Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Serbia apologises for Srebrenica massacre

The parliament of Serbia strongly condemns the crime committed against the Bosnian Muslim population of Srebrenica in July 1995, as determined by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruling ... (and offers its) condolences and an apology to the families of the victims because not everything possible was done to prevent the tragedy.

Last night the Serbian Narodna skupština, after intense debate, passed a landmark resolution expressing regret and condemning the 1995 Srebrenica massacre and offering "their condolences and an apology to the families of the victims because not everything possible was done to prevent the tragedy." Proposed by the ruling coalition of pro-Western President Boris Tadic, the resolution was adopted by 127 of the 173 parliamentarians present in the room, after 13 hours of debate, this constitutes a sea change for Serbia, a country still deeply divided over the role of the Milošević regime in the bitter and bloody conflict and the popular backing this received. The resolution was not an easy one to reach and its wording has been carefully crafted to ensure that the majority of the Skupština subscribed to it. "We wanted a completely different resolution but apparently that is not possible," said Cedomir Jovanovic, of the Liberal opposition, according to Reuters, while, astonishingly, Branko Ruzic, of the Socialist party, led at the time led by Slobodan Milosevic said "We are taking a civilised step as politically responsible people, based on political conviction, for the war crime that happened in Srebrenica."

Although the resolution might not satisfy the victims of this act as it avoids the term "genocide", it is important to note that it ends years of denial about the killings and that it is a sign of political maturity across the political spectrum of Serbian politics. It constitutes a highly symbolic act of the determination of Serbia's political class to move on and break away from the hold of the Milosevic era.

Whereas a number of MPs criticised the bill for failing to condemn what they called similar crimes against Serbs carried out by neighbouring Croatia during the war, the Skupština successfully decoupled the Srebrenica massacre and the moral culpability of the Serbian state from a potentially endles and counterproductive spiral of recrimination.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The Greek-Macedonian dispute – time to return to the drawing board? | Transform, Transcend, Translate | TransConflict Serbia

Premised on the view that facilitating a compromise between the respective parties to the name issue requires a better understanding of the multi-layered character of the dispute, the historically conditioned perspectives of the parties, and the main actors and their perceived interests, my article in Transconflict attempts to suggest a way forward.

After almost two decades since Macedonia declared its independence, one of the major obstacles to Macedonian aspirations of integration into Europe remains the notorious ‘name dispute’ between Macedonia and Greece. The most frequently rehearsed rendition of this stresses that Greece is concerned about the use of the name ‘Macedonia’ constituting an act of usurpation of its history and a misnomer for irredentist plans to bring about a Greater Macedonia at its expense. On the other hand, Macedonians argue that this is the name in which the majority of the young republic recognize themselves, their language, their land and their ancestors (although how deep they probe in the past remains an issue of contestation). Macedonian governments have repeatedly assured Greece that they have no irredentist designs, and have moved promptly to change the first contested flag of the republic and amend articles of the first constitution that referred to a duty of care for the Macedonian minorities in the region and the Diaspora (though not its preamble that links the current polity to the ideals of the short-lived Krushevo Republic).
The international community has tried to facilitate a compromise between the parties, but the efforts have largely been detached from the pragmatics underlying the dispute and quite often ignored the complex social dynamics at play. While the Ohrid Agreement required considerable energy and international brinkmanship in order to address the grievances of the Albanian minority, the name dispute with Greece was treated as a purely bilateral issue to be resolved within the framework of ongoing UN negotiations. The name issue has been addressed in an unimaginative and highly legalistic way; stripped of its dynamic and continuously evolving nature thus revealing the dearth of conceptual, methodological and practical rigour of our conflict transformation approaches in the region. The fact remains that through our current approaches to the name dispute we are still unable to see the forest for the trees and are thus unable to start thinking about long-term solutions to some of the problems facing the region. A better understanding of the multi-layered character of the dispute, the historically conditioned perspectives of the parties, and the main actors and their perceived interests/objectives is needed in order to build a strong relationship that can withstand future challenges.
Naming it like it is – the history dimension
Of paramount importance in the arguments and actions of the two parties is the past – both Greek and Macedonian national identities have been looking to the past for justifications to their existence and the inviolable character of their rights to a chunk of territory in the Southern Balkans. The two countries have historically attempted to bolster their sense of historical ‘embeddedness’ and legitimacy in the region by cultivating and showcasing work in the areas of archaeology, history and folklore that concurs with the dominant narratives in each nation-state. Greek claims, reinforced by a still dominant classicist tradition in Western thought, have little difficulty in ‘incorporating’ the kingdom of ancient Macedonia into the classical and Hellenistic Greek world from which modern Greeks claim to originate; what is more, the established ideology of the Hellenic-Christian synthesis formulated in the 19th century by circles of historians and folklorists, by ethnicizing the multicultural character of Byzantium, has provided a comforting narrative about the uninterrupted continuity of Hellenism in the region.

