Much Ado About Nothing

The already high stakes in the battle for the future of Serbia were raised again on Tuesday, when Serbian officials signed the Stabilization and Association Agreement (SAA) with the European Union. With less than two weeks left before the general elections, the move was supposed to be a boost for the Europhile bloc, led by President Tadic’s Democratic Party (DS). However, the treaty may actually be seen as a political liability instead, by a country still simmering with anger over the EU and U.S. support for the illegal declaration of independence by Albanian separatists in the NATO-occupied province of Kosovo.

Welcome to Europe… Not

EU officials praised the signing as a "great opportunity" for Serbia (Slovenian FM and current EU Chairman Dimitrij Rupel), and dubbed the occasion a "very important day" (EU foreign policy commissar Javier Solana). Yet it was nothing of the sort. The treaty was promptly put on ice by the EU itself, with the Dutch and the Belgians agreeing to ratify it only after Serbia had fully complied with all the demands of the Hague Inquisition (i.e. the day after never). Nor does its signing mean any new aid or loans to the country, any new customs or tariff benefits, or travel privileges. The whole thing was just for show – as the typically forthright Independent called it, "a bid to defeat nationalists" at the upcoming polls.

The political nature of the show was made crystal clear by the composition of the Serbian delegation in Luxembourg: President Boris Tadic and Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic were present, but the document was initialed by Bozidar Djelic, Deputy Prime Minister of the outgoing caretaker government. All three are members – indeed, Tadic is the leader – of the pro-EU Democratic Party. The actual Prime Minister, Vojislav Kostunica, was not in Luxembourg. He actually condemned the signing as illegal, illegitimate and non-binding!

The ‘April Surprise’

Calling the actions of Tadic, Djelic and Jeremic unconstitutional and "anti-state," Kostunica said that the treaty was certain to be rejected by the new parliament. He may be right; recent polls indicate that the Radicals have a substantial advantage over Tadic’s Europhile coalition, especially if joined by Kostunica’s populist bloc.

Will the SAA help shift the voters’ allegiance? Clearly, the intent the EU is not even bothering to hide is that this will be the "April surprise" tipping the scales in May in favor of the Democrats. Of course, the treaty is meaningless and dead on arrival, but in this modern world it doesn’t matter what is, but what is said to be.

Tadic and Jeremic are already waxing ecstatic about how Serbia has "irreversibly" committed to Europe, and promising to do "everything in [their] power" to meet any demands. The major media in Serbia, mostly foreign-owned and heavily favoring Tadic’s party and Europhiles in general, will no doubt hype the agreement as something momentous and crucial, conveniently neglecting to mention its suspended status or a complete lack of practical consequences. Already there are reports of Europhiles celebrating on the streets of Belgrade and other cities.

Theatre of the Absurd

There is hardly anything normal or rational about the recent history of the Balkans, and Serbia in particular. Even though it was Slovenian, Croat, Muslim and Albanian nationalists that launched violent campaigns to secede from Yugoslavia, it was the Serbs who were labeled "nationalist" and "aggressors," subjected to a near-total blockade by the UN, and even outright aggression by NATO in the spring of 1999. In the beginning, Europeans and Americans twisted and bent international law to their own purposes; eventually, they threw it overboard entirely. This February’s declaration of dependence by the Kosovo Albanian separatists, in open defiance of UNSCR 1244 guaranteeing Serbia’s territorial integrity, was just icing on the humiliation cake.

It is one thing to impose conditions on a defeated and humiliated enemy. It is something different altogether to cheerfully pretend the war itself was for the enemy’s own good, and expect his gratitude and everlasting friendship. Most EU countries are members of NATO, and took part in the 1999 war. Javier Solana, now the EU’s foreign policy commissar, was the Alliance’s senior civilian official at the time. Yet instead of at least feigning appropriate distaste, Serbia’s Europhiles eagerly shake hands with Solana and sing praises to the EU – and even NATO!

While Brussels demands that Serbia’s condition for being annexed is to appease the "court" in The Hague, that very "court" routinely releases those accused of atrocities against Serbs – if they are even indicted – while rounding up every Serb official and officer they can and charging them with a nonexistent conspiracy.

When Serbs in Bosnia or Croatia protest having to live under regimes that have committed mass atrocities against them in the past, they are told that borders of Yugoslav republics are sacred. But when Albanians claim (nonexistent) atrocities by Serbs as an excuse for their own secession, the world is told that Kosovo is a "special case." Law? Law is something that applies to other people. Not the Empire. Not the EU.

And so we come to the latest absurdity: a meaningless treaty, signed by officials without authority, signifying nothing and designed solely to influence an election. Fittingly, the Europhiles’ empty promises – made repeatedly over the past seven years – are now supposed to be backed by an empty gesture. In such a context, that is substantial progress, indeed.

The Stabilization and Association Agreement (bureaucratese much?) was supposed to be the crowning achievement of the EU’s attempts to manufacture Balkans reality through lies, threats and even brute force. If the Serbs are as stupid, gullible and easily intimidated as the EU and its enablers seem to believe, then it will indeed be the capstone to a textbook postmodern conquest. Otherwise, come May 12, the whole rotten edifice will come crumbling down.

Now that would be a truly memorable day.

Author: Nebojsa Malic

Nebojsa Malic left his home in Bosnia after the Dayton Accords and currently resides in the United States. During the Bosnian War he had exposure to diplomatic and media affairs in Sarajevo. As a historian who specializes in international relations and the Balkans, Malic has written numerous essays on the Kosovo War, Bosnia, and Serbian politics. His exclusive column for debuted in November 2000.