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

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<ul><li><p>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, UK</p><p>Southeast European andBlack Sea StudiesPublication details, including instructions forauthors and subscription information:http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/fbss20</p><p>Ethnic conflict in the Balkansand in the Caucasus: Somegeneral considerationsMichael LibalPublished online: 17 Apr 2008.</p><p>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: 10.1080/14683850208454687</p><p>To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/14683850208454687</p><p>PLEASE SCROLL DOWN FOR ARTICLE</p><p>Taylor &amp; Francis makes every effort to ensure the accuracy of allthe information (the Content) contained in the publications on ourplatform. However, Taylor &amp; Francis, our agents, and our licensorsmake no representations or warranties whatsoever as to the accuracy,completeness, or suitability for any purpose of the Content. Any opinionsand views expressed in this publication are the opinions and views ofthe authors, and are not the views of or endorsed by Taylor &amp; Francis.The accuracy of the Content should not be relied upon and should beindependently verified with primary sources of information. 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Terms &amp; Conditions of accessand use can be found at http://www.tandfonline.com/page/terms-and-conditions</p><p>Dow</p><p>nloa</p><p>ded </p><p>by [</p><p>Uni</p><p>vers</p><p>ity o</p><p>f C</p><p>alif</p><p>orni</p><p>a D</p><p>avis</p><p>] at</p><p> 12:</p><p>45 1</p><p>8 O</p><p>ctob</p><p>er 2</p><p>014 </p><p>http://www.tandfonline.com/page/terms-and-conditionshttp://www.tandfonline.com/page/terms-and-conditions</p></li><li><p>Ethnic Conflict in the Balkansand in the Caucasus:</p><p>Some General Considerations</p><p>MICHAEL LIBAL</p><p>The 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.</p><p>THE NATURE OF THESE CONFLICTS</p><p>A 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.</p><p>Southeast European and Black Sea Studies, Vol.2, No.2 (May 2002) pp.1-20PUBLISHED BY FRANK CASS, LONDON</p><p>Dow</p><p>nloa</p><p>ded </p><p>by [</p><p>Uni</p><p>vers</p><p>ity o</p><p>f C</p><p>alif</p><p>orni</p><p>a D</p><p>avis</p><p>] at</p><p> 12:</p><p>45 1</p><p>8 O</p><p>ctob</p><p>er 2</p><p>014 </p></li><li><p>2 SOUTHEAST EUROPEAN AND BLACK SEA STUDIES</p><p>The Fruits of Disintegration</p><p>It 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.</p><p>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.</p><p>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 financial</p><p>Dow</p><p>nloa</p><p>ded </p><p>by [</p><p>Uni</p><p>vers</p><p>ity o</p><p>f C</p><p>alif</p><p>orni</p><p>a D</p><p>avis</p><p>] at</p><p> 12:</p><p>45 1</p><p>8 O</p><p>ctob</p><p>er 2</p><p>014 </p></li><li><p>ETHNIC CONFLICT IN THE BALKANS AND CAUCASUS 3</p><p>institutions. 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.</p><p>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).</p><p>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.</p><p>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 or</p><p>Dow</p><p>nloa</p><p>ded </p><p>by [</p><p>Uni</p><p>vers</p><p>ity o</p><p>f C</p><p>alif</p><p>orni</p><p>a D</p><p>avis</p><p>] at</p><p> 12:</p><p>45 1</p><p>8 O</p><p>ctob</p><p>er 2</p><p>014 </p></li><li><p>4 SOUTHEAST EUROPEAN AND BLACK SEA STUDIES</p><p>national 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.</p><p>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.</p><p>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.</p><p>Dow</p><p>nloa</p><p>ded </p><p>by [</p><p>Uni</p><p>vers</p><p>ity o</p><p>f C</p><p>alif</p><p>orni</p><p>a D</p><p>avis</p><p>] at</p><p> 12:</p><p>45 1</p><p>8 O</p><p>ctob</p><p>er 2</p><p>014 </p></li><li><p>ETHNIC CONFLICT IN THE BALKANS AND CAUCASUS 5</p><p>(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.)</p><p>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...</p></li></ul>