Announcement and goodbye

As you may have noticed before today (29/08/14) I haven’t uploaded a lot of material. I have been extremely busy and I will be the coming years. Therefore I have decided that the texts I upload today will be the last ones. But do not despair. I have been working for a student journal on international politics the last year. Some of the texts on this site have even appeared there in a slightly corrected form. You can visit the website of Global, our magazine, at:

www.kib.be

Next to my own articles, it also publishes texts by other students, doctoral researchers, journalists and even professors. I hope I will meet all of you again on www.kib.be.

Goodbye

Is there a Colour Revolution for Russia in the making?

You will not say that I have had too high an opinion of the present time;

and if, nevertheless, I do not despair of it, that is only because it is

precisely the desperate situation which fills me with hope. – Karl Marx

  1. The Colour Revolutions 

The transition from communism to liberal democracy has gone as smoothly in Eastern Europe as Francis Fukuyama and his gang suspected. Countries like Belarus, Kazakhstan or Ukraine can hardly be called consolidated liberal democracies. Some countries have found the way to a stable, democratic regime, even though the road was difficult at times. Countries like Poland or the Czech Republic have made remarkable advances in the last decades. Some countries have only experienced a change in leadership, without a real overturning of the regime itself. Belarus seems to be more or less in the same position as 25 years ago. Turkmenistan even seems worse off. Most countries however have turned into hybrid regimes. They combine aspects from both democracy and authoritarianism. Elections are regularly held and are mostly free. The fairness of these elections can however be contested. Democracy is where parties lose elections, hybrid regimes are where opposition parties lose elections. Hybrid regimes are therefore also called competitive authoritarianisms. The public can choose between multiple political candidates, but all deliver the same mixture of autocratic rule with democratic frivolities.

The legacy of communism hindered the creation of a critical civil society to block governing political elites from tampering with election results, administratively bullying opposition parties or repressing uprisings violently. Because of the corruption with these elites the public is mostly apathetic about politics in general. For the ordinary Russian or Ukrainian, you enter into politics to make money, not to govern a country according to your political principle. On the other side of the spectrum the governing elites have not had the power to consolidate or stabilize authoritarian rule. The economic situation of most countries in the former USSR was terrible at the fall of communism and has hardly improved since then. The states simply do not have the power to eradicate multi-party elections or all opposition. Also, in contrast to most Middle-Eastern countries, the army is largely apolitical and consequently does not deploy against its own citizenry at the autocrat’s whims.

This compromise between authoritarianism and democracy makes the countries of the former USSR highly unstable. The elections constantly produce groups of potential dissidents, can only target the media selectively and continuously give injustices to the opposition to complain about. There are regular elections, but just as regular theft of elections. These stolen elections trigger popular backlash. The people has to be fooled every several years, but there inevitably comes a day when they are no longer tricked. Moreover, the incessant need to falsify elections creates the impression of weakness within the regime elite. Almost all opposition leaders from the last 20 years in the former USSR were once members of the governing elite who saw the opportunity to break off and leave the sinking ship. The Ukrainian former president Yushchenko, for instance, was once a close ally of Leonid Kuchma and Viktor Yankovich, his enemies in the Orange Revolution of 2004.

In the beginning of the 2000’s the instability of these regimes created a chain of regime changes throughout Eastern Europe. It all started in Serbia with the Bulldozer Revolution of 2000. The youth movement Otrop mobilized masses of protesters in Belgrade with innovative and peaceful resistance tactics after yet another tampered election. They succeeded in putting down Slobodan Milosevic and changed the regime fundamentally. The power of this example inspired popular protest movements all over Eastern Europe. In a few years time we had the Rose Revolution in Georgia (2003), the Orange Revolution in Ukraine (2004) and the Tulip Revolution in Kyrgyzstan (2005 and 2010).

  1. Russia’s failed Coloured Revolution

Not all attempted revolution worked out. Azerbaijan, Armenia, Belarus and most importantly Russia were the scenes for some failed attempts at regime change. In 2011 Russia experienced demonstrations in around 100 cities after fraudulent parliamentary elections and in 2012 smaller protests broke out after the presidential elections putting Putin again in power.

Why did these revolutions fail when others succeeded? An important aspect is international influence. The more links to the West, the more likely a coloured revolution was to succeed. Western governments have leverage over countries like Serbia (a candidate-member to the EU) or Georgia (a candidate-member to NATO). Russia, on the other hand, is fairly independent from Western governments. It can consequently follow its own course. Moreover links to Western NGO’s, the internet, global markets or cross-border movements of populations toward the West also make governments fragile. When media from all over the world monitor human rights abuses and when Wall Street controls the prices of Russian oil and gas, it becomes fairly risky to do whatever you want. That is why Putin has intensified control on, for instance, NGO’s. They can no longer receive money from abroad without being regarded as Western spies. International organizations such as the Eurasian Customs Union, an economic cooperation between Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus, also serve to make Russia more independent from the West.

Another feature is Putin’s clever use of counter-revolutionary tactics. As already mentioned, he restricted funding for a lot of oppositional movements. Apart from that, Putin used his own youth movement, Nashi, as an almost exact replica of the youth movements that toppled the regimes in the neighbouring countries. In the case of Nashi though, mass protests were held in favour of Putin and his United Russia party. Opposition forces were even blocked from occupying central Moscow squares, because Nashi tactically occupied them first.

The third feature of Putin’s strategy is more discursive. He has securitized the Colour Revolution by linking them with fascism, Nazism and whatever other horrible name in the Russian language. Opposition to Putin is equated with fascist sympathies, a remnant from the Russian trauma of the Second World War and its horrors on the Eastern Front. The fear of Western Nazi invasion then justifies harsh tactics against protestors in the eyes of the average Russian. Extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures.

  1. (Ras)Putin 

Grigori Rasputin, the advisor to the Russian tsar Nicholas II, was not incredibly popular in his days. He was poisoned, beaten, shot and drowned and still would not die. It seems as if his skills have survived in the figure of Putin who has survived multiple political and economic crises. Even now, when Ukraine was yet again the centre of revolutionary attention with Euromaidan and tensions between Russia and the West intensify by the minute, Putin shows no signs of political decay.

Next to the three characteristics explained in the previous part, there are some other factors explaining the unlikelihood of a Coloured Revolution in the coming years in Russia. Firstly, it is crucial to notice that Putin really is immensely popular in the country. Even without fraud, Putin would easily have won the last presidential elections. The Russian people is still grateful for his delivery of peace and stability to the country of years of Yeltsin’s misconduct. Moreover the polls show that the annexation of the Crimea has even proven beneficial to his popularity. This is not as unusual as it sounds. When tensions between the West and Russia reach peak, the people show a tendency to rally around the flag. The more the West isolates Russia, the more the Russians will see Putin as their sole defender.

Secondly, the opposition against Putin is highly fragmented. It used to be an alliance between liberals and radical nationalists, not exactly a match made in heaven. With the conservative and nationalist turn in Putin’s policy of the last years, less and less nationalist oppose him openly. Except in the cities, the liberal reformers are massively outnumbered. They are mainly young, well-educated, westernized city-dwellers, but this part of the population is hardly representative of the whole of Russia. On the countryside there is practically no opposition, except from secessionist movements with a tendency toward Jihadism and terrorism. An alliance of the liberals with these movements is then quite unlikely.

  1. A call for arms 

Even though the picture for change is quite bleak, we should not forget that Russia is a hybrid regime and thus structurally unstable. Rasputin was hard to get rid off, but eventually he still broke down. The cracks in the system may be hidden and glued together, but that does not mean they are no longer there.

The image of Putin totally in control is largely a propaganda stunt. The Russian political system is not a pyramid with Putin at the pinnacle. Important parts of the state apparatus, like the secret police (FSB) and the army, have their own agenda and do not necessarily serve Putin. A striking example is Nashi, Putin’s youth movement. He and his party recently distanced themselves from the organization, because it started running out of control.

Putin’s turn to conservative and nationalist sympathies can also be interpreted as a bad sign. Although his party won the parliamentary elections of 2011 they lost seats. Putin needs to appeal to his former enemies to hold on to power, which means that his traditional power basis is diminishing. Moreover the elections have shown that Putin has lost the majority in the central cities, like Moscow and Saint Petersburg. The experience of the last revolutions however shows that these are the crucial sites. Yanukovich was driven out by protests in Kiev, Milosevic in Belgrade, Shevardnadze in Tbilisi, etc, even when those politicians still had support from rural areas.

Economic sanctions and isolation may not necessarily affect public opinion, but it does challenge the bank accounts of the Russian oligarchs. The wealthy sponsors of Putin could turn sides when they realize that his nationalism starts affecting their savings. It is not certain Putin can hold on to power without the support of these oligarchs.

  1. Warning! Do not touch 

Even if we know Putin to be an autocrat, we should ask ourselves the question whether a change in political elites will really make a beneficial difference. We should not be overly optimistic and think that democracy will naturally flourish after Putin is put from power. Even more pessimistically, it is highly unlikely that it will. The opposition is divided so every alliance will only be a coalition of convenience. The Yushchenko-Tymoshenko experience after the Orange Revolution has shown that these compromises tend to break apart after electoral victory.

The opposition leaders of today are not sweethearts either. Especially the nationalist movement in Russia tends to be highly anti-Western and anti-democratic. Even though they call everyone else fascists, they resemble the fascists in several respects.

Lastly, since Putin still has a large support basis in the rural areas of Russia, civil war lurks around the corner. Ukraine today shows that a regime change in the capital can be highly provocative for the periphery where the ruler still enjoys popularity. In fact, the October Revolution of 1917 in Russia created the settings for a similar civil war afterwards. Lenin had secured the cities, but the countryside was highly critical of the communist project. A bloody campaign followed.

We can thus conclude that there are both indicators of stability and instability for Putin’s claim to power. Regime continuity is however more likely. Even if it was not, we should also ask ourselves the question whether we really want to step into the unknown or rather stay with the autocrat who is at least predictable.

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How to end the new civil wars?

After the end of the Cold War the number of civil wars fought all around the world has continuously risen. Also the length of the average civil war is increasing. The world is becoming an eerie place for more and more people. To understand the impact of these evolutions we should first focus on the nature of these civil wars, or as Mary Kaldor calls them, ‘new wars’. Afterwards we can propose some policies to end civil wars, building on the motivations to revolt and the immediate hindrances for a peace resolution.

  1. The times they are a-changing: from old to new wars

In her book New and old wars Mary Kaldor proposes that after the Cold War classic warfare was over. The classic view of war was developed by Carl von Clausewitz and concerns the struggle between two or more nation-states. These states were internally pacified to make warfare against other states possible. Civil wars were consequently a rare event. If they occurred they were the result of a coup or revolutionary struggle to depose the ruling elite, not a struggle between ethnic groups within a territory.

Such old wars entail some very clear distinction. Two armies in uniform would meet each other on the battlefield. On this field regular criminal laws were suspended and martial law regulated the activity instead. Consequently there were clear distinctions between one army and the other, civilians and soldiers, peace and war.

In the 20th century these wars tended to turn into total wars. Entire nations were mobilized for the military. The economy was solely focused on winning the war and all able men were called to arms. In these circumstances the distinctions just mentioned broke down. Civilians became the target of military attacks, the term ‘genocide’ made its entrance into the vocabulary and collaboration made the distinction between one side and the other harder to make. It is not a coincidence that in this age George Orwell made the staggering discovery “War is peace”.

New wars were born in the chaos of total war. Where wars used to be an extreme means for state-building civil wars like the ones in Bosnia, Sudan or Sri Lanka became increasingly associated with state failure. They were the signs of the breakup of states.

From now on the motivation for war is not state interest or revolutionary ideologies, but ethnic identities. Leaders express the grievances of the people in terms of ethnic fear and hatred. This mobilizes groups against each other. For instance, Milosevic’ campaign against anyone non-Serb started with his defence of discriminated Serbs in Kosovo. They were economically hindered by Albanians in the region, which caused frustrations. Milosevic used these grievances for a campaign to liberate all Serbs from foreign rule once the Yugoslav Federation broke up and a lot of Serbs ended up in Croatia and Bosnia. Such a war can only be over when the entire territory is cleansed from non-Serb populations. Here we can see a move from territory to population. Violence is used to control populations and territorial gains are only a by-product of military victories. Milosevic liberated Serbs, not Serbian lands.

Also in economic terms is there a shift. Old wars were based on defending and strengthening their economies to fund and supply their operations. New wars endeavour to destroy the local economy. An array of military and paramilitary forces terrorizes the population and loots all supplies within reach. The formal economy collapses under distress. This can be done because armies rely on other financial sources. They are sponsored by diaspora in peaceful countries, loot everything they can find, control natural resources like oil or gas, etc. For the military elites war is not the expression of grievances but a source of income and a business. The average soldier fights for the fatherland or to revenge injustices committed against his people, but the elites fight for cash and political power. Mischa Glenny, in his book The fall of Yugoslavia, captures this disillusioning observation poignantly in a recorded telephone conversation between Ratko Mladic, leader of the Serbian army in Bosnia, and a Croatian police chief, his enemy:

Policeman: “Are you Mladic?”

Mladic: “Yes I am, old devil, what do you want?”

P: “Three of my boys disappeared […] I want to know what happened to them.”

M: “Well, I think they all dead “

P:” I can say to the relatives that they are gone? “

M:” Yeah, sure. My word. How’s the family? “

P:” Oh not bad, thanks. And you? “

M:” Fine. They’re doing nothing wrong “

P:” I’m glad to hear it. Oh, by the way, we have found 20 bodies of yours near the front completely stripped. We’ve thrown them in a ditch and now they stink. Could you come and pick them up, because it is really unbearable 

The level of familiarity between the two is overwhelming. The elites are in it for the gain and do not let themselves be hindered by the frustrations of the masses they lead. These grievances are only the propaganda to motivate the masses to work for them. Such greed tends to be infectious though. The longer the war lasts the more people try to make a living from the war. Criminals turn into paramilitary forces and cloud their illegal activities in the mists of military undertaking. The political leaders of all sides are grateful for these criminals-turned-warriors. It provides the opportunity to outsource the worst cases of violence without having to take the blame for them.

