Ethnic conflict in the Balkans and in the Caucasus: Some general considerations

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This article was downloaded by: [University of California Davis]On: 18 October 2014, At: 12:45Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number:1072954 Registered office: Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street,London W1T 3JH, UKSoutheast European andBlack Sea StudiesPublication details, including instructions forauthors and subscription information: conflict in the Balkansand in the Caucasus: Somegeneral considerationsMichael LibalPublished online: 17 Apr 2008.To cite this article: Michael Libal (2002) Ethnic conflict in the Balkans and inthe Caucasus: Some general considerations, Southeast European and Black SeaStudies, 2:2, 1-20, DOI: 10.1080/14683850208454687To link to this article: SCROLL DOWN FOR ARTICLETaylor & Francis makes every effort to ensure the accuracy of allthe information (the Content) contained in the publications on ourplatform. 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Terms & Conditions of accessand use can be found at by [University of California Davis] at 12:45 18 October 2014 Conflict in the Balkansand in the Caucasus:Some General ConsiderationsMICHAEL LIBALThe author draws some general conclusions from his ownexperience in dealing with these conflicts which he considers aproduct of the twentieth century, not of earlier times. Heemphasizes the critical importance of being able to dealknowledgeably and critically with historical myths. To balance theprinciples of territorial integrity and national self-determination isthe key task. Mediators must draw on earlier models of self-rule.Above all, international borders must remain permeable. Formercommunist methods of 'autonomy' remain a questionable legacy.More often than not international intervention is necessary. Itshould be guided by the rule of the three hegemonies: armedhegemony, economic hegemony and ideological hegemony.THE NATURE OF THESE CONFLICTSA Contemporary Phenomenon, a Phenomenon of the Twentieth CenturyThe ethnic conflicts of the 1990s were not (repeat not) just anotheroutburst of 'age-old conflicts'. They were political and territorialconflicts of the twentieth century expressed in national or ethnic terms,the roots of which go back to the nineteenth century, although, ofcourse, certain older historical fault-lines have played a role in shapingthe minds of the protagonists. These conflicts represent first andforemost the disconcerting results of two developments which inthemselves we consider positive: the breakup of the empires of Centraland Eastern Europe and the process of democratization, both of whichresumed with the breakdown of communism. Indeed, people have killedeach other in these regions also in earlier centuries, but for differentreasons: subjects versus rulers, peasants against landlords, Christiansagainst Muslims, pastoralists against sedentary agriculturalists. Theethnic conflicts of the past decade are, however, a different matter. Bothwith regard to ideology and to the methods employed they are truechildren of the twentieth century.Southeast European and Black Sea Studies, Vol.2, No.2 (May 2002) pp.1-20PUBLISHED BY FRANK CASS, LONDONDownloaded by [University of California Davis] at 12:45 18 October 2014 2 SOUTHEAST EUROPEAN AND BLACK SEA STUDIESThe Fruits of DisintegrationIt is one of the paradoxes of the twentieth century that the dissolution ofthe large multi-ethnic empires of Central and Eastern Europe, which setin with the Balkan wars of 1912-13 and reached its first apogee in1917-18, was partially stopped by the creation of multinationalcommunist states: the Soviet Union replaced the Tsarist Empire, Tito'sYugoslavia fused legacies from the Austro-Hungarian and the Ottomanempires. In the early 1990s the fall of communism led to a resumptionof the earlier process of disintegration on ethnic and national lines. Thisprocess was not encouraged by the West, which would certainly havepreferred liberalization and democratization of the whole without itsdisintegration into smaller parts. In many cases we have witnessed areplay of confrontations and conflicts characteristic of the period1912-22, albeit in a more intensive and certainly more ferociousmanner: Serb versus Albanian in Kosovo, Croatian peasant against theSerbian military and bureaucracy, Ossetians and Abkhaz versusGeorgians, Caucasian mountain people against the Slavic settlers. Insome cases like the Yugoslav, the memory of the massacres perpetratedduring the Second World War served as a further stimulant, and this inparticular created the not really correct impression that we were facinga permanent 'centuries-old' blood feud. The deportation of whole Sovietnationalities like the Chechens under Stalin still casts a shadow over thepresent situation in the Caucasus.One very important legacy, however, distinguishes the communistempires from the traditional ones. The earlier division of both the SovietUnion and Yugoslavia into federal sub-units, partly on ethnic, partly onhistorical grounds, provided a framework within which to contain thedisintegration of these states by using these federal units as the basis forthe creation of the newly independent states. This possibility was usedon the whole quite successfully in the Soviet case (at least on the level ofthe former Soviet republics), much less so in the Yugoslav case. But I shallhave to come back to some of the more questionable elements in thislegacy of communist federalism or pseudo-federalism.Our own mental difficulties as Westerners in dealing with theseconflicts stem from the fact that since the end of the Second World Warwe have been part of a quite different process. In the West we haveovercome the collapse of the international system after 1914 byintegrating the nation states of the Euro-Atlantic Community into largermulti- or even supranational structures such as the EU, NATO, theOrganization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) as well asby creating the well-known phalanx of international financialDownloaded by [University of California Davis] at 12:45 18 October 2014 ETHNIC CONFLICT IN THE BALKANS AND CAUCASUS 3institutions. Thus the past decade has shown an obvious and potentiallydangerous lack of synchronization in the political developments of Westand East. This in turn has made it so difficult to find a truly commonlanguage between the leaders of the various national and nationalistmovements and our own leaders, even if the former have superficiallyadopted the Western rhetoric of democracy, market economy andinternational cooperation.As in the years after 1912, the fundamental dilemma after 1989 hasbeen on what basis to reorganize the legacy of the great empires,particularly how to accommodate conflicting claims to national self-determination. The ethnic principle very often clashes with the nationalprinciple. To draw the frontiers of new states on strictly ethnic lines maydo justice to hitherto