[yt_dropcap type=”square” font=”” size=”14″ color=”#000″ background=”#fff” ] K [/yt_dropcap]arl G. Jung pointed out in his Modern Man in Search of a Soul that Man is naturally religious and when he throws religion out the window, it will promptly return via the back door in the form of a fanatical cult or a totalitarian ideology.
Giambattista Vico, the 18th century philosopher of history and civilizations who fully understood and explained the connection between myth and religion, points out in his New Science (1725) that the burial of the dead, hinting at belief in an after-life by primitive man, is a credible and concrete sign of some archaic form of religion, what he considers a sine qua non (together with language and the institution of marriage and family) for the beginning of any kind of primordial civilized society.
Indeed, religion and atheism (see Lucretius’ De Rerum Natura) have been around from time immemorial, but it is only with the arrival of nihilism in the 20th century that we witness the political installation and practice of the religion-less State, to wit Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union which descend into the cult of self-worship or race worship, not too dissimilar from that of the ancient Romans worshipping goddess Rome. The ideology is substituted to religion and given a name (Nazism or Marxism, for example) while religion is deemed as poisonous to the body-politic, a rival ideology of sort to be dispatched. We know quite well the nefarious fruits of those social experiments. Indeed, it is by their fruits that the wolves in sheep’s clothing are best known, not by their alleged good intentions and goals. Some of those wolves were brought to the Hague’s International Court of Law after World War II and most received quick justice. Others followed after Kosovo some fifty years later. The issue remains.
Christianity is not native to Europe, it arrives via the Middle East but, as hinted above, however, there were in Europe native archaic religions (called pagan religions by Christians) which can be traced back to the the Stone Age. Moreover, as Klaus Held points out in his essay on the origins of European culture, never was religion so discussed in ancient Greece as when science and democracy were making their debut in the 4th century BC. Perhaps the best example to support this assertion is Plato’s dialogue called Euthyphro. There we read about Socrates and Euthyphro discussing the nature of holiness. After some debating back and forth they finally come to agree that the holy is what all the gods agree in approving. Socrates however, true to form, follows with another more penetrating question: “Is the holy such because the gods approve it, or do they approve it because it is holy”? At first Euthyphro misses the import of the question. For this is the question of the “reasonableness” of the gods (or God as the case may be). To ask the same question in a slightly different way: “Would absolutely anything the gods approved of, be holy just because they approve of it, or are they also bound to approve only what is holy”? Which is to say, are they free to approve or disapprove or are they bound by reason just as humans are. For humans to remain ethical and human, they need to follow reason in assessing their own actions. Does this apply to the gods too; and if so, are they free or determined?
As Nietzsche well grasped in his Geneology of Morals, with that penetrating question Socrates has discovered the basic dilemma of the relationship between religion and morality. The dilemma is basically this: either goodness cannot be explained simply by reference to what the gods want, or else it is an empty tautology to assert that “the gods are good.” In that case the praise of the gods is simply power-worship. Those who have the power to do so impose their will; those who do not simply obey those who have it. Enter Machiavelli and modern political science.
For us moderns the question may be put thus: is Aquinas right in his faith in reason that leads him to found his theology on the scaffolding of Aristotelian rationality and discern no innate enmity between faith and reason? With that question we arrive at the statement of the US founding fathers in the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident.” Which is to say, it is universally evident to reason that human rights are universal and inalienable, independent of agreements among men or even among gods. If God created us human creatures with reason, She expects us to use it as a way of reaching the truth, and the truth shall make us free. Even God, if She respects truth, cannot let a Lucifer out of hell, the reprobate angel who said “evil be thou my god” (see Milton’s Paradise Lost).
Moreover, was Aquinas right in pointing out that Truth can be distinguished as scientific, religious, and philosophical but it neverthless remains one and indivisible? Perhaps the most important point of his Summa is that religious faith cannot contradict reason; when it does, then we have separated truths and we may be dealing with a fanatical cult of sort leading to falsehood.
By the 12th century the Olympian and Nordic gods have dwindled to one God and Western civilization is entirely monotheistic and Biblical. The Enlightenment however begins the work of God’s liquidation culminating with Nietzsche’s madman shout: “God is dead” at the end of the 19th century. Leibnitz basically poses the same dilemma as Socrates when he writes that: “Those who believe that God has established good and evil by an arbitrary decree…. deprive God of the designation “good”: for what cause could one have to praise him for what he does, if in doing something quite different he would have done equally well?”