Lastly the new wars are characterized by their internationalisation. Both parties gather support from abroad. This can take the form of financial funding, but also soldiers, training camps, diplomatic support, etc. Nowadays, for instance, fundamentalist groups like Al-Qaeda or IS hardly employ any local rebels. They search globally for soldiers on the Internet and train them in hidden facilities in Pakistan or Afghanistan.

What we are left with is a completely new reality. Old nation-states strengthened economies and populations to supply armies in the name of state interest. This clearly distinguished war from peace, soldier from civilian and state A from state B. New wars are run by military and political elites using identity politics for business ventures. Economies are destroyed and replaced by foreign funding and easy to control primary commodity exports (oil, diamonds, gas, etc.). Populations are exposed to death and destruction from all sides. Civilians, instead of the enemy battle forces, are now the primary military targets and criminals terrorize the people under the guise of war measures. New wars are not fought against the enemy, but against the population.

  1. Why go to war? 

If we want to know how to end these new wars, we need to understand the motivations to start and continue them in the first place. What makes people agree with the high costs of war?

There is an extensive literature about this topic, but the main debate concerns whether greed or grievances are the main causes of war. Are wars fought in the hope of monetary gains or of restoration for past injustices? Our description of new wars enables us to introduce a nuanced perspective into the debate. Populations are mobilized on the basis of grievances. Insecurity and exclusion from power engender a culture of fear that is highly susceptible to hatred and violence. The elites, on the other hand, are driven by the silent force of greed. They translate grievances into ethnic hatred whenever civil war is feasible and profitable. The longer wars last, the more this view of civil-war-as-business infects the lower strata of the population and creates paramilitary criminal gangs. Both greed and grievances are therefore important.

On the side of greed Paul Collier has enumerated some of the most important factors motivating rebels in his book Wars, guns and votes. A civil war becomes more likely when revolt is feasible and profitable. These two factors can be measured when we look at the share of primary commodity exports in the economy. If a country is heavily dependent on natural resources like oil or diamonds, the export of these products can become very lucrative for rebel leaders. The gains from this trade can fund the war efforts and luxury expenditures. Collier only mentions it in passing, but the presence of a rich diaspora to fund the war efforts is also a good asset. A rebellion also needs young men without a future. Wars are fought by young male soldiers, but if there are other opportunities, like education or a job, then it is unlikely they will risk their lives on the battlefield. Lastly, rough terrain is a big help. Most civil wars are fought between a powerful, well-equipped state belligerent and a bunch of disorganized guerrilla fighters. If they would fight in the classical style, gathering on a large field and then marching against each other, the winner would be clear on beforehand. Rebel troops opt consequently for guerrilla tactics, attacking enemy forces when they least expect it and then rapidly fleeing the scene. Moreover the enemy has no use for his stronger powers when he cannot use his tanks, fighter jets, etc. in the mountains.

We can summarize that political and military elites are drawn to war when the terrain and the availability of frustrated men render military operations feasible and the opportunities for lucrative exports, diaspora funding and looting make war profitable.

Lars-Erik Cederman has defended the grievance approach. His statistical data has shown that exclusion from power and poverty are the main sources of frustration. These deprivations motivate people to rise up against their states. When an ethnic group is systematically excluded from any kind of government, they become frustrated with the decisions made by the central government. The second civil war in South Sudan, for instance, started in 1983 when the Sudanese government wanted to impose Sharia law on the Christian South. The poverty of the population in this oil-rich region only aggravated the problems leading to violence.

  1. Hindrances towards peace

Before we can now enumerate possible countermeasures to end civil wars we should acknowledge the immediate stumbling blocks on the road to peace. Barbara Walter has listed them using game theory.

Firstly the belligerents should overcome information problems. One will only agree to a peace agreement when one really believes that winning the war has become impossible. This however rarely occurs. The armies keep their capacities and weaknesses hidden from the enemy. Government armies try to appear weak to lure the rebels out of their mountains, while the rebels try to appear stronger than they really are to install fear in the population and the enemy forces. As a result everyone thinks the enemy is beatable, even when they have entered a stalemate. Moreover, contemporary wars no longer correspond to the logic of two armies battling against each other separated from the civilian population. New wars are a chaotic mixture of multiple, shifting factions intermingled with the civilian population. Hence one never knows who the enemy is, where he is and even whether a soldier is an enemy of an ally. The network of alliances and antagonisms can change every day. Syria today is a poignant example of this phenomenon. ISIS started out as an affiliate branch of Al-Qaeda, but eventually split from the movement. Henceforth the Syrian civil war is fought between Assad’s government forces, Al-Qaeda, ISIS, liberal opposition movements, local troops, etc. Who is on which side changes every day.

Next to information problems, there are also commitment problems. Belligerents would not agree to a truce f they suspected the opponent to take advantage of it. This one counts especially for the rebels. Part of any truce involves disarming the opposition, but this makes them highly vulnerable. If they suspect the stronger party to use this vulnerability, they will not agree to a peace agreement. This problem is aggravated in the case of weak legal and political institutions. Principles like the rule of law or democratic insistence on civil rights should guarantee a peace agreement. This guarantee is however quite meagre when these institutions are corrupt. Another problem can be the absence of a third, stronger party to guarantee the peace agreement. UN Peacekeepers or other organizations could enforce peace on both parties if they are stronger than either one of them. For instance, the federal constitution of 2005 in Iraq worked quite well as long as the United States were in the country to defend it. When they left conflicts between Shia, Sunni and Kurds soon got the better of the peace agreement.

  1. New wars, new peace? 

We can summarize the obstacles to peace as follows: greed structures elite behaviour, while grievances give the elites a basis among the people to mobilize armies. Lack of information and trust leads to reluctance to install peace.

Mary Kaldor proposes a kind of ‘cosmopolitanism with teeth’. International organizations like the UN should enforce peace. These peace-enforcers should fight in the name of humanity as such against the identity politics of the belligerents. If the new wars are waged against the population, then international organizations should defend all populations as such, independent of ethnic identity. This sounds very hopeful, but if we take a closer look this can be a temporary solution at most. Firstly, most cases in the past have shown that international intervention can be very helpful in the beginning, but hardly anywhere has it created lasting conditions of peace. Iraq remained stable as long as the US ensured stability and Bosnia nowadays is only governable because of international assistance. As Barbara Walter has shown, intervention can eliminate immediate commitment problems to a truce, but it does not help for lasting peace in itself. To reach peace we need to address the problems of greed and grievance. Secondly, we should ask ourselves the question what distinguishes cosmopolitanism from identity politics. Kaldor presupposes that identity politics an us-and-them-mentality, while cosmopolitanism does not. At the same time however, she opposes cosmopolitan identity to the ethnic identities developed by identity politics. Hence the cosmopolitan appeal to humanity also presupposes an opposing identity, namely the ones created by identity politics. As Carl Schmitt has shown in his Das Begriff des Politischen, this is actually more dangerous than we would expect. If one side of a dichotomy identifies with humanity as such, it exiles the other side to the inhuman. If the UN and similar organization defend humanity, then their enemies can only be inhuman. The example of Yugoslavia is quite instructive in this regard. Although Serbia and Milosevic were definitely to blame to a large extent for the violence of the multiple civil wars, it is hard to believe that only they were guilty. Did not the Croats or the Bosnians commit war crimes? They were on the side of humanity, so apparently their sins are forgiven. Moreover the demonization of Milosevic and the Serbs in the international community even hindered peace agreements. The isolation of Serbia gave them no incentive to compromise. They are deemed guilty nonetheless, why then believe anything the West proposes?

A more fruitful path to peace can be developed by combining measures against the greed of political elites and to accommodate the grievances of the people. Let us take the example of Northern Ireland. During the 1970’s the region was the most violent area in Western Europe. This diminished however in the 80’s and 90’s and a peace agreement was signed in 1998. Since then the situation has drastically ameliorated, although violence has not been completely eliminated. There was no international intervention in the name of humanity. Instead countries with particular interests, like Ireland, the UK and the US, were involved in peace negotiations in their own name and mostly on the side of one the two belligerents.

Margaret Thatcher focused mostly on the greed of the IRA elites. She cut the funding channels from the Irish diaspora in the US to the IRA. Since there is neither significant rough terrain in Northern Ireland nor any important natural resources, this was the main motivation for elites to continue fighting. Even better would have been to cut the funding of the Unionist fighters too.

Violence could only be stopped when the underlying popular grievances were dealt with. Northern Ireland was poorer than its surrounding regions. Years of civil war did not do any good to the economy either. Moreover the electoral system had been manufactured to keep as many Irish-leaning politicians out of Parliament as possible. The Unionists had all the power. The Belfast Agreement from 1998 dealt with these issues. The installation of peace created economic growth in order to provide economic prospects for all parties involved. The truce also a system of power-sharing and self-rule. The Irish in Northern Ireland could cooperate with Ireland on some issues and the British with the UK. A new electoral system, single transferable vote, was chosen to ensure proportional representation of both parties and incentivize political elites to moderate their rhetoric. Tackling the issues of exclusion from power and poverty thus proved to be the most pressing issues to end the civil war.

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How did nationalism affect the breakup of Yugoslavia?

You will not be beaten again.

-Slobodan Milosevic

Nationalism has a bad reputation. Almost all major conflicts of the 20th Century, including two world wars, are blamed on nationalism. The violent breakup of Yugoslavia is no exception. This strategy however does not do justice to reality. Through a critique of two classical approaches to Balkan nationalism, primordialism and instrumentalism, I will develop a constructivist account of the breakup. The fall of the Yugoslav Federation was not the result of innate xenophobia (primordialism) or Milosevic’ demagoguery (instrumentalism), but had multiple causes. Tito’s federalization of the country created a class of nationalist intellectuals and ethnic divides in the economy. When the economy went into crisis political elites translated socio-economic grievances in the only discourse still available, namely nationalism.[1]

  1. Primordialism: the pressure cooker approach 

There are three ways of understanding nationalism. Primordialism claims that a nation is unity with a fixed, common essence.[2] For constructivists nations are manufactured ‘imagined communities’, while instrumentalists add that this manufacturing is performed by political elites reacting to threats and opportunities.[3]

Primordialism has had a great influence on theories concerning Yugoslavia. Primordialists argue that the Balkans have always been and will be a melting pot of aggressive, chauvinistic ethnicities. Throughout history Serbs, Croats, Muslims and others have created a “tradition of violent interethnic struggle” with only short intervals of peace.[4] Tito unified the region, but conflict was their destiny.[5] Schierup has called this account the ‘pressure cooker approach’.[6] Nationalistic longings build up and when the ‘lid’ is lifted, for instance by the death of Tito, the pot explodes. This theory is wrong for three reasons.

a) As Michael Ignatieff rightly claims:” One still has to account for the nearly fifty years of ethnic peace.”[7] If nationalism really were so vicious and innate, why would Tito’s attempt at unification have succeeded and why would it have lasted for another 10 years after his death? Moreover, there is no evidence to support the claim that the Balkan peoples are more violently nationalistic than any other group in the world.[8] Why then did the Balkan pressure cooker explode and not, for instance, Belgium?

b) Empirical evidence does not support the claim of an innate longing for self-determination or mistrust of other ethnicities. Klanjsek and Flere have compared surveys from 1986 and 1990 concerning the desire for secession and self-determination and conclude that their “findings do not yield empirical support for the assumption that the establishment of mono-national states was clearly and longitudinally supported by the respective national populations, with the probable exception of Kosovo Albanians.”[9] Glenny’s interviews with the people of Knin, one of the main sites for the war between Serbs and Croats, confirm this thesis.[10]

c) Primordialism implies that nationalism causes polarization and war. Again, this causal order lacks scientific support.[11] Mostly wars enhance internal homogenization and external polarization from other groups. This observation is corroborated in the Yugoslav case. Lampe, for instance, shows how Tudjman’s nationalist HDZ party could count on a broad electorate as long as the war lasted. After hostilities he lost elections.[12] So there must have been some kind of polarization already for nationalist social cohesion to form.

d) Identities are much less uniform. There were major differences between the Serbs, for instance, of different regions. The Croat Serbs wrote in the Latin alphabet and were mostly even unable to write Serbian in the Cyrillic alphabet.[13] Parts of the peasant population in Macedonia do not even know whether they are Serbs, Macedonians or Bulgarians.[14] Primordialism therefore assumes the existence of fixed, essential national identities, but there is much more diversity in real life.

  1. Instrumentalism 

Studies focusing on the main actors of the conflict tend to support instrumentalism and give a lot of credit to the protagonists.[15] Leaders like Milosevic, Tudjman or Izetbegovic purportedly created and used nationalism to acquire power. Milosevic, for instance, is portrayed as a ‘chamber politician’ who organized his rise to power through the use of nationalist rhetoric for the public and elaborate schemes behind the scenes to undermine his rivals.[16]

The instrumentalist account gives too much credit to the political leaders. Milosevic, Tudjman or Izetbegovic were as much products of the political system as they shaped the Yugoslav predicament. Without, for instance, the economic crisis their fear-inspiring rhetoric would not have found much acclaim. Instrumentalism rests on a circular argument if we say that the violent outbursts of the war are the product of leaders inspiring hate, while at the same time acknowledging that they could only have risen to power because there already was fear and hate. Milosevic’ rhetoric is pulling itself out of a swamp by its own hair by inspiring the aggression it presupposes. Milosevic could not have created the problem of the Serbs in Kosovo or anywhere else. [17]

  1. Constructivism

The only viable option left is constructivism.[18] Aggressive nationalism was constructed, but on a lower level than the political elites. I will first argue that nationalism resulted from the federalizing policies during the Tito years. Afterwards I will claim that economic grievances enhanced the ethnic framing of politics.

