Geopolitical Games and Ordinary Citizens

IMG_2830  Today’s Monkey Cage blog features the first publication of survey data based research on geopolitical attitudes among ordinary citizens in southeast 6 Ukraine and Crimea. This research was funded by a RAPID grant from the Political Science division of the National Science Foundation. Our initial proposal had to be modified because of the outbreak of fighting in the far eastern oblasts of Donetsk and Luhansk in April 2014. The survey research was administered in 6 southeastern oblasts (excluding Donetsk and Luhansk)  in December 2014 by the Kiev International Institute of Sociology (KIIS) while the Levada Center conducted the research in Crimea. We wish to acknowledge the professionalism and independent integrity of both organizations in helping us realize this social scientific and academic research driven project.


Yesterday John O’Loughlin (pictured) and I presented the data that is in today’s Monkey Cage blog at an event organized by the Director of Institute for European, Russian and Eurasian Studies (IERES) at George Washington University, Dr Henry Hale. He and a team of fellow academics also used KIIS for a three part panel survey on Ukrainian elections, the Euromaidan protests, and security perceptions in 2014. Part of that team, Dr Olga Onuch from the University of Manchester and Dr Nadiya Kravets from the Harvard Ukrainian Research Institute, were in attendance as were a number of other researchers engaged in ongoing work in Ukraine. Unfortunately bad weather prevented Dr Erik Herron from attending but an article on his 2014 research on the Ukrainian electoral administration system is published, along with lots of other interesting articles, in a special edition on Ukraine’s crisis in Eurasian Geography and Economics.

‘Southeast 6 Ukraine’ is an awkward geographic designator but it is the most accurate as we are not surveying all of ‘Eastern Ukraine’ or ‘Southeast Ukraine.’ The Monkey Cage blog  piece appeared with graphs that had the title ‘Eastern Ukraine’ but this should be understood as Southeast 6 Ukraine and not areas beyond those surveyed. This issue came up yesterday in questions where someone asked what our bottom line conclusions are about “Eastern Ukraine” and Crimea. Our answer was to stress how Ukraine is made up of very distinct geographic regions. Crimea is very clearly different from the territory to its north: it is a place apart. In a very different way, so also is the Donbas(s), Donetsk and Luhansk. There is no homogenous ‘Eastern Ukraine’ or ‘Southeastern Ukraine’ but a quilt of very different places. Our survey considers two but is unable to make any observations about the Donbas(s).

Our next public presentation of this KIIS-Levada survey data, and what it reveals about the contemporary conflict between Ukraine and Russia, is at the Woodrow Wilson Center on the 13th of February 2015. The working title of the presentation is: “Geopolitical Games and Ordinary Citizens.”

Posted in Public Opinion, Research, Ukraine | Tagged | Leave a comment

Fears and Fantasies about the “Flesh of the Nation”

Yesterday Adis Maksic defended his Ph D dissertation “Mobilizing for Ethnic Violence? Ethno-National Political Parties and the Dynamics of Ethno-Politicization.” Adis is a Sarajevo native who was fortunately able to come to the United States with his family after his family suffered a tragedy at the outset of the Bosnian War in 1992. He completed a Masters in our program in 2009 on referendum discourse in Republika Srpska, and returned to our program for a Ph D in 2011 with funding from the US National Science Foundation (our program, unfortunately, provides no independent Ph D student funding so most of our Ph D students are part-time students and full time working professionals in the DC area). Through his diligent research and translation work, we were able to write together “Serbs, You are Allowed to be Serbs”: Radovan Karadžić and the 1990 Election Campaign in Bosnia-Herzegovina” which was published in Ethnopolitics 13, 3 (2014).

For his dissertation, Adis deepened and widened this research topic by studying the origins, founding, electoral triumph and subsequent political machinations of the Serb Democratic Party, Jan 1990 to April 1992 when the Bosnia war erupted with intensity. The argument in that article about the power of visceral understandings and affective experience of the nation in recruiting people to ethnonationalist movements, ethno-parties and ethnicized violence.

