Friday, April 26, 2013


English translation of an article originally published in


På Spaning Efter En Modell För Mellanöstern: … Av Turkiska Och Nordiska Erfarenheter

Umut Ozkirimli är professor i samtida Turkietstudier och verksam vid Centrum för Mellanösternstudier vid Lunds universitet.

Spyros A. Sofos är gästforskare vid Centrum för Mellanösternstudier vid Lunds universitet.

The “Arab Spring” caught everybody off guard. Almost overnight, autocratic regimes have been toppled, social and ideological fissures have emerged, and conflict has become the order of the day, sometimes crashing hopes for freedom, democracy and dignity. But political change is like the Swedish winter, long and replete with challenges. Transition to democracy requires a national consensus and a new social contract based on respect for human rights, recognition of difference and reduction of socioeconomic inequalities. Given these challenges, it is not surprising that many in the region and the West have looked upon models to emulate, ready-made frameworks to be adopted without much consideration of the historical and cultural specifities of the Middle East.

Two countries that have often been mentioned in this kind of model talk are Turkey and Sweden. Turkey has been widely seen as an attractive model for the Middle East with its booming economy, its success in finding a balance between secularism and Islam and its vibrant civil society. Sweden, on the other hand, or more broadly the “Nordic” region has been recently hailed as the “next supermodel” by The Economist, an example to be followed not only by the transitional societies of the Middle East, but also by the ailing European Union. Yet how can we present Turkey and Sweden, two countries with markedly distinct nation- and state-building experiences, as models to the Middle East and beyond? Isn’t this like comparing apples and pears, simply because they are both fruits?

We believe not. First, the way the two countries have historically responded to modernity are quite similar. Both Kemalist Republicanism and the Swedish Social Democracy are perfect instances of “social engineering”, designed to create a particular kind of (modern) citizen. Second, in both countries the state plays an important role in shaping and regulating society, leading to what Lars Trägårdh and Henrik Berggren have called “state paternalism”. Third, and following from the first two, they experience similar difficulties in state-society and state-individual relations. Hence one can see the cohabitation in Turkey of democracy and a certain form of “majoritarian authoritarianism” where the rights of minorities are overlooked and in Sweden of notions of individual autonomy and a political culture which is characterized by deference to the state.

These similarities should not blind us to the differences between the two countries and the divergent outcomes of their processes of modernization. Moreover, there are serious problems with the uncritical and patronizing use of the notion of the “model”, and the way the “model” talk simplifies the complexity of social experience and the various inadequacies behind “perceived” success stories. In fact, both the attractiveness as well as the weakness of the notion of “model” lies in its ambiguous character that makes its articulation possible in a number of different discourses and agendas. This multiplicity of meanings constitutes a real challenge that needs to be taken into account in the discussion of models and their applicability.

Still, the situation in the Middle East is critical. There is urgent need to develop culturally appropriate pathways to sustainable transition that will not replicate earlier mistakes (Iraq, Afghanistan), that will respect democracy, pluralism and human rights without sacrificing social cohesion and national unity. We believe that it is important to unpack the historical trajectories of Turkey and Sweden in a systematic way and examine whether there is any experience that can constitute the subject of a constructive dialogue between these two “models” and the Middle East. This dialogue, we argue, should be one which is based on “mutual learning”, not on top-down policy planning or elitist attitudes which frame the Turkish and Swedish experiences as “better” or “superior” to Middle Eastern polities and cultures. We thus need to look more closely into the “model societies”, distinguish between good and bad practice, achievements and mistakes, and problematize the terms democracy and democratization. We need to focus not so much on what experience can be transferred, but on the processes of exchange and interaction between actors and institutions in the so-called models and the Middle Eastern societies. Only this could foster democratic transitions on a local, grass-roots level and strengthen a strong, pluralist civil society. After as Ingmar Bergman once put, “only he who is well prepared has any opportunity to improvise”.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Kosova/Serbia: Agreement of Principles Governing the Normalization of Relations

