Unterwegs am Balkan

In jüngster Zeit hatte ich wieder einmal Gelegenheit einige Länder des Balkans zu besuchen: Kosovo, Albanien und Montenegro. Dabei konnte ich ausführlich mit führenden PolitikerInnen und VertreterInnen der Zivilgesellschaft sprechen. Und natürlich konnte ich mich mit eigenen Augen von den äußeren Fortschritten in den drei Hauptstädten – Pristina, Tirana und Podgorica – und in den Orten auf der Strecke von Tirana nach Podgorica überzeugen. Und es gibt diese Fortschritte, auch wenn darunter noch viele Probleme und Ungereimtheiten versteckt sind. Weder die wirtschaftliche Lage noch die demokratischen Institutionen und Entwicklungen sind befriedigend. Albanien ist dabei noch relativ stabil, Dank klarer Mehrheit im Parlament und eines starken Regierungschefs, der allerdings auch entsprechend seine Autorität einsetzt.

Hannes-Swoboda-Balkan-001

Aber es ist nicht leicht einen Transformationsprozess in Zeiten einer allgemeinen Wirtschaftskrise zu bewältigen. Im Falle des Kosovo kommen die ungelösten Probleme im Verhältnis zu Serbien und auch zur serbischen Bevölkerung im eigenen Land hinzu. Albanien hat die Nachwirkungen eines Regimes zu bewältigen, das eine Art europäisches Nord Korea darstellte. Und Montenegro musste sich nach der Trennung von Serbien eine eigene Identität verschaffen, aber noch immer trauern Teile der Bevölkerung dem gemeinsamen Staat mit Serbien nach. Und das gibt natürlich autoritären Persönlichkeiten die Möglichkeit für Stabilität zu sorgen und das wiederum schafft die Voraussetzung für Proteste wie sie vor allem im Kosovo und Montenegro zu erleben waren.

Hannes-Swoboda-Balkan-002

Ganz zu schweigen von den furchtbaren Verhältnissen in Mazedonien, wo ein ungeheurer Skandal des Ausspionierens, vor allem der Opposition und der Medien, das Land in eine große Krise gestürzt hat. Die Regierung unterstützt vom Präsidenten von Mazedonien ist bisher nicht bereit einen ernsthaften Dialog mit der Opposition zu führen – trotz Vermittlung seitens der EU. Das ist inzwischen in Montenegro geschehen wo sogar der seit der Staatsgründung „herrschende“ Politiker Milo Djukonovic nach öffentlichen Protesten eine Vereinbarung mit der Opposition schloß, wobei dieses Abkommen im Herbst zu Wahlen führen soll.

Im Kosovo ist inzwischen die Wahl eines neuen Staatspräsidenten ruhig über die Bühne gegangen, Hashim Thaci, der ehemalige Führer der Kosovarischen Befreiungsarmee hat diese Position errungen und man wird sehen ob und wie er eine überparteiliche und vermittelnde Position einnehmen kann. Kosovo ist nach wie vor nicht von allen EU Staaten in seiner Selbstständigkeit und Unabhängigkeit anerkannt. Niemand mit einigem Gespür kann davon ausgehen, dass der Kosovo wieder einmal Teil Serbiens wird. Und wenn auch im jetzigen serbischen Wahlkampf extreme, nationalistische Töne angeschlagen werden, so gibt man es hoffentlich nach den Wahlen wieder billiger. Aber die nach wie vor vorhandenen Parallelstrukturen, inklusive beim Geschichtsunterricht in den „serbischen“ Gemeinden, tragen nicht zur Integration bei. Inzwischen würde der serbische Ministerpräsident Vujcic mit absoluter Mehrheit wiedergewählt und er hätte die Möglichkeit entscheidende Fortschritte bei Vereinbarungen mit dem Kosovo zu leisten.