less privileged ethnic communities but risksdestroying already existing structures of administration and economicintegration. Even more important: in some areas different peoples orethnic communities are so intermingled that it is impossible to draw ajust line and to prevent the emergence of minorities. Bosnia-Herzegovinais the most obvious example. In the case of the national principle,namely the confirmation of already existing borders or the return toearlier historical frontiers, it is well nigh impossible to avoid a situationin which older, already less privileged minorities remain unsatisfied (forexample the Muslims in the Sanjak), or new minorities are being created(the Serbs in Croatia, the Albanians in Macedonia).The Ambiguity of DemocratizationInstinctively we tend to see democracy as something unquestionablypositive. But the process by which it is established constitutes adangerous interlude, particularly in the context described above, whenmultinational states disintegrate. In such cases the process becomeshighly ambiguous and potentially damaging, because, at least initially, ittends to favour and not to prevent ethnic conflict.We all know from historical experience that majority rule by itself,without institutional safeguards and checks and balances and without acertain measure of enlightenment and self-restraint on the part of theelectorate, can be a rather dubious matter. In 1991, after a series offormally democratic elections in the individual Yugoslav republics hadresulted in a triumph of nationalist forces and had thereby pushed thecountry further on the road towards disintegration my own spontaneousand rather sorrowful reaction could be summarized in the words: 'We donot really need more democracy in the Balkans. To begin with we needmore tolerance and more liberalism.' It could already be foreseen thatwith the help of formally democratic mechanisms certain ethnic orDownloaded by [University of California Davis] at 12:45 18 October 2014 4 SOUTHEAST EUROPEAN AND BLACK SEA STUDIESnational communities would try to impose their will on other ones. Insuch a case, more likely than not, conflict is bound to follow, mainly forthe following two reasons.First, democratization begets the question of who is in the future tobe considered a fully fledged citizen with all political rights and socialprivileges. All individuals living on the territory of this state irrespectiveof ethnicity? Or just a majority, or only an even more restricted groupselected on the basis of ethnic and historical criteria? Only those whoregard themselves as the formerly oppressed but not those allegedly theformer oppressors? This is how you arrive at the problem of the Russiansin the Baltic states, of the Georgians in Abkhazia, of the Serbs in Croatiaand now also of the Serbs in Kosovo. What do you do with a formerlydeported people like the Meskhetians now spread over several ex-Sovietrepublics, most of which, including the Meskhetians' former homerepublic of Georgia, do not want to accept the Meskhetians as citizens?In the most severe cases these distinctions lead to the creation of a massof stateless people, something which I think the international communityshould not accept under any circumstances. A less spectacular but notless insidious variant is the habit to harass and partly to disenfranchisethrough administrative chicanery the 'unwelcome' citizens: witness thetreatment of the Serbs in Croatia after 1990, of the Albanians in theKosovo by the Serbs and now vice versa, of Ossetians in the inner partsof Georgia during the conflict in South Ossetia.Second, democratization turns political power and its rewards into aprize of political competition in which the ability to mobilize ormanipulate the masses becomes crucial. To do so on the basis ofnationalism and ethnic exclusiveness has two advantages: it is,unfortunately, the psychologically easiest approach and at the same timeit reserves the spoils of victory to the members of the dominant ethnicgroup. This has had a nefarious and for the emergence of ethnic conflictcrucial effect: both the old communist nomenklatura and a good part ofthe anti-communist opposition have used nationalism as a vehiclerespectively to preserve and to gain power. This cynical and methodicalexploitation of parochial national feelings is probably the most importantsingle factor that contributed to the eruption of the ethnic conflicts of the1990s. The man who used this instrument very early and particularlysuccessfully was, of course, Milosevic. But he was not alone: in the personof Tudjman we had the case of a nationalist demagogue who veryconveniently united the features of an old-style nomenklatura leader withthe halo of an anti-communist dissident having suffered for his beliefs.Other 'human rights fighters' who turned into chauvinist demagoguesinclude Paraga in Croatia, Seselj in Serbia and Gamsakhurdia in Georgia.Downloaded by [University of California Davis] at 12:45 18 October 2014 ETHNIC CONFLICT IN THE BALKANS AND CAUCASUS 5(This by the way should discourage Western human rights movements andgovernments from automatically assuming that their proteges will remaintrue to their principles once they are in power themselves.)Punishment front the Centre: The Weapon of Counter-SecessionSecession or disassociation may come with a vengeance once localminorities loyal to the centre or merely seeking its support proceed towhat could be called 'counter-secession'. The most glaring exampleshave been the Serbs in Croatia and Bosnia whose armed insurrection wasjustified from Belgrade as expressing the 'right to remain', which wasdeclared equal to the 'right to leave'. (If the Yugoslav crisis had indeedbeen a case of secession and not one of disintegration followed by a warof Serbian national aggrandizement this argument would have certainlydeserved a closer hearing.) The Ossetian and Abkhaz insurrections wereconducted in close contact with sympathizers within the Russian militaryand political institutions, on the common ideological basis that theGeorgian movement towards independence had given the right to allethnic communities loyal to the Soviet Union or Russia to secede fromthe 'Georgian mini empire'. (Here again the basic flaw in the argumentis a false perception of the real course of events and of their legalconsequences.) Usually the 'counter-secessionists' try to push their claimsby criticizing the international community for allegedly applying adouble standard by allowing some nations such as the Georgians or theCroats to enjoy the fruits of self-determination while denying it to otherssuch as the Serbs in Croatia or the Abkhaz in Georgia or the Armeniansin Nagorno-Karabagh. This is not the place to examine the issue indetail. Suffice it to say that in no case has the international communitysupported a change of frontiers through secession but has only reactedto a de facto or, as in the Soviet case, a de jure dissolution brought aboutby the component parts of the larger multinational state