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Vermonter Helps Macedonian Jews Plant Hope

By Christopher Deliso

It’s a clear warm spring day high on a barren, charred plateau in Macedonia, and Mike Goldstein is holding a Hebrew prayer book in his hands, with a row of tiny saplings decorating the freshly-turned earth at his feet.

A retired general in the Vermont National Guard, Mike has been asked by the tiny Balkan country’s Jewish community to lead the ceremonial planting of some 7,200 trees with a recitation of the sheheheyanu, the Hebrew prayer that marks new beginnings and hope for the future. It is a number heavy with significance; the little saplings are meant to honor the memory of the 7,200 Macedonian Jews who died in the Holocaust. Flanked by community members young and old, schoolchildren and even a few local officials, Mike pronounces the prayer for hope, as well as a second, the elegiac kaddish invoked at times of mourning.

How this kindly old military man from Burlington ended up on this unlikely Balkan bluff, between a spectacular gorge and majestic, snow-covered peaks, is a fascinating tale that reveals not only one man’s life-changing personal experience, but also a unique connection between Macedonia and Vermont, one which will probably come as a surprise to most Vermonters.

Mike fell in love with Macedonia in 1996, after being sent with a Vermont Guard corps  to help train the fledgling ex-Yugoslav country’s  army  under the auspices of NATO’s Partnership for Peace program. About as large as Vermont, dotted with lakes and rippling with forested mountains stretching over 6,000 feet high, Macedonia had obvious natural appeal. It also had millennia of history, with signs of civilization dating back to prehistoric times and rich archeological remains of civilizations such as the ancient Macedonians, Romans, Byzantines, Bulgarians and Ottoman Turks. But most of all, says Mike, he developed a fondness for the people: “the kindness and friendliness of the Macedonians was remarkable,” he notes. “I realized that these were the kind of people I enjoyed being around.”

One local group made an especially deep impression. Through the suggestion of his translation assistant, this Vermont descendent of Lithuanian Jews decided to make contact with Macedonia’s tiny Jewish community, who numbered only around 200 people. On March 11, 1996, Mike was invited to attend the community’s annual commemoration of the Holocaust in the Macedonian capital of Skopje. On that date in 1943, the Nazi-allied Bulgarian army, which then occupied Macedonia, deported 7,200 Jews – some 98 percent of the whole Jewish population – to the Treblinka concentration camp in Poland.

This catastrophe all but destroyed Macedonia’s once thriving and culturally rich Jewish community, which traced its roots back to Ladino-speaking Sephardic Jews expelled from Spain following the Inquisition in 1492. Taken in by the Ottoman Turkish sultan, the Jews had been resettled within the empire’s extensive Balkan territories, with Macedonia becoming an especially significant center of Sephardic Jewish culture.

Following Macedonia’s peaceful separation from Yugoslavia in 1991, it began taking steps to make restitutions to descendents of Holocaust victims, and to the larger Jewish community in cases where no living heirs could be found. American Jewish groups, the State Department and the government of Israel have all credited the Macedonians for their efforts, which have surpassed those of several larger and wealthier countries in central and eastern Europe. Presently, a Holocaust Memorial Center is under construction in Skopje, on the same spot where the city’s Jewish quarter once stood along the banks of the winding River Vardar.

Although Mike Goldstein retired from the military in 1999, he found that his bond with Macedonia was a permanent one, and he has been coming back every year to show solidarity with the Macedonian Jews as they commemorate the tragedies of the past. This year, the remarkable convergence of that event with another symbolic act made Mike’s visit even more historic. The day after the Holocaust memorial ceremony, Goldstein and the Jewish community did their part in an extraordinary nationwide event: the planting of over 2 million trees by volunteers of all ages, including politicians, celebrities, grandparents and grandchildren, and even border policemen from neighboring states. Spearheaded by Macedonian opera singer Boris Trajanov, the mass planting was meant to help replenish the country’s forests, following last summer’s unfortunate spate of wildfires.

“The day was symbolic on a lot of levels,” says Mike, noting that the planting was a gesture of commitment to Macedonia’s ecological restoration, while for the Jews it “helped dignify the memory of those who died.” In the bigger picture, as the organizers had hoped, the Den na Drvoto (“Day of the Tree,” in Macedonian) proved that Macedonia’s sometimes fractious ethnic groups could indeed work together for the common good. Only seven years ago, Macedonia stood on the brink of civil war with an uprising from the ethnic Albanian minority, bolstered by Albanian volunteers from northern neighbor Kosovo. However, an internationally-brokered treaty soon restored the peace, and since then the country has been slowly but surely working towards its goals of economic development and membership in key international bodies such as the European Union and NATO.

While the former is still some years away, Macedonia is an EU candidate country and hopes to be given a date for the opening of membership talks later this year. Regarding NATO, however, Macedonia suffered an unfortunate setback when Greece threatened to veto its membership invitation at the Alliance’s April 2-4 summit in Bucharest, Romania. Greece, which also has a northern province called Macedonia, demands that the Republic of Macedonia change its name, claiming that the latter has territorial ambitions towards Greek Macedonia- something which the Macedonians deny and which everyone except Greece finds absurd. Despite the impassioned personal intercession of President Bush at the Summit, the Greeks were unmoved, and so Macedonia’s NATO invitation remains conditional on resolution of the name dispute.

Mike Goldstein was one of the many Americans saddened by Macedonia’s failure to gain NATO membership, feeling that the country was eminently worthy of joining the Alliance. He has a strong personal connection here. As a Vermont National Guard general, Mike helped guide Macedonia through the military reform and training process that eventually brought it up to NATO standards. Despite Greece’s mean-spirited action, Mike has nothing but praise for the Macedonian soldiers he has worked with and known over the years. “They were always eager students, and quick learners,” he recalls. “When we had them here [at the National Guard’s School for Mountain Warfare] in Vermont, they really showed their aptitude- and they loved the ice climbing training we do here.”

Indeed, says Mike, the country is richly deserving of NATO membership. It has carried out reforms, downsizing and professionalizing according to instructions, and for years already has unquestioningly committed troops (around four percent of the entire army) to American missions in Iraq and Afghanistan, where they have seen action. In fact, notes Mike, “at least one Macedonian soldier has received a medal from the US military, for saving the lives of American soldiers in a combat situation.”

As the negotiations continue in the coming months between Greece and Macedonia, Mike will be one of the many Vermonters previously involved with training the Macedonian army who is pulling for the small country- one which has, despite so many obstacles and problems, managed to cling to its identity and culture, and which continues to provide Mike with moments to treasure, liking planting trees in solidarity with Macedonia’s welcoming Jews.

*This article was originally published by the Burlington Free Press on April 13, 2008.

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In the Middle of the Road

By David Binder*

Serbia is both blessed and cursed. So, too, are those blessed and cursed that are forced by geography or other circumstance to deal with Serbia. They usually become entrapped.

The reason is obvious. As defined in the last century by Jovan Cvijic, the preeminent Serbian geographer of the Balkans, “We built our house in the middle of the road.”

A cursory glance at the map proves his point. Serbia sits astride not merely the Danube, Europe’s great southeasterly waterway, but also astride the continent’s main land route from north to south. It was the road that Constantine (born near Nis) took in the 4th century on his gradual journey to Byzantium, where he built his great capital. In 1095, some 500 years after Slavs (Serbs) reached the peninsula, members of the first Crusade took that route on their way to the Holy Land. Turk, Hungarian and Austrian invaders used the road. So did the Wehrmacht.

Now the North Atlantic Treaty Organization is again at the door of Serbia’s house in the middle of the ancient Balkan road. Having bombed the house in 1999, killing hundreds of (civilian) occupants, the alliance, obese but still adding weight, is not knocking politely, but rudely hammering.

Neighboring Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria are already members. Croatia and Albania were invited in April in Bucharest, where Macedonia’s membership was deferred, due to its nomenclature issue with Greece. And Montenegro will be on the dance ticket soon.

“I do not have a shred of doubt that Serbia’s long-term future lies in Euro-Atlantic integration,” NATO’s secretary general Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said March 14, ignoring the fact that Serbia has proclaimed neutrality – thus joining Austria, Finland, Sweden and Switzerland in that relatively rare status.

Odd, isn’t it, that just those four should perform such an un-neutral act as rushing to recognize Kosovo independence? NATO’s rhetoric is but a smoke screen, accompanied lately by siren songs and mantra-like recitals of “Euro-Atlantic Unity.”

That is one of history’s jokes. The alliance was created 56 years ago. Its original purpose, as Lord Ismay, the first NATO secretary general wittily but accurately remarked, was “to keep the Americans in, the Soviets out and the Germans down.”

It succeeded in those aims, but when the Cold War ended NATO floundered for many months like Pirandello’s actors looking for someone to write their script. Along came the crackup of Yugoslavia, with Serbia conveniently playing the role of the bad guy (in a region where there were bad guys from one end of Tito’s creation to the other).

