One decade has been lost. What about the next one?
Op-ed by Gerald Knaus (for Koha Ditore)
In Athens, spring 2003
One decade ago, in spring 2003, the New York Times published an appeal by four Balkan leaders, the presidents of Croatia and Macedonia and the prime ministers of Albania and Serbia. Its title: “The EU and South-East Europe need each other.” The occasion was a special Balkan meeting of the World Economic Forum in Athens where all these leaders also came together.
I was there too at the time, and I remember both the appeal and the atmosphere in Athens well. In fact, together with my friend Misha Glenny, I drafted it. There was a sense of urgency in the air, and of anticipation. Zoran Djindic, the prime minister of Serbia who had delivered Slobodan Milosevic to the Hague tribunal, had been assassinated by ultra-nationalist members of the Serbian security forces. Croatia had handed in its application to join the EU, the first Western Balkan state to do so. The host of the meeting, Greece, then the EU’s rotating president, pushed hard to get a European commitment to continued Balkan enlargement.
Shortly before the Athens gathering Boris Trajkovski, the president of Macedonia, invited me to draft an appeal that he planned to ask other leaders to co-sign. He knew that the region would receive a better hearing if it spoke with one voice. He was concerned. His own country had recently been on the verge of civil war. Serbia was on the edge, its ultranationalists growing in confidence. The future of Montenegro and Kosovo was not yet settled. Would the EU, following its 2004 enlargement to Central Europe – then just about to happen – get tired of further expansion? The Balkan leaders’ appeal warned: “Until the whole Southeastern Europe is safely integrated into the European Union, the job will not be complete. And until it is, Europe cannot feel secure about itself.”
One decade later, where do we stand? Today, when EU leaders talk about crises in South-East Europe they think of Athens not Skopje, of Nikosia, not Belgrade. Europe does not feel “secure about itself” but it is not the Western Balkans or the threat of renewed conflict that keeps EU leaders awake, literally, at one crisis summit after another.
Montenegro and Kosovo are independent states; the fear of armed conflict in the region has never appeared more distant. And yet, despite these important breakthroughs, it is hard not to regard the years since 2003 as a lost decade for the Balkans. Boris Trajkovski tragically died in an airplane crash in the Bosnian mountains, on his way to submit Macedonia’s own application for EU membership. His country has been stalled for years now by a Greek veto (a threat which did not appear real in 2003 in Athens). Serbia, ten years after the death of Djindic, has still not even opened EU accession talks. Albania is not an EU candidate yet. The Greek foreign minister in spring 2003, George Papandreou, became prime minister, only to be swept away by the Greek economic melt-down. 2003 was perhaps the last success of Greek diplomacy. At the European Union summit on the Balkans in Thessaloniki in summer EU leaders stated their “unequivocal support to the European perspective of the Western Balkan countries. The future of the Balkans is within the European Union.” Croatia used the past decade, opened accession talks, closed them, and is today on the verge of accession. And yet, it is likely that ten years from now in 2023 Croatia will still be the only Balkan country inside the EU.
Rereading the Trajkovski appeal today highlights a further disappointment. It contained a specific proposal: to make EU regional and cohesion funding available to the region, so as to help it catch up economically, rather than fall further behind. The appeal warned that “the long-term stability of Southeastern Europe depends on the region’s economic health, but this does not mean the usual plea for more money … We are committed to opening our markets to our neighbors and to the EU. We have made huge progress in curbing inflation. And we are now greatly encouraged by the proposal by Greece … that the Thessaloniki summit meeting focus on the possibility of applying cohesion and development policies in our region.”
This was a hope that has not come true. The Western Balkans remains one of the poorest regions of Europe. In Serbia today less than half of the working-age population is actually employed. Unemployment levels in Macedonia and Bosnia are disastrously high. Foreign direct investment in the region, which had transformed the economic structures of Central European countries, has fallen to very low levels. And yet, if a focus on underdevelopment in the Balkans has never been more urgent, the EU’s confidence in its ability to bring about convergence and growth in its own periphery has rarely been lower. The 2003 Trajkovski appeal stated that “The EU has a remarkable record of triggering economic success by helping poorer regions — Ireland, Greece, Spain and Portugal have experienced veritable revolutions in social and economic development in the last 20 years.” It is hard to imagine anybody writing like this today, in the wake of bail-outs, bank failures and rapidly rising unemployment in Spain or Greece.
EU leaders no longer worry about war in the Balkans. They are no longer confident in their ability to bring about economic convergence. They fear the weakness of democratic institutions in Romania or Greece. They worry about inadequate regulation in Cyprus or Spain. Given this state of affairs: what arguments can sway them to open their institutions to accept even poorer states, with even weaker institutions, and even worse images among the public and political elites in Berlin, Paris or The Hague?
Perhaps Greece will prepare for its EU presidency in 2014 by changing its policies on Skopje and Pristina. Perhaps Serbia and Kosovo will soon reach an agreement that allows both countries to move beyond their confrontation. Perhaps Albania will manage to hold free and fair elections this summer. Perhaps Bosnia’s leaders will soon be able to put together a credible application for EU accession. Perhaps Macedonia’s leaders will be capable of renewing the national consensus to focus on EU integration that existed in 2003. Perhaps politicians throughout the region will wake up late at night worrying about youth unemployment and the inadequacy of vocational training, about export opportunities and the best way to use scarce public resources for growth, rather than about building statutes or wasting public money on prestige infrastructure of little proven economic benefit. And then, perhaps, a successor of Boris Trajkovski will invite all his regional counterparts to an informal meeting to seriously discuss what they might do together to correct the image of their region, driven by the recognition that the whole region has dropped out of the focus of the rest of Europe.
If Boris Trajkovski would be around today, and would propose drafting a new appeal for Balkan leaders to sign and publish, what could it say? Appeals are expected to end with proposals, a sense of hope, recommendations. But sometimes it is better to resist this temptation. To acknowledge just how steep the wall is that one has to climb. To recognise that before any new appeals to the EU a whole series of steps have to be taken by the region itself. To recognise that time matters; and that April 2013 is another crucial moment which Balkan leaders miss at their peril. I believe Trajkovski would have realised this. Will his successors?
Perhaps this is not a time for appeals at all, but for a blunt and honest recognition: a decade has been lost. The next might be as well. And it is not by formulating words on paper that this can be prevented.
Kori Udovicki, a former Governor of the National Bank of Serbia and former Minister of Energy, who had worked as an economist for the IMF and had set up and run an economic think tank in Belgrade, has since 2007 been Assistant Secretary-General and Assistant Administrator of UNDP responsible for Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). We met a few times in recent months to discuss economic development issues in the Balkans: in New York, in Paris and most recently in Bruges. As we talked we quickly discovered that we shared a very similar approach to these issues, even though we looked at them from different perspectives and experiences.
As Kori told me, after a long career as a macroeconomist, with a PhD in economics from Yale under her belt, she had grown increasingly sceptical about the conventional economic policy advise that had been offered to Balkan countries in recent years. It is not that this advise is not sound, but that it is dangerously limited. Yes, macroeconomic stability is important, crucial even. Yes, privatisation and indeed liquidation of loss making companies was needed (and indeed often took much too long in the Balkans). And yes, it cannot harm if it is easier and quicker to register a new business. But these prescriptions alone will not be enough to create the jobs and reverse a disastrous process of deindustrialisation from which the Balkan region has suffered in the past two decades.