themselves.THE STRUGGLE OVER HISTORYThe Challenge for PeacemakersAll national and ethnic confrontations are linked to sharply conflictingperceptions of the history of the territories in dispute. Not bycoincidence nationalist politicians pursue their efforts to establish a kindof ideological hegemony in the field of scholarly or pseudo-scholarlydebates on the past with almost the same intensity as the armed struggle.They do this not only to indoctrinate their own national communitiesbut also in order to impress their own views on the internationalcommunity. Unfortunately there are many in the West, particularly in theDownloaded by [University of California Davis] at 12:45 18 October 2014 6 SOUTHEAST EUROPEAN AND BLACK SEA STUDIESUS, I am afraid, who get very impatient with historical analysis as anecessary precondition for diplomatic action. But it is impossible, andquite dangerous for one's own efforts, to start at point zero in the year1989 or 1991 or 1998 for that matter and to neglect what came before.Three examples will serve to illustrate what I mean.1. In the early stages of the Yugoslav crisis many Western policymakersshowed a pronounced unwillingness or inability to recognize in thepolicies pursued by Milosevic in the years 1987 to 1990 a cardinalcause of the breakup of Yugoslavia. For instance, Lord Owen, one ofthe most important Western mediators, in his memoirs skips over thatvital part of the prehistory of the conflict almost completely.1Logically such a flawed memory had to lead to a moral and politicalequidistance towards the different parties to the conflict - an attitudewhich in this case could not but favour the Serbian side.2. That same Western mediator, when discussing the Krajina problem inhis memoirs (p.35), forgot (or did not know to begin with) that theso-called military frontier of the Habsburg empire had been returnedalready in 1881 to the civilian administration of Croatia, whichnullifies any argument that the Krajina before 1941 was never reallya part of Croatia but in some way belonged to its (mainly) Serbinhabitants.3. The initial justification of Western air raids against Serbia in the springof 1999 completely neglected the developments in Kosovo between1987 and 1998 - as if history had started at Rambouillet! Thereby theWest from the start deprived itself of the most powerful arguments inits own favour which would have established Serbian responsibility forthe state of affairs in Kosovo for already more than a decade.The Trappings of HistoryThere is a whole array of traps which conflicting nationalisms lay out forthe uninitiated observer and into which they themselves also tend to fall,as a result enmeshing themselves in a mass of self-delusions.The illusion of identity. The attempt to postulate an identity of the newlyemerging states with earlier pre-modern states and empires lies at theheart of most contemporary nationalisms. Other national communitiesinhabiting the same region are then expected to accept in the name ofhistorical justice the claims to certain frontiers and to political leadershipput forward by the dominant national community. But usually anidentity and a continuity are postulated which simply do not exist: pre-modern Serbia, Croatia, Georgia to name but the most obviousDownloaded by [University of California Davis] at 12:45 18 October 2014 ETHNIC CONFLICT IN THE BALKANS AND CAUCASUS 7examples, were not modern nation states but essentially feudalmultinational kingdoms where loyalty to the ruler, not a nationalideology, was the binding element. On the whole such a loyalty did notpose any problems for the different linguistic, religious and culturalcommunities cohabiting the given area. But the experience of the last100 years has shown that one cannot expect national communities whichare being reduced to the status of minorities to transfer their loyaltyautomatically and without specific safeguards to a state which definesitself primarily, if not exclusively, as the state of a given majority nation.(Thus the problem of the Germans in the Czechoslovak Republic of theinter-war years has repeated itself in the question of the Krajina Serbs inCroatia and of the Abkhaz in Georgia.)Denying a national identity to others. This is an obstacle with which themore 'recent' nations are confronted in particular. They have to face thearrogance of some of the 'older' nations which would like to treat theirclaims to nationhood as a historical absurdity. In particular this has beena problem for the Bosnian Muslims who are still seen by many of theirSouth Slav brethren as merely Islamicized Croats and Serbs (what theyundoubtedly were far into modern times) with no claim to a nationalhome of their own. A similar problem has been faced by theMacedonians. Ironically there is nothing better than rejection andoppression to stimulate a feeling of national community.The struggle over statistics. Census data on the religious, ethnic andnational distribution in the population of a contested area are one of themain factors in determining the reaction of the international community.Not surprisingly the interpretation of these data becomes a bitterlyfought-over issue. Sometimes the data collected are rejected outright bythose who fear that their claims will suffer as a consequence. In othercases the debate centres on the question whether an earlier 'true'quantitative relationship between certain ethnic communities has notbeen distorted later as a consequence of certain historical injustices. Thusthe Serbian argument that to base one's policy towards Croatia andBosnia on the ethnic distribution of the early 1990s implies in fact anacceptance of the genocide of 1941-42. Or the Abkhaz claim to have alegitimate right to redraw by force the ethnic balance in order to undothe catastrophic (for the Abkhaz) demographic consequences of acentury of Russian and Soviet rule. But apart from the moral flaws ofsuch arguments they usually remain questionable also on historical andstatistical grounds.Downloaded by [University of California Davis] at 12:45 18 October 2014 8 SOUTHEAST EUROPEAN AND BLACK SEA STUDIESConfusing settlement and property with political authority. For sometime this was a particularly successful ploy of Serbian propaganda, whichmanaged to convey to some western policymakers and mediators theidea that the Krajina and large parts of Bosnia had always 'belonged' tothe Serbs since these areas had been settled by Serbs and Serbs allegedlyhad held the largest part of properties there. This argument overlookedthe fact that in most of the areas in question the Serbs had never heldpolitical authority and certainly nowhere since the time of the Ottomanconquest. The Ossetian claim to South Ossetia is based on a similarlyquestionable historical interpretation of the presence of Ossetians, whichhad spread there through continuous migration in the past two centuries,into areas south of the main ridge of the Caucasus.The claim to victimhood. Here the favourite question is: who were, andpossibly