BIG AND SMALL
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
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.