The EU should become stronger and more outspoken well before the Albanian elections taking place on 23 June 2013. This requires it to keep its distance from all parties, while strongly defending core principles, including the rules that govern the core bodies involved in election administration.
The EU goal is to contribute to the respect of rules that will allow free and fair elections. Following legitimate elections a legitimate winner would form the next government, and a gracious loser would concede and form a credible opposition. This would open the door for cooperation between all serious Albanian parties to take their country and the whole Balkans further on the road to European integration.
A dream? Or a realistic goal that deserves timely European support?
Presentation on Albania in spring 2013 in Edirne
Interview with Gerald Knaus published in Osservatorio Balcani e Caucaso
Albania: crucial elections for Europe
The EU should be unambiguous about the forthcoming parliamentary elections in Albania, taking a joint position spelling out concretely what are the red lines that must not be crossed. An inteview with ESI chairman Gerald Knaus
What can the EU do to prevent polarization in Albania surrounding the upcoming elections?
Two things are important. The first is not to have any illusions. Most previous Albanian polls have been marked by controversy, with irregularities and election results challenged. This was also the case in 2009. After the elections politics was paralyzed, the parliament was boycotted, some in the opposition went on a hunger strike.
One can hope for a positive surprise and an uncontested election in June 2013, of course, but sound EU policy should be based on the opposite assumption: that these election will be close and contested and that all parties will try to put pressure on the election administration. In the end, whoever is declared to have lost will challenge the legitimacy of the whole process and protest. And the big loser in such a scenario will be Albania as a whole.
Therefore, since this is a possible, even, likely outcome it becomes all the more important that the EU has a united, clear and principled position already before the elections. The European Union has stated that it expects these elections to meet “European and international standards.” It now needs to spell out more concretely what this means, what the red lines are that must not be crossed. This does not reduce its flexibility. On the contrary: it is a precondition for it to have any real influence. If red lines are crossed and important rules are broken, as we saw recently in the unlawful dismissal of a member of the Central Election Committee, the EU must speak out more forcefully than it has done so far.
Above all the EU needs to try to stay united. The European Commission, all the big political groups in the European Parliament, from the Center right to the Liberals to the Center left, all key member states, like Italy and Germany, should tell the parties in Tirana the same thing: here are our common red lines. Do not be tempted to cross them. And then, whoever wins, the loser also has to accept the result as legitimate.
What does this mean concretely? Recently the Albanian parliament has dismissed one of the seven members of the Central Election Committee (CEC)? Should the EU declare in advance that this was unlawful, and that therefore the coming elections will not meet its standards? Does this not reduce EU leverage?
Elections in Albania will not be perfect. They cannot be, and there are even problems in established democracies. But some problems are much more serious than others. This is why we argue for a need to focus on what is essential, not on what is merely desirable.
For this reason we have proposed a few specific red lines, concerning the core issues always disputed in Albania: the election administration supervising voting and counting, and the process of adjudication of complaints and appeals. Complaints in particular must be resolved through strict observation of Election Code procedures. If there are problems this can be resolved through a credible adjudication mechanism. But in this process the role of the Central Election Commission is vital.
Albania has a good Election Code today. In this Code some rules are crystal clear: members of the election administration cannot be removed for reasons unspecified in the Election Code. Central Election Commission members are political appointees and voted in by parliament, but then they become something else, like US Supreme Court judges chosen by the president and the Senate: they become guardians of rules. There is a reason why they are appointed for six years and are not to be dismissed unless they commit a crime. They must act on the basis of the Election Code and defend it, not engage in party politics. Will they want “their” party to win? Perhaps, but this should be irrelevant to how they do their job.
Now, to accept from the very outset that, in any case, the CEC will and can never be apolitical in Albania, is to give up on basic standards even before a single vote has been cast! This sends a terrible message.
Some might say: it is unrealistic to expect the recent dismissal of a CEC member to be reversed. And perhaps everything will go well in any case from now on: voting, counting, there will be few disputes, these will be resolved peacefully, there will be a clear result. Would anybody then remember this current debate?
But everything will not go well. Not if the past is any guide at all to the present. And the CEC is not a marginal actor in elections. It must be seen as legitimate and based on the law. If things go wrong I fear that later people will look back and point to the dismissal of the CEC member, the collapse of the CEC, and the weak international reaction as a crucial bad turning point.
On the other hand, imagine that the EU takes a strong joint position NOW. This would send a clear signal: some institutions must not be touched. Some rules must not be broken. What really matters is not who wins but that Albanian voters have the chance to participate in a free and fair contest.
How can the international community avoid being seen to take sides?
This is a crucial challenge. It is one the European Union in particular failed in the past. Everybody knows that different political parties in the EU have political friends in Albania. This is normal and legitimate. And therefore different Europeans parties will usually back the arguments of different players in Albania.
This starts becoming a serious problem, however, once it leads politicians in Albania to expect thatwhatever they do and argue, they will receive some backing from their friends outside. The primary role of the European Union should be to insist that all parties play to win in a fair manner. And to lose in a fair manner: there can be no mass protests after fair elections.
This should not be so hard. Take Croatia in the past decade. The European People’s Party has supported and been close to the HDZ in Croatia. Social Democrats in the EU have rooted for their political family members in Zagreb. But everybody has above all hoped that Croatian elections are free and fair, that there is an alternation in power when voters decide on it, and that Croatia will join the EU soon as a consolidated democracy. And Croatia has had an internal consensus that some issues are beyond party politics.
What would be the regional consequences if Albania has bad elections and remains stuck on its EU path?
In 2009 Albania submitted its application for EU accession. In 2010 the European Commission rejected taking this further, and denied Albania official candidate status. Until today Albania has not been recognized as an official EU candidate, unlike Montenegro, Serbia and Macedonia. Kosovo of course cannot even apply to the EU as long as all EU members have not recognized it as a state. And Macedonia is stuck until the name issue is resolved. This could be in one month, but it could also be in one decade, or never. Thus we risk seeing the Balkans divide again. One group makes progress (Croatia, Montenegro, Serbia) while the others stay behind, at a time of already severe social and economic stress. This is not a good development for anyone, not for the region’s Albanians nor for their neighbours.
What is the role of international election monitors in such a polarised environment?
Did elections in 2009 meet “international and European standards”? It is surprisingly hard to answer this question. Will it be easier in 2013? This is the key question for observers, and this is what decides whether monitors succeed or fail in their job in Albania in June.
International election monitors are aware that their assessments have consequences. If they disapprove of elections they can trigger massive protests (Ukraine 2004). If they approve of elections they reduce the political ammunition for any challenge (Ukraine 2010). There is an understandable incentive to take refuge in ambiguous language. But this can also be dangerous, as we saw in Albania in 2009.
Of course assessing elections is difficult. Albanian institutions are weak, and elections close. Even small irregularities might have a major impact. In 2009 the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), the most professional institution in the field of election monitoring in the world today, summed its findings up as follows: “…while meeting most OSCE commitments, these elections did not fully realize Albania’s potential to adhere to the highest standards for democratic elections.”
What does this mean? Did any country in the Balkans, or indeed elsewhere in Europe, ever fully adhere to these “highest standards”? Is meeting “most” OSCE standards really good enough for Albanian voters? I think there is a challenge for monitors also to be clearer and less ambiguous. Let us hope we will not hear later this summer that Albanian elections have met most OSCE commitments, but did not fully realize Albania’s potential to adhere to the highest standards for democratic elections. It would certainly be true. It would also be irrelevant.
What can member states like Italy do?
