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Is There Such A Thing As “Ethnic Conflict”?

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“Ethnic conflict“ has become a very fashionable notion. However, it was not always so. Indeed, in the not-so-distant past such a notion was practically unknown. In the pre-modern times, conflicts were assumed to take place between power-holders, over pieces of land. The former sought to seize, control and exploit all resources within the latter, including the population that was also perceived and treated only as yet another resource for exploitation.

Ethnic identities of the population residing within particular territories were totally irrelevant to the power-holders and hence did not serve as a source of disputes and conflicts between them. Indeed, having been treated as yet another resource for exploitation, the inhabitants of the targeted lands were regarded as essentially identity-less. What mattered to the power-holders was the land itself, with all its resources, including the subjects residing there. And the subjects themselves, no matter whether they had several diverse ethnic identities or a single unified one, were so powerless as to be unable to launch a conflict between themselves, let alone a rebellion against the power-holders. Thus the powerless could only serve as the powerful’s assets for the land’s occupation and exploitation of its resources. 

Given the increasing presence of the term „ethnic conflict“ in the public communication, we may rightfully ask whether the nature of power, and hence the nature of conflict, has changed so much as to make identity, rather than power itself, the source of the modern type of conflict? True, during the tide of the 18th- and 19th-century revolutions it was proclaimed that power was granted to the people, who have thus ceased to be mere subjects. It was proclaimed that sovereignty – that is, the exclusive power to control a territory and exploit all its resources – was taken from the powerful and given to the powerless. Ever since, sovereignty itself has become treated as a matter of inherent right, that is, a natural posession of the latter, rather than a matter of exercised power, that is, a natural acquisition of the former. Thus, in the earliest modern theories of sovereignty, the former subjects were proclaimed a collective sovereign. And, in accordance with its newly-acquired collective nature, sovereignty itself was proclaimed indivisible and non-transferable. For, whereas the pre-modern individual sovereignty could easily be divided between the sovereign’s descendants and transferred to them by inheritance or marriage, the very concept of modern, collective, popular sovereignty does not allow for any such arrangements: the sovereignty of the people can neither be divided between its collective sub-parts nor distributed among its individual members, nor can it be transferred to them or to any other people. And, according to the derivations of the classical theories of popular sovereignty gathered under the umbrella-name of „nationalism“, the possession of collective identity by a particular people equates to the right to sovereignty, i.e. the exclusive right to control a territory and exploit all its resources. Since identity is thus practically equated with sovereignty, conflict itself comes to be perceived as a struggle for control over a particular collective identity as a presumed source of sovereignty, rather than a struggle for sovereign control over a particular piece of land. Within such a discourse, it becomes conceivable that entire peoples fight one another, simply to assert their identities, which can only be achieved in the form of sovereignty over particular territories. And then, it also becomes conceivable that entire peoples, having successfully asserted their identities in the form of sovereignty over particular territories, strive for mutual „reconciliation“.   

Such discourse, derived from the aforementioned modern theories of sovereignty, dominates the public sphere in almost all modern societies. However, has the nature of power really changed so much as to translate a struggle for control over a particular territory into a struggle for control over a particular collective identity? Or does the discourse itself attempt to hide the true nature of power, centered around the struggle for a particular territory,  and all its resources,  by traditional power-holders, who now appear as a personification of peoples’ identities?

A brief analysis of the so-called „ethnic conflict“ and the so-called „post-conflict transition“ in Bosnia-Herzegovina may offer  a straightforward answer to these rather abstract questions. This particular case is used as a paradigm that depicts the essence of power-relations hidden under the mask of the modern nationalist discourse, according to which ethnic groups naturally fight each other in order to assert their respective ethnic identities and seize exclusive control (that is, sovereign power) over respective targeted territories.

So, let us define the notion of ethnic identity and its application to the Bosnian political environment. Without any ambitions to provide a comprehensive definition, but rather an operative one, we may define this type of identity as being rooted in a myth of common origin. In this sense, members of an ethnic group share a belief in their common ancestors. They may well share common language, religion, values, and customs; but they may also share some or all of these features with other groups. What distinguishes one group from all others, and what constitutes the basis of its identity, is a shared myth of common ancestors. There is yet another important feature that usually caracterizes ethnic groups, which makes them distinct one from another and from other types of groups: a link with a particular territory, which a group considers its own living space and commonly depicts as a land of its forefathers. It means that such a territory is directly linked with the group’s identity. Such a territory normally has its provisional boundaries, fluctuating together with the symbolic boundaries of the group itself. Within the frame of the modern nationalist discourse, when a group asserts its will  to transform provisional territorial boundaries into formal state borders, it transforms itself into a sovereign nation. Of course, a group does not have to share a myth of common origin to claim sovereignty over a particular territory and thus transform itself into a nation: it is sufficient for a group to become homogenized by a claim to sovereignty to undergo such a transformation; Americans are probably the most famous example.

