Aims and perspectives of this blog

By Johan Galtung, Jan Oberg and Håkan Wiberg
September 2, 2014

Introductory note by Jan Oberg

Exactly 23 years ago, on September 3, 1991,  TFF’s conflict-mitigation drove from Zagreb to the war zone of Osijek in Eastern Slavonia, close to Vukovar. We had negotiated our way through at a local para-military checkpoint outside the town where the less-than-reliable looking soldiers advised us: Sit on your flak jackets, there are mines here. Drive as fast as you can, no belt on and don’t lock your doors, you may need to get out fast.

Later in the desolate centre we met with the “Gandhi of Croatia”, Mayor Kramaric, who like we was unable to believe that it could get much worse than it already was. Thereafter, visiting shelters where refugees had gathered, all ages.

In the clear, cold September night we drove back toward Zagreb, passing St. Peter’s Cathedral in Djakovo where mass was held for those already killed. Intense atmosphere, deeply moving, forever unforgettable.

Drove high-speed in the night on the ‘Autoput’ to Zagreb. Hotel Dubrovnik in the city centre filled with Croatian soldiers and paramilitaries watching propaganda movies and news. Everywhere converted to a war zone, including the mind.

The next morning the main news reported that local Serbs had cut off traffic on the ‘Autoput’ and confiscated the cars and whatever people had in them. About half an hour after we had passed. That was the end, in more than one sense, of the relations between Zagreb and Belgrade. Yugoslavia had broken up. And we’d been lucky. Very very lucky.

It was the first of some 70 peace missions to all parts of former Yugoslavia, 3000+ interviews with all conflict parties and at all levels – courses, seminars, peace plans, press conferences, co-operation with all UN missions in the region, and more.

What could justify yet another publication about former Yugoslavia and its dissolution processes? Probably only that it offers a systematically different angle and differs in a number of respects from most other publications on this subject. This blog does exactly that since it:

• Uses a conflict-analytical and peace policy-approach, based on modern systematic theorising; most other books take a historical, strategic, political science, international relations, anthropological, journalistic, or travel book approach – and combinations of some of them;

• Focuses on the conflicts in a long-term perspective rather than on the violence in a short-term perspective and, thus, does not begin its analysis around 1990 because the underlying conflicts began much earlier than the violence;

• Treats the conflicts in Yugoslavia in a macro-perspective: in the perspective of regional-European and global-US-Cold War conflict formations and does not believe that what happened can be explained by reference to inner-Yugoslav dynamics alone;

• Builds on the view that everything is related to everything else – inside Yugoslavia as well as between it and the international so-called community;

• Disputes the view that this international community has played the role of an impartial, historically innocent, goodwill actor that tried only to help the Yugoslav peoples to make peace; rather, we treat the international community as a number of active participants to the conflicts and wars, i.e. as part of the overall conflict formation;

• Refuses to take the side of any nation or republic. Our analysis may appear pro-Serb to some, particularly those who are predominantly informed by mainstream Western media and discourse, but it isn’t. Rather, it is less apologetically pro-West and less uncritically, less biased, pro-Croatian, pro-Bosniak and pro-Albanian than most; and therefore less black and white;

• Takes a structural perspective and refuse to accept at least two types of reductionisms, namely a) that conflicts can be reduced to what (more or less demonised or embellished) top individuals do, and b) that it is all a matter of only two parties (one all black and one all white) pitted against each other. We know of no conflict anywhere in which there are only two parties and have never seen a conflict actor in which all members were only white or only black;

• Does not deal with blame and apportioning guilt but with understanding issues; it is, if you will, soft on people and hard on structures and underlying paradigms – as well as the stuff the conflicts in this drama are made of;

• Is both analytical and critical but also constructive; it has a historical perspective but maintains an emphasis on what could have been done differently or better and what can still be done. Admittedly such a counter-factual history writing is a risky and disputable project, but we aim to try it at least for pedagogical, heuristic and illustrative purposes. Not trying it means bowing down to the equally, if not more, disputable position that the decisions and course taken throughout the Yugoslav crisis and wars were the only one possible;

• It emphasizes that it is time to say something about the whole process including the end game around Serbia/Kosovo, Montenegro and Macedonia, perhaps Bosnia-Hercegovina too. [Read more…]

War for war’s sake? U.S. military interventions after the Cold War

By Håkan Wiberg

Written 2000????

