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Italian Security in the MENA and Balkans, Part 6: Relations with Serbia

By Matteo Albertini and Chris Deliso

This, the sixth installment in our present series, assesses the modern security, economic and diplomatic relationships between Italy and Serbia. As this analysis indicates, Rome has a vested interested in cultivating the bilateral relationship, for diplomatic and economic reasons- being one of Serbia’s largest trade partners.

This factor indicates that AISE (the Italian foreign intelligence service) has a significant interest in Serbia regarding economic intelligence. Additionally, Serbia’s position on the migrant route, while the role of other actors there like Russia and China, also bring in a more traditional security and intelligence focus.

Italy’s Diplomatic and Economic Relations with Serbia: Modern Context

Italy enjoys excellent diplomatic relations with Serbia, which inherited a large part of the existing liaisons between the two countries from the Yugoslav years and always represented a strategic partner for the Italian presence in the region. Indeed, as a senior Italian diplomat notes for Balkanalysis.com, the staff size at the Italian embassy in Belgrade barely changed between 1990-2010; Belgrade, as former capital of Yugoslavia, had always been the central focus of Italian (and most other) diplomacy in the region.

The creation of new states following the Yugoslav disintegration, climaxing with Kosovo in 2008, has slightly affected Italian infrastructure and staff decisions, as it required a new embassy to be built there during a dynamic and changing period for the international presence in Kosovo. But it is the case that Serbia remains today a vital strategic hub for Italian diplomacy in the region.

The origins of modern Italian-Serbian cooperation date back to 1953, when the Italian automotive company FIAT signed an agreement with the Yugoslav state-owned company Zastava to allow the production of FIAT car models in Yugoslavia. It was a revolution for the local market and the collective imagination, with some models (like the Yugo 45) which have not by chance become, in recent years, icons of Yugo-nostalgic feelings.

After the signing of the Osimo Agreement in 1975, diplomatic and intelligence relations were managed in a softer way than before. Some recent journalistic inquiries showed that Yugoslav intelligence used to spy on the Italian Istrian and Dalmatian diaspora groups in Italy. Yugoslav counterintelligence operations also were conducted against possible nationalist actors, targeting those Italian nationals who decided to remain in Yugoslavia after 1948 (the so-called rimasti). But since most of these actions were conducted in the Venezia-Giulia Region (Trieste and the surroundings), they tended to be conducted under a Croatian-Slovenian command.

The crucial moment in the relations between Rome and Belgrade was without doubt the dissolution of Yugoslavia. At the beginning, the Italian Socialist government generally supported Belgrade, while there was a contemporaneous pro-Slovenian and pro-Croatian position among right-wing politicians. What was clear to all was the need to preserve the existing relations with the diplomatic establishment (in part remaining in Yugoslav ranks and in part turning to its newly independent homeland).

Further, as soon as Croatia and Slovenia declared self-determination, Italy began to see them as the arena for confronting the aspirations of Germany. Slovenia and Croatia were accused of being responsible of genocide against Italians in WWII. Italy requested posthumous reparations, and to renegotiate international treaties. Rome also blocked for a while Slovenia’s accession to the European Union. In this situation, Belgrade remained more of an ally for Italy, allowing opportunities for diplomatic leverage.

The close relations between Italy and Serbia can be underlined by showing the limited consequences, over a few short years, of some serious events. Italy sent a large deployment to NATO’s 1999 “Allied Force” intervention, which bombed the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. Italy also provided the key logistic support from Aviano Air Force Base. The bombing killed over 3,500 civilians in Serbia, Kosovo and Montenegro. And it marked the very center of Belgrade with an enduring ‘monument’: the remnants of the Ministry of Defense in Nemanjina Ulica.

After the war, Serbs would question why they had been attacked by a traditional ally. In almost every diplomatic conversation in the following years, our sources attest, one of the first questions concerned why Italy (under D’Alema’s government, and with a traditional Pro-Serbian centrist politician such as Lamberto Dini as foreign minister) had decided to participate.

A proper answer would take us too far from the purposes of this article, but it is worth noting that Italian participation in the bombing allowed the country to get a primary role in the aftermath of the war. The NATO intervention was the first time that an international mission had been guided by Italian officials. Part of Kosovo was later overseen by a multinational force under Italian command, and this allowed Italy to regain a more central role in Greater Mediterranean diplomacy; this trend would later be demonstrated by the leading role Italy took in the Lebanon 2008 intervention.

Generally speaking, soon after the fall of Milosevic contacts between Belgrade and Rome grew faster, with Italy becoming one of the first supporters of Serbia’s European path. Also, as reported in a 2009 interview with Massimo D’Alema himself, Italy did not abandon the diplomatic option even during the attacks, trying to force Milosevic’s government to withdraw troops from Kosovo.

In any case, NATO intervention in Serbia had consequences and directly led to the second occasion of diplomatic confrontation between Italy and Serbia, when in 2008, Italy decided to accept Kosovo’s declaration of independence and to recognize the existence of the new state (interestingly enough, at that time, the Italian Foreign Minister was the same Massimo D’Alema). This time the consequences were harsher, and saw Belgrade recall its ambassador, Sanda Raskovic-Ivic, who was sent back some months later and kept this position until 2010.

Both disputes were quickly resolved, in consideration of the greater importance Italy had as an ally for Belgrade in its European path- but also in consideration of the growing economic relations that Italian companies had developed with the country during the previous 15 years.

Serbian Leadership Reiterates Strategic Nature of the Relationship

On 2 June 2016, Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic gave an interview to an Italian-Serbian Chamber of Commerce publication. In it, he underlined the importance of the relations between the countries: “there is one word which is overused in our political life and international relations as well. Too often we exploit the term strategic. In the case of Serbian–Italian relations, I would dare to say that, yes, truly, Italy is a strategic partner of Serbia. With strong support to our European endeavors, we cultivate even stronger political relations with the Italian government, the strongest relations we may find in our economic performance.”

The premier continued, noting that “it could be said that economic cooperation between Serbia and Italy can serve as a model of good economic cooperation between any two countries. This is confirmed by the level of bilateral trade, totalling over 3.6 billion euros in the last year, which is about a quarter of the total goods trade between Serbia and the EU. […] Italy has provided strong support to Serbia’s EU integration process, but there is also growing interest among Italian companies for cooperation with the Serbian economy and investing in the Serbian market. We should develop our relations further and even more ambitiously, in diversifying our economic, political and cultural relations. Finally, we should continue presenting Serbian-Italian relations as a success story and as a role model for strategic relations generally. […] Speaking of possibilities and the prospects of further economic cooperation with Italy, the following sectors have been recognized as having constant, and so far mutual, interest for investment: the automotive and metal industries, the textile industry, wood processing, IT, agriculture and renewables.”

Italian Diplomatic and Intelligence Structure in Serbia

This deep cooperation is well-indicated by the staff numbers of Italian Embassy in Belgrade: the Ambassador Giuseppe Manzo, in Belgrade since 2013, has some 25 accredited diplomats. Along with its competitively-sized contingent, Italian diplomacy has taken the initiative, marking 90 years of its Belgrade embassy in 2016, and thus holding special events throughout the year.

According to the latest official data (updated September 16, 2016), this reveals Italy is at a high place within the second tier of countries represented. The largest diplomatic presences are those of Russia, with 54 diplomats, the US, with 40, China, with 37 persons, and Germany with 33. But Italy, with its 25 diplomats, comes out ahead of other European powers such as Austria (15), France (19), Greece (15), Turkey (15), Hungary (19) and Britain (16).

There are also interesting anomalies on Belgrade’s diplomatic scene, like Libya, the failed state with rival factions that nevertheless still manages to keep 27 diplomats in Serbia, according to the official data. Of course, on the southern edge of the Italian security arc we have traced in this series, Libya presents a serious challenge to Italy due to migration and terrorism, and economic concerns (ENI) in the country. So the Belgrade presence of a significant number of Libyan diplomats is something the Italian services monitor with interest.

As we reported in the second installment of this series, while the Slavonic-speaking central hub for Italian intelligence is in Zagreb, Belgrade is gaining back its pivotal role in Italy-SEE relations and in intelligence work as well. This does not depend only on the fact that Serbia remains the regional center of balance, but also because Italian interests and goals are confronted in Serbia by those of the major players, like Germany, Turkey and of course Russia. Historically, culturally and politically, Moscow remains better connected with Belgrade than in any other Eastern European country. Indeed, part of the reason for the AISE hub activities in Croatia is that it is considered much ‘safer ground’ than in Serbia, where the Russians have a stronger footing and can more easily monitor Italian intelligence moves,

An Active Ambassador- Giuseppe Manzo

Thus, it is not by chance that Italy entrusted an experienced diplomat, with previous postings in Tirana and Washington (both key actors in the Balkans), to deal with the growing importance of Serbia for Italian strategic goals. In this respect, diplomats say that Giuseppe Manzo represented the perfect choice.

Appointed on 3 June 2013, he was also previously chief of the press service and spokesperson of the Italian Foreign Ministry, managing the transition of the communication of the MFA towards e-diplomacy, introducing social networks and new media. In the period 2010-2011 he led the press office of the Italian Embassy in Washington, coming from the Italian embassy in New York, with experience from 2007-2008 as member of Italian delegation to the United Nations.

Manzo’s previous Balkan appointment occurred as counselor at the Embassy in Tirana in the period 1995-1998: tough years for Albania, which saw the explosion of the Pyramid scandal, looting of state arsenals, and the consequence migration crisis across the Adriatic.

In Manzo, Italy thus sent to Belgrade a diplomat familiar with international institutions, US policies and aware of the regional situation. But above all, Italy sent to Serbia a skilled communicator, who was able to develop inside the Italian Embassy a well-functioning information office. The ambassador has often released interviews and comments to local and international media, and is a Twitter user. The Embassy publishes a six-month press review (L’Italia a Belgrado), frequently updates its social profiles on Facebook and Twitter, and even publishes Flickr photo albums.

Since his arrival in 2013, Manzo has strongly backed Serbia’s accession to the European Union, showing satisfaction with the achieved levels of cooperation in fields such as security and rule of law enforcement. In a recent interview for the Italian-Serbian Chamber of Commerce’s publication, Diplomacy & Commerce, he underlined the importance of the “European Goal” for the countries still waiting for accession: “stability is not an irreversible achievement. It is rather a work in progress, and we have to recognize that the EU integration process is the main driving force to promote democratic change, economic growth and social developments in all these countries.”

He then underlined the diplomatic role of Italy in strengthening the relations between two key countries of the Western Balkans: “through the Trilateral Initiative we started last year, together with Serbia and Albania, and within the Western Balkan Process, by chairing and hosting in 2017 [in Rome] the Summit among Prime Ministers, Ministers of Foreign Affairs and Ministers of Finance/Economy, to promote joint projects on infrastructure, transport, energy and tourism.”

Growing Economic Ties

The ambassador then turned to economic subjects, underlining that Italy is one of the principal economic players locally, and seeks stronger economic development. Since the beginning of Manzo’s mandate in 2013, Italy has become Serbia’s leading trade partner: the Serbian Statistic Institute reports that Italian exports to Serbia equal 2.38 billion euro each year. And, Italian firms in Serbia now exceed 600 (they were 250 in 2011 and 450 in 2013). These companies employ more than 20,000 workers, with a turnover of over 2 billion euros.

Italian companies have indeed achieved a quasi-monopolistic position in most of the growing sectors of Serbia’s economy: the automotive one, with FIAT (now Fiat Chrysler Automobiles) contributing by itself 1% of Serbian GDP; the banking sector, where Banca Intesa San Paolo and Unicredit hold more than 25% of the market; the insurance sector, 45% of which is controlled by Generali and Fondiari SAI; textiles, where Italian brands like Calzedonia, Pompea and Benetton are present, as well as in footwear, particularly thanks to the Geox facility in Vranje.

Further, in the agricultural sector, a leading Italian company, Ferrero, has recently signed an agreement to farm hazelnuts in Serbia. In this regard, the ambassador presented his future projects for developing mutual relations under the slogan “culture & agriculture.”

In this regard, Manzo noted a range of initiatives. “As for agriculture, a couple of weeks ago Italy successfully participated as a partner country in the renowned Agricultural Fair of Novi Sad,” he stated. “Agribusiness could in the next year be one of the main sources of development for the Serbian economy, while for Italy it is already a strong reality, considering, for instance, that Italian exports in the agroindustry amounted to around 37 billion euros last year and we want to target 50 billion in 2020. Also our cultural cooperation is intense, but again we can do more and more. The Italian language is the first foreign language studied in Serbia after English and cultural relations between students and universities are particularly strong.”

Here it is interesting to note that Vojvodina alone produces 32% of Serbia’s total national exports, and represents one of the favored areas for delocalization of Italian companies. With its Hungarian minority and Central Eastern-flavor, Vojvodina has also historically been of keen interest to especially Hungary and sometimes Austria.

Energy Sector Potential

Italy is also trying to carve out its place in the energy sector (following its recent acquisitions in Montenegro, which will be discussed in this series’ final article). At present in Serbia, the local market is actually dominated by gas imports from Russia, and specifically by Gazprom: in 2008 Belgrade sold the majority of the state shares in the NIS energy company for $580 million (plus $500 million in investment from the Gazpromneft oil company). In that sense, Serbia’s energy sector is under the influence of Moscow state companies. A later agreement in 2013 further increased the year import to 2.5 billion cubic meters up to 2021. Lukoil is also present in the energy scene, having in 2003 won the contest for Beopetrol.

Possible investments by Italian companies are thus more likely only as an answer the growing demand for pipelines. The only competitive sector would then be the green one, considering that Serbia still depends on hydro-carbons for 90% of its energy needs, as a recent survey underlined. Serbia planned to reach a 27.3% renewables target by 2020 under Energy Community Treaty commitments, and currently operates 44 MW in small hydro-power plants, 2 MW in biogas power plants, 0.5 MW installed in wind and 2.4 MW in solar PV.

In this regard, the Italian corporation Building Energy recently signed an agreement with the Krusevac municipality for the construction of a biomasses thermal plant in the town. This could be the beginning of a widening trend of Italian participation in Serbian renewable investment, considering the overall trend of Italian deep participation in other key sectors.

