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Belgrade Media Report 23 May 2018

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United Nations Office in Belgrade

Daily Media Highlights

Wednesday 23 May 2018
LOCAL PRESS

• Brnabic: Belgrade ready for dialogue with Pristina (Beta)
• Belgrade receives new message from Berlin (Beta/B92)
• Djuric briefs Sarrazin on problems faced by Kosovo Serbs (Tanjug/Beta)
• EU membership common goal of Serbia, Macedonia (Tanjug)
• Military cooperation in Balkans a must (FoNet)
• Laketic: First location Vranje municipality, and then Kosovo (RTS)
• Fajon: Anchoring W. Balkans no substitute for EU accession (Tanjug)

REGIONAL PRESS

Bosnia & Herzegovina
• Experts from Venice Commission discuss changes to Election Law with parties in Sarajevo (FTV/TV1)
• OHR submitted its opinion on election of FB&H delegates to B&H CC (Dnevni avaz)
• Dodik announces he will meet Putin on Friday (EuroBlic)
• Mektic announces he will talk to FRONTEX reps about helping B&H deal with migrant crisis (Dnevni list)
• Brammertz starts official visit to B&H as part of preparation of his report to UN SCF (FTV/BHT1)
fYROM
• Gruevski sentenced to two years in prison (N1)
• Merkel voices support for finding mutually acceptable solution to name issue (MIA)
• Greek government junior partner says solution to name dispute unlikely (MIA)
• Zaev submits list of nominees for new government members to parliament (MIA)
• Parliament adopts draft law on amending the Electoral Code (MIA)
• Serbia, Macedonia agree to reactivate intergovernmental mixed commission for minority rights protection (MIA)

INTERNATIONAL MEDIA SOURCES

• Serbia, Turkey, and Russia – alarm bells for Europe (TransConflict)
• A Pro-Chinese Pivot Is The Last Chance To Save Serbia (eurasiafuture.com)

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LOCAL PRESS

 

Brnabic: Belgrade ready for dialogue with Pristina (Beta)

 

Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic said during the talks with a delegation of the European Affairs Committee of the Senate of the French Republic that Serbia is very committed to reform of the state in order to become an equal partner, and not only one of the EU members.

Brnabic pointed out that Serbia understands and supports the aspiration of France and other EU countries towards internal strengthening and reforms within the Union itself, bearing in mind that this is important not only for its members, but also for Serbia and other Western Balkan countries on the accession road. Chairman of the European Affairs Committee of the French Senate Jean Bizet confirmed that Serbia and the region of the Western Balkans have a clear European perspective, which was once again confirmed at last week’s Summit of the leaders of the Western Balkans and the EU in Sofia. Bizet emphasized that it is necessary for Belgrade and Pristina to continue their dialogue in order to reach a mutually acceptable solution, with a stronger EU support. Brnabic reiterated Serbia’s readiness for dialogue and finding a compromise solution that will ensure stability and normalization of relations between Belgrade and Pristina. She pointed out that Serbia has implemented numerous agreements reached during the dialogue in previous years, but that it is necessary that the other party also starts to implement the agreements made, first of all, the establishment of the Community of Serb Municipalities.

 

Belgrade receives new message from Berlin (Beta/B92)

 

Enlargement policy is not a popular topic among some EU members, but individual progress of states in the process will certainly be valued, Serbian Minister for European Integration Jadranka Joksimovic has been told by member of the German Bundestag Committees EU Affairs Manuel Sarrazin. According to a statement from the minister’s cabinet, Joksimovic and Sarrazin agreed that reforms in Chapters 23 and 24, which include the areas of judicial reform, the fight against crime and corruption, minority rights and media freedoms are of great importance for the EU process, but above all for modernization and overall progress of the state. They also assessed that last week’s summit in Sofia, despite numerous challenges and new topics appearing in the EU, nevertheless sent a message about the European perspective of the region, and that connecting and cooperating in the region are values ​​on which Serbia is insisting, because without them there cannot be peace, prosperity and stability of the region. Joksimovic thanked Germany for assistance and support in the accession process. The interlocutors assessed that relations between Serbia and Germany are exceptionally good and developing at mutual satisfaction.

 

Djuric briefs Sarrazin on problems faced by Kosovo Serbs (Tanjug/Beta)

 

The Head of the Office for Kosovo and Metohija Marko Djuric met with German MP Manuel Sarrazin to discuss the dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina and the problems facing Serbs in Kosovo and Metohija. Remarking that the level of sustainable returns of internally displaced Serbs in Kosovo and Metohija was negligible, Djuric said that Belgrade had met all of the arrangements in the Brussels Agreement and that Pristina was five years late forming a Community of Serb Municipalities, which he said, was its biggest and most important obligation.