CroatiaAsKnifeBeyond exploring the power of affective thinking, Adis provides the best and most deeply researched account of Bosnia’s road to the ‘gates of hell’ I have read. It is a story full of contingencies and fluidity, and he relates it with extreme attention to the ‘mixed emotions’ of the participants (as well as with exemplary scholarly evenhandedness). Karadžić famously interpreted the idea of placing state borders between Bosnia and Serbia as “severing the living flesh of the Serb nation.” What is striking about the 1990-91 period is how permeated it was by fears and fantasies of extreme violence. Fear of a return of the Ustasa in Croatia was a primal theme that played on the consciousness of many (the map above is the illustration of an article in the Serbian weekly NIN on the coming to power of the HDZ in April 1990 after democratic elections in Croatia). Mass graves sites were dug up (‘pits’) and victims of the Partisans re-buried in services that created communities of affect.

By way of establishing perspective on the SDS and BiH/Yugoslav context, Adis develops an asymmetrical comparison with the rise of the Georgian national movement at the same time, analyzing Gamsakhurdia and ‘Round Table – Free Georgia’ within the terms of his overall three part analysis of  political opportunity structures, dissemination modalities, and discursive framings.

IMG_3083It is always gratifying when a Ph D student, through hard work and serious scholarly application, reaches his or her potential in a work. Adis Maksic has done so in this work and hopefully we will all see this work in book form within the next two years. Pictured with Adis in black suit and tie are external observer Dr Sarah Wagner (whose book on Srebrenica has just been published) and his Ph D committee Dr Giselle Datz, Dr Toal and Dr Joel Peters. Not pictured yet an integral and inspiring part of his committee is Dr Robert Donia, whose new biography of Radovan Karadžić has just been published, also by Cambridge University Press. Its cover photo of Karadžić before a map underscores the intimate connections between cartography, space and genocide.

Posted in Affect, Bosnia, Bosnian war, Cartography, Current affairs, Democracy, ethnic cleansing, genocide, Georgia, nationalism, neuropolitics, South Ossetia, World political map | Leave a comment

Airspace in De Facto States: Remarks on Ukraine Crisis at the New School, 3 October 2014

Given the recent helicopter shoot down in Nagorno Karabakh, and the ongoing fighting over Donetsk airport, I’m posting below some remarks I made at the New School conference last month on the Ukrainian crisis. Point 2 addresses airspace.

On Overlapping Sovereignty & Legitimacy in De Facto States

Gerard Toal, New School, 3 October 2014.

I am going to seek to bridge the theme of ‘narratives of legitimacy’ in the first panel with the question of ‘overlapping sovereignties’ by speaking a little bit about the phenomenon of enduring de facto states. There are three issues I want to raise for our discussion – de facto states, airspaces, and the flattening qualities of an affectively fueled civilizational geopolitical discourse.

  1. Ukraine and De Facto State Building.

De facto states are usually defined as states that have proclaimed and established de facto sovereignty, for at least two years, over a claimed territorial space but lack de jure recognition of this sovereignty by the international community. Sometimes the terms, internal sovereignty and external sovereignty are used, the former but not the latter acquired by de facto states. De facto states are particularly interesting because they are places where questions of sovereignty & legitimacy are raw & contested, and manifestly much more complex than conventional liberal legal understandings of these notions. This is more than overlapping sovereignties; this is an initial war of maneuver and then an ongoing war of position between sovereign centers and then sovereignty regimes. Ukraine has long been a particularly interesting location for de facto state building – think of the period between 1917 and 1920 when Ukraine saw ‘triple power’ in 1917 – the Provisional Government (13 March 1917), a Kharkiv Soviet (15 March 1917) and a Kyiv Soviet (16 March 1917), and the Central Rada (17 March 1917) which eventually proclaimed a Ukrainian People’s Republic – followed by Skoropadsky’s Hetmanate (proclaimed 29 April 1918), then the chaos of 1919 before the eventual creation of the Soviet Republic of Ukraine. The horror of the Reichkommissariat Ukraine (RKU, September 1941 to March 1944) is well known, an occupation regime with murderous complexes of sovereign power & bio-politics (see the free online issue on Holocaust and Genocide Studies on Ukraine). And, today, Ukraine is the site of de facto state building gambits once more, with the Lugansk People’s Republic (proclaimed 27 April 2014, referendum 11 May, independence declaration 12 May) and the Donetsk People’s Republic (proclaimed 7 April 2014), self-proclaimed representatives of both came together to form a union of People’s Republics, the so-called Federation of Novorossiya on 24 May 2014.

