Task Forces

03.05.2022.

ALEKSANDAR KARIŠIK: Which side to choose? Not much of a dilemma, really.

published by portal Luftika

Ever since Slobodan Milosevic, the leader we elected by majority vote and one who failed to comprehend that the Berlin Wall was no more, so instead of launching reforms he went on a rampage we barely survived, we have had a problem positioning ourselves in relation to the world. And now it's harder than ever. And it is more necessary than ever.

We know that there is no institutional, public dialogue on this and other important topics. Public space is filled with emotion and interest-spun theses. Propaganda is working full steam ahead and spins are firing on full cylinders. As insignificant as we are, someone is working hard around us. The Russian side is more active here, although it may be the result of the fact that not a small number of Serbs are fanatically Russophile-minded and gladly and diligently accept to be a medium for transmitting these messages. Because we know, today every man is a medium. Because of a lot of what is written below, I know that I will provoke those who do not know how to argue with facts, but only to insult and threaten. But that does not discourage me in the hope that this can be discussed with clear minds and cold heads.

We desperately lack a reasonable exchange of views with respect for and the willingness to really hear one’s opponents. Just as we desperately need genuine knowledge of our own history, not the selective one, tailored to suit daily political needs. A good part of the public is quite burdened by history, although it is keener on myths than on its facts. And myths are built on carefully selected data or even falsehoods. One of the myths is that the Russians are our brothers. History should not be a burden, but it can be a useful aid in learning lessons and in planning and making decisions.

Machiavelli himself built and explained the mechanisms of government on historical examples. Sun Tzu, too, for instance. And so, we have two textbooks that are still relevant in resolving contemporary conflicts. From individual to interstate. It is important to have a complete picture and to have the ability to think causatively to draw the right conclusions. I will then try to contribute to creating the whole picture and drawing the right conclusions.

I have the impression that we see, almost by consensus, the "West" (as I will call the countries gathered in NATO and the EU in the text below) as a hypocritical entity and, although nicely packaged, quite a bullying one. More than ten years ago, I myself wrote that the precedent involving Kosovo is bound to cause some catastrophe in the world. On the other hand, a lot of people here are convinced that the Russians are our brothers.

Now, let me not idealize anyone, but by any standard, the West, even if not entirely free, is by far freer than Russia. And more successful. I will not say anything new if I write that many who swear by Russia send their children to that same West. We have seen recently that a professional advocate of Russia's interests has sent her daughter to Paris. As a parent, I understand the mother in her, but I simply just can't have a good opinion about that, not even from a “humane standpoint". My children will live here according to the Russian model, yours in Paris and what? I am now supposed to believe you? My foot! But, OK, let’s get back to the subject.

Many of us experienced 1999. That bombing is fresh in the memory of everyone who personally suffered through that. However, the history of Serbia and its international relations does not begin with 1999. It does not begin even when Russia imposed sanctions on us, for example. There are facts and events that we did not personally experience but our ancestors did and whose consequences we still feel today. Indeed, it is vital that we personally experience them somehow, as much as possible, just as we did the criminal bombing in 1999. We need to do this so that we could sort all these facts and emotions in our heads and souls and survive the ordeal with the least possible injury. Provided that the red buttons are left alone, God forbid otherwise.

We have already said that there is generally not much dispute about the character of the West. That is why I will deal more with contentious issues. And in the way, we are notorious for - with bitterness, emotion, and even a fair amount of hatred. The bombing was not OK, and we are right to be angry. However, hundreds of raped women, mostly Serb (the nationality of the victim is not important to me, but it is often for the most vocal advocates of brotherhood with Russia), innocent people were killed, and homes were looted and destroyed in 1944 but all this is not a sin they care to remember. Many will say that the perpetrators were not Russians but communists, or those who are more racist will add that they were Asians in the Red Army. The testimonies do not really confirm that, hence the joke about Lala and how the Cossacks are made. Pro-Russians would have you believe that Russians only took part in the liberation of Yugoslavia, but the raping and looting were done only by the Communists and the Chechens. Yeah, right!