The Economic Reasons behind the Italian-Serbian Strategic Partnership

Ambassador Manzo’s statements on the evolving economic relationship reaffirm a phenomenon reported by Balkanalysis.com in 2011. Thus, it is important to analyze the meaning of such a heavy Italian presence in the country.

There are multiple reasons for this colonization, such as the geographical proximity and logistical advantages. But the most important factor is surely connected with the low cost of work, and the presence of many qualified specialists.

Further, since 2008 the Serbian government has provided heavy incentives to foreign investors. For instance, the 2009 agreement between the Serbian government and FIAT – which is one of the few ever signed between a private company and a state – conceded the entire Kragujevac factory area (previously called FAS and now, FCA Serbia) to FIAT for just 1 euro and 10,000 euros for each worker.

But the crucial point is probably that, by virtue of the Agreement for Stabilization and Association signed with teh EU, the Generalized System of Preferences with the USA, and the exemption from customs for exchanges with Russia, the foreign companies that invest in Serbia gain access to a market as big as one billion people for “Made in Serbia” products. According to the definition, a product becomes ‘made in Serbia’ when more that the 50.01% of the transformation of raw materials is completed on state territory.

As with Macedonia, Serbia also provides a very favorable tax regime for companies. No taxes on profit are charged for 10 years for companies with a total sales volume higher than 8 million euro and at least 100 new employed per year. 14 free zones (amongst them Subotica, Novi Sad, Zrenjanin, Šabac, Kragujevac and Belgrade) grant tax breaks and charge no VAT. Where the VAT is charged, it is 20%, which is lower than in most European countries.

As reported by East Journal in a December 2015 article, this shape of the economic system has two main consequences: “the privatization of many state companies […] and the closure, or the collapse, of many local companies. As a matter of fact, public auctions and state incentives are more bracing for foreign companies, that have a consolidated experience on the market and can more easily win contracts.”

This situation could eventually have heavy consequences for Serbian small and medium-sized enterprises and may lead to worse consequences if foreign companies leave once the proscribed 10-year period of presence expires, should these companies decide to move to the next profitable country.

Diplomacy and the Italian Situation in Serbia

Despite possible economic consequences over the medium-long term, the excellent quality of Italian-Serbian relations, and the reciprocal trust between the acting governments, is testified by the constant growth of the Italian-Serbian Chamber of Commerce and by a series of interviews and declarations recently released by officials of both countries, as we have seen with Vucic’s interview.

Less than a month ago, on 31 August, the Italian ambassador to Belgrade was received by the newly-appointed Foreign Minister, Ivica Dacic, to deliver a congratulation letter for his nomination from his Italian counterpart, Paolo Gentiloni.

The official letter stated that “as Serbia’s primary strategic partner, Italy will continue to support Your Country in its European integration path in the wider fields, with the goal of getting more and more concrete results. […] The Western Balkan Summit which will be hosted by Italy next year will be a perfect occasion to promote the European integration of the countries in the region, enforcing their reciprocal cooperation also through their active involvement in the process. Our main goal is to improve our bilateral relations and the relations between the countries in Western Balkans. For Italy, Serbia’s future is inside the European Union. […] Looking forward to get back to working with you and your government, and to future occasions for meeting in person, I wish you the best for you new role.”

During the meeting, both Ambassador Manzo and FM Dacic underlined the importance and the high level of trust reached by bilateral relations, and reiterated promises of developing cooperation in every field of common interest. Ambassador Manzo, while expressing his satisfaction with the choice of Rome as host of the next Western Balkan summit, underlined Serbia’s commitment to maintaining peace and stability in the region. He also took into account Minister Dacic’s concerns about the behavior of some countries which partly compromised this stability.

The future meeting in Rome was also at the center of Undersecretary Amendola’s visit to Belgrade last June, when he also gave a long interview to the newspaper Politika. In it, Amendola indicated economic growth, security and rule of law as Italy’s priorities for the Western Balkan 2017 Summit: “I chose to reunite in Belgrade the Italian ambassadors in the Adriatic-Balkan area to begin the organization of the agenda of the summit,” he said.

The Italian undersecretary also met Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic for a meeting about “the economic and cultural development of the region, the investment and growth opportunities for Italian companies active in infrastructural projects, and the Italian contribution to the promotion of rule of law in the region.”

In this regard, before coming back to Italy, Amendola and the ambassadors also participated, in the Belgrade Special Court’s room dedicated to Giovanni Falcone, to the presentation of a regional project dedicated to the fight against organized crime. This was developed after the donation to Serbian Police of a database collected by Italian National Anti-Mafia direction.”

Police Cooperation between Italy and Serbia

The renewed efforts of Serbian security agencies in the fight against organized crime have strengthened international cooperation. The centrality of Serbia here was indicated by the Anti-Mafia meeting held in Belgrade in May 2013, in the OSCE mission’s office. Serbian government representatives and officials from Sweden, France, Germany, Austria, USA, Netherlands and Europol participated. In a nod to Italian influence, the central event was a speech by Prosecutor Paolo Roberti.

The choice of Belgrade as conference host was significant. The prosecutor stated that Italy seeks to extend to all the Balkan countries the strong cooperation it already has with Serbia in the fight against organized crime and corruption. The idea of this regional conference was connected to the Italian Ministry of Justice’s decision to donate Italian SIDDA/SIDNA software to the Serbian Special Prosecutor for Organized Crime, in December 2013. It was developed by the National Anti-mafia and Anti-terrorism Office, in order to manage investigative data.

The Italian Foreign Ministry also participated by funding around 100,000 euros to this project, making Italy the lead contributor. The Serbian side planned to share the database system with all Serbian public prosecutors offices, “in order to harmonize the different IT systems.”

The (Lesser) Impact of the Hacking Team Affair in Serbia

As our previous installment discussed, the 2015 email leak involving Milanese spyware firm Hacking Team caused some reactions in the Croatian media, forcing the Croatian intelligence service to publicly rebuff claims that its work had been compromised in any way by the leak. While the reaction to the leak was less pronounced in Serbia, one very interesting article from Serbian tech site Share Lab in July 2015 reveals that the Italian company sought to do business with the Serbian Security Information Agency (Bezbednosno-informativna agencija, BIA) and the Ministry of Defense.

As in Croatia, the negotiation was reportedly undertaken with the aid of a local Belgrade company, but also involved an Israeli one. According to the long article, the initial Serbian interest came in 2011, after a BIA agent noticed HT at the MiliPol Paris fair in 2011. Negotiations apparently continued during that year, with at least one trial demonstration performed in Belgrade, but changes in government and disagreements over price meant that a deal never came to pass.

Italian Leadership of NATO Military Liaison Office in Serbia

In 2006, NATO opened a Military-Liaison Office in a country it had been bombing only seven years earlier. While no one is expecting Serbia to join NATO, the initiative was meant to provide the basis for maximal non-membership cooperation.

In this light, it is interesting to note that the local NATO leadership of this office has been held by Italians- a choice that indicates the ‘acceptable’ nature of Italian leadership in Serbian society, considering the recent history. As such, in February 2016, Italian Brigadier General Cesare Marinelli became Chief of the NATO MLO, taking over from his fellow countryman, Brigadier General Lucio Batta. The latter had also served in this position on a previous mission.

Brigadier General Marinelli is a well-regarded officer who was active in the Rome operations center for pre-planning Italian troop deployment to Kosovo before the war, and similarly led advance planning for deployment to Afghanistan before the US invasion there. He also has overseen Italian troops operations in Bosnia, Kosovo and Albania and thus is well acquainted with the region.

Conclusions: Intelligence Focus Guided by Economic Interests First

The changing dynamic of Italy’s relations with Serbia are indicated by its areas of focus. With war an increasingly distant memory, Italy is taking advantage of its good relations with Serbia to advance its economic interests. Therefore, the primary area of focus for state agencies like AISE (as well as numerous private intelligence firms) is economic intelligence. One of the questions for modeling involves scenarios by which Italy’s banking crisis could affect its general economy and trade with Serbia (including banking ownership in the country), and what this would mean for Serbia itself.

Serbia today is attempting to continue the former Yugoslavia’s role as the one ‘vital’ Balkan power between East and West, and it is indeed the case that today’s major powers all have a stake there. For Italy, the historic good relations with Serbia are allowing it to play a leading role, even in the most sensitive of areas for local society (such as relations with NATO).

The current Italian ambassador’s tenure has been, all agree, highly successful. The upcoming diplomatic rotation will indicate much about Rome’s intended orientation, but with the next Berlin Process conference for the Balkans to be hosted by Italy next year, we can expect that Italy will keep up a high level of diplomatic and logistical cooperation in advance of that event.

Serbia’s Relations with Belgium and Luxembourg: Interview with Ambassador Vesna Arsic

In this comprehensive new interview, Balkanalysis.com Director Chris Deliso speaks with Vesna Arsic, Serbia’s ambassador to both Belgium and Luxembourg. The embassy is based in Brussels, and complements Serbia’s missions to NATO and the EU, which are also based in the Belgian capital.

Serbian Ambassador Vesna Arsic- Balkanalysis Interview

“Belgium and Luxembourg have indicated their support for our proactive role in regional cooperation,” notes Ambassador Arsic.

Ambassador Arsic’s distinguished career has included leading technical reforms in the banking and pension funds systems in Serbia’s ministry of finance, drafting important legislation, and leading the negotiating team in the process of Serbian WTO accession. She also served as the head of government representatives for negotiating free trade agreements with the Russian Federation, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Turkey and the EFTA countries.

In this interview, Ambassador Arsic discusses the Serbian bilateral role with Belgium and Luxembourg, cooperation on security and migration-related issues, and how the two countries continue to support Serbia’s EU accession goals. Also discussed are some interesting, little-known facts about the countries’ historical relationships and cultural cooperation initiatives.

The Importance of Bilateral Ties

Chris Deliso: When the discussion turns to Brussels, everyone talks about Balkan countries’ diplomacy with the EU. So in contrast, how is it to be the Serbian representative to the state of Belgium? What are the key issues?

Vesna Arsic: It is very important to Serbia to have a strong diplomatic presence in Brussels: currently Serbia has three ambassadors, including the EU and NATO missions. My position is to cover the bilateral relations. This fact means that the Serbian government has assessed it as a high priory to be more strongly represented in Brussels and Belgium in general.

It is essential to note that in Serbia, not only the government but all parties have the common interest of EU accession as a top priority, and Belgium is one of those countries among the founding members of the EU. My MFA and I myself see my role as very important in that we have direct relations with our counterparts in the Belgian MFA.

We also have developed networks in Belgium as a whole, which is partly due to the complex structure of Belgium, its decentralized and multi-ethnic nature. This means there are other levels of authorities who are also involved and we must have engagement with them too.

CD: What sort of legacy do the two countries have in terms of historic relations?

VA: Our bilateral relations are very historic. They were first established in 1879, and in 1886 further, during the Kingdom of Serbia, when we had a diplomatic envoy to Brussels. Also, Belgian investors were active in Serbia in the 19th century, in mining. And in fact the first railway in Serbia, in Negotinska Krajina, was built on Belgian concession.

Further, the first privileged national bank of Serbia, back in 1884, was developed with the support of skilled staff from the Belgian national bank- and the first Serbian bank notes were even printed in Belgium.

CD: Really! That is quite extraordinary.

VA: Yes. And also, the first democratic constitution in Serbia was made following the Belgian constitutional model. So we have long and rich ties.

CD: Also, in addition, Luxembourg is a country in your diplomatic remit. What specific interests and challenges does this portfolio entail?

VA: It is also essential for us to have direct communication with Luxembourg, and we have seen this year with the Luxembourg COE presidency the positive results of their support. They called all EU candidate countries, not only Serbia, to participate in the majority of ministerial councils. This means that similar to the Belgian bilateral relationship we seek to cultivate, the goal is the bilateral relationship here. The role and experience of Luxembourg as another country that was in the group of the first EU founders, like Belgium, is important.

CD: Can you tell us if there are a certain number of Serbian citizens living in Luxembourg presently?

VA: Yes, we have a certain number of Serbs present in Luxembourg- many of them moved there as a result of the conflicts of the 1990s. The number is estimated at around 5,000 to 7,000 persons.

CD: In the past, Luxembourg has played a somewhat complicated role- we know for example that in the run-up to Kosovo’s unilateral declaration of independence, the Americans were heavily using Luxembourgish diplomats to coordinate European states’ recognitions process behind the scenes, in the months before the decision in 2008. Obviously this was against Serbian interests. How have things proceeded now in the seven years since? What is the state of the diplomatic relationship now?

VA: It is still an important matter for Serbia, the process of countries’ recognition of Kosovo’s unilaterally declared independence. But it didn’t ruin our bilateral relations with Luxembourg at all. Although it is also important for Serbian foreign policy to know how many countries, generally speaking, recognize Kosovo, because that decision is something that was unprecedented.

On the other hand, Luxembourg was very important and helpful for Serbia in regards to the Stabilization and Association Agreement we reached with the EU. They helped to push for this agreement at a time when some states were referring to issues such as Srebrenica to try to block Serbia’s SAA. This was back in 2010 and 2011. But Luxembourg helped a lot as it pushed some of the more reluctant countries, and we are grateful for their support.

In general, Luxembourg and Belgium have been able to show us their examples regarding reconciliation attitude after WWII, and used this case to point out their experience regarding how to improve attitudes to other regional countries. In fact, they have noted that Serbia, being the biggest country in the Balkans seeking membership, should be the role model for the region. And in the process of dialogue, both countries said they supported this approach, as only through dialogue and reconciliation will all countries in the region achieve better prospects and prosperity.

CD: Does Belgium provide any kind of political diplomatic support to Serbia that is unique or different than other countries, in terms of initiatives, programs etc?

VA: They stress the importance of dialogue to achieve solutions we should reach for Serbs in Kosovo, for example. But at the same time, over the last few years officials like the minister, Didier Reynders have visited the whole region, including Serbia, and in a lot of his speeches and appearances he has emphasized the need to support the EU integration of the whole region. Serbia and Montenegro are on top of this agenda currently.

Security Cooperation Developments between Serbia and Belgium

CD: Security has obviously come to the top of the European agenda after the Paris attacks. In late November, the Jerusalem Post reported that “a week before the Paris attacks, Serbia announced that Serbian and French security agencies had rounded up a major gang running guns between the two countries.” Do you have any further information on this case?