Now, let us see how these parameters apply to the groups in Bosnia-Herzegovina usually referred to as ethnic ones. Firstly, they all share a common language, which every independent linguist would confirm without hesitation; and they also share it with the populations of the neighbouring countries of Serbia, Montenegro and Croatia. Secondly, they all share common South Slavic origin, and most of their common traditional customs; in other words, if we put aside their diverse religious traditions (Catholic, Orthodox and Muslim), we may well say that they share a common culture. Thirdly, prior to the 1992-1995 war, they never had distinct ethnically defined territories and predominantly lived together, especially in urban areas. As sociological research has shown, distinct religious groups may live mixed in common areas, whereas distinct ethnic groups usually possess or aspire to possess their distinct territories, just as distinct nations possess or aspire to possess their separate sovereign states. So, from a sociological point of view, prior to the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina, its distinct groups predominantly displayed the features of religious, rather than ethnic or national, groups.

On the other hand, in the former Yugoslavia, and especially after its breakup, in the public discourse these groups were commonly referred to as „nations“. This practice was particularly strange given the fact that one of them was commonly named after its religious identity as Muslims; at the same time, the other two were commonly labeled as Serbs and Croats, in accordance with the nationalist narratives established in the Balkans by the end of the 19th century, which basically proclaimed all Catholics members of the Croat nation and all the Orthodox members of the Serb nation. In this way, labeled as „nations“, they were all implicitly stimulated to claim sovereignty of their own, that is, to claim exclusive control over particular territories and thereby transform these territories into sovereign states or, alternatively, to cede these territories from Bosnia-Herzegovina and unite them with the neighbouring nation-states, Serbia and Croatia. Strangely, these narratives, mostly coming from Serbia and Croatia, have never encountered serious intellectual or political resistance in Bosnia-Herzegovina, although they represent a clear threat to its integrity. Obviously, the very meaning of the term „nation“ has never been taken into serious consideration by social scientists in this country. Of course, pragmatic politicians have not missed the opportunity to utilize the implications of the term for their own purposes.  

However,  these hidden implications never took the form of overt territorial and political claims before 1991. Prior to that, the very idea of distinct, let alone separate, ethnic territories within Bosnia-Herzegovina had been inconceivable. Yet, since then, this idea has acquired monopolistic status within the public discourse in this country. How has this happened?

The whole process was launched in a rather bizarre way. Prior to the elections in 1990, in which the three ethnonationalist parties won for the first time, the whole country was suddenly flooded with hundreds of thousands of the so-called ethnic maps, according to which particular ethnic groups were assigned „their own“ territories, on the basis of statistical majority: wherever a particular group had a majority of 51%, that piece of land was assigned to the group as its exclusive possession. No one has ever explained who was behind such a huge and expensive intelligence operation, but the very appearance of the maps in such huge numbers was a clear suggestion to all the country’s inhabitants that they should classify themselves along the lines of ethnic division and consequent territorial partition. Indeed, ever since then the idea of belonging to a particular ethnic majority in a particular territory has become the prime stake in the country’s political life. Ever since, the leaders of the three ethnonationalist parties have been persistent at using the maps manipulatively to  raise insecurity and tensions among the country’s inhabitants, the majority of whom hitherto had not cared much about articulation of their ethnic identity, let alone about creation of exclusive ethnic territories. However, the maps and the politicians’ messages clearly signalled that one’s existence, indeed one’s very survival, was to be projected only within such units. Systematically spread rumours that the ethnonationalist leaders were already negotiating how to distribute territories as the exclusive ownership of their respective groups directly supported such projections.

The next decisive step to implement these maps on the ground and officially partition the country along the ethnic lines was instigated by the Chairperson of the Conference on the Former Yugoslavia, Lord Carrington. Ethnic partitioning was further promoted by his aide, the Portugese diplomat Jose Cutilleiro, who led a  series of secretive negotiations between the leaders  of Bosnia’s three ethnonationalist parties, Mr Izetbegović of SDA, Mr Karadžić of SDS, and Mr Boban of HDZ, known as the Lisbon Conference in 1991 and 1992. It is of the utmost importance to note that these negotiations began a  year before the Bosnian war started, so that the partition was NOT proposed because of the necessity to end the armed conflict (as all „international mediators“ have subsequently claimed). Moreover, it was the war itself that was fought along the lines drawn on the map agreed upon in Lisbon, where the ethnically profiled armies were taking over the agreed territories to become ethnically exclusive. Thus, Bosnia-Herzegovina was fully partitioned in Lisbon well before the war. However, the war itself, alongside  the process of ethnic cleansing, was necessary to implement the partitioning on the ground and eliminate minority population from the territories earmarked for  ethnic majorities. That may be the reason why any reference to the Lisbon Conference has remained shrouded in silence. Of course, the Conference itself was held in almost total secrecy, but the main reason for its absence from the official history is that it  established the permanent normative framework not only for the war operations and ethnic cleansing, but also for all the subsequent failures to restore the Bosnian society and state to its pre-war form.

What was reportedly promoted in Lisbon was simply a map of the intra-state borders, which were implemented by the war operations,  formalized by the subsequent peace negotiations, and are still in existence preventing the restoration of the normal pre-war communication between the country’s citizens. However, what the Lisbon Conference actually promoted is no less than a total overthrowal of the most basic principles of popular sovereignty, those ones declaring that sovereignty is essentially indivisible and non-transferable. In Lisbon, the state sovereignty of the Republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina, as the basis of its Constitution, was divided into three parts and then transferred to the three ethnic groups represented there by the three ethnonationalist leaders. Each of the groups was assigned particular territories over which their respective political structures have since attempted to exercise sovereign control.

