Serbia: Between unrecognised neutrality and NATO membership
The International Institute for Middle-East and Balkan Studies (IFIMES) in Ljubljana, Slovenia, regularly analyses events in the Middle East and the Balkans. On the occasion of early parliamentary election in Serbia which is to take place on 24 April 2016 IFIMES has prepared an analysis of the current situation in that country. The most interesting sections from the analysis entitled “Serbia: Between unrecognised neutrality and NATO membership“ are published below.
Between unrecognised neutrality and NATO membership
DOES SERBIA NEED EARLY PARLIAMENTARY ELECTION?
Early parliamentary election in Serbia is scheduled for 24 April 2016.The country had last early parliamentary election on 16 March 2014. Does Serbia need early parliamentary election? Is Serbia in a situation of political (in)stability? After the country entered into accession negotiations with the European Union (EU) the question whether early parliamentary election is justified has split the Serbian as well as the international public. Parliamentary election will be accompanied by election for the Assembly of Autonomous Province of Vojvodina and by local election.
Consequences of the disastrous government led by Boris Tadić and his Democratic Party (DS) the are still felt in Serbia. The appearance of Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) certainly represents a fresh wind on Serbia’s political scene. Serbian politics has taken a sharp swerve in many aspects, notably in terms of dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina and attitude to EU membership. Eight years of Tadić’s government pushed Serbia into regression and no matter who will lead the country it will take many years to overcome all the negative consequences of his government.In the forthcoming period Serbia will have to implement regionalisation and ensure a balanced development of all parts of the country.
The National Assembly (parliament) of the Republic of Serbia which is comprised of 250 deputies will be elected by the electorate of 6,737,808 registered voters according to the proportional system. . In Kosovo – which Serbia still regards as its Autonomous Province according to its Constitution – parliamentary election will be held in municipalities with the prevailing Serbian communities.
According to the valid Electoral Act which was adopted in 2000 and amended in 2004, the Republic of Serbia represents a single constituency and the MPs are elected by a proportional voting system. The reform of the former electoral law abolished the obligatory threshold of 5% of the votes for the parties representing ethnic minorities which instead have to pass the “natural threshold”. The latter is determined by dividing the number of valid votes by 250 members of parliament for each seat, which represents, depending on the turnout, from 12,000 to 16,000 votes.
20 lists will participate at the election run, in comparison with 19 lists at 2014 parliamentary election.
The Republic Electoral Commission (RIK) has officially announced the following lists: ● Aleksandar Vučić – Serbia Wins ● For a Just Serbia – Democratic Party (NOVA, DSHV, ZZS) ● Ivica Dačić – „Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS), United Serbia (JS) – Dragan Marković Palma“ ● Dr Vojislav Šešelj – Serbian Radical Party ● Dveri – Democratic Party of Serbia – Sanda Rašković Ivić – Boško Obradović ● Vajdasági Magyar Szövetség-Pásztor István – Alliance of Vojvodina Hungarians – Ištvan Pastor ● Boris Tadić, Čedomir Jovanović – Alliance For a Better Serbia – Liberal Democratic Party, League of Social Democrats of Vojvodina, Social Democratic Party ● Muamer Zukorlić – Bosniak Democratic Union of Sandžak ● Party of Democratic Action of Sandžak (SDA Sandžaka) – Dr Sulejman Ugljanin ● For a Free Serbia – Zavetnici – Milica Đurđević ● Citizen’s group – For Serb revival – Prof. Dr. Slobodan Komazec ● Rusian Party – Slobodan Nikolić ● Republican Party – republikánus párt – Nikola Sandulović ● Serbo-Russian Movement – Slobodan Dimitrijević ● Borko Stefanović – Serbia for All of Us ● Dialogue – Youth with attitude – Stanko Debeljaković ● It’s Enough – Saša Radulović ● Party for Democratic Action – Ardita Sinani Partia për veprim demokratik ● Green Party ● Out of Spite – United for Serbia – National Alliance.