VA: This kind of case is as you know managed between the special services of the two countries, so they would have more details. But I can say that Serbia and Belgium are in the process of completing a new agreement on police cooperation.

This is to be finalized by the end of this year and signed next year. It will provide for deeper cooperation between the MOI in both countries, in all cases regarding extradition and readmission, as well as regarding concrete cases involving activities such as human trafficking and weapons smuggling.

The bilateral security relations, we should note, have been long established and have had excellent results in past. The two police forces have recorded high success rates in important cases.

CD: So the current planned agreement was agreed before the Paris attacks, and the implementation was envisioned already before that event?

VA: Oh yes, it was agreed before the Paris attacks. Those attacks emphasized the importance of closer cooperation. Because you can see now that problems are becoming more and more international and global in nature; there might be weapons produced in a certain country, sold in another, with an entirely different final person or group using them somewhere else. And so it is something normal and necessary to develop direct communications with specific countries like Belgium, and not only through Interpol and similar institutions.

CD: The Israeli newspaper’s report also specifically mentioned Serbia and other Balkan countries as routes for weapons trafficking into the EU and particularly Belgium, and reported that the EU is thinking of imposing some restrictions on Balkan countries. Do you have any information on this, and what possible developments could occur?

VA: They will be focused on better border controls- not regarding restrictions of the visa liberalization that our citizens enjoy, but on stricter measures in controlling the border. We can see 500,000 migrants passed through Serbia this year, and this created an enormous problem: how to manage a problem which impacted our budgets for police, health care for migrants and so on. In the latest EU progress report you can find a very good appraisal of how Serbia managed the crisis, even compared to some member states that have much more capacity than Serbia does for crisis management.

CD: That is interesting to note. We will consider the migration issue a little later but first I would like to ask if in general, after the Paris attacks, has the direct security relationship between Serbian and specifically the Belgian security services stepped up? If so, has it led to any tangible effects? What do you expect for future cooperation?

VA: There are several channels for cooperation on a bilateral level, as I mentioned, better checking via borders and of persons who had experience in fighting in Syria and other countries suffering from wars. We are now trying to exchange data about such persons at a higher level than before.

This is the priority on the national levels, but at the same time our embassy has had a lot of communications with concrete departments in Belgium like the anti-terrorism force, with the public prosecutor’s office, with the crisis center. We wanted to pick up their legislative framework and inform Serbian institutions how Belgium manages legislatively in fighting against terrorism. In fact, Serbia will finish a 2020 security strategy for fighting terrorism.

CD: Really? When can we expect to see this?

VA: The strategy will be finalized soon. Again, because of the possible smuggling from the Balkan region and generally globalizing nature of security threats, Serbia will be more focused on cooperation with European countries, which also need more cooperation with us on the bilateral as well as international institutional levels.

Cooperation on Migration-related Issues

CD: Obviously the migration issue is a major topic for Serbia and Macedonia now, and for Europe as a whole. Here at the embassy, what do you cover regarding common plans to deal with this, compared to the Serbian delegation to the EU?

VA: The matter is channeled through the part of government concerned with it. All criteria and recommendations, and also laws that are actually enforced within the EU framework, are implemented in Serbian legislation and practice. We have been in direct contact and had lots of meetings with the EU commissioner for migration, Dimitris Avramopoulos, and with different offices in Belgium, like institutions for social protection.

CD: You mention Avramopoulos who of course was nominated by Greece, the frontline country in this whole migration crisis during 2015. Has this fact been helpful at all for Serbia, considering it is a traditional ally of Greece, in terms of getting support from the EU?

VA: I couldn’t say that support from the EU comes especially because of his origin, but this year he has had a complex role to carry out. And this job is also shared by the EU External Action Service, while Commissioner Mogherini also plays a big role. At the recent EU summit in Malta, we finally got more concrete measures to improve the situation.

CD: Migration is also a controversial subject for domestic politicians in Europe, and Belgium is an interesting case because of its decentralized, multi-lingual and multi-ethnic composition. Does this mean there are any challenges for you in communicating Serbian policies or getting cooperation? Is there a unified Belgian position that can be understood and assessed?

VA: Regarding foreign policy, Belgium has a formulated standpoint through its MFA, and we have a direct channel through the MFA where we can find general approaches to concrete matters. Also, our embassy has developed very good relations at all levels throughout the country, so regarding the majority of issues, we have direct contact and can see clear policies.

Investments in Serbia from Belgium and Luxembourg: a Promising Development

CD: How does your background in financial negotiations help in your current posting? Are there any trade deals that you have worked on between the two countries? How do these countries measure up as trade partners for Serbia?

VA: Regarding trade agreements, we have a free trade agreement with the European Union, so it covers all states- there is no need for separate treaties with individual states. And we can say the EU is our most important economic partner; the volume of Serbian trade with EU countries reaches 67 percent.

Regarding the volume of trade with Belgium- it is among the first 20 countries for Serbia as a trade partner. And especially in the last few years, you can find a very positive trend in the export growth rate. This is going from five to eight percent annually from Serbia to Belgium. Trade is especially increasing in processed food and Fiat cars- in central Serbia there is a factory for the Fiat 500L model, a car that you can see frequently driven in the streets of Brussels.

CD: I also understand there is a Belgian-Serbian Business Association in Belgrade. How active are they, and do you work with assisting them? In general, how is the Belgian investment scene in Serbia today?

VA: Yes. This club for Belgian investors in Serbia was established seven years ago, and is very active. Investors from Belgium include major companies like Delhaize, a supermarket chain, food processing interests, Metes in the metal industry, and Puratos in the bakeries industry. Another major company from Belgium is ElectraWinds, active in the renewable wind energy sector.

We are also in the process of attracting cooperation between the three countries’ ICT sectors, examining potential areas and matching possible interests. This is done by looking at relevant sectors and chambers of commerce, matching them with representatives of relevant companies. For example, in one case with a Luxembourgish ICT interest, we have already found interest on both sides. And we agreed that in April 2016 a special conference will be held in Belgrade- a certain numbers of companies from Luxembourg will participate.

Also in the ICT sector, Microsoft established a big center in Belgrade for outsourcing some of its European activities. They are happy with the quality of Serbia’s skilled engineers, and now you have more than 500 Serbian engineers working for Microsoft around the clock. And we see matching possible interests from ICT companies in Luxembourg.

Aid and Technical Assistance from Belgium and Luxembourg

CD: You have also worked in banking and pension reforms. Are there any specific programs or perhaps lessons learned from your Belgian and Luxembourgish counterparts that have been implemented?

VA: Well, the two national banks have constant bilateral programs and technical support experts from Belgium have trained Serbian banking staff in annual programs. Also important to note is that between Luxembourg and Serbia, there was important cooperation on the stock exchange infrastructure. This permanent cooperation involves the software that the Belgrade Stock Exchange runs on.

CD: So, you mean the actual software Luxembourg’s stock exchange uses was brought in to also power the Belgrade one?

VA: Yes. And it was financed on the bilateral level by Luxembourg. They gave us their software, which is quite sophisticated and has improved our own stock exchange technically.

CD: On another subject, Luxembourg’s Catholic charity Caritas has for several years run aid projects in the cross-border Serbian and Montenegrin Sandzak/Raska region, in poor and multi-religious areas. This is interesting considering that there are other areas of Serbia where poverty is worse and development also necessary, that would seem equally or more deserving of such aid. Do you have an awareness of this program, and how it was decided? How do you assess the situation?

VA: Yes, we know they are present there. I believe that they concentrated there because some 70 percent of the Serbian diaspora in Luxembourg came from the Raska area. So it is normal that Luxembourg as a country is taking efforts here to help it integrate these foreigners in society. But also this choice was because of the relative openness of society; Luxembourg assessed that the openness of this part of our diaspora was less than other parts, so they want to help them regarding integration. We should add that this activity is being done there at a high level, compared to other EU countries.

Diplomatic Benefits of the Relationship and Future Expectations

CD: It is well known that Luxembourg as a wealthy and influential country has many connections globally in the political and business spheres, while Serbia has historically been noted for its diplomatic acumen. Is there any benefit your country gets, therefore, from its partnership?

VA: Diplomatically, we do have support based on the kind of communication we maintain. But we can also have political support through company channels. For example, the European Investment Bank, which is headquartered in Luxembourg, has financed several Serbian infrastructure projects.

CD: Do Belgium and Luxembourg have any particular or different approach to Serbia compared with other western European countries? What are the ramifications of this, if so?

VA: They are both very supportive of Serbia. We need and we value their support, not only for keeping up the current EU enlargement momentum over the next several years, but also because of their understanding over our position regarding Kosovo and the need for dialogue in resolving that issue. Further, Belgium and Luxembourg have indicated their support for our proactive role in regional cooperation.

These three matters will be priorities in the next three years for the Serbian government and people. We therefore need the continuation of support from these two countries. The main focus of these three key matters – EU accession, Kosovo dialogue and regional cooperation – is to point out this message. We need continued understanding, and a continued level of support, like Belgium and Luxembourg have continually expressed.

CD: How do you see the future of Serbian relations with these two countries, especially in regards to the EU accession process?

VA: We are sure that Luxembourg and Belgium will stay on a similar course in future. Towards Serbia’s EU membership, they will help with the further opening of more and more negotiations chapters. In the last few years we have seen real support and understanding from both countries for greater Serbian prosperity and progress.

But it is not only a matter of directly joining the EU; we also want to make sure we stay in a position whereby the gap [between Serbia and EU members] does not become wider and wider. It is important to follow the progress, and to be aware of the EU’s own developing legislation and policies. If you stay behind, the gap tends to get wider and wider.

This is also vital for all countries in the accession period, for candidate countries, which nowadays need more and more time since the EU didn’t put enlargement on their agenda in the next few years. Now, you can let yourself be disappointed by this, but no- we look at this situation as one in which we have to continue our reform efforts. But we also need understanding of our situation; maybe the European Union and Commission can establish new methods and models to involve candidate countries in the meantime in some processes. Luxembourg did this in some capacity during its EU presidency.

It is also in the interest of the EU to act not only through handing out IPA funds, but also to include candidate countries through a broader scope. Belgium and Luxembourg in this regard participate and have an important role. This imperative is particularly necessary in a globalized world.

It is important that both countries have recognized that it is important that the momentum keep up for Serbia, and that after those efforts we have done regarding accession reforms, proactive dialogue and engagement with regional reconciliation. They have also noted our improvements in the economy, especially in the field of fiscal adjustment.

The point is that it is important that you have two countries that recognize how much effort we have made, and how hard it is to implement reforms in a transition country. Sometimes, this understanding and their presence in important meetings is enough to prove to us that they support Serbia.

CD: That is very important to note indeed. Now finally, I am always interested to ask about any unique or little-known aspects of the bilateral relationship that readers might not know about. Is there anything you would like to add here?

VA: Well, you can feel both Belgian and Serbian societies have a similar feeling for history. Like the Serbian people, Belgians like history and to be present at commemorative events, especially because both of us suffered a lot during the First and Second World Wars. Many civilians as well as soldiers lost their lives then.

This legacy is still in the mind of ordinary Belgian people, small children are presented with it and this means they grow up with this essential awareness of the heroic history of their country. It gives us this special feeling. Very often, our embassy is invited to share our history here.

For a concrete example, we have very tight communications with the Belgian city of Liège, not only because of our diaspora, but also because it holds the graves of Serbian soldiers who had been held in prisoner of war camps. They are buried in Robermont Cemetery.

CD: Wow, that is interesting. I did not know there were any Serbian war graves in cemeteries in Belgium.

VA: Yes, and it is also important to note that Belgrade and Liège are two of only five cities in the world to have received the French Legion of Honor medal for their role in the First World War. So we have a common and distinguished history that is commemorated.

CD: What about cultural events and other happenings that people might not know about? Does your embassy help organize any such things?

VA: We have a lot of exchanges of cultural heritage and exhibitions and movies from Serbia presented here. Cinema festivals like Balkan Trafik or the Mediterranean Film Festival, for example. And from time to time, there are concerts- the music of Goran Bregović, for example, attracts the attention of not only Serbs but Belgians too.

So we can say that all channels of communications are open. Between our universities, we have agreements, and a memorandum of cooperation exists between the National Library of Serbia and the Royal Library of Belgium.

CD: Interesting! What does this mean in terms of specific activities?

VA: This means that we have cooperation on a constant level; the two libraries exchange books and experts in the field of conservation. We also have very tight communications with Belgium regarding the process to establish cooperation between our respective military museums, directly or indirectly via our embassy.

Europe’s Late Responses to the Refugee Crisis

By Lana Pasic

Balkan Route Migration, by the Numbers

Since the late 1990s, some 25,000 people have drowned in the Mediterranean Sea while trying to reach Europe, according to the EU. This year alone, almost 3,000 people have lost their lives in the European waters. As the border patrols increased and the journey across the Mediterranean became more crowded and dangerous, people began crossing the Aegean and then continuing by land, making the route through the Balkans more popular than ever before.

By conservative estimates, some 3,000 people are making their way through the region every day. Since the beginning of this year, 250,000 have passed through Serbia, of which 200,000 crossed into Hungary, while about 100,000 reached Croatia in barely one month.

Mixed Reactions

European reactions to the arrival and transit of refugees have varied. Like Macedonia, Serbia decided that as a transit country, it would facilitate the refugees’ journey. It arranged transfers for refugees to the borders with Hungary, and later with Croatia. Croatia at first seemed to have followed the same approach, but then briefly closed its border with Serbia, as they claimed to be overwhelmed with the number of people trying to enter.

The resulting border closure and the nationalist outbursts cost Serbia and Croatia one million euros each as a result of the trade blockade. While the few days of dispute between the two Balkan countries sparked a discussion on the revival of nationalism in the Balkans, the right-wing reactions to refugees in European countries further north have been little commented on (with the exception of Hungary). Besides the proposed quota distribution of existing asylum seekers already in EU states the bloc has, for various reasons, done little to resolve or at least reduce the crisis. This has only recently started to change, with Sunday’s summit between the EU and Balkan countries on emergency measures. This provided some direction for common policy.

How Has Europe Dealt with the Refugee Crisis So Far?

