Posts Tagged 'lse'

Brave New London

Του Χάρη φαν Φέρσεντααλ

Ο ήλιος με συνοδεύει για ακόμη μία ημέρα, όμως δεν είναι αυτό που μου κάνει τη μεγαλύτερη εντύπωση. Παρέες απολαμβάνουν flat whites σε all-organic καφέ, gastropubs σερβίρουν high-end fusion και το Dalston είναι πλέον μια κουλ και ασφαλής περιοχή. Το σύνθημα στον τοίχο προειδοποιεί: «Don’t believe hipster» (sic). Δεκαπέντε χρόνια μεγαλύτερο, το Λονδίνο έχει αλλάξει όψη. Πιο σημαντικό, έχει αλλάξει συνήθειες.

Αφησα τη βρετανική πρωτεύουσα πάνω στο hangover της «Cool Britannia». Αισιόδοξες μέρες με υπόκρουση τους χαρωπούς ύμνους της Britpop και το τριτοδρομικό ευαγγέλιο του χαρισματικού Τόνι Μπλερ και των Νέων Εργατικών. Η Tate Modern, στημένη στο παλαιό εργοστάσιο παραγωγής ηλεκτρικής ενέργειας, ετοιμαζόταν να ανοίξει τις αίθουσες της στο κοινό και ο γιγαντιαίος τροχός του London Eye περίμενε τους γερανούς ξαπλωμένος στον Τάμεση.

Ο Μπλερ είναι σήμερα ένας απαξιωμένος βετεράνος και ο Αντονι Γκίντενς, ο τσαλακωμένος πρώην διευθυντής του LSE και γκουρού του Τρίτου Δρόμου, έχει πάρει θέση ανάμεσα στα πορτρέτα των προκατόχων του στον τοίχο της γραφικής Shaw Library στο ρετιρέ του ιδρύματος. Η Tate Modern έχει μέχρι σήμερα δεχτεί πάνω από 40 εκατομμύρια επισκέπτες, ενώ η ουρά για το London Eye κόβει την κίνηση στον πεζόδρομο κατά μήκος της South Bank.

Από τη γέφυρα Waterloo το σκηνικό δημιουργεί ένταση. Δεν θα νιώσεις εδώ τη ζεστασιά του Παρισιού ή του Αμστερνταμ. Είναι οι μεγάλες αντιθέσεις, οι ανθρώπινες μάζες, τα γκρίζα μπρουταλιστικά κτίρια, οι επιθετικοί νέοι ουρανοξύστες από γυαλί, οι δεκάδες γερανοί που σκύβουν πάνω από την πόλη – σύμβολα και φορείς μιας (χειροπιαστής εδώ) οικονομικής ανάπτυξης. Δεν θα νιώσεις όμως και ποτέ εντελώς ξένος, επειδή τις περισσότερες φορές απλά είσαι ένας ξένος ανάμεσα σε άλλους ξένους.

Χαζεύω νέες αστικές συνήθειες: Ποδηλάτες διασχίζουν την πόλη βιαστικά και μάλλον άναρχα. Οι καβγάδες με τους οδηγούς δεν είναι ασυνήθιστο θέαμα. Εργαζόμενοι ξεγλιστρούν απ’ τα γραφεία τους μέσα σε πολυεστερικά κολάν και επιστρέφουν στο σπίτι τρέχοντας. Κάθε λεπτό στη μητρόπολη είναι πολύτιμο. Και η μηνιαία συνδρομή για ένα από τα γυμναστήρια του κέντρου κοστίζει περίπου 200 λίρες.

Στο ανατολικό Λονδίνο η μεταμόρφωση είναι ακόμα πιο εντυπωσιακή. Το μετρό με αφήνει στο Stratford. Η κυλιόμενη σκάλα με βγάζει στην είσοδο του Westfield, του μεγαλύτερου mall της Ευρώπης. Οθόνες, κατανάλωση και μασάζ on the go – αλλά και ταξικό σύνορο που χωρίζει το παλιό κομμάτι του προαστίου από το καινούργιο. Τόσο καινούργιο που μοιάζει ψεύτικο και αποστειρωμένο, κάπως ειρωνικό αν σκεφτείς πως έχει πάρει τη θέση μιας παλιάς χωματερής για ραδιενεργά απόβλητα. Ο «πράσινος» οικισμός του East Village έχει χωροθετηθεί δίπλα στο Ολυμπιακό Χωριό που φιλοξένησε τους αθλητές στους Αγώνες του 2012. Χαμογελώ καθώς μια πολυκατοικία με όνομα «Samaras Mansions» στέκεται δίπλα σε ένα συγκρότημα διαμερισμάτων με αμφιλεγόμενης αισθητικής, αρχαιοελληνικής έμπνευσης ανάγλυφες μετόπες.

Αρκετό αλλά εύκολο περπάτημα. Αφθονος δημόσιος χώρος γύρω από ένα μάλλον αδιάφορο στάδιο που θα αποτελέσει τη νέα έδρα της West Ham. Το βλέμμα κολλάει στο φουτουριστικό κολυμβητικό κέντρο της ιρακινοβρετανής Zaha Hadid που οι ντόπιοι αποκαλούν «Stingray» (σαλάχι) λόγω της χαρακτηριστικής κυματοειδούς οροφής του. Λεπτομέρεια που προκαλεί μελαγχολικές συγκρίσεις για κάθε κληρονόμο του αθηναϊκού 2004: το ολυμπιακό κέντρο είναι γεμάτο ζωή και η πισίνα έχει παραδοθεί σε δημόσια χρήση.

Οι αλλαγές και η σχετική κανονικοποίηση στην ευρύτερη περιοχή δεν είναι πάντα ευπρόσδεκτες. Το τζέντριφαϊντ γκράφιτι στις επιφάνειες των βιομηχανικών κτιρίων του παρακείμενου Hackney Wick, προϊόν ολυμπιακών αναθέσεων, ενόχλησε τους καλλιτέχνες-κατοίκους της περιοχής που είδαν τις αρχές να σβήνουν τα δικά τους έργα από τους τοίχους.

Ο εκτοπισμός περνάει σε δεύτερη φάση καθώς αρκετοί από αυτούς μπαίνουν στη διαδικασία να αναζητήσουν τον επόμενο αυθεντικά εναλλακτικό προορισμό.

Η αυξημένη ζήτηση έχει εκτοξεύσει τις τιμές των κατοικιών και οι οικονομικά ασθενέστεροι πιέζονται προς την περιφέρεια. Η μέση τιμή ενός σπιτιού στο Λονδίνο ξεπερνάει το μισό εκατομμύριο λίρες.

«London is booming again». Δεν το λένε μόνο οι αριθμοί, αλλά και οι αγγελίες εργασίας, οι εκατοντάδες οικοδομές, η φρέσκια αυτοπεποίθηση των φίλων. Σύμφωνα με πρόσφατη έρευνα το Λονδίνο είναι η πιο δημοφιλής πόλη ανάμεσα σε υποψήφιους εργαζόμενους από το εξωτερικό.

Μέσα στη νύχτα, η φωτεινή διαφήμιση στη Blackfriars Road φωνάζει «AMBITION», σαν επιτακτική υπενθύμιση πως σε αυτό εδώ το μέρος όλα είναι μια δυνατότητα.

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The big shift right

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By Harry van Versendaal

The discrediting of Greece’s mainstream political parties, brought about by the four-year debt crisis, has opened a political can of worms by strengthening the hand of far-right extremists, says Nikos Skoutaris, a European constitutional law expert at the London School of Economics.

Speaking to Kathimerini English Edition during a two-week workshop in Thessaloniki on nationalism, religion and violence in Greece and SE Europe, Skoutaris voices concern about the right-wing shift of the Greek political agenda as reflected in the government’s decision to repeal the migrant citizenship law and the controversial decision to shut down public broadcaster ERT.

“A far-right xenophobic agenda has become steadily more influential on the Greek political scene,” he says.

Locked in an uneasy government coalition, the once-dominant New Democracy and PASOK have been leaning to the right in a bid to dampen the influence of the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party. Currently polling in third place, the party is widely connected to an upsurge in racially motivated attacks.

