Rashadat Akhundov, NIDA activist, sentenced to eight years in jail in May 2014 with seven other activists.
A graduate of the Central European University in Budapest.
This morning Azerbaijan’s most courageous investigative journalist, Khadija Ismayilova, published (unfortunately expected) bad news from Baku: the verdict in the case against NIDA youth activists in Azerbaijan:
“Verdict is announced. Democracy activists from Nida! Civic Union are sentenced for exercising their right of freedom of assembly:
Rashadat Akhundov = 8 years
Zaur Gurbanli = 8 years
Ilkin Rustemzade = 8 years
Bakhtiyar Guliyev = 7 years
Mammad Azizov = 7.5 years
Rashad Hasanov = 7.5 years
Uzeyir Mammadli = 7 years
Shahin Novruzlu = 6 years”
This verdict comes on the eve of the visit to Azerbaijan by the secretary general of the Council of Europe, Thorbjorn Jagland, and almost exactly one week before Azerbaijan takes over the chairmanship of the Council of Europe.
On this sad day for human rights in Europe – on this truly shameful day for the Council of Europe and its member states, who have failed dissidents and human rights defenders in Azerbaijan – the best is to let the NIDA activists speak for themselves. Here is the speech they delivered in court on 5 May. These voices will not be silenced:
We, as defendants, have decided to represent ourselves as one person for our last speech to the court. The reason for this is that the government does not see us as individuals, but rather targets the NIDA civil movement that we are members of and subjects it to repression. You may consider our last plea as coming both from the eight NIDA activists present here and other NIDA activists who are either free or under arrest.
Usually, defendants ask for mercy from the court, and sometimes express their regret. We don’t need mercy, nor do we feel regretful, since we have not done anything to regret. Nor do we expect justice from the court that is hearing this fabricated lawsuit, as it is not capable of maintaining the sanctity of the law and making independent and just decisions. The hollowness and meaninglessness of this lawsuit have been unconditionally proven by the truths we have told, the statements made by witnesses, as well as other evidence presented by the defense in their high quality speeches.
The start of the smear campaign against NIDA was made obvious during the first days of the arrests – when Mammad Azizov, Bakhtiyar Guliyev and Shahin Novruzlu were forced to sign completely slanderous texts, memorize them and then recite them in front of cameras after being subjected to physical violence and torture. During this, TV channels continuously disseminated videos provided to them by the Interior Ministry, and government spokespeople and members of parliament made statements implying NIDA aims to create chaos in society.
Ilham Aliyev, president of Azerbaijan since 2003.
There was no doubt that these repressions were politically motivated after President Ilham Aliyev named us as criminals during the YAP (New Azerbaijan Party) assembly on June 7, 2013, when investigations were still ongoing and no valid court verdict had been issued. This statement was the decision that sealed our fate. This decision framed the judicial investigation.
Under such circumstances, we are aware of the fact that neither the state prosecutor, nor you, the judges, have any other options to pursue. Your responsibilities in the court are limited to acting as notaries to legitimize this politically motivated order. Even if the law and your conscience demand you to act otherwise, you shall not dare stray from this order. We should also mention that we are not the sole victims of the regime in this trial. Your appointment as the judge and the prosecutor also makes you victims of this fabricated court case. Indeed, we – behind bars and you – at liberty are all hostages and victims in this big prison called Azerbaijan.
That’s why it is difficult to demand anything from you. How can one prisoner help another one?
We do not intend to go deeply through all the details of the case. Because it’s already obvious that even as a pseudo case they could not manage to organize it more maturely and systematically. Nevertheless, we will go through several issues.
The prosecution claims we were arrested due to a protest on March 10. This is partly true.
Why partly and why true? And why shouldn’t we regret this?
Let’s begin from the very first question. As to the prosecution’s testimony, they imprisoned us due to our social activity and particularly for our activity within the NIDA civic movement. But it was not because of events on March 10. NIDA managed to involve mature and active youth in its membership. At the time we hadn’t announced that we were totally opposed to the government. Meanwhile, the government was already against us. Because this regime is an enemy to all active and valuable people who want to spoil its plans for society to remain passive, villainous, obedient and enslaved. Thus, the government is a direct foe to the youth who are indicators of activism, dynamism and who are against slavery. As we see, the government doesn’t chase us because we are criminals. On the contrary, if we committed a crime, we would be friends of this regime. Because they themselves are of a criminal nature. Thus, they arrested us not only because we protested the death of our brothers on March 10, but also because of our nonviolent struggle, which is not forbidden by law.
