Western pressures on Serbia and the Alternatives


Thursday, May 1, 2008

Western pressures on Serbia and the Alternatives
By Boba Borojevic
April 30, 2008

The government of Serbia underwent a period of severe crisis following the unilateral declaration of independence by the Albanian leaders in its southern province of Kosovo and Metohija on February 17. Three weeks later Prime Minister Kostunica called early parliamentary elections, thus acknowledging the collapse of the coalition government over disagreements about how the country should respond to Kosovo’s UDIDr. Srdja Trifkovic, director of the Center for International affaires at The Rockford Institute, Illinois, in his interview for the “Voice of Canadian Serbs” says that on May 11th the citizens of Serbia will vote in the most important parliamentary election since the fall of Slobodan Milosevic. “It may be said that this is also the most important parliamentary election in Serbia since before World War One,” says Trifkovic, “because ever since that time we’d had ‘Yugoslavia’ in one form or another, and after the collapse of Yugoslavia we’d had a period of Milosevic’s authoritarian rule. This is the first elestion for the National Assembly of Serbia in almost a century that offers the people two clearly articulated yet fundamentally different strategic options.”

The differences between the “pro-European bloc” led by the Democratic Party (DS) of President Boris Tadic, and the “popular bloc” of that coalition, led by the Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) of Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica, had become insurmountable. The DS believes that it is possible to continue with what they call “the process of European integrations” regardless of the status of Kosovo. They claim that it may be possible to have a dual-track diplomacy and dual track policy, whereby the refusal of Serbia to accept Kosovo’s independence would not influence – and therefore would not hinder – the process of getting closer to EU. The DS is keenly advocating the signing of the Stabilization and Association Agreement with the EU. That document has not been offered to Serbia yet, but may well be in the next few days.

The argument of the DSS of PM Vojislav Kostunica is that following the recognition of Kosovo by some of the leading countries of the EU, such as France, Germany, Great Britain and Italy, and following the decision of the EU to send the EULEX mission to Kosovo composed of 2000 policemen, judges and administrators – even though this mission has not been authorized by a UN SC resolution – is proof positive that it is no longer possible to pretend that this dual track policy can continue.

Specifically, the DSS (as well as the Radical Party, which is the biggest parliamentary party in Serbia) argue that the EU has adopted a sustained and elaborate policy of actively supporting the secession of Kosovo, while merely pretending that it seeks Serbia’s cooperation on a non-commital basis or that it is ready to seriously consider the process that would lead to Serbia’s eventual integration into the Union.
The debate in Serbia on the EU has been highly ideological. The DS simply does not allow the possibility of any serious critical examination of the policies pursued from Brussels. It keeps repeating that “European integrations have no alternative” and that the continuation of those integrations is the highest priority for Serbia – that those integrations per se constitute the country’s national interest as important as the preservation of territorial integrity itself.

The Democratic Party of Serbia and the Radical Party respond that any eventual integration into the EU can only be a means to an end, and not the end in itself. Indeed, it is incongruous to equate a technical and legal issue, such as a country’s entry into a regional association, with a core national interest, such as the preservation of that country’s territorial integrity and sovereignty.

Any future government in Belgrade will need to make a frank and open statement to the EU that Serbia is prepared to continue its process of integration, but that any such process has to be based on the clear acknowledgement from the EU that it accepts Serbia in its entirety, i.e. with Kosovo included as its integral part. That, of course, will not happen. It is no longer possible for the EU to make any such declaration, in view of the fact that its leading countries have already recognized the self-proclaimed regime in Pristina.

Western influence

Before Kosov’s UDI on February 17 and subsequent recognition by the leading Western powers, those powers had exercised some considerable influence on successive governments in Belgrade. For seven years following the fall of Milosevic, Serbia’s policies had been guided by the perceived need to develop cooperation and trust with Brussels, Washington, and other Western capitals. The authorities in Belgrade had hoped that Serbia’s proven cooperativeness – vis-à-vis the Hague Tribunal, and with its market-oriented reforms, sale of state assets, legislation that would bring the country into line with EU standards in various areas, etc. – would yield some benevolence towards Serbia from those Western powers, and specifically their readiness to adopt a more even-handed approach to Kosovo problem.

That has not happened. In spite of seven years of sustained cooperativeness the Western powers have treated Serbia with unprecedented brutality. The recognition was hastily effected in clear violation of international law and of the EU’s self-proclaimed standards of legality. Therefore, the ability of the Western powers to influence political events in Belgrade has diminished. Their clout is very rapidly declining, as Serbia is beginning to realize that cooperativeness has not yielded any positive results. Quite the contrary: cooperativeness has only created the impression in some quarters that no matter what the west does to Serbia, Serbia will come back wagging its tail and begging for more. We have reason to believe, on the basis of the most recent opinion polls conducted in Serbia, that this will no longer be accepted by the electorate.

In substance it is clear that there are countries within the EU that do not want Serbia in the Union, now or at any future date, and they will keep imposing ever higher goal posts which will be impossible for Serbia to cross for many years, or even decades. Former German Ambassador in Belgrade, Zobel, openly said that even if they give up Kosovo now, the Serbs could only hope for the EU membership in some 20-25 years.

Russia’s impact

On the other hand the Russians have been playing a cautious game in the aftermath of Kosovo’s independence. While continuing to oppose the recognition of the self-proclaimed entity in Pristina, and while continuing to appear diplomatically determined to put obstacles to Kosovo’s recognition, the Russians have been reluctant to enter into closer arrangements with the Serbian government for the simple reason that they did not trust the coalition such as had existed before March 11. It was clear that within that coalition the majority partner, the DS of Boris Tadic, was committed not only to “European integrations” but also to Serbia’s eventual membership in NATO.

It would have been incongruous for the Russians to seek closer partnership with a government that was deeply split from within, the one whose minister for foreign affairs and minister of defense were unreservedly pro-Western come what may. The same ambivalence of the Serbian government – including even outright hostility to Russia – was evident in the economic sphere. A key minister in the former coalition, Mladjan Dinkic, tried to sabotage the agreement with Moscow on the South Stream gas pipeline that will run across the Black Sea via Bulgaria and Serbia into Central and Southern Europe. The Russians are waiting, in my opinion, for the outcome of the forthcoming general elections to decide what they’ll do next.

Serbia’s options

It is highly desirable for Serbia to diversify its foreign policy and external economic options. It is obvious that Serbia is not made welcome by the European club and that the EU would like to have Serbia not as partner but as a subservient client. It is therefore both rationally advisable and in the long term more profitable to seek alternative options. This is not a matter of “choosing between the East and the West” but seeking good comprehensive relations with both while avoiding subservience to either.

Kommentar verfassen

Trage deine Daten unten ein oder klicke ein Icon um dich einzuloggen:


Du kommentierst mit Deinem WordPress.com-Konto. Abmelden /  Ändern )

Google Foto

Du kommentierst mit Deinem Google-Konto. Abmelden /  Ändern )


Du kommentierst mit Deinem Twitter-Konto. Abmelden /  Ändern )


Du kommentierst mit Deinem Facebook-Konto. Abmelden /  Ändern )

Verbinde mit %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d Bloggern gefällt das: