Thursday, December 08, 2005

Commentary chides Serbia's Tadic for questioning Fleiner's "autonomy of action"

Text of commentary by "Lj.Sm.": "President and Fleiner"; published by Serbian newspaper Politika on 7 December

Thomas Fleiner, Swiss expert whose services the Serbian government has engaged to advise our negotiating team in talks on Kosovo's future status, is not your typical Serbian friend in the West. It is not that Serbs do not have friends there, they do; only, more often than not, these are to be found among disheveled artistic figures such as Pinter or nonconformist intellectuals such as Chomsky. People that defend Serbs in the Western world rarely belong to the establishment and still more rarely have impeccable professional reputations and stainless characters in their environments (not to mention that having sympathies for Serbs is one of the quickest ways to lose prestige in the governing social circles in the West, a luxury that few can afford with impunity).

In this sense, Fleiner is what Serbs have the least of in the world today: an infinitely decent, utterly respectable, internationally renowned professional, who can hardly be faulted even when judged by the strictest and dullest civic standards.

This, in part, is why Fleiner is perfectly suited to the Serbian negotiating tactic for Kosovo, which relies neither on myth nor on ancestry, but on the old, slightly dull, but still firmly standing principles of international law.

This is what makes it even easier to understand the publicly expressed indignation of this usually extremely discreet Swiss professor at Serbian President Boris Tadic's recent suggestion, made publicly in NIN magazine, that it should be "carefully checked" whether the Swiss Institute of Federalism, of which Fleiner is director, is financed from the budget of the government in Bern, which has declared itself in favour of independence for Kosovo. The average citizen of Serbia, full of fear of global conspiracies, may well believe that the president is only expressing due caution on every score at a difficult moment for Serbia, but Professor Fleiner has good reason to believe that the Serbian president knows what any educated person in the world knows: that as far back as the late 19th century, Switzerland was the country with the greatest autonomy of the university in the history of mankind; that the independence of professors and the autonomy of intellectuals there is not just a dead letter, but a reality; that calling in question Fleiner's autonomy of action is like accusing Noam Chomsky of being a CIA agent on the strength of the information that the institute (MIT) at which he teaches earns the brunt of its revenues from contracts with the US army. However, there, it never occurs to anybody that professors should be required to have particular political opinions.

Another thing that leaves a bad taste in the mouth is that the impression has again been created that party politics is present where it has no place to be. One supposes that Kosovo should be more important and greater than the power struggle in Serbia. Or is it that somebody here would rather that Kosovo did not stay in Serbia if it were to be kept there by the incumbent government?

Source: Politika, Belgrade, in Serbian 7 Dec 05 p6

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