New notes for the Balkan Prince and his opponents

Source: Wikipedia

Source: Wikipedia

Dear Balkan Prince,

you read my previous notes (and you had access to a version in your mother tongue), then you engaged some foreign advisers to make yourself look good internationally and then you hired some domestic advisers to show you how to play dirty. However, you never called and offered me a possibility to provide you with more assistance.

I have thus decided to provide some advice for those who might be seeking to replace you. As I wrote back then, your job is dancing on the edge of a volcano. Good luck to those who seek to replace you and hopefully will not become just another prince:

1. It is difficult. It is harder than challenging classic authoritarian rule. Srdja Popović provides some good and humorous advice on toppling today’s dictators, but much of it does not work in removing the Balkan prince.

2. Getting them caught. The “eleventh” rule for the Balkan prince is “Don’t get caught” (see here) is a key lesson for those seeking to remove them. Much of the mechanisms of staying in power rely on everybody knowing them, suspecting them, but lacking hard evidence beyond personal anecdotes. Hearing your Prince and his aids talking about citizens like cattle, manipulating elections, courts, media and threatening the opposition is potentially destabilizing.

3. The Balkan prince is often quite popular and thrives on mobilizing a supposed “silent majority”. The prince will often use populism to make sure that he has strong backing and he will campaign continuously. To challenge him, you need to show the citizens that he does not have the “silent” majority behind him. Just basing opposition on one group (i.e. students, city dwellers), will not be sufficient to build a strong movement.

4. Reclaiming the public. The Balkan prince will control the media not through direct censorship, but subtle pressure (controlling media through advertisement, targeted pressure). To challenge the prince, you need to create a public sphere, and the internet wont do, as its reach does not get to the citizens who are the most loyal voters.

5. Challenge  external support for the Balkan prince. The power of the Balkan prince rests on external legitimacy. As long as external actors, such as the EU, remain silent or lack a clear language (here and here), the power  of the prince to claim of external legitimacy will help him. In fact, he might use this to discredit the opposition and present himself as the only guarantor of stability and Euro-Atlantic integration.  To challenge the Balkan prince, make sure to secure external backing, but careful to much backing might make you vulnerable to accusations that you are  foreign agent.

6. Offer an alternative. The Balkan prince will be happy with the message that everybody is the same, equally corrupt, power-hungry. As long as citizens believe that there is no fundamental difference, why chose new leaders, they will steal even more than those who already have stolen enough.

7. Don’t accept his terms of the debate. He will seek to convince the public that he is more patriotic than you and more reformist and more European than you. Don’t try to be more patriotic (i.e. nationalist) then him. Change the framework to one you can win (unemployment, poverty).

8. Pick winnable and popular battles. As Srdja Popović notes, it is important to pick a battle (here, and here) with the prince you can win and that can energize the public.

9. Win elections. The only credible place to defeat the Balkan prince is elections. As their rule claims to be democratic, it is difficult to challenge them in social protests alone. Without an electoral challenge, they can wait out protests and win elections. While the prince has made it harder to defeat him, he still has to win them and has limited leeway in manipulating them.

10. Block the ethnic card. Balkan princes will want to play the ethnic card, antagonize and polarize to shift attention away from the real issues. You need to challenge the ethnic card, not trump it. This means building cross ethnic coalitions and recognizing that most citizens don’t are much about ethnicity, given a chance.

To the challengers of the Balkan prince, good luck, and don’t forget to not use the powers you might inherit for your own advantage, they are tempting. If you do, you will become just another Balkan prince.

The Skopje Stage: A Macedonian Tragedy

I was walking through Skopje to discover the latest monuments and buildings I had not seen since being in town last year. The stroll through downtown took me down the main pedestrian stretch to the old train station, looking for the new head quarters of the ruling party. Down a side street I glanced at a new old building. Walking towards it, I was overwhelmed by the large columns of the building, the ministry of finance. Approaching the building, I went up to the columns and touched them, they felt too massive to be be true. And they were not. Knocking on them, they were hollow, made of plaster. DSC00180 And then it dawn on me, what I have been watching over the years visiting Skopje is not a giant process of reconstructing the city, changing its cityscape, but the government has been building a stage. Like in a theater play, these new buildings are new architecture, looking old, but they are a backdrop of a play, a tragedy. Wherever you look, the buildings are shallow, they cover up older, more modern architecture, like the Archeological museum hiding the modernist opera. DSC00172 Even the new pompous building of the ruling VMRO, just a few meters away from the ministry of finance, is only a few windows deep (for now). Unlike at the ministry, here the columns are made of real stone. Is it telling that the ministry is adorned with plaster columns, the state is fake, but the party is real? DSC00188This is the stage–and considering the quality of many of the buildings–it is temporary on which the current Macedonian tragedy is set: the government, the opposition as the main actors and a chorus of international actors. While Greek tragedies contain a catharsis as its integral part, we don’t know yet whether this play will provide for it. The government might survive, outlive the accusations of corruption and abuse of office, or it might eventually falter amidst the accusations, mobilization of opposition, defection from within or external pressure (not discernible at the moment). Whatever the outcome of the crisis (I have written up some thoughts of how to overcome it), the stage will remain. Will it decay and be a reminder of a 7 year folly and a warning what a government without scruples and obsessed with nation building on speed does or will it continue to be a prop for a new national narrative that extends from buildings to textbooks, to public discourse? The fake columns suggest at least that this stage will require continuous maintenance to sustain itself, and this gives some hope.

