Ever since Milosevic’s fall, for the last fifteen years now, there’s been a constant concern about whether Serbia will become a member of the EU. This is why at the very beginning of 2015 we should ask ourselves just how far along that road we are. About a year ago, on January 21st 2014, Serbia got a date for accession negotiations, and yet no chapter has been opened thus far. At the end of December, Latvia’s Foreign Minister said he expects the normalization of relations with Kosovo to continue and all agreements to be implemented this year. He also said that Serbia should continue with the structural reforms and gradually harmonize its foreign policy with the EU.
By the looks of things, Brussels will ask that the chapter 35, which is about normalization of relations with Kosovo, be opened first, followed by the chapter 32 about the control of public finance. Only when the issue of Kosovo is successfully resolved and repayment of debts guaranteed, can the chapters 23 and 24, which are about the judiciary system and human rights, be opened in the second part of this year. And those are the chapters that will bring benefit to the citizens.
The EU agenda, which dictates that normalizations of relations with Kosovo should be resolved before other chapters are opened, indicates that the main issue in the EU accession will be Serbia’s foreign relations, while the chapters we call developmental will be on hold. This agenda is already known and already being implemented. The recognition of Kosovo as a neighboring state, without any potential conflicts, is a precondition for the opening of “developmental chapters” (judiciary system, human rights and freedoms, etc.). Until then, the adoption of core values of the European path (i.e. anything that would organize our state in accordance to them) – will be postponed.
The hard formula “Kosovo first, then the rest” practically means that “the rest” is secondary and on hold, which is evident by the EU’s indifference for Serbia’s internal affairs. And the state of the affairs is such that institutions and democratic liberties are rapidly collapsing. In order to clarify this, let me remind you how closely and thoroughly the specialized EU departments looked into Tadic’s reform of judiciary system. Such close control of the state of institutions in Serbia is gone. We don’t even know what’s happening with that reform anymore. But we definitely know that the three-month-long lawyers’ protest, which has blocked the Serbian courts, didn’t bring a European “doctor” to mediate the conflict. It seems that the fact that Serbian courts are closed doesn’t interest the EU much. They are telling us that they will not interfere and that we should solve such problems ourselves. In a recent interview to Blic, the German ambassador told us not to wait for foreign investors, but to infuse our own economic development instead – by domestic investments.
And that is how it should be. Yet, neither domestic nor foreign investors are likely to invest in a state with no legal security. We expected the EU to help us establish a legal state and institutions. Instead, the EU agenda now says that those issues won’t be discussed until the Kosovo agenda is fulfilled. What worries me about this approach is the fact that until the Kosovo process is finished – and it will definitely be a slow one, perhaps even without closure – the current government will thoroughly demolish Serbia, which means it will be light years away from the EU. Serbia will be approaching the EU via Kosovo, while rapidly digressing from it through its own internal demise.
Hence the question: Can’t neighborly relations between Kosovo and Serbia progress simultaneously with promotion of development components (independent judiciary system and legal state, democracy and freedom of the media), which are crucial for economic progress? Why Kosovo first, and then everything else, when it can be both, as equally important for Serbia, the region and the EU? It is understandable that the recognition of Kosovo (informally as “normalization of relations” and, later, also formally) is asked of Serbia as a condition for becoming a member of the EU. It was stated very clearly. Both citizens and political factors in Serbia are well aware of that. What isn’t clear is why everything else is on hold pending Kosovo. And whether these different processes could be implemented simultaneously. It would be better for us.
A date for start of the negotiations was a reward for Serbia for signing the Brussels agreement in April 2013 and starting its implementation. But, it seems that a bad compromise has been made since then: cooperation regarding Kosovo enables smooth demise to autocratic rule and permanent incorporation of nationalism and conservative Russophilia into everyday media campaigns. How else can we interpret numerous praises for Serbia and its “painful reforms” which actually don’t exist, unless you consider reduction of salaries and pensions a reform?
The ruling SPP presented itself to the EU and USA as someone who will get the Kosovo job done, although its leaders don’t follow this in words. Nikolic and Vucic have a major nationalist credit with the citizens of Serbia, so it seems that everyone believed they will get the job done without any problems or opposition. Vucic’s government transformed that expectation (together with the quasi fight against the corruption) into a chance to establish an autocratic occupation of Serbia. And it succeeded in doing so. All those outside “fans”, and there’s a lot of them, are supposed to confirm that he is the true and only savior of Serbia. The government openly says this when it arrogantly asks the opposition, those bandits, how dare they criticize the government which is supported by the whole world. And when they beat up opposition candidates at the local elections, there are no investigations, no arrests and punishments for the bullies, only a question “how dare they criticize the party supported by 62% of the citizens at local elections”.