According to public opinion polls the list “Aleksandar Vučić – Serbia Wins (Serbian Progressive Party, Social Democratic Party of Serbia, Party of United Pensioners of Serbia, New Serbia, Serbian Renewal Movement, Movement of Socialists)” is leading at the moment. The following are surely expected to enter the Parliament: the coalition related to the Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS), Serbian Radical Party (SRS), Democratic Party (DS), Dveri-DSS, Alliance for a Better Serbia (SDSS, LDP, LSV) and most probably also the movement It’s Enough and the parties of national minorities.
Undoubtedly the election will be won by the coalition gathered around Serbian Progressive Party (SNS). The new Serbian government will most probably be formed by SNS. The choice of coalition partners still depends on SNS’s decision whether to form the government with a broad coalition or rather with small parties. For minority communities it is vital to be present not only in the Parliament but also in the Government of the Republic of Serbia. While the name of the list is Serbia Wins, whether Serbia will really win depends very much on SNS President and incumbent Serbia’s Prime Minister Aleksandar Vučić. He will have to improve his previous government practices, say goodbye to some of his old team members and find some younger or more competent staff that will not be burdened with ideology but rather aim to realise the planned goals and results.
Analysts believe that it is crucial for the future of Serbian parliamentary democracy to have a strong and active political opposition that will serve as corrective mechanism for the government in the next term of office.
A CHANGE IN SERBIAN GEOPOLITICAL DIRECTION?
Serbia is still at a turning point. The so called “schizophrenic” foreign policy established under the Tadić-Jeremić tandem and based on the four pillars comprised of Russia, the EU, the US and China was still, although to a smaller extent, present in the previous period.
The recent agreement signed between Serbia and NATO is not yet a confirmation of Serbia’s Euro-Atlantic orientation. The West is still suspicious about geopolitical orientation of Serbia and some other countries in the region that may still change their direction. In the next period it is therefore critical to ensure that trust is built and strengthened between Serbia and the West.
Serbia’s unilaterally proclaimed war neutrality does not represent any obligation in terms of international relations and international law. It is a mere populist resolution that was adopted by Serbian Assembly in 2007. It has not been recognised either by the neighbouring countries or by the superpowers and it has not been internationally acknowledged and recorded. All that contributes to aggravation of mistrust of the Western allies towards Serbia. It is therefore vital for Serbia to define its geopolitical direction after the forthcoming parliamentary election in order to avoid further mistrust from the West allies.
Serbia is trying to justify its decision on neutrality with maintenance of territorial integrity and special connections with the Russian Federation. However, the status of neutrality can not protect any of the two interests. Neutrality was proclaimed in 2007 that is seven years after NATO’s forces entered Kosovo. Kosovo became an independent state recognised by numerous UN members and Serbia could not protect its territorial integrity in Kosovo as its constitutional territorial unit. Even Russia used the Kosovo case to legitimize Georgia’s and Ukraine’s dissolution. Serbia will not be able to avoid recognising Kosovo in some way, since this will be a condition for joining the EU.
Neutrality is not a guarantee of preserving special relations with the Russian Federation if Serbia continues the process of European integration. EU is not only a fund from which the poor countries draw money, but it also integrates countries with a common foreign and security policy. Moreover, there is a close connection between EU and NATO based on converging geopolitical interests and common values of democracy, human rights and rule of law. Serbia is so far the only country that proclaimed war neutrality in relation to NATO due to its alleged solidarity towards Russia. In the next period Serbia will have to carefully revise its special relations with Russia and subordinate them to common foreign and security policy regardless of whether it will become NATO member or not. This will be against the interests of Moscow which obviously wants to prevent not only NATO’s but also EU’s enlargement, as was evident in case of Ukraine and recent events in Macedonia where one of the goals was to prevent Macedonia from becoming NATO full member.
