Update No: 121 - (27/06/07)
The return of the prodigal son
There are wise counsels prevailing in Brussels. Serbia is a recalcitrant
country, immensely prickly about its repute abroad. It feels it has the world
against it, after playing a major role, which it did, in saving civilisation in
the Second World War. The Partisans, who were not all Serbs, it is true, but
many were, held down circa 20 German and other Axis divisions in the course of
the conflict, defeating them moreover at the end, a force that could have turned
the scale on the vital Eastern Front had it been available to the Nazis there.
Not for nothing did the diehard anti-communist, Winston Churchill, back the
communist Partisans with massive equipment, rather than the
fascist-collaborationist followers of Mihailovic, an arch-monarchist, because
the former were killing more Germans, far more.
The buccaneering Brigadier Fitzroy Maclean, just-turned thirty, his intermediary
with Tito, told him who was doing the most in the common struggle. But he added:
"You realise, Sir, he is a communist," to which Churchill replied:-
"Do you intend to live in Yugoslavia after the war?"
"Neither do I."
Bringing Serbia into the EU fold
Brussels likewise is going to overlook Serbian shortcomings in a realisation
that Serbia is the key to Balkan recovery.
Serbia can resume suspended talks on an EU pre-membership agreement, the bloc
said on June 7th, after Belgrade demonstrated "a clear commitment" to
cooperate with the U.N. war crimes tribunal.
The EU announcement to restart talks on June 13 is seen as a major political
victory for Serbia's reformist president Boris Tadic, who enjoys US and EU
backing in his efforts to break with the country's nationalist past. "I
welcome the progress Serbia has made since the establishment of the new
government in its cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the
former Yugoslavia," European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso in a
The announcement came a day after U.N. war crimes prosecutor Carla Del Ponte
praised Serbia for the recent arrest of Gen. Zdravko Tolimir, a key fugitive.
During a visit to Belgrade, she insisted on the capture of the most wanted
suspect from the Balkan wars in the 1990s: Gen. Ratko Mladic, who is sought on
war crimes charges stemming from his role in the 1995 massacre of more than
7,000 Bosnian Muslims in Srebrenica, the worst single atrocity in Europe since
World War II.
Mladic is considered a hero by Serb ultra-nationalists and the leadership of
their Radical Party, the country's largest. Although the government of Prime
Minister Vojislav Kostunica in the past insisted that it did not know Mladic's
whereabouts, Del Ponte has always maintained that his capture and extradition
depended only on Belgrade's political will.
Serbia woos Russia in return for Kosovo support
Serbia's Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica pursued his diplomatic balancing
act between East and West on June 8th, travelling to Russia to thank President
Vladimir Putin for blocking independence for its breakaway Kosovo province.
Russia tripped up the G8 summit in Germany by making it clear it would veto a
United Nations resolution -- sponsored by the West -- to make Kosovo independent
In comments to daily Vecernje Novosti, Kostunica said it was time for "new
talks for an acceptable solution" on Kosovo. "I will discuss these
ideas with President Putin. Together we have to look for ideas that would lead
us to a compromise."
Serbia rejects independence for Kosovo, cradle of its Orthodox faith but now
home to a 90 percent Albanian majority that will take nothing less. It offers
wide autonomy for the province instead.
Kosovo has been run by the United Nations since 1999, when NATO forced out Serb
troops accused of killing thousands of non-combatant civilians in a two-year war
After a year of fruitless talks between Serbs and Albanians, U.N. envoy Martti
Ahtisaari drafted a plan that would give the territory independence under
European Union supervision, with wide self-government powers for the Serb
minority. Kosovo's Albanians agreed to the draft, but Serbia enlisted the help
of Russia -- a fellow Orthodox nation and U.N. Security Council veto holder --
to block it.
While Kostunica's trip to Moscow underlines his gratitude to Russia, Serbia at
the same time wants ties with the West and the European Union, which Belgrade
wishes to join and which has invested capital and prestige in Kosovo. Kostunica
overcame his antipathy to the U.N. war crimes tribunal, which he sees as biased
against Serbs, and arrested a long-time fugitive recently precisely in order to
get Serbia's stalled association talks with the EU restarted.
