The future of Serbia is in defining its interests

Instead of focusing on the old habit of ‘nationalism’ and ‘national interest’, Serbia needs to define its future position regionally and globally, particularly with respect to EU integration, Kosovo and Bosnia.

By Soeren Keil

Stefan Dragojevic’s article, ‘The future of Serbia is in the defense of its interests‘, argues that Serbia should focus on the preservation of its national interests, in particular in Kosovo, Bosnia and Croatia. But can a focus on “national” interests really be the answer at a time, when no nation-state in the world is able to cope with the economic, political and environmental challenges of tomorrow? Further, does the Serbian elite even know what its “national” interest is? When looking at Serbia in 2011, one has to but recognise that the major problem for Serbia will be to overcome this focus on “nationalism.”

Three years after the independence of Kosovo, five years after the end of the Serbian and Montenegrin state union and two decades after the collapse of Yugoslavia, Serbia has still not found its position in the Western Balkans, in Europe and the world. Serbia is indeed haunted by the ghosts of the past, be it the continued debates about Kosovo, the ambivalent relationship with the Serbs in Bosnia and Herzegovina or the Serbian foreign policy dichotomy of European and Atlantic integration and a close relationship with Russia.

What this symbolises however, is not as Dragojevic has argued, a focus away from the national interests of Serbia. It is instead a symbol of a lack of orientation, a lack of current analysis and future perspectives for Serbia. There can be no doubt that the Serbian society remains deeply-divided regarding core questions of identity, European integration and Kosovo. However, it is the task of the government of a country to present policies that tackle these important issues, ideally manage to bridge the gap, but at least offer a perspective for future development. Serbian governments since the end of Milosevic have failed to address these underlying conflicts.

1. European integration – is this really what we want and to what cost?

The majority of Serbs want to be citizens of the European Union. However, there is also a strong core that sees the integration of Serbia into European structures as another example of Serbia being dominated by Western powers. All of a sudden, Brussels is able to tell the Serbs what to do in their internal policies, how to reform their economic system, which environmental rules to apply and how to monitor public spending. Indeed, this is all part of the integration process, and it is not an attempt by the member states or the EU institutions to take over control of Serbia but to prepare the country for membership in the largest and most vibrant single market in the world. Serbs need to understand that they are not the only ones that go through these processes and that they have nothing to do with “losing” power, but much more with being prepared for eventual accession.

Of course there is another issue in the Serbian relationship with the European Union – Kosovo. It is an open question if Serbia will need to either recognise or at least come to some form of agreement with Kosovo before it can join the EU. That this issue is of core importance, not only when it comes to the question of eventual Serb membership in the EU but during the accession negotiations as well, can be seen in the stalemate between Turkey and Cyprus, and the consequences for Turkey’s membership bid. What is needed is a clear definition of Serbia’s interest. Do Serbs want to join the European Union? If yes, are they willing the pay the price for membership, even if this includes an agreement with Kosovo? Are Serbs hoping that the EU will not bring up the Kosovo issue in the negotiations at all? What if the EU does? Is it really likely that countries such as Germany, France and the United Kingdom, who have been at the forefront of Kosovo’s independence, will allow Serbia to enter the European Union without coming to an agreement with the former Serbian province? And what consequences would this have for Kosovo? Does the Serbian government really believe that the EU has not learnt its lesson from the disaster in Cyprus?

2. Kosovo – Our land, forever?

Nobody asks Serbia to recognise the Republic of Kosovo at the moment. However, the Serbian government needs a reality check. Yes, Kosovo is only recognised by 74 countries so far. However, is it really likely that Serbia, after failing to persuade the International Court of Justice, will ever gain control over Kosovo again?

No Serbian government at the moment will have the courage to discuss the loss of Kosovo as a fact and ask its people to move on. No larger party in Serbia supports such a proposal. The policy by the current government under the leadership of the Democratic Party is therefore the best alternative, namely to slowly start discussions with the Kosovan authorities on technical issues, in particular about the protection of those Serbs that remain in Kosovo. However, in the medium term these technical discussions have to change into consultations among equal partners. Certainly this also means that the EU will have a key role in the relationship between Kosovo and Serbia.