With the help of some (expensive) friends

Past foes, future business partners. Blair and Vučić in 2014, Source: inserbia.info

When the former Austrian deputy prime minster Michael Spindelegger was named to head the new Ukrainian “Agency for the Modernisation of the Ukraine“ many in Austria thought it was a bad joke. He had resigned from government and the head of the junior coalition party, the conservative Peoples Party, in 2014 after disputes with his coalition partner over tax reforms. His resignation in Austria was sign of his inability to pursue modernization in Austria. How would he be qualified to advise on it now in Ukraine many in Austrian wondered?

However, becoming an adviser to foreign governments has become a lucrative business for former politicians in Western Europe. In Serbia, a whole line of former (mostly social democratic) politicians have been recruited by the SNS government: Alfred Gusenbauer, former Austrian chancellor, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, former chief of the IMF, and now Tony Blair (he already visited Vučić in June 2014).  In fact, it is not without irony that Blair is now advising both Albanian PM Edi Rama and Serbian Aleksandar Vučić who famously did not get along recently (also reportedly relations have improved). The irony that it was Blair who was key to advocating the bombing of Serbia in 1999 (when Vučić was minister for information) was already noted by the satirical web portal njuz.net with the headline: “Blair advises Vučić to bomb Serbia.”

Blair and Gusenbauer have displayed a rather pragmatic approach by also advising the authoritarian government of Kazakhstan, together with former Italian prime minister Romano Prodi, former Polish president Aleksander Kwaniewski and others.

Long-time Kazakh president Nasarbajev surely did not seek their advice on improving his rule over Kazakhstan or how to build up Social Democracy in his country. The purpose of these foreign advisers is to open Western doors, to get access to their phone book. As ministers, presidents and prime ministers, these former politicians can help, so the theory goes, with their extensive contacts in the world of business and politics.

Besides the fact that some of these former politicians do not seem to care too much whether they advise dictators or democrats, there are other problems with these arrangements. First, their main job is not about domestic reforms, for this experts which have time are required, not fly-in-fly-out former politicians with a busy schedule and little technical expertise. Instead their advice is about the international contacts, but contacts for what? Is their role to promote the country or the government? The external promotion of Serbia or any other country easily becomes just lobbying for the interests of a government, even if it doesn’t act in the interest of the country. Thus, unsurprisingly, the Kazakh opposition criticized the decision of Blair to lobby for the government. The suggestion by Blair that he would help nudge reformers in the country seems either insincere or naïve.

Second, it is hard to tell whether this engagement is actually effective and provides return on the money a government spends. Vučić claimed that Blair’s advice is free and doesn’t cost Serbia a ‘dinar’, but reports suggest the funding might from other sources, liked to UAE investments in Serbia, doubtlessly with strings attached, not surprising considering Blair’s reported connections to UAE.

Phone books are quickly dated and it is hard to tell how much these former politicians really can or do push for their client. Like the tourism videos of countries promoting themselves on CNN, BBC World and elsewhere, they are part of “nation branding” and “government branding”. However, independent judgment and critical advice are more likely to make a difference in foreign perception and policy than guns for hire. Of course, the irony is even greater considering that Blair is advising the reviewer (he also presented the book at it’s launch in 2006 together with ) of the classic book by Vojislav Šešelj “Engleski pederski isprdak Toni Bler” (The English Faggy Fart Tony Blair), but that is the ultimate sign of pragmatism.

A  shorter version of this text will be published in Serbian in Vreme (19.3.2015)

Negotiating a Way Out of the Macedonian Crisis?