still are, the truly oppressed and the true oppressors? Thenationalist movements will go to any lengths to distort the historicalevidence, sacrificing the simplest logic in order to establish thatmonopoly on victimhood. The answers they give are indicative both ofthe mythology on which the different nationalisms are feedingthemselves and of the contradictions inherent in such one-sidedinterpretations of a common history. Serbian nationalism proclaimed theSerbs as victims of the 'Croat' and 'communist' Tito and thus justified itsown attack on the Yugoslavia as constructed by Tito. The same systemwas denounced by Croatian nationalists as a 'Yugo-communist'dictatorship run by Serbs. Similar phenomena exist with regard to theinterpretation of the role of the different nationalities in Soviet history.Some Georgians easily reconcile admiration for Stalin with the view thatSoviet rule was nothing but oppression by Russians. The Abkhazcondemn Russian and Soviet policies in Abkhazia as an emanation ofGeorgian imperialism while at the same time cultivating the friendshipof those in Moscow most nostalgic for Soviet times.The responsibility for bloodshed. Much of the international reaction toethnic conflicts, at least initially, is determined by the perception of whoshould be considered primarily responsible for the disintegration of theearlier multinational states and for the accompanying bloodshed. Toweigh the direct and indirect responsibilities in this regard is thereforeone of the most difficult tasks of the foreign observers. Did the Croatleader Tudjman provoke the Serbs? Did the Abkhaz leader Ardzinbasystematically prepare for war and just wait for the Georgians to givehim the desired excuse? Who destroyed the Soviet Union: secessionistforces aided by the West or the Russian centre itself? The latter questionDownloaded by [University of California Davis] at 12:45 18 October 2014 ETHNIC CONFLICT IN THE BALKANS AND CAUCASUS 9in particular is not an academic one. The answer preconditions how onewill judge the legitimacy of the desire of the smaller pro-Soviet or pro-Russian nationalities wanting to 'counter-secede' from the suddenlyindependent former Soviet republics. Thus the unwillingness of certainparts of the Russian political and military elite to accept the reality of thedissolution of the Soviet Union by the Russian leadership of the time andto accept the logic inherent in this decision goes a long way in explainingthe open and hidden support given to the insurrectionary nationalmovements in the South Caucasus.Lessons for the International Community1. Anyone dealing with ethnic and national conflicts must sacrificeenough time and energy to familiarize himself or herself with thebasic historical issues. Not in order to gain an ever-elusive absolutetruth but in order to see through at least the most obvious lies andhalf-truths - the latter being the more dangerous ones - which he orshe will be told by the parties.2. Another lesson: the international community must try to break thevicious circle of mythology and counter-mythology by using its own'ideological hegemony' in areas of peacemaking or peacekeeping (onthis see below) in order to provide alternative sources of information.3. We should also seriously think about using the vast academicresources available in our countries for the practical purposes ofpeacemaking. Why not create international expert commissions,particularly made up of historians, to study in depth the causes andthe course of the national, ethnic and religious conflicts with whichwe are dealing as diplomats and soldiers? Again not in order toestablish an absolute truth once and for all but in order to eliminateat least the most glaring falsifications and inconsistencies found in thepropaganda and sometimes also in the scholarship of the warringsides and to narrow down the field of questions to which no definiteanswers can (yet) be given. We desperately need for instance adetailed and balanced study of the incubation period of the Yugoslavcrisis and of the early phases of the wars in Croatia and Bosnia andthe same is true with regard to the conflicts in Ossetia and Abkhazia,to name but two of the most contentious issues.TERRITORIAL INTEGRITY VERSUS NATIONAL SELF-DETERMINATIONIn almost all peacemaking and peacekeeping efforts the question of howto reconcile the principles of territorial integrity and national self-determination has proved to be the central issue. The right to self-Downloaded by [University of California Davis] at 12:45 18 October 2014 10 SOUTHEAST EUROPEAN AND BLACK SEA STUDIESdetermination usually turns out to be the absolutely dominating issue inall discussions with 'separatist' leaders. The latter in general proceed fromthe assumption that these two principles stand on the same footing andthat the right to national self-determination implies the right to ask for achange in international borders. But in practice this is not so. Territorialintegrity has remained paramount and national self-determination is atthe most interpreted as a right to territorial self-government within aninternationally recognized state. This is painful for many nationalmovements and for those states which support secessionist movementsfrom the outside. But all states which were admitted to the Conference onSecurity and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) in 1992 were, like theoriginal founding states of 1975, perfectly cognizant of the fact that theywere asked to subscribe to the existing frontiers including those whichhad been drawn by the Stalinist regime in the Soviet Union. Any attemptby a given state to backtrack on this issue can only raise doubts as to thecredibility of its earlier adherence to the CSCE.On the other hand the primacy of territorial integrity does notautomatically favour the central governments as is generally thought. Infact the freedom of action of those seeking a political solution to theethnic conflicts remains surprisingly wide if one chooses to introduce thefollowing corrective factors in order to better balance the principles ofterritorial integrity and national self-determination.Agnosticism of PeacemakersFirst of all it is important to realize that the principle of territorialintegrity does not express a love for the present borders in Europe assuch. Its adoption is the result of an exclusively pragmatic choice basedon the realization that the future of peace in Europe depends on ageneral consensus not to reopen the question of frontiers, howeverunjust these frontiers may appear to some nations and howeverquestionable the means by which they have been drawn.This has a very important implication: support of territorial integritycannot be interpreted as support of a particular theory concerning thealleged political and historical legitimacy of these frontiers (this is wherehistory comes in again!). It does not automatically imply a taking of sidesin favour of the claims of a dominant nationality and against those ofrebellious minorities as to the