Many see these emergent de facto states (and they can’t really be termed such unless they endure for at least two years) in the same terms as the four de facto states that emerged during the collapse of the Soviet Union. It is worth noting, however, beyond the particular geopolitical circumstances of their creation, how enormous the current Noyorossiya is relative to the existing de facto states. Luhansk and Donestsk together had an estimated population of 6.5 million in 2012. Together the lands under rebel control in Ukraine are the home to at least 4 million people. The industrial infrastructure in this area is much more significant than we see in any of the other de facto entities. So also is the challenge of industrial transformation and social welfare.

Post-Soviet de facto states are paradoxical spaces. On the one hand, they engage in elaborate theatrics of independence yet, on the other hand, they are manifestly dependent upon their patron state, Russia and Armenian in the case of Nagorny Karabakh. On the one hand, they are sites of transgressive actions and norm defiance. On the other hand, they crave legitimacy and simulate norm adherence. They are sites where the fictive and mythic qualities of state sovereignty as territorial theatrics are most manifest, where ‘faking it on the ground until you make it into the diplomatic circuit’ is most apparent.

2 Airspaces & Vertical Geopolitics

Agnew (2005) has challenged the conventional linkage of territory and sovereignty, and developed a notion of ‘regimes of sovereignty’ that considered how the infrastructural power of major states extends well beyond the actual territory of the state (this can be described as extraterritoriality). This is part of his larger argument about the spatiality of power not being reduced to state territoriality. Territory is only one kind or expression of state spatiality, and it tends to be though of as extension and not volume. Obviously this is a huge literature but it is worth thinking about BOTH territorial formations (extension & volume) and transnational flowmations as state, and interstate, spatialities.

We can think of sovereignty in territorial terms and how three of the four post-Soviet de facto states today might be though of as spaces of Russian extraterritority, essentially dependencies with the fake form of separatism/independence. Then there are regimes of sovereignty over transnational flowmations. The Soviet Union was not only an empire of nations but an empire of infrastructural linkages and flows of various kinds, most especially people, financial subventions, and energy flows. That Soviet era infrastructure has degraded but those industrial age infrastructures endure: transportation, gas, oil and capital flows. The issue that gets the most attention is, obviously, gas and oil flows. A lesser one that has become significant recently concerns the spatialities of air transportation flows. Airports and flight are particularly sensitive issues in de facto states. Nagorny Karabakh upgraded and repaired the airport outside Stepanakert in 2011 and announced it would begin operation in 2012. However, the airport received no international codes or license from the International Air Transport Association (a trade association representing the most powerful of the world’s airlines, and headquartered in Montreal, Canada) and the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), the specialized agency of the United Nations that codifies international air navigation norms and monitors international air transport to ensure safe flying. [Other norm producing organizations: Airports Council International (ACI) and the Civil Air Navigation Services Organization (CANSO)]. Azerbaijan has threatened to shoot down any aircraft that fly from the airport.

Obviously the horror of MH 17 (the Boeing 777-200ER was on a scheduled flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur) where routine global flows were violently disrupted by territorial struggle on the ground, has highlighted the issue in Ukraine. Some of you will know that Simerfopol just lost its one remaining international flight to Turkey because ICAO decided after the Crimean annexation to no longer certify international flights to, from or over Crimea as protected by international law. This, in effect, left international carrier without insurance in the event of an accident in Crimea.

Rebels on the ground in Donetsk apparently believe their aspiration de facto state needs an airport. Dozens have died as DPR/Russian forces have sought to seize it from the Ukrainian military. But, even if they seize it, are rebels ever going to be able to use this airport to sustain their de facto state? Given that so many Ukrainian soldiers have died defending it, that Ukraine has itself lost military aircraft to the rebels, and that the Ukrainian military has the same BUK systems that took down MH17, this seems highly unlikely. People today may be dying for a desirable prop in a de facto statehood theatrics rather than a usable asset.