The subsequent developments, based on the assumptions adopted in Lisbon and formalized in the Dayton Peace Agreement, have demonstrated that even such a twisted interpretation of sovereignty has not been an end of the transformations of the country’s structure. For, these territories, formally assigned to the three ethnic groups to exercise sovereign control over them, have practically been transformed into private property of their respective ethnic oligarchies. Even such a divided and transferred sovereignty has been reduced to private land ownership, with most of the resources within these territories having been granted as private property to individual members of these oligarchies, under the pretext of privatization, which was set as a precondition for joining the Western structures, such as the European Union and NATO.

Obviously, the so-called „ethnic conflict“ which physically destroyed the country between 1992 and 1995 and continues to destroy the Bosnian society in the political and economic sphere,  has never been performed as an interface between the three communities. Since its very beginning, it has been a process of distribution and redistribution of private possessions between the three ethnic oligarchies. As such, it has always been a product of the premeditated political strategies. These strategies have been promoted and performed by the local political oligarchies, but have also been sponsored by some of the global players, whose agenda – from the Lisbon Conference to the present day – has been the partition of the state of Bosnia-Herzegovina. This also means that the so-called „ethnic conflict“ is not to be regarded as an inherent part of the collective identity of the country’s existing ethnic groups, but rather as an artificially generated project designed by the aforementioned local oligarchies and their global sponsors,  in accordance with their immediate political goals.

As usual, these power-holders – just like those pre-modern ones – have sought to establish their own control over particular territories in order to assure possession and exploitation of their resources. The so-called „ethnic conflict“ in Bosnia-Herzegovina has been just a cover-up, as is usually the case with „ethnic conflicts“ around the world. Such is the nature of power, and it has not changed. It is only that power-holders now seek to cover it up by mobilizing the masses and trigerring massive conflicts, depicting it as genuine conflicts between entire collectivities.

In this sense, the terms „reconciliation“ and „post-conflict transition“, implying that so-called „ethnic conflicts“ are authentic occurrences on the level of entire collectivities rather than artificial products generated on the level of narrow political elites, should also be dismissed as misnomers. 

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Turkey in the Balkans: A march westward

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The Balkan Region is becoming attractive for a wide spectrum of foreign players – from Beijing to Washington, and from Brussels to Riyadh. Also, it presents considerable interest for Ankara.

For Turkey, the Balkan Region is important historically, culturally, politically and economically, playing the role of a “bridge” into Europe. In addition, the Turkic-Islamic foreign policy paradigm stimulates Ankara into action: nearly 17 million or more than one third of the population of Turkey are Muslims, while Recep Tayyip Erdogan is positioning himself as the main “advocate” of Islamic world. Significantly,  his authority as a patron of  the Balkan umma is on the rise.

Muslims make up the majority of the population in Albania, Kosovo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Sanjak (in Serbia), in Macedonia and Montenegro the proportion of Muslims is 33% and 17% accordingly. Moreover, the peninsula is home to some 1.5 million Balkan Turks, even despite the fact that many of them emigrated to Turkey and that Turkey and Greece carried out an exchange of population after the Second World War.

Ankara began to demonstrate an ever increasing interest in the Balkan Region after the disintegration of Yugoslavia, but what gave the Balkan direction a new impetus was the arrival in 2009 of Ahmet Davutoglu, who announced that Turkey would assume the role of mediator between the EU and countries of the region, thereby contributing to rapprochement and integration of the  latter into Euro-Atlantic structures.

Since then the Turkish-Balkan foreign economic ties and military and political cooperation have demonstrated progressive growth.  Countries of the region have become involved in NATO programs and have reformed their armed forces in accordance with NATO standards. Since 1995 Ankara has been taking part in all NATO operations in the Balkans and has dispatched its servicemen to serve with international security forces in Kosovo, Bosnia and Herzegovina. And it has no intention to stop – Turkish military schools provide classes in Serbian, Croatian and Albanian.

In recent years many experts have noticed Turkey’s “soft force”, and the  Balkan Region is no exception. The Balkans have become a venue for dozens of educational, healthcare and cultural projects, with Turkey financing humanitarian campaigns and investing hefty sums in educational and medical projects, and in infrastructural and energy facilities. Under development is a plan to publish history textbooks in tandem with Albania, North Macedonia, Bosnia and Herzegovina. According to the Internet edition Balkan Insight, the popularity of Turkish soap operas in the Balkans boosts Turkey’s authority, simultaneously making it possible for Turkey to “re-write history”.

Unlike in the 1990s, when Ankara’s policy in the Balkans was oriented, first of all, at ethnically and religiously close countries and groups, now, Turkey is set on “covering” all countries of the peninsula. For Turkey, the main partners are Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, North Macedonia, Rumania, and “second level” counteragents are Croatia, Montenegro, Kosovo and Serbia. Incidentally, the significance of the latter has been growing steadily in the eyes of Turkish diplomats.

