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Fencing off the east: how the refugee crisis is dividing the European Union

By Jan Culik
The Conversation

Having finished construction of a razor-wire fence along its border with Serbia, Hungary now plans to extend it to Romania. Tampering with the fence is punishable with prison or deportation.

These are its latest moves in a stand-off between the thousands of migrants trying to reach Europe through Hungarian territory.

Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán has said that this is a “German problem”, not a “European problem”, while leaders in western Europe talk about a shared responsibility.

Two very different responses to the crisis are emerging on each side of Europe. The west might be failing to handle the crisis well but the east is simply rejecting any role in it. Resentment is building on both sides and is threatening European unity.

United in defiance

The leaders of the four so-called Visegrad countries – the Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary and Slovakia – met in Prague in the first week of September to discuss the refugee crisis. There, they agreed to emphatically reject Angela Merkel’s call for a more even distribution of refugees and immigrants across the European Union.

Czech prime minister Bohuslav Sobotka and his Slovak counterpart Robert Fico took the message to Austrian chancellor Werner Faymann a few days later at a meeting in Bratislava. Fico went further than Sobotka, saying that Slovakia would only accept refugees who would be willing to integrate fully into Slovak society. And since there are few such people, he suggested, there is no point in introducing compulsory quotas.

This is an argument often repeated by central European politicians. Never mind that it is somewhat hypocritical, given that most of the refugees have already sensed the hostility towards them in these countries and are not seeking to stay.

Two Europes

For years, the post-communist countries of central and eastern Europe were left to their own devices. Western Europe took not even the slightest notice of what was actually going on in the region – culturally or politically. This was true even after the Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovakia joined the EU in 2004.

Now, as this continent-wide crisis deepens, people are beginning to realise (with some surprise) that the post-communist societies of central and eastern Europe have been developing differently to the west. It is starting to look like the presumed unity of values of the 28 countries of the European Union may have been a mirage.

The difference can even be seen in the way religious leaders approach the refugee crisis. While the pope urges Christian parishes to house a refugee each, Hungarian catholic bishopLaszlo Kiss-Rigo, disagrees: “They’re not refugees,” he recently said. “This is an invasion. They come here with cries of ‘Allahu Akbar’. They want to take over.”

Prague catholic cardinal Dominik Duka, spoke in similarly hostile language in a recent radio interview when he said that “the right to life and security of Czech families and citizens are superior to all other rights” and warned against allowing enemies to cross national borders.

While hostility towards refugees is considerable throughout the countries of the European Union, polling suggests Czechs, Slovaks and Hungarians and some of the Baltic countries are the most hostile towards foreigners – wherever they come from. Perhaps the fact that these countries are relatively small, and feel therefore that their culture would be overwhelmed by an influx of foreigners, plays a part in this – although the relative openness towards foreigners in small countries such as Croatia and Ireland might undermine this view.

Racism of course exists in western Europe, but the strength of feeling in this region, among politicians as well as the general public, has caused alarm. Western Europeans are disgusted by how refugees are being treated in the east, which is even beginning to cause diplomatic tension.

“Their semantics are changing,” a Czech diplomat in Brussels recently told a Czech news agency. “They no longer talk about us here as the new EU members, they now refer to us as ‘eastern Europe’.” According to this diplomat, a Belgian delegate at one European meeting even refused to say “hello” to the Czechs.

Meanwhile, people in the east complain that the west simply doesn’t understand what is happening on their borders. As has been noted, the European Union was presented to these countries as an opportunity, rather than an obligation. Now they find they are expected to share in the biggest burden the union has ever had to take on.

“Eastern Europeans believe that they are the ones to be helped, that this was part of the promise of unification,” Bulgarian political scientist Ivan Krastev recently wrote in the New York Times. “Being poorer than western Europeans, they point out, how can anyone expect solidarity from us? We were promised tourists, not refugees.”

