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NO 121-122

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INFO   :::  Helsinki Charter - PAGE 2 > Helsinki Charter No. 121-122 > Text


Helsinki Charter No. 121-122

July - August 2008




By Sonja Biserko

Dynamic international relations, emergence of new players at the world scene and strategic turns taken by the old ones such as Russia and the United States make it harder for most smaller countries - particularly those that have not opted for either of the two groupings yet - to take stands that would not jeopardize their interests. Both Russia and the United States try to set new rules in the international relations, often at the others' expense. By testing each other's strength each of the two powers actually attempts to impose its own perception of the world on the entire international community. The role the United States will be playing in the 21st century is significant for the whole world. The role of a global policeman - somewhat also imposed on them in the political vacuum left after the collapse of communism - negatively affected the United States themselves. During his two terms of office as president, George Bush managed to totally antagonize America itself about the issue the more so since at the very beginning of his first mandate it lacked a clearly defined competitor. Now when several states aspire to world leadership, the United States are forced to pull back and define loud and clear their position in the world. The upcoming presidential election will reveal the extent to which America is ready for such reconsideration.

Serbia is among the countries with wrong images about their place at the world scene. Used to being in the focus of attention - due to Milosevic's destructive policy and ex-Yugoslavia's disintegration - Serbia still has to accept the reality that its international position has changed under new circumstances. Its reputation hardly recommends it for some major role, not even in the region. And that will be so until it clearly demonstrates that it accepts its neighbors for equal partners and recognizes some values of modern civilization. Blackmailing that has stamped Belgrade's behavior for years is unproductive in the long run. Continual waiting for something to happen - for Tito's death, for Milosevic's and then Kostunica's ouster - looks like waiting for an ideal solution that would generate itself rather than be generated by the society itself.

This summer, Serbia got itself a government that signed the Stabilization and Association Agreement with the European Union and it got itself a president who had previously signed the agreement on the Partnership for Peace with NATO. The two agreements are of crucial, strategic importance as they finally placed Serbia under the umbrella of Euro-Atlantic integrations. They rounded off the security and economic architecture of the Balkans, the architecture intensively developed ever since 2003 when the EU, at the Salonika summit, decided to offer the candidacy status to all Balkan states. For the first time in history Balkan states opted to stand under the same umbrella, which opened real prospects for their unimpeded development and gradual acceptance of democratic values. This is why the two agreements, worked out by this government, are a giant step forward for Serbia's future.

After May 2008 elections Serbia once again redefines its political landscape. Some constants, however, persist. In the first place persists the constant that you can trade on several world players at the same time such as, say, Russia and Europe. Then, there is the constant that Serbia will sooner or later get hold of Republika Srpska. Insistence on Kosovo is, therefore, a major segment of that strategy. While for some the agreement with the EU is a way out of the dramatic economic situation, the others hope the oil agreement with Russia would secure Serbia the crucial position in the Balkans. In the meantime the Serbian Radical Party, almost midway to the power, dissolved. Probably the same would have befallen the Democratic Party had it lost the elections. Actually, Serbia has always had one party only - the ruling one. Other parties are, more or less, a variant of the same policy. When one variant wears out - such as Kostunica's and before that Milosevic's - another emerges and adjusts itself to new circumstances.

The only party that substantively differs from the rest is the Liberal Democratic Party /LDP/. It emerged in the forefront by raising moral issue of the Serbian society and insisting on key topics such as the status of Kosovo, the attitude toward the tribunal in The Hague and corruption. LPD played a constructive role in the process of forming the incumbent government and manifested political matureness - i.e. the ability to perceive the state's and the society's real interests - at the point crucial for the country's future in the next fifty years. It remains to be seen how capable it will be to maintain its constructive and yet critical position. That will also depend on the Democratic Party and its ability to adopt the European agenda in good earnest. So, LDP is the one and only opposition party. The Radicals and the others from the extreme right will be obstructing the government in all key issues. For the time being, however, the government does have a sufficient majority to conduct thorough reforms if it wants them at all.

Serbia's potential changes considerably depend on Russia as well - actually on Russia's interest in utilizing Serbia in its confrontation with the EU and the US. That was obvious the moment Russia threatened to veto a new resolution on Kosovo by the UN Security Council, a resolution that would have normalized Kosovo's road to independence. According to some circles, Russia offers Kosovo recognition under the condition that Kosovo recognizes South Osetia and Aphasia. And that's nothing but Russia's attempt at instumentalizing Albanians, too, in its confrontation with the EU and the US. The prospects of such a scenario are meager since Albanians, unlike Serbs, show that they understand the spirit of the times. And that understanding determines them today as the most dynamic nation in the Balkans. Serbs would not accept the new realities and do everything in their power to obstruct the said dynamics.

What happened in Georgia testified that small states can be easily trampled under foot and stop being anyone's priority the moment the interests of big powers are in jeopardy. However, Russia's intervention in Georgia has not turned it into a super power or marked the beginning of another cold war. The intervention rather revealed Russia's weakness. Russia's democratic potential is far from being enviable. Russia is challenged by serious fall in birth rate (some 800,000 people each year) because of inadequate healthcare and poverty. In a couple of days only Russia lost several billion dollars - foreign investors pulled out after it occupied Georgia. In the long run, Russia's intervention (regardless of its causes) just pushed its neighbors into the arms of NATO and the EU. Russia's behavior resembles that of a wounded beast - it is unpredictable. Its moves resemble those Serbia had taken in 1990s with reliance on the YPA while trying to gain control over the entire Yugoslavia. Russia and the world could draw many parallels between the then Yugoslav situation and the one in post-Soviet region.

Russia has never accepted disintegration of the USSR. It could not have prevented it due to its own shortcomings and bad management that triggered off the disintegration in the first place. Nevertheless, its strategy over the past two decades has been the one of destabilizing its neighbors. That's exactly why one can draw valuable lessons from the Yugoslav crisis. Unless one understands Russia's strategy for its neighbors one can hardly grasp its action in Georgia, which is just a pretext for its occupation of Crimea. Russia intends to secure an oil and gas corridor in the Euro-Asian arena and thus make the EU more dependent on it. But the plan might cost it dear since the policy it pursues just speeds up the search for alternative sources of energy.

The brutality of international relations calls for a well-balanced and well-thought-out international policy. Unfortunately, Serbia has no international policy at all. All it ever had was a warring policy, which it continues to pursue by inertia. And this mostly affects its relations with its neighbors. Instead of looking for a mighty protector small countries like Serbia should earnestly stand for the principles such as human rights and display solidarity with other small countries the big powers use to compensate one another. Only the policy of solidarity between small countries can relativize the influence of the big ones and make them respect some criteria and standards in international relations.


NO 121-122

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