Foreign Minister Selaković's interview for the holiday edition of the Večernje Novosti daily

15. Feb 2022.
“The events that took place on the Festivity of Sretenje (Candlemas) have an immense and crucial importance in our modern history and the corresponding resurrection of Serbian statehood. The First Serbian Uprising, which started on the day of the Festivity of Sretenje on 15 February 1804, embodied the resolution of our people to fight for freedom. On that same day in 1835, the people enshrined that freedom in the same way the most modern states of that time did ― with the adoption of a constitution which was among the first ones in Europe.

Even back then, we demonstrated our determination to belong to the type of society which existed in Western European democracies. We fought to achieve those goals on the battlefield and on the diplomatic plain, and the result finally came in 1878, when the Principality of Serbia was internationally recognised as an independent and sovereign state at the Berlin Congress.”

This is how Minister of Foreign Affairs Nikola Selaković explained the significance of the Statehood Day for Serbia and its people, in his interview for Večernje Novosti, stressing the importance of renewing and nurturing the remembrance culture.

* Nearly two centuries have passed [since those events], yet we are still fighting to defend our independence and sovereignty, and still waiting for Europe to recognise that we are part of that family of nations. Where did we go wrong?

― It is nobody's fault. The life of a nation and a country is a constant struggle. Like Jovan Cvijić said, our country is a house built at a global crossroad. Back when Duke Karađorđe and Miloš Obrenović and the men who responded to their call for an uprising set out to fight for the restoration of our statehood, Serbia happened to be at a location where the influences of at least two, and most often three, great empires collided. At that time, a free, independent, and autonomous Serbia suited no one. This is best illustrated by how long the Sretenje Constitution lasted. It existed less than two months precisely because the great powers of the time were against the creation of a Balkan state determined to pursue its own interests and not foreign ones. Then, as now, the mighty did their best to deprive the small nations of a right to be their own masters. I firmly believe that the only thing that guarantees Serbia its essential and true survival is the continuation of a sovereign and independent policy, maintaining its European course, remaining militarily neutral, cultivating and improving its traditional friendships, renewing old ones and creating new ones. That is what Serbia is and what its foreign policy is.

* However, is the time ― as some suggest ― for Serbia to give up the multi-vector foreign policy and pick a side?

― Looking back, whenever Serbia retracted from such a policy and radically sided with a given stakeholder ― was it good for Serbia? I think that two centuries of historical experience are more than enough to produce an answer to that question. The multi-vector foreign policy pursued by Serbia, devised and created by President Aleksandar Vučić, enabled our country to regain credibility, strengthen its international reputation and accelerate its economic development, which in turn positioned us as a factor of political stability and peace in this part of Europe.

* The growing involvement of some Western centres of power in the region is seen by many as their intention to resolve the issues of Kosovo and Metohija, and Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), as a "package", perhaps even this year...

― Our relations with Priština are like a Gordian knot, constantly tightened for decades and such an issue cannot be dealt with in the belief that it can be resolved in the short term. Belgrade remains committed to dialogue, and preserving peace, stability, state and national interests in Kosovo and Metohija are all our priorities in that process. Serbia respects the territorial integrity of BiH ― the very thing that Serbia sees threatened in Kosovo and Metohija ―, just as it respects the integrity of the Republic of Srpska. We are witnessing the attempts made by certain political factors ― in contrast to the process of secession of Kosovo and Metohija ― to conduct a process of unitarisation in BiH, which would make the Dayton Agreement structure of Bosnia meaningless: three constituent peoples, two entities and one country. In that sense, no parallel can be drawn between Kosovo and Metohija and BiH, and I always emphasise that in the talks I have with various officials. I also ask my counterparts what is this principle about ― why are some people allowed something that is denied to others?

* Do you expect stronger pressures on Serbia because of Kosovo and Metohija and Republic of Srpska in the coming period?

