Frozen conflicts: Transnistria

Spent a weekend in Nagorno-Karabakh last month.

If you don’t know what or where Nagorno-Karabakh is… well, that’s healthy and normal. Most people don’t. But it’s pretty interesting, in a depressing sort of way.

When the Soviet Union broke up, it left a number of unresolved ethnic and territorial conflicts around its old frontiers. Four of these still survive today. In ascending order of nastiness, they are Trans-Dnistria, South Ossetia, Abkhazia, and Nagorno-Karabakh.

Would anyone be interested in an occasional series on these? Here’s one on Trans-Dnistria below the cut.
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Kosovo: a hypothetical question

Because we just can’t get enough.

Imagine the US and Europe went to Putin tomorrow and said, “Vladimir, this Kosovo thing has gone on long enough. We want to get it off the table.

“So, we’ll agree to letting you annex Transnistria and those dangly bits down in Georgia. Abkhazia and, what, South Ossetia, right? All yours — they can join Russia tomorrow. All by free and fair referendum of course, cough cough.

” In return, we want you to sign off on Kosovar independence. No veto, no nothing. And full independence, too — ambassadors, an army, the works.


Putin: “Da.”

There is a possible concern with China too, but let’s handwave that. [handwave] China very rarely casts a veto anyway anyway — only five times in nearly 40 years — and could probably be bought off with a resolution condemning the Dalai Lama or some such. So say China abstains.

A strong resolution on Kosovar independence flies through both the Security Council and the General Assembly. A Kosovar ambassador would take his seat in the UN a few weeks later.

This would be:
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Kosovo: Divided We Stand, United We Fall?

This is the title of a post from Seb Bytyci on his South East Europe Online blog. I reproduce the entire post below the fold.

So the UN seems set to adopt a plan which would allow Kosovo to make a giant step on the road to independence. This is hardly surprising, and frankly I see no other realistic way forward. But obviously not everyone is happy. And some of those who seem not to be happy have considerable ability to make mischief, and not the least among these, the Putin regime in Moscow.

Doug Muir and I have been blogging this week about the Serbian elections (here and here) and perhaps the biggest issue which arises from those elections is just which way Kostunica will fall. A lot depends on this decision, and this UN proposal, coming at precisely this time, may well serve to give him a sharp push in the wrong direction. Call it the law of the inopportune moment. Offering a share of power to the Radicals would constitute a major problem for Serbia, and in the medium term for the whole EU. But rising nationalist feelings, especially when they come on the back of desperation, are often hard to contain.

I would say that the biggest strategic danger is that the Serbs allow themselves to become a proxy for the ambitions, and mischief-making abilities, of Russian nationalism in the region.

This week a lot of people are gathered in Davos, and on the agenda somewhere is the topic of demography. Amongst those participating is demographer Nicholas Eberstadt who has repeatedly drawn our attention to the real and present danger constituted by a Russia which, on the back of low birth rates and reduced life expectancy, faces imminent demographic meltdown.

Only this week the Eastern Europe correspondent at The Economist Edward Lucas had this to say (in the Economist latest Europe.View column.

‘Forget, for a moment, the headline stories from central and eastern Europe―the pipeline politics, the corruption scandals, the treasonous tycoons. The big story in the ex-communist world is people. Too few are being born. Too many are dying. And tens of millions have changed country.’

This is the new reality of Eastern Europe, and it is one we would do well not to lose from sight, for if we do we may find ourselves getting bogged down in the detail of things whilst missing the big picture which is unfolding before our very eyes. (Claus Vistesen has an in-depth review of the world bank report to which Edward Lucas refers here).

Seb is reasonably optimistic, and understandably so given all that the Kosovars have gone through, but we should never forget the darker side of things, which lies out there in wait of us, if it can catch us unawares. In the context of what is happening right now in Russia and Serbia I would say that vigilance was the watchword.
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Russia to Veto Kosovar Independence

According to dpa (as related on page 6 of today’s FAZ), the Russian ambassador in Serbia said that Russia would use its UN Security Council veto to put the kibosh on any UN action to recognize the independence of Kosovo. He couched his argument a tiny bit more diplomatically, in that he said Russia would veto a solution that is not acceptable to both sides, i.e., Serbian and Kosovar. But it’s essentially a foregone conclusion that the Serbian government will not look favorably on independence for its former province.

A status recommendation is expected at the end of January from UN representative Martti Ahtisaari. The dpa report says to expect him to recommend limited independence under the auspices of the EU. That’s confusing, even for diplomatic language, and it might be enough of a fig leaf to avoid a UN confrontation.

If not, it will be interesting to see how EU leaders, particularly German ones, who often praise the UN as a source of legitimacy (see Iraq, for instance), react in this case. (German public and commentator reaction will be interesting too; sometimes it seems that the UN here is regarded as a politics-free and near-holy Instanz.) My bet is that a Russian veto will be roundly ignored and recognition extended in some form on a bilateral basis. Consistency being a hobgoblin and all that.

Kosovo: Counting the days

So the Kosovar Albanians are counting the days until the January 21 elections in Serbia.

Not because they care who wins. If they have a preference, they’d probably want the loathsome nationalist Radical party to win, since that would immediately turn Serbia into an international pariah (again) and make Kosovar independence that much easier. But they figure independence is coming anyway, so they’re not much concerned.

