Followers of the popular tradition that the British are mostly to blame for everything bad in the lives of the Serbs had no dilemma when they heard last week that Prime Minister Boris Johnson had appointed his special envoy for the Western Balkans. There you go, they decided to finish us off, they don’t care that American and European envoys are already dealing with us, without the British, that hellish job can’t be done. And when they learned in the same news that he was not an ordinary diplomat, but the first general of the British army and head of NATO’s military unit, everything became clear as day – they will use the greatest force to achieve their century-old goal, the destruction of Serbia, of course.
Unfortunately, there is not much exaggeration in this, although our intention was to briefly describe in a sarcastic tone the rather widespread view of Britain’s role in solving current Balkan problems. It’s more likely that this caricature is only a softened, and not overemphasized, version of reality. And the reality is shaped by the following attitudes: the British pathologically hate Russians, and since they can’t harm them, they vent their frustration on Serbs, because for them, we and the Russians are the same target, says one of the established Serbian analysts and a big consumer of television time in prime time.
The narrative that is being built with such an oral tradition, from generation to generation, has never been of help to Serbia, and it is doing special damage today, when the success of the most important national affairs depends a lot on how Serbia will agree with the world. If this is a way to communicate, then we have nothing to hope for. Again, it would be a shame not to try another way and just for a (historical) moment to hang the fiddle, and maybe the singer, on the wall and try to understand what is really happening around us and why they send us so many envoys, each much stronger than the previous.
The fact that Boris Johnson appointed an envoy for the Balkans should not be a surprise to anyone who has been following the news from London for the last five years. Britain’s gradual withdrawal from the EU went hand in hand with the creation of its new role and new policies towards the world, now as an independent factor, although still firmly attached to NATO, of which it is one of the pillars. This also applies to the Balkans, so four years ago, the House of Lords of the British Parliament asked everyone who wanted and could advise it in which direction the new British policy towards the Balkans should go. The International Security Institute then sent a comprehensive and detailed analysis to Parliament, with recommendations, many of which were incorporated into the final report of the House of Lords Committee on International Relations
Since then, a completely new framework has been created in London to accommodate the New Britain in all world frameworks, geographical, economic, environmental, humanitarian, scientific, and technological. “Global Britain” is the common name for this new strategy, which includes both the Balkans and Serbia, and not on its periphery. We could see what that means in practice in the first half of this year, long before Johnson appointed General Stuart Peach as his envoy to the region.
Only a few months after formally leaving the EU, Britain first sent its Minister for Exports to Belgrade, the first in the last 21 years, and immediately after him the Minister for Defense, which was the first such visit ever. A new foreign trade agreement with Serbia came with the Minister for Exports, and the decision of the British credit agency to double its support for projects in Serbia, from two to four billion pounds, came as a “dowry”.
Before we return to the appointment of General Peach as the Prime Minister’s envoy to the Balkans, we should not skip the fact that Boris Johnson has had his own trade envoy for the Balkans for a year, the MP in the House of Commons, Martin Vickers.
How can anyone experience, after all these moves, as a surprise that the political, diplomatic and security issues of the Balkans will from now on be dealt with by the special envoy of the British Prime Minister? General Stuart Peach comes to this place without even spending his first retirement check. He has been retired since June, and he started his retirement from the highest peaks that one soldier could reach. He was the commander of the Royal Air Force, the Chief of the General Staff of the British Army, and since 2018, the head of the NATO Military Committee, that is, the first officer of the Alliance.
There is probably no one with greater authority who Boris Johnson could have asked for this job. And if there are symbols in the fact that a full-blooded soldier is sent to the Balkans as a diplomatic envoy, it must be borne in mind that General Peach spent most of his almost 50-year career working with NATO and for NATO. His diplomatic experience is almost as rich as his military career. This four-time honorary doctor of science at British universities knows very well what “Global Britain” means. “Global Britain”, he said back in 2017, “is not a slogan designed to replace Brexit, but a way of thinking and working”.
And what his job will be is no secret. It is included in the British Government’s strategy paper from March this year entitled “Global Britain in competitive age – The Integrated Review of Security, Defense, Development and Foreign Policy”. Britain wants to integrate all its resources, so that in the new “form”, outside the EU, it continues to be one of the dominant factors in global politics, economy, science, security, technology, culture. The fact that one of its best people is coming to the Balkans is just another sign of how much importance Britain gives to the region in the mosaic of its global interests and plans. And if it sees the Balkans, among other things, through the prism of security as it does, then its strategic goal is to solve security problems, in cooperation with others, before they become a problem for Britain and its citizens.
General Peach is not starting his Balkan job from scratch. On the contrary, the British experience in solving the Serbian-Albanian problem is the most positive and useful that any foreign representative can have. It has been forgotten that the biggest breakthrough in the dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina was made just when the EU diplomacy was piloted by the British – Catherine Ashton and her advisor Robert Cooper. They brought Serbs and Albanians to the negotiating table, and they brought the two sides to the Brussels Agreement in a short time, which is the greatest achievement of the dialogue so far. And everything stopped when this job was taken over from the British by other Europeans, first of all by Federica Mogherini. With the new engagement of Gabriel Escobar, as the envoy of America and with the veteran of Balkan diplomatic affairs Miroslav Lajcak, the engagement of Sir Stuart Peach suggests that these jobs are coming to an end.
Serbia has every reason to be optimistic about this sequence of things, because it has the most interest in changing the various Balkan status quo and resolving the issues. As the largest, richest and most influential country in the region, it naturally cares most about finding long-term solutions, as a result of compromise, and stepping out of the post-conflict regimes it has been in for decades. After all, it is also its official policy, which for the first time in several decades resonates with the policy of the most influential countries in the world, and is not in a counter-tune. General Peach is coming as part of that joint mission and that is why he must get every support he needs. We already know well what the alternative is from the oral tradition of folk singers which is passed from generation to generation.