― It is no secret that the pressures exist, that they will become more complex and intensified, especially because this is an election year. The important thing is that with its policy so far, Serbia has shown how to preserve peace and stability in the region, and how to make wise political decisions. We do not fall prey to provocations, and we think a few decades ahead ― and with that I primarily have in mind President Vučić's Open Balkans initiative. 

* Do you fear that the new US Ambassador Christopher Hill has been appointed to finish what started with the bombing in 1999 ― to complete the independence of Kosovo and Metohija?

― Let us give Ambassador Hill a chance, let us see what he will do and how. He will come here in a new and different role, and I think that we, as a country, have shown in the previous period how we must be spoken to and how we work on solving problems. First, whoever comes here has to face the fact that this is not the 1990s Serbia, no matter how much they might wish for it to be the case. Secondly, even those who dropped bombs in 1999 thought they would put an end to something, but the bombs solved nothing. It is also important that today there is undoubtedly something that did not exist in the 1990s ― an upward trending cooperation between Serbia and the US.

* How would you vote if Serbia was faced with the choice of having to recognise Kosovo[’s independence] in order to become an EU member?

― First of all, we are not being faced with this choice. Secondly, there are five EU countries which do not recognise the unilaterally declared independence of Kosovo, and the EU has no single foreign policy stand on that issue. As long as that is the case, no such question will be raised. In my view, that would be a completely inadequate offer.

* Can the EU be trusted at all if now it turns out that the Community of Serbian Municipalities [CSM] is no longer valid, even though it is something that was agreed, initialled, and guaranteed nine years ago. Modifications and new models are now being proposed instead.

― I saw more of those stories about the allegedly new conception of the CSM in the media than I heard [any mention of them] in my talks about Kosovo and Metohija with European and American representatives. The Brussels Agreement and the plan for its implementation have already explicitly defined the competencies and the manner of functioning of the CSM. Priština gave its consent and signed the Brussels Agreement. The only thing that can be discussed is its implementation. During the talks with Mr. Lajcák and Mr. Escobar, I received the strongest assurances that both the US and the EU are persuading Priština to implement the Brussels Agreement and the obligation to form the CSM.

* Has Priština intensified its activities to obtain new recognitions, and what will be Belgrade's response to that?

― We will certainly not sit idly by if someone uses such means against us. If someone thinks that they will push us against the wall like that, twist our hand to make us agree to something, they should know that we can also change the way we behave. The fact is that the so-called Kosovo independence and statehood project has failed and that those who created it and were its protagonists are not satisfied with the outcome. It is also a fact that there is no reasonable alternative to the negotiations between Belgrade and Priština.

* Are there more intensive requests from Brussels to align our foreign policy with the one of the EU and give up our good relations with Russia and China?

― Such demands always exist. However, when you consider the fact that within the EU itself there are countries which do not renounce those relations, countries which have increased their trade volume a hundredfold, with China for example, then you realise that this is a kind of hypocrisy. Our commitment is clear: the moment we become a member of the EU, we should start coordinating our foreign and security policy. Anyone who is willing to lecture us about that, need only consider one thing: it was owing to keeping good relations with those countries which are not part of the EU, that we managed to save our economy and improve it. We have shown that we are a loyal and credible partner as well as a loyal friend who will not retaliate against those who help us.

* When we talk about the culture of remembrance, how do you view the disparagement of the monument to Grand Prince Stefan Nemanja and why would the monument be relocated?

― This phenomenon in Serbian society did not appear in the past few years. Rather, it has existed for nearly a century: there is always a group which views our statehood, our people, and society in a quasi-elitist way. Unfortunately, they express such attitudes towards things which are milestones in Serbian history, culture, and tradition. It does not surprise me that some base their political program on destruction, demolition, and removal, because they are the ones whose rule and government left behind bankrupt and closed factories, a devastated state economy, a huge unemployment, and [everyone in] an almost completely hopeless situation. I am proud to be a part of the government led by President Vučić, capable of launching something of a spiritual renewal of our nation and country, along with the drive for economic recovery and renewal. The spiritual renewal must be based on what are the strongest foundations of Serbian identity, namely the St. Sava tradition which took root in the Nemanjić dynasty era.

