A sketch on multilateral communication

With the question “Where to start?” – when preparing for this presentation today – I decided to go back to some roots of Serbian international policy and I took the first volume of Milos Bogičević’s work about the Serbian diplomacy at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century. It is, actually, sufficient to read the first few pages, where Bogičević writes about the dynasty change in 1903. In order to make this text compliant with today’s situation we have to replace Austria or the Ballhausplatz with Brussels or the EU administration today. The author describes how deeply the Obrenović Serbia was linked with Austria (Vuk Karadžić, Dositelj Obradović, Djura Daničić, Branko Radičević – all of them having been educated in Austrian tradition and dedicated to the modernization and the progress of Serbia.) On the other hand the Karadjordjević dynasty linked to Russia, their princes educated in St. Petersburg, their panslavic ideas – breaking with the Serbian project which Knez Mihajlo has started 50 years before following the ideas of Garašanin.

Already after page six the today reader has learned about the entire spectrum of political/ideological options in today’s Serbia. It seems as if all these basic questions of the fin de siècle remained unanswered and unsolved until today. Yet, today, these historical options, which once had been serious visions for the future of Serbia, are just run-down ornaments for the political rhetoric, fragmented like the facade of the Belgrade Bristol Hotel from the same period. They can be used haphazardly by all the members of the political class in Serbia, regardless to which vision they incline today and to which one, perhaps, tomorrow, in order to decorate any political statement.

I live here since three years. I work for the foundation of the German Green party and the European Green Movement. I’m an agent of Vienna (as in 1900) or of Brussels (as today). From the very beginning I had to learn that there exists a strong political position in Serbia, where those agents as me are considered as a huge army of Western NGOs financed with millions of Dollars and Euros in order to do a kind of brain-washing of the Serbian society, depriving Serbs their cultural identity and guiding them to a consumerist paradise which, in fact, is nothing else but modern Western decadence.

I, in contrary, always considered the presence of the Heinrich Böll Foundation in Serbia as an anticipation of a future integrated Europe including Serbia and the entire Western Balkans. But for me this future Europe and its political, cultural cohesion consists mainly as something the German philosopher Habermas calls a Diskurszusammenhang – a communicating network, the elements of which are connected with each other through links of discourse. And discourse, in Habermas’ theory, is essentially based on some rules as for instance the equality of those who communicate in such a network. He speaks about a communication free of dominance of one party over the other.

The anticipation of a fully integrated Europe, for me, is the contrary of dominance of one side over the other, while – looking at the multilateral communication between the European Union and the Western Balkans – I have to concede that it makes a completely different impression. How comes?

When it is about the forthcoming elections and their relevance for the future position of Serbia within the international community, there is one important introductory remark I have to begin with: YOU will definitely be much more experienced than I am to evaluate, to which extend the political scenario which we are currently facing in Serbia is already influenced by the international community. The international community is not in a state of passiveness until 7th of May, so there is an open question, for instance, whether or not President Tadic made his decision for presidential elections to be held in May after some consultations with foreign diplomats? Or did he make it just based on inner-Serbian criteria and on consultations with his close environment in Demokratska Stranka and with those people he considers relevant in the Serbian economy, in the media and (perhaps) in academic life?

There were some rumors during the last weeks that the president, before making this decision, demanded a kind of guarantee from international diplomacy, that there will be no new escalation of the conflicts in and about Kosovo interfering into his campaign. If European and American administrations provided him such a guarantee, does that indicate a preference of these powers for the presidential elections to be held half a year prior to the end of the mandate?

Is there a serious expectation among the international community that 6th of May, together with the second round for the president, will create a new situation – new mainly, because all the basic state authorities (Parliament / Prime-Minister / President) will then be able to start a new process based on a refreshed democratic legitimacy?

And if these foreign governments give such new legitimacy the higher priority as compared to the question WHO in fact will be their future counterparts in the Serbian administration, what does that mean?

What I’m absolutely sure of is the fact, that the international community and particularly the European Union are highly pressed for time to find a solution for the entire Western Balkans. And since such a solution cannot be developed without Serbia, international diplomacy is pressed for time facing Serbian affairs. But Serbian affairs, first of all, means: the Serbian-Kosovar affair. It is true that that each Serbian government, regarding the Kosovo question, remains bound to the constitution. Nevertheless, there is a kind of international consensus, that the way how Serbian authorities dealt with this question since the 2008 elections, reveals a weakness of these authorities. And since all authority ends up with the president, it is finally about the president’s weakness.

This weakness is based on the fact, that any Serbian party or individual politician showing any compliancy with European and American positions regarding Kosovo, risks to be immediately removed from power. In other words: it is a dogma of Serbian politics that no election in Serbia until today can be won without some significant elements of patriotism in campaigning and political rhetoric. Any government showing compliance with EU options on Kosovo would immediately allow the opposition to monopolize the patriotism topic and to mobilize the streets.

We all know various ways how this dilemma is described: Vladimir Gligorov says that Serbia has finally to make a decision for either a policy of the national interest or a policy of the state interest. Others call it an alternative between symbolic policy and pragmatic policy, again others speak about the real needs of the ordinary people in that society versus their imaginary needs as they are produced by manipulative propaganda. There is much ISTINA in all these wordings, yet, any PREOKRET still fails to appear.

I think the problem in fact needs to be described in a more complex way, because if it is true that in Serbia today nobody can win elections without some significant doses of patriotism or symbolic policy, then the president is obviously conducting symbolic policy for quite pragmatic reasons, namely in order to stay in power. But whatever he or any government does in order to satisfy the patriotic requirements of this society will reduce the confidence he enjoys among his international colleagues and on the diplomatic floor. And whatever he does in order to satisfy the requirements of the international community can be and will be used at home in order to denounce him to the public opinion as a coward, caving in to international pressure and blackmailing, selling-out the national interests a.s.o.

There are lots of people who admire the highly developed capacity of Serbian (and other) politicians to balance like acrobats on the thin line between those alternatives, and one journalist has even, in 2010 in the Frankfurter Rundschau, proposed Boris Tadic for the Peace-Nobel Prize in recognition of his extraordinary skills to maintain stability through constant playing off all his competitors against each other. But this author, a couple of years earlier, had published a monograph with the title “Balkan Mafia” and, perhaps, he is too susceptive for the fascination of this art of managing the unmanageable.

In political reality, the admirable art of balancing results in a constant attitude of ambivalence, and ambivalence becomes the most essential guarantor of power. And even if, sometimes, the word “diplomacy” is used as a kind of synonym for “ambivalence”, we have to realize that today the foreign policy communication between Serbia and many foreign governments or supranational institutions is characterized by deep mutual mistrust regardless of all those mutual exchanges of compliments which make the diplomatic façade.

Serbian analysts like to focus on the Serbian reasons for such mistrust: they complain the humiliating, schoolmasterly way how Serbia is often treated on the international scene, the omnipresent tendency of imposing pressure on Serbia to do this or to stop doing that. What is agitating them so often is the policy of sticks and carrots implemented by the European Union or, in a less aggressive version: the policy of conditionality as a permanent challenge of national sovereignty.

But I’m looking at it from the other end of the line; and from that point of view I come to a different diagnosis: I’m not at all a fan of such policy of conditionalities. I don’t agree with it, because I consider it, first of all, as the expression or the symptom of a deeply rotten process or way of communication. Even if it sounds naïve to introduce such a category into a political debate: conditionality is basically the result of the absence of confidence. To describe that in a more detailed way, please allow me to make a short excursion to the previous processes of European enlargement:

Looking back to the period when the European Union worked on the integration of Poland, the Czech and Slovak Republics, the Baltic Republics and Hungary I cannot remember ever to have heard somebody speaking or writing about conditionality. There were Criteria which needed to be met for accession. Governments worked on transforming their states, administrations, economies and societies in order to comply with these criteria, but neither Balcerowicz nor Vaclav Klaus nor any of their colleagues ever expressed the feeling of being pushed, pressed, blackmailed or in any other way forced to adopt laws or rules against their explicit will or, even more relevant, against the evident will of their societies. Even Vaclav Klaus started criticizing the European Union and the reduction of national sovereignty only when the Czech Republic was already a member state.

