2nd Annual Serbian-American Lecture Series:
Serbian Transition Year Five: Challenges of Euroatlantic Integration
February 18, 2005
Staff-prepared summary of the EES discussion with Ivan Vejvoda, Executive Director, Balkan Trust for Democracy, a project of the German Marshal Fund of the United States.

Five years after Slobodan Milosevic was ousted, the Serbian transition faces quite a new international environment: President Bush has been reelected and has a new administration; Jose Manuel Barroso has become the new President of the European Commission; the war in Iraq has moved the focus of foreign policy far away from the problems in the Balkans; and the EU is experiencing "enlargement fatigue" after the recent accession of 10 new member states. The international stage has certainly changed, yet, Ivan Vejvoda contends that Serbia has not adjusted to these changes. Indeed, Serbian politicians have been preoccupied with "navel gazing" rather than trying to understand how the country fits into the new international agenda, and Serbia has suffered as a result.

In comparison to other recent democratic revolutions, Serbia is doing much better than Georgia and Ukraine, but is far behind Slovakia, both democratically and economically. Vejvoda noted that Serbians must embrace Machiavelli's concept of virtue rather than relying on destiny: fate will not take Serbia in any direction if it does not want to be taken there. The blow of Zoran Djindjic's assassination had shaken Serbia's commitment in its goals, but it is time for the country to catch up.

In fact, practically everything has changed in Serbia since 2000, but there is still much more to be done. Vejvoda identified three constraints slowing Serbia's progress. First, Serbia is constrained by the complex federal institutional structure inherited from Yugoslavia. Second, an unsophisticated political environment is constraining progress. Although the 18-party coalition was essential in defeating Milosevic, parties now need to consolidate their bases, create clear identities and engage in regular party competition. Third, the Serbian government must implement reforms in order to address the startling economic downturn in the country. As other countries in the region, Serbia must follow the Washington Consensus as well as the IMF's and the World Bank's prescriptions.

Vejvoda urged Serbian leaders to make a firm commitment to European integration, first and foremost by cooperating with the ICTY. After the election of President Tadic, cooperation with the ICTY finally became realizable. Unfortunately, this has not yet occurred and Serbia risks missing out on the so-called "Helsinki Effect" (in which the clear promise of EU enlargement acts as a positive force for reform), which is badly needed in Serbia today. The EU has given Serbia a deadline of March 27, 2005 for full compliance with the Hague, otherwise its ongoing feasibility study will be shelved and EU accession postponed indefinitely. The same condition applies for Serbian participation in NATO's PfP. Integration with both the EU and NATO are vital for democratic consolidation in Serbia, since it will bolster the status of democratic and reformist elements in the political sphere.

Kosovo remains the last burning issue in the Balkans. Nevertheless, it is important to note that "conflict mode" has been exhausted in the region, and everyone must work together to find a suitable final status. The solution must be Europe-oriented, democratic and must address the key grievances of all parties. Vejvoda contends that satisfying the standards is essential, no matter what the status will be. The standards include creating a modern, European, democratic society, respect for minorities, fostering good governance, giving all people access to religious sites and economic stabilization.

For the last two years, Serbia has been on a tipping point between its authoritarian past and democratic, European future. This position is extremely uncomfortable, since it feels as though victory is at the tips of Serbia's fingers. But recent elections indicate that Serbia is beginning to break through: 60 to 65 percent of the electorate consistently votes for democratic parties. Moreover, an unnoticed fact is that Serbian local elections showed the democratic parties winning clear majorities. Thus, Serbia is closer than ever to choosing the right direction of its future.