Accessibility links

East European Perspectives: November 17, 1999

17 November 1999, Volume 1, Number 2

After The War

By George Schopflin

IN THIS ISSUE: George Schopflin looks at Kosova and beyond after the war. And Michael Shafir continues his introspection of radical politics in East-Central Europe.

The war in Southeastern Europe raised some profoundly difficult questions about the relationship between democracy and violence. Crucially, the bombing of Serbia demanded an answer to the problem of a "just" war. Can one legitimate destruction in the name of human rights? How is the relationship between democratic and non-democratic states to be regulated? And can public opinion in a democratic state tolerate a government that pursues the destruction of an authoritarian country? These are old-new questions, but they were posed in an acute form while the NATO campaign continued without any clear end to the bombing. This conflict, the fourth war of Yugoslav succession, might well assume a historic significance that in some ways was second only to the fall of communism.

The political problem with the NATO bombing was that the war aims were vague and unclear. Certainly, such aims have to be wider and deeper than morality, although the states involved must have a sense of their own rightfulness. Without it, the self-legitimation of the belligerents will be eroded; they will be less and less willing to fight on. Towards the end of the bombing, in late May, there were signs that this was happening in Europe outside the Anglo-Saxon world, as unease spread and was expressed in demonstrations.

It was, in fact, always possible to formulate war aims that would satisfy these requirements, although neither NATO nor its member states seemed to be doing so. In effect, this could have been the proposition that the simultaneous stabilization of Southeastern Europe, the promotion of democracy, and the protection of human rights made it necessary for the alliance to pursue the painful road that it took. The costs of instability and of non-intervention to the West's self-image and self-esteem could well have been higher than military action. After all, non-intervention in Bosnia-Herzegovina exacted a very high price in both moral and material terms.

The war impacted on Europe in a variety of unexpected and unpredicted ways. It showed the highly costly relationship with non-democracies in the immediate geographical vicinity of democracy and carried the implication that democracies have an interest in extending democratic norms. This interest can be measured both in the values of democracy--government by consent--and in concrete terms. Undemocratic systems like Serbia's generate internal violence, criminality, refugees, and have an impact on democracies through the encouragement of non-democratic forces at home and abroad.

It can never be demonstrated to extreme skeptics and isolationists, but right-extremist movements in the West certainly took heart from the ethnic cleansing practiced in Bosnia in the first half of the 1990s and believed that it could be imitated. An authoritarian state creates forms of opposition internally and that opposition will break the law that it does not recognize as legitimate. It will engage in counter-violence and will use the flexible conditions of democracy in the West to pursue its ends. There is irrefutable evidence that in the last few years the illegality in Yugoslavia has spread well beyond its borders, in smuggling, the arms trade, drug trafficking, money-laundering, and the assassination of opponents. All this sets a bad example throughout Europe.

So-called "realistic" analyses, which prefer to define interests in quantifiable terms, offer no answer to these dilemmas because they do not understand them or prefer to ignore the connected nature of today's world. Yet if the analysis of politics is to be effective, then the intangible, atmospheric aspects of power have to find a place in one's strategic calculations; as must the cost of inaction.

The key feature of war is that its outcomes, not least its political outcomes, are always different from what people expect. There will always be unintended consequences. The war against Yugoslavia was no different. Once the initial strategy of dropping bombs that Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic could use as a pretext for accepting the Rambouillet agreement had failed, NATO was left naked and found itself bombing without any definite sense of what it was seeking to achieve. The longer the fighting continued, the more evident it was that the post-war settlement would be radically different from the status quo ante.

