Need for Balkan Strategy

31 januari 2006

The European Commission has just published its ideas for the meeting between the European Union and the Western Balkan countries that will be held in Salzburg in early March.

It’s supposed to set new directions for European policy in the area.

The next few months are crucial for the future of the Balkans. If EU leaders refuse to discuss realistic strategies for enlargement, the region will be more likely to suffer a new cycle of instability than enjoy enduring stability.

My own views of what should and could be done is set out in the linked article from the latest issue of the Bulletin from Centre for European Reform in London.

A somewhat more offensive approach – which I do think is called for.

The EU needs a bolder Balkan strategy by Carl Bildt

Change in Sarajevo

31 januari 2006

Today marks the departure from Sarajevo of Paddy Ashdown after his service there as High Representative. Tomorrow it is Christian Schwarz-Schilling that takes over.

Paddy was the fourth High Representative under the provisions in Annex 10 of the Dayton Peace Agreement for Bosnia. I had the honour of being the first in the series, but he’s the one who has served the longest, and probably the one who has sought to maintain the highest political profile.

Much has changed during the years. When I arrived in the winter of 1995/96 we had absolutely nothing in a city heavily scarred by the war that had just ended. I brought a bunch of D-Marks in an envelope from Brussels and we started to set up whatever we could in the middle of acuta political tensions and enormous humanitarian challenges.

That was then. My own view has been that the entire Office of the High Representative – now in the order of 500 persons all over the country – should have been closed down 10 years after Dayton and replaced with a more low-profile European Union mission.

With its high profile and its intrusive powers the OHR has certainly done much good in Bosnia over the years, but the cumulative effect has increasingly been one of fostering a climate of irresponsibility in the domestic Bosnian political environment.

It’s been too easy to just abstain from taking difficult decisions and instead ask the High Representative to sort things out – only to blame him when he tries to get things going.

Paddy was less than happy when criticism along these lines started to become more prominent some years ago, but today he essentially agrees.

That one – in spite of this – decided to appoint a new High Representative was in my opinion a mistake. But Christian Schwarz-Schilling knows the country well and will in all probability take a somewhat lower political profile than what Paddy did.

At the end of the day, it is the citizens and politicians of Bosnia themselves that should prove that their country has a future.

Office of the High Representative in Bosnia and Herzegovina

You Will Hear More About Natanz

31 januari 2006

Natanz is a place we will hear more about in the next few months. It’s the location in Iran where they are building their uranium enrichment facility.

And it’s really around activities at Natanz that the entire controversy is now concentrated.

It takes some time to build a properly functiong enrichment facility. There are no signs of the Iranians being close to it. It is even more complex to take the process to the high enrichment needed for nuclear weapons.

What the Iranians have done now is to restart some undefined ”research activities” at Natanz. Most probably that means work on a centrifugte for enrichment, which crosses a distinct red line of the international community.

Even if it – even if they went all out for it – in all probability would take some time for them to get close to a weapons capability – IISS says at the least five years – it’s still a rather massive faculity they are building.

The linked series of satellite images gives a good picture of the entire thing and how it has evolved.

Not in particular the fairly large underground structures.

Stay tuned, as they say.
Natanz – Iran Special Weapons Facilities

Quartet Balancing Act

31 januari 2006

Well, the Quartet dinner in London yesterday did manage to produce a fairly comprehensive policy response to the elections in Palestine.

It obviously repeats some of the key demands on the future Palestine government, but doesn’t say that all aid will be cut immediately if all of these demands are not fulfilled immediately.

It will ”review” the issue. Fine. There is an element of flexibility in the choice of words that’s obviously highle deliberate.

The key issue is to get distinct movement in the right direction, but it’s hardly realistic to expect that all the conditions can be met immediately.

Interesting was that the Quartet in the same statement put demands also in the Israeli side:

The Quartet reiterated its view that settlement expansion must stop, reiterated its concern regarding the route of the barrier, and noted Acting Prime Minister Olmert’s recent statements that Israel will continue the process of removing unauthorized outposts.

