Is Russia really the best friend of Serbia?

The European Union has been the largest donor to Serbia since 2000 to date – with a total of 2.96 billion euro donated – a survey of the Ministry of European Integration of Serbia confirmed on Tuesday.

What is surprising, however, is that the survey shows that Russia is not even among the top ten donors, 21 percent of Serbian citizens believe that this country is the biggest donor to Serbia.

“For emotional reasons, Serbs are mistaken that the Russians, who are considered to be the biggest Slavic friends of Serbia, are also the biggest providers of financial support to Serbia”, says Mihajlo Crnobrnja, from a non-governmental organization the European Movement in Serbia for Radio Free Europe (RSE).

In the interview for RSE, Crnobrnja also recounted the results of certain surveys that showed that 41 percent of Serbian citizens were absolutely convinced of that Russia was the biggest financial donor to Serbia. Now, he says, it is quite evident that this percentage is decreasing.

“Regarding the European Union’s attitude towards activities, not only investments, in Serbia, I do not think they done a proper job of informing the public of those donations and their recipients, namely the citizens and the state. I think that four other EU countries, in addition to the European Union, have surpassed Russia, as far as investments and financial support to Serbia are concerned” – Crnobrnja says.

Over the last 18 years, the money provided by the European Union, or its individual members, was spent on the development of democracy, the rule of law, the fight against corruption, economy and competitiveness – all required criteria for Serbia’s membership in the EU. Since the accession negotiations started in 2014, Serbia has opened 14 out of a total of 35 chapters. The help provided by the European Union to Serbia during the floods in May and September 2014 was particularly memorable.

Russia uses soft power

The traditional historical-cultural-religious ties are the basis for most Serbian citizens to interpret Russia’s role in the contemporary world. Jelica Kurjak, the former Serbian ambassador to Moscow, calls this “back watching syndrome”.

It signifies the support for one of Serbia’s main foreign policy positions that relates to its firm stance on the non-recognition of Kosovo’s independence.

“Russia is using it a lot. In this part of the world, it uses the so-called soft power. It uses all other means to compensate for the lack of economic impact like the church, Orthodox organizations, and various Russian-Serbian friendship societies. Not to mention the support regarding the Kosovo problem which has grown into a myth. However, nobody is mentioning that Russia was the first country to open a consulate office in Serbia following the recent wars in the Balkans”, says Jelica Kurjak.

She has also noticed a change in the public’s attitude to understanding Russian aid to Serbia. Serbian citizens have come to realize that there is a drastic difference between what was reported in the media and the actual situation.

After the European Union, the leading donors to Serbia are the United States, Germany, Sweden and Italy. The People’s Republic of China is at the bottom of the list, in the ninth place, with 31.4 million euro donated so far. You can see the donor map here.

(Blic, 30.08.2018)



This post is also available in: Italiano

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