Sarajevo Canton amends its constitution

On the 5th of September I have attacked the EU Delegation to BiH’s position towards the lack of commitment by BiH politicians in implementing ECRH rule over the famous Finci-Sejdic case.

Apparently, I have committed a mistake, though.
Unfortunately this does not involves the EU Delegation, which harsh position towards BiH politicians is still very hard, and will not lead to any amelioration in the political life in the country.

I wrongly believed that no BiH government would have been able to independently modify its constitution, aligning the document to the ECHR ruling previously mentioned. Apparently, the Sarajevo Canton managed to accomplish such unmistakably historic deed.

I will try to acquire a translation of the document and than provide you, my dear readers, a socio-political commentary on it. It is however undoubtably remarkable that BiH politics shows some signs of life. 

I sincerely hope that this event won’t remain an isolated case.

BiH census change: from theory to practice

Yesterday, SETimes reported the victory of NGO’s lobbying against the government regarding the thorny issue of 2013 census. As you can read in the article, the questionnaire model has been amended in order to guarantee a much wider span of possible answers and therefore granting BiH citizens the chance to define themselves in a more complete and coherent way.

I personally agree with the concerns expressed by Adnan Huskic, a member of Initiative for a Free Declaration and lecturer at the Sarajevo School of Science and Technology. My disquietude is not just linked to the bad timing of the scheduled, or to the chronic lack of awareness of most BiH population on the matter (which will in any case, partially nullify the aforementioned great NGO’s achievement).

My personal concerns regard the well known ease shown by other Balkan societies in pairing the census to the political elections. Montenegro for example, passed from having a 98% Serbian majority to a 34% Serbian minority in less than a decade. No major migration took place in that short timespan. The leverage of power, however, definitely migrated from Belgrade to Podgorica, and this made the miracle happen.

I personally welcome the NGO’s work: it is a further demonstration that BiH civil society is filling the gap left by the non-existing federal government in a continuously increasing efficient way. However, I still believe that 2013 census figures will not show us any major change from the 1991 ones.
There has been a very marginal shifting of political power since than.

The future of Europe: dismantle populism

This evening I attended the most interesting event host by Open Society at the Hub Brussels, aimed at launching Counterpoint‘s report on the spread of populism throughout Europe.

I am still eager to go through the whole study, but screening it with studious frenzy and after having listened to the discussion in the Hub, I can say that the work is worth to be analysed in detail. Briefly, the report aims at underlining some of the causes of the rise of populist, xenophobic nationalists parties in Europe, focusing of the French, Dutch and Finnish cases. Apart from a detailed statistical analysis, it also provides some valuable policy suggestions, claiming that a majority of populist voters are in fact “reluctant radicals” attracted by populist parties for very different reasons, which derives from common identifiable causes: lack of education in primis.

Populism: a matter of education

The discussion over the findings of the report, however, spread far beyond the geographical and thematic boundaries of the reports itself, touching the very essence of the crisis of democracy we are all experiencing nowadays in Europe. I have to say that I found myself pretty in live with the point made by Prof. René Cuperos . e basically affirmed that the “stigmatisation” of far right/populist/xenophobic parties is useless and dangerous, given that the rise of those parties is linked – not to say caused – by the failing mainstream political parties, which suicided politics in the last two decades. Descending to a more practical level of discussion, European political elites belonging to the so called “mass parties” did not managed to retain contact with the voters; instead they detached themselves more and more, failing in manage the (inevitable) changing process Europe and the concept of European democracy in a globalised world. In the very end, European political elites are failing in managing transition, change: populists parties are therefore legitimate claims of part of the populace, the one more affected by globalisation, by a knowledge-driven economy, by immigration.

While listening to those valuable contributions, I could not refrain from thinking at the Balkans and at their European path. In the last chapter of my manuscript (which will hopefully published soon), I have “unleashed” my critical vision of the European Union, affirming that the halt of the enlargement process shows all the limits of a cracked European identity: our leaders did not nurtured the European ideals enough to make them root within our democratic system. The greediness of local and personalistic interest harmed the Union more than anything else, including the economic crisis. In more than 50 years of “life together”, EU Member States are still not enjoying all the EU instruments at their best. This lack of committment, the general lack of knowledge of the EU is due to the narrow-mindness of most European politicians, which de facto halted the development of an European identity. That is why, I believe, we are still talking about populist movement in Europe. That is also why EU Member States national policies are driving the Balkans towards suicide foreign policy trajectories, like the one Nikolic is taking towards Russia.