These were not new policies, but the fact that they were repeated in the same statement might make it somewhat more easy to get a receptive audience for the other parts of the message.

Good work, Quartet!

Quartet says aid to Palestinian government will be reviewed in light of key conditions

A Nation At War?

30 januari 2006

Sometimes the contrast between the United States and Europe come out in a rather striking way.

This morning I attended a breakfast briefing here in Washington by the Vice-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff on the so called Quadrennial Defence Review due to be released to the public on Monday. The QDR is a major multi-annual defence planning exercise.

I was struck by him saying that this was the first QDR made ”with the nation at war”.

At war?

There is no denying the complexities of Iraq, and a poll in one of the newspapers of issues which the public are most concerned about puts Iraq on top of the list. And there are certainly serious challenges in both Afghanistan and elsewhere.

To say that ”the nation is at war” seems to me to carry it too far. War for Europeans is a far more all-encompassing challenge and task than the operations now carried out, and requires far more fundamental changes in society.

But we are dealing not with objective realities but with subjective perceptions that are shaped by different cultural and political perspectives. That’s simply the way it is.

In today’s New York Times one finds a full-page ad signed by a distinguished group of Americans across the political spectrum claiming that ”America is still dangereously vulnerable.”

A nation at war. A nation that sess itself as dangereously vulnerable.

Is this the confident superpower? Or a nerveous nation not really understanding what’s happening?

Partnership for a Secure America

Europe Slipping Behind? (2)

29 januari 2006

The blog of Business Week has taken up my earlier blog entry on whether Europe is slipping behind the United States in terms of research and development.

And it has lead to a series of rather interesting contributions on the subject.

Well worth looking at for the interested.

Is Europe Slipping Behind?

The Washington Week

29 januari 2006

After nearly a week based in Jerusalem – at a very pivotal time in the modern history of the region – and a day in Stockholm I’m now heading over the North Atlantic in the direction of Washington.

I’m there primarily for a board meeting of Legg Mason in Baltimore, but as usual these trips combine a number of different elements. There will be ample of political discussions in Washington before I’m back home towards the end of the week.

It’s a week with a heavy political agenda.

On Tuesday, President Bush adresses Congress with his annual State of the Union speech, setting out the priorities and policies of his presidency one year into it’s four-year term.

Whether that will be the most important event of the day, or whether more attention will be given to Alan Greenspan’s last day as Chairman of the Federal Reserve after 18 years of very distinguished service remains to be seen. On Wednesday, Bed Bernankie takes over.

Be sure that President Bush will pay tribute to Greenspan, and that he will use this also to highlight the rather extraordinary dynamism of the American economy at this time.

The figures are truly impressive.

When Greenspan took over from Paul Volcker in 1987, the US GDP was around 5 trillion dollars. Since then rapid growth has taken it to today’s level of around 13 billion dollars. In absolute terms, no country throughout history has ever created so much new wealth during a corresponding span of time.

But there will obviously be a restatement of the administrations foreign policy priorities that will be keenly watched.

Will it be dominated by an effort to give a positive picture of developments in Iraq? Or will it be the escalating conflict with Iran that will dominate? And how will he treat the fact that democracy in the Arab world seems to mean that Islamist forces are gaining ground at the expense of more moderate ones, with the Palestine election just days behind us?

All of these issues will be the subject of important activities elsewhere during this week.

Tonight German Chancellor Angela Merkel – who’s quickly achieved a superstar status in her country – will arrive in Jerudsalem for talks with Acting Prime Minister Olmert before she tomorrow proceeds to Ramallah and to see President Abu Mazen.

With her new weight both in Europe and in the White House, the impression that she gets will obviously be important in shaping Western policy.

And tomorrow the EU Foreign Ministers will meet in Brussels to look at the new situation. They are however likely to defer major policy conclusion until the dinner in London that brings in also UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, US Secretary of State Condolezza Rice and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

The London meetings will not only deal with the new situation in the Middle East.