I had long felt the same, and this sense of unease was recently reinforced after a conference debating economic policy in the region in the wake of the global financial crisis organised by the Central Bank of Greece in Athens. There, in the presence of governors of Central Banks from across South East Europe, numerous speakers pointed out the need to rethink the current growth model in the region. They warned that what had happened in recent years, consumer credit driven growth, was not going to work in the future. And yet, there remained a vagueness in the debate about an alternative and yet credible approach to growth.
And so Kori and myself put our heads together, debated, discussed and sent drafts across the atlantic to produce something we called an “appeal” concerning the employment crisis in the Balkans. This text benefitted hugely from debates with and research undertaken by my ESI colleagues, in this case in particular Kristof Bender and Eggert Hardten. It also benefitted from feedback at a seminar at the College d’Europe recently in Bruges, where I had been invited to present ideas to the senior staff of UNDP working in South East Europe. Above all it benefitted from the long debates, continued over skype, with Kori.
We certainly hope that this will be a useful and provocative small contribution to an inportant topic; one that concerns arguably the biggest structural threat to a lasting stabilisation of the Balkans.
The Balkan Employment Crisis—an urgent appeal
(Oped by Kori Udovicki and Gerald Knaus)
Leskovac, once known as the Serbian Manchester, is home to a textile industry that began in the 19th century, flourished under communism, and survives – albeit barely – till today. The town, which lies in the south of Serbia, boasts a textile school (set up in 1947), an association of textile engineers, and its very own textile magazine. The boom years are a distant memory, however. Leskovac’s socialist-era companies are bankrupt, their production halls empty, their machines dismantled and sold as scrap metal.
In the past two decades Leskovac has seen its population decline from 162,000 (1991) to less than 140,000. The drop in the working-age population has been disproportionately
high, and unemployment has increased. At the heart of the town’s plight, and that of so many other regions in the Western Balkans, is the impact of dramatic de-industrialization.
Contemporary Serbia is a society whose population is both aging (with an average age of 41, it is one of the oldest in the world) and shrinking. So is its industry. A recent article in the local press cites that 98 large, complex, industrial companies have shut down over the past two decades. And, most worrisomely, so is total employment. After stagnating throughout the economic recovery of the 2000s, it has been sharply declining since 2008. Today the employment rate is down to about 45 per cent, more than 20 per cent below the EU average. Half of the young are unemployed. In the textile and clothing sector, the number of workers has collapsed from 160,000 in 1990 to around 40,000 in 2010.
Serbia’s textile industry is representative of much of its industry, and Serbia’s labor market trends are representative of those in all the post-Yugoslav states. The employment rate in Albania is also one of the lowest in Europe.
It is true that Europe’s textile industry has been put on the defensive by the emerging Far East. However, it would be wrong to conclude that Serbia’s textile industry’s decline has been inevitable. In recent decades, the sector – one of the most highly globalized in the world – has seen employment shift from Germany to Poland, from Hong Kong to China, from Italy to Hungary and Turkey, and then to Bulgaria and Romania. In many peripheral regions across South East Europe, textiles have been a recent locomotive of growth and exports, creating hundreds of thousands of low-skilled jobs. The question we need to ask is why so few of these jobs have found their way to the Western Balkans. Bulgaria was able to increase its exports in the textile and clothing sector from 280 million USD to more than 2 billion US between 1990 and 2010, contributing more than 100,000 industrial jobs. Why hasn’t this been possible in Serbia, Bosnia or Albania? The same questions could be asked about other industries in the Balkans. Why are there more than 10,000 jobs in the furniture industry in the Central Anatolian city of Kayseri, far from any woods, but not in Bosnia and Herzegovina? Why are household appliance producers doing well in Slovenia, Western Romania and Western Anatolia, but not in the Western Balkans? How about agro-processing for the EU market? And what about Bosnia’s armaments industry, the mainstay of its industry in the past? Was its collapse really inevitable?
One answer is that the growth model adopted in the Western Balkans over the last decade has discouraged governments from asking such specific questions. Driven by distrust of the legacy of socialist planning, as well as by fear of state capture by corrupt businesses and corruption in the administration, the preferred economic policies have been hands-off, focusing not on specific sectors of the economy but on the general business environment. Policymakers have been praised for avoiding the temptation to shield declining areas of the economy from the discipline of the market. At the same time they found it hard to acknowledge when many former socialist businesses were past the point of possible recovery, overburdened by their debts and in urgent need of liquidation. Neither the political debates nor the legal framework in the region acknowledged that liquidation, sometimes, is the best way to ensure that existing resources—people and capital—remain in use, by being re-employed in the new growing private sector.
These key ingredients of the standard recipes of economic policy in the past decade are important, of course: a stable macroeconomic environment and a good business climate, in
which it is easier to open and close businesses, are a necessary condition for sustained recovery. But they are not sufficient. In a region ravaged by conflict and the sheer length of economic decline, a policy mix of “hands-off”, “rules-based” privatization and deregulation cannot be sufficient to launch sustained economic recovery. Even during the periods of relative economic growth and high FDI inflows, the employment generated by the new, entrepreneurial private sector was not sufficient to offset the jobs shed by the slowly restructuring and privatized old industries. The financial crisis of 2008 has wiped out more than the jobs generated in the recovery period, even if informal job generation is taken into
While the recovery lasted, there was a hope that FDI would yet accelerate and begin to generate more employment. Now, however, it is clear that the growth model needs to be changed. This has been noted by international institutions, most explicitly the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD). More importantly, regional policymakers, under increasing pressure to generate jobs, have begun reaching for desperate measures, such as large, blanket, subsidies for foreign investors. This is the kind of step that has so often in the past given industrial policy a bad name.
What would an alternative model of economic growth look like? In answering this question, it helps to keep in mind that there is not, in fact, one simple answer. Each time, the answer depends on the context. Clearly, the key is the inclusion into global chains of industrial production. Credible industrial policies are needed to define ways of encouraging the mobile global investments to those sectors – from food processing to clothing, from furniture to basic engineering assembly – where declining industrial regions in the Balkans possess a comparative advantage. For this one needs a better understanding of the drivers behind the industrial jobs that are already being generated. In Leskovac, for example, over the past five years new jobs have been linked to investments by companies from Germany, South Korea and Turkey.
The question then becomes: what could be done to turn the trickle into a flood? Comparative advantages are likely to be still hiding in the remnants of the past. Declining industries have left behind redundant workers and educational institutions without the skills and resources needed to adjust to a new marketplace. Provincial cities like Leskovac lack foreign contacts. However, the right initiatives and support can deliver the necessary resources at a fraction of the costs that it would take to create a conducive environment “from scratch”.
A competent industrial development agency, modelled, for example, on the Irish Industrial Development Agency (IRA) could do this job. The key word here is “competent”. It would have to be able to offer support and advice – based on credible and painstaking sectoral analysis – to local administrations and companies. It would need to help educate local governments about ways of attracting investors. It could also offer grants for private sector management training, to enable their companies to move up the value chain in
different sectors of production.
This is not an easy task. However, there is no reason to assume that such competence in the Western Balkans could not be put together and built up. For this, however, it is necessary, that a new philosophy for the role of industrial policy in economic growth be embraced. This can only be done by the policymakers and governments of the countries themselves.
