, where you come from makes a difference to what you are now. Nikolic for most of his career has hung around with Serb nationalist Slavophiliacs and made countless truculent statements in favour of 'Greater Serbia', even at one point calling for Serbia to join Russia and Belarus in a new political union haha.
In 2008 he broke noisily with war crimes indictee and Radicals leader Vojislav Seselj (no doubt in good part because Nikolic saw that Serbia was edging towards EU membership and that that was the smart way to bet). Latterly he has campaigned on a pious if improbable anti-corruption line, playing on the frustration of many Serbs that the Democratic Party tradition of assassinated former PM Zoran Djindjic (and Tadic) had got too greedy in office but (worse) was not delivering economic progress.
The main result of Nikolic winning office is that there is no chance of an early settlement of the Kosovo problem, not that there had been much of a chance had Tadic won.
Nikolic will feel happier chatting to chortling Russians in Moscow than to peevish EU leaders in Brussels, although he will try hard to assert some sort of surface 'non-alignment'. He already this evening is saying blandly that Serbia will continue down its European road.
Moscow is happy to let the Kosovo problem fester, if only because the Russians think that most Western governments have made a fool of themselves by accepting Kosovo independence and like watching the issue twist in the breeze. And with events in Greece moving in a more confusing direction as the Eurozone screams in pain, the blandishments of 'Orthodox solidarity' across the region as defined by Mother Russia will smoothly re-emerge.
This result poses a problem for the Kosovo leadership. To press ever harder to assert control over the remaining Serb-dominated areas of Kosovo in the north, perhaps provoking an open confrontation with Belgrade now led by someone who may have less of a problem behaving aggressively to defend Serbia's position? Or start to think about cutting a dirty deal on partition?
All in all, is Nikolic's election more a clear change of emphasis and style in a conservative old-style socialist direction rather than a dramatic lurch in an explicitly nationalist neo-Milosevicist direction? Maybe. There is likely to be some sort of 'co-habitation' with Tadic's party in Parliament anyway. Serbia's political elite is small - the jobs move to and fro between a fairly tiny number of people whatever the demoralised voters want, one reason why the turn-out was so low this time.
However, it is hard to see even Bill Montgomery persuading Nikolic to take the steps needed to cut Serbia's constipated post-Yugo-socialist state processes and boost the economy. And those Serbs in Serbia and Republika Srpska who argue that the current arrangement of countries in the region is unstable and unworkable will feel empowered. I can't see Serbia being much better off in four years' time as old-style thinking and old-style people swagger back into prominence, even if they are wearing smarter European trousers to impress us all.
The EU in Brussels will now have to take a deep breath and decide how best to play its hand. Hang tough on Belgrade while the Kosovo issue drags on? Or call Nikolic's bluff and accelerate moves to integrate Serbia towards EU processes as the best chance of keeping things under control?
Or heave a sigh and decide not to spend much time on the whole sorry stagnant region while the whole EU project is in such a sorry state? Much to Moscow's cynical amusement.
A banquet of food for thought. But this point about the way Nazis were dealt with after WW2 by the Brits and Americans respectively caught my eye:
If Germans could be influenced strongly in their beliefs during the Nazi period, is there any evidence of the opposite once racial hatred became an official taboo after 1945? We compare the level of anti-Semitism in the different zones of occupation. The former British zone today has by far the least anti-Semitic beliefs, even after controlling for pre-1945 differences. The American zone, on the other hand, has strong levels of support for anti-Jewish views.
Based on a detailed examination of occupation policies, we argue that these differences probably reflect different approaches to de-Nazification. The American authorities ran a highly ambitious and punitive programme which resulted in many incarcerations and convictions, with numerous, low-ranking officials banned and punished. Citizens were confronted with German crimes, forced to visit concentration camps, and attend education films about the Holocaust. There was a considerable backlash, and perceived fairness was low. The Jewish Advisor to the American Military Government concluded in 1948 that “... if the United States Army were to withdraw tomorrow, there would be pogroms on the following day.”