If there is any sign of a tendency for violence, solely the government is responsible for it. As the government creates unlawful conditions, people become more aggressive and want revenge. Of course, it encourages a bias towards violence. Being a civic movement, we did our best to prevent physical confrontation and propagate nonviolent struggle. We used numerous examples from global experience that prove that nonviolent struggle is far better than violence. Ironically however, we were accused of violence. Our criminal case took its place at the top of the list of ridiculous crimes in the world.
And shall we regret it?!
We are arrested for and proud of demanding freedom, rule of law, and human rights for the nation we belong to, for the land we are residents of.
Everyone has clearly seen the torture and abasement that the first three arrested activists have encountered. But unfortunately, the court didn’t even attempt to investigate the case. The court process is enough to eliminate these testimonies from the list of evidence. But of course only an independent and fair court could precisely evaluate and take the necessary course in this way, not you!
Observers [of this trial] probably remember the testimony of Anar Abbasov, the main witness of the prosecution, whose addiction to drugs and mental problems was evident even without a professional examination. His testimony became an exercise in contradiction. He couldn’t describe the Venice café [where according to the indictment, he witnessed the activists’ discussion of their plan for violent action], he didn’t even know what NIDA! (exclamation) means, he couldn’t recognize the people, whom, according to the indictment, he identified as participants of the violence-planning meeting, he couldn’t remember anyone’s name, his testimony was a bunch of nonsensical words about NIDA and Venice. That witness was in fact the best proof of our innocence.
The government accuses us of cooperation with foreign groups. Just imagine, the accusation of using violence comes from the government, which came to power via a military coup, which used arms for violence against its own people including the events of October 15-16, 2003, the assassinations of dozens of the best thinkers, like Elmar Huseynov, Ziya Bunyadov, Rafik Tagi. It comes from the government that has its own people’s blood on its hands. And yes, it is the irony of history.
Unlike the YAP members who would trade away Azerbaijan’s interests to foreign countries, who would do anything in order to maintain the dominance of the ruling party, we NIDA activists have never been slaves of the Russian KGB, nor have we worshipped the U.S. or European oil magnates’ money, nor followed the Iranian mullah’s and Turkish Nurchu’s ways. NIDA activists are patriots ready to sacrifice their youth and lives for the sake of the nation without the slightest hesitation. The charges imposed on us are simply the government projecting its ugly nature onto us.
Having touched upon the foreign affairs issues, we would like to share our opinion on the case of the Ministry of National Security stealing AZN 94,000 from Shahin Novruzlu’s father and calling it a crime. There was enough evidence provided by the witnesses at the hearing to prove that this money belonged to Shahin’s family. We can compare this to another incident. 12 September 1980, the junta that came to power by military coup in Turkey, staying loyal to their methods, executed 17-year-old Erdal Eren. A great republic with 100 years of history like Turkey still is not able to clean the stain called Erdal Eren. After 33 years, in Azerbaijan Erdal’s peer Shahin is being accused by YAP, and loyal to their values they stole Shahin’s father’s money. The military men do what they are used to – murder, YAP members do what they are used to do – theft.
While governments are transitory, be sure of the fact that Shahin’s arrest and the theft of his family’s, in particular his aunt’s hard-earned money will hang over Azerbaijan’s shoulders like the Sword of Damocles, and we as a nation and a country in general will always be ashamed of it.
Two of us have been charged with hooliganism because of a simple dance. However, this dance doesn’t have any signs of hooliganism, not to mention any criminal implications. The evidence provided and the defense speeches have proven this. Therefore, in our final speech we would rather talk about the main reason for the arrests than the legal aspects. The objective of introducing this article to our case is to present us as “immoral” to society. This is precisely why the host of the disgraceful Lider TV, who has previously presented pornographic scenes shot by secret cameras, now misinformed the public by making fun of our alleged participation in the dance (deliberately misrepresenting the facts as if the eight people sitting here are in fact the eight people who are seen in the Harlem Shake video). However, despite their cheap and meaningless efforts, the dance cannot be considered as immoral. Immorality is to steal or sell parliamentary seats, falsify elections, be an oligarch or rip off the nation of its last piece of bread. The fight against this immorality is the most honourable, glorious and moral job to do.
