CEAS citizens taskforce: Serbs have forgotten their European roots

PASOS, 2.5.2014.

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Serbs have failed to remember their European foundations because of the country’s recent troubled history, according to members of a citizens’ taskforce organized by the Center for Euro-Atlantic Studies (CEAS) for a PASOS project on popular participation in EU policymaking.

“During the discussion we were able to, on the one hand, hear the views that we practically are part of Europe, but that due to events over the past few decades we forgot this fact and ceased to live by some of the values that we used to strongly respect,” said Irina Rizmal, a CEAS analyst who moderated a public gathering of the taskforce in Belgrade April 24.

“On the other hand, there were arguments that we are, as a society, in an unfair position given that we are characterized by the EU as a society that is “no good,” while those claiming this fail to take into account the fact that we have been, unlike the rest of Europe, “outside of the system”, under sanctions, isolation, and so on,” she added. “Some argued that for most of the problems, and for such a long period of transition, we are to blame as a society, due to a lack of a proactive approach to improving the situation in general.”

The meeting was conducted as part of “Enlargement and Citizenship: Looking to the Future,” a PASOS project to gauge the level of citizen engagement in the EU policymaking process in EU new-member states and prospective EU members. CEAS is a partner organization in the EU-funded project, in addition to organizations from the Czech Republic, Poland, Latvia, Bulgaria and Montenegro.

The aim of the meeting was to have citizens express their views on the process of Serbia’s accession to the EU. During the discussion, some citizens said they believed that accession represents reconciliation in the Balkans, and better relations with countries in the region. They said it would finally end the conflict with minorities in Kosovo. Other said they saw accession as an economic benefit that will open the Serbian market, standardize it and provide opportunities for development of the economy.

“Most people present showed awareness that EU accession will not bring instant recovery from the current crisis and that it is necessary to strengthen institutions before accession, eradicate corruption and work on overall organization of the system by the competent authorities; highlighting that they expect serious work from the state itself in order to stabilize the system of a functioning society at all levels,” Rizmal said.

The citizens also generally expressed the view that they are quite uninformed about the process because of the way in which they are provided with information. They said that the media leads the process of informing and mainly emphasize the benefits of the EU, while bypassing harder, less popular effects.

The citizens’ comments will form part of a baseline study CEAS will release in May as part of the project.