In the euphoria of the peaceful fall of the Berlin Wall long 30 years ago quite a few hopeful predictions were made for restoration of political unity of Europe, for a Europe whole and free, practically as a matter of course. But all those hopes and pan-European enthusiasm, they generated were not to come true.
One has to admit, that European elites have proved themselves unprepared, both politically and intellectually, for the end of the Cold War. Instead of creative decisions, they chose business as usual, that is the status quo and preservation of the patchwork European security architecture in its entirety, without its radical reinvention within the framework of a formal peace settlement which used to bring all wars to end. The fact that the war wasn’t “hot” cannot justify this choice for, as at the Congress of Vienna in 1815, it was about integrating a former adversary into a single regional system, or as in Versailles, its exclusion from such a system of postwar relations.
The double enlargement, i.e. of the NATO and the EU, as well as incomplete, in terms of Chapter VIII of the UN Charter, institutionalization of the OSCE (as opposed, for example, to the African Union) have proved to be expressions of that policy. Russia has been invited to neither of them. In the case of NATO for the reason of her presumed capacity to challenge the American leadership which is a fundamental principle of the Alliance’s operation. As regards the EU, the references were made to Russia’s huge territory and lack of enthusiasm on sharing border with China. It was admitted, however, that such hedging against assumed return of an «aggressive Russia” could turn out to be a self-fulfilling prophecy to quote President Clinton who spoke at the NATO summit in Brussels in January, 1994.
So, the alienation between Russia and the West is what did happen in the final count. What is more, it was supposed to serve as basis of unity of the preserved Western alliance in its military and political and trade and economic dimensions. The politics of exclusion, if not disguised containment but by different means, couldn’t help producing its “fruits de mal”. On the one hand, it inevitably distorted Russia’s domestic development and made Moscow hedge in her turn in matters of foreign policy. On the other hand, anti-Russian politics, which in essence was anti-European, as is obvious now, distorted foreign policy priorities of the Western countries, where they couldn’t do without Russia, be it in European affairs proper or in the Middle East. And now Moscow is accused of interference in domestic politics of the US and Europe, which seems to be the way to deny the immanent nature of the current crisis of western societies, and equally, the right to vote to their electorate. Instead of a win-win situation we are facing a situation where every party loses in its own way and various degrees of obviousness and gravity of consequences.
It would be a much greater sin against European secular culture of rationalism to continue on that road, i.e. to wait for a “Russian aggression” five years after the Ukrainian crisis struck etc, instead of engaging collectively, with Russia, in fundamental reassessment of the situation that has undergone a fundamental change. Since both Russia and the West are in the midst of a crisis of development, in would be wise to have a joint analysis of the developmental experience in the Euro-Atlantic over the past 100 years. The enlargement of NATO and EU, thus, wouldn’t look like a “poisoned chalice” of the Russian transformation. The things that might fall in that category include the trap of consensus in both bodies; the paradox of the feeling of insecurity, say, in the indefensible militarily Baltic States, as a function of the temptation to undermine NATO’s credibility ascribed to Moscow; or differences of values within the EU as a result of the thawing of the elements of Eastern European’s consciousness, frozen by the Cold War and, thus, not entirely overcome.
In that case all talk of who lost whom and why would lose its relevance, and we could concentrate upon a positive, future-oriented agenda. One cannot deny that all the misunderstandings of European politics in the past 30 years (I am tempted to say a politics of neo-Versailles type) testify to the fact that the transfer of the security system that took shape in another era and lost its raison d’etre with the dissolution of the Warsaw Treaty Organization and the collapse of the USSR, to the Twenty-First Century is fundamentally flawed. Should we be surprised if our continent together with the institutions has inherited their policies, including that of containment of not only Russia but Germany as well, as has become obvious under the Trump Administration? It is no accident that Richard Haass writes in the Foreign Affairs magazine on the Vienna vs. Versailles dilemma. Zbigniew Brzezinski in 2012 in his “Strategic Vision” wrote of the need “in the age of historical acceleration” for a “larger and more vital West” through closer embrace of Russia and Turkey. That is to say that the problem of vitality and sustainability of the Historical West and its present composition in the qualitatively new global competitive environment is not at all new.