On the principle that the beast of bureaucracy never dies — it just mutates — the alliance was reborn as the eastern talon of the American eagle (the western talon reaching over the Pacific). Its putative enemies are uniformly chosen by the United States, not by NATO’s European members. Now its leaders are eying Africa and South America as future fields.

NATO’s first outside-of-area battlefield, the Balkans, was at least “European” if not “Atlantic.” Along with that came a design, at least back to 1992 — with an eye on Kosovo — to crush and then dismember Serbia. That process is embodied in the creation of Camp Bondsteel, in supporting Pristina’s independence and most recently in President Bush’s plan to send American weapons to the Kosovo government. (One of these days veterans of the KLA could be recruited to fight on one of NATO’s war fronts).

Today NATO is heavily engaged almost as far as can be from “Europe” and “the Atlantic,” in Afghanistan. Amend that: Part of NATO is actually fighting there. But Bundeswehr forces, for example, refuse to go into real combat. In other words, NATO is becoming hollowed out by the refusal of some to click heels and salute at every American command. In February Defense Secretary Gates complained that this could “destroy the alliance.”

One must wonder in a similar vein about the political solidarity and purpose of the European Union – despite its obvious success and might as an economic power. Keep in mind that it began life in 1951 as an economic unit, the European Coal and Steel Community.

Through all of its mutations to its current membership of 27, the EU grouping has never overcome its deep political differences. They persist today whether on creating its own army, on enacting a binding constitution, on membership for Turkey, on Kosovo’s independence and of course, on the question of Serbia’s participation.

In the question of Serbia it is not just the quandary inherent in the fact it sits in the middle of one of Europe’s main roads. There are the problems deriving from the reality that, after the ouster of Slobodan Milosevic (and his subsequent deliverance to the Hague tribunal), and numerous other concessions to world powers, the demonizing of Serbs and discrimination against Serbia has not abated, much less disappeared. Far from that, if anything they have grown more intense, more all-encompassing.

For heaven’s sake! Even during the darkest days of Nazi rule the Germans were granted their Goethe, their Beethoven their Thomas Mann by the rest of the world. In the 19th century Vuk Karadzic was welcomed in Germany and hailed by Goethe and Jacob Grimm. Later Nikola Tesla was welcomed if not hailed in the United States. Today they would probably be denied visas and, if they were champion Serbian athletes, they might be barred from competing.

At least one European official seems to be aware that a road is involved with Serbia’s existence. Speaking in Sarajevo on March 20 Britain’s Europe Minister, Jim Murphy, said “Serbia is at a fork in the road of the nation’s history — the choice is Europe or isolation.” That was of course an allusion to the May 11 parliamentary elections.

That seems a gross exaggeration. In the longer term perhaps one can see the house in the middle of the road in a more nuanced way. NATO may last for awhile, the EU a bit longer.

But I believe Serbia and its house will outlive both groupings. After all, it survived earlier empires.

*David Binder (born 1931) was a correspondent for The New York Times from 1961 until 2004. He specialized in coverage of central and eastern Europe, based in Berlin, Belgrade and Bonn. The current piece was published in Belgrade’s Politika on March 25, 2008. It has been modified very slightly to account for events since that date.

A Pause that Refreshes

By David Binder

Remember what it was like last winter and spring with the Kosovo issue? Hardly a day went by without a declaration or a prediction that a resolution would be achieved in days, weeks, a month. Independence was just around the corner. Condoleezza Rice, Nicholas Burns, Daniel Fried, Frank Wisner and the pathetic Michael Polt went before microphones and cameras to make these vows with the seeming assurance of biblical prophets on behalf of the Bush Administration.

They were echoed by longtime advocates of independence for Kosovo (some of them paid by Albanians) like Richard Holbrooke, Morton Abramowitz, Rep. Tom Lantos and Janus Bugajski. And those were only the Americans speaking.

Then on April 3, Marti Ahtisaari submitted his version of a solution-resolution to the United Nations Security Council. Did anyone hear a “kerplunk” sound of something dropping into the Hudson River behind the U.N. Building?

Since then the silence has grown.

It seems that Serbia, with a huge boost from Vladimir Putin and his able team of diplomats has succeeded in torpedoing Ahtisaari, paralyzing the Security Council and stalling the Albanian drive for independence. At least for a moment it leaves Serbia with more to hope for than could have been expected last winter and the Kosovo Albanians with less than they were counting on as late as April.

We now have a pause. (For an American it calls to mind the first great advertising slogan for Coca Cola, from 1929: “The pause that refreshes”).What might we expect when the pause ends sometime in the autumn? Predictions in foreign affairs are dangerous, especially concerning the Balkans. Yet I think we can discern several changes that may influence the Kosovo deliberations.

Even before his July meeting with Putin in Maine, President Bush seemed to be in the process of scaling down United States plans on Kosovo, leading him to one of his “what did I mean when I said that?” moments. In Rome on June 9 he stated: “In terms of the deadline there needs to be one”

However, a day later in Tirana, the president forgot that he had mentioned a “deadline” and then said: “The question is whether or not there is going to be endless dialogue on a subject that we have made up our mind about. We believe Kosovo ought to be independent.” And, a bit later, “At some point in time, sooner rather than later, you’ve got to say: Enough is enough – Kosovo is independent.”

Whether he expressed such plaintive thoughts to Putin in Maine is not known. But it was clear that the two presidents decided not to tangle on the issue and to delegate it to their foreign secretaries. At least the Kosovo conundrum momentarily reached that height between the superpowers, which it had never ascended before.

Another factor has appeared, which may gain some bearing on the next stage of Kosovo deliberations: a decline in the political influence of the United States as President Bush’s time in office draws to a close.

A Pew poll conducted among 1,000 citizens in each of 47 countries and made public in June showed the United States in disfavor in 26 countries. Germans, French, Canadians and Britons said they trusted Putin more than Bush. Two-thirds of Germans said they disliked American ideas about democracy. Three-quarters of the French polled said the same.

Conceivably, these sentiments could translate here or there into government policies. Still, the Bush Administration continues to be numb to the interests and commitments of others. Among the numbest it seems is Condoleezza Rice. On June 28, she said at the US-India Business Council: “What is the meaning of non-alignment? It has lost its meaning. One is aligned not with the interests and power of one bloc or another, but with the values of a common humanity.” The next day India‘s foreign minister, Pranab Mukherjee, icily retorted: “India is a founding member of the Non-Aligned Movement and believes that the movement has contributed substantially to the struggle against colonialism and apartheid.”

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*David Binder (born 1931) was a correspondent for The New York Times from 1961 until 2004. He specialized in coverage of central and eastern Europe, based in Berlin, Belgrade and Bonn. The current piece was published in Belgrade‘s Politika on July 7, 2007.

Ankara’s Growing Importance for Israel in the Post-American Middle East

By Mehmet Kalyoncu

Several developments are concurrently taking place in and around the Middle East, both national and regional ones, which are likely to have wider implications. First, the United States is reluctantly starting to realize that the mission “Operation Iraqi Freedom” is failing, and that fairly soon the withdrawal of troops from Iraq will be no longer an option, but a necessity.

Second, Turkey voted for its future with the parliamentary elections on July 22. The AK Party of PM Erdogan won a landslide victory, receiving 46.6 percent of the votes and thus becoming the only party in the past 57 years to increase its votes in the second term.[i] As such, the electoral victory has not only given the AK Party another five year in office, but also a strong popular mandate for its policy course in both domestic and foreign affairs. However, although Erdogan’s AK Party has indeed won the right to form the new government, questions remain over whether it will be able to govern.

Finally, despite all the international pressure and UN sanctions, Tehran is continuing its nuclear program. At the same time, its regional influence has grown, first through supporting the Shiite insurgents in Iraq and second through boosting its diplomatic relations with both Damascus and Riyadh.

What are the possible implications of these concurrent developments for Israel? One may be inclined to ask why for Israel but not for others. Certainly the same question may be raised for other states in the region, but what the implications will be for Israel is particularly important due to the particular position of Israel in the region. After all, the state of Israel has right to survive and to protect its citizens against potential threats. Yet it is not the only state which preserves those rights in the region. As such, with its unspecified but apparently immense military capabilities, Israel has a potential to trigger volatile events that are likely to affect both regional and international balance of power. Therefore, how would the outcome of the second development influence Israel, provided that the US withdraws from Iraq due to both its inability to maintain the costly war, and consequently is discouraged to confront Iran afterwards, and that Iran continues to become an ever more influential regional power as well as ever more antagonistic to Israel? These gradually materializing conditions put two options in front of Jerusalem to choose. It will have to either resort to military options against multiplied regional threats, or return back to its tradition of diplomacy, seeking to revitalize the old alliances, especially the one with Turkey.

