The ‘Zero Point’ in Serbian History

The newest rhetoric with regard to the “resetting” of relations between Serbia and the US after the 1999 NATO bombing over Kosovo — the “resetting” that allegedly took place with the visit of the American Vice President Biden to Serbia earlier this year — is phrased as the quest for a “zero point” in Serbian history. This “zero point” would see a “politician with a vision” who would recognise the independent Kosovo, and thus embark upon the future full of rewards and mutual affection with Serbia’s neighbours, all of them nicely cushioned in the motherly embrace of the EU.

Increasingly, the visit by Joseph Biden has shown that the US would adopt a more subtle approach to dealing with Serbia. The visit came at the time when the now already ex-American Ambassador to Serbia, Cameron Manter, was withdrawn. Manter was known for his role in the bringing together of the now ruling political parties and controversial tycoons with a view of creating the current government. His withdrawal by the new American administration shows very clearly that the corrupt manner of dealing with parties and controversial businessmen would not continue and that the Obama administration would seek much more transparency and legitimacy in its relations with Serbia.

The American Vice-President sent at least two very important messages. One was that the US intends to work with Serbia on a more procedurally correct front, despite the disagreement on Kosovo. The second message was that within the Democratic Party, the US sees a strong partner in the Serbian Minister of Defence, Dragan Šutanovac, who was the only member of government with whom Mr. Biden spent over an hour in a one-to-one conversation. In short, Biden’s visit says, first, that the US has not forgotten Serbia amid the preoccupations with Iraq and the other hot spots, and second, that the efforts to marginalize the Defence Minister within the ruling coalition must cease.

Immediately after Joseph Biden’s visit to Serbia, the inclusion of Serbia without its citizens in Kosovo on the “White Schengen List” has been announced, emphasizing very clear resonance of the logic that the European road is open to Serbia as long as it is not “stubborn” that Kosovo remains a part of it. In short, the “zero point in Serbian history” is envisaged as the breaking apart from the traditional views on sovereignty and Serbia’s place between the East and the West, the changing of Serbia’s geopolitical outlook, so to say, with it becoming “the West” ideologically, value-wise, and vis-à-vis the practical politics.

Kosovo remains the main issue on Serbia’s becoming “the West”. As long as it is tied to the memory of NATO bombing, it is a hindrance to the Serbian population agreeing at a referendum that Serbia should join NATO — another prospect closely tied with the prospect of EU membership.

However, it seems that the job of finalizing the separation of Kosovo now belongs to the EU politicians, with the American administration taking a much more cautious and sophisticated line with Serbia. The changing political climate in Southeastern Europe, including Serbia, with a shift of public opinion to the right (which has manifested itself in the recent resignation by the Croatian Prime Minister Ivo Sanader, for example), has persuaded the US that the policies of the late Bush Administration were not particularly productive. The withdrawal of Cameron Manter and the obviously much more delicate mandate given to American diplomacy after the visit of Joseph Biden show that America is likely to gradually leave the full legalization of Kosovo’s secession to the EU, with the idea of Serbia associating itself with the EU from a “zero point” in its history, while America itself tries to build a new set of relations with Serbia by distancing itself gradually from the dubious political processes that surrounded the creation of the current government.

The prospect of Serbian-American relations after the visit of the American Vice-President may well be improved with the broader reach of American diplomacy in Serbia, with its greater reception of the parties to the right of the political spectrum, and with possible considerable reserve being shown to the politicians who are clearly losing political support as reflected in the opinion polls. At the same time, however, the overall bitterness surrounding the issue of Kosovo is likely to escalate, if the EU makes it more explicit that the renouncing of Kosovo truly is a condition for further EU integration.


* Dr Aleksandar Fatic is Director of the Centre for Security Studies, Belgrade.





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Lecturer, Ionian University, and author of, inter alia, 'Cyprus: a Modern History' (IB Tauris, 2005 and 2009).
written by Dr, William Mallinson, August 12, 2009 

The essential American motive is to keep Russia out, just as Britain used to try and do in the Balkans.Russia has a far greater and more legitimate claim to influence and friendship vis-a-vis Serbia for geo-historical and religious reasons than the US, which is simply trying a soft-sell approach, and wishes to sell more weapons to a Serbia by suggesting, naively, NATO membership.The US still hopes that its junior partner and representative in the EU, Britain, will be able to sway the EU into adopting the US line. This is a naive approach for anyone who knows the intricacies of the politics of the area.It is by no means certain that Kosovo will gain legitimacy, particularly since not all EU members even recognise it.The EU path is far more realistic than the NATO one. Why is it that so many of the post 1989 East European states lump NATO and the EU together, when they are institutionally and politically like chalk and cheese.Perhaps the final solution will involve Serbia giving up the Albanian bits of Kosovo. But that will depend as much on Serbian and Russian agreement as on the EU.And of course, it is a highly sensitive issue.And let's not start talking about oil and gas.......!!