A different view on BiH and the EU’s visa free regime

Florian Bieber:

The EU has to insist on countries fulfilling the requirements it sets. It has been weak for some (which were arguably bad conditions), but if it relents just to be ‘nice’ to a country or to not leave anybody behind, why would any politician pass any necessary law anymore? Lowering conditions and requirements would hurt citizens across the region, not least in BiH–not in regard to visa free travel, but in regard to other reforms. Not including all countries at the same time does not mean leaving them behind. If Slovakia had not been lagging behind in the 1990s, there would have been no pressure to get rid of Vladimir Meciar and to begin serious reforms. Had been Slovakia given an easy ride early on, it probably would have been left behind at the end.

One argument put forth in the debate has been that it is mostly Bosniaks who would be left out from visa free travel and Croats already have Croatian passports and Serbs can or have Serbian passports. This is, however, as demagogic argument. First, Croatian passport holders are uneffected, so there is no change there. Second, there is little evidence that Bosnian Serbs have easy access to Serbian passports. According to a report in Danas, only 2,557 Bosnian citizens also have a Serbian passport. While this might be underestimating the real number of double citizens, there is little evidence to suggest that Bosnian Serbs have easy access to Serbian passports. Finally, if Serbia were to provide easy access to Bosnian Serbs, the EC could easily impose similar limitations to Serbian passport holders from Bosnia as there will be for Serbian passport holders from Kosovo.

In a heated facebook debate started by one of my Bosnian friends in response to Bieber’s article (this friend agreed with Bieber), another Bosnian wrote:

This article states: “Lowering conditions and requirements would hurt citizens across the region, not least in BiH–not in regard to visa free travel, but in regard to other reforms” Are we talking about the same principle of conditions and requirements Turkey cannot fulfill for decades, but do not apply for Bulgaria and Romania. Second argument I find at least disturbing here is “First, Croatian passport holders are unaffected, so there is no change there.” Excuse me? That’s like saying there is no discrimination because we gave special privileges to a certain group long time ago.

What disturbs me the most is the claim that “there is little evidence that Bosnian Serbs have easy access to Serbian passports.” Does this person know that the Consulate of the Republic of Serbia was recently opened in Banja Luka with much publicity and the first person to receive the passport was the Prime Minister of the Republika Srpska. You do not have to be a PR expert to see that this was an open call for the citizens of Republika Srpska to stop by and get their passports. The only requirement was to declare Serbia as your homeland.

Would dropping the entry requirements for Bosnia be the least worst course of action — a way to ameliorate the feeling of injustice felt by the half of BiH’s population unable to obtain other passports, and pave the way for better relations between states in the region? Or would it put another dent in the EU’s already damaged ability to enforce  conditions evenly on states seeking accession? The latter could actually end up hurting the chances of Balkan states joining the union in the future, even if it led to short term gains, like inclusion in the visa free regime.

I’m not sure where I stand on this anymore.

Iran’s deep political divide

This is the best essay on contemporary Iran I’ve read in a long time . An excerpt:

The key to the Islamists’ “anti-imperialism” is not the emancipation of the subaltern, but self-preservation. Ahamadinejad’s “anti-imperialism” has meant little to the well-being and the emancipation of ordinary people: the excluded, the poor, and women. If anything, hardliners have denied most citizens of their economic benefit and human rights, while their extremist rhetoric and exclusivist practices have justified and dignified neo-liberal enemies in the west. Their undemocratic precepts have given ammunition to the most intolerant Islamophobes and warmongers in the United States and Europe, enabling them to wage a protracted campaign in which mostly poor and downtrodden Muslims get victimised.

Think: any of the talking heads of cable news. Ahmadinejad’s Holocaust denial statements have, since they were made, been extrapolated to the entire Iranian people, and even Muslims in general. This is the main reason why the Daily Show’s brilliant Jason Jones “Behind the Veil” segments were so shocking to so many Americans.

Under the “anti-imperialist” Ahmadinejad, scores of NGOs have been closed down; hundreds of dissident students, faculty, women, and civil-society activists have been incarcerated, and the mass protests of teachers, bus-drivers, and other workers have been suppressed. It was under Ahmadinejad’s government that subsidies were cut, privatisation reached a new height (eighteen times more than that in 2001-03), and a 25% inflation-rate brought low-income people to their knees. Ahmadinejad’s electoral campaign in 2005 focused on fighting corruption, generating jobs and a generous redistribution of oil money. But under his government, cronyism and corruption reached a new level, and people living below the poverty-line increased (by 13%), with 9 million-10 million falling below it (according to the Islamic Works Council). In fact, judging on economic policies and support for the public sector, Mir-Hossein Moussavi is certainly more to the “left” than Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.