This crisis has raised a lot of questions about what it means to be European, nowhere more so than in the east of the continent. Fissures are appearing under the strain and if common cultural ground can’t be found soon, this could signal an end to the union.

Editor’s note: Jan Culik is a senior lecturer in Czech Studies, University of Glasgow. This article originally appeared on TheConversation.com and is reprinted here with permission. All views expressed here are solely those of the author.

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Bosnia, Serbia Pledge to Mend Ties, Lure Investors

By Maja Zuvela

2010-04-24T172727Z_1899635507_GM1E64P023V01_RTRMADP_3_BOSNIA

A Bosnian Muslim woman stands next to graves during a funeral in Vlasenica, in the Serb part of Bosnia, April 24, 2010. The remains of 34 Bosnian Muslims, killed by Serb forces during the country’s 1992-95 war, were exhumed from the Ogradice i Pelemis mass graves near Vlasenica and buried.

REUTERS/Dado Ruvic

SARAJEVO (Reuters) – Bosnia and Serbia have agreed to make a fresh start in their relationship, soured over the past few years, and reassure investors concerned about regional stability, the Bosnian presidency chairman said on Sunday.

“We have to change the image of the Western Balkan region,” Haris Silajdzic said on his return from an Istanbul summit between the presidents of the two former Yugoslav republics and their host, Turkish President Abdullah Gul on Saturday.

Relations between Bosnia and Serbia have worsened since 2006, mainly because of Serbia’s arrest and trial of a Bosnian official for war crimes committed during the 1992-95 war, and other similar arrest warrants.

As part of its policy to heal relations between countries in the region, Turkey has intensified efforts to improve ties between the two Balkan neighbors.

While the three foreign ministers have met several times over the past six months, the Istanbul summit brought together their presidents for the first time.

“We have had different opinions about some issues but the meeting with Serbia’s President Boris Tadic was constructive… I believe it will yield good results,” said Silajdzic.

“Badly needed investments will come only if there is security and stability.”

Bosnia and Serbia signed a declaration pledging to settle the dispute over unresolved borders, property and debt, and discuss a joint approach toward international markets at a planned meeting in Belgrade.

Until now, Silajdzic, a Muslim member of Bosnia’s tripartite rotating presidency, has ignored invitations to visit Belgrade.

He said the Serbian parliament’s March resolution, apologizing for the 1995 Srebrenica massacre in which Bosnian Serb forces killed 8,000 Muslim men and boys, has paved the way for such a visit.

“I am ready to go there now,” Silajdzic said, adding that the Serbian pro-Western president has also promised to attend the 15th anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre, seen as Europe’s worst atrocity since World War Two.

Tadic had said pre-occupation with war topics was counter-productive for the two countries which both aspired to join the European Union.

Bosnia’s presidency Serb member Nebojsa Radmanovic reacted angrily to Silajdzic’s meeting with Tadic, saying he did not have the consent of the other two presidency members to sign the Istanbul declaration and that he may dispute it.

“That is not in line with the constitution,” Radmanovic told reporters in Banja Luka, the capital of the Serb Republic which, with the Muslim-Croat federation, makes up Bosnia. Silajdzic said he had informed the presidency about his plans.

Endless ethnic and political quarrels in the past three years have led Bosnia to a state of permanent political crisis, stalling any hope of joining the EU and NATO.

(Additional reporting by Olja Stanic in Banja Luka; Editing by Daria Sito-Sucic and Louise Ireland)

12-18

Two Years After: the Independence of Kosovo

By Geoffrey Cook, MMNS

San Francisco–Your reporter has held up writing the particulars of this speech by the current President of Kosovo for a month and a half to wait for that democracy’s second anniversary of their independence from Serbia (on February 17th) of the largely (ethnically Albanian) and (religiously) Islamic nation in the Southern Balkan Range of the Southeast Europe).

About two to three years ago, personalities from that greater area were making themselves available to American opinion makers quite regularly – including journalists, but after the freedom of Pristina (the Kosovar capital), interest waned in North America.  Yet, his Excellency, the President, (Doctor) Fatmir Sejidu spoke here on the Pacific Coast of the United States of America during January.

