A few countries around Europe and the Middle East have been having a harder time forming a government than most. If most Brits got nervous that there was no government formed for a few days following last years’ election, such a scenario sounds like a remote dream for Belgium, Bosnia, Lebanon and Iraq.

It took Iraq around nine months to form a government following parliamentary elections in March 2010, Lebanon had a change of premier in January, but the new premier Najib Mikati only was able to form a new cabinet a few days ago (based on support from Hizbollah and its allies). Belgium is “celebrating” a year since the parliament elections without a government and Bosnia is slowly catching up (emphasis on slowly) with Belgium, having held elections in October 2010 and only a few days ago the three member state presidency held a straw poll who might be the best candidate for the post—it looks likely that the government will not be formed before the fall. Of course, all four countries share a key feature: They are power-sharing systems, which require coalitions of the unwilling. Coalitions are between parties which have campaign against one another and which have often antagonistic views over the future of the country, not to mention its policies. Thus, coalitions are not based on securing “just” a majority, but rather on including parties representing the often deep divisions in society. With fractious and unstable party systems, forming a government is not an easy task.

It might be tempting to conclude that power sharing system which allocate power to parties claiming to represent these different ethnic, linguistic or religious groups should be done away with. Simple majority rule is, however, no alternative in the three countries. In Lebanon, Hizbollah would be able to take over the country, in Belgium Flemish nationalists would be able to dismantle the state with not consideration of the Walloon community, in Bosnia, a Bosniak parties might govern over a state that can’t govern of half of it, the Serb Republic (or alternatively, a Croat-Serb coalition would dominate at the expense of the largest population group), etc. A different alternative is the system used in Northern Ireland. Instead of lengthy coalition negotiations between parties which in all probability anyhow have to end up in government with each other, the Good Friday Agreement of 1998 just does away with complicated government formation altogether. Here the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister are elected by a double majority of both unionists and nationalists, all subsequent ministers are chosen by the D’Hondt system, which allows parties to pick ministerial posts according to their size and means that there is no need for negation between parties and all have a stake in the government. Of course, this also means that no party will be in opposition, but voting largely determines the dominance in the executive, rather than who is represented at all.

If such a solution is not possible, the question arises, does one really need a government? In Belgium, there have been protests in favor of any government (probably a first in history), a senator calling for a sex strike of the wives of Belgian’s politicians and the initiative G1000 which seeks to bring together 1000 citizens to demonstrate than in a few days of popular debate more feasible solutions and compromises can be found than after more than a year of talks among parties. Despite all the civic activism for a government, Belgium managed to hold the EU presidency, reduce its budget deficit and generally have a working country with only a caretaker government. The others’ are less lucky. Without a proper government and a budget, Bosnia was unable to draw further loans from IMF, is unable to move forward with EU integration, whereas Lebanon and Iraq were similarly paralyzed without a fully acting government. The secret to Belgium’s ‘non-governmental’ success despite its difficulties is simple, it is called the European Union and its regions and communities to which many powers are devolved. Granted, the EU lacks clear decision making structures and much of what one would expect from a government, but the Belgium experience demonstrates that it can be a crucial proxy for having a government. Monetary policy, no need. Foreign and security policy, not a big deal for a small EU member. Most laws and regulations come from the EU. What is not done by the EU in terms of everyday life is organized by the regions or communities. This leaves Belgium in the absence of a legitimate government much less exposed than Lebanon, Bosnia or Iraq. Now, of course, the problem is that some ethnic, linguistic or religious parties actually want to demonstrate just that—namely that the state is unnecessary. If citizens don’t feel the pinch of having a government, they might become less attached to the state. This is of course a fundamental dilemma, who much government does there need to be to make it worthwhile for citizens to have a state and what is the maximum of government and state some citizens can take before they support some alternative. Whatever the specific answer maybe, there are times when a country can work, even if there is no government.

Florian Bieber is a professor for Southeast European Studies at the University of Graz.


For almost two decades, the brief and comparatively not very intense violent conflict between Transnistria and Moldova has been ‘frozen’: the lack of violence has been matched by the lack of tangible progress towards a final, sustainable settlement. At times, there has been a flurry of activity, on at least one occasion the parties came tantalizingly close to reach status agreement, but for the most part talks between the sides, mediated by Russia, Ukraine and the OSCE, and with the EU and US as observers, have produced very little. To be sure, there are about a half-dozen relatively concrete proposals which reflect a basic consensus on the parameters of a settlement (including most importantly special territorial status for Transnistria, power sharing, and international guarantees). There are also between 140 and 170 different bilateral agreements between the sides, but no-one knows exactly how many, what their legal status is, and which have been made obsolete by later agreements and/or by developments on the ground. What they all have in common, sadly, is that almost none of them has ever been implemented.

The question is, why? It is always tempting in such situations to allocate blame to the sides and/or the third parties involved. Often, Russia is singled out for its alleged obstruction, and while certainly no solution can be found without Russia, Russia cannot single-handedly deliver a solution either. The European Union is a relative late-comer in the process, it runs programmes to make Moldova more attractive for Transnistrians and help the country on its path to closer EU integration, but lacks, at this stage at least, a real strategy for what to do with the conflict. Transnistrians, in public, insist on their right to self-determination and thus independence. But most importantly, one has to recognise that the status quo over the past 19 years has been stable, tolerable for many, and profitable for some—not only in Moldova and Transnistria, but also in Ukraine and Russia, and among the many serious crises the EU has had to deal with since it became a more aspirational international security player, Moldova was hardly a major threat. In other words, there has been little desire on the ground to change things and no pressure from the outside to do so.

Is this a problem? It would not have been had there not all of a sudden been a push on the international level to make the Transnistria conflict a test case for EU-Russia security cooperation, the first collaborative effort between the two in a newly to be created EU-Russia Political and Security Committee, institutionalising the process begun some five years ago with the Common Space for External Security as part of the EU-Russia dialogue. For many in Brussels and Moscow, and to some extent Washington, such a test case is needed to enable Russia and the West to address jointly the real and more serious security challenges they both face, including in Afghanistan, the Middle East and North Africa and which neither side can handle on its own. To press home this point, in quick succession over the past months, senior British, German, EU and US officials visited the Moldovan capital Chisinau, including EU High Representative Baroness Ashton and US Vice President Biden, all making a point about the need and importance of resolving the Transnistria conflict. Yet, this external push is not the problem in itself, it is the lack of preparedness of the conflict parties and the publics on both sides to deal with it. There is little by way of a real understanding, let alone strategy, to manage not only the negotiation of a sustainable settlement but the rather difficult reintegration process that will inevitably follow after two decades of separation.

The challenge for Moldova and Transnistria is now to make the best of this situation. They will need to rely on international support in coming to the right settlement, one that can be sustained over time and makes things better for both sides. The challenge for the international community is to proceed with care in managing the complex dynamics of this process locally, regionally, and internationally. Meaningful security cooperation between Russia and the EU (and by extension NATO) cannot be achieved or sustained at the price of a solution for the Transnistria conflict that will do more harm than good. In this sense, meaningful European and transatlantic security cooperation is not just about improved cooperation, it is also about improved security.