The bell tolls for American withdrawal, as Tehran becomes a regional leader

A growing number of Democrat, and even Republican senators want to set a date for the withdrawal of the US troops from Iraq; their concerns have once again been ignored by the rejection of the Levin-Reed Amendment on US Policy on Iraq.[ii] However, the very fact that there is a demand for a phased redeployment of US forces from Iraq by the end of the year and growing public unrest over the failure of President Bush’s “new” strategy in Iraq, does suggest that the date for the withdrawal is soon, albeit not specified. The war in Iraq has cost the United States over 3,600 casualties, with an unspecified number of troops maimed or otherwise injured (believed to be around 30,000), and nearly $ 1 trillion in expenditures. This is expected to reach $2 trillion, provided troops remain in Iraq until 2010.[iii] Accepting the growing dissent over his Iraq policy, President Bush recently signaled “that he might be open to shifting toward a smaller, more limited mission in Iraq in the future.”[iv]

In the meantime, Iran has sought and to a great extent been successful in increasing its political influence in the region through supporting the Shiite insurgency in Iraq. Similarly, Palestine has provided a fertile ground for Tehran to boost its popularity among the Sunni Arabs as well. According to a recent ISNA (Iranian Student News Agency) report, Iran‘s foreign minister in a phone conversation with his Saudi counterpart, Prince Saud al Faisal, discussed and talked about conditions in Lebanon, Palestine and bilateral ties. Minister Mottaki in this phone conversation stressed the importance of cooperation between all Islamic and Arab countries so as to aid the nation of Palestine and to free it from its current state.[v]

Similarly, Iran‘s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad recently paid a day-long visit to Syria in order to congratulate President Bashar al-Assad on the beginning of his second seven-year term as Syria‘s president, and to review expansion of Tehran-Damascus political and economic cooperation.[vi]

Tehran‘s engagement with the Arab governments in the region has started to yield tangible outcomes for its own ends. According to the ISNA report, President Ahmadinejad and his Syrian counterpart Bashar al-Assad issued a joint statement calling for unity in Lebanon, Palestine and Iraq.[vii] The report quotes the Iranian president, saying “cooperation between Tehran and Damascus is to the benefit of the region and both sides will stand strong against all regional enemies.” Drawing the international community’s attention to the effect and dangers of Israeli’s nuclear weapons on international and regional peace and security, notes the report, both sides asserted the necessity for swift steps to be taken in order to face this threat.

Further, the statement reportedly condemned the continued actions of the Israeli regime, perceived as aggressive. In addition, Sharkul Evsat newspaper reported that Iranian President Ahmedinejad offered his Syrian counterpart $1 billion in the form of military aid if the latter cuts off its recently developing relations with Israel, and if the latter considers using the aid for military purchases from Russia.[viii]

Reviving Ben-Gurion’s peripheral alliance in the new era

The course of regional and international developments makes it necessary for Jerusalem to reconsider, modify and re-implement the peripheral alliance initiative of Israel‘s first President, David Ben-Gurion. In order to break the isolation imposed onto it by the surrounding Arab states and to gain their respect, Israel sought to establish an alliance with the countries in the periphery of the Middle East, which also outnumbered the Arab population in the region. The alliance was so crucial to the Israeli interests, argues Ofra Bengio, that in order to secure US support for forming the alliance, Ben-Gurion portrayed it as if it was crucial to US interests in the region as well, “[Ben-Gurion] sought to use American involvement or support for the agreement as an incentive to the countries in question to join in. In other words, Israel sought to use the United States to galvanize the pact, and use the pact to consolidate U.S. support for itself.”[ix] The alliance ironically involved Sudan, Ethiopia, Iran, and Turkey.

Bengio further suggests that according to the CIA report captured by Iran [revolutionaries] in 1979 from the American Embassy in Tehran, at the end of 1958 Israel, Turkey, and Iran signed an agreement to form an organization called Trident, aiming to exchange intelligence information among the three’s respective intelligence services.[x] The immediate threats that necessitated the peripheral alliance in the late 1950s have not disappeared but multiplied over time.

The state of the alliance

Today out of those erstwhile allies, Iran has turned into a staunch enemy whose president-elect vowed to wipe Israel off of the map; similarly, upon one allegation after another on carrying out genocide in Darfur, Sudan is waiting to be invaded by the very mediator and guarantor of that alliance, while the United States has not only diminished its soft power and popularity to engage any government, but also is rapidly depleting its hard power capabilities to deter any government in the region. Once the United States withdraws from Iraq before fulfilling its goals, which seems to be inevitable, the withdrawal will, to the dismay of those who believe in the necessity of US leadership in global affairs, also shake the invincible image of the United States. From that point on, the dynamics of the power struggle are likely to change forever in the region.

What else remains from the old peripheral alliance? Turkey. Can Turkey play any constructive role in preventing a regional or international conflict which would dramatically risk the survival of Israel?

The answer is certainly not as long as the new government is unable to engage the Middle Eastern states. Even if the AK Party government would like to continue its multi-faceted diplomacy with regional powers such as Iran, Syria, and Israel, its ability to do so will be hindered by the domestic political instability likely to stem from, respectively, the debate over presidential election, the Kurdish issue, and cross-border operation into Iraq. The very fact that the new parliament will consist of deputies from the left-leaning CHP, the ultra-nationalistic, right-wing MHP, and ethnic-Kurdish independent deputies, promises no easy solution on either of those issues. In that case, it is nothing but unrealistic to expect politically unstable Ankara, even with the AK Party government’s apparently clear win, to play any effective role in the Middle East.

What kind of Ankara in the post-American Middle East?

Two possibilities lie ahead of Ankara in the second term of the AK Party government. Ankara will either continue its multi-faceted engagement with the Middle East, or it will be bogged down in a series of political turmoil, and as such will not only be alienated from the region where Tehran is rapidly gaining prominence, but also from the West falling short of fulfilling the EU accession requirements. The political atmosphere in Ankara in the AK Party’s second term will pretty much determine Turkey‘s diplomatic capabilities in the post-American Middle East as well.

Soner Cagaptay of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy has prophesized political instability in the aftermath of the July 22 parliamentary election.[xi] Based on his assumption that the public rallies in spring were indeed against the AK Party instead of its presidential nominee, Cagaptay argues that the lifestyle issues, more specifically headscarf issue, will mobilize masses against the AK Party after July 22.

In addition, he suggest, the new parliament’s failure to elect a new president in thirty days after July 22 will lead to its dissolution and open the way for new parliamentary elections. Given the fact that the AK Party avoided the hot-button issue of the headscarf and sought to embrace all ways of life in its first term, and promises to continue this course by not mentioning the headscarf issue even in its party program, it is unlikely to cause instability during the AK Party’s second term. However, the political faultlines, which Cagaptay implies are likely to emerge in the new parliament consisting of leftist, Turkish nationalist and Kurdish nationalist deputies, are likely to cause instability in the parliament unless the parties recognize the country’s interest in reconciliation over the presidential debate. The ensuing political instability would not only diminish Ankara‘s ability to continue reforms, but also its ability to be diplomatically as active in the regional affairs. Yet, the ongoing transformation in the regional balance of power and formation of new alliances necessitate Ankara to be even more active than before.

During the last four and a half years, the first-term AK Party government has proven to be the only one able to communicate with all the parties in the Middle East. While Ankara mediated talks between Damascus and Jerusalem, it also sought to use its influence on the Hamas leadership for moderation. In a geographical area where almost every Muslim individual grows up being taught that they should take revenge on Israel, which is perceived as far from credible in the quest for peace, the latter needs an ally capable of deflecting anti-Semitic frustration and articulating the view to Arabs that Israel has a right to survive.



 

[i] See http://secim.zaman.com.tr/secim/Election.do

 

[ii] “Democrats Lack Support to Force Vote on Pullout”, New York Times (July 18, 2007) available at http://www.nytimes.com/2007/07/18/washington/18cong.html

 

[iii] “Report: Iraq war costs could top $2 trillion”, Christian Science Monitor (January 10, 2006), available at http://www.csmonitor.com/2006/0110/dailyUpdate.html

 

[iv] “Bush Counters G.O.P. Dissent on Iraq Policy”, New York Times (July 11, 2007)

 

[v] “Iran-Saudi Arabia discuss Lebanon and Palestine“, ISNA (Iranian Student News Agency) (July 06, 2007)

 

[vi]Ahmadinejad to visit Syria“, IRNA (July 15, 2007)

 

[vii] “Tehran-Damascus call for regional unison”, ISNA (Iranian Student News Agency) (July 20, 2007) available at http://www.isna.ir/Main/NewsView.aspx?ID=News-963806&Lang=E

 

[viii] “Israil ile iliskini kes”, Yeni Safak (July 22, 2007), available at http://www.yenisafak.com.tr/dunya/?t=22.07.2007&c=4&i=57134&ˆšÃ‘¬ˆžsrail-ile-iliˆšÃ–¬ükini-kes

 

[ix] Ofra Bengio, The Turkish-Israeli Relationship: Changing Ties of Middle Eastern Outsiders, New York: Palgrave Macmillan 2004, pp. 40-1

 

[x] Ibid. pp. 44-5

 

[xi] Soner Cagaptay, H. Akin Unver “July 2007 Turkish Elections: Winners and Fault Lines”, Research Notes: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Number 14 (July 2007), pp. 8-9

Exclusive: How the US Ordered Increased Activity against Macedonia’s Islamists after the Fort Dix Arrests

(Balkanalysis.com Research Service)-  The May 7 arrests of six Islamic radicals, four of them ethnic Albanians originally from Macedonia and Kosovo, led American intelligence officials to issue a direct order to their Macedonian colleagues, urging them to redouble efforts against known and unknown Islamic radical elements in the country, Balkanalysis.com can now report.

