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First Kosovo, then Northern Ireland?

So Kosovo’s back in the news. 31 people dead. The return of tribal bloodletting and ethnic cleansing. Only this time it appears to be the Serbs that have been getting the worst of it.

Seemingly triggered by the stupidity of Serb youths hounding (literally, with a dog!) a couple of young Albanian children to their deaths in a river, what increasingly looks to be a well-coordinated campaign by Albanians to drive Serbs out of their homes suddenly materialised from nowhere. And now the dream of an Albanian Muslim Kosovo, independent of Serbia, is equally suddenly back openly at the top of certain extremist groups’ agendas.

The speed with which the situation in Kosovo deteriorated clearly caught the NATO troops and the United Nations mandated administration off guard. As I write, several thousand addtional NATO troops have entered Kosovo and a relative calm seems to be returning to the Serbian province.

Yet the sheer ferocity of this sudden outbreak of ethnic violence raises questions about the viability of the UN strategy for it not only exposed the fragility of the NATO-imposed peace but also its shallowness.

On the face of it things had been going reasonably well in Kosovo for the UN. There had been no signifcant ethnic violence since NATO entered the province in 1999. Kosovo’s Albanian-dominated devolved government and the Serbian government in Belgrade had been making progress in discussions on issues such as energy. Kosovo’s top Serb and Albanian politicians had reached agreement on how the ethnically-divided city of Mitrovica should be run. Gracious, Serbs and Albanians had even begun talking to each other in the streets again!

Now, nobody other than the extremists seems to know what to do next. On Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme late last week, I heard one fellow from the UN say the multi-ethnicity of pre-1991 Kosovo had to be restored. (1991 saw the start of the breakup of Yugoslavia with the secession of Slovenia.) Did this guy think Kosovo had once been some model of ethnic cohabitation? Didn’t he know that the visit of Slobodan Milosevic to Kosovo in April 1987 was one of his key stepping stones to power? When Milosevic heard the complaints of the downtrodden minority Serbs and made a rousing speech promising action against their Albanian ‘oppressors’, it was a call to Serb nationalism.

Two tribes go to war!
Kosovo had been a running sore on the body of the Yugoslav Federation for years. There were many reasons for this; but a key factor was quite simply that the Albanian Kosovars were not Slavs. ‘Yugoslavia’ was a bold attempt in the aftermath of the First World War to create an overarching identity for the Slavic states and thus bring stability to the Balkans.

The Balkan tribes cohabiting peacefully under an umbrella identity was a fragile condition, as demonstrated only too horrifically by the Croats’ murderous persecution (under German auspices) of the Serbs during the Second World War. To knit Yugoslavia together again after that needed something way beyond tribalism – and that ‘something’ came in the form of the Communist state and its overlord, Marshall Tito.

In Gravesian terms, tribalism is a manifestation of the PURPLE vMEME. Since PURPLE seeks safety in belonging, by default it delineates between those who are of-our-tribe and those who are not-of-our-tribe. However, it is possible to build super-tribal identities.

For example, in England Liverpool and Manchester might be rival centres of trade, industry and power – and fans from the two cities’ football teams might clash violently. However, they are all Lancashire people and the historical prejudice against Yorkshire, which still surfaces from time to time, is something many from both cities will subscribe to. Lancashire and Yorkshire people both tend to see themselves as ‘Northerners’ and will all too often disparage ‘Southerners’. Englishmen from across the country will – and have in the past! – united against the Scots. Both Scots and English will fight together under the umbrella of ‘Britons’ – as they have done in the 300+ years since the Act of Union (1706).

The taller the hierarchy of tribal identities, the more BLUE structure it needs to hold it together and to suppress tribal rivalries lower down the hierarchy.

In the Communist state Tito established a BLUE system which did exactly that while promoting the concept of Yugoslavia – ‘All the Slavs’. It also helped that Tito had high RED which made him both charasmatic and ruthlessly controlling.