Stefan Wolff is Professor of International Security at the University of Birmingham, England, UK.  His website is www.stefanwolff.com


What no-one had doubted for quite some time became official on 7 February 2011 with the announcement of the final results of the referendum in South Sudan: a new independent state will emerge on the African continent, the first in over a decade since the secession of Eritrea from Ethiopia in 1993. As clear as the vote for independence was, as formidable are the challenges lying ahead for North and South, as well as the international community at large.

Although Sudan’s president  Omar Hassan al-Bashir announced that he would recognise and accept the result of the popular vote in the South, a potentially violent border dispute is looming over Abyei, where voting in a parallel referendum on whether the region is to remain with the North or join the South has been suspended amid heavy fighting between local tribes. Talks between North and South on resolving the impasse over the resource-rich area have stalled. Even if North and South are not dragged into a full-scale war, instability in Abyei and a lingering dispute will hardly be conducive to a smooth transition to independence for the South and constructive post-independence relations with the North.

Yet, this is not where the challenges of independence stop. The South faces a major economic development problem. Rich in oil, mineral resources and teak, it is poor in infrastructure and heavily dependent on trade with the North. The South lacks even the most basic infrastructure from a road network and electricity grid to a sewage system, public healthcare and running water even in the main towns, mostly due to a long war between North and South that started in the 1980s, exacerbating an already obvious development gap.  Lack of investment is partly responsible for food shortages, too, with food processing plants out-dated and unable to cope with even local demand despite an otherwise productive agricultural sector in a generally fertile environment. Simultaneously there is a local skills shortage making development dependent on foreign investment not only in terms of money.

Heavy reliance on oil is a typical blessing in disguise. It generates significant for the Southern government which can be reinvested into developing a broader-based economy. Yet the only major export route is a pipeline through the North, with refineries in the South far and few between. The fact that about 85% of Sudan’s current oil production is coming from the South is, despite a variety of wealth-sharing agreements in place, a frightening prospect for the North where around 90% of export-generated GDP is from oil. China is a major stakeholder in most existing contracts in Southern oilfields, and will thus be heavily affected by any attempts to untangle current contracts by the time that the various wealth-sharing agreements expire in July 2011. This will be particularly tricky in relation to three so-called producing blocks that straddle the new North-South border, involving not only contract management, but ownership of infrastructure, responsibility for staff, and potentially incompatible tax systems. Combined with an expectation that Southern oil reserves are likely to begin running dry in about 15 years, the typically costly investment in oil infrastructure may not be forthcoming as quickly and comprehensively as hoped, unless North and South agree on forming a joint venture, which is, however, rather unlikely.

An equally significant challenge is fiscal in nature—the future of the Sudanese currency, the pound since 2007 when the then still unified country dropped the dinar. With its value reduced over the past four years by over 10% against the US Dollar, it is not clear what plans North and South now have to resolve the currency issue, and alongside it questions of national and foreign assets and debts.

A range of other economic, developmental and humanitarian issues, quite often deeply entangled, are also on the agenda for the next five months, including water and grazing rights for nomadic tribes along the border between the now two countries. They include citizenship and the rights of northerners in the south and southerners in the north—a perhaps overly simplistic shorthand for the very complex ethnic, religious and cultural identities that cut across physical and tribal boundaries.

As can be expected in any post-civil war situation, security challenges remain high. As part of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement, joint units were created between North and South, and these must be separated now, including their equipment. Recent violence caused by a mutiny within one the ‘integrated units’ lead to more than 50 people killed and could be an ominous sign of things to come.

Apart from challenges between North and South, each also faces their own domestic political challenges. In the North, fighting in Darfur has intensified again and a question mark hangs over the progress, and possibly future, of the Doha peace talks between Khartoum and the western movements. Tensions in eastern Sudan could also rise again and destabilise the North, quite apart from the so far short-lived popular protest movement which might gain renewed momentum depending on how the situations in Egypt, Yemen, and Jordan develop.

The South, too, has its own political problems. The near-unanimity of the pro-independence vote, genuine as it may have been, glosses over a highly diverse social, ethnic, religious, and cultural make-up. An interim constitution has been in place since the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in 2005, but is, like most of the provisions dating back to 2005, due to expire in July when the South is expected to declare its independence officially. It does not bode well for the democratic future of the new state that a committee charged with amending the existing constitution and creating a permanent one excludes opposition parties and civil society organisations.

Politicians in the North and South clearly have their work cut for them over the next five months to manage the process of separation, as do those in the region and the wider international community. The challenge is to make a success of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement, not in order to create a precedent for secession as a mechanism to settle civil wars, but to prevent the two countries from being dragged into another war with all its nasty consequences for the civilian population and regional stability in this volatile part of Africa.

Stefan Wolff is Professor of International Security at the University of Birmingham, England, UK. His website is www.stefanwolff.com

In 2008, Kosovo declared its independence; on July 22nd, the International Court of justice ruled that its declaration was legal. In many parts of the West, especially in Washington, this news was greeted with applause. Reading the Kosovo Declaration of Independence, however, one is amazed at the ability of politicians and pundits to compare it to the American Declaration. Joe Biden even goes so far as to compare the Kosovo Prime Minister to George Washington.

In many ways, the situation of the colonies is analogous to the one in Kosovo. The colonies were stuck between the influence of France and Britain, just as Kosovo is caught between Russia—Serbia’s protector—and the United States. And, the colonies were aware that dissolving their ties to Britain risked igniting separations throughout the world, just as the Kosovo declaration might be a precedent for such declarations elsewhere.

Yet, the way in which America declared independence is drastically different from Kosovo. The Kosovo declaration is short, addresses specific United Nations plans for the composition of government, and thanks NATO for its past help.  What’s notable is what’s missing: unlike the American Declaration of Independence, it does not justify its secession.

The signers of the American declaration, aware of the danger that secession would cause, explained that“Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes.” But, given the specific abuses of the King, it is the colonies’ “right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.” Instead of justifying secession through an appeal to right, the Kosovo declaration narrowly and legalistically justifies its special status. When the American declaration lists twenty-six specific and irrefutable grievances with England; the Kosovo declaration provides no grievance whatsoever. The American declaration is couched in a sophisticated moral and political theory in order to show that any individual can endorse its conclusions; the Kosovo declaration is couched in narrow legalisms designed to provide political cover for the western powers that recognize it.

These are no minor differences. Jefferson thought it right that a declaration of independence makes claims on the conscience of the world, outlining the case for independence, enshrining it in a single compelling statement: “a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.”  The Kosovo declaration skirts debate, does not make a case for powers to recognize or support it, and represents an international system in which power, not conscience, rules. The American declaration sparked a global debate over the rights of peoples; the Kosovo declaration is sparking a trivial debate over the right interpretation of a UN Security Council Resolution.