The alleged aspiring terrorists have been held without bail since their arrest and were indicted on June 5. While the majority of news reports on the subject have remained preoccupied with details such as the “true’ nationality of the men arrested or their prior experience as refugees, or the larger legal issues of whether the FBI had erred into using entrapment, little was said of the ripple effect the operation would have on unfolding counterterrorism developments in the Balkans specifically.

However, according to two Macedonian intelligence officials speaking off the record, in a meeting held soon after the arrests in New Jersey, “we were told by our American colleagues to intensify our work [against Islamic extremist elements], and to find out more about their operations here-  and identify new players.”

This testimony contradicts the conventional wisdom that states the US is omniscient when it comes to counterterrorism work in the Balkans. This belief is cultivated by popular culture (television shows depicting ingenious agents performing daring and efficient operations, etc.) yet has apparently been instilled in the hearts of many. For example, one American official in Skopje surveyed by Balkanalysis.com regarding local security developments, shortly before the Fort Dix arrests were made, stated confidently that “we have a very good handle on the situation… we are aware of everything going on [involving Islamic radicals].”

However, the fact that the US administration was caught off-guard by the Fort Dix arrests, and their links to the Balkans, is indicative that this is not always the case. What remains unclear is whether the order to the Macedonians to pick up the pace came as a result of a directive from Washington- and if so, from whom.

In the bigger picture, the fact that the arrests came also less than two months before President Bush’s trip to neighboring Albania can also be attested as a reason for enhanced vigilance. It would have happened, in other words, with or without a botched jihadist plot in New Jersey. A second major reason for a clean-up is of course the NATO conference in Ohrid on June 28-29, which has led to unprecedented security measures in this idyllic lakeside tourist town in preparation for over 800 foreign guests.

Indeed, according to the Macedonian intelligence officers, the CIA has, over the past 9 months, dramatically increased the frequency of requests for information on the growing fundamentalist Wahhabi community in Macedonia. This new focus has been mirrored by allied services, such as the British, French and Italian, not only in Macedonia but in Bosnia and, as Balkanalysis.com recently reported, in Albania as well.

Nevertheless, the disconnect between “mission accomplished’-type rhetoric and the reality is still wide. A less than discreet operational protocol is occasionally revealed in the details. A veteran European intelligence officer with long experience of the Balkans mocked an alleged American “intelligence-gathering” procedure in Skopje. “Once a week, without fail, they send someone from the embassy down to an Islamic bookstore in the Carsija (old town) of Skopje- and they buy all of the new Islamist literature, if there is any, bid them good day and go back.”

A second case indicating less than perfect knowledge was seen a year and a half or so back, when a Skopje newspaper presented the US Embassy with publicly-available data received from an outside party, confirming that an Albanian-language jihadist website, previously registered in Lebanon, had been transferred to the name of a Macedonian woman in an ethnically-mixed neighborhood in the central Macedonian town of Veles. “They seemed genuinely surprised by this and thanked us,” said one newspaper representative involved. Despite the provocative jihadist content of the website, nothing more was heard about whether the investigation yielded any results- or, more likely, whether it was even begun.

The discrepancy between assumed greatness and a more pedestrian reality is not surprising, considering the internal criticism that Western counterterrorism efforts have received in the past. In Balkanalysis.com director Christopher Deliso’s new book, The Coming Balkan Caliphate: the Threat of Islamic Extremism to Europe and the West, several former security professionals in the Balkans weigh in on the topic, generally supporting the thesis that the US does not necessarily know all that goes on- and, in some cases, deliberately seeks to avoid doing so.

The most outspoken of these officials is Tom Gambill, an OSCE Security Officer in Kosovo from 1999-2004. In numerous meetings and through private correspondence, Gambill presented evidence of a concerted Islamic fundamentalist build-up in Kosovo, sometimes involving known terrorist entities, to army and intelligence officials from the US and allied countries. When he mentioned such intelligence data gleaned from sources in the field indicating a terrorist presence, however, he was often ignored. “The peacekeeping motto was, “don’t rock the boat.’ So long as everything bad that was going on could be hushed up or smoothed over, the policy was to leave it alone.”

Gambill’s testimony is reminiscent of the situation in Bosnia a few years earlier where, according to the Jerusalem Post, the Clinton administration had sought “to keep the lid on the pot at all costs” regarding its role in abetting the Iranian infiltration of the country with mujahedin, military trainers and heavy weapons during the 1992-1995 civil war. While that was done to suppress an embarrassing and shortsighted government policy, the disregarding of dubious developments in Kosovo has had more to do with the general mediocrity and every-man-for-himself dynamic of a non-accountable UN peacekeeping mission.

While the foiled plot to massacre soldiers at Fort Dix appears to have been more a case of wishful thinking than anything else, it was an important case in that it showed that Balkan Muslims who had previously been helped by America could in fact turn against their benefactors. There have not been any demonstrated connections between the plotters and any groups in Macedonia, though US authorities were no doubt correct to err on the side of caution in ordering their local colleagues to take a more active stance.

Despite the unlikelihood that a specific connection will be found linking the “Fort Dix Six” to Macedonia, some dedicated security officers there took satisfaction in knowing that the arrests in New Jersey had spurred the US into action. “This (the arrests) was the best thing that could have happened for us,” said one intelligence officer. “Now we can get down to work and hopefully the Americans will respect more what we have to say.”

Future counterterrorism operations in Macedonia will likely branch out to new terrain. While the major population centers such as Skopje and Tetovo remain the places where most known radicals live, at present a significant trend is the growth of fundamentalist groups in the central and central-western mountainous areas of the country, from the Karadzica-Kitka massif westward to Debar, including rural areas near Prilep, Brod and Kicevo. Outside funding from Saudi Arabia, Turkey and others is responsible for the growth of Islam in predominantly poor and ethnically-confused mountainous areas that, with time, could materialize into more significant areas of concern, as the state has done little to offer social alternatives for marginalized groups.

……………………….

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An Israel in the Balkans?

By David Binder

Could Kosovo, as a newly independent state in the middle of the Balkan Peninsula, become a second Israel? A thorny question: Merely linking Kosovo and Israel in the same sentence could invite accusations of anti-Zionism on the one hand or anti Illyrianism on the other. Yet there are some historic parallels.

I do not propose to evaluate the parallels in terms of good or bad, but rather to explore the question of what happens when great powers try to resolve ethnic and territorial disputes by authorizing a new national state. A basic question poses itself: whether the creation of an Israel or a Kosovo is a factor fostering stability in its region, or fostering strife.

Since its birth Israel has fought five wars as well as engaging in numerous lesser combat actions. In modern times, Kosovo has been the scene of major battles at the end of World War II and again in 1999. The foundation of the State of Israel began with the partition 60 years ago of what had been the British Mandate of Palestine into separate homelands for Jews and for Palestinians.

The UN General Assembly approved the United Nations Partition Plan with a two-thirds majority. In May 1948, a provisional government announced the creation of the State of Israel. US President Harry Truman, who had previously been skeptical about the viability of an independent Jewish entity, swiftly declared de facto recognition of Israel (de jure recognition followed in 1949).

While American political support for Israel was strong and steady, substantial financial assistance was slower in coming. It started with a $100 million loan in 1949, but now amounts to nearly $3 billion in annual grants.

Kosovo became a ward of the United States in a similarly stumbling fashion. In late December 1992 – eight months into the Bosnian civil war – President George H.W. Bush sent a letter to President Slobodan Milosevic declaring: “in the event of conflict in Kosovo caused by Serbian action, the United States will be prepared to employ military force against the Serbs in Kosovo and in Serbia proper.”

At that time there was no physical conflict whatsoever in Kosovo. So the Bush message struck the Serbian leadership like a bolt out of the blue. But the marker was set and the warning was repeated later by the Clinton Administration. The US finally implemented it in March 1999 with heavy air attacks.