3.1 Federalization and the creation of organic intellectuals 

At the end of the 1960’s and the beginning of the 70’s nationalist and liberal opposition against Tito’s rule reached a momentum. Serbian liberals like Nikezic wanted to install a market economy and also Croats demanded certain freedoms.[19] Tito eventually removed all liberal reformers from office.

Afterwards he devised a new constitution in 1974, which gave more autonomy to the regions.[20] Military, foreign and external trade affairs were kept on the federal level, while the rest was handed down to the republics.[21] The constitution created a federative structure where leaders of the different republics and provinces competed for power at the federal level, while being largely autonomous in their respective regions.[22] Many federal decisions required unanimity and consequently gave veto rights to all participants.[23] Yugoslavia had de facto become a confederation of states with limited need to engage with each other. Tito did not regard this as a problem, since there was still one communist vanguard party controlling all regions and the party was directly subservient to him.[24] Tito’s personal rule counterbalanced centrifugal forces between the republics.[25]

The antiliberal purge and the federalization of the country had their consequences in ordinary life. To understand their magnitude it is helpful to introduce some terminology from Antonio Gramsci.[26] According to Gramsci the state uses certain ideological devices to create consensus among the population about the public order.[27] The goal is to install a hegemonic order, which means that one ideology, in casu Titoist socialism, sets the standards for political discourse. Resistance then takes the form of counter-hegemonic practices, or discourses that try to replace the reigning ideology. This can be done through the work of ‘organic intellectuals’. They are artists, teachers, journalists, etc. who develop the ideology of a certain group and try to popularize it. When these organic intellectuals perform a good job, their ideology becomes hegemonic.

Because of the purge of liberals the only counter-hegemonic force against Titoist socialism was nationalism.[28] If there was then some opposition, it mostly took the form of nationalism. Moreover the federalization of the country had narrowed the people’s horizons to their own republics. The media were regionalized and educational reforms in all republics promoted the study of each their own national history and literature.[29] The fundamental divisions within society would hence develop around national borders. Organic intellectuals then arrived to construct a narrative of mutually opposed nations. Writers like Cosic and Draskovic promoted Serbian nationalism, and religious authorities, especially the Croat Catholic Church, reframed their discourse in nationalist terms.[30]

The federalization of Yugoslavia was thus followed by the federalization of the Yugoslav mind. Organic intellectuals educated the people into thinking in nationalist categories. Intellectuals alone however cannot topple a regime. Hardly anyone would have started fighting because of the novels of Cosic or the poems of Njegos. The latter however provided the resources for political elites to translate ethnic difficulties into a discourse of aggressive nationalism when the state eventually plunged into crisis.

3.2 Economics and the politics of fear 

The Yugoslav economy was riddled with structural complications. After the promising developments until the 60’s, the rates of growth plummeted, just like agricultural and industrial production and the growth of labour productivity. Unemployment and inflation were on the rise.[31] Real income had fallen between 1979 and 1988 by one-third and unemployment had risen in 1986 to 16.6%.[32] These numbers however conceal the regional economical disparities. Due to demographic changes and migration the Albanians in Kosovo, for instance, started to massively outnumber the Serbs in Kosovo. Combined with diminishing chances of employment for university graduates, fierce competition arose between the two groups, “whatever the political context.”[33] This competition was therefore not the result of ethnic outbidding by political elites, but it provided the underlying conflict to stir up the masses. It is consequently no coincidence that Milosevic’ nationalist rhetoric was first picked up by the Kosovar Serbs.[34]

The federal structure of the country added fuel to the fire.[35] A redistributive system had been set up to ameliorate the divergences in economic growth between the regions. Well-performing republics like Slovenia and Croatia believed that the southern republics blocked their economic development, while the poorer regions complained that they were receiving compensations too late or insufficiently.[36] In the end, “everyone felt ‘exploited’ by the system.”[37] These economic grievances along ethnic lines were later translated into ethnic grievances.[38]

The translation would not have occurred when political elites were incentivized to compromise on the federal level, but this was not the case. As long as Tito ruled, the party functioned as a central governing organ. This fell apart after his death. The federal structure incentivized regional elites to build “autarkic little empires” that excluded competition from other regions.[39] A politician could gain more from developing his own region than from reaching consensus on the federal level.[40] “[There were] the growing centrifugal pressures generated by the autarkic policies of Yugoslavia’s regionally entrenched political elites. […] The regime was now characterized by six republican and two provincial elites that skilfully utilized decentralized authority for their respective parochial interests”.[41] So once the economic crisis severely aggravated in the 80’s, confrontation between the republics and provinces escalated and political leaders turned to ethnic outbidding instead of consensus.[42]

Economic failure, particularly in the 1980’s, created an atmosphere of fear and anxiety. Economic divergences ran along ethnic lines and political elites benefitted from exploiting these ethnic divergences. This was fertile soil for Milosevic or Tudjman. They translated economic uncertainties and ‘ontological insecurity’ into an aggressive nationalist discourse.[43] Their discourse was not essentially a narrative of hate, but a politics of fear.[44] It is no coincidence that Milosevic’ slogan in the 1990 elections was “With us there is no insecurity”.[45] Economic and political instability made the future of Yugoslavia highly unpredictable and these moments of ‘fear of the unknown’ made people vulnerable for authoritarian leaders promising utopian futures.[46]

When we combine our findings from this chapter with the earlier chapter on federalization and organic intellectuals, we gain a better understanding of the causal connections. When economic grievances needed to be articulated in political language, nationalism was the only discourse in town. The communist party had fallen apart on the federal level and had split up between the republics and provinces. Communist discourse was also under heavy attack after the fall of the Soviet-Union and the failures of the Yugoslav economic system. The counterhegemonic practices of nationalist organic intellectuals consequently became hegemonic.

  1. Conclusion

There are three major narratives concerning the role of nationalism in the breakup of the Yugoslav Federation. Primordialism describes a history of atrocities in the Balkans and claims the breakup lays in the destiny of the essentially different all too different nations. These claims are not supported by survey research, cannot explain periods of peace, confuse cause and effect concerning the civil war and falsely presuppose the unity of the nationalist identities. Instrumentalism, secondly, claims that nationalism was produced by political elites. They blame Milosevic and his colleagues for the violence. The problem with this account is that it puts the cart before the horse. It does not explain the preconditions on which Milosevic, Tudjman and others could inspire to so much hate. My account is constructivist too, but in another sense. The federalization of Yugoslavia created a class of organic intellectuals for all the separate nations and narrowed people’s horizons to their own region. When economic conflicts ran along ethnic lines and the communist party fell apart, nationalism was the only discourse available to translate these economic grievances in. Nationalism became hegemonic. Fear for the unknown made the people especially vulnerable for the aggressive varieties of nationalism in Yugoslavia.

Bibliography

Anderson, B. (2006). Imagined communities: reflections on the origins and spread of nationalism. London: Verso Books.

Bojicic, V. (1996). The disintegration of Yugoslavia: causes and consequences of dynamic inefficiency in semi-command economies. In I. Vejvoda, & D. A. Dyker, Yugoslavia and after: a study in fragmentation, despair and rebirth (pp. 28-47). London: Longman.

Burg, S. (1986). Elite conflicts in post-Tito Yugoslavia. Soviet studies , 38 (2), 170-193.

Cohen, L. (1993). Broken bonds: the disintegration of Yugoslavia. Oxford: Westview Press.

Djilas, A. (1993). A profile of Slobodan Milosevic. Foreign Affairs , 72 (3), 81-96.

Dyker, D. A. (1996). The degeneration of the Yugoslav communist party as a managing elite: a familiar East European story? In I. Vejvoda, & D. A. Dyker, Yugoslavia and after: a study in fragmentation, despair and rebirth (pp. 48-64). London: Longman.

Fearon, J., & Laitin, D. (2000). Violence and the social construction of ethnic identity. International organization , 54 (4), 845-877.

Glenny, M. (1996). The fall of Yugoslavia. London: Penguin Books.

Gramsci, A. (1996). The prison notebooks (vol. I-III). New York: Columbia University Press.

Gurr, T. (2011). Why men rebel. Boulder: Paradigm Publishers.

Hudson, K. (2003). Breaking the South Slav dream: the rise and fall of Yugoslavia. London: Pluto Press.

Ignatieff, M. (1993, May 13). The Balkan Tragedy. New York Review of Books , p. Unknown.

Klansjek, R., & Flere, S. (2011). Exit Yugoslavia: longing for mononational states or entrepreneurial manipulation? Nationalities papers: the journal of nationalism and ethnicity , 39 (5), 791-810.

Laclau, E. (2007). On populist reason. London: Verso Books.

Lampe, J. (2000). Yugoslavia as history: twice there was a country. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Malesevic, S. (2013). Obliterating heterogeneity through peace: nationalism, states and wars, in the Balkans. In S. Malesevic, & J. A. Hall, Nationalism and war (pp. 255-275). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Radosevic, S. (1996). The collapse of Yugoslavia: between chance and necessity. In I. Vejvoda, & D. A. Dyker, Yugoslavia and after: a study in fragmentation, despair and rebirth (pp. 65-83). London: Longman.

Ramet, S. (2005). Thinking about Yugoslavia. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Vejvoda, I. (1996). Yugoslavia 1945-91: from decentralisation without democracy to dissolution. In I. Vejvoda, & D. A. Dyker, Yugoslavia and after: a study in fragmentation, despair and rebirth (pp. 9-27). London: Longman.

 

[1] A factor that will not be discussed, but still was of crucial importance is foreign influence. After the end of the Cold War, the West no longer needed Yugoslavia as a buffer against the Eastern Bloc. Moreover Western countries regularly sent mixed signals to the different parties involved in the conflict, which may have prolonged and aggravated the civil war (K. Hudson, Breaking the South Slav dream: the rise and fall of Yugoslavia, London, Pluto Press, 2003)

[2] J. Fearon & D. Laitin, ‘Violence and the social construction of ethnic identity’, International organization, vol. 54, No. 4, 2000, pp. 845-877.

[3] The term ‘imagined communities’ has been popularized by B. Anderson, Imagined communities: reflections on the origins and spread of nationalism, London, Verso Books, 2006.

[4] L. Cohen, Broken bonds: the disintegration of Yugoslavia, Oxford, Westview Press, 1993, p. 268.

[5] M. Ignatieff, ‘The Balkan tragedy’, New York Review of books, 1993.

[6] S. Radosevic, ‘The collapse of Yugoslavia: between chance and necessity’ in D.A. Dyker & I. Vejvoda (eds.), Yugoslavia and after: a study in fragmentation, despair and rebirth, London, Logman, 1996, p. 65.

[7] Ignatieff, The Balkan tragedy.

[8] Ibid.

[9] R. Klanjšek & S. Flere,’ Exit Yugoslavia: longing for mononational states or entrepreneurial manipulation?’, Nationalities Papers: The Journal of Nationalism and Ethnicity, vol. 39, no. 5, 2011, p. 805. One has to note that the Kosovar Albanians were already in a struggle against the Serbs in 1986, in contrast to the other ethnicities.

[10] M. Glenny, The fall of Yugoslavia, London, Penguin Books, 1996, p. 19.

[11] S. Malesevic, ‘Obliterating heterogeneity through peace: nationalisms, states and wars, in the Balkans’ in J.A. Hall & S. Malesevic (eds.), Nationalism and war, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2013, p. 259. Malesevic himself however does not agree that this theory fits the Yugoslav case. For my account however it suffices that the primordialist account does not correspond to the general consensus concerning war and nationalism.

[12] J.R. Lampe, Yugoslavia as history: twice there was a country, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2000, p. 384.

[13] Glenny, The fall of Yugoslavia, p. 12.

[14] Ibid., p. 72.

[15] Mischa Glenny, for instance, likens nationalism to an “alien virus” of the elites infecting the people (Glenny, The fall of Yugoslavia, p. 20).

[16] A. Djilas, ‘A profile of Slobodan Milosevic’, Foreign affairs, vol. 72, no. 3, 1993, p. 86-92.

[17] It is also interesting to note the idea of an elite conspiracy to undermine Yugoslavia originated from Milosevic’ own speeches (see: Cohen, Broken bonds, p. 202).

[18] For reasons of exhaustiveness we should note that another possible option is arguing that nationalism is unimportant to understand the Yugoslav breakup. I will here however keep this option aside, since hardly any of the relevant literature entertains this thesis.

[19] Lampe, Yugoslavia as history, pp. 305-311.

[20] Ibid., pp. 313-314.

[21] Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro and Macedonia. Kosovo and Vojvodina were provinces with certain autonomous competences within Serbia.

[22] Cohen, Broken bonds, p. 33.

[23] I. Vejvoda, ‘Yugoslavia 1945-91: from decentralisation without democracy to dissolution’ in D.A. Dyker & I. Vejvoda (eds.), Yugoslavia and after: a study in fragmentation, despair and rebirth, New York, Longman, 1996, p. 15.

[24] D.A. Dyker, ‘The degeneration of the Yugoslav Communist Party as a managing elite: a familiar East European story?’ in D.A. Dyker & I. Vejvoda (eds.), Yugoslavia and after: a study in fragmentation, despair and rebirth, New York, Longman, p. 55. It should however be noted that also the Yugoslav People’s Army, better known as the JNA, was also very instrumental as a centralizing force. When the party broke apart, the army kept defending the Yugoslav interest against particularist resistances until it eventually came under Milosevic’ control (Djilas, A profile of Slobodan Milosevic, pp. 90-92; Cohen, Broken bonds, pp. 204-205).

[25] Steven L. Burg, ‘Elite conflict in post-Tito Yugoslavia’, Soviet Studies, Vol. 38, No 2, 1986, p. 182.

[26] A. Gramsci, The prison notebooks (Vol. I-III), New York, Columbia University Press, 1996.

[27] Gramsci was a Marxist theorist, so he developed these concepts in the context of class struggle. The bourgeois state acquires power over the working class through the hegemony of bourgeois ideology. With this terminology he wanted to explain why capitalism had survived the economic crises of the 1920’s in Western Europe. Even when economic divides were greater than ever, the bourgeoisie could count on its hegemonic discourse to keep the working classes from rebelling. The proletariat had consented to the capitalist order, even when the latter had failed. I abstract here from the notion of class struggle, since the main struggle of Yugoslavia involved ethnic groups, not socio-economic classes. This is in accordance with the post-Marxist reception of Gramsci by Ernesto Laclau, who explained the Yugoslav civil wars in a similar way (see: E. Laclau, On populist reason, London, Verso Books, 2007, pp. 197-198).

[28] S. Ramet, Thinking about Yugoslavia: scholarly debates about the Yugoslav breakup and the wars in Bosnia and Kosovo, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2005, p. 152

[29] Vejvoda, Yugoslavia 1945-91, p. 17; Ramet, Thinking about Yugoslavia, p. 63.

[30] Ramet, Thinking about Yugoslavia, p. 61; Lampe, Yugoslavia as history, pp. 343-344.

[31] V. Bojicic, ‘The disintegration of Yugoslavia: causes and consequences of dynamic inefficiency in semi-command economies’ in D.A. Dyker & I. Vejvoda (eds.), Yugoslavia and after: a study in fragmentation, despair and rebirth, New York, Longman,1996, p. 30.

[32] Lampe, Yugoslavia as history, p. 333.

[33] Ibid., 339.

[34] Djilas, A profile of Slobodan Milosevic, p. 87; Ramet, Thinking about Yugoslavia, p. 56.

[35] Ramet, Thinking about Yugoslavia, pp. 55-56.

[36] Cohen, Broken bonds, p. 34.

[37] Ramet, Thinking about Yugoslavia, p. 56.

[38] As will be clear now, I presuppose the relative deprivation theory concerning political violence. Groups start to rebel when their value expectations no longer match their value capabilities (T. Gurr, Why men rebel, Boulder, Paradigm Publishers, 2011). When people feel they can no longer achieve their hopes they become frustrated. If there is no legitimate outlet for these grievances, they lead to violence when manipulated by political elites.

[39] Dyker, The degeneration of the Yugoslav communist party as managing elite, p. 55.

[40] Burg, Elite conflict in post-Tito Yugoslavia, p. 178.

[41] Cohen, Broken bonds, p. 33.

[42] Burg, Elite conflict in post-Tito Yugoslavia, p. 188; Ramet, Thinking about Yugoslavia, p. 67.

[43] The term ‘ontological insecurity’ derives from Radosevic, The collapse of Yugoslavia, p. 66.

[44] Glenny, The fall of Yugoslavia, p. 107:” But the villagers who did much of the fighting were motivated not by a desire to enlarge Serbian territory, but by a phobia concerning the Croatian state and the HDZ.” (My italics)

[45] Glenny, The fall of Yugoslavia, p. 41.

[46] Ramet, Thinking about Yugoslavia, p. 148.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

How did nationalism affect the breakup of Yugoslavia?

You will not be beaten again.

-Slobodan Milosevic

Nationalism has a bad reputation. Almost all major conflicts of the 20th Century, including two world wars, are blamed on nationalism. The violent breakup of Yugoslavia is no exception. This strategy however does not do justice to reality. Through a critique of two classical approaches to Balkan nationalism, primordialism and instrumentalism, I will develop a constructivist account of the breakup. The fall of the Yugoslav Federation was not the result of innate xenophobia (primordialism) or Milosevic’ demagoguery (instrumentalism), but had multiple causes. Tito’s federalization of the country created a class of nationalist intellectuals and ethnic divides in the economy. When the economy went into crisis political elites translated socio-economic grievances in the only discourse still available, namely nationalism.[1]

  1. Primordialism: the pressure cooker approach 

There are three ways of understanding nationalism. Primordialism claims that a nation is unity with a fixed, common essence.[2] For constructivists nations are manufactured ‘imagined communities’, while instrumentalists add that this manufacturing is performed by political elites reacting to threats and opportunities.[3]

Primordialism has had a great influence on theories concerning Yugoslavia. Primordialists argue that the Balkans have always been and will be a melting pot of aggressive, chauvinistic ethnicities. Throughout history Serbs, Croats, Muslims and others have created a “tradition of violent interethnic struggle” with only short intervals of peace.[4] Tito unified the region, but conflict was their destiny.[5] Schierup has called this account the ‘pressure cooker approach’.[6] Nationalistic longings build up and when the ‘lid’ is lifted, for instance by the death of Tito, the pot explodes. This theory is wrong for three reasons.

a) As Michael Ignatieff rightly claims:” One still has to account for the nearly fifty years of ethnic peace.”[7] If nationalism really were so vicious and innate, why would Tito’s attempt at unification have succeeded and why would it have lasted for another 10 years after his death? Moreover, there is no evidence to support the claim that the Balkan peoples are more violently nationalistic than any other group in the world.[8] Why then did the Balkan pressure cooker explode and not, for instance, Belgium?

b) Empirical evidence does not support the claim of an innate longing for self-determination or mistrust of other ethnicities. Klanjsek and Flere have compared surveys from 1986 and 1990 concerning the desire for secession and self-determination and conclude that their “findings do not yield empirical support for the assumption that the establishment of mono-national states was clearly and longitudinally supported by the respective national populations, with the probable exception of Kosovo Albanians.”[9] Glenny’s interviews with the people of Knin, one of the main sites for the war between Serbs and Croats, confirm this thesis.[10]

c) Primordialism implies that nationalism causes polarization and war. Again, this causal order lacks scientific support.[11] Mostly wars enhance internal homogenization and external polarization from other groups. This observation is corroborated in the Yugoslav case. Lampe, for instance, shows how Tudjman’s nationalist HDZ party could count on a broad electorate as long as the war lasted. After hostilities he lost elections.[12] So there must have been some kind of polarization already for nationalist social cohesion to form.

d) Identities are much less uniform. There were major differences between the Serbs, for instance, of different regions. The Croat Serbs wrote in the Latin alphabet and were mostly even unable to write Serbian in the Cyrillic alphabet.[13] Parts of the peasant population in Macedonia do not even know whether they are Serbs, Macedonians or Bulgarians.[14] Primordialism therefore assumes the existence of fixed, essential national identities, but there is much more diversity in real life.

  1. Instrumentalism 

Studies focusing on the main actors of the conflict tend to support instrumentalism and give a lot of credit to the protagonists.[15] Leaders like Milosevic, Tudjman or Izetbegovic purportedly created and used nationalism to acquire power. Milosevic, for instance, is portrayed as a ‘chamber politician’ who organized his rise to power through the use of nationalist rhetoric for the public and elaborate schemes behind the scenes to undermine his rivals.[16]

The instrumentalist account gives too much credit to the political leaders. Milosevic, Tudjman or Izetbegovic were as much products of the political system as they shaped the Yugoslav predicament. Without, for instance, the economic crisis their fear-inspiring rhetoric would not have found much acclaim. Instrumentalism rests on a circular argument if we say that the violent outbursts of the war are the product of leaders inspiring hate, while at the same time acknowledging that they could only have risen to power because there already was fear and hate. Milosevic’ rhetoric is pulling itself out of a swamp by its own hair by inspiring the aggression it presupposes. Milosevic could not have created the problem of the Serbs in Kosovo or anywhere else. [17]

  1. Constructivism

The only viable option left is constructivism.[18] Aggressive nationalism was constructed, but on a lower level than the political elites. I will first argue that nationalism resulted from the federalizing policies during the Tito years. Afterwards I will claim that economic grievances enhanced the ethnic framing of politics.

3.1 Federalization and the creation of organic intellectuals 

At the end of the 1960’s and the beginning of the 70’s nationalist and liberal opposition against Tito’s rule reached a momentum. Serbian liberals like Nikezic wanted to install a market economy and also Croats demanded certain freedoms.[19] Tito eventually removed all liberal reformers from office.

Afterwards he devised a new constitution in 1974, which gave more autonomy to the regions.[20] Military, foreign and external trade affairs were kept on the federal level, while the rest was handed down to the republics.[21] The constitution created a federative structure where leaders of the different republics and provinces competed for power at the federal level, while being largely autonomous in their respective regions.[22] Many federal decisions required unanimity and consequently gave veto rights to all participants.[23] Yugoslavia had de facto become a confederation of states with limited need to engage with each other. Tito did not regard this as a problem, since there was still one communist vanguard party controlling all regions and the party was directly subservient to him.[24] Tito’s personal rule counterbalanced centrifugal forces between the republics.[25]

The antiliberal purge and the federalization of the country had their consequences in ordinary life. To understand their magnitude it is helpful to introduce some terminology from Antonio Gramsci.[26] According to Gramsci the state uses certain ideological devices to create consensus among the population about the public order.[27] The goal is to install a hegemonic order, which means that one ideology, in casu Titoist socialism, sets the standards for political discourse. Resistance then takes the form of counter-hegemonic practices, or discourses that try to replace the reigning ideology. This can be done through the work of ‘organic intellectuals’. They are artists, teachers, journalists, etc. who develop the ideology of a certain group and try to popularize it. When these organic intellectuals perform a good job, their ideology becomes hegemonic.

Because of the purge of liberals the only counter-hegemonic force against Titoist socialism was nationalism.[28] If there was then some opposition, it mostly took the form of nationalism. Moreover the federalization of the country had narrowed the people’s horizons to their own republics. The media were regionalized and educational reforms in all republics promoted the study of each their own national history and literature.[29] The fundamental divisions within society would hence develop around national borders. Organic intellectuals then arrived to construct a narrative of mutually opposed nations. Writers like Cosic and Draskovic promoted Serbian nationalism, and religious authorities, especially the Croat Catholic Church, reframed their discourse in nationalist terms.[30]

The federalization of Yugoslavia was thus followed by the federalization of the Yugoslav mind. Organic intellectuals educated the people into thinking in nationalist categories. Intellectuals alone however cannot topple a regime. Hardly anyone would have started fighting because of the novels of Cosic or the poems of Njegos. The latter however provided the resources for political elites to translate ethnic difficulties into a discourse of aggressive nationalism when the state eventually plunged into crisis.

3.2 Economics and the politics of fear 

The Yugoslav economy was riddled with structural complications. After the promising developments until the 60’s, the rates of growth plummeted, just like agricultural and industrial production and the growth of labour productivity. Unemployment and inflation were on the rise.[31] Real income had fallen between 1979 and 1988 by one-third and unemployment had risen in 1986 to 16.6%.[32] These numbers however conceal the regional economical disparities. Due to demographic changes and migration the Albanians in Kosovo, for instance, started to massively outnumber the Serbs in Kosovo. Combined with diminishing chances of employment for university graduates, fierce competition arose between the two groups, “whatever the political context.”[33] This competition was therefore not the result of ethnic outbidding by political elites, but it provided the underlying conflict to stir up the masses. It is consequently no coincidence that Milosevic’ nationalist rhetoric was first picked up by the Kosovar Serbs.[34]

The federal structure of the country added fuel to the fire.[35] A redistributive system had been set up to ameliorate the divergences in economic growth between the regions. Well-performing republics like Slovenia and Croatia believed that the southern republics blocked their economic development, while the poorer regions complained that they were receiving compensations too late or insufficiently.[36] In the end, “everyone felt ‘exploited’ by the system.”[37] These economic grievances along ethnic lines were later translated into ethnic grievances.[38]

The translation would not have occurred when political elites were incentivized to compromise on the federal level, but this was not the case. As long as Tito ruled, the party functioned as a central governing organ. This fell apart after his death. The federal structure incentivized regional elites to build “autarkic little empires” that excluded competition from other regions.[39] A politician could gain more from developing his own region than from reaching consensus on the federal level.[40] “[There were] the growing centrifugal pressures generated by the autarkic policies of Yugoslavia’s regionally entrenched political elites. […] The regime was now characterized by six republican and two provincial elites that skilfully utilized decentralized authority for their respective parochial interests”.[41] So once the economic crisis severely aggravated in the 80’s, confrontation between the republics and provinces escalated and political leaders turned to ethnic outbidding instead of consensus.[42]

Economic failure, particularly in the 1980’s, created an atmosphere of fear and anxiety. Economic divergences ran along ethnic lines and political elites benefitted from exploiting these ethnic divergences. This was fertile soil for Milosevic or Tudjman. They translated economic uncertainties and ‘ontological insecurity’ into an aggressive nationalist discourse.[43] Their discourse was not essentially a narrative of hate, but a politics of fear.[44] It is no coincidence that Milosevic’ slogan in the 1990 elections was “With us there is no insecurity”.[45] Economic and political instability made the future of Yugoslavia highly unpredictable and these moments of ‘fear of the unknown’ made people vulnerable for authoritarian leaders promising utopian futures.[46]

When we combine our findings from this chapter with the earlier chapter on federalization and organic intellectuals, we gain a better understanding of the causal connections. When economic grievances needed to be articulated in political language, nationalism was the only discourse in town. The communist party had fallen apart on the federal level and had split up between the republics and provinces. Communist discourse was also under heavy attack after the fall of the Soviet-Union and the failures of the Yugoslav economic system. The counterhegemonic practices of nationalist organic intellectuals consequently became hegemonic.

  1. Conclusion

There are three major narratives concerning the role of nationalism in the breakup of the Yugoslav Federation. Primordialism describes a history of atrocities in the Balkans and claims the breakup lays in the destiny of the essentially different all too different nations. These claims are not supported by survey research, cannot explain periods of peace, confuse cause and effect concerning the civil war and falsely presuppose the unity of the nationalist identities. Instrumentalism, secondly, claims that nationalism was produced by political elites. They blame Milosevic and his colleagues for the violence. The problem with this account is that it puts the cart before the horse. It does not explain the preconditions on which Milosevic, Tudjman and others could inspire to so much hate. My account is constructivist too, but in another sense. The federalization of Yugoslavia created a class of organic intellectuals for all the separate nations and narrowed people’s horizons to their own region. When economic conflicts ran along ethnic lines and the communist party fell apart, nationalism was the only discourse available to translate these economic grievances in. Nationalism became hegemonic. Fear for the unknown made the people especially vulnerable for the aggressive varieties of nationalism in Yugoslavia.

