SARAJEVO – The European Union’s double standards towards Serbia are causing frustration and distrust of the bloc in Bosnia, and could undercut support for much-needed reforms there, Bosnian media and analysts said on Thursday.
The EU, appealing to Serbs to vote for pro-Western candidate Boris Tadic in Sunday’s presidential election, invited Serbia this week to sign an interim political pact covering free trade, visa liberalization and educational exchanges.
The move aims to help Tadic defeat pro-Russian hardliner Tomislav Nikolic, and stave off a nationalist backlash ahead of the imminent declaration of independence by Serbia’s breakaway Kosovo province.
An editorial in Dnevni Avaz, one of Bosnia’s biggest-selling dailies, said Serbia’s pro-European politicians had long used the bogeyman of Serbia’s Radicals to win Western concessions at a time when they were doing little themselves to earn them.
“What is the difference between the stance of Radical Nikolic and democrat Tadic that makes the European Union generously reward Serbia?,” the daily asked.
“Fearing Nikolic, Europe has promised Serbia generous financial assistance and a visa-free regime. Radicalism proved to be Serbia’s best investment, bringing it enormous political and financial benefits,” it said.
Diplomats have described the EU offer to Serbia as “three-quarters SAA”, a reference to the Stabilisation and Association Agreement that is the first stage on the road to full EU membership.
As a result Bosnia, like Serbia close to signing an SAA pact, complains it is being asked to implement tough reforms while Belgrade is being offered carrots rather than sticks — despite its failure to hand over indicted warcrimes suspects.
Chief among them is Bosnian Serb General Ratko Mladic, indicted for genocide over the 1995 Srebrenica massacre of some 8,000 Muslims and the siege of Sarajevo, in which about 11,000 people were killed.
Bosnia has been asked to unify its ethnically separated police force, a move opposed by Bosnian Serbs who say it would take away their autonomy. Some Muslims meanwhile fear proposed constitutional changes would cement ethnic divisions.
The Sarajevo-based Centre for Interdisciplinary Studies (ACIPS) said that Serbia, seen as the instigator of the 1992-95 Bosnian war in which 100,000 people died, did not demonstrate any more maturity or democratic progress than Bosnia.
“The EU move sends out a negative message to Bosnia and comes as proof of its inferior status,” ACIPS said, noting it was a clear backing to Tadic as well as compensation for Kosovo.
“The liberalization of visa regime for Serbs is insulting for holders of Bosnian passports,” it said in a statement.
Bosnian political analyst Senad Pecanin told Reuters the EU had devalued its principles: “If the EU had been at least half this indulgent towards Croatia, for example, that country would have become the EU member years ago.”