While the stories of war neutrality are spreading, Serbia is at the same time expanding its presence in NATO headquarters and strengthening cooperation. On the other hand it is increasing the power of the Russian-Serbian Centre for Emergency Situations in Niš which actually represents the presence of Russian forces in Serbia and may potentially become a Russian military base. Serbia should deal with emergency situations through the Brussels mechanisms that already exist. With the neighbouring Croatia, Albania, Romania, Hungary and Bulgaria and once Montenegro also becomes a NATO member, the neutral Serbia would be completely surrounded by the North Atlantic Treaty countries, including Kosovo with NATO troops. According to war experts‘ assessments neutrality is an unsustainable concept for Serbia’s future.
DUBIOUS PRIVATISATION CASES REMAIN DUBIOUS
The issue of dubious privatisations has recently been brought up again by European Parliament (EP) rapporteur for Serbia David McAllister (CDU/EPP). Dubious privatisation cases were referred to in EP resolutions on Serbia, notably in EP Resolution No. 2011/2886(RSP) that was adopted at EP plenary session in Strasbourg on 29 March 2012.
In paragraph 18 that Resolution the European Parliament expressed concerns regarding repeated charges based on Article 359 of the Criminal Code on the abuse of official position, which were accompanied by widespread unjustified freezes of company and private assets. EP underlined that such allegations have undermined trust in the rule of law in Serbia and called upon Serbian authorities to accelerate the revision of the Criminal Code in order to harmonise it with the European standards, to immediately put an end to bringing charges on the basis of provisions on the abuse of official position in private companies and companies with majority private ownership, and to stop the pending criminal proceedings. EP moreover emphasised that, where people have been charged under Article 359 and there is a suspicion that the period for which they have been detained or their assets frozen is disproportionate to their alleged offence, they should be entitled to an immediate review of the proceedings against them and the right to reclaim private property and fair compensation.
In paragraph 19 EP called on the Serbian authorities to review immediately the controversial privatisation and sale of 24 companies, as the European Commission has expressed serious doubts concerning their legality, including those of “Sartid“, “Jugoremedija“, “Mobtel“, “C market“ and “ATP Vojvodina“, and to declassify immediately the documents classified as State Secret regarding their privatisation and sale, which is contrary to European standards. In this respect it drew attention to the utmost importance of compiling a thorough and complete record of public property in order to provide a secure and predictable business environment, ensure restitution of private property and prevent illegal acquisition of public assets by private interests. However, documents on privatisation are still classified as state secret. Even some new commercial agreements that have been concluded by the incumbent government are classified as secret (for example the agreement concluded between the state and Etihad Airways).
The EU increased its demands to prosecute those responsible for organised crime and corruption in Serbia after Austria initiated an investigation in September 2011 on the purchase of mobile operators in the region, notably of Mobtel, by the Austrian state company Telekom, and after the European Parliament adopted the Resolution of 29 March 2012 demanding Serbia to carry out a review of dubious privatisation processes. A notable case was that of “Mobtel” which was sold to the controversial Austrian businessman Martin Schlaff and subsequently to Norwegian Telenor for EUR 1,513 billion. This is a case of international crime. There has been still insufficient investigation of the role of the present candidate for UN General Secretary Vuk Jeremić in those transactions, which may represent a heavy burden for his UN candidacy.
EP demanded from Serbian authorities to carry out a thorough investigation and review of dubious privatisation processes in 24 companies and to sanction those who are responsible. However, the investigation was performed superficially. It was expected that a clear analysis of the mistakes found in those 24 privatisation deals would be presented by the person responsible for the investigation, but, symptomatically, no elements of crime were found in any of the cases. Obviously certain individuals enjoyed protection, since the revision of dubious privatisation processes was carried out selectively. Except for a few sentences in the report stating that the revision is concluded no concrete results were presented. All those who participated in the revision were well paid for the job, while Serbian citizens did not have the right to be informed of the findings on crime and corruption related to those 24 dubious privatisation cases nor on the measures to be taken in order to prevent such dubious privatisation in the future. The citizens still haven’t received any answers from the responsible authorities.