Hannes-Swoboda-Balkan-003

Eine allgemeine Anerkennung des Kosovo durch alle EU Staaten würde sogar mehr Einfluss der EU in Richtung eines friedlichen Zusammenlebens im Kosovo und damit eine Unterstützung der „serbischen“ Bevölkerung mit sich bringen. Ein großes Problem ist natürlich auch, dass der Bevölkerung des Kosovo als dem einzigen Land der Region noch keine Visafreiheit seitens der EU gewährt wurde. Ich hoffe, dass nun nach der Erfüllung der notwendigen Voraussetzungen im Kosovo selbst, die EU den entsprechenden Schritt setzt. Damit könnte auch dem Gefühl mancher Kosovaren, sie werden – weil Muslime – diskriminiert, entgegen gewirkt werden.

Auf den Islam und die Gefahr der Radikalisierung der Muslime angesprochen, antworten die Verantwortlichen im Kosovo und in Albanien – und hinsichtlich der kleinen muslimischen Bevölkerungsanteile im Montenegro auch die dortigen Verantwortlichen – einvernehmlich: Ja es gibt an einzelnen Orten Imame, die sich radikalisiert haben, aber noch ist das keine wirkliche Gefahr.

Hannes-Swoboda-Balkan-004

Manche meinen allerdings, dass die Gefahren nicht von den „normalen“ religiösen Strukturen ausgehen, sondern durch die Verbreitung von radikalen Meinungen über das Internet. Jedenfalls sollte man wachsam sein, denn die muslimische Bevölkerung ist über die Grenzen aller Staaten des Westbalkans hin verbreitet – mit Schwerpunkten im Kosovo, Albanien, Bosnien-Herzegowina, Mazedonien aber auch in Teilen Serbiens. Aber anderseits ist die hervorragende Koexistenz zwischen den Angehörigen der verschiedenen Religionen beispielhaft, auch wenn es manchen Vertretern aus – allen – Religionen nicht gefällt. Und auch die Türkei versucht ihre (genauer Erdogans) Interpretation des Islam zu verbreiten, aber auch da zeichnen sich bisher keine großen Erfolge der türkischen Strategie ab. Ein solcher Versuch ist die von der Türkei unterstütze Errichtung einer großen Moschee in Tirana.

Aber nicht nur die Türkei versucht politischen, wirtschaftlichen und religiösen Einfluss zu gewinnen. Auch Russland ist entsprechend aktiv. Dabei steht die Kritik am europäischen Weg der Balkan Länder im Vordergrund und natürlich im besonderen die Kritik der aktuellen Bestrebungen Montenegros in die Nato aufgenommen zu werden. Dabei scheut auch Moskau nicht davor zurück die entsprechenden Parteien bzw. Protestgruppen finanziell zu unterstützen. Und auch die Unterstützung der mazedonischen Regierung gegen die Opposition ist sehr merkwürdig. Genau dieses Verhalten Russlands führt allerdings dazu, dass viele Menschen den Nato-Beitritt Montenegros und eine stärkere Kooperation des Kosovo mit der Nato unterstützen. Sie gilt auch vielen Kräften aus der Zivilgesellschaft als Bestandteil einer Strategie der Demokratisierung, Modernisierung und Verwestlichung. In einem Vortrag in Pristina habe ich für eine Einbettung der Nato Erweiterung in eine umfassende Sicherheitsstrategie, die man versuchen sollte mit(!) Russland zu entwickeln, plädiert. Nicht dass dann alle Bedenken Russlands ausgeräumt werden könnten, aber dann wäre der Nato-Beitritt ein wirklicher Beitrag zum Frieden. Der Beitrag ist auf der Webseite des Wiener Friedensinstitut IIP (International Institute for Peace) zu finden.

