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Democracy in the Balkans?

May 17, 2007 by  


By Geoffrey Cook, Muslim Media News Service (MMNS)

Berkeley–I wrote an article several weeks ago about the possibility for a free Islamic Kosova. I promised more information when there had been movement on the issue. Well, there has been movement. The negotiator with US and EU support has referred the issue of independence from Serbia to the Security Council of the United Nations.

Islamic Kosova remains a province of Serbia, an overwhelmingly Orthodox Christian country. The Serb government has recently said it will not grant independence willingly to their overwhelmingly Muslim Province of Kosova unless the UN forces them. Just today (May 13th) a high-ranking Serb politician proclaimed that self-governing Kosovars would be the beginning of the breakup of Serbia itself. At the moment it is on the Agenda of the Security Council to decide on how to proceed. At the same time, they have sent their chief negotiator on Pristina back to Belgrade for further talks.

Another new successfully-sovereign Balkan state in the Southern Balkans is Bosnia-Herzegovina. They are forty% Muslim–the largest group although they still are a minority since they do not make up fifty percent of the population.

About two months ago I was able talk to a previous Head of the UN Mission to the former Yugoslavia, Susan Woodward. She is an expert on post- Soviet affairs and on reconstruction in those areas.

One of the most exciting things for me with shifts within the Second World (Socialist Camp) is that I can study and communicate with people and cultures that are predominantly Muslim. The South Balkans are one, but, since the First and the rest of the Muslim Worlds have been separated from them for so long, there is a lack of scholarship on how to interpret their policies.

I have always held an admiration for the late President Tito. Besides being a courageous and great military leader in driving the better armed fascists from his land during the Second World War (1940s), he was a great political leader in keeping a diverse and contentious nation together. (Of course, he did so with a hard fist.) When he died, there was no one with his skills and personal liberality to follow him, and the once estimable Yugoslavia crumbled ugly into its constituent parts.

I believe it was always the secret dream of the United States that that nation on the Adriatic and the U.S.S.R. (Union of Socialist Soviet Republics) would fall apart into its parts. Now, Washington has to live with a dangerous instability in those once stable regions.

In the Southern part of the Former Yugoslavia there are three political units–now an independent (Orthodox) Montenegro makes a fourth. Susan Woodward doubts that democracy will take root in that soil any time soon because of the legacy of the Communist system. Still, the first Yugoslav democrats were anti-Communists. Yet she asks if a strong sense of statehood is necessary for democracy, but, without a strong state, democratic regimes are likely to snap. She repeats the cliché that democracies will not go to war with other democracies. Even the American Civil and Revolutionary Wars were between democracies. Often they are over territorial disputes such as the Mexican-American War or economic argument such as when the United States and the United Kingdom almost came to blows in 1927 over North Atlantic trade.

There is a development dilemma in this district: faster progress creates more rapid economic growth. She claims that democracy possesses an intrinsic advantage. This is definitely a Western opinion, but does not hold under all instances over all cultural environments. In the four “countries” in the Balkans, a policy dominates due to U.S. bullying. Amongst Europeans there is a nostalgic glance backward toward the Marshall Plan. Foreign policy goals by the U.S., the UN, and the European Union (EU) are similar for each of these territories. Bosnia, Serbia and Kosova are “European compatible moderates,” but in Pristina and Sarajevo many politicians are accused of being anti-European. Of course, the basic struggle for the Kosovars are minimal human rights.

Dr. Woodward deems that Europeanization equals democratization. Although it is my opinion that most younger people in Muslim realms are striving for that, but different religion and cultures have to be factored in, and may make a democratic system look quite different there than in London or other Western European capitals.

In Bosnia there is a considerable debate over this. Their leaders cannot come to a decision over the best model to follow. There is a sense that the International powers are applying undue pressure on their body politic. Susan Woodward questions whether Bosnia is capable of self-determination or not? “How can a country with Roman Catholics, Orthodox Christians and Muslims create a democratic state together?” As an American, your author feels this is rather a rather jaundiced view. There are several nations in the Middle East where there is a significant minority of Christians living together well with Muslims.

The Kosovars, on the other hand, are against outside intervention of any sort. She asks, “Is this a characteristic of Albanians [in general]?”

The Serbians, who are the oppressors, are similar, but we can better understand their deep historical motivations. Serbia has a sensation of being a “cyclical” state.

“Before the question of statehood can be approached, the nation has to first launch firm institutions.” with well-established recognized boundaries. Kosova and Bosnia have not solved these problems yet. Susan is rather baffled over whether they ever will, for they manage the electoral process merely to impress the international community. In other words, foreign powers are pressuring Islamic people to create States that are in NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s) image, and not from their own traditions. This would create instability, indeed!

None have been able to settle their Constitutions. The EU has taken responsibility for any Constitutional problems in the region. That means that Muslims cannot insert any of their traditional law into the courts. The final resolution of the Kosova “problem” has been held off “for eight years since they were under Constitutional revision.”

Nationalism over religion dominates the three entities we are discussing. This is preventing a democratic solution for many difficulties in the former Yugoslav provinces.

Then, there is the threat of the military in each budding state to the evolution of social equality. The supposed integration of the Army into Civil Society after the end of the Wars of the 1990s is on paper only. The KLA, a guerrilla army, has merely transformed itself into the KPC, The Kosova Army, without much reform. A democratic society will be impossible as long as the military is not under the control of the civilian government, but the political parties simply have allied themselves with their generals although alliances with NATO has promoted some political liberalization.

“Democracy can only flourish with peace.” Therefore, Bosnia and Kosova are frustrating examples because of their “cyclical” revolutions. The foreign policy goals towards this area of the former Yugoslavia “…expect elections, yet often they do not agree with the results.” The states are not corrupt, but their political parties are. “The citizens use their vote as a protest” while the technocrats determine policy. Islam may dominate two of the states, but the Socialist mentality still holds tight. “The legitimacy for a democratic territory is still born” since “Democratization depends on a starting point.” Unfortunately, it has yet to develop. (For instance, most Serbs identify themselves as Yugoslavian still.)

What all this means is Muslim economics have been obliterated. Succinctly, they do not have an economy there. If Pristina could be divided between the Albanian and their minorities, Kosova could join their brothers in Albania, and this would create internal markets and access to the sea. This would improve their abysmal economic situation; instead, the United States the European Union favor “supervised independence” under the UN. The question becomes, how will Serbia react?

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