Here is a brief comment I wrote for a Macedonian website on the possibilities of the EU to mediate in the Macedonian crisis:

 

Nikola_Gruevski_(9797911705)

Nikola Gruevski (Source: EPP)

As the political crisis in Macedonia has escalated in recent weeks, several EU officials, including Commission in charge of enlargement, Johannes Hahn and Federica Mogherini, the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy have urged the government and the opposition to negotiate and suggested the EU as a mediator. Yet, is negotiation the way out of the crisis? While the government has accused the opposition leader Zoran Zaev of espionage and planning a coup, the opposition has realized a number of audio recordings that suggest substantial abuse of office, the control over the judiciary and media and the manipulation of elections by the ruling party. Considering the severity of the allegations, the prospects for a negotiated agreement appear increasingly slim. However, it is less the prospects that should make on weary of mediation. First, the nature of the allegations is not a matter of mediation, but of investigation. If the tape recordings are even only partially correct, they indicate a scale of abuse that is incompatible with a democratic government. In addition, the wire taps effect not only the government and the opposition, but all of society. Thus, reducing a resolution on two parties falls short of including those affected.

Zoran Zaev (Source: FOSM)

Zoran Zaev (Source: FOSM)

Two very different efforts by the EU to mediate in past conflicts in former Yugoslavia come to mind, both 18 years ago. In 1997, the mediation in Serbia between the opposition and government of Slobodan Milošević following protests over massive electoral fraud in local elections. The result was a partial concession by the regime which then continued to rule for another three years and engaged in a horrific war in Kosovo. Nearly at the same time, the EU also mediated after the collapse of the Albanian state following the authoritarian rule of the first Berisha government and the collapse of the pyramid schemes in the country. Here, the goal was a negotiated transfer of power, resulting in a new constitution and elections that led to a change of power. These two cases are instructive. Mediation by the EU should not just aim at resolving the difference, even if this were possible, but at a structural way out. Considering the severity and founded nature of the claim, a negotiated agreement would have to include an independent (not just in name) investigation of the claims and an expert government leading to new elections. With the current government in place, a free and open investigation appears hard to accomplish and even then it will be a challenge considering the evidence of control the ruling party exerts over the state. The EU is faced with two challenges in accomplishing this. First, its leverage is severly restrained. With the Greek veto it has little to offer and credibility in Macedonia. Second, the stakes are high. Either side views the conflict as a zero sum game with little to loose. If the allegations are true, the leadership of the ruling party would end up in jail. Thus, the incentives for any open investigation appear to be limited.

Arsonists and the EU: A European Commissioner on Serbia and Macedonia

In Fire Raisers (Biedermann und die Brandstifter), a classic play by Swiss writer Max Frisch, Herr Biedermann, a wealth producer of hair tonic, and his wife Babette allow the shady character Schmitz  to settle in their attic through a combination of his charm and threats. This happens while there is an arsonist on the loose, setting houses on fire. Babette is suspicious, but Herr Biedermann rejects any suggestion that Schmitz might be an arsonist. Early on, Biedermann asked Schmitz “Please promise me this: You are not really an arsonist.” Schmitz just laughs.

Babette remains nervous and has doubts to which Biedermann replies “for the last time: He is no arsonist.” Upon which a voice, presumably his wife asks: “How do you know?” Biedermann: “I asked him myself… and anyhow: Isn’t one able to think about anything else in this world? It is madding, you and your arsonists all the time.” Later Schmitz is joined by Eisenring who start moving oil drums and fuses to the attic. Biederman remains indignant about any accusation:

“One should not always assume the worst. Where will this lead! I want to have my quiet and peace, nothing else, and what concerns these two gentlemen–asides from all the other worries I have…”

In the end, Biedermann hands the arsonists the matches to set his house on fire. After all, if they were real arsonists, they surely would have matches…

Johannes Hahn and Aleksandar Vučić (source: SETimes)

In recent days, Johannes Hahn, EU commissioner visited Macedonia (together with Kosovo) and spoke on Serbia, addressing two arsonists, who have been playing with democratic principles and media freedom. When asked about declining media freedom in Serbia, Hahn noted  “I have heard this several times [concerns about media freedom] and I am asking always about proof. I am willing to follow up such reproaches, but I need evidence and not only rumours.”