A de facto Western strategy--to give it a more upbeat name than it deserves--had evolved by mid-June after the end of the bombing and this was the isolation of Serbia and the reconstruction of Kosova. In effect, the West suffered a political defeat by having been unable to topple Milosevic--indictment as a war criminal at The Hague did not affect his domestic position in any serious way. But there were also clear indications that some currents in the West were growing impatient with the situation in Serbia and at the failure of any opposition to emerge that might have a realistic chance of removing him from power. In many ways, by accepting Milosevic's cease-fire terms--the evacuation of Kosova--the West also accepted his survival in power, at any rate in the short term. The longer Milosevic hangs on, the more Serbia will be isolated, but equally the West has been left as a helpless onlooker.

Yet it would be unthinkable for him to remain in power after so much destruction and it is hard to see how the West could negotiate with him given that he has systematically deceived the West for the better part of a decade--from the war against Croatia in 1991 onwards. Besides, if the human-rights element in NATO's putative war aims has any meaning, then Milosevic has to be seen as a war criminal.

War radicalizes societies. Both Serbian and Albanian societies have undergone considerable radicalization, not just with the bombing, but well before. Take the Serbian experience. The impact of the UN embargo and the consolidation of the Milosevic system resulted in the pauperization of nine-tenths of Serbian society; the remaining 10 percent or so grew very wealthy indeed. This created a kind of enforced egalitarianism for the great majority and resentment of the rest. Then, survival strategies required the population to ignore formal rules and to live by various types of informality, including illegality, though that concept has little meaning in a system with no rule of law. There has been a habituation to violence, a strengthening of distrust and a powerful imperative to see everything in ethnic terms.

The war itself has brought not only material destruction, but also an enduring sense of having been wronged and humiliated. The absence of clear defeat, clear enough to serve as the basis for a complete restructuring of values, is likely to breed resentment. The Serbs have a well-defined corpus of myths of victimhood and compensation--the Kosova myth, which is one of the underlying motors of the Serbian-Albanian relationship, is central in this connection.

The Albanian society of Kosova has endured at least a decade of oppression, harassment, foreign occupation, police and military presence and, crucially, a memory of having enjoyed a fairly high level of internal autonomy prior to Milosevic's suppression of Albanian institutions. The loss of these institutions and of the sense of having been in control of one's own affairs have been very effective in sustaining Kosovar Albanian resistance. The Kosova Liberation Army (UCK) showed every indication of seeking to establish itself as the new ruler of Kosova and, conceivably, to have a good deal of legitimacy on its side. Certainly, the moderate option represented by Ibrahim Rugova, having been ignored at a time when it might have been influential, is now politically moribund. In Albanian eyes, violence is seen as having paid off. This lesson has not been lost elsewhere.

To these may be added the events of the last few years--the intensification of the fighting after the rise of the UCK, Serbian counter-measures, random killings, arrests, pillaging and the like, followed by the bombing, then the ethnic cleansing, which has involved the destruction of all personal documentation and property by the Serbs, including property registers, then the chaos of the refugee camps and the return. All of these processes point towards the fragmentation of organized life and the reliance on the ties of family and ethnicity instead.

All the above have implications for the reconstruction that the West will have to undertake. Economic instruments will not be enough. There is a widespread misconception that money can solve problems without corresponding political and cultural infrastructure. Talk of a new Southeast European "Marshall Plan" fuels this misconception, because it tends to understate the difficulty. Giving money is easy; rebuilding institutions and cultures is not. Yet without a properly run state machine that provides for the accountability, transparency and predictability of power, the outcome will be more fragmentation and insecurity.

These institutions will have weak roots in the local soil. The cultural capital of Kosovar Albanians, and for that matter of the Serbs, points away from trusting the impersonal institutions that modernity needs. There is a strong preference for an informal, personalized exercise of power. Hence the neutral state needed to uphold the rule of law will have to be sustained by the West. That means a very long-term commitment, maybe three generations, if the reconstruction is to work. This also implies that the reconstruction of Kosova will be impeded without corresponding processes in Serbia, and these will not even begin as long as Milosevic is there.

