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


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

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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

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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
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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

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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

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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

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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

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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
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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

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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
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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.

Enlargement delayed. A New Commission without an Enlargement Commissioner?

Back in July, the newly designated President of the EU Commission Jean-Claude Juncker noted that “The EU needs to take a break from enlargement” Now, he seems to put this understanding of enlargement into practice by dropping the Enlargement portfolio in the Commission (this report is yet unconfirmed). This would be the first Commission without an enlargement portfolio since 1999 when Günter Verheugen took up the job. Even the Santer commission (1995-1999) had Hans van den Broek focusing particularly Central and Eastern Europe. Without a Commissioner at the table, enlargement is likely to slip further down the list of EU priorities. It would confirm the worry I expressed back in March that the EU risks ‘forgetting enlargement’.

Juncker’s plan from July in regard to enlargement is a bit misleading. Even without ‘taking a break’ there will be no enlargement in the coming five years, at least if the current approach is kept, as Montenegro and Serbia only recently began talks on accession. Thus, it is unclear from his plan whether he is just stating the obvious, i.e. it is technically unlikely/impossible to have enlargement in the coming years or if he is suggesting that enlargement should be further slowed down. The plan argues that “my Presidency of the Commission, ongoing negotiations will continue, and notably the Western Balkans will need to keep a European perspective”, but it leaves the option open whether new negotiations will be started and whether the EU will undertake an effort to resolve the issues precluding countries from moving towards accession talks.

If it turns out to be true, not having a commission on enlargement suggests that the new Commission might further slowdown enlargement. The main argument given by Junker is honest, it is less about the readiness of the countries in the region, but rather about the readiness of the EU. However, here lies the problem. For one, it is a very self-absorbed understanding of enlargement and the we-first-have-to-absorb-the-new-argument is inward looking. Second, the fact that the EU needs to deal with past enlargements (which is misleading considering that the main problems in past years economically at least stemmed from ‘old’ or ‘older’ member states) now, should not stop the enlargement process. Exactly because there will not be enlargement in the next five years if the current pace is kept up, means that the process should continue at full speed, because in the best case this would prepare members in the next commission, i.e. a wave of enlargement in seven or eight year from now. However, if signals from the new commission suggest a further slowing down, the countries of the Western Balkans will not be ready to join when the EU is ready to accept them.

Just a week ago, Western Balkan leaders went to the Berlin oracle for a conference that was much anticipated and turn-out to be a disappointment. Rather than signaling a new boost of energy for enlargement, it confirmed rather the low level of priority accorded to the region.

The meeting was brief and offered little in terms of substance. Rather than setting a new framework or launching new ideas, it appeared just another stop in the long list of regular meetings of Western Balkan and EU leaders from Dubrovnik to Cavtat, from Bled to Berlin.

The final declaration does include a clear German commitment for enlargement and annual conferences over the next four years to move reforms forward. The emphasis on rule of law, regional cooperation and economic reform are no surprise and largely coincide with the commission agenda. However, the key blockages in the region, from Macedonia to Bosnia are not mentioned and there are no suggestion on how give the accession process more urgency.

Thus, the new commission without a commissioner for enlargement, if confirmed, risks not just being a priority of Junker as Commission president, but broader reflection of the approach from the member states, including Germany.

Nationalist copyright on World War One

As we are entering the anniversary of the centenary with the outbreak of World War One, controversies over how to commemorate the past are heating up. A few day ago, I published comment  in the Austrian daily Die Presse on debates and controversies over the commemoration of World War One. As unfortunately these debates are mostly published in German (and Serbian) only. Thus, some key points and links here.

