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NO 123-124

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INFO   :::  Helsinki Charter - PAGE 2 > Helsinki Charter No. 123-124 > Text


Helsinki Charter No. 123-124

September - October 2008


Serbia and Regional (In)stability


By Ivan Torov

As times go by since the hysterical and revengeful expulsion of Montenegrin and Macedonian ambassadors it seems that all the actors of the latest, overdramatized Balkan crisis, covertly or overtly but still complacently rub their hands. They are probably convinced that everything could have ended in a more dramatic and dangerous way.

Serbia's top-ranking officials believe that their diplomatic action has showed neighbors what they think about them and manifested who's who in the region of the so-called Western Balkans. Macedonia may consider itself lucky that its northern border remained open to Europe and that Belgrade will most probably not take the opportunity to annul Milosevic's recognition of Serbia's southern neighbor under its constitutional name. As for Montenegro, after the initial wave of unrestrained anger and threats - but Tadic's subsequent conciliatory statements as well - dreads less further aggravation of mutual relations. True, Bosnia-Herzegovina is somewhat confused, left out of it all, but still inclined to believe that Dodik's turning into a "new Lukashenko" would be stopped or at least that his destructive influence would be limited. And what about Kosovo? Well, Kosovo is where it has always been, plus three new recognitions and the hope that the International Court of Justice would not, in the long run, curb its ambition to secure for itself a better place in the world.

How come tables have turned so suddenly, almost all of a sudden as Belgrade's decision to manifest its revolt - true, in a limited form - because "neighbors stabbed Serbia in the back at the moment when by the force of its legal arguments it won the hearts and sympathies of the non-aligned countries?" Was it because of Tadic's assessment (for the time being the head of state has the final say in Serbia) that further stretching of the rope in the region would sooner or latter produce a boomerang effect or because of the fear that the initial (semi)official hysteria could turn uncontrolled bearing in mind the forceful and emotional, unscrupulous, nationalistic and revengeful impulse of Milosevic's type burst out after Skopje's and Podgorica's recognition of Kosovo's independence? Both reasons did have influence but the main one is to be tracked down in the Serb political and national (the ruling and the other one) "elite's" almost inherent tendency to believe - despite everything and despite the painful consequences Milosevic's belligerent and nationalistic policy has left in the Balkans - that it achieved its goal by the very act of expulsing diplomats: that is passed on the message that Serbia would not give up the position of a predominant regional factor (political, economic and, why not, military), at least predominant among Balkan states painfully emerging from years-long agony. Serbia role-plays a Balkan Piedmont (a center of Serb homogenization), clearly intent to let know all and sundry that nothing could be done properly without it and its crucial influence.

In this context, one should firstly unriddle the dilemma whether and to what extent has Belgrade's "diplomatic," actually aggressive and arrogant assault at two smaller neighbors by itself disturbed the anyway fragile regional stability and whether Tadic's claims about no further strong measure could be taken without reserve. Even an offhand analysis indicates a lack of optimistic expectations primarily because of Belgrade's intention to camouflage its present and future responsibility for the situation in this part of Europe with a staunch stance that the region has been destabilized by the very act of "unilateral declaration" of Kosovo's independence. In other words, whatever measures Serbia takes after February 17 are nothing but response to "the original sin" of Kosovo Albanian leaders and their international sponsors. They are, therefore, understandable and acceptable - for, "expecting Serbia to sit back and watch seizure of 15 percent of its territory would be contrary to reason." The double standards (many call hypocrisy) by which in the same day ambassadors of two small and weak neighboring countries are expelled while Serb diplomats are, after "brief consultations," sent back to the countries that had recognized Kosovo display the true face and even more the reverse side of Serbia's state policy. Many might interpret such moves as naive and even tragicomic. In fact, they best illustrate Belgrade officials' belief that some goals have already been attained - that the seed of discord has been sowed in the region and will produce effect no matter what politicians say or counsel. That could happen today but will surely happen tomorrow.

