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NO 125-126

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Helsinki Charter No. 125-126

November - December 2008


European Potential Crumbles


By Bojan al Pinto-Brkic

Eight months ago, the Coalition for European Serbia won the elections on the platform promising a dynamic agenda for tahe accession to the EU. Six months ago, the Coalition for European Serbia - with not so insignificant assistance of the West, the European Commission and the Socialist International in the first place - persuaded the coalition made by the Socialist Party of Serbia that its program led to prosperity. So they formed the parliamentary majority and brought forth the cabinet of Premier Mirko Cvetkovic.

Five months ago, the cabinet formed by the Coalition for European Serbia and its partners arrested Radovan Karadzic, indicted of genocide and crimes against humanity, and extradited him to the tribunal in The Hague. In response to Karadzic's arrest, nationalistic opposition staged a protest in Belgrade, assembling not more than some ten thousand people. That was a clear sign what course citizens expected the country to take. Under the pressure of yet another electoral defeat, the Serbian Radical Party dissolved.

Four months ago, the Serbian Parliament ratified the Stabilization and Association Agreement with the European Union and the Transitional Agreement by majority vote.

Two months ago, the Serbian cabinet decided to unilaterally implement the SAA as of January 1, 2009.

A month ago, the official Belgrade reached an agreement with the EU on deployment of its civilian mission in Kosovo.

And yet, Serbia is in a weird position at the close of 2008. The process of European integration has not made the expected progress. Serbia even lags behind Montenegro. Were it not for Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo, Moldova, Ukraine, Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan, Serbia would be at the bottom of the list of countries aspiring for a better future. To all appearances, Serbia's relations with the EU froze the moment it decided to bring 22 member-states before the International Court of Justice for its advisory opinion on Kosovo's independence.

Serbia's representatives in international forums were also instructed to vote against the EU initiatives, which practically means that Serbia shares not the EU's values, stands and opinions about scores of world issues. One cannot but conclude that our country doesn't want to join the club that is so different from it - or, has a secret but honorable plan to change the EU from the inside.

In Serbia, dizzy with diplomatic successes, policymakers speak nothing about the accession criteria that call for countless things the country should change, adjust and manifest its ability to implement. Strictly speaking, this makes our chances rather meager or almost non-existent. The only way for Serbia to join the membership of the EU in foreseeable future - i.e. before 2020 - is to prove to everyone in the EU that it geographically, civilizationally, administratively, culturally, as a state and by its value system belongs to the European family of nations and would not shake the boat too much once it joins the club if, for some sentimental reasons, its admittance is passed over.

That means that we should urgently adjust our stands on bigger and lesser international issues with those of the EU - even at the cost of the Foreign Ministry departments working overtime.

Since Serbia in most cases has not have any position so far (namely, our diplomacy believes that the whole world hinges on Kosovo) it would do us good to kindly ask Germany, France, Great Britain and Italy each to borrow us a foreign policy advisor for a month or two, who would bring his notes on all major issues dealing with global economy at least if we find the domains of human rights or collective security that boring. In the meantime, the Foreign Minister and his subordinates should be instructed against public appearances. And if someone asks them why it is that they are nowhere to be seen, they should quote Confucius, "Silence is a true friend who never betrays." And they should smile with modesty when someone faces them with Francis Bacon's counter-thesis - "Silence is the virtue of fools."

From all points of view, except that of your ego, you should better be considered a fool than vote in the UN against condemnation of public executions, torture and dismemberment, or say in your capacity as Foreign Minister that you know nothing about the situation of human rights in Iran. It's good for Serbia that it has not needed the support from the Taliban regime in Afghanistan in the United Serbia. Otherwise, it would most probably vote for ban for girls' education, destruction of ancient statues of Buddha or some other things telling of cultural specificities of friendly regimes. Well, we can still give our vote to genocide in Darfur...

Our bad position is easily understood. On the hand, Serbia is surrounded by Bulgaria, Rumania and Hungary, the member-states of NATO and the EU. Serbia would not accept NATO and pledged military neutrality. Bulgaria and Hungary have recognized Kosovo's independence. On the other hand, Serbia is surrounded by Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Montenegro, Macedonia, and, via Kosovo, Albania. Croatia and Albania are at the threshold of NATO membership, while Macedonia and Montenegro hope to be there soon. Bosnia-Herzegovina is a dysfunctional state thorn by ethnic and ethno-kleptocratic motives. Croatia, Montenegro, Albania and Macedonia have recognized Kosovo's independence. Serbia has filed a counter lawsuit against Croatia for genocide, whereas Montenegrin and Macedonian ambassadors in Belgrade have been proclaimed personae non grata.

Even had Kosovo not been the problem of Balkan stability Serbia should have to seriously reconsider its policy. We are not living in the Middle Ages. Serbia is not the strongest country in the region. At least three countries in its neighborhood have economically, military and politically overstepped Serbia. Besides, those countries are in the membership of the most powerful alliance Serbia officially indents not to join.

From geostrategic point of view, NATO is not far from encircling Serbia. Given that we cannot rely with certainty on a kind of Russia's Slav air bridge are options are as follows: 1. To turn ourselves into Switzerland, which implies hard labor; 2. To ask where to put a signature under a declaration of loyalty, which would be nothing new to us; and, 3. To apply for full-fledged membership with pomp and circumstance. Sitting on one's hands and waiting for NATO to vanish on its own is not an option, though that's what we are doing now.

Last but not least, a real test Serbia's fitness for memberships of the EU and NATO is its relationship with Croatia - because of historical similarities and differences, cooperation and conflicts, politics, economy and culture. If Serbia learns how to live side by side with Croatia, other countries will probably also learn how to live with Serbia. However, two lawsuits are pending before the International Court of Justice - one the Court has accepted and another that is still in preparation. Two lawsuits imply at least another two years of uncertainty for both neighbors.

It would be good to finally start playing fair for the sake of the future of bilateral relations and both countries' prospects. Belgrade and Zagreb know each other well enough to be unaware of one another's undercover business. The statement by Croatian Premier Ivo Sanader should be understood in this sense. He said that Croats would not treat Serbs as Slovenians treat Croats once Serbia's membership of the EU was on the agenda. Generally, the policy of obstructing progress of bilateral relations and suing others does not bring fortune to Balkan nations. President Tadic should keep this in mind when choosing new cadres for formally or informally reconstructed government much rumored about lately.


NO 125-126

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