Naming and Shaming Airports

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Flying from the recently opened Dr. Franjo Tudjman Airport in Zagreb, a building with considerable grace, so different from the dour narrow-mindedness of its name giver, to Alexander the Great airport in Skopje, I am reminded of the deliberate provocative nature airport-naming in the post-Yugoslav space.

Rather than innocent names of places, like Surčin or Petrovec, the name givers over the past decade have opted for a more confrontational style. First, there is the “heroes at home, war criminals-terrorists abroad” category of name givers, like Franjo Tudjman or Adem Jashari in Prishtina. Then there are the “provoke thy neighbor” names, like the Alexander the Great Airport in Skopje, which got its name from the previous government in 2008–conveniently located on the Alexander the Great highway. Finally, there are the more subtle nationalist names, like the airport in Belgrade named after Nikola Tesla and Mother Teresa in Tirana. Both might be accused of much, in particular the latter, but not nationalism. The names are instead rather examples of “banal nationalism.” Nikola Tesla spent a total of 31 hours (1892) of his life in Belgrade. It is only his Serb ethnic background that made him eligible. Mother Teresa visited Tirana twice and both times a bit longer than Tesla, but both visits in 1989 and 1991 are hardly enough to get an airport named after yourself. Being born in Skopje and having lived most of her life in India, here connections to Albania were rather marginal . Again, it is her national background that made her the name giver.

The only  capital city airports in the region that avoided a similar fate are Sarajevo and Podgorica. An attempt to call the airport in Sarajevo after Alija Izetbegović was only stopped by Paddy Ashdown, the High Representative at the time. And Podgorica might have to wait a while before it can carry the name of the father of the nation.

The tragedy of name giving is that these new, nationalist names were given not in the 1990s, but over the last decade, including the naming of the new Zagreb airport by the previous Social-democratic government. Instead of emphasizing national “heroes”, provoking neighbors and promoting the idea of an ethnic nations, airports would be much more aptly named after artists, scientists or just some small suburb of the regions capitals.

 

 

 

 

Kurzistan, Freedom Party and the Balkans

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FPÖ claiming in electoral campaign to being the vanguard of anti-immigrant ideas

Austrian elections were closely watched in the Balkans and not just for the strong showing of the far right FPÖ, but also in regard to the repercussions for the region with a new government in the making.

In this context, I gave several interviews for N1, Al Jazeera Balkans, Dnevni Avaz and European Western Balkans. Here are some points I made. While last year the large fear in the presidential victory of the Freedom Party’s candidate Norbert Hofer. Ironically, his near victory (and eventual failure) drew more attention than the success of FPÖ in recent elections. Yes, they were nowhere close to last year’s results, but with the conservative candidate for chancellor  Sebastian Kurz winning,  who openly supported a coalition with the FPÖ and successfully hijacked the FPÖ agenda, their success is greater now in terms of ideas and access to real power.

Beyond the dangers for Austria, there are potential consequences for Southeastern Europe. I discussed the negative repercussions of the party policies on the Balkans in the context of presidential elections last year. Their open support for independence of the Republika Srpska, courting the nationalist, corrupt and autocratic president of the RS Milorad Dodik and their rejection of Kosovos independence puts the party in diametric conflict with European and Austrian policies in the region for the past decades.

While Kurz is a too clever politician and having gained his experiences as Foreign Minister, he would not let FPÖ take Austria into open conflict with EU policies. However, his opportunistic support of undemocratic, nationalist and corrupt VMRO-DPMNE under the leadership of Nikola Gruevski in parliamentary elections in December 2016 highlights his willingness to sacrifice support for rule of law and EU integration on the altar of (seeming) national interest and personal advantage.

Thus, there is less need to worry  about Austrian policy turning 180 degree on the Balkans . However, even the combination of pursuing foreign policy as a product of domestic anti-immigrant campaigning, a more isolation trend, small moves towards a more pro-Russian and “pro-Serb” nationalist line would be destructive for the Balkans who risk loosing or at least seeing a decline in Austria as a key partner.

As a recent commentary in “Der Standard” notes ,there is an inherent anti-systemic, German-national core in the FPÖ that is likely to make it an unreliable and dangerous partner in government. Beyond the immediate policy towards the Balkans, it will matter whether Austria will align itself closer with the Visegrad group and emulate some of the more populist policies of the region. Thus, it would also undermine the idea of liberal democratic values in its foreign policies, but in domestic politics and “lead by example.” This will be welcome by Central and Southeast European prime ministers who have openly attacked liberal democratic values, either implicitly or explicitly.