The Iran issue will be on the agenda as well, as will the question of how to proceed with the search for a Kosovo solution. President Ahtisaari, who leads the international effort, is likely not to get support for the approach that he has recommended.

And the big issue – bringing representatives of 60 or so states to London tomorrow – will be to get money for the different peace efforts in Afghanistan. Things are not going too badly there – but neither are they going particularly well. State-building takes time – and costs money.

On Thursday the Iran issue is likely to be at the top of the global political agenda as the Governing Board of the IAEA convenes in Vienna to deal with the EU requst thar the Iranian issue the one way or the other be sent to the UN Security Council.

There is likely to be heavy maneuvering prior to and at the meeting. Evidently Teheran has suddenly accepted to let IAEA inspectors visit the Lavizan facility in Teheran which is suspected of having housed unreported nuclear activities in previous years. But the critical vote might well be delayed by the fact that the IAEA isn’t fully ready to report their full conclusions on Iran. Another months or so might be needed.

In the meantime, the Chinese are busy celebrating that they have now entered the Year of the Dogs.

Palestine’s Likud

28 januari 2006

The debate continues to rage over the consequences of the election in Palestine.

A bit of historical perspective never hurts when dealing with issues like this.

A commentator in Haaretz draws an interesting comparison between the sudden appearance of Likud on the political scene of Israel in 1977 and what we see in Palestine today.

In both cases it was a fundamental challenge to the existing order – Labour in Israel and Fatah in Palestine. In both cases it was parties advocating expansionist ideas – Likud wanted a Greater Israel that left no room for any Palestinians, and the Charter of Hamas certainly has no room for Israel.

Over time, Likud changed. As a matter of fact it was Begin who received Sadat in Jerusalem and concluded the peace with Egypt that also meant the evacuation of a town the Israelis has built in northern Sinai.

It was most traumatic.

And the change among some of the Likud leaders, notably Ariel Sharon, continued. When he stood before the UN General Assembly last year and supported the creation of a Palestine state it was an endorsement of a policy that had nothing with the text of the Likud Charter to do.

And since then he and many others have broken off from Likud to form the Kadima party. A confrontational rump is left.

Will Hamas go the way of Likud?

History seldom repeats itself. But neither does it just stand still. To some extent we can even shape it.

That will be the big discussion when the leaders of the Quartet sit down for dinner in London on Monday.

They will not have much time for the food.

Haaretz – Israel News – Article

The Sauli Success

28 januari 2006

Tomorrow is the second and final round in the election for President of Finland in the coming years.

The powers of the president in Finland aren’t what they used to be, but it’s still a sought-after position that commands a moral authority. By tradition, relations with Russia are also to a large extent handled by the president.

It was generally assumed that it wouldn’t be much of a race, with incumbent Tarja Halonen having poll ratings well ahead of every possible contender.

But that was some time ago. The challenger Sauli Niinistö has made a very good campaign, and the race now seems to close to call.

Sauli was for a long time chairman of the Finnish
conservative party and served succesfully as Minister of Finance during a period of reforms. But then he stepped down and left for a position at the European Investment Bank in Luxembourg, only to be called home when there was a need to give some life to the rather dormant presidential race.

If he wins it will be no less than a sensation. Not quite like Hamas in Palestine, but by Nordic standards…

If he loses, he will still have done much better than anyone expected, and will have improved his standing on the Finnish as well as wider scene even further.

I have no vote in Finland, but if I had, I certainly know what I would do.

Helsingin Sanomat – International Edition – Home

The Day After in Jerusalem

27 januari 2006

It’s the day after the earthquake in Jerusalem. Some clouds, some sun, the possibility of rain and fairly cold.

Yesterday evening the town was as filled with speculation, bewilderment and utter confusion as one could imagine as different politicians, analysts and observers tried to understand the consequences of the new realities of the region.

In East Jerusalem, Hamas captured all the four seats that were there for taking. Two further seats are, according to an arrangement dating back to Jordanian times, reserved for Christians.