In contrast, the British authorities pursued a limited and pragmatic approach that focused on major perpetrators. Public support was substantial, perceived fairness was higher, and intelligence reports concluded that the population even wanted more done to pursue and punish Nazi officials...
This idea has huge ramifications for social policy and the way we look at it.
The piece suggests that simply going after Nazi Big Fish in post-WW2 Germany was far more effective at changing attitudes and instincts than going after Big and Medium and some Small fish, generally rubbing the Germans' collective nose in the vile crimes done in their name and massly supported directly or indirectly by millions of Germans themselves.
Such a policy of course has a direct cost - it allows plenty of people with dirt on their hands to tip-toe away from their misdeeds, and indeed to start to say or even believe that the whole problem was nothing to do with them - somehow they all had got carried away or manipulated.
Yet on the one key issue, namely responsibility for the whole disaster Auschwitz represented, the Pope seemed to me to fall short:
... a duty before God, for me to come here as the successor of Pope John Paul II and as a son of the German people - a son of that people over which a ring of criminals rose to power by false promises of future greatness and the recovery of the nation’s honour, prominence and prosperity, but also through terror and intimidation, with the result that our people was used and abused as an instrument of their thirst for destruction and power.
This contrives to portray the German people as bamboozled victims, rather than people who in their many millions voted for Hitler and otherwise supported him. Not everyone, for sure. But Germans en masse were not only used and abused. In good part they brought their suffering on themselves, and set in motion untold suffering for countless millions of others.
Pope Benedict might have dealt with this by saying a word about his own connection with the Hitler Youth and the power of temptation, or otherwise addressing each individual's accountability for mass wickedness committed in his/her name. But one way or the other, the formula used here did not, for me, do the trick.
Maybe even the Pope is unable to confess fully and frankly? And perhaps that's the point?
On the other hand, if people have done wrong maybe there is merit in letting them come round to thinking about the issues in a less confrontational fashion, while still punishing the very worst offenders. That arguably diminishes Justice but increases the prospects for longer-term Peace. See war crimes trials for former Yugoslavia - it's much easier to run high-profile punishments (many of them richly deserved) than address reconciliation in a deeper sense.
Which brings us to the present UK approach to most social issues, where the effective emphasis (racism, sexism, homophobia, discrimination, bullying, drunkenness, obesity) trends towards the 'stamping out' or (even worse) 'kicking out' improper behaviur and thoughts.
Put to one side the explicit violent-quasi fascist nature of this sort of discourse (as seen on a poster talking about 'Kicking out Racism' seen on the wall in the Oxford DVLA offices - QED). It carries the implication that anyone thinking certain things has to be punished severely. It is not about persuasion - it is about fear.
If you want to change behaviour and attitudes over the long run, maybe a more subtle approach needs to be used? Or at least be more graceful about the way attitudes in many areas are changing, and stop screeching that anyone still who has not been converted to politically correct behaviour and thought is some sort of extreme lunatic? One for the forthcoming US elections...
Back to Vienna today to give a course on Advanced Negotiation to a distinguished international organisation. Away all this week, so blogging may well be light.
One of the points I make is that issues are like Shrek - they have layers. So part of any negotiation is working out what layer is being discussed and how to make trade-offs between one layer and other layers.
Another is to point up the range of outcomes of any negotiation, including these:
Everyone is more or less happy - hurrah
Everyone is equally miserable (see EU Budget negotiations passim - no-one can readily gloat at the expense of the others)
You win - they lose, but for now can glumly accept the outcome (OK, but what about next time - will they want revenge?)
You win - they think they've won, but they've lost (nice work, until they find out)
You win - they do badly, but you help them present the outcome as a success for them. This is an important option - sometimes the main issue for a negotiating partner is not the outcome of the negotiation but wider reputational concerns; you can trade substance for presentation. Here is a super example of Robin Cook helping Republika Srpska leader Biljana Plavsic (later sent to prison for war crimes) manage her media problems.
This is just another way of looking at the layers point, which in turn is all about helping parties identify and articulate their real interests, which is at root all about Good Listening plus Imagination. Then skilfully Reframing issues in a way which encourages progress towards a deal.
