Spanish and British Fleets Face Off Again in Gibraltar

September 3, 2013
By Elizabeth Pond

Think of Gibraltar as a whimsical footnote to last week’s abrupt abdication by Britain from “punching above its weight” for half a century in its post-empire world. Even as the mother of parliaments has barred its government from joining an American strike on Syria over the use of chemical weapons, Gibraltar has reminded nostalgic Brits of imperial glory.

The current iteration of the 300-year-old feud between London and Madrid over the British protectorate on the southern tip of Spain erupted mid-summer. Fortunately, today’s weapons of choice—apart from one potshot allegedly fired at a jet skier by the Guardia Civil and a few Gilbert-and-Sullivan gunboats deployed by Her Majesty’s government—are nothing more lethal than cement blocks and hyperbole.

The Gibraltar government, exercising the autonomy granted to it by Britain in 1969, triggered the latest row by sinking cement in disputed waters off its promontory to build an artificial reef. The rationale was that the new reef would provide a cozy home for bream, broadbill swordfish, and bluefin tuna and replenish dwindling stocks. It would only be a small add-on to the cumulative tires, barges, Mercedes-Benz sedan, and other debris dumped into the seabed in years past to improve on nature.

Spanish fishing captains, however, saw an ulterior motive—blocking them from trawling for shellfish in what were rightfully Spanish waters. Last month they mounted a seaborne protest at the entry to Gibraltar’s port. The Spanish government backed them on land by imposing long border delays and talking about introducing a €50 tax each time a car crosses from the 2.6-square-mile enclave to capacious Spain and Gibraltarians’ second homes.

British Prime Minister David Cameron announced that he was “seriously concerned” about the Spanish action.

Madrid then upped the ante by threatening stringent financial investigations of Spanish property owned by Gibraltarians. This was viewed as not cricket by the 30,000 inhabitants crammed onto the peninsula. By now most of them stem from Spanish, Maltese, and Genoese rather than English descent, but they are no less keen than other citizens in residues of John Bull’s dominions to preserve their right to immunity from both British and local taxes. In the 2002 referendum on cutting ties with London, the enclave voted 98 percent to remain a protectorate. Chief Minister Fabian Picardo speaks for his constituents when he compares Spain with North Korea and swears that Gibraltar will remain British for the next 3,000 years.

London tabloids accused the conservative Spanish government of abandoning the pragmatic Gibraltar policy of its Socialist predecessor and stirring up trouble in order to divert attention from its own scandals. Madrid tabloids scolded Prime Minister Cameron for championing Gibraltar abroad to compensate for his political weakness at home.

In the theater of confrontation Guardia Civil frogmen dived down to plant the Spanish flag on the newborn reef. The HMS Westminster frigate, sailing to exercises with allies in the Gulf, lingered briefly en route at the mighty confluence of the Atlantic and Mediterranean seas. The daily Mirror hailed the encounter with the headline, “Gibraltar: 40 Spanish fishing boats in stand-off with Royal Navy after illegally entering British waters.” In sly reference to the victory of Sir Francis Drake over the Spanish navy under the first Queen Elizabeth, it labeled the flotilla of trawlers an “armada.”

William Dartmouth, UK Independence Party Member of the European Parliament for the southwest of England and Gibraltar, insisted that a member of the royal family (third-in-line Prince George Alexander Louis perhaps?) should demonstrate British resolve by appearing in person on the Rock. The Express gleefully ran comments from readers such as “Spain runs one of the most criminal, destructive and lawless fishing fleets of the planet, raping the oceans and destroying shark (and other fish) populations and marine ecosystems everywhere.” More to the political point, Express reader “naturalspanish” skyped the message for Madrid, “No, your last colonies are Catalunya, Euskadi, Galicia, Ceuta, Melilla, and the Canary Islands. Relinquish your ownership of these… and maybe you’d have a moral authority to speak about Gibraltar.”