Our court case, with each of its details, has discredited the government and shown its real face. Please pay closer attention to the above-mentioned witness, Anar Abbasov. He is a bright example of the zombie population that Aliyev’s regime has been trying to bring up for the last 21 years. This “new Azerbaijani” is meant to be cowardly and sinful, his morality must be tainted with slavery and sycophancy, he should be able to slander even his own brother when the time comes, he should be corrupt enough not to dare to stand against even a slight injustice with a life credo of adulation of the authorities and hypocrisy. In the past 21 years, the ruling party was considerably successful with their mission of creating this “new breed of Azerbaijanis”.
Solshenitsyn (in Soviet prison)
Solshenitsyn in his “Live Not By Lies” wrote about despotic regimes’ dependence on everyone’s participation in the lies. He wrote that the simplest and most accessible key to our self-neglected liberation lies right here: Personal non-participation in lies. This is what NIDA does.
The NIDA civic movement tried to resist and prevent a complete victory of this government’s policy. Our and other members’ ongoing arrests, openly demonstrated anger and irritation we came across prove that we are on the right track to hamper this policy. Our determined resistance, persistent position and speaking the truth (despite the benefits of the government’s side) couldn’t have been achieved in any other way.
There is something they do not realize. If there is an evil happening in one place, even if everyone turns their faces away, those who are humane have to face it. We as free men cannot turn a blind eye to evil, immorality, and in general the government’s misdeeds; we will only bow in front of a righteous power. The ideology of the Republic sees it as evil to live under someone else’s despotic regime (will), because slavery creates the worst of its consequences- a state of vagrancy and sycophancy. We as true republicans, despite the dangers, will not trade freedom for the comforts of slave lives!
Therefore, the regime’s police and other power structures’ violent and brutal actions disguised as “service to law”, presenting our constitutional right of freely gathering as a riot, calling our peaceful struggle a violent act, and our fabricated arrests do not scare us and will not make us back away from our position. The clarity of our fundamental principles, and our loyalty to them, our complete rejection of radicalism, immorality and violence are the reasons why hundreds of people with a similar ideology joined our cause in the course of the past year.
As mentioned earlier, our participation in this court is a mere formality. Our plea to be acquitted from these falsified criminal charges is also a formality. But we are confident that acquittal will come not from the court but from our people and history. There is another reason for coming to the court and giving this “final speech”. We value the court system as a foundation of the state and guarantor of social justice. We respect and honour the splendour carried in the word – court. Therefore, despite the fact that the standards of this court falls far below these criteria, out of respect to the judge and the court we are obeying the formal procedures and continue to strive to do so.
Sahin Novruzlu, the youngest activist, was 17 at the time of his arrest
The final word has yet to be uttered. The final word will sooner or later come from the nation that stands for the arrested ten [meaning the eight NIDA activists in this case and Abdul Abilov and Omar Mammadov – two Facebook prisoners facing trumped-up drug charges] NIDA activists, and our counterparts.
The ancient Greek philosopher Socrates was brought to court under the accusation that he was poisoning the thoughts of youths. He could have left the country or accepted to stay silent, to not spread his ideas. Otherwise, he knew that he would be executed. At the trial, Socrates declared that he would not sacrifice the truth for his freedom and life, and chose death. We will also not sell the truth for anything – whether we’re free or jailed.
We are not alone. Our determined intellectuals and public figures – the Chairman of “REAL” Ilgar Mammadov, Deputy Chairman of “Musavat” Tofig Yagublu, Yadigar Sadigov, Gurban Mammadov, Anar Mammadli, main representative of the believers in Azerbaijan, Taleh Baghirzade, our falsely accused young friends Ebdul Ebilov, Omar Mammadov, Elsever Murselli, Rashad Ramazanli, journalists Rauf Mirgadirov, Perviz Heshimli and dozens of other prisoners of conscience and political prisoners, are kept in jail under false pretences, specifically for telling the truth. This government has to understand that, even if there is only one person in the country with a conscience, he will continue the resistance against their atrocious anti-people politics. Finally, the truth will triumph over lies.