In the debate on a war on Iraq, many interpretations are proposed as to what it is “really” about: Disarming Iraq of possible weapons of mass destruction to satisfy UN resolutions? Toppling the Iraqi government by invasion and/or subversion? Introducing democracy by occupation? Getting US control over the Iraqi oil by occupation? Getting US geopolitical control over the whole oil region with bases, etc.? Fighting terrorism? Deflecting domestic criticism of various scandals – or international criticism on, e.g. Palestine? Feeding the military-industrial complex? Testing new weapons, tactics and strategies on the ground?

Rather few of these really contradict each other, unless presented as the one and only motive – which is in our complex world a very unlikely situation. It will obviously take many years to get a balanced and well-documented picture of the true motives of the US administration and its various factions, so no attempt at such a premature assessment will be made here.

The point of the present article is merely to locate one apparent lacuna in the debate, which only seems to get visible when we collate several cases to see what they have in common. Few seem to have pointed at “war for war’s sake”. By this I do not refer to any grotesque pre-WWI (and later fascist) ideologies about war as being healthy in itself, but rather to the advantage the initiator expects to have from a war, whatever its outcome. The main thesis is that having a war now and then is a way for US administrations to try to counteract the global long term changes in the distribution of economic power (where it has gone down) and military power, where it is stronger than ever. More specifically, the thesis is that the relative weight of these kinds of power has been shifting in favour of economic power for a long time, which gives the USA an interest in greater relative weight being given to military power. [Read more…]

Security and Identity in former Yugoslavia

By Håkan Wiberg
Presumably written 1995 or 96


The concatenation of conflicts in former Yugoslavia are of a complexity that makes them difficult to fathom for the great majority of external observers, in particular mass media and politicians. This complexity derives from the high number of actors in various phases, as well as from the varying characters of actors and from the fact that different dimensions of security have played – and continue to play salient roles.

When external actors have tried to relate to this set of conflict, the heritage of the Cold War has apparently played a great role. Its essence is not to be found in the specific propaganda themes in 1991, rather in a general pattern of perception. It can be summarized in three main axioms:

1. There can be no more than two actors in a conflict.
2. These actors are states.
3. Among these, one is good and one is bad.

In virtually every situation, however, the actors have never been less than three, and even then only after great simplification. Peoples have been just as much actors as states, and – with few exceptions – the actions of these actors are a matter of bad and worse, rather than good and bad, at least if judged by generalizable morality rather than political expediency.

In addition, it must not be forgotten that the former Yugoslavia had an appallingly bad prognosis in its last period of existence by a wide range of indicators. [Read more…]

Nations above all: The Yugoslav tragedy

By Håkan Wiberg

Written 1995 or 1996

There are two crucial questions about transformation in post-communist states:

1) What is being transformed?
2) What conflicts with what main parties do the transformations entail?

The first question may be specified to different subsystems of society.  The second key issue is whether the main perceived cleavages will be by classes, ideologies, regions, ethno-national groups or various combinations.

Political keywords on transformation have been “democracy”, “free market” and “privatization”: the agenda set by Western institutions (EU, IMF/WB, NATO, etc.) and embraced with varying degrees of enthusiasm or recalcitrance by governments and populations in post-communist states. Some transformation were attractive without external prompting: most people wanted “democracy”, with the exception of parts of the Nomenklatura and some groups wanting a “strong man”. In formal terms, say multiparty elections by secret ballot, democracy was introduced in virtually all post-communist states; but there are great variations in what people understand by “democracy” (Uzunova & Vydrin 1995) and in the political systems actually created.

“Free market” and “privatization” have remained controversial, especially in terms of how much, how soon, on what conditions and with what protection for the victims of the process. “Democracy” has generally been seen as desirable in itself, negating the old communist system and expressing a growing demand for self-rule and a new state identity. It has also to varying degrees been seen as instrumental; motives have been domestic, e.g. the belief that democracy is a quick road to affluence, or concerned relations to the West, democracy being a condition for different forms of support and even more for what most governments have high on their agenda: as close relations as soon as possible to Western organisations. [Read more…]

Krisernes dynamik

Af Håkan Wiberg

Trykt som kapitel 1 i Erik A. Andersen og Håkan Wiberg (red.), Storm Over Balkan, C.A. Reitzels forlag, København 1994.