On the plus side, the foreign ministry and its diplomats are committed and engaged in the region. They will be able to absorb some of the political changes, similar to the state department after the election of Trump. However, a clear and signal in the government formation and the Austrian EU presidency will be required to dispel doubts about the future government and they will have to extend beyond the declaratory statements of Sebstian Kurz emphasizing the European character of any future government under his leadership.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A Macedonian Moment for the Balkans?

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After years of democratic decline in the Western Balkans, the new Macedonian government that took office in May 2017 constituted not just the first democratic transfer of power in the region for four years, but also a apparent break with the success of autocratic rule.The results of the local elections last Sunday ratify this change of government and give it not just much needed backing, but also clarify that after a decade of increasing authoritarian rule, nepotism and nationalism, most citizens back a different political course

Is there are “Macedonian moment” and what can be learnt from it? First a warning, the electoral success of Aleksandar Vučić in 2012 was by many seen as democratic normalization and a sign of Serbia’s democracy maturing. Instead, the state of media freedom and democracy has regressed significantly since. In Albania, the success of Edi Rama helped to break the nationalist and autocratic temptations of the Berisha governments. The re­cord of the Rama government, reelected just this year, has been mixed: on one side, it succeeded in sig­nificant reforms, on the other, the dominance of a strong self-centered prime minister does bear its risks.

These recent transfers of power stand as a warning to not just focus on people and their ability to “de­liver”, but rather on structural changes that make government more transparent and accountable. To some degree the new Macedonian government holds more promise as Prime Minister Zaev cuts a less charismatic and dominant leadership figure than Vučić or Rama and his power is based less on a hierarchical pyramid of power.

The Macedonian transfer of power holds two lessons for the wider region. The first is on the transfer of power itself and the second is on the aftermath. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, the buz­zword for democratic change in the Balkans and beyond was “electoral revolution”, the change of an autocratic regime through a decisive election. This helped end Meciar’s nationalist thuggishness in Slovakia in 1998, the corrupt and nationalist Tudjman regime in Croatia in 2000 and the warmon­gering Milošević in the same year. Here the focus was on a broad opposition coalition that would over­throw the incumbent in an election, monitored by civil society with strong social movements and inter­national support.

The record of these transitions has been varied. Slovakia and Croatia did relatively well, Serbia had a mixed record, but the break with Milošević was decisive and liberating. Further east, in Ukraine or Geor­gia, the outcome was less clear cut, at least after an initial fury of reforms. A new generation of au­tocrats has been able to control electoral processes better than their predecessors and have also, for the most part been less antagonistic to the West. Thus, unseating them requires a different strategy. In Macedonia, it required a nearly two year long process that not only brought the undemocratic practices of the government to light to a domestic audience, but also gradually convinced the EU and key mem­ber states that the government seized being a partner (although some members of the European Peoples’ Party continued supporting the incumbent VMRO-DPMNE until after the elections in 2016). A combination of external pressure, such as the Priebe Report, the EU mediation that set up the special prosecutor, large scale so­cial movements and protests led to a change of government that only took place after intense interna­tional pressure following the violence in parliament orchestrated by the governing party in April 2017. Thus, unseating autocratic incumbents in the region will require a similar mix of revelation, mobiliza­tion, external pressure, and a critical juncture.

Such a Macedonian moment is increasingly becoming the only path toward renewing democratic rule in several Balkan countries. Key for long term change and transforming the “Macedonian moment” into a lasting legacy requires more than a change of leadership or new parties in power. From Milorad Dodik in the Republika Srpska in 2006 to Vučić in 2012, too often the hope of Western actors was pinned on finding the next reliable, reformist partner. The result has been support­ing the current generation of strongmen, who talk of reform when it suits them, but building a highly personalized system of control. Key for sustainable change will be strengthening institutions over people and the willingness of the new Macedonian government to building professional and transparent institutions and to break the power of patronage networks that are the main transmission belts between politics and citizens across the region. It is easy to conjure up the image of a generational change, yet the autocratic incumbents are often young, from Vucic and Gruevski, both 47 years old, to Milo Djukanovic, 55 years old. All came to power in their twenties and thirties, reminding us that youth is no protection from autocracy and even less from long rule.

The biggest failure of the democrats in the 2000s across the region was the failure to build and respect institutions and rules, often with the tacit consent and encouragement from outsiders. The informal presidentialism of Boris Tadić, the dubious coalition building in Kosovo and informal power of Milo Dju­kanović, just to list a few examples, all preventing the emergence of strong institutions and rules that are not easily bent.

Making the “Macedonian moment” sustainable also will require a new type of party politics. To date, most parties in the region have been essentially interests groups focused on gaining and main­taining power with only formal adherence to European type ideological distinctions. Overwhelmingly, these differences are superficial, pro-forma and purely instrumental. The result has been that parties are deeply distrusted and joined to get a job not to pursue a political commitment. Just following an external template and focusing on the form is not going to deliver.