Skoutaris is critical of government foot-dragging in introducing legislation against hate speech, but remains skeptical of an all-out ban on the party. “We do not need to outlaw Golden Dawn but make sure that the state applies the criminal law,” he says.

The 32-year-old academic is a senior research fellow at the LSE’s European Institute, where he has developed a research project on the constitutional accommodation of ethno-territorial conflicts in Europe. Skoutaris is program director of the Thessaloniki seminars, which have brought together over 30 experts from some 20 institutions.

The event is organized by the International Hellenic University in partnership with Charles University in Prague, the Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO) of Cyprus, and with the support of the LSE’s Southeast Europe research unit, LSEE.

From the mid-1990s and for more than 15 years, Greece’s Socialist and conservative parties won elections by hijacking the center of the political spectrum. Three years into the crisis, voters as well as parties have all but deserted the middle ground. Are you concerned by the growing polarization of Greek politics?

More than the desertion of the middle ground, I am increasingly concerned about the rise of far-right extremism. This extremism, however, is not evident just in the presence of Golden Dawn in the Parliament and its increasing popularity in the polls, but also in the adoption of a far-right political agenda and discourse by the dominant political parties. The Loverdos incident with the HIV-positive prostitutes, the debacle concerning the amendment of the Ragousis citizenship law and even the way that the government decided to shut down the public broadcaster without having secured Parliament’s approval are some of the incidents suggesting that a far-right xenophobic agenda has become steadily more influential on the Greek political scene.

How can coalition partners PASOK and New Democracy, the two parties that dominated Greek politics for almost 40 years, enforce the rule of law when they are seen as the main culprits behind the collapse of the country’s social contract?

It is true that PASOK and New Democracy bear the greatest responsibility for the financial and political collapse of Greece. And in that sense it is only fair for one to wonder how they can enforce the rule of law and set a new paradigm when they have failed to do so, so miserably, during the 40 years of their rule. I do not think there are any easy answers to this question and personally I am rather pessimistic as I do not believe that the current political elites – especially the ones connected to those parties – can live up to the challenges of this rather arduous task.

Has toleration of leftist violence in the post-1974 period also led to the rise of far-right extremism in Greece, as some analysts and historians have argued? Has the Greek left enjoyed a certain level of immunity that needs to be re-examined?

The argument concerning the “rise of the two extremes” is well known. I am neither a historian nor a sociοlogist nor a political scientist, so my view is not one of a specialist but rather of an unsophisticated constitutional lawyer who tries to follow Greek politics and make sense of it. With this in mind, I would associate the rise of far-right extremism with the delegitimation of the Greek political elites through the crisis and the emergence of Greece as a “failed state” rather than with the fact that the Greek left has resorted to practices that could be deemed illegal in certain instances. If there is a question that I would pose to the left – being a leftist myself – it is whether a discourse that supports violent forms of struggle for social justice still serves its strategy. My personal view is that a real and radical transformation of the democratic functioning of the Greek state and of capitalism in general is absolutely necessary. However, I have my doubts whether the rhetoric of the left has managed to express it in a sufficient manner.

Meanwhile, Greek conservatives, but not just them, have lashed out at attempts by revisionist historians, as it were, to challenge the dominant historical narrative and question “myths” seen as key to collective memory and national self-understanding. Do you think that this is a bad timing for this because of the crisis?

I do not think there is such a thing as bad timing when it comes to research in any area of knowledge and in particular the social sciences. To put it the other way round and with regard to the attempts to which you refer, I do not remember anyone saying at any moment in Greek history that “now is a good time to deconstruct the national myths.” Social scientists have an obligation to research and present their results to society. And personally, if the dilemma is between a painful truth and a comforting lie, I choose the former even at times when Greek society suffers.

Do you think that the proposed anti-racism bill could curb the wave of racially motivated crimes and the influence of Golden Dawn?

