No shortcuts to Europe

Here is a small letter I recently sent to NIN, regarding a comment in December, but I am not sure it will be published. It comments an idea Boris Begovic launched namely that Serbia should no join the EU, but instead join the European Economic Area. The original article is behind the NIN paywall, but this idea is also discussed in B92, Vecernjie Novosti and elsewhere.

Cartoon from Novosti, 29.12.2012

In his comment “U Evropu bez unije” on 13 December 2012 Boris Begović makes a tempting suggestion: Serbia should abandon the difficult accession process to the EU with its supposedly changing criteria for membership and instead join the European Economic Area (EEA), Europe’s large zone of economic integration that includes all EU members, Norway, Island, and Liechtenstein.

His idea might sound tempting, but is nothing but an illusion.

It is true that the EEA creates freedom of movement, free trade, free movement of capital and services among its members and thus offer a key component of EU integration to non-members. The idea that Serbia could join this agreement without EU membership is, however, rather absurd.

Countries cannot join the European Economic Area directly. The economic area was established in 1994 between the EU and the European Free Trade Agreement (EFTA) and most their members. There is no possibility foreseen for a country to join that is not either a member of the EU or EFTA. So let’s consider the only option Serbia would have to enter the EEA without joining the EU.

First, it would have to join EFTA. EFTA has only four members, Switzerland, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein. Of the four members, only three are part of the EEA, Switzerland rejected membership in 1992 in a referendum. Serbia would be an odd partner for some of the richest countries in Europe. Furthermore, no country has joined EFTA since 1991 when Liechtenstein joined. The previous accession was that of Iceland in 1970, all others were founding members in 1960s. Countries left EFTA rather than joined it in recent decades to become EU members (UK, Denmark, Sweden, Austria and Portugal were original members). Thus, EFTA is composed of a rather odd and small number of countries. Since no country has joined for such a long period there is no clear accession process, but membership would require agreement among all four member states. At the moment, there is little reason why Switzerland, Norway, Iceland or Liechtenstein would be interested in free trade with Serbia. Now for the second obstacle: A country joining EFTA is not automatically member of the EEA.  The EEA agreement states clearly in Art. 128 that “… any European State becoming a member of EFTA may, apply to become a party to this Agreement. .. The terms and conditions for such participation shall be the subject of an agreement between the Contracting Parties and the applicant state. That agreement shall be submitted for ratification or approval by all Contracting Parties in accordance with their own procedures. “

What this means is that a member of EFTA can apply to join the EEA, but there has to be an agreement between that country and the European Union and all its members and needs to be ratified by all of them.

If Serbia abandons EU accession and then would join EFTA in the unlikely case that Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Iceland find Serbia an attractive partner, the EU and its members would have to agree to join the EEA. It does not take a lot of imagination to see that the EU and its members are not going to eager to see Serbia access key EU benefits (such as freedom of movement of workers) by skipping the accession process and the conditions. The only scenario under which it would be imaginable for the EU to accept Serbia as a member would be if it had abandoned offering a membership perspective for the Western Balkans and saw this as a viable alternative. Still, Serbia would not be accepted without fulfilling numerous conditions, in particular in terms of adhering to the acquis communitaire, the EU legislation, that is relevant for the free movement of goods, people, services and capital before the EU and its members would be willing to accept Serbia. In brief, if Serbia decides not to opt for full EU membership and go for the EEA, it will still end up negotiating with the EU.

I am not going to comment in any detail the suggestion that an independent Kosovo is a problem of the EU, as if it had nothing to do with Serbia or the argument that the conditions of EU membership keep changing, or the suggestion that the financial contributions of the EU are “very, very small”. Croatia for example has 687.5 Million Euros set aside for the second half of 2013 alone, which is around 1.45% of the GDP of Croatia or some 4.2% of the Croatian state budget planned for 2013, hardly negligible amounts.

It is true that enthusiasm for enlargement among its member state is decreasing and that individuals members might make sometimes unreasonable demands. However, this is largely linked to the current economic crisis inside the EU. By the time Serbia is close to joining, it is realistic to expect that crisis to have passed and member state taking a more positive view towards enlargement. If Serbia pursues EU membership, it will be have an easier time to join then. Of course, Serbia can decide not to join, but it is a dangerous illusion to believe that the EEA is a viable alternative or easy way to get some of the benefits of free trade and movement without joining the EU.