A special session of the Israeli cabinet yesterday discussed what could be done. The defence and security services argued moderation, saying that they saw no reason for Hamas to break the cease-fire and arguing that Israel had an interest in keeping the Palestinian authority afloat.

Prime Minister Omert seems to have concluded that one shouldn’t rush into any conclusions, that close international consultation was necessary and that one should await and see what actually happens in Ramallah.

Sounds wise to me.

There are, however, some immediate issues on the table. And they can hardly wait.

The Palestinian Authority is more or less bankcrupt. If Israel were to withhold the VAT and customs money that it collects on behalf of the PA, there is no way it can pay salaries even for this month. It’s easy to see a scenario in which financial collapse causes political and security collapse.

This issue will be very much on the table when the Quartet meets in London Monday evening. Can economic support for the Palestinian Authority be continued? And which could be the consequences of a financial collapse?

This is to some extent related to the security issues.

There are app 60 000 people employed in the different Palestinian security structures, although most of these without weapons and much of training. They are to an overwhelming extent a Fatah force – and they are now likely to be fearful of their future.

In terms of violence it’s hardly the fighters of Hamas that are the issue at the moment. They are likely to be the forces of order.

The risk is rather that the Fatah-linked forces inside and outside the security structures will be the new rogue element of instability and violence. And this in particular if suddenly they don’t even get paid.

It’s hardly surprising that the Israeli security agencies are advocating caution and moderation. The occupaion is difficult as it is for them, and a collapse that leads to a cycle of confrontations will make everything worse for everyone.

But for this to be avoided, there is a need for money. Transfers from Israel and aid from the European Union and others. Will it happen?

There might of course be alternatives. Washington could press the Saudis or the Gulf states into paying the bills at the least for a while.

And then the nightmare alternative of a Western cut-off followed by Teheran genereously stepping in and offering to pay everything in order to avoid a break-down of public order and social services.

Talk comes cheap these days. But the real issues that are there on the urgent agenda are far from easy.

They will not go away.

Jerusalem Post | Breaking News from Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish World

Earthquake in Palestine

26 januari 2006

It is now obvious that Hamas emerges at the great winner in the Palestinian election. Official preliminary results are not expected until early evening, but the broad outlines of the result are already clear.

That Hamas emerged as the winner does not surprise us that experiences the campaign and election day. Their campaign seemed superior in every respect to anything Fatah could offer.

But is must be recognized that the Hamas vote was less a vote for its Islamist social program, or for its refusal to recognize the reality of Israel, than a protest against a Fatah rule seen as inefficient and corrupt. Fatahs inability to secure order or to deliver result in the peace process undoubtedly played in, as did a reaction against the daily injustices of life under occupation.

One must now hope that the Hamas leadership will recognize the true nature of the support that they got. They did not seek support for, and neither did they get it, for an agenda of Islamisation and conflict. Their main slogan in the campaign was reform – not revenge.

There will now have to be formed a new government for the Palestinian authority. It will be the heavy responsibility of President Abbas to assure a government truly in the interest of his country.

There is a clear need for a strong new Prime Minister truly committed to change and reform. The issues are obvious. After years of fiscal mismanagement the Palestinian Authority is near bankruptcy, and it should not expect the international community to bankroll failure for ever. It must also take further decisive step to reform and strengthen the dysfunctional security system, making the dismantling of existing terrorist infrastructures possible.

All eyes are now on Hamas. That it decided to enter the democratic political process is clearly positive, as is the fact that it has declared and kept a cease-fire during the last year. But if Hamas really wants to distance itself from its terrorist past, and assume real responsibility, it must do so more unequivocally than we have seen so far. The burden of proof as concerns its peaceful and democratic intentions is with them.

I would expect the European Union and others to follow this process as closely as possible, respect the democratic choice made, remain engaged and be ready to work with whatever government and whichever individuals that are truly committed to embrace reform and distance themselves from terrorism.

