The Bishop of Kosovo and the Elusive "Serbian Lobby"

By Srdja Trifkovic
Saturday, 20 Feb 2010

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The dispute over the suspension of Bishop Artemije of Kosovo includes claims that funds allocated for other purposes were used to pay for lobbying services in Washington D.C. The allegation is ironic in view of the fact that there is no "Serbian lobby" in the U.S. capital.

There have been many false starts and a few serious but short-lived attempts to get some ral work done. For the past two decades the Bosnian Serbs and Serbia have been subjected to a hostile treatment by the Western power centers. In Serbia and the Republika Srpska alike, the attempts to correct or even reverse such trends in the U.S. and the European Union have often relied on the impact of the Serbian diaspora in the United States and in the leading countries of the EU. Such expectations and the reality are in a chronic discord, however.

The Serbian diaspora has no influence on the formulation of the U.S. policy. It is the least well organized among all ethnic groups of comparable size. When an appeal went out, just over a decade ago, for the survival of Serbian studies at the University of Illinois in Chicago, barely $30,000 was collected and the chair was extinguished. On the other hand, the Lithuanian community in Chicago - far smaller than the Serbian one - threw a benefit dinner for a similar purpose at the Drake and collected a million dollars in a few hours. The Serbian community has no excuse for this state of affairs. The diaspora has neither the money nor the will to work for the defense and promotion of the Serbian-American community's interests - and money is the precondition of all activity. (As Mark Twain pointed out 150 years ago, America has "the best Congress money can buy!") It is naive to assume that Bob Dole, Joe Biden, the late Tom Lantos, Joe Lieberman and other Serb "friends" have acted for so many years in the manner well known to all out of moral principles and deepest conviction. Someone had to approach them, to present the specific views to them, to motivate them to accept those views - which means money - and to promt them to act accordingly - again money! Those four steps represent the essence of lobbying. The principle is the same, regardless of whether you are advocating a centralized Bosnia-Herzegovina or Federal subsidies to dairy farmers in Wisconsin.

Every so often, encouraging news is launched in Serbia and the Republika Srpska that a new "lobbying" effort is under way and that this time it would certainly yield results. This invariably happens to be a lie.

To this very day there is no “Serbian Lobby” in the U.S. – it simply does not exist: The shady contract which the Government of Serbia has with one Milan Petrovic, the discredited fund-raiser for the disgraced former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich, is a bad joke. (The “Serbian Congressional Caucus” had always been a Potemkin's Village, and has been for months in the state of deep hibernation; in any event, the members of the Caucus merely express some interest in the Balkans, but they do not necessarily support any "Serbian" positions on Kosovo, Dayton...)

In April 2009, at a hearing before the Helsinki Committee of the House of Representatives at which Ivo Banac, Paddy Ashdown and others opened fire from all weapons on the Republika Srpska and its prime minister Milorad Dodik, demanding the abolition of the Dayton-provided entities and the appointment of an American envoy to the Balkans, they were not countered by a single Congressman, or a representative of the Serbian Diaspora, or a lobbyist, or a visitor from the Republika Srpska, although they would not have been denied the platform had they asked for it.

The biggest problem of the Serbian diaspora in the U.S. is the absence of legitimate authority and hierarchy. The split within the Serbian Orthodox Church in 1963 undermined its role of the moral pillar. On the other hand, it is unrealistic to expect the diaspora to achieve that which neither Belgrade nor Banja Luka are doing. Official Serbian guests often come to Washington, not in order to make a serious impact on the political decision-making process relevant to the Serbian people and its interests, but to create back home a convincing illusion of the alleged results of their visit. A textbook example of this we've seen in early November 2009 with an utterly futile Republika Srpska mission to the capital of the United States. The visit was effectively a fiasco, yet it was presented in the Republika Srpska media as a success.

With the current setup of the Serbian diplomacy and lobbying structure in Washington, things will not get any better. The same applies to Serbia’s foreign and every other policy. Almost two decades since the beginning of Yugoslavia’s disintegration nothing has been learned. There are three key elements of failure. The first is in the lack of PR and lobbying strategy based on a professional methodology for the attainment of clearly set goals. The second is the short-sighted focus on the reactive critique of the Western policy and its media presentation, without any strategic elaboration of alternative positions and constant advancement of new concrete solutions as an alternative to the current flawed policy. The third is the lack of money, in the city with “the best Congress money can buy.”