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Free Tibet like you freed Kosovo

Every now and then in the messy quagmire that is diplomacy and international relations, the true hypocrisy of all this jostling for national position becomes glaringly obvious. Lightly camouflaged behind a veneer of garish moral make-up and far from the bright lights of CNN and the BBC, the diplomatic whores and pimps of our world’s nations ply their trade.

March 10 2008 is the 49th anniversary of the Tibetan national uprising against Chinese occupation, supported clandestinely and unsurprisingly by the CIA (has there been a single revolution where these nosy fellows were not involved?). All around the world there are marches to free the beleaguered country from Chinese rule, but China will not budge on its position and the world stops short of doing anything more about it except to march and protest and arrange for meetings between spiritually barren Hollywood stars and the Dalai Lama, who uses them for photo opportunities for his cause.

Way across on the other side of Europe, the pimps have been rather busier of late on a more conveniently soluble, accolade-earning problem. Backed by a paternal dose of US and EU support, young Kosovo has just announced its independence from Serbia. Unlike Tibet, Kosovo is not an invaded country ruled by Serbs. It is formally, and now I guess formerly, an official province of Serbia with an ethnic Albanian population that has in recent history rapidly increased in number to become the dominating ethnicity of the formerly majority Serb province. After the reversal of Milosevic’s ethnic cleansing debacle, the Albanians now number about 90% of the population in part due to a wave of Serbian refugees that left for other parts of Serbia after the war.

Since the end of the war in 1999, Serbia has largely been on a moderate path towards EU membership. In the most recent elections, Serbs elected Boris Tadic, a moderate for whom EU membership is a top priority. In short, the Serbs have been toeing the Western and EU line, stumbling only on the emotional issues of handing over wartime generals and releasing Kosovo to the Albanian majority, both of which were still under negotiation.

Imagine then, if you will, the surprise when the US and the EU along with the Albanian leadership in Kosovo planned and implemented a unilateral declaration of independence from Serbia. The timing was superb and no coincidence. Literally days after the Serbs had chosen a moderate leader to work towards EU membership, a move that would include the bilaterally negotiated resolution of the Kosovo issue, the Albanian minority staunchly supported by the US delivered a literal slap in the face of Serbian efforts and declared unilateral independence for the rogue province out from under them.

Serbia was stunned, Russia and China grumbled in disgust and even certain sleeping EU nations such as Spain, Greece and Cyprus were woken up to the hard reality that their little rogue provinces might soon be doing the same. For Serbs who had voted to resolve the issue fairly and bilaterally by voting in Tadic instead of his hard-line rival Nicolic, it was an insult and further proof that there seemed to be one set of rules for all other countries in the world and a special set just for Serbia. It is simply another case of global bullying by that old, meddling schoolyard ruffian, the US of A and her ruthless EU cohort.

Serbs duly protested, of course, and although the attack on the US embassy can hardly be condoned, it also seems rather naive of the US to expect Serbs to take the news lying down and for there to be no backlash. To ponder a parallel, I wonder how the US might react if Serbia, working with Russia and China, connived with the burgeoning Mexican population of Texas and after unilaterally declaring independence, swiftly moved to recognise it officially as a new country. I suspect there may be a few scenes like we saw when France opposed the “war on terror” and French products and businesses became targets. So lets temper American outrage about flag and embassy right there and give it the perspective it deserves.

One also has to ask why the EU, the US and the Albanian majority in Kosovo decided to take the entire emotionally charged province lock, stock and barrel? Since the move was unilateral and all parties knew that Serbia would vehemently object, why could they not make a peace offering and gain some moral altitude by declaring independence of a modified region, excluding certain Serbian enclaves? Most notably, why not exclude the Serbian part of Mitrovica that comes complete with a handy river for a border? They will surely pull a “Kosovo” on Kosovo and declare their own independence and rejoin Serbia anyway. It simply shows the disdain with which the declaration was made.

Thankfully, not all thinking Americans were behind the decision to support the unilateral independence of Kosovo. In fact, the very few who know the region intimately could scarcely believe their ears when their own country blundered ahead with its loud proclamation of support. Former US secretary of state Lawrence Eagleburger; John Bolton, the former permanent US representative to the United Nations; and Peter Rodman, the former assistant secretary of defence for international security affairs, were three of the bigger names to stand up and ask what on earth the US was thinking. All three of these esteemed and respected fellows — along with countries such as China, Brazil and even South Africa — have urged that a lasting solution can only be as a result of bilateral negotiation. They have warned that Serbia today is not the Serbia of Milosevic, and that treating it as such is to breed his successor and bring instability to a region making progress.

I won’t go through the long and tedious historical arguments that were the subject of a previous blog, but there are some very good arguments why Serbia and its Serbs have a strong and indisputable historical claim to Kosovo; at the very least as good and often far better than the Albanian claims to the territory. It should also be noted that during both world wars, the ethnic Albanians indulged in ethic cleansing of Serbs from Kosovo, making the claim of the US and EU that this is a special case because of the ethnic cleansing under Milosevic flimsy at best.

As for the precedent that this rash action sets, it is hardly possible to know where to start pointing out the pitfalls. Perhaps to remain in the Balkans at first, Serbia has promptly said that it will now investigate the possibility of supporting the declaration of independence of the majority Serb province of Bosnia, Republica Srpska, as well as enclaves within Kosovo such as Mitrovica. Since provinces are now fair game, nobody who supported the Kosovo independence should have even a wobbly leg to stand on and Bosnia could duly be ripped asunder. Palestinians are licking their chops, as are the Basques, the Tamil Tigers, the Kurds in Turkey and Iraq — and perhaps even little Orania has taken a breath, opened its eyes and started thinking about its future. Fair enough, I guess.

Along the same lines then, why on earth should Tibet not simply declare its independence from China? If Kosovo is a called a “special case” to justify EU and US support, then Tibet must surely be a no-brainer, super-special case. It was formerly a country, not a province, and it was invaded by China in living memory. It is the very modern icon of human rights abuse and displacement and the entire world largely agrees that China is in the wrong and should give poor Tibet back its autonomy. Should it declare independence from China, one would like to believe that the US and the EU would be forced to step up to the plate and recognise it in a flash. On the moral basis of Kosovo, they should have no choice but to do so.

But they won’t. Tibet will remain occupied.

There is quite simply no way that either of them will risk standing up to China and it is inconceivable — in fact, unthinkable — that they would do so unilaterally without China’s consent. That kind of arrogant disregard can only be dished out to countries too weak to resist, preferably ones that you have bombed into submission and ones against which your voters are still nicely prejudiced and from whom you don’t buy billions of dollars’ worth of toys, computers and dog food.

Bottom line: China is a big pimp on the street and Serbia is not. That means you can gang up on Serbia, garner support in Kosovo and build US military bases in nice strategic positions. It means you can run detention centres like Guantánamo Bay in Kosovo and it means you can kick your old enemy Russia and your new one Iran smugly in the balls. And should Russian diplomacy make inroads with Poland and the Czech Republic when you need to put up your missile defence system at the confluence of Russia and Middle East, what a great alternative your new best buddy Kosovo would make. The clues to otherwise indefensible and incomprehensible behaviour are all in the timing and the agendas playing out behind the scenes.

Look no further than the dark corner of the street where the pimps and whores ply their trade. There you might be surprised to find the “democratically pious” and “morally righteous” elbowing their way to the front and slipping a few dollar bills to the whores for the right to play the control and submission game with them in the dark rooms where few good people ever tread.