In light of the NATO involvement in the Balkans during the late 1990s, the U.S. support for Kosovo’s independence is not surprising. Historically, the U.S. has traditionally backed self-determination movements and independence through de facto recognition. The U.S. supported the French declaration of Independence in 1793, the Greek in the early 19th century—and many more—under the Monroe Doctrine. But this principled position of the U.S. did not last. In the last century, the U.S. has refused to recognize de facto states in Central and Latin America in order to discourage potential rebels and delegitimize Communist regimes. For different reasons, the U.S. did not recognize conquests made by the Fascist Italy and Germany as well as by Stalin before and during WWII. Today, the U.S. refuses to recognize South Ossetia and Abkhazia but intensely supports Kosovo’s independence. In other words, over time principled foreign policy soon enough gave way to Realpolitik and pragmatism.

In 1953, President Eisenhower declared that “Any nation’s right to a form of government and an economic system of its choosing is inalienable. Any nation’s attempt to dictate to other nations their form of government is indefensible.” Unfortunately, today’s rhetoric does not match reality. Russia and the United States accuse each other of manufacturing independence movements and then guaranteeing their security until de facto independence is secured. Russia accuses of the U.S. of doing this in Kosovo and the U.S. returns the “favor” in the cases of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

Our point is not that Albanians in Kosovo have no case to make; but that they have not made their case. The misplaced and even dangerous triumphalism with which western media greeted the ICJ ruling sends the wrong message to aspiring secessionists. The Kosovo declaration addresses narrow international rules and wide channels of power; it does not address the universal conscience of the world. No one can endorse the document because there is nothing to endorse: no cause, no claim, and no challenge to the Serbian government. If the American declaration of independence was the beginning of the growth of an international community that supports self-determination and democratization, the Kosovo declaration represents the failure of the international community to move beyond power politics, disguising Realpolitik with international law. Is this the international system we aspire to?

Eric Grynaviski and Harris Mylonas are Assistant Professors of Political Science at the George Washington University. This article first appeared on the blog of the The Utopian on November 30, 2010.

Two years ago the Prime Minister Gruevski welcomed His Majesty, the (e)Mir Ghazanfar Ali Khan, the Prince of the Burusho people, from the remote Hunza Valley in the Himalayas in Pakistan. It was not an ordinary bilateral meeting, as the Pakistani delegation claimed to be “coming back home“, and was certainly made to feel like that. According to their collective memory and narrative of origin, they are the descendants of the warriors of Alexander the Great – in particular, the ones who were too tired or simply not willing to march back to Macedonia after reaching the Indian hinterlands. Ghazanfar Ali Khan later on met with plenty of VIPs, including one metropolitan of the Macedonian Orthodox Church, who compared him to Alexander the Great (at least, in terms of his looks). These days, the Burusho tribe has made the news again – namely, the Macedonian government has decided to simply confer three hectares of land for the construction of a royal residency of the Burusho royal family [News, only in Macedonian: . To add to the quirkiness of the situation, the land is located near to the site of Paljurci, which was put on the map by president Ivanov, who revealed that it was the exact location of St. Paul’s mission is spreading Christianity in Macedonia.

Therefore, the broader public becomes ecstatic whenever the “Hunza” story gets in the press. The majority of the people are critical of the developments, as it is hardly comprehensible how those unknown distant people have become our ad hoc kin-group solely on the basis of myths and tales of origin, while there are still traces of contention towards the very neighboring ones. Furthermore, the whole narrative has a comical overtone due to the seemingly naive and unsophisticated, yet deadly serious rhetoric of “fraternization” between the Macedonian officials and the Pakistanis.

When it comes to the public response, it seems that the overtly sardonic attitude to the topic prevails. It manifests in several ways: referring to the government representatives as “Hunzas” and attributing the term “Hunza” with a negative meaning, denouncing on the cooperation between the two sides as “fraternity between two tribes” and part of the “mountainous” nationalist rhetoric. And, while the whole issue deserves and requires public scrutiny, what I have noticed that at one point, the debate has crossed one thin red line – it has invaded the human dignity of the Burusho representatives.

It is more than legitimate for one to criticize the Macedonian government and the introduction of the “remote family” rhetoric; however, that does not waive the right of respecting the distinctiveness of the Burusho people. The mocking on the “Hunzas” has been grdaully becoming a sheerly prejudiced rhetoric and an act of “Othering”; a very good illustration of orientalistic attitude towards the people imagined as exotic semi-barbarians from the far-away mountainous lands, being different than “us” – not just different, but lesser and totally inferior because of their background. Maybe people derive pleasure out of deriding them, believing that that way, they manifest their own superiority.

The sad part is that this issue has emerged in a culture that has been an object of orientalism as well. The people of Southeast Europe have been often generalized and portrayed as crude and uncivilized, belonging to hostile peoples bearing complicated names. Alas, we didn’t learn our lesson of our own experience.

And who is to blame for this rather negative trend? The domestic and the international media, the politicians, the opinion makers, or maybe the Pakistanis themselves? The author of these lines can not be exculpated as well. I personally have made plenty of fun on the “Hunza” topic (including a sarcastic take on the visit of the Burusho leadership in Macedonia in the form of a song), when the issue had first gained public visibility. And for a while now, I have been feeling guilty and responsible about it – hence I feel an utter need to apologize for my attitude.

Here I would lay my own experience and the lesson learned.

Orientalistic behavior, among other things, is rooted in the lack of “primary sources” about the object. It is easy to generate stereotypes, to Other and imagine “the Hunzas” with contempt when you haven’t really met any of them personally. Nevertheless, my narrow-minded perception has been rubbed into my face, when I had the opportunity to meet one Burusho exchange student in an international setting. I can not recall all of the details accurately, but he could have easily been a member of the “royal” family, or even a prince; yet, for the matter of fact, he seemed a bit awkward with all of his religious and “patriotic” talks. He was in love with Macedonia, although he could not tell the Republic of Macedonia from the Greek province of Macedonia (he unlikely caught himself in the heart of the name dispute I guess). Yet, while hanging out with him, I could not stop feeling horrible, guilty and responsible for my previous acts of mockery and prejudiced talk (and artistic work!) on the “Hunza” topic. What I was thinking, was that if me and my friends heard the same type of “jokes” we had been making about the Pakistanis said about Albanians, or Roma, or Jews, or Africans, we could have easily started accusing people of hate speech or would have just given them a lesson on tolerance and multiculturalism. Yet, since it was about the “Hunzas”, it was considered cool.

What I have realized from this experience, and what I keep on realizing as the Hunza story is making the news again, is that the media (including some international ones) must move beyond the stereotypes on the Burusho Pakistanis. In the whole story, their role is the most subordinated one, as their actions solely depend on the script prepared by their Macedonian partners. Yet, it is a huge mistake to load the meaning of the term “Hunza” with negative features and it is morally wrong to exploit their background of tribespeople from the Himalayas for the sake of “enriching” the anti-nationalist rhetoric.