In that period an “Instrument for Pre-Accession Assistance” would have deserved to be called like that: it was about assistance, while “assistance” means supporting a process which is anyhow promoted by the local politicians and by the societies they represent, and which is based on a wide societal consensus in these societies regarding the future of their countries. Today, in the Western Balkan countries, the pre-accession processes, again and again, are hampered, temporarily blocked, unfrozen again, stopped anew – and it is mostly about a whatever condition that needs to be fulfilled in order to proceed further.

I remember an interview given by Minister Ljajic last summer in the context of one of these regular and notorious visits of Serge Brammertz. At one moment Rasim Ljajic gave up his countenance and passionately attached blame to the international community, sending an emissary with a list of the next ten conditions while the Serbian government is still seriously working on point seven at the previous list. He said: yes, they may come to Belgrade; yes, they may hand over a list of desiderata; but then they should leave and wait and let us do our job, instead of constantly intervening again and again, because the government, otherwise, has to spend more time and energy for calming down the public opinion than for achieving in fact the conditions posted by the European Union.

It is not hard to understand the Minister’s heated statement which was followed few months later by lots of similar statements after Angela Merkel’s visit to Serbia in August. My question remains: do we remember a statement similar to Rasim Ljajic’s one from the communication between any European Union institution and a candidate country during those previous enlargement processes? And I can’t remember any. In addition, since reciprocity became so important today: Can we remember any statement of a European Union politician expressed in Vilnius or Warsaw or Bratislava, which can be compared in both style and content to Westerwelle’s statement in 2009 or Merkel’s statement last summer. And again I can’t remember any.

Of course we can find lots of reasons explaining why the situation is as it obviously is. There were no Czech war criminals wanted by an international court. There was no state-building process needed neither in Poland nor even in Latvia. There was no territorial conflict – not even between Russia and Lithuania regarding the Kaliningrad district. And, most important, there were no post-war societies to be (1) reconciled both with each other and inside themselves and to be (2) rebuilt in their economic and infrastructural and social systems. All that and tons of similar arguments are true. Yet, with all of these problems in front of us, we came to a strange situation which I would like to describe in this comparative context as mass of confusion:

During the 1990s – long before Mr. Rumsfeld introduced the distinction between “Old Europe” and “Young Europe” – the Union got used to the fact that it was, obviously, the most desired club for all of its neighbors. Any former step of enlargement started with the political will – clearly expressed and democratically legitimated by each candidate country – to become a new member state. What remains as future steps of enlargement after the integration of Croatia, i.e.: the integration of all the remaining Western Balkans states started based on the comprehension of a necessity. Not even the pathetic declaration of the summit of Thessaloniki promising the prospect of future membership to all these countries can hide this lack of an un-ambivalent political will on both sides.

I don’t care about the question who should be the first to deliver such a clear statement of intention – the Union or the candidate side? I care much more about the way of international communication in this process. If diplomatic communication is limited to negotiation, i.e.: to a bargaining of mutual interests, then any expression of intention turns immediately into a kind of dependence. Whatever I am desirous of can be used by the other side as an instrument to exert pressure on me. And vice versa I will use any request from the other side in the very same way. Anything has its prize to be paid and to be negotiated before payment. If there is anything that is beyond any doubt humiliating in our region, then it is the fact that very costly time of high ranking European diplomats is consumed for negotiations about license-plates of Kosovar or Serbian cars going back and forth between Zubin Potok and Kursumlija. It is humiliating for everybody involved, even if they come out from their negotiations and present us an Asterix as if it were the egg of Columbus.

Not only is it humiliating; it is, first of all, disgusting to play such a theatre in societies where one single day in Klinicki Centar Srbije would be sufficient in order to learn about the real priorities politics should care about. Can anyone evaluate the immeasurable distance between the solemn Thessaloniki declaration of 2003 and the Asterix disputes in some Brussels offices in 2011? Who may describe that long way on which – since Thessaloniki – the European Union got deeper and deeper involved into a role which it was not used to play: to deal with societies like the Serbian where the political will regarding membership remains ambivalent, with societies like in Bosnia and Herzegovina, where the public opinion is theoretically much in favor of accession, yet without any political power or willingness to finally build a modern democratic state and administration. Not to speak about Kosovo, where the Union itself doesn’t find a joint position regarding statehood and international recognition.