The big question, however, remains: how to manage change? How to manage fear derived from change? I cannot provide an answer at this moment, mostly because, regarding this particular topic, I am the objective of my own research.

Curiously, though, I find myself more comfortablein discussing the future of Europe from the Balkan perspective than from the Italian one.

Nurse, pass me the scalpel! Gotta amend my constitution!

Today, on the most relevant Balkanologists websites, you will find news regarding the last attempt of Bosnian government to sabotage itself. Most probably, today you’ll also read the word “Dayton” many, many times. We are of course talking about BiH incapability to amend its constitution so to comply with ECHR sentence on the Finci-Sejdic case.

I have always criticised the Dayton Agreement, I actually despise it so much I have once organised a conference in my university trying to make people understand how stupid, colonialist and inconvenient the treaty is. I have took BiH side in many discussions, claiming that the wounds opened by 91-95 war cannot be closed by a protectorate.

Well, I am taking Bosnian side again, today. SETimes reports that Andy McGuffie, spokesperson of the EU Delegation to BiH and EU Special Representative, lately declared: “All political leaders and representatives of BiH agreed on June 27th in Brussels on these tasks and corresponding timelines. […] It is entirely the responsibility of BiH leaders to make progress on the commitments undertaken.” Consequently, The Bridge Blog reports Mr. Florindi raising its eyebrows to an unprecedented inclination, shouting in the emptiness of his office: “I beg your pardon?!”.

It is clear that the EU Delegation to BiH does not hire historians. But honestly I find very disturbing that an EU official deployed “on the ground” manages to grasps the unmistakable incompetence of BiH leaders, but fails to understand the objective responsibilities of the international community on this matter.

Asking rotten BiH politicians to amend BiH constitution is like asking a wasted drunk patient to practice a self-surgery with a crowbar, in order to remove a previously transplanted, malfunctioning, rejected organ made of garbage.

In this rare photo, we can recognise Milorad Dodik practicing a complicated self-surgery to remove the Dayton Agreement from his entrails. Will the experiment work?

Kosovar journalist defines Kosovo as the first non-State failed State.

Subheading: and he does not realise it.

Yesterday, EuObserver published an article written by the Kosovar journalist Ekrem Krasniqi. I strongly recommend you, dear reader, to have a look at that article and, if you do not faint because of the,  somehow intoxicating use of the modal verb “shall”, I beg you to come back to this blog and read what I have to say on the matter.

Welcome back.

One can be disturbed by Krasniqi’s article for many reasons: some could be Serbian nationalists, and therefore angry at a Kosovar journalist by default; some could disagree with his vision of the EU as a weak political actor; some might simply hate his writing “style”.

However, the reason why I utterly despise the article is the idea it carries, the image Krasniqi gives of the Kosovar government, scoring the clumsiest, goofiest auto-goal ever against Kosovo. I humbly deplore his article because he brutally demonstrates that my criticism of EU’s enlargement and neighboring policy towards the Balkans might have theoretically solid base, but it has to face the abrupt reality of ignorance and political idiocy of Balkan ruling class. And apparently, also of Balkan media.

I am pretty sure, dear reader, that if you ended up reading this blog you are somehow accustomed with the concept of acquis communautaire, the pantagruelic sum of norms derived from EU’s legal production, with which every candidate country has to comply before joining the club.

Lately, in my MA thesis which hopefully will be published soon, I compare EU enlargement with the theoretical backbone of colonisation: the “standard of civilisation“. I am not alone in criticising the very core of the acquis: in 2003 Silva and Sampson theorised that the acquis communautaire can be defined as the 21st century genealogy of new colonial paradigm within the EU borders. Why?

The concept of standard of civilisation originates from the early theories of international law. Prerequisites to be considered a State were (and still are) effective control over certain territory and legitimate rule over a populace subject to the State control. But those prerequisites were not enough to define entities worth to be considered as equals by the European powers. The standard of civilisation can be described as the law of those nations which are “civilised”, as opposed to “non-civilised barbarian tribes”:

“One can define a “law” or “standard of civilization” as an expression of the assumptions, tacit and explicit, used to distinguish those that belong to a particular society from those that do not. By definition, “hose who fulfill the requirements of a particular society’s standard of civilization are brought inside its circle of ‘civilized’ members, while those who do not so conform are left outside as ‘not civilized’ or possibly ‘uncivilized’.”

(Silva & Sampson, 2003).