However, as I already mentioned, being respectable towards the Burusho people does not mean that one also should oversee the potential abuse by the government for the sake of very shallow political goals. Currently, the whole idea of aiding the construction of a “royal palace” in the “historic site” of Paljurci, legitimizing the idea of being “distant relatives” remains highly dubious and harmful to the Macedonian political debate. It is an entirely irrational narrative that maintains the mythologized discourse of ancient Macedonian nationhood, which is detrimental to the both internal and external “national questions”. The infamous “antiquization”, the meta process of redefining the Macedonian national self by reverting to the ancient Macedonian narrative of origin, has turned the identitarian policies of the government into a monoethnic, nineteenth century like nation building project and has obviously exacerbated the fragile post-2001 multicultural practice, aggravating certain Albanian political leaders. In terms of the foreign affairs, on the other hand, the political use of the ancient Macedonian rhetoric had significant contribution to exhausting the chances for a successful outcome of the Macedonian-Greek negotiations over the “name dispute”. Finally, one must not neglect the very pragmatic remark that while the VMRO-DPMNE led government is making Macedonian citizens buy off their own yards and lots on which their houses have been built, it enacts a totally arbitrary decision to simply give out land to foreign citizens only because of certain historical claims.

Anastas Vangeli is a Research Analyst at the Center for Research and Policy Making, Skopje

The citizens of Latvia went to the polls on October 2nd, to cast their ballots in the 10th Parliamentary elections of Latvia.  The results reconfirm the importance of language in identity politics of the country and inter-party contestation, as the election results were split between the two linguistically defined political parties – the Russian speaking Harmony Center, and the Latvian speaking Unity party alliance.   The Unity block, consisting of a conglomerate of Latvian parties, received 33 seats in the new Parliament, or 31 percent of the popular vote.  While the Harmony Center party, identified as the Russian language party, received 29 seats in the new Parliament, or 26 percent of the popular vote.

The municipal elections of 2009 had already established that the Russian language party, Harmony Center, had the electoral support to secure the important post of the Mayor of Riga.  For the first time in history the Mayor of Riga, Nils Usakovs, was of Russian descent and from a Russian language party.  Furthermore, the first year of this term progressed without significant scandal and with modest increases in his popularity.

Building on the municipal success, leading up to the Parliamentary election, there was speculation that potentially Unity and Harmony Center could form the majority coalition in the government.  Several politicians and government representatives went on the record to say that it would only be fair and about time that the government coalition represented both linguistic groups.  The most notable of these comments came from the head of the Constitution Protection Bureau – Janis Kazocins.  In expressing his private opinion, Mr. Kazocins stated that he believed systematic exclusion of the parties identified as representing the Russian speaking population from active participation in the decision making process of the Latvian government was dangerous and unfair.

It is interesting to note, that the latest election coincided with the most recent draft of the Society Integration Policy Guidelines 2011-1017, developed by the Ministry of Justice.  The document uses integration principles, defined as a two way process based on mutual understanding and cooperation between the majority and minority in society, as the theoretical basis.  The goal of integration, as stated by the document, is a consolidated society supporting Latvia’s democratic development.  The need to build common trust and promote mutual respect within the society is also mentioned as an important goal.

Arguably, the best example of integration and a solid showing of support from the government for its own initiative of Integration Policy would be integration at the government level.  The simple fact that Harmony Center was even considered a potential coalition member in the Latvian government, something that would have seemed unfathomable only a few short years ago, gave reason for hope that integration was happening at the highest levels.  A coalition consisting of both linguistic parties, representing both populations, and working toward a common goal with partners that have proven themselves to be capable and professional at the municipal level, seemed like the ideal solution to finally bridging the gap between the two sizable linguistically defined groups and as a means to build trust and mutual respect.

Two weeks after the elections, the leader of Unity block Prime Minister Valdis Dombrovskis did issue an invitation to Harmony Center and the right-wing nationalist coalition Visu Latvijai!/TB/LNNK to take part in the government negotiations.  However, the promising government coalition consisting of both linguistic groups collapsed even before negotiation talks really had a chance to begin.  The main issue that proved to be of contention was history.   The Unity block, tasked with forming the government coalition, sent the four potential cooperation partners (three returning from the existing government coalition and Harmony Center) a draft document titled “Cooperation Agreement about Promotion of National Unity and Growth” to be used as the basis of the coalition negotiations.  The document sought agreement from the potential coalition partners on a wide variety of issues, including the recognition of Latvian as the only state language, and a unified view of historical events, including the admission of Latvian occupation in the 1940’s.

Harmony Center expressed willingness to negotiate, but without predefined points of agreement.  Unity reconfirmed that it believed the future coalition partners had to be of agreement on these fundamental facts and refused to start negotiations from a blank slate.  On the morning of October 19th, Harmony Center confirmed that it would not be continuing the government coalition negotiations on these terms stating that their voters, who had entrusted 29 Parliamentary seats to Harmony Center, did not need to be put under such scrutiny.  On the TV show “100.pants” Nils Usakovs was directly asked if Harmony Center would be willing to recognize the Latvian occupation fact to which he replied that he was not a historian and could not define if the events of the 1940’s were incorporation, occupation or annexation.

On October 21st, Nils Usakovs issued an open letter to the Prime Minister Valdis Dombrovskis stating that in these difficult economic times the people were looking to the elected leaders to solve the country’s pressing problems, not concentrate on political and ethnic nuances.  In expressing grievance with the negotiation process, the letter stated that the electorate of Harmony Center are just as entitled to have a say in the government as any other Latvian citizens, and that it is unfair and against democratic principles to segregate people into “right” and “wrong” citizens.  The letter also implied that it is unreasonable to expect Harmony Center voters, Latvian citizens, to blame themselves and apologize for the events that took place under a different regime in the 1940’s.

The recent political negotiations, concentrating on the long ago historic events of the 1940’s, have brought to light the fact that history and its interpretation, not just language, is still a defining issue for both groups.  If we take politicians to be representatives of the electorate, and their actions as prompted or constrained by their voters, then we see that there is still a lack of political will from both sides to see eye to eye on these fundamental identity issues.  Any talk of integration, of building mutual trust and social cohesion, will fundamentally be futile as long as history remains a divisive issue.  Usakovs can urge the government in his open letter that the key priorities of the country are now economic development, growth, unemployment and social issue resolution, to be resolved by a united and professional coalition putting ethnic issues aside, but the lack of trust stemming from in-group/out-group identification based on history will forestall any cooperative efforts.

For a more detailed analysis of integration achievements, failures, and challenges in Latvia, please see the University of Latvia Faculty of Social Sciences Integration Audit.

