CEAS announcement – Ugljanin’s Actions Are Damaging Bosniaks and the state of Serbia

The Center for Euro-Atlantic Studies from Belgrade condemns a series of recent dangerous and thoughtless statements and ill-considered political moves by Sulejman Ugljanin, who is simultaneously President of the Party of Democratic Action and the President of the Bosnian National Council, which speaks in itself of the “bad situation of the Bosniaks” in Serbia.

Among other things, Ugljanin said: “Serbian state officials, or rather ‘temporary state officials of the Republic of Serbia with Serbian harbinger”, the President and the Prime Minister and all the Members of the Parliament are legitimate representatives of the Serbian people. We can and want to talk to them about our future relationships. But, they are not our prime minister, our president, or members of our parliament.”

In this way, Ugljanin has offended and taken away the legitimacy of all other voters who are nor necessarily of Serbian nationality, and have voted in legitimate elections in circumstances which have been judged as adequate by international organizations such as the OSCE and the EU, to whom Ugljanin is now appealing.

We consider the aforementioned moves and allegations are hurting the position of the Bosniaks in the Republic of Serbia, as well as the complex and difficult negotiations between Belgrade and Pristina under the auspices of the EU.

Ugljanin’s most recent moves, as well as the former resolution by the local parliament representatives in the municipalities in the south of Serbia, demanding to be represented by Pristina in negotiations on the future of Kosovo, even though they have had all the opportunity to participate in elections in all levels in Serbia, and also the reaction to it, confirm the findings of last years’ CEAS report “Basic Instinct: : The Case for More NATO in The Western Balkans“ detailing all the weaknesses of the existing system of minority national councils as one of the key methods for protecting minority rights. Having in mind the new geopolitical and regional circumstances and the increased dynamics of the negotiations between Belgrade and Pristina, which CEAS has interpreted in its last report called “West Side Story” in which it suggests correcting the administrative line with Kosovo, CEAS does not exclude the possibility that these moves are not being coordinated.

The weaknesses that are mentioned here, the self-categorization of minorities, ethno-clientelism, feudal way of quasi political management of the so-called ethnic leaders and other consequences  of ethnicities becoming politicized, minorities being self-categorized, ethnic clientelism, the feudal way of quasi-political way of ruling over them by so-called ethnic leaders and other consequences of politicizing ethnicities which has been opportunistically supported even by the Western international community, are now being weaponized in internal politics, by local as well as external state and non-state actors.

We’d like to remind that the elections for minority national councils are held under the same principles as the elections for local authorities. The practice shows that instead of dealing with protection of minority rights, which is their basic purpose, representatives chosen in such a way are actually using another platform to execute their personal and/or party interests at the expense of the collective interest of national minorities. Additionally, we remind that parties are elected in the Serbian parliament under the privileged method of natural census. The practice also shows that the assessment of the position of minority communities in a society based on representatives chosen in such a way, there is no judgement of quality of the existent normative arrangements or the situation in the field, but it is actually dependent on their participation in the central authorities. It practically means that the trend of their assessment is either “good” or not discussed at all if the minority representatives are part of the ruling coalition at the national level, or it becomes catastrophically bad when they are not in power.

CEAS also considers that the Serbian Government bears a part of the responsibility for the newly arisen tensions. Starting from the fact that it is the legitimate representative of all citizens of Serbia, it should respect this position in its relationship to the opposition as well as other actors of the political life, but also when governments in the region where Serbs live are in question. These governments are also legitimate representatives of the Serbs living in those states.

Legitimate political action of the Government and the President of Serbia to reach a consensus in negotiations with Pristina and the West cannot be an excuse for taking absolutely dominant position in defining national interests that the officials, and even the legislature, very often reduce to Serbian national interests, which is absolutely not the same thing.

The increased trend of denying sentences for war crimes, a halt in investigating war crimes against non-Serbian population, exaggerated exposure of war criminals in media with national frequencies which are financially tied to the state, as well as a series of nationalist statements by high officials, are giving legitimacy to criticism (but not the methods for resolving the issue) for the position of the minorities in Serbia.

Such approach is counter-productive, in internal policy as well as in external. It does not contribute to the efforts of the Republic of Serbia to find a compromise solution with Pristina,

In the long run, the only right movement hich would start to eliminate the democratical deficit of the normative multiculturalism would be to define Serbia in its new Constitution as a state of all its citizens, and not like it is defined now, as a state of Serbs and the minorities who live in it.

In Belgrade, July 24, 2018