Therefore, standard of civilisation had three major functions.
First, it has been used as a legal framework, as a principle of international law dividing the world in three major categories: civilised countries, semi-civilised countries and barbarians. This division reflects the need of modern European powers for reliable and equal partners in the colonies. Civilised and semi-civilised countries were considered as such in case they could bear the burden of reciprocity with European countries, in terms of rights, obligations and expectations of the political interaction.
Therefore, the second implicit function of the standard of civilisation is to it sort among different territories and cultures, legitimizing the European colonisation over certain territories rather than others, basing such legitimisation on the level of civilisation encountered. The “white man’s burden” and its French version “mission civilisatrice” were internationally applied by the Berling Congress and were further used by the League of Nations in order to legitimise the protectorate, an international law instrument to perpetrate colonialism.
Thirdly, the standard of civilisation became an hegemonic idea. No relations between European and non-European countries could take place without the compliance of the latter with the European standards.

Now, doesn’t it look like EU’s enlargement strategy? No? Substitute the words “standard of civilisation” with “acquis communautarie“, “civilisation” with “European identity” and the game is pretty done. Therefore, one might say that the enlargement process is in fact a revised version of the French “acquis colonial”, i.e. an attempt to “civilise” barbarian, philistine, inferior cultures and elevate them at the European level. One might also say that this is what is happening right now in Serbia, or in Montenegro, or, even more, in Kosovo, where the “mission civilisatrice” has a clear name and an international mandate: EULEX.

Bismark dividing Africa: will we experience Merkel ruling Kosovo?Image: Congo Conference, Berlin, 15 Novmember 1884 to 26 February 1885, “Everyone gets his share”, French caricature; wood engraving from “L’Illustration”, 1885/I.

Of course, it is not that easy. I have discussed these theories in my MA thesis, describing the current enlargement process and providing a solid theoretical base to each and every word posted on this article. My point is not to demonstrate that the EU is in fact colonising the Balkans. I am rather trying to stimulate a critical thinking over the way certain EU’s policies are developed and put in place. So, now that I have ironically used the “lite version” of my MA thesis’ arguments as a crowbar to dis-embed your belief over the EU’s neighborhood policy, it’s time to go back to the objective of this article: the Kosovar journalist’s proposals for a German restoration of Kosovo.

Let us assume that EU enlargement and neighborhood policy are in fact driven by neo-colonial practices. What Krasniqi is proposing in its article is a brutal, consensual taking over of Kosovo by German authorities, which shall in fact establish a real State over a territory which is now in the lap of the gods (and therefore, as Krasniqi describes it, it is not a State…). The Kosovar journalist foresees a better future for Kosovo and for the whole region if the Germans would export their education system, their political system, their economic system (and I guess he didn’t went further just for editorial reasons…), on the base of 20-years long contract.
To my eyes, in the light of the previous part of this article, Krasniqi’s proposal looks like the African/Indian/Asian/you name it local chieftain requesting the support of the East India Company. Quoting from Krasniqi: “Germany should install its experts in key Kosovo government departments” as, for example, the UK did in India, Iran, Burma, or as France did in Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, or as Germany and later Belgium did in Congo, or as other European powers did in countless other political entities scattered on the globe, disappeared because of the colonial era.

To use modern terminology, Krasniqi implicitly defines Kosovo as a non-State failed State: Kosovo declared its independence, but apparently it is not able to enforce it and therefore it is not a State; however, Kosovo represents a threat to the security and stability of the whole region because of its failed government, its criminal economy and its bad relationships with neighbors, making it a look alike to a failed State.
Amazing. This goes beyond the wildest dream of the craziest CIA political analyst.

I find Krasniqi’s proposal simply ridiculous. It is in fact so ridiculous that I am seriously challenged to consider it is a badly made attempt to criticise the Kosovar government and the international community (which is responsible for the current situation in the Balkans, as Krasniqi rightfully reports). If it is not a boutade, and if there are people in Kosovo which would agree with such a proposal, I believe that most probably what they deserve is indeed a neo-colonialist regime, at the edge of Europe, in the 21st century, over a territory which experienced war, perpetual instability and a fake 5-years freedom.

Maybe it is true, as Santayana says, that “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”. Apparently Kosovar journalists and politicians should go back to school.

The bridge of contention

Courtesy of Al Jazeera Balkans

When I decide to start this blog and recalling the famous Andrić’s quote on bridges, I surely didn’t have in mind the monstrous Croatian project to connect its two mainland parts.

I am talking about a well known issue to Balkanologists, which has been recently brought up to the major media by SETimes.

