19 February, 2008

Kosova: The Internet Decides

Over on blogs that people actually read there is much discussion of Kosova's declaration of independence. "Nicholas" draws an interesting link between events in Kosova and the outcome of the Cypriot election, while Randy McDonald asks what people think about Kosovo's declaration of independence, and gets some interesting answers.

The Harvard educated posters on I Love Everything also have some opinions on the matter: Kosovo Declares Independence From Serbia

Most important, though, are surely the opinions of Pravda: Kosovo fails all tests for nationhood, Kosovo’s independence splits the world and kills U.N., & Russian scientists contact nether world

No one seems to have picked up on the Eurovision angle.

18 February, 2008


One big question that Kosovan* independence raises the worrying prospect of the Eurovision Song Contest being dragged into Serbia's conflict with the rest of the world. As you know, this year's contest is being held in Belgrade, providing a handy opportunity for Serbia to show its non-recognition of Kosovan independence. I do not know what the criteria are for accepting new member states of the Eurovision Song Contest Organisation, but at this short notice it is unlikely that Kosova would be able to join up in time to compete (even allowing for the likely hostility to it from Russia and certain other countries). So we will be spared the possibility of the Serbian presenters refusing to hear the votes of juries for the Kosovan song. But there are other ways in which the contest could be marred by Balkan politics. The introductory bit where the host nation paints a picture of how great and interesting it is could be turned into a whiny nationalist whinge-fest, with a re-enactment of the first battle of Kosovo and loads of maps of Serbia pointedly showing Kosova as still an integral part of the country. Or perhaps the Serbian hosts could refuse to let the songs of Kosova-recognising countries compete. This last option could be disastrous for the Eurovision, as the rejected countries might then decide to set up their own rival Eurovision. Perhaps the partitioning of Serbia might also result in the permanent sundering of the world's greatest song contest.

*Kosovars are people from Kosova, while Kosovan is the adjective for things pertaining to Kosova, right? Or wrong?

Reinado Youth

I mentioned the unsettling events in Timor-Leste, suggesting that death of Alfredo Reinado could lead to his rebellion fizzling out. The BBC has a more recent report on the country, talking about how although Reinado seems to have been something of a self-seeking dodger, he nevertheless struck a chord with the many disaffected young people who feel that their country's political class have done a very poor job of running the place since independence.

At Reinado's funeral, his supporters shouted slogans from the resistance struggle against Indonesia. There is a certain irony to this, given that President Ramos-Horta and Prime Minister Gusmao were iconic figures in that struggle, while Reinado seems to have played little or no part in it.

I am, meanwhile, wondering if it is tiresomely pedentic to refer to the country by its official name of Timor-Leste, when i) everyone else calls it East Timor and ii) Timor-Leste is merely East Timor in foreign.

17 February, 2008

Partitioning Serbia: Good; Partitioning Kosova: Bad

In international law and the practice of international politics, partitioning countries is generally seen as a bad thing and something to be avoided almost always. So with Europe's newest independent country, Kosova. Some have suggested that the country should be partitioned by giving to Serbia the northernmost strip of Kosova's territory, where ethnic Serbs are in the majority. This has been rejected by Kosova's leadership, and it is unlikely that the international players who count will take up this idea.

However, partitioning Serbia by taking the province of Kosovo and letting it become an independent state seems to be less problematic, at least to the major Western powers. The idea seems to be that Serbia under Milosevic essentially alienated itself from Kosovo by systematically oppressing its people and launching a campaign of outright ethnic cleansing prior to and during the NATO bombing campaign of 1999. This looks a bit like international law being made on the hoof, and it will be interesting to see whether highly oppressed regions of the world start having their independence from their oppressors recognized. The evolving principle does at least suggest in the Kosovan case that if the new state ultimately fails to protect the civil and personal rights of its ethnic Serbs, then they will have a legal right to have their majority areas secede and reintegrate with Serbia.

The Kosovan leadership are perhaps mindful of the extent to which their state's legitimacy hangs on it managing to be a country for all its citizens. Prime Minister Hashim Thaci and President Fatmir Sejdiu have both pledged to end discrimination against ethnic Serbs; symbolically, their pledge was delivered in both Albanian and Serbo-Croat. But such talk is cheap, and plays well in Western Europe. Anecdotal evidence suggests that in much of Kosova you would be in danger of literally being killed if you were heard speaking Serbo-Croat in public. Kosova's leaders may face an uphill battle to integrate the country's Serbs into Kosovan life.

