New tour of Vesna Pusić, a friend of separatism in Syria and Iraq

The fact that Vesna Pusić established herself as a star of US-sponsored separatism in the Middle East passed completely unreported in Croatia's and Balkan's media
Henry Kissinger and Vesna Pusić (Twitter/VladaRH)

Four days ago, an independence referendum for Iraqi Kurdistan was held, with preliminary results showing the vast majority of votes cast in favor of independence. The event generated front-page headlines across the World's media and attention of politicians, most of them denouncing the referendum and emphasizing support for international law, Iraq's territorial integrity and coherence, and the concern over causing further instability in Iraq and the Western Asia region. Numerous analysts also perceive the referendum as an economic war between autonomous and federal government, and an unrelenting political adventure of the Barzani clan which came at the wrong time (i.e. a fight against Daesh). Apart from Iraq, the biggest concern was expressed by neighbouring Turkey and Iran, not because of alleged fear of Kurdish separatism in those countries, but due to concern that Iraqi Kurdistan would most likely become an American (and Israeli) military base, similar to Afghanistan and Kosovo. Therefore, while Ankara and Tehran are warning of imposing a coordinated blockade and even with a potential military intervention, it is not surprising the only support for Kurdish independence comes from Israel and their lobbies in the West. In purpose of strengthening credibility of the referendum, the Kurdistan Regional Government and their undeclared sponsors recruited several prominent politicians for foreign observers and spokespersons. A day after referendum was held, the Kurdish media reported that some 140 foreign officials were invited as international monitors, and three of them enthusiastically gave extremely commendable remarks about the referendum. Who are those people, what they said and whose policy they advocate?

A press release was opened by a Croatian politician Vesna Pusić: "Yesterday, the people of the Iraqi region of Kurdistan and the disputed territories, took part in the referendum on independence. We were invited to be observers. From what we know, over 72% of people who were eligible to vote, voted in this referendum. I personally visited polling stations and polling centers from Erbil, all the way to Soran, and saw women and men voting, saw Muslims, Christians and Yezidis voting, and saw displaced persons voting, and saw Peshmerga voting. We stopped randomly, where we asked to stop, at the polling stations and polling centers. It was orderly, there was enough polling places for people not to have to wait too long. We obviously couldn't control details, but what you can see from visits like that, seemed very orderly and well organized, there was no coercion, either preventing or forcing people to vote. I just want to say maybe two more sentences. One is that the Kurds and Peshmerga were the most efficient and the most effective fighters against the Islamic State or the so-called Daesh. We are grateful for that and we respect your vote and your desire to express the way you want to live. And as important to be brave at war, Kurds of Iraq have also showed that they're patient, skillful and very willing and smart negotiators. I see this event as the beginning of a very important negotiations. I wish you luck, and congratulations."

The next speaker was French politician Bernard Kouchner, stating more energetically: "Thank you for coming, and thank you for keeping silent. Yesterday was a great day, and it was not a surprise for the people following the fight of the Kurdish people since years and years. And I was surprised by the Occidental [Western] governments, trying to avoid and to stop the referendum, two or three days before. I share all the words of my collegue Vesna [Pusić], it was very well done, very well done, congratulations. I don't understand the position of some, lets say Occidental governments, I understand the position of surrounding [governments], but not the people like the United States of America, France or the United Kingdom. I don't want to speak enough long to explain that it was the Occidental fault of mainly the United Kingdom and France, to offer freedom and independence to the Kurdish people, one century ago, as us signed the document. It was the Treaty of Sevres. We promised to the Kurdish people a national state, and we didn't fulfilled our promises, during one century. And also I was surprised by the attitude, the offensive attitude of such governments. I thought that the Kurdish people were our friends, and I was assured that the Kurdish people were fighting Daesh, in our name. But not in the state of us, they were dying, we were not. There were fighting, and we were supporting them, so what happened last week? They changed? They reversed their attitude? They changed the whole diplomacy? Or they were just lying, in order to change their position? So, for me, I'm not a Kurdish citizen, there are no Kurdish citizens timely but we'll see, but for me today is the beginning of a negotiations, especially with Iraq. This is not because of the success or triumph of those who voted in favor of the independent state that will change the things, this is the beginning of a negotiations. This is not an additional regional war."

The third one was Franz Obermayr, an Austrian politician without a significant career in international affairs compared to duo mentioned above, and he mainly repeated their ideas. These can be summed up as follows: First, they tend to highlight standard cliches about gender equality, multiethnicity and democratism in Iraqi Kurdistan, despite the fact they're far from all, especially compared with their neighbours. Second, they call upon a narrative of Iraqi Kurdistan as the Western "natural ally" and the "antemurale" against the ISIL in Iraq. Uncritically praising the Peshmerga's role as an argument for separatism in Iraq is contumelious and hypocritical toward Iraq itself, because the Iraqi forces lost tenfold more personnel in the same conflict. Third, they're invoking outdated and historically irrelevant events like the Treaty of Sevres (1920), which are supposed to consolidate the romantic nationalist myth of alleged "centuries-old independence aspirations," rather than focusing on contemporary geopolitical issues. The fact is that Kurdish national identity did not exist in that period, and treaty was a British-French attempt of partitioning territories which previously belonged to Turkey, or even earlier to Iran. Finally, and the most important, those advocates clearly say that they're perfectly aware of opposition by neighbouring countries to the referendum, but they still lobby Western governments for accepting its outcame. Thus, they openly admit that referendum is part of a program directed against neighbouring Turkey and Iran, and that their engagement is not part of the official EU policy, but of particular political agenda.