The project of the bridge

What is the role of the EU in this inter-States issue?
As we all know, Croatia is about to become the 28th EU Member State, further expanding the borders of the Union, actually taking Slovenia’s place as the last EU “stronghold” before “No man’s land”.
As reported by SETimes, Croatia is willing to use the cohesion fund to finance a project which might hamper Bosnia and Hercegovina rightful access to the sea. It is my belief that the creation of a bridge to physically (and politically) “skip” BiH would not help neither Bosnia, nor Croatia and especially will harm the reconciliation process in the area. And lurch EU’s reputation in BiH (if needed…).

First of all, the United Nations Convention on the law of the see (Montego Bay)  apparently does not provide any lawful ground for an arbitrated settlement of the dispute. The territorial sea of BiH is entirely encircled by the internal sea of Croatia, thus creating an unprecedented case. Furthermore, as immediately noted down by Mladen Klemencic “Bosnia-Hercegovina does not have any port facilities on its strip of coast, all transportation will be directed to the nearest Croatian port of Ploce”. As we know, there is no theoretical right of peaceful passage in internal waters, unless bilater/multilateral agreements among States regulate such manner. However, since the project forecasts the construction of a bridge over the sea strip right in front of Bosnian territorial sea, it might be argued that the project would harm BiH rights to access high sea. Apart from fascinating legal theoretical rumination, it is clear that the only long term solution shall be based on a political, negotial agreement.

And here it comes the role of the EU.

Although BiH’s chances to join the Union in the medium term are proximal to 0%, in the unfortunate case the EU shall sponsor the bridge project, it will clearly further undermine its image, presenting a picture of EU as a “big brother”, willing to support who’s joining the club at the expenses of other, weaker States. Fortunately, it seems that DG REGIO Commissioner Hahn did not discuss any EU’s participation in the creation of the bridge. For now.

Even if the Commission will maintain a distant position from the project, it is clear that Croatia will do everything in its power to implement the infrastructure. It is necessary to find a more sustainable solution to the issue, bearing in mind the regional cooperation. I have passed through Neum more than once. Any traveller willing to reach Montenegro or Dubrovnik from Trieste will experience the unfortunate misadventure of crossing far too many borders. My love and passion for the Balkans, paired with a couple of coffees and the usual “traveling coma” typical of any Balkan busses customer, helped me sustaining the consequences of this ridiculous case of international law of the sea.

How to solve this issue? In my opinion the best solution would be an extraterritorial highway through Neum. Nothing new under the sun: extraterritorialities are common instruments in the hand of wise politicians to connect States. Given the lack of know how and the difficulties in finding resources from the Bosnian side, both States might find this solution profitable from the purely economic perspective. In fact, the construction of a high way shall result cheaper than then bridge, allowing travelers to shorten their trip.

Such a solution, however, lies on a broader normalisation of the relationship between BiH and Croatia. I humbly believe that 23km of Bosnian coasts are useless without dock facilities and clear and reliable access to the Mediterranean. Given the rightful and unquestionable Bosnian sovereignty over Neum municipality, it is necessary to find a common solution to what is, in fact, a common problem. Ideally speaking, BiH could offer part of Neum territory to be internationalised , in exchange of partial exploitation of Ploce port, based on an international agreement with Croatia. In this way, Bosnian rights over Neum coastline will be preserved, guaranteeing  the fruitful use of Ploce and allowing Croatia to build the highway within the extraterritorial regime hitherto created. Goods shall freely move from Ploce to Neum and from Neum to the rest of BiH without major delays. In the same way, Croatia would finally link Southern Dalmatia with the rest of the country.
The construction of the bridge is pointless and dangerous for two main reasons. The first is of a purely practical matter: in the moment Bosnia will join the EU and/or agreements regarding the permeability of the Croatian/Bosnian border shall enter into force, the bridge will be de facto useless. Furthermore, we shall keep in mind the volume of transports in the region, which, in my experience, do not justify the creation of such an expensive infrastructure. The second reason concerns political strategy and neighboring relations. Croatian attempt to build the bridge represents a brutal show off of political and economic power, which in the end denotes a politically obtuse and obsolete behaviour. Without undermining the importance of reconciliation, Zagreb and Sarajevo shall look at the bridge case as a chance to practically overcome nationalistic disputes, demonstrating political maturity and wise management of State resource.

In the end, the bridge case is one of the nth chances the Balkans have to show to the outer world (and demonstrate to themselves) that reconciliation is possible, necessary and it is not economically impossible (especially in the fields of common infrastructures).
Honestly, however, I do not expect a sustainable solution of the matter.