Djuric also acquainted the German MP with the results of an internal dialogue on Kosovo and

Metohija, saying that Belgrade was committed to solving all of its issues with Pristina using dialogue and political means, the Office for Kosovo and Metohija said. The meeting in Belgrade was attended by German Ambassador Axel Dittmann.

 

EU membership common goal of Serbia, Macedonia (Tanjug)

 

Serbia and Macedonia have a common foreign policy goal of full EU membership and are supporting each other on this path, Serbian and Macedonian parliament speakers Maja Gojkovic and Talat Xhaferi said Wednesday, noting that there was room for deeper cooperation between the two countries. Xhaferi noted Serbia and Macedonia were friendly countries that had good-neighborly relations and that there were also family ties between citizens of the two countries, who he said were the best ambassadors of the ties. Xhaferi said that Serbia has Macedonia’s support over issues such as the normalization of the relations with Kosovo, which would strengthen regional stability. “Despite different opinions on some issues, we see no obstacle to improving dialogue between the countries and strengthening overall bilateral, regional, and multilateral cooperation,” Xhaferi said. The countries agreed to work together on trade exchange and infrastructure connections at a pace set by the Berlin Process initiative. Macedonia and Serbia will join their forces, Xhaferi said. Gojkovic said the Serbian parliament is ready to offer the Macedonian parliament political and technical support and share EU accession experiences. “Western Balkan countries can and will cooperate on all issues, including EU integration, regional cooperation, education, trade exchange, as well as the status of minorities in each country,” Gojkovic said.

 

Military cooperation in Balkans a must (FoNet)

 

Peace and stability are of the most significant interest in the Balkans, and only those who have experienced a war know how crucial it is to fight for peace, Serbian Defense Minister Aleksandar Vulin has said. Vulin hosted on Wednesday the opening of the Balkan armies’ chief-of-staffs’ 12th conference, telling the gathering that whenever the Balkan peoples took care of themselves there was peace in the region. Vulin said that we who live here now and will live in the future have to take care about every country as our own. “We share a tiny space, and we cannot watch each other being in trouble and not helping.” He added that politicians create problems, not soldiers. Vulin said only peace will safeguard what we have in those territories we consider ours. Serbian Army Chief-of-Staff General Ljubisa Dikovic told reporters that military cooperation in the region was the only way to solve any security issue that burdens the countries.

Though invited, the representatives of the Croatian Army did not come to Belgrade, while the Slovenian and NATO Military Committee delegations took part as observers.

 

Laketic: First location Vranje municipality, and then Kosovo (RTS)

 

Vranje will be the first location visited by the Serbian parliamentary Commission whose job is to determine the consequences of the1999 NATO bombing of Serbia, the Chairman of the Commission Darko Laketic announced this after the parliament voted to establish the body. Laketic said that the commission will start work once the parliament confirms its composition, and explained that proposed members come from the ruling SNS and SPS parties, and opposition DS, Dveri, and SRS. Once the commission has been formed, a meeting will be held with representatives of relevant institutions, he told RTS. Then they will go to the field – to the municipality of Vranje first, specifically to nine locations that have been defined as contaminated. Laketic said the Commission would also go to Kosovo and Metohija, in accordance with the Constitution of Serbia and UN Resolution 1244.

 

Fajon: Anchoring W. Balkans no substitute for EU accession (Tanjug)

 

French President Emmanuel Macron’s view that the Western Balkans should be ‘anchored’ to the EU is by no means a substitute for the region’s EU accession process, says MEP Tanja Fajon. “Sometimes it seems to me that Macron is not quite aware of what reconciliation, peace and stability in the Western Balkans mean and why enlargement is significant for entire Europe,” Fajon told Tanjug.

 

REGIONAL PRESS

 

Experts from Venice Commission discuss changes to Election Law with parties in Sarajevo (FTV/TV1)

 