Bibliography

Anderson, B. (2006). Imagined communities: reflections on the origins and spread of nationalism. London: Verso Books.

Bojicic, V. (1996). The disintegration of Yugoslavia: causes and consequences of dynamic inefficiency in semi-command economies. In I. Vejvoda, & D. A. Dyker, Yugoslavia and after: a study in fragmentation, despair and rebirth (pp. 28-47). London: Longman.

Burg, S. (1986). Elite conflicts in post-Tito Yugoslavia. Soviet studies , 38 (2), 170-193.

Cohen, L. (1993). Broken bonds: the disintegration of Yugoslavia. Oxford: Westview Press.

Djilas, A. (1993). A profile of Slobodan Milosevic. Foreign Affairs , 72 (3), 81-96.

Dyker, D. A. (1996). The degeneration of the Yugoslav communist party as a managing elite: a familiar East European story? In I. Vejvoda, & D. A. Dyker, Yugoslavia and after: a study in fragmentation, despair and rebirth (pp. 48-64). London: Longman.

Fearon, J., & Laitin, D. (2000). Violence and the social construction of ethnic identity. International organization , 54 (4), 845-877.

Glenny, M. (1996). The fall of Yugoslavia. London: Penguin Books.

Gramsci, A. (1996). The prison notebooks (vol. I-III). New York: Columbia University Press.

Gurr, T. (2011). Why men rebel. Boulder: Paradigm Publishers.

Hudson, K. (2003). Breaking the South Slav dream: the rise and fall of Yugoslavia. London: Pluto Press.

Ignatieff, M. (1993, May 13). The Balkan Tragedy. New York Review of Books , p. Unknown.

Klansjek, R., & Flere, S. (2011). Exit Yugoslavia: longing for mononational states or entrepreneurial manipulation? Nationalities papers: the journal of nationalism and ethnicity , 39 (5), 791-810.

Laclau, E. (2007). On populist reason. London: Verso Books.

Lampe, J. (2000). Yugoslavia as history: twice there was a country. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Malesevic, S. (2013). Obliterating heterogeneity through peace: nationalism, states and wars, in the Balkans. In S. Malesevic, & J. A. Hall, Nationalism and war (pp. 255-275). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Radosevic, S. (1996). The collapse of Yugoslavia: between chance and necessity. In I. Vejvoda, & D. A. Dyker, Yugoslavia and after: a study in fragmentation, despair and rebirth (pp. 65-83). London: Longman.

Ramet, S. (2005). Thinking about Yugoslavia. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Vejvoda, I. (1996). Yugoslavia 1945-91: from decentralisation without democracy to dissolution. In I. Vejvoda, & D. A. Dyker, Yugoslavia and after: a study in fragmentation, despair and rebirth (pp. 9-27). London: Longman.

 

[1] A factor that will not be discussed, but still was of crucial importance is foreign influence. After the end of the Cold War, the West no longer needed Yugoslavia as a buffer against the Eastern Bloc. Moreover Western countries regularly sent mixed signals to the different parties involved in the conflict, which may have prolonged and aggravated the civil war (K. Hudson, Breaking the South Slav dream: the rise and fall of Yugoslavia, London, Pluto Press, 2003)

[2] J. Fearon & D. Laitin, ‘Violence and the social construction of ethnic identity’, International organization, vol. 54, No. 4, 2000, pp. 845-877.

[3] The term ‘imagined communities’ has been popularized by B. Anderson, Imagined communities: reflections on the origins and spread of nationalism, London, Verso Books, 2006.

[4] L. Cohen, Broken bonds: the disintegration of Yugoslavia, Oxford, Westview Press, 1993, p. 268.

[5] M. Ignatieff, ‘The Balkan tragedy’, New York Review of books, 1993.

[6] S. Radosevic, ‘The collapse of Yugoslavia: between chance and necessity’ in D.A. Dyker & I. Vejvoda (eds.), Yugoslavia and after: a study in fragmentation, despair and rebirth, London, Logman, 1996, p. 65.

[7] Ignatieff, The Balkan tragedy.

[8] Ibid.

[9] R. Klanjšek & S. Flere,’ Exit Yugoslavia: longing for mononational states or entrepreneurial manipulation?’, Nationalities Papers: The Journal of Nationalism and Ethnicity, vol. 39, no. 5, 2011, p. 805. One has to note that the Kosovar Albanians were already in a struggle against the Serbs in 1986, in contrast to the other ethnicities.

[10] M. Glenny, The fall of Yugoslavia, London, Penguin Books, 1996, p. 19.

[11] S. Malesevic, ‘Obliterating heterogeneity through peace: nationalisms, states and wars, in the Balkans’ in J.A. Hall & S. Malesevic (eds.), Nationalism and war, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2013, p. 259. Malesevic himself however does not agree that this theory fits the Yugoslav case. For my account however it suffices that the primordialist account does not correspond to the general consensus concerning war and nationalism.

[12] J.R. Lampe, Yugoslavia as history: twice there was a country, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2000, p. 384.

[13] Glenny, The fall of Yugoslavia, p. 12.

[14] Ibid., p. 72.

[15] Mischa Glenny, for instance, likens nationalism to an “alien virus” of the elites infecting the people (Glenny, The fall of Yugoslavia, p. 20).

[16] A. Djilas, ‘A profile of Slobodan Milosevic’, Foreign affairs, vol. 72, no. 3, 1993, p. 86-92.

[17] It is also interesting to note the idea of an elite conspiracy to undermine Yugoslavia originated from Milosevic’ own speeches (see: Cohen, Broken bonds, p. 202).

[18] For reasons of exhaustiveness we should note that another possible option is arguing that nationalism is unimportant to understand the Yugoslav breakup. I will here however keep this option aside, since hardly any of the relevant literature entertains this thesis.

[19] Lampe, Yugoslavia as history, pp. 305-311.

[20] Ibid., pp. 313-314.

[21] Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro and Macedonia. Kosovo and Vojvodina were provinces with certain autonomous competences within Serbia.

[22] Cohen, Broken bonds, p. 33.

[23] I. Vejvoda, ‘Yugoslavia 1945-91: from decentralisation without democracy to dissolution’ in D.A. Dyker & I. Vejvoda (eds.), Yugoslavia and after: a study in fragmentation, despair and rebirth, New York, Longman, 1996, p. 15.

[24] D.A. Dyker, ‘The degeneration of the Yugoslav Communist Party as a managing elite: a familiar East European story?’ in D.A. Dyker & I. Vejvoda (eds.), Yugoslavia and after: a study in fragmentation, despair and rebirth, New York, Longman, p. 55. It should however be noted that also the Yugoslav People’s Army, better known as the JNA, was also very instrumental as a centralizing force. When the party broke apart, the army kept defending the Yugoslav interest against particularist resistances until it eventually came under Milosevic’ control (Djilas, A profile of Slobodan Milosevic, pp. 90-92; Cohen, Broken bonds, pp. 204-205).

[25] Steven L. Burg, ‘Elite conflict in post-Tito Yugoslavia’, Soviet Studies, Vol. 38, No 2, 1986, p. 182.

[26] A. Gramsci, The prison notebooks (Vol. I-III), New York, Columbia University Press, 1996.

[27] Gramsci was a Marxist theorist, so he developed these concepts in the context of class struggle. The bourgeois state acquires power over the working class through the hegemony of bourgeois ideology. With this terminology he wanted to explain why capitalism had survived the economic crises of the 1920’s in Western Europe. Even when economic divides were greater than ever, the bourgeoisie could count on its hegemonic discourse to keep the working classes from rebelling. The proletariat had consented to the capitalist order, even when the latter had failed. I abstract here from the notion of class struggle, since the main struggle of Yugoslavia involved ethnic groups, not socio-economic classes. This is in accordance with the post-Marxist reception of Gramsci by Ernesto Laclau, who explained the Yugoslav civil wars in a similar way (see: E. Laclau, On populist reason, London, Verso Books, 2007, pp. 197-198).

[28] S. Ramet, Thinking about Yugoslavia: scholarly debates about the Yugoslav breakup and the wars in Bosnia and Kosovo, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2005, p. 152

[29] Vejvoda, Yugoslavia 1945-91, p. 17; Ramet, Thinking about Yugoslavia, p. 63.

[30] Ramet, Thinking about Yugoslavia, p. 61; Lampe, Yugoslavia as history, pp. 343-344.

[31] V. Bojicic, ‘The disintegration of Yugoslavia: causes and consequences of dynamic inefficiency in semi-command economies’ in D.A. Dyker & I. Vejvoda (eds.), Yugoslavia and after: a study in fragmentation, despair and rebirth, New York, Longman,1996, p. 30.

[32] Lampe, Yugoslavia as history, p. 333.

[33] Ibid., 339.

[34] Djilas, A profile of Slobodan Milosevic, p. 87; Ramet, Thinking about Yugoslavia, p. 56.

[35] Ramet, Thinking about Yugoslavia, pp. 55-56.

[36] Cohen, Broken bonds, p. 34.

[37] Ramet, Thinking about Yugoslavia, p. 56.

[38] As will be clear now, I presuppose the relative deprivation theory concerning political violence. Groups start to rebel when their value expectations no longer match their value capabilities (T. Gurr, Why men rebel, Boulder, Paradigm Publishers, 2011). When people feel they can no longer achieve their hopes they become frustrated. If there is no legitimate outlet for these grievances, they lead to violence when manipulated by political elites.

[39] Dyker, The degeneration of the Yugoslav communist party as managing elite, p. 55.

[40] Burg, Elite conflict in post-Tito Yugoslavia, p. 178.

[41] Cohen, Broken bonds, p. 33.

[42] Burg, Elite conflict in post-Tito Yugoslavia, p. 188; Ramet, Thinking about Yugoslavia, p. 67.

[43] The term ‘ontological insecurity’ derives from Radosevic, The collapse of Yugoslavia, p. 66.

[44] Glenny, The fall of Yugoslavia, p. 107:” But the villagers who did much of the fighting were motivated not by a desire to enlarge Serbian territory, but by a phobia concerning the Croatian state and the HDZ.” (My italics)

[45] Glenny, The fall of Yugoslavia, p. 41.

[46] Ramet, Thinking about Yugoslavia, p. 148.

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An endless duel: Israel and Palestine

  1. The myth of Gott mit uns 

There is a now long forgotten tradition of duelling. If two persons disagreed on something even as abstract as metaphysics, they could end their disagreement with a duel. Both would take a knife and the winner was deemed to be in the right. There were two conditions. On the one hand, one could not immediately start a fight. Only when both parties deemed it impossible to come to an argumentative consensus, could a duel be started. On the other hand, the point of the duel was not to show who was right and who was not. It was not about right or wrong, but about the truth. The duel was a way to make the truth reveal itself. Since there was disagreement, this meant that the truth was hidden. A duel could bring it out in the open. As Claude Lefort remarked: “le droit se révèle par la force”.

To most of us, this sounds ludicrous. Why in God’s name would the truth reveal itself through the force of knives? The military equivalent is however more well known. In war both sides claim to have God on their side and whoever wins, can claim he really had God in his side. In World War II the Germans proclaimed ‘Gott mit uns’ and George Bush ended his Iraq War Ultimatum Speech in 2003 with “Good night, and may God continue to bless America”. War is a dangerous matter, which exceeds the control of both parties. There are always elements of good or bad luck involved. That is why there is the persistent myth that victory calls for some divine help.

The repression of the dueling tradition hence does not mean its death. The repressed returns to haunt us. We no longer literally claim that God intervenes in wars, but we still silently support the idea that truth is revealed in war. If the West wins, it is because it was right all along. Liberal democracy and the free market are the only way to go. Whoever denies that is proven wrong in combat. As long as arguments can be ended with bombs and knives instead of talking and arguing the myth of Gott mit uns prevails.

The repression of this myth has however altered the nature of the conflicts. In a duel both parties would start in an equal fight. The other could just as easily express the truth, so he would get a fair chance at showing it. Today’s battles are far more asymmetrical. The strongest party claims to have the truth already and war only needs to prove the falsity of the other. In the Afghanistan War the Red Cross caretakers, a neutral organization, were accompanied by British and American troops. One party defends the truth of democracy, human rights, etc., while the other proclaims the untruth of undemocratic dictatorship, inhuman violations of human rights, etc. The mutual recognition implicit in the old duels is gone. The conflict between Israel and Palestine illustrates this thesis. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu claimed: “The root cause of terrorism lies not in grievances but in a disposition toward unbridled violence. This can be traced to a world view which asserts that certain ideological and religious goals justify, indeed demand, the shedding of all moral inhibitions.” Palestinian terrorism expresses a false and violent worldview and the West is authorized to show the truth through the barrel of the gun. As a result, the conflict is stranded in an asymmetrical war with no end in sight. In a duel it is quite clear who wins. The last man standing was expressing the truth. Now the truth is already apparent and the war is only over when there is one man left standing. This does not seem a bright prospect.

  1. The United States of Exception

If we want to know what to do about these grim prospects, we should get a grip on the position taken by both parties. Why do both parties commit the violence and atrocities we see on the news every day?

Israel and Netanyahu are very clear why they fight against Hamas and other Palestinian forces:” We’ll attack anyone who tries to harm our citizens.” The Israeli population is in danger. It needs armed protection. In juridical terms, we would say that the consequence is a state of exception. Some parts of the population are stripped from certain rights in order to defend the subsistence of the state and its people. Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben has shown a peculiar consequence of such a state of exception. The people who are stripped of their rights enter a state that is neither death nor life. They live under the permanent threat of being killed without the killer being punished. When in ancient and medieval times someone was exiled, he could be killed by everyone, without this kill being a murder. Palestians today live in a similar predicament. For almost every Israeli killed there are 50 Palestinians put to death. Most of them are civilians. The term ‘civilian’ becomes in such a situation problematic. Israel claims these civilian deaths are the result of Hamas using their people as a human shield, but this implicitly shows that Israel views these civilians as nothing more than a shield for a more interesting catch. They are numbers without a human face.