No, I don’t believe that any law could curb racially motivated crimes or the influence of a neo-Nazi party, at least not in the short term. Those are very complicated issues that could only be successfully dealt with through long-term comprehensive policies that would also contain a strong educational dimension. This does not mean that as a society we should not put out a strong political message that we do not tolerate any form of racism, including anti-Semitism. In that sense, I consider the recent debacle concerning the anti-racism bill as more evidence of the unwillingness and the incapacity of the Greek political elites – and the governing coalition in particular – to show that they can rise to the challenge that the existence of far-right extremism poses.

Would a ban on hate speech, including genocide-denying legislation, not imply restrictions on free speech?

To the best of my knowledge there exists no legal order where the right of expression is unfettered. To give but one example: In Greece one may not “offend the honor of the President of the Republic.” So, the right question is not whether we should have restrictions, but rather what kind of restrictions and what the scope of those restrictions should be. As I see it, keeping social peace in a Greek state that wishes to respect multiculturalism warrants such restrictions.

Do you think it would be a good idea to outlaw Golden Dawn altogether?

First of all, let me point out that the legal toolbox that the present constitutional framework provides for does not contain a procedure according to which we could outlaw Golden Dawn in the same way that the German or the Turkish constitutional orders do. Of course one could argue in favor of the amendment of the constitution to the effect that such a procedure would be included. It is a matter of belief and conviction whether one supports this idea of “militant democracy” according to which a constitutional order can outlaw political parties.

Personally I am not convinced, not least because international experience suggests that such procedures have proved ineffective. Political parties that were outlawed “resurrected” merely by changing their names and paying lip service to constitutional rules. The cases of the Turkish Islamist parties or Vlaams Blok / Vlaams Belang in Belgium are indicative.

Notwithstanding the absence of such procedures, one also has to note that a number of Golden Dawn members have clearly committed criminal offenses. Take for example the Ilias Kasidiaris incident on Antenna TV [where the Golden Dawn deputy and spokesman slapped a female Communist Party MP multiple times] or the repeated protests outside the Hytirio Theater in Athens [which led to the cancellation of the staging of Terrence McNally’s “Corpus Christi”]. To deal with those incidents, we do not need to outlaw Golden Dawn but make sure that the state applies the criminal law.

More worrying is the fact that members of Golden Dawn claim to be enforcing the rule of law. In a democratic state where rule of law applies, it is state institutions that are entrusted with the exercise of its powers. Golden Dawn members and their militia have no right to enforce the law, as it were, by checking immigrants’ IDs in flea markets or requesting truck drivers from the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia to remove their country code bumper stickers. The Greek state, if it wants to call itself democratic, has to make sure that it does not share the so-called monopoly of violence with Golden Dawn members, even if they are elected.

Seeing is believing

Photo by Joseph Galanakis

By Harry van Versendaal

When Thimios Gourgouris first caught the news of furious rioting in downtown Athens in December 2008, he reached for his Nikon camera. As the Greek capital surrendered to an orgy of violence and looting sparked by the fatal shooting of a teenager by police, the curious young man from the suburbs took to the debris-strewn streets to document the mayhem.

Three years later, the number of people like Gourgouris have skyrocketed. As public rallies against the Socialist government’s austerity measures — sanctioned by the European Union and the International Monetary Fund, the debt-choked country’s foreign creditors — keep coming, more people seem to have set aside the traditional flag and banner for a more versatile medium: the digital camera. Just type “Greek protests 2011” into Google Images and you’ll get more than 5 million results.

This burst of interest in user-generated content is propelled by more than one reason. But, like elsewhere around the world, it is principally born out of public skepticism toward conventional media.

“I want to see with my own eyes what is happening out there. I stopped relying just on the stuff I was being fed by television,” Gourgouris, a tall man with a dark beard and expressive eyes, said in a recent interview.

Greece’s mainstream media have not escaped unscathed from popular criticism of the country’s institutions. Television channels and newspapers — traditionally associated with the nation’s political parties — are seen as pandering to political and business interests.

“I only trust what I see,” Gourgouris said.

Born in 1980, Gourgouris has never belonged to a political party. A former graphic designer who now works as a commercial representative in Elefsina, a small town west of Athens, he dreams of one day becoming a war photographer. The streets around Syntagma Square make good training ground, he jokes. When venturing into the urban scuffles, he wears gloves, body armor and a green Brainsaver helmet equipped with a built-in camera. “Last time a piece of marble hit me on the right shoulder,” he said.