Even though we have reached a level of corruption that has no parallels, we know that the exams for the selection of the judges and prosecutors for our cases are challenging. Because of that, our judges and prosecutors, usually, have to possess some knowledge of law. We do not doubt that the current panel of judges and the public prosecutor in front of us also possess a high degree of legal literacy. This is also evident from the fact that Azerbaijan’s strongest lawyers are defending us and you have specifically been chosen to go against them, the political order of making a case for these absurd allegations has been given specifically to you.
The ultimate aim of the law is to provide justice. You, also, possess the qualifications to professionally determine justice. It is impossible for you not to see that these allegations are frivolous and this, we are sure, you do not doubt. Because of that, it will be very hard for you to give us our sentence. Because the trial of conscience that comes forward from the honour of one’s profession and humanity is harder than the trial of this sort. Despite this, comfort will conquer conscience and you will read out our conviction. For this reason, we do not ask anything from you. Quite the opposite, in order to calm your conscience, to give you comfort, we are letting you know that the years that are being taken from our lives with your sentencing are not going to waste. It is a capital investment in the freedom of Azerbaijan. So, even though you may be an anti-hero, you are also doing something for this country.
We took into consideration that we are a capital investment in freedom when we started this journey. Now, can we be sorry for the accusations, for the thoughts and actions which we did not commit?!
We declare once again that we are confident and you should be confident, that because of our desire for freedom for this nation of which we are part of, this region in which we are residing, because freedom, democracy, rule of law are of the highest value and the rights and freedoms of the citizens of this country should be respected, because of our efforts in this sphere we have been arrested and of this we are proud.
We ask our friends, peers, and specifically our parents to be ready for a heavy sentence and not to give way to hysteria, damnation, or insults. Everyone aside from the foreigners are victims in this courtroom and it is inconsequential and meaningless for a victim to curse out another victim.
We say thank you to everyone who took part in defending us, including those who share our beliefs, to our family that is always with us, to little Araz, to our lawyers who selflessly defended us. We express our gratitude to the local and international human rights organizations, parties, and other organizations, foreign states and their embassies working towards restoring our rights. We are grateful to the representatives of foreign embassies and international organizations who have participated in our trial for half a year, because they have also proven that the Western values which we have been defending are not based on oil, or geostrategic material interest, but on freedom and justice.
Lastly, from here we want to reach out to the NIDA fighters outside. During Soviet times, a seven-member organization called “Ildirim” [“Thunder”], of which all seven members were jailed for their anti-Soviet efforts, Ismikhan Rahimov-a member turned to his relatives after his sentence was read, while being placed in a vehicle and said: “We are leaving, but we will be back.”
Now, we are delivering to you the words of Sir Ismakhan in another form: We are not going anywhere and coming back. Because we exist anyway, we are here, with you. Even if ten members of NIDA are in jail, those of you who are free are replacing us. We call on you to continue the fight for us with even more principal and relentlessness. Do not ever surrender to slander! Hold your heads high, your wills strong!
Down with dictatorship and despotism!
Long live the people who do not bow to oppression and injustice!
You have been involved in a major project titled “The White List Project” on visa liberalization for the Western Balkans and been credited for contributing to its success. Would you tell us about it?
I have lived and worked many years in Bulgaria and in Bosnia and Herzegovina and I remember well the frustrations that the visa requirement brought, particularly for young people. For two decades governments and civil society in those countries complained about visa to the EU.
However, when we started our White List Project in 2006 we realized that you never obtain anything on such a sensitive issue by complaining. To lift visa you need enough votes in the EU Council to change the visa regulation! To get the votes you need to address the fears that EU ministers have about what happens after visa are lifted. If they feel that nothing bad will happen, if they feel they can trust a country, they will take the political risk.
And so we started to do research on how to reduce the risk. We even formed an advisory group of former interior ministers of big EU countries – Italy, Germany, the United Kingdom. When they said that there was only limited risk their colleagues would listen. And we started reaching out to public opinion, and hundreds of articles were written about the White List Project. And in the end this approach worked.
Will it also work with Turkey?
