Daniel Serwer

Washington,  06 October 2021, dtt-net.com - Colleagues I know and respect think that Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic aims a) to get neighboring countries to treat their Serb populations correctly, and b) thereby avoid any mass migration of Serbs, as occurred in the 1990s when they left Croatia and Kosovo.

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Washington,  06 October 2021, dtt-net.com - Colleagues I know and respect think that Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic aims a) to get neighboring countries to treat their Serb populations correctly, and b) thereby avoid any mass migration of Serbs, as occurred in the 1990s when they left Croatia and Kosovo.

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Western Balkans and EU News
06.10.21 | Opinions

[Opinion] No one should be fooled: Serbia is lost for now


By Daniel Serwer

Washington,  06 October 2021, dtt-net.com - Colleagues I know and respect think that Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic aims a) to get neighboring countries to treat their Serb populations correctly, and b) thereby avoid any mass migration of Serbs, as occurred in the 1990s when they left Croatia and Kosovo.

I beg to differ. I see no evidence of these two claims and lots of contrary indications.

Let us count them:

In Kosovo, Vucic controls the Serbian List, which occupies all the Serb seats in the Kosovo Assembly. The Serbian List does not cooperate with other political parties to improve the lot of the Serbs but instead has conducted itself as a spoiler, boycotting parliament often. Belgrade has threatened and harassed Serbs who join Kosovo's nascent army, and recently deployed army units, as well as the Russian ambassador, to the boundary/border with Kosovo in response to a dispute over license plates (sic).

Vucic has toyed with the idea of trading Albanian-majority municipalities in Kosovo's south for Kosovo's Serb-majority municipalities in the north. But the majority of Serbs in Kosovo live south of the Ibar river. This "border correction" scheme would end the viability of those communities and lead to their eventual, if not immediate, abandonment.

In Bosnia and Herzegovina, the now Vucic-allied Serb member of the tripartite presidency (Milorad Dodik) has tried to undermine the state institutions in preparation for secession and independence of Republika Srpska (RS), which occupies 49% of the country's territory. Dodik objects to any strengthening of the state's judiciary, police, army, and parliament.

Vucic has taken up the cudgels in favor of a "Serbian Home," that is a state that would annex the Serb populations of Bosnia, Kosovo, and Montenegro. The idea is indistinguishable from "Greater Serbia" and "all Serbs in one country," the slogans that led Milosevic to four wars in the 1990s, all of which were lost and led to the mass migration of Serbs to Serbia.

In Montenegro, a new Vucic-aligned government dominated by people who identify as Serbs is welcoming Russian and Serbian dominance and undermining the independence and sovereignty of NATO's newest member, while also mistreating the country's minorities.

It is hallucinatory to think that the Serbian Home and the behavior of Vucic-allied Serbs in Kosovo, Bosnia, and Montnegro is intended to improve the lot of Serbs in neighboring countries or to avoid mass migration. This is no doubt a line Vucic uses with Westerners, as he knows what they want (and don't want) to hear. But that doesn't make it true.

In addition to threatening his neighbors, Vucic is taking Serbia in a definitively autocratic as well as Russia- and China-focused direction. Belgrade's foreign policies are only 60% or so aligned with the European Union, the lowest ratio in the Western Balkans. Serbia has joined the free trade area of the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union, which is incompatible with EU membership. Belgrade has declared itself "neutral" with no intention of joining NATO (unlike all its neighbors). Its media are not free, its judiciary is not independent, and its economy is largely state-directed, with big investments from Russia and even bigger ones from China. Belgrade's recent arms purchases are likewise largely from Moscow and Beijing.

Vucic faces an election, albeit not a free or fair one, next year. There is no viable liberal democratic alternative. The only current threat to his dominance comes from ethnic nationalists. He sees no hope of joining the European Union within his next five-year mandate and is behaving accordingly: grab what you can from Russia and China, promise to protect Serbs in other countries, look for opportunities to bring them and the land they occupy into Serbia, and stave off the the Europeans and Americans by telling them that you are anxious to avoid mass migration and improve the lot of Serbs in neighboring countries.

No one should be fooled. It is time for Washington and Brussels to wake up and smell the coffee. The geopolitical challenges from Russia and China have dashed hopes for early realization of a Europe "wholeand free." Serbia is lost to the liberal democratic world so long as this Vucic is president. He is a chameleon. For now, he has surrounded himself with autocrats and ethnic nationalists. Courting his favor won't get us anywhere. Supporting serious liberal democrats inside Serbia and in the region might get us something. But we'll still need to wait six years or more for a serious alternative.

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Daniel P. Serwer is a Professor of the Practice of Conflict Management as well as director of the Conflict Management and American Foreign Policy Programs at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. 

This opinion of his was originally published at his peacefare.net website.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of dtt-net.com

06.10.21 | Opinions