Erdogan, who visited Belgrade in October last year, has described Serbia as “a key country for peace and stability in the Balkans”. Cooperation with Serbia, he said, has reached an “ideal” level.

The opponents include Bulgaria (to a less extent) and Greece – countries where anti-Turkish moods are strong. Particularly, Greece. According to the Turkish newspaper Hürriyet, Ankara and Athens “have conflicting views on a number of points”, including the land border, the Aegean Sea, Cyprus and the entire East Mediterranean, where the natural gas – rich continental shelf and marine borders are still issues under discussion. The dispute over developed and prospected gas reserves narrowly escaped spilling into an open confrontation: Greek Defense Minister Nikos Panagiotopoulos threatened to “take up arms” in an interview broadcast by the Greek TV channel Star. His Turkish counterpart replied accordingly: «… we are persistent and resolute when it comes to protection of our interests and our rights, and we have the power needed for it». However, both sides softened their rhetoric soon afterwards.

In the Balkan Region Turkey has to compete, first of all, with the European Union, which looks at the region, not without grounds, as a “natural” zone of its interests. This competition becomes more intense as relations between Ankara and Brussels get cooler. 

The Euro-Atlantic direction currently dominates foreign policies of nearly all Balkan countries, despite the fact that the happy expectations of expanding cooperation with the West rarely come true. «European solidarity does not exist», – the Serbian president announced sadly as he declared a state of emergency in connection with the coronavirus pandemic.  Nevertheless, Bulgaria, Rumania, Albania, Croatia, Montenegro and North  Macedonia joined NATO; Bulgaria, Greece, Romania, and Croatia are members of the EU, Serbia and Montenegro are holding talks on their joining united Europe, and Albania and North Macedonia have received a green light to do so from Brussels.

However, EU officials acknowledge that they have so many internal problems that they cannot take in new members.

But the EU persists with its activity as, in the opinion of a whole number of western analysts, hopes of countries of the region for membership in the EU is all but the only factor that contains a new “Balkan explosion”. In addition, Europe is concerned about the growing activity of Turkey, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates in the region. In 2017 Austria’s Defense Minister Hans-Peter Doskozil expressed concern over the “slow Islamization of the Balkans”. Also, the EU is doing its utmost to reduce the influence of Russia and China.

Washington demonstrates complete agreement with Brussels. In May 2018 US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, addressing the International Affairs Committee of  the House of Representatives, said that Russia (and also Turkey) were as he put it involved in “destabilizing the situation” in the Balkans. Hence the build-up of American military presence (US military bases are located on the territories of three countries of the region) and the involvement of Balkan states in NATO programs. Though, according to an official statement of the State Department, the US policy in the Balkans pursues the one and only  purpose of “assisting the states of the region in their efforts to strengthen peace, establish stability and create conditions for progressive development”. But the Balkans remember the Yugoslav crisis and the role of NATO in the aggressive destruction of this state.

Given the situation, friction with Ankara pushes Washington into building its own military infrastructure with the support of Rumania, where elements of the US missile defense shield are deployed, and Bulgaria, where four American military bases are located. Two years ago the United States announced the creation of several more bases on the peninsula, primarily in Greece.

At present, the Balkan Region presents an important chapter of the Russian foreign policy. A number of countries, first of all, Serbia, continue to request Russian presence. According to the author of the report “Where do Balkans go? New cooperation paradigm for Russia” (2018) at the Valdai Club, Russia ought to exert efforts to expand  the range of partners in this region, simultaneously fostering cooperation with external players. One instance of such cooperation  could be an extension of the Turkish Stream into Europe.

As for Turkey, this region is of importance within the framework of “neo-Ottomanism”, which envisages the spread of economic, cultural and political influence to former territories of the Ottoman Empire. Even though this doctrine has not been declared at the official level,  it de facto constitutes the ideological basis of the country’s foreign policy.

In the 1990s, on the peak of euphoria at the appearance of a whole number of Turkic states, Turkey proclaimed the creation of a “Turkic world” a major point of its foreign policy agenda. In the opinion of the country’s political elites, leadership in this “world” would boost Turkey’s value on the international scene and would thus facilitate its joining the European Union. Now, the agenda has become more ambitious: as part of this ideology, Turkey positions itself as an equal partner to  entire Europe and deems presence in the Balkans vital.

The “Turkic world” did not come into being for many reasons – it received no support from the West, and Turkey lacked the resources and influence to translate it into life unassisted. Likewise, the West does not need Pax Ottomana in any form, while efforts to create it may in the long run  prove too heavy a burden for the Turkish economy.  

From our partner International Affairs

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Of Multilateralism And Future To Europe Recalibration

Donald Johnston

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As the key-note panelist at the Modern Diplomacy and IFIMES conference today in Vienna, the former Secretary General of the Paris-based Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development in Europe, and former senior minister in several Canadian governments, just delivered highly anticipated speech.

