By Milos Mitrovic – Belgrade
“The great powers have always had a major influence on Serbia and other former Yugoslav countries. In regard to Serbia, Western as well as other countries also influenced democratic changes in 2000. Do not forget that Slobodan Milosevic decided to accept the central electoral commission’s decision only after Igor Ivanov, Russian Foreign Minister at the time, had visited him. On the other hand, United States and Great Britain have had an influence on the opposition”, Predrag Simic, professor at the Belgrade Faculty of Political Sciences said in the interview for IBNA commenting the actual debate among serbian political parties on whether foreign countries have had an impact on forming the new government led by Aleksandar Vucic.
Simic says that foreign influence on Serbian politics persists.
Do you think that foreign countries had an effect on forming the new Serbian government?
“I think they had, although there’s no admittance. There are domains in the government foreign countries are especially interested in. For instance, for Russia it is the energy and for the Western countries it is the Kosovo issue. There are direct, but also indirect influences via media, diplomats and there is also an economic impact, which affects certain domains. Therefore, Serbia and other Western Balkan countries as well are under permanent foreign influence.”
Can we expect Serbia to stay being polygon in that respect?
“Serbia was a polygon for a long time. Yugoslavia was created in order to prevent its countries from those influences and pressures. When Yugoslavia collapsed, its former countries became more susceptible to foreign impact. Ultimately, they are all now indebted eight to ten times more than Yugoslavia was on the eve of its collapse. The highly indebted countries are more susceptible to foreign influence. Fortunately, Serbia is not the top among them. These countries are dependent on their creditors, which provide them loans and therefore affect their economic policies”.
Former prime minister and newly appointed foreign minister Ivica Dacic announced his ambition to organize a summit of EU countries, Russia and United States in Serbia. Do you find this realistic?
“This is really very ambitious, but I don’t think it’s quite realistic. At the moment, there are similar ambitions in other former Yugoslav republics. Former speaker of the Parliament of Montenegro who is now OSCE head (Ranko Krivokapic) strives to moderate between Russia, United States and the EU, but this is very difficult for small countries. Great powers do what they want to do and small countries do what they have to do. This ambition (of Dacic) is also reminiscent of Josip Broz Tito period, but Tito had organized a non-aligned countries summit, not the gathering of great powers representatives. This initiative is praiseworthy, but Serbia will not have the opportunity for it in the near future”.
Do you think Kosovo issue will remain the priority of Western countries regarding their relations to Serbia?
“Essentially, the Kosovo issue is resolved, but there is still certain frustration in Serbian public and even more in the public in Kosovo. It seems that status quo, which was achieved by the Brussels agreement EU considers to be its greatest success in the former Yugoslav territory. I do not expect any changes until the term of EU High Representative Catherine Ashton ends by the end of this year. Some changes may occur after European elections and probable triumph of rightist parties, but EU and United States are satisfied with the Brussels agreement.”
Serbia aspires to become an EU member and at the same time has its own Russian foreign policy. How long can such a situation persist?
“This does not depend primarily on Serbia. Serbia can swim in the wave, but cannot direct it. Serbia will look for its path between Russia and the West, as their relations continue to deteriorate. But Serbia had better score in the first round; without siding with Russia or the West, Serbia will find room for maneuver in the indecisive policy of the EU, which harshly criticizes what it recognizes as Russian actions in Ukraine, but does not dare to provoke Moscow for its oil and gas… Serbia would certainly be affected if the relations (between EU and Russia) deteriorates further. It is already affected by Southern Stream project being postponed for the indefinite future. On the other hand, categorical siding may cause serious consequences. Montenegro, which has supported EU sanctions towards Russia, is now faced with massive canceling of holiday packages by Russian travel agencies, which is indicative of further deterioration of bilateral relations.”
In your opinion, why did Montenegro join EU sanctions towards Russia? Was it an obligation for Montenegro or did its government demonstrat its loyalty to Western partners?
“This has to do with the assessment of the Montenegrin government, which suggests that the greatest security threat for Montenegro comes from some neighboring countries, which are NATO members. They feel threatened and believe that only United States, which is NATO, may protect Montenegro. From this reason the government of Montenegro will do everything it can in order to receive an invitation for a membership in NATO at the Alliance’s summit in October.”