Written by David Savić based on the interview with Mr. Francisco de Borja Lasheras

     For a brief moment, I felt like I am back home as Mr. Lasheras welcomed me on Serbo-Croatian language by saying “Dobro došli!“ (Welcome) on which I replied on traditional way by saying „Bolje Vas našli“ (Good to find you).

     Currently, Mr. Francisco de Borja Lasheras works for the European Council on Foreign Relations as an Associate Director of the Madrid Office and Policy Fellow focused on Eastern Europe, security policy and Spanish foreign policy. Mr. Lasheras and I have met for the first time about three months ago, at the conference held at our university where he was one of the guest lecturers regarding Eastern Europe, including Western Balkans and the Ukrainian crisis.


Mr. Francisco de Borja Lasheras

     Our discussion that day originally started with the talk about Yugoslav war and Bosnia specifically. Mr. Lasheras was actually a perfect person for this panel as he worked several years as Spanish secondee, first as human rights officer for the OSCE in Bosnia and Herzegovina and then with the Head of Mission in Albania.

     Before we started, Mr. Lasheras kindly apologized for not being able to speak to me on Serbo-Croatian when it comes to very complicated issues of foreign relations in Ukraine and its comparison with the Yugoslavian war, to which I replied with the smile and understanding.I have explained Mr. Lasheras that as Serbian who lived in Yugoslavia during 90’s with my entire family and also him who worked in that region, we can both see strong similarities between Ukrainian crisis and Yugoslav wars but from different perspectives.

      At the bare beginning, Mr. Lasheras said that Ukraine probably represents one the major security crisis in Europe, certainly since the Yugoslav Wars. My first question to Mr. Lasheras was, to witch extent the West is able to completely understands the situation in Ukraine and the whole collapse of USSR and Yugoslavia for example, as there seems to be a feeling that the West is just simply imposing the rules of its own (EU, OSCE and NATO) , and its engagement, without fully understanding the issues such as ethnicities, nationalities, political relations with other countries etc.

      Mr. Lasheras noted that, true, policy by Europe and the US is often fraught with contradictions, and that the West overall has lost a lot of its credibility, authority and hegemony in international politics which was enjoying especially in the 90’s. The Iraq war or Kosovo independence have thus been touted by the Kremlin as examples of double standards. However, he pointed out that choices and decisions in the foreign policy are never “a clear cut business.”

      Focusing on Ukraine, Mr. Lasheras suggests that the EU underestimated the critical role of Russia and this country’s strategic objectives with Ukraine and the whole region. These have been recognized as mistakes, but the complexity of multiple factors involved should also be taken into an account.

     On my additional question on, how far does he think that Ukraine and all the other smaller ex soviet and ex communist countries in the Eastern Europe are really free to choose their political destiny, Mr. Lasheras noted that he believes that any of these countries indeed has a right to choose in which direction they want to proceed (EU, NATO, other organizations and alliances). It is equally true that they are still trapped between Russia and EU. Mr. Lasheras briefly reminds us that regarding the political choice, it was Yanukovich and his government who were the one to lead the way towards the EU and the association agreement. However, the conditions which were set by the EU to Ukraine could not be met by the government, a core point of disengagement between the EU and Ukraine. Moreover, the circumstances gave a perfect opportunity to Russia to be able to blackmail Ukraine with the import duties on the Russian gas and political pressure overall, including threatening messages for Ukraine to refrain from signing the agreement with the EU.

      This point led my next question which was related to one of the Mr. Lasheras articles which bears the title “EU enlargement and the Western Balkans: Old habits die hard.” The article precisely points out at the fact that the EU is to some extent to blame for its too high standards which are imposed on transitional countries, such as Bosnia or Ukraine. Besides that, the article mentions a Balkan saying on Serbo-Croatian, “čvrsta ruka“ (the iron fist), the political way by which many of these countries were led by and how population within these countries are used to follow strong, influential and authoritarian leaders since the communist era. Therefore, how far these countries are actually capable to adopt democracy as a political regime?

     „Democracy is an awfully difficult business even in the Western Europe. Just look at what is going on with some of our fellow EU states. It’s even more difficult when you were under some form of the dictatorship for over 40 years. Besides that, some of these countries never had statehood.  Albania is a good example, as a country which never had a sustained statehood experience (being independent in 1912) and was under very harsh dictatorship. I am very critical in many aspect of EU enlargement process especially the short period of time within which reforms are required.” Mr. Lasheras agreed that “the iron fist” still holds strong; however, some political changes are visible, but not so much in the element of the life quality within the common society.

     We moved on towards the territorial legitimacy and the differences in legalities between Kosovo Republic and Crimean territory. The question is, why did the independence of Kosovo was a legal act and was accepted by majority of countries, whereas Crimea was seen as an illegal act of aggression?

     As Mr. Lasheras agrees this is a fairly legitimate question, we have good elements to make distinctions between Crimea and Kosovo. Kosovo’s independency cannot be seen as an illegal act according to international laws and by the ICJ (as it could be seen by its 2010 on Kosovo’s declaration). It is a secession, unlike Crime which is an annexation by force and by a third country, a great violation of international law. “However, secession is very disputable, international law does not recognize a right to secession bar extreme circumstances, but annexation is a clear illegal and unacceptable act of invading countries”

     As time was running out unfortunately, this very insightful conversation was ended with one more final question regarding the expectations about newly elected Ukrainian president, Poroshenko. He duly noted that the elections were a positive thing; however, Poroshenko will have to deal with maintaining the constitutional order and try to solve the current security crisis.

     “Poroshenko is an oligarch, however, but this is a continuing challenge in Ukraine. EU should still foster a real transformation towards democracy. This is the present challenge. What took many people to the streets and Maiden Square is the fact that people have been fed up with corruption, with the lack of justice, empowerment and capability. I still think that Ukrainians should be able to decide, if they want to stay neutral or not as a country. Ideally they should have good relations with both Russia and EU. However, bear in mind that in Ukraine there is a serious political contest among their own elites and the external actors”

ME: “Hvala Vam  još jednom….”  (Thank you very much….)

Mr. Lasheras: “Bilo mi je zadovoljstvo….” (It was a pleasure….)


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