Bloodthirsty Slavs vs. Racist, Revisionist Italians

Actually, it’s racist, revisionist, and revanchist Italians. But we’ll get to that.

Short version: Italy and Croatia have just had a brief but bitter diplomatic dispute over statements made by Italian President Giorgio Napolitano and Croatian President Stipe Mesic. There’s not really a good or bad side here, either; both nations seem to have had a short but violent attack of what my grandmother used to call “the stupids”.

On the plus side, it seems to be over now, and cooler heads have prevailed.

Much more below, if you’re interested.
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The new great game

Our next anniversary guest post is written by the the great Jonathan Edelstein.

It’s starting to look like the season of referenda in the near abroad.

On September 17, less than a week from today, voters in the unrecognized republic of Transnistria, located between Moldova and Ukraine, will be asked to vote on whether to “renounce [their] independent status and subsequently become part of the Republic of Moldova” or “support a policy of independence… and subsequent free association with the Russian Federation.” The option of “free association” with Russia, which is widely considered a prelude to outright annexation, is reportedly backed by a large number of Russian-financed business and political organizations, some with long-standing presence in Transnistrian politics and others apparently formed for the occasion. In the meantime, South Ossetia, which had earlier explored the possibility of petitioning Russia’s constitutional court for annexation, has just announced its own referendum for November 12, and although Abkhazia currently denies similar plans, there are rumors that a plebiscite may be in the works there as well.

The referenda, which are rather transparently supported by Moscow, represent something of a change in policy for the Russian Federation. It’s certainly nothing new for post-Soviet Russia to attempt to maintain its influence over the countries comprising the former Soviet Union, and it has at times used Russian citizenship to cement the “soft” annexation of neighboring territories; for instance, at least 90 percent of Abkhazians and South Ossetians now hold Russian passports. Nevertheless, up to now, it has soft-pedaled the issue of de jure territorial expansion. The forthcoming vote on whether Transnistria should become a second Kaliningrad suggests that policymakers in Moscow are at least starting to think seriously about taking formal responsibility for the territories that have broken away from other former Soviet republics.

At first glance, it’s hard to see why Russia would push such a policy at the present time. All three of the breakaway republics have substantial minorities who oppose union with Russia; Transnistria is almost evenly divided between ethnic Russians, Ukrainians and Romanians, and despite post-Soviet ethnic cleansing, South Ossetia and Abkhazia retain Georgian minority enclaves. The recent wave of terrorist bombings in the Transnistrian capital of Tiraspol may well be linked to the referendum, and Russian annexation of the Georgian breakaway republics would only intensify border conflicts such as the Kodori Gorge. Nor would successful plebiscites lend a veneer of legitimacy to a Russian annexation; indeed, given the current international attitude toward non-consensual secessions from recognized states, this would only make Russia’s legal position worse by transforming it into an occupying power.

In other words, the referenda seem like a recipe for stirring up ethnic conflict within the breakaway republics, making Moldova and Georgia even more alarmed over Russian political ambitions than they already are, and creating new diplomatic and legal problems for Moscow. Which leads naturally to three questions: why now, what does Russia stand to gain in compensation for these risks, and how much should the rest of the world (and particularly Europe) care?
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Photographs on the fence

If you’re ever in Pristina, capital of Kosovo, you’ll want to swing by the Government building.

(It’s called the Government building because, well, that’s where the government is. The Parliament, the Prime Minister, the President, and half a dozen or so government agencies are all squashed into one huge building downtown. It’s sort of refreshing. Imagine being in London or Berlin and just popping down to “the government”.)

Why? Because there are these photographs. Between two and three thousand of them… closer to two, I think. The government building has a fence around it; and, since the building is pretty large, the fence is easily a couple of hundred meters long. And it’s covered with the photographs of Kosovar Albanians missing in the 1999 war.

It’s not a very cheerful display, obviously. But it’s certainly food for thought. And if you walk the length of the fence, you’ll spot some patterns.
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Xenophobia and human nature

There has been some cricket chirping on AFOE the past few days, so allow me to make a little bit of noise here and chase them away.

