Never again, interrupted
Retired Greek Ambassador Alexandros P. Mallias gave this lecture at the Public University of Prizren under the auspices of the Diplomatic Academy of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Kosovo, October 25, 2013:
1. Never again
These were the words we used at the end of the bloody, cruel and devastating Second World War.
We declared no more inhuman treatment; no more mass graves and concentration camps; no more genocides and ethnic cleansing. No more destruction of cities, no more millions of refugees.
Mauthausen and Auschwitz are permanent and tragic reminders of barbaric behavior. Toxic and nerve gases were used in Europe during the First World War and in the Nazi concentration camps during the Second. Much before the 1988 genocidal campaign in Iraq directed mainly against the Kurds and a few months ago in Syria.
This was indeed the darkest page in the contemporary European history, written exclusively by European protagonists. It is fair to say that history repeats itself.
In the aftermath of the Second World War, Free Europe supported by the United States was trying to recover. The wound healing process was shaped. There was a lot of optimism about the future.
Unfortunately, the reality was different. The path to reconciliation and peace proved bumpy.
Both sides of the victorious armies in the European war theater had second thoughts and agendas. The Cold War had started even before Berlin’s conquest and destruction.
The Berlin Wall, in political terms at least, existed even before its erection in 1961. In East Europe, those who during the war fought for their individual and national liberty were forced to live under totalitarian regimes. The Wall was for 28 years the strongest, most tragic and obvious symbol of the division of Europe in two blocks: the democratic and the undemocratic.
The unexpected fall of the Wall on November 19, 1989 was much celebrated. Its consequences, those expected and those unexpected, were most welcome.
That was the end of bipolarity in Europe and globally. It was also the end of Germany’s and Europe’s division. The end of Communism, at least in terms of its Soviet orthodoxy.
Soon, we found out that our expectations were not matched by the facts. The democracy and peace dividends were distributed only to some shareholders and stakeholders. They were not evenly distributed throught Europe .
2. History repeats itself
A year later ,on November 21 1990, the 34 Heads of State or Government of the (then) Conference on the Security and Cooperation on Europe (today’s OSCE), signed in Paris a supposedly historic document labeled “the Charter of Paris for a New Europe.” Modesty was not much present in the minds of the speechwriters in Paris.
Presidents George Bush (41), Michail Gorbachev and Francois Mitterrand, Chancellor Helmut Kohl and the late Margaret Thatcher were there, gathered to declare “the end of confrontation and division in Europe.”
their relations will now be based on respect and cooperation
Europe is liberating itself from the past….the courage of men and women, the strength of the will of the peoples and the power of the ideas… have opened a new era of democracy, peace and unity in Europe.
It was clear that the ”Never Again” statement was once more very present in speeches and minds during the Paris Summit Meeting. There was a lot of optimism, more than ever in Europe’s history, expressed by so many genuine leaders. Alas, it soon proved to be founded on illusions.
Ignorance, lack of foresight and understanding, lack of intelligence, political realism or simply political cynicism? I still have not the right answer. Probably all together, mixed unevenly.
A few months later the ”deja vu” realities sidelined the ” never again” declaration.
Not far from Greece’s borders, indeed a little bit more than a one hour drive from our northern border, we witnessed over ten years of military aggression, religious and ethnic conflicts, killing of civilians, ethnic cleansing, mass graves, burning of houses and villages as well as the destruction of cities. All this on ethnic and religious grounds. I was an eye witness of the destruction and the cruelty in Eastern Slavonia ( 1993-1994), Bosnia and Herzegovina (1994-1995) Kosovo ( 1997-2004), and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia ( 2001).
We saw again in our ‘ free and democratic Europe ” the skeletal bodies, the concentration camps, rape of bodies and conscience. Millions of refugees and displaced persons.
General Mladic’s snipers targeted from Mount Ingmar innocent civilians in the historic multicultural and multireligious city of Sarajevo. Milosevic’s regular army and militia apparatus persecuted innocent civilians throughout Kosovo. Approximately 1,000,000 Kosovar Albanian refugees sought a “safe haven” in neighboring countries, mostly in Albania. I witnessed this largest recent European refugee exodus as Ambassador of Greece in Tirana.
Sarajevo, Zupa, Zenica and Mostar in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Prekaj, Racak and Qyshk in Kosovo will remain tragic symbols and reminders of crimes aginst humanity.
Do not forget Srebrenica , the stigma of modern European history.
3. Our Europe: where are you?
In our Balkans region, the healing process is now engaged, but it is not over. Yesterday’s enemies are joining forces to shape their reconciliation process. Learning to live in peace is a difficult exercise.
Notwithstanding the existing lack of symmetry and profound differences between North and South, the European Union’s membership process provides, since the Thessaloniki 2003 Summit meeting, an alternate route to follow. It is open to those who wish and strive to meet the standards and the criteria, respecting the rules of the game.
Let’s be frank: there are still leaders and political elites who act and behave in an anachronistic manner.
Nevertheless, they are and they will remain the exception. The European membership process is the ”glue,” the strongest soft power incentive for democratization, reforms and solution of open issues and conflicts involving the candidates.
Kosovo for the first time participated in June 2003 in the Thessaloniki EU Summit meeting. Late President Ibrahim Rugova, a real statesman, and then Prime Minister Bajram Rexhepi were there. It was history in the making, for Greece, for Kosovo and for Europe as well.
Yet, to my regret and disillusion, Europe, our own Europe, as was the case in the 90’s, is also now divided. There are antagonistic interests between the EU states. Their stance throughout the on- going turmoil in the Arab world indicates absence of foresight and real leadership.