The problem here, as Nietzsche and others within a Christian Western Civilization also saw quite well, is that Socrates really believes that “knowledge is virtue,” and that by merely discussing the virtues and clarifying their essence, one is then bound to become a virtuous person. Plato, who is actually the one who presents Socrates to us and narrates his trial, is more skeptical. He posits the irrational in the human soul which needs to be rained in (see the image of the charioteer and the two winged horses in The Phaedrus). He had observed the likes of Critias, Charmides and even Alcibiades, converse at length with Socrates and then go off and become elitist sophists, corrupt people who use language not as a means to a sincere dialogue aiming at truth, but as a tool to control and manipulate others. They were the precursors of Machiavelli and his philosophy, and our modern politicians, a philosophy alive and well within current Western Civilization.
And which are the modern views on virtue? On one extreme, as already hinted, there is Machiavelli’s position which takes hold of the Aristotelian concept of virtue (understood as a good habit as opposed to vice, a bad habit) and turns it up-side-down: virtue is nothing else but something well done, with competency and thorough skill. It is perfection of means or techne in any field. The virtuous Prince is he who gets a hold of power and holds on to it at any cost. Pushed to its ultimate conclusion, the logical rationalist who operates by pure reason, (what Vico calls “the barbarism of the intellect”) will make the trains run on time and efficiently, will gas millions of innocent women, children and men, and then conceive himself as a “virtuous” person; somebody to be admired and praised for his supreme competence in doing such a thorough and efficient job and meeting the goals he has proposed. Virtue is now power, as the father of the scientific method Francis Bacon well expressed it.
The other side of this coin is the Christian view as expressed by St. Paul: “I know the good but I do evil.” In other words, there is something within human nature that is perceived as flawed and less than ideal at its source which makes Socrates’ dictum “knowledge is virtue” sound a bit naïve and abstract. Paul and to a certain extent Plato are a bit more realistic about human nature. Plato knows about the irrational part of the soul, Paul knows that there is a garden which has been left behind, and that there is a snake in such a utopian garden and there are fallen angels as Milton points out. As pure spirits, they know what virtue is, rationally unencumbered by the weakness of the senses, but freely embrace evil nonetheless. There is no redemption for them, for there are no mitigating circumstances such as the weakness of the body.
It is conceivably naïve on Socrates’ part to think that nobody would choose evil by simply knowing what evil is. In a flawed universe, knowledge is not automatically convertible into virtue. In the same way, it is naïve to think that a Constitution proclaiming the universal rights of man with no appeal to a Creator of human nature (through which they become inalienable, not to be granted and not to be violated by any State no matter how powerful) but simply to abstract notions such “fraternitè” “egalitè” “libertè” is any kind of guarantee that those rights will be universally respected. To wit, the former Soviet Union and the present Russia and People’s Republic of China who have wonderful theoretical ideals in their constitutions, portending a utopia or blissful paradise on earth, but it is all on paper so to speak, for the most part violated in practice.
To be sure, these three understandings of virtue were proposed in one form or another under the guise of rationality, piety, morality or holiness at the Plenary Session of the Convention for the EU Constitution held in Brussels a decade or so ago. Unfortunately they were never thoroughly debated. One of the frequent contributors to the forum on the future of Europe (Carlos del Ama, a Spaniard who teaches philosophy in Madrid) submitted a document at the conclusion of the Convention, on which I assisted him with the English version. It showed that, contrary to what the modern anti-religion sophists and rationalists go around peddling nowadays, historically, most of the Constitutions of the world at the very least mention a Creator or a Providence in their preamble as a way of grounding themselves in something more durable than the historical vicissitudes of humankind and its relativistic power politick. The decision not to do so for the EU Constitution while enthusiastically invoking on the part of Mr.Valerie D’Estaing the goddess Europe at the opening session of the Constitutional Convention leaves one wondering if the above examined distinctions were at least discerned. They certainly were not discussed. Too philosophical, in our times the paradigms are usually economic, or political, or military. They are paradigms grounded in power.