Delegation of experts of the Venice Commission started their visit to B&H on Tuesday. On the first day of the visit, the Venice Commission delegation met with representatives of political parties from the FB&H to discuss amending of the Election Law of B&H. Specifically, the meeting was attended by representatives of SDA, HDZ B&H, SBB B&H, SDP B&H, and DF. No concrete agreement was reached, and representatives of parties only presented their stances and proposals related to the Election Law. The Venice Commission delegation did not provide an opinion to the presented stances and proposals, but rather confirmed they are here to help find a solution that would be in line with the EU standards. SDA Vice-President Sefik Dzaferovic stated that all parties presented their stances as to how the situation with amending of the Election Law should be solved. SDP B&H Presidency member Zoran Mikulic assessed that, despite the intention to help with amending of the Election Law, the Venice Commission delegation made it clear that authorities within B&H should come to agreement in this regard. Mikulic claims that the joint proposal of SDP B&H and DF for the election rules is the best way out of the crisis that could happen after the elections. He underlined that HDZ B&H still insists on its proposal, and accused HDZ B&H of “trying to use the House of Peoples (HoP) as an instrument to block all further processes”. SDP B&H Political Director Damir Masic. Commenting on Tuesday’s meeting that he and other representatives of political parties from the FB&H had with the Venice Commission delegation, Masic said that SDP B&H expected that experts from the Venice Commission would provide their opinion regarding whether the current proposals for the Election Law are in line with the EU regulations. However, Masic said that the Venice Commission experts openly stated that they will not comment on any party’s individual proposal but rather that parties need to reach a compromise and provide a single proposal, which the commission would then discuss and assess. Masic specified that the Venice Commission delegation has been informed about the three current proposals for the Election Law i.e. joint proposal of SDP B&H and DF as well as proposals of SDA and HDZ B&H. The B&H Constitutional Court Judge Zlatko Knezevic commented Tuesday’s visit of the delegation of the Venice Commission for TV1 saying that the Venice Commission does not possess any authority to impose some sort of solution and its recommendations are “non-binding”.

 

OHR submitted its opinion on election of FB&H delegates to B&H CC (Dnevni avaz)

 

The daily learned that the Office of the High Representative (OHR) has sent its opinion to the B&H Constitutional Court on the provisions of the Constitution of the FB&H related to the previously declared process of election of delegates in the House of Peoples of the FB&H. B&H CC unofficially confirmed this information for the daily, but refused to reveal the content of the opinion sent by the OHR.

 

Dodik announces he will meet Putin on Friday (EuroBlic)

 

RS President Milorad Dodik announced that he will meet Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday, 25 May, in St. Petersburg in scope of the Forum of Economics. Dodik also announced he will inform Putin about the fact that Americans have in total USD 18 million at their disposal to meddle in the election process in B&H. “In scope of the American structures, USD 12 million was allocated to payments to media which they find suitable in B&H and US Embassy to B&H has USD 6 million at its disposal for the program of prevention of Russian influence in the Balkans. Most likely, all of this will be used against the RS,” Dodik said and added that he and Putin will also discuss future economic cooperation and determination of the RS to maintain its military neutrality just like Serbia. The daily reminded that organizers of the Forum also sent invitations to B&H Minister of Finance Vjekoslav Bevanda, Speaker of B&H House of Peoples Ognjen Tadic and Speaker of B&H House of Representatives Mladen Bosic to attend the forum as well.

 

Mektic announces he will talk to FRONTEX reps about helping B&H deal with migrant crisis (Dnevni list)

 

B&H Minister of Security Dragan Mektic stated (on Tuesday) that he will soon talk to representatives of the FRONTEX (European Border and Coast Guard Agency) about help to B&H in dealing with the migrant crisis, despite the fact the B&H Presidency has not yet signed the operational agreement with the FRONTEX. In this context, Mektic said the B&H Council of Ministers accepted the agreement and forwarded it to the B&H Presidency for adoption. The Minister explained that ‘we’ are now waiting for the B&H Presidency to adopt the agreement, which would be the legal ground for engagement of the FRONTEX i.e. sending of police officers to B&H.

 

Brammertz starts official visit to B&H as part of preparation of his report to UN SCF (FTV/BHT1)

 

Chief Prosecutor of the Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals (MICT) Serge Brammertz started his official visit to B&H on Tuesday, as part of preparation of his regular biannual report to the UN Security Council (UN SC). On the first day of his visit, Brammertz met with B&H Chief Prosecutor Gordana Tadic. Brammertz and Tadic discussed coordination and cooperation on war crimes cases, the process of search for missing persons, regional cooperation and changing of a state strategy on work on war crimes cases. Brammertz also plans to meet with officials of institutions that deal with missing persons as well as representatives of the civil society in order to discuss promotion of reconciliation in B&H and the region.

 

Gruevski sentenced to two years in prison (N1)

 

Former Macedonian prime minister Nikola Gruevski was sentenced to two years in prison on Wednesday for his role in an affair titled “Mercedes,” Skopje media reported. Gruevski was charged with an illegal doing in the purchase of a hard car worth almost 600,000 Euros.

