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EU and Civil Society in Serbia

September 2014

Serbia is once again at the crossroads that call for the engagement of the entire society. The steps the government has been taking towards EU accession do not suffice, the more so since the government itself is not unanimous. And this is most evident in the implementation of the Brussels Agreement and social policies.

The great majority of citizens knows nothing – or knows little – about what membership of EU implies at individual level. Besides, major national institutions such as the Serb Orthodox Church or the Serb Academy of Arts and Sciences, mainstream intellectuals and parts of the civil society strongly resist the values the EU rests on. Today’s EU – disoriented, to put it so - plays into the hands of these structures and fuels their resistance.

The society as a whole needs to back Serbia’s commitment to the membership of EU the incumbent government has proclaimed its strategic goal. A proclamation could become a reality only with popular support. Hence, the EU should rely more on Serbia’s EU-oriented strata.

EU values should be promoted among citizens and brought closer to each and every individual so as to enlarge the pro-European front. This implies a public information campaign to sensitize citizens not only to what Serbia has already received from EU but also to the obligations this assistance implies.

In its approach to Serbia EU should take into consideration the level of its democracy (likewise, the democratic development of the region), specificities of its political culture and historical legacy, and prevalent values; only thus could it adjust its policy for Serbia to the realities and get prepared for the challenges ahead.

Serbia’s civil sector on the one hand, and the European Commission and the European Parliament on the other, should establish intensive communication. Meetings, including parliamentary hearings, assembling civil sector representatives and the newly elected European MPs should be arranged considering the latter’s inadequate experience in the region and knowledge of regional specificities.

The civil sector could become a major partner in the implementation of the Brussels Agreement; EU could profit from this partnership especially when it comes to integration of the two communities – Albanians and Serbs – in Kosovo. The focus should be on two groups of population: the youth and women.

The civil sector could play a major role in accession negotiations between Serbia and EU, especially in deliberations of chapters 23, 24, 35, 31, 10 and 26. Its experience in the problematic these chapters cover could be most valuable.

The years-long difficult situation of Serbia’s media has never been as problematic as it is today. Governmental control of the media and suppression of critical thinking cause anxiety and stand in the way of pluralism. Against the present socioeconomic backdrop the media criticizing the government and civil society organizations are easy targets. What Serbia badly needs are free and constructive media and the civil society resistant to governmental manipulation. Not long ago, the parliament passed a set of media laws the proper implementation of which should considerably unburden the media scene.

The escalating economic crisis could easily generate social radicalization unless the present government works out at least some of most pressing problems. Social radicalization opens the door to other forms of extremism, especially to ethnically motivated extremism at national and regional level.

Regional cooperation between civil sector organizations needs to be intensified and involve younger generations in particular. True, CSOs have been cooperation at regional level so far: however, their activism has not yet produced a critical mass of democratically capacitated leaders to be, the people the EU could count on in the ten years to come.

Consequences of the ethnic concept for the state – the origin of the 1990s wars in the first place – still negatively affect minority communities: ethnic, religious and vulnerable groups of population. Serbia’s civil sector has always worked on confidence-building between the majority nation and ethnic minorities (that have isolated themselves as well). They have been trying to bridge the social gap radical ethno-nationalism had opened.

The legacy of the 1990s wars and historical revisionism weight not only the renewal of the Serbian society but also regional normalization. The regional history of the 20th century – and, especially the developments in 1990s – should be continually interpreted from multidimensional and objective angle. The EU should be more active against the ongoing revisionism and fabrications of the history of the 20th century.

In today’s Serbia general confusion and ideological disorientation negatively affect state-building. Denial of anti-fascism – Europe’s fundamental value – cannot but cause anxiety. With this in mind, the EU should specifically assist Serbia’s civil society organizations that have been promoting European values for long.



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