EUROPE CAN WAIT
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
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.