This structural exclusion of Palestinians from any interaction worthy of the name ‘human’ creates more damage than it benefits Israel. Yom and Saleh have shown that a lot of Palestinian suicide bombers have a history of violent encounters with Israeli security forces.[1] It takes a lot of painful memories to drive someone to suicide by explosion. It is only when the bombs are falling from on high that anyone wants to bomb his enemies from below.

Muslim fundamentalists have collected this hate and used it to their own advantage. They have proposed their own state of exception to counter the Israeli state of exception. They too constantly expose the people to death and destruction, but not in order to protect anyone. If Hamas was really interested in protecting the Palestinians, they would not fire their missiles from the densely populated neighborhoods of Gaza, knowingly putting a lot of people in danger, both from their own missiles and from Israeli counterattacks. Instead Islamic terrorists proclaim that the road to paradise moves through the valley of death. In order to reach a higher, purer way of life, the Muslim population should first subject itself and the enemy to the dangers of death.

We are left with a unity in diversity. Both parties declare a state of exception, but though different means and with different goals. Israel wants to protect the population but ends up killing by the dozens and endangering their own population by pushing Palestinians in the hands of unmanageable terrorists. Those terrorists promise paradise, but demand the price of life. They kill as many Israelis as they can and kill many more Palestinians in the process, either directly in suicide bombings or indirectly by taunting counterstrikes by Israeli forces. The road to a higher life runs cold in death. Israel and Palestine are thus united in their struggle. The longer the war continues the more both parties start to resemble each other in ferocity. They are the United States of Exception.

  1. Where does this end?

The lack of mutual recognition has left the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in a deadlock. Neither party recognizes the validity of the other’s position. Both produce bare life waiting to be killed in the next airstrike or suicide attack. Such a stalemate can seemingly only end in disaster.

One would expect the victims of this permanently threatening situation to rise up. Every time a Palestinian is killed or an Israeli is murdered public opinion shudders, but not for peace. Only revenge is asked for. Even the public keeps playing the same game. The duel needs to reveal the truth and neither party will rest until their truth is shown. One would quite cynically respond like Pilate:” What is truth?” when observing this polarizing discourse.

Maybe it is such cynicism that is in place now. When governments and leaders are playing a game with their populations as chess pawns, the right thing to do is refuse to be a pawn. The United States of Exception can only be countered by a real state of exception. The rights given and taken by the constitution are apparently the dice of governments that do not inherently care for their peoples. It is then time to stop awaiting the benefices of the state and start life anew.

[1] http://www.epsusa.org/publications/newsletter/2004/nov2004/saleh.pdf

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American elections for dummies

Politicians and diapers must be changed often, and for the same reason. – Mark Twain

Since its inception, the United States of America has elected their representatives in Congress every two years. James Madison, one of the architects of the US Constitution, wanted the parliament to express the evolving sentiments of the people as truthfully as possible. “Public opinion sets bounds to every government, and is the real sovereign in every free one.” Consequently, the House of Representatives is renewed completely every two years and the Senate replaces 1/3 of its incumbents. More than 200 years after Madison’s plea for public opinion, we should examine whether the electoral system really is so susceptible to the changes in the sentiments of the people as the Founding Fathers expected. We will first inspect the current electoral rules. Afterwards we will discuss three problems, namely gerrymandering, campaign financing and the incumbency effect.

  1. How to become a member of Congress

Congress is divided into two houses. The House of Representatives consists of 435 members representing 435 districts. Every state receives a number of districts according to the population. The Senate represents the 50 states. Every state has two senators, which leaves us with an overall number of 100 senators. A candidate must fulfil certain preconditions to be electable for office. In the House he needs to be at least 25 years old, an American citizen for 7 years and a resident of the state where his district is located. In the Senate he needs to be at least 30 years old, a citizen for 9 years and a resident of the state he represents.

Of course, these minimal assumptions do not suffice to explain the composition of Congress. Every state determines its own electoral rules. Nowadays most states organize First-Past-The-Post elections. Every state of district has one seat to offer and the candidate with the most votes wins the seat. Louisiana is the exception; it determines the winner through a run-off system, meaning that the winner needs to gain a majority of at least 50% + 1 in order to win the election. If no one can claim such a victory a second round is organized with only the strongest candidates.

We can distinguish two kinds of parliamentary elections. Every four years they coincide with the presidential elections. Between two presidential elections are so-called mid-term elections. The main difference is that, when both coincide, the presidential elections tend to dominate parliamentary elections. Whoever wins the presidency has a good chance of securing Congress too. The turnout is also a lot higher, since the presidential elections get more attention. Mid-term elections, on the other hand, have evolved into negative referenda concerning the president’s policy. Throughout his career a president has to encounter huge amounts of public scrutiny and loses political capital with every decision taken. The opposing party exploits this diminution of public approval to conquer Congress. The current 2014 elections are a good example of this phenomenon. President Obama has lost a lot of popularity in 6 years. The checks and balances of the political system have made him disappoint a lot of his former supporters and his successes have alienated his opponents even more. The Republican Party capitalizes on the resentments concerning Obamacare to launch an anti-presidential campaign in the mid-term elections.

Of course, the Congressional elections are only the final ceremony of a long process. First both parties need to choose their candidates (primaries) and those candidates need money to fund expensive campaigns. The 2014 elections have proven to be a turning point in the history of the Republican Party in this regard. The party is split internally between its more moderate leaders and the extremist Tea Party. Almost every primary was a duel between those two factions. The Tea Party is a movement of fiscal and social conservatives that crystallized around the anti-Obama sentiments after his victory in 2008. They believe to be Taxed Enough Already (TEA) and want to cut on big government spending. They combine this belief in the free market with religious opposition against gay marriage, abortion, Islam, etc. Thanks to good financing and strong organization, the Tea Party has succeeded in pulling the Republican Party to the right of the political spectrum. The victory of Dave Brat against Eric Cantor, majority leader of the GOP in the House, is highly paradigmatic. Cantor lost his re-election due to his moderate stance on immigration, even while he had secured funds much larger than Brat’s. The 2014 elections are the test whether the Tea Party can really get a grip on the GOP. For the moment it is neither a clear victory nor a humiliating defeat. What we do know, is that they are a strong competitor. Brat has shown this and his victory is not an isolated case. In Mississippi Thad Cochran only secured his candidacy by turning to Democrat voters to vote for him in the Republican primary.

  1. The untouchables: gerrymandering

As was already mentioned, the House of Representatives is composed of 435 members, each representing a district. The Census Bureau decides upon the amount of districts allotted to every state. For this purpose, it conducts a population count every ten years. Consequently, the number of districts for a state can change throughout the decades. To account for these changes, the states have the competence to define the borders of the districts. They can even change the territorial apportionment of the districts without a population count.

This process has led to a perverse effect. States where a certain party is dominant can consolidate this dominance by drawing the borders of the districts in such a way as to guarantee future electoral victories. The phenomenon of redrawing borders for electoral and political reasons is called gerrymandering. In 2000 Texas performed such a reform and the Republican Party won five extra seats because of it. As a result, the decisive elections are no longer the actual elections, but the primaries. The Republican Party in Texas is already certain to win against the Democrats in most districts, so the most important elections are the Republican primaries. The representatives of those districts become nearly untouchable.

The turnout of these primaries is rather different than the turnout in other elections. Most voters are not motivated to participate in these events. Only the extreme party militants show up. Depending on the state electoral rules this phenomenon can be exacerbated. As a result, the candidates have to please the most extreme part of their electorate to secure their seat. Moderation is punished at the ballots. Bipartisanship, although necessary, becomes a sign of weakness. Gerrymandering is thus to a large extent to blame for the current polarization of the American political landscape. In the first instance this only affects the House, because the Senate is elected on a state basis instead of districts. Indirectly, however the Senate becomes polarized too, since the extreme factions of both parties gain influence in the overall management of their parties.

  1. It’s all about the money: lobbying and campaign financing 

Both the most and the least visible problem of American politics is the power of the purse. Not in the usual meaning of the term, the competence of Congress to control the state finances, but the more vulgar meaning, namely that whoever owns loads of cash can control legislation to a large extent. Just recently there has been a particularly striking example of this. When the FDA wanted to expand its jurisdiction to control the pharmaceutical companies’ claims concerning the capacities of food supplements, both Democrat and Republican members of Congress protested against this. Today a supplement can claim whatever medicinal abilities without government approval. These same members of Congress, especially Hatch and Harkin, appeared to be the highest recipients of campaign funds from pharmaceutical companies.

We should however be careful when discussing lobbying and the power of money. It is too easy to slip into the discourse of corruption, claiming that members of Congress are bribed into supporting or opposing certain laws. Although there have been scandals, reality is mostly more nuanced. A member of Congress wants to be re-elected, which necessitates him to be attentive to the opinions circulating in his constituency. Companies, unions and other organizations know this and act accordingly. First of all, they choose to sponsor candidates who would support their interests even without the money. A senator from a state with a lot of workers employed in the car industry will naturally be favourable to the interests of car companies. His re-election depends on the wellbeing and employment of those workers. Secondly, lobbying organizations try to mobilize people for their causes. They start petitions, ask people to call their representatives, organize demonstrations, etc. When such an initiative becomes popular in the electorate, a candidate will try to align himself with the initiators to gain their support.

Still the government was not blind to the potentially corrupting effects of money. Already in 1907 banks and companies were forbidden to sponsor candidates directly. Later unions were added to the list. In 1971 the Federal Election Campaign Act was signed into law and it was amended several times. From now on all candidates needed to report their campaign financing activities to the Federal Election Commission (FEC). A candidate could only receive money through donations by private citizens and so-called Political Action Committees (PACs); the latter being highly regulated special funds for campaign money. Both are closely monitored by the FEC.

Creating laws governing campaign financing is however a paradoxical endeavour. The makers of the law, the members of Congress, are also its subjects. Consequently, there has been a tendency to leave loopholes to escape regulation. Also judicial decisions, especially from the Supreme Court, have weakened the regulating power of the FEC. In Citizens United v. FEC in 2010 the Supreme Court decided that only funds with a direct link of coordination to a particular candidate were subjected to the restrictions of PACs. Consequently there arose a wide array of funds claiming no link with political candidates, but still organizing campaigns for these candidates. These so-called SuperPACs are not regulated at all. They have enormous amounts of money at their disposal and spend it for the candidates of their choice. This is how, for instance, the Koch brothers have supported a lot of Tea Party candidates. As a result, the sponsors of these rich SuperPACs gain considerable influence in Congress.

  1. Sticky seats: incumbency effect 

James Madison’s goal was for Congress to be the barometer of public opinion. However, members of Congress tend not to lose an election very often. Every election around 85% of incumbents is re-elected. Mostly a seat only becomes contestable when the incumbent either dies or resigns. Consequently elections tend to lose their decisive character. There are a number of factors to explain the stickiness of Congress seats:

1) A representative can boost his popularity by serving his constituency. He can acquire deals locating projects and money in his own constituency or he can defend the interests of his voters in Congress. He can, for instance, cut a deal for the main employer in his constituency to help in a certain government project. Opponents cannot prove their loyalty except by promises.

2) An incumbent is very visible in the media. He can gain in popularity by keeping in touch with his electorate through television, radio or even by reading the e-mails he receives from his electorate. He can also become a local celebrity by partaking in a lot of public events as a government official. A member of Congress is always a special guest to have at your town barbecue or local sports event. An opponent receives a lot less of attention.

3) A member of Congress knows he is up for re-elections within 2 or 6 years. Consequently, he can start building a war chest immediately. When the elections then finally arrive, he has been working on a campaign for several years. Since the FEC publishes the financial activities of all candidates, possible opponents can take note of the amount of money already gathered by the incumbents. The sum can scare off potential opponents.

4) Finally there is an element of self-fulfilling prophecy at work. Possible sponsors know that incumbents have a much higher chance of re-election. Consequently, they are more likely to sponsor those candidates they predict to win. Funding a candidate who loses in the end is a huge waste of money.

  1. America, home of democracy

Three problems undermine today’s electoral system in the United States. Gerrymandering creates polarization and undermines bipartisanship. Campaign financing promotes the interests of the wealthy instead of the aspirations of the public at large. Lastly, incumbents make elections superfluous by remaining in office until their death or resignation. Still, America would not be America if it would succumb to despair. The land where everyone is entitled to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness and where all man are created equal, has already more than once shown that politics is not a domain of strict rules written in stone. On multiple occasions America has proven that democracy has something to do with the miraculous. When God performs a miracle, he defies all expectations and the laws of nature. American political history has its own miracles to commemorate and its own future miracles to accomplish. All the so-called laws of political science could not predict the genius of the Founding Fathers, the abolition of slavery or the successes of the civil rights movement. America is not the country of ‘that’s just how it is’, but of ‘yes, we can’.

 

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In Russia we trust: the Russian origin of the War on Terror

Crime in full glory consolidates authority by the sacred fear it inspires.”

– E.M. Cioran

Putin’s allegiance to the War on Terror

When Al-Qaeda terrorists attacked the WTC-towers on 9/11 Vladimir Putin was the first foreign head of state to respond to the tragedy. He proclaimed Russia’s solidarity to the War on Terror and remarked that Russia’s sufferings from terrorism in the past necessitated following every initiative in counterterrorism campaigns. It is this past we should interrogate. It is not a coincidence that Putin was the first to react. His declaration was not at all a reaction. In fact, the US response to the attacks of 9/11 placed it in the direction Russia was already heading. We can interpret the Russian policy concerning Chechnya as a foreshadowing of the wars to come. Although it seems as if Russia is on the path of the transition toward a parliamentarian, open democracy, embodied by the West, the transition is actually the other way around. The West is transitioning toward a Russian-style authoritarian government. In Russia we trust.

Chechnya has been a source of conflict from the moment the USSR fell and split into a myriad of independent republics. The Chechen region proclaimed its independence contrary to the will of Moscow, which led to a war between 1994 and 1996. After these two years Boris Yeltsin had to retreat his troops and suffered a humiliating defeat from a bunch a guerrilla rebels. The peace treaty made Chechnya a de facto independent republic, although it remained vague about the exact status of the region relative to Russia.

