Global Conflicts. My Online Course Syllabus

 

 

MotherArmenia

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?

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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.

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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

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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.

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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…..

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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

My interview with Bosnia’s Dnevni Avaz

Just after my return from Ireland two weeks ago, the largest daily newspaper in Bosnia-Herezegovina, Sarajevo-based Dnevni Avaz, got in contact for a feature interview in their weekend supplement. The resultant feature, entitled “Bosnia is Not a Failed State” was published on Saturday the 19th, with the online web version available here.

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Below is an approximate English language version of the interview that begins four paragraphs in:

– I come from the border region of Ireland and grew up as the conflict in Northern Ireland was raging. When I went to university I ended up specializing in the study of geopolitics and conflict regions. In 1981 a friend and I took a bus (‘Magic Bus’) from London to Athens.

On that long ride you passed through Yugoslavia?

That was the first time I ever saw Yugoslavia, Bosnia and the famous city of Sarajevo, which everyone in History classes learns about. When the war broke out, I was teaching at Virginia Tech in the United States and like many people was horrified by the war and its consequences. The international community failed Bosnia for three long years: Mitterrand, Major, Bush and then Clinton. I followed US policy closely and disagreed with Clinton’s deferral to the French and British profoundly. I found UNPROFOR’s mandate, being neutral in a country where war crimes and genocide was unfolding, patently absurd. An entire chapter in my first book, Critical Geopolitics considers the United States debate over intervention in Bosnia. Eventually, as you know, Anthony Lake, Clinton’s National Security Adviser, tried to force the war into an ‘endgame’ but the policy of creating a ‘more coherent map’ had horrific consequences at Srebrenica. Personally I think the US should publicly apologize for its policy in the run up to this. (NOTE: I publicly raised this issue at the 15th anniversary Srebrenica event at the US Holocaust Museum, 10 July 2010 in a question to Antony Blinken). After all, the Dutch and UN have investigated their failures.

I visited Bosnia after the war in September 1999 and again in 2000. I spent the last month of the old millennium writing a research grant to study the return process in BiH. With an American colleague, Dr Carl Dahlman, I started researching. Initial funding was provided by the US National Science Foundation, a scholarly research support institution. This research led to a series of articles and eventually a book Bosnia Remade: Ethnic Cleansing and its Reversal that was published by Oxford University Press in 2011.

What do you write about in the book?

The book has 463 pages. Its pretty thick! Basically, it looks at two major efforts to ‘re-make’ Bosnia. The first was by those who wanted to destroy and partition it through ethnic cleansing and violence. This was the aggressive ethnic and spatial engineering policies of the RS/VRS and later the HB/HVO in western Herzegovina and Central Bosnia. The second was the promise expressed in Annex VII of the General Framework Agreement at Dayton that: “All refugees and displaced persons have the right freely to return to their homes of origin. They shall have the right to have restored to them property of which they were deprived in the course of hostilities since 1991 and to be compensated for any property that cannot be restored to them.” The research sought to investigate whether it would be possible for people to return to their home regions after ethnic cleansing.

Was is it you found? Can ethnic cleansing really be reversed?

The book is a comprehensive account of both attempts to remake Bosnia, to destroy and to reconstruct, to cleanse and repair. It tells the story of what happened between 1990 and 2003 in three Bosnian towns: Doboj, Jajce and Zvornik.

And what was your conclusion?

It is easier to destroy than to rebuild, to poison than to heal. The international community put in place a return process to implement Annex VII that had many admirable features. It also had considerable successes, with a nominal one million returns in September 2004 (the book is skeptical of this figure; actual returns, especially minority returns have been a lot less). It made the lives of thousands of people better, and got them out of horrible living conditions. A modicum of justice was done in allowing people to reclaim the property that was stolen from them because of the war. Few would have predicted this. Yet, it cannot be denied that ethnic cleansing has largely succeeded in creating mostly ethnically homogeneous communities in many parts of Bosnia. Post-war returns never changed the demographic consequences of war except in a few rural opstina.

You spent a long time researching. Were there any things that surprised you?

 The viciousness of the war, and the horrors it produced, took my breadth away on many occasions. Once we drove up a back mountain road off the main road from Tuzla to Zvornik at Crni Vrh and came across the remains of a mass grave. I have no words to describe the horror I felt.

The extent of the policy of land allocations in Zvornik, north of the town at Economija and beyond, and western Herzegovina, the so-called ‘Bobanvilles’ also surprised me. The attempt to remake Bosnia through ethnic cleansing was incredibly radical, an attack on the whole country as it really existed in order to make it conform to fantasies of clean homogeneous territories.

How do you see situation in Bosnia today? Is it a failed state, a state caught in the past without a future? 

Well, lets put the whole ‘Bosnia-as-a-failed-state’ discussion in some perspective!