This panel in addressing the future of Europe is invited to answer this question:

“Is there any alternative to universal and pan-European multilateralism?  For the purpose of my remarks I am interpreting “ universal and pan – European multilateralism’ as moving forward with achieving more EU integration supported by institutions appropriate to a  kind of federal structure in line with the thinking of the Spinelli Group. But it also raises the question of global free trade which I promoted as Secretary General of the OECD and continue to believe must be the word’s future in addressing poverty and opportunity, especially for the worlds developing countries. But it has to be managed in a way sensitive to the challenges of both.

In these brief comments I intend to offer my view on the answer to this fundamental question about the future of Europe.

To begin, I would amend the question by adding the word “good” before “alternative”.

There certainly are alternatives some of which could set Europe on a path back to a collection of independent sovereign states and undo the remarkable progress in building a secure European Union in the post WWII period.

Many years ago when looking at the extraordinary work and vision of statesmen like Jean Monet trying to build a lasting and prosperous European Union, I came across a comment of British Historian H.A.L. Fisher in the preface to his 1936 book, A History of Europe. In part it read as follows:

“[No] question [would be] more pertinent to the future welfare of the world than how the nations of Europe … may best be combined into some stable organization for the pursuit of their common interests and the avoidance of strife.“

Although we appreciate the Marshall Plan’s amazing contribution to the Europe of today, it contributed more to restoring Europe physically while providing humanitarian assistance. Of course, the OEEC which evolved into the OECD in 1961 did provide an important framework and mechanism for economic and social development which continues to this day.

Fisher’s vision of a strong, unified Europe remains very much work in progress and that work really began with Jean Monnet’s initiative to create the European Coal and Steel Commission. I will comment on that in a moment But I remain convinced that Fisher was right, and the great rebuilding of Europe  and the EU after the Second World War must and will endure notwithstanding the barrage of criticisms  from euroskeptics, now emboldened by the United Kingdom’s Brexit vote of June 2016. Admittedly my conviction is based on the EU having strong, visionary leadership, which has not yet fully materialized.

Think of this. Although Greece represents less than 3 per cent of the Euro zone economy, euroskeptics used its financial crisis as ammunition to predict its withdrawal from the eurozone and the possible unravelling of the entire EU. The Greeks rejected that option: there was no Grexit.  Austrians also rejected right-wing populist nationalism in the 2016 Presidential election of Van der Bellen, a strong supporter of the EU.

The support for Brexit in the UK referendum was an unexpected shock for some, but it pleased others who wish to see the EU unravel and claim that the UK attitude reflects views held in other major European countries. I keep hearing and reading that the United Kingdom has rejected the EU, as if it were an overwhelming victory.  Bolstered by misrepresentations and downright lies it was a very slim referendum victory but Brexiters will argue that it was validated by Boris Johnson’s subsequent margin of  electoral victory.page53image34082368

There are also others, especially President Trump who appear to be hostile to the emerging  global role that the European Union is likely to play as it completes its evolution to a unified international force. This has become even more important as the United States under Trump becomes increasingly isolationist and opposed to international multilateralism constructed by visionaries over the past 75 years.

In a stunning commentary in Foreign Affairs (summer 2016), Professor Jakub Grygielof the Catholic University of America, implies that the upside to the EU crisis will be a return to independent sovereign nation-states across Europe. Indeed, that would be an upside for American isolationists. It would remove from US competition the largest unified single market in history and reinstate the possibility of future wars on the continent that this great European experiment was designed to prevent – as it has.

Some of Grygiel’s comments appear designed to create a false impression of the views of Europeans. Here is a cheerful observation to support his thesis: “a Europe of newly assertive nation-states would be preferable to the disjointed, ineffectual, and unpopular EU of today. There’s good reason to believe that European countries would do a better job of checking Russia, managing the migrant crisis, and combating terrorism on their own than they have done under the auspices of the EU.”

Really? What is that “good reason” that escaped the attention of the statesmen and nation builders like Jean Monnet in post-war Europe? Grygiel also says that the EU is ineffectual, which is true in some cases, as it is with many, if not most supranational bodies, including much of the United Nations (UN) activities. And what of the United States itself?

Sadly the world is watching that formerly great republic  floundering in the face of numerous serious challenges both social, economic, even racial, not even capable of effectively addressing the Covid-19 crisis through what is becoming a  dysfunctional government under a Commander in Chief who proudly presents himself as a narcissistic ignorant bully.

And non Europeans, especially Americans, systematically ignore the EU’s successes. One good example being the collective research of 28 networked European countries that produce one-third of the world research’s output – 34 per cent more than the United States and more than China. This was documented at the time of the Brexit debate in New Scientist.  (June 2016). These are the kind of synergies that could be sacrificed should the EU dissolve, and it may already be compromised by the withdrawal of the UK which has much world first class research.

Hopefully the; United Kingdom will stay united and prosper in the post Brexit period. However, there is good reason for concern as the Financial Times Martin Wolfe wrote at the time (June 24,2016). He said:

“David Cameron took a huge gamble and lost. The fear mongering and outright lies of Boris Johnson, Michael Gove, Nigel Farage, The Sunand the Daily Mail have won. The UK, Europe, the West and the world are damaged. The UK is diminished and seems likely soon to be divided. Europe has lost its second-biggest and most outward-looking power. The hinge between the EU and the English-speaking powers has been snapped. This is probably the most disastrous single event in British history since the Second World War.