The latest I learned last week is that there is now a proposal on the desk of Foreign Minister Davutoglu that could work: a proposal how to respond to a recent offer by the EU to open a visa dialogue on liberalisation. It has the backing of key Turkish officials and experts, but would also be acceptable to the Commission. So a breakthrough is still possible this year. My hope is that there will be a visa liberalisation process starting in 2013.
The European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled in the Demirkan vs. Germany case that Turkish citizens may not travel to EU countries without a visa to receive services. With this verdict, do you think the ECJ closes the doors for visa-free travel for Turks in the European Union member states?
No, I do not think so. One door has been closed by the ECJ: it is now clear that it will not be possible to obtain visa free travel for Turks through the courts. But another way, the one taken in recent years by all other countries of South East Europe, remains open, and that is to get rid of visa through a process of negotiations between Turkey and the EU, a “visa dialogue.” The sooner this process starts now, the better.
The image of many of these Balkan countries in 2008 in some EU member states was very bad. They were seen as a source of all problems: illegal migration, organized crime, instability. Each of these countries is small but remember: there were then an estimated 700,000 illegal immigrants in the EU just from small Albania. No other region generated as many refugees to the EU in recent decades.
So the key challenge for the Balkans was to build trust, and the way to do so was through reforms, yes, but above all through contacts with EU counterparts, in the police, in customs, in interior ministries, on the working level. And so the Balkan governments made fulfilling the requirements of the visa roadmap a top priority. And then they surprised skeptics. When German or French interior ministry officials came to Albania or Macedonia as part of the visa dialogue to check what was happening, and left impressed by what they had seen, this was worth more than ten speeches on visa by a Balkan foreign minister.
What is the importance of the roadmap given to Turkey by the Council of the European Union at the end of last year toward a visa-free regime?
There is absolutely no reason that exactly the same happens in Turkey as happened in the Balkans if a visa liberalization dialogue would finally begin, which it has not yet! Sometimes I am told in Ankara that Turkey is different from the Balkans: it is bigger, there are more prejudices in the EU, etc …But in reality Turkey is different in a way that is good for Turkey: the per capita GDP in Turkey is higher than in allBalkan countries which had the visa lifted, including Bulgaria and Rumania. And the EU allows already now more than 1 million holders of Turkish green passports visa free travel and there are no problems.
The real difference between the Balkans and Turkey is how governments approach the visa dialogue. The Balkan countries took the roadmap, set out to fulfill the conditions, and made very effective advocacy to convince skeptics in Berlin and Paris and Brussels. Until now Turkey feels that the EU cannot be trusted and hesitates to even sit down. The other difference, of course, lies in the results of these two approaches: today all Albanians, Macedonians, Serbs travel without a visa.
What developments have occurred since the Council of the European Union gave the roadmap to Turkey?
More time has been lost. In the case of the Balkans the visa liberalization dialogue lasted 2, at most 3 years before visa were lifted. Turkey was presented a roadmap in summer 2012, but there is still no dialogue. The main reason is that Turkey does not want to sign a readmission agreement with the EU, something all Balkan and all East European countries have done. A readmission agreement commits Turkey to take back from the EU illegal immigrants who cross into the EU through Turkey.
There is a fear in Ankara that this might involve tens of thousands of people. But this is just wrong. We did a detailed study of all readmission agreements in the world that the EU has made and the total of all readmission cases every year for all of them together are a few hundred. Even if there would be 4,000 readmission requests to Turkey in a year – which I do not believe – this would not be a problem. Turkey arrested tens of thousands of illegal migrants inside Turkey every year and hosts hundreds of thousands of Syrians. In addition for the first three years the readmission agreement with the EU does not require Turkey to take back more illegal immigrants than it wants to, there is a three year transition phase! So our recommendation is: Turkey ratifies this agreement, starts the visa dialogue, sees how many requests come, sets its own limit on how many it will accept. It should also set the EU a deadline: if by the end of 2015 we do not have visa free travel, we will cancel the readmission agreement.
Turkey was also expected to fulfill some conditions for visa liberalization including biometric passport, integrated border management and signature of the readmission agreement. Where does Turkey stand in regards to what it’s been expected to do?
