Gaza War: Could Balkan history show way out?

January 1, 2009

Situation in Gaza is escalating to full scale war with already some 400 deaths and triple of that in hospitals. Using of force can stop rockets from Gaza to Israel for a while but what after that. Gaza strip is so small piece of land hat creating a sufficient buffer-zone – minimum 40 km for present day’s hand-made rockets – is impossible, occupation would cost human lives and money for years, human catastrophe would stay without any perspective of better future. I think that in Balkan history some lessons could be learned and applied also in the Middle-East.

If some ethnic groups hate each other and when both can base their views and claims to selected parts of hundreds or thousands of years so basically there only two peaceful solutions: to train tolerance for generations developing same time living conditions or separate the groups by ethnical lines. Balkans have long experience about the second option.

Balkan examples

In recent history the vast movements of population provoked by the war 1991-95 in Croatia and Bosnia were nothing new in Balkans. For example in 1690 Patriarch Arsenije lead 30.000 families (Serbs) into exile from their lands which earlier were occupied by Turks and when last reoccupation failed.  

Especially after the Serbian-Turkish wars 1876-78 migrations and population exchanges were even bigger; some two million people, divided between Serbs and Muslims, fled their original homes. E.g. more than a quarter of million Serbs fled from Kosovo to other parts of Serbia. The Ottoman government absorbed 1878-1897 more than a million refugees who would not live under the new Christian authorities.

During the period1912-23 up to two and half million people in the Balkans were shifted from their homes due the wars and population exchanges. E.g. 1912 Greece and Turkey formally agreed under the treaty of Lausanne to exchange most of their remaining minority populations. Between 1952 and inter-governmental agreements resulted further emigration of 175.000 Muslims from Yugoslavia to Turkey.

In Bosnia Dayton Agreement was made 1995 after bloody war (1992-95) had almost finished ethnic cleansings/transfer of populations so that it was possible to draw administrative boundaries according ethnical groups. Ethnic cleansings in Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo are main reasons that Serbia even today has one of the biggest refugee problems in Europe with 326.853 internally displaced persons (IDPs) and refugees.

Not only Balkans

Recent history has examples of population movements also outside Balkans. After WWII Germans moved e.g. from Poland inside new borders. Finland settled some 10 % of its population from territories occupied by the Soviet Union, which from its side transferred new population to new regions.  

Israel itself is mainly settled by immigrants and e.g. in last twenty years over half a million people with some Jewish origin has come from ex-Soviet Union. In smaller scale more or less forced population transfers have been emptying Jewish colonies in Gaza and West-bank.  

The pros and cons

Forced population movements can include some negative aspects such as

  • It violates human rights especially freedom of movement
  • Politically it can be seen as ethnic cleansing
  • Property rights are violated
  • It does not solve Jerusalem and West-bank question
  • If not supported by effective re-settlement programmes the problems only changes place
  • It violates high western ideals of multi-ethnic tolerant societies

One can however also defend applying this kind of solution in the Middle-East as follows:

  • It changes focus of societies from security/violence/defence questions more to economical/social fields
  • During planning Gaza-solution also Jerusalem and West-bank questions and agreement with Syria about Golan Heights and Lebanon should be integrated to master-plan
  • Supported capacity building of administration of new settlements can create some good practices also for development of Palestinian statehood elements
  • When people can live and live at best case in peace (both sides) they can plan their future and act to implement their individual dreams/visions
  • Better than be death and right is to be alive

The bottom line

Emptying Gaza by internationally agreed and financed population movement is brutal action but what is the alternative – continuing wars, intifadas and human catastrophe forever. It is pragmatic solution, good planning is needed so that new settlements are made sustainable way with possibility to various economical activities and implementation must be effective backed with sufficient financial resources for infrastructure, housing and logical socio-economical development programmes.


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