Posted: 01 Dec 2017 01:00 PM PST
Due to the growing animosity between the European Union and Russia, Moscow is increasingly depicted as a vector of instability in the Western Balkans. Its close relationship with Serbia is often denounced as hindering the EU's regional enlargement process. While the Serbian government is still geared towards EU accession, Serbs are becoming increasingly disenchanted over the prospect of joining the European Union, to which Belgrade applied in 2009. Not unrelated to the EU's enlargement fatigue either, this disenchantment is mainly a consequence of Russia's strong ties with Serbia, which started in the early 2000s.
Opposition to Kosovo's Independence
Whereas Russia often claims its strong relationship with Serbia is due to "psycho-historical" factors such as shared Orthodox and Slavic roots, the post-2000 relationship with Belgrade was initially centred around the question of Kosovo's independence. The Kremlin opposed the province's independence, branded it a violation of international law and saw it as indirectly threatening the integrity of Russia itself. If Kosovo could become independent without Belgrade's consent, why could others not do the same? Putin expressed these concerns during a meeting with journalists in 2007, declaring that "[i]t would be hard for us to explain to the different peoples of the North Caucasus why people in one part of Europe have this right, but they do not". This precedent could have strong repercussions on Chechnya, where dissident movements advocating independence were still active following the war of independence during the 1990s.
To prevent Kosovo's partition from Serbia, Russia threatened to apply its UNSC veto in 2007 when a UN resolution backed by France, the UK and the US planned to grant the province independence and sovereignty under international control. Whereas Kosovo's declaration of independence was legally recognized by the International Court of Justice in 2010, Moscow's opposition received the support of the Serbian population and of several political parties. From 2009 to 2015, more than 80% of Serbs agreed that Serbia's interests were best served by maintaining strong relationships with Russia. With the rekindling of their relationship, Moscow and Belgrade do not miss one occasion to display their strong ties when the possibility arises. For example, the Serbian government changed the 2014 commemoration date of Belgrade's liberation by the Red Army during World War II to ensure Putin's presence during the celebration. Serbian President Nikolic bestowed him with the country's highest honour, the "Order of the Republic of Serbia", created specifically for the occasion.
Serbia's Military Neutrality
Russia's opposition to Kosovo's independence has had several repercussions on Serbia's foreign policy. Belgrade, thanks to its military neutrality, increased its military cooperation with Moscow, a move often depicted as contradictory with Belgrade's efforts toward EU accession. In April 2013, Belgrade was granted observer status at the CSTO parliamentary assembly, a collective defence organization made up of Russia, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Belorussia, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. In November 2013, Serbian and Russian defence ministers Nebojsa Rodic and Sergei Shoigu signed a Strategic Partnership agreement furthering the military cooperation between the two countries. Joint military exercises entitled "Brotherhood of Aviators of Russia and Serbia" and "Slavic Brotherhood" (in cooperation with the Belarussian special forces) are now held every year, respectively since 2014 and 2015. Finally, in 2016, Russia agreed to make an important arms donation to Serbia, providing it with six MiG-29 aircrafts (A, S and UB models), 30 T-72 tanks and 30 BRDM-2 armoured reconnaissance vehicles. Nevertheless, it is important to note that the Serbian armed forces still hold more exercises with Western partners than with the Russian army: over one hundred annual exercises and engagements are held with the Ohio National Guard, NATO and the forces of western nations. In 2015, Serbia furthermore endorsed a Status of Force agreement with the transatlantic alliance, to upgrade its cooperation under the Partnership for Peace framework.
Another consequence of these ties has been Belgrade's refusal to join in on EU sanctions against Russia following the crisis in Ukraine. In 2016, the Serbian Minister of Foreign Affairs stated that "without Russia it is impossible to protect our territorial integrity and sovereignty". Consequently, Serbia would never join sanctions against Russia or become a member of NATO. However, as set out in the accession chapters 30 on External Relations and 31 on Common Foreign and Security Policy, sanctions are among the list of legally binding initiatives to join the EU. Hence, by refusing to apply sanctions on Russia, Belgrade is hindering its own accession process.