Thus, thinking of new types of party politics will be necessary. One promising start was the election campaign in Macedonia’s most recent parliamentary election, continued in the recent local elections where the social democratic party SDSM sought to actively court Albanian voters and included candidates from the social movements against the government. Moving beyond the still too rigid ethnic divides in politics of the region and also in­cluding civil society are opportunities, as long as both do not evolve into tokenism and mere co-option. This transformation is all the more challenging as the Western European model of political parties is it­self in deep crisis as populist groups and “movements” seek to bypass conventional party politics. The Western Balkans had their share of populists, flash-in-the-pan candidates, and nationalists. However, without parties which are based on internal democracy and shared values and programs, such easy temptations that might turn into long autocratic hangovers remain likely. Thus, the “Macedonian mo­ment” is a reminder that it is an opportunity for a much longer and more uncertain transformation that awaits not just Macedonia, but most of its neighbors. ­

An earlier version of this text was first published by the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung in Political Trends & Dynamics Emerging Leadership in Southeast Europe

From Yugoslavia to Catalonia and back: Some thoughts on parallels and differences

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A few days ago, I wrote a few lines for Radio Free Europe (and a few other media, including AFP, N1 and UOL noticias) on the similarities and differences and the uses of the referendum in Catalonia and in the Balkans, which caused some lively debates. Here are these notes with a few points expanded.

 

Parallels and Differences

First, neither is Spain Yugoslavia, nor is Catalonia Slovenia or Croatia. Just like Istria, Vojvodina or Republika Srpska are not Catalonia. The reasoning, the dynamics and political process leading to any independence movement is specific, but each success is claimed by independence groups and each failure by states. One key difference between Kosovo and Catalonia is the violence. Despite the heavy-handed police response on Sunday, the independence movement in Catalonia cannot claim a recent history of repression as Kosovo did. Catalonia did experience a brutal repression in the context of the Spanish civil war, yet this is more than half a century past and four decades of democratic, decentralized rule in Spain are the reality and have been for a long time. In Kosovo, even before the war 1998-9, the revocation of autonomy in 1989 suggested that Kosovo could not rely on any autonomy arrangement with Serbia.

This is a key difference with Catalonia, which enjoys far-reaching self-government. Despite the stubborn and inflexible policies of the Rajoy government the difference are stark: Spain is a democracy, Yugoslavia and Serbia in the 1990s were not. There is a parallel in the fact that the more intransigent and heavy handed the centre is, the more likely people turn their support to independence. The pictures of the police violence during the referendum is the best advertisement for the independence movement. This stands in contrast with the approach taken by the UK or Canada, allowing for a referendum to be held unrestricted. Allowing for referenda to happen does reduce the all or nothing/now or never environment of referenda.

Only a few years before the respective referenda in Slovenia and Croatia in 1990, only a minority favored independence, but the heavy-handed policies of Milošević catapulted nationalists to power and secured support for putting a distance to Belgrade. Thus, independence movements are always the product of the relationship between the region or people seeking independence and the center. The Yugoslav cases suggest that repression and centralization efforts backfire.

Repercussions and Echoes in the Balkans

There are repercussions of the referendum in Catalonia for the region: The tensions between the Spanish government and the region are part of the key reasons that Spain has not recognized Kosovo. Thus, the first risk is that any confrontation in Spain over Catalonia will make Spain and arguably other non-recognizers more reluctant to consider recognizing Kosovo. Thus, we need to not only consider the effect of the crisis on independence movements, but also on state policies.

The Balkan cases, as most other independence movements live off their own internal dynamics, not based on what goes on elsewhere. However, success and failure elsewhere shape debates. There are only two real potential cases in the region at the moment, the north of Kosovo and the Republika Srpska. More historical regions, Vojvodina or Istria, have a sense of identity distinct from the Croatian and Serbian nation-state and a multi-ethnic, rather than mono-ethnic narrative of difference. Both lack strong movements for independence and lack a clear cultural distinction from the rest of the country as is the case in Catalonia (see an excellent new book by Dejan Štjepanović on this). Both the political leaders in the Republika Srpska and the North of Kosovo have articulated their policies separate from Catalonia. In the North of Kosovo, the discourse is not about independence, but rather about remaining with Serbia (echoing similar arguments made by Serb secessionists in Croatia Bosnia in the early 1990).

In the case Catalonia were successful in achieving independence, it would encourage the president of the Republika Srpska, Milorad Dodik to pursue his goal. The Parliament of the Republika Srpska already stated when Kosovo declared its independence in 2008 that it reserved the right to pursue independence for the RS if Kosovo would achieve international recognition. Already Dodik has been continuously hinting at organizing a referendum. He has recently held back from pursuing a referendum on independence, largely due to international pressure, including from Serbia and Russia.

