Geopolitika i Zapadni Balkan: Slabi li uloga EU/Resurgence of geopolitics in the Western Balkans – is the EU’s dominant role diminishing?

Vasilije Krivokapić

Nakon gotovo decenije dominantnog uticaja i uloge koju je EU imala na Zapadnom Balkanu (ZB), u posljednje dvije godine je evidentan porast interesovanja nekih starih, ali i novih država koje žele da učvrste svoje prisustvo u regionu. Rusija, Turska, zalivske zemlje, i naročito Kina, pokušavaju podjednako da politički i ekonomski uspostave svoju geopolitičku poziciju i iskoriste skorašnje krize kroz koje je EU prolazila (i kroz koje i dalje prolazi). Iako sve države u regionu teže članstvu u EU, njena nedovoljna podrška i nedostatak posvećenosti reformama doveli su do nazadovanja demokratije na ZB.  Hvatajući se u koštac sa svojim nagomilanim problemima, EU je skrenula pažnju sa ZB, što sada pokušava nadomjestiti novim instrumentima za praćenje reformi. Strategija o kredibilnoj perspektivi ZB, usvojena 6. februara, označava novu prekretnicu u procesu proširenja, jer je u njoj navedena hitnost potrebe za dalekosežnim reformama, ne samo tehničke već suštinske prirode. U Strategiji je istaknuta 2025. kao potencijalna godina pristupanja Crne Gore i Srbije, ali to nije “obećana” godina, već samo indikativan okvir ukoliko sve reforme i obaveze iz procesa pregovora budu sprovedene do tada. Takođe, Strategija se može smatrati odgovorom EU na ponovno buktanje geopolitike i sve veću zainteresovanost drugih država za ZB. Otvoreni prostor za djelovanje drugih aktera, koji su (ne i nužno) doveli do ekonomskog rasta i izdašnih projekata, takođe je doprinio nazadovanju demokratije odnosno vrijednosti i principa vitalnih za članstvo u EU.

Nakon turbulentnih 90-ih, region je napravio zaokret ka zapadu. Kao jedan od tzv. rubova, Balkan je tokom vjekova bio pod udarom raznih carstava i država, da bi u posljednje dvije decenije, u unipolarnom svijetu, postao još jedno uporište uticaja zapadnih demokratija, naročito SAD. Iako su SAD postajale vojno i politički veoma prisutne u regionu, EU je prepuštena uloga garanta mira, stabilnosti i prosperiteta u regionu, vrijednosti koje su zajedničke za ova dva aktera. I zaista, sve države regiona su u EU vidjele poželjan okvir za konsolidovanje i razvoj demokratije. Međutim, kako se ova nadnacionalna organizacija počela suočavati s ozbiljnim unutrašnjim problemima (Bregzit, migrantska kriza, kriza eurozone, Grčka, nezaposlenost…) postalo je jasno da će ZB sve više biti prepušten sebi tokom izuzetno zahtjevnih reformi u procesu integracije, što je ujedno i dovelo do autokratskih težnji, nepoštovanja vladavine prava i ljudskih prava. Taj vakuum, koji je EU ostavila tokom druge decenije 21. vijeka, doveo je do povratka geopolitike na velika vrata, te ne čudi što većina najvažnijih ekonomskih projekata, kao i direktnih stranih investicija, dolaze iz drugih zainteresovanih država, a ne EU članica.

Pošto je, makar po pisanju ruskih medija, Rusija izgubila „bitku“ za korišćenje luka, ali i za ostvarenje dugoročnih ekonomskih ciljeva, u CG ili Albaniji, Srbija predstavlja gotovo posljednje uporište ove države u regionu. Rusija ulaže značajna sredstva u srpsku vojsku, infrastrukturu, poljoprivredu; trgovinska razmjena je na istorijskom nivou, a novi projekti kao što je dopremanje gasa,  način su na koji Rusija i dalje želi da održava svoje interese na ZB. Istovremeno, ruska želja da utiče na evroatlantske integracije ZB je evidentna. Rusija će pokušati da ostane prisutna u regionu, tragajući za eventualnim daljim neuspjesima EU i američke politike na ZB. Zajednička istorija, kulturne i religijske veze i vrijednosti daju za pravo Rusiji da pokuša da ostane relevantna u regionu ZB, budući da su se države kroz istoriju mijenjale, ali su zajednički interesi opstajali.

