Archive for category South Caucasus
The Swedish EU presidency, which starts on 1 July 2009, is getting a lot of advice on what to do during its presidency. But here is one idea more idea for the Swedish EU presidency (contained in our recent ECFR report on the Eastern neighbourhood). The Swedish Presidency should convene a “listening tour” of the Eastern neighbourhood – a Troika visit by the Swedish foreign minister, Javier Solana, the Commissioner for External Relations, and the future Spanish EU presidency to each of the six Eastern neighbours of the EU: Belarus, Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Russia). Here is why such a tour is needed and why the Swedish presidency is the best actor to initiate it.
To begin with, the Eastern Partnership summit in Prague, judged by its attendance list, was a near-failure. If the objective of the Eastern partnership was to relaunch the neighbourhood policy and raise its political profile, its start was not impressive. The Swedish presidency-led “listening tour” would help relaunch politically the neighbourhood policy in the East. It would repair some of the political damage done by the unimpressive Eastern partnership summit in May 2009. But the purpose of such a tour should not only be symbolic. Read the rest of this entry »
As promissed, more impressions from my recent trip to Sukhumi. In Abkhazia, the economic imperative of rebuilding the region and attracting investments (predominantly Russian) clashes with its political project of staying more or less independent. Abkhazia might face the following paradox: until August 2008 Abkhazia was de facto independent but unrecognised; now it is recognised (by Russia and Nicaragua only), but not de facto independent anymore. The closure of the UNOMIG mission (anounced today) will also leave Abkhazia more internationally isolated than ever before.
Compared to my previous visit there in March 2006, now Sukhumi was livelier. There are more renovated buildings, more expensive cars, more people on the promenade by the sea, and the cafés are fuller. This is both a sign of some economic progress, but also the fact that summer is always livelier than the rest of the year (because of the tourists).
In the hotel I stayed (Ritsa) – very central and right by the sea – there were three wi-fi networks in the range of my laptop. The local GSM operator “Aquaphone” boasts with its 3G network. On one of the formerly abandoned piers in Sukhumi – a café was opened that serves sushi (and where the local authorities took Solana and Lavrov on their recent visits to Abkhazia). I even saw a yellow Hummer (!) (I also saw another one in Tbilisi –apparently that is trendy). A recent spat between the Georgian government and Benetton is also telling. Read the rest of this entry »
Wars are defining moments in the life of states and nations. Throughout history wars often gave birth to nations, or caused the disappearance of states. Most nations had fought many wars, but almost every nation has one war to which they refer to as “the war”. For a German, Greek or Serb the term “before the war” means entirely different things and different periods.
I just spent a few days in Abkhazia and Tbilisi. I will write more about the trip in the following days. But it was interesting to see that the word “war” refers to different historical events. For the Georgians the phrase “after the war” means “after the August 2008 war”. Read the rest of this entry »
As Moldova and Georgia are plunging into political crisis, increasing polarisation, and growing tensions between the government and opposition EU’s priorities in these countries suddenly look different than a few months ago. This is clearly captured by what the EU special representatives (EUSR) to these countries are doing. If EU special representatives for South Caucasus and Moldova were appointed (in 2003 and 2005 respectively) to deal primarily with secessionist conflicts, now they have to deal primarily with domestic political crises.
When Georgia plunged into crisis in November 2007, Peter Semneby, EUSR for South Caucasus, flew immediately to Tbilisi and sought to diffuse the crisis by mediating between government and opposition. As the opposition launched again a series to rallies to unseat president Saakashvili less than two months ago, Peter Semneby is trying again to diffuse the crisis through mediation. Read the rest of this entry »
Jan Zielonka argued in his book “Europe as Empire” that Europe is becoming a neo-medieval empire with ‘overlapping authorities, divided sovereignty, diversified institutional arrangements, and multiple identities’ with ‘fuzzy cultural, economic and political borders between the enlarged Union and its new neighbours further east and south east’. Indeed, the medieval parallel is useful in thinking about Europe’s borders, but a more accurate comparison is probably to think about medieval fortresses, not borders.