In Skopje, the press release following the visit of Commissioner Hahn noted “the EU’s serious concern at the current political situation and urged political actors to engage in constructive dialogue, within the parliament, focusing on the strategic priorities of the country and all its citizens. All leaders must cooperate in good faith to overcome the current impasse which is not beneficial to the country’s reform efforts.” Of course, the claim of Prime Minister Gruevski that the head of the largest opposition party is guilty of treason and planing a coup d’etat (backed up by two arrests and a criminal investigation of the prosecutor) are hardly the type of confrontation addressed by ‘constructive dialogue’. In addition, the charge by the opposition of massive wire-tapping by the government of 20,000 citizens and the evidence contained therein also would provide little basis for a ‘constructive dialogue’. Of course, the note also outlines the need for a an investigation of the claims and rule of law. Considering the explosive nature of the case and suggestion of recently released recordings that the government party exerts considerable control the judiciary, such a call sounds like a pious wish.

The concept that the crisis in Macedonia is a result of insufficient dialogue between government and opposition downplays the increasingly authoritarian government and engages in suggesting equal responsibility for the political crisis. This is not to suggest that the opposition is without flaws, but “dialogue” reverses the burden from the stronger to the weaker.

In Serbia as well, the suggestion that additional evidence is required to identify a decline in the media environment and press freedom in Serbia flies in the face of reality. Both independent journalists (see also here, here), as well as a number of international observers (here, here, here, here, here)   have pointed out the considerable evidence on the declining press freedom. The head of the EU delegation, Michael Davenport can also provide some evidence of pressure on the media, when PM Vučić called BIRN liars and accused them of being sponsored by “Davenport”, i.e. the EU.

 

stampano_60_naslovna-informer-18-02

Generously providing evidence of the declining media and the degree to which media are used is the Serbian daily Informer, a mouthpiece of the government also contributed to clarifying the issue. In its Wednesday 18 February issue, it headlines with “Perversion. The EU hires a Šešelj man to prove censorship” and “Attack on Vučić from Paris. Legion of Honor this year for Olja Bećković [journalist and talk show host whose show was cancelled after criticism by Vučić] and Saša Janković [the Serbian Ombudsman].” (next to headlines such as ‘Nele Karaljic fears balija [a derogatory term for Bosniaks” and “Šiptars [derogatory term for Albanians] lynch Serb”).

While the EU seems far away from inviting the arsonists in to the EU (there is already Orban), the weak statements are reminiscent of Biedermann seeking to avoid conflict until it is too late. However, when Vučić called Johannes Hahn an honorable man (“častan covek”) for his demand for evidence, it might be time to get worried.

 

 

German original of above excerpts:

BIEDERMANN: Sie versprechen es mir aber: Sie sind aber wirklich kein Brandstifter

BIEDERMANN:—zum letzten Mal: Er ist kein Brandstifter.

STIMME: Woher weißt du das?

BIEDERMANN: Ich habe ihn ja selbst gefragt…Und überhaupt: Kann man eigentlich nichts anderes mehr denken in dieser Welt? Das ist ja zum Verrücktwerden, ihr mit euren Brandstiftern die ganze Zeit.

BIEDERMANN: Man soll nicht immer das Schlimmste denken. Wo führt
das hin! Ich will meine Ruhe und meinen Frieden haben,
nichts weiter, und was die beiden Herren betrifft—ganz
abgesehen davon, daß ich zur Zeit andere Sorgen habe…

Excerpts taken from Max Frisch, Biedermann und die Brandstifter. Frankfurt: Suhrkamp Verlag, 1981. All translation by myself.

 

[an earlier version stated that Hahn visited Serbia, but he visited Kosovo and Macedonia, his statement on Serbia was made in Brussels].

Rebel with a Cause: Greece’s Chicken Game

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In a classic scene in “Rebel without a Cause” Jim , played by James Dean is racing with Buzz  towards a cliff, whoever jumps out first is the chicken, the looser. Jim jumps out on time, while Buzz gets caught in the car door and drops down the cliff with his car.

This scene is not only popular with movie buffs, but also with scholars. Scholars of game theory, like Yanis Varoufakis, the new Greek minister of finance. This “chicken game” is about driver’s drive towards each other on a collision course (an alternative version of heading for the cliff). One of the two must swerve, or both might die. However, who gets out of the way first is a ‘chicken’. Varoufakis in his writings about game theory uses the alternative term of ‘hawk and dove’.

Key to winning this game is to signal to the other side that you are more determined or more crazy than the other. If you are convincing, the other side will swerve first. You can signal by expressing your determination or–more drastically–by pulling out the steering wheel and giving yourself no choice but to stay on course. There are two ways in which you can loose. You can send signals that you are willing to swerve or you can forget to signal to the other that you pulled out the steering wheel and thus you precluded the option to swerve without letting the other side know. This is what happened in Kubrick’s Dr. Stranglove or: How I learned to stop worrying and love the bomb. Here the Soviet Union built a doomsday machine that would annihilate the earth if the Soviet Union was attacked, but forgot to tell the US about it.