It is convenient to take stock here of another strange phenomenon, characteristic only of our public discourse - the bombing of Belgrade. From the nationalist corps, you will often hear outrage over the Allied bombings in 1944, and almost never about the German in 1941. Civilians were killed in both, and immeasurable material damage was caused. But there is a huge difference - the Germans bombed the capital of a sovereign state, with a special order to destroy the National Library. The Allies bombed the territory occupied by Nazi Germany. The Nazis bombed us because we were here. The Allies bombed us because the Germans were there.

And that is all small fry compared to how France was plowed over during the Second World War, and yet, you will hardly find a Frenchman who condemns it as a crime. I think this anomaly is one of our specifics. After all, it is known that the Katyusha rockets deployed in the liberation of Yugoslavia were so precise that they could hit the exact window where the German sniper would be hiding.

I hear and read comments that it was not “that” Russia, but one perverted by communism. Fine by me - so let's see what history tells us about the relations between Serbia and Tsarist Russia, to which the modern one is allegedly similar. Let's start with the Russo-Turkish War. A year after the war Serbia lost to Turkey, in 1877, at the urging of Russia, it started a fresh military conflict, this time occupying Nis, Pirot, Leskovac and Vranje. Russia won that war and dictated the terms of the peace named after the town of San Stefano near Constantinople, which was occupied by the Russian army. How did Russia dictate the terms of peace? Let's see what she did for her ally Serbia. Now swallow this - Serbia had to cede Leskovac, Vranje and Pirot to Bulgaria, and we are left with only Nis. Yes, you got that right.

However, it is best to quote Slobodan Jovanović on that topic: "We, who fought two wars, one at Russia’s unofficial request and the other at an official request, had to remain a small Serbia." The Bulgarians, whom neither we nor the Russians could force to rise up in arms, were destined by Russia to become a Greater Bulgaria. "The protests of the Serbian government sent to St. Petersburg were answered as follows: “Russian interests are of primary importance, followed by Bulgarian interests, and only then come the Serbian interests. And there are cases where Bulgarian interests are on an equal footing with Russia's. "

The international circumstances were such that other Great Powers, primarily England and Austria-Hungary, were not happy with the expansion of Russia's influence in the Balkans. As a result, Russia could not sign a permanent, but only a preliminary peace with Turkey and the other Great Powers had yet to endorse it. It was clear that everything would have to be resolved at a congress held in Berlin in 1878, at which Serbia finally became an internationally recognized state. Despite the joint opposition of Turkey and Russia. Yes, you read that correctly. And Serbia got back Pirot and Vranje. Thanks to Austria, no less!

Serbia still claimed the right to Bosnia and Herzegovina, but the representative of Russia, Count Shuvalov, convinced our Foreign Minister Jovan Ristic not to undertake "anything against the will of Austria" because this is only temporary and that when the time comes, Russia will, no later than fifteen years, have to settle accounts with Austro-Hungary. These promises were repeated to Aleksandar Obrenović, Pašić and Ristić by Tsar Alexander III during their visit to Russia. A whole fifteen years later, when the time came for Russia to keep its promise - the Annexation crisis broke out. And who do you think was the first to recognize the right of Austria-Hungary to annex Bosnia and Herzegovina? Again, you got it right – Russia, who else?!

So, it turns out that the Russians never missed an opportunity to outfox us. We are proud of our Sretenje Constitution as we should be. But it lasted only 55 days and was abolished under the pressure of some foreign forces. The words of the Russian ambassador that "Serbia fell into the abyss because of the Franco-Swiss constitution" coincided with the Turkish assessment that the Sretenje Constitution is a "contagious constitution".

There are such examples before and after the aforementioned events, some will be mentioned here, but I think you don’t need to be a nuclear physicist to figure out what was and is going on. Therefore, the Russians are not our brothers! Nobody is our "brother". We do not owe anything to the Russians or anyone. Only to ourselves. And now, let’s move on from all this. This was written only to dispel the myth about the relations between Serbia and Russia. I don’t hate anyone but insist on us being aware that in international relations there are no friends, only interests. This maxim is attributed to Churchill, and we have seen that everyone sticks to it. Which is completely understandable. Except for us. Which is completely not understandable.

