Demilitarization – a challenge to Serbia’s European integration process

By Dr. Lisen Bashkurti 

On its integration journey to the European Union institutions, Serbia is undertaking strenuous efforts; however it has exhumed more rhetoric than real reforms.  Unfortunately, its recent past is present with all of its reminiscences. The country embodies a series of challenges that must be addressed by its government over the coming years and decades.  Among all of these obstacles appears to be the demilitarization of Serbian State, its institutions, civilian population and that of Serbian minorities around the Balkan region.

1. Serbian Army 

Militarization is an existential component of a nation building heritage in Serbia.  The politics of force has dominated the landscape of political dialogue in Belgrade.  Since its foundation as a state and throughout all of its development stages, Serbia has been a militarized state.  The Armed Forces of Serbia have shown a leading responsibility to run the country, enjoyed a privileged role among its many other institutions, it has displayed a determining role through the most critical moments of this nation’s political history.

The Serbian Armed Forces and its leadership components have affected the internal and foreign policies of Serbia.  In the internal politics the Armed Forces have decided a national political system that is based on the framework of a Unitarian, militarist affairs and a national chauvinistic political doctrine.

The Military installed army bases all over the Serbian communities across the Yugoslavian Federation.  The long legacy of Joseph Broz Tito and the continuous pressure from the Croatian – Slovenian Federalists were not able to change such a characteristic of Serbian Army in the political doctrine and government system of Belgrade.

Belgrade’s Armed Forces have established, preserved and developed in a constant fashion the Serbian geopolitical and geostrategic orientation towards Russia.  Every attempt undertaken by any civilian or individual component that aims to divert, distort such a Russian propensity in the Serbian Foreign Policy decision-making body, has encountered a fierce resistance and punishment by Serbian Armed Forces.

Even in our time Serbia, at the state level, continues to pay a special attention to its Armed Forces and is committed to increase its militarization budget every year.   Indeed, the Serbian defense budget is much higher than its actual needs; this is a real threat to neighboring countries in the region.

After the years of 2000, Serbia was engaged to remain neutral on its strategic views.  However, despite its engagement to remain strategically neutral, the truth is that during the last years Serbia has violated all heartedly the principle of neutrality.  Serbia has established a strategic treaty with the Russian Federation; is organizing bilateral training, projects and military drilling sessions with Moscow, scheduling military exercises and is purchasing weapons from the Russian Defense Industry.

2. Parallel Military Structures

Adjacent to Serbian official armed forces, the country has also dark structures embedded on the society. These structures are created at the beginning of the XIX Century and have continued to serve as parallel military institutions until today.

Known with the name of Cerna Ruka (dark hand) and with other names, these obscure military structures from time to time have seen their demise and rise but have never disappeared. They operate where the government is absent or in places where the government wants to hide, however based on their impact, it appears that such a parallel military structure remains an integral component of Serbian State interests. Only its tactics have changed.

These dark Serbian military structures have led military operations, mainly undercover, throughout Former Yugoslavia.  The physical elimination of the Obrenovich family members all the way to Zoran Đinđić (the sixth Prime Minister of Republic of Serbia) have been orchestrated by these structures.  Moreover the current threats made against Aleksandar Vučić (current Serbian Prime Minister) in Belgrade and against Milo Đukanović in Montenegro are the works of these dark military structures within Serbia.  The assassination of the academicians Fehmi Agani and Ukshin Hoti in Kosovo has been organized by these entities.

3. An armed population  

Militarization as a feature of Serbia characterizes its society as a whole.  From many trusted media sources we all know that Serbian population is the world’s second largest country based on the number of weapons that are carried – owned by its citizens.  Therefore we are dealing with a militaristic population.  This state of affairs generates a great instability to the Serbian internal order and jeopardizes regional stability.

While keeping in mind the manipulative politics of Serbia with its minorities located in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo and Montenegro, the possession of weapons by Serbian population (minority groups) is also a real threat for these Balkan countries that border Serbia.

