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NO 95-96

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INFO   :::  Helsinki Charter - PAGE 2 > Helsinki Charter No. 95-96 > Text


Helsinki Charter No. 95-96

May - June 2006



By Bojan Al Pinto Brkic

Serbia is one of 18 European countries that are neither in the EU's nor have the status of candidates for full-fledged membership. Unlike Norway, Switzerland and Russia, Serbia has not opted for privileged partnership with the EU Ukraine aspires to. Albania has just signed the stabilization and association agreement. Bosnia-Herzegovina is about to do the same. As for Serbia, she is too big for the club of countries such as Iceland, Andorra, Lichtenstein, San Marino, Vatican and Montenegro, and, at the same time, not comparable with Georgia, Jermenia, Azerbaijan, Moldova and Belarus.

Serbia is nonpareil.

Serbia is the only country with a government that allows itself to criticize the EU for the crisis in mutual relationship. According to Premier Kostunica, the EU is responsible for broken stabilization and association negotiations. Though it was obvious from the very onset of the negotiations last October that they would proceed as long as the EU has the feeling the Serbia cooperates with Tribunal in The Hague, and though in early April the negotiations were prolonged for another months on the grounds of his promise to have Ratko Mladic arrested and extradited, Kostunica said he shared the responsibility for the failure to extradite the world's best-known fugitive from the international justice with "some people in Brussels and Washington." The spokeswoman of Commissioner for Enlargement Olli Rehn, Christina Nagy, tried to dampen Kostunica's words by joking that Commissioner Rehn was grateful to Kostunica for not having accused him of the national football team's defeat at the World Cup in Germany. However, the head of the Governmental PR Office, Srdjan Djuric, confirmed Kostunica's words and remarked that Finland has not even managed to get qualified for the World Cup.

Kostunica's threat that he would break the relations with the EU in the even of an imposed solution for Kosovo's status also indicates that he means what he says. Kostunica told British Prime Minister Blaire his government would never accept imposed solutions (Kosovo's independence) even should it cost her broken relations with the EU.

What a reasonable person sees as unreasonable behavior of a European prime minister, Kostunica's circle perceives as resolute negotiating position. His ministers and advisers - selected by the criteria of never opposing him - are now telling him that there are sympathies for his uncompromising stand, and that European governments, burdened by pangs of conscience, consider a change in their policy for Serbia. With the aid of special sensors, Sanda Raskovic-Ilic, known for giving voice to Kostunica's hidden thoughts, daily receives signals telling her that big powers are changing their attitude towards Kosovo and acknowledging Serbian government's arguments that Kosovo cannot be independent.

Kostunica's present-day policy follows two tracks of reasoning. Firstly, Serbia is backed up by the international law. European policy, guided by some particularistic interests, constantly tries to bypass the international law, which, nevertheless, will have final say when it comes to the decision on Kosovo's status. Secondly, he has in mind electoral engineering. He will aggravate the relations with the EU in the matter of Kosovo so as to win over the Radicals' voters and then, in next elections, transform them into democrats. Unfortunately, both tracks are wrong.

The Premier and his associates manifested astounding misunderstanding of Europe. The principles of commitment and voluntarism guide today's relations between the EU members and their relations with other countries. The EU member-states consciously invest in relations with others - and occasionally make hard decisions - so as to be either compensated by their trust or by more options. What the Serbian government did was just the opposite: it gambled away the trust and boiled down her options to one only. Accordingly, Serbia will soon have to meet every EU's demand, without exception.

Kostunica seems to have been guided by a series of wrong assumptions ever since the beginning of 2006. He believed the EU would prolong the Serbian-Montenegrin state union's poor existence, he trusted it would prevent Montenegro from calling a referendum, he was convinced neither side would win, no one would insist on Mladic's extradition, the negotiations on stabilization and association would be over before the decision on Kosovo's status and, finally, he assumed the EU should rely on Serbia so as to secure the entire region's progress.

When a man experiences so many failures in a row, his openness to radical moves is understandable. Scores of Europe's envoys tried to warn the Premier he was pursuing a dangerous path but he wouldn't listen. Europe expects Kostunica to dam Serbia's return to the values of late 1980s and early 1990s. For his part, the Premier behaving as a bit more decent Radical asks Europe's support to prevent Tomislav Nikolic and Aleksandar Vucic from coming to power.

Kostunica believes he would defeat the Radicals one fine day - if not by motivating 70 percent of voters to cast ballots for a constitution, then by inviting the Radicals to join the government. That's somewhat stupid. Late President Francois Mitterand has invited communists to the government while their popularity was at full swing and they never managed to recover from that motion. Something similar happened in the Netherlands when supporters of (late) extreme rightist Pim Fortein triumphed in the election. So, why should Serbia be an exception? Vojislav Kostunica wants to be Serbian Mitterand.Though one can hardly suppress laughter at the sight of the Radicals yawing while the Premier delivers a fiery speech, thing are not to be laughed at.

Any connection between his Democratic Party of Serbia and the Radicals, let alone a coalition government, would momentarily destroy Kostunica's prospects in Europe. Populist parties, rightist governments, forums and foundations wouldn't risk their reputation by maintaining relationship with the party that has expelled minorities from Vojvodina and beaten its political opponents, not to mention the allegations against it for war crimes. Europe understands Serbia's specific culture and tradition but wants to build up a common future that only naturally excludes political stances taken by people such as Nikolic, Vucic and other Radicals' officials. The latter might form a union of radicals. But, as it seems, they would be quite lonely in a union as such given that Italian radicals, the French National Front, Jorg Heider's new party in Austria and others are on their guard nowadays when it comes to their partners.

The Serbian Premier has found himself in an utterly difficult position. It's common knowledge that his cabinet survives only by vote trade in the parliament, i.e. buys votes for tens and tens thousand Euros. He has suffered a series of defeats and new ones are most probably awaiting him in near future. And yet, it would be bad both for him and the country should he turn resigned or angry with the entire world. Before blaming anyone else for his defeats he must probe his own responsibility. Of course, no one expects him to personally handcuff Mladic and escort him to the Scheveningen prison. Kostunica is stuck in the society that understands not Europe's political realities. Minister of Religions Milan Radulovic probably best testified to it by expressing the hope that Commissioner Rehn would change his judgment about Serbia's cooperation with the tribunal in The Hague - just like that.

Kostunica is in the right about not being the only one to bear responsibility. Among Serbia's traditions is the one that has never understood either Europe or the world, no matter how hard it tried. The Premier might not be aware of that. However, his positions about European relations seem anachronous and amorphous, even insincere. Observers of the developments in Serbia are aware of that tradition and afraid it could lead her to dire straits. That's why Europe assists Serbia so much. Everyone is full of understanding. The challenges she faces nowadays call for patience. However, there is a limit to everything.


NO 95-96

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