It can be approached in various ways. As the past experience shows, the option of Russia joining the West, as if it were a matter of signing up for a kolkhoz in the Soviet Union, is a non-starter, all the more so that the collectivization commissar this time doesn’t have a gun on his table as a convincing argument (given the successful modernization of the Armed Forces that Russia had to undertake). It doesn’t matter how we call it, but at their press-conference in Bregancon President Putin spoke of the territory east of the Urals as a space of European culture (as is North America west of Lisbon), and President Macron uttered the seditious “Europe is not limited to the West”.
Ivan Krastev wrote recently in the “Russia in Global Affairs” magazine of similarities of the problems of Russia and the Western nations, sort of convergence between us at the level of problems in societal development. Fedor Tyutchev, who spent 20 years in Europe and whom, as Leo Tolstoy put it, “one cannot live without”, gave the following definition to the problem of separate existence of the West and Russia: “By the very fact of her existence Russia denies the West its future”. If the year of 1989 had its roots in the year of 1968 in Western Europe, then would it be right to say that the current crisis of the West could be traced to the year of 1991? Martin Wolf of the Financial Times writes in his blog: “The disappearance of the Soviet Union left a big hole”. Do we all need to fall into it together with Lewis Carroll’s Alice, or have we, indeed, have fallen into that hole and now is the time to get out of it?
Is it high time that we restore the political unity of Europe on the basis of pragmatism? It is for the Americans to decide whether they have overstayed their welcome in our continent, having turned the NATO into a business venture and closing down globalization in order to get in competitive shape at everybody else’s expense, and thus, ensure that they have an edge over others in a world of technological containment of China, a world with no universal rules, including those of the WTO, that apply to all. And then what are the ideological prejudices of the past worth, the ones annihilated completely by the Left political thought represented by the postmodernists? The latter’s categories perfectly describe the reality of the post-Cold War world falling apart. The future of the European integration depends entirely upon the EU member-states, but Russia’s potential of development could provide space for trade and economic “enlargement” of European countries under any circumstances, helping to prevent Weimarization of any part of a Europe already in a post-war mood.
Russia was on the right side of history in both world wars, when liberty in its most universal, existential sense was at stake, and no ideological differences could interfere with that in the former and the latter instances. Now that the US and Britain with their societies’ high threshold of tolerance for inequality, are resolutely choosing neoliberal economics, it is the future of the social state, paid for in blood in those wars, that is at stake in Europe. Russia ought to be on the side of this “contrat social” which guarantees peace in our continent and represents a mode of peaceful coexistence between capitalism and democracy according to Jurgen Habermas. We could, inter alia, in the spirit of constructive internationalism and by way of networking diplomacy and development pacts, jointly manage common risks, including climate change and transformation in the Middle East, where the Americans are leaving slow but steady. In that case Europe could guarantee itself strong positions, well in line with its values and traditions, in a globalised world of interdependence and cultural diversity, where development of all would ensure development of each nation.
France convened the Paris Peace Forum last year to mark the end of World War One. So far its results do not impress. Maybe, we could begin with an OSCE summit which has not been held ever since 2010? Holding any inclusive forum similar to the Hague Peace Conferences of 1899 and 1907, would hugely contribute to putting in motion a process of taking European politics out of the past and drawing a line under it, at last. There is no need to start from scratch and try to apportion blame: it suffices that everybody is at fault. However, we’ll have to revisit the ground zero, i.e. the fall of the Berlin Wall and our expectations at the time. It is important to understand what went badly wrong in Europe and what avenues were closed or have been left unexplored – without that we won’t be able to reinvent the architecture of the EU-Russia relationship.