After Hubris, Nemesis

In politics, it is a good idea to know what capabilities you possess and to understand how powerful you are relative to those you interact with. A skilful player can extract far greater benefits than their initial hand promises. Generally speaking, though, it pays not to make threats to people who can brush you off.

Today, Kosovo declared its independence from Serbia. Earlier, Serbia's prime minister, Vojislav Kostunica, declared that his country would "in advance cancel out the... creation of a fictitious state". Although military action and the cutting off of Kosovo's energy supplies have been ruled out, the Serbian state is reportedly threatening to break off diplomatic relations with countries that recognise Kosovan independence. There are also reports that Kostunica's government might show the West a thing or to by suspending Serbia's EU integration process.

11 February, 2008

Timor-Leste in Crisis

Timor-Leste (better known perhaps as East Timor) has had a pretty bad time of it over the last number of years. It endured a long and brutal occupation by Indonesian forces, who showed what good losers they were by smashing the place up when they withdrew. After independence, the country's political scene was paralysed by the mutual hostility of its president and prime minister. President Xanana Gusmao had been the leader of the military struggle against Indonesia, while Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri, head of the FRETILIN party, had led the political side of the freedom movement. The destruction of the country's infrastructure and the legacy of Indonesia's thuggish rule combined with the country's political paralysis to make nation-building extremely problematic.

These issues overlaid tensions within Timor-Leste's armed forces. The members of this organisation were largely sympathetic to President Gusmao, as he had led them in the war against the occupiers, but the army had its own internal tensions, between people from the west of the country and the east, with the easterners seen as being preferred for promotions by Prime Minister Alkatiri's government. In 2006, these tensions escalated into a strike by soldiers who felt they were being unfairly treated; when Alkatiri attempted to sack the striking soldiers, they mutinied and smashed up the capital until Australian troops were deployed there. After that, most of the mutineers gave up and accepted their sacking, but a core under Major Alfredo Reinado refused to surrender and decamped to remote areas in the west of the country. Reinado was indicted for murders committed during the unrest, and it is possible that fear of prosecution was a major factor driving him to remain at large.

Timor-Leste's political troubles seemed to have been resolved by last year's elections. Nobel Laureate Jose Ramos-Horta became president, while Gusmao took the more powerful job of prime minister, leading a coalition government that relegated Alkatiri's FRETILIN to the opposition. Ramos-Horta and Gusmao are political allies, and their time in office has not been largely harmonious. What is perhaps interesting is how this new political stability seemed unable to bring social stability, with Reinado and the rebels remaining at large and uncooperative.

Just how uncooperative the rebels were was illustrated today. The rebels descended on Dili in what seems to have been an attempt at either staging a coup or decapitating the government. Shots were fired at the residence of Prime Minister Gusmao, and the president was shot and critically wounded. Reinado himself was however killed in fighting outside the president's residence.

It's hard to know what will happen now. Maybe the death of Major Reinado will lead to his rebellion fizzling out, with his presence at the attack on Ramos-Horta indicating how paltry the rebel forces had become. Perhaps today's shocking events will prove to mark the end of Timor-Leste's chaotic years, with a new era of politics replacing the violent days of the past.

Some links:

East Timor declares emergency after president shot (Guardian)
Who are East Timor's rebel soldiers?(BBC)

Other Hunting Monsters posts on Timor-Leste

03 February, 2008

President Blair

The more I think about it, the more this Blair as EU President story sounds like something that is so not going to happen. There are a couple of EU leaders you could imagine pushing for it, noticeably his fellow Bushophile, Nicolas Sarkozy. But it is hard to imagine Gordon Brown wanting his old pal back from the Middle East. And if anyone stops to think about this at all, Blair faces an insurmountable obstacle. As UK leader, Blair so tied his country's interests to those of the United States that in world political terms the UK became little more than a US client. Could anyone really take Blair seriously as someone who would represent EU interests in trade talks with the Americans?

02 February, 2008

First Palestine, Now Europe

Having brought peace to Israel and Palestine, Tony Blair is now proposing to save the European Union. He wants to become its President, but he is demanding that the job be given powers over trade and military issues.

Yes, it is a link to an article you could have read yourself if you were paying attention: I'll be president of Europe if you give me the power - Blair

If you are interested further in the great man's work, check out the Guardian's special report on what he has been up to since resigning as UK premier. You'll have to scroll down a couple of times before you reach the three reports on his Middle Eastern achievements.