Wednesday, March 25, 2009

A grim anniversary

Yesterday, air raid sirens could be heard all over Serbia to commemorate the NATO bombing of the country that led to the de facto end of Serbian rule in Kosovo ten years ago. The anniversary was a tense occasion that confirms the volatility of Serbian politics but also the fragility of the country's current European orientation.
Politicians of almost all hues invariably denounced the raids, and Prime Minister Mirko Cvetkovic branded them "an illegal act" and added that "Serbia cannot forget those tragic days." Public rituals that reproduce a sense of collective trauma such as a special cabinet session, visits and "pilgrimages" to bombing sites, remembrance activities at schools were held countrywide for yet one more year but only a heavily policed rally in central Belgrade was organized by hard-line nationalists and the hardliners were largely contained.
And although Serbian President Boris Tadic called the bombing a "tragic" event that accused and bombed Serbs collectively, official discourse on the bombing remains ambiguous. Deputy Prime Minister and a member of the Socialist Party (led by Milosevic at the time of the NATO intervention) Ivica Dacic speaking at a Socialist Party event in Belgrade called NATO's action a "criminal act" that was designed to wrest Kosovo away from Serbia while most commemorations had largely anti-Western undertones. Although the NATO air campaign became perhaps the only option at the time largely due to the earlier inaction and indecision of Western governments to stem the tide of nationalism and the opportunism of the ruling elites throughout former Yugoslavia, it was, nevertheless, unavoidable as Milosevic was embarking on yet another reckless campaign dragging with him into the abyss the citizens of Serbia. But as Liberal Party leader Cedomir Jovanovic bravely pointed out the government has yet again failed to spell out that the bombing was the consequence of irresponsible, criminal and wrong policies pursued by the Serbian government under Slobodan Milosevic. It is imperative that present day Serbia shook off its uncritical anti-western reflexes and reflected on the internal factors that led one of the most polyphonic and cultured societies of East Central Europe descend into the murky realm of genocidal politics just as it is imperative that the Western democracies that allowed this to happen reflected on their culpability in the killing and suffering of so many innocent Serbian and former Yugoslav civilians - before and during the air raids. Perhaps this might be the most fitting commemoration of all those lost ten years ago.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Тиха вода брег рони

"As a future NATO member and as a country that is very close to EU membership, Croatia will give full support to its neighbours"

Ivo Sanader, Croatian Prime Minister

Last week, in a rather brief statement, Croatia's Prime Minister effectively pledged to support Serbia's bid to join the European Union and other European institutions. Given the bitter and turbulent relationship between Croatia and Serbia over the past couple of decades this extension of a friendly hand towards the latter was, for many, surprising. There is a lot that has been dividing the two countries: the bitter memory of the war of Croatia's independence, the mass exodus of the Serbs of the Krajina, the still outstanding suit -originally filed by Croatia in 1999 - against Serbia for genocide before the International Court of Justice and the public disapproval within Serbia of Croatia's recognition of the independence of Kosovo in 2008.

And although Croatia's own EU bid has been delayed over a border dispute with Slovenia, just as Serbia's application is on hold until it arrests Ratko Mladic, indicted for genocide by the U.N. war crimes court, the gesture is of high symbolic value. As Sanader said the two countries should not "forget the past but not continue to live in it."

As an old Serbian proverb goes - Тиха вода брег рони - it is the quiet water that wears down the shore. It is the quiet, painstaking policy of normalization and reconciliation that will break down the walls that separate the peoples of former Yugoslavia.