Hannes-Swoboda-Balkan-005

Trotz sichtbarer Fortschritte bleibt der Balkan eine fragile Region. Den euro- atlantischen und insbesondere den EU Einflüssen stehen Versuche der Türkei und Russlands entgegen, ihre Einflüsse in der Region zu verstärken. Glücklicherweise liegen Russland und die Türkei nicht auf gleicher Linie. Aber in beiden Fällen machen sich politische, wirtschaftliche und gesellschaftliche/religiöse Bestrebungen bemerkbar. Den Einflüssen des europäischen Zentrums stehen jedenfalls solche des russischen und türkischen Zentrums gegenüber.

Das muss als solches noch nicht schlecht sein, wenn diese Einflüsse nicht mit dem Willen verbunden sind, den Weg der Balkan Länder nach Europa zu blockieren. Sie können auch dazu führen, dass sich die EU wieder mehr um die Entwicklung am Balkan kümmert und auch den Ländern eine entsprechende Hilfe angedeihen lässt. Das Zentrum der EU darf jedenfalls die Peripherie nicht im Stich lassen. Im Gegenteil, es muss bemüht sein, die Länder der Peripherie immer mehr ans Zentrum heranzuführen. Das war auch die Kernaussage meines Beitrags im Rahmen einer öffentlichen Diskussion mit dem albanische Premierminister Edi Rama:

Hannes-Swoboda-Balkan-006

EU: TENSIONS BETWEEN CENTRE AND PERIPHERY AND DIFFERENT PERIPHERIES

Some years ago, Thomas Friedman brought us the news: „The World is Flat“. It is flat because it has less and less obstacles for the global flow of human beings and knowledge between different nations and societies. But as we can see, new borders, fences and walls were and are built. Nevertheless as we saw in recent times, people in the peripheries try to overcome these old and new obstacles in order to reach countries in the centre. And new means of communications make it possible to compare the dreadful situation a their home countries with the „exciting“ possibilities in the centre.

Hegemony and dependency

One such centre is Western and Northern Europe with its higher income and wealth in relation to the different peripheries inside Europe and in Europe’s neighborhood. Few people from the centre go to the periphery to make business and profit. Many more people from the periphery leave their countries partly to save their life, partly to earn higher incomes and receive higher benefits and social services, than they could ever get in their home country. ( But still the biggest refugee flows goes from poor periphery countries into other equally poor peripheric countries )

This migration into the centre creates after some years societies of strong diversity and multiculturalism and that again is a new factor for attracting additional migrants. Insofar the extremist right wing is „right“: the more people with cultures and religions from outside Europe/outside the centre are successfully settling in their new home country, the more people will be ready to follow them. What they do not see or do not want to see, is the fact that diversity is already reality and that it helps countries to deal with the modern world.

Islam and tensions between centre and periphery

This has also to be told to countries and governments who are very reluctant till outright negative towards accepting refugees especially Muslim refugees. Racial and/or religious purity was never possible and is even less possible today. Any such policy leads in the end to a disaster. In addition we have to question the definition of certain religions and cultures as European or Non- European. If the right wing populist party AfD in Germany defines itself as anti-Islam party, because Islam is not compatible with European values, this is a gross misuse of the word „European“. It would draw a sharp dividing line through Europe and European nations and even families. In the end it is not Islam which is creating tensions and endangering peace and internal stability but this fundamentalist rejection of Islam and Muslims as such by right wing forces.

In addition Islam is since long a European religion on the Balkans and in many respect this form of Islam and how it is embedded into the different societies can and should be a lesson also to those who fear Islam as such or deny its European character. European secularism must accept different kind of religions and must not exclude certain beliefs. And secular societies and its political representative should together with those who represent and promote the European form of Islam fight for the compatibility of Islam with European laws and achievements in our cultures.

It is useless to demand a different „European Islam“, but it is useful to underline the way (!) many in Europe and especially in the Balkans live and practice Islam in societies and countries where many other religions and many non-believers exist. And in this respect of course we should together fight back any from of fundamentalist and extremist interpretation of Islam, which is in any ways, very often in contradiction to Islam practices of the past. Many intolerant forms of Salafism, Wahhabism and Djihadism are quite new, modern phenomena and not original forms of Islam. Even if we know that the original Islam was spreading by the use of force, but that is also true of Christianity. Danger for Islam comes not from tolerance but from extremists who misuse their belief for political purposes.