There is a bit of a puzzle as to why the Russians are prepared to stick their
necks out so much for the Serbs, common Orthodoxy notwithstanding. The following
perhaps explains it:-
PRICE TO PAY
An EU diplomat who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity said the West
was "baffled" by the Russian stance on Kosovo, which is not seen as
vital to Moscow's interests. Analysts say it has more to do with Moscow's
flexing of its diplomatic muscle on the world stage, but some Serbs say Kremlin
support will come with a price-tag.
A Russian delegation already visited Serbia in May looking for deals before the
privatisations this year of Serbia's energy, utility and transport monopolies.
One Serb leader said it was "special attention" for Serbia's main
ally. "Another issue we are going to discuss is economic cooperation,"
Kostunica said. "The government will do its best to attract Russian
investments in energy, the banking sector, metallurgy and infrastructure."
One Western diplomat, commenting on a possible Russian bargain spree in Serbia,
said it was a "strange way for them to show their EU vocation."
Kostunica's single-minded crusade for Kosovo, which he calls "Serbia's most
important national issue," has been spiced with nationalist rhetoric, far
from his original role in 2000 as the pro-Western democrat who ousted strongman
If Serbia succeeds in having Russia block a UN resolution or delaying it
further, Europe would have to pick up the pieces. Its Kosovo mission would be in
a legal void, and Western peacekeepers could be targeted by frustrated Kosovo
Albanians, in a territory awash with hidden weapons.
EU starts Serbia talks
The European Union and Serbia resumed association talks on June 13 amid an EU
warning that negotiations would only be concluded once Belgrade arrested all war
crimes fugitives, including former general Ratko Mladic and Bosnian Serb
political leader Radovan Karadzic, New Europe reported.
"Achieving full cooperation (with the United Nations war crimes tribunal)
is an international obligation and a condition for the conclusion of the
stabilisation and association agreement," EU enlargement commissioner Olli
Rehn told journalists.
Rehn denied suggestions that the 27-nation bloc was restarting negotiations in
order to win Belgrade's backing for UN proposals for internationally-supervised
independence for the breakaway Serb province of Kosovo.
The two issues were separate, said Rehn. He underlined, however, that the EU
expected Serbia to adopt a "constructive approach" on Kosovo's final
status. "Of course we expect that Serbia will respect the settlement
achieved on the status of Kosovo on the basis of a UN resolution," he said.
Rehn also voiced hopes that a resumption of talks on the stabilisation agreement
would "help to change the terms of political debate from Serbia's
nationalist past to its European future."
Serbian deputy premier Bozidar Djelic said Belgrade had demonstrated its
commitment to cooperate with the UN war crimes tribunal by transferring former
top Bosnian Serb general, Zdravko Tolimir to The Hague.
Belgrade wanted to finalise discussions on the new agreement by July and wanted
to achieve the status of an EU candidate country next year, he said. But asked
about Serbia's view on Kosovo's final status, Djelic insisted: "We will
peacefully defend the integrity of our territory."
Serbia, backed by Russia, opposes UN proposals for internationally-supervised
independence for Kosovo, arguing that this violates its national sovereignty.
But the UN plan has firm US backing and the support of most EU states.
EU-Serbia association talks were suspended in May last year over Belgrade's
failure to deliver fugitive war crimes suspect Ratko Mladic to the United
Nations war crimes tribunal in The Hague.
Conclusion of stabilisation pacts is viewed as a first step on the long road to
membership of the 27-nation EU. Rehn said earlier he was ready to reopen
negotiations with Belgrade after Serbia arrested Tolimir.
Ties between Brussels and Belgrade have improved since the formation last month
of a new pro-reform coalition government under Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica.
In addition to the search for Mladic, the EU is also demanding the arrest of
Karadzic, another war crimes indictee of the 1992-1995 Bosnian war.
EU diplomats predict that once talks resume, a new agreement with Serbia could
be ready by the end of the year.
Key issues still on the negotiating table including the export of meat products,
customs regulations, weapons control and human rights issues. Serbia also wants
to clinch a visa-facilitation agreement with the EU allowing easier travel to
Europe for its citizens.