A perennial trouble maker for itself and others, Serbia constantly manages to cause headaches for the West. The most recent was the other day when, encouraged by Belgrade, Serbs resident in Kosovo tried a small revolt to get rid of the obligation imposed by the Government in Pristina regarding the registration of automobiles. Kosovo license plates are seen by local Serbs as an implicit recognition of the existence of the state founded by the Albanian majority and, consequently, rejected with indignation. When the first news about the Kosovar Serb unrest appeared, pessimists immediately saw the opening of a new front in the undeclared war between Russia and the West. It was not hard to imagine such a thing, given that for months experts in the Balkan region have been warning that tensions are reaching alarming levels. That was not the case. Serbia managed this time not to start a world war.
It must be said that there are still NATO troops on the territory of Kosovo who probably would not have assisted passively in the event that, completely losing its mind, Belgrade would have decided to intervene to defend the Serbian minority severely discriminated against with its license plate. It is true that Pristina’s decision to postpone the imposition of the obligation by one month helped to ease the situation.
There were immediate statements of support for Belgrade in Moscow and warnings that encouraging Kosovars to freely exercise their statehood rights could lead to an escalation of the situation. Also in Moscow, major disappointment after the events did not lead to a serious deterioration of the situation in the region. The atmosphere remains tense, however, so far no one has invaded anyone, the conflict being reduced to a few street fights that were clearly lost by the Albanians.
Serbia makes no secret of its closeness to Russia, being one of the few states in this part of the world that does not seem embarrassed to support a regime whose main characteristic is the nonchalance with which it commits war crimes. At the same time, Serbia is seriously arming itself, spending, according to some estimates, more than all the states in the Balkans combined to acquire weapons from multiple sources: China and Russia in the first place, but not only.
However, beyond the declarations and demonstrations of support for Moscow, the role that Serbia has assumed is a bit more nuanced, and this could somehow explain the endless game of crisis in the Balkans. A possible game also because the prejudices of Westerners naturally lead to the conclusion that there is always a crisis in the Balkans.
It is less known that Serbia is a member of the Partnership for Peace – an institution established to increase the degree of trust between NATO and the European states, especially from the East, which are not members of the Alliance. In the case of Serbia, this affiliation is very relevant because Belgrade is part of the one-member club of European states bombed by NATO. Readers of the Old Dilemma remember that, in Romania, the approval of overflight rights for NATO planes heading towards Serbia caused a serious scandal in political circles, but it really opened the way for Bucharest to return definitively inside the Western space.
In its foreign policy, Serbia seems to be living a kind of Ceaușescu residual dream. Formally not aligned to any alliance, stupidly imitating independence, ordinary Serbs like to think that they are so skilled that they can manipulate both Russia and the West to achieve their goals. And these are generally stated in terms of a harmful nationalism whose only result has been the permanent shrinking of the country so far.
In fact, Serbia does not manipulate anyone, but is rather used when needed. By Russia to create the feeling that Moscow is not isolated in Europe, by the West to keep the Balkans under control. The Serbian leadership knows this too well, but its goals are more of domestic politics. President Aleksandar Vucici, a former politician with extreme right-wing convictions from the administration of Slobodan Milosevic, is trying – and to some extent succeeding – to position himself as indispensable to solving the region’s problems. Problems that, as in the case of the recent disturbances in Kosovo, they encourage so that, a little later, they wisely contribute to their solution. Until the next time.
As a political profile, these days, Vucici looks more like Viktor Orbán than Milosevic, and his only concern seems to be staying in power. Pedaling on a conservative, nationalist and, when appropriate, Eurosceptic speech, the Serbian head of state has built a career whose only goal is to create the feeling that he is indispensable. All the while, Serbia is going from nowhere to nowhere, hoping that someday its luck will turn.
Like most small countries unable to properly assess themselves, Serbia seems determined not to choose any future. He prefers to wallow in a confused present where the best is always in a proud and questionable past that sometimes still sends a bill. Not cheap at all.
Teodor Tiță is the host of the In Centru podcast that you can listen to on any of the distribution platforms (Apple, Spotify, Google, etc.): https://open.spotify.com/show/5jSN6amOtenIsHn23aoOLQ.