Serbia is considered one of the most important Balkan countries by major world powers, who continue to vie for influence. It has come a long way since the Yugoslav conflicts of the 1990s, when it was sanctioned by the West and ultimately bombed by NATO, and was considered one of the ‘improving’ Western Balkan countries in the annual European Commission report of October 2011. Having traditionally been the economic motor of the Balkans, and a major center of regional political life for much of the 20th century, it was clear that despite the essentially pariah status the country endured during the rule of Slobodan Milošević, Serbia’s fortunes would eventually improve.
This is the case today, with Serbia attracting more foreign investment opportunities and in general a more positive image abroad. Still, despite the dissolution of the last vestige of Yugoslavia in 2006, successive Belgrade governments have sought to maximize the country’s leverage on the international stage by wooing – in much the same way that Tito did – suitors from both East and West.
This ability has largely been sustained by the continued impasse over Kosovo independence, something that remains unacceptable to Serbia. The influence of Belgrade in Bosnia’s Republika Srpska is another factor that has kept international diplomats from far and wide engaged with Serbia’s government.
With a rich and lengthy history, and numerous contributions to world culture, Serbia remains one of the more confident Balkan nations. Despite endemic corruption and some organized crime, infrastructure deficiencies and the decline of rural life, Serbia sees a strong future for itself in its industrial capacities, its agriculture, and in its potential to be relevant in terms of regional energy transit and regional diplomacy. Plus, despite the degradations of the transition years, and numerous lessons learned the hard way, Serbia has managed to strengthen its institutions, and has enhanced its capacities in key areas such as the security sector.
Today, the country is taking a more central role as Chinese investments, strategic military partnerships with Russia, and a claimed commitment to EU membership someday being convincing factors in preserving Serbia’s policy of multi-lateral engagement.
Orientation of the Serbian government towards East and West; the issue of Kosovo independence, and the fate of Serbs living in Kosovo; poor relations with Sarajevo over the aspirations of Bosnia’s Republika Srpska; official corruption, and some organized crime concerns.
Forward Planning: Points of Interest
- Government’s actions and statements in response to Croatia’s perceived blockage of EU negotiations
- The ‘special relationship’ between Serbia and Greece, especially in light of regional issues
- A possibly improved relationship with Washington under the Trump Administration
- Security-related issues, particularly Russia-Serbia military cooperation
- Foreign investment trends in the country, and problems of brain-drain among young professionals going abroad
- Foreign intelligence penetration and counterintelligence activity in Serbia.