The more right wing forces deny Islam its European existence the more a constructive dialogue with and by Balkan Muslims must be part of defending European open societies. In this respect the centre needs the periphery and specifically countries of the Balkans. Countries with a larger Muslim population can demonstrate the compatibility of Islam and Europe. It is nationalism and insistence of christian supremacy which is not compatible with European values.

The anti-migration and anti-Muslim policy is also in the line of a long tradition of arrogance and prejudices of the centre towards the periphery. It was and is this attitude the centre, which – via domination, occupation and wars – decided the fate of the periphery at least in the past. The centre with its feeling of -Christian –  supremacy even transformed neighboring countries into its periphery. That is true for the periphery inside the EU, inside the non EU Europe like the Balkans and the periphery outside Europe. There always existed and still exists an unequal relationship between the hegemonic centre and the dependent periphery.

Russians China as centers

In a global dimension not only Europe plays the role of a center, also Russia acted over centuries as such a centre by dominating the periphery by force or by offering protection to its neighboring countries and people against possible enemies. Again in these days Russia is trying to exert influence by attracting at least Russian speaking and Russian orthodox people in its periphery. In some of the countries with mixed population like Ukraine but also Georgia and Moldavia a conflict between these two European centers is the result of competing attraction. Mutual economic sanctions and ideological „warfare“ underline the opposing attractiveness of these two centers. Concerning China, there exists such an opposing attractiveness in some countries between China and Russia, in spite of some forms of cooperation. It must be mentioned, that also Russia and China have tensions and conflicts between centre and their – Muslim – peripheries.

Economic and social periphery in the centre

But as we can see, also inside the EU centre we find people living in the periphery. It is an economic and social periphery where the poor, many unemployed and also people with precarious working conditions live. And part of this „central“ periphery are people who have been immigrating from a periphery outside the centre some time ago. A neo-liberal economic policy and a one sided austerity policy which was enforced also in the geographic periphery – especially in the South – enhanced unemployment and poverty. In this case the German hegemon played a doubtful role in contradiction to the leadership in the refugees case.

Fighting for a place in the centre

In the mean time new flows of migrants from the European neighborhood especially from the Middle East left this periphery and came into the centre. The efforts to distribute these refugees to all EU member countries met strong resistance from the EU periphery especially in the East. The inner EU periphery has a critical position towards taking people from the outside peripheries. It feels itself still to poor to manage it, it is still looking for an identity to be accepted by its own population and the rest of Europe and it fears diversity and multiculturalism.

With this resistance it became obvious that the biggest confrontation and conflict exists between peripheries. The countries of the EU periphery with lower incomes, with their own internal periphery of poor people, especially the Roma and being less used to diversity by immigration were not ready to accept new migrants.

And the same is true for the periphery inside the centre. People still in a underprivileged economic and social situation or people who have  just started  to „make it“ feel themselves particularly vulnerable – and rightly so. So we are less confronted with a fight and competition between center and periphery. The major conflict today exists between people from the different geographical and economic/social peripheries for a place in the centre. It is periphery against periphery. And just this conflict is misused by xenophobic and nationalistic movements all over Europe and beyond.

An increasing income gap is always dangerous for the cohesion of countries and societies. But the combination of strong migration and economic and social inequality is a strong threat for new and still contested entities like the EU. Furthermore it is this economic and social conflicts which are misused by right wing forces. They are not interested in solving the conflict by fighting for more equality but are interested in attacking the „political elites“ especially those of the European projects. So Europe’s elite has to learn to manage in a fairer way the social issue with respect to the already existing periphery and the new migrants coming from the outside periphery.