Ieva Gruzina, PhD candidate at the University of Latvia Faculty of Social Sciences

On October 3, Bosnians cast their votes to decide on new leadership for the country. The results were somewhat unexpected; especially on the Bosniak side. Radical Bosniak leader Haris Silajdzic lost the Presidential election to turn-moderate SDA candidate Bakir Izetbegovic (son of legendary wartime Bosniak leader Alija Izetbegovic). The fairly moderate turn of the Bosniak electorate resonated in the parliamentary elections, with non-nationalist SDP winning most votes from the Croat-Muslim Federation (closely followed by SDA). The results from the Serb and Croat constituencies remained fairly consistent, although smaller parties could play a greater role in post-elections coalition talks than in previous elections.

Irrespective of the nature and form of the new government coalition, the new Bosnian authorities will have to be prepared to lead the country’s transition from an international semi-protectorate to a sovereign state with a reinforced EU presence on the ground. The most urgent matters will focus on an international agenda, including progress on the Euro-Atlantic reform process (which has virtually ground to a halt as a result of local obstruction); and constitutional negotiations aimed at establishing a more efficient institutional framework.  This framework would presumably allow major international players such as the US to rest quietly while the EU prepares the country for accession.

The tasks ahead are significant, but the results of the elections cast serious doubts about the ability of the new leadership to guide the country through the upcoming challenges.

There are two issues that are particularly concerning. The first relates to the persistence of rampant divisions relating to the nature and form of the Bosnian state. While nationalist rhetoric has somewhat abated since the end of the elections, the post-election period has been marked by a plethora of radical statements in relation to Bosnia’s constitutional status. Serb leader Milorad Dodik, for example, has indicated a lack of interest in substantially changing the constitutional framework (which Bosniak parties find unacceptable). He has also expressed support for the creation of a third Croat entity within the boundaries of the Federation, a concept that Bosniaks vigorously oppose. SDP leader Zlatko Lagumdzija has responded with strong rhetoric and has suggested that secession attempts from RS will likely be contested with physical force.


While parties are beginning to prepare for what many see as imminent constitutional negotiations, the atmosphere is not conducive to post-election coalition talks. Furthermore, the discussion of government formation in the context of constitutional reform talks could serve to muddy the political waters and have unexpected consequences with respect to the international agenda in Bosnia; especially if parties fail to reach common ground on basic principles.

The second disrupting factor is related to the intricate political landscape resulting from the elections; a corollary of the complexity of the Bosnian political system. While election law does not require parties to form cross-ethnic coalitions prior to the elections (the system actually promotes ethno-nationalist platforms), government formation involves leaders from different ethnic backgrounds and ideologies to come together on a common government agenda; which usually takes months to agree upon.

Coalition talks are likely to be particularly difficult this time around given that SDP and SNSD (sworn political enemies), hold the majority of seats in parliament and are fiercely disputing the right to define the government on their own terms. Dodik has already made it clear that he has no intention of allowing SDP leader Lagumdzija to become either Chair of the CoM or Minister of Foreign Affairs. This creates a political reality in which, unless smaller parties play their cards wisely, opposing leaders will need to repair their differences in order to prepare the country for the myriad upcoming challenges.

Many regard SDA’s leader Sulejman Tihic as an appropriate mediator to bring these two leaders together, but the new government will also depend greatly on intra-ethnic political calculations of smaller parties such as Serb party SDS, Croat off-shoot party HDZ 1990 and newly created Bosniak SBB. Control over entity voting in the parliament (particularly from RS) will also play a big role in determining the character of the new government; and will preclude Bosniak parties from fantasizing about the possibility (and convenience) of permanently sidelining SNSD.

Intense negotiations will invariably ensue, and internationals will play a prominent role (the recent visit of US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to Sarajevo was not coincidental). The ability of external actors to influence Bosnian politics is limited however, given that local parties are well versed in ignoring international pleas and resisting external arm-twisting. Notwithstanding the limited room for maneuvering, pressure for the creation of a stable government that includes major parties (especially SDP) will be strong. It is critical that Bosnian leaders act responsibly, and form a coalition that will successfully lead the country’s transition to full sovereignty.

Sofia Sebastian, Postdoctoral Fellow at the Graduate Center, City University of New York, and FRIDE’s Research Fellow.

Fans of football and Balkan experts know all too well that football hooliganism and violent riots have been a regular feature of Serbian football in recent years.  Last Sunday, a highly combustible mixture of extreme nationalist organizations and football hooligans rioted on the occasion of the Gay Pride parade in Belgrade, putting waste to sections of the city and injuring hundreds.  Two days later, the same extremist groups convened in the football stadium in Genoa, creating so much havoc that the referee cancelled the match between Italy and Serbia after only a few minutes of play.  The Serbian Football Association must now wait and see whether they will be disqualified from further participation in the qualifications for the 2012 European football championship, or whether they will receive milder punishment.  Whatever the outcome, the events of the past week have provoked an unprecedented outcry in the Serbian media.  From the liberal news weekly Vreme to the right-wing tabloid Kurir at the opposite end of the journalistic spectrum, journalists have deplored the “terror” and “disgrace” caused by hooligans.  When even Kurir – a newspaper usually fond of fanning the flames of homophobia – writes that hooligans are causing “the death of Serbia,” something is stirring – almost ten years to the day after the ouster of Slobodan Milošević.

Let us take a quick look at the two events.  Serbia was under enormous pressure from the EU and the US to ensure that the Gay Pride parade could be held successfully.  Only a year ago, the Serbian authorities had essentially capitulated in the face of threats of physical violence against the Gay Pride parade.   After the authorities told the organizers of the parade that they could not guarantee their security and asked them to move the parade away from the city centre, the organizers decided to cancel the event.  This led to some discussion of bans against extremist organizations and tougher jail sentences against hooligans, but very little came of this.  This year Western embassies had sent a clear message to Belgrade that they had to do better, and the EU Ambassador in Serbia declared that he would attend the event.  5,600 police officers and the entire staff of the civilian intelligence agency were put on duty on Sunday in order to protect the estimated 1,000 participants in the Gay Pride parade against an army of an estimated 6,000 hooligans.  While the massive security presence ensured that the parade was held without significant injuries to the participants, the material damage to the city was significant, and over 100 police officers were treated for injuries.  On Monday and Tuesday, the local spokesperson for the EU and visiting US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton both complimented the Serbian authorities on a job well done.