We argue that the EU should pay close attention to these crucial elections. Here member states matter hugely. Clearly Italy is close to Albania, has interests and expertise. But above all Italy is led by a coalition government today. This government can talk to all sides in Tirana.
Imagine if the big Italian parties adapt a joint position now, and push the EU to do this as well: to insist that the Central Election Committee is reconstituted before the official election campaign starts on 23 May 2013 in line with the Election Code, and to warn that unless this happens the EU will not consider these elections conducted in line with European standards. On the other hand, Italy could also warn all parties in Albania that this time there must be no post-election boycotts. Disputes have to resolved within the responsible institutions, not on the street. And that Italy would strongly push for accession talks to start with Albania as soon as possible after free and fair elections.
This would send a strong positive message. What happens in Albania today matters to all of Europe. Italians know this better than most Europeans.
One decade has been lost. What about the next one?
Op-ed by Gerald Knaus (for Koha Ditore)
In Athens, spring 2003
One decade ago, in spring 2003, the New York Times published an appeal by four Balkan leaders, the presidents of Croatia and Macedonia and the prime ministers of Albania and Serbia. Its title: “The EU and South-East Europe need each other.” The occasion was a special Balkan meeting of the World Economic Forum in Athens where all these leaders also came together.
I was there too at the time, and I remember both the appeal and the atmosphere in Athens well. In fact, together with my friend Misha Glenny, I drafted it. There was a sense of urgency in the air, and of anticipation. Zoran Djindic, the prime minister of Serbia who had delivered Slobodan Milosevic to the Hague tribunal, had been assassinated by ultra-nationalist members of the Serbian security forces. Croatia had handed in its application to join the EU, the first Western Balkan state to do so. The host of the meeting, Greece, then the EU’s rotating president, pushed hard to get a European commitment to continued Balkan enlargement.
Shortly before the Athens gathering Boris Trajkovski, the president of Macedonia, invited me to draft an appeal that he planned to ask other leaders to co-sign. He knew that the region would receive a better hearing if it spoke with one voice. He was concerned. His own country had recently been on the verge of civil war. Serbia was on the edge, its ultranationalists growing in confidence. The future of Montenegro and Kosovo was not yet settled. Would the EU, following its 2004 enlargement to Central Europe – then just about to happen – get tired of further expansion? The Balkan leaders’ appeal warned: “Until the whole Southeastern Europe is safely integrated into the European Union, the job will not be complete. And until it is, Europe cannot feel secure about itself.”
One decade later, where do we stand? Today, when EU leaders talk about crises in South-East Europe they think of Athens not Skopje, of Nikosia, not Belgrade. Europe does not feel “secure about itself” but it is not the Western Balkans or the threat of renewed conflict that keeps EU leaders awake, literally, at one crisis summit after another.
Montenegro and Kosovo are independent states; the fear of armed conflict in the region has never appeared more distant. And yet, despite these important breakthroughs, it is hard not to regard the years since 2003 as a lost decade for the Balkans. Boris Trajkovski tragically died in an airplane crash in the Bosnian mountains, on his way to submit Macedonia’s own application for EU membership. His country has been stalled for years now by a Greek veto (a threat which did not appear real in 2003 in Athens). Serbia, ten years after the death of Djindic, has still not even opened EU accession talks. Albania is not an EU candidate yet. The Greek foreign minister in spring 2003, George Papandreou, became prime minister, only to be swept away by the Greek economic melt-down. 2003 was perhaps the last success of Greek diplomacy. At the European Union summit on the Balkans in Thessaloniki in summer EU leaders stated their “unequivocal support to the European perspective of the Western Balkan countries. The future of the Balkans is within the European Union.” Croatia used the past decade, opened accession talks, closed them, and is today on the verge of accession. And yet, it is likely that ten years from now in 2023 Croatia will still be the only Balkan country inside the EU.
Rereading the Trajkovski appeal today highlights a further disappointment. It contained a specific proposal: to make EU regional and cohesion funding available to the region, so as to help it catch up economically, rather than fall further behind. The appeal warned that “the long-term stability of Southeastern Europe depends on the region’s economic health, but this does not mean the usual plea for more money … We are committed to opening our markets to our neighbors and to the EU. We have made huge progress in curbing inflation. And we are now greatly encouraged by the proposal by Greece … that the Thessaloniki summit meeting focus on the possibility of applying cohesion and development policies in our region.”
This was a hope that has not come true. The Western Balkans remains one of the poorest regions of Europe. In Serbia today less than half of the working-age population is actually employed. Unemployment levels in Macedonia and Bosnia are disastrously high. Foreign direct investment in the region, which had transformed the economic structures of Central European countries, has fallen to very low levels. And yet, if a focus on underdevelopment in the Balkans has never been more urgent, the EU’s confidence in its ability to bring about convergence and growth in its own periphery has rarely been lower. The 2003 Trajkovski appeal stated that “The EU has a remarkable record of triggering economic success by helping poorer regions — Ireland, Greece, Spain and Portugal have experienced veritable revolutions in social and economic development in the last 20 years.” It is hard to imagine anybody writing like this today, in the wake of bail-outs, bank failures and rapidly rising unemployment in Spain or Greece.
EU leaders no longer worry about war in the Balkans. They are no longer confident in their ability to bring about economic convergence. They fear the weakness of democratic institutions in Romania or Greece. They worry about inadequate regulation in Cyprus or Spain. Given this state of affairs: what arguments can sway them to open their institutions to accept even poorer states, with even weaker institutions, and even worse images among the public and political elites in Berlin, Paris or The Hague?
Perhaps Greece will prepare for its EU presidency in 2014 by changing its policies on Skopje and Pristina. Perhaps Serbia and Kosovo will soon reach an agreement that allows both countries to move beyond their confrontation. Perhaps Albania will manage to hold free and fair elections this summer. Perhaps Bosnia’s leaders will soon be able to put together a credible application for EU accession. Perhaps Macedonia’s leaders will be capable of renewing the national consensus to focus on EU integration that existed in 2003. Perhaps politicians throughout the region will wake up late at night worrying about youth unemployment and the inadequacy of vocational training, about export opportunities and the best way to use scarce public resources for growth, rather than about building statutes or wasting public money on prestige infrastructure of little proven economic benefit. And then, perhaps, a successor of Boris Trajkovski will invite all his regional counterparts to an informal meeting to seriously discuss what they might do together to correct the image of their region, driven by the recognition that the whole region has dropped out of the focus of the rest of Europe.
If Boris Trajkovski would be around today, and would propose drafting a new appeal for Balkan leaders to sign and publish, what could it say? Appeals are expected to end with proposals, a sense of hope, recommendations. But sometimes it is better to resist this temptation. To acknowledge just how steep the wall is that one has to climb. To recognise that before any new appeals to the EU a whole series of steps have to be taken by the region itself. To recognise that time matters; and that April 2013 is another crucial moment which Balkan leaders miss at their peril. I believe Trajkovski would have realised this. Will his successors?
Perhaps this is not a time for appeals at all, but for a blunt and honest recognition: a decade has been lost. The next might be as well. And it is not by formulating words on paper that this can be prevented.
How to get Bosnia to move forward instead of stagnating further remains a puzzling question.
A few days ago Ed Joseph and Bruce Hitchner published an article with suggestions. It appeared here.