Republika Srpska for Kosovo?

A few days ago the platform of the Serbian government for talks with leaked in the Belgrade press and Daniel Serwer made the non-paper of the Serbian government available on his blog. Serwer called the proposal Fantasyland and Hashim Thaci rejected it as a 19th century plan. Of course in negotations there is no reason for the other side to respond positively to a proposal that presumably outlines the starting position for talks. So what does the platform actually propose?

Press in RS is drawing maps of the “new RS in Kosovo” according to the government plan

Observers have likend the structures that would be set up in it to Republika Srpska in Bosnia (mostly positive in Serbia and negatively outside). The platform itself explictly only refers to Katalonia as a model rather then to the RS, but some feature seem to evoke the RS.

In brief ,the platform proposes establishing an “Autonomous Community of Serbian Municipalities in Kosovo and Metohija,” with the nice-sounding abbrevision ZSO KiM  This would constitute a territorial autonomy of Serb majority municipalities in the North and in the South (including Štrpce, Gračanica) and would have competences in education, health care, sports, culture, public Information, environmental protection, urban planning, agriculture, as well as their own police and judiciary under formal authority of Kosovo and the ability to maintain direct ties to Serbia including funding and finally the use of own symbols.

In terms of institutions, this autonomous unit would have an assembly and government, liking it to an autonomous region. Although the plan calls this autonomous region “community” the plan does not contain any non-territorial forms of autonomy or feature of cultural autonomy (except for some semi-autonomous status of sub-municipal Serb settlements, but even they are understood territorially).

When looking back at the Ahtisaari plan, the differences between the decentralisation proposed therin and the competences requested by the Serbian government do not differ fundamentally. The plan forsees that municipal competences include “education at the pre-primary, primary and secondary levels; public primary health care; local economic development; urban and rural planning; public housing; naming of roads, streets and other public places; and the provision of public services and utilities, among others.” In addition some Serb municipalities received the right to organise higher education, hospital and secondary health care, cultural and religions affairs and an “enhanced role in the appointment of police station comanders. Furthermore, the plan does forsee the formation of “associations and partnerships with other municipalities in Kosovo to carry out functions of mutual interest” and the possiblity of “to cooperate with municipalities and institutions in Serbia, including the right to receive financial and technical assistance from Serbia, within certain clear parameters set by the Settlement.”

The main differences between the competences outlined in the Serbian government non-paper and the Ahtisaari Plan are the control over the police and judiciary and the establishment of seperate institutions, both of course substantial.

More significant are the differences in terms of the overall proposed structures of Kosovo in the non-paper. It suggests a bi-cameral parliament with an upper house called the “House of Regions and Religious Communities” and a lower house with guaranteed seats for Serbs. The idea of a “House of Regions and Religious Communities” does seem rather odd for a number of reasons: First, religion is a not a relevant category in the politicial divisions of Kosovo, ethnicity is. Thus, such a house, if at all, should represent national communities, not religions. The term might be a way to bring the Serbian Orthodox Church into the institutions, which in itself would be very problematic. Second, it might be a term to avoid the obvious parallels with the House of Peoples in Bosnia.

When it comes to voting the platform suggests that Serbs should not be outvoted “in matters that directly impact the competencies of the autonomous region and the rights of Serbs and other minorities. This is considerably less than voting rights of the RS in Bosnia where MPs from either entity can block any decision by a 2/3 majority, a power the RS has made extensive use of.

It would thus be misleading to equate the autonomy for Serb municipalities with the RS in Bosnia. First, the competences are large but less than those of the RS, secondly and more importantly, the ability of the Serb municipalities to block decision-making in Kosovo would be extremely limited in comparsion to the blockages the RS can and has been causing in Bosnia. This difference is of course not surprising considering that Serbs make up less than 10% of Kosovos population and the municipalities make up not much more of the territory of Kosovo.

The proposal could thus be considered to ask for an autonomy between a full entity-like structure in Bosnia and the propose Ahtisaari plan. This is not to say that there are some problems with the platform. First, the idea of a tw0-chamber parliament and the representation of religious communities seems unreasonble considering the size of minorities and the limited competences such an upper chamber would have. Considering cases like South Tyrol or the Aaland islands, both enjoy territorial autonomy, but no specific parliamentary representation in Italy or Finland respecitvely. Instead there are other mechanisms in the relationship between the autonomous region and the central government to protect the autonomy of the region.