Yet was this really a successful operation? As Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Internal Affairs Ivica Dačić admitted in a television debate on Monday, the riots were hardly a surprise.  Anyone with an internet connection and proficiency in Serbian could easily have spotted the chatter on extremist forums and bulletin boards in the weeks leading up to the event.  So why were preventative measures not implemented, for example by stopping the massive influx of young men from other regions of Serbia to Belgrade in the days before the parade?  After all, police reports after the event indicated that 60% of the rioters came from the provinces, and the hooligans worked efficiently in well-organized teams to attack specific institutions and symbols (including a mobile mammography station).   All of this was in large part a predictable replay of the February 2008 riots in Belgrade after Kosovo declared its independence.  Dačić passed the buck to the Ministry of Justice instead, claiming that the police could not ban such organizations and their plans.  Nor did Dačić bother to conceal his anger at the EU for forcing Serbia to permit the Gay Pride parade.   Dubravka Filipovski, the vice-president of the centre-right New Serbia party, used the same interview to criticize the government for not banning the Gay Pride Parade in order to prevent unrest.  Instead, she accused the government of trying to find excuses to ban right-wing organizations.

On Tuesday evening, Serbia and Italy met in Genoa for a qualifying match for the 2012 European football championship.  And, once again, the premeditated intentions of the hooligans had been clearly announced online.  Already before the match began, hundreds of young Serbs were marauding through the streets of the city.  The hapless goalkeeper for the national side, Vladimir Stojković, who had switched earlier in the year from the club Red Star to archrival Partisan, was very nearly lynched by the hooligans and is now protected by bodyguards.  In the stadium, Serbian fans threw flares onto the field, climbed onto security railings and vandalized stadium infrastructure.  The Italian police arrested dozens of Serbian fans, including Ivan Bogdanov, one of the alleged leaders of the hooligans.  It quickly emerged that Bogdanov had also been one of those who attacked the US Embassy in Belgrade in February 2008.  Even as the Serbian ambassador in Italy and the Serbian foreign minister issued an official apology to Italy, Dačić and others in Serbia accused the Italian authorities of failing to prevent Serbian fans from entering the stadium with various weapons and flares.  The real question is why hooligans who have repeatedly been arrested and prosecuted for violent acts continue to be able to free to roam the streets and stadiums of Serbia – and to travel abroad to football matches.  Precisely this topic – the impunity of hooligans – was painstakingly covered by the television station B92 last year in an excellent documentary on the impotence and lethargy of the Serbian state in its struggle against hooliganism.  Brankica Stanković, the producer of the program, demonstrated that the Serbian judiciary was both incapable and unwilling to punish even serious repeat offenders.   For her pains, Stanković was threatened repeatedly by extremist hooligan organizations and had to receive police protection.

We have seen outbreaks of violence related to so-called patriotic organizations and football hooliganism before in Serbia.  Some of these have been more violent than the past week’s riots, for example in September 2009 when a young fan of FC Toulouse, Brice Taton, was killed in Belgrade by hooligans.  Such violence has not been restricted to foreigners unlucky enough to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.   As I showed in an article published in Nationalities Papers, a considerable number of Serb football fans and even managers of Serbian football clubs have been killed since 1991.  Yet with the partial exception of the brief period following the 2003 assassination of Serbian prime minister Zoran Đinđić, the state has rarely acted decisively.  Put simply, there is a tangled nexus of organized crime, political opposition to modernization and EU membership, and football hooliganism, and one cannot attack one aspect of this without tackling them all.  All of this can be easily traced back to the early 1990s, when the Miloševć regime let figures such as Željko Ražnatović “Arkan” use football fan clubs as recruiting bases for paramilitary organizations.  An entire generation of young Serbian men grew up in “culture of violence,” and Eric Gordy demonstrated that alternatives to this culture were systematically destroyed.  (This was most memorably depicted in Srđan Dragojević’s 1998 film “Rane.”)

This week’s public outcry in Serbia against the “culture of violence” is greater than anything I can recall seeing in the last two decades.  But will this time finally be different?  The complete saturation of the Serbian media with outrage after the events of Sunday and Tuesday give reason for very cautious optimism.  I would like to highlight briefly two extraordinary statements made in the wake of the recent violence.  First, the former football star Savo Milošević called the events in Genoa “one of the darkest days in the history of Serbian football.”  He went on to state that “These are matters which the state should have controlled.  Unfortunately the state has for the past 20 years stood on the sidelines regarding sport.  The state institutions that are responsible for our sport have their responsibility, because no one can tell me that these people cannot be controlled or held under observation.  There were also indications that something could happen in Italy.  All this was known by certain persons.  Why the state does not react, why such things must happen before anyone reacts, I really do not know.  I know that sports has been left for last in this kind of reorganization in our state.  …  Once again we will pay a high price because of our inertia, our disinterest, our lack of will to grab the problems by the root.”  Milošević particularly emphasized that the hooligans were the symptom of a much wider problem, a theme also treated elsewhere.

The other strong statement emphasizing the complicated and structural nature of the problem came from Bruno Vekarić, Serbia’s deputy war crimes prosecutor.  In a strongly worded article, Vekarić began by citing     Zoran Đinđić’s statement that “there are weeds in every state, only in Serbia the weeds are watered.”  Retracing the riots of recent years against homosexuals, the independence of Kosovo and the arrest of Radovan Karadžić, Vekarić argued that these matters are only nominal excuses for hooligans and their institutional supporters.  In unusually direct terms, he specifically criticized former prime minister Vojislav Koštunica’s Democratic Party of Serbia and ultra-conservative members of the Serbian Orthodox clergy for fanning the flames of hatred.   Vekarić concluded by stating that the unrest in Serbia “showed that our society is seriously ill,” and arguing that the country’s prosecutorial organs and judiciary now had to treat this problem, and hence to pass a test that they had failed for years.  (Although it is remarkable, Vekarić’s article contradicted arguments that he had himself used in earlier years to explain why the Serbian state could not risk provoking the ire of the street by arresting fugitive war criminals wanted by The Hague.)

Much still needs to change in Serbia, and the rule of law continues to be tenuous.  The judiciary must be reformed thoroughly, in particular in order to remove judges sympathetic to hooliganism and to ensure that violent repeat offenders cannot abuse the system by appealing their cases ad absurdum while continuing to commit new offences.  For over one year now, the Constitutional Court of Serbia has postponed deliberations on a proposed ban of 14 extremist organizations, and those who have committed violent acts have enjoyed virtual impunity.  Representatives of extreme fan clubs that have provoked violent incidents must not only be banned from stadiums, but must also be expelled from the executive boards of Serbian football clubs, where many of them continue to sit.   State officials and football club officials must stop blaming each other for the problems and instead act resolutely together to eliminate hooliganism.

A couple of conspiracy theories are making the rounds after this week’s events.  According to one, extremist organizations receive generous funding from the illegal narcotics trade and/or Serbian tycoons who have a vested interested in preventing Serbia from joining the European Union.  And, indeed, many ordinary Serbs have wondered how hundreds of young men from a poor country can afford to travel abroad to attend football matches.  Serbian financial and judicial authorities must investigate this problem and act accordingly.  However, an obvious reason explains the reluctance of the authorities to do this.  It is virtually inevitable that such investigations will reveal that some of the very same donors who finance extremists are also bankrolling some of the major political parties in Serbia.  In the eyes of liberal Serbs, the very same political forces who support Ratko Mladić and Radovan Karadžić and who were involved in the assassination of Đinđić are also engaged in supporting “patriotic” organizations and their hooligan allies.