The Special Prosecutor’s Office indicted Gruevski and the then Interior Minister Gordana Jankulovska for an unauthorized phone tapping during the affair. The car was purchased in 2012, but it took three years for the public to find out. It happened when the then opposition published the tapped phone conversation between Gruevski and Jankulovska in which he asked that her Ministry buy an S 600 Mercedes for his use, but to keep it out of public eye.

The indictment says that Gruevski has asked Jankulovska to name a person for brokering the purchase and favoring the “Mak Autostar LLC” company. Gruevski’s sentence came during a visit of the Macedonian parliament speaker Talat Xhaferi to Belgrade. Xhaferi was a Gruevski’s coalition partner, but switched sides and supported his bitter opponent, the current Prime Minister Zoran Zaev.

 

Merkel voices support for finding mutually acceptable solution to name issue (MIA)

 

Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev had a phone conversation with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who voiced support for Skopje-Athens efforts to find mutually acceptable solution to the name dispute, government sources told MIA on Tuesday. On the sidelines of EU-Western Balkans summit in Sofia, Merkel had separate meetings with Zaev and Greek Prime Minister Alexias Tsipras. Afterwards she opened a press conference by commending the efforts of both countries to find a solution to the name issue. Merkel’s Office confirmed that she talked with both Prime Ministers, but didn’t disclose other details.

 

Greek government junior partner says solution to name dispute unlikely (MIA)

 

It is unlikely that a solution will be found in ongoing Athens-Skopje name talks, the head of the junior partner in Greece’s coalition government said on Tuesday. Speaking on Alpha radio, Independent Greeks leader and Defense Minister Panos Kammenos said that United Nations-brokered talks would inevitably reach an impasse because Greece’s insistence the northern neighbor to amend its constitution to remove certain clauses seen as expressing irredentist ambitions would never pass through parliament in Skopje. Kammenos also said that his part of right-wing nationalists would ‘never vote for a name that contains the term – Macedonia, whatever it may be.’

 

Zaev submits list of nominees for new government members to parliament (MIA)

 

Prime Minister Zoran Zaev has sent Tuesday the list of nominees for new government ministers to the parliament on Tuesday. As of Wednesday, the list will be available on the parliament’s website. Zaev expressed hope for a plenary session on the government reshuffle to be scheduled by the end of this month. Incumbent Minister of Education and Science Renata Treneska Deskovska is expected to become a new Justice Minister. She is to be replaced by the Deputy Education Minister, Arbr Ademi, from the government’s junior coalition partner DUI. Afrim Ademi from BESA is nominated for a new Minister of Culture, while Bardul Dauti from DPA will probably become a minister without portfolio.

 

Parliament adopts draft law on amending the Electoral Code (MIA)

 

Macedonia’s parliament adopted Tuesday a draft law on amending the Electoral Code, which was backed by 80 deputies. The changes are a subject of an agreement of the ruling majority and opposition as an interim solution by this autumn when the electoral law will be amended again.

The current amendments regulate the election and composition of the State Election Commission (SEC), which should now be made up of president, vice-president and five members. Upon proposal of the political parties, a person who meets the following criteria may be elected SEC member: to be a citizen of Republic of Macedonia and has a permanent residence in country; law school graduate with at least 8 years of work experience in legal affairs and isn’t a member of an organ of a political party. Under the new changes, the parliament shall publish a vacancy announcement for the election of the SEC president and members in an ‘Official Gazette of Republic of Macedonia’ and in the daily press. The vacancy shall remain open for 8 days from the day of its publication in an Official Gazette. The Parliamentary Committee on Election and Appointment Affairs shall prepare a draft-list of the applicants and shall submit it to the parliament. From the candidates on the draft list for SEC members, the opposition political parties shall nominate SEC president and two members, while the ruling political parties propose SEC vice-president three members of the State Election Commission, namely the ruling political

The SEC president, vice-president and members shall be elected by the Parliament, with 2/3 majority of votes from the total number of MPs.

 

Serbia, Macedonia agree to reactivate intergovernmental mixed commission for minority rights protection (MIA)

 

Fourteen years after the signing of the bilateral agreement between Serbia and Macedonia, two countries reached an agreement to reactivate intergovernmental mixed commission for minority rights protection. Macedonian Minister for Diaspora Affairs Edmond Ademi and Serbian Minister of the Public Administration and Local Self-Government Branko Ruzic agreed Tuesday intergovernmental mixed commission to hold its first meeting in October. “I hope that the intergovernmental commission will convene in autumn for the first time since 2004, when the agreement was signed. Moreover, election of the national minority councils will also be held in October and November and I believe that everything will pass in best possible order and in the interest of the Macedonian national minority in Serbia,” Ademi said. The talks between two ministers were focused on amendments to the laws on the election and the work of the National Minority Councils in Serbia, including the Macedonian minority. “Given that the Macedonian government very seriously and actively is engaged with its citizens in diaspora worldwide, we succeeded to find a common goal of our joint cooperation,” Ruzic said. Ruzic said that intergovernmental commission is one of the models that can unburden countries from daily political issues that are always present in the Balkans and to help governments focus on the interests of countries, their citizens and minority policies. 22,755 people declared themselves as Macedonians in the latest 2011 census in Serbia. According to unofficial estimates over 100,000 Macedonians live in Serbia.