We have dealt before with political forces making a transition from terror and violence to democracy. But we have learnt that we must be firm in insisting that the transition really occurs.

We can not run away from a democratic success – because that is what we have seen in Palestine – because we did not like the result.

But neither can we be indifferent to the result simply because the procedure was impeccable.


A Good Day For Democracy

25 januari 2006

Voting stations have now closed throughout the West Bank and Gaza, and although the different election monitoring organisation will not provide their respective assesments until tomorrow afternoon – it takes time to process all the detailed data – some preliminary observations are certainly possible.

It was a joyful, calm and well-organized day wherever I and my team of observers went – and that seems to have been the general impression.

In a way, this is hardly surprising. After the presidential elections last January, one has since then also had local elections practically everywhere.

To run elections in a proper way is starting to become routine in Palestine – and that’s truly unique throughout the Arab world.

After first having gone with President Carter to a polling stations just outside East Jerusalem – the same we went to a year ago – I have spent most of my time in the area northwest and west of the city of Ramallah, often close or on the other side of the famous ”separation barrier” Israel is building.

It’s been a day of observering, chatting with election officials, drinking coffe with schoolteachers, comparing note with other observers, mingling with flag-waving young boys and maneuvering the small roads along the hills and valleys of a land holy to so many.

And then some media interviews on top of that.

Now back in Jerusalem I’m heading for a meeting with Senator Biden from the US to compare notes and impressions.

Still waiting for the first exit polls…

psr-Ramallah, Palestine

Israel Prime Minister anti-Semitic?

24 januari 2006

It was indeed a major policy speech acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert delivered to the Herzliya conference some hours ago.

There is no doubt that he wants to move on with a peace process.

Although he talked about ”Judea and Samaria” as culturally and historically part of Israel, he also talked about the need to divide the land into what he sees as two different ”homelands” – one for the Jewish people and one for the Palestine people.

But he was hardline on wanting a united Jerusalem as part of Israel. 120 000 Palestinians living in Eastern Jerusalem might have another view of that.

Nevertheless, his speech meet with immediate harsh opposition from the Jewish settlers in the West Bank. The settlers’ Yesha Council went so far as saying that ”Olmert’s speech was sown with anti-Semitic overtones vis a vis the settlers.”

That says more about them than about Prime Minister Olmert.

To accuse a Prime Minister of Israel of anti-Semitism because he talks about peace with the Palestinians is indeed rather thick.l

propceEhu7Haaretz – Israel News

Democracy in Arab World

24 januari 2006

Tomorrow is election day in Palestine, and so far everything seems to be running smoothly in spite of all of the difficulties caused by the fact that the country is under Israeli occupation.

I think it is worth noting that what we are seeing – and have been seeing since the death of Arafat – in Palestine is without parallel in the Arab world in terms of free and fair elections and an evolving pluralist democratic systems.

Tomorrow will of course be of particular importance in view of the decision by Hamas to take part. Having previously refused to have anything with a democratic political process to do, they are now for the first time testing their strength in a democratic contest.

That’s of course positive.

Once upon a time, the ruling Fatah party of today was seen by the outside world – rightly, by the way – as a terrorist organisation. There was no doubt that violence and terror was part of its arsenal.

But those days are effectively gone.

Now the major question is what support the Hamas alternative really has – and long term whether they over time can develop in some sort of direction similar to what Fatah has done.

It’s been a sunny and lovely day in Jerusalem and the West Bank today.

Let’s hope for a good day for democracy tomorrow. In Palestine – and with a signal to the entire Arab world.

Central Elections Commission

Lessons from Canada?

24 januari 2006

Are there are lessons to be learnt from the change coming out of the election in Canada?

Probably. In my view it shows that after having had the same party in government for 13 years, people simply think that it’s time for change.

They also see that over time power has a tendency to corrupt. In the case of the Liberal government, that become obvious over time.

It also demonstrate that there is always the possibility of a come-back – although it can take its time.