The choreography reminded the Financial Times Madrid correspondent  of magical realist Jorge Luis Borges’ observation that the 1982 Falklands war resembled “two bald men fighting over a comb.”

Within today’s post-bellicist European Union, of course, two members of the club will not resort to fighting each other over a comb. Prime Minister Cameron may not emulate his sister conservative Margaret Thatcher by offering Spain a compromise on Gibraltar as she did in the 1980s (along with ceding Rhodesia to the resident Africans and promising to return Hong Kong to China after Britain’s 99-year lease expired in 1997). But neither will he—especially after parliament’s revolt last week—emulate Thatcher’s dispatch of a submarine to torpedo the Argentine cruiser Belgrano in order to perpetuate British rule on far-flung oceanic territories.

Instead, both Cameron and his Spanish counterpart have appealed to European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso to send inspectors to Gibraltar to see (at London’s request) if Spain is violating EU rules on open borders or (at Madrid’s request) whether Gibraltar’s import last year of 4666 excise-free packs of cigarettes per capita raises suspicions of smuggling. When the inspectors arrive, this month or next, they will have to examine the entire context of border control, taxes, trafficking, Internet gambling, and money laundering. Given a pinch of good will, they should be able to devise face-saving solutions that won’t seem quite as anachronistic as the present arrangement.

If only it were that easy in Syria or the euro zone…

Elizabeth Pond is a Berlin-based journalist and the author of The Rebirth of Europe.

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Cyprus Crisis: An Island of Reinvention

April 12, 2013
By Elizabeth Pond

Cyprus has reinvented itself a dozen times—six times before the 12th-century Crusaders arrived, three times before the 16th-century Ottoman warriors defeated the Venetians, and twice since Britain gave up its bridge to eastern empire in 1960. There’s no reason why Cyprus can’t pull off the same trick again.

Sure, last week the finance minister had to resign over dubious investment decisions he made as a private banker. This week officials announced that the Cypriots and their banks must ante up an extra €6 billion against their own debts to qualify for the €10 billion bailout their euro zone partners have just promised to save the countryfrom bankruptcy. Cyprus will be selling most of its gold reserves to do so—the first distressed country to resort to this since the Asian financial crisis 15 years ago. And Cyprus’s bubble economy, built on discreet banks that for decades asked no awkward questions about the provenance or tax status of deposits before paying out their high returns, has collapsed.

Yet that shouldn’t stymie the reputed birthplace of Aphrodite; Cypriots are used to starting over.

In modern times, the Mediterranean island’s first reinvention after independence came in the mid-70s, after four years of intercommunal violence, a Greek coup against the initial bi-ethnic government, Turkish military counterinvasion, and partition into the northern third for the minority Turks and the southern two-thirds for the majority Greeks.

At the time the Cypriot economy was one of the poorest in Europe, with nominal per capita incomes of $1,451. To get rich, the Republic of Cyprus in the Greek south turned to tourism, shipping, and, above all, banks. Its offer of a tax and (as was widely reported) laundering haven proved to have a Midas touch. Foreign money poured in as the 1970s oil crisis and then the Lebanese civil war hit the Middle East. It continued to pour in and help Serbian autocrat Slobodan Milosevic evade international sanctions during the 1990s wars of the Yugoslav succession and to give Russia’s wild west capitalist oligarchs a safe hideaway for their wealth.

By 2004 Cyprus was admitted to the European Union after Greece, a European Community member since 1981, threatened to veto the accession of Central European and Baltic states if Athens’ protégé was not given membership simultaneously. With the island still divided, Cyprus’s entry into the club violated the most fundamental EU rule of all—that no candidate could join until it had resolved territorial disputes with neighbors. The experience quickly soured many of the original EU members on further enlargement, especially since the Greek Cypriots—who had sounded conciliatory during the negotiations for EU accession—rejected by a 76 percent majority the United Nations compromise plan to reunite Cyprus once their EU membership was assured. In the same referendum the Cypriot Turks voted 65 percent in favor of the compromise.