To summarize: the European Union finds herself in a new and unknown mission (a “mission” in the strict sense of the word): before any pre-accession assistance can be performed, there is, first of all, the need to create the social and political will and consensus regarding the accession. At the same time this Union cannot decline this mission and give those societies the cold shoulder, since it remains always afraid that non-accession, on the long run, will pay much more expensive. There is no other way to rebuild this entire region in democracy and peace and prosperity except through European integration.

And – as we must always keep in mind: there is no time for the Europeans to loose in this process! No money needlessly to spend for KFORs and UNMIKs and EULEXes and OSCE-missions – may be not even for Heinrich Böll foundations! Milestones are needed, deadlines, deliveries, results and impacts!

This is the pragmatic source, where the policy of conditionality is coming from. Besides, there is a theoretical source providing this policy at least an apparent, if not a substantial legitimacy: those defining the conditions in Brussels or elsewhere claim to act on behalf of the regional population, of the societies – if needed even against their local political representatives in power who do not really represent the interests of their respective society. It is the attitude of political ambivalence as constantly shown by these local political stakeholders which provides legitimacy to the policy of conditionality as imposed by the international community.

If both the local political elites and the European Union have their respective visions regarding the social, political, economic future of this region, these visions do not really comply with each other – even as far as the pro-European political forces here are concerned. It may become obvious if we look at the recent conflict between the Hungarian government and the European Union’s public and political opinion. Viktor Orbán’s policy is clearly characterized by a priority which, for him and his party, goes beyond the value and the concept of a modern liberal democracy. For him national identity and national honor seem to be more important, and hence it is legitimate to remove all those from the public sphere who, from Orbán’s point of view, act against these overriding values.

In Serbia, it seems to me, everybody is occupied with fighting for particular aims – many of them highly valuable and desirable aims, nevertheless particular. Even if it sounds rather abstract: as a German Green working in Serbia I’m always waiting for somebody simply saying: “Democracy First!” This is the only political dogma which I accept, and I try to do it without any exception. “Democracy first!” is the only way out of that evil ambivalence which is characterizing all Serbian politics.

Let us look at some speculative prospects for the elections:

At the moment it seems to me that the winner of the second round of the presidential election will be made by Ivica Dacic. Even if this is not empirically evident, Ivica Dacic will claim to be or to have successfully been the kingmaker. Successfully not for the future king but for himself since the price for that role has to be agreed on in advance. The price will be the office of the Prime Minister.

So we see a realistic prospect of somebody becoming prime minister, who, up to today, failed to explain us how he and his party found the way to modern democracy and how, looking today from the perspective of this respectable achievement, they think about the history of that party and its former accomplishments in the 1990s. They not only failed to explain us, they even consider it completely unnecessary to explain such a fundamental conversion to the Serbian society. Serbia will then have a prime minister, who accepted an award from his coalition partner, Mr. Palma, for successful fight against Western decadence through forbidding last year the public gathering of a few hundred Serbian homosexuals, while – one year before – he accepted all the compliments of the international community for doing just the contrary. A man who, after being several years minister for internal affairs, recently declared that he personally is eager to see the secret service dossiers from the Yugoslav as well as the Milosevic period finally opened and made accessible – he, who had four years time and power to remove from those dossiers everything that eventually could compromise him and his fellow comrades.

Let’s look at the DSS: they definitely have a bunch of “values” to which they give much higher priority as compared to democracy – just as in the Hungarian case of Orbán: there is “sovereignty before democracy”, there is “territorial integrity before democracy”, and, of course, the same with “national honor” and “identity” etc.

Let’s look at the Radicals: it’s more or less the same as with DSS, they only prefer a less educated and a more earthy way of expressing their political ideas and they stay firmly with their president in exile.

Let’s look at the big competitors – Napredna Stranka and Demokratska Stranka. They in fact compete with each other in claiming the higher capacity to set conditions to the European Union instead of the latter conditioning Serbia. They want to use Serbian reluctance towards EU accession as a means in order to boost the price Europe should pay to Serbia for the abdication from that reluctance. With that price being paid they promise to guide their society into the European Union. Both of them will continue foreign policy towards the European Union as a process of bargaining, the question is just: who will be more skilled in bargaining.