Exporting border controls
A fortress has multiple lines of defence – a dungeon as the hard nucleus and defensive walls, but also external fortifications such as ditches or earthworks (see a formidable fortress, left). The EU has been developing a similarly multilayered system of border management and protection with elements of outside fortifications. With the Schengen area as the dungeon, non-Schengen EU member states such as Romania and Bulgaria (and the other new EU states until December 2007) already separated from the outside world by a strong visa wall, the EU has started to build outside fortifications. Read the rest of this entry »
Here is an interview on the Eastern Partnership for Arminfo, a news agency from Armenia, 28.03.2009.
Arminfo: The EU has recently approved the Eastern Partnership program. What is the value of this initiative for the countries included in it?
NP: The Eastern Partnership could help these countries reform, and through such reforms they could strengthen their independence and statehood. The Eastern neighbourhood is very crisis-prone as recent wars, territorial conflicts, political tensions and gas-supply disruptions have proved. The Eastern partnership will try to help EU’s neighbours overcome some of these crises. Read the rest of this entry »
Bulgaria’s president has campaigned on behalf of the Communist party in Moldova, while Bulgarian MPs think that European states should learn from Azeri electoral practices. In both cases Bulgaria has been quite out of the loop with the rest of the European Union. Bulgaria’s electoral adventures in the post-Soviet space make it look more like a CIS state, than a responsible, democratic EU member state that acts and sings in tune with the rest of the European Union.
Azerbaijan as an example
Azerbaijan is among the least democratic European states. At the beginning of 2009 Azerbaijan banned foreign radio broadcasts, getting rid of BBC, Radio Liberty and Voice of America. On 18 March 2009 Azerbaijan also held a referendum which eliminates the constitutional restriction on two consecutive presidential terms. Over 90% voted in favour of the change. Now president Ilham Aliev can constitutionally remain president for the rest of his life. With this referendum Azerbaijan becomes the only Council of Europe state that might have a life-long president. Read the rest of this entry »
I just returned from Georgia, where I managed to get to the Georgian-Ossetian/Russian frontline. Peace is incredibly fragile there. Nothing separates the Georgian military police from the Russian and Ossetian troops. No peacekeepers, no natural barriers, and no man-made fortifications. Just a few checkpoints and small sandbag fortifications. The checkpoints of the two conflict parties in Ergneti are just a hundred meters from each other. And nothing else.
The relative calm rests almost exclusively on the lack of any (current) interest for renewed hostilities from either Russia or Georgia. Russia has a military victory in its pocket, and an economic crisis on its hands. Georgia is deterred by Russia’s military presence. The EU Monitoring Mission might have some psychologically restraining effects on the conflict sides. But here is little else that would prevent renewed hostilities should any of the parties become interested in stirring them. And they might be. If not now, then in the future. If not by Russia and Georgia, then by South Ossetia. Read the rest of this entry »
Since this is a blog, not a collection or articles, it is sometimes fun to discuss not-so-serious things about the Eastern neighbourhood. The Eastern neighbourhood is not just about wars and gas crises. There are quite a number of fun things to do there, such as skiing…
Once elected – the young, modern and (supposedly more) liberal president Medvedev thought it appropriate to launch a video-blog – a modern way of conveying his message. My favourite video-blog is Medvedev skiing in Krasnaya Polyana (in the Caucasus mountains), where the Sochi 2014 Olympics will take place. Probably the weirdest thing about this blog was that it appeared in the middle of the January 2009 Russian-Ukrainian gas crisis, and Medvedev was talking about the necessity of investing in sport. It looked like Putin was in charge of the gas crisis, while Medvedev was in charge of education and sports. (For those who want a fresher video – here is Medvedev’s most recent video-blog.) Read the rest of this entry »