Kosovo hogs the limelight at the CoE
Jeremic advocates “seeds of harmony” for the Western Balkans
Interview with: Vuk Jeremic, Foreign Minister of Serbia
In a candid interview on the sidelines of Parliamentary Assembly session of the Council of Europe, Vuk Jeremic, Foreign Minister of Serbia and current Chairperson of the Committee of Ministers, Council of Europe spoke to Tejinder Singh about the experience, the ongoing dialogue and choices for future scenario of the Western Balkans.
Q. October 5, 2007 marks the 7th anniversary of democratic Serbia, seven years since a democratic change took place. How would you explain the fact that Serbian people are still not free to travel abroad, especially to the European Union without visas, and stand in the endless lines in front of embassies?
This is one of the most difficult problems we are facing when it comes to furthering the cause of European future for Serbia. Each and every time we go for elections, we push forward a European vision of Serbia and we continue to win elections. Every time since October 2000 we have won elections on the European ticket and it is becoming increasingly difficult to maintain this vision and to maintain the democratic support for this if people are not able to see firsthand what Europe is about.
In the last elections, we, as the strongest pro-European party in Serbia, got 25 percent of votes and 64 percent of the people who voted for us never had a chance to travel to the European Union. So 64 percent of the people who voted for the European party whose main goal and top of agenda is Europe never had a chance to travel to the European Union.
This we see as a tremendous difficulty for maintaining democratic support for a European future. This becomes even more painful and more frustrating if you look around in the neighbourhood. Our neighbours can travel freely. Bulgarians, Romanians, Hungarians, Croats: they travel freely to the European Union and we can not. That makes for acrimony which is not a good and useful ingredient for the stability of the Balkans.
Q. During a recent visit to your country and also in talks with reliable sources in UNMIK, it got confirmed that Wahhabism, a fundamental form of Islam originating from Saudi Arabia is deepening roots in the region, especially in Kosovo now. If independent, Kosovo will becomes a hotbed of Islamic fundamentalism catering to terrorists, right in the heart of Europe. Have you taken note of this and brought it to the notice of Europeans?
It is really very important that we realise all the dangers that can come out of disintegration of the European front, disintegration of the European vision of the Western Balkans. When we are talking of perils of a solution that is not a compromise solution then we are worried about a strategic danger. This part of the world is going to have a European future only if there is peace and stability in the region.
If there is no peace and stability in the region, this shaky foundation for a European accession process is going to unravel and then we will be outside the gravitational pull of Europe in the political sense. That may lead to all sorts of things to happen. We can talk of religious extremism finding a fertile ground, severe criminal activity, corruption, nationalism and we can actually talk of all kinds of nasty things. The threats and perils of unilateralism will combine to cause unprecedented misery in the Western Balkans and destabilise the region.
The only way to avoid all these perilous routes is to stay firm on the course of European integration and to do that we need to arrive at a compromise solution for Kosovo. If we don’t, the situation is just going to blow up. We need to sow “seeds of harmony” in the Western Balkans instead of “seeds of acrimony.”
Q. What will Serbia do the day after December 10? (When Kosovo says it will declare independence.)
We are now in the negotiations process and last thing that is useful for the negotiations process is to start focusing on what’s going to happen if the negotiations fail. If one engages in a debate, what’s going to be done if the negotiations fail, the failure then becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. I will like to not spend time talking what happens if it fails and at this stage we need to concentrate in best ways to negotiate so that we arrive at a compromise solution with a way forward.
Q. How do you personally feel about the ongoing negotiations?
Right now they are at the critical stage. We have just now started negotiating directly. It’s the first time we are negotiating directly. At this stage, the international community should really move in heavily in terms of supporting the process and encourage the parties to arrive at a compromise because so far this has not been the case. So far, there has been a pre-judgment:
There could be only one thing, independence, and therefore let’s now even bother thinking, let’s not bother trying and let’s not bother pressing anybody into anything else.
Now the situation is very different and it’s obvious that there are a growing number of countries that feel uncomfortable when it comes to endorsement of outright secessionism because these things have not happened in the past.
In the post-1945 world, since we had the UN Charter and especially since we had the Helsinki final act in Europe, we have not had situations in which you had the right of determination being pushed to the point of secessionism, especially against the will of democratic authorities. Now there is a growing number of countries in the world that are getting more closely acquainted with the details of the situation and growing more and more uncomfortable.
Q. You said recently in Bucharest, “If we do the right thing, Serbia will succeed, and if we succeed, the rest of the West Balkans will surely move forward.” Would you like to expand on that?
Serbia is a central and largest country of the Western Balkans. From the point of view of infrastructure, geography, economy it is at the heart of the region. If Serbia is accelerating, the whole region is accelerating. If Serbia is locked and blocked, the whole region is locked and blocked. We saw this in the 1990s. One of the reasons why the region is falling behind in the European accession process, in comparison to Central and Eastern European countries, is because Serbia was going through a quagmire in the 1990s.
We have, unfortunately demonstrated our destructive potential for the region. Now this potential should be used in accelerating the building of the region. If Serbia is pushed in the right direction, Serbia is like a momentum generator.
Q. Why is Serbia failing to fulfill the request of delivering general Radko Mladic to the Hague tribunal? Is Serbian intelligence still governed and influenced by people from the previous regime, and therefore blocking the search for Mladic?
The European Union, the European Council has reached a decision that Serbian accession to the European Union is going to be politically conditioned in co-operation with the Hague Tribunal. This decision is not reversible and Serbia should do and will do to make sure cooperation with the Hague Tribunal is best and not just because it’s a condition. We believe this is the right thing to do. We believe that full reconciliation can be only achieved through a full and open accountability. These people who were indicted for war crimes are going to be in a position to answer in front of the crime court, charges, and, if they are responsible, they have to be convicted.
Q. Please tell us about how Serbia is trying to contribute and cooperate in regional development?
Regional cooperation is one of the priorities for Serbia. I tried to demonstrate that by making sure that the first country, I visited in my capacity as foreign minister was Bosnia and then I visited each and every country in the region. Everywhere, I carried the message that regional cooperation and regional reconciliation are pre-requisites for stability, harmony and growth along with our European future. Serbia is investing great effort in regional cooperation at all levels and will continue to exert this.
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