Investigations into above privatisation cases have shown that in most of those privatisation deals the key role was played by Boris Tadić and some high officials from his Democratic Party (DS) as well as Mlađan Dinkić, former Minister and president of the United Regions of Serbia (URS).
In order to intensify and expand the scope of fighting organised crime and corruption in Serbia, the key actors should be prosecuted. Investigations into dubious privatisation processes of Serbian companies carried out so far have led to Tadić and Dinkić. The question is where the huge amounts of money from Milošević’s regime “disappeared” after democratic election on 5 October 2000 when they were transferred to foreign bank accounts, especially to Cyprus, and what role Mlađan Dinkić played in this process. During Vojislav Koštunica’s government the department of finance was taken over completely by the party G17 Plus. For example, even in a municipality where G17 Plus had no deputies, the director of the tax administration was a member of G17 Plus. Thus all financial institutions were staffed on the basis of party membership, both horizontally and vertically. It is a task for SNS to stop the traditional political-party-based division of power.
Through a dubious privatisation process and with the support of Austrian businessman Martin Schlaff, Mobtel was sold to Norwegian operator Telenor at the time when Boris Tadić held a high function in one of the involved companies.
Namely, during his term of office as Minister of Telecommunication, Tadić was also the chairman of the management board of “JP PTT saobraćaja Srbije” (public enterprise of postal communications of Serbia), which had a joint company with Mobtel owned by Bogoljub Karić. From that period it is still not clear what role Tadić played in the initiation of bankruptcy procedure, determination of the amount of the share capital, preparation of the company for its sale to the buyer who was related to his Democratic Party, sponsorships carried out by the order of Boris Tadić etc. The investigating bodies have not examined nor processed Tadić on those issues yet.
Another dubious case is the sales agreement of 4 April 2006 when Mobtel’s property was unlawfully taken over by the newly formed company Mobi 63 that was subsequently sold to the Norwegian company Telenor, which was marked as state secret. The question is why and in whose interest was this commercial agreement marked as state secret. Where did EUR 1,513 billion of proceeds from the sale of Mobtel to a foreign owner disappear? Why the total sales value of Mobtel was reduced by some EUR 200 million before it was paid to the transaction account with the National Bank of Serbia? Unless those cases are clarified, they could have a negative effect on future foreign investments in Serbia since they would send a clear message that there is no legal safety for foreign investors in this country.
HOW TO ALIGN TWO CONSTITUTIONAL CONCEPTS?
The issue of Kosovo (Kosovo and Metohija) still represents a key concern in Serbian domestic and foreign policy. The Belgrade-Priština dialogue has been carried out for several years under the patronage of Brussels. During the dialogue certain progress has been made and cooperation established between Serbia’s and Kosovo’s political structures. This cooperation has resulted in the support expressed by Serbian MPs in Kosovo Assembly for the election of Hashim Thaçi (PDK) as Kosovo President who could not have been elected without the quorum of Serbian representatives, whereby it should be reminded that the latter receive directions for their actions from Belgrade. This time the official Belgrade made a critical mistake for having expressed political support to Thaçi, a politician with burdens from the past who will find it difficult to avoid being processed by the newly-formed Special War Crimes Court. There is an increasing likelihood that Albin Kurti and his Self-Determination movement (Lëvizja Vetëvendosje!) could become a new Kosovo’s partner with official Belgrade.
Kosovo and Metohija are according to the Constitution of the Republic of Serbia a constituent part of Serbia, while according to the Constitution of the Republic of Kosovo they are an independent state. The key question is how to align these two constitutional concepts in order to ensure lasting peace and long-term stability. This is the question that still makes Serbia a state with undefined state borders, total number of inhabitants and sovereignty, which all prevents it from EU accession. Serbia will have to make more efforts to follow a rational strategy instead of leading the politics that have been irrational in many aspects so far.
Ljubljana, 21 April 2016
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