Tag: Balkans

Run your own affairs

Zana Popovska-Bozinovska of the website MKD.mk asked questions. I answered:

Q: What is your position about Platform of Albanian political parties, does it exceed The Ohrid Framework agreement?

A: Yes, as I read it, it exceeds the Ohrid Framework agreement, but there is nothing wrong with that. Ohrid is more than ten years old. Going beyond it is well within the realm of political reason. The Albanian parties may not get all they are asking for, but they are entitled to ask.

That said, I am puzzled by some things in the Platform, in particular on the use of Albanian at all levels in the government. This seems to me impractical at present, but I’ll leave that to the citizens of Macedonia to decide.

Q: Why has nobody from international community reacted, since USA and EU were guarantor and signatories of the Agreement?

A: I think the Americans and Europeans are trying to get Macedonia’s citizens and politicians to take care of their own business. The notion that anyone in Brussels or Washington should dictate where Albanian is spoken in Macedonia is ridiculous.

Q: Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama was some kind of mentor, alongside Kosovo President Hashim Thaci. Is this interfering in the internal matters of Macedonia, as many critics in the country used to say it?

A: There is nothing wrong with a unified platform. But I understand why some Macedonians have reacted negatively to the external role. I also think Prime Minister Rama and President Thaci have problems of their own to deal with.

But at the same time you can expect other countries to have interests that they will pursue, including by pushing for unification of their co-nationals inside a neighboring country. We see Serbia doing the same kind of thing in Kosovo. Those who don’t want it there should think twice before doing it somewhere else.

Q: Situation in the country is tense after failure of Mr.Nikola Gruevski to form new Government. Now there is some progress in negotiations between DUI and SDSM and probably they will form the new Government. But VMRO-DPMNE doesn’t accept this combination. Is there any danger for ethnic tensions, return of nationalism, or maybe unrests?

A: Yes, there are risks of nationalist revival and unrest, which could entail also ethnic tensions. But the question of who governs should be decided by who has a majority in parliament, not in the streets. VMRO-DPMNE held power for a long time and will be an excellent counterbalance in opposition to SDSM if the latter is able to form a government.

Q: Generally, what is wrong with the country, it seems that nothing functions, there are always criticisms that reforms are blocked, no implementation, no progress toward EU and NATO. What is your opinion?

A: Democracy is not an easy system to make function well. Macedonia is still in transition and lacks experience in dealing with the contestation that is a part of any democratic system. On top of that, you’ve got ethnic/language differences that make governance particularly difficult. I’d like to see reform and progress towards the EU and NATO, but I’m not surprised it is difficult.

Q: Even if four political parties agreed with forming of Special Public Prosecutor office, according Przino Agreement, now VMRO-DPMNE denies prolonging of its mandate. There are always burdens in its functioning and investigations about wire-tapping scandal. What is your comment on it, should SPP continue its work after actual mandate, even judiciary has very selective, even negative approach regarding SPP?

A: I think the Special Public Prosecutor is necessary at this juncture and I would like to see the mandate extended. But that is up to the Macedonian parliament, not me or any other international.

Q: What do you think about role of Russia in the Balkans, including Macedonia, since last public opinion indicated that Russia is on the second place as desirable strategic partner, after EU, but in front of US. Is it some wider trend or result of delayed NATO membership?

A: The delay in NATO membership is an important factor, one that I enormously regret. All Macedonia’s problems would be more manageable if the country were firmly ensconced inside the Alliance. But there are of course broader trends, including the election of an ethnic nationalist as President in the US and Moscow’s aggressive efforts to undermine America and its friends in the Balkans (as well as elsewhere).

However, Russia in my view is declining regional power with little to offer anyone in the Balkans other than a model of how not to run a country. I have no doubt but that NATO and EU membership are the better choice for Macedonia, but it is Macedonia’s citizens who have to make that choice. The US and EU did not do all they’ve done in the Balkans so that people in Washington and Brussels could make decisions for people in Skopje. Sovereignty and independence mean you run your own affairs, even if you don’t always run them well.

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Who killed these people?

I received this note this morning from the Humanitarian Law Center in Belgrade:

Approximately 1,400 civilians were killed in the area of responsibility of the 37th Brigade of the Yugoslav Army in Kosovo in 1999. The mortal remains of a number of victims were discovered in mass graves in Serbia. The present Chief of General Staff of the Serbian Army, Ljubiša Diković, was the Commander of the Brigade at this time. Neither he nor any members of his unit have been held accountable for these crimes.

