Towards a Nerveous Balkans

24 juni 2005

In the next few days, I’m ”re-basing” to the coast of Dalmatia in Croatia for parts of the summer. The intensity of the blogging might well suffer somewhat from the warmth of the Mediterranean summer.

It’s a nerveous Balkans I’m coming to. In spite of official efforts to keep a good face, there is a deep unease over what might be happening with the process of enlargement of the European Union and how it will affect their futures.

Croatia is eagerly waiting for the possibility to start its accession negotiations, but so far failure to cooperate completely with the UN tribunal in the case of Croat general Gotovina indicted for war crimes in connection with the so called Operation Storm in August 1995 has held up progress.

The issue will be on the agenda when the EU foreign ministers meet in mid-July for their last meeting until October. If there hasn’t been enough progress until then, there is a severe risk that the beginning of the Croat negotiations will slip until after the scheduled beginning of the talks for Turkey on October 3rd.

That would obviously put Croatia in a difficult position, and one can only hope that the steps will be taken that avoids this. The decision is primarily in the hands of Zagreb.

In Bosnia, much is at the moment centered on the 10th anniversary of the fall of Srebrenica on July 11th. Boris Tadic – President of Serbia – has been invited and will be among coming those coming for the commemorations.

But in this rather emotional climate, the country also has to come together for important reform decisions. Political tensions have heated up lately, with the Prime Minister dismissing the Foreign Minister for reasons that really had nothing with his job or his politics to do.

And this autumn, we will see the 10 year anniversary of the Dayton Peace agreement. I will have reason to come back to that more than once during the rest of the year.

In Serbia, expectations are increasing that one – the one way or the other – will be able to deliver also general Mladic – undoubtedly responsible for the massacre following the fall of Srebrenica – to the UN tribunal. This would create a good climate for the negotiations starting this autumn for a Stabilisation and Assocation Agreement with the European Union.

But it’s next year that will be critical. Important issues en masse will be on the table. The status of Kosovo perhaps most difficult, but also the future of the state union between Serbia and Montenegro. And at some time during the year there will be a major EU conference to take decision on its future policies in the region, not least the enlargement perspective.

On Kosovo, the Ambassador of Norway Kai Eide has now been asked by the UN to assess how far one has come in fulfilling certain standards, notably in respect of minorities and other key democratic principles. His task is not an easy one, and I don’t expect that we will hear much from him until September or so. He’s a competent man with an integrity that can hardly be questioned.

Also this is an issue I’m likely to have reason to return to.

In Albania, the campaign for the July 3rd parliamentary elections is now entering its final phase. It will be crucial to see if the country can really run a free and fair election – the previous ones have been marked by irregularities and fraud – and possibly also a democratic and orderly transfer of power. Albania is the only country in the region which has not yet managed an orderly democratic change from one government to another.

And finally Macedonia – or the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, as the official EU and UN designation still is. Here, one is awaiting the opinion of the European Commission on its application for EU membership. It’s excepted during the autumn. In all probability, the EU will then take its decision in some sort of combination with the other Balkan decisions expected during next year.

There will be much to discuss around the dinner tables in Dalmatia during the next few weeks. The coming twelwe months or so will be of critical importance for the region.

And the region is of critical importance for the future of Europe.

Forgotten Conflicts

23 juni 2005

Online Magazine – Civil Georgia

Four days in Georgia gave ample opportunity to look into the frozen and forgotten conflicts of this region.

In Abkhazia we had the possibility of conducting extensive talks with the leadership of this break-away part of Georgia that operates under the semi-protection of Russia and with a UN observer mission present.

But we were not welcome in the other break-away area of South Ossetia. No particular reason was given, but there is no doubt that tensions have been increasing lately. There are fears that there will be a repeat of the outbreak of some fighting that occured last summer.

For a Georgia firm on the course towards political and economic reforms these conflicts are of course a major political burden. Tbilisi does not control not insignificant parts of the recognized territory of its country.

While Russia in principle supports the territorial integrity of Georgia, there is no doubt that active support is given to both the break-away regions. Not all of this is necessarily with the sanction of official bodies in Moscow. The element of smuggling and freelancing of different sort is obvious.

Although Russia has a key to the resolution of the conflicts, Georgia must also play its part, and I was impressed by the moderate and constructive approach taken by those dealing with these issues in Tbilisi.

That’s a change from the past. There is no doubt that nationalist forces and ferment in Georgia in the early 1990’s was a key factor that ignited the acute face of both these conflicts. Now, the mistakes are generally recognized, although suspicions against Tblisi are still running high in Abkhazia and Ossetia.

Europe must certainly involve itself more in the search for a resolution to these conflicts.

Northern Caucasus looks more fragile by the day. Only Putin can believe that the Chechen issue is off the radar screen, and near-by Dagestan with its ethnic mix and strong Islamic beliefs might well be the next big issue.

Not the least in view of this, it is critical that the stability of Southern Caucasus is preserved and strengthened.

Blair Launches Europe Debate

23 juni 2005

In his speech to the European Parliament today, UK Prime Minster Tony Blair sought to initiate a more wide-ranging debate about where Europe is heading.

The result of the French and Dutch referendums have, in his view, little with the actual text of the Constituitional Treaty to do. Instead, they signal ”a wider and deeper discontent with the state of affairs in Europe.”

Then, it is not a crisis of political institutions, but a crisis of political leadership.