And so it was not too surprising that the feast of the gods on the Mount Olympus to celebrate the EU Constitution proceeded full speed ahead on Rome’s Capitoline Hill where the draft Constitution was signed by the head of each member state. It contained plenty of lip service to democratic values and human rights but it never debated on what should those principles be grounded?
It now appears that an apple was thrown on the banquet table by an angry rival goddess who had not been invited at the party: the goddess of discord. The old nationalistic ideological centrifugal forces returned. The difficulties continued unabated for a decade and more and as of now one of the member states, of those which originally signed the Constitution, has withdrawn from the Union and others are mulling over the same step. No great surprises there, given that in general the people were not democratically consulted with a universal referendum on it.
Ultimately people get the Constitution and the government they deserve, for better or for worse. There are various ways of escaping from freedom (see Fromm’s Escape from Freedom). The flip side of that phenomenon is the dictum of Thomas Jefferson: “Eternal vigilance is the price of freedom.” On November 8 there will be test of fire of that statement in the US, worth pondering by all Europeans who still treasure freedom and democracy.
EU-Republic of Korea Summit: Building on a well-established partnership
The 9th EU-Republic of Korea Summit took place on 19 October in Brussels. It marked the 55th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the EU and the Republic of Korea and set the stage for a further strengthening of bilateral ties.
Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission and Donald Tusk, President of the European Council, represented the European Union at the Summit. The Republic of Korea was represented by its President, Moon Jae-in. The EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy/Vice-President of the European Commission, Federica Mogherini and EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmström also participated, alongside several Ministers from the Republic of Korea.
“In 2011, the EU agreed its first Free Trade Agreement with an Asian country. That country was the Republic of Korea”, said President Jean-Claude Juncker. “The beneficiaries of this agreement have been our citizens and our businesses, but if our trade relationship is to reach its full potential, we need to ensure that it is being implemented properly. At the same time, we must continue to dispel the notion that protectionism protects, continue to invest in multilateralism, and continue to increase our cooperation in sustainable development and the implementation of the Paris climate agreement. I am confident that in the years to come, our relations will be even more dynamic and our ties even stronger than now.”
Presidents Juncker, Tusk and Moon committed to further develop the EU-Republic of Korea Strategic Partnership, which is underpinned by three concrete pillars: an enhanced Partnership and Cooperation Agreement; an ambitious Free Trade Agreement; and a Framework Participation Agreement for EU crisis management operations. The Summit provided an opportunity to explore further areas for cooperation within the Strategic Partnership.
Discussions focused on the situation on the Korean Peninsula, the broader situation in the world, and trade relations. The Summit also provided an opportunity for the initialling, by the European Commission and the Republic of Korea, of a Horizontal Aviation agreement and the signing of a Joint Statement committing to work closely together to fight against Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated fishing.
Jointly addressing global challenges
The EU and Korea are united by common values of democracy, human rights and the rule of law. The Leaders reaffirmed their strong commitment to multilateralism and the international rules-based order, politically and economically, while also supporting global action on climate change and the environment. The EU and Korea will continue promoting free, fair and rules-based trade, modernising the WTO-based multilateral trading system, and maintaining international cooperation against protectionism.
The Leaders discussed a number of pressing issues on the global agenda, chief among them prospects for achieving lasting peace and security on a Korean Peninsula free of nuclear weapons and finding a comprehensive solution through diplomacy, while fully implementing the relevant UNSC Resolutions. The EU supports the Republic of Korea’s efforts and diplomatic initiatives, in particular the three inter-Korean Summits and the US-DPRK Summit, and the implementation of their outcomes. The EU sees the development of inter-Korean relations, the denuclearisation of, and the establishment of a peace regime on the Korean Peninsula as vital for peace and security not only in East Asia, but for the entire world. In this context, the EU stressed the requirement for the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) to completely, verifiably and irreversibly dismantle all its nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction, ballistic missiles and related programmes and facilities.
The EU and the Republic of Korea reiterated their commitment to maintaining close coordination on foreign and security issues. In the field of crisis management, the EU and the Republic of Korea will continue the good cooperation under the EU-Republic of Korea Framework Participation Agreement, through which the Republic of Korea has regularly contributed to the EU’s naval counter-piracy operation off the coast of the Horn of Africa, EU NAVFOR Atalanta. Similarly, they discussed and agreed to cooperate more closely on implementing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and achieving its Sustainable Development Goals, and will bolster their bilateral policy dialogue on international development issues and promote joint cooperation in areas and third countries of mutual interest, notably in Asia and Africa.