Then, as soon as Serbian forces withdrew, President Clinton dumped Kosovo into the hands of the United Nations. Since it was taken over by the UN, Kosovo, the eternal economic basket case, has received more than $500 million from the United States and $3 billion from the European Union.

In the case of Israel, foreshadowing its creation was the Nazi genocide, which provided surviving European Jews and their supporters with a powerful argument for establishment of a Jewish homeland. In addition, from World War I on there was also a strongly articulated contention that nations had the right to self-determination. In the case of Jews that was the starting point of the Zionist cause in the late 19th century. In the argumentation of Albanians, Kosovo was the scene of genocidal actions by Serbs -although they do not dare to compare it to the fate of European Jews in World War II. (Their contentions were also weakened by the Albanians’ savage treatment of Kosovo Serbs).

Rather, the most vehement Albanian demands are framed in terms of the right of self-determination. For a long time they have been staunchly backed by the United States. As Condoleezza Rice stated on May 15: “it is important now to recognize that Kosovo will never again be part of Serbia.”

As it enters its seventh decade, Israel appears to be a fairly secure entity, despite being surrounded by hostile neighbors. The Zionist dream of Greater Israel (Eretz Yisrael Hashlemah) – including biting off big chunks of its neighbors – has been reduced to nibbles by militant settlers in West Bank lands. Yet Israel for all its extraordinary accomplishments remains a factor of great instability, not only in its immediate vicinity but well beyond. Now here is Kosovo on the eve of possible independence -no longer as a ward of the UN, but of the European Union. What are its prospects? Given the ambitions of the more militant elements among the Albanians — including fanatical elements in the diaspora – one wonders whether an independent state of Kosovo will contribute to stability in the region. (Stability, we must keep in mind, is the declared policy goal of the United States and of the European Union in the Balkans.)

As with the Zionists of yore harkening back to Biblical times, contemporary Albanians cultivate myths of Illyrian ancestry which would make them coeval with classical Greeks, and of an ancient “Dardania,” encompassing Kosovo, southern Serbia, western Macedonia and northern Albania. (Some chauvinistic elements toy with the idea of renaming the province “Dardania”.) Myths are harmless if they are confined to books and songs. For a dozen years Illyria Newspaper, published in the Bronx, carried a map of the “Greater Albania” encompassing pieces of Macedonia, Greece, Serbia and Montenegro. But the Illyria-Dardania myths have also inspired forays by armed Albanian militants into places like western Macedonia and southern Serbia, as well as irredentist threats to southern Montenegro (“Malesia”) and northwestern Greece (to Albanians, “Chameria”).

Could a new State of Kosovo with its barely tested government and security forces, made up in large part by former Kosovo Liberation Army fighters, cope with such elements? Could the European Union and the remains of KFOR still posted in the region contain Kosovo?

*David Binder (born 1931) was a correspondent for The New York Times from 1961 until 2004. He specialized in coverage of central and eastern Europe, based in Berlin, Belgrade and Bonn. The current piece was published in Belgrade‘s Politika on May 25, 2007.

Is There No Independence Station for the Kosovo Train?

By Borka Tomic (Serbian Institute for Public Diplomacy, Brussels)

While some high US officials have claimed that Kosovo’s “train for independence has left the station,” recent developments show that the train for Kosovo’s future might not be stopping at the station of independence. Namely, the Council of Europe, the continent’s oldest political organization, with the input of deputy delegations from all European countries apart from Belarus and Montenegro, has voted to exclude from the proposed text of Lord Russell Johnston the part of the resolution containing an open call for Kosovo’s independence in the name of Balkan stability.

The meeting of the Council of Europe showed that the support for Kosovo’s permanent secession from Serbia seems to be waning, not only in the neighboring Balkan countries or Spain, mindful of its Basque separatist problem, but also with permanent member states of the Contact Group such as France and Great Britain. The internationally recognized state of Serbia confirmed its sovereignty over Kosovo in its recently adopted constitution. And the EU Commission representatives confirmed that as well.

In addition, the stance of Russia remains ever firm in its opposition to Kosovo’s independence, and various high-level Russian officials announced earlier that their country’s UN Security Council veto would be used against any decision on the future status of Kosovo not previously accepted by Belgrade.

There are strong concerns especially in the US as to how to overcome Russian opposition to Kosovo’s independence. Russian President Putin has raised the stakes by calling for ‘universal principles’ to apply in settling frozen conflicts, referring in particular to Georgia’s two separatist regions — Abkhazia and South Ossetia. What’s more, the emotional dimension of the Serbian-Russian relations cannot be undermined, as Russia will not leave Serbia’s Christian Orthodox cradle in Kosovo at the mercy of its majority Muslim Albanian population.

At the same time, another major world power, China, has a similar stance regarding the Kosovo issue. As Jiang Men, a professor at the Brussels Institute of Contemporary China Studies of the Free University of Brussels put it at a recent conference organized by the European Institute for International Relations, “China and Russia agree and cooperate in the matter of Kosovo, and China’s veto against Kosovo’s independence at the UN Security Council is very possible. This is even more likely, bearing in mind the timing of the Taiwan elections due in 2007 and Olympic Games in China in 2008. China would, thus, try to prevent any destabilizing factors that question its sovereignty over Taiwan.” These significant comments were not however widely reported in the media.

On the other hand, the tension and the threat of violence in Kosovo are increasing. Demonstrations from the majority Albanian population are expected on 10 February as the word “independence” was not included in lead negotiator Martti Ahtisaari’s proposal. The proposal is rather frustrating for the Serbs too, and it is not easy to predict how the remaining Serbian population, less than 10 percent, will react to the potential unilateral secession of Kosovo.

NATO, with its 16,500 soldiers, however, claims to have learnt its lesson from past turbulence, especially the March 2004 pogrom in which a total of 4,100 Serbs were expelled from their homes by Albanians, and 35 Serbian churches and monasteries were torched, among them several dating back to the Middle Ages and of irreplaceable value to Serbian and indeed European cultural heritage. Nevertheless, NATO promises to maintain peace in the troubled Serbian province.

Not many people would like to step into the shoes of the special UN envoy for Kosovo. As for now, Mr. Ahtisaari has presented his proposal to the Contact Group in Vienna and the North Atlantic Council at the level of Foreign Ministers in Brussels, as well as to the authorities Belgrade and Pristina. While there was hardly any consensus to report following these meetings, the two sides will have to bring closer their divergent views through new talks, for a peaceful resolution to be realized.

The Assassination of Hrant Dink: Another Deadly Incident Destined to Remain Unsolved?

By Mehmet Kalyoncu

The assassination of Hrant Dink, one of the most prominent Turkish Armenians and the editor-in-chief of bilingual Turkish-Armenian weekly newspaper Agos outside his newspaper’s office was a deplorable act by any definition. Yet it was not an unexpected one, given the selection of the target and its expected/actual impact on Turkish society and on Turkey’s position vis-ˆšÃ‰  -vis the issue of the “Armenian genocide’ that has taken on new proportions internationally of late, with the US Congress weighing a resolution on the issue. Ankara has already warned about the implications of American genocide recognition for bilateral relations.

This is at least the thesis of a good percentage of the population in Turkey, where all too often such murky crimes are blamed ultimately on malevolent and all-powerful outside forces- with the result that it is rare that full investigations are ever executed.

The Turkish police caught Mr. Dink’s assassin in just 32 hours, something which the government took great pride in noting. Yet has the problem been solved with the simple arrest of a 17-year-old gunman? Was he the ultimate and sole perpetrator of the killing? Just as with other recent violent events in Turkey, such as with the 16-year-old who killed a Catholic priest in Trabzon last year, the murder of the Turkish-Armenian journalist has been added to the pile of unsolved or semi-solved incidents that have been planned against the peace and stability of Turkey by the so-called “dark hands.”

This expression — karanlik eller in the Turkish — is the metaphor mostly used to refer to what the public views as the sinister masterminds behind the scenes. It is used in general to refer to those who allegedly always wanted to stir things up in Turkey. Even officials have used the “dark hands” metaphor after unsolved assassinations, bombings and the like. And there have been more than a few over the past year or so.

Fortunately, it seems like the killing did not breed the expected conflict between the Turkish Armenians and the Turks, mostly due to the fact that both sides are more aware than ever of the detrimental results that possible provocations could cause. Regarding the killing of Mr. Dink, the Turkish Armenian Patriarch Mesrob II noted, “[t]his assassination is a deplorable act that targets our country’s stability and its international relations.”[1] Moreover, regardless of their ethnic background, thousands took the street and protested the Dink killing by shouting “We are all Hrant, We are all Armenian!” Further, the fact that the killer was identified and reported to the police by his very own father suffices to suggest that the Dink killing has so far failed to cause social conflict between ethnic Armenian Turks and the Turks.