Ingen europæiske politikere i efterkrigstiden er blevet stillet over for sværere eksamensopgaver end de jugoslaviske. Den endelige katastrofe beroede på flere ting: kvaliteten på politikerne var dalende, samtidigt med at flere forværrende faktorer voksede og flere af de dæmpende faktorer blev svækket. Resultatet blev en spiral, blandt andet accelereret af aktørerne selv: igennem flere år er det ofte lykkedes de fleste politiske aktører i det fhv. Jugoslavien – set i henhold til fredens bevarelse – at gøre de værst tænkelige ting på det værst tænkelige tidspunkt, og det samme kom hurtigt til at gælde de eksterne aktører, der kom i kontakt med konflikterne.

Konflikterne fra folkeperspektiv

Der er to hovedmåder at betragte konflikterne i det fhv. Jugoslavien på: som konflikter mellem (og inden for) folk, og som konflikter mellem (og inden for) politiske enheder: republikker, stater, m.v. For at forstå konflikterne må man bruge begge måder og især se på vekselvirkningerne mellem de to ting.

Lad os derfor begynde med en drastisk forenklet katalog over de forskellige folk, der var. [Read more…]

Den lange historie og den dystre prognose for Jugoslavien

Af Håkan Wiberg

Trykt som kapitel 1 i Erik A. Andersen og Håkan Wiberg (red.), Storm Over Balkan, C.A. Reitzels forlag, København 1994.

De fleste skillelinier i Europa igennem historien har gennemskåret det fhv. Jugoslavien: det gjaldt grænsen for den græske kultursfære og senere skellet mellem det Østromerske og det Vestromerske Rige, grænsen for de slaviske stammers fremtrængen i sydlig retning og også grænsen for Karl den Stores imperium. Grænsen mellem de katolske og ortodokse kirker har gået her, siden de definitivt blev skilt fra hinanden i 1054. Grænsen mellem de tyrkiske og habsburgske imperier blev i århundreder flyttet frem og tilbage her, indtil Serbien genopstod. Også grænsen imellem den rige og den fattige del af Europa har gået her i tusind år. De fleste af disse grænser har sat sig dybe og tragiske spor, der udgør en vigtig baggrund for forståelsen af dagens grusomme situation. [Read more…]

Jugoslavien som grekisk tragedi

Av Håkan Wiberg

Skriven förmodligen sent 1993 eller tidigt 1994

Tragedi ligger i ödesbundenhet, icke i katastrofens omfång: en man kan begå en förbrytelse eller ett folk kan förintas. Att publiken moraliserar efter eget sinne kommer ikke tragedin vid: den tragiska figuren kan vara hjälte eller skurk, eller vara det omväxlande eller samtidigt. Vad ödet utmätt sker, oavsett vad protagonisten gör; att höra profetior om det hjälper honom icke. De missförstås, eller hybris bringar aktören på fall: vad han gör för att undgå ödet bidrar till att fullborda det.

Den jugoslaviska tragedin har skapat en av de tio största flyk-tingströmmarna sedan 1945 och är redan en av de 20-30 blodigaste konflikterna under denna tid. Den kan bli värre, genom sin egen dynamik eller genom utländsk intervention. Propagandakrigets utfall har – i stort sett – följt religionsgränser. Kroaterna och slovenerna vann i den katolska världen, med Tyskland som förbindelselänk till den protestantiska, muslimerna vann i den islamiska världen, och serber och montenegriner finner sympati i det ortodoxa Europa. Då de grekiska, rumänska, ryska och andra regeringarna i betydlig grad följde Väst i FN och CSCE, blev detta först synligt i Väst, när regeringarna kom under skarp kritik hemma och bromsade.

För att se de jugoslaviska konflikterna som tragedier behöver vi inte grekisk ödesmetafysik, utan kan hänvisa till mindre mystiska mekanismer med likartade resultat: hybris och myopia.

Hybris består i att överskatta sin egen styrka och hur långt man kan tvinga på en motsträvig omvärld sin vilja; man gör därmed tingen värre, också sett från sin egen synpunkt.