That, in turn, requires the West to have a very clear strategic assessment of what it wants in Southeastern Europe. This has to involve an externally imposed reconstruction of two state entities that must be reintegrated into Europe and demands a thorough rearrangement of their present values and attitudes. Without this, Southeastern Europe is likely to remain a zone of friction, instability, violence and criminality, all of which will impact on the region and on Europe as a whole.

In practical terms, it is clear that in the future Serbia will be smaller than pre-war Yugoslavia, let alone pre-1991 Yugoslavia. What is far clearer is that come what may, Kosova will certainly be detached from Serbia. This is not merely because it is inconceivable that the Kosovar Albanians will ever again consent to live under Serbian rule, but because anything less would be an enormous loss of prestige for the West.

Independent Kosova may not actually be called that in the first instance, but de facto it will operate as an independent political unit. This raises many problems of its own. Post-war Kosova is more of a destroyed entity than post-war Serbia. Existing ties have been devastated, solidarities ruptured, and the population has been brutalized not just by the fighting, but by the humiliation they lived with over the last decade and more. Kosova is in a state of chaos. It will have to be rebuilt in a way for which there are few historical precedents. And the only agency that can do this is the West.

A permanent Western presence is needed for other reasons. Without strict Western supervision, post-war Kosova has every chance at becoming a bandit state, where violence and not the law will rule. It will be unstable and aggressive.

In the reconstruction a special role will be played by Macedonia, as the only area where a measure of organized Albanian life exists. Hence, the West has a major interest in ensuring the integrity of Macedonia, which means giving guarantees to the Slavophone majority, who nearly became a minority during the time when large numbers of ethnic Albanian refugees fled there to escape Serbian oppression.

One of the great fallacies of ethnic cleansers is that the expulsion of an ethnically alien population somehow stabilizes the situation. Nothing could be further from the truth. Precedents show over and over again that expelled populations retain their identities and, indeed, have a stronger sense of collective self precisely because they have undergone their calvary. The roll-call is endless--Crimean Tatars, Chechens, Sudeten Germans, Italians from Yugoslavia, all victims of the Second World War--retain their separate identities and do so because of their appalling collective experience.

This is bad news for the Serbs, because geography cannot be undone and they will have to live with their Kosovar neighbors. Furthermore, in the medium term, semi-independent Kosova will look hard at its relations with other Albanian-inhabited territories, Albania itself and Macedonia. The idea of Greater Albania has come distinctly closer to realization than ever before and that has implications for the power balance throughout the Balkans. Bulgaria, Greece, Montenegro, even Turkey, will have to reassess their power positions.

However, Greater Albania is most unlikely to be anything more than a loose conglomerate of political units. It will certainly not become the local power center that its opponents fear. The Albanians of Albania, Kosova, and Macedonia have very different values, expectations, and cultural capital, and their ethnic solidarity is certainly not sufficient to form the basis of a united state. Not least, there is more than a bit of tension between the Albanians of Kosova and those of Albania itself; the former regard themselves as more than a cut above the latter. And though there have been numerous reports of their poor treatment by the Albanians of Albania, there was little evidence of ethnic solidarity.

Then, it should be noted, that the Albanians are not the only non-Serbian ethnic community in Serbia. There are around 300,000 Hungarians in Vojvodina and over 100,000 (Serbian-speaking) Muslims in the Sandzak, among several others. Can Serbia be trusted to give these peoples adequate civic and ethnic rights? Many would doubt this, particularly after a war. Voices were raised in Hungary in favor of an autonomous, possibly independent Vojvodina, though the great majority of Hungarian opinion will have nothing to do with any thought of annexing it.

Eventually, Montenegro could just opt for the independence that it had before 1918, and there will be those in the West who will push the Montenegrins in that direction. On the other hand, the population of Montenegro is very deeply divided about whether or not to stay with Serbia. If the post-war Serbian state comes to be reconstructed along the lines suggested, with firm Western backing for a neutral, accountable state, then Montenegro may prefer to maintain the union with Serbia, which then at least allows Serbian opinion a degree of face-saving.

