Bismarck's Principle

Andrew Beaumont RSS / 21.12.2007. u 17:23

So many people have had so much to say about the future of Kosovo, its relationship to Serbia and its place in the international community. Right or wrong, it looks like the ‘formal debate’s more-or-less over bar the shouting, and the Court of International Opinion is now going to hand down its judgement. Serbia is almost certainly going to lose Kosovo. It’s probably inevitable and both sides will have to live with it.  Whether or not it’ll be a ‘Just’ decision doesn’t really matter.

140 years ago, Germany’s ‘Iron’ Chancellor Bismarck said that “…politics is the art of the possible”. He was right then and he’s still right, but it seems that some of those closely involved in the Kosovo negotiations don’t agree. From where I sit, as an ‘impartial’ foreign observer living in Serbia, there seem to be some frankly unrealistic demands being made about the future of the province. Of course, there’s more than one audience for the negotiators in both camps, it’s not just the UN or EU they’ve got to persuade, there’s an important constituency back home too. Even so, perhaps there’s room in this debate for a little more practical understanding of the way the world actually works.

Like it or not, the Governments and individuals with the power to make things happen are the ones who have lots of money and lots of friends. Also, because they’ve got power and influence, most of them have a history of getting what they want – and to have influence in the real world it’s important to be a winner. The ‘Clubs’ they belong to are very exclusive and their members almost always look after each other, often regardless of whether they’re right or not. Remember Tony Blair’s sycophantic support for the USA’s patently illegal adventure in Iraq? History offers us so many examples!

So why should the people of Serbia expect anyone to listen to them when they object to international support for Kosovo’s independence? Serbia’s certainly not an influential member of any club. It’s not got much money and sadly, I don’t think it has many real friends in the community of nations. I may be a cynic, but I’m not convinced that some of those who have supported Serbia’s arguments against independence for Kosovo have done so simply because they think the alternative is fundamentally unjust.

Most if not all of the countries who’ve suggested, sometimes a bit hesitantly, that Serbia may have a point, have actual or potential problems of their own with ‘troublesome’ inhabitants of bits of their territory. I wonder how the US would react if the international community imposed independence on Hawaii or Puerto Rico? And what about the UK? Will an EU or UN peacekeeping force be sent to supervise Scotland’s transition to independence if the British Government doesn’t agree? Probably not… And I don’t remember seeing any blue UN helmets worn by soldiers on the streets of Belfast or Londonderry during the ‘Troubles’ in Northern Ireland, I wonder why not. Oh yes, of course; Britain’s a member of ‘The Club’.

Russia? Well yes, of course Russia’s one of Serbia’s oldest allies, but at the moment she’s got a few problems of her own with ‘breakaway’ Republics. And then there’s Spain and Cyprus, both of whom seem to be reasonably contented members of the EU club. But after Kosovo, will the Basque people start quoting International Law and precedent to support their case for independence? Will the people of Northern Cyprus tell the international community, “there, you see, we were right all along so stop being nasty to us and accept that we really are an independent State”. You can understand why Cyprus and Spain are making waves in the EU over Kosovo can’t you.

But I don’t think anybody’s objections will make the slightest difference to the outcome, and it’s outcomes that Bismarck was talking about. Maybe I want lots of money and a sports car and a beautiful house by the sea – but that’s about as likely as me getting hired to play my guitar with the Rolling Stones next time they’re in Belgrade. So why worry about it? I’ll concentrate on what I can achieve; enough cash to get by on, keeping my reasonably reliable Suzuki jeep on the road and an occasional walk by the Danube. Maybe some of the more ‘aspirational’ supporters of Serbia’s case to retain Kosovo should be a bit more realistic too?

Yes of course, make your case for Kosovo remaining part of Serbia. It’s a good case, but it’s not so good that it will persuade those who disagree with you. Among them are Governments with lots of money and lots of friends and who belong to the Clubs that matter. To many Governments, news media and ordinary people outside Serbia, the events of the nineteen nineties are much more important than an apparently (to them) esoteric argument based on medieval history, that Kosovo should be kept as the spiritual heart of the Serbian nation.

Members of the Big Clubs, the UN, NATO, the EU all screwed up when they stood back and did almost nothing while most of the former Yugoslavia was tearing itself apart. Lots of people and most of the Governments in the region did some awful things during those years but Serbia, rightly or wrongly is regarded by most if not all of those who matter in the international community as the worst of the lot. Serbia, and by implication the ordinary people, innocent or guilty, who live here must be called to account and I think that one reason for the international support for Kosovo’s independence is that it’s part of the punishment. Apparently, aggression cannot be seen to succeed (except in Afghanistan and Iraq and Panama and …).