Catalonia will not cause new independence movements, just as Kosovo’s declaration of independence did not trigger a new wave of independence movements. It will serve as argument of both states and independence movement to make old claims or to counter them. A large factor is the international environment. There is generally little support for recognizing states. This is usually done only in extraordinary circumstances, either when there is an agreement with the central government, as happened in South Sudan, or if there was massive repression and a strong, violent independence movement, as in Kosovo or when the state had already disintegrated and there was no clear path to keeping it together, as it was in Yugoslavia. When Aleksander Vučić accused the international community of hypocrisy for not recognizing Catalonia, but supporting Kosovo, he is ignoring the specificity of Kosovo, which were underlined in the submissions and arguments brought to the ICJ in preparation of the 2010 advisory opinion on Kosovo’s declaration of independence. Thus, neither Catalonia not fit any of these categories of potential countries that can make a plausible claim for independence, neither can Republika Srpska nor the North of Kosovo.

 

A letter to a former colleague

Dear Gülnur,

I happened to be in Washington last week—the same time as you were there as part of Erdoğan’s entourage. I was discussing with US State Department officials how to prevent a slide towards authoritarianism in the Balkans, while you stood next to president Erdoğan as his bodyguards and supporters beat up protesters. This is no longer a matter of different perspectives on an issue: you have become an apologist for an authoritarian regime. You have called the referendum on the hyper-presidential system a “good governance referendum” when it is far from it—all key observers, including the highly respected Venice Commission, consider it a “dangerous step backwards” for democracy.

I cannot remain silent as you advise, promote and defend an autocrat. Erdoğan’s government has dismissed over 4,000 of your fellow academics since the failed coup last year (which you claim I condoned—I did not, but I worried the day it failed about would happen next. Sadly, my fears proved correct). This includes over a hundred who lost their jobs and/or have been arrested at your university, Yildiz Technical University, your department lost 14 academics (3 of them Assistant or full Professors).

I have met some of those who have lost their jobs or are living in fear. Many are excellent scholars: curious, courageous and independent thinkers. They have lost their jobs; many others have lost their freedom.

I live in a privileged academic setting, without pressure and fear. I cannot expect anybody working in an environment such as Turkey today to stand up against the regime and risk their career or freedom. But you don’t have to embrace it.  Advancing your career on the back of massive human rights violations is unforgivable. Advising and thriving under the current regime cannot be justified. One might remain silent about your choices and actions, but I cannot. We have written and worked together. We were friends, and now we are on opposite sides. For my own academic and personal integrity, I have to draw a line. I want those who read our joint article, those who know that we worked together, and most of all YOU, to know that I don’t want to remain silent about your collusion and defense of autocracy.  Your support for Erdoğan—standing by, quite literally, as his goons beat up demonstrators (you will probably call them terrorist supporters)—is unacceptable to me, and I want you to know this.

There are choices we make and they have consequences. I am deeply saddened by the choices you made.

Your former friend and colleague,

Florian

Harry Potter’s 6 rules for resistance

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There are lessons to be learned throughout space and time on how to confront autocrats. Some are out of space and time: Harry Potter battled Lord Voldemort in his seven adventures and his story is a classic story of fighting against an overwhelming, ruthless enemy. His eventually successful struggle offer some insights for our Muggle (in the US No-Maj, non-magic) world, beyond wands, charms and magic:

1.Name him

In Harry Potter, even before Lord Voldemort returns, wizards are afraid to speak his name, using euphemisms like “You-Know-Who”, “He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named”. Harry Potter is the one who speaks his name. This is how true dictatorships work, people are afraid to mention the name of the ruler for evoking his (or rather his minions’) wrath. When I spent a month in Syria in 1993, I was told in no uncertain words by Syrian acquaintances not to use the word “Assad”, no matter what I said (good or bad), as just mentioning his name creates attention by the wrong guys. Thus, naming the one responsible is essential. If you no longer can, you have crossed into the land of fear and outright authoritarianism.

2. Mock him

The charm to defend against a Boggart is the Riddikulus spell. It transforms the Bogart, the stuff of your greatest fears, into something silly. While a commentary in  The Times recently argued that comedy and satires of Trump are just leftist and liberal self-indulgence, the opposite is true. Silliness, irony and satire can challenge not just Boggarts, but also authoritarian forces, who thrive on being taking seriously.Autocrats cannot stand to be mocked (see Trump and SNL). Mocking them is their worst challenge, as Otpor in Serbia demonstrated and one of its activists, Srdja Popovic, promoted to movements challenging dictators around the world.