By then Greece had already entered the European Monetary Union, in 2001, on the basis of artificially enhanced economic statistics. By 2008 Cyprus too—now with a GDP per capita that in 33 years had soared in nominal terms more than 20 times to reach northern European levels of $31,693—was allowed to join the common euro club, even though its bank deposits had swelled to eight times its GDP in what various commentators would soon be calling a huge Ponzi scheme. When the Socialists unseated the conservative government in snap Greek elections in October 2009, heavily indebted Greece admitted the previous government’s original falsification and triggered the euro zone crisis that continues today.

By last month, Cyprus joined Greece, Ireland, Portugal, and Spain (although Madrid’s handout was labeled something else) in the line-up for euro zone bailouts. Dutch finance minister and Eurogroup President Jeroen Dijsselbloem made it clear that the quid pro quo of “bail-ins,” or a mandatory “wealth tax” on rich depositors in Cypriot banks, would become standard in some degree in future euro zone bailouts, in order to reduce moral hazard. Other global tax havens heeded the warning, which was reinforced by an advocacy group’s leak this month of millions of bank records about thousands of investors. Luxembourg and Austria, the only two EU countries that had hitherto rejected an automatic intra-EU exchange of information about bank deposits and tax cheats, announced they would ease their secrecy rules.

In the meltdown of Cypriot banks and their supporting services, angry Cypriots whose jobs suddenly vanished blamed “Nazis” like German Chancellor Angela Merkel for their misfortune. On the other side, German taxpayers, who have to pay for the Cypriot and earlier bailouts, raised their eyebrows on learning this week from European Central Bank statisticians that the median net wealth is €267,000 per household in Cyprus, but only €51,000 in Germany.

So how might Cyprus reinvent itself this time around?

Well, for a start, it might begin cooperating with its nearest neighbor—Cyprus is 50 miles south of Turkey, but 500 miles east of Greece—to extract natural gas from recently discovered reserves in the waters between (Turkish) Cyprus and Turkey and in the Aphrodite gasfield south of (Greek) Cyprus. The gas could be transported by short pipelines to Turkey and transported from there to Israel, Egypt, and Greece. The Turkish Republic of North Cyprus, whose GDP per capita is only half that of Greek Cyprus but whose economy is growing even as that of the Republic of Cyprus is contracting, could provide consumer impulse to growth on the whole island. Once commercial collaboration began, the Turkish north and Greek south might even revisit the UN’s 2004 compromise plan for reunification.

Gas exploration is still at an early stage, and any projects begun now would not bring in significant revenue until 2018 or 2020.

But if this points the way to a new transformation, what is a wait of a mere five or 10 years for an island that is 12,000 years old?

Elizabeth Pond is a Berlin-based journalist and the author of The Rebirth of Europe.

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Germany and France’s Golden Anniversary of Peace

January 18, 2013
By Elizabeth Pond

In 1945, shortly after the terrible third German-French war in as many generations, Wendelgard’s extended family met again on their estate near Stuttgart. She was 19 years old. Over soup, her uncle proclaimed, “I never did like the French.”

“It’s because of you that so many of my friends died,” retorted Wendelgard’s cousin and threw his soup at the uncle.

On January 22, thanks to the revulsion of that post-World War II German generation, Paris and Berlin will celebrate the golden jubilee of their counterintuitive “marriage.” On that day 50 years ago, Chancellor Konrad Adenauer and President Charles de Gaulle signed an unprecedented treaty of friendship. This, along with the experimental European Community and the NATO alliance, has now given a war-prone Europe its longest peace in history.

