July 28, 2008

Commentator Sees Misplaced “Ethnocentrism” in Russia’s Attitude to Serbia

Text of report by Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta, often critical of the government, on 24 July

[Commentary by Boris Yunanov: "Russia's New Friends. Radovan Karadzic"]

Why did Moscow support two pariah leaders - Radovan Karadzic and Robert Mugabe? One is accused of war crimes by the Hague Tribunal, and the other the United States is attempting to put on trial for savage reprisals against the opposition.

The following happened in Belgrade a few days ago: Serbian President Boris Tadic "surrendered" to the devious and vicious Hague tribunal prominent patriot and public figure and former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, who had successfully escaped corrupt European justice for a whole 13 years. It will not be long before the "traitor Tadic," like Zoran Djindjic before him, will face retribution. And then penitent Serbia will again turn to fraternal Russia...

Millions of compatriots believe this interpretation of Balkan events. This is what we were told by television commentator Konstantin Semin. But is he alone? For years the whole of Russian television told us that Milosevic was a national hero of Serbia, despite the fact that the majority of Serbs despised him and considered him to blame for all the troubles that befell the country in the Nineties. But what about today? Even totally liberal Russian media, citing "authoritative experts," are talking constantly about some kind of "definitive turn towards the West by Serbia,""a freezing of relations with the Kremlin," and "another 'loss for Russia,'" which has not even be able to win over the Serb Orthodox brothers with the strong energy power of South Stream.

What is going on? Contemporary Russian political culture has spawned pretentious and conceited ethnocentrism. All external events, even those that simply do not affect Russia in any way, are nevertheless seen in the fatal dualist context of confrontation between Russia and the West. Our man or not our man, our things or not our things, with us or not with us. Pro-Russian or anti- Russian. If you should dare to say that Washington or Brussels deserve praise, you are immediately categorized as an antagonist. Even if you have just abolished visas for Russian tourists as a sign of particular goodwill.

But we, naive as we are, think that other people do not notice this. Not so long ago a Serbian colleague described Gazprom officials looking over Serbian refineries. As if they were "already ours." Should we be surprised that the result is that people turn away from us.

Let us cut to the quick. Radovan Karadzic, former leader of the Bosnian Serbs, was arrested on 18 July in Batajnica, a suburb of Belgrade, when boarding a bus. He was "grabbed" thoughtfully, kind of apologetically - the way that they "grab" those who for a long time they did not want to grab but now simply have to. Karadzic is not a criminal but a political player. None of the charges against Karadzic has been proved. It is said that he ordered killings. But his position prescribed that he had to give orders. He refused to surrender to the Hague Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia and was in hiding for 13 years. But if he had surrendered promptly, like Biljan Plavcic, he would have been pardoned. Milosevic, who did not give himself up but was handed over, died in the Hague prison in mysterious circumstances after managing to write a letter saying that people wanted to kill him. The "unexplained death" of the ex- dictator seriously concerned only Prosecutor Carla Del Ponte. She pushed for a detailed investigation. But she was soon removed from her post and sent to Argentina as Swiss ambassador. There were then rumours that there were now ethnic Albanians, now Muslim Bosnians among the Hague Tribunal guards. Although that should categorically not have been so. After Milosevic died some people were indeed dismissed - for "negligence."

In connection with Karadzic's arrest, the newspapers are talking about assistance from "a foreign intelligence service." But it is most likely that the operation was developed independently by the Serb special services, where, following the killing of Zoran Djindjic, there was a protracted and assiduous process of purging all actual and potential Milosevic supporters, and likewise all pan- Serb ideas. Serbia has not adopted lustration laws - everything has happened in accordance with the internal logic of the life of a country that does not see himself outside of Europe and the European Union. The Russian elite's hopes that, having dumped its ballast in the shape of Milosevic, Serbia would become "almost Eastern," are illusory to say the least. Current President Boris Tadic dreams of a "normal Serbia." The arrest of Karadzic is a logical step in this direction. But it is important for Serbia to confirm its adherence to European values specifically now, when the failed Irish referendum on the European Constitution has placed a question mark over the further expansion of the EU. Deep within the European Commission there is an opinion that is gradually growing that they will admit Croatia but then call a halt for the time being. Tadic's mega-task is to persuade Brussels to consider Serbia's application urgently, "as a package" with Croatia. Otherwise the political credo of this politician will crumble to dust. So Tadic has deliberately softened his nationalist outrage over Kosovo and, two weeks ago, ordered the Serbian ambassadors who had been recalled from European capitals to return to their posts.

...There is a fine Canadian documentary about how every year young people from all over the former Yugoslavia gather at a tourist resort near Sarajevo. They communicate in Serbo-Croat. They tell each other the memories of their parents and relations about the past war here and, at the end, they form a circle and, embracing, swear to each other to never again allow fratricide on their common soil. I tell you honestly, it is a moving scene. And one wants to forget as soon as possible about the Karadzics, Mladics, Milosevics, and all the rest who still rise to their defence.

Originally published by Novaya Gazeta, Moscow, in Russian 24 Jul 08.

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