Expanding the bilateral agenda to bring further benefits to citizens
The leaders recalled that the EU-Republic of Korea Free Trade Agreement has been an economic success that has increased wealth on both sides. The EU is Korea’s 3rd largest trading partner and Korea the EU’s 8th largest; annual trade in goods between the EU and Korea is now worth about €100 billion. With that in mind, the leaders exchanged views on how to ensure that our citizens and businesses can reap the full benefits of the agreement. The EU highlighted several important issues: for example, ensuring the full implementation of the long-standing, binding labour commitments under the Trade and Sustainable Development Chapter; opening the Korean market to EU beef from all EU Member States; and fully implementing commitments in the area of intellectual property rights, including protecting new Geographical Indications.
The Summit also provided an opportunity for the European Commissioner for Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, Karmenu Vella, and Kim Young-Choon, Minister for Oceans and Fisheries of the Republic of Korea to sign a joint statement committing to work closely together to fight against Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated fishing. The Republic of Korea is the fourth country with whom the EU signs such a joint statement as part of its efforts to tackle the most serious threats to sustainable fishing and to marine biodiversity in the world’s oceans, with devastating environmental and socio-economic consequences. The new partnership, in line with the objectives of the EU’s Ocean Governance strategy, will help exchange information about suspected Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated activities, enhance traceability of fishery products and promote sustainable fishing through education and training.
Excellent progress has been made in the area of transport, where this week the European Commission and the Republic of Korea initialled a Horizontal Aviation Agreement on certain aspects of air services. The agreement will restore legal certainty to all 22 bilateral air services agreements that the Republic of Korea has with EU Member States by bringing these into conformity with EU law. The number of passengers travelling directly between the Republic of Korea and the EU has grown on average 10.1% over the past five years, totalling 3.4 million passengers in 2017. Currently, direct passenger flights are operated between 10 EU Member States and the Republic of Korea. The Horizontal Aviation Agreement reflects this growth in the EU-Republic of Korea aviation market and should serve as a catalyst for increased flows.
Leaders also stressed their commitment to implementing the Paris climate agreement. To translate this political commitment into concrete projects, the EU has set up a platform to exchange best practice on climate action and support the implementation of the Korean Government’s Emissions Trading System (ETS) to reach the goals of the Paris Agreement. The EU’s Partnership Instrument also financially supports exchanges of cultural practitioners and artists from both the EU and Korea, economic cooperation between companies, as well as the promotion of research and teaching on EU-related issues in Korea, adding to the overall breadth of the relationship.
ASEM Summit: Europe and Asia – Global Partners for Global Challenges
The 12th ASEM (Asia-Europe Meeting) Summit took place on 18-19 October in Brussels, bringing together 51 countries, as well as EU and Asian institutions. Under the title “Global Partners for Global Challenges”, leaders addressed some of the world’s most pressing issues.
Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission and Donald Tusk, President of the European Council, represented the European Union at the Summit. Heads of State or Government of the 28 EU Member States, Switzerland and Norway, in addition to 21 Heads of State or Government from Asian countries, as well as the Secretary General of ASEAN (the Association of Southeast Asian Nations), were also invited. The High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy/Vice-President of the European Commission, Federica Mogherini, and the Vice-President of the European Commission for Jobs, Growth, Investment and Competitiveness, Jyrki Katainen, also participated at the Summit.
“We want to give our relationship with Asia, which is already very dynamic – as illustrated by the numerous trade and cooperation agreements we have, fresh impetus“, said President Jean-Claude Juncker at the Summit’s plenary session this morning. “Only a multilateral approach will enable us to confront global challenges. This is why I reiterate our commitment to support multilateral organisations in all their efforts, including the United Nations and the World Trade Organisation – a World Trade Organisation that we have to reform together, so that its rules correspond better to the new realities. It is by acting together that we will be able to preserve our planet […], contribute to resolving conflicts, eradicate poverty, reduce inequalities, […] and that we can better manage migration flows and develop free and fair trade.”
