Speech by Director of CEAS Jelena Milic at the opening of the Fourth Belgrade NATO week

Good evening.

Welcome to the two-day International conference on NATO which is an part of the Fourth Belgrade NATO Week.

Belgrade NATO Week is a regular annual program organized by CEAS with the support of NATO Public Diplomacy Division and, since last year, with the support of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund.

The program has been originally designed to gather young members of all political parties in Serbia, and has been realized in series of lectures and visits to State institutions dealing with questions of Serbia’s cooperation with NATO, National Assembly bodies and other relevant organizations.

We would like to thank the representatives of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Ministry of Defense for organizing exceptionally well rated lectures for our participants for every Belgrade NATO Week so far.

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We would also like to thank the Embassy of Slovakia in Serbia, being a NATO Contact Point Embassy in Serbia, and NATO Military Liaison Office in Belgrade for their previous support in the realization of this program. We also thank all of our previous lecturers.

This part of Belgrade NATO Week is also being held this year. I hope this type of conferences, which have become an integral part of Belgrade NATO Week since last year, will the help our new participants gain experience and motivation to shape the policies of their parties. They are here with us today and I hereby greet them and invite them to actively participate.

Since Serbia agreed the Individual Partnership Action Plan (IPAP) with NATO in January 2015, thus achieving the highest level of cooperation that a country that is not a candidate for NATO membership can establish with NATO, we have decided to expand the program to open assemblies such as this.

The objective of the assembly is to put forth facts and justified arguments that contribute to the information debate concerning the events in the Trans-Atlantic world, in NATO and EU, the cooperation of NATO and EU as well as the implications of the said trends on the events in the region, primarily on the relations between NATO and Serbia.

We are proud to have been able to present highly esteemed and interesting speakers, both this year and the last.

This year has been very dynamic. NATO held a summit in Warsaw, with far-reaching conclusions that will be further discussed in the following days, primarily concerning the plans for strengthening cooperation with EU and the stability projection beyond NATO borders.

Cyberspace has been recognized as the fourth domain of warfare. CEAS finds these conclusions and their implications insufficiently discussed by the Serbian public. In this context, CEAS and partners have recently published the Technology Safety Guide, with the support of OSCE Mission to Serbia.

During 2016, EU has adopted the Global Strategy for the European Union’s Foreign And Security Policy which mentions the importance of strengthening cooperation with NATO. Having in mind that Serbia is in the process of accession to EU, we believe the NATO and EU plans for strengthening mutual cooperation are to be of utmost importance for the domestic public.

The said documents explicitly express the negative attitudes of both organizations toward the current policy of Kremlin due to the illegal annexation of Crimea and the presence of Russia in the Eastern Ukraine conflicts, and the propagation of disinformation and undermining of democratic processes. These topics, as well as the defense methods shall be further discussed during this conference.

CEAS expresses concern about the “open door” policy of Serbian government to Kremlin influences and propaganda that uses democratic practices and principles, like civil society work rights and independent media, only to undermine and disrespect the said rights in Russia. On the other hand, unlike Serbia, most of the political West representatives are increasing their efforts to prevent propagation of disinformation and other illegitimate activities of Kremlin.

Last spring, CEAS published an elaborate study named “Eyes Wide Shut” on the increasing Russian influence in Serbia. Other methods of affecting defense security systems and economy are described in our previous reports, which can be found in CEAS web site, under “Publications”.

During 2016, NATO has sent a membership invitation to Montenegro, and the protocol ratification is currently in process in member countries of NATO. CEAS hereby congratulates the citizens and the government of Montenegro on this great success, which is also significant for the continuation of the stabilization and democratization of the entire Western Balkans.

We are carefully observing the ways in which the official Kremlin propaganda is actively interfering with the democratic decision processes of Serbia as a sovereign country. Let us not forget, Montenegro is neither Iraq under Saddam Hussein nor Libya under Gaddafi, but a country far advanced in negotiating EU membership. Regardless, Sputnjik continues to criminalize and intimidate the political management, at the same time circulating series of other disinformation into Montenegrin public space.

Having all this in mind, as well as the increasing proof of the involvement of Russian elements (whether national or not, it is a different story) in the attempt of destabilization of Montenegro after the elections, CEAS believes that Montenegro not only struggles for NATO membership, but actually fights for the preservation of its sovereignty and independence against the subversive influence of Kremlin. It would be beneficial if the pro-European citizens of Montenegro with an undefined or negative attitude towards NATO membership understood that NATO membership in the current geopolitical situation ensures an unobstructed continuance of integration into EU.

CEAS is particularly concerned about the fact that the members of parliament from the ruling party of Prime Minister Vucic as well as his coalition partner Nenad Popovic, a spokesman for a close collaboration with Putin’s Russia, joined the disinformation campaign on the events in Montenegro. With a great media coverage, Popovic insists that the Serbian majority in Montenegro is ethnically the most endangered in Europe, while his followers even raise the question of racism.

Such methods, the so-called “terrain preparation” CEAS describes in the study “Eyes wide shut” referring to extensive research of the Ministry of Defense of the Kingdom of Sweden on Tools of Destabilization: Russian Soft Power and Non-military Influence in the Baltic States.

Of course, NATO membership is not a precondition for EU membership, but having in mind the efforts of Kremlin to undermine democratic decisions of the countries in the region, NATO membership becomes an important frame for the preservation of stabilization, democratization and European integration processes of the Western Balkan countries.

We hope that NATO shares the same views. Now is the chance for NATO to additionally engage in the realization of its objective- the creation and preservation of unified, free and peaceful Europe.

We hope more people in Serbia will share the same ideas, including the ones deliberating the upcoming presidential elections.

