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

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

 

 

 

 

Six things I learned in 2016

 

Here is a selection of comments I wrote in 2016 on events that shaped the region.

  1. If it can happen, it might…

Two votes this year were the reminders that one should always have a “Plan B”, as the obvious, the expected, outcome is not always the one to come true.

Both the vote for Brexit and the electoral victory of Trump have, mostly still unknown consequences I have speculated about in a few comments on Trumping the Balkans, Ever Farther Union: Balkans and the Brexit and Western Balkans after the Brexit Vote. Russia’s Gain Europe’s Loss

2. … but just because can, it doesn’t have to.

Two rounds of vote for the presidential elections in Austria showed that even amidst the tide of populism their success is not inevitable.

After the first defeat of the far-right candidate Hofer, I reflected on how despite his defeat the far right still remains a formidable force and gaining nearly 50% showed the potential for the far right in For Austria’s Far Right, a Way to Find Victory in Defeat.

After the second defeat of Hofer in December, I argued that there are lessons to be learned from the defeat for challenging other populists in The Far Right Suffer a Defeat in Austria. What Can We Learn?

3. The Challenge to the Status Quo Remain Considerable

The votes in the USA, UK, and the narrow defeat in Austria are all part of a larger challenge to liberal democracy, as I suggest in European Challenge to Liberal Democracy. The challenge also extends the Balkans where the European far right is open to undermining the status quo.

4. Some elections are unnecessary…

Among the elections in Balkans this year, some were completely necessary: Another Unnecessary Election in Serbia. The early parliamentary elections were just another step in the erosion of democracy.

5. …others are inevitable,

Montenegrin elections were less unexpected, yet its result did little change the established power-structures. Here, the paradox is that the authoritarian status quo enjoys Western support: Paradox of Western Support for Montenegro’s ‘Godfather’

6. …and some are important.

Macedonia’s elections were another early elections. After the wiretapping scandal, the election became a test case on the ability of authoritarian rule to retain power in the Balkans, as I have argued in Macedonia’s Election Risks Emboldening Other Strongmen

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)

 

With Benedict Anderson on the Schlossberg

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Benedict Anderson (Verso)

A bit more than  four years ago, Benedict Anderson visited Graz for a talkWhy We Believe Our Nation Is Good“at the university. As luck would have it, I was not going to be in town and very much regretted my absence. However, it turned out that none of the organizers were available to give him a tour of the city and thus on sunny Wednesday mid-October 2011 a Luxembourger, who had just come to Graz a year before, set out to show Benedict Anderson around. Of course, this is strictly speaking illegal as tour guides have to officially certified by the city of Graz, but then again my description of Graz was hardly a competition to those of the professionals.

We took a delightful stroll through the center of town and I was struck by having a highly observant on my side. As he later noted, he enjoyed “seeing Lust und Laune  against Law and Order”–a graffiti we spotted in the pedestrian zone.

Up on the Schloßberg, the view was not only magnificent, but also the numerous monuments to the nation seemed a fitting setting for our walk: we saw the Hackher-Löwe, glorifying Habsburg resistance to Napoleons army in 1809, and among others the monument to the “Kärnter Abwehrkampf”–the Carinthian “resistance” to Yugoslav claims to the region after World War One, a nasty little monument erected in 1980.

To quote a reflection on this walk I wrote two years ago, Anderson “remarked poignantly that it is probably only scholars of nationalism that notice these monuments, whereas ordinary citizens walk past and ignore these monuments to an era that seems of little relevance today.” He was right, of course, the tourists and visitors on the Schlossberg paid little attention to this or most other monuments and so it is all over the world (thank god). Monuments are often forgotten–they are the frozen manifestation of the past and that only resonates in particular moments–either if this past is important and-or the present seems to require such an interpretation.

I was struck by Benedict Anderson’s humbleness in this throwaway comment. Here, one of the most important scholars of nationalism mocked his own and our perceived self-importance. Of course, he was very much aware that nationalism matters and continued to matter, he modest attitude was engaging.

When I read his book some two decades earlier, I had no idea that I would get a chance to ever meet him. Together with two other grand scholars of nationalism Ernst Gellner and Eric Hobsbawm, his book transformed the field of research and helped to emergence of countless research that is informed by his toughts and insights. As any brilliant turn of phrase, the one of the “immagined community” has also become a curse. Too often, the word imagined has led the casual and lazy readers to conclude that nations are just an “imagination” or less real–instead, the idea that they are imagined does not deprive them of their persistence and reality.While all three, Hobsbawm, Gellner and Anderson come from different disciplines and made their careers in different institutions, they did not only share their connection to England, but more importantly their personal biographies that were complicated and did not fit neat nation categories. Thus, not only their intellectual background, but also their personal biography contributed to looking behind the state of nationalism and helping open a new field of inquiry, a note that I can personally relate to.