Let’s finally look at LDP and SPO: yes, Preokret has been a strong attempt to claim for Serbia a return to and a re-vitalization of the transformation values of 2002 or even October 2000, but – at least in my personal impression – this attempt failed to once again mobilize a significant part of the society. It rather made evident, that there might be countless Serbian citizens today dreaming about these former values, but obviously the energy of protest, which once was connected with these values, which made the people going to the streets for weeks and months – this energy has entirely vanished. And in the midst of this failed effort to mobilize the society for Istina the leader of SPO is delivering public statements about the rehabilitation of a prominent figure of Serbian national history – statements which make evident how fundamentally incompatible his way of thinking is with any kind of modern liberalism as his partner LDP wants to stand for.

In the night from 6th to 7th of May Serbian politics will turn into a crawling bazaar and nobody in the rest of the country will wonder about, because there they know since long ago that, in fact, Serbia has always been and will always be governed by the Belgrade Čaršija. According to all I’ve understood about the very character of this Čaršija phenomenon it is a kind of a highly exclusive and elitist social milieu where the rules for exclusion and inclusion remain somehow miraculous because the political credo is definitely not the decisive criterion.

It will not be possible to negotiate about a future government prior to the final decision regarding the future president. Bargaining will not only be about the prices for future coalitions in the government but as well (and even more expensive) for giving a recommendation of a candidate in the second round of presidentials.

In June, after following these negotiations for a couple of weeks, the Serbian society will be in much deeper depression than it has been on 5th of May, but those, who are not employed with American Steel, TV Avala, Leskovac textile factories or similar companies will go to holidays.

The new Parliament will not see any political force representing a political will or a program that was unseen up to now. Whether the president will be Boris Tadic or Tomislav Nikolic – the European policy of conditionality will remain in practice as the best-proven way to achieve legislative and administrative amendments. For the international community the over-imposing question will remain the Kosovo case. But here as well, the incumbent president has already announced that he will continue his policy of “Both, Europe and Kosovo” which means: to continue with ambivalence.

The European Union is seeking a solution through an amendment of the constitution. Since there is, far and wide, still no political party and not even a potential coalition of the two biggest parties that could and would take responsibility for such a decision, the maximum result for the European Union can be a new government being ready to call for a referendum on the constitutional preamble.

Since there will probably be no such readiness, the European Union could make such a referendum a new condition for the beginning of accession talks. There might be a chance that both Boris Tadic and Tomislav Nikolic would accept such a condition – but again both of them would sell it to the Serbian citizens as just another European requirement and NOT as an essential question these citizens of Serbia and this society finally and collectively have to come to terms with.

So, once again in Serbian history, these citizens would decide about one of the fundamental questions of Serbian statehood, but the result of this referendum would be declared irrelevant before the votes are counted. The same citizens who went to the ballots in the morning and afternoon would watch the TV-news in the evening of the very same day and banter with each other saying: yes we did it, but it’s not really serious. We did it just to satisfy these European idiots who claimed that referendum to be done. Ziveli!

“Democracy First!” automatically means “Serbia First!” The European Union doesn’t really need Serbian democracy. Only Serbia needs Serbian democracy (and some of her neighbors would probably benefit from it). As long as Serbian politicians behave as if democracy in Serbia would be something needed in order to get membership, democracy will not come. “Democracy First!” means of course, that democracy goes beyond membership in the European Union. It must be desired, it must be fought for, it must be achieved regardless of any conditionality imposed by Brussels. Democracy is not a condition for anything; it is a value per se. And with democracy once successfully achieved, all conditionality would be obsolete.

As long as “Democracy First!” is not the guiding principle of any governance in Serbia (or Bosnia and Herzegovina or Montenegro or Kosovo), any reform of the judiciary system, of the education system, of the healthcare system, any privatization process, any attempt of decentralization etc. – all these will remain fragmentary projects. They will be started and conducted (as they are done since twelve years) – yet they are done without really knowing why, for what and for whom. Yet, without knowing why, for what and for whom nobody can know HOW they should be conducted. And so they fail.

The presentation delivered to European movement in Serbia, April 2012

Peščanik.net, 05.05.2012.