The new Greek government is currently playing a game of chicken with the EU (while some have characterized this as a gamble, I would consider the term game, in this understanding more useful). When Varoufakis says that there is no plan B, he is telling the EU and the GFKT (group formerly know as the troika) that he and his government are not going to swerve. As a game of chicken, it is a gamble, will the other side swerve first? Greece since the elections is signaling that it will not move, but so have some key EU actors, including Germany. The gamble is that Greece has less to loose than the EU. Even if Greece would have to leave the Eurozone, the cost would be high for Germany and other countries, so there is no scenario in which Greece would be the only looser.

The current government will have only one shot at this game, and it seems to be serious about it now. While a recent comment in the FT argues that Varoufakis would be overplaying his hand, one could also see it as astrategy of brinkmanship. It also has the advantage of a clear majority in parliament and a population supporting a shift from the status quo. On the other side, the EU is a much more complicated ‘driver’. The likelihood of somebody being a ‘chicken’ seems greater here.

 

 

Ten rules by a 21st-century Machiavelli for the Balkan Prince

800px-Portrait_of_Niccolò_Machiavelli_by_Santi_di_Tito

I wrote the following blog for the LSEE blog following my talk at LSE on the state of democracy in the Western Balkans (see follow up article on Balkan Insight).To my surprise the advice of Machiavelli for a fictious Balkan prince today has been very popular (now available also in Bosnian/Serbian/Croatia via Buka,  in Montenegro (with nice additional photos of Milo Djukanović), in Albanian–including a silly you tube version–and in Bulgarian, Hungarian and German). Hopefully, of course, it will be rather read by those not aspiring to become one and candidates themselves. Considering the accussion of wide-spread wire-tapping by the Macedonia government in recent days, I forgot to add the 11th rule: Don’t get caught. It is, however, to early to tell how this crisis will play out.

Dear Balkan Prince,

Congratulations on your recent election.

I presume that you would like to retain power for as long as possible. While this is not as easy as it used to be, it is still possible, if you follow my ten rules outlined below.

You always have to remember that being considered a democrat and a reformer is a judgement that matters more if it comes from outside, from the EU, international observers and organizations. They might be stricter than your domestic audience, but they are also more ignorant and likely to lose interest quickly.

1. Control the elections, not on election day, but before

While some of your predecessors might have been able to just stuff ballot boxes or raise the dead to vote for you, or even better, make sure you have no opponents running in elections, this is no longer possible. You need to win elections and be also recognized by outsiders. These outsiders might be less picky in the Caucasus or Africa, but you have to look like a good democrat in the Balkans. My dear prince, this does not mean you have to be one. There are still a few ways to do well.

First, see elections as a way to get stronger. Time elections well: many and early elections can help catch the opposition off guard and also to have votes when your popularity is at its peak. Offer voters a bit of money, or forgive them their outstanding electricity bills, there are many ways in which you can get votes for little. Sometimes consider offering a bit of money for people not to vote (you know that they would just cast their ballots for your opponents). It also help to taint the opposition as being suspicious, sexually deviant, disloyal to the state, and generally dubious.

For more, refer to my book “Winning elections for dummies”.

2. Control the media, make sure you have many voices, which all say the same and have your junk-yard dog

The media is what matters to retain power domestically.

Now, you don’t own them any more, like other princes before you did. However, few of the media are economically viable and the best way to control them is to advertise only in the ones that report well on you (and don’t forget, you are the largest advertiser).  Many newspapers and TV stations are probably owned either by some Western media company who value profit margins over standards or a shady local businessman about whom you can certainly dig up some unpaid tax bills.

Journalists can sometimes be a bit pesky, and the best way to make sure that they are behaving well, is to threaten them a little bit, not in public, but pressure a few. Most will be happy to censor themselves.

3. Talk about the EU and wanting to join it, but make it hot and cold

You might not really care or understand the EU and this is fine, but wanting to join the EU is a must. Without this, you probably would not have got elected considering that all voters want EU membership. Furthermore, you could be left out in the dark if you don’t support the EU, as forming a government requires a stamp of approval from the EU. Thus, want the EU, but throw in a dose of ambiguity. Being too pro-European these days seems like trying too hard with a partner who doesn’t really want you. Thus, throw some doubt on the project.

