Serbia’s Vuk Jeremic: We’re For the E.U. But If You Side With Kosovo Independence, Fuggedaboutit! (Or: EU membership and the Kosovo issue ARE related)

Serbia’s politicians — except for PM Vojislav Kostunica — have been straining to separate the issue of their EU membership with that of the future status of Kosovo.  To Serbia, EU membership and Kosovo are two separate things. 

We can move forward toward EU membership and simultaneously oppose Kosovo independence.

On paper, that sounds right. Serbia certainly could do both of these things if it tried.  But the way in which Serbia is going about these two endeavors is much like Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.  It will end in predictable tragedy.

After all, Serbia has put all its eggs into the Kosovo basket.  Through its deal with Russia and resorting to Balkan tough talk that resembled a Serbia of the early 90’s, Serbia backed itself into a corner that it didn’t have to. 

So, even with the eloquent words of Serbia’s planned EU integration by the “progressive” thinking Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic, he threatens in the same breath that any country recognizing Kosovo’s independence will face dire consequences — which includes a complete embargo of people and resources as well as expulsion of diplomats.  In light of the fact that the majority of the EU is planning to recognize Kosovo’s independence in the coming weeks, it’s hard — if not impossible — to reconcile Serbia’s “reasoned” stance. 

In the end, even with a supposed “moderate” like Vuk Jeremic, the logical extension of his reasoning is no different than that of PM Vojislav Kostunica.  The only difference is that Vojislav Kostunica tells it how it is:  No Kosovo, No EU.

Serbian Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic urged the European Union to speed up his country’s bid for membership, to prevent a nationalist takeover of the government that could spawn instability in the Balkans.  Jeremic, in an interview with Bloomberg Television in Brussels yesterday, called on the EU to sign a trade pact, the first step to entry, to smooth the re-election of pro-western President Boris Tadic against an anti-EU challenger this month.

EU governments have balked at inking the trade accord until Serbia arrests the remaining war-crimes suspects from the 1990s Yugoslav conflicts. Serbia, once the dominant republic in Yugoslavia, is counting on future EU membership to help end the legacy of bloodshed in the Balkans.

Closing the deal “would give a significant boost to the pro-European candidacy,” Jeremic said.  “And everybody is expecting the signing. So if it doesn’t happen, conversely, it is going to be a significant blow.” U.S.-educated Jeremic, 32, cast the election as a referendum on whether Serbia, historically torn between East and West, evolves into a free-market European democracy or retreats into isolation.

The race between Tadic, 49, and Tomislav Nikolic, 55, an opponent of hitching Serbia’s fate to the EU, is “almost a dead heat,” Jeremic said. He predicted that no candidate will win a majority in the first round on Jan. 20, forcing a Feb. 3 runoff.

“It’s going to be a referendum toward Europe or away from Europe,” Jeremic said. A defeat for the pro-EU camp would mean that “our goal of joining the European Union would probably end up being delayed for the next generation or more.”

As foreign minister since May, Jeremic has emerged as the public face of Serbia’s outreach to the West.  Jeremic called on the EU to sign the trade accord at a scheduled EU-Serbia meeting Jan. 28 in Brussels. That date is backed by Slovenia, a fellow member of the former Yugoslav federation that now holds the 27-nation EU’s six-month presidency.  So far, the Netherlands has led the opposition to the signing, demanding that Serbia first show its democratic credentials by arresting former Bosnian Serb General Ratko Mladic, charged with orchestrating the 1995 Srebrenica massacre of more than 7,000 Bosnian Muslims. The Serb government in the past said it didn’t have proof that Mladic was in the country.

While Serbia missed a self-imposed end-of-2007 deadline to hand over Mladic to United Nations war-crimes prosecutors, Jeremic said that “this remains a priority. Mladic is going to be arrested.”  So far, the EU has shown more unity on Kosovo than it did when Yugoslavia started to crumble in 1991.

Jeremic repeated Serb threats to downgrade relations with countries that grant diplomatic recognition to Kosovo, while saying the government won’t impose economic sanctions that end up hurting Serbia more.

“The government has an action plan but we’re not going to reveal our tactics,” Jeremic said. “We will try and make sure there is the least damage to Serbia as a result of these measures, but we will not shy away from engaging an economic component.”

Quoted article was published by Bloomberg and can be found here.


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