3. Flat Geopolitics

Geopolitics can be defined as the spatialities of a state’s quest for security and power in the international system. All states have geopolitical cultures, prevalent conceptions of the states identity, place and mission in the world. Elites have their competing geopolitical traditions, and ordinary citizens have their sometimes-inchoate geopolitical orientations. What is interesting is the ways in which certain hegemonic traditions in the geopolitical cultures of major powers tend to over-ride, over-write and ignore stories & scales other than their own. This is, of course, a form of imperialism, an imposition of a particular universalism upon the world. While our culture enjoys identifying how Russia engages in this practice, we tend to be blind to how our own geopolitical culture also sucks us into the terms of a flat ageographical geopolitics, a singular global or universal scale geopolitics. I think we are seeing this operate right now in how most within the current Western liberal hegemony, and even some within the realist counter to it, see what is unfolding in Ukraine. Ukraine is the mirror in which we find what we had all along, namely a civilizational struggle with Oriental despotism and authoritarianism (in the Tsarist age), with Communism (from 1917 onwards but most especially during the Cold War), with now with Russian great power assertionism, with the personification of all this in one reviled and hated figure (Putin). This tendency has long created opportunities for Moscow’s near abroad state elites to refract their own struggles and interests in its terms. Thus, the failures of Georgian state-building or Ukrainian state-building, failures sometimes if not often brought on and deepened by these very elites, become processed via heroic stories of anti-Russian resistance as “an attack on the West.” We need to be able to think about geopolitics in multi-scalar terms, in terms that acknowledge local complexities & resist global scale determinism, this relentless framing of crises within the terms of the liberal imagination, and its normative, affective commitments. Here’s I’m thinking of Serhily Kudelia’s recent PONARS memo on “The Domestic Sources of the Donbas Insurgency” wherein he concludes: “Monocausal explanations pointing to Russia as the sole culprit miss crucial domestic drivers of the insurrection.” But does emphasis on the local itself mislead?  Perhaps it can. We need a thick geopolitics, one that is open to the complexity of what is before us, and self-critical about how our own culture’s conscious and unconscious categories produce states like Ukraine as a mirror for our own obsessions & conceits. But we also need to be clear about what we are dealing with.

Posted in Current affairs | 2 Comments

Introduction: Virtual Special Issue on Russian Geopolitics

Elsevier has placed a number of its political geography articles on Open Access, in a Virtual Special Issue on Russian Geopolitics. Most, but not all, are from Political Geography. Below is the text of my introduction to the Issue, which was written August 15th, 2014. It doesn’t attempt to summarize the essays made available so I would urge detailed inspection of these.

Russian President Putin stands in front of map of Russia and Commonwealth of Independent States at Novo-Ogaryovo just outside Moscow

What has happened to Russian foreign policy? This is the central question most people across the Euro-Atlantic world are asking themselves. In the wake of the apparent accidental downing of Malaysian Airlines flight 17 from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur by Russian supported rebels in eastern Ukraine on the 17 July 2014, tabloid newspapers across Europe lead with blunt visceral headlines like “Putin’s victims” (The UK’s Daily Mirror) and “Putin killed my son.” Newsweek’s cover dubbed Putin ‘The Pariah’ and described him as “the West’s Public Enemy Number 1.”

PutinPariahRelations between the United States, the European Union and the Russia Federation have hit lows not seen since the end of the Cold War in Europe. With extensive Euro-Atlantic sectoral sanctions now hitting the Russian economy hard, and Russian counter-sanctions against Euro-Atlantic food producers causing considerable economic impacts in many states, most especially those closest to Russia, geopolitics has taken a seemingly sudden nasty turn. Only a few months previously, President Putin had hosted the world at the Sochi Winter Olympics and presented the world with a spectacular show of sports on snow and ice. Yet, less than a week after the conclusion of the games, he had authorized a stealth invasion of the Ukrainian province of Crimea and thereafter annexed the territory after sponsoring a hasty referendum there. Russia’s annexation of Crimea was the first time since World War II that one state had deliberately flaunted international law by unilaterally annexing the territory of another state.

Shocking as the downing of MH17 and annexation of Crimea are, these dramatic events nevertheless have an important historical and spatial context we need to understand. That context is the subject of this virtual special issue of Political Geography on Russian Geopolitics. We are approaching the subject of geopolitics from a critical geopolitical perspective. There is nothing inevitable or over-determined about geopolitics. 1 We are in the realm of cultural constructions and power structures, historio-spatial inheritances and contemporary challenges, games of power and games of rhetorical performance. In this special issue we divide Russian geopolitics into two different categories, those that address Russian geopolitical culture and internal territorial governance challenges, and those that consider Russia’s geopolitical relations with its neighboring states.

Since its start in early 1982 and from the original research agendas essay from the editors, articles in Political Geography (formerly Political Geography Quarterly) have engaged with the subject of Soviet (later Russian) geopolitics. Early papers concentrated on the US-Soviet Cold War confrontation including proxy wars while others harked back to the legacy of the Heartland model of Halford J. Mackinder, usually in a critical manner, which had been re-discovered by American strategists and more recently, by the journalist, Robert Kaplan. These papers are necessarily selective but they illustrate some of the themes of Russian geopolitics that have been represented in Political Geography and which are expected also to feature prominently in the future.

