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[EWB Interview] Jović: Long delay in EU membership prevents successful reforms

Dejan Jović

At a time when support for EU enlargement in the Western Balkans is bleak, and the promised 2025 year is rarely mentioned, advocacy for quick accession of all countries in the region is a more lonely position. However, on this position remains Dejan Jović, professor at the Universities of Zagreb and Belgrade, and a candidate for a member of the European Parliament on the Independent Democratic Serb Party (SDSS) list.

Would this procedure be a reward for the Balkan “stabilocrats”, or on the other hand, is this opposition to enlargement based on exaggerated fears? We discussed this and other issues with Professor Jović.

European Western Balkans: You have never participated in elections as a candidate on a list until now. Why did you decide that the European elections would be your first election test, and why did you became a SDSS candidate?

Dejan Jović: Because for years I have been advocating the need for a new opinion in the European Union when it comes to enlargement issues in the Western Balkans. I criticize the individual accession and I propose that all countries join the Union at the same time.

Also, I want quick entry rather than additional criteria and complications. But one thing is when I do all of this as a university professor, and the other would be if I could do it as a Member of the European Parliament.

And as for why the SDSS list? I am keen to encourage Serbs in Croatia, as well as all other minorities in Croatia, to overcome their perception that there are posts in politics and society that are not for them, but only for the majority people, Croats.

Also, I express my solidarity towards those who for thirty years has been in favor of friendly relations between Croats and Serbs, although this policy is unpopular on both sides. I want to help to break prejudices and stereotypes about the Serbian minority in Croatia.

The attitude towards minorities is a fundamental issue of the character of any society. The minority rights cannot be defended only in Ukraine, but at the same time ignored in their own country, which is the thing that Croatian European parliamentarians have done so far.

EWB: It is well known that your position is that Western Balkans should enter the EU as soon as possible. You also said that it would be good for all countries to enter at the same time to avoid tensions. What would you say to your colleagues in the EP to persuade them that an enlargement policy has no alternative?

DJ: I would like to question the prejudice and stereotypes that many have there in relation to the Balkans. There are many Orientalisms and hidden phobias when speaking and thinking about the Balkan peoples.

These phobias have more diverse sources – some are related to general phobias towards Muslims and everything that has historically been linked to the Ottoman Empire, and others were created later, and they relate primarily to the image of the Serbs and Serbia. There is also a fear of migrants in general – who shows that xenophobia has not been defeated.

The relation with the issue of enlargement in the Western Balkans is under the strong influence of these fears, which are mostly irrational. Europe should only fear if it rejects and disappoints those citizens who want to join the European Union as soon as possible.

If we continue with the delay policy, in the Western Balkans we will have increased activity of other actors, such as the United States, Russia, Turkey and China – and none of them is a bigger friend and protector of freedom than the European Union itself.

EWB: On the other hand, the countries of the region have become more and more openly “stabilocracies with the elements of captured states”. Does this mean that you, as an MEP would advocate a milder EU approach to political elites in the region?

DJ: Your question should be turned upside down. So, ask yourself: Why are these countries today like you described? Because they are waiting too long to join the European Union, and they have developed frustrations and a sense of discouragement, strengthed Euroscepticism or indifference, and, on the other hand, a space for promoting anti-European ideas and popularization of authoritarian models.

If the European Union had accepted Serbia in the Union during the time of Zoran Đinđić, Vojislav Koštunica or Boris Tadić, Serbia would today be a more liberal and democratic country. The same applies to North Macedonia: if its path to the EU was not blocked from the EU itself, specifically from Greece, we would not have the “Macedonia’s antiquitisation” phase in which Gruevski did what he did.

A long wait for the EU turns the whole process into “waiting for Godot,” and the countries that find themselves in this situation can not truly reform themselves. We are already in a bad situation, but the problem is that we will be in the worse if the EU does not change its approach and does not accept all of those countries in the Union soon and together, not one at a time.

EWB: In your opinion, what could be a viable solution for Kosovo status?