The nascent republic however did not survive for long. Steadily the country slipped into anarchy and warlords ruled the land. Moreover the radical Islamist Wahabbists gained ground for an Islamist state. In 1999 a militia invaded Dagestan, a neighbouring Islamic region in Russia, and there were the Moscow apartment bombings killing almost 300 people and injuring more than 1000. These developments encountered another shift in Russian politics. Boris Yeltsin became too old to rule and the successor appointed by his entourage, Vladimir Putin, was a bureaucrat without a party or ideology. To win the elections, Putin succeeded in a PR stunt and exploited the fear for terror and the longing for stability in Russia. There were even several voices claiming the apartment bombings were set up by the FSB, the Russian secret police, to aid Putin’s campaign. Even if this theory sounds more like a James Bond movie than actual reality, it remains true that the Chechen conflict was to Putin’s advantage in the polls. His somewhat brutal USSR-like comments on Chechnya are memorable, like Putin denying the Chechen terrorists were humans instead of animals. Most of the fighters in the region were not Islamist terrorists, but secular nationalist fighters, but that did not matter in what was really a war of perceptions.

The Chechen wars of perception

The return to Soviet language concerning ‘the enemies of Russia/the revolution’, is not a coincidence. Throughout the 19th and 20th century the perception of the enemy shifted dramatically. In earlier times, the enemy was another state that resided on a level of equality with the aggressive state. During the 19th century, “massacres have become vital”, as Michel Foucault remarks. The enemy was no longer an external equal, but an internal, inferior threat. For instance, the Soviet ‘enemy of the revolution’ was not simply an accomplice of a foreign state, but an infecting element internal to the social body. The enemy is now a parasite of the social body against which society has to immunize itself. Hence the death of the other is the health of the nation. The same counts for the Western attitude toward ‘the communist threat’, especially in the McCarthy era. All communists should be ousted before they infect perfectly healthy and obedient consumers.

The attitude towards the other as an infectious disease in the social body has a problematic side effect in the case of war. If one believes the other is the incarnation of Evil, one posits oneself one the side of the Good. Is not the battle against Evil good? Of course, Good and Evil with capital letters do not exist in reality, but that is not the point. The warring parties are not actual people, but perceptions. The people involved are only belligerents insofar as they embody these perceptions. This logic has resided with us from the days of the Cold War up until the humanitarian wars of the 1990’s and our contemporary wars to restore ‘peace and democracy’ in the world through the responsibility to protect (R2P). Consequently, no negotiations are possible. If the enemy were an equal one could discuss peace, but we do not negotiate with terrorists. During the Beslan school hostage crisis of 2004 Putin said:” Why don’t you meet Osama bin Laden, invite him to Brussels or to the White House and engage in talks, ask him what he wants and give it to him so he leaves you in peace? You find it possible to set some limitations in your dealings with these bastards, so why should we talk to people who are child-killers[, the Chechen separatists]? No one has a moral right to tell us to talk to child-killers”. The War on Terror only ends with the death of the last terrorist. Unfortunately, the only way to know that is by killing everyone. Moreover the image of Evil per se can justify any limitation of civil or human rights of the general public. When the enemy is Evil incarnate, nothing is a sacrifice too high. Hence the American tanks in Iraq and Afghanistan were exporting a democracy no longer applied at home.

The perception of the enemy as Evil can only prevail when one can persuade one’s friends to regard the enemy similarly. Hence the War on Terror is a war of perceptions in a double meaning. Not only are the perceptions of Good and Evil fighting each other, but also this fight serves as a perception for an audience. When Russia sought support for its harsh policy in Chechnya, Russian ambassadors were asked to show videos to ‘selected persons’ with the brutalities committed by Chechen rebels. Colin S. Gray is right when claiming “the struggle in irregular warfare is always for the allegiance, or at least acquiescence, of people”. The battle of Good and Evil is a stage for the rest of the world. Just like the early modern public hangings, quarterings and other tortures were a public display of the asymmetric battles between the Sovereign and the criminals, nowadays the asymmetric warfare against terroristic, backward peoples serves the display of Sovereign power to the public. The War on Terror does not only fight terror, but also the potentiality of being a terrorist in the obedient population. Such a war does not battle against actual people, but against the potential rebelliousness of all, since everyone is a potential terrorist.

I double-dare you, motherfucker! The hocus pocus of terrorism

When the 6th century philosopher Boethius was accused of high treason, his trial was an example of Roman legal ingenuity. The accuser, Cyprianus, managed to be both accuser and witness in the same trial because it was ‘a case of danger for the king or the state’, whatever that may mean. Even worse, Cyprianus convinced the judge that Boethius, as an astronomer, was an astrologist with magical powers. Because magicians were deemed able to manipulate witnesses and the judge, they were not allowed a defence. Boethius was tried and found guilty without ever having been able to resist. Through legal cunning a man was condemned without a fair process.

On first sight this story sounds like a strange anecdote from distant times, but the times, they are changing. The Obama administration feels justified in killing US citizens with drone strikes without a fair trial when there is ‘solid intelligence’ pointing to a person’s ‘involvement’ in a ‘plot’ and when the suspect is a ‘senior operational leader’ of a ‘terrorist group’. In other words, these are vague and arbitrary criteria. The terrorist is like a magician who cannot be given a real trial because it would mean the possibility of escape. A real court needs evidence to pronounce the death penalty, but the War on Terror cannot let itself be caught in such details. Also here Russia was ahead of its time, with Putin arguing in 1999:” We’ll follow terrorists everywhere. We will corner the bandits in the toilet and wipe them out.”

What is this magic of terrorism? Why are the world leaders so afraid to put suspected terrorists before criminal courts or to actually declare war on the countries American drones drop bombs? As Jean Baudrillard wrote, Russia and the West are fighting a ghostly enemy. The main objective is not the elimination of an actual enemy, but of a ghost. Even radical Islam is only an image around which the antagonism crystallized. In fact, “the antagonism is everywhere, and in every one of us”. The War on Terror is directed at the potentiality of terror in individuals. Everyone can be a terrorist. Every kind of fundamental opposition is possibly subversive enough to infect the whole. Even if the global omnipotence of Russia and the West secure all rebellious regions of the world, we will not live in a safe haven. The enemy is a possibility residing in each of us and can magically manifest itself everywhere at any time. As if by the gesture of a sorcerer’s wand, terrorism is the horizon of contemporary politics.

What is the terrorist spell? What is so infectious about it? Again Jean Baudrillard expressed a poignant explanation. The spirit of terrorism is a challenge to its victims. The attack is a absolute spectacle of death and destruction and it defies its enemies to do the same. It is like the potlatch, described by the anthropologist Marcel Mauss, where someone offers a gift to someone else to challenge the other to give even more, until one of them has nothing more to give. This is a kind of calculation beyond our usual, economic cost-benefit analysis. It offers the participants a duel with stakes instead of a competition with investments. The spirit of terrorism defies Russia and the West to spread terror in its name. What else can the enemies of Western democracy call the current situation, but a victory? Democratic deliberation and civil rights are interminably suspended for the protection of the homeland and the only messengers of these values abroad are tanks, drones and other acts of terror. Protected democracy is no democracy at all. “All the security strategies are merely extensions of terror. And it is the real victory of terrorism that it has plunged the whole of the West into the obsession with security – that is to say, into a veiled form of perpetual terror. The spectre of terrorism is forcing the West to terrorize itself.”

Just like the magicians of Boethius’s days, the terrorists have enchanted the witnesses and the judges into manipulated obedience. They have given us the gift of death and we are eager to kill ourselves in return. We were offered the challenge, but probably we will not be able to respond. There is an axis of Evil: us.

It has been said that even God cannot declare war on himself. Well, he can. The West, in the position of God (divine omnipotence and absolute moral legitimacy) has become suicidal and declared war on itself.”

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What does it mean to be a European today?

“I tell you: one must still have chaos within oneself, to give birth to a dancing star.”

– F. Nietzsche

A spectre is haunting Europe – the spectre of euroscepticism. With the European elections just a few weeks away, we encounter an institution in crisis. The future of a continent is decided and nobody cares. The public ranges between euroscepticism and political apathy. Even Jürgen Habermas, one of the greatest supporters of the European Union, claims that there have never been true European elections. At most, European elections have been an elaborate opinion poll for national parties. At its worst, nobody showed up. The average turnout of the 2009 elections was 43% with dreadful results in countries like Slovakia (20%), Lithuania (21%) or Poland (25%). Even among the original member states, the turnout was at an historical low point. For instance, only 43% of all Germans voted. Such numbers should make us question the European project. What does it mean to be a European today and what is at stake in the next elections?

Diagnosis: operation succeeded, patient deceased

After the Second World War the European Union steadily emerged as a project of the political elites. The majority of European governance decisions were discussed by the government officials of the member states without much participation of the European people. European elections only started in 1979. The idea moving these elites was as old as the Enlightenment: peace through international commerce. If nations become dependent on each other through trade agreements, they will not wage war. As 70 years of peace within the Union show, this operation succeeded.

However, international cooperation went further. In a globalizing world, more and more domains were handed over to the European level to ensure effective governance. Today around 70% of all Belgian legislation has a European origin. The political elites however have been reluctant to hand over the initiative to the people. The augmentation in European competences has not been accompanied by a sufficient democratisation of the supranational institutions. A lot of decisions are still made in rather obscure circumstances and the infamous influence of lobbyists, not all with good intentions, is well known. Consequently most Europeans are still ignorant about what the EU can do and how it functions. For all we know, the EU is a misty cluster of institutions in Brussels and Strasbourg. You can do the test yourself. What is the difference between the European Council and the Council of Europe?

This evolution has a backlash effect when suddenly the people receive a voice. In 2005 the new Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe, the predecessor of the current Lisbon Treaty, was rejected in national referenda in France and the Netherlands. The people feel disenfranchised by the rule of technocrats in Brussels and politicians, worrying about the next electoral results, fuel on populism and widespread resentment. It is however too easy to blame all anti-European sentiments on opportunist politicians. They did not create this sentiment, but only used it to their own advantage. The true perpetrators were the European technocrats themselves who refused to include the people in the European project.

Instead of a transnational political sphere, the EU has created a system of executive federalism, which is mostly a euphemism for ‘Europe decides, the member states implement’. Democratic politics resides in the nation-states, but the real decisions are already made on a higher level. National parliaments are torn between creating consent for resolutions already concluded and upholding the illusion that they still have a genuine democratic debate. For EU officials this creates a comfortable position. They can agree on unpopular matters while avoiding accountability, as we have experienced through the rise of the austerity policies. This hollowing out of democracy is not the simple result of greedy politicians or technocrats either. They had their reasons to keep the public out of the discussion as much as possible. Throughout the 70’s and especially in the 90’s, the illusion became mainstream that the sole responsibility of politics is market governance. The economy requires an apolitical, neutral policy. Just like in natural sciences there is only one correct solution to every problem. Political debate and the inclusion of the uneducated masses are a hindrance to good economic policy. The capitalist system regulates itself and government should only provide the framework for economic competition. As the high priest of neoliberalism, Friedrich von Hayek, once said:“ Planning and competition can be combined only by planning for competition, not by planning against competition.” The welfare state and its way of politicizing economic antagonisms have not been fashionable in contemporary economics. The prime evil of this theory is of course that Hayek combines economic exploitation with authoritarianism to protect the exploiters. The European Union has been good to the few at the expense of the many.

We the people of Europe?

Maybe we should not lay our heads down at the tomb of Europe and follow the spectre of euroscepticism. First we should ask ourselves whether a genuine European democracy is possible. The ghost looking over our shoulder however is quick to reply that such a democracy requires a genuine people. No European democracy without a European people. Such a people is a collection of individuals with certain traits in common, like a history, traditions, a Weltanschauung. The European continent is scattered with such peoples, but they are too different from one another to account for a common European identity. At the level of the nation-states, the political order can be legitimated because the population shares a common identity. Such a commonality does not exist at a higher level. To justify solidarity with other persons the government should rely on the sentiments of empathy within the population, which have geographical limits. I feel solidarity for my fellow Belgians, but less for my fellow Europeans.

The ‘no demos thesis’ is however based on rather simplistic assumptions. The French philosopher Jacques Derrida wrote an article on the US declaration of independence and the US constitution that can be helpful to frame the debate. Derrida confronts the peculiar paradox of signing a constitution. The text states all kinds of things about ‘We the people’, but this people is only formed after the document is signed. What is the constitution then talking about? Derrida argues that every constitution is both performative and constative. A constative statement is a statement that simply describes something to be the case, like me describing that ‘There is a computer in front of me”. A performative is a statement that not simply describes a state of affairs, but changes the reality at hand. A pastor saying ‘I baptize this child’, while performing the appropriate ritual, is not simply describing his actions. His statement is the action. A constitution combines both functions. It performatively brings some entity, ‘We the people’, into existence. Yet it also describes something already to be the case. The ‘We the people’ does not simply appear after the signature. The Founding Fathers believed they were writing the actual desires of an already existing population. This people however is hard to identify, since at the moment of the writing, they were still British citizens.  US independence and sovereignty was both described and called into existence at the moment of signing the document.

The Eurosceptic spectre is not convinced. The constative description of a European people in the Lisbon Treaty is simply false. There is no such thing as a European people. Hence the entity created is stillborn. Again Derrida knows better. If we can learn anything from the children, it must be that constative statements do not merely describe facts, but are promises. When a child asks, for instance, why people have different hair colours, you can reply with a small exposition about hair pigmentation. But afterwards the child asks where these pigments come from and you talk about genetics. Of course, this process can continue ad infinitum. There is no final ground underlying this chain of beliefs. There only comes the moment where the adults must say to the child to trust them. Children learn to trust adults on certain information, even if there never is an ultimate ground justifying all beliefs. As Ludwig Wittgenstein wrote:” The child learns by believing the adult. Doubt comes after belief.” The same counts for every constative statement and even more for a constitution. The constituted people is a promise without an ultimate foundation, but still we trust it.