Serbian officials have again (as in 2008 and 2009) announced their intention to prosecute and ban extremist organizations.   In terms of combating the narrow problem of hooliganism, Serbian and international officials agree that England has shown the way.  Let us be frank: this is not about eliminating hooliganism entirely.  No European country has managed this feat, as events in England, Denmark, Germany and elsewhere regularly show.  This is about showing that the state will not tolerate large-scale hooliganism masquerading under the banner of patriotism and challenging the authority of the state.

One thing remains clear after this past week.  Serbia’s authorities cannot dawdle and yet again postpone action.  Their next test is right around the corner, when Partisan and Red Star (the most highly fined club in European football) meet in Belgrade on 23 October for the latest round of what Serb football fans call the “eternal derby.”  (According to Minister Dačić, the police already spends up to 500,000 Euros per derby match on security.)  For the sake of all who truly love both football and Serbia, let us hope that only the derby is eternal – and that pervasive, violent hooliganism will finally been defeated.

Christian Axboe Nielsen, Assistant Professor of Southeast European Studies, University of Aarhus

Over the past couple of weeks another row has broken out between the German Expellee’s Association (BdV) and just about the whole of Polish society concerning responsibility for what happened between the two countries during the years 1939 and 1949.

For the uninitiated, the BdV’s president, the Christian Democrat MP Erika Steinbach, caused the storm by supporting a claim made by two prominent BdV activists that Poland shared responsibility for the start of World War Two having mobilised its armed forces as early as March 1939. For good measure subsequently she went on to attack the character of the former Polish foreign minister (and Auschwitz survivor) Wladyslaw Bartoszewski, although these latter comments were later withdrawn. I’m not going to focus on Steinbach’s ill-considered remarks. The facts as to what really happened in 1939 are clear, and Steinbach’s singular interpretation of history needs no further comment from me.

Around the same time, Steinbach’s decidedly controversial observations were matched by a similarly bizarre outburst by the defeated Polish presidential candidate, Jarosław Kaczynski that the Polish prime minister Donald Tusk shared responsibility for the death of Jaroslaw’s twin brother Lech at Smolensk. Clearly, Jaroslaw Kaczynski’s new found moderation barely outlived his ill-fated bid for the presidency. I’m not going to comment on his claim anymore than I will on Steinbach’s I will however, offer some observation on the mind set that lies behind such utterances. It strikes me that neither Steinbach nor Kaczynski has the ability to empathise with those who hold views at variance with their own. They live in a sharply drawn world, where everything is either right or wrong, and where those who don’t fully agree with the version of events as laid down are treated as potential enemies. Moreover, both are incapable of dealing with the past as precisely that. Rather than drawing on the lessons of history in order to ensure that past mistakes and indeed crimes are not repeated, they instead utilise past injustices as a starting point for contemporary politics. Thus the BdV clings uselessly to demands that expellees receive restitution/compensation from among others the Polish government, and that expellees receive the automatic return of pre-war citizenship, coupled with an automatic right of return to the places from which they were expelled. What happened to German civilians in the former Ostgebiete (eastern territories) and elsewhere as the war drew to a close, and in the months and years after the cessation of hostilities was to put it mildly, wrong. However, the question I pose is why is it that after the best part of 70 years Erika Steinbach and others cling to a position that is not only lacking in perspective, but is irrelevant within the context of European unity? Erika Steinbach is obsessed by an historical injustice. The consequence is that although she is fully aware of nature of the German occupation of Poland, she is oblivious to their relevance to today’s Poland. Nothing matters as much as the subsequent wrongs done to German civilians. Kaczynski is similarly obsessed by historical injustice. Although he knows the truth of the situation to have been in reality somewhat different, he takes the public position that all the tribulations visited upon Poland during the twentieth century can be laid at the doors of Russia and Germany. For Kaczynski, politics begins and ends with these two simple ‘facts’. Relations with contemporary Russia and Germany are governed by the fact that in 1939, amid an orgy of deportations and mass killings, Germany and the Russian-dominate Soviet Union attempted to destroy both the Polish state and nation. Both Erika Steinbach and Jaroslaw Kaczynski are prisoners of a web of their own making. Honourable individuals in their own right, for a variety of reasons they are unable to understand and appreciate the perspectives of others on issues that provide a rationale and context for their own political perspectives. They are both unable to consider alternative viewpoints because they have constructed an intellectual prism which in turn has ensnared them.

Where does this then leave either individual? In Germany the BdV is an organisation that is increasingly irrelevant to both wider society (including surviving expellees), and to the overall conduct of national politics. With regard to Poland, the ideas propagated by Kaczynski do still strike a chord with a substantial section of society. Despite its much vaunted democratic traditions, Poland’s experience of liberal democracy is more limited than is Germany’s. On the other hand, there is every sign that as Poland at last shakes off decades of authoritarian rule, that in turn pre-dates the attempted Sovietisation of Polish society, the audience for the likes of Jaroslaw Kaczynski continues to shrink. Erica Steinbach and Jaroslaw Kaczynski are not only members of a community of fate, they are more alike than either would care to admit.

Karl Cordell is Professor of Politics at the University of Plymouth, UK, and is co-editor of Ethnopolitics

Last August, the French authorities started to deport thousands of Romanian and Bulgarian Roma migrants back to their home countries. These Roma were said to be involved in illegal or even criminal activities. Since then, the French deportations have been at the center of international media attention and have been heavily criticized. They are, however, not a new phenomenon. In 2009, the French government already deported about 9,000 Roma to Romania and Bulgaria. And also other Western European countries (Italy, Germany, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, and the United Kingdom) have expelled Roma, or intend to do so in the nearby future. Through these policies these governments exclude Romanian and Bulgarian Roma, who are EU citizens, from EU laws guaranteeing the free movement of citizens within the EU. In many of these cases, governments have considered the Roma a threat to national public security. On the basis of such a security risk assessment, so they argue, a differential treatment of the group should be considered an appropriate measure. Indeed, if it concerns people who pose a threat to the national public order an exception to the European constitutional right on free circulation can be made. But such an exception can only be judged as legal if it is based on a case-by-case assessment of individual situations, and it may never lead to the singling out of a specific ethnic group or amount to collective expulsions. In many of the current cases, however, it is highly doubtful whether these rules have been followed correctly. In a resolution adopted on September 9th, the European Parliament condemned the French policy and urged the French authorities to stop the expulsions immediately. The European Commission is currently carrying out an investigation in order to establish whether the French actions are indeed in line with EU law.

