PAGE 3/4 ::: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4

INFO   :::  Home - In Focus > In Focus Archiva - PAGE 3 > Feeding the delusion of self-importance


Feeding the delusion of self-importance

By Sonja Biserko

January 17-18, 2015, Danas


Serbia is a central country in the Balkans under the heavy mortgage of wars: not only has it failed to overcome it but has not distanced itself yet from its strategic goals. This is why Serbia has no a clearly defined public foreign policy. This deficiency will become evident throughout 2015 and its presidency of the OSCE providing a large leeway for pressure from all sides. To properly answer its newly assigned responsibility in international relations Serbia must decide the parameters of its foreign policy.

Over Yugoslavia’s disintegration Serbia had banked on circumstances wishing to keep for itself as much as possible of the ex-Yugoslav territory.

Although that plan failed, Serbia kept wasting another twenty-five years on Milošević’s project. Moreover, the Greater Serbia idea has harnessed the entire energy of the nation notwithstanding fatal consequences. The new elite emerging after October 2000 has not distanced itself from that policy but has been recycling it as it pinned its hopes on geo-strategic circumstances that would change to Serbia’s advantage.

The recent past standing in the way of regional normalization and the dilemma about its place have largely decided Serbia’s attitude towards international policy. The fact is that not a single foreign policy document of impact has ever been on the parliamentary agenda. Serbia acts on the spur of the moment and mostly emotionally: it feels humiliated and defeated but would not recognize realities. Its half-baked decision on neutrality has been made on the account of Kosovo and in a specific situation that has been overcome in the meantime. Serbia needs to adopt a one-dimensional approach to define a strategy based on its new geo-strategic position and determining its priorities in this context. By invoking ex-Yugoslavia’s policy and non-alignment, Serbia still feeds the delusion of self-importance (Vuk Jeremić especially banked on it in his diplomatic campaign against recognition of Kosovo’s independence).


A Declarative Course

After October 5, 2000 Serbia adopted declaratively a pro-European course: but it took it as long as fifteen years to begin the accession negotiations with the EU. Obstructions by Serbia’s conservative establishment and most of the country’s national institutions have largely contributed to such snail’s pace. Many ascribe it to Serbia’s pro-Russian orientation. Actually Serbia has been always torn between modernity and anti-modernity, between the reality and myths. In sum, while Europe believes in norms based on universal values, Russia (along with other undemocratic countries) is after reviving is power and legitimacy in the international system (mostly resting on oil). Milošević’s “Memorandum project” had banked on Russia and would not go on the warring adventure without its support. Disintegration of the Soviet Union had neutralized Russia’s influence until Putin came to power: he has been reincarnating Russia’s strategic interests and goals in the Balkans.

Serbia will not be a modern state as long as it refuses to give up Kosovo, Bosnia and Montenegro – or, as long as it would not reconcile with its internationally recognized borders. Until then its domestic and international policies will be in discord. To become a truly modern European country Serbia must also abandon the “ethnic state” concept at home, which has been fueling tensions between the majority and the minority, and creating divides along ethnic lines.

Poverty and isolation added to the sense of humiliation and failure, which in turn feeds the feeling of historical fall on the one hand, and lives on it on the other. Serbia’s unwillingness to distance itself from Milošević’s policy and perceive its position realistically only strengthens the public consciousness about Serbs as eternal victims. The search for identity and failed social and economic integration fuel radicalization and conspiracy theories (for instance, by sending Šešelj back home the West wants to destabilize Vučić and his cabinet). Unless economically developed Serbia cannot be a major factor in the region or internationally.

Unwillingness for reforms – and consequent economic stagnation – fuel unrealistic hopes for economic revival such as the South Stream project, Belgrade Waterfront, Chinese and Arab investment, development of agriculture, the banking system and tourist resorts, etc. The national question is raised in every crisis situation (Kosovo or just name it): over and over, this homogenizes the nation against any threat whatever and spread the false belief that a change in geo-political reality (Russia’s comeback as a global power in the first place) would lead towards restoration of Kosovo and unification of all “Serb territories.”

Serbia has to learn a lesson from its defeats in the 1990s wars and hence draw a strategy based on realities, regional and international. It should reconsider its position against these realities. The milestones of its foreign policy should be EU, the region, security and NATO, Russia and US, and international organizations such as UN, Council of Europe, etc.


Strategy for the Region

Serbia’s attitude towards the region is above all guided by its territorial ambitions in independent states of today. Serbia believes that is has been defeated in Croatia only considering all other outcomes as provisional. This is why overcoming the past is a key to regional normalization. Unless it overcomes the past Serbia will never get the role it hopes for. Proper regional relations are the biggest potential for regional development and the biggest chance for a region to figure as a major international player.

Regional relations have been at extremely low level especially since the incumbent coalition came to power (2012). President Nikolić’s many tactless statements triggered of negative reaction all over the region; Croatia-Serbia charge and countercharge before the International Court of Justice raised tensions throughout the procedure. Despite the Dayton and the Brussels Agreements Serbia has not yet convinced either the region or the international community that it has given up its old ambitions. The Dayton Accords and their non(implementation) have legitimized the ethnic cleansing in Bosnia in every way. On this assumption Serbia – actually, Republika Srpska /RS/ - works for rounding off its statehood. Relations with Bosnia are, therefore, most sensitive; these relations are on Serbia’s priority list regardless of a government in power.