It was in 1993 that the Progressive Conservatives suffered one of the worst electoral defeats in modern Western political history. After having dominated the politics of Canada during the 1980’s, they in 1993 ended up with only two (2) seats in Parliament.

There were many reasons for this, perhaps primarily a split that meant that a new party emerged in the western parts of Canada.

Gradually, that split was overcome, and in combination with people simply being tired of what they saw as a scandal-ridden administration, this paved the way for the come-back of the Progressive Conservatives.

It wasn’t the economy. It was healing divisions in the opposition, being on the attack all the time and focusing on the scandals of a tired government.

Stephen Harper is to be congratulated for his achievement.

Others can learn from what he has done.

CBC News: Harper vows to get down to work with first focus on accountability

Cold War Coming Back?

24 januari 2006

It’s really like the worst days of the Cold War again…

The Russian security service FSB is now announcing a major spy scandal, with British ”spies” trying to subvert Russia. Indignation seems to be running high.

Theor alleged ”crime” is to have given money to different non-governmental associations dealing with human rights and capacity-building among local journalists, to take just two examples.

Without knowing any details in this particular case I can affirm that such money is certainly given – and that it is certainly not done in secret.

I happen to be on the board of the New Eurasia Foundation in Moscow, and we certainly operate with grants from both the British, the Swedish and other governments and with full transparency for the Russian authorities.

So it’s obvious what this affair is all about.

The dark forces and trying to close down the possibilities for a more open Russia.

It’s truly sad for the future of Russia – but it’s certainly worth taking note.

Kommersant: Politicians to Decide on Spying

Palestine Campaigns

23 januari 2006

My day today has mainly been spent in Ramallah – the city just north of Jerusalem which serves as the administrative and economic centre of the West Bank – going through all of the details for the election to the Palestine Legislative Council on Wednesday.

So far everything seems to be running smoothly. There are posters everywhere, and the media is filled with the messages of the different candidates.

Israeli checkpoints are a nuisance, and one can only hope that they will follow the model from last year and easy restrictions on polling day.

The big subject of speculation is of course how well Hamas – campaign under the slogan of Reform and Change – will do, and which will be the consequences if they were to win or join the government.

They have been sweeping to power in the local elections during last year, and are now running even a city like Betlehem with its significant Christian population. So far, however, there are no indications that this has presented any problems.

The international position remains that they are a terrorist organisation committed to the destruction of Israel.

People close to them that one can talk to reiterate that they are ready for a very long-term cease-fire based on acceptance of Israel within the 1967 borders, but confirm that they don’t believe that anyone has a mandate to give away holy land that is theirs. The similarity between these views and some of the very religious voices on the Israeli side are obvious.

So far they have been running a good campaign, significantly assisted by the perception that both Israel and the US wants Fatah to win.

In discussions today, representatives or interpreters for both sides said that they were confident of winning the vote on Wednesday.

It will be the most important vote ever in Palestine. Top Worldwide

Israel Discussing Iran

22 januari 2006

The Herzliya Conference has emerged as the key event on the Israeli scene when it comes to discussing not the least foreign and security issues.

There isn’t really anyone of significance on the Israeli scene that does not ascend the stairs of the Daniel Hotel during the conference days.

Yesterday and today it was really the Iranian situation that was at the hearth of the discussion. And it wasn’t too hard to see the nuances that are there in the discussion.

Defence Minister Mofaz yesterday evening was in as high gear as you can ask for, talking about a nuclear-armed Iran as an ”existential threat” to Israel that simply could not be accepted. Although he did not say so explicitly, he left the distinct impression that everything was rather imminent.

Today, the Chief of Staff of the Israel Defence Force Halutz clearly had a somewhat different view of the issue, particularly as concerns the urgency of it.

Describing 2006, he did not list the Iran issue as one of the issues facing the IDF, but rather stressed a number of other ones, notably those of local/Palestinian, global/Al Qaeda and regional/Hezbollah terrorism, and was noticeable worried by what could happen on the West Bank and Gaza in the wake of the elections.