The second problem which Dan Serwer in his comment mostly focused on is the idea in the platform that the entirety of Kosovo would remain part of Serbia and the constant references to the “Autonomous Province of Kosovo and Metohija” seems rather anachronistic and is definetly detached from reality. The platform does not outline what Serbia would be willing to offer Kosovo in exchange for agreeing to establishment of the autonomy arrangement. The platform suggests that the Kosovo authorities could receive the official authorisation by the Serbian government, but within the framework of the Serbian constitution, i.e. without recognition of independence. There are two ways of looking at this. If this reflects the substance of the Serbian position, this platform offers little for Kosovo to agree to any of it: The proposal largely formalised the status-quo and thus Kosovo would have no incentive to accept any part of the propsal without a clear Serbian accepetance of Kosovo’s independence, if not outright recognition. However, if the platform is also made for domestic consumption and about the symbolic assertation of sovereignty over Kosovo, then it has better prospects.

The suggestion that the Serbian government could formally transfer the competences of the autonomous province to the institutions of Kosovo might sound absurd, but they would constitute a way for the Serbian government to argue that the current Kosovo institutions are authorised by the Serbian constitution  and thus provide for a manner to official and formally cooperate with Kosovo institutions while maintaining the legal fiction that Kosovo is part of Serbia. Although it would be preferable for the Serbian government to fully acknowledge the reality of Kosovo’s independence, this opening might provide for the tool to live with Kosovo’s independence. A second positive feature of the agreement is the apparant abandonment of partition as a goal. By linking the municipalities in the North and in the South into one unit, partition would be less likely and presumably the more numerous Serbs in the South would dominate such an institution.

The platform of the Serbian government is, as I have argued above, far from ideal and as any negotiating position per definition not a compromise, but the goal of one party. Still, I would take it is a reflection of the more pragmatic line of the Serbian government, rather than as just an effort to create a new Republika Srpska in Kosovo.

Don’t let the Roma represent themselves, they can’t be trusted

Some interviews are best without any comment. Here is an interview with Bela Kurina, who represents the Roma Democratic Party in the Novi Sad assembly. The party caught some attention in May already for not having a SINGLE Roma representative among the six candidates it received after winning 6.4 % of the vote in local elections. Kurin, a former official of JUL and DSS, noted that there are Herzegovinians, Slavonians and Montenegrins on the list, but Roma could be too easily bought to be put on the list.  It isn’t clear who the president of the party is as Blic notes that the president is Tomislav Bokan, who also used to be a DSS official and for the SRS and put three family members on the party list [comment by Kurin: if there were 78 Bokans, they would all be on the list of the party].  There have been some suggestions in Danas, that its electoral success might have been helped by, how shall we call it, some financial assistance to voters.

Now Kurin gave an interview a la for the Vojvodina show politbiro that was re-broadcast on RTS in the talk show “Da mozda ne” on 13 December 2012.

Here are some highlights in English:

“Imagine that we would have Roma on the list of candidates for councilors. This is something I could not allow. You know what happens, not just here, but also in general in Serbia in parliament that the seat [of an MP of councilor] belongs to the person and not the party and that he can decide with whom to be. We simply did not want to have people in the party who will sell themselves… The only party that until the end of the four year mandate [he has a bit of hard time getting that straight], the Roma Democratic Party cannot be manipulated with and not one councilor can be bought because these are people with a material basis and serious, and I think that there is no price for buying councilors of party.”

“We asked from them for the city cleaning considering, as you know, this is Roma business, or rather Roma mostly work there… we were promised this by [the DS] and when we asked for this after the formation of local government, this [option] was for a reason I don’t know eliminated.”

“We also asked for half of the gardening services…in the end we ourselfs said, don’t give us the gardening services, just give us the cleaning services. If we manage this, we can see what we can do, but they did not give it out, they want to control everything.”

And thus the incorruptable Roma Democratic Party broke with the Democratic Party and joined the Progressive Party in their new city government. Now they got their control over the cleaning services, as well as Urbanism (including tourism). And thus the benevolent non-Roma can unselfishly employ some more Roma in Novi Sad.