 

INTERNATIONAL MEDIA SOURCES

 

Serbia, Turkey, and Russia – alarm bells for Europe (TransConflict, by Alon Ben-Meir and Arbana Xharra, 23 May 2018)

 

The European Union should warn Serbia that it must weigh its options carefully and undertake the necessary socio-political and economic reforms if it wants to become a member of the EU. Serbia will certainly have no chance of joining the EU if it maintains open-ended association with either Erdogan or Putin.

As the EU seeks to increase its influence in the Balkans, Russia and Turkey have been working hard to strengthen their own ties to the region. The EU’s renewed interest in its southern backyard has been prompted by fears of Moscow’s mounting impact in the Balkans. Although Russia’s closest European ally is Serbia, it is not the only country with a long history in the Balkans. Turkey is another heavyweight, gaining huge support from corrupted officials throughout the Balkans. Like Russia, Turkey is investing in major national projects strategically calculated to have the greatest economic and political impact on the financial market. To demonstrate his commitment to Serbia, in a joint news conference held on May 7 in Ankara with Serbia’s president Aleksandar Vucic, Erdogan said that the target for 2018 is $2 billion, going to $5 billion in the long term. Among the biggest projects, the Belgrade-Sarajevo highway will strengthen regional and economic ties. Vucic thanked Erdogan for ‘stabilizing’ the Balkans, declaring that “Turkey is the biggest power, the strongest country in the Balkans.”

On May 17, during the EU-Western Balkans Summit held in Bulgaria, European leaders expressed their concern over Turkey’s and Russia’s expanding influence in the Balkans, particularly since the Balkans were once part of the Ottoman Empire, and subsequently under the Soviet Union. Erdogan has made his unscrupulous position clear to Western powers, stressing that Turkey will become as powerful and influential as the Ottoman Empire was during its heyday. Russia considers Serbia its most trusted ally in Europe and is investing heavily in large projects, especially in the energy sector. Even though Vucic recognizes that he is receiving substantial support from Putin, he is strengthening his alliance with Turkey as well. While Russia and Turkey are competing for influence in Serbia, they are still collaborating because of their joint opposition to the EU’s continuing and extensive involvement in the Balkans. Vucic seeks to join the EU and build a trilateral relationship with Russia and Turkey, which directly challenges Western values and interests. Vucic, however, cannot “dance” in two weddings at the same time. His anti-Western alliance triggered alarm bells in the European Union. French President Emmanuel Macron put Ankara and Moscow in the same light, saying that he did not want “a Balkans that turns toward Turkey or Russia.” The European Union is still Serbia’s largest trading partner; however, Serbia is heavily dependent on Russia for military equipment, which in many ways defines Russian-Serbian relations. There are approximately 1,000 companies in Serbia owned partially or entirely by Russians, with an estimated revenue of 5 billion Euros. In October 2017, Serbia bought six Russian fighter jets. Surveys show that most Serbs are pro-Russian and regard NATO unfavorably. They remember well that Western powers heavily bombed their country in 1999 during the war with Kosovo. In a visit last year to Belgrade, Dmitry Rogozin, Russia’s deputy prime minister, asserted that “Serbia will never join the EU.” The EU and US are aware that Serbia is still the “black sheep” in the Western Balkans, having Russia watching its back. The EU simply rejects what Russia’s President Putin is doing in Serbia and does not expect Erdogan to change his dictatorial style as long as he and his AK Party are in power, as neither are consistent with the socio-political culture of the West. In a conversation we had with Veran Matic, founder and director of Belgrade’s Radio and Television station B92, he said that Vucic is certainly interested in establishing good relations between Serbia and Russia. He added that Serbia wants to be connected to the Turkish Stream pipeline (as Serbia depends on Russian gas, but there is no possibility of having it delivered directly to Serbia). “For Serbia,” Matic said, “investments are greatly significant, but on the other hand, we are concerned about having too good relations with the system that is recognized as a global media freedom impostor, and with a state which imprisoned the largest number of journalists worldwide.” In discussion with Xhemal Ahmeti, historian and philosopher, he said that the frequent meetings between Iran-Turkey-Russia, followed by activities in the regions where they operate, clearly reveal the contours of their cooperation both in the Middle East and in the Balkans. “These two powers,” he said, “have agreed on their sphere of influence working on their agenda against their common enemy, the United States.” “The so-called Shiite Semitic doctrine, Putin’s pan-Slavism, and Erdogan’s neo-Ottomans have devised an alliance against the EU’s strategic agenda now operating in the Balkans”, said Ahmeti. Meanwhile, Serbia has managed to have it both ways, looking simultaneously at the East and West. While recognition of Kosovo’s independence remains the EU’s key condition for Serbia’s membership, Elena Guskova, from the Institute for Balkan Studies in the Russian Academy in Moscow, argues that cooperating with the Russian military is “a guarantee of safety” for many Serbs. Vucic has sought Moscow’s continued support over Kosovo and has restated his opposition to NATO membership, as he became the first foreign leader to meet Putin since the latter began his latest term as Russia’s president. “Serbia will preserve its independence, Serbia will preserve its military neutrality and Serbia is not planning to become a member of NATO or any other military alliance,” said Vucic during his visit to the Kremlin. Blerim Latifi, philosophy professor in Pristina University, told us that this ‘alliance’ between Turkey, Russia, and Serbia is a blow to the unity and functionality of NATO, and “any blow to NATO has negative effects on the national security of the Balkans.” Whereas Putin does not hide his animosity toward the Western alliance and tries to undercut Western interests anywhere he can, Erdogan wants to have it both ways. He wants to maintain Turkey’s membership in NATO and presumably still desires to join the EU, but he is working hard to undermine the EU’s and NATO’s strategic interests in the Balkans by entrenching Turkey in Serbia in particular to serve his insidious scheme. The European Union should warn Serbia that it must weigh its options carefully and undertake the necessary socio-political and economic reforms if it wants to become a member of the EU. Serbia will certainly have no chance of joining the EU if it maintains open-ended association with either Erdogan or Putin. To be sure, Serbia must by now realize that the prospect of sustainable democracy, freedom, and economic growth rests on close association with the EU. It should distance itself from ruthless dictators who pretend to be the savior of the Balkans when in fact they are exploiting the region’s vulnerability for their long-term strategic end.