The recent allegations by the Council of Europe regarding the connection of Kosovo’s elite politicians and crime networks (involving organ trading) need to be taken very seriously and dealt with by national and international legal institutions. However, one cannot seriously argue that because Kosovo’s elite might have been involved in crimes in the past, the legitimacy of the whole Kosovan state is in question. If these arguments were valid, the current Croatian state would not be legitimate, because of the actions of Ivo Sanader and neither would Serbia, because of the criminal actions of Slobodan Milosevic.

It is not clear yet if the Serbian government has a long-term policy on Kosovo. However, ultimately there will be a combination of two major issues in Serbian foreign policy namely EU integration and Kosovo. The current Serbian elite can pave the way for a smooth and slow development of Serb-Kosovan relations and therefore prepare for the moment of ultimate truth when the choice is indeed Kosovo or EU. This does however not mean that Serbia will ever have to recognise Kosovo. Finding agreements below recognition can indeed be an alternative that might be easier to sell to the electorate.

3. Bosnia – protecting our national interest there?

Stefan Dragojevic argued that the current government is not focused enough on the support for the Bosnian Serbs and their constant pressure by international and local actors to contribute to the centralisation of the country. However, if one is serious about Serbia’s interest in a stable Western Balkans, and there can be no doubt about this, then we have to argue that Serbia should be interested in a stable and peaceful Bosnia and Herzegovina. However, the latest actions of the government of the Republika Srpska (RS) in Bosnia have not contributed to stability and peace, but to further tensions. Bosnia is on the standstill since 2006 and major reforms need to be addressed urgently. The current negotiations about a new government in Sarajevo can contribute to a renewed dynamic of compromises and reforms, but the RS authorities and in particular Milorad Dodik’s Independent Social Democrats will have to recognise that further reforms, including a centralisation of important policy areas and a softening of complex decision-making rules are desperately required to make the state work. Serbia can play a vital role in these discussions, both as a guarantor of the state of Bosnia and Herzegovina as a signatory of the Dayton Peace Agreement and as the protector of Bosnian Serb interests. In particular, President Tadic is in the position to encourage further reforms while at the same time ensuring Serbian support for the continued existence of the RS and its rights in Bosnia. The internal problems of Bosnia and Herzegovina can very easily spill-over to Serbia and the country might face itself with a Republika Sprska that demands recognition by its kin-state. This surely cannot be in Serbia’s interest as it will lead to further conflict and violence. Therefore, Serbia has a vital interest in a stable and functional Bosnia.

4. What is going on around me? Understanding the world in Serbia

Other potential conflicts might arise with Croatia over the treatment of Serbs in the country, although the situation of Croatian Serbs has improved since a small Serbian Party joined the HDZ government. General consultations on minority issues are of key importance for all countries of the Western Balkans including Bulgaria, Romania and Greece. Existing cooperation networks in economic and energy questions should be extended and provide a regular forum for consultation and cooperation. Further instruments should be encouraged by local actors and the European Union. Serbia has to be interested in a stable and prosperous Western Balkans and it has to be interested in further integration into European structures. There are no viable alternatives to EU membership, close cooperation with its neighbours and a workable relationship with Kosovo for Serbia. Russia has proven in the conflict with Georgia in 2008 that it will put its own interests above the protection of “little” Serbia and the sometimes discussed idea of an independent Serbia in South-Eastern Europe, surrounded by EU member states is all but a nice day dream. Serbia is not Switzerland.

There remain many polarised issues in Serbian foreign policy today. It is up to the Serbian government to address these issues. To do so, the Serbian interests in foreign policy need to be defined. It is therefore important that the Serbian elites assess their situation and future in the Western Balkans, in Europe and in the world. A number of pressing questions will require coherent and complex answers very soon. Instead of focusing on the old habit of “nationalism,” and “national interest,” Serbia needs to define its future position regionally and globally. The answer to the future of Serbian foreign policy and Serbia’s international development might be very “anti-national” and lie in the integration into the EU. I dare not to think of the “national” alternative.

Dr. Soeren Keil is Assistant Lecturer at the University of Kent in Canterbury, United Kingdom. He has published on the political systems of the Western Balkans countries and the role of the European Union in the region.

