NEVER AGAIN: ILLUSIONS AND REALITIES

mallias_Greece1by Ambassador (ret.) Alexandros  P.  Mallias

This article is based on the text of Ambassador Mallias lecture, organised by the YASAR University (Izmir), on 18 March, 2014

 

1. NEVER AGAIN?

These were the words used by our fathers in the aftermath of the bloody and catastrophic Second World War. We all wished to send a clear message: no more wars, no more inhuman treatment; no more concentration camps; no genocides and ethnic cleansing.

Mauthausen and Auschwitz as well as Kalavryta and Distomo in Greece are tragic reminders of unhuman behavior. It is impossible to forget. This was indeed the darkest page in contemporary European history. It is often said that HISTORY REPEATS ITSELF. That is true in Europe. In the aftermath of the war we stood up promising »NEVER AGAIN».

EUROPE  was trying to recover. The path to reconciliation and peace proved to be bumpy. The wound healing process was engaged. A lot of optimism. Yet, the realities were different. The victorious armies advancing to Berlin from the west and from the east had different agendas. The »cold war» was launched even before Berlin’s conquest and destruction. In terms of politics and ideologies   the »Berlin Wall» existed before its erection.

In 1988, I was posted in Vienna at the Conference on the Security and Cooperation in Europe (today’s O.S.C.E.). On May 1st 1988, some of us, NATO and EU diplomats, while in West Berlin, visited the Eastern part of the city, then capital of the German Democratic Republic. We took the metro from the Friedrichstrasse station to East Berlin. We briefly attended the   last May 1st parade organised in Karlsplatz. Then, we walked back to West Berlin through Check Point Charlie. A unique experience indeed.

On November 19, 1989, while serving at the United Nations in New York, I watched   with joy and relief the fall, the dismantlement of the Wall. The fall of the Wall led to the collapse of the Soviet Union and the secession of an important number of independendent states from Central Europe to Central Asia. That was meant to be the end of bipolarity in Europe and globally. It also   cemented the Germany’s reunification and implied the end of Europe’s division. It also accelerated the collapse of communism, at least in terms of its soviet orthodoxy.

Soon, we found out that our expectations were not well-founded. There were still many illusions; they were contradicted by the realities. Let’s be frank: Democracy’s and Peace’s dividends were distributed in an uneven way and only to some stakeholders.

2. FROM » NEVER AGAIN» TO »DEJA VU»

A year later, on November 21, 1990 ,the 34 Heads of State or Government of the Conference  on the Security and Cooperation in Europe, frequently  quoted as the Helsinki Process, signed in Paris  a supposed to be historic document labelled  as the » Charter of Paris  for a New Europe». I was the principal negotiator for Greece. Modesty was not a flower growing in the fertile grounds of diplomats and speechwriters in Paris.

Presidents George H. Bush (41), Michail Gorbatchev and Francois Mitterrand, Chancellor Helmut Kohl and the late Margaret Thatcher were there to declare   »the end of confrontation and division in Europe» or ‘that » their relations will be based on respect and cooperation». Finally, that »Europe is liberating itself from its past».

How and why? Because ,I quote » the courage of men and women, the strength of the will of the peoples and the power of the ideas… have opened a new era of democracy , peace and unity in Europe».

In fact the » NEVER AGAIN »statement was once more very present in the speeches and in the minds during the Paris Summit Meeting. Euphoria, wonderful ideas and declarations. Never in Europe’s history, so much optimism expressed by so many leaders, in so many words, was founded on so many illusions. As the Athenians told the Melians according to Thucydides »to judge from your decision, you are unique in regarding the future as more certain than the present, and in allowing your wishes to convert the unseen into reality».

Jim Hogland, in his editorial, posted on November 20 1990, with the Washington Post and the International Herald Tribune commented that»… the breaking up of the Soviet empire… and the re-emergence of fragile nation-states  with complex ethnic balances in Central Europe, pose the same problems for the continent  that confronted the Congress of Vienna and the  Versailles Conference after clear military victories by the dominant powers  at  those two meetings… In fact the ambitions of the Paris Summit Meeting involved nothing less than breaking the chain of wars, revolutions and repressions that have exploded from Europe’s cultural and political diversity with regularity».

The respected journalist was right .Our leaders and we, their diplomatic advisors, were wrong. Ignorance, lack of foresight and understanding, political realism or just political cynicism? I still have not the right answer. If I try to judge the past through the present stance and mismanagement of the international community in Syria, in Libya or in Ukraine  I could argue : Probably all together. Few months following the signing of the Paris Charter, the DEJA VU in Europe re-emerged. History repeated itself. The NEVER AGAIN promise and commitment was sidelined; forgotten indeed.

Close to Greece’s borders, in fact one hour drive from our northern border, we witnessed, with some intervals, military aggression, religious and ethnic conflicts, killing of civilians, ethnic cleansing, mass graves, burning of houses and villages, and the destruction of cities. We witnessed again in our »New  Europe», extended from the Atlantic to the Urals, the skeletic bodies, the concentration camps, rapes of bodies and conscience.