The EU could also help, however. All too often in the past two decades, the message coming across from EU officials and international financial institutions has, instead, been one of blanket discouragement of government intervention. The EU could do more to support the countries’ ability to develop and pursue credible multiyear strategies in a whole range of sectors, including agriculture and rural development, transportation, environment, and regional development. During the last enlargement wave, each candidate country integrated such strategies into a National Development Plan (NDP), which functioned both as a national roadmap and as a programming document for EU assistance. Such an approach would benefit the countries of the Western Balkans, where the public sector suffers from a dearth of planning capacity and resources for policy development.
Last but not least, the credibility of Western Balkan integration into the EU market could be enhanced. For the Western Balkans, the last few years have seen agonizingly slow progress in this area, with no country other than Croatia having so much as opened EU accession talks. The more realistic the perspective of EU membership for countries such as Serbia or Albania, the bigger the incentives for those interested in long-term investments in industrial production in the Balkans.
Integration with the EU market will be a critical anchor for economic development in the Balkans, but it will take more to ensure convergence. The example of Greece shows that
integration and access to funds is not enough. Greece is currently not able to absorb more than a third of EU structural and cohesion policy funding, because it has never benefited from the massive capacity-building and institutional support that has been given to the Fifth enlargement countries and Croatia. Looking on to the Western Balkan batch, the EU may consider increasing this support, emphasizing the administrative capacity for medium-term development in policy planning and coordination. Bringing development planning
into an earlier stage of the current accession process would allow each Balkan country to focus on the assessment of its competitiveness in agriculture and industry, and learn about the constraints to development faced by these sectors.
None of this is to suggest that there is a silver bullet for job creation. The Balkan development challenge is enormous, and there are deep structural reasons behind the staggeringly low rates of employment in the region – some reaching back into the 1980s and the very nature of socialist industrialisation. Reversing the long-term trend of employment decline is a generational project, made all the more difficult by the current cyclical conditions in Europe. But reindustrialisation has taken place in recent years in a number of new member states or candidates, from Poland to Slovakia. Numerous industrial development clusters – from Timisoara in Western Romania to the Istanbul region and many Anatolian tiger cities in Turkey – have seen growth and success. In all these cases, political elites at the national and local level have made the integration of local businesses into global chains of industrial production a strategic priority.
The lack of employment opportunities today in the Western Balkans is generating quiet despair, especially among the young. Without radical change, without a serious and visible commitment to a new set of policies, the sense if despair now palpable in the region may become burning. There is, in fact, no greater, more urgent, social and economic issue in the Balkans. Fortunately, experiences of successful industrial recoveries and turnarounds abound. Learning from them could turn around the fate of people in Leskovac, and countless other towns just like it.
I also gave a presentation, a short version of arguments my colleagues and I are developing fully for a forth-coming ESI paper on the Balkans – any feedback at this stage is very welcome!
Belgrade, 5th October 2010
It is a great privilege and pleasure for me to come to Belgrade on this special occasion, to look back at an eventful decade with so many friends, to take stock, to take heart, and to share ideas about the lessons the recent past holds for all of us, interested in democratisation in general and in South East Europe in particular.
At the same time this event is more than a celebration of the breakthrough in October 2000. It finds many of us impatient; it is not merely, or even mainly, an occasion to rejoice in what has been achieved, but more importantly a chance to assess what still needs to be done. In recent months we have all come across symptoms of “Balkan fatigue” in many quarters, a sense of frustration that things are not moving along faster.
So let me take a closer look today at some causes behind the impatience many of us feel; at some specific challenges the Balkan region faces in realising the vision of a “return to Europe” that president Tadic outlined at the opening of today’s event; and in particular at the role, policies and responsibilities of the European Union.
“There are places where a lot of men prefer war, and the looting and raping and domineering that go with it, to any sort of peace time occupation. One such place is Afghanistan. Another is Yugoslavia …”
These deeply pessimistic visions, arguing either that the whole edifice of post-World War II European civilisation was brittle, and all of Europe was doomer to a “normality” of clashes of civilisation and ethnic hatred OR that, at the very least, Balkan people and societies belonged to a different, pre-modern world distinct from the “civilised” rest of Europe, were actually widely shared in the 1990s … not only in Belgrade or Zagreb, but also in Paris, London, Athens and elsewhere in the EU. This also explains how it was possible for a UN general, Canadian Major General Louis MacKenzie, head of the UN peacekeepers in Bosnia, to tell the US congress in May 1993 that the law of the jungle was the true law of humanity: “Force has been rewarded since the first caveman picked up a club, occupied his neighbour’s cave, and ran off with his wife.” This explains how it was possible for Karadzic and Mladic to be welcomed as heros in Athens in the early 1990s. It explains why some leaders thought that the most “realistic” response to the Balkan tragedy was to let events run its “natural” course. If soft power is the ability to get others to want what you want, then European soft power in the 1990s suffered from the obvious: that it was not clear what Europe wanted.
Ideas matter. Nationalist ideas. Ideas of Balkan exceptionalism. Erik Hobsbawm has underlined that intellectuals are to national movements what”poppy growers in Pakistan are to heroin addicts – the suppliers of the raw material for the market.” There were many such poppy growers, mainly but not only, in the Balkans. They prepared the ground, first for the disastrous wars of the 90s, then for the failures to stop them.
At the same time during the 1990s the notion of a “return to Europe” was a complex one. There was a time, not long ago, when “Europe” did not stand for values of democratic governance and peaceful interdependence: when, as historian Mark Mazower reminds us in Dark Continent, European civilisation was not actually tending towards democracy. Mazower writes that “though we may like to think democracy’s victory in the cold war proves its deep roots in Europe’s soil, history tells us otherwise. Triumphant in 1918, it was virtually extinct twenty years on.” There is a strong non-democratic, nationalist, militaristic and authoritarian 20th century European tradition, and it is one that Balkan leaders such as Slobodan Milosevic could refer to when they stressed the supposed debt Europe owed to Serbia. As he put it in his infamous 1989 speech in Kosovo Polje, he too was in favour of a “return to Europe”:
“Six centuries ago, here on Kosovo field, Serbia defended herself. But she defended also Europe. She stood then on the rampart of Europe, defending European culture, religion, European society as a whole. That is why today it seems no only unjustified, but also unhistorical and completely absurd to question Serbia’s belonging to Europe.”
Of course, after world war II Western Europe embraced other values. The question in the 1990s was in which European tradition Serbia and other Balkan countries saw themselves: the first or the second half of the 20th century. The Central Europeans made a clear choice in 1989. The results were dramatic. In 1990 the number of Poles who feared Germany was above 80 percent. By 2009 it had fallen to 14 percent. After 1989 the goal of joining an integrating democratic continent spread across the whole of Central Europe. And in October 2000, on the day we remember today, it finally became realistic to imagine that the same ideas would be embraced across the whole of the Western Balkans as well. It was also a major breakthrough in the battle of ideas.