Anti-Serb propaganda postcard from Austria-Hungary

German anti-Serb propaganda postcard from WWI

In my comment, particularly focus on how in Serbia and in the Republika Srpska there is a fear that the established national narrative is challenged in the context of the centenary. This is also an aspect Norbert-Mappes Niediek and others have recently commented on. The most recent example was  dramatic press conference in Andrićgrad–the newly built ethnocity as a tribute to Andrić close to Višegrad–by Miroslav Perišić, the director of the Archive of Serbia and Emir Kustrica, director of the Andrić Institute and part-time movie director (the RS, the main founder of Andrićgrad also boycotts of the EU-France-led commemorations in Sarajevo in June 2014). At the press conference Perišić presented a letter by the Austro-Hungarian governor of Bosnia 13 months before the war urging-preparing war against Serbia. The supposed “smoking gun” turned out not to be one. First, the Serbian translation did not match the German original and second, scholars were long aware that there were hawks in Austria-Hungary (as elsewhere) lobbying for war. In the case of Austria-Hungary, it was not only the author of the letter, Oskar Potiorek, but also the chief of staff of the army, Conrad von Hötzendorf, as explored in a recent excellent biography of Hötzendorf by Wolfgang Dornik, who lobbied for a “preventive war” against Serbia.  This does not mean that they were unopposed.

Le Petit Journal. July 12, 1914

Le Petit Journal. July 12, 1914

The fear of national(ist) historians is that new historiography will might shift the blame to Serbia for the outbreak of the war and the figure of Princip. Indeed, recent books on World War One move away from the long dominant thesis of Fritz Fischer that German’s quest for global power was the prime cause of the war. The bestseller Sleepwalkers by Christoper Clark  in particular locates the responsibility in all the major European capitals were key actors openly heading towards war (thus the title of the book is a bit misleading). However, the book also too easily links Serb nationalism in 1914 to the 1990s, as Andreas Ernst recently noted in the NZZ and thus also is careless in linking the interpretation of World War One to the recent past. This is exactly the implicit and explicit concern in Serbia, namely that the responsibility of Serbian nationalism for World War One also established guilt for the wars of the 1990s. However, interpreting the two events have to be kept apart to not fall into the trap of an ahistorical analysis of actors and specific circumstances.

The question over the monopoly of interpreting the war also effects the effort to have a scholarly debate over the war. The main academic conference on the war, “The Great War: Regional Approaches and Global Contexts”, to be held from 19-21.6.2014 in Sarajevo (disclaimer: I am a member of the organizing committee) was attacked for seeking to reinterpret the past. The former Bosnian ambassador to France and Egypt Slobodan Šoja, for example complained that the conference only brings together the losers of the war (the organizing committee includes research institutions from Austria, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia, Macedonia and Hungary) and would not give sufficient honor to Gavrilo Princip, whom he had described in a hagiography of Princip in Slobodna Bosna as the “purest source of national power and its consciousness.” Of course, historiography should be neither concerned with determining whether Princip is a hero (or a terrorist for that matter). These controversies suggest that much of the discussion during the upcoming commemorations will not be shaped by reflecting on the past, but making use of the past for the present. As such, the present is catching up with the past.


Commemorating Gavrilo Princip in Socialist Yugoslavia:
“From this place on 28.6.1914 Gavrilo Princip through his shots expressed the people’s protest against tyranny and centuries-long aspiration of our peoples for freedom.”

Balkan Lego Challenge

Here is an end of year Balkan Lego Challenge. While Lego might have its own architecture series, it is much more interesting to do the same with some standard bricks. Here are four challenges from the Balkans: two cities, one historical event and one architectural style. The results of much construction during the holidays.

Enjoy guessing (in the level of difficulty)!

1st Challenge: Guess the city!

P1140147 P1140148







2nd challenge: Guess the historical event!

P1140155 P1140157







3rd challenge: Guess the architectural style!

P1140173 P1140174







4th challenge: Guess the city!

P1140166 P1140167

Why the Belgrade-Prishtina Agreement is Likely to Succeed


Here are some reflections on the agreement between Serbia and Kosovo I shared with the Bulgarian publication Capital a few days ago.

The EU-brokered agreement between Serbia and Kosovo was a great news. But do you think that it could work in practice?

The agreement does not drastically change the status quo, so from that point of view it can work in practice. It preserves much of the structures and instutions that exist in Northern Kosovo, but just switches the formal authority from Serbia to Kosovo. However, the problem is that the agreement also rests on the idea of  elected institutions in the North and here the main challenge is a potential boycott by Serbs of such elections. As a result, there would be no legitimate institutions to carry out the agreement there. It is thus no surprise that the Serbian government has been lobbying hard in the north to convince Serbs to accept the arrangement. If the Serbian Orthodox Church supports the arrangement and some leaders might be put under pressure for their criminal activities there will be not much opposition and Serbs might vote to ensure that they are not ignored, especially if they feel they cannot derail the process.