More than half a million people have arrived in the EU since the beginning of the year. If that might seem like a lot, let’s remind ourselves that the European Union numbers more than 500 million people. In contrast to the EU, Turkey is hosting 2 million Syrian refugees and Lebanon, 1.2 million. The truth is that Europe has been resisting action on this question for years. The Union is either ignoring the fact that it has a graveyard at its doors, or they are igniting fears that foreigners will overtake and destroy Europe – and neither of these two are helping.

…Closing the Border

Negative attitudes towards foreigners in the context of migration have been most widely publicized at the Hungarian border since summer. However, they have also been noted across the continent- interestingly, in more liberal countries like Finland, the United Kingdom, Belgium and Austria. Several protests against the EU’s quota system for accepting refugees have taken place in Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic, and we have also seen protests led by right-wing groups in Dortmund and Dresden, Germany and in Italy.

While Germany’s Chancellor Merkel has publicly welcomed refugees, Germany has at the same time, together with Austria and Slovakia, re-introduced internal border controls, raising fears of a crumbling Schengen agreement across Europe. However, ethnic profiling of foreigners by border police has been present in Germany, Austria and Italy for years, as many of us who have travelled throughout Europe by train can testify.

And while we have all been shocked by the razor-blade fence at Hungarian border, we must remember that Hungary is not the first EU country to introduce fences to prevent movement of people. Bulgaria and Greece already had fences to stop the asylum seekers from entering their territories from parts of their Turkish land borders. Since the early 1990s, Spain has maintained fences and walls in what are considered to be two “European” territories in Morocco, Ceuta and Melilla. Over the last two decades, we have witnessed countless attempts to break these fences, all of which have resulted in deaths of those who have tried to cross them.

…Making Refugees Someone Else’s Problem?

Instead of finding a meaningful solution to the root causes of refugee displacement and migration, Europe has instead tended to act as if these issues do not concern them. In January 2011, the EU promised then-Libyan leader Gaddafi 50 million Euros for three years, in order to prevent the movement of people from the North African country towards European continent. It is now attempting to work out the same deal with Turkey’s President Erdogan.

The most recent EU decision, to seize the smugglers’ boats in order to prevent the movement of people, shows how the Union seems to have learned little from past mistakes. Instead of addressing the causes of displacement and migration, and finding a humane and manageable way to assist both refugees and migrants, a decision to make it more difficult for people to travel is not going to stop either smugglers or asylum-seekers.

…Accepting Refugees?

In a reaction to the recent crisis, EU ministers agreed at the end of September to relocate 120,000 asylum seekers from Italy, Greece and Hungary, thus sharing the responsibility for taking care of both refugees and migrants, contrary to the Dublin regulation. This has encountered resistance from Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Romania, which feel that they are being bullied into accepting a decision from Western countries. The vote was pushed back due to disagreements and a new agreement was made on 25 October.

While Merkel and Hollande called for a change to the rules and humane treatment of migrants, the EU is currently mired in indecision, as rising nationalist rhetoric, and pro-migrant liberal discourse, are dividing public opinion in many European countries on what the right response is to the current situation.

After months of stalling on action regarding the refugee crisis, the EU has finally taken steps to work with the Balkan countries on establishing reception centers in order to facilitate refugees’ arrival and registration. A 17-point action plan has been agreed, and countries have agreed to make space for some 50,000 people at the collection centers in Greece, and another 50,000 who are en route from Greece to Germany – that is, in Macedonia and Serbia.

Although the plan is a welcome move forward in that it shows the EU is in fact capable of a united response to the crisis, some points of the agreement remain controversial. Although the registration system is much needed, a decision to speed up the repatriation of the Afghan, Pakistani and Bangladeshi nationals is debatable, as the security situation in these countries still remains difficult.

Where to from Here?

So far, all attempts to find a solution have been short-term and limited, and have failed to take into consideration new international realities in Europe’s immediate neighbourhood, but rather seem to be out-of-fear reaction to the current situation. The latest agreement is a welcome change, but it has come rather late and its decisions are still not looking far enough ahead. The truth is that more people will come, regardless of what the EU decided or will decide. Up to 3 million more people are expected to leave Syria, reports Time– and some of them will make their way towards Europe. Meanwhile, the situation in Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Eritrea and Yemen is not getting any better either.

Europe’s border closures, limited willingness to accept refugees and attempts to divert migrants elsewhere are not effective long-term solutions to the crisis. There is no border, wall or fence that has not been broken down by sheer human force, due to the whole range of motives. In order to be prepared for this, Europe will have to address its own internal disputes, re-examine its attitudes towards refugees, its involvement in conflicts, resource exploitation and its international relations and economic policies in the countries from which asylum-seekers originate.

New EU Provisional Migration Solutions Strain Relations in the Western Balkans, Central Europe

By Maria-Antoaneta Neag in Brussels

While EU demographic trends and statistics indicate that the bloc would benefit economically and socially from migration, member states have not properly implemented existing agreements, leaving Europe somewhat unprepared for the current refugee crisis.

In the Balkans, the refugee crisis has led to some amount of chaos, violence, and trade and diplomatic tensions between neighboring states- some of which are in the EU, others of which are not. However, the latest emergency EU conference in Brussels has tried to reach a new understanding of the migrant crisis, discuss its implications and agree upon the EU’s envisaged way forward.

The Latest EU Developments: the September 22-23 Meetings

 Before the summer, EU leaders reached an agreement on a temporary relocation mechanism from Greece and Italy across EU Member States for 40,000 persons in clear need of international protection, and 20,000 displaced persons, over the next two years.

Over the summer, Greece was again faced with mass arrivals of migrants along its shores. Drowned victims and shipwrecks made the front pages of newspapers, leading to more calls on the EU to provide timely and effective measures to tackle this crisis.

After consulting the European Parliament in a speedy procedure, the September 22 Justice and Home Affairs Council reached agreement on an exceptional compulsory relocation mechanism applying to 120.000 refugees from Greece, Italy and Hungary. Then, the September 23 Informal Extraordinary Summit brought EU leaders together to decide on the specific operational measures to be taken in order to cope with the refugee crisis. These measures are to be formally adopted at the mid-October Summit.

Some Member States claim they have been left out of the negotiations, because of their stance against compulsory quotas (Hungary, Czech Republic, Slovakia and Romania).

At the informal meeting of the European Council, heads of state and government discussed the need for a more comprehensive European migration policy. Some priorities were sketched out, while other proposals came from the European Commission in the framework of implementation package of the European Agenda on Migration.

EU Special Measures Chosen for Handling the Crisis

These measures include: assistance to frontline Member States (financial and establishment of hotspots); implementation of decisions on resettlement, return and readmission; more diplomatic efforts towards solving the crisis in Syria and Libya; increased financing for FRONTEX; financial assistance to Turkey, the Western Balkans, Syria’s neighbouring countries, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and World Food Programme; strengthening the European Neighbourhood Instrument (ENI); enabling the EU Civil protection mechanism available for Member States facing crisis situations; emergency funding (100 million euros addition to the 2015 budget), the establishment of a trust fund for Africa and so on.

However, while these solutions may seem proactive, politically, the situation remains tense in Europe. Slovakia threatened to sue the EU over compulsory migrant quotas. In the European Parliament, there are talks of raising Article 7 of the EU Treaty (TEU) against Hungary, which has been accused of poorly handling the refugees and passing negative legislation to allow army deployment and the use of non-lethal weapons – rubber bullets and tear gas grenades – against migrants.

This is significant because, before now, Article 7 (also called ‘the nuclear bomb’) has never been invoked. It states that serious breaches to the values of human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights by a Member State can result in a suspension or loss of voting rights in the EU Council of Ministers.

 Why Is This Crisis Occurring?

According to the IOM, the European Union is the most popular destination in the world for asylum seekers. Refugees face a big problem regarding reaching and submitting their claim within the European Union, however, because there are no information or reception centers in third countries.

Since the legal avenues for entering the EU are limited, and since EU states’ embassies are closed in most conflict areas, refugees and migrants are trying to enter the EU incognito or with the help of smugglers. Events such as the Arab Spring and the subsequent turmoil and the civil wars in the Middle East, have of course made many people leave their home countries in search of asylum in Europe.

At the same time, during this period Greece was facing its own political and economic crisis, coming at one point in the summer to the brink of state collapse. In this context, it did not respect its commitments regarding applying asylum rules or protecting EU’s external borders, which became a security liability.

There are several ways to enter the European Union. In recent years, it was the Central Mediterranean route that led to the humanitarian crisis and difficult situation for countries such as Italy and Malta. Since 2014, the Eastern Mediterranean route (by sea from Turkey to Greece, Cyprus and Italy) and Western Balkan route have become predominant for Middle Eastern and African migrants.

The crisis already started years back, with shipwrecks, ghost ships and dead bodies arriving at Europe’s gate. But it reached a new peak this summer with migrants or asylum seekers starting to arrive on the Greek coast in large and organized waves. From there they crossed to Macedonia, which in late August 2015 was forced to declare a state of emergency due to the migrant crisis. While some criticized this, local officials believe it was necessary as until that point no one in Brussels seemed to be paying attention to the severity of the situation.

At the same time, the refugees have continued moving to Serbia with the aim of crossing to Hungary and from there to Austria, with final destination Germany or further points north. Germany and Sweden have a high acceptance rate of about 70% of all asylum applications granted in the 28 EU Member States.

On the opposite side, in Greece – which is in any case economically undesirable for migrants – fewer than 1% of asylum claims are accepted, de-motivating most refugees from even trying to apply for asylum there. This is also a consequence of the unfortunate uneven implementation of the Common European Asylum System establishing common standards for the reception, identification and claim processing.

Fortress Hungary: the EU’s Border Protector

 The case of Hungary is relevant in the context of the current crisis. Long foreseeing these migration waves through the Western Balkans, Hungary has built a fence along its border with Serbia. However, since late August 2015 migrants have started trying to cross into Hungary through barbed-wire fence.

In mid-September, the Hungarian authorities took measures to secure the border. They even temporarily shut down completely their border with Serbia in order to control the migrant inflows. Police use of tear gas and water cannons alarmed some in the international community and caused media excitement. Among others, the UN High Commissioner, UNHCH and Serbian Prime Minister Vucic criticized Hungarian authorities’ methods and called for a more subtle way of dealing with refugees in order to prevent a humanitarian crisis.

International human rights organisations have criticized Hungarian police for beating journalists covering migration and even breaking their gear and forcing them to delete footage. On the other hand, Hungarian police claim migrants are rude, sometimes aggressive and use children as “human shields.” In the meanwhile, Hungary criminalized undocumented migrants (imprisonment and expulsion of people who cross the Hungarian border irregularly) and even apprehended the first ‘criminals’. Furthermore it declared a state of emergency, temporary closing some borders, allegedly disregarding Schengen rules.

A Shift in Routes: from the Serbian-Hungarian Border to Croatia

After being stuck at the Serbian-Hungarian borders, most of the migrants took dirt roads and the highway crossing to the nearest alternate EU border, leading to Croatian territory. The authorities there were prepared to receive up to 5,000 migrants in the following two weeks and seemed at the beginning to be handling the situation smoothly. Refugees first registered at Tovarnik and were taken to Zagreb for registration in a special train. Tents were raised to shelter migrants. The UN, Red Cross and Croatian authorities were on the ground but the situation slowly worsened due to the high influx of people crossing on Croatian soil. The Croats (like the Austrians after them) were apparently not as patient or prepared in dealing with refugees as Serbia and Macedonia had been.

How a Refugee Crisis Can Spark Tensions from a Not-So-Distant War

After World War II and the 1990s wars in the Western Balkans, the current crisis could be considered Europe’s biggest refugee crisis in the last 70 years.

When Hungary closed its border with Serbia, leaving a significant number of migrants stuck on the Western Balkan land route, it in turn brought back old animosities between two former Balkan wartime adversaries: Croatia has closed seven of its eight road border crossings with Serbia following the huge influx of migrants. After a few thousand in the first day, the influx reached approximately 50,000 migrants – mostly Syrian refugees – who have entered Croatia from mid- to end-September, after being pushed back from Hungary.

Croatia blamed Serbia of allegedly making a deal with Hungary to reroute the Middle Eastern migrants by organising buses from Serbia to the Croatian border and for blocking its trucks along the way. A trade war was last week’s story, and harsh dialogue between the two authorities took place. Serbia was faced with a blockade of goods not being allowed to enter Croatia. It thus introduced a ban on imports and on transport vehicles with Croatian license plates. Caught up in all this have been truckers from Macedonia and other places, forced to sit for days on the Croatian border, incurring considerable time and financial losses as they cannot reach their destinations in the Balkans.

The trade blockade (which has cost both Serbia and Croatia around 1 million euros each) has proved to have a bigger impact on Croatia who exports 40% more to Serbia than it imports. The situation is currently stabilizing and traffic has resumed through the major Serbia-Croatia border crossing (Bajakovo), but thousands of migrants are still in Serbia and Croatia, walking and sleeping between Sid and Tovarnik, awaiting the continuation of their journey.

From Croatia, about 2,500 migrants reached Slovenia, which temporarily suspended rail connections with Croatia. Like the Hungarian police, Slovenian police also used at a certain point tear gas and water cannons to control and ease the flows. From Slovenia, migrants continued into Austria by taxi, buses, train and on foot.
At the same time, from Hungary, Austria saw more than 10,000 migrants entering the country (mostly through the Nickelsdorf border town) over 10 days. Special trains were set in motion to carry up to 500 migrants each across the border into Germany (Freilassing).

Meetings between Croatia, Slovenian and Austrian ministers took place in an attempt to tackle the problem of migrants actually heading northwest. But the large numbers of migrants led to border closures and temporarily suspended train traffic instead of a smoother transit.

Central Eastern Europe

Considering themselves as mostly transit countries, the Czech Republic and Slovakia proposed a corridor for migrants to safely pass towards Germany- which, after all, had been so vocal in inviting migrants. Meanwhile, Hungarian PM Viktor Orban offered his plan to Berlin, citing four proposals: increasing Member States’ contributions by 1% in order to have additional funding for coping with this crisis; separating the refugees from economic migrants before their entrance into the EU; establishing special partnerships with the main players in the region, namely Turkey and Russia; and envisaging global quotas rather than compulsory EU quotas.