Kina, makar do sada, nije iskazala težnje za širenjem svoje političke ideologije, ali je zato kroz ogromne infrastrukturne projekte i povoljne kredite uspostavila snažan ekonomski uticaj. Iako “One Belt, One Road” inicijativa površinski djeluje kao gigantski ekonomski poduhvat, ona je više geopolitički projekat čiji cilj predstavlja uspostavljanje kineskog uticaja u Evroaziji i učvršćivanje uloge nove supersile u sve više multipolarnom svijetu. Kina, i pored nezainteresovanosti za unutrašnje poslove država ZB, kroz trgovinske sporazume i projekte – kao što su autoput Bar-Boljare, pruga Beograd-Budimpešta, energetski projekti u BiH, kao i kupovina aerodroma u Tirani –  ostvaruje svoj cilj da ostavi opipljiv trag koji joj garantuje uticaj na duže staze.

Turska, kroz jačanje ekonomskih i kulturnih veza, pokušava da osnaži svoju ulogu, na osnovu mnogobrojnih aranžmana, kao i kroz izgradnju i renoviranje kulturnih i religijskih objekata. Zalivske države, od kojih prednjače Ujedinjeni Arapski Emirati i Saudijska Arabija, takođe vide interes na ZB. Saudijska Arabija je više fokusirana na jačanje kulturnih i religijskih veza, što je najočiglednije u BiH. UAE važi za velikog investitora, posebno u sferi turizma, nekretnina, uslužnih djelatnosti, pa i težih industrija. Najbolji pokazatelj koliki uticaj UAE ima na region je liderstvo po stranim direktnim investicijama u  CG, kao i izgradnja najvećeg projekta u novijoj srpskoj istoriji, tzv. ”Beograd na vodi”.

Jedno je sigurno. Prisustvo geopolitike u regionu ZB je opet aktuelno. ZB se suočava sa dilemom koja zainteresovana strana će im najviše ekonomski i politički pomoći u dugotrajnom i napornom putu ka stabilnosti i prosperitetu. Pristupanje EU je, naravno, i dalje glavni cilj država ZB, ali prisustvo drugih aktera daje veći prostor za manevrisanje i veći izbor za buduće poduhvate i projekte.

Kolumna je objavljena u rubrici Forum u Vijestima.

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by Vasilije Krivokapić

After more than a decade of unrivalled influence and role that the EU had in the Western Balkans,[1] the last two years saw some old and some new actors looking to strengthen their presence in the region. Russia, Turkey, Gulf countries and especially China are trying to both politically and economically affirm their position and to try to use the recent crises which shook the EU to its core. The most striking is the fact that the EU, having to face many problems within its borders, has shifted the focus from the Western Balkans (WB), which can be regarded as a mistake that the EU is now unwillingly trying to amend.

Even though all countries in the region have set for one of their main goals in foreign policy to become EU member states, the insufficient EU support and lack of much needed institutional help have backslid the region and thus the dates of accession are going further into the future than previously predicted. One is not to say that the EU didn’t allocate pre-accession funds and helped the region in numerous vital infrastructure projects, but the role of other interested countries has been at least noticeable, if not at the same level as the EU. The lack of political control and dissemination of democracy led to a more autocratic and illiberal region, despite all the economic efforts and infamous role of neoliberalism.

What strikes the most is the fact that geopolitics have seen a resurgence in the region, because of the vacuum left by the EU. After the civil wars and unrests during the 90’s, as well as toppling of the Milošević regime by widespread protests during October 2000, the region has almost completely shifted towards the West. Of course, that was just the culmination of the long-term mission the USA to exert its influence on the region, which was just another piece needed to be gained in the big chess game called Eurasia. As one of the so-called Rimlands,[2] the WB region was one of the missing puzzles to complete its quest for worldwide power and a unipolar world order. Who owns the Rimlands, owns Eurasia, and therefore owns the world. The US became prevalent, with a strong military presence and clear political influence, which they steadily transferred to the EU.

The dominance of the West was therefore firmly strengthened. It should be then of no surprise that the EU gave candidate status to four (Montenegro, Serbia, Macedonia, Albania) and sees to give the same status to BIH and potentially Kosovo in the future. Therefore, this shows that the WB countries believe that accession to EU is the only way towards economic prosperity and political stability. The region needed guidance and fostering to become a new nestling ground for liberal democracy, and that job was handed over to the EU. Unfortunately, with its focus being shifted to more immediate threats and crises (Brexit, migrant crisis, Eurozone crisis, Greece, unemployment…), that pivotal role of patron has almost been lost, and other countries have, as we already elaborated that with the resurgence of geopolitics, taken its place. Be it for the better or worse, other actors have somewhat economically boosted the region, but at the same time influenced the regression of democracy and overall stagnation in the EU accession process.