The evidence showing the presence and the role of the Yugoslav Army in the mass killings of civilians in Izbica, Čirez, Savarine, Rezala and other villages in the Drenica region is presented in the film titled “Ljubiša Diković and the 37th Brigade in Kosovo”, made by the Humanitarian Law Center. This evidence has already been presented in the “Ljubiša Diković” and “Rudnica” Dossiers.

A number of TV services in Serbia, including the public broadcasters Radio and Television of Serbia and Radio and Television of Vojvodina, have refused or have not responded to the request that they screen the film.

So here is the film, which apart from the spooky music seems to me worthy of the attention of anyone concerned with justice in the Balkans:

I hasten to add that there are of course Serbs, Croats, Bosniaks and others about whom the same question could be asked. It is to the credit of the Humanitarian Law Center that it has been concerned about all the individuals killed in the 1990s Balkan wars.

Injustice does not justify injustice. The failure to assign responsibility in one case does not excuse the failure to assign responsibility in others. The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia had limited capacities and is now closed to new cases. The governments of the region owe it to each other and to themselves to assign responsibility, even to their highest officials if that is where the evidence points.

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Good riddance, but problems persist

It’s hard not to celebrate the departure of General Flynn from the position of National Security Adviser. He was both pro-Russian and anti-Muslim beyond reason. A sworn enemy of the American intelligence establishment, he got caught by them talking sanctions relief with the Russian ambassador even before Donald Trump was sworn in. Then he allegedly lied to the Vice President about what was said. His comeuppance is well-merited.

Congressional Republicans are now pledging not to investigate him. Why would they do that? They are trying to contain the damage. Their reluctance suggests it is more than likely that Trump knew what Flynn was discussing with the Russians. Flynn’s testimony, or that of others cognizant of the contents of the phone calls, would call into question the President’s own behavior: did he authorize Flynn to discuss sanctions? Was he pleased that Flynn did so? Was this part of a broader scheme of accommodating Moscow’s interests?

The Congressional cover raises other questions: was it part of a deal to obtain Flynn’s resignation? Why wasn’t Flynn just fired? What are his non-disclosure arrangements with the Administration?

Whatever the answers, it is clear that Flynn’s resignation does not solve the basic problem, which is Trump’s unrestrained and so far unconditional desire for an improved relationship with Vladimir Putin. The President has never made it clear what he expects from this improved relationship, only that it would somehow magically make things better in the world. He also hasn’t specified what he would be prepared to give up in return: recognition of Russian annexation of Crimea? Southeastern Ukraine? Independence of Transnistria? Annexation of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, which are already nominally independent? NATO accession of Montenegro, now on the Senate’s agenda for ratification? Further NATO expansion in the Balkans? NATO expansion further into Scandinavia? An end to American support for rebels in Syria?

These questions persist even without Flynn. Secretary of Defense Mattis and Secretary of State Tillerson may restrain the White House from some particularly bad impulses, especially Trump’s inclination to ditch NATO altogether, but their leverage will be limited. If the President is prepared to pursue a rapprochement with Russia despite the failures recorded by his two immediate predecessors, he will no doubt pick a new National Security Adviser prepared to pursue his policy direction. I doubt that can be David Petraeus, who in any event is already tarred with the brush of security violations. But I trust there are lots of other people who will do the work if given the opportunity.

In the meanwhile, the resignation of the National Security Adviser (and according to the press his deputy) will throw a National Security Council already roiled by leaks into further turmoil. President Trump has already failed to respond with anything but a few thin words of support to Japan when North Korea tested a missile in violation of UN Security Council resolutions. He is looking unprepared for a crisis, which of course means that someone somewhere on earth is likely to think this is a good time to precipitate one. An already messy transition has unsettled America’s relationships across the globe and now seems likely to open the door to a serious security challenge.

It is easy enough to say good riddance to Flynn. But there are real risks involved in a presidency committed to cooperation with Putin’s aggressive Russia and unprepared to meet even the challenge of a North Korean missile test.

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Shortest route to Balkans peace

Filip Raunic of Croatia’s Telegram asked some questions about Bosnia and Herzgovina. I replied: 
Q: Republika Srpska celebrated its National Day, despite the fact that Constitution Court marked it as unconstitutional. The President of Republika Srpska said a few days ago that Bosnia and Hercegovina (BiH) should disintegrate. How do you see his actions and his role in BiH?

A: It has been clear for a long time that Dodik opposes the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Bosnia and Herzegovina, which is the core of the Dayton agreements. Respecting court decisions, even if you disagree with them, is vital to rule of law and democratic governance, not only in BiH but also here in the US.