October 2000 was followed by the EU Balkan Zagreb summit in 2000. There and then the EU stated that it “reaffirms the European perspective of the countries” of the Western Balkans. This was an interesting way of bracketing the disastrous 1990s, in which few people – in the region and in the EU – had spent much time to think about this vision. This was in turn re-reaffirmed in the Thessaloniki Agenda for the Western Balkans in 2003 when the European Council “reiterated that the future of the Western Balkans is within the European Union”. Then the 2006 EU Salzburg Declaration noted: “the EU confirms that the future of the Western Balkans lies in the European Union.” Affirmed, reaffirmed, confirmed … the story of EU-Balkan relations in the decade since 2000 is the story of an increasingly dominant narrative, in which, officially, the future of the whole region is clear and settled. There would only be one Europe, and the Balkans were destined to be part of it.
The advantage of this kind of vision is that it leaves little space for alternative, and often dangerous, ideas. To be able to predict the future of a whole region reduces uncertainty and fear. French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner and Sweden’s Carl Bildt wrote in Le Figaro in 2008, for instance, that: “it is certain that Serbia will soon be a member of the EU, because there is no alternative. This is in tune with the march of history.” Lady Ashton, the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, told civil society representatives in Belgrade in February this year that “the EU is determined that the future of the whole region lies in eventual accession to the EU.”
So far, so good. However, if the direction of the “march of history” is clear, why is there such a feeling of unease across the whole region today? Is it really only because leaders in the region are not doing enough to reform their countries, which is a herculean task that will take more time? Or are there deeper reasons for concern?
In a recent book on Europe 2030, former German foreign minister Joschka Fischer, a big supporter of enlargement when in office, presented his personal view that the future of enlargement is grim: “while almost all of the EU’s neighbours wish to join, its own citizens increasingly oppose not only further expansion but also deeper political integration.” Fischer sees no happy end soon: instead, the spectre is of a Balkan accession process which will never end. He concludes:
“I doubt that Europe’s malaise can be overcome before 2030 … While the partial creation of a common defense system, along with a European army, is possible by 2030, a common foreign policy is not. Expansion of the EU to include the Balkan states, Turkey and Ukraine should also be ruled out.”
Fischer’s expectations echo and reflect the general debate in political circles in Berlin. We all remember the statement in the CDU election programme of 2009, which called for a “enlargement pause”:
“The enlargement of the EU from 15 to 27 members within a few years … has required great efforts. As a result the CDU prefers a phase of consolidation, during which a consolidation of the European Union’s values and institutions should take priority over further EU enlargement. The only exception to the rule can be for Croatia.”
Unfortunately, even at the time these were not just words: in March 2009 Germany – backed by Belgium and the Netherlands – blocked forwarding the application of Montenegro to the European Commission for an opinion. This had in the past been a mere technical step. And this, once established as a precedent, has now been repeated in the case of Serbia. Signals from Berlin today are that this could be overcome soon … but what to expect from the next government in The Hague, now dependend on the a good will of a politician, Geert Wilders, who told Euronews in 2009 that “no other country should join Europe. I’m even in favour of Romania and Bulgaria to leave [sic] the EU” ?
In the 1990s, in the streets of Belgrade in 2000, it was clear what supporters of a European democratic Balkans had to struggle against. Today the alternative ideologies inspired by early 20th century Europe have largely been defeated; the region has dramatically demobilised, cutting defense spending and ending conscription; key political actors everywhere have embraced the rhetoric of a European future for the Balkans. So has the EU, its leaders repeating the mantra at every gathering for a decade.
And yet, enormous uncertainties persists. As a very senior European official working on the Balkans told me just a few weeks ago:
“I do not know if the EU perspective is 10 or 100 years. I am selling 10, but in my heart of hearts I do not know if it is not in fact 100.”
If this is what people in the EU, working on the region, feel, one cannot blame people in the Balkans for wondering how certain their European future really is. This is the current EU-Balkan problem in a nutshell: few question the “perspective”. And nobody knows if it will be realised by 2020, 2030 or 2050.
The problem of the next step
Let us break down the problem to make it more manageable. To simplify, one could say that we have today an immediate “problem of the next step”: now that all the countries in the region (who are able to) have submitted their official applications for EU accession, the ball is in the EU’s court. But finding a coherent response is proving hard. Let me look at four specific problems in turn.
One can speak for days about Bosnia and its problems, which are as complex as its recent history; ESI has written many reports expressing our views, from the influence of a continuing (and increasingly discredited) international protectorate to the most promising way to advance a constitutional reform debate that makes Bosnia more functional. But there is one obvious reason why EU soft power is still so ineffective in Bosnia.
To have an EU perspective a country needs to find a consensus to apply and to meet the conditions to become a candidate. Yet the formal obstacle is obvious: as enlargement commissioner Olli Rehn stated clearly less than a year ago:
“Let me put it as plainly as I can: there is no way a quasi-protectorate can join the EU. Nor will an EU membership application be considered so long as the OHR is around. Let me even repeat this, to avoid any misunderstandings: a country with a High Representative can not become a candidate country with the EU.”
Olli Rehn is no longer enlargement commissioner, but Carl Bildt, who remains Swedish foreign minister, made the very same point in October 2009, “As you know the European Union is a union of sovereign democracies, not of protectorates. So, the presence of the OHR is, of course, blocking both the EU accession process and the NATO access process.”
“The EU Member States of the PIC Steering Board reiterated that the EU would not be in a position to consider an application for membership by BiH until the transition of the OHR to a reinforced EU presence has been decided.”
This position also makes eminent sense: a country that is, supposedly, too fragile to cope without an international overlord, that is allegedly about to collapse if there is not always the option of a decree imposed from the OHR’s White House, is not meeting the minimum standards of being a stable democracy.
Behind the notion that Bosnia cannot cope without international protectorate institutions, however, stand a number of highly damaging attitudes towards Bosnia in general. Look, for a clear illustration, to the latest controversy over visa free travel for Bosnian citizens. As French state secretary for Europe Pierre Lellouche put it on 29 September, explaining why France at first suggested to postpone this step once more:
Bosnia has carried out complex and demanding reforms, passes laws and reformed institutions – and ESI has looked into this in great detail, as have the EU experts and the Commission. However, this story does not fit into the narrative of a political class unable for a variety of reasons to respond to normal incentives.
To paraphrase Lellouche, in order to meet the visa roadmap conditions Bosnia DID have to show that it was capable of acting as a state. And indeed it did. But the real lesson is ignored: that when the EU treats Bosnia like a normal state, “strict but fair”, it also gets results.
Bosnia politics is indeed complicated, and will always be complicated; that is the fate of complex multiethnic democracies, from Belgium to Spain. At the same time, no other country in the region needs the EU pre-accession process more badly than Bosnia. To provide a clear anchor for reforms. To provide specific roadmaps. To translate a shared vision of the future into concrete tasks. This makes it all the more tragic that Bosnia is also trapped by exaggerated defeatism, which prevents outsiders from offering credible incentives.
Here I can be even shorter, given the constraints of time and space. Kosovo does not at this moment have a European perspective, because, for the EU 27, it is still not a state. At the same time Kosovo does not have a credible Europeanisation process either. In legal terms and in the way its political debates develop, independent Kosovo is still a protectorate.
How long will the ICO remain the supreme legal and executive authority in Kosovo? It is unclear. How long will EULEX have an exectutive mandate? It is unclear. How long will EU member states disagree on Kosovo? For the foreseeable future.