From our partner RIAC
Indo-European rapprochement and the competing geopolitics of infrastructure
Current dynamics suggest that the main focus of geopolitics in the coming years will shift towards the Indo-Pacific region. All eyes are on China and its regional initiatives aimed at establishing global dominance. China’s muscle-flexing behavior in the region has taken the form of direct clashes with India along the Line of Actual Control, where India lost at least 20 soldiers last June; interference in Hong Kong’s affairs; an increased presence in the South China Sea; and economic malevolence towards Australia. With this evolving geopolitical complexity, if the EU seeks to keep and increase its global ‘actorness’, it needs to go beyond the initiatives of France and Germany, and to shape its own agenda. At the same time, India is also paying attention to the fact that in today’s fragmented and multipolar world, the power of any aspiring global actor depends on its diversified relationships. In this context, the EU is a useful partner that India can rely on.
Indo-European rapprochement, which attempts to challenge Chinese global expansion, seeks also to enhance multilateral international institutions and to support a rules-based order. Given the fact that India will hold a seat on the UN Security Council in 2021-22 and the G20 presidency in 2022, both parties see an opportunity to move forward on a shared vision of multilateralism. As a normative power, the EU is trying to join forces with New Delhi to promote the rules-based system. Therefore, in order to prevent an ‘all-roads-lead-to-Beijing’ situation and to challenge growing Chinese hegemony, the EU and India need each other.
With this in mind, the EU and India have finally moved towards taking their co-operation to a higher level. Overcoming difficulties in negotiations, which have been suspended since 2013 because of trade-related thorny topics like India’s agricultural protectionism, shows that there is now a different mood in the air.
The Indian prime minister, Narendra Modi, had been scheduled to travel to Portugal for a summit with EU leaders, but the visit cancelled because of the Covid-19 pandemic. As a result, the European Commission and Portugal – in its presidency of the European Council – offered India to hold the summit in a virtual format on 8 May 2021. The talks between these two economic giants were productive and resulted in the Connectivity Partnership, uniting efforts and attention on energy, digital and transportation sectors, offering new opportunities for investors from both sides. Moreover, this new initiative seeks to build joint infrastructure projects around the world mainly investing in third countries. Although both sides have clarified that the new global partnership isn’t designed to compete with China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), the joint initiative to build effective projects across Europe, Asia and Africa, will undoubtedly counter Beijing’s agenda.
The EU and its allies have a common interest in presenting an alternative to the Belt and Road Initiative, which will contain Chinese investment efforts to dominate various regions. Even though the EU is looking to build up its economic ties with China and signed the EU-China Comprehensive Agreement on Investments (CAI) last December, European sanctions imposed on Beijing in response to discrimination against Uighurs and other human rights violations have complicated relations. Moreover, US President Joe Biden has been pushing the EU to take a tougher stance against China and its worldwide initiatives.
This new Indo-European co-operation project, from the point of view of its initiators, will not impose a heavy debt burden on its partners as the Chinese projects do. However, whilst the EU says that both the public and the private sectors will be involved, it’s not clear where the funds will come from for these projects. The US and the EU have consistently been against the Chinese model of providing infrastructure support for developing nations, by which Beijing offers assistance via expensive projects that the host country ends up not being able to afford. India, Australia, the EU, the US and Japan have already started their own initiatives to counterbalance China’s. This includes ‘The Three Seas Initiative’ in the Central and Eastern European region, aimed at reducing its dependence on Chinese investments and Russian gas. Other successful examples are Japan’s ‘Expanded Partnership for Quality Infrastructure’ and its ‘Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy’. One of the joint examples of Indo-Japanese co-operation is the development of infrastructure projects in Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Bangladesh. The partners had been scheduled to build Colombo’s East Container Terminal but the Sri Lankans suddenly pulled out just before signing last year. Another competing regional strategy is the Asia-Africa Growth Corridor (AAGC), initiated by India, Japan and a few African countries in 2017. This Indo-Japanese collaboration aims to develop infrastructure in Africa, enhanced by digital connectivity, which would make the Indo-Pacific Region free and open. The AAGC gives priority to development projects in health and pharmaceuticals, agriculture, and disaster management.