Hungary claims their border fence has helped it to decrease the number of illegal arrivals into the country, and are building new fences along their borders with Romania and Croatia, sparkling criticism from these neighbours, including Serbia, which is accused of partnership with Hungary.

Concerns about the So-Called ‘Refugees’

EU leaders as well as the public are confronted with controversies over terminology. How can they differentiate between economic migrants and refugees, and what will this mean for policy? Who is a refugee and who is entitled to what kind of benefits?

Newer Member States criticize the idea of direct labor market integration since, for Romania and Bulgaria it took seven years to be able to legally gain access to the EU labour market. These countries see it as hypocritical of ‘Old Europe’ to therefore want to expedite the arrival of people who are not even from the EU.

Sceptics also worry about a possible ISIS infiltration and the consequences of this for EU security. Many are concerned that the so-called ‘refugees’ seem somewhat more well-off than would fit the description of the typical war refugee: as Balkanalysis.com reported in August, many have financial resources, smart phones, and some travel in taxis the distances between the countries.

Further, other reports have contended that rather than express gratitude, some ‘refugees’ have behaved rudely, vandalized property, and thrown away sandwiches and clothes offered by volunteers. Accusations of rape within migrant camps have been made, with Syrian women being at danger from their own fellow travelers.

 Will Schengen Survive?

In principle, Schengen was designed to allow borderless transit through its member states. The border crossings from the Schengen territory were abolished, allowing speedy travel that benefited both individual travellers and consumers, by cutting transit times and delays. It can be argued that this has been one of the EU’s more successful common initiatives.

The migrant crisis, however, is challenging the very principles on which it stands. This has led to specific actions. In an attempt to discourage migrants, Hungary temporarily set up a razor wire barrier near its border with Slovenia (Tornyiszentmiklos), which introduced passport controls at its border with Hungary, while Austria enhanced its check-points at the border with Slovenia. Most sensationally, after announcing it was ready and willing to take in migrants, Germany re-introduced border controls, Austria and Slovakia followed this line thus threatening the very principles of the Schengen agreement.

How Will the EU Survive this Crisis?

More than 500,000 people have arrived in the EU since 1 January 2015 which led to the current refugee crisis. To exit this situation, EU leaders agreed in principle that a fixed number of asylum seekers should be accepted within the EU, the rest being bound to be sent to a safe country or a partner country from their region.

Furthermore, stricter EU asylum rules should be applied. As only 5 Member States are correctly applying the EU rules on asylum, by the end of September, the European Commission already started 40 infringement procedures against Member States not implementing EU common rules. The EU will also allocate funding to tackle this crisis while also taking into account the external dimension of migration and focus on development policy, humanitarian aid coupled with diplomatic initiatives.

However, while the recent emergency meetings indicate that the EU is finally, if belatedly taking the issue seriously, it is still far from clear whether its proposed solutions – and internal punitive measures – will lead to a better resolution, or perhaps cause further internal divisions.

The Migration Phenomenon and the Balkans

By Chris Deliso

Misconceptions characterize public awareness of the current migration phenomenon affecting the Balkans. This is partly due to established context (looking at the issue as an exigency, caused by war and so on) and also because of the dramatic photos in Western tabloid accounts design to embellish the human-interest aspect of the story, reifying this concept of a one-off, event-driven phenomenon.

Rather, the migration phenomenon should be understood more in terms of, well, migration. The way birds migrate every year, the way the first American Indians migrated across the Alaskan land bridge, the way that wealth migrates between economies. Human migration into Europe today is a predictable, long-term process with its own rules and operative conditions.

The current trend that sees masses of people travelling to Europe via Turkey and the Balkans is of course going to have long-term effects on life on the Continent. Balkan locals, who are historically good at adaptation and survival, are dealing with this reality much faster than are their northern neighbors, who in any case will have to deal with the bulk of the migrant flood in years ahead.

But the EU cannot stop or even slow the flow of migration- it can only make small changes to the territorial route it follows. However, it is not a given that the EU even wants to stop migration, since the migrant industry is extremely lucrative in terms of reallocations – we could say, migrations – of European public funds to deal with the issue.

That said, we should also think of migration variously as economic commodity, political organizing force, factor in instability, and experiment in mass communications and logistics. Much can be learned from the current experience Balkan-route migrants are having.

Present and Future Migrant Routes

Migrant flows are determined by physical borders and efficiency, like any other form of travel. Until Greece and Bulgaria erected fences on the Turkish border in Thrace, that land route had been popular. The existence of these barriers has not stopped, but only diverted traffic to the maritime route, between the Turkish Aegean coast and the nearest Greek islands. This is a more dangerous and thus more lucrative operation, which presents unique challenges for the Greek state.

Greece has for years been assisted by Frontex with border policing, which has proven too effective; migrants who would have passed undetected were caught, filling Greek migrant centres. The current inundation on far-flung islands that also lack capacity, even as the country remains in its economic crisis, has forced the government to concentrate migrants into one stream heading north. From the islands they are ferried to Athens, and from there by bus to Thessaloniki and then to Idoumeni, near the Macedonian border.

Faced with over 1,000 migrants a day, Macedonia and then Serbia had to change the law this summer to allow temporary stays and legal transport of migrants. This change has simply concentrated the flow of migrants, and increased the viability of the whole trip in the eyes of other prospective migrants. Thus overall numbers will go up considerably in months ahead regardless of other factors.

A security official notes that only eight (8) migrants have crossed into Albania from Greece recently, and that migrants trying to reach the EU from Greece through Bulgaria is also greatly reduced. The Hungarians, of course, are on their way to completing a long fence on the Serbian border.

However, experts like György Kakuk, who recently made the daring journey to document migrants’ experiences, believe that the Great Wall of Hungary will simply shift the route again. After the fence is built, migrants are likely to head from northern Serbia eastward into Romania, and then back into Hungary- making Orban’s effort perhaps in vain. For reasons unknown, migrants seem to be avoiding the Serbia-Croatia option for entering the EU.

Social Stratification of Migrant Society, ‘Fake Syrians,’ and the Entitlement Issue

As Balkanalysis.com has reported in past about immigrant society in Athens, and as experts like Kakuk are noting now, there is a clear social stratification within the migrant ranks. There are not only differences of nationality and race, but also socio-economic differences. For every war refugee or Afghan villager without other prospects, there is an educated teacher or engineer with desirable skills for the European job market.

An ironic problem Syrians are facing now, noted the Hungarian source, is that migrants from other countries are claiming to be Syrian as they think it will qualify them for greater benefits or increase their chances of staying in Europe. That the issue of ‘fake’ Syrians irritates the ‘real’ Syrians is another interesting dynamic.

As in Egypt on the Libya-Italy route, migrants are also coming to Turkey and the Balkans from places like Eritrea- not because of any war, nor because of any burning desire to go to Europe. Rather, ‘human resources’ scouts are visiting local families and convincing them of the viability of the idea. The more migrants that successfully reach Europe, the more this phenomenon will increase.

Also, while breathless media reports concentrate on the poorest and most downtrodden migrants, as this fits a classic stereotype, there are plenty of migrants who have enough money to fly to Turkey, to stay in hotels, to go to a hair salon, to take selfies in front of historic sites. In fact, most of the visuals in recent days, confirmed by ground sources, indicate fairly well-dressed and well-organized people.

This leads us to one of the strangest aspects of the migrant experience, that can be attested from the comments of people of all social classes: the sense of entitlement, that it is their right to move to Europe without following any legal procedure, that everything should be given to them, and that Balkan countries should pick up the pace on executing their wishes.

This is leading to a bizarre symmetry of behavior from both the European and migrant sides. When English tourists complain that seeing dirty migrants is ruining their vacation in Kos, the tone is exactly the same as when a Syrian complains that ‘third-world’ Greeks have ruined their own trip to Kos; in both cases, it is a story of visitor experience not matching their expectations. Neither ask why they had made the trip in the first place, as opposed to going literally anywhere else.

Contradictions in the Network/Group Intelligence of Migrants

This remarkable similarity leads to one of the most baffling contradictions: while today’s migrants tend to be extremely well informed about tactical travel challenges, they are not always so informed about the reality of their overall ambitions.

Citation after citation in the media has migrants from all strata and society expressing the view that Europe is the promised land and that they will be welcomed with open arms, employed, housed and fed. At least some of that may have been the case in certain countries, but the expected quantitative migration increase in the next six months will severely test the patience of even the most liberal states. It remains unclear how migrants, while still in their own countries, are being so misinformed. Perhaps believing in the myth just provides inspiration and courage.

Then there is network aspect, which multiplies travel efficiency and group intelligence. As NGO advocates are fond of saying, migrants are not animals, they’re humans. But they’re much more than human- they’re also profiles.

Coordinating logistics and gaining constantly updated information on local conditions via Facebook groups and other social media accessed on their smart phones, today’s savvy migrants process huge amounts of real-time situational intelligence. Benefitting from the experience of those who came before them, they end up knowing more about the geography, topography and local happenings of Balkan countries than do the locals.

This information helps migrants decide where to eat or sleep, which border crossings are best at any particular time, and so on. In other words, they are as active and as organized as any other online community. The network-based structure of migrant intelligence gives them an advantage over local law enforcement.

This also means that information (and, disinformation) can and will cause sudden movements of people, reactions or other events. Used by a dedicated adversary, the simple manipulation of situational intelligence through using these open-source networks represents a major vulnerability that cannot be countered by Balkan authorities, since they cannot interact with the social media and languages used in any meaningful way.

This is why Hungary’s justification for using billboards and advertisements to dissuade migration in the source countries is so strange. According to Hungary Today, the government has done the following:

“after examining the possibilities of advertising in the war-torn countries and conflict zone, the cabinet came to to the conclusion that only very small groups can be reached through the Internet and social media, and opted rather for placing advertisements in public spaces and in newspapers. Under the decision, the posters will be installed in September, parallel to the completion of the temporary fence on Hungary’s border with Serbia, in several local languages and dialects.”

Hungary’s desire to lead an infowar campaign to dissuade migrants from leaving their home countries is probably tacitly supported by other EU countries, though the latter would not like to say so. But that is not the issue. Rather, the government’s justification is suspect. All evidence currently suggests that the internet is a major organizing factor for migrants, both in terms of social media and regular news. If the EU states are really serious about limiting migration, that is something to start with.

Collapse (and Re-emergence?) of Organized Crime

The legalization of temporary transit for migrants in Serbia and Macedonia has forced a partial collapse in income for the human trafficking gangs that had been mostly concentrated in the Lipkovo and Presevo Valley ethnic Albanian villages. The current situation finds a more ad hoc attempt by local people along the migrant route to sell small items to passers-by at inflated prices.

The organized crime aspect appears to be more serious in Serbia, where Belgrade is the organizational hub. Syrians in constant contact with small groups of organizers at the Hungarian border. Cumulative spending by migrants per day is over 600,000 euros, according to some estimates, though it is impossible to know how much the actual traffickers take of this.

We expect that as the Hungarian wall complicates movements for migrants, the role of organized crime will increase. Migrants will be forced to stay longer in the Balkans and, if afraid of police or if overstaying their permits, will be forced to stay under the protection of traffickers. Also, as the exit routes become more complex and diversified due to the wall, the traffickers will again have the upper hand, and migrants will become more vulnerable still.

If this phenomenon continues to develop, the human trafficking mafia run by foreigners can become integrated with the mainstream of Serbian organized crime. This is what has happened in Athens over many years, leading to turf wars, composite industries, and not incidentally, the rise of far-right movements like Golden Dawn as an abreaction.

Migration, Border Issues, and Erdogan’s Nuclear Option

Another surprising aspect of contemporary Balkan migration is that no states, neither the major EU powers nor Greece, have put any pressure on Turkey – the ultimate source of the whole traffic – to stop migration at its borders. By the time migrants have reached the Balkans, it is already rather late in the game to criticize their presence.

In May, Greek defense officials floated the idea of building a new NATO base in the eastern Aegean islands. While countering terrorism and migration were listed as reasons for this idea, it seemed more than obvious that the Greeks would like to use such a base as a place where NATO allies could observe Turkish Air Force overflight violations for themselves. In other words, it was a political concept never meant to have any real relation with migration.

Greece has never explained why it does not criticize Turkish maritime migration to the same extent that it criticized territorial migration, before the Thracian wall.

Although it has not been widely reported, we consider that the Greek reticence to involve Turkey with maritime migration might be due to the two countries’ long-standing disputes over territorial waters, the continental shelf, and possession of numerous small islands. As Greeks recall only too well from the Cyprus invasion, ‘possession is nine-tenths of the law.’ Any requests for joint maritime patrols, even if they result in Turkey detaining migrants and sending them back to wherever they came from, might not be desirable from the Greek point of view, if such missions were to involve Turkish vessels or helicopters entering Greek waters or islands.

If this theory is correct, it represents an argument on migration management from a point of view of territorial integrity- but one completely different from the conventional understanding of migration as a threat to the safety of states without maritime borders.

Another reason why European states may be avoiding (at least public) criticisms of Turkey is because they are aware that the country is the porous gateway to everywhere else. The Syrian war has left Turkey hosting over 1 million refugees. At the same time, Erdogan has opened a war on two fronts, with the Kurds and (sort of) with ISIS, and new elections appear likely as a government cannot be formed by AKP.

At this combustible moment, when the Turkish lira is also being affected, several scenarios emerge, none of them particularly good. While EU leaders have a long list of grievances with Turkey’s leader, they are also aware that he enjoys the nuclear option: over 1 million refugees and counting. The Greek financial bailout controversy is almost irrelevant in terms of social and political issues that could drive Europe apart.

European Identity, Politics and the Western Balkans: Interview with György Schopflin, MEP (Part One)

The European Union finds itself in a moment of crisis. The European identity is under challenge from the nationalist discourse in some Member States, while the Eurozone is in need of new rescue strategies and stability mechanisms. In this context, Balkanalysis.com contributor Maria-Antoaneta Neag recently sought out the views of György Schopflin, a Member of the European Parliament (MEP) active in the Foreign Affairs committee, and a member of the Delegation for relations with Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro and Kosovo, on the future of the European Union and the resumption of the enlargement process as to include the Western Balkans countries.

