"My opinion is that Serbia should not be approved the starting date for negotiations... Government in Belgrade could resolve the issue of telecommunications in Kosovo and other technical questions in one afternoon, only if they wanted... We will not allow anyone to compare some of our commanders in Kosovo to Adolf Hitler... "
These were just some of pretty heated statements that German diplomat in charge of the Balkan Nikolaus Graf Lambsdorff, stated at a recent forum held in Sofia, one of the few events in recent years at such a high level which discussed the future of the Balkans. Or, as a journalist of German Die Zeit has remarked, this was an opportunity for diplomats and politicians to drop the issue of Greece and Euro crises and once again look into the problems of Southeast Europe.
This was, of course, an opportunity to feel the pulse of European public after the, as Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt noted, the unexpected victory of Tomislav Nikolic in the presidential elections in Serbia. Is Europe changing its attitude towards Belgrade, and if so – which direction will it take, what should we do and what can we hope for?
The interlocutors of Novi magazin are honest in their opinion that the speech of the German diplomat has brought a considerable tension between the forum participants. To quote again the Swedish Minister Carl Bildt, who says: "After a long time, Serbia was the subject of discussions in the halls." There were quite a few of those who stood out because of their fear of upcoming events, primarily in regards to regional policy, in which former President Boris Tadic got all admirations. According to the attendees of the meeting we talked too, there shouldn’t be much to worry about, but still...
Tim Judah, a British expert and analyst of London Economist, says that Germany is currently the only country whose dissonant tones regarding Serbia can be heard: "Germans don’t hide that they are angry with Serbia, primarily due to the events in Kosovo and disrespect of the agreed terms from the so-called technical agreements. In two years from now, i.e. 2014, Germany will have more soldiers in Kosovo than in Afghanistan and the government in Berlin considers this an important issue. For this reason they openly say they find it unacceptable for someone to drop bombs or shoot their soldiers in the peacekeeping mission. And especially for someone to compare their commander to Adolf Hitler and that no one in Belgrade responds to it."
Judah reminds that we should not forget that last year Germany also had a clear view and was quite critical in terms of Belgrade's politics, but it eventually decided to give the green light to Serbia’s candidacy. And it not only supported Serbia, but also actively lobbied to help Belgrade.
What is it that the German diplomat said in Sofia, which has fired the red lamp in Belgrade and other capitals? Besides the above mentioned positions on Kosovo and the need for more decisive action of Belgrade, Nikolaus Graf Lambsdorffsaid that many German investors are interested in investing in Serbia and that the government in Berlin assist them with its guarantees. He also stated that Germany’s goal is to see to all Balkan countries in the EU one day, but only after they fulfill all necessary requirements. He stressed that he expects Nikolic will be clearly told in Brussels what is expected from Serbia in order to make further progress in integrations.
The interlocutors of Novi magazin say that this requirement to play with open cards is the continuation of the policy launched last year by Angela Merkel during her visit to Belgrade, which can be put in one sentence: "If there is a problem, it should be identified and fixed as soon as possible."
Gerald Knaus from the European Stability Initiative, Berlin explains that Germany is not the only country that thinks this way, but it’s the only one that makes its viewpoint more than clear.
"This evolution in attitudes began in the mid of last year and it now continues. Germany doesn’t hide that Belgrade is expected a lot more, primarily when it comes to the situation in Kosovo. The decision to change this policy is not so much because of Serbia, as much as for the politics of Greece, where the Germans got burned. Northern Europe shares the opinion that Greece has cheated on its European partners, but that the same thing was done by Cyprus and some other countries that give a headache to European leaders today. Therefore, it was decided that the level of tolerance for any kind of behavior similar to Greek is - zero. So, Europe will no longer turn a blind eye to anyone. Germany will expect Serbia to move from words to actions and do everything in its power," says the German expert, stating that the diplomats in Berlin were quite frustrated with the performance of president Tadic, as he was expected more, and that Nikolic will be expected a much faster response, especially when it is necessary to condemn and prevent violence.
Tim Judah turns discussion back to the question of Greece, but from a new and unusual angle. There is actually a very good phenomenon - the Western Balkans is returning to the EU, while at the same time Greece is coming back to the Balkans, where it has actually always belonged and from where it "ran away". Greece is now a black hole of the Balkans, instead of Serbia and Bosnia. This change could be most easily seen in the elections in these two countries - while Serbia expelled the nationalist Serbian Radical Party from the assembly, ultra-nationalists in Greece achieved unexpectedly good results.
At the same time, the British analyst says that it would be wrong to minimize the problems that exist in ex-Yu because local politicians have repeatedly shown they are capable of all changes by making some irrational decisions.
Serbia and the Balkan countries in general are accustomed to be center of attention in recent decades and find it difficult to reconcile with the fact that they are no longer positioned so high on the agenda of world politics. To be more precise, they are currently at the bottom of the priorities list. Very few people, whether diplomats, experts of analysts are still interested in the region. The region's leaders have to realize that the world is now preoccupied with other problems - which can actually be very beneficial for the improvement and normalization of the situation in the region. Therefore, this period should be used for strengthening in all areas. It is very important that the region is no longer spoken of as a problematic point. On the sixth of April this year, the date when the war in Bosnia started, it could clearly be seen exactly how the two trajectories intersect. The region from the nineties and the region today are two completely different stories," said Judah, who praised the initiative of the Croatian Minister of Foreign Affairs that the Nordic Council representatives should come to Zagreb and demonstrate to the countries in the region the ways in which they overcome the painful points in history when they fought against each others, and how they created relationships that now serve as an example to everyone in the region.