This past year, many events that have happened around Serbia, have the same consequences and active measures led by Serbia.  The organization of a referendum in Bosnia and Herzegovina in 2016, the separation of northern Kosovo and repeated attempts to build a separation wall in Mitrovica and the recent Coup D’état attempt in Montenegro after the general elections of last Autumn, are clear testimonies that the so called dark military structures of Serbia are cooperating with the Serbian minorities – heavily armed – that are living on the other Balkan countries mentioned above.  Moreover there are significant Serbian minorities currently living in Slovenia, Croatia, and Romania, Hungary as well as a minority group of a few hundred Serbs living in Bulgaria.

4. The Alliance with Russians

The Serbian Army, its dark military structures and its armed civilian population, including the Serbian ethnic minorities in other independent countries of the Balkans (mentioned above), appear to be the staunchest and constant allies of Russia in the region.

These military factors are in a state of a “time bomb,” ready to be used at every moment to defend the interest of Serbia and Russia in the Balkans.  Russia is also feeding these structures in Ukraine, Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan.  Such a model is followed by Serbia, based on the ongoing conditions and circumstances set forth in the Balkans.

The absence of a demilitarized Serbian State, its coexistence with dark military structures, large quantities of weapons carried by a large number of civilians as well as the bellicose attitude of Serbian Minority communities in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo and Montenegro, dormant position of Serbian minorities in Croatia, Slovenia and Romania, are a serious threat to peace and stability in the Balkans region.

5. Animosity with its neighbors 

Militarization of Serbia is a process that runs against the democratization of relations among the Balkan nations.  The European Union politics of enlargement through positive and good neighborly relations are not accepted by Serbia.  For Serbia good neighborly relations are only a matter of rhetoric.

The indicators of a state becoming militarized, parallel military structures, civilians heavily armed and Serbian ethnic communities armed as well; do not produce good neighborly relation.  They show once again that the past is still dominating the Serbian society and its political elite.

The militarization of Serbia comes from two sources: 1. the lack of a demilitarization strategy after the wars in Yugoslavia and 2. Russian Assistance.  After the wars in the 1990 Serbia did not accept a control and verification campaign on the weapons – possession among civilians, organized by the OSCE and did not initiate any campaigns of demilitarization. In fact the opposite took place; Belgrade allowed civilians and dark military groups to hold on to their weapons and has even armed its ethnic minorities across the Balkans.

Over the last few years the Russian strategic interference has significantly meddled within the context of the dark military structures in former Yugoslavia.  Serbian army, its dark-parallel military groups, armed civilians as well as armed ethnic Serbian minorities on a number of Balkan countries, make them the most trusted allies of Russia in the Balkans.

The bi-vectored politics of Serbia, focused on Europe and Russia, is focused above all on the militarization of its human assets, whether they are undercover structures or civilians carrying guns.  Such a bi-vectored militarized politics reveals a clear obstacle to Serbia’s E.U. integration process, while it continues to be a critical challenge to regional security across the Balkans.

Translation from Albanian language by Peter Tase

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Lisen Bashkurti

Dr. Lisen Bashkurti is the President of Albanian Diplomatic Academy in Albania. Prof. Bashkurti has been a Chancellor in a number of Universities in the Balkan Peninsula. He is also the Global Vice President of Sun Moon University in South Korea. As a distinguished scholar of international relations he has received many international awards including: A “Gold Medal” for his research on US-Albanian Partnership,” “Four Silver Medals” for his great contribution during his service as Albania’s Ambassador to Hungary (1992-1993); appointed as “Peace Ambassador” from the International Peace Foundation, United Nations (2009). He is the author of more than 18 books that cover a range of issues including: International Affairs, Negotiations and Conflict Resolution, International Diplomacy, Multilateral Diplomacy and Diplomatic History. He is an honorary professor in many prestigious European Universities and an honorary fellow to a number of prominent International Institutions.

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