Gourgouris makes a point of sharing all of his pictures on Flickr, the image- and video-hosting website. All his photographs are free to download in high resolution. One of his shots from the latest riots shows a riot policeman trying to snatch an SLR camera from a man standing in Syntagma Square. A woman reacts to the scene while trying to protect a fellow demonstrator who appears to be in a state of shock.

“If I had to keep a single image from the protest, it would have to be that one,” he said.

Protest 3.0

Around the globe, protests are reshaped by technology. Ever-cheaper digital gadgets and the Internet are transforming the means and the motives of the people involved in ways we are only starting to witness.

Last spring, the twitterati hailed the “social media revolutions” in Tunisia and Egypt as protesters made extensive use of social networks to bring down their despotic presidents. Facebook and Twitter played a key role in fomenting public unrest following Iran’s disputed election in 2009. Like Iran, Libya showed the same media are available to the autarchic regimes.

Greece is not immune to social and technological forces. In May, thousands of people responded to a Facebook call by the so-called Indignant movement to join an anti-austerity rally at Syntagma and other public squares across the country. Demonstrators, who have since camped in front of the Greek Parliament, use laptops to organize and promote their campaign through the Net.

When individuals’ behavior changes, mass protests also change. Gourgouris says that whenever he sees the police arresting a demonstrator, he feels that by running to the scene an officer will think twice before exerting unnecessary physical force.

“When everybody is filming with their cell phones, you’re not going to beat the hell out of that person,” he said.

Switching places

Technology is also transforming the news business, as ordinary folk get involved in the gathering, filtering and dissemination of information.

“It’s evolution,” said Pavlos Fysakis, a professional photographer in his early 40s. He says that this type of guerrilla journalism may not guarantee quality, but it is certainly a force for pluralism.

“The news now belongs to everyone. It comes from many different sources, and it is open to many different interpretations,” said Fysakis, who is one of the 14 photojournalists to have worked on The Prism GR2010 multimedia project, a collective documentation of Greece during last winter that is available on the Internet.

If there is one problem will all this input, Fysakis says, it has to do with the diminishing shock factor. With all the imagery out there, he warns, audiences as well as photographers risk getting a bit too accustomed to graphic images.

“Violence is demystified. We almost think it’s normal to see a cop beating up a person on the street. The image is everywhere, as if [the event] is occurring all the time,” Fysakis said.

User-generated footage of the June 29 demonstrations depicted riot police firing huge amounts of tear gas and physically abusing protesters, including elderly men and women.

The apparently excessive use of force by police is the subject of a parliamentary investigation. Meanwhile, a prosecutor has brought charges against the police for excessive use of chemicals and for causing bodily harm to citizens. Amnesty International has also condemned the police tactics.

Exposed

For Liza Tsaliki, a communications and media expert at the University of Athens, crowdsourced content “is laden with democratic potential.”

“Civilian footage of the riots has widened our perspective and understanding of what actually happened,” she said of the June demonstrations.

A few hours after the protests, the Internet was churning with footage apparently showing riot squad officers escorting three men who had covered their faces and appeared to be wielding iron bars, prompting suggestions that the police had either placed provocateurs within the protesting crowds or that the force was offering protection to extreme right-wing protesters who were battling leftists.

However, an official reaction (a statement by the minister for citizens’ protection that left a lot to be desired) only came after television channels had aired the controversial video.

Trust them not

To be sure, citizen journalism is far from perfect. A lot of the rigor and accuracy associated with traditional news organizations inevitably flies out the window. Ordinary people cannot perform, or are insensitive to, the (meticulous but costly and time-consuming) fact-based reporting, cross-checking, sourcing and editing of newsrooms proper.

A survey conducted in the UK a few years ago found that 99 percent of people do not trust content on blogs and forums uploaded by their friends and the rest of the public.

Lack of verification and eponymity is not the only problem, as input from non-journalists is not necessarily synonymous with objectivity.

Writing in Kathimerini about the controversial video, liberal commentator Paschos Mandravelis criticized social media users for unquestioningly embracing what seems to confirm the views they already hold.

