When Boris Tadic (Sarajevo, 61) presided over Serbia, between 2004 and 2012, many things happened whose echoes resonate today in the Balkans. Montenegro ended its union with Serbia, Kosovo unilaterally declared its independence, and Belgrade became a candidate for EU membership after arresting those responsible for the aggression in Bosnia and Croatia such as Radovan Karadzic, Goran Hadzic and Ratko Mladic. Today, Montenegro is in NATO after a failed pro-Russian coup attempt, Kosovo is recognized by a hundred countries, the community horizon is full of storm clouds, and Karadzic and Mladic are serving life terms for the Srebrenica genocide.

A social psychologist by training and affable at short distances, Tadic has once again put on the opposition outfit he wore in the past: first against the Yugoslav authorities, in a dissident university organization; and later against Slobodan Milosevic, who fell in 2000. His target is now President Aleksandar Vucic and supports, although with doubts (“I am 51% in favor, 49% against”), the boycott of the elections that his country is holding in a few months. It is also concerned about the recent community door slamming of North Macedonia and Albania. “If the EU is not in the Balkans, Russia, Turkey and China will”, He warns in a serious tone in an interview with EL PAÍS during his visit to Madrid last month – the city with the Golden Keys – on the occasion of the annual Club de Madrid policy dialogue, an organization made up of more than 100 former heads of state. and the Government to which it belongs.

“In the EU there is a philosophy that it is not possible to face enlargement until the strategy is defined … But the EU leaders have not defined the strategy for 10 years! What can be the result? Russian influence; Turkish, very important right now, and China, which is getting bigger every day. China is investing [en los Balcanes] more than the EU. When I was a student, in then Yugoslavia, we dreamed of democracy, of the EU… I am afraid that dream is disappearing, ”he says.

Throughout the interview, Tadic repeats an idea: that Serbia is treated by some European capitals as “a single-issue country”, Kosovo. In other words, they put all the focus on Belgrade reaching an agreement with its ex-province (with the prospect of joining the EU as a carrot) and they overlook the quality of freedoms. “Serbia’s democratic situation is simply a disaster. Some European leaders have allowed current leaders to dismantle all democratic institutions. And if there is no democracy in Serbia, it is a problem for the entire region, because it has a border with the rest of the countries in the area and there are Serbs in other countries in the region. I can’t understand that approach to my country. “

When Kosovo declared independence in 2008, Tadic was blunt: “Serbia will never recognize it.” Eleven years later and with the State of Kosovo blessed by a hundred countries, the former president reaffirms himself and still believes it possible to negotiate greater autonomy, without full sovereignty. “I did not propose recognition of Kosovo’s independence, but that the Kosovo authorities consider themselves to be independent. I think we can negotiate from there, although the negotiating starting point is not better than the one that existed until 2012 ”.

The context is delicate. Bilateral relations are tense and Kosovo maintains 100% tariffs on Serbian products and has just bet at the polls for a generational change that brings the already battered negotiations to terra incognita. Pristina will be the first destination for Josep Borrell when he becomes head of European diplomacy, as Spain’s acting foreign minister announced last month.

Tadic views Borrell’s decision positively, but speaks of Kosovo with some fatigue and frustration. It seems to feel like a kind of Cassandra that went out of its way — without success — to convince Western countries that, if they recognized Kosovo, they opened the door for other European regions to unilaterally announce their secession. Time, he insists, has proved him right. “My friends in the western democracies could not understand the Kosovo issue. They ignored the potential for generating a domino effect. I asked them to be very serious about that issue. They always ignored it. They were following Kosovo’s independence agenda, strictly and very rigidly, but when they woke up to the Crimea issue [península ucrania anexionada por Rusia en 2014], South Ossetia and Abkhazia [regiones secesionistas de Georgia], it was something like a shock. “A” domino effect “in which Tadic includes Catalonia, Scotland and” any sensitive area in the world “of which” Europe is full “.” Still today they say in international forums : ‘Kosovo is a different case’. Every case is different! It’s pretty obvious, and all of those cases are connected. That is what causes a domino effect. You don’t have to be a genius to understand it. ”

Absolutist power

The former president now focuses his efforts on the fall of the president of his country. Serbia has been experiencing the biggest protest movement since last December since the uprising that ended with Milosevic. The weekly demonstrations have been losing strength, but the vast majority of the opposition has decided to boycott the elections, which will be held next March or April, as Vucic himself, president since 2017 and before, prime minister, recently confirmed. “After seven years of the dismantling of democracy in Serbia, the only way is to appeal to some democratic forces that take into account the reality we live in, with an absolutist power. I’m not saying dictator, but I am populist, demagogue and absolutist. We are under fake news 24 hours a day. And in that situation people cannot decide. At the same time, if we do not participate they will have even more deputies. But if we legitimize the process, it is even more problematic. It is, he acknowledges, a dilemma.

More weapons, less reconciliation

 Boris Tadic, at the tribute ceremony in Vukovar (Croatia), in 2010. AP

As president, Tadic used high symbolic gestures to try to heal the wounds of the 1990s wars in the Balkans: he apologized on behalf of his country to Bosnia and Croatia and visited in each of them the main symbols of Serbian aggression: Srebrenica and Vukovar. “It was a period of nationalist politics in the Balkans. Unfortunately, those ideologies are coming back, ”he laments today.

“Reconciliation means saying ‘I’m sorry’ and, at the same time, showing respect for another entity and identity. That is what we need. The current leaderships in Serbia, Bosnia, Croatia … are totally different. They are more focused on buying weapons than on reconciliation. ”