Now I will move on to the field of speculation and I will try, based on the available information and my own, always questionable ability to conclude, to write and explain what I, an amateur strategist, think we should do. I do not doubt that this mess will end in Russia’s defeat. With the hope that Putin will find an honorable way out of this mess of his own making so that he would not be so depressed and start pressing the “Red Buttons”. Things are changing on the field from minute to minute, at least it seems so. The latest info was that Putin allegedly placed several high-ranking FSB leaders under house arrest. This, if true, confirms the theories of those who claim that Putin launched the invasion on the wrong premise or information that a blitzkrieg would solve the Ukrainian question, confront the world with a fait accompli, which in turn would give him an excellent negotiating position.

The fast-paced news notwithstanding, we need to look at how things stand globally. And its clear that Russia cannot sustain a long-term conflict with the West economically. Not even with China’s help, providing that China intends to help Russia at all, or simply continue trading with it. Neither India nor Iran. And all of them together cannot economically withstand the confrontation with the West. Even the question of whether they want to at all is highly speculative. Mixed and obfuscated signals are being sent from the only side that could have any potential to oppose the western countries, which in turn have shown astonishing unity when it comes to the attitude towards the Russian war campaign in Ukraine.

And the rhetoric of the West is quite clear. Things have gotten so bad that there is a willingness to pay any price it takes to bring Putin to his knees. Western countries are willing even to freeze for the lack of energy in the winter, but economic interests will never again be a benchmark in building relations with Russia.

We are, of course, dependent on both sides. Why are we so dependent is something for all the authorities from the year 2000 onwards to dwell upon? But either way, we’re pretty much between a rock and a hard place. If we impose sanctions on Russia, we will freeze. If we don't, we will starve to death. Now, as things stand, because of Putin's adventure, it is possible that we will freeze anyway because even if there was gas, the question is whether we will have the money to pay for it. Also, if the EU denies us support, in a few months there will be nothing to buy. I may have exaggerated a bit, but not much. Check it out. Somehow it seems a lesser evil if gas accounts for the only shortage, with all the severe consequences that come with it, than everything else.

Furthermore, we must be aware that we are surrounded by EU and NATO countries. In the event of a military conflict, even before the aggression on Ukraine, Putin would not have been able to send us those batteries for airplanes. Even if he really wanted to because as we have seen, one never knows with Russia when it comes to helping us. Those countries that are not inclined towards us, or at least foster latent anti-Serbia policy, are already creating a narrative that we are participants in the war in Ukraine, more or less like we are fighting alongside the Russians there. For example, just listen to Milanovic's recent statements or what Petrit Selimi writes. Our neighboring countries have a proven track record of thinking further ahead and more strategically than we do.

I would not be wrong to believe that the current situation in the world, combined with our indecision could be detrimental even to Serbia’s integrity. In a best-case scenario. Impossible, you would think? Do you think anything is impossible now after all that is currently happening? So how would you defend yourself against that? Neutrality? It is clear that such a thing exists no more. Switzerland is no longer neutral either. If they can't afford it, how can we?

The only possible way, it seems to me, is to fully, unreservedly side with the EU and openly, without hesitation move towards membership. Even towards NATO, no matter how bad it sounds to us. Otherwise, well, things are evolving so that they could even lead to our disappearance. It is clear that the dilemma from the title is not the same which burdened Prince Lazar. It was much easier. These are both earthly kingdoms. And yet, our very survival may depend on the choice.

 

As much as I might not think well of our authorities, I must say that I understand to some extent those attempts, even skillful at times, to vacillate, and delay the definitive taking one side for as long as possible. It is also necessary to take into account the difficult prediction of how long all this mess will last. What if we do choose a side and this is over in just a couple of months or less? However, we live in days when history is accelerating at the speed of light. The hour is fast approaching for "do or die".

Liberals in the European Parliament are already asking for the accession negotiations with us to be frozen, to name just one of the ominous signs on the horizon of our hesitance. To reiterate, we should be guided exclusively by our own interest, and that would be the introduction of sanctions against Russia if that is what it takes for us to get out of the mess least scathed. Perhaps even in a better position. Our conscience should not suffer over any debt to anyone, real or imagined. Russia should understand that – after all, it has been doing the same to us since the First Serbian Uprising.