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14 Responses

  1. Paul

    You ask Serbia to make all the sacrifices for the sake of peace. Why dont you insist on the return of Serbs and their property in Croatia, or recognize their legitimate historical and political rights in Kosovo instead of telling them to forget about Kosovo, it’s a done deal etc., or returning the 65% of Bosnia owned by Serbs before the war. You still see things from the perspective of punishing Serbia and letting the others off the hook. I had hoped you may have changed your tune as time reveals the truth about the disinformation and lies spouted by the West and their quisling media and give a more balanced view. There is plenty of blame to go around but apparently the Serbs are to take all the burden.

  2. Non-EU citizen

    Serbia is and will defend its national interest. If that means colliding with EU, so be it. There will be no recognition of “Kosovo state” which is essentially EU approval for creating “Greater Albania”. If Albanians are allowed to have two predominately Albanian states next to each other then EU has to open its cards and let Serbia know its real intentions. By blackmailing Serbia with Kosovo EU will create a long period of instability. And, if Albanians are allowed to have “their second state” then why Serbs in Bosnia aren’t? Hypocritical or something else?

  3. Nikola

    Oh okay, so Serbia must be the one sacrificing everything in the name of “stability”. Why are our (some of them anyway) people so blind? The West covered up the extraction of Serbian organs for the sake of stability? And you really sit here and believe this?

    This is blatant racism. The worst part of all of this is there may not even be a single benefit for actually joining the European Union. That is above all the worst part of everything. We are giving up so much for something that might not reach our expectations. It defiantly wont because some Serbs believe EU entry means Euros magically falling from the sky.

    Kosovo has 400 BILLION dollars in mineral reserves. Obviously its comforting to know Albanians will not benefit of that either since the USA will above all. However we need to FIGHT for that. That IS our interest. Ask for help from whoever is needed in return for a piece of the pie, but that must be fought for.

    NEMA PREDAJE-We MUST start defending OUR interests. This needs to stop, this collective guilt they are trying to pin on Serbs cannot work. We CANNOT let them.

  4. Dorothy

    Serbia could start to defend it’s interests by voting out the current spineless government and looking away from the EU.
    And isn’t it odd that Serbia’s real interests are always branded as nationalistic, whereas even the illegal creation of another ‘nation’ on Serbian territory, for example, is not?

    The ruling by The International Court of Justice did not confirm Kosovo as a legal nation.
    It ruled only that the Albanian declaration of independence was not illegal.
    In other words, it ruled that it was not illegal to declare yourself a thief. However it did not rule that it was legal to thieve.

    As for Milosevic’s crimes, what exactly were they Mr. Keil?
    The show trial at The Hague could have used your exclusive knowledge to prove him guilty. It would then have been unnecessary to tamper with his medication.

    Milosevic wasn’t the founder of Serbia. It has been in existence for centuries, with Kosovo and Metohija as an integral, sacred, component.

    The frankenstein ‘State of Kosova’ however was very much created by ghouls like Thaci and his foreign enablers.
    The author of this article seems to be one such enabler, so apart from the torture and murder of people for their organs, let’s also mention the Europe wide heroin trafficking and sex slavery that Kosovo is now also infamous for.

    Congratulations Mr Keil!
    Anxiously awaiting your further advice.

  5. Ceca

    “Serbs need to understand that they are not the only ones that go through these processes and that they have nothing to do with “losing” power, but much more with being prepared for eventual accession.”
    -> The fact that we would not be the only ones in this process, doesn’t mean that this process is a good one. And yes, that would mean that Serbia would, like other States, be losing power in order to acceed to the EU.

    “However, one cannot seriously argue that because Kosovo’s elite might have been involved in crimes in the past, the legitimacy of the whole Kosovan state is in question.”
    -> The Kosovo State was created by the Western powers that argued that the K-albanian people suffered crimes from the Serbian side and that it was their MORAL right to get this separation. In fact, everybody was aware that this independence was illegal, so the only reason to justify it was this so called “humanitarian” reason. And now that we see that the situation was not so black and white, all of a sudden, we should forget this moral right given to them to get an independent State… This is what is called: double standards.