“The T-shirt he was wearing to cover his face, which is usually offered by every protester as a sign of innocence (‘I was wearing it to protect myself from the tear gas’) was, in this case, used as a sign of guilt (‘It’s obvious. These are the hooded troublemakers’),” Mandravelis wrote.

Tsaliki agrees that not everything captured by amateur journalists is necessarily benign.

“Even in these latter cases, a certain alternative reality can be constructed under the guise of the non-mediated experience,” Tsaliki said.

“All you need is a certain choreography, some volunteers and a smartphone,” she said.

But the speed and diversity of social media is hard to beat. After all, it was a Pakistani Twitterer grumbling about the noise from a helicopter that gave the world live coverage of the American raid that resulted in the killing of Osama bin Laden in May.

Before that, it was some blurry footage of Alexandros Grigoropoulos’s murder in Exarchia, captured with a phone camera by a resident standing on a nearby balcony, that fanned Greece’s 2008 riots.

Traditional media have tried to take advantage of the trend, launching citizen journalism platforms of their own — CNN’s “iReport” or Al Jazeera’s “Sharek,” for example. And as suggested by Al Jazeera’s mining of the social media during the Middle East uprisings, the use of citizen-produced material can help commercial networks come across as the “voice of the people.”

“They overtly take the side of the protesters against these regimes. And their use of social media and citizen generated content gives them the ammunition and credibility in that campaign,” blogged Charlie Beckett, founding director of Polis, a journalism and society think-tank at the London School of Economics.

Preaching to the converted?

The Internet has changed the way people organize themselves and protest, but has it really helped expand the reservoirs of activists on the ground? Experts are divided on the issue.

For one thing, cyber-pessimists are right that support-a-cause-with-a-click attitudes produce great numbers but little commitment. Web-powered activism, Tsaliki adds, is still a lot about preaching to the converted.

“The Internet will chiefly serve those activists and groups that are already active, thus reinforcing existing patterns of political participation in society,” she said.

But Gourgouris is confident that simply by recording and sharing the message of a demonstration, you are increasing its impact.

“The world isn’t beautiful. I record the ugliness so I can put it out there and — to the extent that I can — fix it. I am trying to raise awareness. I am saying, ‘Here’s the violence of the people behind masks’,” he said.

As always, some people out there prefer more direct forms of engagement. As photographers zigzagged through the infuriated crowds at a recent demo, one hooded youth shouted at them to “put down the cameras and grab a stone.”

Pandora in Kosovo

Photo by Matt Lutton

By Harry van Versendaal

A ruling by the United Nation’s highest court last week on Kosovo’s unilateral declaration of independence from Serbia in 2008 prompted frustration in Belgrade and triumphalism in Pristina but legal experts remain uncertain about the exact meaning and the implications of the decision for the divided region and beyond.

The much-anticipated decision by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in the Hague, which was passed in a 10-to-4 vote by the judges, had a Delphic quality: While saying that the declaration of independence was not in violation of international law, it stopped short of stating that Kosovo is a legal state.

“The ruling in fact has very little real meaning. In fact, we are not clearer on whether Kosovo’s secession is legal than we were before. The court simply said that the declaration of independence as a statement did not infringe any international laws. Anyone can declare independence, in other words. What matters is the act of recognition – an issue that the court steered well away from,” James Ker-Lindsay, a Balkan expert at the London School of Economics (LSE), told Athens Plus.

Lack of clarity did not stop Pristina from hailing the decision, which is non-binding, as a victory. Serbs, their fortune and confidence tarnished by a series of lost wars in the 1990s, reacted angrily at the prospect of giving up this chunk of land traditionally seen as the nation’s historic heartland. Lawmakers this week passed a resolution that their country will never recognize Kosovo as an independent state, while the government launched a diplomatic marathon to halt further recognitions by foreign states. Kosovo, which has been under UN administration since a NATO air raid in 1999 ended a Serb crackdown on independence-seeking ethnic Albanians, has so far been recognized by 69 states, including the US and most EU governments – but not Greece. It has a population of 2 million, 90 percent of whom are ethnic Albanians.

