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

Joe Sacco and the Great War

IMG_1639I had the pleasure of meeting Joe Sacco last night at Politics and Prose where he presented his latest work, The Great War. July 1, 1916: The First Day of the Battle of the Somme. An Illustrated Panorama. First conceived over 15 years ago and drawn on 12 large sheets over eight months, the work is an accordion-style book that opens up as one single black and white sketched panorama of  a portion of the front line from the morning to the evening of July 1. It proceeds from an image of the British Commander General Haig taking his regular morning walk and then heading off in horse procession all the way into the heat of battle in ‘no man’s land’ and back again later in the day through the lines struggling with casualties, ending up with men in the grave. It is thus not a synchronic panoramic shot of the battle across the British and then German lines but instead a synchronic & diachronic bird’e eye panorama that considers only the British lines, and the experience of the British Fourth Army. He cited the Bayeax tapestry as an inspiration. The work has all the fine qualities of Sacco’s drawing: compelling detailed sketch work, the humanization of people as they struggle within structures grinding them.

See this brief New Yorker interview.

I have long been a fan of Sacco’s work and, as it happens, I spent a few days in the Somme in early August 1990, staying for a night with the very hospitable resident attendants of the 36th Ulster Division Memorial, the ‘Ulster Tower’ in what used be called Thiepval Woods. The Ulster Tower has a hallowed place in Ulster Unionism and its attendants were from the Shankill Road. My friend Fintan McKenna and I, school friends from Monaghan, were from the other side of the divide. And, as often happens when meeting in a foreign country, we had a grand time together. I also remember the date well because it was there we learnt that Saddam Hussein had invaded Kuwait.

Dr Nuala Johnson, a professor at Queens University in Belfast (and fellow Syracuse graduate) subsequently wrote a great book on Ireland’s memory of the Great War: Ireland, The Great War and the Geography of Remembrance (Cambridge University Press, 2007).

I first read Sacco’s drawing about his experiences in the West Bank and Gaza after they appeared in the mid-90s. Now all are collected in one volume Palestine (Fantagraphic Books, 2001). As might be imagined, I found his work on Bosnia absolutely inspiring. Safe Area Gorazde is a powerful and compelling work. (I believe my co-author Carl Dahlman has used it as a textbook with undergrads). I also picked up Wars’s End: Profiles from Bosnia 1995-96 when it was published, with its terrific story ‘Christmas with Karadzic.’

Sacco was born in Malta, grew up in Australia and currently lives in Portland, Oregon. He described himself, in response to a ‘how do you identify’ question, ‘a man of the world’ and described a passport (Maltese) as something states rather than he need. His book emerges from early socialization into World War I’s power in Australia, and subsequent full exposure and experience with the horrors of contemporary conflicts. In the question time I asked how it relates to his previous work which is frequently first person driven graphic narrative. He spoke about not needing to see another refugee camp again, and how the Great War lead him to think about questions on a species level, about human nature. Unlike World War II, the Great War is morally ambiguous to us now, an exercise in futility. At the vortex of that futility is July 1st 1916 on the Somme. My 6 year daughter has been asking questions about the war. I plan to make use of the book to slowly introduce it to her at the right moment.


It is not difficult to think of Sacco’s work in critical geopolitical terms. Indeed Ted Holland, currently at Miami University, Ohio (where Carl is now Director of International Studies), has done precisely this in an excellent article published in “To Think and Imagine and See Differently”: Popular Geopolitics, Graphic Narrative, and Joe Sacco’s “Chechen War, Chechen Women” Geopolitics 17: 105–129 (2012). Of course there is a lot more that could be said, and perhaps has been by the many students I have met interested in graphic novels and popular geopolitics.

Sacco was very personable, sociable and self-depricating, a physically small man with an enormous talent. When we chatted briefly about Bosnia during some book signing, he spontaneously drew his familiar  scrawny self-parodying image, one that I now appreciate disguises the warm vitality of the flesh and blood person. The Great War rendered by a great guy.

Posted in Bosnia, Bosnian war, Caucasus conflict, Chechnya, Current affairs, Geopolitics, Popular Geopolitics, Radovan Karadzic, Washington D.C. | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

‘Land for Peace’ in Nagorny Karabakh? PUBLISHED


My latest publication, with Dr John O’Loughlin, from the De Facto States Research Project, funded by the US National Science Foundation, is “Land for Peace in Nagorny Karabakh? Political Geographies and Public Attitudes inside a Contested De Facto State” which is now available online in the new journal Territory, Politics, Governance Vol. 1, No. 2, 158–182. The journal is that of the Regional Studies Association, edited by John Agnew, and published by Taylor and Francis. The ‘redundancy’ in the title — de facto states are, by definition, contested — was an attempt to underscore the particularly sharp territorial divide in the NK conflict. With this we have now published research articles on all four de facto states that were part of the study — Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Transnistria and Nagorny Karabakh. Below is the article’s abstract.