Amnesty International has a new report out, called Russian Federation – Violent racism out of control. I shall quote part of the report below the fold and ask some questions to our readers.
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Kosovo, Kosovo, Kosovo…

Just ran across this article at Radio Free Europe. Short version: Russia has decided that independence for Kosovo is probably inevitable, and has decided to milk it for maximum benefit to Russia. Putin’s saying, fine, independence for Kosovo — but then apply “universal principles”, and give independence to the Russian-supported breakaway republics of Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and TransDnistria.

Once you get past the initial reaction (“Wow, what a jerk”), this bears a little thinking about.
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When Chams Attack

Greece and Albania are having a small diplomatic tiff. If reading about that sort of thing interests you, read on.

So: two weeks ago, Greek President Karolos Papoulias’ was scheduled to meet with Albanian President Alfred Moisiu, in the southern Albanian town of Sarande. I’m pretty sure this was the first meeting of Greek and Albanian heads of state in a long time. So, fairly big deal by regional standards.

But it didn’t happen, because of the Chams. About 200 of them. They showed up outside the hotel in Saranda where President Papoulias was staying, waved signs, shouted, and generally made a nuisance of themselves.

President Papoulias didn’t take this at all well. He cancelled the meeting with President Moisiu and went back to Greece in a huff. A day or two later, Greece issued a demarche to Albania. (A demarche is a formal diplomatic note from one country to another. It’s about a 5 on the diplomatic hissy-fit scale, higher than merely expressing disapproval but lower than recalling your ambassador.) The demarche expressed regret that Albania did not “take the necessary precautions so that the meeting between the Greek and Albanian Presidents could take place without hindrance.” Worse yet, they did not “take the necessary measures to discourage certain familiar extremist elements which, in their effort to obstruct the normal development of bilateral relations, continue to promote unacceptable and non-existent issues, at the very moment when Albania is attempting to proceed with steps fulfilling its European ambitions”.

Got that? Okay, now comes an obvious question.

What, exactly, are Chams?
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A modest proposal for CAP reform

I’ve been in Canada for the last month, getting in my last family visit before settling in to the serious business of either going back to school or collecting unemployment checks. My family is large – Great-Grandpa had 25 children, and Grandpa had 9 – so it takes a while if you go to see my family. Ours is a large, disorganised, occasionally frightening clan who, depending on pure whim, identifies itself as either German-Canadian, Dutch-Canadian, Russian-Canadian or Ukrainian-Canadian. Our tribal language is an obscure dialect of Low Saxon (Platt for the actual Germans out there) spoken primarily in Paraguay, Mexico, Central America and Saskatchewan, and whose most famous speaker is, arguably, Homer Simpson. It’s a long story, don’t ask. It not being much of a literary language, we all just say our ancestors spoke German – the liturgical language of my clan’s particular sect.

In contrast to Europe and the US, Canadians are a lot less disturbed about asking people about their ethnic identities or expressing some loyalty to them. I guess the main reason is that Canada has never really pretended to be a nation built atop an identity, but rather a place where an identity of sorts has slowly built up from the existence of a nation. There is no Canadian myth of the melting pot, and as our soon-to-be new Governor General has demonstrated, no serious demand for nativism in public office. Michaëlle Jean, who is slated to be the powerless and unelected Canadian head-of-state when the Queen is out of the country – e.g., practically always – when she is sworn in on the 27th, is no doubt the most attractive candidate we’ve ever had for the office. And, like her predecessor, she is a former CBC/SRC reporter and talking head.

Ms Jean and I share an endemically Canadian charateristic: We both can and do identify ourselves shamelessly as several different kinds of hyphenated Canadians. She is French Canadian, but that’s hardly strange. She is also Franco-Canadian – Ms Jean has dual citizenship with France, making her the first EU citizen to be Governor General of Canada and the first French citizen to be acting head of state of Canada since 1763. But more unprecedentedly, she is Haitian-Canadian and – as logically follows – African-Canadian.

Yes, Ms Jean is black, and furthermore in an interracial marriage. Well, that’s Canada for you. America puts black folk in squalid emergency shelters, we put ours in Rideau Hall.
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Killer Identities

Sorting through some old books yesterday, I came across one from Amin Maaloof that I hadn’t looked at in years. So I dusted it off, and started thinking about this post.