Myopia består i att tänka för kort: att göra ting som glömmer att motparterna har motdrag – och motdrag till ens egna motdrag till deras motdrag – till ens egna handlingar. (Ibland talar man om “the fallacy of the last move”.) En handling gör ofta andra handlingar oundvikliga – men inte de avsedda. Aktörer kan låsa fast sig själva genom irreversibla propagandautspel. Den ena aktören kan låsa fast den andra. Tredjeparter kan låsa fast en eller alla aktörer genom att göra ting (deklarerat) avsedda att hjälpa respektive tvinga dem, och de kan i sin tur låsas fast av deras massmedieredaktörer.

Innan analysen av olika exempel från lokala parters respektive stormakters agerande behövs en komprimerad bakgrundsteckning. [Read more…]

Økonomiske sanktioner: årsager, virkninger og Jugoslavien

By Håkan Wiberg
Formodentlig midt-1993
Skrevet på dansk af forfatteren selv

I 432 f.v.t. nægtede Perikles produkter fra Megara adgang til markedet i Athen, fordi Megara havde kidnappet tre kvinder og prøvede at annektere territorium. Disse økonomiske sanktioner bidrog til begyndelsen af den peloponesiske krig.

Økonomiske sanktioner imod stater opfylder normalt ikke deres deklarerede formål. Hvor stærk empirisk hjemmel er der for denne påstand? Beror den manglende succes på formålene – eller er det sanktionerne som er ineffektive eller sågar modproduktive? [Read more…]

Peace order in Europe? Lessons from Yugoslavia

By Håkan Wiberg

Background paper to the symposium “Challenges for Peace and Security” at the International Institute for Peace in Vienna, 21-22 November 1992. Second draft, documentation not yet completed, not for quotation without the prior permission of the author – criticisms and comments are most welcome.

1. Introduction

This paper does not attempt to analyze in detail the extremely convoluted conflict complex in Yugoslavia; except for the unraveling of the former USSR, there is no set of conflicts in Europe even remotely as complicated as this. For such details and overviews, I therefore have to refer to the standard literature. The present paper is a first attempt at capturing some of the interaction between the conflict parties in Yugoslavia and various external parties, in particular the EC, trying to understand how this interaction has contributed to escalating some contradictions that it had been possible to handle relatively peacefully for decades into a war so sanguinary that the Greek Civil War in the 1940s and the Hungarian Revolution in 1956 are the only postwar European counterparts.

One of the central problems in the present paper is therefore the following: What factors have affected the position of the EC in different phases of the development of the conflicts? The main groups of factors are taken to be (without any internal ranking to be read into the numbers):  1) The development in Yugoslavia, 2) the propaganda war, 3) factors that have affected the positions of individual states in the EC and 4) factors in the power games and in the internal and to some extent autonomous dynamics of the EC.

In order to have a background to the international interaction, it is nevertheless necessary to paint the broader background with a very broad brush in section 2, and the recent history with an equally broad brush in section 3. Section 4 then gives an overview of the specifically Balkan setting of the conflicts and section 5 analyses the propaganda war, before the remaining sections try to solve, or at least chart, the puzzles surrounding the strategies and the development of behaviour of the EC. These are discussed in sections 6 and 7; section 8 then looks at the primus motor (in this context): The FRG, section 9 looks at the problems encountered by Realpolitik in the Yugoslav context, section 10 at international law and politics, section 11 at the Eigendynamik elements of great power politics and, finally, section 12 tries to assess the situation now. [Read more…]

Societal security and the explosion of Yugoslavia

By Håkan Wiberg

Written in late 1992 or early 1993

The Yugoslav crisis since the late 1980s has been one of the most complex in European history. This complexity consists in the multiplicity of sources of conflict behaviour: economic, cultural, political, constitutional, international, etc. It also consists in the “spider web” character of the conflict pattern between political leaderships: interconnected triangular relations with shifting coalitions, each change having effects on the entire pattern.

Academic specialization, journalistic criteria of newsworthiness, political demands for mobilizing simplifications and plain ignorance have interacted in tending to picture the Yugoslav conflicts as a set of isolated bilateral one-issue conflicts, usually also with clear value directions. It will therefore take many years before we see any solid and comprehensive analyses. Trying to anticipate them already now would be hubris.

The present section merely attempts to present some components of the complexity and to highlight some background causes before focusing on how the concept of societal security may contribute to a more comprehensive analysis. [Read more…]