Only in this context can Serbia’s foreign policy be understood. It impersonates Tito’s nonaligned policy, but actually acts as a toll booth for the corrupt government. Vucic is in charge of the whole foreign policy (especially relations with the USA and EU), because this foreign policy hyperactivity confirms his image of a leader respected abroad. Dacic is in charge of Russia’s interests. Otherwise, there’d be no reason for the SPS to be a part of the government. It is common knowledge that the Foreign Minister’s position was given to them at Moscow’s dictate, as was the Ministry of Energy, which is crucial for establishing the Russian influence.
China and the UAE are in charge of making nontransparent businesses that are damaging for the Serbian economy, but are monetarily beneficial for the political top. Why is sheik Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan visiting the private homes of the President and the Prime Minister? What deals are they making there, away from the public eye? We already know what the secret agreement for Air Serbia has done to us. The shift of the monetary interest of the political top toward the outside happened because the government can’t rely on domestic tycoons’ money anymore, since their businesses are failing. The political top has no sources of money anymore, besides participating in the businesses with foreigners. President Nikolic also said that the Dragica Nikolic Fund receives donation exclusively from abroad, yet the donors’ names must remain a secret. I wonder why that is, unless the donors themselves are corrupt hustlers.
The political cast is exploiting its own citizens to remain in power, by paying tens of thousands of party friends employed in the public sector (state and local administration and public companies and institutions). Private sector is also under attack. The government keeps giving the money from the budget to municipalities ruled by the SPP, in order to buy the votes and maintain the destructive system of a party corrupt state. But, that’s not enough for them; they also need to hide from the public eye. That is why freedom of expression and independence of the media are under severe attack. Add to that the spreading of fear of getting fired, of poverty and political instability through constant government reconstructions, but also the political sadism and arrogance that Vucic’s government is suffering from.
Since the main leaders are fighting over the monetary gain and control over the public resources, the question of whether Vucic and Dacic are in a fight and, especially, whether Nikolic and Vucic have gone their separate ways, is constantly present in the public. Various political positions are attributed to them, especially regarding Kosovo. So, in the past few days, President Nikolic said that he is preparing a new plan for the Kosovo issue. The President went all the way, saying that we won’t give up Kosovo (although it is long gone, except in the Constitution preamble), because the citizens would prefer being poor to their politicians informally or formally recognizing Kosovo.
What do I make of this? Nikolic jumps into the Kosovo game whenever he wants to threaten Vucic for his tabloids constantly spying on and attacking his wife and her charity fund. He knows that the differences about Kosovo would put Vucic in an awkward position just before the continuance of a dialogue with Pristina, which is already scheduled for February. If Vucic “informally” recognizes Kosovo (formal recognition has already been done and declared unimportant), Nikolic will call him a traitor; if, on the other hand, he refuses to “normalize” relations with Kosovo, there will be no more applause for his “reforms”. The “you give us cooperation regarding Kosovo and we’ll pretend to not see Vucic’s charlatan government” trade will be off. And if Vucic falls, so does Nikolic. That’s why, in the end, they always decide that sticking together is better for both of them.
If we finally digest the Kosovo issue and Serbia becomes totally ruined, there still remains a question – Then what? Then, maybe, the chapters important for the citizens will be opened. I believe that both processes should be implemented simultaneously. But it could also happen that the normalization is stopped and Serbia ruined. This is the worst-case scenario, but not entirely unlikely. If that happens, those chapters are off. Even if we can’t choose the scenario which is best for us, and it should be possible to do so, it is still better to stick to the EU agenda, no matter how sickening it is for the democratic public and harmful for the faster economic and democratic development of Serbia.
Translated by Marijana Simic
Vesna Pešić, političarka, borkinja za ljudska prava i antiratna aktivistkinja, sociološkinja. Diplomirala na Filozofskom fakultetu u Beogradu, doktorirala na Pravnom, radila u Institutu za društvene nauke i Institutu za filozofiju i društvenu teoriju, bila profesorka sociologije. Od 70-ih pripada peticionaškom pokretu, 1982. bila zatvarana sa grupom disidenata. 1985. osnivačica Jugoslovenskog helsinškog komiteta. 1989. članica Udruženja za jugoslovensku demokratsku inicijativu. 1991. članica Evropskog pokreta u Jugoslaviji. 1991. osniva Centar za antiratnu akciju, prvu mirovnu organizaciju u Srbiji. 1992-1999. osnivačica i predsednica Građanskog saveza Srbije (GSS), nastalog ujedinjenjem Republikanskog kluba i Reformske stranke, sukcesora Saveza reformskih snaga Jugoslavije Ante Markovića. 1993-1997. jedna od vođa Koalicije Zajedno (sa Zoranom Đinđićem i Vukom Draškovićem). 2001-2005. ambasadorka SR Jugoslavije, pa SCG u Meksiku. Posle gašenja GSS 2007, njegovim prelaskom u Liberalno-demokratsku partiju (LDP), do 2011. predsednica Političkog saveta LDP-a, kada napušta ovu partiju. Narodna poslanica (1993-1997, 2007-2012).