40 percent of Serbian citizens are in favor of one chair, 10 percent of the other, and 50 percent are in favor of an independent Serbia. Well, I’m in that third group. That is what the president of Serbia, Aleksandar Vucic, said in relation to the complaint that Serbia is sitting on two chairs at once, made by US diplomat Brian Hoyt Ji.
Surprisingly, these words from the main creator and implementer of Serbian foreign, internal, and all other policy didn’t attract much public attention. And they are actually very interesting. What did Vucic mean by that and what was he actually saying?
What are these chairs the citizens of Serbia are supposed to choose between and which chair is his choice?
Before answering this question, however, we should add a couple of things, just so there’s no confusion and insinuation. The remark that Serbia is trying to sit on two chairs and that this is neither good nor sustainable, first came from the inside, that is, from Serbia itself. It was here in Serbia that people first felt on their own skin that Vucic says one thing and does another, i.e. that his pro-European rhetoric is often only a cover for his pro-Russians and pro-Putin practice.
Let’s return to the main topic. When he was quoting the aforementioned percentages, Vucic did not say what these “chairs” are called. However, there’s no doubt that the “chairs” refer to the European Union and to Russia, i.e. the Eurasian Union. After all, Hoyt Ji, at a public gathering, at the 17th Serbian Economic Summit, just before he met with Vucic, said very unequivocally: “Countries that want to enter the EU must clearly demonstrate that decision. You cannot sit on two chairs, especially if they are so far apart”.
So, if this dilemma, or perhaps trilemma, is so clear for Vucic, and if he can so easily say that he is not in favor of the chair 40 percent of citizens would choose, nor for the one 10 percent of citizens would choose, but “for an independent Serbia”, the question arises – what is he actually saying to the domestic (and the foreign) public? Basically – that, in fact, the European Union is not his choice.
Is this really what Vucic was trying to say? Maybe not, maybe he slipped, but maybe he did it on purpose; after all, he’s by no means an inexperienced and unskilled politician.
Either way – and regardless of the accuracy of the exact numbers he referenced – the opinion Vucic showed support for is not rare at all. On the contrary. As I’ve written once already, today, the greatest anti-Tito politicians are trying to practice Tito’s foreign policy. Which is completely ridiculous. Even if the non-alignment policy made sense half a century ago, today, in fundamentally changed international circumstances, it is not only anachronistic, but also harmful. However, a few days after Vucic, a similar opinion (article “Two Chairs” in Politika, October 30, 2017) was presented by a professor of the Faculty of Philosophy, Vladimir Vuletic: “What may look like sitting on two chairs from the perspective of Washington / Moscow, for Serbia is only a desperate attempt to lead an independent foreign policy which, among other things, requires maintaining the best relations with the great powers. The real question, therefore, is not whether Serbia is sitting on two chairs, but whether a small country has the right to conduct an independent foreign policy”.
Well, OK, let’s assume that, as Vuletic “commands”, not only these two, but all twelve chairs would escape from under Serbia (if you’ll allow me to quote Ilf and Petrov for a bit) and that it is left to sit “alone and in one chair”, i.e. to lead “independent foreign policy”. What would that policy look like? Would Serbia, at that time, make the decision to be a member of the EU, or would it opt for the EAU, or neither? Would it choose to nurture good relations with all of the great powers? But what’s stopping it from doing that right now? Nothing. It just has to say it. But, you can’t promise yourself to one guy, and go to another (or girl, whatever). I mean, you can do it in secret, until you get caught, but publicly – no one would agree to it.
But there is something even more important, which has remained untackled in these furniture rearrangements. The crucial question is, what kind of policy is best suited to the interests of Serbian citizens? In this context, the question arises: what does this, at the first glance, ideal “maintaining the best relations with the great powers” actually mean? Is it the policy of “equidistance”, that is, the policy by which Serbia would place its small chair at an equal distance (or equally close) to the big chairs of the great powers? This is almost explicitly stated in Vuletic’s writing. If this is true, a new question arises: assuming that this is possible, which, for many reasons, it probably isn’t, is it good for the citizens of Serbia? Because – what are these great powers like? Are they all the same in their internal characteristics? That is, first of all, are they the same when it comes to the freedoms and rights they provide to their citizens? It is clear that in this respect there are huge differences between them.
If we consider this as the main criterion, it is clear as day that the society of the European Union is incomparably better. And that it is incomparably better for the citizens of Serbia to have the closest relations with the countries of the European Union. This, in turn, means that Serbia should be a full member of the “European family of peoples,” and that its little chair should be in the same circle with theirs. And that Vucic, Vuletic, and their ilk shouldn’t hide behind the ideals of independence and freedom, because, in the scenario they propose, they are the only ones who are independent and free – from all responsibility, and to violate human rights and freedoms.
Translated by Marijana Simic