Equal right to self-determination – A dialogue

By Johan Galtung

March 2010

Conflict Worker: What is it you really want? What are the goals?

Slovene: We are a nation with the same right as any other nation, through self-determination for the first time to have our own state. We want to be ruled neither from Vienna nor from Belgrade, but from Ljubljana and, in a broader European context, from Brussels. Our small minorities are safe in a democracy with human rights.

Croat: We are a nation with the same right as any other nation, through self-determination, again to have our own state. We want to be ruled neither from Vienna nor from Belgrade, but from Zagreb and, in a broader European context, from Brussels. Our minorities can feel safe in a democracy with human rights.

Serb in Croatia:  The Croats can have their own state, but they have no right to take the Serbs in Croatia with them. We do not want to be ruled from Zagreb that killed us during the war, in an alliance with Nazi Germany.

Bosniak:  We are a nation with the same right as any other nation, through self-determination, once again to have our own state. We want to be governed neither from Istanbul, Vienna nor Belgrade, but from Sarajevo, and, in a broader European context, from Brussels. Our minorities can feel safe in a democracy with human rights.

Serb in Bosnia (BiH): The Bosniaks can have their own state, but they have no right to take the Serbs with them. We do not want to be governed from Sarajevo that killed us during the war, in an alliance with Nazi Germany.

Croat in Bosnia (BiH): The Bosniaks can have their own state, but they cannot take the Croats in BiH with them. We are a part of Croatia.

Serb in Serbia: Let the egoists go wherever they want to go. But no Serb will be governed from Zagreb, Sarajevo or Pristina that killed us during the war, in alliances with Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy.

Albanian in Kosova: We are a nation with the same right as other nations, through self-determination, to have our own state. We want to be ruled neither from Istanbul, nor Belgrade, but from Pristina and, in a broader European context, from Brussels. Our minorities can feel safe in a democracy with human rights.

Serb in Kosovo: The Albanians can have their own state, but they cannot take the Serbs with them. Independence or high level autonomy.

Macedonian: We have the same right as all other nations to have our own state.

Albanian in Macedonia: The Macedonians can have their own state, but they cannot take the Albanians with them. Independence, or high level autonomy.

Montenegrian: We are a nation with the same right as other nations, through self-determination again to have our own state. We want to be governed neither from Istanbul nor from Belgrade, but from Podgorica and, in a broader European context, from Brussels. Our minorities can feel safe in a democracy with human rights.

Albanian in Montenegro: Independence, or high level autonomy.

This summary, with only thirteen parties, is of course a simplification. But the Western simplification in politics and in the media down to “the Serbs against the rest” was grotesque. The 1054 and 1095 fault lines between Catholics, Orthodox and Muslims (Slavic or Albanian) are historical realities. Most of it is unprocessed. Cynical leaders exploited that. And cynical outer parties (the Vatican-Austria–Germany–EU, Russia, Turkey–Saudi) exploited the cynical leaders’ cynical exploitation of a horrible history. On top of that came the USA which wanted, and got, a military base (Bondsteel) in Kosovo enabling it to monitor and control energy pipelines in the region.

Conflict Worker: There are as usual three phases in conflict work:
– Get an overview of the goals – for inner parties and for outer parties;
– Divide the goals into valid/legitimate and invalid/illegitimate;
– Build a bridge, a transcendence, between legitimate goals.

We are dealing here with a basic need, identity. One aspect of the identity of a human being is some kind of identification with the rulers. In other words, it is a question of the right to be ruled by one’s own kind, not by others, even if these others should constitute a benevolent, democratic majority. Individual human rights are good, but insufficient. On top of that comes the history of southeast Europe, between the Habsburg (Vienna) and the Ottoman (Istanbul) empires. Invaded, occupied, annexed, by both. 900 years, like for Afghanistan the last 140 years. All empires ultimately decline and fall. But they leave behind catastrophes, and “Balkan” is blamed; a good reason for avoiding that word, using Southeast Europe instead.

What happened in Yugoslavia from 1990 onwards was a new chapter in the long history of violent interference from the outside. At this point there are many goals, like consolidating the Catholic Church, revenge for the defeat in the First World War, for defeat in the Second World War, efforts to rebuild spheres of influence after the Yugoslav independence during Tito. And then there are the perennial base and oil interests of USA, aiming at control of Eurasia (and the rest of the world). The key to transcendence consists in seeing all the efforts by outer parties to fish in troubled waters as illegitimate, and to concentrate on the thirteen inner goals.

But are these thirteen goals compatible? Yes, with a formula within the limit of four words: equal right to self-determination. For all thirteen.

The result would be an independent Slovenia which is what we have; an independent Croatia without the Serbian territories, possibly as a federation; an independent Bosniak country with Sarajevo as the capital; a Republika Srpska which itself decides its relationship to Serbia; the Croatian part of BiH integrated into Croatia; Serbia continuing as an independent country; an independent Kosova as a federation with two Serbian cantons; the independent Macedonia we already have but possibly as a federation, and an independent Montenegro, eventually also as a federation.

“Equal right to self-determination” conceives of the country as Chinese boxes. The country has a right to self-determination, but that also applies to the minorities inside the country. And here we run across massive interests among the outer powers. Take France as an example: the country would not give the right of self-determination to its six minorities, and a key “expert” in the handling of the Yugoslavia conflict was French. Uti possidetis this is called an international law, “the borders remain the same”. That means minimum changes, with catastrophic results, for instance in Africa. And in Yugoslavia.

The outcome of all of this would be an ex-Yugoslavia with Slovenia like today, Croatia including the Croatian part of BiH, Kosova, Macedonia and Montenegro as federations, two new countries (Republika Srpska, and Kosova), and BiH reduced to the Muslim part – a Bosniak city-state with environment. And on top of this one would have to experiment with a soft community of these nations of the southern Slavs, neither too close, nor too distant, based on brotherhood (bratstvo) and sisterhood, but not on unity (jedinstvo).

Today only one problem has been solved, Slovenia. All the rest is worse than before. There are new layers of violence, trauma and hatred sedimented on top of the old ones. And more steering by outer parties than even under Vienna and Istanbul.

Where nothing has been solved the violence will reappear, after some time. Conclusion: Bad conflict work!

 

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