- “A fashionable idea is circulating among Balkan-watchers: “Belgianisation”. This is not meant to suggest complex federalism. Instead it implies that different nationalities whom history has left sharing a state are at last behaving like Belgians, reaching for ballot boxes and courts, rather than guns and bombs.”
Tag Archives: Balkans
This ten-part documentary series is one of the most ambitious TV projects on South Eastern Europe produced in recent years. It gives people who have contributed to the region’s progress since the mid-1990s the opportunity to comment on their present situation: artists, lawyers, journalists, activists, mayors and football players tell their version of the story. With powerful images, these ten 52-minute episodes provide a new perspective on the present and possible future of the region.
“Ministers, over lunch, will discuss the situation in the Western Balkans, notably in the run-up to the Serbian general elections on 11 May.” This is the seemingly unimportant announcement on the GAERC Council Agenda for the April 29th meeting in Luxembourg. But EU Foreign Ministers will have to decide on quite a difficult issue: Should the EU offer Serbia a Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA) before the Serbian elections? (which might even influence the election outcomes?)
The pessimistic perspective
The International Crisis Group thinks that the EU should not make a deal with Serbia before the upcoming elections. In a recently published research paper “Will the Real Serbia Please Stand Up?“, the think tank argues that the EU should not offer a SAA unless Serbia cooperates fully with the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY). The EU should also “stop intervening directly in support of one or another political force” in Serbia because it would backfire at the ballot box :
“At best, the EU and U.S. will have limited influence for many months, until a new government is formed, which may not be until September or later. Meanwhile, the public anger over Western support for Kosovo’s independence is such that any attempt to pressure or even induce Belgrade into more cooperation risks strengthening the nationalist vote.”
The think tank sums it up with the statement “appeasement has already failed in the Balkans for over a decade and a half”. One should also not underestimate regional dynamics. In many Western Balkan countries, the EU is seen as having double standards and offering a deal to Serbia now would only support this kind of argumentation, especially because cooperation with the ICTY is a crucial point for the whole region. Ultimately, a SAA with a concession on ICTY cooperation would weaken the negotiation position of the EU in other SAA and accession negotiations in the region.
The optimistic perspective
As part of a “blog-round table” (more about that later!) I had the chance to talk to Milica Delevic, the Serbian Assistant Foreign Minister for European Integration. Obviously she would welcome an early offer from the EU and argues that “EU engagement is always better than isolation”. However, she also admitted that the Serbian government is a bit “schizophrenic” on the issue because the SAA is more and more linked to a recognition of Kosovo (Koštunica:”Signing SAA means signing away Kosovo“). But signing a SAA is not EU membership and it has nothing to do with Kosovo either, it would rather establish contractual relations as well as better trade relations with the EU, and it would give Serbia access to EU funding. (Delevic: “Russia has better contractual relations with the EU than Serbia!”).
The Serbian electorate is quite evenly split between “nationalists” and “moderates” which will make it probably difficult to form a new government after the elections. But a SAA could give the EU some leverage over the next government, be it moderate, nationalist or a coalition. At the same time, EU integration is supported by a comfortable 70% majority of the population, and a clear sign from the EU could motivate voters to vote for more moderate and pro-EU parties.
The EU is likely to find a compromise on the ICTY question (which is of particular interest of the Netherlands and Belgium) that would link parts of the implementation process of the SAA to the full ICTY cooperation and not the SAA offer. Deutsche Welle quotes Belgian Foreign Ministry spokesman Francois Delhaye on the position of Belgium and the Netherlands on the issue: “The two countries would agree to a proposed Stabilization and Association Agreement (SAA), but Serbia should not benefit from the advantages of this accord without full cooperation with the International War Crimes Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY).”
So what should the EU do? – Here are the official Kosmopolit recommendations:
It is necessary to overcome the pure political argumentation here and to highlight the important process of reforming the country. Symbols still prevail in the Balkans. It is time for focusing on economic and social issues in order to overcome the power of symbolism, which has been present in Balkan politics for too long. By offering a SAA now, the EU can show that it has not given up on Serbia, which can be perceived as quite a powerful statement in Belgrade! Signing the SAA can bring a different perspective and a new hope, especially for the young generation/voters. The agreement would at least restart the pro-European debate and possibly turn the attention away from Kosovo. Although the SAA offer might not directly influence the election outcome, it will certainly increase the pressure on politicians to get serious about reforming the country. The persistence and attraction of radical and nationalistic ideologies can be traced back to the lack of economic and social reforms that are long overdue. The proposed SAA would not directly introduce reforms, it may nevertheless open the door for the long awaited process.
Written by: Tanchi & Kosmo
Update 29/04/08: The EU decided to sign a SAA with Serbia. However, the implementation and the ratification of the agreement will depend on Serbia’s full cooperation with the ICTY:
- Financial Times: EU to sign deal on on ties with Serbia
- EUObserver: EU to sign pre-accession deal with Serbia
- International Herald Tribune: EU nations agree to sign pre-membership pact with Serbia, not implement it
- Official statement by Boris Tadić, President of Serbia
The Economist has quite a good commentary about EU enlargement and the limited influence of the EU once a country has joined the club:
A common feature in all these tales is the limited leverage of Brussels. It is often said that the EU‘s enlargement policy has been the most potent tool yet devised to entice its neighbours along the road to free-market democracy—far more effective than anything the United States has found to wield over its southern neighbours. But the corollary is a loss of influence after a country actually joins. The pattern of intensive reform to qualify, followed by a let-up in the process once membership is achieved, is too common to be mere happenstance.