Undoubtably, this evolving infrastructure-building competition may solve the problems of many underdeveloped or developing countries if their leaderships act wisely. The newly adopted Indo-European Connectivity Partnership promises new prospects for Eastern Europe and especially for the fragile democracies of Armenia and Georgia.
The statement of the Indian ambassador to Tehran in March of this year, to connect Eastern and Northern Europe via Armenia and Georgia, paves the way for necessary dialogue on this matter. Being sandwiched between Russia and Turkey and at the same time being ideally located between Europe and India, Armenia and Georgia are well-placed to take advantage of the possible opportunities of the Indo-European Partnership. The involvement of Tbilisi and Yerevan in this project can enhance the economic attractiveness of these countries, which will increase their economic security and will make this region less vulnerable vis-à-vis Russo-Turkish interventions.
The EU and India need to decide if they want to be decision-makers or decision-takers. Strong co-operation would help both become global agenda shapers. In case these two actors fail to find a common roadmap for promoting rules-based architecture and to become competitive infrastructure providers, it would be to the benefit of the US and China, which would impose their priorities on others, including the EU and India.
The Leaders of the Western World Meet
The annual meeting of the G7 comprising the largest western economies plus Japan is being hosted this year by the United Kingdom. Boris Johnson, the UK Prime Minister has also invited Australia, South Korea, South Africa and India. There has been talk of including Russia again but Britain threatened a veto. Russia, which had been a member from 1997, was suspended in 2014 following the Crimea annexation.
Cornwall in the extreme southwest of England has a rugged beauty enjoyed by tourists, and is a contrast to the green undulating softness of its neighbor Devon. St. Ives is on Cornwall’s sheltered northern coast and it is the venue for the G7 meeting (August 11-13) this year. It offers beautiful beaches and ice-cold seas.
France, Germany. Italy, UK, US, Japan and Canada. What do the rich talk about? Items on the agenda this year including pandemics (fear thereof) and in particular zoonotic diseases where infection spreads from non-human animals to humans. Johnson has proposed a network of research labs to deal with the problem. As a worldwide network it will include the design of a global early-warning system and will also establish protocols to deal with future health emergencies.
The important topic of climate change is of particular interest to Boris Johnson because Britain is hosting COP26 in Glasgow later this year in November. Coal, one of the worst pollutants, has to be phased out and poorer countries will need help to step up and tackle not just the use of cheap coal but climate change and pollution in general. The G7 countries’ GDP taken together comprises about half of total world output, and climate change has the potential of becoming an existential problem for all on earth. And help from them to poorer countries is essential for these to be able to increase climate action efforts.
The G7 members are also concerned about large multinationals taking advantage of differing tax laws in the member countries. Thus the proposal for a uniform 15 percent minimum tax. There is some dispute as to whether the rate is too low.
America is back according to Joe Biden signalling a shift away from Donald Trump’s unilateralism. But America is also not the sole driver of the world economy: China is a real competitor and the European Union in toto is larger. In a multilateral world, Trump charging ahead on his own made the US risible. He also got nowhere as the world’s powers one by one distanced themselves.
Secretary of the Treasury Janet Yellen is also endorsing close coordination in economic policies plus continued support as the world struggles to recover after the corona epidemic. India for example, has over 27 million confirmed cases, the largest number in Asia. A dying first wave shattered hopes when a second much larger one hit — its devastation worsened by a shortage of hospital beds, oxygen cylinders and other medicines in the severely hit regions. On April 30, 2021, India became the first country to report over 400,000 new cases in a single 24 hour period.
It is an interdependent world where atavistic self-interest is no longer a solution to its problems.