Millions of refugees and displaced persons. Serb snipers shooting against innocent civilians crossing the infamous» snipers’ alley» in the historic city of Sarajevo. Destruction of religious sites and historic monuments. Sarajevo, Zupa, Zenitsa  and Mostar, in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Malisevo, Ratcak and  Prekaj in Kosovo. Dubrovnik and Vukovar in Croatia. Do not forget Srebrenica, a stigma in our conscience.

3. ON INTEREST AND JUSTICE

The desintegration of former Yugoslavia gave birth or rebirth, depending on their case, to seven new states. Furthermore, beyond the Balkans, there is a proliferation of new states almost everywhere. I suspect that also in Middle East and North Africa   as well, the shaping or the reshaping of the political map is not over. In Europe, before the unfolding of the Ukrainian crisis and the Crimean »faits accomplis», the Russian invasion in Georgia on August 2008, was the last link in the chain.

Here we have a real problem. Where do we stand? Do we side with the INTEREST, based on national or kinship affinities or do we side with PRINCIPLES? Thucydides, in the History of the Peloponnesian War, this all classic and powerful book on politico-military analysis, leadership and strategies defines in the »Melian Dialogue» the limits of power,  justice  and interest .

Here is an extract:

ATHENIANS: You know and we know, as practical men, that the question of justice arises only between parties equal to strength, and that the strong do what they can, and the weak submit.

MELIANS: As you ignore justice  and have made self-interest the basis of discussion, we must take the same ground, and we say that in our  opinion it is in your interest to maintain a principle which is for the good of all that anyone in danger should have just and equitable  treatment and any advantage, even not strictly his due, which he can secure by persuasion.

Those, who two decades ago were advocating the END OF HISTORY, should now try to understand why there prognosis failed. The explanation is not new but is there, since Thucydides’ era.  Ideologies may collapse; political systems may collapse. Yet, self-interest based balance and equilibrium cannot bear lasting peace and security dividends. Principles and values are the mother of history.

Let me put it clear; In Crimea or elsewhere in Europe:

There is not a fine red line between good and bad » faits accomplis». There is no room for selective action or reaction, based mostly on self-interest.

Military invasions and annexation agendas simply are illegal, incompatible with the European acquis and in violation of the international law. In Crimea and elsewhere in Europe.

Invasion is the appropriate name for an invasion. An occupation is the right word for any occupation. A unlawful declaration for annexation, as the de facto anchluss of Crimea, or an internationally unlawful declaration of independance is an act violating the U.N. Charter and the Helsinki Final Act.

4. SOME REFLEXIONS FROM THE BALKANS  -THE FOUR PILLARS OF WISDOM

Let me also share with you some lessons learnt, I hope at least, from the recent, very recent indeed, balkan wars:

A) NO EARLY ENGAGEMENT: there is no standing guarantee for effective early warning, preventive action and political engagement of the International Community. The recent events in Ukraine could also support this argument.

Remember: there was not adequate commitment and engagement, proportional to the anticipated humanitarian catastrophe, to prevent or even to confine the wars during the dismantlement of former Yugoslavia.

NATO’s interventions in Bosnia and in Kosovo took place only after crimes against humanity were committed. The red line was crossed.

B). LIVING IN DEMOCRACY AND PEACE, THE PROCESS:

  • The path from   tyranny, despotism and human suffering to democracy and human dignity is not a single act. It is a PROCESS. Sometimes, a long process.
  • For sustainable success in the process of change, patience and perseverance are needed. Let me also emphasize that to be successful in the process of change, one must learn to live in peace with his fellow citizens, with his neighbours and above all with his own conscience.
  • Learning to live in democracy is also a process. It requires more time than what is expected or anticipated. Democracy cannot simply mean casting   a ballot in the elections. The hardest, the most rewarding test, is to reach an all inclusive consensus. It is about respecting the will of the people.

C) NO PERMANENT FRIENDS: There are only permanent interests. And the interests differ   and change. Both in terms of importance and urgency, in nature and in content as well.

This is the case in domestic politics, for example in shaping governmental or opposition coalitions.

This is also the case in regional politics.  At this juncture,  in some parts of the  MENA region this can be better understood.

This is also the golden rule and not the exception in global politics, in particular in power politics.

D)  THE STICKING GLUE

The reconciliation process is now engaged in the Balkans but it is not over. Yesterday’s enemies, Kosovo and Serbia, are joining forces to shape their common european membership process. Learning to live in peace is a difficult exercise.

Notwithstanding its deficits, believe me there is no better , more credible or more attractice alternative to the European Union . I am also aware of the fact that today EU’s image has serious defaults; within Europe’s boundaries as well as beyond them.

The European Union’s membership process since the Thessaloniki 2003 Summit Meeting   became a serious and attractive alternative for the Balkan states.

It is open to all those who meet the standards and the criteria; to those who respect the rules of the game.

Yet, there are leaderships who still act and behave in an anachronistic manner.

They opt to loot history, and build monuments and statues instead of bridges with their neighbours.

I prefer to believe that they are the exception.

