Identity is what we really are, and image is how others see us. Serbia has no problem with its identity, it knows very well what it is today and where it sees itself in the future. It doesn’t even have a problem with its image, at least not to the extent it has had for most of the past few decades. But still not with everyone. The distorted impression of Serbia, especially in our immediate environment, appears because Serbia has finally clarified some basic things about its identity with itself, cleared up some old misconceptions, and today it is clear with that. While it was confused, until it knew what it wanted (mostly knew what it didn’t want), until it was “itself”, others knew very well what was best for Serbia and what it should be. Things changed, in favor of Serbia, but the confusion remained, though with others.
The main subject of that confusion is – what is Serbia today, is it “Open Balkan” or maybe it is “Serbian world”? Is it the center of gathering in the region, the spiritus movens of its development and opening to one another, or is it a malignant imperial power that seeks to subjugate everyone else?
At first glance, there should be no dilemma about this. Today’s Serbia is the “Open Balkan” and much more than that initiative, which it leads together with Albania and North Macedonia. That is its identity, that’s what it really is, and in this endeavor, the essence of the entire internal and foreign policy it has been pursuing in the last decade, which coincides with the period of Aleksandar Vučić’s rule, has been gathered. However, the perception of Serbia and its image are not like that in all parts of the Balkan region. Why, despite such a clearly constructed identity, do they perceive it as a dark threat, refuse to cooperate with it, reject its leadership, which objectively exists?
The construction “Serbian world” is talked about only outside Serbia, in Serbia it does not exist as a topic. In Serbia and on behalf of Serbia, the topics are opened and set by its official policy, and that is by no means some kind of “Serbian world”. The topic that Serbia offers is “Open Balkan”, but they ignore it and translate it into their languages as “Serbian world”. This escape from reality has a longer professional psychological and even psychiatric explanation, but in the sphere of politics and economics, the interpretation is very simple. One part of the region, its political and intellectual elite, with the support of veterans from the ranks of European devotees to the Balkans and its European future, simply cannot accept the tremendous economic, political, security rise of Serbia in the last decade and as a consequence, its unquestionable and unattainable leadership in regional frameworks. It is unacceptable and incomprehensible for Serbia to go beyond the average and below the average, its breakthrough into the world of those who decide, from the world that was decided by others, is inadmissible. Serbia cannot be allowed to transfer the huge changes it has made in its home to the entire region. This fundamentally destroys its image, carefully built for decades, of an immature child, even incapable of independent living, doomed to eternal supervision. And that is why, whenever you hear from the region that someone is complaining about some “Serbian world”, know that this is just a miserable excuse to escape from reality.
In the real world, Serbia is the unattainable leader of the region in every discipline in which the strength of a community can be measured, in the economy, in political influence, in the security sphere. More importantly, it is fully aware of that, and without equal, the most important thing is that it has put such capacities and its awareness of them in the service of cooperation, partnership and opening, and not in the function of destruction and domination, which they want to attach to it.
“Open Balkan” was not only accepted by Albania and North Macedonia, they are its equal participants and promoters. This concept of Vučić is strongly propagated by the United States, and recently they clearly warned Sarajevo and Pristina that they should join the project, because it is good and has the potential to pull the Balkans forward. They are not doing that because they especially like Serbia or Vučić, but because they have carefully measured the scope of this initiative, and they have even more carefully assessed the strength of leadership over this project, and it is without a doubt in the hands of Serbia.
In order to reach this position, Serbia has been exposed to numerous tests in recent years and has passed the most difficult ones. The key exam was financial consolidation, which was achieved by a strong tightening of the belt in the first years of Vučić’s mandate, after which space was opened for investment and development. That was a precondition for building all other systems, health, infrastructure, financial, military-security, and of course diplomatic and political. Serbia first saved with Vučić, and then started earning money and spending it where its capacities, as a state and society, will be fertilized. It solved all three huge, global crises in the last six years on its own – migrants, the COVID-19 pandemic, and now it is suppressing the fire epidemic. In the last two situations, it has even exported its capacity to combat the crisis, sending vaccines and medical equipment to its closest neighbors, that is, sending massive support for firefighting in Greece. There is no power for something like that anywhere in the Balkans, except in Serbia.
In the world of the future, the strength of each community will be measured by its ability to overcome the crisis, and the character of those crises will be global. That future has already begun, we have mentioned only the last three temptations, completely different in nature, but equal in destructive power. Serbia has not only overcome them, but through them it has shown a quality that will be valued in the future, and that is the ability to help others, to be their partner when it is difficult and to maintain that partnership even in times of prosperity. That is the identity of today’s Serbia, an organized and influential state, which is not afraid of opening up to others, and why should it. Until recently, Serbia was not like that, but now it is. The fear of such a Serbia is irrational, and the resistance towards it is self-destructive. It is only a compensation for the inability to change for the better. Serbia has nothing to do with that anymore.