It’s one of those miracles that has come to seem so natural that it is taken for granted. Today’s German and French youths find it bizarre that their great-grandparents could ever have considered each other archenemies—and, more mundanely, had to show their passports every time they strolled into the neighboring land to buy authentic croissants or bratwursts. For their part, German media have forgotten their awe of yesteryear at the sheer novelty of French-German amity and fret that all the jubilee celebrations are just so much “hypocrisy,” given current strains between Paris and Berlin over everything from nuclear energy (zero tolerance in Germany, 78.8 percent of total energy in France) to the euro crisis (growth vs. austerity, to simplify).

After tens of thousands of German and French children have by now lived with host families or attended schools in their partner country, Ulrike Guerot of the European Council on Foreign Relations points out, much has been accomplished. Fear of the other has evaporated—so much so that Guerot’s own 19-year-old son asks her what’s so special about the European integration that she has devoted all of her professional career to promoting.

As the latest opinion polls show, between 80 and 90 percent of French and Germans say they approve of their two countries’ friendship and see it as crucial for Europe. (The French political elite remain more suspicious of their eastern neighbor, whose population swelled to  a third larger than France’s after the unification of West and East Germany a generation ago. But whatever their rhetorical qualms, the French elite too are acting on the foundation of bilateral friendship.)

On an official level, the French and German cabinets meet regularly—as they will do once again in Tuesday’s display of togetherness. So do members of parliament; more than a thousand will cram themselves into the Reichstag to hear announcements of further cooperation and initiatives. And although Christian Democratic Chancellor Angela Merkel on the eastern side of the Rhine doesn’t enjoy as close relations with Socialist President Francois Hollande on the western side as she did with his conservative predecessor, their two countries still operate in tandem as the “motor” of the European Union. If Paris and Berlin can compromise on some policy, this usually means that northern Europe will follow Berlin’s lead and Mediterranean Europe will follow Paris’s lead to a common position.

On a community level, dozens of French and German cities that are twinned will act out their own pageants in January and later in this jubilee year. And in a live broadcast by the French-German Arte TV channel some 200 French and German young people will open Berlin’s anniversary festivities by sharing with Merkel and Hollande their views on life in the “ever closer union” of Europe that the original European Community treaty ordains. By now—unlike in the past—common memories unite rather than divide the two nations, maintains Sorbonne historian Corine Defrance.

As French-German rapprochement now moves from its romantic to its post-romantic era, as Guerot puts it, does it have any relevance elsewhere in the world? Does European reconciliation, with the prosperity and secure peace it has achieved, offer any useful lessons to today’s Chinese and Japanese? Or Kikuyu and Luo? Or Malians and Tuareg?

Hopefully it does. There must be 19-year-olds in these communities too who would gladly exchange long-nursed enmity and the threat of war for the luxury of being nonchalant about reconciliation.

Elizabeth Pond is a Berlin-based journalist and author of The Rebirth of Europe.

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Gotovina Acquittal Risks 20 Years of International Jurisdiction

December 13, 2012
By Elizabeth Pond 

It’s bad enough that the appeals chamber of the Hague Tribunal for ex-Yugoslavia has reopened old ethnic wounds by absolving Croatian General Ante Gotovina of responsibility for his troops’ persecution, deportation, and murder  of Serb civilians in 1995. This acquittal leaves only high-ranking Serbs sitting in jail for atrocities carried out by belligerents of all ethnicities in the vicious Balkan wars of the 1990s—and bolsters the dominant view of Serbs that international justice is biased against them.

It’s even worse that the thunderbolt annulment of the 2011 sentence of Ante Gotovina to 24 years in prison might void the jurisprudence of the past twenty years in the first post-Hitler attempt to hold senior leaders to account for genocide carried out by subordinates. If it does, the contrary legacy of the effort to give legal teeth, at long last, to the 1948 Genocide Convention could instead reinforce the customary impunity of powerful luminaries who launch wars of atrocity against civilians.