origins and the nature of the state both arecondemned to live in. Possibly this has not always been made clearenough to the protagonists of this struggle. As a consequence somemono-ethnic governments in multi-ethnic states feel confirmed by theinternational community in their often dubious historical claims. InDownloaded by [University of California Davis] at 12:45 18 October 2014 ETHNIC CONFLICT IN THE BALKANS AND CAUCASUS 11return the rebellious minorities feel confirmed in their rejection of theprinciple of territorial integrity because to them it seems to reflect anunfair bias of the international community in favour of the claims of themajority nation. Steering clear of such moral and intellectualentanglements is a very important part of trying to give internationalpeace efforts the necessary credibility with both sides in a given conflict.Permeability of FrontiersOne way of reconciling the two principles consists of making theinternational frontiers less and less relevant if not outright obsolete, as hasbeen done in Western Europe. Foremost this includes an insistence on thesafeguarding of human rights, particularly of minority rights. Governmentsmust not be allowed to hide behind the principles of sovereignty andterritorial integrity in order to evade the fulfilment of other OSCEcommitments that might make a return to inter-ethnic peace easier. Theother essential element is a policy that will make it easier for a given ethniccommunity divided by an international border to preserve its identity andcohesion by facilitating exchanges and cooperation between its members.In this matter we should not be passive or complacent: respect forterritorial integrity will sooner or later again be eroded if it is seen asjustifying a policy that will cut off members of the same community fromeach other by building some kind of 'iron curtain' in order to implement astrategy of more or less forced assimilation or 'voluntary' emigration.FederalismThe other major instrument which the international community canemploy in order to defuse the tension between territorial integrity andnational self-determination is to support and encourage the creation offederal structures of self-administration. The objective would be to createautonomy rights - or confirm and reinforce already existing ones - forcertain national and ethnic communities within an internationallyrecognized state.The general issue. To clarify the implications of such a strategy let mestart with a general observation. In my opinion we should distinguishbetween two basic kinds of federalism: one is primarily a matter ofpolitical organization, the other an instrument of reconciliation in areasof territorial and political conflicts.The first one, which could be called 'functional federalism', can beconsidered the solution to an essentially technical problem: how to realizeas thoroughly as possible the principle of self-government by extending itnot only to the local level but also to an intermediary regional level. ThisDownloaded by [University of California Davis] at 12:45 18 October 2014 12 SOUTHEAST EUROPEAN AND BLACK SEA STUDIESis the case in political systems such as those of the USA and Germanywhich otherwise reflect a relatively high degree of social and politicalhomogeneity or at least do not exhibit profound cleavages along ethnic,national or religious lines or where such cleavages, if they exist, on thewhole do not coincide with territorial divisions. We should sharplydistinguish from this generally unproblematical federalism anothervariant which constitutes a response to historical confrontationsbetween majorities and minorities. In so far as such conflicts have takenthe form of a struggle over territories and frontiers, 'historicalfederalism', as it might be called, reflects an attempt to solve suchterritorial conflicts by granting autonomy to certain ethnic and nationalcommunities. The most obvious case is that of South Tyrol (Alto Adige),but we can also look to Catalonia or the Basque province in Spain. It isa model the international community has been trying to apply both tothe Balkans and to the South Caucasus in order to facilitate the solutionof the conflicts in these regions and in order to transcend the questionof who is a winner or a loser in the historical process by which thefrontiers in Europe have been drawn. Seen from a slightly differentperspective the problem also could be formulated as follows: when inone of our conflict regions a policeman knocks at the door at midnightthe first question will always be: to which national community does thispoliceman belong? To that of the inhabitants of the house or to anotherone, perceived as potentially hostile? I have always insisted that if wewere able to solve this problem and provide local inhabitants with theconfidence of being policed exclusively or at least primarily by theirown kind we would come a long way in the solution of national andethnic conflicts.The dubious legacy of communist 'federalism'. At first glance the existenceof federal structures - at least in a formal sense - in the former communistempires should have made such efforts easier. But in reality this has notbeen so. Both in the Balkans and in the South Caucasus we have in fact tostruggle with the legacy of a fake federalism instituted by communistregimes. As regards the former Soviet Union I do not refer here to thefederal system on the top level as characterized by the division of the stateinto the so-called Socialist Soviet Republics but to the system ofautonomous republics and autonomous regions within the individualSoviet republics. Everywhere, though for different reasons, the battle cryseems to be: No return to the 'autonomy' of Soviet times! In the opinionof some observers this fake, or maybe we should better say: crippledfederalism has even given the concept of 'autonomy' such a bad name thatone should look for a different word. I have been unable to come up withDownloaded by [University of California Davis] at 12:45 18 October 2014 ETHNIC CONFLICT IN THE BALKANS AND CAUCASUS 13another term, though. There appear to be at least three reasons for thisvisceral suspicion of 'autonomy' in the post-communist world.First of all there has been a feeling on the part of those theoreticallyenjoying this autonomy that real power continued to elude them but infact continued to reside with central authorities - in this case usually theinstitutions of the Communist Party on the republican or on the all-union level. Although I am not certain that in terms of nationalitypolitics the Soviet experience was uniformly negative, one thing can betaken for granted: there has been no experience with a genuine, becauseinstitutionalized delegation of power. Whatever factual decentralizationof power there may have been was of a clientelist, quasi-feudal nature,based on personal relations between the power holders at the centre andat the periphery.Second, the nationalist movements among the majority nations in theindividual republics tended to regard