There has already been a good deal of collateral damage. The war has been a strong symbolic reminder to Russia of its own semi-irrelevance and to the rest of the world that the U.S. is prepared to use very high levels of force in some cases of human rights violations. The war is also a message to Europe of its military powerlessness. Understandably, there are voices, like those of European Commission President Romano Prodi, discussing the creation of a European army, an idea that is met with great hostility in Britain, but has its attractions elsewhere in Europe.

In some ethnically divided states, the war has split these societies along ethnic lines, raising the prospect of more ethnic friction. Thus Estonians and Latvians are generally pro-NATO, while local Russians support Russia and Serbia. In the minds of many Estonians and Latvians this raises serious questions about the loyalty of their Russian communities (circa 35 percent in Estonia and about 45 percent in Latvia) and how they would respond if these states were to be threatened by Russia itself. In Romania, the ethnic Romanian majority sympathizes with Serbia, though the government is supportive of NATO; ethnic Hungarians are far more pro-NATO than the Romanians.

Then, the bombing has demonstrated a general fear and dislike of war in Europe, which could certainly find expression in a renewed wave of anti-American neutralism. The pacifist, neutralist strand of the Western left, which was prominent in the 1970s and 1980s, has discovered a new voice in Italy, Spain, Greece, and maybe Germany. This augurs ill for future unity within NATO and Britain's hard-line support for the U.S. won it few friends on the "Continent."

Can it be done? Can Serbia and Kosova be rebuilt in the cultural as well as the physical sense? Ultimately, the two tasks have to be done in tandem, though separately. Indeed, separation of the two communities is a necessary condition for the success of the rebuilding. There should be no illusions about imposing inappropriate Western multiculturalism on these deeply antagonistic ethnic groups. The attempt to do it in Bosnia is a manifest failure.

The West must be very clear-headed about what it is attempting. In effect, it would be embarking on the creation of non-consensual states. The experience of the 20th century is that these can be converted into consensual states, but only if the external environment is absolutely firm on the project and if a great deal of time is allowed to pass. Both Austria and Hungary started out as non-consensual states in 1918. Austria wanted to unite with Germany and Hungary was profoundly traumatized by the loss of around 3 million ethnic Hungarians to the successor states (Serbia among them). These are no longer issues in either country. But there are also negative cases, like Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia itself, not to mention the Soviet Union, all of which fell apart on the issue of non-consent.

The lesson of these precedents is that projects of this kind must as far as possible go with the grain of cultural expectations and not against them. Cultures can be changed, but this takes a long time, meaning that the rebuilding cannot be hurried. The reconstruction must offer incentives to at least a part of the population if it is to work and those incentives have to be within the community's cultural norms. And the West must recognize its own interest in being involved. The world is too interconnected for any other option.

George Schopflin is the Jean Monnet Professor of Political Science and director of the Centre for the Study of Nationalism at the School of Slavonic and East European Studies, University of London.

PART II: Taxing Taxonomies or "Why Radical?"
By Michael Shafir

The first part of this study has, it is hoped, demonstrated that the legacy of national communism heavily impacts the choice of post-communist political elites belonging to the successor parties when they are faced with having to opt between the "civic" and the "ethnic" alternatives. It has also showed that radical politics in those countries are, by and large, either a matter of continuity from national communism, or one of opting for the non-communist and anti-communist values of democracy's "discontents" of the interwar period. And it has been argued that one has to make a distinction between the "traditional," conservative right and the "revolutionary" right, regardless of whether the latter is to be traced back to national communism (radical continuity) or to the anti-democratic legacy of the more remote past (radical return). Part II, the shortest of the study, discusses the reasons for my preference of the term "radical."

