Serbia and NATO
– “Patriots” urge referendum –
A group of over 200 “distinguished intellectuals1” signed a petition calling for a referendum on whether Serbia should join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). The petition was presented to the public at a Jan. 11, 2010 press conference in Belgrade. The event featured a “troika” of distinguished public figures who put their literary, journalistic and scientific skills and oeuvre in the service of defending Serbia from any modernization attempts: Matija Beckovic, one of the most ardent advocates of Serb nationalist stance; Ljiljana Smajlovic, Chairperson of the Association of Journalists of Serbia (UNS) and former Chief Editor of the Politika daily, widely known as the regime’s mouthpiece; and Prof. Svetozar Stojanovic, once a leading dissident in the Praxis group of critical social scientists, today a critic of the West’s conspiracy against the Serbs.
Although the three have shouldered most of the effort to engineer the action, it is widely believed that it was masterminded by those who would like to see former Prime Minister Vojislav Koštunica and his Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) play a key role in Serbian politics again.
The action is being carried out against the background of a dawning shift in Tadic’s foreign policy: Serbia’s rapprochement with the European Union (abolishment of visa requirement for Serbian citizens for travel in the Schengen zone; unfreezing of the Interim Trade Agreement pending ratification of the SAA; submission of Serbia’s EU candidacy bid; and, last but not least, Belgrade’s acceptance of EULEX deployment in Kosovo and, albeit limited, cooperation with it) and the apparent cooling of relations with Russia.
There are strong signals – substantiated by some officials’ and analysts’ timid confirmations – that a change of Serbia’s policy towards her immediate neighbors is a result of „suggestions rather than demands“ of the West.
Tadic’s recent initiative to pass a resolution on the Srebrenica3 genocide in Parliament, and his clear message that Serbia opposes a Bosnian Serb referendum on seceding from B&H, as well as his reluctant, but not declining response to Croatian President-elect Ivo Josipovic’s initiative to renew the dialogue and settle the numerous disputes between Belgrade and Zagreb without „help“ of
the International Court of Justice, testify to a changed approach to regional stability, hitherto jeopardized by Belgrade’s paternal attitude toward neighboring ex-YU member- Republics, personified in the zealous Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic.
Notwithstanding the motives of Tadic’s recent moves, one can ascertain that the climate in Serbia’s public4 is changing. This can also be seen in the media, abounding in favorable reports on Europe – the fact that media which only weeks ago championed „patriotic“ rhetoric finding not a single nice word for Europe and the West in general, are now in the
forefront of pro-Europe propaganda, testifies that much of the media offensive is orchestrated from a single center.
Speculations about an early parliamentary election are also seen as fuel to this initiative: a government faced with a chaos in the economy and society, and weakened by frequent blackmails from the ruling Democratic Party’s (DS) smaller coalition parties, could use the
current wave of Euro-enthusiasm and attempt to capitalize on it in a snap election.
The above depicted new tones noticeable on Serbia’s political landscape could not be ignored by the camp embracing remnants of Miloševic’s old guard hardliners who did not go along with the reforms in the Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS) under Interior Minister Ivica Dacic, the right-wing populists around Koštunica, and xenophobic circles in the
Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts (SANU), Association of Writers of Serbia (UKS), Serbian Orthodox Church5 (SPC), universities atc. Prominent representatives of all these groups are among the signatories of the anti-NATO petition.
The initiators view the „danger“ of the Government deciding „in an undemocratic manner“ on Serbia’s membership in NATO, a „hostile organization which 1999 bombed Serbia and otherwise inflicted so much pain on Serbs in Serbia and in other Serb lands“ or „those who
have robbed us of the most precious part of our identity“ and „created the artificial state of Kosovo“. Speaking at the Jan. 11 press conference, Matija Beckovic said: “Serbia has on several occasions announced it ‘will never recognize the independent state of Kosovo’,
meaning it will never join NATO. ‘Independent Kosovo’ is the work of NATO, which created that state and awarded itself supreme and absolute power in it” .
Ever since the fall of the Djindjic (2003) Government and throughout the two terms of Vojislav Koštunica as Prime Minister (until 2008), Serbia’s participation in Euro-Atlantic integrations has been off the agenda. Serbian Parliament adopted in December 2007 a resolution pledging military neutrality for Serbia – a step which effectively preempted any serious debate on Serbia’s security doctrine and options in a changing world.
Anti-NATO propaganda – reduced to two key words:  “bombing” and “Kosovo” – has been much more offensive than sporadic attempts to define Serbia’s security interests and priorities. It is therefore not surprising that opinion polls, carried out in such an atmosphere, suggest that majority of Serbian citizens oppose NATO membership. The Centre for Free Elections and Democracy (CeSID) published November 7, 2009 results of a poll showing that 51% of the population is against membership.
Only 25% were found to be in favor. While leading state dignitaries hesitate to express a clear-cut standpoint on Serbia’s national security future (within or without NATO), those opposing it decide to act. Although this initiative carries insignificant political weight in terms of mobilizing massive support – or, for that matter, initiating a serious and responsible debate on the issue – it is relevant as a reliable indicator of the climate in much of the influential intellectual millieu, parts of which having been and still being close to President Tadic.
Confronted with a range of strategic decisions to be made within the framework of an accelerated modernization in politics and economy, legislation and judiciary, education and media – absolutely indispensable if she genuinely aspires to join the family of free, democratic and prosperous nations – Serbia will have to embark on a
process of defining her long term security and defense interests in an atmosphere void of ideological exclusivity, demagogy and emotional charge. It is only in such a climate that her intellectual and political elites will live up to what is expected from them in a changing society.