Nevertheless, it is imperative for the AK Party government to not let the Dink case go unresolved, or be left semi-resolved as were three other infamous recent incidents: the bookstore bombing in the southeastern Kurdish-inhabited town of Semdinli, the aforementioned killing of the Catholic priest, and the murder of Supreme Court magistrate Mustafa Yucel Ozbilgin in May of last year.

The Semdinli Incidents

On November 9, 2005, a bookstore (Umut Kitabevi) in Semdinli, near Hakkari, the most notable town in the southeast of Turkey, was bombed, killing two and injuring fourteen. The local people nearby managed to apprehend the suspected bomber and two other men allegedly involved with the bombing. In the alleged suspects’ automobile were discovered AK-47 assault rifles, Semdinli area maps, a name list of the political opposition leaders, and a document consisting of information about certain individuals in Semdinli.

Interestingly, two of the three alleged perpetrators were identified to be gendarmerie intelligence officers (JITEM) and one, a PKK [the armed Kurdish separatist group] informant. More interestingly, one of the JITEM officers was allegedly linked to then-Commander of Land Forces General Yasar Buyukanit, who is now the Chief of General Staff and whose relationship was never officially denied.

Immediately after the bombing, despite the call for calm by Kurdish community leaders and the officials, about a thousand people took to the streets and put the police checkpoint under fire.[2] The AK Party government assured the public that those responsible would be brought to justice shortly, and immediately established an investigation committee. The committee still continues its inquiry today, and the three alleged perpetrators were sentenced. However, the public is hardly convinced that the three men sentenced were the masterminds behind the Semdinli bombing.

The Semdinli bombing took place during a period when the military-civilian relationship was being scrutinized and it was argued that the civilian administration should have higher control over the military- to keep in line with EU requirements.

The Killing of Catholic Priest Andrea Santoro

On February 5, 2006, Priest Andrea Santoro of Italian Sancta Maria Catholic Church in Trabzon, who ministered to Turkey’s small Catholic population in this northeastern Black Sea town, was murdered by a 16-year-old boy. The killer reportedly had a personal problem with the priest, rather than a religious or ideological one.[3] However, before the investigation was even completed, the European press in general and the Italian press in particular had been quick to link the killing to the Prophet Mohammed cartoon crisis in Denmark and elsewhere. The Italian press thus portrayed the incident as an indication of religious fanaticism in Turkey- whose European Union bid has always been clouded in many Europeans’ eyes by the religious make-up of the country.

Indeed, a Corriere Della Sera article reported that the killer shouted “Allahu-Akbar” before killing the priest, thereby sufficing it to seem an act motivated by religious fanaticism.[4] Similarly another Italian newpaper, La Repubblica, reported that the killer interrupted the service, approached Priest Santoro and shot him after screaming “Allah Akbar”.[5] La Republica also reported that there hade been similar attacks in Beirut as well on the same day due to the Denmark-sparked cartoon crisis.

The investigation started immediately after the killing and identified other suspects involved with the killing of the priest. The prolonged judicial process, focusing exclusively on the 16-year-old gunman, ended after the 9th court trial, with an 18-year sentence imposed.[6]

Yet was the whole case really solved? The Turkish public still hardly believes that it was. Again the familiar reference to “Dark Hands” manipulating the killing from offstage was made. Priest Santoro’s killing also took place right after Turkey started EU accession negotiations with the European Union in October 3, 2005.

The Killing of the Supreme Court Magistrate

On May 17, 2006, Mustafa Yucel Ozbilgin, a Turkish Supreme Court Magistrate, was shot dead by a young attorney Alparslan Arslan. The immediate news reports noted that the assailant screamed “We are Allah’s soldiers. Allahu Akbar” while shooting Ozbilgin, a claim which was, later on, disputed.[7] Certain ultra-secular groups allegedly related the killing with the Supreme Court’s ban on the headscarf, and sought to send a warning to the AK Party government which was seeking a formula to resolve the headscarf problem. The family members and immediate friends of the assailant denied that he was even a practicing Muslim let alone a fanatic who would perpetrate such a killing due to religious motivations.

As of today, the Alparslan Aslan court trial still continues. Will the case be solved when he is sentenced? It may seem so, but it is still hard for the Turkish public to believe that he was the mastermind of the killing.

Finally, Hrant Dink: The Latest, but Unlikely to be the Last

The assassination of Hrant Dink has come during a time when the Armenian Diaspora is preparing to wage full battle against Turkey. On February 8, 2007, a resolution that recognizes the Armenian genocide and foresees certain sanctions on Turkey will be voted on in the U.S. House of Representatives, where long-time supporter of the so-called resolution Nancy Pelosi of California is the incoming Speaker. Bolstering the correlation of the timing of the Dink killing with the upcoming voting on the resolution, Aram Hamparian, Executive Director of ANCA (Armenian National Committee of America) noted, “Hrant Dink’s murder is tragic proof that the Turkish government –through its campaign of denial, threats and intimidation against the recognition of the Armenian Genocide — continues to fuel the same hatred and intolerance that initially led to this crime against humanity more than 90 years ago.”[8]

Ironically, however, as Turkish Armenian Patriarch Mesrob II noted, Hrant Dink was known as the foremost Armenian Turkish intellectual, and one disliked by the Armenian Diaspora due to his efforts to promote dialogue between Turkey and Armenia, and settle the conflict over historical disputes through open intellectual exchanges. Nevertheless, Dink’s death presents a matchless opportunity for the Armenian Diaspora to exploit against Turkey at this crucial time. Again, another mysterious death at a politically sensitive moment for Turkey- the fourth in just 15 months.

The “Dark Hands” Syndrome

The real challenge for the AK Party government now is less finding the assailant of the Dink killing but more pursuing the very investigation, wherever it may lead, to find the mastermind(s). The Turkish authorities and population have proven indulgent in the past about blaming such attacks on abstract external powers, or the so-called “dark hands.”

From top government officials to prominent intellectuals, almost everyone refers to the so-called “dark hands” that target the peace and stability of Turkey and try to drag the country into chaos.

Given the fact that in 2007 will be held two critical elections, presidential and parliamentary, in which chaos in Turkey hampers the political process and the government’s abilities to cope with ever-more complex situation, there is no reason to not expect such random assassinations as that of Hrant Dink in the days and weeks ahead. Nevertheless, popular acceptance of the so-called “dark hands” phenomenon would be an easy way out and would hinder the AK government’s ability to investigate the assassination and bring those really responsible to justice.

Referring to the assassination as a mere provocation attempt Prime Minister Erdogan recently noted, “we know that those who shot him (Mr. Dink) have in fact shot Turkey. Our solidarity, democracy, freedom of thought, peace and stability was the target.”[9] Similarly, the intelligence officers cited, the strategists and commentators, have in the immediate aftermath so far followed the course and attributed the latest killing to the so-called “external powers.”[10] Most importantly, they have all drawed attention to the correlation between the timing of the Dink assassination and the upcoming discussion of the Armenian genocide in the U.S. House of Representatives. The argument is that certain interest groups should have wanted to bolster the Armenian Diaspora’s hand as it prepares to pass resolution in the U.S. Congress to recognize the Armenian genocide.

Former MIT (Turkish National Intelligence Service) officer Mahir Kaynak suggests, “[H]rant Dink’s killing would benefit the Armenian Diaspora in the United States. He was the right choice to start a long-term campaign against Turkey”. Similarly, former Chief of Intelligence Bulent Orakoglu stresses that the assassination of Dink is a signal for similar future killings: “such assassinations were already expected starting in early 2007. Creating chaos is the strategy of certain powers.”

Along similar lines, Retired Lt. General Edip Baser, Special Coordinator for Terrorism, views the killing as a deliberate effort to divert the AK Party government’s attention away from the situation in Northern Iraq.

Certainly the failure to bring the mastermind(s) of Hrant Dink assassination to justice will weaken the AK Party government’s public image as it nears the presidential and parliamentary election domestically and Turkey’s position vis-ˆšÃ‰  -vis the genocide allegations internationally. Perhaps it was such a motivation that led the so-called “dark hands” to kill this prominent Turkish Armenian journalist- if they actually did, of course. If history is any judge, we may never know.



