Lately, one question has dominated the Serbian public scene: Will Serbia impose sanctions on Russia? It is not just about one political decision that the government in Serbia (Serbian: Aleksandar Vučić) will have to make sooner or later, but about choosing the path that this country will take in the future. Europe or Russia, Brussels or Moscow, democracy or autocracy, joining the Western world or rotting in isolation, an ally of European states or Putin's extended arm in the Balkans - that is the choice facing our country.
Serbia has been pursuing a policy for a long time, which could most accurately be described as "neither there nor here". The ruling caste would officially like to bring Serbia into the European Union, but it would not really like to meet those damn standards, especially in the area of rule of law, freedom of the media, independence of the judiciary, fight against corruption, because in that case, it could not treat state resources as a private playground, and in that case, why engage in politics at all. We are officially for that kind of democracy, personal freedoms and rights, but we are decorating our house by looking at the Kremlin model that systematically erases all the listed values. And Orban's model is not for disregarding, but for imitation.
Muddling and tangling
In principle, we are a part of Europe, purely geographically, but we love China, with which it is much easier to conclude agreements that are unfavourable for citizens, but extremely lucrative for privileged “couch potatoes”. We gladly accept donations from the European Union, but that is why loyal media are satanizing Europe and the entire West day by day, and Putin's dictatorial regime is ascending to heaven with countless eulogies and inspired odes. The European Union is supposedly our only goal, but at the same time it is only one of the four pillars of our foreign policy, the other three are the United States, China and Russia. We are so important and unquestionable that without reliance on the four great world powers we cannot imagine life, but with less we simply do not accept. And it is not new information, the doctrine of the four pillars dates back to the time of Boris Tadić, Vučić reluctantly accepted it and further upgraded it, leading Serbia to nowhere.
In essence, this is not about any policy, but about fooling Western partners, buying time, traditional mumbling and similar tangles. Of European values, we respect only the euro, if possible in large quantities, let Europe pay for our false European path, and during that time we will create an autocracy in which only one person is responsible for everything, from road construction to the introduction of fiscal cash registers to street sellers. All of this worked well for years, until February 24, when Russia carried out an aggression against Ukraine and began to conduct a campaign of scorched earth, burned cities and mass graves for the civilian population, especially those who speak Russian.
Bringing out from under the rock
Although it is reluctant to come to light and take stock, for a clear determination to please the empire - democratic or tyrannical and aggressive, Serbia is forced to dig itself out from under the rock where Vučić hid it and to finally say what it wants. Of course, if only the local nobles were asked, there would be no determination, but everything would continue as before. You lie a little to Brussels and Washington, you talk a little more with Putin, you widely open the door to China, and along the way you threaten your neighbours and destabilize Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro and Kosovo, a little for yourself and a little more for Putin.
However, those times of madness and delusions have passed, Putin has definitely sent them into the throes of history by uniting the democratic countries of the world with a genocidal campaign against Ukraine, thus putting Serbia before the final decision on which side/rout to take from the crossroad that has been silent since the assassination of Prime Minister Zoran Đinđić. A number of American officials joined in encouraging the Serbian authorities to go in the desired direction. In just a few days, Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić had meetings with the US Ambassador in Serbia Christopher Hill, a group of US senators and US Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Karen Donfried.
There were no official announcements from those meetings, and Vučić announced that he would address the public, but then postponed that address for a bit. Regardless of the meetings behind closed doors, it is clear what was on the menu: a stick, a carrot, the turning a hand, and the cleaning up of Serbian tricks. Former US Ambassador in Serbia Cameron Manter explicitly explained the essence of these frequent diplomatic activities, and what is expected of Serbia: "You need to decide what kind of country you want to be… Authoritarian - which bickers with the media, opposition and essentially agrees with Russia's unreasonable and unjustified attack on Ukraine ... Or do you want to live a European life? That is the choice that the citizens of Serbia and its leadership should make. If they fail, I don't think anyone will punish them. They will simply be forgotten. "
Nausea for the radicals, trouble for the progressives
Short and clear. Forgotten means left to themselves, deprived of the help of the European Union, which has so far given Serbia four billion euros in development aid, deprived of pre-accession funds and investments. There is no doubt that in that case there would be an economic collapse, because most of the trade is with the European Union, about two-thirds of exports go to the European Union, and 24,000 Serbian companies are connected to the EU, which employs about 900,000 workers. Apart from financial ruin, that means that we would be isolated from the world, unable to travel, left to rot and wallow in our own pity and misery, totally disoriented, without any idea where we are going and what we are striving for. Unless it is that old, Milošević alliance with Russia and Belarus, which was hilarious even then, today it is simply pure nonsense.
In a situation that does not tolerate ambiguity and overdoings, Vučić is still behaving in the old way, but his time is slowly running out and the room for a manoeuvre is dangerously narrowing. In an interview with the Financial Times recently, he said Belgrade would not "choose a side", despite pressure from Europe and the United States. He will procrastinate with the formation of the new government, he will support the end of the war in Ukraine, he will squirm as much as he can to avoid what cannot be avoided - a clear and loud determination of which side Serbia is on and where it is going.
At the same time, he created a problem for himself, because he turned Serbia into Putin's Trojan horse, and he poisoned the general public with Kremlin propaganda, which his media have been firing in bursts for years. But, even if the public is different, it is clear that Vučić does not like Serbia's substantial rapprochement with the European Union, nor with the minimum of civility and order, because even the slightest democratic breath threatens to shake his autocratic government. Nothing is as foreign to Vučić as European, democratic values, and there is no other way in sight. There is torment for both the radicals and the progressives, no matter which political incarnation is currently closer to his heart.
A forgotten moral obligation
There are speculations about what the president will do, whether he will impose sanctions on Russia or not, gains and losses are calculated in both cases, analysts analyze every day, and journalists transmit statements of these and those, the opposition has woken up and some are forcing sanctions, although it should have been done before the election and finally stopped with missed calculations and petty bribery. Cold and calculated talk about the benefits and harms of potential decisions, discussions whether sanctions are just a symbolic act, raises the eternal and meaningless issue of Kosovo with which Putin "stabbed us in the back". The tabloids are turning with the wind, one day they are heart and soul with the Russian army in Ukraine, the next they are preparing the audience for a possible political turn. Citizens are afraid of the sanctions that the Western world would impose on Serbia, which is offered as a justification for possible sanctions against Russia, and all in that trading style.
Only one thing is missing in all this fuss, the most important one: elementary empathy with Ukrainians who suffer and perish under the criminal aggression of the Russian army, which invaded their country during a time of pure peace and satirized everything in front of them for more than two months. No one seems to remember what a basic human, moral obligation it is to be on the side of an innocent victim, and against villains, murderers and marauders.
In strong geopolitical stories, economic calculations, vain appeals to European values, in that inexhaustible struggle for interests and zeal - no one should remember something much more important: do we want to be part of a world that opposes aggression and mad tyranny or do we want to be a part of the world that is tyrannical, abusing and killing whenever it wants, and along the way threatens nuclear war and the disappearance of all humanity. That is the choice that Serbia is actually facing, but I am afraid that the chance to choose the right option has long been wasted. At that crossroads, Serbia turned in the wrong direction in the 1990s, joining the list of criminals, murderers and robbers voluntarily. And she has not yet given up her shameful criminal legacy.