Hannes-Swoboda-Balkan-007

Ethnic conflict instead of social conflict

One of Europe biggest problems is the fact, that the old and new social antagonism is transformed and enlarged by an „ethnisation“ of the social conflict. Even if economic and social issues dominate the conflict between peripheries, the tight wing forces picture this conflict not as an economic/social one, but as an ethnic one between people from different national, cultural and religious backgrounds.  And they argue that the migrants coming from the – geographic- periphery are of lower cultural level. They give the people in the centre – including those of the inner periphery – the feeling of superiority. Consequently they enhance the fears of losing this supremacy due to immigration: the migrants are taking away jobs as well as  social services and benefits from the people in the centre, but even more important they endanger the Judeo-Christian values of our societies. This is specially true for the Muslim immigrants.

Migration must not be seen always as a threat, but should also be seen as an opportunity. But it would be naive to open all the borders for an uncontrolled immigration. The strange and untenable situation in Europe is to have established an outer border ( Schengen border ) but to have neither established a common border regime and control nor a truly common immigration and asylum policy. FRONTEX is a weak instrument and was neglected at the budget negotiations by the member states. We need as all „normal“ countries a civilian border regime and control, that can be supported(!) by military forces. But the border protection in order to guarantee a orderly and supervised entrance into the EU – and in consequence also to the neighborhood like the Balkans – can only be part of a comprehensive neighborhood policy which must deal in a future oriented way with Europe’s periphery.

Partnership instead of confrontation

Only a new comprehensive policy of partnership between the centre and the different peripheries could overcome these antagonisms. These policies must include strategies to reduce the differences and gaps between the centre and all peripheries. Firstly, we must give the fight against poverty and unemployment inside the centre more attention. With the recent additional migration from the Middle East, a successful integration of these and the migrants of recent years is only possible, if the centre starts a new investment and jobs initiative. Otherwise we will be confronted  with new and extended social conflicts and confrontations, sometimes under a ethnic cover.

Secondly, such a initiative must also include the geographic periphery inside the EU with special attention to the “ excluded “ like many Roma and other poorer parts of the society.

Thirdly we must extend such a policy towards European regions outside the EU. Today we can see, that the neglect of the Balkan region in the last years was a mistake. Old conflicts can easily be nourished by nationalistic forces. Therefore the initiative started by Germany and Austria for giving the economic and social development of that region more attention must find wider support and help also from other EU countries.

Even if we can see today some economic progress, the countries of the Balkans need a long time to catch up with the countries of the centre. There is still a lack of investment from outside the Balkans and to much bureaucracy and corruption inside the Balkans. Many institutional reforms and a new entrepreneurial attitude has to be developed. The EU on the other hand should not lean back and wait for the countries to do their job, it must give a helping hand in this vital reform process. The relationship between center and periphery must include strong support for the economic and social development of the periphery.

Fourthly, the new investment and jobs strategy must include the neighboring periphery outside Europe as well. The „strategy“ of military intervention and enforced democratization from the outside failed. Economic development, exchange programs for students and teachers, twinning programs etc. must be in the center of a new overall partnership program. And of course in the short run it must include support for many countries in the  immediate neighborhood of wars to deal with the refugees in a human way. Because countries like Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey bear the heaviest burden of giving refugees shelter and protection.

Different approaches for societies with diversity

All these inner-European strategies and programs must take into account the different peculiarities and characteristics of the countries of the periphery. The center has to abandon its position of arrogance and superiority. We can no longer suppose, that only the ideas and methods,  which worked in the centre can and must work elsewhere. And the programs should be – as far as possible – joint programs formulated and implemented in partnership with the periphery.

Only such a comprehensive plan could strengthen the link between the centre and its peripheries. We need a new economic and cultural strategy linking periphery and centre. Diversity needs to be accepted as well in the centre as in the different peripheries. And social conflicts have to be seen and solved as such and must not be transformed into an ethnic, cultural and religious incompatibilities. Finally the relationship of dominance and dependence has to be transformed into one of mutual support and partnership.