1. Russian Geopolitical Culture & the State.

A geopolitical culture refers to a state’s identity in world politics, how it present and understands itself as a particular type of territorial state in the world of states. This culture has formal, practical and popular forms of expression. The most traditional and narrowest conception of geopolitics is as a form of grand strategy (geo-strategy) that accents the power of geographical givens. This is particular genre of writing that is preoccupied with war and worst-case competitive struggles between states. As a genre, it has thrived in post-Soviet Russia, with Alexander Dugin its most (in)famous proponent. Ingram’s essay provides an excellent introduction to his longstanding preoccupations.

We have a series of essays that address the practical geopolitics, with attention on how leaders in the Kremlin have long had to struggle with territorial integrity questions. Geopolitics here is a question of geo-power, of preserving and strengthening the vertical of power binding the state’s different regions to the center in the face of separatism and, to Putin’s eyes, international conspiracy. Putin’s emphasis on the latter in response to Beslan in September 2004 revealed his suspicious mentality and the categories he would use to interpret the ‘colored revolutions’ and the EuroMaidan protests in the following decade.

2. The Great Game in the Near and Frozen Abroad

Conceived in the capital of imperial great powers, classic geopolitics tended to endorse a zero-sum competition conception of international relations, geopolitics as a great game. The return of this conception to dominance within Russian foreign policy is one of the themes of our time. Many essays in this Virtual Issue address the context of its emergence.

The story of Russian geopolitics may now be front-page news but it requires essays like these to grasp it with the intellectual depth and sophistication it requires.

Posted in Critical Geopolitics, Geography, Political Geography, Presidency, Putin, Robert Kaplan, Russia, state theory, World political map | Leave a comment

Social Survey Research in De Facto States After Crimea

“Daddy works in a magical, faraway land called Academia.”I’m very happy to announce that I’ve a new home office, as a year long house extension project has come to an end. I will seek to renew my writing for this site, though I’m conscious that time spent writing here and on Twitter is time away from R&R, reading and writing, not to mention, most importantly, my family. Certainly, I’d be a much better academic if I neglected my family and kids more! I’m striving on not being too lost in the magical faraway land.

Folks who follow my random musings on Twitter will know that John O’Loughlin and I received a RAPID grant from the US National Science Foundation to build upon our past survey research in de facto states. The Award Description is here, with the summary opening written by the NSF. We are very grateful to the good folks at the Political Science division of the NSF who, as most US academics will know, have had to deal with a concerted political effort in Congress to gut social science research, especially political science. See the AAG statement on this.


One place where social science research is also under the shadow of politics and politicization is Russia. Our previous NSF research project allowed us to employ the Levada Center to conduct a rigorous social science survey in Abkhazia in 2010. They did a terrific job, and were able to proceed unimpeded by the political authorities in Abkhazia (though then President Bagapsh, RIP, pictured above, wasn’t exactly smiling when we met with him, among many others, on our trip to Abkhazia. The Georgian government at the time was not particularly happy about our research, and we sought to convey their perspective in our journal articles). The Levada Center, as many know, is reportedly under considerable political pressure in Russia now as a result of a sweeping “foreign agent” registration law. Whether this law, in effect, criminalizes the aspiration of international researchers to contract with the Levada Center to conduct reliable social survey research on political attitudes is an open question. For the record, our experience cooperating with Russian academics has been excellent; they have been invaluable partners.

The importance of reliable and independent social survey research free of government interference and conducted to the highest standards of rigor should be obvious. Just today,   Alex Cooley and Lincoln Mitchell have an excellent article in Foreign Policy that uses the results of the Levada survey to provide useful public information to a broad English-speaking audience about likely cleavages and attitudes in Abkhazia today. It should be underscored that Professors Cooley and Mitchell’s policy positions, analysis and recommendations are ones that are independent of our research and its results. The goal of our research has never been to provide policy recommendations, though as citizens and moral beings we inevitably have positions on the world we are situated within and encounter. The opening purpose of our research is to generate social science data as a pathway towards knowledge and debate. It doesn’t have a political angle or agenda from the outset (yes, at a deeper level, there are complexities of national socialization, the unconscious, affective conditioning, etc). Whether that is a problem in the polarized conditions after Crimea, and the ongoing fighting in the Donbass, is something we will find out in the next few months.

