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
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
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
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
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
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