Q: If Republika Srpska really decides to call a referendum on independence, do you see the possibility of the reaction from Federation and potentially a new military clash?

A: I don’t think you can expect those who support the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Bosnia and Herzegovina, which includes most people who live in the country as well as the international community, not to react in some fashion to a referendum on independence. But such referenda often are not fulfilled, since sovereignty requires recognition by other sovereign states. I would expect an RS that declares independence to end up in limbo, with minimal recognition, no serious foreign support, and little ability to satisfy the legitimate aspirations of its people for security and prosperity.

Q: Do you see some similarity in  the situation and behavior of the political elites in Bosnia in the 90’s and today?

A: Yes, I do. But the circumstances are different. Serbia is no longer willing to risk its own prosperity for irredentist political aims, many people in Bosnia and Herzegovina are far better off than they were at the end of the war, Europe’s and NATO’s doors are in principle open to BiH, and its population expects more transparent and accountable governance. The nationalist fervor is far less murderous, but no less dangerous.

Q: Former English diplomat Timothy Less wrote a piece in Foreign Affairs in which he suggest disintegration of Bosnia – Republika Srpska would unite with Serbia and parts of Hercegovina with Croatia. What do you think about this idea?

A: It is just as bad an idea as it was in the 1990s. It would result in the formation of a non-viable rump Islamic Republic in central Bosnia and Herzegovina heavily dependent on Islamist funding from Iran, Saudi Arabia or somewhere else. Why would Croatia or Serbia want such a neighbor on their borders?

Q: You mediated between Croats and Muslims in the 90s and brokered the first agreement of the Dayton peace talks. How do you now look on these days and Dayton agreement. Was Dayton a good framework for Bosnia, and is it still good?

A: It was good enough to end the war, but not good enough to make real peace. It now needs updating, but how and what to do is now up to the citizens of BiH, not the internationals.

Q: Do you think that BiH should enter EU as quickly as possible?

A: I think BiH should qualify to enter the EU as quickly as possible.

Q: If Brussels will hesitate with BiH membership, is there a possibility and danger that Russia and Turkey will gain more influence in Bosnia and would it mean instability for the country?

A: Yes. Russia is already interfering in BiH in ways that are destabilizing. Moscow’s aim seems to be pernicious: to create as much trouble as possible at the least cost.

I don’t see Turkey’s influence in the same light, but it certainly increases the weight of Islamist politics and makes it harder to reach mutual accommodations among Serbs, Croats and Bosniaks.

Q: Croatian president Kolinda Grabar Kitarović recently said that Bosnia is becoming more radicalized in terms of more rigid interpretation of the values of Islam. Do you see Islamic radicalization? Is there a possibility of it if the situation in Bosnia remains tense?

A: I might not see things quite the same way President Grabar Kitarović sees them, but there is certainly a possibility of radicalization if Bosnia and Herzegovina is unable to succeed in satisfying its population’s aspirations. Tension produces polarization and exclusion, which are ingredients that will radicalize at least a few people.

Q: What could we expect from Trump administration for Bosnia and this region?

A: I don’t know what to expect. The new administration has said precious little about the Balkans and nothing to my knowledge about Bosnia and Herzegovina, which are not high on the priority list these days in Washington. The only clear statement I’ve seen is from Secretary of Defense Mattis, who supports the formation of the Kosovo Security Force.

Q: If you would advise Mr. Trump on Bosnia, what would you tell him to do?

A: I’d say a lot has changed for the better in the Balkans since the early 1990s. The United States should commit itself wholeheartedly to finishing the process by helping all the remaining countries to qualify for EU, and if they want it, NATO membership. I’d say that is the shortest and least troublesome route to lasting peace and stability.

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Montenegro, Russia, NATO

Marija Jovićević of Montenegro’s Pobjeda  asked these questions. I responded:

1. Can we expect ratification of Montenegrin Protocol in US Congress in January? Do you see any obstacle in this process?

A: I really don’t know. There appears to be no real opposition, but the Senate has a lot of things on its plate. I hope it will be quickly
reported out of committee and approved in the full Senate in the next couple of weeks. If it doesn’t happen before January 20, I have my
doubts the new administration will make it a priority. Then it will be up to key senators to make it move, which they might want to do to send an unequivocal signal of commitment to the Alliance to both Trump and Putin.

2. Relations between USA and Russia are very complicated at this moment, can this situation affect ratification of Protocol and Montenegro entering NATO?

