Tuesday, December 5, 2023

Voluntary prisoners of history

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By now it should have been clear to everyone that we are contemporaries of another – I would say, ‘revolutionary’ – transformation of humanity. Regardless of the technological progress that has enabled us to live more comfortably and longer, we look toward the global future with trepidation and uncertainty.

Although we are very curious about the fate of civilization, we are even more concerned about the perspective of our society and the Balkan geopolitical agony. In this, as a rule, we underestimate the cognitive blindness of our people, which facilitates the creation of a virtual world of justice and love. Since we hadn’t acknowledged the fall of the Berlin Wall, we are able to glorify the Soviet Empire and the power of Russian weapons all our lives.

The truth is that the Russian people have not succeeded in building a democratic society based on values, but have left their fate to autocratic visions that can easily destroy the Russian youth and its future, and even call into question the survival of the planet.

Unfortunately, voters in Serbia often choose their parliamentarians from among those apologists, with a tempting narrative and eloquent defense of collective illusions, but without national visions, political ideas and – above all – without a conscience.

An unhappy century ended for Serbia, and she still has no idea where to go in the current one. Even in our strategic defense documents, we flirt with the interest of cooperation with NATO and with the determination to “expand and improve cooperation” with the Russia-led pseudo-Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO).

Despite all the global developments, we persist in maintaining the status quo. The paradox today is the fact that we could expect change to happen at the initiative of the ruling structure, rather than on the opposition champions who, since February 24, 2022, have never managed to muster enough political courage to criticize the brutal aggression against a sovereign country by a state that does not care about the universal right to territorial integrity.

All our citizens know very well today that the return of Kosovo and Metohija to the state legal framework of Serbia is just a phantasmagoria that cannot be realized without war. They would lose this war, without any doubt. The concessions they would hypothetically sign during the capitulation would call into question the concept of statehood itself and certainly a sustainable future.

Nevertheless, contrary to an argument based on strength, a united EU, together with the US, launched a French-German proposal based on the strength of the argument – a clear perspective for the region, and a civilizational step forward in the historically complicated relations between Serbs and Albanians.

This proposal envisions an acceleration of Serbia’s EU accession process in exchange for our recognition of an independent Kosovo, along with other important administrative arrangements for the historic Serbian community who live inside Kosovo. Despite the fact that both sides have had objections, or precisely because of it, this proposal provides an alternative to the current continuity of tensions and a basis for the future coexistence of Serbs and Albanians.

The extremists on both sides, however, exclusively base their calculations on the perception of conquered territory, that is, their congenital limitations with state borders. It only shows us how far we are from the European idea and collective security, as well as what we are ready to sacrifice for the utopian ideas of ethical nihilists and lucrative avarice.

What the opposition is ready for is commotion in the National Assembly, actions that seem intended only for being in front of cameras, in support of the fictitious sovereignty that Serbia lost long ago in that part of its territory. And, of course, they ignore the fact that we lost part of our sovereignty over the part of central Serbia that former Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic and current President Aleksandar Vucic regained in 2001 and 2015, respectively, when the land and air security zones were abolished.

The current behavior of the opposition, and especially their silent attitude towards the war in Ukraine, strengthens my belief that it will probably be even worse for us in this century than in the last. With such oppositional defenders of the Russian world and quasi-franchises of the Serbian world, with their lack of political solutions and an excess of populism, it is unlikely that we will earn the right to a tomorrow in this global geopolitical context.

The opposition’s silence on the tragedy in Ukraine only reminds me that their support for Russia’s brutal aggression enabled them to their parliamentary benches from which they now profit silently and contribute to the breakdown of social visions and national values.

Although the story of their illusions and delusions is not without interest, one must have the courage and skill to embellish the collapse of both national values and state interests as a compensatory consolation to their voters, without any intention as a society, to remove the fetters of history. It was always blasphemous to talk about possible Euro-Atlantic integrations from the parliamentary benches, but now the proponents of a European perspective have joined that aforementioned unanimous and tacit compact.

Unfortunately for Serbia and its youngest generations, parties and movements that incorporated democracy and Europeanism into their statutes and ideologies, but silently first trampled on and then crushed them, joined it. With that, the opposition’s commitment died, as did the government’s corrective measures. The credibility of a political alternative also gradually disappeared, much like a damaged ship, slowly but surely sinking into the dark depths of the sea.

When standing at a foreign policy crossroads like the one Serbia currently finds herself before, a special responsibility is rightfully expected from representatives of the people and public speakers, who in theory, should be dedicated exclusively to the interests of Serbia, its values and the perception of a sustainable future. But as a rule, our fate is to be betrayed from beliefs, from friends, from history and from hope. Although we are not surprised by the hypocrisy of the politicians whom we trusted, we continue to ignore and minimize the consequences that a mistake in voting in elections generates for us. Certainly, politicians, with a deficit of political solutions and a surplus of hints of physical conflict over the nation’s vital issues, cannot restore our national dignity let alone offer us the hope of a better perspective.