And so on. Good stuff.
The key thing about Vienna is that it is impossible to stroll past the classy cake-shops and high-end boutiques in the city centre without thinking about the way it used to look.
After Bosnia's first post-conflict elections in 1996, the Contact Group Ambassadors led by High Representative Carl Bildt had to meet Izetbegovic to try to persuade him to accept the highly annoying proposal of co-President Krajisnik - then still unindicted on war crimes charges - that the new BH collective Presidency meet alternatively in the two BH Entities. This in practice meant that Izetbegovic would have to set foot in Republika Srpska - something he found repugnant. Izetbegovic insisted that all the Presidency meetings take place in down-town Sarajevo, which Krajisnik likewise claimed to find objectionable.
When our meeting with Izetbegovic happened, the International Community urged Izetbegovic to be flexible, to get his country's governance going again after so much disaster. Was a rotation of the sort Krajisnik proposed really so bad? Izetbegovic finally lost his temper as we nagged him and said crossly in Bosnian "OK, whatever he wants - we can rotate every first, second or fifth time (svaki prvi, drugi, peti put)!"
But his interpreter/adviser saw that he had been worn down. She brazenly translated that outburst as something quite different, holding the earlier line against the sort of rotation he had just accepted.
When Bildt and the Ambassadors returned to base there was general gloom at our failure to make any impact, until I (having been the only one of us who spoke Bosnian) told them that Izetbegovic had in fact made an important concession.
When the deliberate mistranslation happened, I could have intervened briskly to ask the interpreter to give a correct account of what Izetbegovic had just said. I don't remember now why I did not. A fleeting moment of self-restraint? But if I had done so that might have made things worse, as he would have been embarrassed and humiliated as well as annoyed. Being Right is one thing. Being Wise is another.
The interesting point of technique is that last one. It would have been bad to embarrass Izetbegovic in front of top international represenatives by pointing out that his favoured interpreter had, basically, lied. Better to quietly note his concession and build on it in slower time, as in fact happened.
Here is another cracking Izetbegovic interpreter story. This time Izetbegovic deliberately chose NOT to use his interpreter so that he could claim after his meeting with Robin Cook that something had been said which had not been said. A classic example of BBD - Banal Balkan Duplicity.
A gush of media reporting on the start of the conflict in Bosnia back in 1992.
This one by Tim Judah (who knows his Balkans) is smart but maybe too optimistic. Yes, the likelihood of horrible inter-ethnic fighting has subsided. But is what we have now really good enough and, in some sense that matters, stable and sustainable? And does it help to mention Scotland's ideas about independence in a pasage about Republika Srpska? Still, he makes some good points about the utterly changed regional and European context:
Another counterweight to the teary 20-years-on stories of last week is the altered regional context, which many foreign journalists returning to Sarajevo for the anniversary overlooked. The European Union has its troubles for sure, but the accession process makes for a clear goal to work toward, limits the extremes of political discourse and gives officials thousands of generally good and useful things to do to make their countries better places. If EU entry criteria had been as demanding in the late 1970s and early 1980s as they are today, Greece might not be in the mess it’s in.
Update: For a gloomier view, try this one by Matthew Parish which comes down on the side of the argument that favours unending inter-ethnic antagonisms:
The ethno-nationalist politicians of which foreign diplomats have grown so exhausted talking about are the product of ethno-nationalist self-partition on the part of three groups of people all of whom have been scarred by their wartime experiences. Fear and animosity drive Bosnians’ formidable determination not to reintegrate, even when the legal opportunities for them to do so exist.
For the Western policymaker, the depth to which ethnic intransigence has permeated the mindset of the general population represents a challenge to the liberal values that they would like to see Bosnia embrace as it embarks on a smooth course towards European Union membership...
Hmm. 'Liberal' values in that part of the world? Not easy to identify. Remember our old friend the Sakic-Milosevic Syndrome? Thus:
As I used to tell anyone who would listen in Belgrade, "Serbia has two problems. First, you have an image problem. And second, you don't know you have an image problem."