Discussions of the territorial conflict over Nagorny Karabakh often fail to convey the multiple political geographies at play in the dispute. This paper outlines six distinct political geographies—territorial regimes and geographical imaginations—that are important in understanding Armenian perspectives on the conflict only (Azerbaijani perspectives are the subject of ongoing research). It presents the results of a 2011 social survey in Nagorny Karabakh that measures the extent of support these contending spatial visions have among local Armenian residents of the area. The survey finds widespread support for the territorial maximalist conceptions. These results underscore an important chasm between international diplomatic conceptions of Nagorny Karabakh and the everyday spatial attitudes and perceptions of residents in these disputed territories.

Posted in Abkhazia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Caucasus conflict, Current affairs, De Facto States, ethnic cleansing, forced displacement, Geography, Nagorno-Karabakh, Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, Nagorny Karabakh, Political Borders, Political Geography, World political map | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Top 5 Things I learnt at “The PKK, Kurdish Nationalism and Future of Turkey” Conference

Our program hosted this conference which was mostly organized by Tugrul Keskin, a VT graduate now at Portland State University and Kemal Silay, Director of the Turkish Studies program at Indiana University, at 1021 Prince Street, Alexandria yesterday. We received no outside funds to support the conference: all participants paid their own way to get to Alexandria, and split the conference meal at the end of the evening.


The points below are super condensed versions of more elaborate arguments. Any interpretation errors are mine. There were lots of other good papers (though Iran and the Armenian question were not addressed unfortunately by presenters). The best will eventually appear as chapters in an edited volume resulting from the conference.

1. Öcalan’s Ideology and that of the PKK

Ali Kemal Özcan (Tunceli University) made a compelling argument about a gap between Öcalan and his organization based on a close reading of Öcalan’s writings down the years. The argument, in brief, is that Öcalan has a different reading of history, one based on Marxist precepts. A “national liberation movement is not our struggle” for it is a “sect of capitalist modernity.” Becoming a nation-state is the agenda of an aspirant ruling elite not the real agenda of ordinary people.

2. The KRG and Independence

Reporting on more than 30 recent elite interviews with members of the Kurdistan Regional Government, Zheger Hassan (Univ of Western Ontario) outlined a distinction between ‘soft secessionists’ and ‘pragmatists’ that provided insight into subtleties of independence discourse in the undisputed territories. His broader argument was that the KRG case affirms the hypothesis that “de facto states” (that KRG is one is debatable, of course) are more likely to not seek independence if economic and strategic benefits of  outweigh the risks. Of course, if that calculus changes…..


3. The PKK is winning in Syria

This is undoubtedly glib but it was nevertheless Wladimir van Wilgenburg’s (Jamestown Foundation) final summary bullet point after a comprehensive and detailed discussion of the different Kurdish political factions in northern Syria and their embeddedness within the transnational Kurdish networks. After presenting an impressively detailed diagrammatic representation of these linkages he too conceded “its really complicated.” The different political parties on the ground are themselves divided into different parties, factions and distinct armed formations. YPG (People’s Defense Units) is the best know. The situation is also very fluid with fighting ongoing. For further details see his blog Transnational Middle-East Observer, his articles for Jamestown, and his columns for Al Monitor.

4. Explaining the Failure of Erdoğan’s Public Service Provision Charm Offensive in Kurdish Towns.

In a detailed ethnographic account of the compulsory public service of doctors in the Kurdish town of Hakkari (southeast Turkey), Ilker Cörüt (Central European University; second from left above) outlined the material investments the AKP led Turkish state has made in public health in Kurdish regions, a dramatic departure from the past wherein the Turkish state did not value Kurdish lives. He saw this, in effect, as the benevolent face of a persistent assimilationist strategy. He cited an Erdoğan speech to Kurds wherein he enumerated the long list of investments and then asked : “do you vote for the politics of services or of identity?” But these investments are looked upon skeptically by the Kurdish population he argued. Why? Well there is a generation that, after longterm experiences with repression and brutality, hates the state. Also there is a perceptual gap between the AKP (who contrast the situation with the past) and Kurds (who contrast the situation with western Turkey and more modern areas). Distrust runs deep, a point underscored in an interesting presentation by the London-based Irish human rights lawyer Edel Hughes who cited George Mitchell’s observation about Northern Ireland that there needs to be a ‘decommissioning of mindsets not just weapons.’

5. Conditions for recruitment of PKK activists for violence remain.

Presentations by Vera Eccarius-Kelly (Siena College) and Ismail Hakki Yiğit (Mississippi State University, first from left) based on joint work with Tahir Abbas (Fatih University) presented insights into the material conditions and mechanisms by which Kurds are radicalized locally and in the diaspora. Supporting Turkey’s forward movement towards a genuine peace process with significant outcomes for its Kurdish citizens is the best antidote to this.

Finally, after chatting yesterday with Joshua Hendrick’s (Loyola University of Maryland; third from left above), I’m really looking forward to reading his book on the Gülen movement which has just recently been published.

Posted in conference, Current affairs, Iraq, Kurdistan, Kurds, Middle East, PKK, Turkey, World political map | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment