Saturday 24 March 2012

Serbian Symbolism

Henry Norman

Boris Tadic meeting with the President of the European Council Herman Van Rompuy in Brussels. The Council of the European Union.

Moving forward
As the Minister for Europe David Lindington remarked, ‘Serbia has come a long way in the past 20 years.’ When you think that it is just over a decade since the beginning of the NATO bombing campaign against Yugoslavia, then this certainly appears to be true. The days of Milosevic’s ethnic cleansing are now resigned to the textbooks of history, with Serbia looking forward to its rightful place amongst the family of European nations. Indeed, this is what could be inferred from the announcement of Serbia’s EU candidate status on March 1st, 2012.
The announcement comes after the capture of both Ratko Mladić and Goran Hadžić by the Serbian authorities in May and July of 2011. For many this was the symbolic end of the atrocities. With the perpetrators of the bloodiest European conflict  since WWII captured, a chance for justice to be seen and heard was offered across the war-torn Balkan states (lest we forget the charade trial of Milosevic).
Considerable efforts have been made by the Serbian government in order to speed up the democratization process. In 2007, the Stabilization and Association Agreement was signed in an effort to take firm action on the political, economic and human rights problems that affect Serbia. Furthermore, according to the 2010 EU progress report, ‘significant progress was achieved’ with regards to the issue of organized crime, an issue of major concern in Serbia.
And yet the 2011 Human Rights Watch report of Serbia found that there is, amongst others, widespread intolerance shown to the Roma population and intimidation of the press. One can only place faith in the normative power of the EU, the allure of membership and the attention paid to meeting the chapters of the acquis in tackling such urgent issues.
Kosovo on the horizon
Field Survey carried out on 1031 interviewee’s which clearly shows Kosovo being the number one cause for concern amongst the Serbian population.
However, perhaps one issue more so than any other is of more political concern to Serbia’s successful membership.
The above survey merely demonstrates the fact that the issue of Kosovo is not going to disappear any time soon and such predictions were indeed found to be validated. Coupled with the fact that the majority of EU countries now recognise Kosovar independence, Germany’s refusal to support Serbia’s candidature back in December demonstrates the EU’s inflexibility on the issue. This all spells a membership process of untold diplomatic pressure considering that Tadic has made it clear that Serbia will never recognise the independence of Kosovo.
Asterisks and Footnotes
But could we be witnessing a gentle thaw in Serb-Kosovar relations?

The literal symbol of Serbia beginning to realise it has at least appear to kowtow somewhat over the issue is shown by an unassuming asterisk placed after ‘Kosovo.’ It directs the reader to a footnote clearly (but discretely) affirming that, "This designation is without prejudice to positions on status, and is in line with UNSC 1244 and the ICJ Opinion on the Kosovo Declaration of Independence".

Reading between the lines, this seeks to upset no-one as the Security Council resolution 1244 makes no mention of an independent Kosovo whilst the ICJ ruled that Kosovar independence broke no international law. Whilst some could disregard this move forward as nothing more than phony symbolism, it at least allows meetings to take place in what has before been a case of officials storming out of delegations due to disagreements over Kosovo’s very right to sit at the table.
Whilst some would see such progress as no progress at all, it is important to remember that we are still in the early stages of the Serbian membership process. An article in The Economist put it best, ‘it is like saying buying a ticket to get on a train does not get you closer to your destination.’ In other words, let the immense normative power of the EU do its job.
Admittedly the EU is currently in a bit of quagmire but no-one can realistically believe that Serbia will do better on its own. Benefits such as access to the world’s largest internal market are especially alluring given the current state of affairs. According to most reports, Serbia has an ageing population, high unemployment, overreliance on the state and high levels of corruption.
It is not only Serbia that would benefit from processes of institutionalization, but also the EU. Once again, the symbolism of a once war-torn region beginning to unite under common ideals, as set forth by the EU charter, is enormously valuable for an institution currently suffering from bad publicity due to the Eurozone crisis.
UK Position
A group of ‘Toniblers’ at Tony Blairs visit to Pristina in July 2010.  Kushtrim Ternava
According to the Minister for Europe, David Lindington, ‘further improvement in its [Serbia] relations with Kosovo is a priority from the UK perspective.’  What ‘further improvement’ amounts to is not quantified, but presumably Lindington wants Serbia to recognise Kosovar independence (just as the UK did soon after Kosovo announced independence on 17 February, 2008).