There is a lot that Turkey has done, and there is a lot that remains to be done. Take integrated border management. It is in Turkey‘s own interest to control its borders well. There is a lot of experience on this in the EU. I just returned from Finland, which has a very long land border and a sea border with Russia, and a very experienced Border Service. Turkish border officials know the Finnish system, they studied it, but so far they were not able to carry out the same reforms. Why? Because it involves changing the roles of the police, customs and especially the armed forces which still do a lot of the land border control in Turkey. And no institution likes to give up any influence. So the result is that Turkey has good plans but still has a very inefficient system. This can change, easily. If Albania or Serbia can reform border management, Turkey can do it for sure! But it requires a political push from above. It must be a priority.
In an article titled “The Future of European Turkey” on June 17, written on the Gezi protests, you expressed concern about Turkey’s future and its EU integration. Would you share those concerns with us?
It is normal for a democracy to see protests over big construction projects: this happens in Germany, in Austria, even in Sweden. Sometimes, when police intervenes to stop protests there are clashes also in European countries. I have lived in Berlin, where this happens every 1 May. What shocked European observers about the handling of the Gezi protests was the unnecessarily aggressive response by the police. Even on 1 May you do not see the whole center of Berlin under a huge cloud of tear gas for weeks. What also surprised many observers was an official rhetoric that described all these protesters as “terrorists.”
When such events happen in the middle of the tourist season in the center of one of the most visited cities in Europe it is obvious that media interest will be huge and the Gezi protests were headline news for weeks. And if read what was written in European papers you see a consensus, from the right to the left, from Turkey’s oldest friends to the biggest skeptics, that this was very badly handled by the authorities.
What do you observe about Turkish government’s and Turkish citizens’ attitudes about their beliefs in regards to a common European future?
I see a paradox.
On the one hand there is a tradition in Turkey of distrust of outsiders, rooted in history, in the education system and in political rhetoric. Remember, already in the late 1970s there was a great opportunity for Turkey to join the European Community, together with Greece. Then it was the left and the right, Ecevit and Erbakan, who were opposed to submitting even an application. This skepticism can be found across the political spectrum, then, and now.
But on the other hand you have a new Turkey: the new middle class that wants their children to learn foreign languages, that wants to travel, the new entrepreneurs who want to expand and compete and upgrade their technology, the tourism sector that is now world class and sees many more opportunities, and millions of students who want to do what European students do, get on a cheap flight and visit other European countries for a few days. In all these groups people are also frustrated with the EU, but they see that in many ways Turkey is already part of an integrating Europe. Europe is where most foreign direct investment, most tourists, and most ideas come from, and Europe is where most Turks who live abroad live today. It is Europe, not Syria or Egypt, that is the stable partner. So there will be a common European future, because there already is a common European present. The real question is whether the new generation of Turks can experience the rest of Europe easily, which is why the visa obligation is such a problem. If there are more contacts between people there will be more trust. This happened between Poland and Germany in the past two decades, and it can happen between Turkey and the EU as well
To find our more: recent ESI publications on the Turkish Visa issue:
Just finished a new ESI Report. The full report will be put online later today on the ESI website. If you want it sooner please write to me on firstname.lastname@example.org
Lost in the Bosnian labyrinth Why the Sejdic-Finci case should not block an EU application
In December 2009 the European Court of Human Rights found – in its judgement in the case Sejdic and Finci vs. Bosnia and Herzegovina – that the constitution and election law of Bosnia and Herzegovina violate the European Convention on Human Rights and its protocols. Bosnia’s laws require that political candidates identify themselves as “Bosniak”, “Croat” or “Serb” in order to be able to run for president or become a member of the upper house of the state parliament. Behind the international interest in this case lies a strong sense of moral outrage. How can a country in today’s Europe prevent a Roma or a Jew from running for head of state? Is this not a racist constitution?
Four years have passed since the ruling. Bosnia’s constitution and election laws have not changed. In December 2010 the Council of the EU told Bosnian leaders that the implementation of the ruling was a condition for a “credible application” for EU membership. Since then, the EU has warned that if the issue is not resolved, it will block the country’s path to the EU.
