An interesting poll came out of Gallup yesterday:
Despite Kosovo Intervention, Serbians Favor EU Membership
On May 15, the Serbian parliament approved a new coalition government led by Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica and President Boris Tadic, both moderates who would like to see their country join the European Union within the next decade. “Serbia’s aspiration to become a full member of the EU is a clearly declared commitment of every party in this coalition,” Kostunica told the parliament prior to confirmation.
However, Serbia’s refusal to compromise on any plan for the future of Kosovo that grants independence to the breakaway province is a stumbling block on the road to EU membership. Kosovo has been administered by the UN since 1999, when NATO ousted Serbian forces that had killed 10,000 ethnic Albanian civilians in the region.
What does the Serbian public think about the EU? Despite that the EU has brokered the Ahtisaari Plan that would grant Kosovo a form of “supervised independence,” 63% of Serbians living in Serbia say they have a “very positive” (24%) or “somewhat positive” (39%) opinion of the role the EU is playing in the Balkan region. A similar number, 62%, say they think Serbian membership in the EU would be a good thing. Just 9% feel it would be a bad thing.
Sure, the brunt of anger is directed at the USA, Warren Christopher, Madelaine Albright and Wes Clark (and at the domestic war criminals as well, including Milosevic, who should have offered his hospitality to the aforementioned trio in his cell in The Hague), not the Europeans which are natural neighbors, allies, friends and business partners. America is a far-away continent somewhere at the edge of the world map and can be safely ignored, but Europe is where the country is, so one better play nice with the EU.
Also, many see the 1990s as a temporary interruption in the road to EU membership. Back in the late 1980s, when Belgrade almost got to host the ’92 Olympics (lost to Barcelona in the last voting round), Yugoslavia was first in line to join the union. Many there see the renewed effort as a continuation of that process. After all, if they are now all lovey-dovey with the other ex-Yugoslav republics (of which Slovenia is already now an EU member) after they went to war against them, why treat EU as an enemy?
There is less consensus on whether the Serbian government is doing everything necessary to join the EU. Just under half (48%) of Serbians feel it is, while 37% say it isn’t. One possible factor in these perceptions is the ongoing failure of the Serbian government to locate and arrest war crimes fugitive Ratko Mladic. In May 2006, the EU suspended talks on the first steps toward membership, declaring that negotiations would not resume until Mladic was in custody.
No surprise, after a strange and prolonged election earlier this year. Everyone is looking askance at the leadership.
Results are based on face-to-face interviews conducted during February 2007 with randomly selected samples of 1,566 Serbians aged 15 and older. For results based on this sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum error attributable to sampling and other random effects is ±3 percentage points. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.
This is troubling – face-to-face? This means that most of the people interviewed were in big cities: Belgrade and perhaps (hopefully!) a few other big cities like Nis, Novi Sad or Kragujevac. I doubt that the Gallup people trekked into the mountains to interview people in tiny villages.
The entire 1990s wars of the Balkans were wars between city and country, between an urban, modern, democratic, liberal, pro-European mindset held by people who are educated, speak foreign languages and travel abroad, and the rural, illiterate, backwards, conservative, patriarchal, nationalistic, religious-fundamentalist mindset held by people living in small places. Sorta like the Red/Blue divide in the USA. It was the local conservatives of various ethnicities who joined the paramilitary groups and faught each other, while the local liberals remained in the cities or fled the country. Bombings of Vukovar, Sarajevo and Dubrovnik were bombings of cultural and social elites (of many ethnicities living together) by the drunk peasants from one ethnic side or another. Bombing of Belgrade by NATO was exactly the same thing.
Kosovo is historically the cradle of Serbia. A millenium ago Serbia was Kosovo – it is only the later wars and realignments that gave Serbia additional territory to the north, including Belgrade. All the churches, monasteries and monuments that define Serbian statehood are located in Kosovo. The emotional atachment is completely understandable.
Imagine if Virginia decided to secede from the USA and the entire rest of the world threatened military – including nuclear – intervention (on top of cessation of all trade) in case the US government interfered with the secession? Can you imagine the emotions this would elicit?
A century ago, Kosovo was inhabited by Serbs and Albanians in about a 9:1 ratio. Differences in birthrates, slow emigration of Serbs over decades for economic reasons (Kosovo is the poorest region of the former Yugoslavia), and the ethnic cleansing of Serbs at the hands of KLA in the 1980s (that was the first use of the term in history – Milosevic rose to power by promising to stop it and protect the local Serbian population) completely reversed that ratio to 1:9. Finally, in 1999, almost all of the rest of the Serbs fled Clark’s bombs and depleted uranium, leaving only tiny scatterings of Serbs still living in the province.
So, what is one to do? The rural folks, who have nothing personal to be proud of, who suffered group-related humiliation for a decade (demonization of Serbs by the western media, loss of territory, getting cleansed out of Croatia and Bosnia, finally getting bombed, while Milosevic gave up on everything one thing at a time) have only one thing to cling to – Kosovo. Defending it to the bitter end. It is a matter of ego.
But the urban folks – those who were likely the majority of interviewees in this poll – are pragmatic. They can afford to, because they have individual, personal strengths to keep their self-esteem. They are educated, perhaps successful in business, politics or academia. They are capable of losing Kosovo without losing their identities (and without losing their minds). They see Kosovo as a thing of the past and EU as the future, and future is more important.
So, I’d like to see a poll that carefully differentiates between urban and rural folks (party affiliation may be a better indicator than actual physical address, as many of the rural folks are now refugees in big cities) before I agree that the Serbian population as a whole is so enthusiastic about joining the EU.