This was hardly the outcome imagined by the idealists who lobbied successfully in the 1990s for the creation of special courts to try war crimes, from the Yugoslav, Rwanda, and other ad hoc tribunals to the permanent International Criminal Court that is now ten years old. Their original aim was to get beyond punishing only a few token corporals and sergeants for murder and torture of civilians and to convict top perpetrators as well. Their further aim was to establish the legal truth of mass war crimes in order to refute holocaust deniers—and even, on the basis of individual rather than collective guilt, to promote reconciliation among former foes.

Yet the November acquittal of Gotovina and his co-defendant, Mladen Markac, former Operation Commander of the Croatian Special Police—and the return of the pair to a heroes’ welcome in Zagreb—is reigniting Serb-Croat hostility that successive political leaders had already calmed bilaterally. And the appeals chamber’s rejection of evidence cited by the trial chamber to prove Gotovina’s guilt for the “ethnic cleansing” of at least 20,000 of the 200,000 Serb refugees generated by his Operation Storm risks raising the bar for proof of command culpability to a height that prosecutors could never meet.

The risk is a triple one—individual, institutional, and moral.  Defense lawyers in the ongoing trial of Ratko Mladic, the Serb commander at the 1995 Srebrenica massacre of 8,000 unarmed Muslim boys and men, will now find it much easier to discredit any incriminating evidence short of a train leading from a specific order to commit unlawful acts to the landing of specific shells on a specific house, or the specific firing of a lethal bullet into an identified person. There could now be copycat appeals to overturn completed Hague Tribunal convictions on the basis of the appeal chamber’s highly unusual nullification of the trial chamber’s fact-finding (and not just its interpretation of law). Obversely, the acquittal of such a high-profile defendant as Gotovina will surely deter future victims of war crimes from bearing public witness and exposing themselves to reprisals with so little chance of legal redress.

The passionate dissents by two of the judges on the five-judge appeals bench of the Hague International Criminal Tribunal for ex-Yugoslavia (ICTY) highlight these concerns.

The facts of the Croat troops killing at least 150 non-combatant Serbs and driving 200,000 Serb civilians out of their ancestral homes and out of Croatia in a 36-hour spasm in August 1995 are uncontested. What the prosecution had to prove in court, however, was Gotovina’s prior intent as commander to terrorize Serb civilians into abandoning their homes in the largest forced deportation in the Balkans prior to the Serbs’ ethnic cleansing of 1.4 million Albanians in Kosovo in 1998-99.

The evidence presented by the prosecution in the ICTY trial chamber followed the pattern of the Tribunal’s 60-odd other convictions in establishing both command responsibility and explicit prior intent—a “joint criminal enterprise,” in legalese—to effect the deportations. One indication of prior intent was a meeting on July 31, 1995 in Brioni in which Croatian President Franjo Tudjman and his senior commanders discussed “the importance of the Krajina Serbs leaving as a result and part of the imminent attack.” The transcript of the meeting recorded Gotovina’s assertion that “if there is an order to strike at [the ethnic Serb town of] Knin, we will destroy it in its entirety in a few hours.” Proof of execution of this intent was the artillery barrage of Knin and three other Serb towns in Croatia a few days later, as Gotovina’s counteroffensive expelled not only Serb military forces out of the third of Croatian territory they had occupied, but also Serb civilians whose families had lived in Croatia for generations.

The ICTY appeal chamber ruled by 3 judges to 2, however, that Gotovina’s declaration at Brioni could be deemed equivocal. The majority decision, as written by Presiding Judge (and ICTY President) Theodor Meron, concluded that “the Brioni Transcript includes no evidence that an explicit order was given to commence unlawful attacks.” Likewise, the majority of judges held that the artillery barrages of the four urban areas—with no recorded resistance from these towns—did not necessarily demonstrate that civilians were being deliberately and unlawfully targeted, but might have been aimed at legitimate “opportunistic” military targets (like the one police car that was hit in Knin).