[thanks to Dušan Pavlović for drawing my attention to this interview]

Normal Name, Strange University: The Global Network of the European University

After writing about private universities in the Balkans last year and the “Oxford” award that a number of universities in the region have received (here, and here), there is another institution that caught my attention. It did not make it into my top ten list, because its name is less interesting and nothing immediately caught my eye, but eventually it did. There is a university in Belgrade, called European University.

Not only by name, it appears to be a very European institution:

So the founder and rector Milija Zečević, who features prominently on the main website (and most other pages here, and here , it is the university’s version of where is waldo?), has a long list of honors, which give the impression that he is in the elite of European Academia, he is a president, an academician, doctor hc, Grand Doctor of Western Philosophy and a Commander of the World Order Science. Wow. That all sounds very impressive. So let’s look at these honors and achievements:

He has an honorary doctorate from the Albert Schweitzer University in Switzerland. Never heard of it? You should, it’s a truly international institution. Its website is in English and Spanish and its president is in Madrid, its rector in Argentina and other functionaries in Warsaw, Spain and Alabama. Very international, but its seems that neither rector or president or any other leading official is based in Switzerland. As the university points out, “ASIU does not grant academic degrees,” but it does seem eager to grant honorary degrees.

And courses does it teach? Well, it seems to offer no courses of its own (“Traditional academic classes will in fact be but a small part of our activities”), but it does refer to a number of institutions, including the London Diplomatic Academy (which among its publications offers the Royal Book of Diplomacy and Science which “gives biographical data on our members and lists the most important addresses of the diplomatic missions accredited before United Nations. It is a publication of quality and distinction” and some important documents that are hard to obtain elsewhere such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (New in the 2004 edition) and can be purchased for 100 Euros or in the luxury edition for 170 Euros)…. and the European University in Belgrade.

The rector also has a “Grand Doctor of Western Philosophy” and is Commander of the World Order Science from the European Academy of informatization. Now I have never heard of a “grand” doctor, but presumably it is bigger than a regular Doctor. The European Academy of Informatization does not have its own website. There are, however, some sites and online fora  suggest that this might not be an entirely serious institution. According to an article in La Libre, a Belgian publication, this Academy also granted a title to the late dictator of Turkmenistan Saparmurad Niazov for his achievements.

Now, the rector is also President of the European Academy of Science. The European Academy of Science is not to be confused with the European Academy of Sciences, or the European Academy of Sciences and Arts. The European Academy seems at least to have the same webdesigner as the European University and is an NGO based in Vienna. It is an exclusive club of just 16 members, according to the website. As one member helpfully points out, being an academician is a great honor as, “one Academician per million people”. This gentleman also happens to be or have been the Director of the London Diplomatic Academy; President of the Albert Schweitzer International University, Geneva and Vice-President, International Center of Informatization in Brussels which might just have something to do with the European Academy of Informatization. Four other members are from Belgrade. Another member is Eduard Evreinov, who is also responsible for the European Academy of informatization and something called the World Distributed University (aka World Information Distributed University), and has been associated with a number of universities and institutions  that are suspected on internet fora to be diploma mills (see here , here , here).

Now, if you are impressed with this dense network of academicians and scholars, here is something else. According to the Serbian accreditation of the European University, this university has the following “members” abroad (Чланице Европског универзитета из иностранства):

European Academy of Science, Vienna

European Academy of Informatization, Brussels

MIM – The Center for European Master and Doctoral Studies, Budapest

Institut Franco-Americain de Management, Paris

Sales Manager Akademie, Vienna

London Diplomatic Academy – London

Albert Schweitzer International University, Geneva.

It would seem that the European University in Belgrade thus a prestigious network of “members” abroad that have been honoring the rector of the university they are part of with all these outstanding honors.

And now I think I have earned a Grand Doctorate.

Why Nikolic won and what it means

The victory of Tomislav Nikolić in the second round of Serbia’s presidential elections last Sunday surprised most observers, including myself, and demonstrated once more how unreliable most opinion polls in Serbia are. Already in March (in fact in January he first wrote it), Dušan Pavlović, a good friend and a level-headed observer of politics, made a key observation: Tadić scheduled presidential and parliamentary elections to take place at the same time to have his popularity “rub off” on the Democratic Party which has been considerably less popular then him personally. The idea was that by combining the two elections, DS would be more likely to win a new majority in parliament. But Dušan Pavlović wondered, rightly as it turns out,  whether the dynamic could not also work the other way around: What is the unpopular party tainted Tadić as candidate?

