Branka Trivic and Dimitrije Jovicevic
Invitations from Russia to participate in its “Winners Parade” early next month have triggered different reactions from Serbia and Montenegro and both decisions are getting both criticism and support.
Serbia’s army will participate, according to President Tomislav Nikolic, who will also attend the event, while Montenegro’s president, Filip Vujanovic, has declined and will speak at ceremonies in Podgorica.
The May 9 parade, to which Russia had invited 16 armies from friendly countries and those of the anti-Hitler coalition, will be on Red Square, Russian Ambassador to Belgrade Alexander Chepurin told “Politika” daily.
Of the 16 invited, nine countries confirmed participation, two have declined and five have not responded. Belarus and Serbia may be the only European countries marching with the Russian Federation.
In Serbia and Montenegro, both countries with aspirations to join the EU, the starkly different decisions have met expectedly different cticism, although there are voices of support, as well.
There has been no reaction from the EU to decision, although Michael Davenport, head of the EU Delegation to Serbia, was visibly restrained when asked to comment on participation of Serbian soldiers in a military parade in Moscow. He told local media only that is up to Serbia to decide in which events it wants to participate and that includes the event in Moscow.
Others see the move as a potentially troublesome gesture that might thwart the country’s avowed interest in EU membership.
Eduard Kukan, chairman of the delegation to the EU-Serbian Stabilization and Association Parliamentary Committee, warned that such gestures might influence the process of the country’s European integration.
In what seemed an attempt to counter the criticism, Ivica Dacic, the country’s foreign minister, released a statement that “some will not like” Serbia’s participation, but that his is a country with sovereign and independent policy. He did not specify who the “some” were.
And historian Milan Koljanin, an associate of the Institute for Contemporary History, was quoted in “Politika” as saying he supports participation because Serbia had one of the allied armies in World War II. He said it was sad that such dates as the 70th anniversary of victory over fascism are being used in political confrontations.
Koljanin said: “Armies of other allied countries should participate…as that would underline…what was achieved in 1945 and what is a permanent inheritance -- the values of modern civilization….victory over fascism and that dark ideology.”
Another historian, Dubravka Stojanovic, a professor at Belgrade University, questioned that assessment. She said Serbia shouldn’t participate “due to the simple fact that Russia carried out the annexation of Crimea and they are waging war in Ukraine, so this would mean some sort of support for such policies.” She said there were other issues as well:
“…As a historian, this relationship to the past is even more important. First, the Serbian Army didn’t participate in the Second World War in such a way. It was the People’s Liberation Army of Yugoslavia.”
And she cited the issue of Dragoljub “Draza” Mihailovic, whose royalist-nationalist movement sometimes fought with the Axis powers.
She said: “I think that this would further complicate an already very controversial memory on the Second World War for the simple question, who fought there and who won."
Jelena Milic, head of the Center for Euro-Atlantic studies, a pro-EU NGO, said she saw several reasons why Serbia should reject the invitation.
“The entire European Union, with the exception of the Czech Republic and a few other countries in Eastern Europe, think they shouldn't go,” she said. She said she thinks “we shouldn’t go to the Moscow parade, not because of the occasion” but because of Ukraine.
She continued: “If Serbia, as it claims, really respects international law, the territorial integrity of Ukraine, including Crimea, then its president and the army would not take part in this parade, not because of the occasion, which is not questionable... because of what is happening now. So this is a moral issue.” She added, “If we want to join the EU then we should be a reliable and predictable partner…”
Dusan Lazic, a long-term ambassador who worked in Ukraine, agreed, saying: “I believe it is a negative move … [and] after such moves that are not in accordance with the foreign policy of the EU, we can find ourselves in a situation to have our integration process, not stopped, but significantly slowed down and I believe we already have signs of that slowing down of Serbia toward the EU.”
The Liberal-Democratic Party issued a press release that said Nikolic’s decision opposes the country s accession to the EU. Its statement warned Serbia’s leadership that “adulation of Russia and further confrontation with the World, to which we want to belong, might mean a great price for the future of Serbia.”
Florian Bieber, a professor of Southeastern European studies at Graz University, said he saw Nikolic’s decision as his latest gesture to test the limits of the EU and that such moves could negatively influence European integration of Serbia. He concluded:
“At some point, the EU will have to see where those limits are and how and when Serbia went too far. I do not expect that in a context of some symbolic decision but in a wider context considering the compatibility of Serbian and EU policies toward Russia, and that can, of course, lead to problems in Serbia’s European integration. It can become a much more serious problem in the future than it looks now.”
Montenegrin President Filip Vujanovic reached the opposite decision as Nikolic, but he came in for criticism as well.
Miodrag Lekic, former head of the chief opposition party and now head of the Democratic Party Alliance, recently formed under the name DEMOS, said he thought the decision to stay home reflected a sense of inferiority in Montenegrin policy and that Podgorica should have sent a representative.
And former Foreign Affairs minister, Branko Lukovac, agreed, saying that, while “it makes sure nothing will undermine Montenegrin progress toward the Europeans and Euro-Atlantic integration,” Montenegro should have sent some high ranking official to the parade.
He dismissed the strategic importance of the decision because Montenegro is not an EU member now and is not yet obliged to follow the EU. He argued that it is not in Montenegro’s interest to “achieve its path toward the EU in such a way it will significantly deteriorate relations and its position with other big partners".
Vujanovic’s decision had a good share of support.
Savo Kentera, of the Atlantic Council of Montenegro, said: “Any other decision would be in violation of our path to NATO and the EU. I am glad President Vujanovic…joined the leaders of all those Western democratic countries who will not attend the event…”
Miodrag Vukovic, chairman of the Foreign Affairs Commission of the Montenegrin parliament, praised the decision as “wise and expected.
And he said he was not concerned that the decision might additionally cool down Montenegrin-Russian Relations, because they have been spiraling downward for some time.
He said: "Montenegrin leadership is taking care—and showing with its moves it is doing that consistently—of the interests of this …country, of national interests and the interests of our people. We are not provoking anyone.”