As a researcher who has been part of this field in one way or another and Benedict Anderson has made a tremendous contribution and while I am saddened by the loss, I am glad to have had those few hours in Graz to show my appreciation for his work.

 

Montenegro in NATO

A few days ago I wrote a small piece on why I think that NATO membership for Montenegro might paradoxically help the democratization process in the country. The comment was the result of some productive conversation at a workshop organized by the Südosteuropa Gesellschaft on Civil Society in Montenegro. Now that Montenegro has been invited to join NATO, I hope that this issue will be off the agenda and thus less divisive for the opposition. Of course at first, the government is likely to use this success to win elections next year. The main challenge will be whether the opposition can re-focus on different issues.

Montenegro has experienced an unprecedented wave of protests against the government in recent weeks. Initially focused on the governments bid to join NATO the heavy-handed government response have shifted the focus to the government itself and the dominance of Milo Đukanović over Montenegrin politics for nearly 25 years.

While it is unlikely that the protests will gather the momentum (see here and here) to put the government under real pressure, the question remains, should Montenegro join NATO? A formal decision is due these days and would mark a major success of the current Montenegrin government, which is seen by many as “NATO government”, i.e. a government whose primary purpose it was to bring the country into NATO. Amidst the protests, Russia has ramped opposition to Montenegrin NATO membership in reporting of loyal media and Duma resolution. At times, it seemed like Russia was starting to engage in its own colored revolution it so much worries about. However, such a view is misleading, even though some Serb nationalist groups joined the protests and the Montenegrin government was quick to blame Russia for the opposition it faces. This argument is about as credible as the argument that the EU orchestrated the protests in Majdan in Ukraine.

Arguably, NATO membership is not going to fundamentally alter the security situation of Montenegro: Albania to the South and Croatia to the North are already members and pose no threat to the country. Bosnia and Kosovo are no conventional security concerns for which NATO membership would matter and both host EU and NATO peace keeping troops. This only leaves Serbia, which as clearly rejected NATO membership and aspires to some ill-defined neutrality. However, to claim that Serbia poses a security threat to Montenegro stretches the bounds of imagination. The last time Serbia constituted such a threat was in 1999 during the Kosovo war and this was in the context of being part of the same country (the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia) and with Milošević at its helm. Today, Serbia is an improbable threat. Of course, this does not preclude Serbian influence or even meddling in Montenegrin affairs (today the relationship between the two countries’ governments has become rather symbiotic), but nothing that could be prevented by NATO.

At the same time, Montenegro is clearly the prototype of the semi-democratic regimes that bedevil the Western Balkans and who are characterized by tight party control of the state, violations of the freedom of speech and corrupt clientalistic practices. Thus, encouraging the current government would help to send a larger message to the region that authoritarian control wedded with the talk of EU-compatible reform pays.

The logical conclusion of the combination of the non-essential nature of NATO membership for Montenegrin security and the reward it constitutes for government would be that it might be better not to invite Montenegro into NATO. However, this would be a logically fallacy.

First, the government has a track record to instrumentalize divisive issues to catch the opposition on the wrong foot and bind reformers to it who would otherwise oppose the government. By advocating NATO membership, it encouraged large parts of the opposition to oppose NATO, discouraging Western support for the opposition and occupying a monopoly over pro-Western reformist rhetoric. The longer the pro- and anti-NATO debate persists, the more the government will be able to divide the country into a pro-Western reformist wing represented by itself and an anti-Western, pro-Serb and pro-Russian opposition (even if such a clear dichotomy does not exist). Thus, if NATO membership were postponed, the government will not celebrate victory, but be able to continue talking on this issue and thus paralyze discussion about genuine reform.

Second, the rejection of the NATO-bid will be viewed a victory of anti-NATO forces within the opposition and weaken the more enlightened opposition who care more about democracy than about whether the country is in NATO or not. Thus, the balance of power in the opposition would be tilted the wrong way.

Paradoxically, giving what the government wants—an invitation to NATO—might be the best way to help the opposition in Montenegro and push for democratization in the country. This provides no guarantee that the country will democratize in the coming year, but without it, the recent protests are likely to appeal only to a few and NATO membership will enable the government to retain control for another electoral cycle as the next parliamentary elections are looming in 2016.

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

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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.

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.

2014. The year Europe’s map changed (again)

The map of Europe has changed less since 1945 than in the previous centuries. The first changes (if one excludes the self-declared Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus) after the enforced stability of the Cold War came in 1990/1 in Germany, Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union, followed two years later the disintegration of Czechoslovakia. After the upheaval of these first post-Cold War years, there as a break until 2006 and 2008 when Montenegro and Kosovo became independent and Abkhazia and S. Ossetia declared independence, even without much success at international recognition(arguably consequence of the state disintegration in 1991). 2014 has already seen one change of border, the occupation and annexation of Crimea by Russia, the first conquest of territory by another country in Europe since the Turkish occupation of Cyprus in 1974. The second might be Scotland next week. Scottish independence, if the ‘yes’ campaign is to be successful, is everything Crimea was not, democratic, pluralistic and liberal. Yet, both would have major repercussions for Europe. The relative ease with which Russia annexed a territory does not only highlight weakness of Europe’s order, but also that for all the talk of post-something international relations, countries occasional grab land and annex it and get away with it because they are big and more determined than their critics.

If the Russian land grab is a reminder that old style territorial politics is not dead, Scotland shows the possibilities of a liberal democratic order that allows for self-determination, including the right to secession of its units. The fact that such a referendum takes place sends a positive signal, i.e. that a self-determination dispute is best resolved through a mutually agreed democratic process. This sends a strong signal to both democratic states (e.g. Spain) and secessionist movements that the way to resolve disputes is through agreement and democracy.

While the process is encouraging and has positive features,a outcome that would result in Scottish independence has its risks. As Joseph Weiler has argued national self-determination stands in contrast with the goals of the EU which seek to pool sovereignty and emphasizes integration over separation. Thus, if we support the European project, secessionist projects, be they pro-EU like the Scottish one, appear fundamentally to be in conflict with such goals. However, there is a paradox here: the strongest supporters of keeping complex states together, not just in the UK, are often those hold conservative and Euroskeptic views. It is an oddity that the Conversatives and UKIP that support the complex multi-layered United Kingdom are most skeptic towards the complex and multi-layered EU. Smaller units emerging from larger nation states are thus not necessarily “half-savage relics” sulking on their own rock, as John Stuart Mill described them in his treaties on representative government  (“Nobody can suppose that it is not more beneficial to a Breton, or a Basque of French Navarre, to be brought into the current of the ideas and feelings of a highly civilised and cultivated people — to be a member of the French nationality, admitted on equal terms to all the privileges of French citizenship, sharing the advantages of French protection, and the dignity and prestige of French power — than to sulk on his own rocks, the half-savage relic of past times, revolving in his own little mental orbit, without participation or interest in the general movement of the world. The same remark applies to the Welshman or the Scottish Highlander as members of the British nation”). They are, however, less diverse and likely to be more provincial. Yet, such a distinction is hard to grasp and also not necessarily the consequence of the location of national boundaries and subject to other levels of integration, not least the European one.

Weiler adds a second argument, namely the prudential argument that Scottish independence would show the way for other independence movements and encourage referenda elsewhere in Europe. Not only will Milorad Dodik dressing in kilts and promoting a referenda in the Serb Republic, but elsewhere in Europe, from Catalonia to Flanders, independence movements would see this as the way. Thus, 2014 might be year when border change not just in the Eastern half of the continent, but also in the Western. The downside is clear, new independent states can cause uncertainty and difficulties for the European project, but this is more a technical argument and one that can be overcome (granted, the EU has other problems to overcome than dealing  whether and how to admit new countries that were in the EU already). On the upside, a clear negotiated path to independence can confirm a democratic and effective way of resolving self-determination disputes. The fact that they can take place peacefully and through mutual agreement, does not mean that citizens in Europe or around the world in territories with elites aspiring for independence will vote yes in a hypothetical referendum (consider the experience of Quebec). Knowing that you can leave might help reduce pressure to do so through force and ‘now’ when you know the opportunity will also be there tomorrow. Of course, there is no reason to believe that states (especially authoritarian ones) will follow the British example, but the referendum certainly proves that democratic states can voluntarily allow for part of territory to leave. I remember that while living in Belgrade ten years ago, very often a staple argument against Kosovo’s independence was that Britain would not allow Scotland to leave either–if nothing else, I am glad that the referendum is proving this view to be wrong.

Europe’s map has changed in one crucial way already in 2014, even if most maps outside Russia will not reflect this change. The other change might be both more important and certainly less destructive than the former.

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