It is a serious blow for my generation who had a vision much different from Europe’s present capabilities and capacities, within the European borders as well as beyond them.
The fundamental values generating genuine enthusiasm for the European Union integration process has been overshadowed and sidelined by the need to preserve the euro’s value.
Human dignity is not at the center of polities and policies.
Furthermore, the present political, economic and social crisis in Europe (or as some of my European colleagues insist, throughout the European South) has resulted in serious political mistrust between the North and the South.
What we need today ,at a European level is genuine leadership to serve the interests of the Union .
- First and foremost, we need political accountability for and by those political and economic elites responsible for the present situation in Europe.
- Second, we need to bridge the chaotic gap and its dramatic consequences between the European Union institutions and bureaucracies and the citizens of Europe.
Yes, it is true that European Union was made by the political and economic elites. At this stage , however, Europe cannot and believe me will not make it without the Europeans.
Europe will also continue shrinking as a player in Middle East and in global politics as long as the present political and economic asymmetry persists. Restoring the balance and confidence within European borders as well as between the Brussels institutions and European citizens are key enablers for restoring the EU’s credibility and potential.
I acknowledge that this is definitely a pessimistic picture of present European politics and impact, notwithstanding Germany’s global economic competitiveness and might. It helps to explain the standing and deepening intra-European divisions during the ‘‘Four Seasons” of the unprecenteded turmoil in the Middle East and North Africa.
These divisions became apparent within the EU and NATO, as well as in the UN Security Council. A typical example was Germany’s abstention–write or wrong is less important–on the UNSC resolution related to the use of force against Libya’s Gaddhafi .
4. The case for democracy and change in Syria
The Syrian tragedy requires a clear and unequivocal response.
The Syrian dictatorship should have been already punished. I understand that the red line not to be crossed was the use of chemical weapons. It is tragic, it is cruel, but let’s face it; over 100.000 Syrians dead, killed during the uprising, were not considered enough to engage an internationally endorsed punitive action?
Four politico-military conditions had to be met before any kind of military action. In Syria or elsewhere:
- A decisive force was needed to secure the effectiveness of any kind of military operation.
- A clear political aim/target had to be fixed.
- The definition of ”success” should be clear and established in advance
- The political exit strategy needed to be defined.
Last but not least: the ”Day After” should be the outcome of meticulous orchestration and not a wishful-thinking. In other words, we must secure the endgame and the outcome. Securing the process is not enough. The political process is just the means to reach the target. Even today, while shaping the political framework of the process, we have no clue over the outcome.
It is an understatement to say that the four conditions just mentioned were not met throughout the on-going Syrian drama.
The era of dictators and absolute monarchs, without constitutional checks and balances, is coming to an end. The model of non-democratic and centralized countries in the Middle East and North Africa ultimately will change.
Notwithstanding the different agendas, plans and conflicting interests of the international as well as some key regional factors, I foresee the case for decentralized, federal or confederated states. For the ethnic and religious communities involved in the conflict , a redistribution of the cards at the central government in Damascus or elsewhere will not be enough.
I have no recipe for individual countries, but there are general axioms applicable all over the world. They are enshrined in the UN Charter and in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This is the case for democracy; this is the case for democratic reforms and for respecting individual dignity and liberty. This is the case for restoring the humans (anthropos) to the center of politics.
5. The pillars of wisdom
Let me also share with you some lessons learned from the recent Balkan wars and dramas:
- A. There is no standing guarantee for effective early warning, preventive action and political engagement of the international community. There was not adequate commitment and engagement, proportional to the humanitarian catastrophe, to prevent or even to confine the cruel and catastrophic wars in former Yugoslavia.
- NATO’s interventions in Bosnia and in Kosovo took place only after crimes against humanity were committed. The red line was already crossed. It is only at this point that the international community led by the United States decided for a military intervention.
- The path from absolutism, despotism and human suffering to liberty, democracy and human dignity is not a single act. It’s a process, sometimes a long process.
Currently, there no armed conflicts or hostilities within the borders or between the states that emerged from the collapse of former Yugoslavia.
Yet, democracy is not deep-rooted; or better, it is rooted unevenly. In fact:
– there are still tensions, fuelled or refueled by nationalism and irredentism
– Border issues are often surfacing or re-surfacing.
– There is no proper dealing with the past
– There is a deficit of the rule of law, with corruption and organized crime flourishing
– There is little international direct investment and a deficit of economic prosperity.
6. To change the process, make the difference
This is done by respecting human rights, freedom of the press, minorities, gender equality, religious institutions, the monuments and the cultural heritage of the others.
Learning to live in democracy is also a process. It requires more time than expected or anticipated. For sustainable success, patience and perseverance are needed. One must learn to live in peace with his fellow citizens and with his neighbor. Even more important is to be able to live in peace with your own conscience.
Democracy cannot be defined and confined to casting a ballot in free and regular elections. The hardest, albeit the most rewarding challenge, is to reach an all-inclusive consensus. Governance should be of the people, by the people, for the people.
There are no permanent friends. There are only permanent interests. But many interests differ and change. Both in nature and in content. This is the case in domestic politics, for example in shaping governmental or opposition coalitions. This is also the case in regional politics and global power politics.
In 1995, during the Dayton Conference, Kosovo and its status were not on the radar. Four years later, NATO was bombing Serbia. In 2008, the Republic of Kosovo became an independent state.
Serbia and Kosovo, yesterday’s enemies, are today cooperating and engaged in the reconciliation process. They target the full normalization of their relations and their commitment in the European Union membership process, the catalyst for their reconciliation.