Despite the fact that, since the beginning of this century, the EU and its members provided almost 3 billion EUR of grants to Serbia, the citizens of Serbia still believe that Russia is the biggest donor in Serbia.
German Foreign Minister, Sigmar Gabriel noted recently that he could not believe that the majority of the Serbian population still thought that Russia was providing the biggest financial assistance to the country. “I really don’t understand that. For instance, why is there a billboard, next to the road from airport to downtown Belgrade, that features the image of the Russian-Serbian friendship, while the yellow and blue colours of the European Union are almost invisible?”, the German minister wonders.
The fact that the most of the Serbian population is partial towards Russia is not based on rational thinking, the math, the proper understanding of one’s interests or the vision of a better future.
“Russian and Serbian people are almost the same nation which is why our people believe in Russia and we are convinced that Russia would help us more than the European Union. I don’t believe the European Union at all. I only appreciate Russia”, says Dimitrije Stanic from the town of Uzice.
His fellow citizens share the same opinion. “Vucic kisses Merkel on the cheek, and yet I am still hopeful that Russia will jump to our aid”, Boban says while Zarko Visnjevac goes into actual reasons for his fondness of Russia: “I believe in Russia because we have never had bad experiences with Russia throughout history. We share the same tradition, the same origin. We never expect any evil coming from Russia, while we always expect the European Union to deceive us. I am sure of one thing – if the third world war erupts, it would be only natural for us to side with Russia”.
Zarko and Boban obviously don’t care about the information that the European companies invested in Serbia five times more money than the Russian ones. In the last 10 years, they have invested almost 15 billion EUR, which is 73% of the value of all investments made in Serbia. Traditionally, the EU has been the crucial and the biggest trade partner to Serbia, which has a 63% share in the country’s import and export.
On the other hand, Russia has made 2.4 billion EUR worth of investments, while the country’s external trade with Serbia amounted to $2.3 billion. Serbian import from Russia is much higher than its export.
Despite the aforementioned facts, 25% of the people in Serbia still believe that Russia is the biggest donor here. This is what a survey conducted by the Serbian EU Integration Office last year showed. Only 21% of those surveyed know that the EU members donated 2.7 billion EUR in grants to Serbia between 2000 and 2015.
President of the European Movement in Serbia, Mihailo Crnjobrnja gives his views of this huge polarity in the Serbian society where people are divided into fans of “mother” Russia and the advocates of Serbia’s membership in the EU.
“I think that we could classify that as social schizophrenia. On one hand, there is a segment of population, represented by the former present Tomislav Nikolic who said, back in the day, that he considered Russia as his mother which is absolutely inexcusable. On the other hand, there is obviously Vucic and the entire former government, and now the opposition, which favour the yellow & blue team”, Crnjobrnja says.
Apropos the claim that many Russophiles in Serbia make about Russia never betraying Serbia, Crnjobrnja reminds:
“We traditionally have this capability and even a skill, if you like, to have very short-term memory about Russian injustice towards us. Let’s mention, the San Stefano Peace Accord where Russia openly sided with Bulgaria (against Serbia) or the year 1948 when Russia imposed the toughest sanctions ever on Serbia. This is forgotten. What is not forgotten is that Russians participated in the liberation of Belgrade and Vojvodina on their road to Hungary. Of course, we remember their songs, bravery and a really big contribution in culture, be it in ballet, opera or literature. This is our dimension of Russophilia. Once in a while we have this need to brag about it which is something I really don’t understand”, Crnobrnja adds.
Despite the religious and ethnic closeness to Russia, even the Russophiles would rather live and work in Germany, Austria, Canada and the US than in Russia – Crnjobrnja concludes.
Of course, there is also the question of how responsible is the EU for people in Serbia not knowing a lot about Brussels’ help in the region.
Research Director at ISAK Fund, Igor Novakovic comments on lack of EU propaganda: “For fifteen years, the European Union failed to properly promote everything it did for candidate countries. Brussels should definitely improve its information strategy. When I say this, I am not referring to the old-fashioned propaganda, rather to better dissemination of information about the things they did, and about the money they have invested in Serbia and other Western Balkan countries”, Novakovic thinks. “Russia, on the other hand, is more aggressive in its propaganda especially after the onset of the Ukrainian crisis in 2014. Now, several news websites have emerged including Sputnik News”, Novakovic notes.
(Radio Free Europe, 05.06.2017)
This post is also available in: Italiano