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NO 133-134

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INFO   :::  Helsinki Charter - PAGE 2 > Helsinki Charter No. 133-134 > Text


Helsinki Charter No. 133-134

November - December 2009




By Sonja Biserko

The year 2009 will be remembered by global crisis but also by the growing awareness that all major world actors - from US, China, Russia, Japan to EU - are interdependent. Barrack Obama's election restored the world's confidence in US leadership, while numerous initiatives by leading global powers demonstrated that the world is so interdependent that no country can politically or economically dominate the rest any longer. Multilateralism and mutual respect proved imperative in world affairs. The legacy of Obama's predecessor and numerous financial affairs throughout the world still weight global economy. Some solutions emerged when US and EU mobilized their efforts but the world still has to wait for financial capital to get really regulated. And yet, despite all uncertainties, awareness about interdependence took root to face the challenges of the new era.

Small countries such as Serbia - and, generally, all its neighbors in the region - have little influence on global economic trends and largely depend on support and solidarity of others, EU in the first place. In 2009, after Russia reintroduced the category of interest spheres, the Balkans was finally placed in the West's interest sphere. US Vice-president Joseph Biden's tour of the region last spring was meant to pass on such message. The later developments actually demonstrated the West's resoluteness to stabilize Western Balkans through its faster movement towards Euro-Atlantic integrations. So it happened that Montenegro, Croatia and Albania were admitted to NATO membership, Serbia, Macedonia and Montenegro were accorded the "white Schengen visa regime," the Serbian Ministry of the Interior and EULEX signed an agreement, EU activated SAA with Serbia, Croatia - having settled the dispute with Slovenia - found itself at the threshold of EU, and Bosnia-Herzegovina was presented a road map for membership of NATO.

Bosnia, Albania and Kosovo remained outside the "Schengen visa regime" allegedly for failing to meet technical requirements. This decision stigmatized all Muslims in the Balkans as unwelcome in Euro-Atlantic structures. EU's insistence on certain criteria in Bosnia only plays into the hands of Republika Srpska and its plan for self-determination. For RS Premier Milorad Dodik, EU's attitude towards Bosnia is a most welcome argument of his policy of blackmail. After all, why should Dodik heed the demands from Brussels when they actually open the avenues for his much disputed referendum? The Serbian side has always counted on EU's disappointment with the fact that Bosnia can make no progress. Only once the reasons behind RS' obstruction are removed, other reasons standing in the way of the Federation's progress can be removed as well. These reasons are not the same and cannot be treated as such. Placing them at the same level constantly blurs the whole point - and the whole point is Belgrade's strategy for maintaining the status quo.

The region that has almost regressed for two decades finally got a frame that can take it out of stalemate. Its devastated economy - and even more devastated human potential - could not have been restored without a major support from the outside. Accession to EU and NATO proved to be the only solution not only for the Balkans but also for all post-communist countries. It was only thanks to EU's solidarity and mechanisms that these countries managed to sustain the burden of the global crisis. This probably rekindled their sense of belonging to EU after years and years of its denial. The Lisbon Treaty brought some novelties at long last that unblocked the organization still facing many other changes in the years to come.

In 2009, Serbia faced up its own crisis, which the global one only laid bare. On the other hand, the global crisis contributed to Serbia's awareness that Euro-Atlantic integrations were its only alternative. And this led to its decision to apply for EU candidacy.

In 2009, Serbia made progress in the domains of military and police in the first place. Actually this was what preconditioned its accession to the Schengen visa regime. And yet, Serbia would have hardly made such an advance was it not for EU's and US' benevolence: they were fully aware that Serbia would remain stuck in the vicious circles between pro-European and anti-European options without such assistance and encouragement. True, anti-European option is still deep-rooted in Serbia. However, the impetus given to it irrevocably charted its European course. There will be further obstructions, no doubt. The anti-European bloc has already tightened its ranks over Kosovo, Vojvodina, EU candidacy, cooperation with ICTY, etc.

Serbia's citizens still see the pro-European option as a way out of crisis and solution to their everyday problems. And they are still largely dissatisfied with the government's performance. The reason behind it, according to Balkan Monitor, is that Serbia has made almost no progress in its movement towards Europe for long.

For the first time ever, citizens of Serbia trust more European institutions, the United Nations and the media than their government. According to surveys, EU comes third on the list of the institutions they have confidence in, ranking after the Serb Orthodox Church and the Ministry of the Interior. The police have earned such high ranking thanks to several successful actions against crime and corruption. They were probably so highly ranked only during the Saber operation. Actually, such actions by the police have been in the "package of measures" preconditioning the visa regime.

