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Serbia - between Geopolitics and the European System of Values

Published on , , Twitter: @AdelinaMarini

Had the EU-Russia relations not deteriorated because of the annexation of the Ukrainian peninsula Crimea and the proxy war Russia is leading in eastern Ukraine, hardly the relations of any EU member state or a candidate for EU membership would have been raised as an issue. The situation now, however, raises the question with a growing weight and in the context of a civilisational choice - if you are with Russia you cannot be with the EU and vice versa. That it is a matter of civilisational choice was hinted by the member states which inserted in the negotiations with Serbia the condition that it "aligns" as fast as possible its foreign and security policy with that of the Union. This means, for starters, to impose sanctions against Russia. As euinside wrote, this has proved the greatest stumbling block for the starting of real accession negotiations by opening the first chapters, which was expected in the end of last year but, according to negotiations Commissioner Johannes Hahn, the first chapters can be opened in the end of this year. EU does not commit to a specific date.

This week the European Parliament has voted a resolution on Serbia's progress in which it calls on the country to invest stronger efforts in aligning its foreign and security policy with that of the EU, including toward Russia. The Parliament expresses regret that this had not happened so far despite the invitations by the Council. The text on Russia in the European Parliament resolution, voted with great majority of the MEPs on Wednesday (11 March), reflects the controversial views expressed during the debate before the voting (10 March), as, apart from the sharp tone mentioned above, it also recognises that Serbia has traditionally strong "economic, social and cultural ties" with Russia and expresses confidence that Serbia could play a key role in the relations between EU and Russia.

The question what should Serbia's approach toward Russia be caused heated disputes among the MEPs. British member James Carver from the Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy group, a member of the UK Independence Party of Nigel Farage, attacked the EU saying that its "imperialistic expansion toward former Yugoslavia" forgets to take into account the very close relations between Serbia and Russia, based on many common grounds, including cultural and orthodox Christian. This evoked a sharp reaction by Romanian MEP Emilian Pavel (Socialists & Democrats), who asked if Romania too, which is an orthodox Christian country, should accept everything coming from Russia. Polish MEP Kazimierz Michał Ujazdowski from the European Conservatives and Reformists group said that if the EU does not open its doors to Serbia, if it does not speak to it, the country will pass into the influence zone of Russia. He regretted that Nigel Farage's party again spoke with Russia's voice. "We should speak with the voice of European unity and solidarity", he reminded.

That it is about a civilisational choice spoke Lithuanian MEP Gabrielius Landsbergis (EPP). "Whenever we are talking about EU partner states we cannot avoid mentioning that countries have to choose between liberal democracy or authoritarian anti-liberal regime. There's a clear divide between the values system of Europe, that is based on international law, obligations based on democratic values, and the other system that is currently ruining the European post-war peace order. I, personally, don't believe that it is possible to choose more than one system, to follow more than one road. Serbia still raises lots of questions which path it chooses to be on. Decision not to support EU sanctions to Russia is more than just a pragmatic choice. It is a statement. At this moment, countries from the Eastern Partnership, like Ukraine, show more political will and eagerness to get closer to the EU than those countries who consider themselves at the EU doorstep. Therefore, I urge the Serbian government to clearly decide which road it wants to take since it's not possible to have it both ways", the 33-year old Lithuanian MEP said.

He received an answer to his question from Zagreb, where on an official visit on 11 March was Serbia's first Deputy Prime Minster and Minister of Foreign Affairs Ivica Dacic. Asked by euinside to answer this question, Mr Dacic reiterated the traditional Serbian position that Serbia has no need to excuse itself for its relations with Russia. Moreover, Serbia has much less economic cooperation with the Russian Federation than many EU member states. While responding to the question, he heated up even more underscoring that those who talk about this have no idea neither of Serbia nor of the Balkans or the former Yugoslavia. Former Yugoslavia was the only country from the eastern block which said "No" to the Russians and Stalin in 1948, Ivica Dacic continued. Neither Serbia nor Bosnia and Herzegovina or Croatia could be like Moldova, Lithuania, Latvia or even Poland who were at the centre of the Warsaw pact. "We have no dilemma whether we are going to the EU or not. This is to us a strategic definition", Dacic concluded.

During the debate in the European Parliament, as every year, was raised another very important issue related to Serbia's past. It is about the opening of the archives of the former Yugoslav security services UDBA and KOS. The issue is always raised by Bulgarian MEP Andrey Kovatchev (EPP) who said during the debate on Tuesday evening that Serbia must begin a reconciliation process with its own history, to open the dossiers and to provide them to the other ex-Yugoslav republics. He also said that Serbia should share "in solidarity" the common European foreign and security policy and to resist pressure from third countries. This appeal can be found under point number 15 in the voted on 11 March resolution about Serbia's progress but still does not ring a bell in official Belgrade.

Asked by this website about this, Deputy Prime Minster Dacic said: "I really don't know about these archives. This should probably be part of the talks that take place around the succession [the break-up of Yugoslavia] and then we agreed together and found out together that these things should be resolved quickly, because we ourselves take economic damages from the stalemate on this issue". Dacic added that there was a large number of buildings which are de iure unusable but money is spent to maintain them. However, he did not answer the question when will Serbia open the archives nor did he commit to work on that. "Serbia does not oppose these issues, too, to be put on the agenda", was his response.

The issue of Serbia's past and its relations with Russia, raised by the European Parliament this week, coincided with two key anniversaries - from the death of former Yugoslav dictator Slobodan Milosevic in his cell in the specialised tribunal on the war crimes in former Yugoslavia in the Hague in 2006 and the assassination of the reformist prime minister Zoran Djindjic, shot dead in Belgrade in 2003. This year too the European Parliament did not include in the final text of the resolution an explicit call Serbia to do its utmost to reveal the real killers of the former Serbian premier so that they can face justice. Such calls were made by MEPs in previous years. And in the same time, in Belgrade, members of Alexander Vucic's government and specifically Alexander Vulin, minister of labour, laid flowers to the memorial of Slobodan Milosevic in Pozarevac. He said after that the Serbia should never forget "its first democratically elected president". According to him, in a democracy the people cannot be wrong. "Whatever the decision of the people is, this is a God's decision".

He went on saying that Milosevic's enemies were also enemies of Serbia. Apart from him, flowers laid the Serbian radical Vojislav Seselj, whose unexpected release from the tribunal in the Hague for humanitarian reasons caused strong tension in the region. Despite this tension, however, and despite the insisting of neighbouring countries, like Croatia, neither Prime Minister Vucic nor Foreign Minister Dacic or President Nikolic, who once worked with Seselj, distanced themselves from his xenophobic and militaristic statements. All this shows how important it is Serbia to really start a process of reconciliation with its past, to admit its sins and make its civilisational choice - the European system of values or the Russian world view. EU, for its part, should not allow doubles standards on such a crucial issue.

During his visit in Zagreb, in his desire to emphasise how important precisely reconciliation in the region is, Ivica Dacic gave the example of Germany and France, which only several years after the end of World War II laid the foundations of today's European Union by signing the coal and steel treaty. He missed to mention, however, that even today, decades later, Germany still feels guilty for what the then German authorities did, elected, by the way, also in a democratic way, and it never misses to mention its own role in the second world war. Something Serbia does not do and with certain actions or inactions it even raises doubts whether it really has chosen the European path.

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