The English title of the book is “In the Name of Identity“, but the French title “Les Identit?s meurtrieres” (Lethal Identities?) or the Catalan one ‘Indentitats que Maten’ (Killer Identities) are much more expressive and to the point.
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Controversy Over Kosovo Refugees In Germany

This is an updated version of an earlier post. I first retain the post as it was, then I have added some reflections in the light of comments received.

The Independent is running the following story:

Germany is deporting tens of thousands of Roma refugees to Kosovo despite clear threats to their safety and dire warnings from human rights groups that they will face “massive discrimination” on arrival.
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The Genie Outside The Bottle.

While we are waiting, Veronica Khokhlova offers her impressions from inside the Ukrainian Supreme Court hearing and finds the proceedings almost surreal given the atmosphere on the independence sqare – much better tv, for sure -

The judges look tired, interrupt every once in while, but let the Yushchenko’s team guy finish. Channel 5 interrupts the broadcast from the Supreme Court midway through the questions from Yanukovych’s team guy, switching live to Yushchenko’s address at Independence Square.

Yet there are equally important events going on in the Eastern provinces. With rising concern about a possible irredentist wave growing even within the Yanukovich camp – as indicated by President Kuchma’s statements today as well as by
the resignation of Yanukovich’s campaign manager Serhiy Tihipko
The Kyiv post notes that some oligarchs – notably Kuchma?s son-in-law Viktor Pinchuk, valued at $3bn, may be ready to switch sides, while others, notably Rinat Akhmetov, reportedly Ukraine’s richest man and in “complete control of the Donetsk oblast”, do not yet appear to be ready to deal.

Although his relation to Mr Yanukovich has not been friction-free, Mr Akhmetov has significantly supported Mr Yanukovich’s presidential campaign. Allegedly, he met him on a Kyiv airfield last Wednesday, complaining about his lost “venture capital”, and punching Mr Yanukovich in the face before leaving.

Such episodes may not help Mr Akhmetov “to present a civilized face by patronizing the arts, learning to play the piano and being keen on football.” Yet the politically far more relevant question right now is – as noted by Yulia Mostovaya in her detailed analysis of the “Yanukovich nebula” – “has Akhmetov legalized his business enough so as to pursue an independent course or is he still vulnerable to state power, whatever name this power will have?”

It is still unclear (certainly to me) to which extent the “secessionist movement” is based on true popular support in the East, and to which extent it is (merely) an element of a game plan by oligarchs who may or may not be able to correctly judge their ability to put the genie back into the bottle after the the power struggle is over.

At the very least, it seems to me, the centuries-old ethnic/religious and linguistic cleavage will become an even more pressing problem in the future. Below, I have superimposed a couple of maps relating to the question.

The base map is from Wikipedia and reports the regional results of the Presidential elections. The violet area on top of the blue, Eastern, districts denotes some sort of “Russian-Ukrainian ethno-linguistic zone”, according to a map from ethnologue.com referred to by Mark Liberman on the language log, while the red ares indicate settlements by ethnic Russians according to a CIA map from 1994 (which, as well as many other maps of the area, you can find here, courtesy of the University of Texas Libraries, The University of Texas at Austin)

The difference of the two areas may explain why the CIA map refers only to 22% of Ukrainians as ethnic Russians, while “opinion polls conducted in 1994-1998 by the Institute of Sociology of the National Academy of Sciences in Kyiv show that the proportion of respondents who said that Russian was their native language ranged from 34.7 percent to 36.5 percent,” according a report by “The Ukrainian Weekly”, published in 2000.

While Russian seems to have lost some ground – particularly in the educational system – since Ukrainian independence, once again referring to the article quoted above, “between 1994 and 1999 the proportion of Ukrainians who chose Russian as their language of “convenience” increased from 43.5 percent to 50.9 percent.” It seems to me that the most pressing linguistic problem may be a status issue: the recognition of Russian as an official language.

So there may be a chance to put the genie back into the bottle.