The shocking outcome of the elections dashed hopes and inspired a profound moral outrage that in turn fed into a broad-based protest movement unseen in the history of the Islamic Republic. This movement, neither a class struggle against a pro-poor government nor a secularist war against religious rule, embodies a post-Islamist democracy movement to reclaim citizenship within a religious-ethical order. It articulates the long-standing yearnings for a dignified life free from fear, moral surveillance, corruption, and arbitrary rule. Indigenous and non-violent, it represents a green wave for life and liberty.

This is such an important point, as I personally know some fellow lefties who wrongly believe Ahmadinejad is a Persian Hugo Chavez with slightly nastier views on Israel.


This worries me, just as it worries my colleagues, who see some disturbing parallels with the early 1990’s.

However, there are a few very significant differences between then and now, and in those differences, I take comfort.

1 – European (EU) engagement in the region is vastly more significant politically, militarily (peacekeepers in Bosnia and Kosovo) and economically. Furthermore, the EU is much closer. Any destabilization in Bosnia today would literally take place on the EU’s doorstep.

2 – The RS doesn’t have access to one of Europe’s largest military arsenals anymore. That’s kind of significant.

3 – The leadership in Belgrade may voice support for Dodik and even travel to Banja Luka to show solidarity with Bosnian Serb leaders in their campaign of obstructionism, but Tadic and his people are smart enough to know when to step back. Moreover, the RS joining Serbia following secession from BiH is highly unlikely. Serbia as it is will have a difficult enough time meeting the preconditions for EU membership, it could kiss membership within the next decade goodbye if it absorbed the RS.

4 – Croatia is eying EU membership in the very near future, possibly before 2012, and won’t do anything to jeopardize that.

5 – The Obama Administration has made clear that it will be engaged in the Balkans. Biden’s speech in Bosnia was appropriately blunt, signaling to Bosnia’s rotted political class that they have to make Bosnia and Herzegovina work as a state, or there will be consequences. The international community will not permit a return to 1992. (Some outside commentators called Biden’s speech condescending and disrespectful — many Bosnians loved it, and say far worse things about their own leaders.)

All of that said, I’m still worried.

I’m not that into fashion

…but I wish I’d had the opportunity to attend Sarajevo fashion week. The clothes look gorgeous. Bosnia actually made me a more fashionable –or at least better dressed– person. It was hard not to be impressed by how  polished and stylish everyone was there. I would often sit in my favourite cafe on Ferhadija and wish I could snap photos of all the unique ensembles worn by strolling Sarajevan passersby. (Of course, that would have been rude, so I didn’t.)

I don’t think there is a single week of the year that Sarajevo doesn’t have some kind of festival on. Wonderful city.

A helpful reminder

From the UN rapporteur on torture:

UN expert criticizes US torture decision

VIENNA (AP) — An Austrian newspaper quotes the U.N.’s top torture investigator as saying President Barack Obama’s decision not to prosecute CIA operatives who used questionable interrogation practices violates international law.

Manfred Nowak is quoted in Der Standard as saying the United States has committed itself under the U.N. Convention against Torture to make torture a crime and to prosecute those suspected of engaging in it.

Obama assured CIA operatives on Thursday they would not be prosecuted for their rough interrogation tactics of terror suspects under the former Bush administration.

Nowak also says in the newspaper interview published Saturday that a comprehensive independent investigation is needed, and that it is important to compensate victims.

In another case of “the rule of law: ur doin it wrong”…

Mischa writes to me:

And then after, it’s retroactively still not illegal.

That said, leftists feeling betrayed should ask themselves when he ever promised anything on this.

Think positive.  Think positive.

The worst part just hit me.

“It would be unfair to prosecute dedicated men and women working to protect America for conduct that was sanctioned in advance by the Justice Department.”

I can see how they want to avoid it being Abu Ghraib  — lock up some peons for the cameras, etc.  But when you think about that statement for a moment.  The Holderobama DoJ has just approved the Nuremberg Defense.

My boss said it was OK.  That is, in effect, the Nuremberg Defense.  Only this time, it wasn’t done by people following the orders of a totalitarian regime, so it’s less morally excusable.

oh well, Befehl ist Befehl.