The Ukrainian crisis from the Serbian perspective

Posted on 02. April 2014

by Srdjan Hercigonja

Srdjan HercigonjaSince February 2014, when dozens of people were massacred on the streets in the center of Kiev, a quite interesting and unusual debate has developed in Serbia. Although it may seem that the discussions in Serbia, on the situation in Ukraine are irrelevant for the EU integration process, it’s not the case. These discussions and debates clearly show a deep and complex division among Serbian society on the vision of the country’s future. They show how the strategic goal of Serbia’s eventual EU membership looks in reality. There are a few main subjects of these debates; however, I would like to underline two of them, which are, in my opinion, very important.

1. Ignorance and the lack of solidarity with the citizens of Ukraine – Although it would be logical that more understanding and sympathies for the people who protested in Ukraine come from the citizens of a country that in the recent past had similar examples of autocratic behavior of its leader and the corrupt political elite (as Serbia had during the 1990s); in Serbia it’s not the case. The majority of citizens were uninterested, seeing in the protests something that is happening far away from them; or they understood it as a “Cold War” type of conflict between the major powers (the US, EU and Russia). This lack of solidarity is something that has been present within Serbian society itself (as it is the case in many other transitional countries), but it also can be identified within the region of the Western Balkans (i.e. “we” are simply not interested in what’s happening in Bosnia-Herzegovina, since they’re not “ours”). Solidarity is one of the core values of the European project, and although Ukraine has a completely different position on the European integration agenda, it’s still a European country, and the duty of civil society (but also of the state) is to understand and express a will to help.

2. The reluctance of Serbia to accept the main decisions of the EU regarding Ukraine – After Russian intervention in Crimea, Serbia did not support the sanctions imposed by the EU on the Russian Federation (as Montenegro and Albania did). Although there are no quite clear official explanations for the current Serbian position on the Russian intervention in Crimea, the main factors influencing the Serbian protraction are to be found in the fact that Russia does not recognize the independence of Kosovo; and on the influential and powerful narrative on the Russian-Serbian “brotherhood” relations. This disagreement between EU foreign policy decisions and the Serbian position on Ukraine is not only influencing the accession negotiations with the EU (that Serbia started a few months ago), but it also reflects the questions of identity and the “clear” European perspective for Serbia.

There is no doubt that the crisis in Ukraine has provoked numerous debates in Europe and worldwide. The point of this post was to briefly present why the positioning on the current situation in Ukraine is important for Serbia’s path towards EU membership. The recent post by Danijela Bozovic  provides other important insights into the main obstacles for the necessary reforms in Serbia, including an analysis of the recent Serbian parliamentary election. The new government that is to be formed in the next weeks should seriously reconsider the official Serbian position on Ukraine. It is not only the question of an obligation, but the question of solidarity that is so important for Europe at this moment, and the question of identity, which is, on the other hand, so important for Serbia, if it wants to secure its path toward the EU.