    “However, if one is serious about Serbia’s interest in a stable Western Balkans, and there can be no doubt about this, then we have to argue that Serbia should be interested in a stable and peaceful Bosnia and Herzegovina.”
    -> Why wasn’t anybody worried about a stable and peaceful Yugoslavia? Or a stable and peaceful Serbia?

    “There are no viable alternatives to EU membership”
    -> Tell this to Switzerland. And Serbia could be Switzerland if you leave it alone.

    “Russia has proven in the conflict with Georgia in 2008 that it will put its own interests above the protection of “little” Serbia and the sometimes discussed idea of an independent Serbia in South-Eastern Europe, surrounded by EU member states is all but a nice day dream.”
    -> And the EU States take care about the independent Serbia? Please remove my doubts!

    “The answer to the future of Serbian foreign policy and Serbia’s international development might be very “anti-national” and lie in the integration into the EU. I dare not to think of the “national” alternative.”
    -> Now you said it! Integration to the EU is an anti national solution. I wonder how a person who loves his country, can vote for anti-national solutions.

    “Serbia has to be interested in a stable and prosperous Western Balkans and it has to be interested in further integration into European structures.”
    -> So, in one word: Serbia should shut up, forget everything that was done to her, but pay what she did (or not) to others, and blindly follow the instructions of the Western powers.

    I am sorry, but those are not Serbian national interests. And yes, even if the country is in an economic crisis, it MUST fight for its national interests, that come above all other interests.

  6. Usual rubbish this .A so called ‘Balkan expert’ convinces himself and his sponsors he is intelligent and neutral but takes lines and lines of analysis (to justify his pay packet to say something that he could say in one line ie Serbias enemies get 100% of what they desire and Serbia gets 0% of what it desires. Great compromise and analysis that is !

  7. Mike P.

    Wow! Quite an article! Let me get this straight, Serbia has an interest in letting go of Kosovo? It has an interest in not uniting with Serbs in Bosnia? Why sir? There isn’t an ethnic group in that part of the world that doesn’t want an ethnically homogenous state. Croats did a good job of it,and the Albanians knocked it out of the park with their amputation of Serb territory.In your world sir everyone has a right to not live under Serb domination but we Serbs have to live under anybodies thumb we are ordered to.I think that Albanians and Croats have demonstrated clearly just how poorly they have tended to the rights and sensitivities of their Serb minority,but we are just supposed to get over it right? Well Serbia just think, you are supposed to roll over and expose your jugular to those who have for centuries despised you and in return you get to be a member of the German dominated E.U. That’s right the same Germany who tried to wipe you off the face of the Earth in two World Wars. They could not defeat you on the battle field,but now they will attempt to do it by controlling your economy.Ha what a joke!

  8. Pingback : The future of Serbia is in defining its interests - a response | TransConflict | Transform, Transcend, Translate - TransConflict Serbia

  9. faton

    The problem midle Kosovo and Serbia is just 100 years old. Befor, Kosovo was in province of autonom Albania under the Osman Empire, it wasen’t in Serbia!! If we go 1000 years before, Kosovo was knowed as DARDANIA, the Dardans wehre a folk of Illyria, Kosovo has the lauguage of her fathers (Illyrians) so it wasn’t newer Serbia!!! In 1912, Franch forces have come from the south (Greece) and destroit Kosovo and gived them to the Serbs. Kosovo was much biger, East Kosovo is in Serbian territory right now, they all are Albanians. Kosovo as a independent country can’t be stabil, just united with albania we’ll have no wars in Balkan. The war is begining in Macedonia, cuz there are 50% autocton Albanians but in paper they are just 30%. You don’t know the Force of Albanian Power, We have Illyrian blood, our days are coming.

  10. Nenad

    @faton

    Where did you read those fairy tales? I suppose it’s the newest history written by Albanians. Kosovo WAS NEVER part of Albania but Albania during the tsar Dušan the Great was of Serbia. Albanians are not Illyrians. Illyrians were not people but bunch of tribes. Albanians are from present day Dagestan in Russia. You Albanins don’t even realise in what extent you are actually uneducated and brainwashed. It’s really scary.

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