Posted in Abkhazia, Caucasus conflict, Congress, Current affairs, De Facto States, Democracy, Geography, Political Borders, Political Geography, Putin, South Ossetia, World political map | Leave a comment

The Crimea Precedent & the Post-Soviet De Facto States

IMG_5144.JPG - Version 2

The well-known Political Science blog The Monkey Cage, now owned by the Washington Post (now owned by Jeff Bezoswe all work for Amazon nowposted earlier today a concise 3 graph summary of what our De Facto State Research Survey reveals about likely attitudes amongst different ethnic groups in South Ossetia, Abkhazia and Transnistria (we left out our research results from Nagorny Karabakh since it is not directly supported by the Russian Federation and has its own unique features). We want to thank The Washington Post and particularly Erik Voeten of Georgetown for his assistance in swinging open the door of the Monkey Cage sufficiently to let two Irish political geographers propel some hopefully useful place-based knowledge into the maelstrom of debate that engulfs us post-Crimea. It is painful to summarize years of research into a few paragraphs but at least we didn’t have to write it as a bumper sticker.

Posted in Abkhazia, Armenia, August War, Caucasus conflict, Current affairs, De Facto States, ethnic cleansing, Five Day War, forced displacement, Geography, Nagorny Karabakh, Putin, Russia, Saakashvili, World political map | Tagged | 1 Comment

Bosnia by the Black Sea? Could Crimea be another BiH?


I have an op ed on this topic on the Open Democracy Russia website under the title “Could Crimea Be Another Bosnia?”

For Bosnia specialists, below is the source I used for the opening quote. Specialists will know I analyzed this ‘performative structure’ in my long article on Dodik’s referendum discourse in Nationalities Papers though it was cited incorrectly as Croatian Radio 1990 when it should have, obviously, been 1991, and I incorrectly attributed it to Karadzic whereas Nikola Koljevic, SDS’s BiH President at the time, is the figure reported as using that characterization.

Also, Bosnian specialists will know that there is considerable debate over the significance of October Memorandum passed by the Socialist Assembly and the relationship of ‘sovereign’ to ‘independent.’ Izetbegovic stressed that sovereignty did not mean independence. As we know, the “independence” declaration came later after the Feb 29-March 1 1992 referendum. This understanding equates “independent” with “independent state” in the international interstate system. There is a second more localized understanding of independent, that of a coherent unified (“within its existing borders”) non-encumbered singular actor in a federal system (with a legal right to secession from this system). This, of course, was a stepping stone to the first meaning, which is why Karadzic’s SDS members were dramatically upping the ante after the (depending on your perspective) illegal maneuvre or democratic majority vote on the Memorandum of Sovereignty in October 1991. In the end, to avoid confusion, I dropped the word ‘independent’ though this is how Ana Trbovich described (my emphasis) the Memorandum  A Legal Geography of Yugoslavia’s Disintegration (Oxford, 2008) p. 220: “The proposed Memorandum declared the republic a sovereign and independent state within its existing boundaries…”


November 14, 1991, Thursday


SOURCE: Text of report from Sarajevo

(c) Croatian Radio, Zagreb 1600 gmt 11 Nov 91


LENGTH: 513 words

Who is against Yugoslavia is against us, and now, after the plebiscite, we have enough arguments to prevent the separation of the whole of Bosnia-Hercegovina from Yugoslavia, Radovan Karadzic, president of the SDS, said at a press conference today in reaction to the referendum of the Serbian people in Bosnia-Hercegovina.

It is clear after the plebiscite that the statistical figures of the last census were incorrect and that the number of Serbs is higher. In some municipalities the number of Serbs who voted was about 1,000 higher than had been stated in the census, Vojislav Maksimovic, chairman of the SDS deputies’ club, stated at the same press conference.

The plebiscite of the Serbian people is a democratic reply to undemocratic pressures, and it is now clear that Bosnia-Hercegovina does not have to be either sovereign or independent as far as the people are concerned, Nikola Koljevic, member of the Bosnia-Hercegovina Presidency from the SDS ranks, said. The plebiscite has provided Europe with an indication as to where a solution to the problem of Yugoslavia should be looked for. But we in Yugoslavia do not need their recipes, Momcilo Krajisnik, President of the Assembly of the Serbian Nation, said, going on to add that as early as in the course of the current week that same Assembly would verify the results of the plebiscite and pass decisions to reflect its outcome.