It is questionable, however, whether any legal interference by the EU will really stop the anti-Roma measures taken by these individual member states. The problem is that this matter is not simply an issue of legal rules, or policy strategy, it is also, and even more importantly, an issue of representational politics. The Roma are widely framed as exotic nomads who are heavily involved in illegal and criminal activities and who simply do not want to integrate into mainstream societies. As long as such a stereotypical representation of the Roma in Europe remains widespread individual governments may get away relatively easily with policies that target the entire group and portray that group as less-than-human. They even may be rewarded for that electorally. These stereotypical representations are a crucial part of how states currently deal with the Roma. They are a serious threat to current European minority policies as well as to EU principles more generally.

A permanent state of exception

The French situation clearly shows how the stereotyping of the Roma can currently be mobilized to legitimate a legal state of exception. The French MP and member of Sarkozy’s ruling party UMP, Jacques Myard, for instance, has stated that the key issue of the ‘European Roma problem’ is the way in which the Roma interpret and practice the right to travel freely in the EU. He said that their ‘excessive mobility’ and ‘related lifestyle’ cause serious security problems. Claiming that this ‘nomadic lifestyle’ is ‘medieval,’ Myard has suggested that there is a need for reconsidering and limiting the EU constitutional law on the free movement of persons in the Union. Calls for changing and limiting constitutional rights have been fashionable in contemporary Europe, and clearly not only among populists such as Geert Wilders, Filip Dewinter, and their East European compeers. Sarkozy’s controversial statements and policy, too, have contributed to making Romaphobia more acceptable in Europe. Sarkozy’s name can now be added to the list of presidents who have dubiously commented on the Roma – a list that already includes Silvio Berlusconi in Italy, Václav Klaus in the Czech Republic, Ivan Gašparovič in Slovakia, and Traian Băsescu in Romania.

The current migration of Roma within the EU has been framed as a dangerous form of ‘nomadism.’ Calling the Roma ‘nomads’ enables governments to portray them as essentially ‘different from others,’ and thus different from ordinary EU migrants. Italy is a striking example of a country that relied on this fatal reversal of fact and fiction. The Italian ‘laws to protect nomadic cultures,’ which were adopted in the late 1980s, enable the Italian authorities now to destroy, on a regular basis, sites where Roma live. By doing so their permanent settlement is made impossible. In Italy, ‘the protection of nomads’ has become a euphemism for prohibiting Roma to integrate and participate in Europe.

Several studies, however, have shown that the current migration patterns of Roma do not structurally differ from those of other Europeans. Just like other migrants Roma have socioeconomic reasons for trying to build a future elsewhere in Europe. Many Roma have also political reasons. In Western European countries they can still build a better future, often while simultaneously hiding their ethnic background. In East European countries, many of them have been deprived of all future prospects. Hopelessness as well as institutional and everyday forms of discrimination have compelled the Roma to look for a better life elsewhere, permanently or temporarily.

Simultaneously, in various places in Europe extreme violence against the Roma has erupted. The current expulsion fever should be seen against the background of these heavy escalations of violence. In Macedonia, Ukraine, and Slovakia, for instance, the Roma have frequently been tortured by police forces. In Italy and Lithuania, the authorities have relied on anti-terror laws to act against the Roma. Italy has introduced dubious state practices such as the fingerprinting of all Roma. In five of Italy’s main cities specific ‘security packages’ have been introduced in order to deal with them. In Hungary, Bulgaria, Austria, the Czech Republic, and Latvia, extremists have targeted the Roma. In Hungary, more than twenty violent attacks on the Roma since early 2008 have resulted in nine deaths, including that of a five-year old boy. Remarkably, these attacks have not been reported very often in the media or only as one-off incidents. Moreover, these atrocities have not aroused much public or political indignation. When it concerns the Roma in Europe, we appear not to take the human rights and anti-discrimination charters that we have developed in post-Second World War Europe so seriously any longer.

The EU’s response

When Viviane Reding, the European Commissioner for Justice and Human Rights, recently compared the situation of the Roma in France with the Second World War most commentators understood her statement primarily as a reference to the gas chambers. However, in her speech for the European Parliament in which she made the comparison, she did not actually refer to the extreme outcomes of what happened then. Of course, from a strategic point of view her comparison may not have been the right one. She probably could have predicted that the comparison would trigger accusations of it being too radical and politically incorrect. Nevertheless, there are two good reasons why her comparison did make sense. First, the EU institutions and their post-War forerunners were founded exactly on the idea that they needed to avoid the discriminatory treatment of ethnic or religious minorities as had happened before and during the war. If we look at the recently leaked French governmental policy document distributed to local civil servants (a memo of the French interior ministry that urged French police officials to focus on Roma), we see precisely this: the discriminatory treatment of citizens on the basis of their ethnic identity.

Second, a reference to the Second World War is justifiable because it compels us to reflect upon the processes that lead to the representation of certain minorities as less-than-human. In the case of the Roma, already a group vulnerable to discrimination, such representations have now received the support of substantial parts of the population in Eastern and Western Europe. Most French citizens do not think the Roma deportations are problematic, and many Europeans may consider them a policy worthwhile pursuing. Opinion polls and weblogs throughout Europe clearly illustrate this tendency. The growing violence against the Roma and the lack of public outrage about these atrocities also highlight the trend. Collective stigmatization policies such as they are currently carried out in France and Italy implicitly ratify a process of dehumanization. Dehumanization, in turn, is often an element that precedes and stimulates ethnic violence.

In addition, the collective dehumanization of the Roma leads to further socioeconomic and political exclusion. According to the World Bank, poverty rates among Roma are higher than those of any other group in Europe. Substantial parts of the about ten million European Roma, and even three-quarters of all Romanian and Bulgarian Roma, live below the poverty threshold. Life expectancy among Roma is  lower than that of any other group in Europe. The Council of Europe, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the EU’s Fundamental Rights Agency and the European Roma Rights Center have repeatedly reported that neither East nor Western European countries have done enough to provide their Romani citizens with equal opportunities.

European institutions continue to suggest that the existing EU instruments, such as the European social and regional development funds, can be and are indeed applied to help change the situation. So far, the EU does not want to take additional measures. Yet, due to the insufficient monitoring of how these funds have been used, and due to the lack of political will to initiate binding rules to change the situation in the EU member states, the Union itself has contributed to shaping the current impasse. Therefore, there is an increasing need to mobilize the competencies of the EU to develop policies that structurally differ from the non-committal and non-binding structures that currently provide the context for national policy programmes targeting the Roma. Without a more coherent European Roma strategy, the current impasse will only become bigger and the EU will increasingly share responsibility for the lack of improvement or the further deterioration of the problem. The most vulnerable Europeans will fall prey to the arbitrariness of those who do no longer take the European constitutional rights seriously.

In the end, the current situation impels us not only to think of better ways to protect the Roma, but also to safeguard more carefully than ever the very foundations of the European Union.

Huub van Baar is currently finishing his PhD thesis on the situation of the Roma in Europe, entitled The European Roma: Governmentality, Minority Representation, Memory. He works at the Amsterdam School for Cultural Analysis (ASCA) of the University of Amsterdam, the Netherlands.