Yet the UK might not be the last country to suffer such an earthquake. Similar movements of the enraged exist elsewhere – most notably in the US and France. Britain has led the way over the cliff. Others might follow.”

Will others follow the United Kingdom over the cliff? Alina Polyakova and Neil Fligstein, writing in the International New York Times at the time of the Brexit vote( July 2016), relied on polls that suggest that will not happen. They say, “Britain is not, and never has been, a typical member of the European Union, and in no country but Britain do populists and other euroskeptic forces have the 51 percent of votes needed to pull their countries from the union.”

Obviously, those in the UKwho wanted Brexit must have believed it is good for them and presumably for the United Kingdom, even if it means losing Scotland and perhaps Northern Ireland. The City of London will also suffer, but no one can estimate what the damage will be until all the terms of exiting are known.

Jacques Delors, who has dedicated much of his life to the European dream both in public office and after retirement through his Paris-based foundation, made the following observation in an inter- view in 2012 with the Handelsblattnewspaper: “If the British cannot support the trend towards more integration in Europe, we can nevertheless remain friends, but on a different basis. I could imagine a form such as a European economic area or a free-trade agreement.”

That might be the happiest outcome in the wake of Brexit. The real beneficiaries of Brexit are the remaining EU members inspired by people of the experience and quality of Jacques Delors and members of the Spinelli Group. The latter founded in 2010 as a network of thousands of politicians, individuals, writers, and think tanks looking to revive the momentum toward a federalist structure for the EU.” 

In fact, the Brexit vote and Johnson’s arrival as Prime Minister may have strengthened the resolve of many EU countries and prominent Europeans to accelerate the integration process in line with federalist thinking.

Obviously those having the foresight to realize the importance of greater integration and an emerging federalist model, such as the Spinelli Group, would be blocked by a United Kingdom, were it a member, to have reforms move in the opposite direction, consistent with Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s famous Bruges speech in 1988 where she said,

“We have not successfully rolled back the frontiers of the state in Britain, only to see them re-imposed at a European level with a European super-state exercising a new dominance from Brussels. Certainly, we want to see Europe more united and with a greater sense of common purpose. But it must be in a way which preserves the different traditions, parliamentary powers and sense of national pride in one’s own country; for these have been the source of Europe’s vitality through the centuries.”

This could hardly be seen as an endorsement of a federalist system of any kind, because decentralization, especially with the preservation of parliamentary powers, meaning full sovereignty, is incompatible with federalism. She could have added that the elements she wished to see preserved have also been the source of bloody European conflicts throughout the last millennium, including three wars between France and Germany in the 70 years between 1870 and 1939!

Consideration should be given to some steps that must be taken to realize the collective potential of the EU as a major global player, which it could never be if its members revert to sovereign nation- state status. Indeed, as other major countries grow in economic clout, it has been pointed out that not even Germany would be in a new G8. Only a united EU could have influence on the global stage.

Skeptics like Professor Grygiel, many of them American, seem blinded by the headlines and glare of current events, failing to place them in a broader historical context. Reviewing the remarkable evolution of Europe since the Second World War, I hope that the long-term success of Europe is inevitable. But as the great American judge Oliver Wendell Holmes once noted, “the mode by which the inevitable comes to pass is effort.” European leadership must now make that effort. It is critical not only for Europe, but for the world today.

A strong, unified Europe is also important for the emergence of global multilateralism and the further evolution of globalization. Since the end of the Cold War we have been living in a world dominated by just one superpower: the United States. Fortunately, that superpower has been a very open market and largely, but not entirely, militarily non-aggressive. Sometimes referred to as the “importer of last resort,” it continued to run current account deficits opposite many trading partners, especially China.

The American economy had enough strength and resilience to emerge slowly but with growing confidence from the global financial crisis of 2007–08. To become a companion economic locomotive, Europe must continue to open its markets, eliminate distorting trade subsidies, and undergo substantial structural reforms in labour, services, and manufacturing markets to stimulate European economic growth. I hope that the results of the Europe 2020 exercise and its follow up will help in that regard.

If that does not happen, the United States might use its economic muscle to focus increasingly on bilateral agreements that are becoming a serious impediment to global free trade.

If Europe had successfully moved to a more centralized and coherent federal model of government it could have reached the objectives adopted by the EU in 2000 (often referred to as the Lisbon Agenda), which was stated in the Lisbon Declaration (24 March 2000) as follows: “The Union has today set itself a new strategic goal for the next decade: to become the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world, capable of sustainable economic growth with more and better jobs and greater social cohesion.”

Well, that failed. A review of progress chaired by the former Dutch Prime Minister Wim Kok reported in 2004 that the strategy had fallen well short of its objectives. The diagnosis of the problems of broad structural reform was good, but implementation of reforms was seriously lacking. Kok’s review carried much credibility as he had overseen the continuation and completion of the major Dutch structural reforms originally introduced by his more conservative predecessor, Ruud Lubbers. Kok was also a regular participant in many international conferences, and during our discussions it was apparent to me that he was a talented consensus builder.

There is much to be said for  such consensus  builders, who enable intellectual and political opponents to better understand competing views. Strengthening such relations between European political leaders will be important in bringing cohesion and stronger integration to the EU in line with the objectives of the Spinelli Group.