In the light of the above it is quite clear what motives were behind the plebiscite and what further steps the SDS is going to take. This was a plebiscite in which people were allowed to cast votes by producing only an identification card, without adequate lists or any control.

According to the organisers the voting also took place in other republics and countries. Results have already been received from Switzerland, America, Sweden, and Germany and are expected from the Soviet Union from Bosnia-Hercegovina Serbs who work there.

After the counting of votes it became clear that the turnout at some polling stations had been larger than the number of names on election lists. According to Radovan Karadzic, almost 100% of votes were for while the number of those who voted against was below 1%. In the light of their statement that they expected over 1,500,000 voters to cast their vote, it is easy to conclude that one of the aims of the plebiscite was that over 51% of Bosnia-Hercegovina adolescents were for Yugoslavia. But this will be very difficult to prove.

[Note Tanjug (in English 2050 gmt 11 Nov 91) noted ”Apart from Serbs, members of other ethnic communities born or living in Bosnia-Hercegovina were also allowed to vote if they wished so, but on differently-coloured ballots.” The report went on ”Asked by journalists what would happen now, Karadzic said this depended on the other two partners in the government coalition – the Muslim Party of Democratic Action (SDA) and Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ). SDS can agree with HDZ and SDA on everything except the position of Bosnia-Hercegovina in Yugoslavia, Karadzic said.”]

Posted in Bosnia, Bosnian war, Current affairs, De Facto States, Political Borders, Political Geography, Putin, Radovan Karadzic, referendum, Rhetoric, unilateral declaration of independence | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Global Conflicts. My Online Course Syllabus




I’ve been teaching ‘global conflicts’ at Virginia Tech for over twenty years, initially as an undergraduate course called “Geography of Global Conflicts.” In 1995, I offered the course online for the first time. The course has evolved considerably since then, always online, and is now an introductory graduate course in Government and International Affairs called simply ‘Global Conflicts.’ Over the years I have developed a good sense of what does and does not work through online teaching. Unlike many online courses, I don’t place a premium on constant online presence and interaction. Instead, I organize the course around five three week modules, each of which has a written assignment at its end. This course is conceptually demanding, writing intensive, and is not for everyone. Indeed, online teaching works best only for a subset of students, and has definite limits for those students who are not self-starters, organized and independent. I am not an online education enthusiast nor someone who decries it either, though the political economy driving its adoption has pernicious features,  one of which is to further deepen already existing inequalities  and class division within academia. That issue goes beyond online instruction.

Attached is my syllabus for the coming semester.

GIA & PSCI 5254 Global Conflicts Spring 2014_Final

This will be my last blog posting (and tweet) for a good while. I want to make some progress on projects personal and academic.


Je serai de retour!



Posted in ethnic cleansing, forced displacement, Geography, Kurdistan, Kurds, Nagorno-Karabakh, Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, Nagorny Karabakh, nationalism, Political Borders, Political Geography, South Ossetia, Turkey | Tagged | Leave a comment

The Birth of a Nation: Radovan Karadžić and the Ethnopoliticization of Bosnia in 1990

Stjepan_Kljuić,_Radovan_Karadžić,_and_Alija_Izetbegović_in_Sarajevo_1992By the time he strode to the podium in Skenderija Hall, Sarajevo, on 12 July 1990 to speak, the journey of Dr Radovan Karadžić from obscure psychiatrist to politician, wartime leader, and later accused war criminal had begun. Karadžić had been working for months behind the scenes with likeminded Serb nationalists in Croatia, Bosnia and Serbia to create a new political party, a party explicitly for people of Serb nationality in Bosnia-Herzegovina. In neighboring Croatia the Serbian Democratic Party (Српска демократска Странка / Srpska Demokratska Stranka, СДС or SDS) his friend, and fellow psychiatrist, Jovan Rašković, helped found on February 17, 1990, was a model. Two different inaugural boards worked to found a similar party in BiH, and many prominent Serb Sarajeveans were approached to lead the party. All turned it down, and Karadžić, with Rašković’s blessing and public endorsement before his speech, had become leader almost by default. Also endorsing the party that day in Skenderija Hall was the leader of a party of similar ethnopolitical ambition in BiH for those who identified as Muslims, Dr Alija Izetbegović whose Party of Democratic Action (Stranka Demokratske Akcije) was founded only two months earlier. Together with the HDZ (lead initially by Stepan Kljuić, pictured left with the two others above) the SDS and SDA would triumph in the November 1990 elections in BiH, ethnopoliticizing the polity in a ‘democratic’ way that had never occurred before. Within two years, Bosnia would be in the midst of a brutal civil war.