Dissenting Judge Carmel Agius found “quite staggering” the majority “de novo review” and attributed the majority’s abrogation of the trial court’s evaluation of facts to a cursory and “compartmentalized” reading of the evidence cited in 200 pages in the original verdict. He found troubling the appeal decision’s key dismissal of the lower chamber’s judgment that shells falling more than 200 meters from a legitimate military target should be regarded as deliberate or indiscriminate targeting of civilians. He deplored the “benefit of the doubt ad infinitum” that the majority accorded the Croatian army when “at least 900 projectiles fell all over [Knin] in just one and a half days,” at least four projectiles landed in the immediate vicinity of the Knin hospital “450 meters from the nearest artillery target,” and others landed 700 meters away from military targets and bracketed Knin’s southern, eastern and northern outskirts.

Agius further criticized the majority judgment as “unjustified… unorthodox and unacceptable” in overriding the original verdict’s 21 detailed pages of evidence that General Gotovina was informed about crimes committed by his subordinates but failed to discipline them—and even “commended and praised his subordinates and their conduct in Operation Storm when he knew that crimes had been committed.”

Judge Theodor Meron told the United National Security Council this month that the Tribunal’s legacy will have “profound significance … in bringing about a new era of accountability and a new commitment to justice within the international community at large.”

Just how that legacy will be perceived by the international community—and by victims who had hoped to find a legal remedy for their political impotence at The Hague—will depend to a large extent on the flurry of appeals of convictions in the few remaining years of the ICTY mandate. Above all, it will depend on the outcome of the Mladic verdict on charges of genocide due in the summer of 2016—and, in case of conviction, on the appeal thereafter.

Elizabeth Pond is a Berlin-based journalist and the author of Endgame in the Balkans.

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© Elizabeth Pond

Teaching an Old Dog EU Tricks

December 6, 2012
By Elizabeth Pond

Those Europeans who fear a diminished future as they stare at the euro crisis and Washington’s pivot to Asia need only turn to the Serbs for reassurance of their worth.

Yes, the Serbs. In particular, the ultranationalist Serbs who were once fans of strongman Slobodan Milosevic as his forces conquered a third of Croatia and two-thirds of Bosnia in the 1990s Balkan wars. The ones who berated NATO for intervening to stop Serbian security units from expelling more than 60 percent of Kosovo’s majority Albanians from their homes in 1999 and blamed “anti-Serb” America and Europe when that century-old Serbian province declared independence nine years later. The ones who lionized General Ratko Mladic, the Serb commander at the Srebrenica massacre, and proudly swore they would never compromise on Serbian sovereignty over Kosovo just to get more handouts from the European Union.

It’s Serbs from this end of the political spectrum who defeated the more moderate Democratic Party in last spring’s election and formed the new government in Belgrade. It’s Ivica Dacic—who started his career as Milosevic’s spokesman and heads the Socialist Party that Milosevic founded—who is now Premier. It’s Aleksandar Vucic—who was Milosevic’s hatchet man for the media—who is First Deputy Premier.

And it is Dacic and Vucic who now put top priority on getting a set date to begin talks on joining the European Union. In order to smooth the way, Dacic has just agreed in direct talks with Kosovo Premier Hashim Thaci and EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Catherine Ashton to implement “integrated border management” at “all their common crossing points.” After a decade in which the Serb-majority northern tip of Kosovo has been a lawless haven for smugglers, Serbian and Kosovo officials will man common customs posts alongside representatives of the European Union’s “EULEX” rule-of-law mission in Kosovo. The first two posts will open on Monday, the next two by the end of December. Belgrade and Pristina will exchange “liaison” officers—no, they won’t (yet) be called ambassadors—under the aegis of the EU. The Serb-Kosovo dialogue will begin discussing more overtly political issues in mid-January.