Dr. Alon Ben-Meir is a professor of international relations at the Center for Global Affairs at NYU. He teaches courses on international negotiation and Middle Eastern studies. Arbana Xharra authored a series of investigative reports on religious extremists and Turkey’s Islamic agenda operating in the Balkans. She has won numerous awards for her reporting, and was a 2015 recipient of the International Women of Courage Award from the US State Department.

The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of TransConflict.

 

A Pro-Chinese Pivot Is The Last Chance To Save Serbia (eurasiafuture.com, by Andrew Korybko, 22 May 2018)

 

Look past the smokescreen and it’s obvious that the failing state of Serbia is dying, literally, and the only thing that can save it is if Belgrade boldly breaks with its “balancing” tradition of the past and embraces China as much as possible, albeit in a smart way that leads to substantial social investments that deter brain drain and advance the proposed three-child policy that its people desperately need in order to survive this century.

 

Brainless “Balancing”

Serbia is struggling no matter what its leaders and their surrogates may say. It’s no longer part of the much larger and more important Yugoslavia, and its economy and population are only a fraction of their former self. Extensively bombed by NATO in 1999, Serbia experienced the geopolitical disembowelment of its Autonomous Province of Kosovo and Metohija right afterwards, a psychological-civilizational wound of the highest degree from which it’s never recovered. From a “pariah state” under Milosevic to the EU’s best friend under Vucic, Serbia has been led in whichever direction the West decides for it, though it’s nevertheless always still retained a special relationship with Russia due to the two brotherly countries’ shared historical sacrifices during the two World Wars and their common religious-cultural characteristics.

The outdated model of East-West “balancing” from the Old Cold War continued into the contemporary New Cold War by virtue of inertia and a dire lack of strategic creativity on the part of Serbia’s decision makers. Refusing to recognize that today’s Serbia is nothing like yesterday’s Yugoslavia, let alone operating within anything even remotely resembling the same geostrategic environment, they’ve mollified the desperate masses with Mainstream Media-driven slogans of “balancing” between the EU and Russia, which has actually been nothing more than a crude and ultimately cruel “bait-and-switch” operation to distract them while the government prepares to sell out its constitutional right to Kosovo. Scratch the surface of the superficial narrative of Serbia’s “success story” and anyone will find a dying population suffering from brain drain and with barely any long-term hope for the future.