the regional and local autonomiesas instruments of a 'divide and rule' policy directed from the centre tocounteract any movement for national self-assertion in the republics.Accordingly, they started to treat the national movements among thesmaller nations as 'agents' of the central authorities in Moscow orBelgrade. These smaller national communities in turn were loath toexchange control from the distant centre against the threat of politicalcentralization and ethnic exclusiveness emanating from some of thenationalist movements in the individual republics. Both majority andminority nations suffered from the same deficiency encouraged by thecommunist system: a primary identification with ethnicity (as forinstance registered in the Soviet passports) at the expense of loyaltiesbased on territorial self-administration. These territorial loyalties werenot rewarded by a genuine division of power between centre andperiphery and therefore never acquired the importance of ethnicallybased client relationships. The stage was thus set for the ethnicconfrontations which we have witnessed in the past decade. Any attemptto create genuine federal structures along the fault-lines of ethnicdivisions will have to overcome these earlier perceptions. This, by theway, implies that such federal solutions will be difficult to create anddifficult to sustain without a parallel effort to stabilize the relationship ofthe South Caucasus states both with Russia and among themselves.Third, the militant nationalism characteristic of the post-communiststage is still prone to what I would call the Jacobin temptation: to createa centralized nation state and to view federalism as a danger potentiallyleading to secession and a disintegration of the state. This Jacobintemptation becomes particularly dangerous if allied with the concept ofa basically mono-ethnic state in which the other nationalities areDownloaded by [University of California Davis] at 12:45 18 October 2014 14 SOUTHEAST EUROPEAN AND BLACK SEA STUDIESperceived as mere 'hosts'. Moreover, as already pointed out, there is therelated danger that 'territorial integrity', as emphasized by the OSCE,will be misunderstood, by both sides, as implicitly expressing apreference for unitary conceptions or, even worse, as signallingagreement with questionable historical theories about what allegedly 'hasalways belonged and will always belong' to the majority nation.Conclusion: the need for minimalism and openness. In sum; in order tosolve ethnic and political-territorial conflicts the internationalcommunity should interpret the principles of sovereignty and territorialintegrity in a strictly minimalist fashion, particularly with regard to theopenness of frontiers and the possibilities of self-administration. Aboveall it should not be seen as automatically giving a green light to any effortunconditionally to restore central authority by force in disputed areas, atleast as long as there remains a chance for an internationally brokeredpeace. Such a peace will only have a chance if the physical security of aminority will be guaranteed, which usually implies that it will not againbe subjected to the direct rule of a potentially vengeful majority. It isprecisely the highly abstract nature of the concept of territorial integritywhich leaves ample room for the most imaginative solutions creatinggenuine autonomy and self-rule (the policeman at midnight). Only thenwill the international community be able to convince the outwardlyaggressive, but inwardly frightened separatist minorities that moreoptions are open to them than the choice between unconditionaltriumph or unconditional defeat.Digression One: The 'Common State' Model as a Possible SolutionIn recent years the concept of a 'common state' of the secessionist unitand the central state has been thrown into the discussion as a possibleway to resolve the antinomy between self-determination and territorialintegrity. There may be such a possibility indeed, and I would hesitate toreject such an approach out of hand. But the details of such a solutionmust be carefully worked out, particularly in the light of its possibleimplications. For some of the secessionist leaders the model is clearly oneresembling the 'Ausgleich' of 1867 which transformed the AustrianEmpire into a dual monarchy or the constitutional set-up in theCzechoslovak Republic after 1968. We all know the fate of these models.If the 'common state' is just meant to provide the legal foundation for alater dissolution of such a state it is doubtful whether falling back onsuch a model really conforms to the requirement to safeguard theterritorial integrity of the state as a whole.Downloaded by [University of California Davis] at 12:45 18 October 2014 ETHNIC CONFLICT IN THE BALKANS AND CAUCASUS 15Digression Two: The Temptation of 'Peaceful Change'There has been on the part of states willing to condone or even toencourage or support secessionist movements in other states thetemptation to play the card of a 'peaceful change of frontiers' asenshrined in the Helsinki Charter of the OSCE. But there are twomisunderstandings here. The first concerns the original function of thisconcept. It had been Germany's answer to the persistent Soviet attemptto use the concept of the 'inviolability of frontiers' as a means to freezethe German question. But as things turned out in the end the Germanquestion was all along not really a question of borders but of the right ofthe citizens of the German Democratic Republic to democratic self-determination including the right to join another European state such asthe Federal Republic of Germany.The second concerns the true meaning of the clause. If it refers to thepossibility of two OSCE participating states to adjust, by commonagreement, their frontiers it not only creates no problems but basicallyexpresses a truism. But does it give any particular European state theright unilaterally to reopen the question of the European borders byinnocently asking a neighbour to agree to a 'peaceful change' of itsborders in favour of the claimant? I doubt it. To allow such a movewould open a Pandora's box and would ultimately confront Europe withthe danger of new armed conflicts.PEACEMAKING AND PEACEKEEPING BY THE INTERNATIONALCOMMUNITYInternational Intervention and its JustificationInternational intervention - diplomatic, economic and, if need be,military - is more often than not necessary and unavoidable, althoughthe intensity will vary with the extent to which interests of the outsideworld are involved. The following reasons speak for at least some kindof international intervention:1. The political, humanitarian and economic costs of an uncheckedethnic-territorial conflict may become too great for the larger region.This is particularly true for Southeastern Europe and Eastern CentralEurope which at present still constitute the periphery of theEuropean Union but (it is hoped) will sooner or later be part of it.2. Usually the parties, if left to themselves, will not make progress