A: I don’t think anyone in Congress is wanting to slow ratification because of Russian opposition, but it remains to be seen what the new administration will do. I would hope it would want to send the Russians a very clear signal that the NATO door remains open to those who qualify and want to enter. Europe whole and free (which means, among other
things, free to join NATO) is a good idea.

3. Do You expect that relations between Russia and USA could be closer and better after inauguration of Donald Trump?

A: Trump will make an effort to improve relations with Russia, in part by accommodating Russian demands on NATO, Ukraine and Syria. But I don’t think it will work out well for long. Putin doesn’t want good relations with the US. He wants to lead a defiant anti-US, illiberal coalition and establish a Russian sphere of influence in its “near abroad.”

4. What will be policy of the new American administration when we talk about the Balkans?

A: It is hard to tell, as it will be way down the list of priorities. But the new administration is in part an ethnic nationalist one, which doesn’t bode well from my liberal democratic perspective.

5. How do you see relations between Montenegro and USA. Do you expect
any changes after the inauguration of Donald Trump?

A: Certainly if Trump fails to press for Montenegro’s NATO accession, that won’t help Montenegro or its relations with the US. It could even drive Montenegro into Russian arms.

6. We are witnessing Russian interference in elections in USA, in elections in Montenegro also. Russia is using every possible way to
stop Montenegro’s way to NATO. Do you think that this is already lost battle for Moscow?

A: It isn’t over until it’s over. Moscow will continue fighting and will have an easier time of it in the initial phase of a Trump administration. But in the end I think Montenegro will enter NATO this year and help to keep the door open to other aspirants. I for one am grateful to Montenegro for its fortitude and persistence. Let it be rewarded soon!

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Never never land

Today, Sean Hannity is tweeting:

Question of the Day: Who do you believe? Julian Assange or President Obama and Hillary Clinton

Sarah Palin has apologized to Assange, the Wikileaks guru, for criticizing him in the past and is recommending Oliver Stone’s film about Edward Snowden, the National Security Agency contractor who leaked some of its most tightly held secrets. President-elect Trump has in the meanwhile quietly cancelled providing the information he said he had on the hacking of the Democrats during the election campaign.

We have somehow entered never never land, where some Republicans (conservatives?) are unwilling to accept the considered judgments of the intelligence community that the Russians were not only responsible for the hacking but also did it to favor Trump’s election. Opposition to President Obama and Hillary Clinton has driven people who used to wear American flag lapel pins into the arms of an autocratic president of Russia and his collaborators in unveiling and publishing private emails and government secrets.

We used to call people like this “traitors” when they were on the left. You don’t have to think Russia has somehow re-inflated itself to the Soviet Union to realize that Putin, Assange, and Snowden are out to weaken the United States and help Moscow regain its great power status. Of course Snowden and Assange have no choice: the former has taken refuge in Russia and the latter in the Ecuadoran embassy in London. Both will be prosecuted if the US government ever gets their hands on them. The one virtue of the burst of Republican enthusiasm for Snowden is that it will end any idle chatter about a pardon for him from President Obama. I wonder about Trump though.

Hannity, Palin, and Trump are not under constraints that force them to favor Moscow. They are choosing to align themselves with Putin and his enmity to the US. A significant portion of the Republican electorate has also turned in that direction. Why? My own suspicion is that the ethnic nationalists–white supremacists in the language of my youth–recognize in Putin (as well as Netanyahu, by the way) a Russian analogue: someone who believes profoundly in the superiority and rights of his ethnic group and gender, to the exclusion of others. In other words, it is racism and misogyny that have brought us to never never land.

Many Republicans in Congress are not following Trump in his Russophile direction. Publication within the next couple of weeks of the Obama Administration’s findings on the email hacking will be a moment of truth: will Senate Republicans like John McCain and Lindsey Graham follow through on their many sound bites and take up the cudgels against Trump’s unrealistic attitude toward Moscow during Rex Tillerson’s confirmation hearing to become Secretary of State, or will they let things slide, allowing the new administration to end the sanctions on Russia and recognize the annexation of Crimea?

If the latter, there are real risks that partition efforts elsewhere will be encouraged. Re-establishing Ukrainian sovereignty over Donbas would become even more difficult. Russia might well annex Transnistria (in Moldova) as well as South Ossetia and Abkhazia (in Georgia). In the Balkans, Bosnia, Kosovo, Macedonia, and possibly even Serbia would find their efforts to establish Europe-eligible multi-ethnic democracies undermined. Instability and possibly worse would ensue. The sooner we get out of never never land, the better.

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