I borrow the "Taxing Taxonomies" part of the above subtitle from Roger Griffin (1999, p. 305), who, in his kind remarks to my contribution to the volume edited by Sabrina Ramet (Shafir, 1999) observed that Vladimir Zhirinovsky's Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) would fit both my category of "radical continuity" and that of "radical return." Indeed it does so, but then is it only taxonomies than Zhirinovsky defies? On a more serious note, I would argue that in light of the above discussion it is imminent that some formations would fall between the chairs, since the radical continuity category often employs radical return jargon. It would be in the eyes of the beholder to place such formations into one category or the other. My initial inclination has been to do neither, since the circus is not what this study focuses on. Time will tell whether Zhirinovsky is the clown I (along with others) believe he is, or a dangerous species for which we will have to create a separate taxonomic category. On second thought, however, I agree that the "Zhirinovsky phenomenon" is too important to be left out just because it would not fit my taxonomy. It shall consequently be dealt with in extenso, showing both what it shares with radical continuity and/or return and where it stands apart from them both.

That my taxonomy is perfectible, I would not dispute. Let me guide the reader into questioning it without, I hope, taking a ride ("taxing") on his or her patience. The preference for "radical" rather than "neo-fascist," "neo-Nazi," and so on, stems from two reasons which are complementary. As Stanley G. Payne points out, the terminology entered Germany in the 1950s from American social science usage. It brought under the same conceptual umbrella all forces of "authoritarian nationalism," due to the persuasion that regardless of whether one dealt with, say, the fascist Iron Wolf, the "Radical Rightist" ultranationalist Tautininkai party or the leader of the 1926 military coup Antanas Smetona, all three have contributed to undermine Lithuanian pluralism. Similarly, the fascist Polish Falanga, the Nazi-influenced Camp of National Radicalism, and the 1926-35 Josef Pilsudski regime in Poland, each in its own way, were geared at a similar anti-democratic goal (Payne, 1995, pp. 15 and 497). With the defeat of Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy, that part of the political spectrum had to adjust itself to be able to compete electorally in a setting in which democratic credentials were a sine qua non. For lack of a better designation for these closet fascists and other authoritarian ultranationalists, the term "radical right" gained ground.

There is, however, a second reason for preferring it, which is an attempt on my part to avoid the endless disputes concerning what is (was) fascism and how it should be defined. As Griffin aptly puts it, "Students and academic specialists alike...find that they have strayed into a conceptual labyrinth whenever their research intersects with fascist studies. Scores of self-appointed Ariadnes dangle threads temptingly in front of their faces showing them the way out, but each route leads to a different exit, or, as often as not, to another point in the maze" (Griffin, 1994, p. 5).

"Right wing extremism" as a substitute fares no better. Cas Mudde has found in the literature no less than 26 definitions of it, listing no less than 58 different features as inherent to the phenomenon (Mudde, 1996, p. 229). One can sympathize with Klaus von Beyme, whom Mudde cites as desperately saying about the radical parties "we know who they are, even though we do not know exactly what they are" (Mudde, 1996, p. 233). That "solution" would only leave the so-called "elephant option." That option, as Griffin puts it, is "I can't describe an elephant, but I know one when I see it." But, he adds, this recalls an ancient parable having an elephant brought to a remote Indian village where all inhabitants are blind. "When the local sages are invited to examine it, each one creates a completely false picture by imagining the whole animal from the part they happened to have grasped initially (a tusk, a foot, an ear). As a result each theory cannot be reconciled with any other" (Griffin, 1994, p. 8).

