When it comes to important decisions, history can help, but only if we read it soberly, without emotions. Otherwise, it will always work against us and take us to the field where defeat will inevitably follow, at home, of course. Despite the widespread belief today, Serbia achieved its greatest victories and its greatest progress when it was an ally of the great, Western powers, Europe and America. Then, on the fourth anniversary of the beginning of the First World War, US President Woodrow Wilson called on his compatriots to express sympathy in churches and places of worship with the small and brave Serbian people, while the flag of the victorious Balkan kingdom was flying on Capitol Hill in Washington.
On the other hand, again, despite the widespread belief, Serbia was doing badly when it relied on the help of the great Orthodox Russia, relied on the protection of its “older brother”, when it needed support. Then, when, for example, precisely because of the defense of its own interests, with the agreement in Bucharest, Russia left the Serbian rebels stranded and left them to the revenge of the Ottomans. Or when it was ready to attack Yugoslavia, because it broke away from the dogmatic Stalinist alliance, in which Eastern Europe spent decades of horrors, until it was saved and joined the European Union. And when Yeltsin’s Russia waved S-300 systems, encouraging Serbia with its alleged friendship and protection while it was bombed in 1999… A quarter of a century later, many in Serbia are still waiting for the arrival of the famous S-300.
Those rockets, of course, will never come, nor do we need them. But what we have always had in history is coming, even though we have so rarely been able to recognize it. It is a sweet-spoken, hypocritical concern of Russia for Serbia and its interests, and the same, emotionally and historically charged readiness to take Serbia under some kind of protection. This game has “functioned” among Serbs many times so far, so even today there is a belief that Russia is the only protector of the Serbian interest on the big international stage and that only it can be our ally.
Even when Vladimir Putin identifies Crimea and Kosovo and thus most openly shows that he only cares about the Black Sea peninsula that he annexed, while the seceded Serbian province serves only as a stake for bargaining over the end of the Crimean issue. Even when the Russian president cordially, as an equal with an equal, discusses the Kosovo issue with Hashim Thaci at the Paris celebration of the centenary of the end of the First World War. Even when the president of the Russian Football Association, Alexander Alaev, cordially congratulates his Kosovo colleague Agim Ademi on taking office, with the message that Kosovo “can always count on the support of the Russian Football Association in all football issues”…
The old Russian game of alleged defense of Serbian interests “works” even when European and American non-refundable financial support to Serbia of over five billion euros since 2000 completely outweighs Russia’s, which cannot be measured reliably, because it has not existed since Putin is in power in Moscow. If we do not count as help that we have been “relieved” of worries about the national oil company and the resources of our oil. Or sending members of the Russian army, special forces for the fight against the corona (it is probably the new military specialty in the Russian army), as the Serbian media euphorically called them. Led by a great general of communal services “who personally received a task from Putin to save Serbia from the corona by washing the streets and disinfecting several buildings”, as Serbian media also reported at the time. The impression of Russia’s constant care for Serbia and its interests is carefully built by the frequent meetings of its leader Putin with Serbian President Vučić. There were as many as 18 of them in the past eight years, the nineteenth is expected in the fall, and after each of them, starting with the first, the question can rightly be asked – what really was their concrete positive effect on the interests of Serbia?
Russia’s interest in Serbia and its troubles with Kosovo has nothing to do with Serbia or Kosovo, but exclusively with Russia and its interests. Just like always in the past. Of course, the same goes for the interest of all other great players for us and our troubles, with the difference that they all say it clearly and we are clear with them. Not with Russia. Our people say that everyone scratches where it itches, so in the past period, the Russian Embassy in Belgrade and Ambassador Kharchenko were very active in writing open letters to the Serbian media, protesting that they bring Russia into the context of destructive activities in Serbia. Imagine that the US Embassy in Belgrade reacts in such a way to the writings of the Serbian press, which absolutely “reports exclusively” on a daily basis about the great US conspiracies against Serbia? Well, Ambassador Godfrey would not have time to eat a hot dog from writing statements and open letters, let alone try our various gastronomic specialties while traveling in Serbia.
Russian interference in Serbian and Balkan disputes, although understandable and even expected, is always, however, covered in a cloak of fraternal care and friendly assistance.
Sometimes that mask slips from face, and the real face of Russian policy in the Balkans becomes quite visible, as in the case of Putin’s comparison of Crimea with Kosovo, or the recent message of Russian Ambassador to Serbia Kharchenko that there can be no solution for Kosovo without Russia. None of the greats on the “other side” ever said that without them there would be no solution for Kosovo. On the contrary, the American ambassador in Belgrade, Anthony Godfrey, says that the United States does not want the solution for Kosovo to be “imposed from above”, but that it should be reached by two negotiating parties by compromise. This is exactly what Serbia wants, to finally be in a position to decide on the issue that concerns it.
The interest of America, as Ambassador Godfrey also said, is to see Serbia in the membership of the European Union, and we are also clear on that. Not only are we clear, but our interests coincide in that regard as well. Are we, on the other hand, sure that Russia also has an interest in Serbia joining the European Union? It is clear that it is not in its interest, even based on the words of Ambassador Kharchenko that without Russia there can be no agreement on Kosovo. And especially because of its unquestionable support to all those who want some kind of freezing of the Kosovo problem, its unresolved status, stagnating and waiting for the stars in the sky of global politics to finally and forever move to the east. Especially because of the Russian encouragement of all those in Serbia, but also throughout the Balkans, who do not want to reform or speed up the path to EU membership, but to remain poor, quarreling and isolated states. The Serbian interest does not coincide with the Russian interest. In history often, and now especially. The delusion of a kind of brotherhood, which stands above all interests, is an old game in which Serbia unmistakably lost and paid a high price for it. Its greatest interest today is to clearly recognize that, and to recognize with whom it shares the same vision of its own future. Russia today certainly doesn’t.