The EU, it seems, still possesses enough of that old soft power attraction to induce painful democratic transformations in would-be members. This is a relief after long years in which Serbs flaunted their immunity to the lure of Brussels and its democratic preconditions for starting accession talks, set fire to the U.S. embassy in Belgrade, and manned armed barricades at official Serbia-Kosovo crossing points. Today, patriotic defiance of the West and the EU is suddenly out of fashion in Serbia. Realism is in—in calling on EU help to overcome Serbia’s economic slump of the past twenty years, finally rejecting Russia as a potential alternate sponsor to the EU, and trying to catch up with rival, richer Croatia, which will join the EU next year.

To be sure, there is still a long way to go before the Serbia-Kosovo “normalization” that the EU posits as the prerequisite for setting a first date for Belgrade’s desired accession negotiations. Those customs officers at the crossings will at first eschew anything that might smack of actually collecting customs duties, and will only register the trucks that pass by. The roaring traffic of smugglers’ lorries on all the Serb-built asphalt bypasses of the official crossing points will eventually have to be shut down. Most important, Belgrade will eventually have to disband the “parallel” security networks it has maintained in northern Kosovo for the past twenty years.

Yet the timid, conciliatory steps so far are already more forthcoming than any concessions the moderate Serb governments of the past eight years were able to muster (given the ultranationalists’ branding of every tiny increment in civil discourse with Kosovo as treason). By starting down this unaccustomed road of “technical” accommodation of Pristina’s needs, the ruling ex-ultranationalists are committing themselves to carrying out the EU’s basic political and institutional prerequisites on the way to membership. Significantly, Vucic has even launched a domestic anti-corruption campaign that might just go beyond prosecuting political adversaries and root out the security-criminal nexus that has survived Milosevic both in Serbia and in northern Kosovo.

Besides, only reformed ultranationalists in Belgrade have the moral clout to persuade the very unreformed ultranationalist Serbs in northern Kosovo to lay down their guns, engage politically in independent Kosovo (as their compatriots in central and southern Kosovo routinely do), and accept the generous minority rights and local self-rule guaranteed in the Kosovo constitution. As Premier Dacic argued explicitly before heading to meet disgruntled Serbs from northern Kosovo on Thursday, “no one has the moral right” to accuse him of treason, because his Socialist Party previously went to war in Kosovo.

More practically, he added, “Let’s not toy with the fate of Serbs from Kosovo. I urge everyone not to start battles we cannot win. … We are balancing between the defense of the people in Kosovo and our continued European path.” This is a plea that presumably resonates with his many unemployed constituents inside Serbia who want jobs instead of constant patriotic mobilization.

Dacic’s and Vucic’s newfound pragmatism on the issue of Kosovo is all the more striking for coming in the wake of the Hague Tribunal’s surprise acquittals in recent weeks of the senior Croatian and Kosovo generals charged with war crimes against Serbs in the 1990s. This isolates the Serbs, as Vucic told the UN General Assembly this week, as the only Balkan ethnicity that still has senior military officers serving jail sentences for war crimes. In any previous era, this state of affairs would have triggered mass organized protests rather than the current spontaneous, localized demonstrations.

The Serb leaders’ pragmatism is perhaps even more striking for not wilting in the face of the Serbian Orthodox Church’s stern appeals not to “renounce” Kosovo and thereby to perpetuate “our difficult and hard lives we have lived in the past 500 years,” as Patriarch Irinej put it.

An EU whose soft example of a peaceful continent can nudge Europe’s pioneers of 19th-century blood-and-soil nationalism to evolve this far toward a more 21st-century mindset probably does have a future after all.

Elizabeth Pond is a Berlin-based journalist and author of Endgame in the Balkans.

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A Familiar Name Returns to South Korean Politics

September 28, 2012
By Elizabeth Pond

I have nothing against Park Geun Hye—but her father had something against me. I am therefore following her campaign to become South Korea’s first woman president with special interest.