 

The Serbian Smokescreen

Serbia has received arms and energy from Russia but little less of tangible significance apart from symbolic votes at the UNSC that have failed to change the on-the-ground reality in NATO-occupied Kosovo, while the Europeans have promised Serbs wealth and opportunity while robbing their economy dry and making it easier for its educated migrants to flee their former homeland. Somewhat sensing the seriousness of their country’s situation, Serbia’s decision makers sought to court investment from the Muslim countries of the Gulf and Turkey in a bid to “balance” everything out and inject a much-needed stimulus into their economy, though this has thus far failed to achieve anything apart from adding a bit of glitz and glamour to their capital’s riverfront and reminding everyone of Serbia’s old geostrategic ambition in possibly facilitating EU-Turkish trade via its territory. The “Belgrade Waterfront” project has been a corrupt debacle internally even though powerful PR forces abroad are working very hard to market it as an international reputational success. The Gulf States, as they’re prone to do, have pretty much only enriched the existing elite at the expense of the average people, a pattern which is once again proven in the Serbian case. As for Turkey, it does indeed harbor sincere desires to cooperate with Serbia on the level of a strategic partnership one day, though the impact that it could have in saving this failing state is limited by geographic conditions. Instead of going through Serbia en route to Germany, Turkey might decide to keep its export line directly within EU borders at all times and therefore circumvent the landlocked Central Balkan country by shipping goods through Bulgaria, Romania, and then Hungary instead.

 

Catching China’s Eye

Serbia would probably receive some residually positive impact from this trade, but it can’t base its entire future economy around being a pit stop on a larger Turkish-German highway, nor, for that matter, should it do so when it comes to China’s Silk Road either. One of the most recent developments in Serbian strategic thought has been the country’s high-level comprehensive partnership with China through the 16+1 format that brings together the 12 countries of the Polish-led “Three Seas Initiative” (TSI), the rest of the former Yugoslavia, and Albania, and functions as a platform for building China’s Balkan Silk Road high-speed railway into the EU via its Balkan backdoor. As part of this, Beijing is already constructing the central Budapest-Belgrade portion that is then expected to expand south to the Chinese-owned Greek port of Piraeus (one of Europe’s largest) and prospectively as far north as Warsaw and maybe even one day Helsinki by going along the eastern edge of the “Baltic Ring”. Like with every other Silk Road project anywhere in the world, China’s Balkan branch of this global infrastructure initiative is indeed a game-changer for all the parties involved, not least of which is Serbia because of its position smack dab in the center of this connectivity corridor. Not (yet) being part of the EU, the country is more attractive to the Chinese than other ones because of its comparatively (key word) less regulations, although this is changing as Serbia rushes head-first into Brussels’ embrace under the Vucic government. For the foreseeable future, however, Serbia is one of China’s two key partners in Central and Eastern Europe (the 16+1 space) alongside Poland, and this gives Belgrade a once-in-a-century opportunity to leverage its strategic position to all of its citizens’ advantage, though provided that its leadership is interested in doing so.

 

“Balancing” Like A Boss

Serbia is being abused by the EU, neglected by Russia, and has insufficient chances of being “saved” by Turkey or the Gulf States, so the only hope that this country has for “balancing” to its real benefit is to embrace China as much as possible in order to get its other partners “jealous” and prompt them to offer up Serbia better deals than before in order to remain competitive within its borders. A lot of Serbia’s economic assets are already in foreign hands so the country isn’t exactly starting off from an enviable position in this respect, but then again, its geostrategic position has never been better because of its irreplaceable transit location along the Balkan Silk Road, which might eventually be attractive enough for the Turks to not circumvent their trade around it but instead use Belgrade as their Central and Eastern European regional hub.

Faced with some real but friendly multipolar competition from China, Russia might decide to “step its game up” and do more for Serbia than ever before, anxious to preserve its market share and overall position in the Serbian economy, just like the Europeans might do as well. It might sound like a risky proposition considering that countries which have gone too far in a multipolar direction too quickly like what’s being proposed with Serbia’s full-spectrum and ultra-fast Chinese pivot often experience swift regime changes, though therein lies the paradox because the present government in Belgrade is much too important to the West to get rid of. Vucic could rightly be regarded as “Germany’s man in Serbia”, and he seems hell bent on carrying out Chancellor Merkel’s will and that of her American overlord in removing Kosovo from his country’s constitution in order to be guaranteed a future place in the EU. So zealous is Vucic about accomplishing this task, that he’s even willing to sacrifice his political career and ultimately anything positive of note that could be said about his legacy in order to achieve his mission, and a man like him just simply can’t be replaced no matter how much external forces try to “hack” Serbia’s “democracy”. The fact of the matter is that the West needs Vucic much more than the reverse, which is why he can be considered pretty much “untouchable” in the regime change sense no matter how successfully the proposed pro-Chinese pivot plays out. Serbia could become more of a “Chinese colony” than some of the “Global South” countries that the Mainstream Media has falsely fear mongered about and it wouldn’t matter so long as he remained sincerely committed to selling out Kosovo, or at least appeared to be to his international handlers.