Fascinated by Eastern European studies, nationhood and national identity, Hungarian-born György Schopflin was educated in the UK, where he was employed by the Royal Institute of International Affairs, and then by the BBC. He took up university lecturing at the University of London. He has produced various academic works, and is currently also teaching at the University of Bologna, in the Department of Political Sciences.

From EU Intervention to Democratic Deficit

Maria-Antoaneta Neag: The EU has entered a period of change: elections, austerity measures, protests, new governments etc. What effects do the events in Greece and Italy have on EU stability? Were the changes of governments imminent and necessary for the stability of these countries?

György Schopflin: Let me start by answering the last question: people think that these changes were overdue. It raises a number of very interesting points. First of all, these are clearly technocratic governments. They did not emerge as a result of elections and I think democracy as a general principle and system accepts that in such situations of danger or emergency, one can take steps which are not democratic.

What is interesting and new is that in both cases of Italy and Greece, the new governments came not as a result of domestic pressure but as a result of external pressure, from the European Union, the European Central Bank, France and Germany. This really raises very interesting questions about exactly where the democratic legitimacy of the actual government comes from and if it is reciprocal. Does this mean that at a future stage, Italy can instruct France to get rid of its government and install a technocratic government because the French are endangering the EU? Where does this stop? I don’t have an answer to it but I think that in terms of democratic theory and practice, these questions have to be asked.

The second point I wanted to make is that the EU is really taking decisions which intervene in the domestic affairs and even in the domestic stability of MS. I wonder how much legitimacy there is to it, especially when the general view of the European citizens is pointing in the opposite direction, away from Europe. That again raises difficult questions regarding the democratic deficit. There is a great deal of power which has accumulated in the symbolic Brussels, the legitimation of which is very thin.

That brings me to the heart of the issue. One justification for intervention is that economic developments are moving much faster than political developments. This is very clear if you look at the last two or three years and it has partly to do with the 24-hour-markets, the capital movements which, in a way, are autonomous of any state or any government, and this has been the case for 15-20 years.

Does this mean we need ‘more Europe’ as Angela Merkel has just said, or does it actually mean we have to go back to the nation state? Both processes are taking place and the difficulty I see is that it is almost impossible for practically anybody to understand that they are simultaneously citizens of their own country and citizens of Europe. The idea of European citizenship has basically not taken off. Until they do see themselves as having a voice in both, the legitimacy deficit that I’m talking about will remain in being.

Here I think that the national political elites have a really major task for which they are not yet prepared.  They are not prepared to discharge it. They don’t see, for the most part, that the solution to the economic processes has to be at the European level. We accept in principle that organised crime is global and we try to work against it at the European level. I think that from this perspective, there is a strong argument in favor of a much more effective Europe, but I think the transfer of more power to Europe is simply unimaginable without a much greater popular acceptance of power at the European level.

I think that the utopian solution is that the national political elites would accept that the European institutional system should have a much more direct link with the citizen, which really does mean that if you are a citizen of Romania or Hungary or any country, you accept that you function politically at two levels. I don’t see it.

A Pan-European List for the European Parliament

MN: You are the shadow rapporteur on behalf of the EPP Group on Andrew Duff’s own initiative report of the “Modification of an Act concerning the election of Members of the European Parliament” in the Committee of Constitutional Affairs. One controversial proposal relates to the idea of a pan-European list which would represent the European interest and strengthen the European identity. Do you think this proposal will ever be accepted by the European Parliament and the Council?

GS: There was a James Bond film called “Never Say Never Again.” I can’t see it happening at this time. Regarding Pan-European list, the idea is that 25 Members of the Parliament, either in addition to the existing 751 or coming from the existing 751  (this is still unclear and undecided) which should be elected on a separate or European list. We debated this in the Constitutional Committee countless times, so we are basically pretty clear on how this should be, but we are only a small minority within the European Parliament. What surprised me is the great majority (probably 60% or maybe even two thirds of the European Parliament) is hostile to the idea, and that includes my own EPP Group.

I don’t think it would stay on the table for too long. Formally it’s still there, but I don’t think there is real support for it in the European Parliament. Some people think that it’s irrelevant with the crisis, others do not see how it would change anything, while others are concerned that this would establish two “classes” of MEPs (European members and domestic members).

My counter-argument is that with the growing power being transferred to the symbolic Brussels in terms of economic governance, one needs some kind of elected representatives who could, in a way, supervise and control this. I think my argument is right, but I’m only one MEP out of the 751: that’s democracy, I accept it. Frankly, this idea will still remain on the ground, at least at this time. It may be that something will change quite radically and then the Pan-European list will get a great wave of support.

MN: Do you have any views from the Council?

GS: I haven’t heard anything from the Council, but I think the MS are probably taking the view that they will deal with this proposal when it becomes important.

 

The Western Balkans- Looking toward the Future

MN: In this moment of EU crisis, what is to be expected from the countries in the Western Balkans?

GS: I think we can separate Croatia from the others, because we can very much agree that it would join the EU in middle of 2013 and I think the Croats, whether they understand what they are joining or not, basically think that it’s a good idea to join the European Union. That’s true of every country that has acceded. They didn’t really know fully what they were doing. This contributes to the democratic deficit that I was talking about.

Regarding Serbia, my impression is, and I was there very recently, that the European Union still functions as a magnet. This has partly to do with the illusions, partly with reality – meaning that whatever happens, it’s better to be inside then out.

Serbia is interesting and I’ll talk a little bit about this because I’m the shadow rapporteur for Serbia. There is a growing sense of unease in Serbian society about the EU. The support for accession is diminishing. I think it’s around 50%, so it can go up again and it can go down. I have to say it’s the standard process that every MS has undergone: the closer they got to it, the less support there is. This didn’t mean opposition to it. An awful lot of people said “I don’t really know” and prefer to just keep quiet about it. This was the case of Hungary in 2002-2003. I don’t know what things were like in Romania, but probably something fairly similar.

The elites in Serbia are on the whole committed to joining. What is interesting is that the Serbian Progress Party, which used to be a nationalist party has switched. Tomislav Nikolić, with whom I spent an hour back at the beginning of November said, “I’m unconditionally in favor of the European Union, among other things.” This is interesting. I think what it signals is that the Serbian elite, including the radical one (which was really close to Šešelj and the anti-European position) has understood that if you want to become the Prime Minister of Serbia, you can’t be anti-European. Is this tactical, is this sincere, does it matter? I leave these questions open. To be truthful, I think that Nikolić is sincere. I think he really has changed his mind and understands the situation better.

Here I would add one other thing, which is true for every country inside the EU or those wanting to join it. I think the elites, especially the media elite, the intellectuals, are not interested in what is happening in the EU. They don’t take the trouble to learn about the European Union. Also, the academics who are working on it don’t seem to be able to transmit that knowledge to the wider public. I see a gap, a black hole. People say: “there’s the European Union, oh yes,” and then the curtain comes down. They don’t see it and the power issues actually at the heart of the EU simply don’t get transmitted. This feeds into what I was talking about earlier: the “disconnect.” You may remember the first and second Irish referenda on the Constitution/Lisbon Treaty. They used the word “disconnect” which means the gap in understanding, the gap in knowledge; so no wonder the Irish were so reluctant to vote for it.

I think it’s a fairly universal and widespread position throughout Europe. Even if you are moderately interested, where do you find the information? There are various websites, if you really want to know about the EU, you can discover it without too much trouble. However, only a small minority takes the trouble to go through the European news. It is certainly the case for Hungary. When I talk to people in my virtual constituency, they are always very interested, but I don’t think their interest lasts beyond the meeting!

What is European integration for, anyway? European integration is for all sorts of things, but the two which really count, in our part of the world, is that it gives us parity of esteem and status. Each member of the EU, on paper, to some extent in reality, is equal to any other member; in other words, size doesn’t really matter. Secondly, the EU is a superb conflict resolution mechanism. War in Europe, especially if you are an EU member, is absolutely unthinkable. That’s why, in the West, people were so shocked by Yugoslavia breaking up in terrible bloodshed.

To give you one illustration – three or four years ago, the Slovak National Party (SNS) led by Ján Slota, published a map on its website from which Hungary had disappeared. Romania was given the Tisza frontier, which you remember Romania was once promised with the 1916 secret Treaty of Bucharest. The Austrians got quite a lot, Slovaks got Northern Hungary, I think the Serbs got some parts too. In other circumstances, this could have been seen as a direct threat to the integrity of Hungary, and bear in mind the SNS party was part of the ruling coalition, in the Slovak government. Frankly, people in Hungary sort of laughed about it. I don’t think they would have laughed about it had it not been for the European Union.

That’s why I say the EU is a conflict resolution mechanism: it creates a level of security that Central Europe has never had before. Think about the repeated interventions by the great powers in the 19th and 20th centuries or the inter-war period: Germany constantly intervening, playing Hungary off against Romania. The great powers took a very active interest in the two Balkan wars (1912-1913), supplying arms, sending military observers etc. This is unthinkable today. That is part of what the EU brings us, whether the elites in South Eastern Europe are fully conscious of it. However, I think to some level, there is an understanding of it.

The EU as a Conflict Resolution Solution for the Balkan Countries

MN: You’ve mentioned the EU as a conflict resolution mechanism. Do you think the EU can be a conflict resolution solution for countries like Bosnia and Herzegovina or for the Belgrade- Priština dialogue?

GS: Yes! It’s not easy and I think the two situations need to be separated, Bosnia-Herzegovina on the one hand, and Kosovo and Serbia on the other.

I think the Serbs know they really don’t have another alternative but joining the EU. Russia is not an alternative and I don’t think they want Turkey back as their patron. I think that 500 years of Ottoman Empire rule was enough for them.

The Serbs basically know, even if they don’t like it, that if they actually want to join the European Union, they have to recognize Kosovo. The question that I found, when I was there recently, is “On what terms?” Can they do something less than full independence of Kosovo?

The answer from Brussels, as indeed from Berlin, is no. The Serbs are still coming to terms with that and their idea is to create a situation in which Kosovo is de facto independent but actually is formally still a part of Serbia and enjoys complete internal sovereignty. This won’t happen. It’s very difficult to lose territory, it’s very painful. I think that complying with EU conditionality will actually make a difference.

The Non-Consensual Bosnia and Herzegovina

MN: What about the case of Bosnia and Herzegovina?

GS: Whereas Serbia is a single state, even if there are quite some major divergences within the country, nevertheless, I think that there is a fundamental coherence. This is not true of Bosnia. The main problem, which nobody here – whether it is Brussels or Strasbourg – wants to confront, is that it’s a non-consensual state.

The Serbs, the Croats and the Bosniaks don’t want to live in the same state. Geography and, to some extent, history and politics pushed them in that direction. Is this democracy? What do you do when people living on a particular territory which has been given the status of a sovereign state don’t want it anymore? Belgium is the obvious example. I think that the future of Belgium hangs in the balance and I’m not sure that a break-up really matters. I can certainly see a scenario where Scotland opts out of the United Kingdom.

Most people think that states are there forever, but I think states are the product of history. They are human creations and they can change. The configuration of states can change. We pretend otherwise. On the other hand, I think it’s possible that somebody will eventually say to the citizens of Bosnia that they don’t have an alternative:  you have to live in this state whatever it takes and we will force you to do it even if it takes 100 years. I don’t see anybody rising up to say it and, in a sense, this is what is needed if the EU, the world, the US obviously, wants to ensure that Bosnia will become a single state.

Frankly, what I see is that Republika Srpska wants an autonomous status which is so autonomous that it can deal directly with Belgrade and Belgrade is not unhappy with this. They really don’t want too much to do with Sarajevo, they don’t like it and the level of tension below the surface is still very high. It’s a traumatized society, in fact it’s not a single society, but three traumatized societies. There, I think the task of EU conditionality is much greater.

MN: How do you see the rest of the Balkan countries?

GS: Montenegro can make to the EU it fairly soon, although there are still some serious problems: criminality, the Russian presence, but those are different things.

I see Albania as being a long way to anything that remotely resembles an integrable state. I think Enver Hoxha’s regime was worse than that of Ceausescu, hence the communist legacy is worse too.

I feel very regretful about Macedonia because I think it is integrable. I don’t see why nobody is saying to Greece to stop this fight. If Greece is being bailed out and is saved from complete collapse, than the least it can do is to abstain from the fight against Macedonia and accept that it is going to be called that way, and that this name doesn’t really pose a threat to Greece.

Reconstructing Histories

MN: What do you think about the trend in Macedonia to “build their own history” in terms of public works and monuments?

GS: Everybody does this.

MN: Isn’t it like a threat to the so called European identity which we all desire?

GS: No, I really don’t think this for one moment. Every country constructs its own history. There is no such thing as totally objective history. Let me give you one instance. It’s still part of the Hungarian mindset to talk about Mohács, 1526, a terrible defeat at the hands of the Ottoman army. It was partly Hungary’s fault, but we won’t go into these arguments. We talk about the catastrophe of Mohács. If you go to Istanbul, you see signs of celebration of a great victory of Mohács, which is right. They are right in their own way.

There are countless discussions about Transylvania, the Daco-Roman continuity or not. I did once suggest we should start talking about the Daco-Hungarian continuity and that would solve the problem. It’s nonsense. In a way, it’s a ridiculous historical debate but, on the other hand, in terms of identity construction, it’s really very significant. Think about the way Ceausescu constructed the entire Dacian past which is similar to what Macedonia is doing with Alexander the Great. I haven’t seen the new statue live, as it were, but it seems to be complete kitsch which reminds me of another 100 meter-high golden statue, that of Saparmurat Niyazov from Turkmenistan. I don’t want to be unkind, but that statue of Alexander the Great does look like the Tin Man from the Wizard of Oz.

Turkey and Russia’s nostalgia over the Western Balkans

MN: You’ve mentioned the Ottomans and Russia, and their influence in the Western Balkans. Do you think they will give up on the Western Balkans so easily, as both Turkey and Russia have some strategic investments in Serbia, Montenegro and other countries from the region?

GS: They will not abandon their interest entirely. Some of it is economic investment, some of it is political. The question is: can they actually do it, is it important enough for Russia to maintain these significant outposts in Serbia, Montenegro and to some extent in Croatia. I don’t know if they are present in Bosnia in any significant way. Actually, the Russians are also present in a number of other countries. Can they do it? Can’t they do it? The question is the terms on which Serbs actually want them. It’s a two way relationship.

