17 January 2008, 14:56

Gordon N. Bardos (The Harriman Institute, USA): "In the issue of the right of nations to self-determination the international community resorts to double standard policy"

Гордон БардошWhat are the advances of the Kosovo situation? Will the "Kosovo precedent" help Abkhazia, Nagorno-Karabakh and South Ossetia in achieving their independence?
What practices of settling interethnic conflicts have been approved in the Balkans?
Gordon N. Bardos, Assistant Director of the Columbia University's Harriman Institute (USA), gave answers to these and other questions in his interview to the "Caucasian Knot".

1. What are the prospects for a definitive solution of Kosovo status? Will a compromise be achieved between the parties concerned (the Albanian majority, Serbian minority and Serbia's leaders) or does the international community stand ready to recognize independence of the former Serbian autonomy?

There are several levels at which we can analyze this question. First, at the most general level, unfortunately for the Balkans (and perhaps for the Caucasus as well), over the past 150-200 years it has been hard to find "definitive solutions" for many political problems. For instance, a person who is 40 years old today in Bosnia, Kosovo, or Serbia has already lived under three or four different political regimes or systems. Someone who is eighty years old has probably lived under five or six. Thus, the lesson of Balkan history in the modern era is that all political "solutions" are provisional, or temporary.

With specific reference to the current effort to determine Kosovo's future status, my sense is that, again unfortunately, it will not lead to a definitive solution either. First of all, it is doubtful that whatever "solution" the U.S. and the E.U. attempt to impose on Kosovo will do anything to resolve what is essentially a frozen conflict within Kosovo itself-the division of Kosovo along the Ibar river, between the Serb-populated areas north of the Ibar, and the mainly Albanian-populated portion south of the Ibar. Second, Belgrade has made it clear that it will not accept any decision which gives Kosovo independence, so even if the United States and the European Union try to impose such a decision, Belgrade will not recognize it, which means that we will have an undefined diplomatic situation in the middle of the Balkans, and some extreme voices in Belgrade are already saying that Serbia should just bide its time and wait for the next time the geopolitical cards are reshuffled to march into Kosovo again. Third, on the Albanian side, extremists are similarly biding their time and waiting for an opportunity to move into Macedonia, or southern Serbia, or perhaps even parts of Montenegro.

I do not want to be alarmist about this, and I think most observers would agree that it is very difficult to see a return to the large-scale violence that afflicted the western and southern Balkans in the 1990s. However, a couple of dozen militants running around the southern Balkans with AK-47s can cause significant problems for the political and economic reform efforts throughout the region. We saw how on 9/11 twenty extremists changed the course of history of the most powerful and economically prosperous country in the world, so my sense is that policymakers in Washington and Brussels are making a serious mistake in overestimating the stability of many of the countries in southeastern Europe, and their ability to withstand serious political problems.

2. Why don't the unrecognized states in the Caucasus, unlike Kosovo, receive support from the Western countries in their striving towards sovereignty? Several important UN and OSСE documents declare the people's right to self-determination as a fundamental principle of international relations. What are the international community's different approaches to the future of self-determined territories dictated by?

In the contemporary world, receiving international recognition is a function of many things. One is the principle of self-determination, yet the international community has adopted many double standards when it comes to determining which ethnic group has the right to an independent state based on self-determination, and which does not. Thus, we have situations in which Washington and Brussels will recognize the right of the Albanian population in Kosovo to independence, but it will not recognize the right of Kurds in Turkey to independence. Of course, the list of such double standards is very long.

Another problem is the fact that the principle of self-determination is at odds with another one of the most important principles of international order-the protection of the territorial integrity of existing, internationally-recognized states. In the case of many current secessionist conflicts (especially in Africa), most major powers clearly believe that it is more important to protect the territorial integrity of existing states than to recognize a people's right to self-determination.