Or to put it more precisely: Tadic's subsequent "softer" statements have not buffered or impaired the vitality of the Serb national strategy (or tactics) for destabilization of the "other Serb eye," nowadays independent and sovereign Montenegro. What way back, ever since the infamous "happening of the people" in 1989 Milosevic started by turning Montenegro into the most loyal "anti-bureaucratic" ally of his autocratic empire till his separation with Milo Djukanovic seven years later, and what Vojislav Kostunica continued by directly undermining Montenegro's ambitions for separation from "the elder brother," Boris Tadic now resumes. True, he is doing it more sophisticatedly than his predecessors. The goal is obvious: "close relations" with Serb opposition in Montenegro - formal or informal - are to encourage its destructive nationalistic activity, incite ethnic and other divides, and set foundations for lasting tensions in Montenegro itself and - to a controlled extent - in the relations between the two states. Occasional revival of the impression (delusion) that Montenegro's independence referendum was a "one-off act meant to sustain Djukanovic's absolutism" and, therefore, that Montenegro's independence cannot survive without Serbia's help sends clear-cut messages to Montenegrin opposition that is should actively destabilize the government. What Serbia waits for is the most opportune moment for "a final blow" - and the Serb political oligarchy strongly believes that would be when the International Court of Justice sustains Serbia's "legal argumentation." Such an epilogue would leave Djukanovic in the open to "bear the consequences of his strategically wrong decision" to recognize Kosovo and confront Serbia.

The fact that due to its domestic (Dayton) blockade Bosnia-Herzegovina was unable to make any decision about Kosovo does not exactly affect Belgrade's ambition to apply to Sarajevo the same destabilization formula. Kostunica was applying it for long by interfering into internal relations between entities and elevating Republika Srpska (xenophobic about Bosniaks, he was nourishing special ties with Banjaluka to which he moved considerable capital from Belgrade) to the level "of yet another Serb state temporarily residing in Bosnia-Herzegovina." As of lately, Serbia's trump card is Republika Srpska Premier Milorad Dodik. Whether in the role of a "Serb Trojan horse" or a fresh Serb nationalist of Social Democrat type matters little when compared with his preoccupation with undermining and blocking Bosnia and thus constantly keeping it in the state of high tension, as "a doomed project." Since neither Miroslav Lajcak nor his employers in the EU are capable of counteracting Dodik's destructive activism and even less to offer a rational, alternative solution to overcome the present-day Dayton paralysis, Bosnia remains a merchandise to bargain with. The Serbs demand an entity in the form of a more or less independent state and threaten with leaving Bosnia-Herzegovina at will. The Croats would only be glad to separate with Bosniaks and establish their own national entity. As for Bosniaks, they persistently nourish the delusion about a unitarian state with "rearranged" roles for entities, despite all. Actually, Bosnia will remain more or less in the position of its neighbors' reserve solution. The solution that will tip the scales and another armed conflict between three peoples will eventually depend on Kosovo. For Belgrade, Republika Srpska is the most welcome opportunity for territorial compensation once it accepts that Kosovo is lost forever.

As for Macedonia, it seems that the analysts saying that after Skopje's "betrayal" of Serb national and state interests with its recognition of Kosovo's independence Serbia will be quite satisfied with "a package of disciplinary measures" implying continuation of economic relations (that are more favorable to Serbia than to Macedonia) on the one hand, and radical weakening of Macedonian political position at least in the region on the other, are right. In other words, Macedonia will be left to Greece's nationalistic arbitrariness blocking its movement towards NATO and the EU, but also to the destructive effect of "its own" Albanian "separatist movement" insisting on the so-called federalization - i.e. on Macedonia's partition. Of course, Belgrade will be adding fuel to the fire of the years-long dispute between the two Eastern Orthodox churches, and belittling Macedonia's "independence," "sustainability" and "sovereignty."

The key to the future regional in(stability) is in this and such quadrangle (Belgrade-Podgorica-Sarajevo, i.e. Banjaluka-Skopje). No doubt, also, that the latest outburst of nationalistic rhetoric and retorsion in Serbia will have grave consequences. Despite Tadic's petty-political reversion and conciliatory messages, one cannot but be the more so pessimistic since it seems that Serbia resumes the models of "defense of state interests and national dignity" characteristic of the Milosevic era. Its policymakers are openly aspiring at playing the part of "Balkan Goliath," of a decisive factor of the region's economic, political and military (in)stability. The announced, drastic increase of its military potential and the denial of hospitality to the ambassadors of its next-door neighbors are also supposed to pass on the message that Serbia intends not to undergo substantive changes, as well as that neighbors should be "mindful" if they want to avoid even more drastic Serb vengeance.


NO 123-124

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