What is the stimulus for the deal to work? Is the EU membership enough stimulus for both sides?

Surprisingly, EU membership is more powerful than what we sometimes expect. It is often thought that EU accession is too distant for governments to stake their reputation on sensitive issues. However, we see a differen dynamic here. Both the Serbian and the Kosovo government

How could Belgrade persuade the Kosovo Serbs to accept the deal?

Belgrade first needs to frame this agreement as being the best deal possible and also point out that the status quo cannot continue indefinitely. The second strategy the government has used is to offer a referendum (if it does not seem realistic at the moment) to show that it is confident of popular opinion in Serbia. A popular vote in favor of the agreement would not leave Serbs in North Kosovo much space to oppose the agreement. Finally, the argument that the government is making is that after all there is no possibility of the Serb leadership in the North to oppose both Serbia and Kosovo, their numbers are too small and the letter calling on support from Russia a few days ago rather betrays their weakness. They also lack a strong ally in Belgrade, be it in the opposition. Most are aligned to Vojislav Kostunica, whose support is marginal. In parliament, some 173 of 250 MPs voted in favor, a strong majority, and protests against the agreement had a small turn-out.


Why the critics are right and the EU still deserves the Nobel Prize


There is a monument in Sarajevo to honor the international community hiding behind the now closed Bosnian museum. It is a giant can of beef with the ironic “thank you to the International Community”. The EU flag leaves little doubt who is the main addressee of the ironic monument.

The decision of the Nobel committee to award this years peace prize to the EU has been probably nowhere as controversial as in the Balkans. The suggestion that the EU “for over six decades contributed to the advancement of peace and reconciliation, democracy and human rights in Europe” rings hollow. After the ill-fated claim of Luxembourg FM Jacques Poos that this was the “hour of Europe”, the EC and later the EU failed miserably in the first half of the 1990s not only in preventing the dissolution of Yugoslavia and its ensuing violence, but also in ending the massive human rights violations (see the new excellent book in the topic by Josip Glaurdic). A comment in The Atlantic suggests that its failure in the Balkans during the 1990s makes it undeserving of the prize (this is more substantial criticism than others which suggest that continents shouldn’t win it–after all the EU isn’t a continent or opposing organizations winning it–plenty organizations including international organizations have won the prize in the past, i.e. the UN in 2001)

Tim Judah argued that it is in the Balkans that the EU has actually deserved its prize for transforming the region in the past decade through accession. It is easy to remind of the failings of the EU in the 1990s and to take a cynical view of the EU’s policies towards the Balkans in the past ten or so years. However, the prize is deserved for two reasons.

First, the prize is not just awarded to those who have worked for peace in the past, but also for those that hold promise to do so in the future. Winner like Jassir Arafat and Itzhak Rabin or Mohamed Sadat and  Menachem Begin. It is thus not only the past that matters but also the future. The prize has been used by the Nobel Committee to nudge those who had taken steps towards promoting peace. As such, the prize is not a reward, but an encouragement.

Second, the prize is also a reminder: It comes at the right time for the institutions and the governments of the member states to reflect on the fact that the at the core of EU integration lay its aim to secure peace, or as Robert Schuman notes in the 1950 declaration “World peace cannot be safeguarded without the making of creative efforts proportionate to the dangers which threaten it.” The EU has found a  gradualist approach, often against the will of key actors who became unwittingly builders of the Union, to bring this about. This gradual movement, not build on a single plan or blueprint can be frustrating to those who want a federal Europe now and infuriating to skeptics who miss the agency of the process. However, no other way could the EU have been built. The prize is a recognition for what the EU is, not what it did or does. Its policy to bring peace and prosperity is admirable, but often flawed and ineffective. As such, the prize should remind the EU and its political leaders to not just talk about the peace project EU on Sunday speeches, but fill it with meaning.

In order to become deserving of the prize, the EU should own up to past mistakes—an appology for its flawed role in the 1990s would be appropriate and make sure that its raison d’etre is not forgotten.



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