Under these conditions Kosovo has no European perspective. This also means, however, that the EU also has very little and indeed diminishing leverage in Pristina. It is common in European capitals to blame Kosovo’s love for all things American on an irrational infatuation of the elites in Kosovo with the large power that brought about independence. However, the limited leverage of the EU is above all a reflection of the lack of any clear pre-accession process.
Unless the EU finds a way to develop a status-neutral Europeanisation process. Some in the Commission are trying to work on this, but without political commitment they will not get far.
Macedonia was awarded candidate status in 2005. Four years later Macedonia received a positive assessment by the European Commission.
“The country fulfils the commitments under the Stabilisation and Association Agreement, has consolidated the functioning of its democracy and ensured the stability of institutions guaranteeing the rule of law and respect of fundamental rights and the country has substantially addressed the key priorities of the accession partnership”.
In 2009 also Macedonia signed and ratified the border demarcation agreement with Kosovo, thus solving a decade-long bilateral problem.
Finally, in October 2009 the Commission recommended Macedonia’s transition to the second stage:
“In the light of the above considerations and taking into account the European Council conclusions of December 2005 and December 2006, the Commission recommends that negotiations for accession to the European Union should be opened with the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia”.
At the EU Council in December 2009 the matter was postponed:
“The Council notes that the Commission recommends the opening of accession negotiations with the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and will return to the matter during the next presidency.” …
However, at the same time the Council asserted:
“maintaining good neighbourly relations, including a negotiated and mutually acceptable solution on the name issue … remains essential.”
This did not happen. So the Council did not return to the “Macedonian matter’ during the next (Spanish) presidency. For now, and unless and until this is resolved, Macedonia is as trapped as Kosovo and Bosnia.
Serbia, of course, is facing its own problems. What is problematic is never the reality of EU conditionality: this is, on the contrary, a positive tool to promote reforms and modernisation, as the President put it earlier today. The problem is that it is not always clear what exactly the conditions are.
One problem is expectations regarding Kosovo. Since the EU itself is divided over Kosovo, it is not always clear what it wants Serbia to do.
As the Belgian ambassador to Serbia noted recently Belgrade “must improve its relations with Kosovo” if it wants to join the EU and to “find a lasting modus vivendi”. French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner noted that “The independence of Kosovo is irreversible. The opinion of the ICJ signals an important step towards putting an end to the legal debate on this issue, which will enable all parties to devote themselves, from now on, to other pending issues.” And he went on: “Kosovo and Serbia must now also find the path of political dialogue in order to overcome, by adopting a pragmatic approach, the concrete problems that remain between Belgrade and Pristina, in the interest of everyone and, above all, the Serbian community of Kosovo.” As Beta news agency noted a few weeks ago “EU circles and the member states who have recognized Kosovo are increasing pressure on Belgrade over Kosovo”:
“Last week, top officials of Belgium, which currently holds the EU rotating presidency, made it clear to President Boris Tadic that granting Serbis the status of candidate country would depend on Belgrade’s moves concerning Kosovo … Now, the stand that Kosovo and Serbia’s accession to the EU are two separate processes is no longer mentioned in European Union circles.”
Indeed. But what does this mean in practical terms? The EU places a lot of trust in a dialogue, as Kouchner also explained:
“Such a dialogue is important for the stability of the region. It is also necessary because the two States, Serbia and Kosovo, intend to become Member States of the European Union, and because their accession will be based on the assumption that they have established normal inter-State relations with each other enabling them to work together towards European integration.”
When expectations are clear, as we have seen recently in the context of the UN debate, Serbia has in fact responded very constructively. But this needs to become the model: expectations and red lines need to be defined by the EU, based on a principled approach which envisages the whole region as future members of the EU. It often is not.
Then, however, Serbia complied and the focus of conditionality has shifted to ICTY. Again, there is a consensus in the EU on the need for Serbia to cooperate and for Ratko Mladic to end up in The Hague. However, it would be fatal if the impression gains ground, in Serbia and in the region, that general enlargement skepticism is hiding behind the argument that Serbia is not performing on this sensitive matter even if there might be evidence to the contrary. This would only help those in Serbia who do have an interest to torpedo its European perspective.
At this stage, the EU would do well to allow the technical process of integration – including the writing of an opinion on Serbia’s application – to go ahead. This must not mean abandoning the focus on ICTY, but it could mean applying a similar standard as the one which was applied to Croatia in its own accession process.
What is to be done?
In short, there is a clear need for fresh thinking. The bull needs to be taken by the horns: issues which have been left ambiguous need to be addressed.
It would be tragic if, having come so far, the EU accession of the Western Balkans now gets stuck at this stage. This calls for a proactive EU policy.
In Bosnia, the EU should move to bring the protectorate to an end, and to treat Bosnia fairly, like all other Balkan countries.
In Kosovo the EU needs – in its own, the Kosovo and even Serbia’s interest – define a way for Europeanisation and European leverage to work. This requires a credible European perspective, if need be a status-neutral accession process, as a recent ECFR paper has argued.
In Macedonia it is high time to find a creative solution – ESI has proposed one possible way forward recently, to link the entering into force of a new agreed name to the date of the countries’ actual EU accession.
And when it comes to Serbia the EU should be both “strict” and “fair”: conditionality must be transparent, based on clear principles and standards, not non-transparent and a moving target. This applies to expectations regarding Bosnia, Kosovo as well as ICTY.
Serbia, the EU and the whole region have come a long way since October 2000. But the journey is far from over, and it is not only the countries of the region which need to take a hard look at what would need to be done to ensure that in the end the destination of a Europe whole and free, integrated and including the Balkans, will be reached.
It was a fascinating, deeply emotional event: a commemoration gathering in Belgrade, on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of the 5th of October, the day Serbian citizens took their country back from Slobodan Milosevic exactly 10 years ago. The most poignant moment came at the very end, when a visibly moved Greek prime minister, George Papandreou (who had come in from Brussels on the way to Athens), told his audience about a promise he had made, after Zoran Djindic, Serbia’s prime minister, was killed in 2003, in his eulogy at Djindic’s funeral:
“There and then I made a pledge, to Zoran, but also to the Serbian people. It will continue to ensure that Serbia arrives in her natural home, the European Union. The EU is not complete without the Balkans. Anyone who argues against the Balkans joining the EU is arguing against geography, against economy, against history. Do not believe those who talk about enlargement fatigue. The EU is a long-term historical project and you have to be part of it.”
Papandreou recalled the first time he met Sonja Licht, the spiritus movens behind the whole anniversary event, at the time of the creation of the Helsiniki Citizens Assembly in Prague twenty years ago in 1990, and how much has changed since then. Sonja, sitting next to him, recalled that their’s was a friendship at first sight, “because, despite everything, we both realised that we were proud to be from the Balkans.” He then took her hand, and for a moment both seemed to be glowing, like two teenagers who had just jointly discovered a great romantic poem, as he added: “we are still proud to be from the Balkans. And the European future is the way to find unity amongst our diversity. This is what makes Europe special for the Balkans”
This vision, so often evoked in other settings, can seem banal, boring, mundane at times; the sort of thing EU and Balkan politicians evoke because it is the polite thing to say. But here, presented against the background of memories of another, darker Europe in the 1990s, recalling a velvet revolution that marks one of the happiest days in the tragic recent past of the region, recalling leaders who paid for it with their lives, not long ago, but recently, the vision of a European Serbia in a European Balkan seemed to recapture all its sparkle.