As far as Turkey is concerned, Erdoğan repeatedly denies that there’s any significant strategic interest, but of course he has. When they had the commemoration of the Srebenica massacre, Erdoğan went there and he was the leading figure. He was the most important person there. Everyone deferred to him. In other words, to Bosniaks and to some extent to Kosovars, Istanbul is an important source of moral and economic support. Whether that’s quite so significant or straightforward or welcome for the Serbs and Bulgarians, I wouldn’t like to say.

George Friedman, a hard-line geo-strategist, argues in his book “The Next Hundred Years,” that sometime in the future, Turkey will emerge, it’s already emerging, as a major world power. It’s one of the states that produces over 1% of the world’s GDP. It’s not quite one of the BRICs, but it’s getting that way. It’s a serious player, in regional terms, and to some extent in world terms.

The Turks would want to push their military power northwards, which means back into South-Eastern Europe and then the only counter-force would be a Polish-Romanian alliance and Austria, Hungary, unless Hungary isn’t already occupied. Hungary is indefensible, it’s all flat. If the Turkish army were to advance, Hungary would be occupied very quickly. The battle line would be the Carpathians. I think the idea of expanding the Turkish power northwards which encounters Polish-Romanian power looking southwards, that’s something that doesn’t have to be military, but I think that’s something that makes you think very seriously.

Turkey, sooner or later, if it goes in that direction, will find itself engaged in a very serious contest with Russia. The countries around it mostly speak Turkish languages. Azerbaijan is, in particular, Turkey’s closest ally. All sorts of interesting scenarios can be constructed.

The difficult that I see is that the large states of the West, in a way are not that interested in the smaller states of Central and South-East Europe. I think the French generally feel that the 2004-2007 enlargements were a mistake.

Enlargement Fatigue

MN: Many people are of the view that Romania and Bulgaria may have joined too soon and that the political criteria prevailed over the other Copenhagen aspects. Do you think this was one of the reasons of the postponement of the enlargement in the Western Balkans?

GS: It’s there in the background. Formally, things are going ahead. The Enlargement Directorate of the Commission is working very hard on this and produces these country reports every year. No enlargement can take place without the political will of the existing 27 Member States. I think it will happen, but not in the near future. The negotiations with Croatia began in 2005 and Croatia will enter in 2013; 8 years, it’s a long time.

MN: How long do you think the other Western Balkan countries will have to wait before they receive a comprehensive answer from the EU?

GS: Serbia will very likely get candidate status, but no date. So, how about 2020?

[End Part 1]

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A Sizzling Summer of Music in Belgrade

Editor’s note: The announcement that legends of rock U2 will be playing Zagreb this summer caused mass excitement; the Balkans now seem definitively on the map of the biggest popular artists. As the weather warms up and the thoughts of all turn to enjoyment, we present something different, with a rundown of the biggest musical events in Belgrade, from cultural correspondent Milica Vukovic.

By Milica Vukovic

This summer’s concert happenings in Belgrade look to make for a truly inspiring and impressive lineup of international talent. Some of the world’s most prominent musicians are going to be visiting Belgrade, turning summer in the Serbian capital into an unforgettable feast of sound and performance.

The biggest draw by far is certainly going to be Madonna’s concert, on 24th August, in a part of Novi Beograd called Ušće (meaning: confluence, image:). It is actually a large field which over the last few years has become an attractive performance area, mostly because of its remarkable location: it is placed on the very confluence of the Sava and Danube Rivers The sound of the music will thus travel along these waterways, and be clearly heard in almost every part of the city.

Some five years ago, the very thought of Madonna coming to Belgrade occupied the realm of science fiction; this summer, however, the Serbian capital finally gets to play proud host to this world-famous pop icon. The concert in Belgrade is being organized by The State of Exit and Live Nation, and is a part of Madonna’s 2008-2009 Sticky and Sweet tour, in which is she promoting her new album Hard Candy. The concert’s special guest will be Paul Oakenfold.

Tickets for the concert are available online at Gigstix.com and Worldticketshop.com, or in person in Belgrade shops.

The 2009 summer of music in Belgrade is going to kick off with a very different sort of show- from American heavy metal band Prong. The concert will be held on the 21st of June, in SKC (Student Cultural Centre, Kralja Milana Street, 48) and is limited to 350 visitors. Tickets for the event are available online at Biletservis.co.yu.

A few days later, on the 26th of June, the mood mellows again with the arrival of Simply Red, who will perform high above Belgrade in the Roman fortress of Kalemegdan. Since this is said to be the band’s final world tour, the Belgrade shows presents a unique opportunity for fans who happen to be in the Balkans to enjoy their music live one last time. The concert set list is billed as a retrospective, covering Simply Red’s three-decade-long career, and will also promote the band’s new Greatest Hits album. Tickets are available online at Tickets.rs and Arenabeograd.com.

The month of July will likewise be marked by plenty of prominent gigs. Irish singer-songwriter Sinead O’Connor will have a concert on the 3rd of July, as a guest performer in the Belgrade Summertime Festival. The show will take place at the city’s largest arena, the Sava Centar.

Another top musician, David Byrne, is visiting this festival too, on the 8th of July, and will be playing Belgrade for the second time. (The ex-leader of the Talking Heads had his first Belgrade concert, also at the Sava Centar, in 2002). This time he will be playing with Brian Eno, and promoting a new record titled Everything that Happens Will Happen Today. Tickets for both concerts are available in person at the Sava Centar box office (Milentija Popovic Street 9) and at Bilet Servis (Republic Square 5), as well as online at Biletservis.co.yu.

Lovers of old-school rock with a Latin twist will be energized by the arrival, on July 11, of Carlos Santana and his 10-man-band. This legend of the 1960’s San Francisco scene will be playing outdoors, in Ušće Park, as part of the Belgrade Youth Festival. Fans will no doubt be treated to an exhilarating performance, featuring a mixture of rock, salsa and jazz spiced up with Santana’s trademark artistic guitar playing. Tickets for the event are available online at Showtimetickets.com.

On the 23rd of July, another legend of American music will bring audiences back again to the Sava Centar: George Benson. This is the first Belgrade visit for the renowned jazz, funk and R&B musician. This concert is a part of a special program of the Summertime Festival. Information about tickets will be available online soon on George Benson’s website, as well as that of the Sava Center.

On a different note, lovers of classical music will enjoy the Belgrade Cello Fest, which will be held in early July also. Details on this annual event will be made available soon at Jugokoncert.co.yu.

In August, things settle down a bit and the music is accompanied by revelry, as at the increasingly popular Belgrade Beer Fest, which will take place from 12-16 August, in Ušće. Despite its title, this is mainly a music event with various domestic and foreign performers, but at the same time also a chance for beer-lovers to sample and enjoy many different kinds of beer in an open-air setting. The festival has been held since 2003, and entry is free of charge. More information about the festival, performers and organization of the event can be found on the Belgrade Beer Festival’s official website.

Another festival, this one organized for fans of electronic music, is the Belgrade Foam Fest; it will be held in the Belgrade Arena on the 29th of August. Performances will be held on two separate stages- the Main Stage and the Sky Flash Stage. On both, prominent international and Serbian DJs will show their skills. Main-stage performers will include Sandy Rivera, David Morales, Benny Benassi, Marko Nastic¡ and Marko Milosavljevic. Tom Pooks, Tsuyoshi Suzuki, Ian F, Andrew Technique, F.Sonik, Tomy DeClerque will appear on the other stage. Tickets are available online at Biletservis.co.yu, and the Belgrade Arena website.

Finally, on the 12th of September, well-known trash metal band Sodom will rock the Dom omladine (hall of DOB, Makedonska Street 22). Tickets are available online, again at Biletservis.co.yu.

One other big Belgrade cultural event should not be overlooked – the traditional BELIEF Belgrade Summer Festival, which is organized by the city of Belgrade. BELEF actually combines theater performances, music and visual art. For more information and details check out the Festival website.

Enjoy the summer!

Quake

By David Binder*

The Convair 340 was packed with Macedonians anxious about their families and homes. In the cockpit the JAT pilot dipped the nose down over the city and rolled the plane slightly to the starboard to give me an opportunity to snap pictures from the cockpit with my clumsy but reliable Rolleiflex: A first glimpse of devastated Skopje following the earthquake of July 26, 1963.

It was noontime, some seven hours after the great tremor struck.

“From the air Skopje looked as if it had been struck by a heavy bombing raid,” I wrote in my first dispatch. “Gaping holes where roofs had been. A haze of brick and mortar dust hung over the city.”

The pilot was one of dozens of Yugoslavs who helped me that day and later to report the event – from the JAT personnel at Surcin who got me aboard the first civilian Skopje flight to Bora Causev, the Macedonian secretary of home affairs who started the city’s rescue and evacuation operations a mere 20 minutes after the initial shock.

He had had emergency experience with a huge flood of the River Vardar in Skopje eight months earlier.

Causev told me I was the first foreign journalist to arrive at the quake scene. But I was also a greenhorn with less than two months in the Balkans and one hundred words of Serbo-Croatian.

Yugoslavs seemed almost by instinct to realize that Skopje needed a lot of help and including help from abroad. Most striking was the extraordinary silence and seeming purposefulness of people walking amid the shattered buildings and crazily slanted lamp poles, some of them pushing wooden barrows loaded with bedding and other household belongings. Bora Causev said there was an initial moment of panic with crowds running headlong through the streets, but soon calm prevailed.

Thanks in considerable part to his efforts, thousands of People’s Army soldiers, firemen, policemen and health workers were summoned to Skopje to assist.

The temperature under the cloudless skies was in the high 30s (C). Initially there were strong fears of an outbreak of typhus. Numerous water trucks provided relief. They were mobbed by thirsty citizens as soon as they stopped.

Excavating machines and brigades of men with shovels and picks deployed at the hotels Makedonija and Skopje, where scores of guests lay pinned alive under rubble and others were already dead.

It was easy to gather material for a report on the quake. The difficulty lay in finding a way to transmit a dispatch. Telephone and telegraph lines were down and the Skopje radio station was a shambles. The nearest functioning phone line appeared to be in Kumanovo, 26 miles to the east.

I hitched a ride and walked to the post office, where I tapped a report on my light blue 8.6 lb. Hermes typewriter and queued up at the counter for telephone calls. It was after dark when I got through to Mirjana Komarecki, the Belgrade office manager, and dictated the dispatch to her for transmission by telex to New York. I also told her to be on the watch for a roll of film from the Rolleiflex, which a Belgrade colleague would bring to her. The first day story got through for the first edition.

To my astonishment amid the chaos everything functioned smoothly and, in The New York Times of July 29, five of the Skopje photos from the film roll were printed.

It dawned on me that the Skopje earthquake, though relatively small in terms of death toll (1,070) had become a major international event. A sign perhaps of Yugoslavia’s peculiar nature, perched precariously between East and West, but siding with neither.

That morning, on George F., Kennan’s last day of ambassadorship to Yugoslavia, he donated a pint of blood to aid victims. Lawrence (Larry) Eagleburger, then a junior officer, having drawn the weekend duty at the U.S. Embassy in Belgrade, succeeded by telephone(s) to get the U.S. Army to fly its Eighth Evacuation Field Hospital with 200 physicians and nurses from Ramstein, Germany, to a site near Kumanovo. They started work three days after the quake. (Himself later an ambassador to Yugoslavia, Eagleburger was dubbed “Lawrence of Macedonia” by colleagues – parallel to the soubriquet of T.E. “Lawrence of Arabia”).

Major international contributions came as well from Britain, Sweden, France, the Soviet Union and many other countries.

How to explain this powerful resonance? Without delving into psychology, sociology or even history I guess one reason is that earthquakes strike relatively seldom in the center of cities – although the population of Skopje then was a modest 170,000.

There was also a certain romantic notion attached to “Macedonia,” whether related to a fruit salad recipe or to revolutionary terrorism.

Before the quake Yugoslavia’s claim on Macedonia was strongly and loudly disputed in neighboring Greece and Bulgaria. Afterward those voices were more muted. In any case the quake put Macedonia on the map of international consciousness in a sympathetic fashion that no political act could have accomplished.

Next day President Tito arrived in mid-morning with a huge entourage – in fact most of the members of the central committee of the Yugoslav League of Communists.

Driving with Emile (“Guiko”) Guikovaty of Agence France Presse, who had motored down from Belgrade, we were wedged into the Tito convoy at the airport. Immediately we were forced by motorcycle escorts to stay among the official cars through the city, the convoy stalling even rescue vehicles for over an hour as crowds gazed silently at the spectacle.

Finally, we drove up the Kale fortress hill. On the grassy plateau a huge tent had been erected above linen-covered tables sumptuously laden with food and beverages. Tito, in a skyblue air force uniform, sat at the head table.

When everyone was seated Guiko, facing Tito, about 40 feet away, piped up in English: “What are you doing to save my countrymen trapped in the Hotel Macedonia?”

“And what about those in the Hotel Skopje?” I added.

Red-faced, Tito turned and barked, “What are these foreigners doing here? This is a Central Committee meeting!”

A uniformed military officer came up and politely suggested we join him on the sidelines away from the huge tent. He introduced himself in good English as Gojko Nikolis, commander of the army medical corps and offered to answer our questions.

How many dead so far?

“So far, 500 bodies,” he softly replied.

How many might there still be?

“About 500 more are known to be in the rubble.” (The Nikolis estimates were astonishingly close to the final quake death toll! Only much later did I learn that Nikolis, then 52, was not only a distinguished author, but also a Partizan hero and an International Brigade veteran of the Spanish Civil War.)

Less than a month later I and many other foreign correspondents returned to the stricken city, following Nikita Khrushchev’s epic tour of Yugoslavia, from Macedonia to Slovenia. He and his wife Nina, accompanied by Tito and Jovanka Broz, solemnly walked several blocks among ruined buildings.

Having moved ahead, I found members of a Soviet Army engineers brigade lounging on their vehicles, smoking and drinking from bottles. At a signal they grabbed shovels and began digging.

Jovanka Broz came up to the commander and, as television cameras whirred, asked him if the work was difficult. “It is hard,” the colonel replied. “But the life of the people is harder!” Scripted in Skopje, not Hollywood, but the dialogue could not have been better.