Kosovo’s supporters often quote the ‘overwhelming’ desire of most of the people there, to be independent of Serbia. Their opponents can argue until they’re blue in the face, that public opinion in Kosovo today does not represent the real views of all the people of Kosovo and Metohija, including Kosovo’s refugees now living in Serbia and elsewhere and maybe they’re right. There are many powerful arguments against Kosovan independence For example, it seems to be accepted that for the foreseeable future, an independent Kosovo is likely to be fundamentally unstable socially and economically and that it’s an actual and potential hotbed of organised crime involving drugs and people trafficking, money laundering and goodness knows what else. I’ve heard it argued that in the long-term, without the injection of sustained and massive amounts of international aid, Kosovo would probably enjoy a much more prosperous future as a largely autonomous part of a bigger more economically and socially stable (Serbian?) nation state. But in the short term, international opinion isn’t really interested in facts and balanced arguments about the subtleties of Kosovo’s economy or its demography - or anything much else about the place for that matter.

What really interests members of the Club is being seen to be right and getting what they want. They have an agenda. Whatever the faults and mistakes of the UN and EU and NATO (and you won’t hear them admitting to many), they are convinced that Serbia was wrong to do what it did in 1998/9 and Serbia cannot be allowed to get what it wants. The ‘good guys’ must be seen to win! They have told the world what the problem is, us, and they have decided what the outcome will be. But it’ll cost them! Governments who choose to support an independent Kosovo will have to pay for the privilege, and I suspect the people of Kosovo will pay a high price too. Do they really think they’ll become ‘independent’?

Now though, it seems that the die is cast and even if it’s the right thing to do, there’s probably little or nothing anyone can do to prevent the separation of Kosovo from Serbia. So how should we Serbs (and adopted Serbs) react? With dignity!

Nobody admires a child who stamps its feet, screws up its face and screams “…it’s not fair”. Few members of the Clubs that matter will admire those of us who do the same over Kosovo. What’s happening to Kosovo may not be fair to Serbia, to be honest I don’t know if it is or not. But I do know that Serbia has a future which is infinitely more important than its past. Others have decided that Serbia’s future will be as a Nation unencumbered by the very real, practical problems of governing a province riddled with economic, social and political problems and if that’s the reality, so be it.

If partition is inevitable then in my opinion, those who speak for Serbia will do their country and their fellow Serbs no favours at all if they continue stubbornly to argue against it. If they do, they’ll simply reinforce Serbia’s international reputation as a bloody-minded troublemaker. I can’t talk with authority about Serbia’s political negotiators, but I’ve lived here long enough to know that most of the people I’ve met don’t deserve such a reputation. They are dignified people, most of whom do not deserve the legacy of mistrust and disadvantage inherited from some members of the Greater Serbia ‘Club’. They deserve to be represented in the international community by politicians and others who understand ‘…the art of the possible’, not by those whose attitudes and rhetoric are unrealistic and often fifty or a hundred years out of date.

Serbia can have a good future, a future in which the Serbian people can have the respect they deserve and where they can achieve their potential, without having to carry around the burden of their troubled history. But the future begins now and I believe that some of the things being said and done in the name of the probably ‘lost’ cause of Kosovo and Metohija could make Serbia’s future even more uncertain. If the policy of Serbia’s negotiators is to continue to practice the art of the impossible, then the people of Serbia (and perhaps of Kosovo too) will be the losers – again.

It’s not always undignified to accept and accommodate the inevitable. Sometimes it’s the sensible and the rational and the dignified thing to do, even if the outcome’s not what you want. To give away something precious to you is very hard, but it’s also an act of great generosity and it can earn the giver both gratitude and respect. The gratitude and respect of others is a rare and valuable commodity, particularly when it comes from rich and powerful members of important international clubs. It can make a real difference when you’re struggling to overcome the legacy of a turbulent past and to build a better future for your Country.

Komentari (9)

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mikimedic mikimedic 21:43 21.12.2007

Completely agree...

...with your article. Kosovo deserves independence. So does Republika Srpska.
s56a s56a 22:53 21.12.2007


Members of the Big Clubs, the UN, NATO, the EU all screwed up when they stood back and did almost nothing while most of the former Yugoslavia was tearing itself apart.

They did enough before armed conflicts started by Nationalists replacing Communism instead of entering XX Century multinational Democracy.

Bismarck would be proud of your Realpolitik commentary. Germans won against ex-YU...

BTW here in Slovenia we got open borders today all the way to the British Isles! About 1/3 of USA teritory...
Tarkovski Tarkovski 21:52 22.12.2007

Re; Blog

You certainly have a very good point, especially in the concluding paragraph. However, it would be hard to sell in Serbia. Unfortunately, generosity in the Balkans is most often interpreted as weakness. The issue is not anymore Kosovo, there are other territories (N. Kosovo, Prsesevo Valley, Sandzak, ..) and than other even more important issues as Serbia moves with the reforms. My take is that we can't give up although the cause may seem overall lost but to try to fight for the best deal possible.

dracena dracena 08:14 24.12.2007


Many things about Kosovo situation are still a mistery for me even after allmoust two decades-old crisis. Maybe you,
as an ‘impartial’ foreign observer living in Serbia

could explain me: why is the independecy of Kosovo so important for the western countries and gouvernments, expecially for the USA? What are the goals of this gouvernments in Kosovo? For what purpouse Kosovo would be used? Why they think that they could not achieve their goals through open negotiation with Serbians gouvernment, without pressure? Why they have to play against the international law and rules? I must say that it seems that there must be some hidden intentions / interest of this countries. Otherwais their politicians ware not so misterious and so persistent. (You may not cite the usual explanation "that is the will of the Alb. majority in Kosovo", please. This is nothing but an official excuse, we all know that.)
m.agrippa m.agrippa 17:10 24.12.2007

Re: Why?