The First Agreement of Principles Governing the Normalization of Relations between Kosova and Serbia was signed today. The text is deliberately vague so that it can satisfy both those who want to see the sovereignty of Prishtina over the North recognized and those who want to see some sort of recognition of the predominantly Serb municipalities of North Kosovo, nevertheless, it constitutes a breakthrough in the turbulent relationship between Serbia and its former province.
The agreement opens the way for the start of EU accession talks of the two countries - it is expected that Serbia will be invited to start accession negotiations as early as next week.
According to Kosovo's Gazeta Express the basic points of the agreement are:
1. There will be an Association/Community of Serb majority municipalities in Kosovo. Membership will be open to any other municipality provided the members are in agreement.
2. The Community/Association will be created by statute. Its dissolution shall only take place by a decision of the participating municipalities. Legal guarantees will be provided by applicable law and constitutional law (including the 2/3 majority rule).
3. The structures of the Association/Community will be established on the same basis as the existing statute of the Association of Kosovo municipalities e.g. President, vice President, Assembly, Council.
4. In accordance with the competences given by the European Charter of Local Self Government and Kosovo law the participating municipalities shall be entitled to cooperate in exercising their powers through the Community/Association collectively. The Association/Community will have full overview of the areas of economic development, education, health, urban and rural planning.
5. The Association/Community will exercise other additional competences as may be delegated by the central authorities.
6. The Community/Association shall have a representative role to the central authorities and will have a seat in the communities’ consultative council for this purpose. In the pursuit of this role a monitoring function is envisaged.
7. There shall be one police force in Kosovo called the Kosovo Police. All police in northern Kosovo shall be integrated in the Kosovo Police framework. Salaries will be only from the KP.
8. Members of other Serbian security structures will be offered a place in equivalent Kosovo structures.
9. There shall be a Police Regional Commander for the four northern Serb majority municipalities (Northern Mitrovica, Zvecan, Zubin Potok and Leposavic). The Commander of this region shall be a Kosovo Serb nominated by the Ministry of Interior from a list provided by the four mayors on behalf of the Community/Association. The composition of the KP in the north will reflect the ethnic composition of the population of the four municipalities. (There will be another Regional Commander for the municipalities of Mitrovica South, Skenderaj and Vushtrri). The regional commander of the four northern municipalities will cooperate with other regional commanders.
10. The judicial authorities will be integrated and operate within the Kosovo legal framework. The Appellate Court in Pristina will establish a panel composed of a majority of K/S judges to deal with all Kosovo Serb majority municipalities.
11. A division of this Appellate Court, composed both by administrative staff and judges will sit permanently in northern Mitrovica (Mitrovica District Court). Each panel of the above division will be composed by a majority of K/S judges. Appropriate judges will sit dependant on the nature of the case involved.
12. Municipal elections shall be organized in the northern municipalities in 2013 with the facilitation of the OSCE in accordance with Kosovo law and international standards.
13. Discussions on Energy and Telecoms will be intensified by the two sides and completed by June 15.
14. It is agreed that neither side will block, or encourage others to block, the other side’s progress in their respective EU path.
15. An implementation committee will be established by the two sides, with the facilitation of the EU

The Greek affliction

Serbia and Kosovo have concluded their own version of an interim agreement today. Although the fate of the Greek-Macedonian Interim agreement suggests we should be cautious in our assessment of what has been achieved today, this EU-brokered rapprochement, despite its provisional character and vagueness, represents a very positive step, albeit short of full recognition.

Not for Greece though, as its ambitious agenda 2014 of a forward looking Greece in a forward looking Southeastern Europe is a faint mirage of what could have been. Instead, Greece is probably the only country that continues to follow the previous Serbian policy of non recognition of Kosovo. It is probably a symptom of a chronic affliction, of dwelling in a past forever gone. It reminds me of the Greek Communist Party's inability to realize it inhabits a world that has left Stalin's Soviet Union behind at a time that those who lived through it have long moved on.