Radio Free Europe carries an article on German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle’s visit to Belgrade. It is notable in terms of Croatia due to pointing out that, “The steady progress of its fellow ex-Yugoslav republic Croatia, which is expected to join the EU in 2012, appears to have stirred no envy in the halls of power in Belgrade.” Indeed not. The problem here has been that Western policymakers have assumed that Croatia can be an example to other countries such as Serbia. But Serbia is not influenced by Croatia, for the very good reason that they are rather different countries.
The problem is largely ideological – many cannot get past Yugoslavia. Ex-Yugoslav countries are thought to be similar countries; in reality they are some of the most diverse countries in Europe. Some in the EU, such as EU President Herman Von Rumpey keep thinking that Croatia will somehow influence others. The line has been adopted by Zagreb, which no doubt knows better, but is being diplomatic in order to keep in with Brussels.
However, this woolly thinking has led many to think that moderate, European style politicians lead Serbia as in Croatia. It is not, as can be seen from the RFE article. Under supposed moderates such as Serbian President Boris Tadic. Serbia seems to still hold Greater Serbia positions towards its neighbours. Belgrade has initiated legal suits against Croatia – for having the nerve to liberate itself from Serbian occupation – as well attempting to extradite Bosnian ex-minister Ejup Ganic from London in attempt to revise the history of the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina. The revelations in that latter case about Belgrade’s machinations hardly inspire confidence.
Looking at Croatia and Serbia as similar countries due to their having both been in Yugoslavia does not really work, and never has done. Far from being influenced in any way by Croatia in EU aspirations, Serbia still holds extremist positions.
It’s no surprise that Germany is more clear eyed about Serbia than most. As the RFE piece points out, Germany is a major trading partner of Serbia. This might come as surprise to people who subscribe to Tim Judah’s Yugosphere theory, which does not consider such realities, and helps reinforce failed thinking.
It is sobering to think that travel writers have a more realistic perspective. This travel piece in London’s Evening Standard regarding Rovinj in Croatia refers to historic influence from Venice. That’s a better clue to the present than Yugosphere type theories – Italy is one of Croatia’s major economic partners, vastly more than Serbia is.
It’s past time policymakers started shedding ideological Yugoslav thinking and look at these countries based entirely on their individual current policies and attitudes.