2016 was also significant because of the unusual results of USA elections. The question of trans-Atlantic cooperation in general and the influence of newly developed circumstances on NATO activities will also be the subject of further discussion with competent speakers over the next few days.

The final topic of this brief survey of important events to be discussed in the conference, is maybe the most important topic for us: 2016 was extremely relevant for the dynamics of the relationship between Serbia and NATO.

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Last week, Prime Minister Vucic became the first Serbian Prime Minister to have visited NATO. He met with Secretary General Stoltenberg and participated in the work of the North Atlantic Council.

During the visit, a mutual, and I emphasize mutual, wish for strengthening of cooperation was expressed. NATO pointed out the significance of Serbia’s engagement in the resolving of refugee and migrant crisis, in the implementation of the Brussels agreement and the participation of Serbian troops in international missions.

Secretary General Stoltenberg once more expressed his regret for the civilian deaths in the 1999 NATO air campaign in Serbia. Nevertheless, the objective of the campaign was protection of civilians and it was achieved.

CEAS did not consider these statements “NATO apologies to Serbs for aggression” as it was translated by the propaganda machinery close to Prime Minister Vucic, because civilian victims included Kosovars, Bosnians, Montenegrins, etc.

For emphasis, Stoltenberg said that the purpose and objective of the air campaign had been the protection of civilians, which had been successful.

CEAS finds relevant that the Secretary General pointed out that Serbia and NATO shared common values of human rights, democracy and rule of law.

But, CEAS views the suggestion of mister Stoltenberg to “remember the past and look into the future” as impossible if at least a broadly understood consensus is not reached regarding the basic questions related to the NATO bombing of FRY- the political context, causes, consequences, including death toll and the new status of Kosovo.

Memories of the past are very different and rarely based on facts. Serbian and NATO officials perceive even the notion of present differently.

Only a month or two before his historical visit to NATO, the Prime Minister Vucic, along with the Minister of Foreign Affairs and the President of Serbia have directly accused general Pavel, The Chairman of the NATO Military Committee of intending to destabilize the Balkans. We should be reminded that, during the media conference, general Pavel literally quoted the NATO Summit conclusions and evaluations regarding the region.

The propaganda machinery of the government of Serbia then raised the allegations to a national level of media coverage. And we supposedly strive for better cooperation with MATO. What exactly is the objective of such a contradictory public diplomacy, which is one of the obligations Serbia undertook upon signing IPAP. The conference schedule includes a more detailed discussion on the implementation of the said program.

Based on the statements of Serbian officials, anti- NATO headlines in state media and the denigration of a small number of pro-NATO proponents by the said media, it seems that only the Prime Minister and the operators of his will have the legitimate right to support the strengthening of cooperation with NATO, without risking intimidation and criminalization by the Russian and Serbian propaganda.

On the other hand, there are a few of us who also support NATO and Serbia cooperation as well as Serbian membership in NATO (I repeat, a few of us, this is important to say). Our numbers are surprisingly small, considering everything and the fact that it is 2016 and that we are declared “NATO face of evil” and exposed to an unprecedented campaign of denigration and intimidation from state media and members of Parliament of the ruling coalition. The reaction of the public authorities to this campaign of denigration and intimidation is practically non- existent. We cannot expect more, since the mentioned authorities are the conductors the campaign.

We hope this conference sends a message that Serbia cooperates with NATO, even during the tenure of Prime Minister Vucic.

Unfortunately, during the recent Assembly debate on the laws necessary for sending our armed forces to international missions, only the Liberal Democratic party saw the connection between the EU mission “Sofia” and NATO plans to realize the conclusions of the Warsaw summit on the strengthening of cooperation with EU. Political and expert public no longer talk about approaching the cooperation of Serbia and NATO. Media, also, notices and asks nothing. Why?

For several years Serbia has been a member of  the International Coalition against the Islamic State which includes almost one hundred countries led by the United States. Until recently the Coalition included almost all NATO members, but not NATO as an organization. Nevertheless, NATO joined the Coalition recently by sending airplanes. And nothing is said about this in Serbia.

Furthermore, if you look at the number and the tone of the headlines in state media about the joint military exercises of Serbia, Russia and Belorussia on one side, and the manner of reporting about the exercises with USA, NATO of member countries armed forces, there is a significant difference. Similar disproportion is present in MO profiles on social networks, followed by large numbers citizens.

There are no reports on the “Combined determination”, a joint exercise with the USA army which included around 100 soldiers during this year only. Military exercises with other NATO member countries were also held, again without public reports. Why?

The first time the Serbian public heard that our armed forces train with NATO prior the international missions was from the Secretary General.

What is the evaluating criteria for these information? What is the purpose of such approach? Cooperation is deemed moral as opposed to membership which is not?

Why does the state broadcasting network, without any denials or questions for the officials, insist that it is an “insult” to the NATO bombing victims to quote numbers resulting from an extensive project of determining human casualties during the conflicts in Kosovo? Data of Humanitarian Right Center that speak of 800 victims, both civilians and non-civilians, have been gathered by means of inspection of several relevant sources. No one ever disputed the methodology and expertise of their analyses.

At the same time, the state of Serbia, for officially unknown reasons, never managed or wanted to make a list of human casualties.

This shall also be included in the discussions of our assembly, as well as the importance of continuation of implementation of transitional justice mechanisms and the elements of the safety system reforms.

We find it impossible to purposely remember the past and look at the common future at the same time, as the NATO Secretary General recently suggested, until the standpoints of relevant actors, based on unquestioned facts and explicitly expressed attitudes on causes, methods and consequences of NATO bombing, are brought closer.

In Belgrade, November 28, 2016