Pandora’s box

Analysts had warned that a pro-independence ruling would have a Pandora’s box effect, emboldening separatist movements in areas such as Nagorno-Karabakh, South Ossetia, Abkhazia, Somaliland and northern Cyprus. In a nod to such concerns, shared by states like China, Russia, Spain, Romania, Cyprus and Greece, the court deftly fought shy of a political decision.

“The ruling has very little effect on separatist movements – and that is where the judges have been particularly shrewd. Again, anyone can declare independence. It is whether it is recognized that matters,” Ker-Lindsay said.

For Stefan Wolff, professor of international security at the University of Birmingham, the ICJ did not rule on whether the declaration of independence had any legal implications, which is essentially what other secessionist movements would need to make Kosovo’s case a precedent. But legal technicalities, he warns, will not be enough to stop the trend. “There is little doubt in my mind that secessionists elsewhere will interpret the court opinion in their favor,” Wolff said.

Might is right

Does Cyprus have reasons to worry? Ker-Lindsay says that the ICJ ruling will have no immediate effect on Cyprus, as the unilateral declaration of independence by the Turkish Cypriots was in fact explicitly declared to be illegal by the UN Security Council. “Had it happened today, we could be dealing with a very different situation. But it didn’t and we aren’t,” he said.

Despite successive UN resolutions, Turkish troops continue to occupy the northern third of the island since 1974. During a visit to Nicosia last week, German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle was at pains to reassure Cyprus.

“This was very specific expertise, it has nothing to do with any other cases in the world… It’s a unique decision, in a unique situation with a unique historical background,” he said.

LSE historian Svetozar Rajak is more skeptical, suggesting that a lot depends on your friends. “As the case of Kosovo has shown, if there is enough backing from the international community, any situation, in existence today or in the future, including Cyprus, may end up before the ICJ,” he said.

What next for Serbia?

Analysts agree that instead of wasting time and energy on what seems to be a lost cause, Belgrade should engage in practical cooperation that will allow it to one day join the EU.

But a pragmatic shift won’t come naturally. Reacting to the ruling of the ICJ earlier this week, Belgrade said that it will not change its policy of treating Kosovo as its territory, while it vowed to continue its fight to reopen status negotiations at the UN’s General Assembly.

Fortunately, this time war is not in the cards. Rebuffing nationalist calls for a military response, Serb President Boris Tadic this week said Belgrade will seek a compromise. “We are in a very difficult situation… but we won’t beat the war drums,” he said. “We cannot protect our interests in Kosovo without integration into the European Union and good relations with the United States, Russia and China.”

That does not mean that Belgrade will not be tempted to block Kosovo’s membership of regional organizations and even block the free movement of people and goods. But it’s hard to see how it will stick with a policy that undermines its EU hopes for too long.

“Given the catastrophic economic situation Serbia is in and obvious inability of the government in Belgrade to offer solutions, it may be tempted to accept any and every carrot from the EU, in exchange for the recognition of Kosovo independence,” Rajak said, adding that there seems to be little effective opposition from the existing political factors at home.

Some observers, including Rajak, are rather concerned about Pristina’s unilateral action in northern Kosovo. “I am afraid that the ICJ decision may encourage some in Pristina to contemplate forceful reintegration of the territories north of the Ibar River,” he said of the ethnic-Serb-dominated region that has effectively been under Belgrade’s control.

A considerable number of Serbs live on territory controlled by Pristina, in the south, in enclaves like Strpce near the border with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, and Gracanica, a suburb of Pristina. Analysts agree that the court ruling has not reduced the need to discuss the future of these populations — it’s just that the rules of the game have changed. “After the ICJ opinion, Serbia is no longer in a position to dictate terms and should approach Kosovo as an equal partner,” Marko Prelec, an expert of the International Crisis Group, told Athens Plus.

It may sound unbearably cliche when it comes to the Balkans but experts urge both sides to set their differences aside and look ahead.

“In the end, both Serbia and Kosovo want to join the EU and neither can really have an interest in mutual hostility,” Wolff said. “It is important that leaders on both sides calm down now, make a realistic assessment of the situation and figure out a way forward.”


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