People in Europe are posing hard questions to us. They worry about globalisation, job security, about pensions and living standards. They see not just their economy but their society changing around them. Traditional communities are broken up, ethnic patterns change, family life is under strain as families struggle to balance work and home. We are living through an era of profound upheaval and change.”

Then, leadership must be given. ”When such change occurs, moderate people must give leadership. If they don’t, the extremes gain traction in the political process. It happens within a nation. It is happening in Europe now.”

The Blair vision of Europe is certainly not without its critics, as has been obvious during the last few days. But its a vision with a clarity and relevance in this age of accelerating globalisation that few others so far have managed to demonstrate.

I – for one – find much to like in what he has to say.


18 juni 2005

Technology News Article |

You have probably already seen it, but here is one of the news stories on Microsoft’s decision to ban words like ”democracy” and ”freedom” on its new MSC China Internet service.

Comment hardly necessary. Some thinks just speak for themselves.

Off to the Frozen Conflicts

18 juni 2005

ethnocaucasus.jpg (JPEG Image, 984×1144 pixels) – Scaled (50%)

The next few days will probably not see me doing much in terms of postings on this site.

I’m off for four days in Georgia in the Southern Caucasus to lead a study tour with special emphasis on some of the so called frozen conflicts of the region.

We’ll be going both to the break-away Abkazia region on the Black Sea coast and the equally break-away minded area of Southern Ossetia towards the Caucasus mountain range.

The Caucasus is an area with an ethnic, national and religious diversity that makes the Balkans look perfectly boring by comparisons. Here, the break-up of the Soviet Union lead to a series of national conflicts, the majority of which have since then been just ”frozen” without much of a solution in sight.

In Northern Caucasus, the conflict in Chechnya in Russia is of course far from ”frozen”. In nearby and most important Dagestan, reports point at tensions being on the increase.

And to the South of the impressive mountain range there are the ”frozen conflicts” of Abkazia and South Ossetia in Georgia as well as at Armenian-controlled region of Nagorno Karabagh in Azerbaijan.

All of them have the potential to destabilize a wider region if they flare up again. Sooner or later there will have to be a political settlement representing a compromise between the different designs and dreams.

The sooner the better. With both Moscow – for obvious reasons – and Washington taking a keen interest in the area it has aquired a new importance also on the global scene.

Sunday evening we start our trip with dinner in Tibilisi with the President of Georgia Mikheil Saakashvili. And Thursday mid-day I hope to be back in Stockholm again.

Waiting for Angela

18 juni 2005

conseil.pdf (application/pdf Object)

As expected, the European Council did not reach an agreement on the 2007 – 2013 budget for the European Union.

In itself, this is neither a surprise nor in itself a crisis. A few months ago, no one really expected even a chance of a deal already at this meeting. And there is ample time before 2007 to take the crucial decisions.

Indeed, the soap opera of budget battles is an integral part of the five-year routine of European integration. This time, there was for the first time the need to reach agreement between no less than 25 member countries – five years ago it was ”only” 15 that had to agree.

If there is somewhat more of a crisis its due to the acrimonious words exchanged between some of the leaders after the meeting. It seems as if Luxembourg chairman Jean-Claude Juncker deliberately played in order to get UK Prime Minister Tony Blair into a corner, then to blame him for the failure.

These things happen. I vividly remember the high tensions around the European Council meeting in Corfu in June 1994 as the then twelwe Prime Ministers and Presidents – with some observers like myself – failed to reach agreement on a new President of the European Commission. I can testify that the mood around the dinner table during the discussions that evening was anything but good.

But it passed. A couple of months later a solution was found, and the common interest in moving forward prevailed.

The same is likely to happen now. As Peter Mandelson in the European Commission noted, there ”will be many of us working hard to make sure that there’s a proper debate and that Europe and its budget emerges, not unscathed, but in a better, improved form.

There are positive things that should be noted.

The ten new member countries demonstrated a commitment to the European Union that put the money bickering of some of the older ones to shame. As the PM of Poland Marek Belka noted after the discussions, ”nobody will be able to say that for Poland, the European Union is just a pile of money.

Obviously, there were others that saw it mostly as ”a pile of money”.

This will undoubtedly influence the debate in the months ahead.

Now, the torch will pass from Luxembourg to the successive presidencies of the United Kingdom, Austria and Finland. In a formal sense, the political focus will shift from Luxembourg to London, Vienna and Helsinki.

But the real attention shift is likely to be to Berlin. With an election likely on September 18th, it is highly likely that the German Chancellor at the next European Council meeting will be the CDU leader Angela Merkel.

It’s new signals from a new leadership in Berlin that is likely to create new openings and perhaps even a new impetus for the process of European integration.

Europe is waiting for Angela.

Mideast Words to Act On

17 juni 2005

From Bush, Mideast Words to Act On: ”All of his ambitious and valuable goals in the Middle East would be helped immeasurably by a successful conclusion of Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations.”

Zbibniew Brzezinski is one of the most experiences observers of international affairs since decades back. His voice is always worth listening to.

In the midst of the new gloom about Iraq, he throws the spotlight on the challenges ahead in the Middle East peace process, and rightly points at the link between these and the wider aims of democracy and freedom in the region that President Bush has proclaimed.

All of his ambitious and valuable goals in the Middle East would be helped immeasurably by a successful conclusion of Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations.

Towards the end of the year – after the Palestinian parliamentary election as well as the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza – that’s where the attention should be.