 Adding further tension to Anglo-Serb relations is the fact that if one walks the streets of Kosovo, you may even bump into a few thirteen-year old children called ‘Tonibler’ in homage to a leader they see as their hero. This is compounded by the fact that two-years earlier, Serbs had taken to the streets of London in protest to what they saw as British hypocrisy.  Why, they shouted, was it that they supported Kosovar independence but not at the same time willing to make similar concessions to the republicans of Northern Ireland?

Putting this aside however, it is important that the UK continue to support both Serbian membership whilst maintaining its support for Kosovar independence. After all it is all they can do.
The UK has a lot of history in the Balkans, with most of it being forged in the past twenty-years. Also keep in mind the UK’s recent involvement in Libya which, as many have commented, share strong parallels with NATOs involvement in Kosovo, for example both involved the use of air-strikes in response to a humanitarian crisis.

The point of this comparison is that if Serbian membership of the EU leads to a chain of Europeanization across the region and a thaw in the tensions with Kosovo, hopefully this can serve as an example, and hope for the future, that intervention can work. It is a powerful symbol for the transformation of once brutal regimes, which is why the UK should welcome the recent announcement of Serbian candidature.

Monday 19 March 2012

Who said Greece is “washed-up”? New tragedies Produced

Erik Edman

Greece might not be receiving the best treatment from its European partners, but it remains a European country.
(picture from: theglobeandmail)

A Greek “Tragodia”

The Ancient Greek civilization, some 2500 years ago, gave birth and meaning to the word “tragedy”. It was a genre of theatre in which a fundamentally good –but far from perfect– tragic hero would make a mistake or hubris, resulting in different types of calamities meant to punish him for his shortcomings. These calamities where collectively known as the pathos of the protagonist, made worse in the peripeteia, during which the events take a turn for the worse and within that dire moment of despair, all seems lost.
Anyone who has been following even the most basic developments of the Greek economic crisis will be able to draw a number of parallels between an Ancient Greek tragedy and its modern counterpart. The details of this story are known all too well. With an astronomical public debt, a corrupt administration, a soaring unemployment rate and with civil unrest as a common phenomenon, Greece is definitely the most volatile corner of the European Union. Young people in Greece face a 51.5% unemployment rate as opposed to a 22.2% in the UK and an impressive 7.8% in Germany. Europe might be saving Greece as a political entity –although even that is questionable- but it is leaving it bereft of life.
Some may ask: “What is Europe meant to do? It simply wishes to ensure that its investment is not laid to waste.” I can sympathise with that. What I refuse to endorse is the way Europe is going about doing this. It is so easy seeing Greece as a collection of graphs, spread sheets and numbers when sitting in an office in Berlin, an office not smelling of teargas and with no daily protests to interrupt the rhythmical, hypnotising clicking of the calculator.

Greek “Mythoi”
The austerity measures have started to take their toll: the number of homeless in Greece’s capital, Athens, has risen to 20,000. Graffiti reads: “Let us not live like slaves”. (picture from: The Guardian)