4. Talk about fighting corruption and reforms. Talk and talk and jail a few.

Who is in favour of corruption? Nobody. Thus, there is no safer topic to campaign on and talk about all the time. It is good to position yourself as a fearless fighter against corruption and presenting anybody corrupt as being against your rule, thus throwing a shadow of corruption over your opposition.

Of course, it is hard to stay in power without tolerating some corruption. Make sure that you have occasional successes, some arrests, trials. Keep in mind that arrests are more important than sentences. Also get a few of your own guys. It makes you seem more serious. Reports about modest lifestyle help, and declarations of assets can be taken with some degree of creative freedom.

5. Solve problems with your neighbours to get praise and create a few to be popular

The EU and outsiders like you to get on with your neighbours, so it is worth finding time to visit them, not only because they might have better sea town resorts: talk about regional cooperation, how we all share our European future (consult my book ’100 speeches for the right occasion for Balkan princes’).

Now, new or old problems with neighbours are very useful at home. They distract from other issues, give you an opportunity for some rallying around the flag. Nothing is better for boosting your popularity than some neighbour bashing. Thus, striking a balance between pleasing outsiders and feeding domestic sentiment is crucial here.

6. Pick different foreign friends, some will like you for what you are, some what you claim to be

The EU is your biggest investor, donor and prospect, but don’t focus on them only. Flirting with others will make the EU a bit jealous and pay more attention to you. Plus, you can present yourself as being your own man. It is also important to consider that other investors and donors often have fewer strings attached. Thus, you can use some resources to take care of domestic political favors. However, realize that they might also be using you, so be prepared to be dropped when they stop caring.

7. Hire your voters. Fire your opponents

The best way to stay in power is to hire your voters, there are many jobs you can offer, from advisor to cleaning lady.

If it is clear that belonging to your party is what matters, this will help in terms of support for the party and votes. Many of your civil servants will recruit dozens of voters just to keep their jobs. Your opponents can always be fired, from the state administration or private jobs (after all, you probably control the largest share of funding in the state), or their fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers. There are many ways to get them to think twice about what they say about you.

8. Rule of Law, your rules, your law

The internationals will talk and talk about rule of law. For this, dear Balkan prince, we recommend numerous action plans and strategies. However, in reality, it is important to ensure that the law is complicated enough that it cannot be universally applied, but that there is always a shadow of illegality hanging over that can be used, when needed. Demonstrators can get fined for obstructing traffic with high fines, and other little rules can help you to remind them that your law is what rules.

9. Don’t have an ideology, it can only hurt you

Don’t have a clear ideology, this only commits you to certain positions that can create problems later on. Focus on broad goals, such as Europe, freedom, prosperity and stay clear of too specific ambitions.

Now, it is in your interest to join a European or International party family, such as the Socialist International or the European People’s Party as an associate member or observer. They will give you some international legitimacy and moderate some potential international criticism. However, don’t confuse this with ideology—nobody will vote for you due to ideology, they will vote for you because of you and the job you got for their aunt.

10. Promise change, but make sure it stays the same

Change is what everybody wants, your voters have lived through economic crises for some 28 of the past 35 years. They want the situation to get better, so don’t promise to keep things as they are, but paint a picture of how they will be. However, change is risky. So keep things the same, change is an easy promise, but a risky reality. Now, change means constant campaigning. Run your office, as if you are running for office. This will make you look energetic, have you ready to go for any early election and also make you seem like you are still in opposition, even when you are not. Thus, changing government composition, changing policy, announcing big plans are good ways to talk about change.

Dear Balkan Prince,

Ruling is like dancing on the edge of a volcano. You can only rule if you claim to be a democrat in favor of EU integration, but you can only continue your rule for a long time by not acting on these claims. Both will bring others to power and might bring you to jail. Thus, you need to walk the tight line between saying the right things to your voters and the EU, and doing something else.

Good luck, there are some who are doing well, so with some skill, you might join their club.

How my relative became an involuntary suicide bomber

Exactly thirty years ago a (distant) relative of mine blew himself up with a bomb. No, he was not a suicide bomber and he didn’t fight for an Islamic state, but, in the words of his fellow travelers, he died “in the anti imperialist struggle for the front in Western Europe.” Johannes Thimme died on 20 January 1985 trying to set up a bomb at a center for space and flight research in Stuttgart. His partner survived and was subsequently imprisoned. This death was just a detail in the several decade long history of the RAF and other, similar movements across Western Europe which came to end by the 1980s. He was not a core RAF member, but rather described as a “Mitläufer” of the second generation of the organisation, building the bomb himself which would blow up prematurely.

