Vol 1, No 3, 12 July 1999

A   B A L K A N   E N C O U N T E R:
The MinMaj Rule

Dr Sam Vaknin

I have a Roma (Gypsy) cleaning lady.

She cleans my house every fortnight. She is pleasant and well spoken. She values education and good manners. She is spotless, obsessively purgatory, compulsively tidy.

And she hates "shiptars" (the derogatory name assigned to Macedonian Albanians). They are dirty, she says, and criminal and they have too many children. They don't respect their women. She is afraid of them. Her eyes glow with the gratification of the underdog turned top dog, if only verbally, if only for a while, if only while cleaning my house.

This is the way it is: a chain of abuse, a torrent of prejudice, an iron curtain of malice and stereotyping. Czechs portray "their" Gypsies with the same lingual brushstrokes, the same venomous palette, a canvas of derision and atavistic, reflexive hatred.

In the Balkans the Law of the MinMaj reigns supreme. It is simple, and it has always been manifested throughout history. It is this: "Wars erupt whenever and wherever a country has a minority of the same ethnicity as the majority in its neighbouring country."

Consider Israel - surrounded by Arab countries, it has an Arab minority of its own, having expelled (ethnically cleansed) hundreds of thousands more. It has fought six wars with its neighbours and (good intentions notwithstanding) looks set to fight more. It is subjugated to the Law of the MinMaj, enslaved by its steady and nefarious domination.

Or take Nazi Germany. World War Two was the ultimate manifestation of the MinMaj Law. German minorities throughout Europe were either used by Germany - or actively collaborated with it - to justify one Anschluss after another. Austria, Czechoslovakia, Poland, France, Russia - a parade of Big Brotherly intervention by Germany on behalf of allegedly suppressed kinfolk. Lebensraum and Volksdeutsche were the twin pillars of Nazi ideology.

And, of course, there is Yugoslavia - its charred remnants agonisingly writhing in a post-Kosovo world. Serbia fought Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo to protect besieged and hysterical local Serbs. Croats fought Serbs and Bosnians to defend dilapidated Croat settlements. Albanians fought the Serbs through the good services of Kosovars in order to protect Kosovars. And the fighting is still on. This dismembered organism, once a flourishing country, dazed and scorched, still attempts to blindly strike its former members, inebriated by its own blood. Such is the power of the MinMaj.

There are three ways out from the blind alley to which the MinMaj Rule inevitably and invariably leads its adherents. The first exit is through ethnic cleansing; the second via self-determination; and the third lies in establishing a community - a majority of minorities.

Ethnic cleansing is the safest route. It is final, irreversible, fast, easy to carry out and preventive as much as curative. It need not be strewn with mass graves and smouldering villages. It can be done peacefully, by consent or with the use of minimal force. It can be part of a unilateral transfer or of a bilateral exchange of population.

There are many precedents - Germans in the Ukraine and in Czechoslovakia, Turks in Bulgaria, Jews in the Arab countries. None of them left willingly or voluntarily. All were the victims of pathological nostalgia, deep, disconsolate grieving and the post-traumatic shock of being uprooted and objectified. But they emigrated, throngs of millions of people, planeloads, trainloads, cartloads and carloads of them and they reached their destinations alive and able to start all over again - which is more than can be said about thousands of Kosovar Albanians. Ethnic cleansing has many faces; brutality is not its integrated feature.

The Wilsonian ideal of self-determination is rarely feasible or possible, though, when it is, it is far superior to any other resolution of intractable ethnic conflicts. However, it does tend to produce political and economic stillborns. Ultimately, these offspring of noble principle merge again with their erstwhile foes within customs unions, free trade agreements, currency unions. They are subsumed in other economic, political, or military alliances and gladly surrender part of that elusive golden braid, their sovereignty. Thus, becoming an independent political entity is, to most, a rite of passage, an adolescence, heralding the onset of political adulthood and geopolitical and economic maturity.

The USA and, to a lesser degree, the UK, France and Germany are fine examples of the third way. A majority of minorities united by common rules, beliefs and aspirations. Those are tension filled structures sustained by greed or vision or fear or hope and sometimes by the very tensions that they generate. No longer utopian, it is a realistic model to emulate.

It is only when ethnic cleansing is combined with self-determination that a fracturing of the solutions occurs. Atrocities are the vile daughters of ideals.

Armed with stereotypes - those narcissistic defence mechanisms which endow their propagators with a fleeting sense of superiority - an ethnic group defines itself negatively, in opposition to another. Self-determination is employed to facilitate ethnic cleansing rather than prevent it. Actually, it is the very act of ethnic cleansing which validates the common identity, which forms the myth and the ethos that is national history, which perpetrates itself by conferring resilience upon the newly determined and by offering a common cause and the means to feel efficient, functional and victorious in carrying it out.

There are many variants of this malignant, brutal, reprehensible, criminal and inefficient form of ethnic cleansing. Bred by manic and hysterical nationalists, fed by demagogues, nourished by the hitherto deprived and humiliated - this cancerous mix of definition by negation wears many guises.

It is often clad in legal attire. Israel has a Law of Return which makes an instant citizen out of every spouse of every Russian Jew while denying this privilege to Arabs born on its soil. South Africa had Apartheid. Nazi Germany had the Nuremberg Laws. The Czech Republic had the infamous Benes Decrees. But ethnic cleansing can be economic (ask the Chinese in Asia and the Indians in Africa). It can be physical (Croatia, Kosovo). It has myriad facets.

The West is to blame for this confusion. By offering all three solutions as mutually inclusive rather than mutually exclusive, it has been responsible for much strife and misery. But, to its credit, it has learned its lesson.

In Kosovo the West defended the right of the indigent and (not so indigent but) resident Albanians to live in peace, plough their land in peace, bring forth children in peace and die in peace. But it has not protected their right to self-determination. It has not mixed the signals.

As a result, the message came through loud and clear. And, for the first time in many years, people tuned in and listened. And this, by far, is the most important achievement of Operation Allied Force.

Dr Sam Vaknin, 4 July 1999

The author is General Manager of Capital Markets Institute Ltd, a consultancy firm with operations in Macedonia and Russia. He has recently been appointed Economic Advisor to the Government of Macedonia.

DISCLAIMER: The views presented in this article represent only the personal opinions and judgements of the author.

Dr Vaknin's website is here.







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