This is perfectly captured by the cartoon below by Marko Somborac, whose cartoons in Blic are some of the best analysis of Serbian politics. So, just like Slobodan Milošević in 2000, Tadić announces early presidential elections asking the question, “What is the worst that could happen?”

The worst happened, at least for Tadić. The quick deal with SPS after the first round of elections sent the wrong signal, there will not be change: Before Sunday night, it looked like the government will be very much the same, as will  be the president. This was clearly too much of the same for too many voters. What tainted Tadić in the eyes of many liberals has been his dominance of the government and holding onto the presidency of the party while being president, controlling the PM and giving too much space to Ivica Dačić and SPS–a coalition that seemed to have developed into a relationship. It is thus that not only Vesna Pešić, but also others who belong to the liberal end of Serbian politics decided to vote for Nikolić (or at least threaten they would).

For many ordinary citizens, DS and Tadić were also no longer the clear “European” option, as Eric Gordy notes: ” All the harm people had been warned to expect from Tomislav Nikolić had already been inflicted by Boris Tadić.” In addition, the difficult economic situation does not help any incumbent. Finally, the DS committed a strategic mistake in its  electoral campaign: The campaign was largely negative, warning of the dangers a victory of Nikolić and SNS. Once more to quote a cartoon by Marko Somborac, where he depicts a DS election poster stating “We know, unemployment, corruption, bad living standards, but ‘buh! Toma!”.

A campaign based on fear of a Nikolić victory was credible in 2004 and 2008 when he stood for the SRS, but todays SNS is hard to distinguish from the Democratic Party, especially when it comes to the two big themes EU and Kosovo. Thus, the transformation of the political system since the break up of the Radicals has been ignored by Tadić’s campaign, while citizens did note that there has been this important shift.  Thus, observers like Andreas Ernst of the NZZ are right that the outcome is more a punishment of Tadić than a victory for Nikolić (who did not seem to expect to win), yet without Nikolić’s transformation, this outcome would not have been possible. In short, many who either did not vote at all or voted for Nikolić last Sunday are not only punishing Tadić because of Tadić’s policies, but also because it became possible to punish him by voting for Nikolić.

So what does this mean? A long, excellent, interview Michael Martens from the FAZ conducted with Nikolić shortly before the elections demonstrates why there is good reason for any Serbian citizen to be embarrassed that this man became Serbia’s president. Not the fact that his academic credentials are dubious, but the fact that is unwilling to own up to his past and his cynical and hateful statements until a few years ago.  It seems clear that he has made a political turn-around after 2008 and all the first signals after his election victory suggest that he will continue along these lines, but his often twisted and confused responses about past statements suggest that the break was pragmatic, not substantial.

It is easy to be a good European in opposition when the price is low–but whether he is able and willing to make difficult compromises is far from obvious. He thus runs the risk of becoming another fair-weather European politician in the region, who likes the EU because voters do, but not when it comes to giving some pet issues. Of course, he might also be able to turn out to deliver on key issues, such as Kosovo, as he does not need to worry about a strong contender to his right calling him a traitor. Whether he will be come part-time pro-European politician or will be willing to make painful compromises remains far from obvious. Finally, if he is unable to forge a SNS led coalition, he might remain a lame duck president, reduced to the constitutional powers of the president. That in its own right might not be such a bad thing for Serbia’s democracy.

…and the winner is Tadić

After I posted my comment that I consider Dačić not the winner of the Serbian elections, Tim Judah was surprised that I consider Tadić the winner of the elections, even before the second round of elections. Consider that his coalition only 22.11% of the vote and he got 25.31% in the presidential elections, this does seem counter-intuitive.

This is why I think that despite the numbers, Tadić is the winner:

First, his party did a lot better than it appears at first glance. While the DS-led coalition “For a European Serbia” gained 102 seats in parliament last time around, this time around the “Choice for a better life” coalition of the DS gained only 67 seats. However, in 2008, DS ran together with more singificant partners, most importantly G17plus which ran as the new United Regions of Serbia independently this time around, gaining 16 seats. Thus, in total of 83 seats, down from 102 by 20, but not a huge loss.The loss of the DS share is even smaller. Only 64 of the 102 MPs were from the DS. While DS will have to leave some seats to its partners from the 67 gained in 2012, it will retain a proportionally larger share as the partners were much smaller this time around.