 

Flipping The Tables For Family’s Sake

Serbia, though, needs to be “smart” in its relations with China and not have a naïve policy of “come one, come all” and just blindly give Beijing whatever it asks for without a second thought. Instead, Serbia must recognize that it is just as important to China as the reverse, meaning that the two economically lopsided countries can become “strategic equals” in a sense. To explain, China needs reliable access to the European consumer and labor markets in order to continue fueling its own growth but it can’t entirely rely on the Eurasian Land Bridge through Russia in this sanctions-beleaguered environment of the New Cold War, ergo the real reason behind the Balkan Silk Road as more dependable “backup plan”. This corridor, however, isn’t feasible without Serbia, so that’s why this comparatively small and landlocked state has actually become one of the gatekeepers of future Chinese-European trade. The best way for negotiating with the Chinese on anything is to appeal to their “win-win” mentality, to which end Serbia would have to craft a legitimate mutually beneficial reason beyond why it needs more benefits from Beijing than it presently receives. It’s at this point where it could offer economic and other incentives to Chinese entrepreneurs in exchange for social investments in schools, language-training programs (specifically Mandarin), and most importantly, financial subsidies for new mothers. Serbs are dying out, literally, and the only hope for this civilization to continue into the next century is to prioritize a three-child policy as soon as possible, though the government doesn’t have anywhere near the resources for doing so. China, however, has billions of dollars to throw around, as is evidenced by its social investments in Africa over the years, and there’s no reason why some of that largesse can’t come Serbia’s way too. China shouldn’t be faulted for not magnanimously investing in Serbia’s social services and family-building policies because all countries – and especially that one – always try to advance their interests with the least amount of cost as possible, which is why it is incumbent on Serbia’s decision makers to convince them that these interests can better be served in the long-term by building up their country’s social capacities to function as its main Silk Road hub in Europe. Neither the Europeans, nor the Russians, nor the Gulf States, nor Turkey have done anything – nor have signified any interest – in promoting Serbian birthrates above replacement level and guaranteeing this dying population a respectable place in their homeland in the future, and with the government unable to do this either, then the only hope of this happening is for Belgrade to strike the relevant Silk Road deal with Beijing after persuading it that the People’s Republic must invest in this crucial component of its Balkan hub.

 

Concluding Thoughts

Serbia’s post-Old Cold War (or more accurately, even post-Tito) “balancing” strategy turned it from a subject of geopolitics to an object, especially following the externally provoked dissolution of Yugoslavia in the 1990s, and the country has yet to regain its former glory and probably, in all honesty, never will. That said, hope isn’t entirely lost even though the future definitely looks bleak for its people, but the first step must be for its decision makers to open their eyes to the groupthink illusion that their current “balancing” strategy has yielded any real benefits for the country. All that it’s done is prolong the state’s slow death while distracting the people with unrealistic dreams of a Tito-like geostrategic revival in the New Cold War as their beloved Province of Kosovo and Metohija is sold out before their very own eyes. For as much as he’s already destroyed his reputation by fanatically doing all that he can to get rid of Kosovo, President Vucic could partially “redeem” his legacy and reverse it into a “positive one” if he takes advantage of the West’s strategic reliance on him and embraces his “untouchable status” to pivot as rapidly to China as possible per the aforementioned policy suggestions. In the admittedly unlikely event that Serbian decision makers are capable enough of clinching the much-needed social investment deals with China after successfully leveraging their geostrategic position along the Balkan Silk Road, then Serbia might once again have a chance at becoming a subject in International Relations so long as it skillfully manages the newfound Great Power competition for it that this dramatic move could provoke. Should this best-case scenario happen, then Vucic might ultimately reconsider his previous crusade to sell out Kosovo if he sees that his Chinese pivot and resultant geostrategic “balancing” already brought Serbia even greater benefits than this Europhile himself could have ever imagined it would receive had it joined the EU on the condition of getting rid of its civilizational cradle. It’s not for sure that this will happen, but it’s nevertheless the absolute last chance to save Serbia.

This analysis was inspired by Elena Bekić.

 

 

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