Last week I also had the pleasure of discussing the state of the Western Balkans in general and of Bosnia in particular at an international conference in Ditchley new Oxford. I was struck there how strong the international consensus had become that 1. Bosnia no longer poses any serious security threat, and that 2. the time of thinking about the next big internationally-led reform push is over, the ball really is in the Bosnians’ court. The third consensus was about the importance of the EU accession perspective: not as a panacea, but as an offer Bosnian leaders and society are free to reject, one which remains on the table, and which offers – should there ever be a genuine will in Bosnia – the best way out of its current stagnation.
Ed and Bruce, both of whom know Bosnia well, and for whom I have the highest respect, have a very different perspective from the other side of the Atlantic. I discussed the article with Ed, and we agreed I would put a few comments online to explain my concern.
I see a few problems with the argument in the article:
My concerns start with the title and subtitle: “How to Finally End the War in Bosnia Without a renewed push for Constitutional Reform, Bosnia will remain dangerously adrift – its politics a continuation of war by corrupt means.”
All the buzzwords are included: “war” (twice), danger, adrift, corrupt. But this is deeply misleading.
The real war in Bosnia ended in 1995. It killed almost 100,000 people. Local violence continued for another few years. Since 2001, however, Bosnia has been as peaceful as Croatia or Slovenia. If nobody shoots, nobody gets shot, and nobody prepares to shoot, then the better concept to describe the situation is “peace”. Peace with problems, political tensions, economic difficulties: all true, but this is no war. If such distinctions are lost, it is hard to make policy or debate it.
- the nature of the crisis:
What exactly are the symptoms of the Bosnian crisis described in this article? Here precision is needed. The article describes the crisis through metaphors: the country is “a stagnant pool of special interests that continue to cleave along ethnic lines.” “cleave”? There are different ethnic groups in Bosnia. There was a war between 1992-1995. Is the fact that these identities “along ethnic lines” continue to exist the problem? Otherwise what exactly is wrong with what exact interests, special or otherwise? “stagnant” indeed: a weak economy, low living standards (though higher than in Moldova or Georgia), little structural change (like in many of its Balkan neighbours): but this is not a unique problem of Bosnia.
Nor is the fact that Bosnia’s “overall democratic benchmarks are slipping”. This is the evidence the article offers of what is happening in Bosnia: “Parents can move freely about the country, but educate their children in segregated schools. The economy remains in parlous condition, and faces new challenges and barriers when Croatia joins the EU later this year. Islamist influence among Bosniaks, traditionally exaggerated by Croats and Serbs, is, in fact, a concern.”
“Segregation” is another strong concept: Alabama in the 1950s, South Africa in the 1980s. It involved state coercion. In Bosnia today in some parts of the country some parents chose to put their children in schools according to the main language of instruction – especially Croatian, as the schools most often discussed in the media (one Croatian and one Bosnian language school in the same building or nearby) are in Croat-Bosniac mixed areas. One can deplore this, but it is no different from different language schools in South Tyrol or different confessional schools in North Ireland. It is not a human rights violation.
Let me add here that this does not mean that separate schooling as one finds it in parts of Bosnia is a good thing: having studied in many different countries myself, and having seen my own children educated in a Turkish public school in Istanbul, a state school in Cambridge, Massachussetts, and now a public French (though very international school) in Paris I strongly believe in the value of diversity in education; I also do not think that schools are the primary shaper of identities of pupils, and that the influence of the official curriculum is usually exaggerated. Of course the key for a good education is education for tolerance and mutual respect, as well as quality. Of course Bosnia would be a much better place if the primary focus of policy makers (and parents) would be on quality, not ethnicity. But this is a matter of persuading parents, and voters, not imposing solutions, as long as there are choices.
(As for the situation in South Tyrol read this article: “With regard to linguistic rights there is hardly any area of public and to a considerable extent also private life that is not covered by a complex network of norms, guarantees and remedies. The educational system in South Tyrol is based on separation and the principle of mother tongue instruction.”)
As for “Islamism” (not defined in the article: one assumes violent?) in Bosnia … this has indeed often been exaggerated, as the authors noted, and it is certainy “a concern”: but what exactly is the policy issue, the trend, the problem?
The problem with sloppy language in the Bosnian context – “war”, “segregation”, “special interests cleaving”, “Islamism as a concern” – is that it makes it hard to understand the nature of various challenges. Then the solution is one silver bullet – change the constitution; impose better laws; replace leader X with Y. But all of this has been tried out, and with predictably disappointing results.
The article points out that in the Bosnian context the attraction of possible EU accession is no silver bullet solving the country’s problems either. This is of course true, but not surprising: it has been thus in very many countries.
The “seriousness” of the EU commitment among most of today’s Bosnian leaders resembles that of leaders in Bulgaria in the early 1990s, or in Serbia under Kostunica, or in Slovakia before 1998: it is rhetorical, generally not serious at all, with little sense of what it would take for Bosnia to actually implement the common law of the EU. There are individual exceptions, but compared to the political elite elsewhere the basic illiteracy among Bosnian politicians about the EU is remarkable.
The first reward of making EU accession a national strategic objective is that it provides a direction for national reforms: not to one big reform, but to thousands of specific sectoral reforms, that take years to negotiate with national interests and then implement. This requires leaders who want to see their countries thus transformed: their laws, their institutions, their policies, not just as means for a possible accession in 10 or more years but as ends in themselves. Yes, Croatia’s accession will cause problems for Bosnian’s trying to export milk or other agricultural products, but no, this is not the “fault of Dayton”, as even highly decentralised systems like Belgium are capable of implementing EU food safety and phytosanitary standards. This is the fault of a political process where leaders, civil society and even many internationals much rather discuss identit and constitutional issues rather than specific concrete reforms that might have a major economic impact. So perhaps it really needs a crisis with new hard borders to reform the Bosnian food safety system now? The sense of physical exclusion also pushed much needed (and delayed) reforms needed for visa liberalistion in 2010.
In fact, too few leaders in Bosnia actually appear to want this wholesale transformation of their country and society; too few leaders across all political parties, interests and ethnic groups. This is a problem no constitutional reform can solve. It can only be solved by changes in the thinking of those leaders – or by changes of those leaders at elections. The alternative is not war, but stagnation.
All of the above is more or less consensus today in Brussels and among EU leaders. It was also the consensus at a recent conference in Ditchley on the Balkans. The ball really is in the court of Bosnian leaders, and unfortunately, if they refuse to play, this is where it will remain.
Does this mean things are hopeless? No.
Bosnians have surprised outsiders and themselves before (for just one encouraging recent story look at this ESI portrait of a Bosnian prime minister). So have Bulgarians after 1997 (more on that turning point here) So have Slovaks, Montenegrin, Croats. But it does mean that the key change must be a change in the debate in Bosnia itself … (while having a more focused and specific debate, ethat does not produce excuses for inaction, among outside observers, might also help).
2013 could be a big year for visa free travel in Europe, with important decisions upcoming concerning Turkey and Moldova. It could also be a disastrous year for the cause of free travel if visas are reimposed on the Western Balkans.
It is appropriate, therefore, that the first report ESI publishes in 2013 – on 1 January to be precise – deals with this very question. You will find the full report on our website later this week, but if you want an advance copy right away let me know (write to email@example.com). Below you find for now the executive summary and some of the most interesting findings as exerpts from this report. We also recently presented these findings to senior officials in Rome, Berlin, Brussels and Stockholm.
In the meantime the whole ESI team and your Rumeli Observer wish you a happy and productive 2013!
NEW ESI REPORT – 1 January 2013
Saving visa-free travel – Visa, asylum and the EU roadmap policy
Since the visa requirement was lifted for Western Balkan countries in 2009, there has been a sharp increase in claims for political asylum by citizens of the region. Barely any of these applicants qualify for asylum. Rather, they are benefitting from national
asylum rules that provide relatively generous benefits during the application process.