At a recent parliamentary debate on the French-German proposal, I expected constructive proposals on strengthening our negotiating position and the presentation of a comprehensive analysis of consequences and benefits. The war in Ukraine has become an essential generator of cohesion in the West, which is increasingly losing tolerance towards Serbia’s neutral position. Despite the postulates of a democratic society, populism has long been present in the political narrative of many EU countries, which to a greater or lesser extent also influences state decisions. Citizens of many EU countries do not understand Serbia’s military neutrality and the reasons for not imposing sanctions on the aggressor.

The worst thing is that they don’t even want to understand it.

I don’t blame, because even many in Serbia do not understand the military, foreign policy or neutrality policies of our country. They especially do not understand the reasons for the age-old decadence of our society, which generated the current marginalization and insignificance of the Serbian factor in the international community. In the end, it is always easier to attribute it to hatred towards us or international injustice, and thus absolve ourselves, of any responsibility.

It is a reality, though. And do we present ourselves as innocent victims just because we have been defeated? Unfortunately, in the Balkan rhapsody of war and tragedy, there are no innocents, and our guilt is greatest towards our own people and our own society. From the moment we introduced arrogance into foreign policy, we became losers, without friends and without brothers; humiliated in the eyes of the world, but also in our own.

In the modern world, it is not possible to behave in a fiercely nationalistic and resolutely universalistic manner. In essence, it represents the current crossroads where we are now, faced with a choice between an outdated society condemned to cultural and moral extinction, or a European society that enjoys the privileges of the rule of law and collective security.

When elaborating on the consequences of the possible rejection of the harmonized EU proposal, many analysts in the media point out that they do not believe that the accession negotiations with the EU will be stopped. This ignores public opinion in the EU countries themselves. Many EU residents are against the visa-free regime that Serbia enjoys, and are especially averse to the large taxpayer-funded donations and non-refundable loans for projects in our country.

When it comes to the interruption and withdrawal of investments from Serbia, the agreement of public speakers is almost unanimous, largely because they believe that the interests of capital will ignore state or EU interests. How naive do you have to be to believe that just one recommendation from the top of the government would not generate the withdrawal of all investments from Serbia by some multinational company? An identical reaction could be expected after a “suggestion” by the intelligence structures or after a media campaign that would cause harmful consequences to the profitability of an investing company.

Despite this, many analysts continue with the thesis that investors are guided in their decisions solely by profitability in a weak Serbian market. That’s simply not true, and their dishonesty is, from my perspective, just as depraved as hypocrisy.

What worries us most, but is not in the public debate, is the third consequence presented to us by Vucic. In case of a rejection of the agreement, Serbia could also face other measures that will show how those who are not in agreement with the EU must go through. In other words, regardless of what Serbia wants and what its interests are, we are strategically dependent on the environment, and we are vulnerable in terms of security.

International crises represent a process that is developing, but which should be recognized and anticipated, thus enabling us to prevent devastating consequences. If we don’t face the facts and ignore the development of conflict scenarios, it is very easy to predict the abyss we can find ourselves in; i.e., the abolition of the visa-free regime, the withdrawal of all investments, isolation and sanctions. This would also include preparation by the media for another conflict, which in the Balkans has always been easy for them to generate.

In the current unpredictable geopolitical climate, without tolerance and attempts at coexistence, this scenario is far too real. War does not just erupt, nor is it declared overnight. The genesis of a crisis always has characteristic beginnings, sometimes as benign as the impossibility of an agreement on non-acceptance of non-papers. It can then quickly take on an irreversible downward spiral of unilateral decisions that, without exception, leads to conflict and tragic consequences.

Regardless of the traditionally correct diplomatic vocabulary, there should be no doubt that the West has lost its patience with Serbia, or is close to it. Once the fighter jets take off from the NATO base in Aviano, Italy, it is too late to change foreign policy decisions or harmonize them with the common foreign and security policy of the EU.

Without the intention of causing uneasiness or fear, I think it is only fair that the people must know the truth, openly and without twisted diplomatic vocabulary, and know that making a choice is still a possibility. It is still not too late to support the signing of the Franco-German proposal, nor is it too late to show everyone’s responsibility in building a sustainable future for Serbia and the wider Balkan region.

We often associate our dead demographics with historical context. We do this without asking whether all the wars and pandemics were the cause or just the effect. That’s why in moments of crisis and big decisions, we must look 20 or 30 years ahead to see how a safe and prosperous society should look through the eyes of an innocent child, and then work in earnest to make true such pure hopes.

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Executive Director of the Belgrade-based Council for Strategic Policy. A retired navy captain and former defense attaché in London, he is the co-founder and CEO of the CfSP.
Lunic has also held various positions in the Serbian Armed Forces responsible
 for the formulation and integration of defense policy in relation to political-military relations, security assistance, technology and information, as well as the exchange of military and diplomatic activities in support of the objectives of the Serbian government,

including being involved in the planning and implementation of cooperation between Belgrade, the UN, OSCE, EU and NATO, within the Partnership for Peace Program. Most recently, he worked as an expert of the OSCE Mission in Serbia.


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