The European membership process is the »sticking glue», a soft power incentive for democracy and reforms and for the solution of open issues and conflicts involving the candidates. Yet, I must acknowledge that this political framework, this tool and process has not always been successful.

5. SOME REFLEXIONS ON THE MENA (Middle East and North Africa)

The diplomatic orthodoxy would rather prefer to use the terms »instability, unpredictability and volatility» to define the situation in the MENA. Though, probably, the most appropriate definition is with the words crisis, drama, tragedy or even chaos.

The fundamental values   which in the past generated a genuine enthusiasm in Europe are very simple concepts. They also   have a simple name: democracy, freedom, humanism.

Europe’s policies in the larger Middle East area should reflect the right mix of justice and interest; what I could call Europe’s »smart power». On the top of the agenda, human dignity should be at the centre of policies. Anyway, what is the meaning and the value of »ΠΟΛΙΤΙΚΗ» (politics), if not the quest for human freedom and dignity?

Ill-founded political considerations and short term interests cannot be the substitute for democracy and liberty. Unfortunately, the EU membership »sticking glue» or similar process is genuinely missing in the MENA (Μiddle East North Africa). Furthermore, EU’s stance throughout the on-going turmoil in the Arab world and beyond is an indicator of absence of common and integrated foreign policy. I will also argue that there are conflicting interests among member-states.

Beyond the European Union, the division was also apparent within NATO as well as within the U.N. Security Council.  It became clear during the Libyan drama and loud and clear throughout the Syrian tragedy. The fact that the United States displayed also lack of consistency, determination and means  and some  regional players made miscalculations and displayed lack of pragmatism and foresight , taking  their wishes  as realities, betting thus on the wrong horse, does not provide comfort to me.

6. DO NOT FORGET SYRIA

Syria is almost forgotten. It is not in the news anymore. CNN and BBC moved their anchormen to Kiev and Symferopole. Yet, allow me to share with you my personal views regarding the Syrian tragedy, as I expressed them last September in Greece and in Washington.

First: Yes, the Syrian regime should have been punished. I understand that the red line crossed or not to be crossed was the use of chemical weapons.  Over 130.000 syrians dead, killed during the hostilies, is not considered as a reasonable figure and criterion to engage an internationally enforced punitive action? The answer was and still remains NO. Injustice, loss of credibility, double standards and short term political considerations are the winners. Justice, humanitarian and international law and dignity and the universal principles are the losers. A regime or a ruler in Damascus or elsewhere who does not respect its own people cannot expect to be respected by its neighbours. There is a fundamental difference between a fear-based from a freedom-based society.

Second:  Four politico-military conditions had to be met before any kind of military engagement. In Syria or elsewhere. Based, inter alia, on the »Iraqi freedom» experience:

A. a decisive in configuration and firepower force was needed to secure the effectiveness of any kind of military operation.

B. a clear political aim/target had to be fixed

C. the definition of »success» should be clear(ed) in advance.

D. the political »exit strategy» definitely secured, to avoid premature »mission accomplished» celebrations.

The »Day After» should have been the outcome of meticulous orchestration and not a wishful- thinking based political option. In other words, we should have secured the endgame and the outcome. Today, we have not secured neither the process , the so-called » political solution» nor the endgame.

7. MACRO POLICY

In macro -policy terms, I believe that:

The era of the familiar to most international leaders Baath- style dictatorships or anti-Baath absolutist monarchies, without constitutional checks and balances, will come to an end. Equally, the model of undemocratic and centralised goverments is under scrutiny or change. At least in the constitutional format we knew so far.

Each country in the MENA region has its own specifics and characteristics. There is not a generally applicable solution. Nevertheless, there are some general axioms applicable all over the world. They are enshrined in the UN Charter and in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  In Europe, there is also the »acquis Communautaire» and the jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights.

8. THE »ETHOS» OF KNOWLEDGE

Heraclitus said that » many fail to grasp what they have seen, and cannot judge what they have learned although they tell themselves they know». It is precisely, what generally happens with politicians and diplomats.

Heraclitus went on his thought explaining that »the habit (ethos) of knowledge is not human but divine». I am inclined to concur with him. With one minor adjustment: today, the »ethos» is not only absent from the human knowledge; it is increasingly absent from domestic and international politics.

Most of the words used during the on-going »Four Seasons» in Middle East and North Africa, from Tahrir Square to the roads leading to Damascus, such as chaos, crisis, tragedy, tyranny, anomaly and drama are of Greek origin. It is up to us to replace them by others such democracy, political ethos, metron, syphony , synergy, pragmatism and dialogue. They also sound Greek.

During Athens golden era, the Athenians used to say »ΣΥΝΑΘΗΝΑΚΑΙΧΕΙΡΑΚΙΝΕΙ», meaning »do not expect everything from goddess Athena; use also your own hands». In our troubled world and in particular in our region we should remember that  notwithstanding Heraclitus or Athena, the present course of events and the future of our children and grand-children depends mainly   from our decisions and acts ; good or bad. This is something that Greeks and Turks should not forget.-

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