Two decades, Dracena? How about "since 1878"? Hashim "The Snake" Thaci got a little careless during the last round of sham talks[*], so when a journo asked him about the "talks," he said (somethingalongthelinesof), "We've waited for this for over a hundred years." I thought that maniac Miloshevich was the reason why "Kosovars" wanted to be "free."

Anyway, Kosovo must not be given up, regardless. They can take it away, but it will never be theirs nor will Serbia ever sign on the dotted line. Once you give part of your country away, it doesn't stop there and new demands will keep coming.

I, too, would like to know: why is this issue so important that it has to be settled now? What about Cyprus (no resolution 33 years after the invasion by the Turks), Palestine (since 1948), etc? Oh, what about Republika Srpska or Herceg-Bosna? The folks there would also like to be free.

[*] Since the Albanians had been promised independence beforehand, there was no point "talking." They ran the clock and there was no incentive for them to negotiate.
Andrew Beaumont Andrew Beaumont 11:40 26.12.2007

Re: Why?

Why is Kosovo "so important" to Western Governments? Well, I imagine the answer you get depends who on you ask. I've suggested that 'accountability' is an important reason, but there will be others. For example, perhaps many Governments would argue that Kosovo's independence is the 'least worst' option ultimately to achieve some sort of stability in the region. It's not just about what might or might not be good for the people of Kosovo.

As for the US position, here's what USAID say is the basis for their policy for U.S. assistance to Serbia, based on "... fundamental U.S. national interests in Europe". I assume this reflects the broader US foreign policy.

(Serbia) is crucial to the economic development of Southeast and Central Europe and to the political stability of Europe as a whole. As a social, political and geographic crossroad amid Western and Eastern Europe, Turkey, and Greece, (Serbia) occupies a key geographic juncture in the Balkans. With a large population, a potential for strong economic growth, and an important geo-strategic location, Serbia’s economic and democratic development remains central to the future prosperity and stability of the region. ( )

The question is, if Kosovo does not become independent can Serbia achieve her potential for 'economic and democratic development' while at the same time, she's struggling (probably without much help from the international community) to resolve Kosovo's enormous social, economic and political problems? Despite the rhetoric of some foreign Governments and commentators about Serbia's failings and wider 'responsibilities' to the disaffected pople of Kosovo, the real issue is the future of Serbia. Yes, this country has an important part to play in the future of Europe, but building a prosperous future for the Serbian people is even more important task.
s56a s56a 02:10 28.12.2007

Re: Why?

Amateurish answer from an overexited diplomat! You should have read The Third World War: The Untold Story by John Hackett, 1983 about Kosovo being EU potential trouble spot second to Berlin Wall only.

AB gave a good explanation for the need to supervise Serbs. Bosnian lesson learnt!

maharaja maharaja 11:29 29.12.2007

Great post!

Serbia can have a good future, a future in which the Serbian people can have the respect they deserve and where they can achieve their potential, without having to carry around the burden of their troubled history.

The good question is: Do we deserve better future after all what have we done? In country where Radicals and DSS are so strong, the correct answer easly could be: no!
kalvarija kalvarija 23:52 06.01.2008

Friend and The Club

I've always enjoyed reading Interesting articles and listening to other opinions, but I never enjoyed bullies and I don't know a lot people who like them. The so called "club" turned out to be the big bully in today's world and its behaviour only encourages others to become powerful and stronger and avoid being pushed around. Now, from my own simple life experience, I don’t know how one can earn bully’s friendship and respect by bending over and showing no spine? I cannot recall any example from the western history that glorifies retreats; however there are ample of films that celebrate fight for the principles, dignity, etc, such as Alamo. On the other hand, why Serbia needs a club “friend” who is only a friend when gets something from Serbia (historically people’s life and blood and today territory)? There must be a different name in English for such a behaviour, and I’m sure “friend” is not the one.

Anyway, it seems to be a great challenge today, especially in western countries, to name names and see and call things by their real names. The friendship and respect paroles do not fly with anyone in Serbia today. I believe that Serbs have paid extremely high price in the past for believing in “friends” and if Serbs have learned something in the past 15 years it should be that there are no friends, only interests.

And with all respect the “civilized” approach of accepting the reality with dignity and making friends with your oppressors reminds me of that cynic advice to a rape victim, “if you cannot avoid a rape, relax and enjoy”. Well, should we really enjoy it?




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