The other day Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin called the Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras and said: “Russia is going to buy the entire Greek debt if Greece allows us to open a Russian military base on its territory”. Premier Samaras nodded and asked for two days to think about the proposal. He then went to Brussels, and said: “Russians want to buy our complete debt.”
With sourness in his voice, this gag is being told by one of the European consultants residing in Belgrade who is assisting the Serbian government make the best use of the money coming from European funds – working on one of the many projects attempting to “Europeanize” the Serbian social and economic environment.
Aside its cynicism, the joke also has an Aesopian note. Or as the Serbs would say, “the dogs are barking not for the sake of the village, but their own” – because these days the Serbian public is being overwhelmed with information about the Russian-Serbian and Serbian-Russian relations, business, cooperation, support, love, fraternization, investment, trade, visits, appearances, concerts, financing, movie prohibition…
The most common and quaint are that the “Russians raised the price of vegetables after buying and importing all the peppers and tomatoes from Leskovac”; that “the Russian helicopters” (and most recently some special planes) from the Russian-Serbian Humanitarian Center in Nis (some say the future Russian military base) are fighting fires raging across Serbia; that for the first time in 12 years the Russian “Migs” are to appear in the Batajnica air meeting in September; that the Russians, unlike us, are properly defending the orthodox morality by prohibiting the “obscene” movie “Clip”.
And then, prompted by the Serbian Finance Minister’s whining that we are on the verge of bankruptcy, the outgoing Russian Ambassador and the lifetime Governor of Serbia, Alexander Vasilyevich Konuzin “opened up his pocketbook” and generously promised that Serbia can count on additional financial assistance from Russia, but it first must say what it needs, so that “together we can define the options for addressing these issues” in order to quickly achieve concrete results. Alexander Vasilyevich can now go quietly into his well-deserved retirement and ask to be inscribed, with golden letters, into Serbia’s history, because he believes that “the relations between Serbia and Russia have never been better and that it is necessary to continue establishing Serbian-Russian companies.”
Then the situation “escalated”.
First, the Serbian Prime Minister Ivica Dacic and the Russian Sberbank Deputy Chairman Sergei Nikolaevich Gorkov embarked on a joint “search” for partners for the Smederevo steel factory. Then, unprovoked, the already mentioned Serbian Finance Minister informed the Serbian public that Russia was the first country Serbia is talking to about a potential strategic partnership for the Smederevo steel factory. That is the same steel factory for which the Government could not find a strategic partner (companies from Germany, Ukraine, Turkey, China, India …), only to now have Russia emerge as a strategic partner. On that occasion, the President and the Prime Minister of Serbia, Tomislav Nikolic and Ivica Dacic, are packing their bags and promptly leaving for Moscow to discuss (as Alexander Vasilyevich would say) “the promotion of economic cooperation between the two countries,” with the steel factory in Smederevo being one of the topics. Our Minister of Economy and Finance said that some other countries are interested, but we are “for Russia” – “because the Russians are our priority.”
And not only for the Smederevo steel factory. Where else?
This was revealed to us by the Transport Minister Milutin Mrkonjic. He says that there is a possibility that the Russians will help resolve the status of our national pride, Jat Airways, which is up to its neck in losses and for which the state is also looking for a strategic partner.
But that’s not all!
Minister Mrkonjic gladly accepted (presumably on behalf of the citizens of Serbia) Alexander Vasilyevich’s proposal that the Serbian and Russian railway workers strategically cooperate in the region and is ready to set aside money from his ministry’s budget for this initiative.
The first Deputy Prime Minister and our military minister Aleksandar Vucic informed the Serbian citizens, although this was not promised it in the campaign, that our government intends to build a factory of modern weapons. Vucic’s interlocutor (where else but in Moscow), the Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin Olegovich, showed a great desire to help the country in the placement of modern weapons. Dmitry Olegovich’s desire is so great that experts will start working on the plans for conjunct models and joint production as soon as Monday (August 27). The Serbian public was also informed that at the meeting “strategic and political issues, improving the defense policies of both countries, the development of the Serbian arms industry, exporting goods to the Russian market and joint participation in third markets” were also discussed. After the meeting our minister of defense said that “for the first time I am very satisfied with the talks.”
Translating this into the language of Miroslav Lazanski, Serbia will be producing tanks (for which it has the knowledge and the money, as claimed by our Defense Minister) with Russian steel from Smederevo, and Russia will only need to help “in the sale” these “goods” (where else but there where there is bloody fighting) to African and Asian countries.
The progress of these joint ventures will be examined by Vladimir Vladimirovich when he arrives to Serbia this autumn, as well as the Russian Defense Minister Anatoliy Eduardovich Serdyukov who will visit Belgrade by the end of the year.
During the time of this utmost Russian-Serbian idyll a survey was conducted showing that 49 percent of Serbian citizens believe that our country should join the European Union. To some, this signaled a need to promptly support the summertime brotherly idyll, with the chief of the Serbian Office for European Affairs sounding cynical in his remarks that the data from the survey was “an excellent result”. Just in case, our minister of defense found himself compelled to reassure the Serbian Europhiles from Moscow that “our European partners will not have anything against the military cooperation between Serbia and Russia.”
We shall see.
“Our European partners” however are already demonstrating discomfort with the new practices being introduced by the Serbian government. On one hand, the rhetoric of the Serbian ruling trio Vucic-Dacic-Dinkic is pro-European, about European integrations, our European partners, the European agenda, strategic partnership… On the other hand, somewhat insidious and “under the table” regulations and rules (started with the National Bank of Serbia) are being prepared and laws are being adopted that are in direct opposition to European standards and European legislation.
As it’s said: rhetoric on the road and practices in the bush.
From time to time one can hear (very softly) the malicious comments about Europe’s “preoccupation with its problems” and its financial woes. This, supposedly, suggests that it is time for Serbia to turn to places where there is money. This of course means Russia, although so far it has not demonstrated anywhere that it is a country that exports capital and invests in other countries. True enough, capital is coming out of Russia, but it is the private type that is attempting to evade Russia’s poor business environment.
As for Serbia, with time passing, the effects of many years of hard work by Alexander Vasiljevic will become more and more visible. In truth, during the last 20 years Russia did not make any major investments in Serbia, nor it has demonstrated the power of its export of capital in our market. But “that” which Konuzin seeded in Serbia is now beginning to grow, carefully watered by our government hoping for a rich harvest. As the harvest is approaching, the European rhetoric will diminish; the European Union will hardly be mentioned by anyone in the government (except naive individuals), and we in Serbia will be less and less feeling the integration and financial woes of Europe. Modernization of Serbia founded on European integration will be postponed until a distant future when “the situation gets sorted out.”
Until then, we’ll watch from the sidelines as Europe is being amused by its misery and we will be convincing ourselves that we do not care to share with it its uncertain and ill fate. At the same time, through the back door, we will be introducing Vladimir Vladimirovich’s “modernization” practices – a firm hand in the economy, the prohibition of civil protests, corruption and nepotism, jailing of opposition leaders, bloggers and musicians, banning movies, fostering a personality cult…