HELSINKI CHARTER

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NO 167-168

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Helsinki Charter No. 167-168

September - October 2012

 

Serbia at the International Scene

A STEP CLOSER TO MOSCOW

By Petar PopoviŠ

Initial effects of the new regime’s policy only add to the impression that Belgrade’s boat is changing its course. More and more frequently Serb officials are stating that membership of EU is not a goal to be achieved at all costs, that there are things more important than integration (Kosovo) and that should Brussels continue insisting on accession preconditions (recognition of Kosovo’s territorial integrity) there is always an alternative: a speedier movement towards Russia.

The September meeting between presidents Nikolic and Putin in Sochi was their third meeting in a row in 2012. Or the second in the past four months since Nikolic’s election and Putin’s reelection.

As far as I know, not a single statesman in Serbia has been rewarded so many “Russian meetings” in such a short time so far. Putin has been invited to Belgrade in December 2012. Should he come, 2012 will go down in history as the year of reincarnated Russian-Serb ties. Anyway, Putin said that Serbia was Russia’s most reliable partner in the Balkans.

Does this change anything in Belgrade’s relations with big powers?

There is nothing unusual when a head of a small state pays a visit to his powerful counterpart. True, these powerful counterparts are kept posted through diplomatic channels. Analyses about “new people” at the scene are also available to them. However, key figures of international relations seem always eager to hear the “spoken word” and see themselves the new man at the helm of a state.

And this is the opportunity for a novice statesman to fascinate his interlocutors with his ideas and energy in the advocacy of his cause. And to suppress all second thoughts, if any.

The impression Zoran Djindjic left on his interlocutors secured Serbia Germany’s friendship at a crucial moment, the friendship that was, unfortunately, questioned later on. This impression died away with his assassination and Serbia’s drift from his visionary policy.

Then we have an itinerary. A schedule of presidential visits mirrors the significance given to certain capitals. Before he embarked his presidential plane, Nikolic should have determined the course of his inaugural visits to countries and heads of state. His plane has not taken a course to Moscow first, but to Brussels – to the seat of EU Serbia of Boris Tadic’s era had aspired to become a member-state. Therefore, his first visit was a welcome sign. The new President’s visit to EU should have signaled that the administration that had replaced Tadic’s planned not to minimize the EU priorities. In other words, it should have demonstrated that Serbia’s international priorities had not changed.

Serbia’s policy for EU accession does not necessarily affect the significance of its relations with Moscow, Beijing or Washington, let alone annuls this significance. Anyway, Brussels is also concerned with these centers of global power. The leading EU country, Germany, does not keep at arm’s length cooperation with China and Russia – on the contrary, it develops the closest possible investment, industrial and trade cooperation with them. And yet, Germany and other EU member-states build cooperation with those outside the union on their membership of the same club. In other words, they never act against EU policies, principles and rules. And this brings us to the delicacy of the course Serbia seems to have taken.

If it sticks to “pro-European orientation” as a priority, Serbia should act in the same manner being “an expecting member.” However, an overview of the effects of the new regime’s policy indicates the contrary. There is a growing impression that Belgrade’s boat changes its course. Serb officials are stating frequently that membership of EU is not a goal to be achieved at all costs, that there are things more important than integration (Kosovo) and that should Brussels continue insisting on accession preconditions (recognition of Kosovo’s territorial integrity) there is always an alternative: a speedier movement towards Russia.

Serbia wants a membership of EU but “will not run after any dates given that the 10-year run left it without a penny,” declared President Nikolic Belgrade’s new stance.

“From now we shall take more care about ourselves. We have friends on all sides, so let them compete over assistance to us,” he said in September, shortly after his visit to Sochi. He was more resolute than in the election campaign when stating that Serbia will not give up Kosovo and Metohija without which it would resemble “a man on his deathbed in a stately palace.”

After first weeks with their wheels on two tracks and a slogan “for a membership of EU, but with Russia as well,” now the new regime more and more often neglects the track to Brussels. “Dacic Teach Germany Manners,” runs a headline in the Blic daily. (http://www.blic.rs/naslovna-stampano-izdanje/439/izdanje-za-15-10-2012).

“Let them want us for a while” would summarize the new stance of the new coalition. The Russian track is open, busy and free to traffic. EU should, therefore, put on its thinking cap. They need us, probably more than we need them.

All this reminds one of a bad copy of Tito’s policy in mid-20th century. But the circumstances in which Broz turned the then Yugoslavia into a political power are gone forever. And yet, the number of world leaders assembled in Belgrade at his funeral best illustrate what Broz meant in the bipolar world of the time.

 

NO 167-168

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