There is another big problem with this game: the behaviour of old EU members. Mr Rehn notes that, if one took the worst features of every old EU country, one could easily come up with an amalgam that would barely meet any of the criteria for EU membership. To take just one example often cited by new members, Italy can hardly claim to be free of organised crime.
While reading the article I remembered a very good comment made by Osman Topcagic, the Director of the Directorate for European Integration for Bosnia and Herzegovina whom I met a few weeks ago. He was fully aware of the above mentioned problem and instead emphasized the importance of the enlargement process in itself. Basically he said something along these lines (unfortunately I did not write down the exact words of the statement): It is not important when Bosnia joins the EU, it is important that we reform our country which is the most challenging task ahead of us. The EU helps facilitating this process and therefore we should enjoy the process because this is the time of improvements. And ultimately everyone would like to see improvements.
So, I guess the times are changing. The EU has learned from its mistakes and introduced stricter benchmarks, that can trigger restrictions also after EU accession. At the same time, politicians, especially in the Balkans (Turkey is indeed a different case), see EU accession as a chance to reform the respective countries.
Now only the old EU member states should start thinking about the issue…
Ladies and Gentlemen, I am very pleased to introduce a new (hopefully regular) contributor to this blog: Tanchi
This is the first round of enlargement (to use some EU speak) for the Kosmopolit blog. So stay tuned and witness some more accessions in the near future. But now let’s welcome Tanchi with her first post (ever!) on a piece of Balkans in Brussels.
The hall of queuing people, an echo of the music coming from different directions, the smell of the spices that dive my memories into the long forgotten nostalgia, and of course women skilled in belly dancing remind me of my own belonging and are a promise for an amusing night. I cannot decide which direction to take and what to do first. Should I try the wine which reminds me of home or should I go straight to the movie? But wait a minute, the concert just started…The cacophony that appeared in my head brought a smile on my face: “Welcome to the Balkans!”
Balkan Trafik, the festival that took place at the Bozar in Brussels between the 27th and 29th of March 2008, was the reason for writing my first blog post. The meaningful name gave the impression that the place is a perfect spot for the traffic of music and culture which reminds me that there is not only one, but rather many Balkans. This post combines only a few of the impressions and leaves an open space for the parts which are not intentionally forgotten, but rather left for future writing…
The difficulties of coexistence in the former Yugoslavia seems to be a well-known fact. However, the struggle for a more positive image of the split territory turns many times only into a nice try. But everyone who has lived, even for a short time, in any of the former republics, can guarantee that, despite the problems (which are mostly politically created), people easily find a way to connect with each other. Sometimes I get the impression that humor, parties and of course songs were born in this part of Europe. In this sense, the traffic of music was for me a promise for traveling to some parts of the no longer existent state. I opened the door of the first hall and started my journey with:
Sevdah. A music genre that originally comes from Bosnia and Herzegovina was a bridge that survived. The almost 450 years old bridge of Mostar which was destroyed in 1993 by the side of the Croatian Council of Defense (HVO) was a symbol of the remarkable history, as well as a reminder of the attempt to erase everything which might be considered as a part of the Ottoman legacy and today connected with Muslims. However, the ones who demolished it, forgot that the heritage carried also their own memories, pieces of their own identity and they did not think that the traces of the past cannot be forgotten by simply destroying the material…This is one side of understanding Mostar Sevdah. The bottle of people’s most hidden feelings which can express all the bitterness and joy in melancholic melodies which touch the listener’s ear regardless his/her origin and even if he/she never put a foot into Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Even though the musical genres from the South-Eastern part of Europe seem to be clear and distinguished, I would claim that they totally mirror the variety of cultures and ethnicities that have always been coexisting there. Only this combination is a guarantee that average turns into the extraordinary. The example can be seen in the combination of the above mentioned Sevdalinke in the performance of Mostar Sevdah Reunion and deep voice of one of “the gypsy queens” Ljiljana Buttler. The woman, who cleans for living, turns to the singing diva as soon as the music begins. The analogy is more than obvious: even though the Roma rights are often not properly recognized nor highly violated, everyone has a big respect regarding their music. And again, even though there might be no declarative equality among different ethnic/national groups, the music makes us forget about borders and shows us how great the difference is. We connect, like puzzles do…
And yes, for all of you who thought that trumpets are not popular anymore and that Guča beats inspire only bored tourists looking for exoticism: Dejan Lazarević proved the opposite. People almost in an ecstatic mood made temporary friendships by holding their hands and imitating a kind of a kolo style. The selection of songs, which were during the 1990s successfully exported by Kusturica’s movies and the performance which awakes every single cell in people’s body was a guarantee that the night was even shorter than usual.
I decided to leave. There was still so much to explore and to enjoy, but I left when the party was at its best. I did not want to lose the feeling of differences I went through – I felt too rich to stay :)…
Olli Rehn, the European Commissioner for enlargement emphasized recently in a speech at the European Parliament that the phrase: “Don’t expect that something will change; that’s how it is in the Balkans” should finally disappear from people’s common vocabulary. The Commissioner referred to the political path(s) which will affect the future of the region. As he put it in a rather witty way, “the Balkans might become as boring as Western or Northern Europe is.” I do agree it is necessary to overcome the cheesy phrase, which in many cases contributes to the unchanging discourses in many of the former republics. But I want to emphasize that Europe sometimes forgets that its richness lies in the variety it offers. People in the region just have to respect each other, and they will realize that the Balkans can be beautiful and boring.
Written by: Tanchi