Second, the loss was also cushioned by the limited success of Nikolić SNS. It has taken over most SRS voters since 2008 and its results in 2012 were sure a success for the party. Nevertheless, the number of seats gained by the SNS in 2012 is 73 or 5 less than the SRS in 2008. As a result, DS no longer is heading the largest coalition as it did in 2008, but the opponents took a beating as well.

Third, in the presidential elections in 2008, Tadić gained around 10% more than this time, but Nikolić gained 15% more last time around and was in first place. Thus, there has been a stronger showing of additional candidates, such as Dačić, but this was hurt Nikolić more and considering the more support for other candidates for Tadić, he is likely to win by a larger margin than last time around.

Altogether, this is a success for Tadić, who has been president for 8 years and it thus likely to become the longest serving president in the region, as he ducked the 2 term limit common throughout the region, including Serbia, through the passing of a new constitution. In addition, the opposition to the DS is likely to weaken as Nikolić seems like the eternal loser, having run for president in 2000 (of Yugoslavia), 2003, 2004, 2008 and 2012.

Finally, in light of the economic crisis that also hit Serbia hard after 2008 and the tendency of incumbents to lose in European elections, including in the region (Croatia, Slovenia), the elections results suggest that the true winner is Tadić.

And the winner is…not Ivica Dačić

After some newspapers misleadingly declared that Serbia was once more “at the crossroads” before the latest elections, the Socialist Party of Serbia and its president Ivica Dačić was declared the “winner” of these elections. However, if Dačić were the winner, he only achieved a Pyrrhic victory. Indeed, his party and its two partners did very well, gaining 14.7 percent of the vote, a larger share than most opinion polls had predicted. This was also a success as for most of the past four years, it was not sure to which degree its electorate would follow the party’s reorientation after 2008 when it formed a coalition with Tadićs Democratic Party. However, the party and its president failed in one key aspect. Its power derives from its ability to be an indispensable partner for Tadić and being the only party that could form a coalition with the Progressive Party (SNS) of Tomislav Nikolić just as easily as with the Democratic Party. This ability to join different governing coalitions would have given it tremendous bargaining power and Dačić made no secret of his desire to become Prime Minister.

However, the election results did not go his way. Despite the party’s own success, the result of the Progressive Party has meant that a coalition between Socialists and Progressives would not suffice to form a government. The SNS and the SPS (and its partners) only hold 118 seats, not enough for the necessary majority of 126 deputies. There are no obvious partners in parliament to grant the two parties the crucial additional 8 MPs. Minority parties would be unlikely to support such a coalition and the Democratic Party of Serbia of former Prime Minister Koštunica has positioned itself so far to the right, openly rejecting EU membership, that they are not a viable partner for the two parties that claim to have become advocates of EU integration.

As a result, the SPS can demand an increased share of ministers due to its greater electoral support from the Democratic Party, but it cannot maximize its influence by threatening to provide a majority for Tomislav Nikolić. Ironically, the Democratic Party has more options. If the SPS tries to extract a too high price from it for joining the government it could form a “grand coalition” with the Progressives. Considering that Tadić wants to win the second round of presidential elections against Nikolić, it is not surprising that Democrats and Socialists came to an agreement about future cooperation just days after the elections. When it comes to negotiating the new government, the hand of Dačić will be tied and the party will certainly get greater influence in the government, any threat to not join the Democrats will sound hollow. Thus, all the signs point to a new governing coalition which does not look very different from the old one.

When Bosnia was Divided in Graz

Only a month had passed since the beginning of the war in Bosnia when the Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadžić meet with new strong man in the Bosnian Croat HDZ Mate Boban for a secret meeting at the Graz airport on 6 May 1992. At this point, the HDZ was still formally a coalition partner to the Muslim SDA in the Bosnian government, but this alliance was quickly unraveling. It was thus that this meeting was officially “secret”, even though the Austrian media, including the state broadcaster ORF, and later the international press reported extensively from this event. The content of this meeting remained silent, as there was no official announcement and the Croat delegation left the five hour meeting without speaking to journalists. Karadžić however revealed to reporters and, as the Austrian daily “Die Presse“ notes on 7.5.1992,  that the talks focused on the “cantonization of Bosnia”. Already at the time, Austrian tabloids speculated, as it turns out rightly, whether the meeting had as its goal the partition of Bosnia.