Thus, Slovenians, Croats, Serbs, Bosnians and Montenegrans could all be ‘Slavs’ equally in Tito’s land. The Albanian Kosovars, of course, weren’t Slavs but claimed descent from the Illyrians, supposedly the original settlers of the Kosovan lands. It is perhaps a credit to Tito’s genius that he more or less managed the ethnic tension in Kosovo – moving from suppression of the Albanians to partial liberalisation – but Kosovo remained a problem throughout his time as leader of Yugoslavia.

After Tito’s death in 1980 and coinciding with the slow but sure collapse of Communism across Eastern Europe, Yugoslavia equally slowly but surely began to unravel until the early 1990s saw Slav slaughtering Slav in the Serb-Croat wars. With the BLUE structure of Communism gone and RED demagogic leaders like Milosevic and Croatia’s Franjo Tudjman unleashing the PURPLE-BLUE beasts of nationalism, the identity of ‘Slav’ was replaced by the lower tribal identities – Croat, Serb, Bosnian, etc – and in PURPLE it’s okay to kill those who are not-of-our-tribe if they are seen to threaten our tribe.

Of course, the rigid BLUE Procedures of organised religion can add mightily to tribal tensions. Thus, Othodox Serb Christians can kill Catholic Croatian Christians (and vice versa) for not worshipping in the same way and following the same rituals. There are relatively few differences between Catholic and Orthodox Christians in the grand scheme of things. Create a super identity of ‘Christians’ – subscribed to by both Catholic and Orthodox – and BLUE will legitimise the wholesale slaughter of Muslims who don’t just not worship correctly but actually worship the ‘wrong’ manifestation of God and a ‘false prophet’. (Equally BLUE Islam will legitimise the slaughter of Christians – just ask al-Qaeda!)

It’s notable that, after all the turbulence of the 1990s, the two remaining real hotspots in the Balkans are Bosnia and Kosovo. In both instances PURPLE tribalism and BLUE religious hatreds are at the centre of the divides. In both instances a BLUE structure of order is imposed by a Western military force.

GREEN thinking predominating in much of Western thought on resolving the Balkan conflicts talks of restoring multi-ethnic harmony as though the people there will be naturally tolerant and respectful of their neighbours’ different tribal origins and religious beliefs. Its assumption that all should think similarly is flawed…fatally flawed! What is not needed, when dealing with PURPLE tribalism and BLUE dogma, is GREEN liberalism. What is needed is the kind of BLUE structure, capable of repression, that Tito built. For sure, GREEN informing that BLUE structure so that all can function to some degree under it is helpful; but control, not freedom, needs to be the main priority.

However, GREEN wouldn’t tolerate the human rights abuses that tend to go with such regimes and the Capitalist thinking of the ORANGE vMEME in the West couldn’t stomach actually facilitating state control on that level. So a Tito-type solution is unlikely to come from the West.

Writing in this weekend’s ‘Observer’, Tim Judah, author of ‘Kosovo: War & Revenge’, recognises the strength of the ethnic divide and, somewhat tentatively, proposes partition as perhaps the only way out. That, as he ruefully acknowledges, more or less legitimises the ethnic cleansing necessary to create partitionable geography.

Partition seems to be working after a fashion in Cyprus. It’s highly debatable if it can be said to have worked in Ireland.

Lacking a super identity
Mulling over the explosion of violence in Kosovo, tangentally I began to think of Northern Ireland. It suddenly came home to me just how fragile that peace is.  

As with the Muslim Albanians and the Christian Serbs in Kosovo, there is no Super Identity the Republican Catholics and the Unionist Protestants can buy into. The Republicans see themselves as Irish; the Unionists see themselves as British. On the religious front, Rome and Canterbury might be carrying on periodic flirtations but there are still huge barriers (not least the ordination of women and then the whole issue of homosexuality) to be overcome before there can be any meaningful reconciliation. In any case the Church of England is virtually Papist to the likes of Ian Paiseley – and there are a lot like him in the more Protestant Protestant churches in Northern Ireland.

Like Kosovo, quiet for over four years, the PURPLE tribalism and the BLUE divides of national allegiance and religious bigotry are there just below the surface in Northern Ireland.

