By Bojana Milovanovic
Serbia froze military and economic co-operation with Libya earlier this week in response to the UN Security Council’s resolution for an arms embargo, travel and assets ban against the Gaddafi regime.
“The defence ministry is carefully monitoring the events in Libya and is concerned about what is happening there,” Minister Dragan Sutanovac said. He insisted that Belgrade had condemned the violence in Libya “as loudly and clearly” as it could.
But he was also quick to express the hope that major projects already launched with the North African country would continue after the situation stabilises.
Serbia has its own stake in Libya’s future. The country’s robust construction sector has been a magnet for Serbian workers, 1,500 of whom found themselves stranded when the unrest began.
Military co-operation is another area of concern. Serbia’s military industry is one of the country’s most profitable enterprises, and ties in this area date back to the former Yugoslavia when Libya was a major buyer of Yugoslav-made arms and equipment, such as the Galeb and Jastreb aircraft.
In the diplomatic arena, meanwhile, Serbia has also sought to capitalise on Libya’s opposition to Kosovo’s independence.
Writing at Politika Online, leading military analyst Miroslav Lazanski addresses the concern about losing Libya’s markets. Serbia will not be significantly affected by the UN sanctions concerning arms and military materials.
“The time of great arms exports to Libya, as far as we are concerned, irrevocably passed with the disintegration of the former Yugoslavia,” Lazanski said.
“The UN sanctions against Libya will produce potential economic consequences only in the case of the building of the military hospital and perhaps one factory,” he concluded, referring to a recently signed agreement on constructing a facility modelled after Belgrade’s renowned VMA military hospital.
Analyst Vladimir Jevtic warns of a loss of an historical ally regarding the Kosovo issue. “Col. Gaddafi is seen as a long-time friend of Serbia and of the former Yugoslavia, where he attended aviation academy,” he writes. “There is a continuity of good relations between our country and Libya and the Gaddafi regime to this day. Gaddafi publicly opposed the independence of Kosovo and constantly emphasised good relations with Serbia.”
Public opinion is divided. Some support Gaddafi, blaming the Serbian leadership for betraying an ally, while others condemn the manner of his rule.
Ognjanovic exemplifies the criticism against those who support Gaddafi and criticise the Serbian leadership for taking a stand.
“You support a man who sends airplanes against his own people and kills them in order not to lose power. He identifies himself with God, and no one can dismiss him … those are his statements. If this is the opinion of the majority of Serbs, then I am ashamed to belong to this kind of masochistic people!” he writes.