Since 2010, EU leaders have demanded that Balkan governments take measures to stem this tide of asylum seekers. In fact, the problem lies with ‘pull factors’ inside the EU. Now, EU policymakers find themselves under increasing pressure to address the problem directly by suspending visa-free travel for Western Balkan countries. Such a draconian measure would undermine the credibility of the EU’s whole approach to visa liberalisation – not just in the Western Balkans, but also in Moldova, Kosovo, Turkey and the Ukraine. But it is by no means the only solution available.
In the world of justice and home affairs, clear-cut solutions to complex issues are generally hard to come by. There are inevitable trade-offs to be made between controlling borders and allowing the free movement of people; between protecting individual liberties and safeguarding the public. When it comes to visa liberalisation in the Balkans, however, there is a clear solution that reconciles the concerns of all the different constituencies involved. The solution is to make it less attractive for those who clearly do not qualify for asylum to submit speculative or bogus claims.
Under EU rules, all member states provide asylum seekers with financial and material support while their applications are being processes. But there is a sharp difference between two groups of countries: those that take many months to process their asylum
claims, and those that dispose of them within a few weeks. It is the lengthy processing times found in Germany, Sweden and other EU members (up to 8 months with appeals) that acts as the magnet for unjustified asylum seekers. The EU members able to deal expeditiously with asylum claims face a significantly lower numbers of applications.
This paper proposes two possible solutions. One is to address the problem at the national level. Those states that have seen a sharp increase in applications from the Balkans could radically shorten their procedures. They could follow the example of Switzerland, which has recently introduced a 48-hour procedure for applicants from safe European countries like the Balkans. The other option is to tackle the problem at the EU level. The EU should label countries that have completed a visa liberalisation process as “safe countries of origin”, allowing for lighter and quicker processing procedures. We believe that the ideal response would be to pursue both solutions in parallel.
Such a solution would not close off the rights of genuine refugees to apply for and receive asylum. The statistics reveal that countries with shorter procedures in fact accept a higher proportion of their asylum applications. It would, however, help to weed out speculative claims and bring down the costs for European taxpayers. It would also safeguard visa-free travel for the Western Balkans, which has proved a critical step in giving hope and a sense of direction to a troubled region on the EU’s borders.
A few months ago I visited Macedonia to present EU diplomats, ambassadors, the Macedonian prime minister, the foreign minister and party leaders a slighly revised version of the ESI proposal for overcoming the stalemate in the name dispute between Macedonia and Greece.
I also presented this proposal once again in Brussels, Berlin and in other EU capitals. I gave everyone a paper copy of the revised proposal. Since then it has circulated among EU diplomats.
It would be foolish to be too optimistic that anything can help overcome such a complicated dispute. And yet, there are a number of reasons to be more optimistic this time than in a long while. I remain convinced also that nothing can be forced by outsiders on either party, not now, not later. It will take a compromise that national leaders can present to their publics in both Skopje and Athens as a step forward for their side; and one where both sides retain their leverage until actual EU accession of Macedonia.
Then, earlier this month, the Macedonian weekly Gradjanski reported the following:
“drawing on unnamed diplomats, reported that Brussels was working on a‘date for date’ strategy about the country in December: start of membership negotiations would be announced for next June with Skopje being obliged to deliver by then tangible results on good neighbourly relations (improved ties with Bulgaria and Greece, including essential reviving of the name negotiations). The sources stressed the importance in this context of a constructive response of Skopje to Greece’s memorandum, which would offer ideas, but also pointed at the government being reserved about the plan. The weekly also reported on an upgraded 2010 proposal by the European Stability Initiative that the name issue be resolved in the early stage of membership negotiations but the referendum on the solution take place at the end of the process, i.e. together with the referendum on EU membership. According to Gragjanski, the upgraded document, which is reportedly supported by an influential lobby group in Brussels, foresees for the new composite name to immediately replace the current reference and its wider use to enter into force together with EU accession. Constitutional changes are expected from Skopje in order to accept the new name for international use; the constitutional name will remain official name of the country in its official languages and the use of the adjective ‘Macedonian’ will not be called in question, says the proposal.”
I have since been asked by a number of people to share the new version of the proposal. This then is the latest version in full:
What is needed is a way forward that accepts the bottom lines for Athens and Skopje. This can be achieved through a constitutional amendment in Skopje that changes the name of the country with a geographic qualifier today: to replace Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia where the latter is currently in use, allowing Athens to support the start of EU accession talks and to sending an invitation to join NATO later this year or early next year, but which foresees that the change will enter into force permanently and erga omnes on the day Macedonia actually joins the EU.
Such a solution is possible if the following happens:
1. There is active mediation between both sides which focus solely on finding a compromise name for the country with a geographical modifier, dealing with the issues of RM NATO accession and the opening of EU
2. Greece and RM agree on a compromise name, XYZ, with a geographical modifier. This will immediately replace F.Y.R.O.M. wherever that is currently in use in international
3. Greece commits to allow RM to join NATO under this new provisional name XYZ and an invitation to join NATO is extended.
4. RM changes its constitution to say something like this:
“From the day the Republic of Macedonia joins the European Union the international name of the country will be XYZ, used erga omnes in all languages other than the official languages of the country.”
The promised referendum on EU accession at the end of the negotiation process becomes thereby de facto the real referendum on the name issue (there was no referendum for F.Y.R.O.M., and until accession the new name is used only in place of F.Y.R.O.M.).
Leaders in RM replace one name their citizens do not like (referring to a state that has disappeared decades ago, Yugoslavia) with another name they do not like, both used in the same way.
Neither side loses leverage in the future. If future Greek governments block EU accession of RM or make additional demands judged unacceptable in Skopje this would also delay the entering into force of the core provision of this compromise. Greece shows its EU partners that it remains actively in favor of Balkan enlargement. Greece also keeps its leverage until the very end of the accession process
Intervention has been the most extravagant and noble, dangerous and ambitious part of Western foreign policy for twenty years. The U. S. government has spent over three trillion dollars; and more than a million soldiers have been deployed from over sixty countries. Many lives were saved in Bosnia through intervention; many lives were lost in Iraq through intervention. The Iraq intervention brought a million demonstrators into the streets of normally quiescent London and enflamed the suspicion and anger of hundreds of millions of Muslims. Intervention transformed the training, doctrine, and reputation of the wealthiest and most powerful military in the world. It took the United States, the United Nations, and the United Kingdom to a new pinnacle of international reputation and confidence and then heaved them into a humiliating mess.
Over the last two decades, intervention has been described, explained and criticized by political philosophers, civil servants, human rights activists, journalists, development workers, filmmakers, and ten thousand consultants. Parliamentarians from Edinburgh to Rio now refer confidently to the “Chapter VII resolutions,” “no-fly zones,” “the experience of the Kurds,” and “the responsibility to protect.” But the basic questions about intervention remain unsolved. People who cannot name four cities in Libya can deploy four arguments against or for an intervention there. These are the same arguments which crippled our response to Bosnia and Rwanda, emboldened us in Kosovo and drew us deeper into the indignities of Iraq and Afghanistan. They were used in the 1960s for Vietnam, the 1920s for Mesopotamia, and the 1860s for Afghanistan. And they still provide little help in understanding those actions which we dub, euphemistically, “intervention.”