Economic Ties Centred Around Gas & Oil
Russia's economic ties with Serbia, especially in the gas and oil sector, further incentivize a close relationship between Moscow and Belgrade. Since the early 2000s, Russian gas and oil companies invested in the country, often taking over national enterprises in poor economic shape. In 2003, Lukoil payed 117€ million to acquire a 79.5% share in Beopetrol—Serbia's previously nationalized second-largest petrol chain—and its web of 180 filling stations. Additionally, Gazprom Neft bought a 51% share in Serbia's petroleum industry (Nafta Industrija Srbije, NIS) for 400€ million in 2008. This share has grown since then, with Gazprom owning 56.15% of the shares and the Serbian government, 29.87%. In terms of natural gas and oil imports, Serbia is entirely dependent on Russia. Likewise, in the Western Balkans, Serbia is the only country which could count Russia among its top five exporters and importers in 2016. Moscow is nevertheless behind Germany, Italy and China in terms of imports and behind Italy, Germany, BiH and Romania in terms of exports.
Russia's Public Diplomacy
Russia's influence in Serbia has also been re-enforced through the Kremlin's public diplomacy organs and networks. In comparison to other Balkan countries, Moscow's networks are mostly present in Serbia, where a net decrease in the Serbs' overall opinion of the EU can be noticed since the early 2010s. In 2016, the pro-NATO think tank CEAS notably registered twenty-one associations promoting different aspects of the Russo-Serbian relationship. Traditional Russian channels also have made inroads into Serbia. Whereas Sputnik and Russia Beyond the Headlines provide information in Serbian, RT (Russia Today) failed to broadcast content in Bosnian, Serbian or Croatian.
It is probable that Russia's public diplomacy and ties with Serbia have shaped the public discourse in Serbia, strengthening Moscow's positive image and discrediting that of the EU and NATO. When asked (without a list of answers) who they believe is the biggest donor to Serbia, more Serbs put Russia before the EU, continuously since 2011. This is however far from the truth, as Russia's grants to Serbia from 2000 to 2015 represent a minuscule fraction compared to those of the EU and its member states—totalling 2.7€ billion. A similar trend can be seen with regards to NATO: most Serbs perceive the alliance as a threat and would rather request Russian protection in the event of war.
EU Enlargement Fatigue
Finally, it is probable that other issues have an impact on the EU's loss of attractiveness in Serbia. The country's high rate of unemployment (17%), leaves most citizens unsatisfied with the national economy. Brexit, the migrant crisis and the rise of populist leaders and terrorism in Europe have surely tarnished the EU's power of attraction as an institution. Additionally, the EU's enlargement fatigue, characterized by Jean-Claude Juncker's 2014 declaration that no additional states would join the EU in the next five years, probably led Serbs to lose sight of their European dream. An interesting correlation can be noticed: while Serbia is the Balkan country where citizens stand in greatest opposition to EU accession, it is also the country where an important fraction of citizens are convinced their country will never join the EU. When Serbs were asked when they expected EU accession to happen, 41% thought Belgrade would by one day be part of Europe while 38% believed this would never happen.
Hence, Serbia's EU accession is hindered by two factors. On one hand, Belgrade's adoption of foreign policy positions different from those of the EU, along with its ties with Moscow, are making Serbia deviate from the path of EU membership. On the other, seeing the EU's enlargement fatigue, Serbs are becoming increasingly disenchanted with the idea of joining Europe, which may lead the Serbian government to reconsider its European ambitions. The responsibility to prevent such eventuality lies in the hands of Brussels. A more ambitious European Balkan policy with expanded scope and means, along with relatively short but feasible deadlines, could revive the optimism of Serbs regarding the idea of joining the EU. The 2019 election of a new EU Commission president and administration more favourable to Belgrade's EU accession could potentially be the first step to putting Serbia back on track to membership.
Photo: Belgrade at night, Dani Lavi (2012) via Wikimedia Commons. Public Domain.