“What Europe and Asia agree together matters not only for the two of us, but for the entire world. Together we represent 55% of global trade, 60% of global population, 65% of global economy and 75% of global tourism; together we represent a real global power“, said the High Representative/Vice-President, Federica Mogherini at the Summit’s press conference. “We come out of this two-day Summit with a reinforced global partnership between Europe and Asia. It has allowed us to translate our global weight into concrete policy initiatives – on regional and international security, foreign policy issues, climate change action, free and fair trade, and the digital agenda to name a few. Together, we can make a real difference for the world.”
A Chair’s Statement, covering the wide range of areas discussed and focussing on ASEM’s three pillars – namely political, economic and financial, and social and cultural – has also been issued.
Sustainable connectivity between Europe and Asia
In his address at the Summit’s plenary session, President Juncker highlighted the importance of investing in more sustainable connectivity between the European Union and Asia. The European Union has this week adopted a new strategy on connecting Europe and Asia, building on the proposal of the European Commission and the High Representative in September. With financial, environmental, and social sustainability at the core of the EU’s approach to connectivity, the EU’s objective is to develop sustainable connectivity networks across the digital, transport, energy and human dimensions, as well as to strengthen partnerships at the bilateral, regional and international levels, in particular to ensure a rules-based approach and interoperability of standards.
As a contribution to enhancing Euro-Asian connectivity, as well as to demonstrate the huge potential of the relationship, the European Commission has this week launched the ASEM Sustainable Connectivity Portal, offering policymakers, researchers, businesses and other stakeholders alike a wealth of data on the political, economic and societal relationships between the two continents. A full press release and factsheet are available online. In parallel to the Summit, a number of events to bring Europeans and Asians together are taking place in Belgium, such as the ASEM Cultural Festival, the Young Leaders’ Summit, the Business Forum, the People’s Forum for civil society, the Labour Forum and the Parliamentary Partnership Meeting.
Strengthening EU-Asia bilateral ties
In the margins of the ASEM Summit, the European Union signed a number of bilateral agreements to deepen and expand its relations with Singapore and Vietnam respectively.
President Juncker,President Tusk and Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz signed, together with the Prime Minister of Singapore, Lee Hsien Long, the EU-Singapore Free Trade Agreement. In the presence of the leaders, EU High Representative/Vice-President, Federica Mogherini and the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Singapore, Vivian Balakrishnan signed the EU-Singapore Framework Agreement on Partnership and Cooperation and Commissioner for Trade Cecilia Malmström and Mr S Iswaran, Minister for Communications and Information, and Trade Relations of Singapore signed the EU-Singapore Investment Protection Agreement. These agreements represent a significant step forward for a more comprehensive and mutually-beneficial relationship between the EU and Singapore, opening new opportunities for European producers, farmers, service providers and investments, as well as strengthening political and sectoral cooperation through more formal and intensive exchanges for example in environment, climate change and counter-terrorism.
The European Union is also stepping up its relations with Vietnam. Earlier this week, the European Commission adopted the EU-Vietnam trade and investment agreements, paving the way for their signature and conclusion. The trade agreement will eliminate virtually all tariffs on goods traded between the two sides. The agreement also includes a strong, legally binding commitment to sustainable development, including the respect of human rights, labour rights, environmental protection and the fight against climate change, with an explicit reference to the Paris Agreement. Today, the EU and Vietnam signed a Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade Voluntary Partnership Agreement. The Agreement will help improve forest governance, address illegal logging and promote trade in verified legal timber products from Vietnam to the EU, and other markets. In addition to the variety of social, economic and environmental benefits associated with better management of the forestry sector in Vietnam, the licensing will simplify business for timber traders.
EU-ASEAN Leaders’ Meeting
Following the ASEM Summit, a Leaders’ Meeting between the European Union and ASEAN took place. President Jean-Claude Juncker and President Donald Tusk, accompanied by EU High Representative/Vice-President Federica Mogherini represented the European Union, whilst the Association of Southeast Asian Nations was represented by the Prime Minister of Singapore, Lee Hsien Loong, as the country holding the ASEAN Chairmanship for 2018, the Prime Minister of Thailand, Prayut Chan-o-cha, as the country which will hold the Chairmanship of ASEAN in 2019, and the ASEAN Secretary General, Lim Jock Hoi.