On 1 October 2013 Bosnia’s most influential politicians travelled to Brussels and agreed on “principles for finding an agreement”. They set a new deadline for reaching it – 10 October 2013. However, it is possible that once again no agreement will be reached. The looming question for the EU then becomes: what next? In this paper we argue that the current EU policy of blocking Bosnia and Herzegovina over this issue is unfair and counterproductive. There are three reasons why:
– This is not an issue of institutional “racism”.
Apartheid South Africa had a racist electoral system. Bosnia does not. Neither does Belgium or South Tyrol, although in both countries legislation requires
citizens to declare a community affiliation for certain purposes, similar to Bosnia. However, only in Bosnia is the ethnicity of any individual not defined in
official documents. By leaving it up to any individual to determine how to self-identify – and allowing any individual to change this self-identification
in the future – the Bosnian system is more liberal than either Belgium’s or South Tyrol’s. Unlike in Cyprus, it is also not tied to any objective criteria such as religion or the ethnicity of parents. In fact, in 2004 the EU endorsed community-based voting and praised the UN Annan plan for Cyprus based on the very principles that Bosnia’s constitution embraces.
– Bosnia is not violating fundamental human rights.
The issue at stake in the election of the Bosnian presidency – the most complicated issue to resolve – is not a violation of any rights enumerated by the European Convention on Human Rights itself. It is a violation of Protocol 12 of the Convention, which extends the applicability of non-discrimination from “the rights and freedoms set forth in the Convention” to “any right set forth by law”. This protocol has so far been ratified by only 8 out of 28 EU member states.
– This is not an issue of Bosnia systematically violating its international obligations.
Bosnia’s record implementing European Court of Human Rights’ decisions is better than that of most current EU members.
For all these reasons, non-implementation of the Sejdic-Finci decision cannot justify blocking Bosnia and Herzegovina’s application for EU membership. The very reforms that the EU expects from Bosnia have not been asked of other EU applicants, much less of its own member states.
The summit on 10 October in Brussels should be the last of its kind. The best case outcome would be that Bosnia’s leaders agree to a solution. However, if they do not, the EU should rethink its current policy and demand that Bosnia and Herzegovina implements this decision as part of wider constitutional reforms that it will undertake during the accession process itself. It should not be a precondition. Making it one was a mistake.
As the news comes out from Brussels from the latest “agreement” (on principles) how to move ahead in the Bosnia and Herzegovina – EU accession talks, and on the eve of a debate in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe tomorrow I gave an interview to a Bosnia paper. Here is the English version. I also discussed the issue a few days ago in another interview in Dnevni Avaz. A full ESI report analysing the issue is coming out this week.
The goal is a Bosnia where it is normal to be a Catholic Serb, an Orthodox Bosniak, or a Muslim Croat.
Interview with Gerald Knaus
Political representatives of Bosnia are meeting commissioner Fule to discuss the Sejdic – Finci issue. How do you see that issue and some models of resolving it?
This issue raises a fundamental question for the country: What does it mean to be a „Bosniak”, a „Croat“ or a „Serb“ in 21st century BiH? I do not think that the categories of Bosniak, Croat or Serb will ever disappear in Bosnia. I also do not believe the solution lies in creating a fourth millet, such as another caucus in the House of Peoples or a seat for „ostali” in the presidency. I think the very concept of „ostali” is strange and not very pleasant. The pragmatic way forward lies in changing the meaning of what is a Bosniak or a Croat or a Serb. For this you do not need foreign diplomats and political leaders finding ever more complicated formulas. It can be done by all citizens, including intellectuals and civil society – today.
How can people change this when politicians have failed to agree for so long?
The goal is a Bosnia where it is normal to be a Catholic Serb, an Orthodox Bosniak, or a Muslim Croat. It is normal today to be a Muslim German or a Buddhist French. The parents of David Alaba, the most prominent player on the Austrian national football team, are from the Philippines and from Nigeria. Yet he is Austrian. This is what modernity means: identities that are fluid, open to change. This is what nationalists in the past have always tried to suppress. But modern Europe has to have a place for Catholic Greeks, Christian Turks, and Muslim Austrians.
What does this mean concretely for Dervo Sejdic and Jakob Finci? Can they become president without constitutional changes?