Papandreou managed to express, with a few, heartfelt words, the sense that our generation of leaders and activists are privileged, not only to watch, and also to try to contribute, to the writing of the next chapter in a book that might well be called in a hundred years the “book of European miracles”: that after the miracle on the Rhine (Franco-German reconciliation), the miracle on the Vistula (Germano-Polish reconciliation), the miracle on the Bosporus (the ongoing Europeanisation of Turkey) we are now in the middle of the miracle on the Sava and the Drina. And then the ghosts of that past, the Balkans of the 1990s, will be banished to their graves, never to return to haunt us.
(I could not help thinking of the day when, in the very same hotel this meeting took place, the mafia-paramilitary leader Arkan was shot in the lobby. The former Intercontinental has its own ghosts hanging around its corners).
But there was a more that made this event fascinating, and inspiring. It is also a reality that the transformation that received such a boost in 2000 is still incomplete. There are still enormous problems to be solved. The story of the past decade is one of many false starts, delays, failures to accept the new realities; of clashing visions, also and particularly in Serbia, as Goran Svilanovic recalled: of false priorities, and of denying realities when it came to ICTY, Serbia- Montenegro, and Serbian-Kosovo relations.
On the other hand, there is today real change in the air. Compared to previous meetings I attended in Belgrade, just slightly more than a year ago, the fact that the president himself could speak for 30 minutes without once mentioning the word “Kosovo”, talking about Serbia and the lessons from the past decade, reflects a new ordering of priorities. The fact that the foreign minister only mentions Kosovo in passing, as one of many challenges, without elaborating, is no less striking. There was also a remarkable intervention by the foreign minister of Slovakia, Dzurinda, calling on Serbia to embrace the “tough choices” lying ahead, and lauding the day the EU and Serbia had passed the joint UN resolution a few days back as the day Serbia’s leaders embraced reality and a European future. This obviously remains mined territory, and the fact that Serbia’s leaders are moving carefully, and not – as so often in recent years – recklessly does not mean that the problems are solved. Nor, and this was the key message of my presentation here, are all European leaders as clear about their vision of a European Balkans as Papandreou or Dzurinda are. It would indeed be tragic if shortsightedness leads some governments now to delay what used to be a mere bureaucratic step in the past, forwarding the Serbian membership application to the Commission to write its opinion. What is worse, most European and Serbian diplomats here seem to expect just this to happen, and whoever works on EU integration in Belgrade is not only exhausted but permanently on the verge of giving up …
But those practical concerns are for tomorrow, when we must descend from the mountain peak that offers a wider view of the distant lands that we try to reach, back to the planes where it is so easy to get lost. It is still good to rejoice, just for one instance: the past decade, for all its false starts, has led us to a moment where the vision of a European Balkans remains more alive than ever. As inspiring. And as vital.
Belgrade, October 2007. I arrive in Belgrade to give a presentation at the 7th Serbian Economic Summit. The summit is interesting: initially some 450 people, 10 cameras, apparently huge interest. It takes the man reading out the welcoming speech of prime minister Kostunica about 30 seconds to make the transition from welcoming potential foreign investors to underlining the importance of the Kosovo issue. Later the foreign minister of Serbia tells the audience that in case of a recognition of Kosovo independence “all bets in the region are off”. This dramatic warning strikes me as a strange way of reassuring potential investors that Serbia deserves their attention. By that time the room has emptied and the audience has fallen to less than 100. The foreign minister, Vuk Jeremic, young, western educated and speaking with a strong American accent, is a member of the Democratic Party. If he argues like this, I wonder, what about the rest of the political class? It is a question I will pose to many people in the coming two weeks.
In fact, the main purpose of this trip, spending almost 2 weeks in Belgrade and Novi Sad, is to find out where Serbia stands on the eve of a possible decision on Kosovo. It is also to try to define the content of a film on Serbia we are working on in the context of a large Balkan documentary series to be broadcast on German and Austrian TV in spring 2008.
How can one explain the paradox of Serbia (so much potential, and so much waste of it at the same time) to a broader outside public? As I meet a succession of analysts, politicians and friends from civil society in different cafes in walking distance from Terazije a sense of gloom, reinforced by the rain and autumn cold that has chased away the last warm days, thickens.
I will not quote my friends here directly and most of them – particularly those in government – spoke as always on condition of anonymity, but the overwhelming emotion was that of opportunities wasted, of a revolution (the toppling of Milosevic and the dismantling of his regime) agonisingly incomplete, of sterile public debates dominated (again) by the issue of Kosovo and of the wrong people (re)gaining confidence.
One friend, for a long period already very active in Serbian civil society, admits that she cannot bear to read local papers or watch Serbian TV anymore, or she would risk loosing her sanity and any ability to act. Another friend, in an important political position, shrugs her shoulders when asked about the increasingly aggressive statements coming from some members of her own government. The worrying thing, quite a few note, is that the new assertiveness of Kostunica in particular appears to be working, extracting concessions from the outside world without having to make any compromises. What the EU was not willing to give to Zoran Djindic it is now going to give to Kostunica, one says, not because he is nice but because he is difficult. Stubborness and playing the Russia card on Kosovo appears to be working too.
The appropriate joke circulating in Belgrade is this: Kostunica is like the man standing in front of a coffee machine throwing in money and getting out coffee cup after coffee cup. After doing this thirty times and standing surrounded by all his purchases somebody in the queue behind him asks when he is going to stop. Why should I stop, the man responds, just when I am winning? (one might add: regardless of how much it might cost and what to do with all the cold coffee afterwards).
What would Kostunica do if the EU were to recognise Kosovo independence, I ask. “I genuinely do not know”, one member of the government tells me, “we currently just follow him on this.” Is the flirting with an increasingly authoritarian Russia anything serious or a passing diplomatic manouvre? “I can no longer tell”, says another.
As always, there is no shortage of impressive individuals in Belgrade who have not given up the fight for a more open, more cosmopolitan Serbia. I may be wrong and it may be the mood induced also by the weather but rarely have these people – let me call them Serbia’s Europeanisers – seemed as exhausted as now in the period since 2000.
As one friend, Dejan Anastasijevic, puts it, Serbia is like a car that looks ok from the outside, but one simply cannot get it to start moving in the right direction. The wheels turn, but there is something that still blocks serious movement. Everybody has of course their own part of the answer what it is that blocks progress. For Dejan the key is the unreformed state security institutions at the heart of Serbian politics. The secret service remains unaccountable to parliament, the courts, even the government.
For Natasa Kandic, one of the most impressive defenders of human rights in the whole region, it is also the lack of willingness of facing up to the dark legacies of the immediate past. Her response is activism, as it has been for two decades: working to turn her Humanitarian Law Centre into a Simon Wiesental type centre to continue to be able to identify perpetrators of actrocities in the wars of the 1990s and bring them to belated justice.
For movie director Milutin Petrovic (known outside through his film “Land of truth, love and freedom”) the obvious turning point in Serbia’s post-Milosevic story is the assassination of prime minister Zoran Djindic, and the inability so far to get to the bottom of this sordid story. Milutin prepares to launch his own campaign for enlightenment with a documentary on the Djincic assassination.