on asolution. In any case they lose less face in giving in to internationalpressure than in making concessions directly to their opponents.Downloaded by [University of California Davis] at 12:45 18 October 2014 16 SOUTHEAST EUROPEAN AND BLACK SEA STUDIESAlso, the weaker side will demand international guarantees for anagreement, possibly in the form of an extended internationalpresence in the area.3. The international community is able to offer ideas and successfulmodels for a political solution which have been tried in our parts ofthe world (for example South Tyrol, Catalonia, federalism inGermany and Switzerland).4. The international community is usually expected to pick up thecheque in order economically to underwrite any political solution.But then it should insist on the time-honoured principle: no taxationwithout representation.International Organizations and Individual States: SharedResponsibilitiesUsually international intervention takes the form of a commitment byinternational organizations such as the UN, the OSCE or NATO.Nevertheless observers and especially critics of such multilateralundertakings and of the way in which they are handled should always befirm on one point: individual states, particularly the great powers,cannot evade their own responsibility by 'handing over' a crisis to aninternational organization. The activity of multilateral institutions is forgood reasons a very desirable mechanism through which theinternational community should try to tackle a crisis - it is not a goal initself. The performance of the multilateral institutions will only be asgood as the support and the commitment they receive from theindividual members of the international community, particularly of thepermanent members of the UN Security Council. To put it more bluntly:the degree of success or failure of the UN in a given crisis is a direct resultof the political leadership exercised by the UN Security Council; theperformance of the OSCE missions and centres in the field depends onthe flanking support by leading OSCE participating states. Internationalpeacekeeping and peacemaking must also become the concern ofbilateral diplomacy, and at the highest levels. For that reason criticism ofthe performance of international institutions by those most responsiblefor guiding them in the first place should be considered misplaced andshould be handed back to those expressing that criticism.The Rule of the Three HegemoniesWhen intervening in an ethnic conflict the behaviour of the internationalcommunity should be determined by what I would like to call the rule ofthe three hegemonies: armed hegemony, economic hegemony andideological hegemony.Downloaded by [University of California Davis] at 12:45 18 October 2014 ETHNIC CONFLICT IN THE BALKANS AND CAUCASUS 17Armed hegemony. On the road (back) to peace and prosperity everythingstarts with credible guarantees of physical security. Peacekeepers, andeven more peacemakers, must be willing and able to enforce theirmandate by military force if necessary, particularly if that mandateexplicitly or by implication has entrusted to them the security of thepopulation in the area in question. Such a policy can only be pursuedwith success if the engagement of the military forces is not dominated bythe rule that the risk of casualties must be avoided under allcircumstances. The aversion of certain military establishments to what isafter all the fundamental characteristic of the military profession tendsseriously to cripple the use of the military instrument in trying to bringpeace and stability to a given area. To provide an example: in a certainpeacekeeping operation the discussion about whether the internationalmilitary contingent in question should be protected by additional troopsalmost completely eclipsed the much more important question of whatthe contribution of this contingent to the peace process should be in thefirst place. We have arrived at the bizarre situation that the death of adiplomat, of an international official or of an aid worker is accepted asa regrettable, but unavoidable, consequence of a dangerous job indangerous regions while the death or even only the wounding orkidnapping of a soldier seems to send tremors through some of theWestern military establishments. It also regularly leads to a lot of soulsearching as to whether the mission in which the soldier was involved isreally a necessity but should possibly be abandoned unless more'security' can be created. But if there were enough security the militarywould not be needed in the first place. Such an ultra cautious approachrisks undercutting any serious efforts to deal with the problems ofpreventing and stopping ethnic conflict.This is particularly true with regard to peacekeeping operations. Suchoperations will not get very far if the peacekeepers are powerless topunish infringements of those agreements which constitute the reasonand the basis of their presence. The consequences of such passivity areusually not long in coming: in Croatia in the years 1992 to 1995 thepassivity of the UN forces when faced with overt Serbian disregard forthe commitments they themselves had entered into finally produced asituation where the UN was also powerless (and by implication alsowithout legitimate cause) to prevent the Croats from settling the Krajinaissue by their own means. In Abkhazia in the years 1997 and 1998 theunwillingness of the Russian peacekeepers to prevent, by force ifnecessary, the infiltration of Georgian partisans into the security zonefinally brought about a so-called punitive expedition by the Abkhazwhich the peacekeepers also tolerated and which culminated in theDownloaded by [University of California Davis] at 12:45 18 October 2014 18 SOUTHEAST EUROPEAN AND BLACK SEA STUDIEScatastrophe of a renewed flight of more than 30,000 civilians from theGali District and a considerable setback to the diplomatic efforts to settlethe Georgian-Abkhazian conflict. In all these cases the same justificationis offered: peacekeepers are not peace enforcers and have not come touse force against any of the parties but only to observe theirimplementation of a cease-fire and to reason with them in case ofviolations. Of course peacekeepers are not a party to the fight. They aremore like referees. But even a referee must have the strength and the willto impose punishment on recalcitrant players. Otherwise they will sufferthe fate of the UN peacekeepers in Croatia who should have acted on thepremise that any Serb or Croat violating the cease-fire agreed to by hispolitical leaders was not to be considered a member of one of the partiesbut an outlaw to be dealt with accordingly by the peacekeepers. If thatprinciple had been established from the first day neither Belgrade norZagreb would have dared to intervene in favour of their own 'blacksheep' even if they themselves, to begin with, had secretly encouragedthem to test the firmness of the peacekeepers. But the passivity of thelatter basically gave the parties a free hand to