If Serbia becomes a member of the EU, it could find allies which share the same civilisational interests in the Visegrad group. This would be a good way to soften the position of certain V4 members towards Russia, writes Arnaud Gouillon, director of the Office for Cooperation with the Diaspora and the Serbs in the Region in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Serbia.
Russia and Serbia are linked by history and culture, religion and related languages. They are linked by economic and friendly relations. Thousands of books and articles speak of these inextricable ties that unite Serbia and Russia, Serbs and Russians, wherever they live. How will these relations develop in the future, in the context of Serbia’s European integration? Will Serbia and Russia cooperate even more closely or quietly move away from each other?
At the very beginning, let us remind our readers of a few facts about Serbia: the territory of Serbia is 88,499 sq. km, which is the area of approximately two Moscow regions. Its GDP is about $52 billion. Despite its small size and seeming weakness, Serbia managed to free itself from the Ottoman Empire in the 19th century, after four centuries of occupation. It managed to defeat the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the Third Reich in the first half of the twentieth century, together with its allies. Serbia alone resisted NATO aggression during 78 days of depleted uranium bombing.
The French romantic Alphonse de Lamartine in his book “Travels in the East” described the Serbs using the following words: “Serbian people had proud heart that could be torn, but not broken, just like one couldn’t break oak’s heart up in the mountain.” Such were the Serbs in the era of Lamartine, and they are the same today, a heroic people who reject ultimatums and attempts at conquest.
In Serbia, 86% of the population has a positive opinion about Russia, and only 3% have a negative opinion about it. There is a strong polarisation in society concerning the EU: 46% of citizens support the inclusion of Serbia in the EU, and 51% are against this idea. If an alliance with Russia was possible, 67% of the population would be in favour, and according to recent studies, only about 5% of the population of Serbia would be in favour of joining NATO.
A significant part of the population would also like Serbia to remain independent, outside any blocs, and politically neutral, like a kind of Balkan Switzerland. However, is the will of the country neutral enough to allow it to be so, or is it necessary to get a “permit” from the big ones? If it was not in the interests of Germany and France, could Switzerland have remained neutral for so long, especially during large-scale wars and tensions? In such a complex configuration, the Serb ship decided to sail to a distant EU port, bravely defending its military neutrality. On this long journey, military neutrality is tolerated. But no one knows what will happen when Serbia arrives at the port.
From a political point of view, as long as Serbia is on this European path, no one really touches it. Of course, there are pressures, but there is no direct interference in the electoral process. The influence on society is exerted through the soft power of certain media and NGOs, which prefer options in support of NATO, the recognition of Kosovo and the imposition of sanctions against Russia. This is now being carried out rather unsuccessfully, because in Serbia there are numerous ideologically independent media and analysts who can impartially inform the people about real events in Serbia and in the world, without self-denial and Russophobia.
An external observer may get the impression that the situation is to some extent absurd: if Serbia joins the EU, many are afraid that it would actually have to recognise Kosovo and impose sanctions on Russia, but so far it is easier to overcome pressure on this path. The situation in which Serbia finds itself is not ideal, but it seems the least bad for it and thus for Serbian-Russian relations.
Numerous politicians in Serbia are aware of this fact. Many hope that relations between the EU and Russia will improve before the end of Serbia’s EU accession process, otherwise Serbia would most likely have huge problems both internationally and domestically. Many therefore hope that the political forces are willing to stand up for good relations with Russia, respect for international law and Resolution 1244, according to which Kosovo is an integral part of the Republic of Serbia.
No one is clairvoyant and it is difficult to say what will happen in 10 or 15 years, but we are still witnessing changes within the EU itself. The position of conservatives and patriots, traditionally close to Serbia and Russia, is strengthening due to the demographic and migration crisis, which, apparently, is getting bigger and bigger. On this issue, there is a split between the states of Central Europe (Visegrad group), advocates of traditional European and Christian values, and those who in Western Europe promote a postmodern society.
Gouverner c’est prévoir — To govern is to foresee
What can Serbia, and ultimately Russia, do to avoid being passive observers of changes that will affect their relations?
While Serbia is on the European path:
To strengthen the independence of the media operating in Serbia so that journalists can impartially and responsibly report on bilateral relations between Russia and Serbia, without increasing tension and Russophobia, as well as on the significant challenges Serbia faces from the point of view of Serbian state interests.
To strengthen the independence of the civil sector through open and transparent funding, as the West has been doing in the Balkans for decades.
These two proposals would allow maintaining a certain balance in the media and civic spheres, and thus weaken the influence of those who want a sharp change in the mood of citizens in relation to state issues and international relations.
If Serbia becomes a member of the EU
Serbia could find allies which share the same civilisational interests in the Visegrad group. This would be a good way to soften the position of certain V4 members towards Russia. Serbia would become a real cultural and value bridge between the EU and Russia, it would promote peace and the development of the European continent from Brest to Vladivostok. But all this on the condition that the tense relations that exist today due to the imposition of sanctions by the European Union on Russia do not worsen, and that no one sets foot on an irrevocable path.
If this does happen, will there be an alternative path that Serbia could take? If “To rule is to foresee”, it would be worth considering all options and starting by clearing the roads.
Note: Survey results vary depending on survey date and customer, but trends are always similar. We note that there are no frequent surveys about relations with Russia, and that practically all NGOs that conduct them are funded by Western embassies and foundations.