Intervention—from the Latin intervenire, means roughly “to come between.” Inter/between does not reveal where you are, who or what is around or beside you, or the nature of your relationship with these people and things. Often, the word has a neutral sense of just being somewhere (as in the word interspersed) or of bringing things closer together (as in interweave or interconnect). The other half of the word intervention—venire—doubles the ambiguity. It is not clear how you are coming: running, walking, or driving in a Humvee. But when come is attached to a preposition (such as come between or come across or come by), it often carries a sense of arriving accidentally. And in its basic form come here—come implies welcome, an invitation from the person to whom you are moving. There are other words with which we could have defined the advents and adventures in Kosovo and Iraq. We could have said we had simply gone in—using the Latin-derived word invaded. Or if we wanted to convey the sense of not simply being in there but “between”, we could have specified the action with the Latin words for act between or go between, place between, throw between, speak between, break between, or strike between: interact, intercede, interpose, interject, interdict, interrupt, interfere. But just as we don’t call ourselves invaders, so too we don’t call ourselves interferers or interlopers. Instead, we choose to cloak our action in a Latin word, which, even if translated, admits to nothing more than coming into a new place and new relationships. It is silent on our right to be there, on whom we are meeting, on what exactly we are doing. But it implies that our movement may be gentle, driven by force of circumstance, and welcome. But in truth, when we intervene we are there neither by invitation nor by accident. We are not passively present. We advance soldiers and we drop bombs and we fight to separate different parties. We have chosen to go in against the wishes of the sovereign government. In short, we are not just interveners, not just “coming betweeners,” we are also interlopers and interferers.
The two essays on intervention in this book emerge from a course and a study group that we led at the Harvard Kennedy School in 2010–11. But they are not academic essays on intervention—such as are written by lawyers, philosophers, human rights activists, and professors of international relations …
We both agree that there are certain occasions—such as genocide—that justify an international intervention: that such horror imposes a form of duty on the international community, and that state sovereignty does not confer total immunity. There may be countries that are too powerful to be tackled, for example, China, but this does not excuse nonintervention in East Timor. We agree with the philosopher Michael Walzer that there are occasions when the international community should remain for as little time as possible after an intervention, “not to create a democratic, pluralist, liberal or (even) capitalist government: simply a non-murderous government,” but that in cases of mass extermination (such as in Cambodia), deep and enduring ethnic tension (such as in Rwanda), or total state failure, the interveners should not leave too rapidly. In other words, we accept the basic intuitions of most interveners around the world, and a worldview that seems to permit, for example, the intervention in Kosovo, even without the full legal sanction of the UN Security Council, and provides a decent account of our presence, for example, in East Timor and Cambodia. And we are comfortable with Bill Clinton’s motto from 1996: We cannot stop all war for all time but we can stop some wars. We cannot save all women and all children but we can save many of them. We can’t do everything but we must do what we can.
Our aim is to understand—not as academics but as international participants in the interventions of the last twenty years—what makes interventions work and fail. We are not interested in whether we have an abstract moral right or even duty to intervene, but whether and how to intervene in a particular country at a particular time. … The question of whether and how to intervene in Libya or Afghanistan is not fundamentally a question of moral philosophy. It is not a question of what we ought to do but what we can: of understanding the limits of Western institutions in the 21st century and of giving a credible account of the specific context of a particular intervention. Hence, our (unapologetic) focus on narrative—on the history of events, decisions, and individuals.
Each of these essays is driven by the contrast between our particular experiences on the ground and the rhetoric of the international community. Gerald began his career in Bulgaria in 1994, moved to Bosnia in 1996 and has continued to work in the region for the last fifteen years. The dominant international theory in Bosnia was that success had been due to a large foreign troop presence; that Bosnia was weakened by the international failure to confront war criminals and militias early and decisively; that it was endangered by elections held too early; that it was saved by charismatic foreign nation-builders with clear plans and almost limitless power; and that it is still in danger. This theory had a decisive influence on the way the West has conducted interventions from Afghanistan to Iraq. But Gerald’s work in international organizations in Bosnia and Kosovo and his research as the director of an independent think-tank (the European Stability Initiative) convinced him that this theory of what did or did not work in Bosnia was misleading. ESI’s detailed research revealed the surprising ignorance of the international community about the environment in which they operated, and highlighted the unintended consequences of their action . Some of his essays, such as one which argued that successive high representatives in Bosnia had established a regime of enlightened despotism similar to that of utilitarian imperialists in 19th century India—in Gerald’s words “a European Raj”—created controversy. His research ultimately convinced him that many of the lessons of Bosnia were almost exactly the reverse of those “learned” by the international community. The role of foreign troops in 1996 had been misunderstood – and what has often been perceived as their weakness, an initial reluctance to aggressively confront Bosnia’s warlords, appears prudent in hindsight. There were also positive effects of holding early elections. Delaying the confrontation with war criminals and allowing them to contest elections (while simultaneously strengthening the international war crimes tribunal) was also highly effective – if unexpected. The unlimited powers of international administrators soon created more problems than they solved. The most important institution in stabilizing the Balkans turned out to be one that was long considered one of the least impressive: the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY). And despite the pessimistic prophecies of some foreign analysts, Bosnia had been secure since 2000. Thus, he concluded Bosnia was a success, but not for the reasons given by much of the international community.
Rory in Afghanistan
Rory’s first foreign posting, as a young British diplomat, was in Indonesia, and it finished with the referendum for independence in East Timor in 1999. His second posting was in the Balkans. There he quickly became convinced that the international community should have intervened earlier in Bosnia and that the Kosovo intervention had done some good. He had an equally positive impression of intervention when he was in Afghanistan in 2002. But his view changed entirely when he was posted to Iraq. He went in optimistic that the US-led occupation could create a significantly more stable, prosperous Iraq, but he quickly concluded that he was wrong: the international community should never have invaded. He returned to Kabul in 2005, convinced that the West should not send more troops to Afghanistan, but he found it very difficult to persuade anyone of this. Rory wanted to understand how he and others in the international community had been so wrong in Iraq, and why still others persisted in getting it so wrong in Afghanistan. Why had he—and others—been convinced that such interventions could work? Why did it take so long to acknowledge that they could not? Why did it take so long to withdraw? And what did this suggest about how we should do these things in the future?
Gerald’s essay, therefore, is about a triumph misdescribed and misunderstood; Rory’s is a story of failure, of a failure to acknowledge failure and the dangerous belief that failure is not an option. One essay explains how we got intervention right; the other, why we so often get intervention wrong. These different accounts reflect different temperaments, prose styles, backgrounds, education, and experiences. Rory warns against the almost irresistible—mesmerizing—pressures that lead to doomed and humiliating over-intervention; Gerald carefully records how the international community misinterpreted an intervention which worked. Given these different perspectives, how could we teach classes together, still less write a book together? The answer is that these essays, which have their roots in our common experience of the Balkans and were developed through joint research and teaching at Harvard, ultimately reflect a single worldview. We both believe that it is possible to walk the tightrope between the horrors of over-intervention and nonintervention; that we must avoid the horrors not only of Iraq but also of Rwanda; and that there is a way of approaching intervention that can be good for us and good for the country concerned.