……………………………………………

*David Binder (born 1931) was a correspondent for The New York Times from 1961 until 2004. He specialized in coverage of central and eastern Europe, based in Berlin, Belgrade and Bonn. The current piece was published in Belgrade’s Politika on July 26, 2008.

Local History in 19th-Century Serbia: Two Memoirs

By Dejan Ciric*

This article is based on two short memoirs. The writer of the first one is Fotije Stanojevic, a Serbian diplomat active during the first half of the 20th century. Stanojevic was born in 1874 in the eastern Znepole region, in the little village of Babe. Since 1950, however, this village has been known as Nedelkovo. It lies 10km from Tran, in northwestern Bulgaria.

Fotije Stanojevic was the youngest son of the well-known merchant, landowner, politician and rebel against the Turks, Arandjel Stanojevic. He attended primary and secondary school in Pirot, and subsequently the Faculty of Law in Belgrade. Afterwards, he studied political science and law in Paris and his long diplomatic career took him to places like Buckhurst, Budapest, Thessalonica and Moscow.

The author of the second memoir is Vladimir Stanojevic, Fotije`s nephew and the grandson of Arandjel Stanojevic. He was born in Breznik in 1886 and finished primary school in Pirot, and thereupon secondary school in Belgrade. In 1911 he graduated with a degree in medicine in Saint Petersburg, together with his sister Nadezda, one year younger than himself. Vladimir is now famous among Serbs as a general, historian and founder of the Museum of Serbian Medicine and the Association for Medical History.

The original manuscript of the first memoir has been preserved in the Historical Archive of Serbia, in a separate file together with many other documents under the title Spomenica Arandjela Sanojevica Transkog (Memorial of Arandjel Stanojevic Trnski), with the signature VARIA (V), 3657.  Serbian historians Borislava Lilic and Zoran Djordjevic have published most of the manuscript, accompanied by a useful commentary and suggestions.

The original manuscript of the second memoir is preserved today, together with several of Stanojevic`s book manuscripts, in the Archive of the Serbian Academy of Science and Arts, under the reference number 13339. This memoir has been used by two well-known Serbian historians of medicine. Gojko Nikolis employed it in a piece on the occasion of Stanojevic`s 90th birthday, while Slobodan Djordjevic referenced it in an obituary article; both articles appeared in the first Serbian medical journal, Srpski arhiv za celokupno lekarstvo (Serbian Archive for Complete Medicine).

However, despite these references, neither of the two memoirs has yet been used in historical investigations, though they contain much interesting data regarding the history of culture, society, daily life and the Balkan patriarchal family structure during the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries.

Fotije Stanojevic’s Recollections of Daily Life and Revolution

The main subject of Fotije’s memoir is a family feast (slava) held in the year 1879. However, in writing this text he covered much more as well, and indeed almost every aspect of daily life in Pirot during the 1880s and 1890s. His memoir is some kind of ethnographic document and intimate story about urban culture in the central Balkan region at the end of the 19th century. At the same time, it is a personal account about family life and its relations and connections with the greater society. The memoir is very useful because such information cannot be found in other archive documents, though some of the specific claims can and should be verified. For example, Fotije claims that his family moved from Tran to Pirot in September 1878, though according to several archive documents, that actually happened in May 1879.

As mentioned, Fotije’s main subject is the family feast of 1879, which celebrated the Archangel Michael. Yet at the same time, he also described family life and atmosphere in Pirot more than 70 years later. When Fotije completed his memoir he was 81 and near the end of his life, and so it would seem quite natural for a man of his age to write about his familial background, going back several generations before him.

For example, Fotije’s text shows him to be very proud of his grandfather, an active participant in the Serbian Rebellions against Ottoman rule in the beginning of the 19th century. Accentuating this, he also stresses his grandfather’s close connection with a famous war leader and hero from that time, the hajduk Veljko Petrovic. His account is useful because local church registers of births and deaths usually have not survived, so his text is very often the one and only source for a precise reconstruction of the Stanojevic family tree, particularly during the first half of the 19th century.

In the memoir, Faotije also notes that his father Arandjel was not materialistic and stresses that he was very relaxed concerning money, though several contemporary documents depict a completely opposite situation. What is more, Arandjel apparently cooperated with state officials during the Turkish reign in order to collect larger taxes from the peasantry, for his own financial advantage.

During the same period this local luminary was a landlord to numerous peasants. A Serbian government representative, Mita Rakic, in his official account writes about the living conditions in the recently liberated regions, including Znepole, and claims that Arandjel Stanojevic did many illegal acts and misused the position he had in the county.

At the same time, however, during his years in Pirot Stanojevic apparently also permitted many poor people to live for free in other wings of his grand home, and he often gave considerable amounts of money to charity. His organizational role and contribution before and during the liberation war thus seem not in question.

The author of this memoir also provides useful information about the Stanojevic’s new family house in Pirot, and its renovation. This kind of information is important for improving our knowledge of the architectural appearance of town houses in the central Balkans during the 19th century. Fotije`s account is the only source for information on that famous building, since it was destroyed during the Serbian-Bulgarian War of 1885. There are few details to be found in the local archive today on this structure. Unfortunately, there aren’st photos either. According to Fotije`s memoir, his father’s was the most beautiful and the biggest family house on the main street in Pirot at that time.

Apart from the description of this building, Fotije writes about all of his family members, including servants, relatives and close friends who lived together. He also described their mutual relations and everyday duties and tasks in the household. Most interesting in this respect are two persons. The first is a girl named Stana who, according to Forije, was his adopted sister. However, an archive document called List of All Servants in Pirot states that she was actually the Stanojevic family servant, who came together with the family when they moved to Pirot from Tran in 1879. The second interesting person and household member described was Panta Milanovic, a gymnasium teacher and close friend of Fotije`s uncle, Rasa, who though unrelated to the family also lived in the house.

In his description of the slava feast, Fotije writes about guests, food, drink, music and of course about religious practice and customs. We learn about such details like the styles of different dress (European and local), various dances and songs, and the first Vienna waltz danced in Pirot- by Franc Sirucek, an itinerant Czech pharmacist and his wife.

Fotije also gives an interesting description of the first visit of the Serbian royal family to Pirot. His father, mother and a few eminent citizens were their official hosts, and Fotije himself played with the young Prince Alexander during the two-day visit. This memoir description is especially interesting, because excepting it there is only one short document concerning the royal visit. Thus many details captured in Fotije`s text are useful and even necessary, if we want to make a more complete picture of the event.

Fotije Stanojevic is especially expressive in the passages where he describes the national rebellion against the Turks in 1877-78; in this he makes what could almost be called a panegyric to his father, who played an important role (though not so big as he sought to communicate). For example, his father was invited by the Bulgarian leadership to be a member of the Constitutional Assembly in Veliko Tarnovo, and he was also a member of the Serbian Parliament. However, he was not the only organizer of the liberation activities.

In this section of the account Fotije does not forget his father’s best man, Captain Sima Sokolov, who was well known as a rebel and as one of the heroes during the battles for the liberation of the central Balkans. Fotije idealized his father, though his story about the rebellion is not really a source about the liberation movement, it is more about his attitude toward his father and that historical period. As a little boy, he had listened to the stories about his father’s role and revolutionary importance, stories that as an old man he tried to remember and record for posterity.

Vladimir Stanojevic: Lineage and Distinction

The second memoir was commissioned by the Department of Medical Science of the Serbian Academy and written by one of its advisors, Vladimir Stanojevic. Apart from the usual facts that comprise such texts, Vladimir excluded much information that was not of direct important or interest to the scientific institution.

In the text, Vladimir writes about his childhood and schooling, while at the same time providing data that certainly cannot otherwise be found in our archive in Pirot, because he was born in the Bulgarian town of Breznik, in February 1886- a short ceasefire period in the Serbian-Bulgarian War of that time. His mother went there to visit her parents, and came back to Pirot after a few weeks. Similarly to his uncle Fotije, Vladimir idealized Arandjel Stanojevic, recounting for example that he was sufficiently mighty as to be capable of saving people from hanging (stural od besiljku).

From this memoir we also learn of Vladimir’s partial Tzintzar (Aromanian) background. His mother was born in Breznik into a wealthy Tzitzar family, and he was proud of his mixed cultural and national heritage, being both Slavic and Roman. He even stresses this feature from the genetic point of view, since he was a researcher of such issues, and wrote several papers and a book about the connection between genetics and science and arts, called Tragedy of Genius and published in Belgrade in 1938.

In Vladimir’s memoir we also find an account of the personal intellectual development of a boy from a small Serbian provincial town (yet one imbued with a strong awareness of his famous and prominent ancestors), to the young doctor who graduated from the respected Russian Army Medical School. Vladimir’s main fields of interest were genetics, psychiatry, neurobiology, and the history of medicine. He also spent some time studying in Berlin, Munich and Vienna.

In the text, Vladimir also traces an outline of his life with several very picturesque details from his childhood. At the same time, he also provides some information about his army career, in a strict and truncated style, as is typical for military officers. Moreover, he was a passionate photographer and left many pictures as illustration of his curriculum vitae. These photographs can be found in the Museum of Serbian Medicine in Belgrade.

While we can’st verify the information given in the text concerning Vladimir’s early years, the facts from the time between graduation from the university and the culmination of his military career (as a general) are clarified in his personal dossier. For example, reading papers from the Military Archive, we can reconstruct Vladimir’s medical history, and learn precise data regarding the decorations, punishments and other important events he experienced during his distinguished career.

In the end, my research on the Stanojevic memoirs reaffirmed for me that memoirs can provide a useful complement to archival documents, though at the same time such recorded memories very often constitute additions to our knowledge base that are otherwise unavailable, and unable to be compared with other sources. Memoirs are simply monuments of personal impression. What can be sometimes most important in historical writings depends on the topic. It is the result of filtering layers of long experiences and circumstances that occurred at many different moments.

According to my conclusions, mistakes and imprecision usually are the consequence of the lengthy period of time separating the events and the later descriptions of them. There are many advantages of memoirs as sources for local history, though when possible archive papers can be used as a corrective element. In any case, I was not searching for precise facts in relation to specific historical events- rather, I just wanted to discover more about the daily life and connections within the patriarchal family structure of the central Balkans and urban society, from the testimony hidden in personal memories.

…………………………

*Historian Dejan Ciric is a native of Pirot, Serbia, where he works on local archive research at the Pirot Museum.

 

Snow Descends on the Balkans, to the Relief of Ski Resorts

(Balkanalysis.com Research Service)- The first New Year’s gift of 2009 to the citizens of many Balkan countries has come in the form of the season’s first significant snowfall, blanketing large areas in Macedonia, northern Greece, Serbia, Kosovo, Bulgaria and Albania.

In the Macedonian capital of Skopje, some 16cm of snow has accumulated in the past three days- posing a challenge for motorists as city officials, caught dozing by the holidays and an insufficiency of snowplows, have been unable to clear major central streets. In Sofia, Bulgaria, similar conditions have been encountered, but authorities have a more formidable fleet of snowplows (137, to be exact) at their disposal.

Despite a handful of minor accidents, however, Macedonian citizens have generally been enjoying this unusual chance to sled in the center and to see the giant faux Christmas tree in the square, distastefully topped by a giant pink T (a gesture to likely sponsor T-Mobile), adorned by actual snow. Forecasts call for snow to continue falling until Tuesday, and resume later in the week.

Snowfall has been enabled by freezing temperatures across the region. So far, the standard has been set in ever-chilly Erzurum, Turkey. This eastern Anatolian town recently recorded temperatures of minus 36 Celsius.

Snow has also made things interesting in northern Greece, where officials have called on drivers to use chains amidst freezing temperatures as low as minus 13 Celsius and snowfall of up to 25cm across Epiros and the province of Macedonia.

Aerial footage from northern Albania shown earlier this week showed the mountainous region completely snowed under. Already hard enough to navigate in the best of times, this sparsely populated area has become inaccessible in large parts due to snowfall of up to half a meter.

Nevertheless, the sudden snowfall has also meant relief for some ski areas that had until now been hit hard by the lack of snowfall. In Serbia, the snowfall has been a boon for ski areas such as Mt Kopaonik, currently full of skiers and with 45cm of snow coverage.

Macedonia’s main ski area, Mavrovo in the west, was bare until a few days ago, causing concern among company officials. One official stated last week that since snow-making equipment was too expensive, they have been left at the mercy of the elements- which had been proving uncooperative, until this week. Now, however, the center reports over 40cm of snow coverage, many visitors, and predicts that the snow will remain for the duration of the season.

Macedonia’s other major ski center, Ski Centar Kozuf on the Greek border, did not open earlier due to cold temperatures, a company representative stated on December 30, adding that the resort would be opening soon. This new operation claims to have the most modern equipment in the Balkans, including artificial snowmaking guns and a state-of-the-art, six-person German-made lift.

Still a work in progress, the resort which opened just last year has yet to finish paving the 30km-long access road from Gevgelija, let alone to finish construct all of the facilities (though all of the allocated space for ski lodges has long since sold out). Here, the goal is to make an environmentally- and aesthetically-friendly resort; for example, while there will be a movie theater, it will be built underground.

The previous lack of snow, coupled with the general global economic downturn, have meant ski resorts in the region have been late to open or are seeing lessened demand. In Bulgaria’s leading resort area of Bansko, for example, there were still plenty of reservations available during the usually packed holiday period. The reduced number of skiers thus far has also meant declining profits for travel agencies booking tours and local hoteliers. Other, smaller Bulgarian resorts include Chepelare in the Rodopi Mountains (set to open on Jan. 7), are less hectic and cheaper as well- good for bargain-seekers.

Indeed, with no end in sight to the economic recession, regional ski centers can only adjust prices and hope that the skies at least will cooperate for the remainder of the winter season. However, the strange weather patterns of the past few years, perhaps caused by global warming, mean that nothing can be taken for granted and skiers should enjoy the conditions while they have them.

Top Balkan Ski Resorts

Want to make use of the good weather? The following Balkan ski resorts can be found online here.

Bulgaria

(See here)

Bosnia

Bjelasnica

Serbia

Kopaonik

Macedonia

Mavrovo

Ski Centar Kozuf

Greece

(See here)

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