Bosnia: Exit the Doctor

Here’s the short version. Bosnia has this thing called a “High Representative”. The High Rep is not a Bosnian. He’s a European charged with overseeing implementation of the Dayton Peace Agreement (the 1995 treaty that has kept the various Bosnian groups from each others’ throats), and also with “representing the international community” in Bosnia.

The High Rep is much more than a diplomat. He’s really more like a colonial governor. He can pass laws and fire Bosnian politicians. If he flexes his muscles, he’s really the final authority in the country. You might think this is strange in what’s nominally a sovereign European state, but Bosnia is a strange place.

For four years, 2002-6, the High Rep was a British fellow named Paddy Ashdown. Paddy took his job seriously and did not hesitate to use his powers. He didn’t like nationalist politicians and he wanted Bosnia to act like a real country. So he banged some heads and stepped on a lot of toes.

Many, both in Bosnia and in the international community, did not like this. Paddy was accused of being an old-fashioned imperialist, high-handed, divisive. Furthermore, said many, he was stunting the political growth of the Bosnian state. As long as Paddy was there to twist arms, the Bosnians would never learn to solve their own problems.

So when Paddy left, the job was given to an elderly, mild-mannered German politician, Dr. Christian Schwarz-Schilling. Dr. Schwarz-Schilling made it clear in advance that he did not plan to use the powers of the High Rep’s office. In fact, he saw his job as overseeing the position’s liquidation. He “didn’t believe in colonialism for Bosnia,” said the good Doctor. The High Rep’s office would gradually ramp down, aiming for a complete shutdown within a year or two. The Bosnians would assume responsibility for their own destiny. Polite clapping all around.

That was a year ago.
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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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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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