But while certainly sharing the broad assessment on the dangers of a nuclear-armed Iran, it was obvious that he saw the issue in a somewhat longer time perspective.

In Israel, the military is effectively commanded by the government, and notably by the Prime Minister, as the title Chief of Staff for the top person in the IDF indicates.

But it’s still interesting to note that it seems as if the IDF assessment would give further diplomacy as well as political and economic action somewhat more time than what some political words coming out of here sometimes indicates.

Haaretz – English

Ibrahim Rugova

22 januari 2006

With the loss of Ibrahim Rugova, Kosovo loses the one person that at critical times could unite and moderate its otherwise very divided political scene.

Rugova was an elusive but impressive personality. Never really comfortable with the world of politics, he nevertheless emerged as the major political force in Kosovo in modern times.

During the years when Kosovo was ruled by Serbia, it was Ibrahim Rugova that become the symbol for the peaceful struggle of the people of Kosovo for their rights. Always opposed to using violence, he emerged as a strong moral force, and caught the attention of the world.

It was when Milosevic revoked the autonomy of Kosovo that the writer Ibrahim Rugova emerged as the unofficial leader of the province. He founded the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK, refused to take part in the elections of Yugoslavia although the Albanian votes might well have tipped the balance against Milosevic and instead set up an elaborate system of parallel institutions, notably in education.

Whether he could ever have achieved a lasting settlement between Kosovo and Serbia is a question we will never know the answer of. There were certainly attempts from both sides that did not look entirely unpromising at the time.

But eventually a younger, more militant and less patient generation took over and took up arms. When the UCK – the Kosovo Liberation Army – appeared, they did so also in opposition to the policies of Rugova and his political group. We might have forgotten it by now, but there was also what in effect was a savage civil war among the Kosovo Albanians.

What happened during the Kosovo war with him has never been entirely clear to me. He stayed in Prishtina, but then wanted to leave, and Milosevic let him leave with a plane from Belgrade to Rome, although only after a public meeting between the two.

When Serbia had to leave Kosovo, the forces making up the UCK expected to take over completely, and really wanted nothing to do with Rugova.

But they miscalculated. Far from discredited, he returned as the person most respected by the population, and in March 2002 was elected President of Kosovo without much of real competition.

As such, he hovered above and moderated the political scene of the country, although hardly ruling it. He was philosophical rather than practical, moral rather than political.

At times, he seemed more at home collecting his precious stones, and occasionally giving them away to people that he meet and talked to.

I will keep the stones I got from him in memory of a man of morality, dignity and integrity in a time and a region where these qualities were often in desperately short supply.

There is no doubt that Kosovo will be a more difficult place without him.


A Very Real Election

20 januari 2006

When Palestine went to the polls a year ago to elect a new president after Yaser Arafat it was in reality more a coronation than an election. The outcome was never really in doubt – there were no real contenders.

When they will now go to vote for the Palestine Legislative Council on January 25 it’s a very different story.

This is a very real election in every sense of the word. It’s democracy in action – although not everyone in the action can necessarily be classified as a democrat.

Opinion polls are now predicting a very close race between the Fatah party that now dominates everything – the rather corrupt and inefficient lot being part of old PLO – and the more efficient but terrorist-inclined Islamist Hamas party.

I can well foresee that emotions will run very high around Palestine as the campaign is reaching its crescendo. In Gaza, violence does not seem to be far below the surface.

This makes it even more important that the elections is conducted in an orderly and impartial way. This is necessary if the result shall be accepted by everyone, and confrontation and perhaps even violence avoided.

To the outside world this might be seen as a choice being a moderate line inclined to negotiate with Israel and a confrontational line not shying away from using terrorism.

There is undoubtedly an element of that. But based on my discussions around the West Bank last year, it seen by many there also as a choice between the corrupt and the honest.

Many are fed-up after years of Fatah – although in many cases also fearing the Islamist agenda of Hamas.

It will be a very real election of very real importance for Palestine and the entire Middle East.

Haaretz – Israel News