Daniel Serwer: Balkans a low priority for US foreign policy

Daniel Serwer; Photo: Tanjug

BELGRADE – Daniel Serwer, professor of Conflict Management at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and a former US diplomat involved in the Dayton Peace Agreement, talked with Serbian journalists during Newsweek Talks, organized on Friday, 13 May, in Belgrade.

Serwer expressed his satisfaction with the direction in which Serbia is moving, claiming that despite all the problems, it is now an electoral democracy. He also praised Serbian PM Aleksandar Vučić for his efforts in normalizing relatios with Kosovo and regional stabilization in connection to the problems in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Serwer believes that Serbia does not need to join NATO in order to join EU, but that normalization of relations with Kosovo is crucial in this regard. According to him, normalization requires allowing Kosovo a seat in the UN and the establishment of diplomatic relations between Serbia and Kosovo. Serwer believes that Serbia would not be at a disadvantage if it allowed Kosovo to join the UN.

Speaking about Bosnia and Herzegovina and the possible referendum on the independence of Republika Srpska, Serwer claimed that neither Brussels, Belgrade or Zagreb would want to have a smaller Bosnian state in which the muslim population would be radicalized. He believes that this was the case during the war and the ensuing peace talks, but also today.

Regarding Macedonia, Serwer expressed his opinion that the opposition in Macedonia is responsible for not accepting to participate in the parliamentary elections, fearing that they may lose them. According to him, the ruling party does have the support of the majority of the Macedonian population.

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Regarding the upcoming US presidential elections and their impact on the US foreign policy on the Balkans, Serwer said that he believes Hillary Clinton would only serve the “3rd term” of Barrack Obama, staying commited to the European integration of Serbia, while Donald Trump, despite his public statements, does not care much about the region. According to Serwer, the Balkans is a region of low priority for the United States, overshadowed by the Middle East, Pacific region and Ukraine.

Speaking about Russia and its role in the Balkans, Serwer claimed it is a “declining regional power”, troubled by economic recession and a declining currency, which will only worsen over time. According to Serwer, Russia had managed to “make a mess” in Eastern Ukraine and alienate Syria’s Sunni muslims, who will not forget Russia’s role in support Assad in the civil war. Regarding the connections between Serbia and Russia, Serwer claimed that he understands the cultural connections between the two states, but that Russia is not a “saviour or Serbia”, just like the United States and the EU are not either.

Asked about the democratic credentials of the Western Balkans pro-European regimes, Serwer said that some governments in the region have failed to create a “viable oppositon”, such as the case with Montenegro and Kosovo, where the opposition is strong, but “constitutional”, opposing not only the government, but the entire political system.

Serwer concluded his speech with a brief assesment of the major problems and obstacles Serbia faces, mentiong unfree media, the need for a security reform where certain people need to be held responsible for their actions, and the weakness of the judicial system. According to Serwer, weak judiciary is the problem of all Western Balkans states, but the strongest role of the constitutional courts so far was seen in Kosovo.