The Lisbon Declaration, now replaced by the Europe 2020 strategy,  has five ambitious objectives related to employment, innovation, education, social inclusion, and climate/energy. The world would benefit greatly from Europe attaining those objectives.

Today only the EU and Japan might to come close to matching the United States in per capita GDP in the coming years.

 Demographic projections show Japan’s population in serious decline, but an expanded EU which should evolve with Turkey as a major player, would have a much greater population and a much larger market than the United States.

The objectives listed above can only be realized when the peoples of Europe achieve a consensus on what kind of legal community they truly wish to be, and so far,  progress to that end has been in fits and starts. The failure of the Lisbon Agenda, the rejection of the proposed constitution in both French and Dutch referenda, and now the exit of the United Kingdom underscore the difficulty of moving toward a flexible federal structure.

The use of the word federal seems to be an anathema for many Europeans. It is worth remembering  that with the creation of the European Coal and Steel Community inspired by Jean Monnet in 1951, the French government declared that it would “provide for the setting up of common foundations for economic development as a first step in the Federation of Europe.”

Today there does not appear to be any coordinated and broad- based visionary leadership like that of Jean Monnet that led Europe out of the destruction and chaos of the Second World War.

Perhaps the Greek crisis, the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the EU, and continuing economic performance under potential will awaken Europeans to the need for a truly federal-type European Union, with strong central government institutions where appropriate, accompanied by the protection of individual nations’ precious linguistic and cultural identities. The genius of federalism is that it can accommodate great diversity in many areas.

What is the way forward? Where is the higher vision to achieve what is imaginable but not yet within reach? I suggest that the answer is to reconcile the various goals of Europeans, what I call the three Ms: minimizing frictions, maximizing synergies, and maintaining sovereignty.

Some believe they can achieve the first two without a dilution of sovereignty. That is not possible. From my Canadian experience with Quebec, however, I know that it is possible to minimize frictions and maximize synergies while maintaining cultures and national identities. In the case of Quebec, the French language, civil law, religion, and culture have been protected since the Quebec Act of 1774, which is one reason why separatist movements have never succeeded.

I see this kind of flexible federal structure, with necessary variations, in Europe’s future. Loss of Europe’s various languages and cultures would alter the character of the continent, moving it in the direction of the United States. The historical evolution and the nature of the “self-willed” peoples of Europe, as Fisher described them, make that path neither feasible nor desirable.

I finish these comments with a quote from a recent letter distributed by Thierry de Montbrial, the founder and head of the prestigious French public policy think tank IFRI.

“But it stands to reason that we in Europe in particular should capitalise on building the Union in order to prove the viability of a third way between the United States, that great democracy which still claims to be a liberal one, and the People’s Republic of China, which still claims to be communist. Most of us want to remain close to American democracy, but we refuse to become its vassals, notably as part of an Atlantic Alliance retrofitted to that end. There is an urgent need to clarify NATO’s truly shared objectives. As for the European Union, despite all the whining in recent weeks, it continues to sail ahead in stormy seas, as it always has…..

If there is one part of the world where multilateralism is making headway despite countless hurdles, it is the European Union. There is still a very long way to go in Europe and, even more so, on a planetary scale. But history is moving in that direction, for the alternative is collective suicide. There is no doubt that global warming, pandemics and more or less intense wars are foreseeable in the world’s near-term future. At least we can hope to limit the damage, which, after all, was the case during the Cold War. Let us be convinced of the European Union’s responsibility in that regard.”

I agree…who cannot?

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Europe

Trans-Atlantic relations and the Western Balkans

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Aleksandar Vučić, Hashim Thaci; Photo: European Forum Alpbach / Andrei Pungovschi / Flickr

Authors: John Cappello and Ari Mittleman*

The sudden cancelation of the planned White House meeting between the Presidents of Serbia and Kosovo provides an opportunity to pause and examine where the United States and European allies can most effectively collaborate when approaching the Western Balkans.

The President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen announced that rather than President Donald Trump she will host the leadership from both countries in Brussels.

Regardless of venue, it is in the best interest of the United States and our European allies to consistently devote time and attention to this complex region.

Examples of Moscow and Beijing working to degrade the Western democratic values while advancing their authoritarian vision grow at alarming rates.

As the largest country in the Former Yugoslavia, Serbia is a key to a stable, secure, and peaceful Balkans. Dialogue with and, ultimately, recognition of Kosovo is a must. Washington and Brussels should regularly repeat these sentences as they will only benefit the region.

As British Prime Minister Winston Churchill famously quipped, “the Balkans produce more history than they can consume.” History is happening before our eyes and it begs the question whether Washington and Brussels are looking in the right direction.

The day after Kosovo declared independence in 2008, President George W. Bush recognized the world’s newest country declaring the milestone would “bring peace to a region scarred by war.”

Too often, those who examine the Balkans dwell on the past. The scars of war certainly do take time to heal. However, the very real concerns of everyday citizens – especially the millennial generation born after the war – need to be considered.

Security from armed conflict cannot be overstated, but economic security is equally important.