Here is an English language translation of Karadžić’s maiden speech to the SDS BiH founding congress: IntroductorySpeechFoundinSDSAssemblyKaradzic. (Its further evidence for the dangers of ‘genocide-thinking’ and ‘genocide-obsession’ but that is another story).

“‘Serbs, You Are Allowed to be Serbs!’ Radovan Karadžić and the 1990 Election Campaign in Bosnia-Herzegovina,” has just been published online by Ethnopolitics (a Taylor and Francis journal). The article is a study of how the ethnopoliticization of BiH by SDS unfold in the 1990 election campaign. The piece has its origins in the research and translation work undertaken by Adis Maksić into how Oslobodjenje covered the 1990 campaign as part of his NSF supported assistantship at Virginia Tech in the fall of 2011. This research was greatly helped by chats with the famous Oslobodjenje editor at the time, Kemal Kurspahić, who now works locally in Alexandria, Virginia. Kemal is a real gentleman, and we thank him for all his help. As we dived further into the research, I learnt that Dr Robert Donia was writing a biography of Karadžić. He very generously shared the relevant draft chapters with us, and subsequently agreed to serve on Adis’s Ph D committee. His generosity, encouragement and support all helped advance this research.

The paper was first presented at a conference on the former Yugoslavia organized by Dr Carl Dahlman at the Miami University in Ohio and a few days later at the Association for the Study of Nationalities in 2012 by Adis. We want to thank Karl Cordell for professional editorial work in helping us improve the paper, and its anonymous reviewers who provided constructive quality academic feedback on the paper. It is a better paper because of this unsung and often unacknowledged labor. We will pass it on.



Posted in Affect, Bosnia, Bosnian war, Current affairs, Democracy, ethnic cleansing, genocide, political system, Radovan Karadzic, Rhetoric, war crimes, World political map | Tagged | 2 Comments

Internal Legitimacy in De Facto States

The question of legitimacy is, of course, a central one in the study of de facto states. Unrecognized states don’t have it from the international community (or from only a few as in the case of Abkhazia and South Ossetia), and so it is all the more important that they demonstrate to the world that they have it internally. Its self-validation, self-justification and part of the struggle to nudge the international community into moving some way towards recognizing some form of legitimacy in their case. Dichotomizing legitimacy into external and internal components is helpful as a first step in asking deeper questions about legitimacy but what do these notions really mean? Given the full spectrum sensitivity of parent states to any form of international legitimacy to de facto states, ‘external legitimacy’ is not a single condition (UN membership, for example) but a hierarchy they fear is a slippery slope. Should international mobile phone companies be able to offer service in Abkhazia, for example? What about Visa and Mastercard usage? Should Save the Children be allowed to operate, or the World Health Organization?


And what is ‘internal legitimacy,’ a condition permanently enjoyed and earned by de facto states? Is there a difference between what residents (can we call them citizens without playing the legitimation game?) think of the idea of their state, and what they think of its institutions or of the government of the day? Many self-styled US ‘patriots,’ after all, loudly proclaim that they love their country but hate their government (and sometimes its laws, especially if they have anything to do with gun control; c.f. the NYT article on county sheriffs recently that didn’t point out that most of these same sheriffs are secessionists as TRMS did last night). Is the same phenomenon observable in de facto states?

“Convincing State-Builders? Disaggregating Internal Legitimacy in Abkhazia” is the latest article to be published as part of the De Facto State Research Project. It is available on Open Access from International Studies Quarterly, and will eventually appear in regular form in 2014.

Click here to access the article

It explores the question of ‘internal legitimacy’ and seeks to use our 2010 survey to disaggregate this notion. Kristin Baake, UCL, took the lead in writing the article, with Ward and O’Loughlin helping with the statistics. My contribution to this particular article involved (re)conceptualization and (re)writing.

Above is a photo I took in Ochamchire, Bagapsh’s home town, which I happen to like. Behind the unipolar recognition of Medvedev is some prosperity but also the Georgian absence, the scars of war, the tourist signs of mountains and palm trees, while in the foreground is the banal present.

Posted in Abkhazia, Caucasus conflict, Current affairs, ethnic cleansing, Five Day War, genocide, Geography, Geopolitics, Georgia, legitimacy, Russia, Saakashvili, South Ossetia, World political map | Tagged , , | Leave a comment