Perhaps the best argument in favor of using "radicalism" is the--at first sight humoresque--distinction made by the German Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution cited by Mudde. "What we characterize as 'extremist' today, used to be characterized as 'radical.' Nowadays, attempts that are characterized as 'radical,' are those aimed at one-sided solutions that go 'to the root' of certain problems, without (yet) aiming at the full or partial elimination of the free democratic order" (Mudde, 1996, p. 231). For the German parties that linger between "radicalism" and "extremism," the distinction is, as Mudde points out, important. A "radical" formation can, at worst, be declared as "verfassungsfeindlich" (in opposition to the principles of the constitution), whereas "extremist" formations may be outlawed on grounds of being "verfassungswidrig" (unconstitutional). That distinction is above all juridical. To employ it operatively in political analysis one would have to opt for a narrow, "procedural" view of politics, which Mudde seems to prefer to the "substantive" notion of democracy (Mudde, 1995, pp. 214-16). This approach is definitely not the one close to the heart, and even less so to the "politological mind," of the author of these lines. There is nothing more important in the citation brought by Mudde than what lies in brackets. The potential threat to democracy cannot be punished in court, but it takes an optimist (whom dictionaries fail to define as a fool) to ignore it. I opt for focusing on "radicalism" precisely because the threat to democracy can come from left ("radical continuity") as well as from right ("radical return").

Before proceeding to some "case study" applications of the taxonomy, let us briefly generalize on the main features of the radical return category, while at the same time point out where the distinction between this category and that of radical return becomes blurred. In so doing, I am assuming that the reader is familiar with the legacy of interwar radical right thought and practice, but will insist on those aspects that reflect most clearly the unbroken succession. I start with the radical return category, since the relevance of the national communist legacy for the radical continuity category has been extensively dealt with.

Like its interwar predecessors, parties or movements advocating a radical return to those values are ultranationalist. Ultranationalism is central to both Stanley Payne and Roger Griffin's definitions of fascism. For Payne, fascism is "a form of revolutionary ultra-nationalism for national rebirth that is based on a primarily vitalist philosophy, is structured on extreme elitism, mass mobilization, and the Fuehrerprinzip, positively values violence as an end as well as a means, and tends to normalize war and/or military virtues" (1995, p. 14). Griffin provides a "minimal" and an "extended" definition of fascism. In the minimal version "Fascism is a genus of political ideology whose mythic core in its various permutations is a palingenetic form of populist ultra-nationalism" (1994, p. 26). The seldom-encountered "palingenetic" is "expressing the myth of rebirth, regeneration." In the political context, it embodies "the aspiration to create a new order following a period of perceived decline or decadence" (1994, pp. 32-36, 240). The extended definition (1994, p. 44) adds that the "fascist mentality is characterized by the same sense of living through an imminent turning-point in contemporary history, when the dominance of the allegedly bankrupt or degenerate forces of conservatism, individualistic liberalism and materialist socialism is finally to give way to a new era in which vitalistic nationalism will triumph." Furthermore, to "combat these rival political ideologies and the decadence they allegedly host (for example the parasitism of traditional elites, materialism, class conflict, military weakness, loss of racial vitality, moral anarchy, cosmopolitanism), fascist activists see the recourse to organized violence, as both necessary and healthy." They "may make some concessions to parliamentary democracy in order to gain power," but "the pluralism of opinion and party politics upon which it rests is anathema to their concept of national unity, which implies in practice the maximum totalitarian control over all areas of social, economic, political and cultural life."


Griffin, R., 1994, The Nature of Fascism (London: Routledge).

Griffin, R., 1999, "Afterword: Last Rights?," in Ramet, S. (ed.), pp. 297-321.

Mudde, C., 1995, "Right Wing Extremism Analyzed," in European Journal of Political Research, Vol. 27, pp. 203-24.

Mudde, C., 1996, "The War of Words Defining the Extreme Right Party Family," in West European Politics, Vol. 19, No. 2 (April), pp. 225-48.

Payne, S. G., 1995, A History of Fascism 1914-1945 (Madison: The University of Wisconsin Press).

Ramet, S. (ed.), 1999, The Radical Right in Central and Eastern Europe Since 1989 (University Park: The Pennsylvania State University Press).

Shafir, M., 1999, "The Mind of Romania's Radical Right," in Ramet, S. (ed.), 1999, pp. 213-32.