It all happened 40 years ago, when I got a call at about 3 a.m. my time in Tokyo from my foreign editor at The Christian Science Monitor in Boston. The South Korean embassy in Washington had just warned him that my reporting from Seoul was so inflammatory that on my next visit, the government could not guarantee my safety from angry readers of the Monitor, he told me.

The notion that all four or five Korean readers of The Christian Science Monitor might congregate with baseball bats at the bottom of the airplane ramp was flattering, but sobering. We agreed that I should rip up my ticket for the flight to Seoul I was booked on later that morning.

At the time, former general Park Chung Hee, the dictator who had seized power in an army coup, was cracking down harshly on trade union organizers and political dissenters. I had written (as had other American journalists) about torture of political prisoners in jail. But what apparently incensed President Park was the interview I had published with the American official who had saved his life back in the 1940s after Park took part in a pro-Communist coup. Had the American not intervened, Park would have been executed. This was a part of history that the staunch 1970s’ ally of the United States preferred not to have disinterred.

A decade and a half later in Europe, well after Park’s 1979 assassination, South Korea and I made up. By then Park had laid the foundations that would turn the ravaged post-war country he took over into one of the Asian tigers, with Samsung and Hyundai exporting their electronics and cars around the globe and jacking per capita GDP up to today’s $30,000, only slightly below European levels. At an international conference in Berlin, I was mystified as a South Korean ambassador sought me out and invited me to breakfast the following morning. The only reason I could imagine was that he wanted to lobby me to entice thousands of American readers to visit the forthcoming summer Olympics in Seoul.

Since neither my host nor the two other Korean officials present initiated a topic of conversation at breakfast and it seemed impolite to sit at the table in silence, I posed some lame track-and-field questions. When these petered out, I tried a different tack and asked the man opposite me where he had worked before his present post. Bingo! He had been in the Blue House, the Korean equivalent of the White House. He made no reference to the awkward fact that I had been persona non grata in South Korea, nor did I. But we both smiled, ever so slightly. And when we parted company, the entourage presented me with a huge container of ginseng tea and said they certainly hoped I would come to see the Seoul Olympics.

Fast forward to Park Geun Hye, the conservative governing party’s candidate for South Korean president in the campaign that has already started for the December 19 election. She served as her father’s hostess in his last five years in office after her mother was assassinated in 1974 and has been an elected legislator in the National Assembly since 1998. She suffered a deep gash in her face at the hand of a knife-wielding attacker in 2006 but survived. She now draws 38 percent approval in opinion polls as she runs for president against liberal rival Moon Jae In (23 percent) and independent Bill Gates-clone Ahn Chul Soo (27 percent), and is widely expected to win if her two competitors both stay in the race and split the progressive votes.

She has now moved toward the popular center by championing “economic democratization,” implying a reduction in the huge income gap between chaebol billionaires and the man on the street. She has promised, if elected, to be president of “100 percent” of South Koreans. In this vein she has also appealed to one-time opponents of her father by visiting the graves of all former presidents—including Kim Dae Jung, who in Park Chung Hee’s era was kidnapped by the South Korean CIA in Tokyo and came very close to being deep sixed in the Sea of Japan.

This week she also apologized for her father’s authoritarian rule for the first time. While her father had put economic growth and national security first, she said, he had done so at the cost of  “sacrifices by workers who suffered under a repressive labor environment” and “human rights abuses committed by state power.” For herself, she said, “I believe that it is an unchanging value of democracy that ends cannot justify the means in politics.” She cited the aphorism that “when the past and present fight, the future is lost” and continued, “We need to move on from hatred to tolerance, division to integration, and past to future.”

I never did get back to Seoul. But if Park Geun Hye makes history and enters the Blue House in her own right, I might just revisit South Korea one day to thank her for the ginseng tea.

Elizabeth Pond is a Berlin-based journalist. Her book on German unification, Beyond the Wall, was translated into Korean and may have contributed in a small way to Seoul’s present-day aversion to the huge costs any unification with the economic basket case of North Korea would entail.

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