The dominant positions for and against intervention
Some people, of course, argue that one should never intervene. A few believe that states should be entirely free to do whatever they wish within their own borders. But more commonly the arguments against intervention are prudential. They are neatly listed by Professor Albert Hirschman as arguments from “jeopardy,” “futility,” and “perversity”: an intervention will be dangerous (for the West or for the locals), or it will achieve nothing, or it will achieve exactly the reverse of what it intended (that is, create a more dangerous and unfriendly regime). Such arguments can be bolstered by the language of medicine or commerce (“first do no harm,” “it’s none of our business,” “we’re broke”). Or even culture. Thus the Irish public intellectual Conor Cruise O’Brien said in 1992, “There are places where a lot of men prefer war, and the looting and raping and domineering that go with it, to any sort of peacetime occupation. One such place is Afghanistan. Another is Yugoslavia after the collapse.” These arguments ignore not only the strong moral and instrumental justifications for intervention but also the fact that, not withstanding all these fears, intervention has in the past worked well: most notably (but not only, Gerald argues) in former Yugoslavia.
We disagree with such arguments but they are only tangentially the subject of these essays. Our essays, therefore, are directed not against intervention but against two traditional arguments which seek to provide a universal formula for success in intervention. They are “the planning school” (epitomized by RAND Corporation’s Beginner’s Guide to Nation-Building), which emphasizes the importance of a clear strategy, metrics and structure, backed by overwhelming resources; and “the liberal imperialist school” (epitomized by Paddy Ashdown, the High Representative in Bosnia), which emphasizes the importance of decisive, bold, and charismatic leadership. Each derives from and shares the language of business and military strategy. Each proposes a clear, confident, and unambiguous recipe for intervention. Liberal imperialists in particular like to portray the country into which they intervene as terrifying and tragic: a rogue state, or a failed state, or a threat to its neighbors or to our credibility. It is a place where “failure is not an option.” They generally claim that the cause of this tragedy is “ungoverned space”: dominated by destructive indigenous forces (extremists, militias, corrupt governments) and undermined by predatory neighbors and international neglect. They assert that the end to this tragedy lies in “governance,” “the rule of law,” and the other elements of a state. And that there is a path to this end through a decisive and well-planned international intervention (with generous resources, a coherent strategy, coordination, staffing, communication, accountability, research, defined processes, and clear priorities).
These schools are deeply optimistic. But they are not optimistic about local capacity: the local population is often portrayed in a negative light—as criminals or victims. Instead, they are optimistic about the international community and its ability to measure, quantify, or define the problems; make informed plans, predictions and decisions; and have the power and capacity to implement successful programs. The international community believes it is highly likely to succeed, provided it has the right strategy, resources, and imperial confidence. In the words of an eminent British general, intervention “is doable if we get the formula right and it is properly resourced.”
Such analyses imply that success in intervention is largely about the clarity of thought, the will, and the force of the heroic foreign intervener. Thus when in Iraq the deployment of more troops around Baghdad was followed by a decrease in violence, a strong causal connection was made. The drop in violence, according to the international community, was the result almost entirely of the foreign surge: not the internal features of the Iraqi government, Iraqi politics, or the region. The international community is generally less willing to take responsibility for failure. Thus, in Afghanistan, when the deployment of more troops into Helmand Province in 2006 was followed by a spike in the number of insurgent attacks, no causal connection was made. The insurgency, according to the international community, had apparently not been caused by the foreign surge: instead it had been caused almost entirely by the corrupt Afghan government, fragmented Afghan politics, and provocation from the region, particularly Pakistan.
Our two essays reject the models of heroic international planners and heroic international leaders. We argue that the international community is usually much weaker than it imagines. The international community is inevitably isolated from the local community, ignorant of local culture and context, and prey to misleading abstract theories. It often lacks legitimacy and local support because it is unelected and foreign (although the degree to which an intervener is perceived as foreign also depends on the context). Local political leaders are often far more competent and powerful than the international community acknowledges. Local institutions are far more resilient than international theories of post-conflict societies as blank-slates suggest. Local and regional factors tend to be far more important determinants of success than the internationals acknowledge. International attempts to impose its will through overwhelming force—or ever more absolute legal powers—tend to make the situation worse not better.
All interventions are intrinsically unpredictable, chaotic and uncertain and will rapidly confound well-laid plans and careful predictions … Secondly, the international community is burdened and often crippled by the inherent problems of bureaucratic institutions in a foreign country. At home, mechanisms exist to prevent civil servants from wasting public money and ignoring citizens. Politicians cut budgets and set up inspections and performance indicators; the media and civil society criticize; and elections can dismiss the government. Not so in an intervention, where the international community is often awash with money and without the time to develop a complex system of inspections or performance indicators, and where there is neither robust civil society nor media to encourage accountability, nor regular elections. International organizations whose legitimacy rests on their supposed superior knowledge of what is good for a society, and how to achieve it, also find it hard to admit to any mistakes. In the twenty-first century, as Rory argues, these problems are exacerbated by the extreme isolation of international lives, their surreal optimism, and their abstract jargon.
Third, as Gerald argues, the international community seems often unable to recognize or use the real strengths in local society and, therefore is reluctant to delegate. It underestimates the intelligence and competence of local politicians, overlooks their capacity to compromise, and cut deals with their armed opponents. A sustained intervention, therefore, often prevents local leaders from taking responsibility; does not put pressure on politicians to settle with their opponents, or broaden the kinds of deals they could offer. Instead, it sometimes strengthens the legitimacy and popularity of insurgents.
Fourth, interventions are crippled by the political aims of intervening governments, which change continually. In Iraq and Afghanistan, the goals morphed from toppling the old regime and leaving; to nation-building; to improving security through a surge; and then back to withdrawing. Sometimes all of these views exist simultaneously, as Richard Holbrooke, the US diplomat, later observed about Vietnam, the Balkans, and Afghanistan: “People sit in a room, they don’t air their real differences, a false and sloppy consensus papers over those underlying differences, and they go back to their offices and continue to work at cross-purposes, even actively undermining each other.” The problem is not that interveners adapt objectives in light of changing conditions, which would be a good thing: they change their priorities often independently of the local context. The international community has rarely articulated consistent views on how the security and interests of the West relate to the interests and rights of Iraqis, Yugoslavs or Afghans. When it managed to do so in the Balkans after 1999, holding out a credible vision of a future integration of all Balkan states into Euro-Atlantic institutions, it dramatically increased its influence …
All these factors create a contorted and destructive world-view. The international community often oscillates between exaggerated fears and an inflated sense of its own power: between paranoia and megalomania, reflecting in its lurches, its insecure half-awareness of its lack of power, knowledge, certainty and legitimacy. Being unwilling to acknowledge the absurdity of heroic international plans and leadership, the international community creates for itself a misleading picture of the crisis, its causes, its solution and the path to its solution. The international community traditionally describes the countries into which it intervenes as the quintessence of terror and tragedy, a unique existential threat, or inescapable obligation. This is true not simply of terrorism in Afghanistan, or weapons of mass destruction in Iraq but even of Balkan organized crime – which was presented as posing a huge threat to the rest of the world despite all evidence to the contrary. Such fears are almost always exaggerated: the country is only one obligation and one interest among many that must be balanced against other obligations and interests around the world. And neither Vietnam, nor Iraq, nor Afghanistan, ever justified or required such an extravagant investment of money, lives, troops and time.
Finally —and this is the most difficult truth for the international community to accept—intervention cannot always offer an end to suffering. A modern intervener does not have the power, the knowledge or the legitimacy to “eliminate all the root causes of conflict,” let alone fundamentally reshape the structures and cultural identity of a foreign land. Instead, intervention should aim to provide protection and relief at a specific time and place. And even such limited ambitions can often be defeated by a situation which is intrinsically unpredictable and uncontrollable. No crisis is fixed or permanent. But there are crises that the international community cannot address. Failure—however horrible—will always be a possibility: an option. Neither state-building, nor counter-insurgency, nor ‘inputs’, nor leadership, nor any other formula, fixed theory, or doctrine can guarantee success. RAND’s proposal that there is a standard formula that can generate a fixed proportion of troops, police, and money for a “hypothetical country with a population of 5 million” is absurd. The important questions cannot be framed in hypotheses because they are ‘Which country exactly? And when? And why? And who?’
These essays, therefore, recommend a theory of intervention, which Gerald calls “principled incrementalism” and Rory, “passionate moderation.” Intervention in our view it not viewed as a scientific method but a practical activity with a humanitarian purpose. Moral philosophy, theoretical models based on previous endeavors, and heroic leadership are only small—perhaps the smallest—parts of such an activity. The activity is inherently dangerous and unpredictable. We believe success is dependent on the exact location and nature of the crisis and the capacity of the interveners (which is always limited) and the role of neighbors, the regional context and local leadership (which is always more influential than is assumed). Our experience suggests the following rules of thumb: that an intervener must distinguish brutally between the factors they can control, the dangers they can avoid and dangers they can neither control nor avoid (whether permanent features of the place or specific to the crisis).
An outsider can—indeed, should—provide generous resources, manpower and equipment, and encouragement and support. Courage, thought, and pre-planning are relevant. But they are not enough on their own. The best way of minimizing the danger of any intervention is to procede carefully, to invest heavily in finding out about the specific context, and to define concrete and not abstract goals. This involves giving power and authority to local leadership as soon as possible, which is why elections matter. Only local leaders can ever have the necessary ingredient of knowing the situation well, over many years and in all kinds of conditions; only they can get around the dangers that cannot be avoided, and skillfully respond to the dangers that cannot be avoided. And the intervener should not be so obsessive or neurotic about the activity that they ignore the signs that the intervention has become too dangerous or the mission impossible and it is time to regroup, pause, or even withdraw.
Since intervention is a techne—to take a grand term from Aristotle—or, in more normal language, an art not a science, such advice will always seem underwhelming. Just as the military principle that “time spent in reconnaissance is seldom wasted,” is seen by soldiers as an insight of great life-saving wisdom, but by a civilian as a glimpse of the blinding obvious, so too such advice on intervention. Few would have any theoretical disagreements with our recommendations. Even fewer would be surprised by them. The challenge is not to lay out the principles; it is to convey just how rarely they are implemented and why, how much damage has been done through ignoring them, and how difficult they are to uphold. The difficulty is to show people how intervention—with its elaborate theory, intricate rituals, astonishing sacrifices and expenditure; its courage and grandeur and fantasy—can often stand comparison with the religion of the Aztecs or the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan; to show how bad intervention can be: how far more absurd, rotten, counter-productive, than any satirist could suggest or caricaturist portray. And that even when all the leaders have recognized that a policy is not working, how impossible it often seems for them to organize withdrawal.
An incremental approach may seem simply common sense. And yet over-confident policy-makers continue to be seduced repeatedly by the illusory promise of planning, resources, and charismatic leadership. Intervention may be a necessary, indispensable ingredient of the international system. It is certainly capable, as in the Balkans, of doing good. And yet how easily it falls into excess. This is why the ultimate focus of these essays is on the particular context, temptations, predilections and neuroses of twenty-first century interveners. Rory’s essay focuses exclusively on Afghanistan; Gerald’s largely on Bosnia. But we hope they carry broader lessons because these essays are designed to offer not an anthropology of the country into which the West is intervening, but an anthropology of the West – of ourselves.
First there was the headline in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung on 9 October: “Brussels reprimands Croatia: ‘Criteria for accession are not yet met’.” Then Gunther Krichbaum (CDU), Chair of the Europe Committee in the German Bundestag, declared: “At this moment the country is not ready to join.” President of the Bundestag Norbert Lammert explained: “We have… to take the most recent progress report of the European Commission seriously: Croatia apparently is not yet ready to join.” On 15 October, Martin Winter wrote in Süddeutschen Zeitung that Croatia is indeed “not mature enough”, but that it is now too late: “It is a pity: Lammert’s objection comes a bit late.”
These are disturbing warnings. Is the EU about to be weakened through the hasty accession of yet another unprepared member? Doesn’t the EU have problems enough already?
In fact, Croatia’s preparations for accession have been widely recognised as remarkable. Since its application for membership in 2003, Croatia has faced demands that were considerably more challenging than those presented to previous candidates. It not only had to pass EU-compliant legislation, but also demonstrate real progress in implementing what were often challenging reforms. These efforts were recognised by the European Parliament in December, with a vote of 564 to 38 in favour of Croatia’s accession, and by the 16 EU member states that have already ratified the accession treaty. Last week’s European Commission scorecard confirms that Croatia is now completing the process of alignment. It’s ‘top ten’ list of outstanding issues – such as the privatisation of three shipyards, a new law on access to information, a national migration strategy and a new recruitments to the border police – are by no means alarming.
So why the sudden chorus of critical voices?
The only real charge to be brought against Croatia is the problem of corruption. On that issue, however, the European Commission’s most rigorous assessments have been fairly positive. The one demand made by the Commission – that Croatia continue its fight against corruption and organised crime – is one that could be made of many EU members. Transparency International’s most recent corruption index puts Croatia ahead of Italy and indeed the whole of South East Europe, including EU members Greece, Bulgaria and Romania. Over the past three years, Croatia has taken action to root out at corruption at the heart of the state, issuing indictments against a former prime minister and deputy prime minister, various cabinet ministers, the head of the customs administration, numerous managers of state-run companies and even the former ruling party itself. This suggests a country that is seriously committed to tackling the difficult legacy of the
In fact, since 1999 Croatia has been undergoing a process of radical change to its political culture that goes far beyond the adoption of thousands of pages of EU legislation. In 1999, Croatia’s President Tudjman was still supporting the separatist ambitions of Croats in neighbouring Herzegovina, violating minority rights at home, suppressing media freedoms and obstructing the work of the
All this has now changed. Croatia has ceased to disrupt state-building in Bosnia, issuing a formal apology in 2010 for the war crimes committed there in Croatia’s name. It has allowed the return of Croatian Serb refugees, and in 2003 a Serb minority party even entered into a coalition government. It has completed the extradition of all those indicted by the Hague, including the most famous, General Ante Gotovina. In Belgrade, this year’s Gay Pride parade was once again cancelled; in Croatia, government ministers were visible participants in the parade.
Compared to 1999, Croatia is now a much more open and liberal society. It will fit into the European Union with no clash of political culture. But proceeding with Croatian accession is not just about rewarding these efforts. It is also a vital political message for Croatia’s Balkan neighbours. It shows what the path to Europe really consists of: visionary leadership and the courage to take political risks inspired by European values.
None of Croatia’s eastern neighbours are close to joining the EU. Only Montenegro has begun the negotiation process, which requires at least a decade to complete. But it is in the best interests of both the EU and the peoples of South Eastern Europe – in Belgrade, Sarajevo, Tirana and Pristina – that the promise of eventual accession remains a credible one. Because, as Croatia has demonstrated so powerfully, it is the accession process itself that offers the best prospects for lasting political change in the region.
The accession of Croatia in summer 2013 will not weaken the EU. On the contrary, the transformation of Croatia demonstrates the power of the EU to bring about lasting change in a region that is gradually emerging from its troubled history.
