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
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
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.