Here in Washington DC we’ve had three weeks of a government shutdown. A small faction of one party in one branch of the parliament (Congress) is holding the whole country to ransom, trying to force upon it policies that the have been rejected by the majority of Americans at the ballot box. This country has run a budget deficit for all but five years of the period since World War II.

All states have unsettled historical legacies, structural governance challenges, and serious questions about their economic sustainability. In some instances, such as in Bosnia-Herzegovina, these problems are profound and exacerbated by the perpetuation of divisions within the political class. Bosnia-Herzegovina is not a failed state. But its Dayton governance structure, incorporating imperfect Washington Agreement structures, has hobbled it with a system that only benefits politicians!

Some positive reforms have occurred but obviously much more needs to be done to create a state that serves citizens not major political parties and factional interests. Dayton burdened Bosnia with a cumbersome constitutional structure and an antagonistic ethnoterritorialism that makes ‘normal politics’ very difficult. Bosnia needs comprehensive constitutional reform to make it “EU ready.” This is not a matter of fixing Sejdic-Finci. Indeed, it can be argued, as ESI have recently, that this issue is a distraction. Rather, it is a matter of creating democratic accountability and consociational procedures that enable efficient modern governance and ‘normal politics.’ This is the only way forward for Bosnia. There is no other alternative.

You have written a long study of Milorad Dodik and his use of the rhetoric of a ‘referendum’. What was the conclusion of this study?

 Yes, this study is a long one, and was published in an academic journal and also in Bosnian (Toal_DodikRSRef_DemocracySecurity). From an academic point of view, Dodik is a fascinating politician, perhaps one of the most skillful Bosnia has ever produced. Being a skillful politician, of course, one who learns what it takes to remain in power, does not mean being a virtuous one! Underline that! Dodik comes of age as Bosnia holds its first democratic elections in 1990. He is a member of the Alliance of Reform Forces, then sides with Karadzic and holds a somewhat outside position in the RS during the war. He nevertheless makes a lot of money during this time, presents himself as a moderate alternative to the SDS in the post-war period, and acquires power only to lose it and be on the outside again. This is when I first met him, early in Ashdown’s tenure, in Laktasi. His deputy Donald Hayes, who led the initial push for the April Package, described Dodik as a constructive partner in this process.

When this fails, well, he changes tack and your readers know the rest of the story. He uses the ‘referendum scenario,’ and associated bravado, quite astutely to portray himself as the RS’s number one protector and defeat the SDS. Making oneself the number one defender of the RS has considerable rhetorical benefits: any attack on Dodik’s personal financial dealings can be portrayed as an attack on the very entity itself.

But I conclude the article by arguing that Dodik is ‘more than a demagogue’ or self-dealing rogue. The central rhetorical conceit of the RS referendum is that this is merely “a democratic reply to non-democratic pressures.” This is actually a phrase that Karadzic uses back in 1991 to justify the SDS organized referendum in November of that year. There is, in other words, continuity in the rhetorical formulas underpinning RS separatism. Dodik is singing a tune first written by Karadzic.

In some of your presentations you have compared the conflicts in Northern Ireland and Bosnia. Why? What are the lessons to be learned there? 

Well I am from Ulster, the northern part of Ireland, and I get asked this all the time. Bosnia arguably displaced Northern Ireland as the European signifier for intractable sectarian conflict and hate. But the first point I make is that the Troubles and the Bosnian War are incomparable events. The Northern Irish conflict claimed over three and a half thousand lives in a low intensity struggle that went on for decades. A few thousand were displaced at the very most. Certainly there were horrible events that occurred during this conflict, especially on Bloody Sunday.

But Bosnia is in a completely different league: more than 2 million displaced persons and almost 100,000 dead in a vicious sponsored attack and subsequent civil war over three years. I was at a conference recently in Derry (or as Ulster Unionists call it Londonderry) that was organized around a comparison of that town and Mostar. Both are about the same size and have pronounced sectarian divides. They also have famous pedestrian ‘peace bridges,’ though I suspect most of your readers will not have heard of Derry’s peace bridge which was opened for the first time in 2011. Its actually quite attractive but, again, the Stari Most is in a completely different league. You can argue that both bridges are more for outsiders than insiders, mere global signs, and that deep divisions underpinned by high unemployment rates remain. Haris Pasovic’s The Conquest of Happiness was performed in both places recently. We saw a few clips of Obrana i Zastita by Bobo Jelcic at the conference. I’m keen to see this film because I think the everyday psychological costs of division within formerly connected Bosnian places needs to be rendered visible and debated.

Does the Northern Ireland peace process have lessons for Bosnia?