Den Anfang machte eine Schlagzeile der Frankfurter Allgemeinen am 9. Oktober: „Brüssel ermahnt Kroatien: ‚Bedingungen für Beitritt noch nicht erfüllt’.“ Dann meldete sich Gunther Krichbaum (CDU), Vorsitzender des Europaausschusses des Bundestages, zu Wort: “Zum jetzigen Zeitpunkt ist das Land nicht beitrittsfähig.” Bundestagspräsident Norbert Lammert erklärte: “Wir müssen … den jüngsten Fortschrittsbericht der EU-Kommission ernst nehmen: Kroatien ist offensichtlich
noch nicht beitrittsreif.“ Und am 15. Oktober schrieb Martin Winter in der Süddeutschen Zeitung, dass Kroatien in der Tat „nicht reif genug ist“, doch dass der Zug schon abgefahren sei. „Nur leider: Lammert kommt mit seinem Einwurf ein wenig spät.“
Es sind beunruhigende Nachrichten, verstörende Warnungen: Wird die EU durch eine überhastete Aufnahme eines unvorbereiteten Landes geschwächt? Hat die EU heute nicht schon genug Probleme?
Kroatien ist ärmer als Deutschland oder Österreich. Allerdings ist sein Durchschnittseinkommen vergleichbar mit dem in Ungarn und höher als in allen anderen Ländern des Westbalkans oder als in Rumänien und Bulgarien.
Kroatien wurde während seiner Beitrittsverhandlungen mehr geprüft als jedes andere Land, das bislang versuchte der EU beizutreten. Es stellte seinen Antrag auf Aufnahme 2003. Vor dem Öffnen und Schließen der 35 Verhandlungskapitel mussten immer konkrete Reformen umgesetzt, nicht (nur) EU-konforme Gesetze verabschiedet werden.
War das Europäische Parlament blauäugig, als es Anfang Dezember mit 564 gegen 38 Stimmen für Kroatiens Aufnahme stimmte? Was ist den 16 EU Mitgliedsstaaten, die Kroatiens Beitrittsvertrag bereits ratifiziert haben, entgangen? Denn man kann davon ausgehen: wäre Kroatien heute noch nicht reif für die EU, dann würde es das wohl auch zum vorgesehenen Beitrittstermin im Sommer 2013 nicht sein. Ernste Probleme lassen sich nicht in ein paar Monaten beheben.
Doch um welche Probleme geht es eigentlich, aufgrund derer dieses kleine Land (mit gut 4 Millionen so viele Einwohner
wie Rheinland-Pfalz) eine mögliche Belastung für die EU darstellen könnte?
Ein oft hervorgehobenes Thema ist Korruption. Hier ist allerdings im Fall Kroatiens der Grundtenor des von Lammert zitierten Kommissionsberichtes positiv. Die einzige konkrete Forderung der Kommission ist eine Selbstverständlichkeit: Kroatien müsse den Kampf gegen Korruption und organisiertes Verbrechen fortsetzen. Im neuesten Korruptionsindex von Transparency International schneidet Kroatien so gut ab wie die Slowakei und besser als Italien und als alle anderen Länder Südosteuropas, einschliesslich der EU Mitglieder Griechenland, Bulgarien und Rumänien. In den letzten drei Jahren gab es eine Serie von Anklagen wegen Korruption, unter anderem gegen einen ehemaligen Premierminister, einen ehemaligen Vizepremier, gegen Minister, den Chef der Zollverwaltung, Manager von Staatsbetrieben und sogar gegen die frühere Regierungspartei. Natürlich gibt es weiter Korruption, in Kroatien so wie in Italien oder Österreich, aber es ist auch gerade in diesem Bereich sehr viel passiert.
Bezüglich der Umsetzung von EU-Gesetzgebung in Kroatien stellt der Kommissionsbericht fest: „Kroatien hat weitere Fortschritte in der Verabschiedung und Implementierung von EU Gesetzgebung gemacht und vollendet nun seine Angleichung mit dem acquis.“ Nicht alles ist gut: „Die Kommission hat Bereiche identifiziert, in denen weitere Bemühungen notwendig sind, und eine begrenzte Zahl von Aspekten, für die verstärkte Bemühungen erforderlich sind.“ Die Kommission nennt überdies noch zehn offene Punkte, auf die sie besonderen Wert legt, darunter die Vollendung der Privatisierung dreier Schiffswerften; die Verabschiedung eines neuen Informationszugangsgesetzes und einer Migrationsstrategie; den Ausbau zweier Grenzposten; oder weitere Anstellungen bei der Grenzpolizei (das wird, bis zu Kroatiens Schengenbeitritt, ein Thema bleiben).
Das sind alles sinnvolle Ziele. Doch entscheiden diese Punkte darüber, ob Kroatien als Mitglied die EU stärken oder schwächen würde?
Denn der tiefgreifendste und wichtigste Wandel in Kroatien seit 1999 ist neben der Umsetzung der EU Gesetze die Veränderung seiner politischen Kultur. Noch 1999 unterstützte Präsident Tudjman separatistische Kroaten in Bosnien. Er weigerte sich mit dem internationalen Strafgerichtshof zusammenzuarbeiten. Er trat Minderheitenrechte, Pressefreiheit und andere demokratische Grundwerte mit Füßen. Als er im Dezember 1999 starb, war sein Land international isoliert.
Danach begann sich Kroatien dramatisch zu verändern, angefangen mit der Politik gegenüber Bosnien. Die Rückkehr vertriebener Serben wurde ermöglicht. Es kam 2003 sogar zu einer Koalition zwischen Tudjman’s ehemaliger Partei, der HDZ, und der Partei der kroatischen Serben. Alle vom Den Haager Tribunal angeklagten mutmaßlichen Kriegsverbrecher
Kroatien ist heute ein anderes, offeneres, liberaleres Land als 1999. In Serbien werden weiterhin von manchen die Massaker in Bosnien in Frage gestellt. 2010 besuchte Kroatiens Präsident Josipovic hingegen Bosnien und bat für im Namen Kroatiens
begangene Verbrechen um Verzeihung. In Belgrad wurde die Gay Parade erneut abgesagt; in Kroatien nahmen Minister an der Parade in Split teil.
Genau darin aber liegt auch die wichtigste Botschaft eines kroatischen Beitritts an seine Nachbarn in Südosteuropa: um eines Tages EU-Mitglied werden zu können, braucht es Verantwortung, Führung und den Mut, politische Risiken einzugehen. Es
braucht Ausdauer und einen starken nationalen Konsens. Es ist in jedem Fall ein Marathonlauf, wenn nicht gar ein Triathlon, und kein Sprint.
Auf absehbare Zeit wird keiner von Kroatiens südlichen Nachbarn der EU beitreten. Verhandungen brauchen auf jeden Fall viele Jahre. Bislang ist es nur Montenegro gelungen, diese zu beginnen. Doch ist es im Interesse, sowohl der EU als auch der Region, dass dieses Ziel glaubwürdig bleibt, in Belgrad, in Sarajevo, in Tirana, in Skopje.
Der Beitritt Kroatiens im Sommer 2013 wird die EU nicht schwächen. Im Gegenteil, schon jetzt haben die Veränderungen im Land, die das Versprechen eines EU Beitritts verursacht hat, den Einfluss der EU in Südosteuropa gestärkt. Es gibt viele Gründe, sich über den Beitritt Kroatiens zu freuen und diesen als kleinen, aber wichtigen europäischen Erfolg zu sehen.
Am Sonntag, 21.10.2012, wird auf ORF 2 um 23.05 der von ESI mitgestaltete Dokumentarfilm „Kroatien: Heldendämmerung“, eine neue Folge der preisgekrönten Serie „Balkanexpress – Return to Europe“, ausgestrahlt.