A warning of missed chances

“It is a madness if you repeat the same action and expect a different result,” is a saying attributed to Albert Einstein. In it, we will easily recognize the behavior of Serbia and its leaders whenever they had the opportunity to make a decision, which will determine the fate of the state and the people in the long run. Lately, we often hear from American diplomats that the “window” for resolving the Kosovo issue is “open” and that we should use it, because it will not be open for a long time. If you have already come to a situation where some issues that are important to you are decided by the United States and the West, then you should also understand the language they speak, in order to make the right decision. Even now, for who knows which time in the last thirty years, Serbia is in such a position. Unfortunately, it usually didn’t understand, or it insanely confidently refused to understand the messages about “open windows”, which is why it became a real champion in missing opportunities. The windows opened and closed countless times, leaving behind only drafts and storms, which irrevocably took away historical chances, often thousands of human lives, damage measured in billions and years of stagnation that cannot be compensated.

If there was something in common in every decision not to go through an open window, then it was a devastating belief that the first offer should be rejected, because that shows strength (!?) and every next offer (plan, solution…) will be more favorable. That never happened. But it did not stop us from using the same, losing strategy again. Convinced that we have a mission, that we are advocates of universal justice, a bastion of resistance to the powerful and oppressors, the voice of the small and freedom-loving… In fact, we were just ignorant, arrogant and short-sighted.

At a time when, for Serbia, another “window” is briefly opening for an important historical decision, it is good to recall several similar situations, which we “cleverly” missed, although this did not prevent us from turning them into victories, as saving and wise decisions…

Membership in the European Union, which we have been hoping for 17 years and which is not yet in sight, has already been on our table once as a ready offer. Not so long ago, in May 1991, an offer arrived in Belgrade from Brussels for the then Yugoslavia, to be admitted, by a political decision, to the European Union (then the Community) and to receive a few billion dollars for reforms. In return, local bosses were supposed to end the quarrels and give up the war that was already on the horizon. Serbia (Milošević) was one of those who rejected the offer. They had different plans on what to do with the common state and they realized them. With hundreds of thousands killed, millions displaced, a ruined economy and a fragmented state in which everyone could say they were the winner. And for others to believe him.

Two years and thousands of dead later, Cyrus Vance and Sir David Owen brought to the masters of the war in Bosnia a plan that foresaw the end of the war, the preservation of the whole of B&H and its internal organization in ten provinces. They were rejected at the assembly in a hotel in Pale, in front of the humiliated Milošević, Dobrica Ćosić and Konstantin Micotakis. Peace will come two and a half years later, and in the meantime thousands of Serbs, Bosniaks and Croats will die, their villages and towns will be destroyed, from which they will not recover until today.

We repeat the same strategy of rejection, without learning anything from previous tragedies, at the beginning of 1995. Four powers – the UN, the EU, Russia and America – bring to Zagreb a plan to end the war, over which Tuđman and his people froze. Serbs in Croatia get a “state within a state” – president, parliament, government, courts, flag, coat of arms, money, language, taxes, police, customs, international agreements… While in Zagreb there is silence, and everyone except Tuđman believes that the plan should be accepted (according to the testimony of Ivica Pašalić), plan Z-4 arrives in Knin. Milan Martić welcomes international mediators with lamb, but he does not even want to pick up a paper with unimaginably wide autonomy! Knin and Belgrade flatly rejected it, they wanted the state or nothing. Mate Granić, the head of Croatian diplomacy, brought a good news to his boss Tuđman and said – “Now we are sure that besides the partners and allies, the Americans, dear God is on our side.” While champagne was flowing in Zagreb, because they knew that this Serbian rejection sealed the creation of an independent Croatia, in Belgrade they did not even know the real name of this plan, let alone its content. Tomislav Nikolić called it “Plan Three Four”, believing that respecting the Cyrillic letter “Z” is more important than the fate of hundreds of thousands of his compatriots, whom he assured in those years that they would have their own state. Operation “Flash“ in Western Slavonia immediately followed, and operation “Storm” a few months later.

Short-term peace for Serbia seems like a break for a beaten, impoverished and confused man, who still dreams that he was always right and that he should just continue to play rough with the “bullies”. It perceives the negotiations in Rambouillet as a mockery, rejects everything that is in question and consciously enters the adventure of a three-month bombing, which takes the country back decades. A month later, it withdraws everything that Serbia had in Kosovo and accepts the same agreement from Rambouillet, included in UN Security Council Resolution 1244.

Belgrade’s “Mister No” Slobodan Milošević went down in history in 2000, but his doctrine of rejection and short-sightedness remained alive in the politics of his democratic successors. As many times during the 1990s, in 2007, Serbia rejected the plan for Kosovo by Finnish politician Martti Ahtisaari, and it confirmed this rejection in Parliament. Because, of course, it violates the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Serbia. A better offer will never arrive, just like on all previous occasions. Kosovo immediately declares independence, and that independence is recognized by all Western countries. In the meantime, Ahtisaari’s plan is being transformed into the Constitution of Kosovo, and exclusively on its basis, the Serbian community still enjoys broad autonomy. Monasteries and churches have the inviolable right to property, Serbs have guaranteed 10 members of Parliament, a place in the Government of Kosovo, newly formed Serbian municipalities. And all based on the plan we rejected!

The list of our catastrophic rejections, and then acceptance under much worse conditions, is much wider, here are just some of the more important “windows”, through which we refused to go and because of that we suffered. One of such “windows” is still open today, it concerns the solution to the Kosovo issue and again, it will not be open for too long. Nor will the offers after it be more favorable. If anyone should know how these “windows” work in international negotiations, it is Serbia. In the next few months, we will know if we are finally ready to choose benefit instead of harm, future instead of past, and at least once use the opportunity to step out of the role of a misunderstood victim, for which we no longer have the strength or justification to play.