But the UN envoy, Martti Ahtisaari, has announced that he will make his recommendations for Kosovo’s status at the end of January… after the elections. This is, everyone assumes, because he’ll recommend independence. If he were going to recommend that Kosovo stay part of Serbia, he’d do it now. Recommending independence (it’s believed) would be a shattering blow to the current, “moderate” government of Serbia, and might lead to a Radical victory. So, best to wait.

Well… maybe.
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Montenegro: Ramming Speed

So Montenegro votes this weekend on secession from Serbia. (Or, to be precise, secession from the dysfunctional and largely notional Federal Union of Serbia and Montenegro.)

Dedicated readers may recall that this vote was the subject of AFOE’s first intra-blog debate a few weeks back. My post on Montenegrin independence can be found here; Brussels Gonzo’s response to it is here; and my reply to his response is over here.

But it’s up to the people of Montenegro now.

Polls in this part of the world tend to be rather shaky, but right now it looks like support for independence is hovering tantalizingly between 50% and 55% — the so called “gray zone”. If we end up with a clear majority of votes in favor of independence, but one that still falls short of the 55% supermajority… well, things will get interesting.

A couple of notes on the campaign, below the fold.
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The Market Speaks…and Jörg Packs

Well, by 1630 CET today, the Milan stock market had made a very clear judgment on the outcome of the Italian elections – the MIBTEL index being up just under 1 per cent intraday, despite a pasting for Berlusconi’s own Mediaset..down 1.98 per cent at €9.68 a share. Berlusconi’s departure seems welcome indeed.

More exit poll results are spilling out all the time, showing the Left with a working majority in both houses. So far, the only weirdness has been the rather idiosyncratic kerfuffle in the town of Amelia (German link), where a protest led to the removal of crosses from all polling stations on the grounds of constitutionally guaranteed secularism, and predictable moaning from the ex/post/neo/whatever-fascists. A small outbreak of laicisme.

Oh yes, and this…sorry, more German linkage. Seems Jörg Haider, fun-lovin’ pseudofascist scandal monkey and governor of the Austrian province of Kärnten, is going to stand for election in 2009…in Italy, as a candidate for a party advocating Venetian independence. Not just Northern independence as per routine Liga Nord stupidity, but independence for the Most Serene Republic herself.

Strange really. I’ve always thought of Haider as a man out of place, a Mediterranean politician stuck on the wrong side of the Alps with the Germans. His demagoguery, rocambolesque coalition whoring and-to be brutally frank-corruption and barely concealed racism would have fitted beautifully into Silvio Berlusconi’s recent campaign, the municipal authorities of Marbella, or perhaps the intrigues of southern French Gaullism. Carinthia produced far more than its fair share of Nazis, as did many similarly debatable provinces on the edges of the German linguistic sphere, and in a sense his pumped-up nationalism fits the pattern.

Until you remember that he’s not actually from there at all (not far from Linz, actually), and in fact is putting on the overcompensated border nationalism to ingratiate himself with the overcompensated border nationalists. Which fits, too.

But it’s going to be fun to watch.

Montenegro III: Am Not, Are So

Continuing AFOE’s first point-counterpoint debate between two posters, here’s my final post on Montenegrin independence.
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Montenegro – the other side

Well, we are united in our diversity here at Fistful. I have to say I disagree with almost every point Doug made about Montenegro in his last post, and will respectfully dissect his arguments below. But first off, a plea for some sanity here. Too many people seem to think that the break-up of Yugoslavia in 1990-93 was in some way the EU’s “fault”; that it failed to act quickly enough, to apply diplomatic pressure, or even (in contradiction to the evidence) that the EU’s recognition of Croatia and Slovenia in December 1991 somehow caused the wars. Nonsense. The fact is that Yugoslavia was broken up by the policies of the Serbian leadership. Outsiders tried to ameliorate or decelerate the process and the consequences; they largely failed. The international community does bear some responsibility for its inaction in the face of evil. But the larger share of the responsibility belongs to the local actors – especially, though not only, the Serbian political leaders. The fact is that we can plan all we like for international do-gooding, but the forces in action on the ground will always be the crucial factor. And so it is in Montenegro.

I’m sure Doug agrees with me on most of that. Now let’s get to the points of our disagreement. It’s important to realise that Montenegro has been effectively independent since 1997, when Djukanovic, then Prime Minister, threw the pro-Milosevic elements out of the ruling party and won the Presidential election against his former patron. Montenegro has had a separate customs area since roughly then. It adopted the Deutsch Mark (now the Euro) as currency in 1999, while Serbia retains the dinar to this day. The State Union of Serbia and Montenegro, established in 2003, remains largely fictional apart from the foreign ministry. Montenegro’s referendum, if successful, will merely formalise the reality of its independence. In fairness, Doug states most of this as well. Yet he seems to think that rolling history back is both possible and desirable.
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Montenegro: Jump higher

So, Montenegro.

Little mountainous state on the Adriatic. Six hundred thousand people, mostly Montenegrins, a few Albanians and whatnot. Was an independent country until 1919, when it got swept up into Yugoslavia. Now it’s part of the “Federal Union of Serbia and Montenegro”, which consists of (1) Serbia, and (2) Montenegro.

And they’re arguing about whether they should leave. After all, the Slovenes, Croats, Bosnians, and Macedonians all left, right? And the Kosovars are about to, any day now. Why should Montenegro be left behind? They had their own country for centuries; why not once again?

Why not indeed:
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