Tony Blair and the Hidden Agenda of Serbian Policy

Tony Blair and the Hidden Agenda of Serbian Policy

The appointment of former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair as advisor to the head of the Serbian government, Aleksandar Vučić, has rocked the media. The Russian television channel RT referred to the decision as an attempt at the «political suicide» of the Serbian prime minister. Serbian Energy Minister Aleksandar Antić, conversely, considers the issue to be artificially politicised. The director of the Belgrade-based Centre for Foreign Affairs, Aleksandra Joksimović, has tried to minimise the problem to the ‘institute of lobbying’: apparently with his experience, Tony Blair could be useful to Serbia as a lobbyist. According to Joksimović, the fact that Blair was one of the main proponents of the bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999 is of little importance. 

It seems, however, that the appointment of Tony Blair as advisor to the head of the Serbian government points to a much deeper problem than just one scandalously sensational decision. Looking at Serbia’s political history over the last 15 years, it is easy to detect two opposing and sometimes mutually exclusive directions.

The first is the vigorous assertion of Serbia’s national and state interests as understood by the country’s patriotic forces. This frame of reference includes the Constitution of Serbia, the preamble of which refers to the Province of Kosovo and Metohija as an integral part of the territory of Serbia. Here, one should also mention statements in support of cooperation between Russia and Serbia that corresponds to Serbia’s historical traditions and interests in the world. This includes a number of concrete decisions and actions: the signing of a package of energy cooperation agreements with Russia in 2008, the opening of a Russian-Serbian Humanitarian Centre in Niš, joint military exercises, Belgrade’s refusal to join the sanctions imposed on Russia, and Serbia’s involvement in the work of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Collective Security Treaty Organization.

At the same time, however, Serbia’s ruling elite are actively, although not so publicly given the mood in Serbia itself, carrying out a completely different policy. One may recall how under former President Boris Tadić, Serbia’s Defence Minister at the time, Dragan Šutanovac, carried out a policy aimed at integrating the country into the Euro-Atlantic structure and the accelerated adjustment of the Serbian army to NATO standards. The set of agreements with Pristina, as well as the vote by Serbia’s representative in the International Olympic Committee, Vlade Divac, in favour of the Republic of Kosovo’s inclusion in the organisation, do not correlate well with the preamble of the Constitution of Serbia. Literally the day after completing joint exercises with Russian paratroopers, Serbia’s military leadership began similar exercises with NATO units. Here is another example: at the same time as publicly condemning sanctions against Russia, Vučić’s cabinet is refusing to grant subsidies to its own manufacturers hoping to expand supplies to the Russian market. And who else but Energy Minister Aleksandar Antić does not know the meaning of the signals being addressed to Washington about Serbia’s willingness to acquire gas from America instead of Russia.

In this light, the appointment of Tony Blair as government advisor just a few months after Russian President Vladimir Putin’s visit to Belgrade no longer seems quite so sensational. One cannot even call it an attempt to create a system of checks and balances. The practice of creating such a system is only appropriate when it is being used by major powers with interwoven geopolitical interests. So it was at the Berlin Congress in 1878 and in the period following the end of the First World War. The diplomatic activities of the anti-Hitler coalition during the Second World War should also be recognised as a traditional and relatively successful system of checks and balances.

Serbia, however, is not Russia, it is not Great Britain, and it is not even Austro-Hungary. It must take such steps with extreme caution. The principle of running with the hare and hunting with the hounds is a bad principle. Attempts to have a foot in both camps have little in common with the art of diplomacy and rarely end well. There is no doubt that Tony Blair could join the lobbyists, although his peacekeeping efforts in the Middle East following his resignation as prime minister cast doubt on his diplomatic talents. But there is another issue, however. What exactly is he capable of lobbying for? The answer is simple: Tony Blair will lobby for the interests of the most aggressive Anglo-American circles that kindled the military fire in Ukraine, dragged the European Union into a sanctions war with Russia, and intend to get Europeans hooked on expensive American gas.

If Aleksandar Vučić’s government is really prepared to take up such a position, then it could not find a better lobbyist than Blair (except, perhaps, Bill Clinton). As far as a signal to the West and the Western-oriented segment of Serbian public opinion is concerned, there is only one piece of advice to give to Belgrade: listen to the British advisor very carefully and then do everything to the contrary.

But there is one curious detail. It was Tony Blair who, as prime minister, carried out a rather unconventional reform of the British House of Lords in 1999. After accusing its members of aspiring to «feudal domination», he replaced most of the hereditary Peers with people from the business world or, as the prime minister’s opponents ironically referred to them, the lords of «offshore funds». Maybe Serbia, too, is now going to use such tax havens to get rich?

[1] The Wall Street Journal, 21.11.2014.

Tags: Serbia  UK  Blair