Dejan Anastasijevic, Belgrade journalist
During the time that I am in Belgrade the cover of Vreme also highlights an article by Dejan on the failed assassination attempt carried out only a few months ago, when a bomb was placed on the window of his apartment. What is disturbing is both the event itself and the failure of a real response by official institutions in its wake. The article sums up much of the atmosphere in Belgrade in this uncertain autumn of 2007. I recommend any visitor to the Rumeli Observer to read it in full:
Vreme, October 2007: Six months later
Who put bombs on my windowsill?
by: Dejan Anastasijevic
It is six months this Sunday since a hand grenade exploded on the windowsill of my apartment. The material damage caused by the explosion was a broken window and a room drilled with shrapnel, but more permanent damage was done to my life and work. In spite of claims by top politicians and police officials that my case would have the highest priority, the perpetrator has still not been found. During these last six months, I have tried not to disrupt the investigation with public statements or criticisms of any public agency: I was hoping that, in spite of everything, at least some part of the state apparatus had a genuine interest in solving my case. Now, I begin to believe that my hope was unfounded.
My initial idea was to present this text as an open letter to the Minister of Interior, Mr. Dragan Jocic. In the meantime I changed my mind: I do not believe that the minister would reply. It is even less likely that the letter would bring any consequences for the minister and his subordinates for their failure to defend my constitutional and legal right to live. That right is denied because I go to bed every night aware that the perpetrators could come back and finish the job they started six months ago.
That is why, instead of the minister, I address myself to the readers of “Vreme”, who deserve much more to hear what I have to say. Since the investigation did not bring any results, I have had to play private detective on my own case. I admit that I do not have enough evidence to accuse anybody, but I think that there are enough clues to conclude that the attack on me and my family came from the political/police underworld which, without major problems, has managed to survive 5th October and Operation Sabre. This is the stone the state dares not look under, for fear of disturbing the vermin who prefer dark places. The following text is a simple presentation of facts, from the description of the event to information about motives and political background. Readers will be able to draw their own conclusions.
CRIME SCENE BELGRADE: The hand grenade exploded at a quarter to three in the morning of 14th April this year, on the windowsill of my bedroom facing the street. It is an old-fashioned, double-glazed window with a relatively narrow frame and, looking from the street, it is a little over two meters above ground. The outside wooden blinds were half pulled down and the Venetian blinds drawn from the inside. This explains why the attacker did not try to throw the granade inside: it might have bounced off the inner window frame and fallen back into the street. That is why he decided to use two grenades, as the police discovered, connected with tape and placed on the windowsill. He was obviously familiar with this type of grenade – he knew that one would not activate the other, so he pulled out the firing pin from both. Luckily, the explosion of the first grenade dislodged the detonator of the second grenade from the chamber, and the grenade body flew some 20 meters to the next door entrance. Another fortunate factor was that the Venetian blinds absorbed part of the blast, reflecting it back into the street. In spite of that, the bedroom was full of shattered glass and shrapnel, which drilled into the ceiling and walls. Thanks to the fact that the bed is below the window level, they missed my wife and me. Anyone standing in the room at that moment would not have survived. If both grenades had exploded, the cumulative effect would have been enough to injure both of us. This way, we were very lucky, as was our daughter who at that time was returning home from a party (she called around half past two to say she was on her way). If she had come only a few minutes earlier, she would have been in the apartment at the moment of the explosion.
In the street where I live there are no CCTV cameras, but they are situated in neighbouring streets where there are some banks and embassies. The police took all the tapes, but did not find anyone. “As if a ghost walked past,” was the comment of one inspector, concluding that the attacker took care not to be visible. Police also talked to the neighbours in a few apartment blocks around, but nobody noticed or heard anything suspicious. A reconstruction of the event would go like this: the attacker came walking (a car would not have gone unnoticed in my little street), pulled the firing pins, placed the grenades on the windowsill and sheltered from the explosion in the next-door building entrance, knowing that the time from activating to exploding is three to five seconds. After the explosion, all the neighbours came to their windows but looked only in the direction of the window where the smoke was coming from, allowing him to leave unnoticed. The fact that police blocked the area within ten minutes without catching him means that he had a car waiting for him close by.
I have to say that police arrived five minutes after the call and that their work was more than correct.
I can say the same about the director of police, Miroslav Veljovic, who helped me through the procedure of giving evidence at the police station. Unfortunately, after that the investigation became complicated.
ANASTASIJEVIĆ ON TWO LISTS: Vojislav Šešelj…
SCORPIONS AND NEIGHBOURS: Encouraged by the positive reaction of the public and promises from politicians that my case would be solved, I did not take a close interest in the investigating procedure – I believed, then, that it was best to let them get on with the job. A whole month later, I found out that the case was still in the municipal prosecutor’s office (in charge of minor offences), and that the investigation had been given to the department of the city police responsible for arson. This was despite claims from politicians, as well as Veljovic himself, that my case was attempted murder with terrorist elements. In the meantime, the press started speculating, based on unnamed police sources, that I had set the bomb in order to draw attention to myself. At the same time, I found out that the physical evidence collected at the scene will probably not be used as evidence at all, because somebody forgot to send the appropriate order to the laboratory – analysis without appropriate documentation is not admissible in court. It was almost three months later that the district prosecutor’s office, in charge for serious criminal cases, took over the case and brought statepolice into the investigation. This was another fact that I found out only indirectly, because after the initial conversations during the first few days after the attack, nobody was interested in talking to me officially.
…and Jovica Stanisic
I found out from the press that police questioned a group of “Scorpions”, a paramilitary organisation from Šid, but released them soon after. The “Scorpions” were suspects because I had written about them several times, and two days before the explosion I had talked on Radio B92 and criticised the mild sentence that a group of their members had received for the murder of six Bosnians from Srebrenica. I was not sure that members of the Scorpions had came from Šid to Belgrade to take revenge for a single radio comment, because others talked and wrote about them much more harshly then I did. They even wrote a touching message to the head of the Fund for Humanitarian Law, Natasa Kandic, in which they categorically denied involvement in the attack, saying “Dear Natasa, at least you know us, we didn’t do this…”. I tend to believe them, at least in this case.
Two or three months after the explosion, neighbours who live a few streets from me told me that police came to ask them if they saw or heard anything that night. Although they said they did not, they were asked to come to the police station and give a written statement. When they asked why, they were told that for every statement taken, a policeman gets three points, and their performance is assessed based on their number of points. I remembered then that Minister Jocic had said that they questioned over 600 witnesses in my case – that would be twenty Scorpions and 580 neighbours. All in all, a total of 1800 points.
ŠEŠELJ’S LIST: Now is the time to say something that so far I have not spoken about, in the interests of the investigation. Last year I was warned by the Hague Tribunal to be careful, because leader of the Radicals Vojislav Seselj had made a list of potential witnesses who should be eliminated or intimidated, and my name is on that list. Seselj’s wife Jadranka took the list to Belgrade and, after that was discovered, she was not permitted to visit her husband in prison for some time. The reason for putting my name on the list was my testimony against Slobodan Milosevic in 2002, from which one part, concerning Seselj’s role in Miloevic’s regime and his ties with State Security, was included by the Tribunal as evidence against him. That part will be presented to the court in writing – so I will not be called as a witness – but Seselj has the right to cross-examine me and demand that the evidence be excluded if I do not come or if, god forbid, something happens to me. By the way, a few months ago at an interim hearing, Seselj asked the court to dismiss three written statements against him because the authors had died in the meantime. I almost became the fourth.
