Srdjan Cvijic (Photo: Open Societys Foundation)

Balkan Insider reached out to Senior Policy Analyst at the Open Society European Policy Institute, Srdjan Cvijic following his trip to the United States to speak on a Johns Hopkins SAIS Panel “Building Resilience in the Western Balkans for EU and NATO Accession.” Here’s what he shared with Balkan Insider:

1. What brought you to Washington this week?

We came to Washington to meet the decision makers in Congress and Government on the Western Balkans prioritising the frontrunner candidates for EU membership Serbia and Montenegro. issued such as the need to open the EU Accession negotiations with Albania and Macedonia were also discussed.

What were your goals in America? What was the highlight?

Our primary goal was to underline the need for the US to focus on internal drivers of instability in the region (declining media freedom and overall democratic backsliding including systemic problems when it comes to rule of law, corruption and fight against organised crime). Policy makers in the U.S. have rightly recognized a growing malign influence of Russia in the Western Balkans as an issue of concern. Internal drivers of instability are recognized as a problem. However, in comparison to geopolitical considerations, they seem to be a minor distraction to be dealt with only when the primary threat is eliminated. It is a mistake to consider corruption and democratic backsliding as inevitable companions of transitioning economies with limited democratic traditions. It is a misguided strategy to think that these will be resolved gradually as Western Balkan states are progressing towards EU membership and that the primary focus should be on eliminating the geopolitical threats. In this way, we are treating the symptoms not the root causes of the illness. Russian influence grows in environments that provide fertile grounds. While it tries to have an impact on the entire European continent, it will never succeed in established democracies in the EU. On the other hand, it is successfully gaining ground in Serbia, Montenegro (frontrunners for EU membership), Republic of Srpska in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Macedonia, precisely because the domestic conditions allow it. Without eliminating the endogenous causes of instability, Russian and other malign influences will remain present and grow further.

There are numerous reports that Corey Lewandowski has spent time with colleagues in Belgrade. Recently, Dacic just made clear his interest in hiring a lobbying for. What is the one message or request you think that Belgrade wants Washington to hear?

The Serbian government seems to be perceiving US foreign policy towards their country led by the US State Department as “burdened” by different historical prejudices and the overall US-Serbian relations in the 1990s. They seem to think that reaching out directly to the White House and President Trump could put them in a better position to further their interests.