Disclosing who stands behind their engagement and their wider plans is quite easy, taking into consideration trio's previous political activism and attitudes towards countries involved. During the 1990s, Pusić lectured in the United States at several universities and as an active Croatian politician she befriended several American interest groups, including the Wilson Center and the Foreign Service Institute (FSI), federal government's primary training institution which prepares professionals to advance US foreign affairs interests overseas. She has also been active in the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), a self-declared promoter of democracy and human rights, and alleged "non-governmental" organization funded almost entirely by the US government, with neocons and pro-war corporate lobbyist on its board of directors. Taking into account her publications and public performances, she proved to be a great admirer of Henry Kissinger, a controversial foreign-policy maker who recently expressed worries over the destruction of Daesh because it serves Iranian interests. Political views of Vesna Pusić have always been highly congruent the US foreign policy. From December 2011 to January 2016 she served as Croatian Minister of Foreign Affairs, and her approach toward the Middle East became very clear.

In April 2012 she attended the summit of the "Friends of Syria" in Istanbul, organized for purposes of supporting Syrian rebels and increasing pressure on the Syrian government. Eight months later, Pusić declared that Croatia recognizes the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces as "the only legitimate representatives of the aspirations of the Syrian people." In the same time, it was confirmed that a large amount of Croatian weapons was sent to the rebels in Syria, and that the weapons were financed by Saudi Arabia. As a result of this policy, Croatia lost leased oil and gas fields in Syria, and suffered damage of a few hundred million euros due to the sanctions. In late 2011, Pusić claimed that Croatia is moving toward recognition of the State of Palestine, but after the Americans diplomatically intervened, she quickly reformulated her attitudes. In 2016, shortly after Turkish-American relations deeply strained, Pusić started to blame Turkey for the European migrant crisis in the Croatian Parliament. She is also known for anti-Russian stances as she justified participation of Croatian mercenaries in eastern Ukraine, and advocated importing Azerbaijani and Qatari natural gas instead of Russian. Her Iraqi Kurdistani connection was obviously established in May 2015 when she made an official visit there as Minister of Foreign Affairs.

Barzani between Bernard Kouchner and Bernard-Henri Levy (FB/B.H. Levy)

A political career and activism of Bernard Kouchner, a socialist who later switched to the "liberal hawk" camp, have been even more controversial. He belongs to the group known as "French-Jewish intellectuals," which also includes Bernard-Henri Levy, Alan Finkielkraut and Andre Gluckmann, all of whom at one point or another have either supported American military interventions or expressed anti-Muslim sentiments. In the 1990s and early 2000s, Kouchner popularized the expression "droit d'ingerence" (the "right to intervene") and many view him as the inventor of the very notion of modern "humanitarian intervention." He teamed himself with the neoconservatives and emerged as spokesman for military intervention policies of the United States and Israel. From May 2007 until November 2010, he was the French Minister of Foreign Affairs, and travelled to Lebanon almost monthly during his first few months in office in order to help pro-Saudi coalition. He was a staunch supporter of confrontational policy against Tehran, threatened Iran with a military action (he was nicknamed "Kouchner de la guerre"), and engaged in the inflammatory Iranophobic propaganda. Despite having full access to the Iranian court cases, provided to him by the prestigious Foreign Office, he deliberately lied to French public.

His anti-Iranian views went so far that in July this year he participated in the "Free Iran" gathering in Paris, organized by the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) or the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK), a notorious group designated as a terrorist organization by Iran and Iraq. Since 1979 this group conducted a series of violent attacks on civilians and killed around 16,000 people, more then Daesh in both Syria and Iraq (13,500). At the summit, Kouchner openly called for toppling the Iranian government in the name of "freedom and democracy," described Iran as the "root cause of all terrorism," and praised MEK's leader Maryam Rajavi as a "good example" and the "beginning of a real perspective to change toward democracy." Kouchner also paid his respects to those who helped to safely relocated MEK's members from Ashraf and Liberty camps in Iraq to Albania in 2016, particularly the Albanian government. Other participants included Saudi prince Turki Al Faisal and American politicians Joe Lieberman, Newt Gingrich, Rudy Giuliani, Tom Ridge, Louis Freeh and Jack Keane, all of them also supporters of the independent Iraqi Kurdistan. It isn't difficult to establish a correlation between two lobbyist programs.

Filip Vuković

Filip Vuković is a Serbian politologist and investigative journalist from Belgrade, covering the western Balkan area for Serbian, English and Italian outlets. His focus is on nationalism, ethnic tensions and economic policy in the post-Yugoslav area. Currently, he is preparing a PhD dissertation at the University of Padua.