Revisiting the Bosnian War
Genocide is not an alien concept to the world nowadays. However, while the reality (and the culprit) is not hard to profile today, history is ridden with massacres that were draped and concealed from the world beyond. Genocides that rivaled the great warfares and were so gruesome that the ring of brutality still pulsates in the historical narrative of humanity. We journey back to one such genocide that was named the most brutish mass slaughter after World War II. We revisit the Bosnian War (1992-95) which resulted in the deaths of an estimated 100,000 innocent Bosnian citizens and displaced millions. The savage nature of the war was such that the war crimes committed constituted a whole new definition to how we describe genocide.
The historical backdrop helps us gauge the complex relations and motivations which resulted in such chaotic warfare to follow suit. Post World War II, the then People’s Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina joined the then Federal People’s Republic of Yugoslavia. Bosnia-Herzegovina became one of the constituent republics of Yugoslavia in 1946 along with other Balkan states including Croatia, Slovenia, Macedonia, Montenegro, and Serbia. As communism pervaded all over Yugoslavia, Bosnia-Herzegovina began losing its religion-cultural identity. Since Bosnia-Herzegovina mainly comprised of a Muslim population, later known as the Bosniaks, the spread of socialism resulted in the abolition of many Muslim institutions and traditions. And while the transition to the reformed Federal Republic of Yugoslavia in 1963 did ease the ethnic pressure, the underlying radical ideology and sentiments never fully subsided.
The Bosniaks started to emerge as the majority demographic of Bosnia and by 1971, the Bosniaks constituted as the single largest component of the entire Bosnia-Herzegovina population. However, the trend of emigration picked up later in the decades; the Serbs and the Croats adding up to their tally throughout most of the 70s and mid-80s. The Bosnian population was characterized as a tripartite society, that is, comprised of three core ethnicities: Bosniaks, Serbs, and Croats. Till 1991, the ethnic majority of the Bosniaks was heavily diluted down to just 44% while the Serbian emigrants concentrated the Serbian influence; making up 31% of the total Bosnian population.
While on one side of the coin, Bosnia-Herzegovina was being flooded with Serbs inching a way to gain dominance, the Yugoslavian economy was consistently perishing on the other side. While the signs of instability were apparent in the early 80s, the decade was not enough for the economy to revive. In the late 80s, therefore, political dissatisfaction started to take over and multiple nationalist parties began setting camps. The sentiments diffused throughout the expanse of Yugoslavia and nationalists sensed an imminent partition. Bosnia-Herzegovina, like Croatia, followed through with an election in 1990 which resulted in an expected tripartite poll roughly similar to the demographic of Bosnia. The representatives resorted to form a coalition government comprising of Bosniak-Serb-Craot regime sharing turns at the premiership. While the ethnic majority Bosniaks enjoyed the first go at the office, the tensions soon erupted around Bosnia-Herzegovina as Serbs turned increasingly hostile.
The lava erupted in 1991 as the coalition government of Bosnia withered and the Serbian Democratic Party established its separate assembly in Bosnia known as ‘Serbian National Assembly’. The move was in line with a growing sentiment of independence that was paving the dismantling of Yugoslavia. The Serbian Democratic Party long envisioned a dominant Serbian state in the Balkans and was not ready to participate in a rotational government when fighting was erupting in the neighboring states. When Croatia started witnessing violence and the rise of rebels in 1992, the separatist vision of the Serbs was further nourished as the Serbian Democratic Party, under the leadership of Serb Leader Radovan Karadžić, established an autonomous government in the Serb Majority areas of Bosnia-Herzegovina.
The vision and the actions remained docile until the ring of independence was echoed throughout the region. When the European Commission (EC), now known as the European Union (EU), and the United States recognized the independence of both Croatia and Slovenia, Bosnia-Herzegovina found itself in a precarious position. While a safe bet would have been to undergo talks and diplomatic routes to engage the Serbian Democratic Party, the Bosnian President Alija Izetbegović failed to realize the early warnings of an uprising. Instead of forging negotiations with the Bosnian Serbs, the Bosniak President resorted to mirror Croatia by organizing a referendum of independence bolstered by both the EC and the US. Even as the referendum was blocked in the Serb autonomous regions of Bosnia, Izetbegović chose to pass through and announced the results. As soon as the Bosnian Independence from Yugoslavia was announced and recognized, fighting erupted throughout Bosnia and Herzegovina.