DJ: I wrote about it in the past, but I’m afraid that the idea I had did not come across any echo, so I would not repeat it. Kosovo was deliberately produced a problem that was created to prevent the unity of Europe. It’s an American Trojan horse in Europe. This automatically became a lever by which Russia can also influence a little, with the same or similar goal – preventing European unity. In the case of Kosovo, Europe acted naively for the benefit of its own damage.

What can be done now? I think it would be useful for Europe to learn from your own past and try not to commit the same mistakes. Although in many respects it is specifics, the Kosovo problem has similarities with the case of Northern Ireland and the case of Cyprus, I say – with all the specifics. In the case of Northern Ireland – which included terrorism, and which, luckily, in Kosovo does not exist today – Ireland and Britain simultaneously entered the Union (1973), and only 25 years after that (1998) reached a solution that still looks fairly solid today, despite dangers arising from Brexit.

So, they were not asked to solve the problem before they entered the EU, but EU membership was used to solve the problem. I think that the lesson should be drawn from this: that such problems, which include historical violence and deep divisions, can be better resolved when both countries are in the EU than when they are outside or when only one is in the Union and the other is not.

Accession of Albania and Serbia into the EU, while leaving the Kosovo issue for further talks, would be a useful framework for solving this problem. This requires a compromise if it is not possible to reach a lasting solution.

Although I repeat, the EU will not be able to reach agreement on this, because within the EU there is no uniform position on whether Kosovo is a state or part of Serbia. So, in resolving this problem, the EU is also a source of the problem and a source of the solution. When I mentioned Cyprus, I meant first of all that it entered into the EU, while not solving the issue of its own integrity. And if Cyprus could manage it, why couldn’t the other countries do the same?

EWB: In one article you wrote that, in a symbolic sense, the EU should accept Bosnia and Herzegovina and move the European institutions there. Do you think that BiH is ready to function within the European institutions, with all its difficulties, and carry out the necessary reforms?

DJ: Sometimes I think that we have prejudices towards Bosnia and Herzegovina, and I wonder where they come from. Is it because it is a multiethnic country? Is it because now, for the very first time, it has the Bosniak majority, so we transfer our unconscious or fully conscious fears of Muslims on that case?

Let’s go the other way around and point out that in that country, which more than 100,000 people died in the 1990s war, there was no – fortunately – acts of brutal violence on a national basis after the war. This is already a huge success in itself.

Bosnia and Herzegovina has its own internal problems, and is, by and large, a specific country, but it would not be the first or the only one that does not implement the reforms, but rather simulates them. Croatia simulated them also. We see that Hungary does not respect European values as much as it should. Cyprus, which I have already mentioned, is less integrated than Bosnia and Herzegovina.

So, let’s be honest towards Bosnia and Herzegovina, let’s not “pack it” something that it does not have. I think the more correct question is: would BiH be able to function outside European institutions and implement reforms if it remains forever at the door of the EU, or whether it is able to function within the Union.

EWB: You are often talking about the values that Europe represents. However, in many member states, we have the situation that these values are in crisis. How do you see Europe after these elections?

DJ: It’s both true and not true that I often talk about the values. Namely, my proposal for rapid enlargement to all countries is at the same time an expression of a realistic view of things, not of some value-related idealism.

Realism tells us that it is irrational not to use the opportunity to increase the power of the actor who is in a position to do so. Currently, the EU can – if it wants to – expand to the Western Balkans, and I think that it should do it while it can. Tomorrow that won’t be possible and it will complain about spilled milk, and that is pointless. As it should regret today, if it had enough critical awareness of the missed opportunity, for not using the good days it had in the past. Instead, it was constantly setting new idealistic conditions as if it was easy to change social values.

After all, one needs to be careful when it seeks that a country changes its values. Such demand has the character of arrogance and patronization, and in some cases, it is a subconscious result of the imperial past of some European actors.

How do I see Europe after these elections? Probably politically more pluralistic, with several actors of different orientations in the European Parliament. At the same time, I see the failure of Brexit as a chance to send a signal to all “sovereignists” and nationalists – to see for themselves where their policies are leading. I see Europe in need of new opinion and be encouraged to look critically on itself, not just others. But I also see Europe in which we need the survival of the Union more than ever.

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