Yes, of course. I hope they run for president in the next elections. I hope they redefine what it means to be Croat or Bosniak. If Jakob Finci would say, „Look, I do not feel Bosniak today, but in the Bosnia of the future a Jewish, secular, European Bosniak should be normal … and I contribute to this now.” There are German Roma, French Roma, Italian Roma, etcetera. There should be Croat Roma, and Serb Roma. This would implement Sejdic-Finci, transform the country and give hope to others who feel uncomfortable about narrow ethnic categories. And I would hope that many people vote for them.
Is the EU’s approach to Sejdic-Finci right or wrong?
I have heard some Europeans suggest that it only takes “a little bit of political will” to implement Sejdić and Finci. Have they forgotten how politics works in Belgium? Or in South Tyrol, where you declare officially whether you are part of the German, Ladino or Italian speaking community? Identity questions are always hard. People care about their identity, and to consider them and the politicians they elect backward or incompetent is a sign of arrogance.
Are there specific issues where the EU is not treating Bosnia fairly?
Let me be concrete. The Sejdic-Finci judgement on the presidency relies on the fact that Bosnia ratified Protocol 12 against all forms of discrimination in 2002. You know how many EU members have ratified the same protocol? Eight. The EU also says that it will sanction Bosnia because it has not implemented a particular ECHR judgement. I checked the situation at the end of 2011. Do you know how many court decisions Italy had not yet implemented? 2,500. Bulgaria? 340. Bosnia? 17. What the EU shoulddo is find ways to encourage Bosnia to accommodate all its different identities. The best way to do this is to open accession talks as soon as possible, and integrate Bosnia into Europe.
Recently you pointed out that there are some countries in the EU that have an even more flawed constitutional structure then Bosnia. If that is so, why do the EU and the Council of Europe insist on the Sejdic-Finci issue in case of Bosnia?
Look at Cyprus. It is an EU member. There are also Muslim Roma in Cyprus. Now imagine that Dervo Sejdic had been born there in 1956. Under the constitution of 1960 every citizen of Cyprus belongs to one of two national groups, the Greeks or the Turks. On account of his religion, Sejdic would have been placed on the electoral roll of the Turkish community. His family would have had no choice. But after 1963 members of the Turkish community were no longer able to vote in the Republic. So for his whole adult life Dervo Sejdic, a Cypriot, would not have been allowed to stand for office or even to vote.
And what did the EU do? It opened accession talks with Cyprus in 1997, and accepted it as a member in 2004. The European Parliament praised the Annan Plan, which included the same ethnic principles as the Cypriot constitution. It even suggested it as a model for other countries. And one month after Cyprus joined the EU the ECHR issued a judgement saying it was unacceptable for Muslim citizens of the Republic to be unable to vote! Bosnia today is already better than Cyprus, because in Bosnia you can freely chose your identity at eachelection. This is crucial, this gives this country the potential to move away from the Ottoman millet tradition and towards a modern society.
Nonetheless, the EU and the CoE are sending messages on their readiness to cut or curb relations with Bosnia if Sejdic-Finci is not resolved soon.
These threats are very unfortunate. A visa ban for Bosnian politicians? For all politicians, for all party leaders, for all parliamentarians who have not yet voted for constitutional changes? I find it hard to understand the logic behind these threats. Why should the Council of Europe punish Bosnia, but not Russia or Azerbaijan, which have dozens of political prisoners and no free elections?
The EU has to accept that identity issues are hard to resolve always and everywhere. In Belgium. In Northern Ireland. In South Tyrol. In Cyprus. ESI is publishing a new report on how the EU missed a step in Bosnia this week, and where we argue in favour of a different, more promising approach than empty threats.
Is it a time for a new EU approach to Bosnia? More engaged, less demanding?
To become a modern country that can join the EU Bosnia needs to fundamentally change its economy, its institutions, everything from schools to environmental policy. It also needs to respect all identities and be open to change. But the way to achieve this is to demand from Bosnia what the EU has demanded from other countries that wanted to join. I wish Bosnian politicians, when they are in Brussels next time, take time to go to a bar and decide that – whatever else they disagree on – they will submit an application for EU accession immediately, now, in 2013. I hope they tell the EU, with one voice: “If Serbia is ready for candidate status, if Cyprus is a member, if Turkey is having accession talks, then Bosnia is ready to submit an application.” And then, when they come home, I hope they prepare for a serious accession process to start next year.
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.