The Bosnian Serbs feared that their long-envisioned plan of establishing the ‘Great Serbia’ in the Balkans was interred which resulted in chaos overtaking most of Bosnia. The blame of the decision, however, was placed largely on the Bosniak president and, by extension, the entire ethnic majority of the Bosniaks. The Bosnian Serbs started to launch attacks in the east of Bosnia; majorly targeting the Bosniak-dominated towns like Foča, Višegrad, and Zvornik. Soon the Bosnian Serb forces were joined by the local paramilitary rebels as well as the Yugoslavian army as the attacks ravaged the towns with large Bosniak populations; swathing the land in the process. The towns were pillaged and pressed into control whilst the local Bosniaks and their Croat counterparts were either displaced, incarcerated, or massacred.
While the frail Bosnian government managed to join hands with the Croatian forces across the border, the resulting offense was not nearly enough as the combination of Serb forces, rebel groups, and the Yugoslavian army took control of almost two-thirds of the Bosnian territory. The Karadžić regime refused to hand over the captured land in the rounds of negotiations. And while the war stagnated, the Bosniak locals left behind in small pockets of war-ravaged areas faced the brunt in the name of revenge and ethnic cleansing.
As Bosniaks and Croats formed a joint federation as the last resort, the Serbian Democratic Party established the Republic Srpska in the captured East, and the military units were given under the command of the Bosnian-Serb General, Ratko Mladic. The notorious general, known as the ‘Butcher of Bosnia’, committed horrifying war crimes including slaughtering the Bosniak locals captured in violence, raping the Bosniak women, and violating the minors in the name of ethnic cleansing exercises. While the United Nations refused to intervene in the war, the plea of the helpless Bosniaks forced the UN to at least deliver humanitarian aid to the oppressed. The most gruesome of all incidents were marked in July 1995, when an UN-declared safe zone, known as Srebrenica, was penetrated by the forces led by Mladic whilst some innocent Bosniaks took refuge. The forces brutally slaughtered the men while raped the women and children. An estimated 7000-8000 Bosniak men were slaughtered in the most grotesque campaign of ethnic cleansing intended to wipe off any trace of Bosniaks from the Serb-controlled territory.
In the aftermath of the barbaric war crimes, NATO undertook airstrikes to target the Bosnian-Serb targets while the Bosniak-Croat offense was launched from the ground. In late 1995, the Bosnian-Serb forces conceded defeat and accepted US-brokered talks. The accords, also known as the ‘Dayton Accords’, resulted in a conclusion to the Bosnian War as international forces were established in the region to enforce compliance. The newly negotiated federalized Bosnia and Herzegovina constituted 51% of the Croat-Bosniak Federation and 49% of the Serb Republic.
The accord, however, was not the end of the unfortunate tale as the trials and international action were soon followed to investigate the crimes against humanity committed during the three-year warfare. While many Serb leaders either died in imprisonment or committed suicide, the malefactor of the Srebrenica Massacre, Ratko Mladic, went into hiding in 2001. However, Mladic was arrested after a decade in 2011 by the Serbian authorities and was tried in the UN-established International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia (ICTY). The investigation revisited the malicious actions of the former general and in 2017, the ICTY found Ratko Mladic guilty of genocide and war crimes and sentenced him to life in prison. While Mladic appealed for acquittal on the inane grounds of innocence since not he but his subordinates committed the crimes, the UN court recently upheld the decision in finality; closing doors on any further appeals. After 26-years, the world saw despair in the eyes of the 78-year-old Mladic as he joined the fate of his bedfellows while the progeny of the victims gained some closure as the last Bosnian trail was cased on a note of justice.
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