Disclaimer: Any views or opinions expressed in articles are solely those of the authors
Posted: 01 Dec 2017 11:00 AM PST
Achieving full gender equality both nationally and internationally has undoubtedly been extremely challenging for many nations around the world. Particularly in the global south, the goal of achieving full and inclusive gender equality is quite literally non-existent and in certain countries, confronted with harsh punishments for even raising the topic of discussion in a context which is extremely male dominant and patriarchal. The following publication will discuss the holistic importance of gender transformative programming in international development work and discuss Canada's role towards achieving global gender equality.
The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development or Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) created by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) are a universal call to action to some of the worlds greatest and longstanding challenges. The SDGs are composed of 17 Goals built off the successes of the previous Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), while adding additional areas of development such as climate change, peace, and justice. Within the SDGs is the goal of achieving global gender equality, which seeks to end all forms of violence and discrimination against women and girls, provide equal opportunities, recognize inherent and universal human rights, and provide protection from harmful traditional practices.
Gender Integration Continuum
So how does gender equality and female empowerment manifest itself in international development work? When one thinks of global or national gender based initiatives, one may recall campaigns such as the "Because I am a Girl" campaign by Plan International or organizations such as the Girl Up foundation. Organizations premised on gender equality and female empowerment are a major mechanism in achieving the corresponding sustainable development goal and its various targets. To better understand how organizations incorporate gender to address inequalities, the gender integration continuum framework developed by the USAID Interagency Gender Working Group (IGWG) is utilized.
This continuum categorizes approaches made towards addressing gender inequalities by placing each approach on a continuum ranging from "gender blind" and "gender aware" classifications to "gender exploitative, gender accommodating and gender transformative.” Each approach is categorized based on how it addresses harmful gender norms and inequalities within project programming, planning, design, implementation, and throughout the monitoring and evaluation of a gender-based program or policy.
Gender Transformative Programming
Gender transformative programming actively seeks to challenge existing and longstanding gender norms, promote positive and transformative social and political change for women and girls, and seek to address power inequities between genders. The main objective of this approach is to firmly challenge and change existing gender inequalities, and constantly work towards a full and inclusive world. Gender transformative programming seeks to be fully transformational at the structural, political, and economic levels. While this is the optimal approach to organizational programming, it is also the most challenging given the firm implementation of harmful traditional norms.
Canadian Implications on Global Gender Equality
Canada's commitment to global gender equality is a high priority under the Global Affairs Canada (GAC) framework on international development and humanitarian assistance. Canada is committed to the full implementation of all aforementioned Sustainable Development Goals, however, has chosen to focus on gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls as the most effective way to combat global poverty and inequality. Specifically, regarding the SDG of gender equality, Canada's Feminist International Assistance Policy contains various action areas which seek to address existing global gender inequities through specific goals and targets. The policy covers key areas in development such as ending sexual and gender-based violence, empowering Afghan women, supporting positive health outcomes for women and girls, promoting equal educational opportunities, gender appropriate humanitarian aid, and working towards inclusive governance.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau openly professed his place as a proud feminist, and stated his commitment towards achieving full and inclusive gender equality at the 2017 International Women's Day celebrations in Ottawa. Trudeau announced a $650 million funding allocation for women's sexual and reproductive health rights which will be provided from 2017 to 2020. The funding will be used towards providing sexual education, reproductive health services, and family planning. Additionally, the funding will be used to improve and further implement programs to prevent and respond to sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) including child and early forced marriage, female genital mutilation (FGM), and post-abortion care.
Canada's commitment to addressing global gender equality is necessary in working towards the global achievement of the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals. It is important to keep in mind the various challenges that exist in achieving global gender equality, particularly social, political, and cultural norms which further prevent and debilitate the achievement of full gender equality. It is imperative that international development initiatives incorporate a gender lens within organizational programming in order to ensure that impactful, transformational, and sustainable changes are being made towards the achievement of full and inclusive gender equality.
Photo: Sustainable Development Goals Agreed Upon by the United Nations. By the United Nations Department of Public Information. (2016). CC-BY-NC.
Disclaimer: Any views or opinions expressed in articles are solely those of the authors
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