The Delaware-sized Republic of Kosovo is (politically) considered the world’s latest nation.  Currently, sixty-four countries have recognized the Republika Kosovo (Kosoves) as sovereign including Washington, NATO (the North Atlantic Treaty Organization) and the European Union (EU) plus the continued fiscal support of the IMF (International Monetary Fund) and the World Bank.  Despite the dire warnings of twenty-four months ago, Kosovo has become a stable political entity over the past two years.

American citizens failed to recognize the complexity of the struggle partially because of the failure of U.S. media outlets to explain the historical roots of the conflict: 

In the Seventh Century, the ancestors of the modern (now Orthodox) Serbs (Kososki) immigrated into the region, but were to be replaced by a branch of the Albanians, the Kosovars (now 88% of the population) who were eventually subsumed into the Medieval Serbian Empire, but were later incorporated into the Ottoman (Turk) State as a result of the Battle of Kosovo fought in 1389.  The modern history of the Kosovans began after the First Balkan War (1912) which was fought just before the First World War.  At first it was part of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia founded in 1922; then, the Federal People’s Republic of Yugoslavia as a result of the Second World War (established in 1946).  The great tragedy of the federation of Yugoslavia was that the former State Executive, General Tito, did not build the political basis for the union of States after his presence; so, this country degenerated into its constituent warring factions.  Under the Former Yugoslavia, the Kosovar’s territory was an autonomous Province within Serbia itself, but its self-government was revoked by Belgrade in 1989.  On February 17th of 2008, Pristina declared itself independent.

Although it is the 168th largest country the world in land mass (10,887 sq. km.), it is miniscule in compassion even to most U.S. States.   The Kosovars border three countries that block its access to the sea, and is poor in natural resources.  The demographic ratios show promise for the future, though, (highly tilting towards people in their mid-20s).    The majority of the citizenry are Albanian Muslims with the (Christian) Orthodox weighing in at fewer than 10% with six negligible minorities over three Muslim and Christian groups.

The host of this program of the World Affairs Council of Northern California and the Commonwealth Club of California that had invited Sejdiu to San Francisco, surprisingly, stressed that there were “Many strong views on Dr. Sejdiu’s subject.  Threateningly, the host stated that “Disrupters will be ejected and cited!  Join me in deference to a head of State!”

Fatmir stated on this the second anniversary of the success of our struggle to join the community of nations; we should remember our horrific (epic) battle with (our neighbors,) the Serbs.  It was a conflict for the indigenous Kosovars to reclaim their birthright (terrain) from ethnic cleansing.  He claimed it was the first incidence of a foreign intervention for human rights.  (Your author disputes this, but the interventions by the West against the reactionary and repressive forces in the Former Yugoslavia were one of the more noble ventures in the latter part of the Twentieth Century.)

Sedjiu asserted we could not succeed through negotiations alone with Serbia.  Thus, the international community of peoples supervised the talks.  We now have military co-operation with your country (the U.S.A.) as well as cordial relations with our neighbors.  A state of peace presently exists!

We are having good economic growth despite previous predictions.  Doing what heads of States often do, he “made a pitch” for the Republic’s financial prospects:  We have minerals (unfortunately not strategic ones), and the basis for energy (again, unfortunately, it is coal which adds to Global warming).  Our most valuable asset is our well-educated youth (who are leaving Kosoves in droves because of the lack of opportunity in their native land).

A severe strain upon the commonweal is the fact that the Serbians were stole well-earned pensions from the Kosovans before they left.  The new Administration in the Capital, Pristina had to “pick up the pieces,” and had to devote much needed legal tender to maintain the hard-earned social safety net of the workers!

Concluding the Doctor-President stated “Kosovo is…committed to a peaceful society…Kosovo is committed to integration with Europe,” and friendship with the United States!

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