Russia is investing in Serbia’s military, infrastructure, agriculture; the volume of trade is at an al- time high, with further ventures such as gas supply firmly trying to exercise as much influence to keep its interests anchored in the Western Balkans. Since Russia, according to media writing, lost the “battle” for a warm seaport in either Montenegro or Albania, Serbia is currently its last straw to which they desperately need to hang on if they want to be relevant in the region. Russia still sees priority in exerting political interest in the region (alleged coup attempt in Montenegro, support for nationalist Gruevski in Macedonia, efforts to advert the WB region from entering NATO and EU).[3] This collusions may led to the EU becoming more interested in the region, as some WB countries were even barely fulfilling the Copenhagen criteria, especially rule of law and democratic values. Russia will try to remain present in the region by all means, which indicates that it will continue to seek failures of the EU and US policies for the WB region. Shared history, culture and values somewhat entitle Russia to have a say in the region, since countries change but interest stay the same. NATO has dwindled the Russian interests in both Montenegro and Albania, despite huge investments and resources being allocated towards these countries, which didn’t work out. Many privatisation and projects done by the Russian companies (and oligarchs) were followed by huge controversies and sometimes scandals. But, as aforementioned, if any indication of a possibility that the EU or NATO marginalise the region, Russia will immediately become again present.

China on the other hand, doesn’t seek, at least so far, to share its political ideologies, as much as it endows to invest and develop the region with huge infrastructure projects and affordable loans from its state-owned banks. Even though the “One Belt, One Road” initiative could be regarded not only as a gigantic economic venture, but as a geopolitical project to boost China’s influence throughout the Heartland,[4] and affirm its position as a new super power in the increasingly multipolar world. But so forth, China sees no interest in interfering politically in the WB region, since trade deals and projects such as the Bar-Boljare motorway in Montenegro, Belgrade-Budapest high-speed railway, energy projects in BIH and acquisition of Tirana Airport in Albania pave the way for an eminent and visible presence for decades to come.

Turkey is trying by both economic and cultural ties to strengthen its role, therefore many commerce and trade projects, as well as construction and renovation of numerous cultural and religious buildings and ties. The Gulf states, most notably UAE and Saudi Arabia are present as well, with the first investing in tourism and business ventures, and the latter more investing in creating strong cultural ties. A great indicator of how the UAE is involved in the WB affairs is the data that this country ranks first in direct foreign direct investments in Montenegro, and that is constructing one of the biggest projects in Serbian history, the Belgrade Waterfront.

To conclude, one thing is for certain. Presence of geopolitics in the WB region is again quite noticeable, and now the region is facing dilemmas regarding who will aid them politically and economically in their long-lasting road to prosperity and stability. EU accession is still the main objective for all WB countries, but the presence of other actors is and will give the WB countries more leverage and choice for future endeavours, projects and relations.

The Balkan rimland will be up for grabs, if the US truly follows a more protectionist and isolationist approach to international relations as proposed by the Trump administration, and if the EU is again shocked by a new crisis. Only a stable and determined EU policy towards the WB can prevent new turmoil and political unrests in the region, and that is why the EU must supervise the changes in legislation and the adoption of both the acquis and the shared principles and values.

[1] Western Balkans, a geographic and geopolitical term associated with the following countries: Montenegro, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, Albania and Kosovo.

[2] Nicholas Spykman, an American political scientist, coined this name to indicate the edges of the Eurasian continents (West Europe, South Europe, South East Europe, Turkey, Middle East, South Asia, South East Asia and East Asia).

[3] “Russia actively stoking discord in Macedonia since 2008, intel files say”, The Guardian, 4 June 2017, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/jun/04/russia-actively-stoking-discord-in-macedonia-since-2008-intel-files-say-leak-kremlin-balkan-nato-west-influence

[4] Halford Mackinder, a British politician, famous for being one of the fathers of geopolitics, coined the term Heartland which is another term for Euraisa. Who owns the Heartland, owns the World-Island. Who owns thw World-Island, owns the world.

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Vasilije Krivokapić graduated and finished his specialist studies at the Faculty of Political Science in Podgorica, with his major being International relations. As a former member of the student’s organisation MAPSS (Montenegrin Association for Political science students), he participated in numerous projects, with the most notable being EubyCitizens, a project financed by the European Commission. He is employed as an intern in the Poltikon Network.