Karadzic at the Graz Airport, 6 May 1992

The meeting in Graz between Boban and Karadžić follows an earlier, better known meeting between the Serbian and Croat preisdents, Slobodan Milošević and Franjo Tudjman, in March 1991 in Titos old hunting lodge where both had already agreed on the partition of Bosnia. How much Karadžić and Boban received the backing of the two republics also became obvious as Karadžić arrived with the plan of the Yugoslav government and Boban with a car of the Croatian authorities.

So what did Boban and Karadžić agree on in Graz? Despite speculation about the partition of Bosnia by media and frequent reference to the agreement during trials at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, the content remains largely unknown. Neverthless, the Bosnian daily “Oslobodjenje“ proved to be well informed a few days after teh meeting, correctly identifying the content of the agreement. The agreement itself was later published by the Croatian politician Zdravko Tomić. Austrian journalists noticed that the Croat and Serb delegation focused on a large Bosnian map showing the demographic distribution. The Agreement indeed focused on drawing a line of division between Croat and Serb spheres of influence in Bosnia, effectively dividing the country without the third and largest community being represented at the table.

Croat and Serb representatives do not agree on all matters in Graz. While Karadžić considers the river Neretva the border between Serb and Croat territories in Herzegovina, the Croat delegation supports the border of the 1939 Croat banovina instead. In the North of Bosnia the two delegations agree on the division of territory along the strategically important Posavina corridor that connects the region around Banja Luka with Serbia. The Agreement concludes that „as a consequence of what has been agreed there is no reason for further armed conflicts between Serbs and Croats on the territory of Bosnia and Herzegovina “.

Kleine Zeitung, 7 May 1992

The Agreement does not in a single word mention the Muslim population (not to mention anybody else). This is particularly absurd when dividing Mostar, the scene of intense battles between Croat and Bosnian government forces just a year later. The agreement notes that Croats claim all of the city, while Serbs see the Neretva river once more as the line of division.

During his trial at the ICTY Karadžić noted the importance of the agreement as it largely put an end to the Serb-Croat conflict. Similarly the well respected Serbian journalist Miloš Vasić noted in 1993 that the Grazer Agreement constituted „perhaps the single most important document of the Bosnian war“, as it enabled the Bosnian Serb army to focus on Muslim targets and prepared the ground for the two side war against the Bosnian government in 1993.

The maps on which the nationalist leaders drew new borders have been rolled out before Graz: The European Community represented by Portugese diplomat José Cutileiro suggest the creation of ethnically defined cantons already in February 1992 at the insistence of nationalist politicians. The division of Bosnia also had been decided already in 1991. In Graz, however, new borders were drawn for the first time and one conflict, the Croat-Serb one in Bosnia, came to an end so that the overall war would continue much longer. The consequence of the agreement was the Croat-Muslim war within the war which only came to an end in 1994 with the Washington Agreement, a prerequisite for the Dayton Peace Agreement.

What remains of the Graz Agreement? With more than three years of war with and some 100,000 victims, the borders Boban and Karadžić drew in Graz were drawn and redrawn, some changed, others remained the same. The border between the Croat and Serb dominated regions of Herzegovina is similar to the 1939 Croat banovina, as Croat negotiators in Graz had hoped. The Posavina region has remained under control of the Serb Republic, even if it is divided by the District of Brčko. More important than the maps is the idea that Bosnia should be divided along ethnic lines. Despite (or because of) the Dayton Peace Agreement and extensive international support for refugee return, most of Bosnia remains divided into ethnically largely homogenous regions. The Graz agreement is thus a reminder 20 years after its conclusion of the failure of international mediation and ruthlessness of nationalist “leaders” to divided lands without any consideration of the people living there. While Mate Boban died in 1997 and Radovan Karadžić stands trial in The Hague, their ideas, maps and plans remain alive.

(thanks to Nidžara Ahmetašević and Iva Komšić  for researching the background materials).