[1][1] “Mutafyan: Saldiri ulkemizdeki huzur ortamini hedefleyen igrenc bir suikasttir”, Zaman 19.01.2007 at http://www.zaman.com.tr/webapp-tr/haber.do?haberno=490232

[2] “Provakatorler Semdinli’de sahnede”, Zaman 11.11.2005 at http://www.zaman.com.tr/webapp-tr/haber.do?haberno=227927

[3] “Trabzon’da Katolik Kilisesi’nin papazi olduruldu olduruldu”, Zaman 06.02.2005 at http://www.zaman.com.tr/webapp-tr/haber.do?haberno=253613&keyfield=6B61746F6C696B207261686970

[4]“Turchia: ucciso un prete cattolico italiano”, Corriere Della Sera 02.06.2006 at http://www.corriere.it/Primo_Piano/Esteri/2006/02_Febbraio/05/turchia.shtml

[5]Turchia, sacerdote italiano cattolico ucciso in chiesa mentre pregava”, La Repubblica 5 febbrario 2006 at http://www.repubblica.it/2006/b/sezioni/esteri/moriente30/preteucciso/preteucciso.html

[6] “Rahip cinayeti davasinda temyize gidildi”, Zaman 30.10.2006 at http://www.zaman.com.tr/webapp-tr/haber.do?haberno=445458&keyfield=6B61746F6C696B207261686970

[8] Press Release “Anca Condems Murder of Hrant Dink”, available at http://www.anca.org/press_releases/press_releases.php?prid=1059

[9] “Hain bir provakasyonla karsi karsiyayiz”, Zaman 01.20.2007 at http://www.zaman.com.tr/webapp-tr/haber.do?haberno=490465

[10] “Turkiye’ye yonelik bir operasyonun isaret fisegi — Signal Bullet of an Operation against Turkey“, Zaman 01.20.2007 at http://www.zaman.com.tr/webapp-tr/haber.do?haberno=490332

Why the EU Needs a Strategy for the Black Sea Region

By Lara Scarpitta*

It is old news that geography matters in foreign policy. A dormant EC/EU had to learn this vital lesson in 1989, when communism crumbled behind its safe walls. Faced with the sudden prospect of bordering poor, unpredictable and unstable neighbours, it responded by anchoring the former soviet satellites of Central Europe with the offer of EU membership. But now that a new enlargement has been completed, geography matters even more. With the accession of Romania and Bulgaria on the 1st of January, the EU’s new eastern border has moved south, to the shore of the Black Sea. Across its waters, however, lies one of the most unstable and conflict-prone regions of post-Soviet Eurasia.

For centuries, the Black Sea region has been a theatre of violent conflicts and power struggles, due primarily to its geographical location and character as a transit route. During the Cold War, all Black Sea states (except Turkey) were within the Soviet sphere of influence and at the periphery of international strategic interests. But as the Soviet Union began to break down in 1991, the Black Sea region plunged into chaos, torn apart by several ethnic and separatist conflicts. The end of the Cold War’s artificial stability freed long concealed (and suppressed) historical grievances and a number of new independent states such as Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova and Azerbaijan emerged from the ashes of the Soviet Empire.

Nevertheless, most of them are still very weak democracies, facing territorial separatism, ethnic tensions, undemocratic trends in domestic politics, slow economic progress, environmental degradation and endemic corruption of public officials. The long years of armed conflicts have caused disruption to trade and damaged infrastructure. Due to its potential for conflict, the region has attracted relatively little foreign investment and most such countries are still today heavily dependent on the Russian economy. Unemployment rates are generally very high, with almost all states suffer from a hemorrhagic migration abroad of a consistent percentage of the working-age population.

Today the Black Sea region is also a major source and transit area of several security threats, from terrorism to international organised crime as well as arms and human trafficking. It is home to four so-called “frozen” conflicts — Transnistria, Abkhazia, Nagorno-Karabakh and South Ossetia – the unresolved separatist issues which followed the breakdown of the USSR.

Despite years of diplomacy and talks, hopes for finding a peaceful and long-standing resolution for these conflicts remain bleak. Apart from fuelling bilateral tensions, these “frozen’ conflicts have been a bane for the region’s democratic and economic development, breeding instability and corruption and favouring the proliferation of organised crime. Uncontrolled territories in Transnistria and Nagorno-Karabakh, for example, have become safe havens for the activities of powerful organised criminal groups involved in people smuggling, human trafficking as well as goods and arms trafficking. The phenomenon of arms trafficking is widespread in the region and much of the large weapons stockpiles abandoned by Russia in the early 1990s have ended up on the grey and black markets. The region is also a major source of drug production and a trafficking route for drugs coming from Central Asia and the Middle East (especially Afghanistan) into Europe. Large profits are also being made from smuggling people across the region with a promise of a better life in the West, and there is evidence that these profits are being reinvested into drugs and arms trafficking, as well as financing terrorist activities, as a recent Europol report highlighted.

This situation carries significant implications for EU security. A power vacuum in the region can potentially result in a security vacuum with consequences which are self-evident yet highly unpredictable. Because of its sudden and new geographical proximity to the wider Black Sea states, the EU will no longer be immune from the backlashes of instability and conflicts in the region, but rather will be directly exposed to a whole range of security threats, from organised crime to drugs and arms trafficking, as well as refugee and illegal migration pressures.

Aside from these security concerns, however, the Black Sea region offers many positive opportunities. The most obvious is in the field of energy. Thanks to its proximity to the oil-rich Caspian Sea and its vast energy resources, the Black Sea region can play a major role for the EU’s energy strategy, to secure alternatives to Russian energy supply.

Many ambitious pipeline projects were launched in the 1990s to guarantee direct access to Caspian oil via the Black Sea. These include the U.S. East-West Energy Corridor and the EU Traceca project (Transit Corridor Europe-Caucasus-Central Asia).

Although these failed to materialise when conflicts erupted in the Balkans and in the South Caucasus in the 1990s, it is in the interests of the EU that these projects be reinvigorated to ensure greater Western access to Caspian energy resources.

Perhaps most importantly, the Black Sea region matters for its strategic importance, owing to its proximity to the Middle East. Since 9/11, the US has played an active role in the region to safeguard its vast security and economic interests, especially access to Caspian oil and gas reserves. American “pipeline politics’ has gone hand in hand with its war on terror and the U.S. administration has been keen to support the NATO aspirations of some Black Sea countries.

Yet is the EU ready take up these challenges with similar energy? Can it exploit the region’s huge and lucrative potentials and prevent the Black Sea from becoming a permanent source of security threats?

Most likely, it will only be able to do so partially. The reasons are multiple. First, the EU does not have a Black Sea policy, or at least not a coherent strategy as such. It has opted instead for a patchwork of policies and approaches: enlargement to South-eastern Europe and Turkey, the “European Neighbourhood” policy and a structured cooperation with the South Caucasus states.

Indeed, therein lays part of the problem. While the EU enlargement policy – with its strict conditionality and convergence to EU norms and standards – has (at least so far) been relatively a success story, other policies failed to deliver the expected results. Bilateral cooperation with post-Soviet Eastern neighbours like Ukraine, Belarus and Moldova, as well as with the South Caucasus states (Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan), put in place since the mid-1990s hardly proved a recipe for stabilisation and prosperity. The over 3 billion euros from the EU’s TACIS funds allocated in the last ten years have failed to convince reluctant post-Soviet governments to introduce sound democratic and market-based economic reforms. Part of the problem is that the EU lacks sufficient leverage to push for such reforms. This is hardly a surprise if one considers that most of these states are still heavily under Russia’s influence. The 2006 energy crisis in Ukraine and Moldova, as well as Russian import bans on Moldovan and Georgian wines and water are a stark remainder of Russia’s economic power over its neighbours.

The EU, by contrast, continues to have a limited impact on the region. But the EU “stabilisation’ policy has also been too weak in its incentives to push for reforms. The so-called Partnership and Cooperation Agreements (PACs), lacked not only a prospect for membership but also a strict conditionality and were based primarily on a multidimensional cooperation on economic and cultural questions and a political dialogue on issues concerning minorities, human rights and security in Europe.

The “European Neighbourhood” policy, launched officially on the eve of the 2004 “big bang’ enlargement, was aimed at addressing some of these problems. But judging by the results so far, the innovative offer of “everything except institutions,” has not been the trump card the EU was looking for as an alternative to enlargement. The colour revolutions in Ukraine and Georgia have not given way to the expected substantial democratic reforms. Moldova continues to struggle to control its separatist region of Transnistria and there are no signs of Belarus abandoning its totalitarian regime. Little progress has been made in fulfilling the various Action Plans, the EU’s own financial commitment for the region for 2007-2013 has increased but remains marginal and the EU has continued to politely dismiss the long-term membership aspirations of some of its pro-Western neighbours.

Paradoxically, with these differentiated approaches towards its neighbours the EU has in fact achieved the rather unexpected results of widening the economic, political and social gap between them. While in Romania and Bulgaria the EU accession process has arguably ensured the successful creation of sound democratic institutions and fast economic growth, the EU’s eastern neighbours have witnessed a halt or reversal of their democratic process, as highlighted by the 2005 Freedom House Report, with most struggling with macroeconomic and structural difficulties and declining standards of living.