Regional cooperation - also among key criteria for EU - will be a crucial test of Serbia's changed policy. In 2008 and 2009 Serbia brought its relations with neighboring countries at the lowest level allegedly because they recognized Kosovo's independence. Such argumentation is the more so disputable since Serbia wouldn't know what to do with Kosovo should it get it back by some chance. Serbia is after Kosovo's partition - and for this it rests on the arguments presented by Professor Radoslav Stojanovic - but its attitudes towards Croatia and Bosnia are more problematic. Croatia is seen as a major regional rival jeopardizing Serbia's leadership. However, new circumstances hardly play into the hands either of Serbia's or Croatia's leadership: on the contrary, both countries are expected to play constructive parts vis-a-vis Bosnia-Herzegovina and to have by far better bilateral relations. Faced with Croatia's charge for genocide, Serbia tries everything to have this charge withdrawn. As the latest step, Serbia filed a counter-charge against Croatia. Belgrade seems to be unaware that its counter-charge cannot but raise the question of the root causes of ex-Yugoslav wars and its own responsibility, but also that of the Tchetnik movement and its crimes in WWII. Perhaps that is the only way to untangle the historical knot weighting the region.

When it comes to the recent past - the overcoming of which preconditions genuine normalization in the region - Serbia tries to impose a regional approach that unavoidably leads to relativization. Any relativization is practically impossible with tons of evidence presented at ICTY. At this stage, the international community has tried everything at political level to win over Serbia and direct it towards Europe: in this context, it has made major concessions to it, even when it comes to the interpretation of the 1990s conflicts. However, these concessions found no echo whatsoever in the region. For, the region knows too well what exactly happened in 1990s. The attempt to start interpreting the past as of 1995 when the war in Bosnia ended and as of NATO intervention in 1999 is unsustained - for victims of Serb aggression and victims of Serb defeat cannot be equalized despite the fact that all the victims should be recognized and equally treated. Ex-Yugoslav wars and the bloody disintegration of the former state cannot be properly understood out of the context and chronological insight. The Bosnian genocide is a mortgage on generations to come in Serbia. Serbia's elite's attempt to deny it stands poor chances: one cannot expect today's Europe to suppress another genocide. Serbia has played on the genocide against Serbs in WWII for long and, in this context, presented Croatia as a genocidal creation. However, several generations of Croats - the same as Germans - have paid the cost of that past. It can never be forgotten. However, it does not justify Serbia's denial to face up its own responsibility. Only acknowledgment of responsibility places Serbia into the context of a responsible state and society. And opens the avenues to its speedier progress and modernization.

All these countries in the region still have to establish themselves as modern states - through decentralization, the rule of law and struggle against corruption and crime in the first place. The global crisis laid bare these problems that plague all the societies in the region. And only people ready to cope with them will emerge as leaders of a new generation. Serbia still resists such radical reforms. However, further delays will only face it with even more serious problems.

The global crisis also demonstrated the advantages of regional cooperation. The whole region can make considerable economic progress since the economies of all the countries are compatible and stand for a unique economic space. Economic cooperation may open a dynamic cultural space too. All sides are already well aware of that. Their economic cooperation is by far more developed than political, while culture found rivulets of its own without governmental encouragement. It proved to be stronger than any nationalistic ideology. A dynamic cultural space actually preconditions the region's development and renewal. Zagreb has already established itself as a main regional publisher, whereas Sarajevo as a film industry mecca. For the time being, Belgrade can only boast of entertainment and gastronomy for which its has been known as the most attractive capital in the region.

Belgrade has huge potential that still waits to be used - in the areas of traffic, finances, services and economy. Foreigners seem to understand that better than Belgraders. Belgrade still sees itself as a leading arbiter in the region. A change in such self-perception calls for a new elite that may be emerging already. For instance, its mayor, Dragan Djilas, has all the attributes of a new political sensibility.

All in all, Serbia has to prepare itself seriously for EU. After the progress made in the army and the police it has to reform its judiciary as the third major pillar of the state. Judging by reactions, resistance to judicial reform is as strong as it used to be in the case of the army. Judicial reform will be even harder to carry through because the elites in this branch have social power, have their associations and trade unions and see themselves as untouchable. They were known for their servility in Milosevic's era, but also at the time of Kostunica's premiership. They will spare no effort to prove that judicial reform is pointless and to prove their point they will be invoking individual and undoubtedly questionable cases. Kostunica, indisputable ideologist of the conservative bloc, still has his stronghold in the judicial elite a part of which backs Tomislav Nikolic.

As a torchbearer of the country's pro-European option the Democratic Party will be assaulted from all sides. It may even split into those who are closer to Kostunica and those advocating European policies. It is most important that EU promptly recognizes all the assaults against Serbia's pro-European option and lends a helping hand to its promoters. No doubt that the Democratic Party will be needing the support from the civil society and small and medium-sized enterprises seeing their chances in an open society. As for the civil society, it should retain its criticism but should also constructively support democratic changes. Zoran Djindjic once said, "We lack tradition for any serious strategy. We lack people of strong character in the public sphere. We abound in philosophizing and superficial discontent that bloc action rather than trigger it off and give it proper shape. We abound in intrigues and gossip like the ancient Rome a year before its fall. Our national history, therefore, occasionally associates Sisyphean labor. With much effort we roll a huge boulder up almost to the top only to watch it roll back down."


NO 133-134

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