* Is the actual reason for criticising the Stefan Nemanja monument the fact that the statue marked Belgrade as a Serbian, not a Yugoslav city ― having nothing to do with aesthetics?

― That is certainly one of the reasons. Serbia has erected a monument to Stefan Nemanja where the seat of all Serbs is ― regardless of where they live worldwide ― in Belgrade, in the Serbian capital. Those who attack us because of the monument and who resent it, speak with contempt about our history and tradition and the most illustrious figures of our past. They also speak with contempt and disparagement about the people of Serbia, saying that the monument has no place on Sava Square, but should be relocated to the suburbs of Marinkova Bara or Borča or somewhere in central Serbia. It is as if our citizens, our people, do not live in all these places. Or that by living there they are somehow less worthy. I will strive to help erect monuments to Stefan Nemanja, to all his descendants, as well as to all great Serbs, not only rulers, but also writers, scientists, artists, inventors. To erect monuments to such people throughout Serbia. Because those who now call for the removal or demolition of monuments, did not erect any monuments while they were in power.

* You will be accused of "inflation of monuments".

― I see no inflation of monuments. On the contrary, I see a serious lack of monuments. Next year, we will celebrate the 145th anniversary since the liberation of Niš, Leskovac, Pirot, Vranje, and Prokuplje, and in none of those five cities is there a monument to King Milan Obrenović who liberated them from the Ottomans! Is that an inflation of monuments?! We were a small poor country which could not invest in remembrance culture, and every time we reached the level where we could start working on this important task, we unfortunately had to deal with wars.

* How did you react when you heard a candidate for mayor of Belgrade say that the monument to Stefan Nemanja is "Russian kitsch"?

― One can say such a thing only out of total ignorance or political fervour. The basic and primary argument used by all those who attack the monument to Stefan Nemanja is that it was erected during President Vučić's term. Essentially, with each move he made leading Serbia, President Vučić showed why his government is better than theirs. Because the government headed by President Vučić is leaving behind concrete results ― more than 250 new factories, 12 new motorways constructed, renovated, and new hospitals... There is hardly any area in which we have not shown capability of delivering results which are incomparable with what some of our predecessors did. So, what actually bothers them is what President Vučić, his government, and the Serbia he is leading are achieving, because they did not manage to do any such thing.

* Nevertheless, the opposition parties believe that they have a good chance of scoring good results in the elections in Belgrade, which they see as the marking the beginning of the end of [President] Vučić's rule.

― In view of their vision of the future based on removing monuments, stopping strategic projects such as the Belgrade underground, the Belgrade Waterfront and so on, I can only comment that we have a much more serious vision of progress and development, one based on concrete projects. We have shown that we do not deal in phantasmagoria, and that we have done a lot to make Serbia a better place to live. We will see how the voters will rate that.


* Do you believe that certain structures belonging to the former Đukanović regime in Montenegro are involved in organising the assassination of President Vučić?

- I believe that information concerning plans for an assassination we have received from certain European security agencies and from EU member countries as well, are quite serious and should not be underestimated and belittled. Especially having in mind that in our country, Prime Minister Zoran Đinđić was killed 19 years ago. Now we are talking about threats and plans for the assassination of a man who is the main initiator of all political changes that have taken place in Serbia and who has transformed a country that was on its knees and subordinate in every respect ten years ago, into one that today the EU says is a key partner and the key country in the Western Balkans. The fact that we received such evidence and information should only keep us alert, and those who recognise themselves in certain scenarios tell with their reactions more about themselves than about us.


* Do you see a government position for yourself after the elections?

― First and foremost, I see myself where I was in 2012, namely in the SNS, which has shown how able it is as a political force to change Serbia, to influence the trends without waiting for the current to pull us and take us to some unknown place. Whatever office I might be assuming, be it on the party level or in the government, I will harness all my strength and skills to realise our vision of the future of Serbia.

Source: Večernje Novosti
Photo: Igor Marinković