3. Find allies

When Harry Potter fails to share his knowledge with others, Luna Lovegood reminds him in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix “Well if I were You-Know-Who, I’d want you to feel cut off from everyone else; because if it’s just you alone, you’re not as much of a threat.” Dumbeldore’s Army was how  Harry Potter and his friends rallied together, motivated and organised and imagined resistance. Authoritarian regimes live from the fragmentation of opposition. The more there are, the more self-absorbed with in fights, the better.

4. Don’t trust the media

The Daily Prophet was the original wizarding fake news. The main news paper of the wizarding world denied the return of Lord Voldemort and instead attacked Harry Potter, so it was misleading out of fear of the power that be. Instead, The Quibbler, a publication of odd articles, conspiracy theories and discussions of imaginary creature becomes the critical voice. As the wizard Ted Tonks states: It’s not so lunatic these days, you’ll want to give it a look. Xeno is printing all the stuff the Prophet’s ignoring, …” A critical eye of the media cannot be replaced by the inflationary use of fake media and news.

5. Don’t rationalize and normalize the abnormal

The first big battle in defeating Voldemort was convincing the Ministry of Magic that the dark wizard had returned. Minister Cornelius Fudge went to great lengths to deny the obvious. The temptation to ignore and dismiss what does not fit into ones desired view of the world (‘he will not win’, ‘he will be impeached’) it great. It is easier to downplay, normalize and otherwise dismiss the threat and acknowledge it. Harry Potter and his friends persisted, yet only when deniability was no longer plausible did they succeed. Keeping a careful watch of what ‘normal’ should mean and comparing reality to it helps to not be the metaphorical frog in water slowly being brought to boil.

6. Find the Horcruxes

No, autocrats do not split their soul into multiple pieces and hide them in different objects to stay immortal. But it is a fitting metaphor. Confronting autocrats means collecting horcroxes and destroying them. Autocrats are difficult to challenge head-on, but rather their power-basis have to be weakened. These power-structures are often informal and obscure, just like the horcruxes Harry and his friends found. Thus discovering  and destroying them is a time-consuming and necessary quest to deprive autocrats of their power.

Of course all of this is a lot easier with charms, a Patronus, magical friends and all kinds of other magical tools, but muggles can make it too.

 

*I originally thought of writing these rules as six lessons on how to fight autocrats from the Balkans, but Harry Potter seemed like a more fitting and universal metaphor. Real life examples from around the non-magical world, however, are plenty.

Drumfkowsci victory has international community worried. Dispatch from Syldavia

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Klow. As the church bells ring menacingly in Klow, the capital of Syldavia, the small Muslim minority is increasingly fearful, afraid to display their religion in public and worried about their co-religionist from seven countries not being able to enter Syldavia. In a surprise move, not even his own border guards were informed, newly-elected president Drumfkowsci banned citizens from Ishtar, Jawhar, Qurac, Agrabah, Qumar , Derkaderkastan and Qamadan from entering the country on grounds that they posed a terrorist threat. No citizens from these countries have been involved in terrorist acts in Syldavia, so the measure is widely seen as a populist measure to distract from him taking tight control of the country. Drumfkowsci promises a return to a golden age that evokes memories of radical nationalism and exclusion of minorities for some, and a promise of full employment and a more hierarchical and orderly past to others.

His narrow electoral victory only became possible due to an obscure and byzantine electoral rule, used around the world only in Syldavia, that delegates the vote of president to an obscure body names izborniki kolizzj, or “electoral college”, which bypassed the popular majority against him. The OSCE has nevertheless called the election “free and fair”. Ironically, Drumfkowsci challenged the results himself, despite his victory, claiming that hundreds or thousands Bordurians and other illegal immigrants voted for his opponent, a widely respected moderate politician.

Drumfkowsci, an erratic and corrupt tycoon and minor TV celebrity has been quick in taking control of government. After taking office, he announced that he would move to build the wall along the border with neighboring Borduria. While relations with the smaller, poorer Borduria have been good in recent years, there is a history of border disputes and migration at the border. The planned border project does not only threaten to ruin relations with the neighbor, but also prove costly. In an escalation, Drumfkowsci called for military intervention in Borduria, threatening to catch “losija covetkoia”—bad men in Bordurian.

Drumfkowsci closest confidant appears to be Stjepan Ndalimne, a radical nationalist journalist who worked previously for the rabble rousing publication “siroki bradskija”. He is together with an unprecedented number of controversial businessmen and military officers part of the inner circle around the president that bypass established institutions . While Syldavia has a checkered history with democracy and nationalism, including a string of generals who became presidents, expropriation of minority land, segregation of “Carny” minority and lynchings in the past, such days where thought to be over after decades of democratization and reforms.

