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How much does a wrong choice cost?

If the leader of the nation openly mourns the USSR and is rumored that his Russia is a project of restoration of the Soviet empire, then it is logical that the national hockey team plays in jerseys with the inscription USSR on the 30th anniversary of the collapse of the Soviet Union. They played the match against Finland, in the preliminary tournament before the World Cup.


In Finland and in the West in general, they complained about this gesture, they assessed it as an insult, having in mind the tensions around Ukraine, but the Russians hypocritically justified it with warm emotions and memories of 75 years since winning the first Olympic gold in hockey. This sport is suitable to make an international public-diplomatic diversion through it, amid the escalation in connection with Ukraine. First of all, hockey from the Soviet era is one of the few “products” of the then empire that had global recognition, perhaps the only one with the satellite Sputnik. Secondly, hockey is certainly a sports favorite of Russian leader Putin, with all his other interests, so the image of Russian hockey players, especially with the inscription USSR on their chest, must be associated with Putin, without a mistake.


However, the point is the following. As much as they invested in this game with imperial emotions and nostalgic associations, the Russians lost that game to the Finns 3-2.


The choice of jerseys was wrong, as was the whole concept of the communist empire. The fact that it is still being mourned for today, and sometimes threatened with, is just a mistake in the extended duration. But how to say that this is a mistake in a society whose leader believes that the collapse of the USSR is “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century”? If Serbia and its elites have any point of contact with Russia, then it is the talent not to recognize important historical crossroads and the roads that lead to progress from those crossroads, that is, to a dead end.


The disintegration of the USSR, which we are being reminded about these days on its 30th anniversary, is just one of those important curves that were not recognized in Serbia, but continued in a straight line. Soon after, there was the unification of Germany and the recomposition of power in Europe, to which we also remained blind, with a few exceptions whose voice could not be heard from the crowd. The tragedy that befell Serbia and the Balkans as a result of not understanding the changes brought us new, local cases of catastrophic choices and tragic consequences. For example, Plan Z-4, this was offered to Serbs in Croatia, a state in a state that Milošević rejected, to the delight and relief of, until then, petrified leadership in Zagreb. And the rejection of everything in connection with the negotiations on Kosovo in Vienna in 2007, as a result of blindness to circumstances that only did not hit us in the head and warned that Ahtisaari’s package is the maximum, and that the alternative is the immediate declaration of full Kosovo independence with wide international recognition. Even today, we are dealing with the consequences of this “principled national policy” from that time.


Perhaps it is comforting that the great turning points in the world have less and less political charge, so the Serbian anti-talent to recognize them is no longer a particularly big risk. Today, they are primarily economic, so we get a new chance to pay for wrong decisions from the recent past by strengthening our senses for such changes. A good test can be our attitude towards the construction of nuclear power plants. It is cemented by a law from 1989 that prohibits their construction. There is no doubt that it was also a catastrophic decision, made under the psychosis of the Chernobyl tragedy, but it must not be the Holy Scripture.


It must be borne in mind that as much as a quarter of the European Union’s electricity today comes from nuclear power plants, and that this production exceeds half of the so-called clean, “low carbon” electricity produced in the EU. What we once considered a first class environmental risk and introduced a ban, turned out to be our biggest environmental chance. We did not want nuclear power plants so that their pollution would not kill us, and we kept coal-fired power plants as the dominant (70%) type of electricity production. After all, Serbia has committed itself to stop making electricity in lignite thermal power plants by 2050.


And a new test of our ability to recognize important turning points is yet to come, and there is still a chance to pass it. We answer questions about lithium. These days we are in the same position as in 1991 when we needed to recognize what the collapse of the USSR meant, and two years earlier when we decided on nuclear power plants, and in 1995 when the Z-4 came, and in 2007 when we negotiated Ahtisaari’s plan for Kosovo. And now populist calls (screams) are starting that the law should ban the digging of lithium in Serbia. From one end of the opposition to the other, they agree – from Savo Manojlović, through Zelenović to Vuk Jeremić, actors, journalists. If they succeed in their effort, in five or ten years, no longer, will someone talk about them as people who gambled away a historic chance for the country, because they were the most ordinary populists? For sure. But what a consolation that would be, except that the list of wrong decisions and ignorance of reality will be one item longer.


Fortunately, the “window” for giving a good answer to the question about lithium is still open, but it will not be forever. Fortunately, again in recent years, there are serious signs in Serbia that we are able to understand important political and economic developments on the world stage and to adapt to that. Serbia, for example, has done well in the West-Russia crisis over the annexation of Crimea. It supports the integrity of Ukraine, including Crimea, without disrupting relations with Russia. At the same time, it has not imposed economic sanctions on Moscow, and because of that it does not suffer damage in relations with the European Union. Serbia has set itself well in the global crisis brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, because it recognized the scale of this cataclysm and adjusted its health and economic defense mechanisms in time, while in some aspects (vaccination for example) it was in European and world top. It is similar with the migrant crisis, in which, unlike everyone else in Europe, it remained “untouched”. Why wouldn’t lithium be another test of recognizing global trends and Serbia does not pass it with a high grade? There is no reason for that. The list of wrong decisions is already too long, and their price is unbearably high.

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