Apart from the principle of self-determination itself, getting support from the international community (or Western capitals) is also a function of many other things; for instance, major powers are always calculating as to whether independence for specific entities or peoples (or, conversely, the disintegration of specific states) will be in their interest or not? For ethnic groups striving to get recognition for their claims to self-determination, whether or not major powers recognize their claims is also a function of how much political support they can mobilize in world capitals on behalf of their aspirations. 

3. Is the return of refugees a mandatory precondition for defining Kosovo's official status? Does this requirement apply to other self-proclaimed states, such as Abkhazia, Nagorny Karabakh and South Ossetia?

Officially, yes, but in reality, this is another instance in which the international community has been using double standards. In 2003, the international community officially adopted a "standards before status" policy towards Kosovo, in which no decision on Kosovo's future status would be made until certain standards were achieved with respect to the rule of law, human rights, refugee returns, freedom of movement for minorities, etc. None of these standards have been reached, as the October 2005 report by the UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan's Special Envoy for Kosovo, Kai Eide, made very clear, but the fear of extremist violence in Kosovo being directed against international personnel in the province has led Washington and Brussels to push for a resolution of Kosovo's final status anyway.

In Bosnia-Herzegovina, for instance, tens of millions of dollars, and a significant amount of political will (along with large numbers of military troops) were used to help refugees and displaced persons return to their homes. As a result, over 1,000,000 people in Bosnia have been able to return to their homes since the war ended. In Kosovo, by contrast, the international community has shown practically no willingness to promote refugee return, resulting in a situation in which only about 10,000 people have returned to their homes. This is by almost any measure a severe indictment of the international community's efforts in Kosovo.

4. If Kosovo's sovereignty is recognized by the international community, can we expect this fact to become a precedent and, furthermore, a broadly applicable principle of solving ethnic and territorial conflicts, including those in the Caucasus?

The official position of Washington and several European capitals is that it does not set a precedent, but it is difficult to see why not. Washington claims that Kosovo's history makes it a unique case; for instance, the repression that Kosovo Albanians suffered under Milosevic, the fact that is has de facto been independent from Belgrade for the past eight years, etc. Yet these are clearly not unique circumstances; all of this applies even more to the experience of the Kurds in Iraq, to take just one example. So if Kosovo is given independence, it will be hard for Washington and other Western capitals to make a convincing argument to other peoples around the world that Kosovo was a unique case.

In contrast to the position of Washington and some European capitals on this issue, Russian president Vladimir Putin has on numerous occasions (most recently, at the G-8 Summit in Germany in June) stressed that "universal principles" have to be used in the case of Kosovo; i.e., that whatever principles are applied in the Kosovo case should be applicable to other places as well, specifically, to the Caucasus and to Transdniestria.

These are clearly two very different positions on the issue of whether Kosovo will be a precedent or not. Two things, however, are clear: if Kosovo becomes independent, many ethnic groups around the world will use the Kosovo case as a precedent in support of their own aspiration, regardless of whether or not Washington and Brussels say it is a precedent. Second, whether or not these ethnic groups are successful will depend upon how much support they can obtain from the great powers.  

5. What is your approach to the lessons of pacifying an ethnic conflict in Macedonia where the Albanians received the right to be represented in various government entities in proportion to the percentage share of this ethnic group in the population?

I think it is too early to tell what the lessons of Macedonia will be. Granting a specific group representation in government proportionate to its share of the population is not in and of itself a formula for successful ethnic-conflict management; if this were the case, the former Yugoslavia would still be alive and well, because the old Yugoslavia went so far as to give ethnic groups equal representation at most levels of government, regardless of the size of the ethnic group, and as we all know, that was not enough to satisfy Albanians, Croats, Slovenians, Serbs, etc. So I personally am not very optimistic about the ability of various laws or constitutional provisions, in and of themselves, to satisfy nationalist demands. Constitutional rights regarding proportionate representation in government have to be accompanied by numerous other things-an overall framework of respect for human and civil rights for all members of the state; a functional economy in which people see it in their material interest to be members of a specific state; and whether or not the international community supports the continued existence of the state or not-for a state to succeed. Even then, however, there is no guarantee that all of these things will work.