 You can read the full article in html format at

You can read the full article in PDF format at

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Cyprus Spring?

Back in February, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu met Greek Cypriot academics  and representatives of civil society in Ankara to discuss developments and prospects of the Cyprus issue. And only a few days ago, journalists from Alithia, Politis and the Cyprus Mail, former Cyprus-EU chief negotiator Takis Hadjidemetriou and United Democrats leader Praxoulla Antoniadou Kyriacou, as well as a number of Turkish Cypriot journalists, met Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and EU Minister Egemen Bağış in Istanbul.
This is the closest to what one could call track II encounter and exchange process between the two countries and, as such, it should not be underestimated. Apart from the novelty of this unprecedented activity involving, amongst others, the Turkish Prime Minister addressing Greek Cypriots, one could not but notice the messages that he and his colleagues conveyed.
Erdoğan reportedly stressed his view that time is right for a solution as the two communities and two ‘motherlands’ have leaders committed to resolving the Cyprus issue in place. In contrast to the usual rhetoric that has been representing the Greek Cypriot leadership as dragging its feet in the ongoing negotiations, Erdoğan (and Bağış) clearly accept President Christofias as an interlocutor who genuinely seeks a solution. Bağış also stressed that the Turkish government is attempting to push forward towards a solution in Cyprus in a challenging political environment: the nationalist MHP commanding a considerable following partly drawing on its critique of the government's handling of the Cyprus issue; the military establishment is still devising scenaria of overt or covert military interventions as the recent prosecutions of a host of military officers indicate.
Erdoğan pointed out that 'Turkey genuinely seeks a fair and lasting comprehensive solution based on the joint declaration of the two leaders on May 23, 2008' and with unprecedented clarity expressed his support for a bizonal, bicommunal federation as defined by the relevant UN resolutions, with political equality and a single international identity. In addition to this, both Erdoğan and Bağış affirmed Turkey's willingness to remove its troops from the island when a solution based on political equality is reached and accepted by both communities.
In a veritable exercise in acknowledging and addressing the fears of the Greek Cypriots and overcoming the inertia that have stalled the negotiation process, but also in an implicit message to Greece, Erdoğan said: 'What happened has happened in the past, we should leave it there. We have to look at the future and how we build the future … What we are saying to our friends is to not engage in more armaments because we should be investing in the people; that’s what gains us results'.
These contacts and the statements made by the three senior Turkish politicians were greeted in both Nicosia and Athens with caution. This has been partly due to the suspicion reflexes that the two capitals have developed towards Ankara over time and partly due to the lack of willingness of some political circles in Greece and, even more so, Cyprus to grant Ankara the status of a legitimate interlocutor.  

Perhaps Ankara, wrongly, sees a solution to the Cyprus issue passing through Athens. That would explain its insistence on a four or five party conference (involving the two communities and the two 'motherlands', together possibly with another European country - Spain who currently holds the presidency, or Britain). But, one thing is certain; Turkey understands that any viable solution will have to address the fears (and prejudices) of the Greek Cypriots. This is signaled by its attempt to communicate with Greek Cypriot journalists, politicians and academics and by its effort to fashion the, badly received, five party conference framework. It clearly has not yet found the language to do so; but talking (and listening) is certainly worth the effort. 

PS  The emergence of Tahsin Ertuğruloğlu, a UBP politician , as a third North Cypriot presidential candidate, just after his meeting with Turkish President Abdullah Gül, indicates that Ankara is prepared to bolster the chances of Mehmet Ali Talat who is best placed to see the ongoing negotiations reach a conclusion and should also be read as a further indication of Ankara's commitment to finding a solution to the Cyprus issue.  