renegotiate the terms of thepeacekeeping agreement in their own favour merely by not observing theterms agreed to originally. In short: peacekeepers must be willing andable to use force, and in order to do so they must always be certain that,if necessary, any retaliatory violence directed against them will bematched by a corresponding escalation of internationally legitimate forceby the states participating in the peace operation against thoseresponsible for trying to block the work of the peacekeepers.An increasingly important, if not vital, aspect of the unavoidablequest for armed hegemony is the growing need for international policeforces. These should be made up of officers willing and able to worktogether in multilateral operations for keeping order in certain areas andfor training, directing and overseeing the local police. Increasingly (andKosovo is only the most glaring example) peacekeeping operations withmilitary forces must be supplemented with such forms of policeoperations since the military cannot be expected to have the necessaryqualifications and experience for upholding law and order in daily life.This must be done for basically two reasons. First in order to prevent thedanger that in a conflict area the conflicting parties' control over thelocal police (which is sometimes built up as a clear surrogate for armedforces banned from the area) frustrate the efforts of the internationalmediators. And second in order to introduce democratic concepts ofhow to keep law and order to the local law enforcement agencies, aneffort made necessary by the fact that the uncontrolled, biased and high-handed performance of ethnically monopolized police forces must rankDownloaded by [University of California Davis] at 12:45 18 October 2014 ETHNIC CONFLICT IN THE BALKANS AND CAUCASUS 19as one the major factors contributing to the outbreak and persistence ofethnic conflicts.Economic hegemony. Given the resources of the internationalcommunity, particularly of the Western industrialized states, this isusually the easiest to achieve and, if used properly and efficiently, canprovide a significant incentive to the parties and to the population on theground to stop their quarrels and start rebuilding their lives. And,although money has become scarce for most governments, this is alsousually the first instrument we in the West tend to turn to whenconfronted with a crisis, namely the lure or denial of economic assistanceas a political weapon. But here a strong note of caution is in order: weshould not fall into the trap of a kind of vulgar 'economism' andautomatically expect our potential partners on the other side first andforemost to follow economic priorities in the same way we might do ifwe were in their place. Therefore the economic approach probablyworks best - or even may work only - when firmly linked to othermeans, political and military.The political effectiveness of such economic instruments depends onthe closest coordination and cooperation between the major powersbacking a peace operation, the relevant political institutions such as theUN or the OSCE and technical agencies such as the United Nations HighCommission for Refugees, United Nations Development Programme andthe EU as a donor institution. Regrettably one encounters again andagain particular national or institutional ambitions which are divorcedfrom or even working against the overall political efforts in a particularconflict situation. Such ambitions unnecessarily complicate jointinternational peace efforts and must be restrained by all means.Ideological hegemony. It could also be called the 'struggle for the heartsand minds' of those towards whom a peace operation is directed. As Ipointed out earlier, modern nationalism and ethnic extremism are notquasi-metaphysical phenomena going back over innumerable centuries.They can and must be countered by injecting other moral and intellectualinfluences into the equation. This struggle is a particularly importantelement in any international peace effort. The first task is to break theinformation monopoly which the nationalist and fundamentalistconflict-mongers usually enjoy in their own societies, in particular themonopoly on historical interpretation (see the section on 'The Struggleover History' above). Such efforts must be undertaken at least in theincubation period or in the early stages of an ethnic conflict since anyinvestment here could save us a lot of trouble later on. But once we areDownloaded by [University of California Davis] at 12:45 18 October 2014 20 SOUTHEAST EUROPEAN AND BLACK SEA STUDIESforced to intervene in the framework of a peacekeeping or peacemakingoperation it is imperative to establish one's own direct communicationwith the populations concerned about the goals of such an intervention.Therefore the 'invasion' of a conflict zone with radio, TV, written media,photocopiers, faxes, satellite dishes and websites is as important as thesending of troops. Any international peace operation shouldautomatically be accompanied by a strong media component - strongboth in a technical and intellectual sense - and its activities must formpart of the basic agreement on such an operation.A PRELIMINARY SUMMING UPInternational peacemaking and peacekeeping efforts must move (and inmany cases already are moving) along several tracks at once:1. Creating guarantees for the physical security of the population in aconflict area;2. Creating systems of territorial autonomy and self-rule withininternationally recognized states;3. Overcoming old or newly drawn frontiers by (a) assuringinternational monitoring of human rights and of the processes ofdemocratization; (b) encouraging regional cooperation; and (c) tryingto make these frontiers permeable for a free movement of people,goods and information (the old CSCE ideals in a new environment);4. Providing economic incentives for any credible efforts to endhostilities and to overcome the political confrontation.Until now successes have been few or have been extremely limited. Butthe alternatives could only be worse.NOTESThis article is based on a series of lectures at American universities in the autumn of 1999.It reflects my own impressions and conclusions during my work in the 'arc of instability'between the Balkans and Central Asia. In order to preserve the character of this article asa spontaneous contribution by a practitioner of diplomacy the scholarly literature onnationalism and ethnic conflict is not being discussed. The paper strictly reflects mypersonal views and in no way expresses the official position of the German government onthe issues discussed here. For a more detailed treatment of the Yugoslav case the reader isreferred to part II of my book Limits of Persuasion: Germany and the Yugoslav Crisis1991-1992, Westport, CT and London: Praeger Publishers, 1997.1. Lord Owen (1995), Balkan Odyssey, New York: Harcourt Brace.Downloaded by [University of California Davis] at 12:45 18 October 2014


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