There are some key differences, though between, Ireland and Kosovo. For one thing, after 25 years of ‘The Troubles’ failing to achieve anything, a lot of people in the province were worn out with it all. For all their efforts, the terrorists (or, freedom fighters, according to preference) couldn’t beat either the BLUE machine of the British Army or the BLUE resolve of the British political establishement.

But perhaps more importantly, a lot of people in the South lost interest.

Following the 1922 partition, Eire enshrined (BLUE) in its constitution its (PURPLE) claim to the 6 counties it had failed to recover from the British. PURPLE’s affiliation to the physical geography cannot be understated – though it is frequently ignored! Thus, as so often has been said, it became the duty of every Irishman to get the 6 counties back – and thus the ambivalence of many Irish governments towards IRA-type operations in the North.

However, the remarkable transformation of the Irish economy in the mid-1990s (helped by bucketfuls of European Union money) changed the perspectives of a lot of people. Whether the success of the economy led to the emergence of the ORANGE vMEME at a major cultural level or whether it was ORANGE which made such a success from the EU handouts is a bit of a chicken-and-egg question. What we do know is that, for many people in the South, bettering themselves became more important than championing historical causes. When the Good Friday Agreement was voted on in 1998 – with its requirement that Eire drop its constitutional claim to the 6 counties – it breezed through in the South. In the economically-depressed North, where BLUE polarisation dominated, the Agreement barely got through.

A number of the key decision-makers in both governments and both communities recognise that economic prosperity is one of the keys to Northern Ireland not slipping back into violence. If ORANGE, in its wealth-making mode, can undermine the polarisation of BLUE but use BLUE order to suppress those, for whom BLUE dogma and PURPLE tribalism is what it’s about, then Northern Ireland might have a good chance.

Moving back to Kosovo, even though around 90% of the population are Albanian, the Serbian national psyche has a deep emotional root in the province – ‘Old Serbia’ as it is known to Serbs, being the heart of mediaeval Serbia – a mediaeval Serbia which was broken in defence of Western Christianity at the Battle of Kosovo Polje, trying to hold back the Muslim hordes from the Ottoman Empire of the Turks.

ORANGE-ification
Letting go of Kosovo is for the Serbs the equivalent of Eire abandoning the 6 counties. However, for the Serbian economy, still recovering from wars and sanctions but tempted by the carrot of EU membership, an Eire-type ORANGE-ification is not beyond the realms of possiblilty.

It is exactly this kind of strategy for the Palestinians that Spiral Dynamics co-developers Don Beck & Chris Cowan discussed with the US State Department during Bill Clinton’s first term. Using Eire as the blueprint, the idea was to pump money into the Palestinian economy in the hope of stimulating a cultural emergence of ORANGE. The hope was that Palestinians would become more interested in bettering themselves than killing Israelis – and that would then remove the Israeli justification for continued occupation of the Palestinian areas. (For various reasons the talks with the State Department stalled but Beck has since discussed variations on that theme with foreign policy interest groups at the European Parliament and the European Commission.)

Perhaps some kind of partition of Kosovo along the lines suggested by Tim Judah will provide a partial and at least temporary solution. But, as the Irish Catholics proved, partition borders don’t tend to hold people back for very long when there are few jobs one side of the border and a shortage of labour on the other. And then the pre-partition probems are re-engaged.

As most MeshWORKERS know, there are rarely final fixed solutions when managing vMEMES. A constant vigilance for changing scenarios and the capability to respond to those changes are necessary to anticipate and resolve problems.

In Kosovo – just as in Ireland – the PURPLE tribalism will never go away but it can be superceded by a ‘greater PURPLE’ identity – eg: ‘Yugoslavia’ – and held in check by powerful and efficient BLUE. The propagation of GREEN humanism to undermine some of the BLUE religious dogma will also help. In the right conditions, contained tribalism can even be rendered irrelevant by the emergence of ORANGE at a cultural level.

The key then to managing conflict is understanding and manipulating vMEMES. PURPLE tribalism can be managed and controlled but its power to re-emerge as a powerful and potentially destructive force should never be underestimated.

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