Friday, March 5, 2010

Whose Is This Song? (Chia e tazi pesen?) (2003)

My friend Mirjana has pointed out the existence of this very interesting documentary by Bulgarian director Adela Peeva. Listening to a song she knew since her childhood as Bulgarian being performed in Istanbul in Turkish, the director starts a small Balkan Odyssey through Turkey, Greece, Albania, Bosnia, Macedonia, Serbia only to end up at the Bulgarian-Turkish border region in her native Bulgaria. A song that apparently encapsulated common aesthetics and, more importantly, a shared yet diverse culture, where borrowing and translation make it impossible to argue about cultural ownership and origins proved to carry in it all that divides the peoples of Southeastern Europe. Not only people tried to claim it as exclusive property of their own nation but they often angrily dismissed counterclaims as nothing more than theft. It reminded me Freud's remarks about the 'narcissism of minor differences', the accentuation of antagonism towards those who look, sound and feel so similar to us ...

But still, despite the pessimistic conclusion of Peeva's Odyssey, despite the dialogue of the deaf that this documentary captures so beautifully, despite the usurpation of the song by nationalist and religious fanatics, the whispers betraying the, admittedly imperfect, coexistence of several centuries still persist. As does the fact that many of those who identified with the song have used its melody and lyrics (in its many languages and reincarnations) to express their love, to invite others to love them, to celebrate the 'simple little things' that really matter.

The full documentary can be seen at

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Nationalism in the Troubled Triangle Cyprus, Greece and Turkey

This new volume published by Palgrave contains a chapter co-authored by me: Nationalism in Greece and Turkey: Modernity, Enlightenment, Westernization; S.A.Sofos & U.Özkırımlı

Nationalism in the Troubled Triangle
Cyprus, Greece and Turkey
Edited by Ayhan Aktar, Niyazi Kızılyürek and Umut Özkırımlı
Nationalism in the Troubled Triangle is the first systematic study of nationalism in Cyprus, Greece and Turkey to date in the English language. Bringing scholars from Greece, Turkey and both sides of the dead zone in Cyprus (and beyond) together, the book provides a comparative account of nation-building processes and nationalist politics in all three countries and four cases as well as more specific, thematic comparisons of political leaderships, institutions and foreign policies in what obstinately remains a playground of competing nationalisms. It also engages critically with official myths and narratives in Cyprus, Greece and Turkey and questions traditional nationalist discourses.


Foreword; A.Aktar, N.Kızılyürek & U.Özkırımlı
Introduction; Bringing History back into Nationalism?; J.Breuilly
Conversion of 'Country' into a 'Fatherland': The Case of Turkification Examined, 1923-1934; A.Aktar
The Use and Abuse of Archaeology and Anthropology in Formulating Turkish National Narrative; S.Aydın
Turkish Nationalism Reconsidered: The 'Heaviness' of State-patriotism in Nation-Building; G.G.Özdoğan
Dismantling the Millet: Religion and National Identity in Contemporary Greece; R.Hirschon
Nationalism in Greece and Turkey: Modernity, Enlightenment, Westernization; S.A.Sofos & U.Özkırımlı
The Case of Andrea Mustoxidi and the Early-Nineteenth-Century Heptanesians of Italy; K.Zanou
Narratives of Diplomats: Representations of Nationalism and of Turkish Foreign Policy in Cyprus, 1970-1991; G.İnanç
Alternative Forms of Nationalism: Superiority through Law in Greek Foreign Policy; H.Tzimitras
History, Myth and Nationalism: The Retrospective Force of National Roles through Mythical Past; M.Michael
Securing the Office of Müftü: Nationalism, Religion, and the Turks of Cyprus; A.Nevzat
Rauf Denktaş: Fear and Nationalism in Turkish Cypriot Community; N.Kızılyürek
The Complexities of Greek Nationalism in its Cypriot Version; S.Anagnostopoulou
The Referendum of April 24, 2004; C.Mavratsas
AKEL: Between Nationalism and 'Anti-imperialism'; S.Tombazos