segunda-feira, 11 de abril de 2016
Who knows what spark might ignite Bosnia?’
Who knows what spark might ignite Bosnia?’
Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vučić tells POLITICO the Balkans are ‘a kind of time machine.’
By MATTHEW KARNITSCHNIG 4/11/16, 5:33 AM CET
BELGRADE — Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vučić said growing political extremism in the Balkans threatens the stability of Bosnia-Herzegovina and the wider region, and warned that recent war trial verdicts at The Hague have left the environment more volatile than it had been in years.
“My biggest worry is the situation in Bosnia…everything that is in and around Bosnia,” Vučić said during a lengthy interview in his Belgrade office. “Who knows what spark might ignite Bosnia?”
The Serbian leader’s comments come less than two weeks before he faces reelection and will be seen by some as nothing short of scaremongering, intended to present himself as the sole voice of reason in the fractious region. Political calculation or not, it is also true that emotions are again running high in the Balkans, confronting Europe with another potential crisis it can do without.
A pair of verdicts handed down last month by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia — one convicting Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadžić, the other exonerating Serbian ultranationlist politician Vojislav Šešelj in connection with war-related crimes — has inflamed passions on all sides.
Bosnian Muslims and Croats complain Karadžić’s 40-year sentence was too lenient and are incensed by Šešelj’s acquittal. Many Serb nationalists, meanwhile, regard the acquittal of Šešelj as proof that they have been unfairly targeted by the international community. Serbs have long complained they have been forced to bear the brunt of the blame for the Balkan wars in the 1990s that led to the dissolution of Yugoslavia.
Under an international peace accord brokered in 1995, Bosnia was divided into two entities, one jointly controlled by Bosnian Muslims and Croats and the other, the Republika Srpska, by local Serbs. Yet the arrangement is fragile, with the Serbs pushing for more autonomy and the Croats seeking a slice of Bosnia for themselves.
‘A kind of time machine’
The court decisions come amid a resurgence of nationalism in the Balkans, including the recent return to power in Zagreb of the Croatian Democratic Union, or HDZ, the party of former strongman Franjo Tudjman. Some HDZ leaders have suggested they would block Serbia’s EU accession unless Serbia takes a harder line in prosecuting war crimes by, among other steps, making it easier to extradite suspects.
“I don’t see any possibility for future clashes in Kosovo.”
Vučić warned that provocations following the verdicts on all sides, including victory celebrations by Šešelj supporters in Srebrenica, the site of the 1995 massacre of over 8,000 Bosnian Muslims by Serb forces, had created a tinderbox.
“Since [mid] March it has looked from time to time as though we were back in the 1990s,” Vučić told POLITICO. “The only important topics here were the Karadžić verdict, the Bosnia-Serbia relationship, the Serbia-Croatia relationship and when were we going to start with real conciliation. It’s a kind of time machine.”
He said he was less concerned about the situation in Kosovo, despite recent political tensions in the breakaway province over its relations with Serbia. Kosovo, majority Albanian, declared independence from Serbia in 2008, but Belgrade does not recognize its sovereignty.
“It is not a part of the western Balkans, a part of my country under the Serbian constitution, that worries me the most,” he said. “I don’t see any possibility for future clashes in Kosovo.”
Vučić, a former ultranationalist who broke with Šešelj to help form the conservative Serbian Progressive Party in 2008, has steered Serbia onto a firm pro-EU course since taking power in 2014. Belgrade opened accession talks that same year.
Despite his nationalist past, the Serbian leader has won the trust of Germany’s Angela Merkel and other European leaders who regard him as an anchor of stability in the troubled region.
“The stability of the region is something we need to take care of. If I have to make more concessions, I have no problems with that.”
With an eye towards the EU, Vučić insisted his government would not respond to provocations from Serbia’s neighbors and would continue “to respect the territorial integrity of Bosnia.”
He said he would travel to Mostar on Tuesday to meet with Bosnian Muslim leader Bakir Izetbegović, in an effort to defuse recent tensions. He added he may make a similar trip to Croatia in the coming weeks.
Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic listens to Bosnian Serb Commander Ratko Mladic during a meeting with the press in Pale, on August 5, 1993
“The stability of the region is something we need to take care of and we need to understand each other more and better,” Vučić said. “If I have to make more concessions, I have no problems with that.”
The renewed political strains in the Balkans come at a crucial moment for Serbia.
In January, Vučić called new elections, which are scheduled for April 24. Though his government’s current term doesn’t expire until 2018, Vučić opted to seek a fresh four-year mandate before implementing a series of planned economic overhauls demanded by Europe and the International Monetary Fund.
Those measures include trimming government spending and cutting about 70,000 public sector jobs, or about 5 percent of the total, over the next two years.
While economists argue the cuts are crucial for Serbia to resuscitate its battered economy, the short-term impact could be devastating. Serbia has yet to fully make the transition from its communist past to a market economy and the state sector still employs about half of all workers in the country.
Half of Serbs want to join the EU, but ultranationalists are polling strongly ahead of April 24 election.
Despite the inevitable pain the economic restructuring will bring, Vučić’s Progressive Party and its allies are the clear favorites to win the election. They have led recent polls with more than 50 percent. The Socialist Party, Vučić’s current coalition partner, is a distant second with about 13 percent.
The surprise has been the surge in support for nationalist parties, especially Šešelj’s Serbian Radical Party, which is polling at about 8 percent.
Šešelj’s ultranationalists are not currently represented in the parliament but appear almost certain to cross the 5 percent threshold needed to secure seats.
While the party, which opposes EU membership, advocates closer ties with Russia and pushes for a “Greater Serbia” that brings together ethnic Serbs scattered across the post-Yugoslavia Balkan borders, was polling well even before the Hague verdict, the acquittal gave Šešelj a significant boost.
Vučić has responded by casting the election as a choice between Serbia’s troubled past and the promise of a future in the EU.
“I will fight their ideas, I will fight their values,” he said. “We will see what people will decide…. I don’t think we need to have more wars, more clashes in the region.”
With more than half of Serbians in favor of EU membership, Vučić would appear to have little to worry about. His biggest worry might be low turnout and he has tried to jolt voters by warning that the Hague verdicts could propel the nationalists to victory.
He said in the interview that he would pursue a coalition with other parties after the election even if he wins an absolute majority. He ruled out any form of cooperation with Šešelj or other nationalist forces.
Political observers in Serbia say Šešelj’s expected electoral success could play into Vučić’s hands. When times get tough, the presence of extremists in parliament could offer Vučić a useful foil to remind voters, and even the EU, what the alternative to his leadership would look like.
Vučić’s critics worry that he has already amassed too much power and that the elections will only strengthen his hold on the country. In addition to the national poll, local elections will also be held, allowing Vučić to consolidate his power in key regions.