The fact that all relevant politicians (Nikolić, Vučić and Dačić) have been denying Kosovo’s independence, claiming they never would recognize it only deepen doubts over Serbia’s genuine orientation. There are reasonable doubts that Serbia has not chosen its course yet and plans to maintain its neutrality to sustain the “both EU and Russia” policy. President Nikolić has been announcing a new platform for the issue of Kosovo. No doubt that among other things he has been announcing it to raise his political ratings but counting on Russia on the way as well.


Relations with Russia

In the aftermath of Yugoslavia’s disintegration Serbia opted for a policy close to Russia. The Russian President is the most popular foreign statesman in Serbia. His image of the staunchest champion of “Serb national interests” in the international arena (especially when it comes to Kosovo) is being built in the public sphere. His popularity in Serbia rests on having “raised Russia to its feet,” restored the country’s international repute and governs it with iron hand. Serbia’s conservative and influential elites have been playing on people’s traditional perception of Russia as “a big brother” in the East to strengthen the myth of Serbia’s proper place – in “the East” rather than in the European Union.

Cancellation of the South Stream project came as a shock to Serbia’s politicians who had looked forward to playing a key role in distribution of the Russian gas. The perception of Russia’s assistance to Serbia – perpetually overblown by the media – was undermined. To attain its strategic goals Russia has been using Serbia ruthlessly, never taking into consideration its actual interests. It not only tries to infiltrate the sector of energy but also to impose itself as a major player in other spheres. This is why it intensified its presence in the region by the means of soft power, especially in Serbia, Republika Srpska and Montenegro. Last but not least, Russia is a major donor of right-wing organizations advocating against Euro-Atlantic integration and for unification of all “Serb territories.” When the Progressists came to power Russia infiltrated the military sphere as well (the regional center in Niš for instance) thus slowing down the reform of Serbia’s Army Forces.

In Russia’s strategy for the Balkans Serbia is in the service of its global influence. This is why the West keeps an eye on it, while Serbia itself keeps having an air of a bridge between the East and the West.


Relations with the West

Declaratively, Serbia has opted for the membership of EU; to confirm this has taken some steps in that direction. Most important of all steps taken is the signature it put under the Brussels Agreement. The implementation of the Agreement itself vacillates – at a snail’s pace.

Relations with EU are defined in the document “Negotiating Framework for Serbia.” Among main criteria set down by it are normalization of relations with Kosovo and regional cooperation. So far Serbia has been implementing the Brussels Agreement with mincing steps. Among the reasons why were the Kosovo elections and subsequent, protracted negotiations on a new cabinet. However, Serbia is inactive in many other domains not calling for Albanian cooperation – in, say, establishment of the so-called community of Serb municipalities. No doubt that this is also because Kosovo Serbs oppose the concept.

Serbia’s most relevant cooperation with US is in the military domain – through Partnership for Peace. At the same time, this cooperation is on the American priority agenda as well considering the rivalry over economic-political spheres of influence. The Balkans is most important in this context because of NATO’s south wing and its influence on the Middle East. Among other things these were the concerns behind interventions in Bosnia and Kosovo.

Serbia should define its security within the region and, hence, NATO, given that all the countries in its neighborhood are either in the membership of NATO or on their way towards it. Besides, in the post-conflict region NATO could be (actually already is) a stabilizer and warrant of internationally recognized borders some regional players have not yet accepted.

For the first time the Euro-Atlantic frame figures as a common roof for the Balkans, guaranteeing the region’s stability and development in the long run.

When it comes to big individual countries Serbia should always bear in mind Germany’s international power and influence; besides, Germany is Serbia’s biggest investor and financial donor. Germany’s pressure on Serbia for opening negotiations with Kosovo - and eventually sign the Brussels Agreement - was crucial. As it plays more and more important role in the international theater Germany will exert the same pressure for solution of the Bosnian problem. As a country defeated in the WWII and most developed democracy at present, Germany has a special moral credibility for mediation in all Balkan crises.

Turkey is a new/old factor in the region and beyond it. The Balkans figures among Turkey’s three most important priorities (along with the Middle East and Caucasus). In its strategy for the Balkans it relies on Bosniaks and Albanians for revival of the Ottoman cultural heritage by the safeguard of identities of these two ethnic communities at the same time.

The Ottoman cultural heritage was specifically destroyed during the 1990s wars. Actually, the war was after it – to eliminate Islam and Ottoman identity in the region. Serbia’s war propaganda made no bones about it in Bosnia and Kosovo while arguing against the threat of the so-called Islamic fundamentalism.

Bilateral relations with Turkey call for careful reconsideration. First of all, Serbia has to overcome negative stereotypes about Islam, the Ottoman Empire and contemporary Turkey. In the years to come the Balkans’ stability and development will considerably hinge on Turkey. This is why the Foreign Ministry, the parliament, the National Security Council, the General Staff, institutes and all analytical services should tackle the issue without any prejudice. Serbia has a potential for being Turkey’s major partner in the Balkans (along with Bosnia, Kosovo and Albania) and assisting Balkan Islam’s integration into Euro-Atlantic structures.


About Serbia’s Chairmanship of OSCE

Trying to curb NATO’s spread and significance for years, Russia wanted to impose OSCE as Europe’s security frame but failed. No doubt that now the Ukrainian crisis will reopen the question of the continent’s security frame.

Given that the West’s economic sanctions have considerably undermined Russia’s position, some compromise solution of the Ukrainian problem could be expected.

The question is whether Serbia has moral credibility and professional capacity for such responsible task – or, is it up to the chairmanship of OSCE considering its unpreparedness for coping with similar situations in the region itself.



PAGE 3/4 ::: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4










Copyright * Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Serbia - 2008

Web Design * Eksperiment