What turned Serbia into a normal country was the carrot of European Union membership. It was offered, continually, over a decade, and became a key political issue in every election. First offering visas and more open borders, then normal banking and economic relations, and then, in January, signing onto a full path to membership (which its neighbour Croatia earned last year), this ever-growing attachment had dramatic effects: The country reformed its institutions, its courts and police, its economy. Formerly extremist leaders, including the current President and the leader of the governing party, embraced Europe, apologized for past atrocities, purged and prosecuted long-sheltered warlords, abandoned Serbia’s confrontation over Kosovo (even signing an astonishing treaty to normalize the breakaway state last year), and “Europeanized” the economy and government to the point that long-suffering Serbs have reason to hope for Western-level living standards now.
At the same time, a decade ago, Ukraine had its own democracy revolution – one that soon went sour. But, perhaps because Ukraine did not seem then to be a Serbia-style threat to peace, Europe was slow to step in. It did not help that NATO at the same time, in 2004, made the unwise move of attempting (then abandoning) an expansion into Ukraine, which had the political effect of turning any European gesture there into a seeming threat to Russia.