Well Hillary Clinton, Paddy Ashdown and lots of other internationals believe so. Ashdown grew up in Northern Ireland and served as a British soldier on the streets of Belfast in 1969 when the army was first deployed there to protect Catholic families from being attacked by ‘loyalist’ mobs. When he was in Bosnia he suggested that Bosnia’s peace process was actually superior to Northern Ireland because people could get their property back and go back to their homes, something that wasn’t possible in Northern Ireland. Well, that was a bit of creative spin on his part!

The peace process in Northern Ireland was long and involved. It required heavy involvement by outside powers – the White House, the British and Irish governments working together – and some courageous steps beyond old attitudes on the part of key political leaders. It took a long time, and there were many delicate and fragile moments. Northern Ireland to this day is still not fully at peace, and the conflict is in a long pause rather than truly over. But the place has been transformed by the optimism this has brought, and the serious financial resources provided by the British government and international funds. It is nothing like it used be. After a while a ‘long pause’ begins to become positive peace for ‘we are all dead in the long run.’

Bosnia’s day for a ‘historic settlement’ will come. The international community should be laying the groundwork for this day through, for example, a Bosnian version of the Washington Ireland Program. This is a six-month program of personal and professional development that brings outstanding university students from both sides of the divide in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland to Washington, DC for summer work plNacements and leadership training. The program begins and ends with practical service in Northern Ireland and Ireland. Taking young people out of their immediate context and placing them together in a new country is one way in which they can learn the smallness of their divides in the grand scheme of things. All have more in common with each other than they do with their hosts in Washington DC. Getting them to see that is part of the value of progams like this.

You have also written on Karadzic?

Yes, I have an essay on him coming out next year, {in Ethnopolitics} one co-authored with a talented Bosnian researcher who was in Sarajevo through the war Adis Maksic. It’s actually a study of Karadzic’s rhetorical strategy in the 1990 elections as first SDS emerged and sought to “teach Serbs to be Serbs” as he put it to Aleksandar Tijanić in an interview with Oslobodjenje, 2 October 1990. It was a very interesting paper to research. Karadzic was quite disciplined in avoiding any ‘Islamic Bosnia threat’ storyline during the elections, even though some people around him, and organs like Politika was spreading this garbage. The threat discourse was all about the ‘Ustaša knife’ and ‘pits.’ Tudjman’s chauvinism helped the SDS message in BiH a great deal and, as you know, the SDS, SDA, and HDZ cooperated to further their common aim of defeating the ex-Communist and anyone not wearing ethnic glasses.

THE EUROPEAN BIKE

Is the EU falling apart? Does the EU have a future as it is now? Or has it to be smaller or bigger? 

No, the EU is not falling apart. One wit once said that the EU is like a bicycle; it has to keep moving forward or it will fall apart. Well, it has a flat at the moment but it will be fixed eventually and start moving again. And its coming Bosnia’s way!

How do you see process of inclusion of Muslims in the EU? 

Look, the EU is not the Holy Roman Empire. It’s a multiconfessional space, and also a post-confessional space. Far right politicians are always invested in grand civilizational and culture war scenarios. They want to gin up more conflict, to divide people and play on their fears. Some right wing Muslims, of course, take this seriously and want to play the same game. Fundamentalists on opposing sides become allies in trying to polarize people around their obsessions and preoccupations. Bosnia has lots of experience with this, and the new Bosnia-Herzegovina that will emerge in twenty to thirty years time will have significant contributions to make to the European Union project from within by drawing upon its own rich history. That project is about one thing: how we accommodate our differences to live a common life together.

One hundred years from the start of World War I – have we learned anything?

Wars are complex and we should not assume we can find a magical formula to end them. I and not an expert on World War I but I have visited many of the regions scarred by war in the wake of the collapse of Communism: Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Nagorny Karabakh, Transnistria. Each has unique features.

Contemporary neuroscience is provoking us to think anew about how the human brain’s capacity for generating self-serving ‘convenient truths’ (‘wishful thinking’) predisposes us to in-group/out-group thinking, failures of empathy, and hubris. We also know that unresolved traumas have a way of coming back to haunt the lives of peoples. The Second World War was utterly brutal in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Tito’s Yugoslavia failed to deal with this adequately. Contemporary Bosnia faces the challenge of dealing honestly with its recent horrors. It will take a long, long time to do this. Foreigners like myself cannot do this well: it is up to Bosnians. Every town in Bosnia should strive to have as objective an account of its wartime experience as possible, not only for themselves but for those to come. Future generations need not only facts but positive conversational capacities, healthy intellectual and emotional habits, to deal with the horrors of the past honestly.

However it may sound, these are the foundations necessary to leave ghosts of the past behind so future generations can positively remake Bosnia using an empathetic not fearful imagination.

END

Thanks to Dnevni Avaz for allowing me to share my views with its readers.

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