Drumfkowsci declared his inauguration the “national day of patriotic devotion” and demanded from his citizens “total allegiance to the Republic of Syldavia, and through our loyalty to our country, we will rediscover our loyalty to each other. When you open your heart to patriotism, there is no room for prejudice.” His supporters, including the popular TV station “lisicia”, dismiss claims of creeping authoritarianism and point to his popularity. An NGO worker, who does not want to be named, is concerned, however “We are worried we might be called foreign agents, just like in Zubrowka.” Indeed, a well-known American philanthropist of Betonian origin has been attacked by media loyal to Drumfkowsci and echoes similar attacks on foreign supported media and NGOs in the region. On the day after taking office, he visited the headquarters of the Zentralkia Injeligancia Ajencia (ZIA), one of the dozen spy agencies of the country and threatened the independent media with menacing words: “And the reason you’re my first stop is that, as you know, I have a running war with the media.  They are among the most dishonest human beings on Earth.”

The rise to power of Drumfkowsci is even more worrisome as Syldavia is not only the first country to launch a man on the moon, but with its large nuclear arsenal in the hands of a radical and erratic nationalist poses a regional, if not global threat.

Officials of the EU express their disappointment, off the record, about the turn away from democracy in Syldavia, but besides reminding the new president Drumfkowsci of international law and standards find little leverage. Based on his behavior to date, it is unlikely to listen. Thus, Syldavia threaten to move from a regional beacon of democracy to a threat for its neighbors and citizens.

 

 

Un-Happy Birthday, Republika Srpska

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Mailmen for Republika Srpska. Source: Srdjan Puhalo, twitter.

Last December, I gave an interview to Der Standard on the dangerous positions of far-right candidate Norbert Hofer in the Balkans, including his support for Serbian claims to Kosovo and his endorsement of the nationalist positions of Milorad Dodik. In response, not Hofer, but the representation of the Republika Srpska to Austria complained to the newspaper and criticised Adelheid Wölfl and not me, although it interview reflect mine and her views.

The comments of the RS representation seem an appropriate subject to respond to on the 25th anniversiary of the establishment Republika Srpska today. The celebration itself is a provocation, after it has been declared unconstitutional by the Constitutional Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina and an illegal referendum was held in the RS to reject the court decision. The celebration itself was designed to provoke with special police units parading with machine guns (and also the postal services of the RS).

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The arguments put forth by the RS office in Vienna are part of the general effort of Milorad Dodik and his party to whitewash the RS of its responsibility and to continue with the construct a quasi-state begun by Radovan Karadzic and his party. Recently, Serb historian Čedomir Antić published a History of the Republika Srpska, which was praised by RS leadership as part of the answer to the campaign against the RS. Of course without irony, the book covers the history of the RS, going back centuries, a classic exercise in retroactive nation- and state-building. The fact that around 45% of the population living on the territory of the future RS in 1991 were not Serbs is conveniently ignored.

So the RS office objected to me calling violent establishment of the RS a cause of the war, pointing out that the RS was established before the war began. However, the RS might have been declared by a Serb politicians on 9 January 1992, but it was established through ethnic cleansing and the expulsion of non-Serbs after April 1992, and this has been documented in great detail in numerous books and judgements of the ICTY.

Next, the Vienna office objected to me characterizing the rule of Dodik as using authoritarian means and talking for years about secession. As for authoritarian means,his   party has also over the years been publishing lists of enemies of the RS (see also here, here and here). These lists don’t only include names of foreign diplomats, but also Bosnian and Herzegovina NGOs, media and individuals. Such list-making of enemies and equating criticism of the party with attacks on the entities, can only be considered authoritarian practices. Furthermore, the state of the media and press freedom has been extensively noted and criticized by international organizations and NGOs (here, here and here).

Ironically, the office also objected I suggested that Dodik has been talking about secession for years, and that as a result the comment suggests that ‘he should not be taken seriously, which is damaging his reputation.’ Of course, it is ironic that main objection is that he just talks about secession not the project itself, which is of course in breach of the Dayton Agreement and UN Security Council Resolutions. Dodik and his party have been talking about independence and secession since 2006 (including a  resolution in the parliament in 2008 in response to the Kosovo declaration of independence). Klix.ba counted 30 times Dodik threatened a referendum over the years. For claims to independence, here,  see for also for 2008, 2012, 2013, 2015.

Now, of course, I cannot judge whether he really intends to pursue these threats and after more than 10 years of arguing that the RS should decide on independence and that is has the right (which it does not). Recent signs suggest that he more willing to take a chance and pursue this policy, even if it might be a hollow threat, as James Ker-Lindsay, as argued.

Finally, the RS office criticized my characterization of Milorad Dodik as nationalist. Instead, they noted that his politics are social-democratic and calling him a nationalist is damaging his reputation. Of course, they fail to mention that his party, the SNSD was expelled from the Socialist International in 2012. At the same time, the party been fostering ties to nationalist  and far-right parties, including not only the Austrian FPÖ, but also Front National which sent a delegation to “celebrations” of the RS. Dodik has personally welcomed individuals who have been sentenced for war crimes by the ICTY and been a witness of the defense of Radovan Karadžić. None of this is particularly socialdemocratic.

Why bother, the claims made by the RS office in Vienna are silly and unsurprisingly don’t withstand scrutiny? However, there are commentators who either lazily or for other reasons imitate such claims, see the argument of Timothey Less in Foreign Affairs (for an effective critique by Eric Gordy see here). Furthermore, there is a paradox in the claims by the RS leadership  , echoing what its creators in the 1990s, Slobodan Milošević, Radovan Karadžić, and others claimed, namely that they were not nationalists, while at the same time pursuing exactly nationalist, exclusionary policies.

Milorad Dodik and his leadership continue to dismantle  Bosnia. For all their claims to the contrary, they also dismantle the RS. It is only recognized in Dayton as part of Bosnia, without Bosnia, there is no RS. Downplaying war crimes, glorifying its perpetrators, suggesting that the RS can only exist  a weak or nonexistent Bosnia suggests the RS is not a salvageable political project, created through ethnic cleansing and mass murder and justified through its denial.

Here is the full text of RS office in Vienna discussed in this post

 

 

 

 

Death in Venice. European Style

There is no better place to reflect on the malaise of Europe than in one of its grandest cities, one of the continents largest  in the late Middle Ages. It’s decline has been lasting for centuries and few places have declined quite as picturesque as Venice. Today the historical Venice has fewer inhabitants than after the catastrophic plague of 1629/31, when a third of its population was killed and the epidemic contributed to the decline of the city.

Only around 55,000 people live in the historic city, some 20,000 more in the islands surrounding it. One has to go back nearly a millennium to find similar low numbers. More people visit the city every day (and half don’t spend the night) than the city has inhabitants.

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Nighthawks of Venice

Venice has been reduced from one of the great trading and political powers of Europe to a sight that visited along a narrowly confined path, a ‘highway’ linking the main sights, without context, selling ‘Italian goods’–made in China–along the way.

Activists and scholars have long criticized the mass tourism, the large cruise ships that flood the cities like iron skyscrapers.  But what is the connection to Europe? Venice is just a stop on the Europe in 14-days itinerary for tourists from the US to China.

Just over 100 years ago, the fictional Gustav von Aschenbach, a famous writer, visited Venice:  “He did not anticipate anything else, for the city had always received him with splendor. But the sky and the sea remained cloudy and leaden, at times a fog-like drizzle fell, and slowly he accepted that he would, reaching it by water, discover a vastly different Venice from that which he had approached over land.” Aschenbach is expressing his premonition of his own demise and the discovery of decay and decline in Venice beyond  splendor obvious to the visitors’ eyes.

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Death in Venice? Closed for the Season.

Some 105 years after the publication of Death in Venice, the Hotel Excelsior still stands on the Lido in which Thomas Mann had Aschenbach stay. Closed for the season. Who wants to stay at the Lido as the sand of the beaches is covered in icy frost?

The Death in Venice was not just the story of an aging writer and his confronting death and decay, it is mirror image of a continent on the eve of its first World War, about tear itself apart. The luxury and the decline of a former grand city were the perfect backdrop for the splendor at twilight of Europe at its time.

Europe’s splendor (or squalor) at twilight could not find a better city, even if a century has passed. Venice’s decline was lasted for four centuries sot that one more is of little consequence. There presumably less splendor and more trash in today’s Venice, but even that is unsure.

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Held together by red (and white) tape

Venice appears to be a role model for the rest of Europe: A commercial power that once dominated the world through is skillful trade and politics reduced to a site visited by thousands of selfie-stick wielding tourists with no knowledge of place or meaning of lions, domes and canals.

Europe, just like Venice in particular, has been replicated in the casinos of Las Vegas and in Chinese faux-European cities as a sanitized museum/amusement park.  The counter-project to the reduction of Europe to a tourism site has been the European Union over the past half century.Replacing the self-destruction of the continent not with sanitized picturesque sites, but with a shared project that give the continent more than Kodak moment sites.

The continued crises of the EU risk reducing Europe to the trajectory of Venice: Decline, reduction to a site, sanitized, commodified and–ironically–detached from its past (both its glory and its dark sides).

I have argued during the debates around the centenary of World War One, that 1914 should be seen as the zero-hour of Europe, not 1945. It was the moment that the old post-Napoleonic order destroyed itself, resulting in the two world wars and rise of both fascism and communism. Aschenbach anticipated in Venice the end of the old order. What would come to replace was far from clear to Thomas Mann or other astute observers of the crisis.

Over the past two decades, we have come to consider 1989, the end of the Cold War as the other big turning point, the end to the short 20th century that began in 1914, as Eric Hobsbawm argued. Maybe, Hobsbawm was premature. The turning point of 1989 creates a narrative were the post-1989 period is shaped by the absence of ideological confrontation and the victory of liberal democracy. Today, as liberal democracy is under pressure in the United States and the peace project of European integration is in crisis, the question emerges, was really 1989 the end of the 20th century, or will future histories argue that the 20th century was not so short and lasted until 2016? It is too early to tell and we are not only observing history, but also writing it.

Montenegrin Parties and the Gemino Curse. Through Balkan Politics with Harry Potter, Part 1

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In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Part 1), Harry, Hermine and Ron enter the vault of the vault of Bellatrix Lestrange to find a Horcrux, the Cup of Helga Hufflepuff. The vault was, however, protected by the Gemino spell, which duplicates objects when touched, in this case the treasures multiplied so frequently that they became mountains that nearly crushed the heroes.

The Gemino spell has been a curse for opposition political parties in some countries of the Balkan. Nowhere is this more visible than in Montenegro, which is holding parliamentary election on 16 October. The elections are being contested by 17 electoral lists. The two main opposition lists are in fact coalitions: The Democratic Front includes a baffling 10 parties, the Coalition Key 3 parties. In addition, there  are 8(!) Albanian parties competing (on three lists composed of 1, 3 and 4 parties respectively), 8 other parties, plus 3 appealing to Bosniak and Croat voters.Here is the list of your choices, if you are a Montenegro voters:

  • Democratic Party of Socialists
  • Social Democratic Party
  • Democrats
  • Socialdemocrats
  • Alternative Montenegro
  • Positive Montenegro
  • Coalition Key:
    • Democratic Alliance
    • Socialist People’s Party
    • United Reform Action
  • Serb Party
  • Party of Pensioners, Invalids and Social Justice
  • Party of Serb Radicals
  • Croatian Civic Initiative
  • Bosniak Democratic Community
  • Bosniak Party
  • Democratic Front
    • New Serb Democracy
    • Movement for Changes
    • Democratic People’s Party
    • Workers Party
    • Democratic Serb Party
    • Movement for Pljevlja
    • Serb Radical Party
    • Yugoslav Communist Party
    • Party of United Pensioners and Invalids
    • Resistance to Hopelessness
  • Democratic Alliance of Albanians
  • Decisive Albanians:
    • Democratic Union of Albanians
    • Albanian Alternative
    • New Democratic Power-Forca
  • Albanian Coalition
    • Democratic Party
    • Civic Initiative
    • Democratic Alliance
    • Civil Movement Perspective

Some are opposition groups, some might be either opposition or join forces with the ruling DPS, depending on the outcome of the elections. Altogether 32 parties and groups are competing for power (or one party per 16,525 voters). There is nothing new to having many parties contending, it seems likely that more than 20 parties will be represented in the next parliament. This is a long way from the early 2000s, when the number of parliamentary parties was a third of that.

The dominance of the ruling DPS has been the reason for the Gemino spell to create dozens of parties which are indistinguishable copies of one another. After every failed effort to break the dominance of Djukanović and his DPS, the opposition parties multiply. The extreme fragmentation helps the ruling party to stay in power, as it not only undermines the credibility of the alternative, but also creates a large pool of potential partners that can be co-opted  in a future government. This time, the fragmentation might have also some positive side-effects. It is clear to even the most optimistic opposition party leaders that they will not win a sufficiently large majority alone. Thus, not only have two large opposition blocks crystallized, but it also led to an agreement on post-election cooperation among the large opposition groups.

The Gemino spell is not unique to Montenegro, but rather a broader phenomena when the main function of parties is less about program and more about access to power, leadership of a party is central to power and exclusion from power is denying parties their main raison d’etre. The best example is the Democratic Party in Serbia which has fragmented or rather duplicated into dozens of copies. Of the 17 parliamentary clubs in the current Serbian parliament, 5 are off-springs of the original Democratic Party, Democratic Party of Serbia, Liberal Democratic Party, New Party, and the Socialdemocratic Party, not to mention some extra-parliamentary off-shoots (Left of Serbia), and currently ongoing processes of the Gemino spell inside the DSS and to a lesser degree the DS. So, while it is certainly not true that the Balkans produces more history that it can consume, some countries produce more parties than they can consume and Gemino spell will remain a curse as long as power is centralized in the state and the parties where every intra-party conflict and lost election triggers a new iteration of the curse.

(This is the first post with Harry Potter through Balkan politics. More to follow. If you have a favorite curse, character or scene from Harry Potter that might fit nicely, let me know)

 

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