So what should the EU do? For a start, think strategically. After the 2007 enlargement and with the accession negotiations already underway with Turkey, the EU has already become an actor in the Black Sea region. Developing a coherent and well articulated Black Sea policy to protect EU economic and strategic interests has therefore become imperative.

No doubt, anchoring the countries of the Black Sea region is not going to be easy, not least of all because without a realistic prospect of EU membership for most of these states, the EU lacks its most powerful point of leverage. On the positive side, however, the EU is now in a far better position to develop an ambitious and realistic policy for the region than it was some years ago. It can now draw on its expertise and the instruments developed in the past decade, by abandoning rhetoric and reinforcing its concrete actions.

The coming months may be crucial for the development of a coherent EU Black Sea strategy. German Foreign Minister Frank Walter Steinmeier made it clear that Germany intends to achieve concrete results in Black Sea Region during its presidency by examining the effectiveness of the European Neighbourhood policy.

Still, by itself this policy is not sufficient. The stability of the region requires political courage and long-term strategic thinking. The EU should certainly put “some meat on the bone’ on its neighbourhood policy, by offering to its neighbours concrete and lucrative economic incentives in exchange for serious and tangible commitments to democratic and market-based reforms and the protection of human rights. But a credible EU Black Sea policy also needs to demonstrate that the EU is serious about the resolution of all the “frozen’ conflicts in the region. The support for the EU Border Assistance Mission between Ukraine and Moldova and the appointment of a EU Special Representative for Moldova in 2005 is a positive sign that EU commitment heads in this direction.

However, concrete steps must be taken at regional and bilateral levels to find durable peaceful solutions. In this respect Brussels must also find the political courage and determination to take the initiative diplomatically with Russia. Unfortunately, EU reactions to Russia’s allegedly “imperialist’ policy to its near abroad have remained weak and not much more has been done beyond expressing disappointment.

Finally the EU needs to step in with greater support and financial involvement to support regional cooperation efforts. So far the EU has paid lip service to regional cooperation preferring to focus instead on bilateral relations. As active regional partners and new EU members, Romania and Bulgaria are likely to play an active role in this respect.

Romanian President Traian Basescu has made it clear on several occasions that Romania intends to promote more assertively the idea of a strategic vision for the Black Sea region and a greater involvement in regional dynamics. Black Sea economic cooperation in particular can offer the EU an ideal forum for promoting projects in the field of energy as well as non economic areas, such as the protection of the environment, controlling immigration and fighting arms and human trafficking. Ultimately, the extent to which the EU will be able to secure its immediate and distant neighbours in the Black Sea region will depend on its ability to increase its role and impact on the region and become a pulling factor for democratic change. A democratic and fully integrated Turkey will be crucial in this respect.

The benefits of a coherent, realistic and forward-looking strategy towards the Black Sea region are enormous. If the EU’s “close’ and “distant’ neighbours can successfully complete their economic and political transition, security threats will be weakened. Similarly, the creation of stable democratic institutions, functioning economic structures and vibrant civil societies will undermine the operation of criminal groups. To achieve this long-term objective all EU instruments and forces should be mobilised. Otherwise, the region may well plunge once again into chaos. However, this time EU citizens many not be immune.

*Lara Scarpitta is a PhD candidate at the Centre for Russian and East European Studies of the University of Birmingham. Before embarking on a PhD, Lara worked in Holland, Italy and recently in Brussels where she worked as an intern in the Cabinet of Vice President of the European Commission Franco Frattini, EU Commissioner for Freedom, Security and Justice.

Serbia and the Perils of Hard-and-Fast Diplomacy

By Nikolas Rajkovic*

In the quest to establish stability and democracy in Serbia, yet another tumultuous chapter is now beginning. In May of this year, the EU suspended Stabilization and Association talks due to the Kostunica government’s failure to arrest and extradite General Ratko Mladic. On October 1st, the Kostunica government fell over the same inability to capture Mladic and renew EU talks.

Further, the International Contact Group on Kosovo has decided that the Serbian province’s final status shall be determined by year’s end, with the most likely outcome being imposed secession and independence. All the while, the right-wing Serbian Radical Party lurks in the domestic foreground: growing in popularity, sipping on a double-cocktail of international malaise and economic hardship, and eyeing the December parliamentary elections in Serbia with optimism.

Typically, the above storyline is narrated as the fault and handiwork of Serbian nationalism. A great number of analysts and policy-makers have made a venerable career casting “Serbian nationalism” as the causal variable for most Balkan ills. Yet, with this most recent chapter, one has to question whether the present tumult has its “cause” in the discursive chestnut of “Greater Serbia” or, rather, in less-scrutinized US and EU foreign policies. In short, while Slobodan Milosevic may be dead and ousted from power, it often seems that US and EU foreign policy is operating as if the late president were still at the helm in Belgrade.

The 6th anniversary of the democratic revolution in Serbia that toppled Milosevic has just passed. With this in mind, it might be time for a critical re-appraisal of existing policy towards Serbia. The present Washington/Brussels consensus of “the harder you squeeze, the better the results’ has reached its end and is likely contributing to Serbia’s present instability and struggle for democratic consolidation. While such an approach may have been appropriate during the Milosevic era, squeezing the Serbian lemon is now proving counter-productive with respect to the democratically-oriented, pro-European leadership of the country today. Pro-democracy leaders in Serbia need to be treated as allies and not as adversaries endangering regional security and democratic stability.

Serbia is entering its most important elections since the fall of Milosevic in 2000, and further international pressure will only play into the hands of Serbia’s resurgent right-wing and risks undoing hard-won progress made over the past six years. Policies ripe for a rethink are those related precisely to Mladic’s capture and Kosovo’s final status.

First, regarding the former issue, it still appears that both US and EU foreign policy toward Serbia hinges on one man. Or, to frame it another way, that democratic consolidation in an entire country, Serbia, and the security of the Balkans as a region is contingent upon the arrest and extradition of a single fugitive. Clearly, one has to question the proportionality, risk and ethics of such a stance. While policy-makers buttress such a position with reference to legalistic norms (e.g. justice and criminal responsibility) and select images of “Srebrenica’, such a discourse creates more questions than it answers. For instance, does the norm of “doing justice’ negate all other norms, such as a stable and democratic Serbia? Or, need the aforementioned norms be mutually exclusive or work at cross-purposes?

The popular contention that legalistic norms stand in some kind of hierarchical priority should strike many as a rather austere political and legal fiction. Surely, if Serbia can demonstrate that it has undertaken reasonable measures to apprehend Mladic, such as Croatia did with respect to then fugitive General Ante Gotovina, then clearly Serbia’s democratic and European progress should not be jeopardized further.

Kosovo’s final status is another case where Western policy is in need of serious reappraisal. US and EU decision-makers have taken the rare and unprecedented step of setting a “deadline’ to resolve a complex ethnic and regional problem. One need only look at conflicts of a similar nature to view the folly of such a doctrine. Imagine the Palestinian question, Cyprus or even Sri Lanka receiving similar final-status “deadlines.’ How Kosovo is any less complicated than the above conflicts escapes sound reason and judgment.

One explanation for such a misreading rests perhaps in what experts deem to be salient “facts’ with respect to the Kosovo problem. Currently, analysis on Kosovo is dominated by a material-rationalist approach, whereby only the quantifiable is considered of tangible significance. For instance, we hear repeatedly how the vast Albanian majority in Kosovo represents a hard “fact,’ while the constitutive place Kosovo occupies within Serbia’s national identity is represented as a lesser, more trivial concern. The alleged experts fail to acknowledge how the intangible (e.g. identity) is very tangible with respect to a lasting solution on Kosovo, which is not unlike the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.

Fortunately some regional diplomats, such as Greek foreign minister Dora Bakoyannis, have recognized the perils of hard-and-fast solutions and pointed to their fallacious use with respect to the Balkans: “we must not risk achieving a long-lasting viable solution for the sake of meeting a preset, arbitrary deadline.”

Others, however, mostly within the foreign bureaucracies of the great powers, such as US Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Fried, do not see a problem at all: “I have yet to hear any argument which demonstrates a delay would bring anything at all.”

Yet the question for the latter camp is whether (a) it is that they have not heard a good argument or (b) they have not heard an argument that is consistent with their predisposition for hard-and-fast solutions.
Addressing the complexities of Balkan and Serbian politics in a sophisticated manner is clearly a messy and difficult enterprise. However, should US and EU diplomacy not embrace such an approach, we will only have a fiction of peace in Kosovo. Poor political fictions produce dire consequences eventually, and by cheating time and detail we may be only making matters worse in the long run.

In conclusion, while hard-and-fast diplomacy may have made a significant contribution to Milosevic’s ouster, that was a policy appropriate to a certain time which is now long past; ironically, its continuation now may only return his disciples to power.

*Nikolas Rajkovic is a political sciences researcher at the European University Institute in Florence, Italy.

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