The non-historical elections in Serbia

For once, elections in Serbia will not be a historical crossroads during next Sundays elections. News reports over the past decade have termed all parliamentary and presidential elections as historical: they were in 2003 over the success of DOS in the aftermath of the overthrow of Milosevic, in 2007 and 2008 the Kosovo issue raised the spectre of a take-over by the radicals. The elections this year are historical for Serbia only for not being historical. For the first time since the introduction of multiparty elections in 1990, it will matter not that much which of the two largest parties wins the elections.


Serbian superheros

There is no doubt that Tomislav Nikolic and many from the “Progressive” Party (SNS) have an unsavory past with the Radicals and their statements and policies during their previous life are hard to accept, but they stated goals differs only marginally from the Democratic Party. Of course, one can doubt their committment the EU integration and liberal policies or, more importantly, their competence, but there is little doubt that the battleground in Serbia has shifted towards the centre. Already in 2003 and 2007 the Radicals became the largest party less for their extreme nationalist positions, but rather for their social populism.Today, the is little appeite among either the electorate or the SNS to challenge the consensus that has emerged in Serbian politics over EU integration, reform and a rhetorical committment to Kosovo.

Latest opinion polls seem to suggest that the SNS might be narrowly defeated by the Democrats. Even if this is not the case, they will have a hard time to form a government, having a much more limited choice of potential coalition partners: both the Radicals and Kostunica would take the SNS away from its desired international rehabilitation and make any progress in terms of EU integration impossible, leaving the SNS only the coalition around the Socialist Party of Ivica Dacic as a significant partner. The DS can count on the popularity of Boris Tadic and three partners tipped to enter parliament, the liberal reformist LDP, the eternal governing party (since 2000) G17 now called United Regions of Serbia (in cooperation with some local strongmen) and the Socialist Party.

Thus, the elections seem to point towards a continuation of the current government with some reconfiguration among the coalition partners–and even if this were not the case, Serbia has moved towards a political system that is far from perfect, but fear that every election is a juncture between EU and abyss is no longer justified.

Serbia’s candidate status delay: Romania, the Vlachs of Serbia and the EU

After everybody expected a smooth confirmation of Serbia’s EU candidate status today, following the agreement between Belgrade and Prishtina last week and the support for status by Germany that had earlier blocked Serbia’s bid, the decision seems to have hit an unexpdected snag. Romania has blocked a final decision over the treatment of the Vlach minority in Serbia. This blockage is both surprising and worrying, even if it ended after just a few hours:

Romania had not indicated earlier any intention to block the EU candidate status for Serbia. It appears to have been a surprise by many observers . Such last minute efforts to push ones own agenda on such an important issue is clearly worse than a little sneaky. It undermines the already weak credibility in the region and leave the impression that accession countries can fulfill conditions, but member states will come up with their own ecclectic agenda. As a result, legitimate conditions are tainted by such requests. There is a further problem with Romania’s blockage: While the status of Vlachs leaves much to be desired, the treatment of the community certainly does not merit such an intervention. The most recent report of the Advistory Committee for the Framework Convention notes a number of problems, but nothing either that substantial or specific for the community that would merit such a drastic kin state intervention (if Romania is a kin state at all, a role not accepted by all Vlachs in Serbia).

Delaying Serbia’s candidate status is also likely to doubly hurt the Vlach, Romanian and other minorities in Serbia. The use of the kin state to block (even if it will turn out for a few hours) progress towards the EU over minority rights is only going to have a negative impact on minority rights. Of course, the EU accession process is a key tool to improve minority rights, but not like this: Giving Serbia candidate status and beginning negotiations is much more likely to improve the status of minorities than letting Serbia wait. As with other aspects of the accession process, the actual negotiations are the most effective tool to secure change rather than punishing a country. As a result, the Vlack minority will be more likely to benefit from the candidate status for Serbia as soon as possible rather than from Romania’s intervention at this point. Of course, once negotiations start, the minority rights agenda will be driven by the Commission, not by member states. This means that kin states like Romania now might be less interested in genuine minority rights and rather in flexing their smallish muscle and present themselves as the protector of national interests. Considering the large number of cross border minorities and kin states in the region, the Romanian delaying tactic is a worrying signal for the EU enlargement process and unfortunately unlikely to do much good for minority rights.



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