Some ten years ago his mother, Ulrike Thimme wrote an impressive book about his path from a middle-class family to a member of the Red Army Faction, called a bomb for the RAF (Eine Bombe für die RAF). She describes the painful efforts to bring him back from his radicalism, but she also describes how the heavy handed response of the German state against sympathizers of the Red Army Faction contributed to their radicalization and eventual use of violence. Many members and followers of the RAF, as its counterparts in Western at the time came from middle class homes–some strict, some liberal, but the center of the prosperous post-war society.

USAFE HQ bombing 31 Aug 1981 by RAF U.S. Air Forces Europe

Bombing of US Air Forces Europe HQ in 1981 by RAF
source: U.S. Air Forces Europe

Today’s terrorism in Europe differs in many ways, the ideas underpinning it are religious, not leftist and the perpetrators rarely come from established middle class societies. Yet, it is surprising that in the debates today on the attack on Charlie Hebdo and other targets are devoid of a reflection of the past episodes of violence, in particular the “Years of Lead” (Anni di piombo) as they were known in Italy. While its social origins, the ideological framework that justified the violence in the eyes of the perpetrators differed, they can provide some useful lessons. Family histories themselves do not suffice to explain the turn to violence alone. Similarly the larger ideology of the left does not explain the use of force then, as focusing on Islam fails today. Instead, questions of alienation and cult of violence that provides easy answers needs to be explored. The understanding of Marxism of many of followers of radical left wing terrorist groups is as contorted as that of Islam of today’s terrorists. If today’s radicals order “Islam for Dummies” to find out about the religion in which name they claim to act, so did many of the leftists base their ideas on a very limited (but often very convoluted and impenetrable) view of Marxism.

Looking back might be a useful exercise in avoiding rash and simplistic conclusion and remind us that political violence has a rich and much neglected pre-history in Europe.

My favorite bizarre academic journals

I frequently get invited to go to fictitious academic conference on everything in Hawaii and to contribute to academic journals which offer a great, ehm, variety of articles. Others have published articles by Margarete Simpson (aka Maggie) or articles with the profound title “Get me off Your Fucking Mailing List”. The list of such journals is endless, so I picked just a few that have a nice Austria and Balkan ring to them. Some are predatory, i.e. they charge money for publishing without any quality control, others are hijacking legitimate journals and others have just dubious standards.

 

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1. Metalurgia International

This Romanian journal published the classic article “EVALUATION OF TRANSFORMATIVE HERMENEUTIC HEURISTICS FOR PROCESSING RANDOM DATA”which includes nice pictures of the three authors. The references includ Borat, the Journal of Illogical Studies and other gems. Unforunately, it is no longer online.

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2.Wulfenia International

This “Austrian” journal recently asked me to submit an article and is edited by a certain Prof. Dr. Vienna S. Franz. It is claimed that it is the journal of the Carinthian museum, but in fact, it is what is called a hijacked journal. The real journal is legit, the email and Mr. Vienna S. Franz is not.

3.  Mitteilungen Kloserneuburg

Another fake of a real Austrian journal that has been hijacked. Now, if you do not know this, it might be a bit suspicious that the journal of the Höhere Bundeslehranstalt und Bundesamt für Wein- und Obstbau Klosterneuburg (the Federal Institute of Higher Education for Wine and Fruit) is publishing articles on “CHILD SEXUAL OFFENDERS: A SERIES FROM HATAY, TURKEY,” “Travel from Europe to Istanbul in the 19th Century: The Quarantine of �anakkale” and  “THE HUMAN CAPITAL DETERMINANT OF SOCIAL STRATIFICATION IN ROMANIA” unfortunately the authors names are not visible, but I guess that is better for the authors.

4. International Journal of Advanced Computer Technology

This journal managed to accept a paper called Get me off your fucking mailing list, which incidentally is also the only sentence of the article. 12 points for consistency and parsimony.

5.  Journal of Computational Intelligence and Electronic Systems a

Here, some clever colleagues submitted a non-sensicle article in the name of Maggie Simpson, Edna Krabappel, and Kim Jong Fun in a reference to the Simpsons. Of course the article got accepted and published for the modest fee of 459$.

6. Journal of Society for Development of Teaching and Business Processes in New Net Environment in B&H

This Bosnian journal has a pretty big scope too and gives precise instruction, including the useful advice “Paper depends on its content, but usually it consists of a page title, abstract, text, pictures and tables, conclusion and references.” While the editorial board and some contributors are serious academics, the journal has been accused of publishing for money (and a lot of it, i.e. more than number 5).