“The EU’s partnership with ASEAN is founded on common interests across many areas. We share common values – in the European Union and in the founding charter of ASEAN – which need to be respected by all”, said President Juncker at the opening of the Leaders’ Meeting. “Proof of our intense cooperation is the number of agreements with Singapore that we have just signed. These, I hope, will be the first in a long series of such agreements with ASEAN countries, and will eventually result in a region-to-region agreement.”
At the Leaders’ Meeting, alongside matters of trade, connectivity and transport, leaders addressed global peace and security challenges, including climate change, non-proliferation, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action – the Iran nuclear deal, counter-terrorism, maritime security and migration. They agreed to strengthen the EU-ASEAN relationship, in particular to address global challenges and to work together to reinforce the rules-based international order and multilateralism.
A New Redrawing of Balkan Borders: A Road to Hell
More than a decade after Kosovo region’s unilateral declaration of independence from Serbia, the issue of redrawing borders is back on the agenda. The ongoing negotiations between Belgrade and Pristina on the settlement of bilateral relations under the auspices of the European Union may lead to an unexpected result – the breakaway of Serbia’s three predominantly Albanian-populated southern Serbian regions of the Presevo Valley and their accession to Kosovo – which, in turn, will be carved up into Serbian and Albanian parts. Such a scenario, in turn, can set off disintegration processes in Macedonia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro and even Greece (with Albanians enclaves in the north).
The Pesident of the self-proclaimed Kosovo Republic, Hasim Thaci, said that in the event of an agreement signed between Belgrade and Pristina, the Presevo Valley adjacent to the Kosovo border, would likewise join Kosovo.
According to him, “the requests of the Albanian population of the Presevo Valley for joining Kosovo are institutionalized,” and if an agreement is reached between Belgrade and Pristina, neither the EU, nor NATO or the US would be able to interfere with its implementation. Moreover, he said that the problem of Presevo will soon be discussed in Brussels anyway.
However, he once again ruled out the possibility of Kosovo proper being divided into Serbian and Albanian parts (which is increasingly being discussed in Serbian political and public circles), although he was rather vague about the possibility of “adjusting the Kosovo-Serbian border.” For his part, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic supports the idea of carving up Kosovo, which he argues would help avoid a new conflict.
“A territory, if you don’t know how to treat it or who it belongs to, is always a source of potential conflicts and problems.” “I am foursquare behind this [separation] and this my policy, whether people like it or not. I am holding out for separation with Albanians,” Vucic stated. rts.rs.
Serbia’s current Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic was the first top-level politician to come up with the idea of dividing Kosovo, describing it as a long-term compromise solution to the Kosovo conflict. In an interview with the Pristina-based Albanian-language newspaper Zeri, Ivica Dacic, who was then First Deputy Prime Minister and Interior Minister, said that “the only real solution is to leave the Serbs in Serbia and separate the other part where Albanians live. It will be a working mechanism to quickly solve the problem. Other options will be just a waste of time.”
However, the idea of partitioning Kosovo can now become part of a broader “package” agreement on the normalization of relations between Belgrade and Pristina. The European Commission makes Serbia’s admission to the European Union, which in this case could come in 2025, strictly conditional on a legally binding agreement signed by Belgrade and Pristina.
Many media outlets consider the division of Kosovo and a territorial exchange a very likely scenario. The Croatian newspaper Jutarnji List even claims that the matter is already a “done deal,” and warns of possible negative consequences: “In fact, it’s not just Kosovo. Pandora’s box may be thrown open. This could have a knock-on effect. Just imagine the worst possible scenario the partition of Kosovo could lead to. Bosnia and Herzegovina would immediately follow suit, followed by Macedonia. Montenegro could possibly come next.” jutarnji.hr
The Albanian leaders of southern Serbian Presevo Valley, which is home to three mixed Serbian-Albanian communities, admitted the possibility of a “territorial exchange” as envisaged by pertinent agreement between Belgrade and Pristina, as early as in 2012. The leader of the Presevo community, Ragmi Mustafa, emphasized that the three communities (Presevo, Medvedja and Bujanovac) “must join Kosovo,” while “northern Kosovo must join Serbia.” He believes that a pertinent proposal should be discussed in Brussels.