Or is it even worse that that?
"We know that we have an image problem. And we just don't care any more. Is that a problem? And if so, is it our problem - or your problem?"
On the immediate origins of the war, read this fascinating piece by Bosnian journalist Nenad Pejic about the problems local TV faced in covering a large 'march for peace' in Sarajevo in April 1992, on the eve of the start of the real fighting. He even managed to get the key political leaders into the TV studio in a dramatic attempt to head off war by agreeing a political settlement:
Never in my life have I witnessed negotiations that were so important and were being conducted by individuals that were so irresponsible. Their bigotry, verbal traps, accusations, threats, and half-truths were appalling. They immediately dived into accusing and attacking each other while hundreds of thousands of citizens demanded peace on the streets of Sarajevo.
At one point Karadzic wanted to leave the studio. Believe it or not, I held him by his suit as he stood up from the chair. Shortly afterward, Izetbegovic, who was on my other side, wanted to leave as well, so I grabbed him too. I held onto their suit jackets and implored them not to leave. By this point, their security details were on full alert and, like faithful dogs, they were ready to defend their masters. But both Karadzic and Izetbegovic sat down and my sweaty palms released their suit jackets, leaving a little wrinkle on each.
I do not possess a transcript of the negotiations, but at one point General Kukanjac said: “ So Mr. Izetbegovic, do you agree that JNA troops should be stationed around Sarajevo, to protect the peace and prevent the escalation of the conflict to the rest of the country?” The comment was detached from reality as the war had already been waged outside the capital, but Izetbegovic responded, “You always do what you want to do anyway, so what’s the point.” The general was looking to legalize the siege of Sarajevo and was delighted. “I will take this as a sign of your approval. The orders will be given accordingly,” he said. And indeed, the city was protected from receiving humanitarian aid, food, and medical supplies for the next four years...
Point by point, four heads in the studio nodded slowly, and officially the negotiations had ended. The politicians left with their army of bodyguards. “You did a great thing for your country, sir,” the EU representative said to me afterward. Unfortunately I didn't share his illusion. ”Actually I haven’t. As soon as they leave the building they will ruin everything,” I said.
And they did.
Finally, if you don't read Serbo-Bosnian and you can lay your hands on Google translator read this long 2008 interview with the legendary Serb from Bosnia, Bogic Bogicevic. He was a member of the Yugoslavia national eight-man collective Presidency, but elected as the Bosnia and Herzegovina representative on something like a democratic mandate. He (in)famously found himself in an appalling situation when Milosevic expected him as a 'loyal Serb' to go along with Belgrade's plan of how constitutional events should unfold. But he voted with his conscience and voted No.
This amazing, tense episode was filmed, and later shown in the Death of Yugoslavia film series. Here it is:
You may be wondering why the Presidency members were wearing coats indoors. As Bogicevic explains in his interview, the Jugoslav Army took the Presidency members (without consulting them) off to a very cold room in the deep basement of a military building (no doubt to add to the psychological pressure on those thought likely to vote No, not least Bogicevic himself).
I was in London grappling with the collapse of the USSR while all this was happening. So I have no real sense for the intricacies of the local rival political options in Bosnia and elsewhere in the doomed SFRY as the country slumped into conflict. When precisely did it all go wrong, and when precisely should Western governments have been better/smarter at delivering threats or offering bribes to head off war? Views differ.
The Serbs do make one strong point about what happened in Bosnia back then, namely that the Bosnia independence referendum decision supported by the Muslims/Bosniacs and Croats was pushed through illegally under the laws on collective decision-making then pertaining.
I wonder how far this in fact matters. Maybe Milosevic and Croatian leader Tudjman were planning to carve up Bosnia anyway? But was it wise to push for independence as Izetbegovic when as much as one third of the republic's population were strenuously opposed to it?
Yes, an independent Bosnia and Herzegovina is now a member of the United Nations, with hopes of eventual EU membership. It perhaps is, as Tim Judah says, a 'glass half-full'. But was the cost of getting there so high for such a small territory as to leave the country effectively dysfunctional for the indefinite future?