7. HealthMed

This other Bosnian journal closely linked to the previous one, published by a non-profit publisher in Sarajevo. According to a report by Pero Šipka into this and the previous journal, they are engaged in a number of dubious practices, such as . They are also ” bibliometrically isolated, i.e. not being cited by other quality journals” (p.5) and appear to be belong to “citation cartels”.

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8. Megatrend Review

This journal is less predatory, as more a reflection of the esoteric and eclectic world view of Megatrend and its founder Mica Jovanović. Its 2013 issue was not only devoted to pay homage to him, but also includes and article by the Bogdanoff brothers, who have taught cosmology at Megatrend on “BEFORE THE BIG BANG: A COSMOLOGICAL CODE” who have been controversial, to put it mildly. Of course the most dubious contribution in the journal is the biography of Jovanović himself…

There are many more candidates with great potential and looking forward to some nice suggestions.

Of course, all of this sounds like a bit of joke, but dubious, bizarre and predatory journal do not only muddy the water of academia, they also allow scholars to “publisher” their research and thus advance their careers. There has been some action by state institutions against them, but it is sometimes difficult to identify them (at least by their title) or close them down. A great source of dubious journals (and serious issues in serious journals) is  Retraction Watch and Scholarly Open Access .

And to end with a quote of the aforementioned Boganoff article: “All of us should be happy that our world is equipped with time. Without time, everything would be boring and stagnant. Problems couldn’t be fixed and nothing else could happen either. One couldn’t hope that the future is going to be brighter than the present.” (p. 489)

10 Things I learned on the Balkans in 2014

1. The revolution is not dead

Even though the protests in Bosnia in February did not last and few (if any) of the demands were met, smaller protests have continued and recent large student protests in Macedonia demonstrate that even the regime in Macedonia is not immune from popular discontent after years of small-scale protests. The protests show that representative democracy in recent years has not served citizens in the Western Balkans very well. Strong control by incumbents has made change difficult.

2. A one man show remains the best show in town


Aleksandar Vučić saved children from snow storms, commanded thousands of volunteers to save Šabac and other heroic deeds, like not sleeping and work while other slack. This brought his party an unprecedented victory for any party in post-1990 Serbian politics. However, any regime relying so much on one person will be fragile. A recent poll (not sure how reliable, but surely indicative) suggests that 80 percent of potential voters for SNS for the party because of Vučić.

3. The crisis is not over


After more than six years of economic crisis, the situation is become more dire as there are no immediate prospects of improvement and governments in the regions have not been able to set a clear path for economic development after the crisis. Nowhere is this more visible than in Croatia, where the current government seems to  have hoped on EU membership to solve the economic ills, with few effects.

4. A good press is a bad press

A free press has not fared well this year. Instead, slander and insulation are doing well. Informer and others like it are good to find out whom the governments want to target, but make for bad news. Reading between the lines is getting to be more important again, as the main news are not written in the lines.

5. Silly incidents matter, because political elites make them matter

While the flag carrying drone added a new dimension to provocations in football stadiums, but it could have been managed and calmed by political elites. However, neither in Serbia and Albania did governments manage the incident well. The result became a crisis of relations that had been rather marked by their absence.

6. Anniversaries are great moments for posturing and nationalist rediscovery

 

World War One did not figure prominently in national narratives in recent year. World War Two, wars of Independence or the most recent wars overshadowed the “Great War” in terms of public interest. However, this did not stop for a lot of nationalist posturing during this year. This functioned in symbiotic relationship with the generally strongly national commemorations across Europe and rather patronizing efforts to commemorate the war in Sarajevo this year.

7. Do not discount new friends from faraway places


Businessmen from China, sheiks from the Emirates have become more visible in the Balkans. These are promising new rail links, new urban developments and air links. Much of what has failed to come from Western assistance seems like it could be accomplished from elsewhere. On what terms and whether the wild dreams will materialize remains to be seen.

8. Some old friends are not really such good friends


Russia began as a good friend to Serbia (and the RS) 2014, but after (surely not because) Putin got rained on his parade, he dropped South Stream, notifying his friends via the media.

9. Engagement continues, wedding postponed

 

While Germany recommitted itself to the Balkan enlargement, the EU approach is lukewarm. With mixed signals, enlargement is being pushed down the agenda in the EU and the region. Yes, the process continues, but whether it will remain on track remains uncertain.

10. Borders change, war in Europe

The latest war in Europe is not in the Balkans. The newest border changes are neither. They both draw attention away, yet also cast a shadow. What the repercussions might be for the region is uncertain, but is hard to imagine that it will pass it by.

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