“I think that this holds the future for our region,” he said. A year before that – in the summer of 2011 – representatives of Albanians living in Kosovo and Presevo Valley, including Ragmi Mustafa, met in Gnilan and adopted a resolution on “facilitating the return” of Presevo Valley communities to “independent Kosovo Republic,” including with the participation of the international community. The latter, according to the participants, would help deter the Serbian government from “obstructing the free will of the Presevo Valley population.”
Accurate and reliable data on the ethnic composition of the three communities is not available. However, if we compare the estimates, we will see that 90 percent of Albanians and 10 percent of Serbs live in Presevo, 60 percent of Albanians and 30 percent of Serbs live in Bujanovac and 30 percent of Albanians and 60 percent of Serbs live in Medvedja. Thus, Albanians now constitute an absolute majority in Presevo and Bujanovac.
Just as the President of the Turkish International Cooperation Agency in Ankara, Umut Arik, warned as early as in the mid-1990s, all talk about creating a security system in the Balkans makes no sense until “decisions relating to nation-states can be made and revised unilaterally”. This is exactly what has recently been happening around Kosovo. What is also evident is the interrelated development of disintegration processes going on in the Balkans. This may force the leading world powers and international institutions to abandon what they have professed all these years – “a policy focused on the state, rather than territory” as the University of Pristina professor of public law Enver Hasani puts it.
Such a policy provides for solving the problems of each Balkan country separately from one another. This approach was at the heart of the Stability Pact for Southeast Europe, devised by the European Union and introduced in 1999.
The unilateral declaration of independence for Kosovo in 2008 embedded in this concept a provision about the “uniqueness of the Kosovo case.”
However, amid the current impasse around Kosovo Serbs and the growing activity of Albanian nationalists, the international curators of the Balkan settlement, above all the most business-minded and openly cynical of them in the form of the administration of the US President Donald Trump, could switch to a “territory-focused policy,” which views a region not as an combination of already established states, but as a system of territories in dynamic equilibrium and, therefore, capable of reformatting.
“For some Balkan politicians, talk about territorial division and redrawing of maps is like adrenaline,” the Croatian newspaper “Jutarnji list” rightly wrote.
“The question is, what will happen to the federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina? Will this catastrophic disintegration of Bosnia and Herzegovina affect Croatia, or will a peaceful Bosnia finally emerge taking in “parts of Croatia”!? Another question is, how would the Bosnians and their defenders, such as Turkey, react to this?! Perhaps, for Serbia, the matter would not be limited to Presevo, and the processes would affect both Sandzak and the very north of Serbia. On the other hand, the exchange of territories with Kosovo could raise the issue of ‘consolidating the Albanian nation,’ which would revive old ideas of dividing Macedonia. And with the process of Albanian consolidation on and with the Republika Srpska already part of Serbia, this would whet Serbian appetite, if not for the whole of Montenegro, then at least for its ‘Serbian parts,’” the newspaper forecasts and makes a sad conclusion: “Despite the seeming simplicity (“we give you, you give us”), this decision leads to hell.” jutarnji.hr
In all fairness, any new changes in the situation in the Balkans – and above all, the delineation of borders – will raise the discussion to a higher international level and may potentially bring them back to the floor of the UN and the UN Security Council where Russia wields a veto power.
Simultaneously, such scenarios are forcing Belgrade to work more closely together with Moscow, which is one of its key international allies.
“The Serbian political class is aware that it cannot move forward without progress toward resolving the long-standing Kosovo issue. But in order to save face with its constituents, the Serbian leadership has to come up with some settlement in which Serbia will not be perceived as the total loser of the Kosovo dispute. To that end, Serbia must have a great power backer in the negotiating process, and as Serbia lacks a patron in the West, Russia is useful in that role. As long as Kosovo remains in play and as long as Serbian leadership lacks a settlement acceptable to public opinion, Russia will have a high place in Serbian foreign policy considerations. The West should be cognizant of this. For their part, both the European Union and the United States need to be aware that close ties between Russia and Serbia are in large part the result of taking Serbia and the Balkans for granted,” The American Interest emphasizes.
Given the situation at hand, Russia needs to figure out the possible options of such a reformatting of the Balkans and choose the ones, which are best suited to its geopolitical interests and those of its allies and partners in the Balkans region and beyond.
First published in our partner International Affairs
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