A promise of course necessarily assumes that it can be fulfilled, but the kind of promises Derrida writes about are more peculiar. There is no ultimate ground, but only the trust that it exists. The child arguing with the adult, does not simply believe in the rectitude of the adult’s last statement, but believes in the possibility of demonstrating its rectitude. Hence the promise of the European people does not claim that there ever will be a truly European people, but trusts in the fact that such a people is possible. The future fulfillment to which the promise refers, is not an actual moment in the future that will once be present, like when you promise that you will be somewhere tomorrow. The promise of the European people refers to a possibility in the present that is not actually present. This actual presence is always to come, but will never arrive in an actual moment. Derrida distinguishes these two kinds of future by calling the first futur and the second avenir. The latter is the substantive of à venir, or ‘to come’, which means that the promise refers to a moment that is always to come. Something that is to come is already present in its absence. You know that the possibility of the ‘to come’ is real, but the actual presence of it has not yet arrived. The European people, just like any other people, is such an arriving entity to come. It does not yet exist, but its possibility exists.  Peoples do not exist, there are always on the brink of existence.

Consequently, the no demos thesis assumes a faulty definition of a people. The latter is not a collection of individuals with certain traits in common, but the possibility to come of such commonality. Hence the European people should not be expected to manifest itself in actuality, but should be anticipated. The paradoxical conclusion seems that, on the one hand, we anticipate the European people, but, on the other hand, we claim that this anticipation can never be fulfilled. The people is always to come. Is the European Union doomed to wait for something that will never happen, while doing nothing? Of course not, anticipation is an active endeavour. If you anticipate something you need to know what you are waiting for. You need to project an image of the anticipated in the future. The constitution creates an image of what it deems to be the European people. The question then becomes what is to be projected?

Democracy is dead, long live democracy!

As euroscepticism argues, European culture is essentially marked by difference and pluralism. The European continent is the harbour for many different cultures with not a lot in common. There is however one thing we all have in common, namely the fact of this pluralism. Europe’s history has been a story of trying, succeeding and failing to account for the other. Recognizing someone else in his or her radical alterity has been the main project of Europe. This is now consolidated in article 2 of the Treaty on European Union;” The Union is founded on the values of respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights, including the rights of persons belonging to minorities. These values are common to the Member States in a society in which pluralism, non-discrimination, tolerance, justice, solidarity and equality between women and men prevail.”

That is why Jürgen Habermas argues for a constitutional project founded on the fact of pluralism. Difference constitutes European commonality and should hence be institutionalized. We even already know a name for this institutionalized difference: democracy. The collective power derived from public discussion should be legalized in real, governmental power. A democracy is a society where all political decisions are made by the collection of individuals who are affected by these decisions. Hence a European public sphere needs to be founded to make possible the European communicative power to legitimize and determine any European governance. The European people is not simply the passive populace of whom acclamatory consent is demanded, but the origin of legitimate power.

Consequently, the image of a future Europe is both something actively anticipated in public debate, but also something always to come, since the ultimate goal of the Union is dependent on the precarious consensus of the public. The constitutional project determines the future form of the EU, but the direction of this process is under continual debate.

A European citizen today is hence a peculiar creature. He is both member of a promised European people and of a certain nation-state, with its own constitutional project. Difference is not just a fact between peoples, but is inscribed in every individual. That is why the rejected European Constitution claimed two constituent powers: the European citizenry and the European peoples. Every European is affiliated to his national identity and to the general interest of all Europeans. Hence the constitutional debate is not a supranational meeting of high officials in Brussels, but a transnational discussion of all European as European peoples. Being a European does mean declining a national identity, since being a European is recognizing the difference between European peoples. Hence a transnational constitutional debate should not take the form of a Pan-European media concern delivering news from Brussels to everyone. Instead, it should be the interpretations of all the different perspectives in Europe, which do not simply co-exist, but engage with one another.

What is at stake in the upcoming elections?

Europe is not a fact, but a promise. It is however up to us to decide what that promise should be and we are faced with a stark choice. Either we do nothing and let the technocracy of executive federalism go on. Brussels decides whatever Wall Street whispers into its ear and the rest obeys. Even not voting equals voting for the status quo. This option provides us with a clear image of the European people. We are the acclamatory, consenting crowd before the Holy Communion of the Market. This is not even a possibility to come, it is simply the present reality. Or we can embark on the dangerous trip of transnational democracy. It is the claim that Europeans should decide what the Union is and should be and it is up to us to create the necessary communicative power and take real, legal power. In this sense the Greek protestors are more Europeans than Barroso or Merkel. The upcoming elections turn out to be about a simple choice: the security of the barracks or the uncertainty that is called democracy.

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Syria and the hope for a state of nature

“Civilization has made man, if not always more bloodthirsty, at least

more viciously, more horribly bloodthirsty.” – F. Dostoevsky

The Syrian conflict has reached a seemingly insurmountable gridlock. The UN estimates of last June state that around 100,000 had died and around 2 million people have fled the country and are now being forgotten in refugee camps. As the civil war continues and blood is shed like champagne, the West remains rather silent. There is not a lot of enthusiasm to intervene in the conflict and when Western states decide something, they do it in a rather clumsy way. We all remember how the agreement concerning chemical weapons was prepared for. It is remarkable how one of the most powerful men in the world, US foreign minister John Kerry, can only find an agreement with Russia and the Syrian government after an unintended slip of the tongue. However, as we know from Sigmund Freud, a slip of the tongue is never innocent. It is a symptom of the return of some repressed unconscious content. If we want to investigate this Western unconscious we should first examine the context of the Syrian conflict. Afterwards we will relate this to a shift in Western political thinking, personified by Thomas Hobbes, and lastly we will explain the Western strategic blunders. Something about the Syrian conflict disrupts Western political thought and makes it act in mysterious ways.

1. Syria, a whole lot of nations under God

Even if Syria is a single nation-state, it is misleading to see it as a homogenous entity. The country’s population is a mixture of all kinds of races, religions, ethnicities, etc. The majority of people has the Syrian Arab ethnicity (around 75%) and the Sunni religion (between 50 and 60%). There are however also great minorities of Kurds (around 10%), Shia, mostly Alewites (13%), Christians (around 10%), etc. As a result, it is a dangerous business to talk about ‘the Syrian’ or ‘Syria as a single nation’.

The president, Bashar Al-Asad, is himself a member of the Alewi minority. He and his father, and predecessor, Hafiz Al-Asad, rose to popularity by pacifying internal conflicts between groups. Practically all high official functions are in the hands of Alewites and mostly even of family members of the president. They have established an equilibrium of forces where their own position is crucial. When the Asads disappear, the entire construction falls apart and the country is left without any governing institution at all. Beheading the king means beheading all political and executive functions. Ethnic and religious conflict would follow in this power vacuum and a lot of minorities would become victims of violence from the majority population. This means that the position of the president in Syria (but also for other Middle-Eastern countries) is a paradoxical one. On the one hand, he is a mediator bringing balance to very different groups, but, on the other hand, he is himself part of the power constellation he should manage.

2. Hobbes’s war against war

To see why Western states feel so threatened by the Syrian power constellation, we should turn toward one of the origins of Western political thinking, namely Thomas Hobbes. He was a British philosopher from the 17th century particularly famous for his quotes about ‘the war of all against all’ and for being the inspiration for the eponymous character in Calvin & Hobbes. It is his philosophy of the state of nature that has shaped Western thought.

Before the advent of the sovereign state, life was ‘solitary, poor, brutish, nasty and short’. In the original state of nature there is a constant war going on between people trying to procure their goods and their lives, because everyone has the freedom to act however he pleases. The only boundaries to someone’s actions are the reactions of others. I can rape, kill and pillage as long as there is no one stopping me. In contrast to what we might believe, Hobbes is such a realist that he claims there would not be an actual outright war. Instead we would remain on the brink of war without ever starting it. I do not know how strong my possible opponents will be nor can I avoid the chance of misfortune striking me at a bad moment. If I act rationally in my own self-interest, then I will just scare off my opponents. The similarity to Cold War tactics of threat is striking. As a result the state of nature is not a permanent state of war, but a permanent threat of war. The underlying reason for this situation is the relative equality of people. Some are stronger, but others are smarter and still others are more lenient. The differences level each other out and everyone is more or less equal in strength. If some people would be obviously stronger than others, peace would be achieved immediately. They would simply conquer and enslave all opponents and the threat of war would be gone forever. Equality is war, difference is peace.

How can we leave this state of nature of constant fear? Our fear of death motivates us to sign a social contract in which we collectively delegate our most dangerous rights to a sovereign in exchange for security. If we all give up our right to smash each other’s heads in and give it to one single person to protect the contract from everyone trying to break it, we can all sleep safely at night. The sovereign protects us and, when necessary, he uses his right to violence to keep the contract binding. It is therefore the fear of death that causes the social contract to work and constitutes the sovereignty of the state.

If we now look back to Hobbes’s philosophy of the state of nature, it is rather strange it has gone into history as a philosophy of perpetual war. In fact, it is a philosophy of perpetual denial of war. In the beginning there is only a threat of war and politics begins where this threat is eliminated. Nowhere the knives are pulled. War is nowhere exactly by being everywhere. This should make us suspicious. Isn’t something repressed here? It looks like there is something speaking to us on every page between the lines. The margins of Hobbes’s text betray a hidden meaning disrupting his theory. If we delve into the historical context of Hobbes’s Leviathan, we bump into a peculiar phenomenon left unmentioned. Thomas Hobbes reacted against a multitude of narratives Michel Foucault called ‘The discourse of conquest’. In the England of early modernity a lot of political debates were framed in the terms of race wars. The population consisted originally of Saxons, but in the 11th century William the Conqueror came from Normandy and brought French Normans with him. As a result a French law was imposed upon the rest of the people and these Normans also controlled all higher offices in government. As a result the sovereign is not the impartial guarantor of peace Thomas Hobbes wrote about, but a weapon the war of one race against another. According to this discourse English law is not the protection of the security of the people, but a force of internal colonialism.

This discourse of conquest was particularly popular in revolutionary groups like the Levelers and the Diggers. They view war as the secret of the state. In fact every state is a veil covering up a hideous war of races. Afterwards it depended upon the radicalism of the revolutionary group, what counter-strategies were used. Some opposed old Saxon law against the law of conquest, others deemed the state corrupt whatsoever.

We can now see what Hobbes repressed from Western political memory and why. The discourse that condemns the state to being a simple weapon of race wars risked turning all politics in simple warfare. The social contract risked becoming indistinguishable from the state of nature. When the sovereign is a warlord not protecting a contract of equals, but a domination of one race against another, politics becomes infested with war rhetoric and the potential violence of the state of nature returns to the foreground. Politics then is war through other means. That is why Hobbes wanted to repress the discourse of conquest. When war becomes the actual basis of society, life remains ‘solitary, poor, brutish, nasty and short’. The revolutionaries were a threat to peace and to the state. Hobbes banished war from his writings to sustain an order plagued by race wars. There is a specter haunting Europe, it is the specter of race warfare.

3. There’s something about Syria

We are now in a position to construct a new perspective on the Western reaction to the Syrian conflict. It takes no mastermind to figure out that the Syrian conflict fits more in the discourse of conquest than in Hobbes’s theory of the state of nature. The paradoxical position of the president is analogous to the one of William the Conqueror. Both are keeping a power equilibrium within the country by letting one group internally colonizing the others. They keep the peace by mediating between the different groups and stabilize the situation by extending the domination of their own group through the assignment of different official position within the government.

This explains why the West is so reluctant to take a stand in the Syrian conflict. The US and the European states fear that the power vacuum resulting from Asads removal will plunge the country in an overt perpetual war. The race war that has remained silent in the background all these years returns with a vengeance. Government control will publicly be a kind of weapon for different groups within society and the sovereignty that should eliminate war from the social body will itself be part of it instead.

The repression of the discourse of conquest also explains why the US only wishes to react with minimal measures. For instance, when it was clear that Asad warriors had used chemical weapons against civilians, Obama only wanted to react with a limited penalty directed against very specific, individual Asad strongholds. The goal is to create a state of relative equality of forces so a Hobbesian state of nature can arise. From this original state a sovereign can be erected on the basis of a social contract. When all parties are entrenched in a situation where all forces are more or less of the same strength, a dialogical consensus is the only solution left. War would be once again repressed to the background.

This however also leads to the question why Western policies on Syria have been such a failure. It is not, as some leftist critics claim, because the West is trying to impose its imperialist agenda on the Arab revolutions. It should be clear by now that the thesis of Western imperialism in the Arab Spring revolutions is a complete myth. Not in Egypt, Lybia, Syria or whatever other country the US or other Western states have imposed Western sovereignty on those populations nor have they installed puppet-presidents. As a matter of fact dictators like Mubarak or Asad fit more easily in the category of ‘puppets of the West’ than people like Morsi or the Syrian rebels.

The real reason for the failure lies at the core of the Hobbesian narrative. Hobbes bases the passage from the state of nature to the social contract on the fear of death. He therefore presupposes every fighter prefers life to death. This appears to be false. The Jihadist, for example, does not fear death at all. On the contrary, his battle is a way of affirming a life beyond death. I do not mean to say that all fighters are medieval knights placing their religion and superstitious beliefs about virgins in heaven above their individual lives. This lack of fear is not archaic, but modern to its core. Exemplary of this modern fearless death is, for instance, a pamphlet of a German philosopher, Max Scheler, during the First World War called ‘The genius of war and the German war’. In this text the catholic philosopher claims that war delivers us an experience of collectivity no longer found in our modern era of decadence and individualism. Here death is not something to be avoided, but something to be sought, found and conquered by the individual to rise up to the level of a collective experience elevating him above himself. The same discourse is used to legitimate Jihadist warfare. Actual life is not good enough. It is decadent because of Western values. By facing and conquering death, this life can lift itself up toward a more real and authentic life. Death is only the gateway toward the good life.

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