In the case of Macedonia specifically, many observers believe that Macedonia is, at the least, moving in the direction of a federal, bi-national state, with the two main segments of its population becoming more and more segregated.

On the positive side, however, one can point to a number of things that might lead to a better outcome: first, it is clear that in Macedonia there is not the depth of animosity between Albanians and Macedonians that has been visible in Kosovo since the 1980s; second, Macedonia has on the whole had much better political leadership since 1991 than Serbia has had; third, at least as of now, Macedonia has much more international support for its territorial integrity than Serbia had; and fourth, the balance of power between Albanians and Macedonians is much more equal than the balance of power between Albanians and Serbs was during Milosevic's time, which means that both sides will be much more cautious about engaging in military adventures.

6. Can the principle of proportional ethnic representation be used as a possible option of settling conflicts in other "hot spots" worldwide, e.g., in the republics of Southern Caucasus, or it can be applied only locally, as dictated by the situation in Macedonia?

In theory, the principle of proportional ethnic representation should be applicable throughout the world wherever you have ethnically-divided societies. However, as noted in above, there is no guarantee that such provisions will work. In fact, there is considerable empirical evidence (at least in the Balkans) that if an ethnic group is large enough, organized enough, and able to mobilize enough political support, it is rarely satisfied with political arrangements short of full independence.

7. Could the "Deighton mode" used for international settlement of hostilities in Bosnia and Herzegovina be employed for pacifying the conflicts in Georgia, Azerbaijan and in the Russian Northern Caucasus?

To some extent, yes, but we have to strictly define what we are talking about. Dayton provided a new constitution for Bosnia, together with 60,000 NATO peacekeeping troops (including in that total a large contingent of Russian troops under American command). It is difficult to see that type of international effort being implemented today.

We also have to bear in mind that "Dayton Bosnia" has not been a complete success, since Bosnia is currently going through its most serious political crisis since the end of its civil war in 1995. Dayton resolved the fundamental political and constitutional issues that led to war in Bosnia in 1992-the degree to which Bosniacs, Croats, and Serbs in Bosnia were going to be politically equal-through a constitution in which each ethnic group had a veto over government policies that were considered to be detrimental to its vital interests as an ethnic or national group.  This system has had both advantages and disadvantages. The primary advantage has been that respect for the principle of the political equality of various ethnic groups has kept political tensions and disagreements between the different groups at manageable levels.  The disadvantage has been that Bosnia in many ways has a very slow and inefficient governmental system. Some political scientists would also argue that by institutionalizing ethnic divisions, federal arrangements such as Dayton eventually make ethnic problems even less manageable.

To a large extent, these problems are unavoidable. The Balkan experience of recent decades has shown that states in which there is more ethnic homogeneity (for example, Bulgaria, Romania, and Slovenia) generally have greater consensus within their societies, and thus are able to adopt political and economic reforms at a faster pace. Conversely, states that are more ethnically heterogeneous have had a much more difficult time during the post-communist transition. 

Despite all of the problems and disadvantages, however, Dayton did provide enough political compromises for more "normal" politics to begin to evolve in Bosnia, for the Bosnian economy to begin to recover and develop after the war, for refugees to go back to their homes, and for people within Bosnia to regain their freedom of movement throughout the country. My sense is that this would be a significant improvement over the current situation in many of the conflicts in the Caucasus. 

But arriving at such a situation would require considerable compromise among political elites in the Caucasus, as well as a considerable amount of political consensus among the great powers as to the proper way forward in the region. Dayton was possible because in 1995 the great powers agreed on what the outlines of a settlement in Bosnia should be-that Bosnia should remain a united, independent state, with a significant degree of internal decentralization. I am not sure that the great powers today could similarly agree on what the outlines for potential settlements in Georgia or Azerbaijan should be.

15 June 2007

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