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NO 147-148

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Helsinki Charter No. 147-148

January - February 2011




By Sonja Biserko

Social revolutions in the Arab world changed the international context and hence the priorities of the international community. US and EU are reasonably concerned over epilogues. However, the justified anger of citizens of these countries also raises fundamental questions about the characters of local transitions and creates realistic opportunities for dismantlement of autocratic regimes. The huge potential of the rebellion in the Arab countries but also the attitude of the international community, EU and US in particular, will be decisive for the outcome.

Such concatenation of circumstances in the Arab world places the Balkans in EU's focus once again. No doubt this is due to the security situation in the Western Balkans heading towards collapse again after almost two decades. Macedonia is nearing a breaking point, Kosovo is struggling to form a credible government and so is Bosnia, where this struggle only reflects its deep crisis. Serbia's present government is in crisis that may lead to early parliamentary elections. One cannot but wonder, therefore, whether EU adequately responded to ex-Yugoslavia's disintegration and whether its policy managed to solve the problems arising now in all the corners of the world, the Islamic world included. One cannot but be concerned over the fact that after almost twenty years of EU's active presence in the Balkans, the newly emerged states such as Bosnia, Kosovo and Macedonia did not manage to consolidate themselves - for EU has failed to develop an all-inclusive approach and define the principles on which today's Balkans could rest.

Acceptance of a purely ethnic principle wiped off everything the Balkans has accomplished in the previous period. Angela Merkel's and James Cameron's statements about the failure of European multiculturalism testify of an ambiguous concept for Europe. The civil concept on which it was built, the same as all other concepts, reached its limits. Foundations of its legitimacy need to be enlarged and some realities recognized for it to become legitimate again. Now the concept, values and strategies are being reexamined but answers are obviously found at a snail's pace. The transition from a bipolar to a multipolar world generates US's and EU's fears of losing their positions but also the endeavor for maintaining at least some extent of liberal internationalism.

Therefore, a key question for EU is: to leave the Balkans to local politicians and their destructive policies or to take into account new circumstances and speed up the candidacy process for all the countries of the Western Balkans?

As a central country of the region and the center of EU's strategic interest Serbia is in the focus of interest. No wonder that bearing in mind its potential for (de)stabilization EU constantly prioritizes Serbia and often to the detriment of its neighbors. So what strategy could produce a favorable outcome for Serbia and for the entire region?

Having built its priorities on a defeated policy and its goals, and still unwilling to recognize the new realities Serbia has not found its place in the region yet. The public debate is saturated with unproductive disputes over Kosovo and ambivalent attitude towards Bosnia-Herzegovina but towards Croatia as well. Foreign policy mirrors the disorientation marking domestic affairs: enormous energy and resources are wasted on lost battles. The dichotomy about Euro-Atlantic integration and Russia is striking. Such a long-lived policy testifies of a lack of a serious analysis of international and regional affairs and, hence, a lack of a vision for Serbia.

Serbia's incumbent government has achieved its maximum: it managed to sign the Stabilization and Association Agreement with EU, obtain the visa-free regime, arrest Radovan Karadzic, apply for the membership of EU and send back the European Commission's questionnaire. It has passed laws regulating a number of areas but done little for their implementation. The country's socioeconomic situation faces ordinary citizens with too many challenges, threatening their everyday living in the first place. The government did little to transform Serbia into a modern state. The markedly anti-modern 2006 Constitution has not been amended and a plan for the country's decentralization has not been developed despite all the discussion. The inland has been raising its voice. Mladjan Dinkic had tried to profit from it with an eye to the next elections. However, his makeshift concept of decentralization can only lead to Serbia's disintegration.

Most problematic of all are Serbia's relations with the countries in the region. Despite intensive high-level contacts in 2010 the political balance is still unfavorable. This is mirrored in a number of cases indicative of Serbia's attitude towards neighbors. Serbia has never broken up with Milosevic's policy (it resorts to different means only), has never recognized the new realities and new borders, and has never really changed its perception of the 1990s. The upcoming census in the region (scheduled for April 2011) laid bare its claims such as the claim on Montenegro, which it treats as a provisional fabrication. Now, on the eve of the census the Serb Orthodox Church noticeably strives after "securing" as many as possible Serbs in Montenegro. It counts on Montenegrins' "fluid identity" but neglects the fact that the state of Montenegro has consolidated itself and is moving towards NATO and EU faster than Serbia.

The case of Tihomir Purda exemplifies the ambivalence to Croatia - ranging from a foe to a welcome partner. The case of Purda - who confessed to an alleged crime under pressure and torture - also raises the question of the concentration camps in Serbia in 1990s, the question that has been suppressed from the collective memory. Instrumentalization of Serb returnees to Croatia is unconvincing even to those people - for they are fully aware that Belgrade was the one standing in the way of their return being after "ethnic consolidation" of Vojvodina and some other multiethnic "pockets." And yet, Bosnia remains the biggest problem of all - Serbia's has never stopped claiming Bosnia and treating Republika Srpska as a state independent from Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Potentials of the Western Balkans are respectable and bigger that an eye can see being kept under the wraps of crime, corruption and irresponsibility. How wise it is in such circumstances to insist on the criteria the region cannot meet without the support from EU? Two decades of destructive policy devastated the region's democratic potentials. Today social and economic issues are on its priority agenda but the region has neither resources nor sufficient political will to come to grips with them. Fašade democracies that acknowledge all the standards and criteria on paper only mark political systems of the Western Balkan countries. Actual implementation of those standards and criteria is a matter of political culture, tolerance and pluralism. And this calls for a more courageous, more inventive and a better thought-out strategy by EU, instead of the strategy for cooperation with governments only while neglecting social needs. In the name of alleged stability this strategy has often hushed up even constructive criticism. That was the case with the criticism of Vojislav Kostunica and now seems to be the case with the criticism of Boris Tadic.

Boris Tadic and his Democratic Party are the maximum Serbia can produce on its long transitional journey but Boris Tadic and his Democratic Party need to acknowledge that they could not move the country forward without the bottom-up pressure and public claim for democratization. Otherwise, they will be under constant pressure from tycoons, organized crime and conservative, anti-European forces.

Only by harnessing citizens' energy towards taking over the responsibility for the resolution of the problems of everyday existence can the biggest party prevent the scenarios such as those in Tunisia, Egypt or Libya.

A candidate status would make it possible for Serbia to use EU accession funds for the attainment of its strategic interests. The same refers to every individual country in the region. Simultaneously, European concepts and ideas need to be properly presented to each and every citizen. Only this can inspire citizens' whole-hearted engagement in the country's Europeanization. The task is not an easy one the more so since Europe itself is now reconsidering its concept. But what really matters at this point is that the Western Balkan endorses basic principles such as the rule of law, human rights and pluralism. And what matters the most is that the Western Balkans gets the sense of belonging to a civilizational frame within which it can seek the solutions for all of its strategic interests.


NO 147-148

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