There are two more circumstances showing a certain unhealthy obsession of the Radicals with me. Even three years ago, secretary general of SRS (Serbian Radical Party) Aleksandar Vucic held a press conference entirely dedicated to me and my colleague Jovan Dulovic, during which he distributed some written material intended to show us as morally worthless people and traitors. That material, judging by the format, style and jargon, was provided by BIA, Serbian main intelligence agency, which, bearing in mind the deep and extensive connections between the Radicals and the secret police, should not surprise anyone. Another example is that Seselj, in his book The devil’s Apprentice – Criminal Pope John Paul the Second from 2006, dedicated almost one hundred and thirty pages (out of a thousand) to me, again presenting me as a traitor and “Belgrade street scum.”
At the time when I got the warning from the Hague, I did not take it too seriously, but after the explosion I told the police about it. I got sympathetic looks, but I noticed that they did not write anything down. I also told them something I found out from a source whose name has to be concealed – that Seselj’s list was given to a person close to him with very strong connections to the underworld. That is a man who has already been convicted to jail for a violent crime some years ago, but somehow managed to avoid serving the sentence. In informal conversation, I mentioned the name of that person to the deputy district prosecutor in charge of my case. He also looked at me sympathetically.
JOVICA’S LIST: At the beginning of this month, I came to know something else and, since I have not yet shared it with the police, this is the opportunity to do so. People from the Hague Tribunal contacted me again, this time asking me to be a witness against Jovica Stanisic. That surprised me because I have never met Stanisic, and everything I know about him I wrote in “Vreme” long time ago. I was even more surprised when they told me that my name was placed on the list of witnesses six months ago (April 2nd), and that the list was delivered to Stanisic’s legal counsel. When I asked why I was not informed of this, I was told that it was overlooked “because of high turnover of personnel at the Tribunal”. I asked the gentlemen from the Tribunal if they have any better witnesses than me, and was told that there was a problem, because several people from the list had suddenly died, and others either refused to testify or changed their testimony.
I have to say that I was shocked at such a casual attitude from the Tribunal people, whose work I have long supported, towards witnesses in general and particularly me. I asked the prosecutors, as politely as I could, to erase my name from the list and inform Stanisic’s lawyers. They said they would do that, but in case they haven’t done so, I want to tell everybody one more time: I will not testify against Stanisic, and I will not testify against Seselj unless I am subpoenaed by the defence (in which case I would receive a court order).
I have to stress one more time that everything I have mentioned are facts, but that I do not dare to claim, based only on those facts, that Volislav Seselj or Jovica Stanisic are in any way involved in the case of the bombs on my window. However, I do accuse the agencies responsible for the investigation and for finding the perpetrators of not being willing and brave enough to prevent the attack and keep my family safe. I admit that I was unpleasantly surprised by the recent statement from Minister Jocic in which he said that my case will be difficult to solve “because it is not easy to resolve the case if there is no reasonable cause”. In this way, the Minister made the whole story out to be an act of god, almost like a natural disaster.
DELAYED ACTION: I said at the beginning of this article that the bomb, although it did not hit its target, left permanent consequences on my work and my life. As a journalist writing for the print, I had a privilege to be relatively unrecognisable to the general public. That changed somewhat after I testified against Milosevic and started appearing as a guest on some TV programs, but after the attack, it has become unbearable. Put simply, the publicity that the bomb has attracted (and unfortunately not my articles) makes my life as a journalist difficult. When I enter a room, I have the impression that everybody is staring at me, and sometimes I hear “Look out, bomb!”. I am sick of being asked by people “What’s up, you still alive?” although I know they do not mean anything bad. I would like to be anonymous again, at least for a while, but I know that this is impossible. My wife and daughter also have to cope with publicity that is neither welcome nor deserved.
However, I am certain that the temperature would go down if, by some miracle, the attackers were caught. I believe in that miracle less and less, in the same way as I do not believe that the murderers of Slavko Cuvurija, Milan Pantic or any other journalist or citizen who dares to get in the way of somebody powerful and unscrupulous will be caught.
Finally, I want to say something else: I do not intend to change my job, move to another address or a higher floor, nor turn my apartment into a bunker. I will not hire private bodyguards nor ask police to provide me one, but I will insist that they protect me from hooligans and criminals, just as they should protect everybody else. In my case, they slipped up.
And one other thing: in the aftermath of the bomb, when there were numerous statements from political leaders condemning what had happened, announcing their determination to solve the case, declaring that it was an attack on the state and the constitution, I must admit that I had some hope that my case would serve as an opportunity to shine some light into the darkness that we have still not escaped from since October 5th. Now I see that I was naïve; new opportunities, unfortunately, are yet to come.
How much has the radical party of Serbia changed since the late 1990s? What does it really think about Serbia’s relations with the European Union? And how does it explain its own success in Serbia’s Northernmost (and wealthiest) region, the Vojvodina?
Milorad Mircic, one of Seselj’s deputies and radical strongman in the Vojvodina
To answer these questions I meet Milorad Mircic, one of the leading radical politicians, deputy to the leader Vojislav Seselj, in a pizzeria in the centre of Novi Sad, next to the local Radical Party headquarter. I am meeting a man who has no real doubt that time is finally on his side and on that of his ideas about Serbia and the world.
Any concern I might have had about a lack of clarity on the part of a leading Radical politician turns out to be misplaced. I should have known: the party has started a poster campaign to remind people of the looming trial of Seselj, its leader indicated for war crimes, and prepares to launch another book by him.
Mircic begins by assuring me that the Serb Radical Party (SRS) has obviously not changed either its program or its ideology since the 1990s. The essence of this program remains the commitment to Greater Serbia and opposition to “globalisation”. (Both of this is in fact very visible at first glance by visiting the party’s website)
There can be no compromise on Kosovo (which is no surprise either), Serbia must never join NATO and as for the EU Serbia has other priorities: to become a bridge between East and West, a strong ally of a resurgent Russia. The rise of Russia gives him great confidence, soon more and more people will be speaking Russian in different parts of the world, and even victories by Chelsea cheer him up for this reason.
The so-called revolution of 2000 which toppled Milosevic was a betrayal, and many of Serbia’s pro-European politicians are paid agents of foreign intelligence services. With a face that expresses open disgust Mircic describes the work of members of the current government, including foreign minister Vuk Jeremic who in his view is “a clinical case – a man who speaks like us in public but then secretly asks foreign powers, even Russia, to help split Kosovo from Serbia.” Asked whether there is any event in recent Serb history that makes him ashamed Mircic does not need to think long: the loss of the Krajina in 1995 and the betrayal of the Serb Republic by the Serbian government.
Mircic is originally from Western Bosnia (Grahovo municipality). His home town has been destroyed, he noted, with the support “of your government” (he probably means Germany). It is now in the Croat-Muslim Federation which he does not dare visit, given that it is teeming with Islamic terrorists.
Talking about the Seselj trail Mircic’s eyes sparkle: Seselj is a martyr, he was a dissident in the communist period [note: when he was in prison in Bosnia], and now, in the age of globalisation, this anti-communist fighter is a prisoner again. Currently the SRS prepares for the beginning of his trail in The Hague and for the presentation of his new book.
Vojislav Seselj, leader of Serbia’s largest parliamentary party