But Greece exists outside those numbers. It lies in the South-Eastern corner of Europe and it is taking a good beating, like it has done so many times in the past. Hardships are not new to the Greek people, some of whom still remember the German occupation, the Civil War that followed, and the military dictatorship of the 1970s. It is important to dispel the myths of sloth that surrounds Greeks today. It is disturbing that anyone would consider these as truthful. The European continent was witness to one of the most monstrous vilifications of a single people the world has ever seen. One would have thought that it would know better.
What Greece needs is to regain its political trustworthiness and legitimacy, not only with its international partners, but also at home. Until the Greeks can feel that they can trust their politicians, the unrest will not end and the country will stay in turmoil. The state needs to create new institutions, replace outdated legislation and implement the changes it has promised not just on the easy targets, such as the poor, the retired and the jobless, but also the rich and powerful. Greece needs a strong government; a government that will put the national interest above political interests.
Europe is desperately trying to keep Greece afloat and in doing so, it is damaging its people. Greece as a political entity is a fumbling, imperfect thing which does not resemble a modern democracy in a number of key ways. It had to fall and give rise to a new country; refreshed and born out of the mistakes of the old one. Instead, Europe has kept alive a gravelly ill patient, not because it cares for the Greeks but because it cares about the euro. A cure might be found in the long term but until then, the patient will have to suffer.
A discontent Greek outside the House of Parliament holding a sign that reads: “Punishment Awaits You at the Elections”. The Greek public has lost all hope in its political representatives. (picture from: keeptalkinggreece)

The Way towards a Greek “Katharsis” and the UK’s part in it
In Greek tragedies, following the peripeteia, the road is open for the protagonist’s katharsis which leads to atonement. Sadly, Ancient Greeks were huge fans of drama, and atonement did not necessarily mean “happily ever after”. In this modern production, the happy ending might depend on the secondary characters.
The UK is currently firmly undecided concerning its role. Germany is happy with the UK taking an observer’s position in this crisis and the UK seems, in return, happy to oblige. But there are plenty of reasons why it should speak up.
The first and most obvious reason for the UK to act is moral. The Greek people are being forced to live in conditions where no human being could live. The new debt-swap deal might save the country as an institution from bankruptcy –for now– but it does little for its citizens. When one attempts to save an addict, they take upon them the responsibility to do so in a way gradual enough not to kill them. Brussels and Berlin have simply pulled the plug. London should recognise this and oppose it.
The second reason is economic. A healthy and steady Greece could only benefit the UK. Although outside the Eurozone, the UK is still part of the European Union and therefore part of a single market which provides free movement of people, goods, services, and capital within member states. As such, it is in Britain’s interest to involve itself in the proceedings. The Greek people need to have some kind of market power in order for their economy to stand back on its feet. But when the citizens have no money to spend, there is nothing to get the economy moving again. This is disastrous for the euro, which hopes for a Greek recovery. Any blow to Europe’s economy, the UK’s biggest trading partner, would have huge negative side-effects on the country’s economic strength and stability. The UK is not beyond economic reproach, as the recent warning from Moody’s to downgrade the country’s triple-A status proves.
Europe also owes Greece a cultural debt. Greece is one of the main pillars of European civilization, a fact that Europeans of the Enlightenment were keenly aware of when they came to Greece to fight and, as in the case of Lord Byron, die in the revolutionary war against the Ottoman Turks. However deep in economics Europe decides to bury itself, no matter how much it loses itself in accounting, it will never be able to escape its past; a past which is inescapably intertwined with Greece’s. The idea of the Union turning its back to the country that shaped the thought of the continent so profoundly is unthinkable.
Greece in “Europi”
Greece belongs in Europe. It is a European nation, with European ideals, beliefs and culture. Most European languages can find within them the profound influence Greek culture and ideas have had on the continent’s development. What the nation needs is fair treatment from its European partners. It does not require saviours, but it does need supporters; nations that will encourage investment in the country in order to commence a much needed growth period.
It is interesting to note that many Greeks, and especially the younger generations, continue to feel part of Europe and welcome a European future for Greece. They were taught to appreciate money with the drachma but they have learnt to use it with the euro. They have seen the merits of a united Europe and it would be a shame to ruin their dreams and replace them with hatred through this unreasonable EU treatment.
With the Olympics Games quickly approaching and the Parthenon Marbles still safely on display in the British Museum, the UK should take a step back and remind itself that Greece is everywhere. It is in the language we speak, the thoughts we think and the economy we worry about. One needs not be a social activist to accept the fact that Greece is too big a part of us to be left to ruin.