Looking through younger eyes as they enter the workforce, move into their first home and raise their children is what Balkan politicians too often neglect to do.

A pledge for greater regional economic cooperation is the most important commitment which can come out of the White House meeting.

Improved economic prosperity will provide politicians in the Western Balkans the latitude to make the tough decisions.  Washington and Brussels are well positioned to mentor, promote and invest in this type of collaboration.

Special Envoy Richard Grenell pledged that the White House focus on making economic progress in the region.He suggested that efforts toward a political solution be the purview of Brussels. Innovative economic policy initiatives cannot come soon enough and all free market democracies can play a role.

The median age of Serbia is 41. The World Bank estimates that the population, of seven million, is poised to shrink to 5.8M over the next three decades. This would be a 25% drop from 1990. Countless young Serbs are leaving rural communities and mid-sized towns for Belgrade. Many others leave Belgrade for Berlin, New York and elsewhere abroad.

Kosovo has the youngest population of any European country. Approximately one quarter of citizens are 14 or younger. However, it consistently also has the highest unemployment numbers across all generations.

The everyday lives of young families in the region benefit from the ability for regional cross border freedom to travel, low cost reliable energy, and investments that do not amass multi-generational national debt. Both governments – along with Washington and Brussels –will benefit by looking through this lens.

Last October the leaders of Serbia, Albania and North Macedonia met in Novi Sad. With much fanfare, they announced loose details for what was quickly billed a “mini-Schengen”. The Schengen area has been a socio-economic game changer across 26 countries and there is no reason why a variation in the Balkans would not have quantifiable and positive results. Naturally, the devil is in the details and this has been put on hold by the Pandemic. Washington and Brussels should jumpstart this and encourage collaboration between Belgrade, Pristina, Podgorica and Sarajevo.

Just last week, the region moved significantly closer to having more affordable and reliable electricity. A 400 kV transmission line between Kragujevac and Kraljevo was commissioned. The entire project will run from Ukraine to Italy. German financing provided a 15M EUR loan. Brussels can incentivize opportunities for modernizing the electricity grid and do so in a context which opens tenders for American and European firms and dissuades sweetheart deals for Chinese state-owned enterprises.

The day after the Orthodox Christmas President Vucic attended the commissioning of the Turk Stream natural gas pipeline in Istanbul. He was joined by Presidents Putin and Erdogan and Bulgarian PM Boyko Borisov. Russia manipulates gas prices playing countries across Eastern Europe against one another. Monopolies are never good.

Washington previously devoted considerable attention to the Trans-Adriatic Pipeline which ultimately originates in Azerbaijani waters and will be the first European pipeline to fully bypass Russia. The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) working with 16 commercial banks has just dedicated a 1B EUR loan. Assuming an imminent completion of TAP, Brussels must expedite plans to make the Ionian Adriatic Pipeline spur a reality. This would dramatically transform the energy interconnectedness and, therefore, economic security of Montenegro, Croatia and Bosnia. It was a 2018 EBRD priority and must remain.

Soon after returning from Washington in March, President Vucic categorically declared, “European solidarity does not exist. That was a fairytale on paper. The only ones who can help us in this difficult situation and that is China.”Mask diplomacy has been exhibited most clearly in Serbia.

Beijing presents a broad challenge for Washington and Brussels. While attention has rightfully been focused on 5G development, attention must be much broader. Beijing presents a very practical relationship to countries like Serbia not yet in the EU. Politicians in the region see Chinese overtures through the lens of election timelines and immediate “wins” rather than seamlessly never-ending discussions about opening EU chapters.

What started as Chinese investments in critical infrastructure has now progressed into a much deeper presence across academics, media and cultural activities.

Indeed, even in Croatia, an EU and NATO member, the largest bridge project in Europe is being built by a Chinese state-owned firm. This came at the expense of an Austrian bidder.

Modern roadways and improved transportation hubs cannot be discounted. A previously two-hour trip from Belgrade to Cacak now takes less than 50 minutes.

This is not an argument for Chinese investment, but for pragmatism and understanding that prolonged delay EU enlargement has real consequences in the lives of everyday individuals.

The one meeting President Vucic had with the Trump Administration in March was with the leadership of the new Development Finance Corporation (DFC). Should an investment proceed, it should aim for not only maximum employment ripple effects, but also demand cross border regional collaboration. When it comes to investments in the Balkans, regular open dialogue should occur between the DFC and the EBRD.

As the debate continues about the future of Trans-Atlantic relations and the fallout from the cancelation of a White House Summit, the fact remains that consistent targeted attention to the needs of everyday people in the region has been lacking.

A debate over the academic term “Trans-Atlantic” must not draw lines where EU and NATO borders end. In the end, it is in the interest of all involved to have a Europe whole, free and at peace. This means we must not overlook what is often referred to as the “soft underbelly” of Europe.

With the dust starting to settle after elections in Serbia, a new government in Kosovo, Germany at the helm of the EU Council Presidency and sustained bipartisan interest from Washington – real and meaningful regional socio-economic progress is possible.

*Ari Mittleman, Founder and Publisher of Balkan Insider, lived and worked in Croatia and Montenegro focused on community and economic development initiatives.

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