In an interview with Kathimerini amid the crisis in Bosnia and recurring tensions in Kosovo, Serbia’s Foreign Minister Nikola Selakovic insists that if there is one lesson to be learned from the turbulent times of yesteryear, it is that peace must be preserved at all costs.
There is renewed interest in the region, the European Union and the United States are sending their envoys back there. How do you see this?
The Kosovo issue is really sensitive for every Serb but we should also try to approach it rationally. During the last 10 years we have been having a normalization dialogue under the auspices of the EU. The key agreement is the First Brussels Agreement, signed in April 2013. Today it is the 3,181st day since the agreement and nothing has been done. There were four obligations for Belgrade and only one for Pristina. All of Belgrade’s four obligations were fulfilled and implemented; Pristina’s only one, the community of Serb-majority municipalities, has not been. Not only that, the people governing the institutions in Pristina the last 11 months have been refusing to implement the agreement.
There was a press report saying that the envoys were coming to press for Serb-majority municipalities. Don’t you see it like that?
Of course we don’t see it like that. We remember very well what the pressures were, and on whom. We can see that there is a partial approach from time to time. We have no doubt that [Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, overseeing policy toward the countries of the Western Balkans, Gabriel] Escobar and [European Union Special Representative for the Kosovo-Serbia Dialogue, Miroslav] Lajcak would like to see progress. But if it comes to putting real pressure on Pristina, we have never seen that. Pristina agreed with Tirana to constitute one administrative entity on both sides of the border – some would call this Greater Albania. We have declarations from officials from Pristina that they are willing to do that. And we could listen to the silence coming from Brussels.
Is this plan still on?
This is not an abstract platform, I am telling you what is going on.
The more time that passes, the worse things get for Serbian interests. So I wonder, if we set aside what’s right and we speak about what’s realistic, is there an argument in Serbia for becoming realistic in order to cut one’s losses?
First we have to answer if it is correct to have one standard in the region for Serbs and one for all the others.
You are back to talking in moral terms.
Can you try to describe to the Serbs living in Republika Srpska [one of the two entities of Bosnia and Herzegovina] why Albanians in Kosovo were allowed to declare their independence from Serbia and it is not allowed to them? That’s the reason Serbia is supporting the territorial integrity of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Because it is preserving our interests. When you respect the territorial integrity, it has to apply to each country, not to all the other countries except Serbia. I can agree with you that the period in which we were not having a realistic approach is the period in which we have been losing. If we have one principle, it must work for everyone.
So you would be in favor of a grand bargain including Kosovo and Bosnia?
I am not saying that. I am just showing that Kosovo is having a very bad impact in the region. That is something we cannot agree with others. That was the reason we established the Open Balkan initiative. When we show that we are doing much better with economic cooperation, political issues will be easier to resolve. But – can you imagine? – Albania and Serbia have not had good relations for more than one century. Now our leaders are gathering every three months, discussing the issues for our businesses and our societies.
I don’t want you to take this the wrong way, but are you sure you want to become a member of the EU?
I ask because the EU is not like the Open Balkan initiative; it requires the pooling of sovereignty. And it is obvious by walking in the streets of Belgrade how attached you are to your national identity. Also you have this tradition of 50-50, playing in many fields, why would you want to give this up?
Before the EU, Serbia as part of Yugoslavia was one of the biggest exporters of beef to Greece. Do you know how much we export today? Almost nothing. We cannot export our products with the same starting position as EU member-states. The biggest exporter of meat to Greece is the Netherlands. It is not normal to be an island surrounded on all sides by one economic political bloc, one superstate, because it is very hard to survive. Of course you transfer a part of your sovereignty – all EU member-states did. In surveys you’ll see the Serbian population supports accession.
What is China’s role in upgrading Serbian infrastructure?
Our experience with our Chinese friends has been good. Before we started cooperating with them we had one of the highest public debts in the region. In Serbia we have real diversification. Also, for many reasons, I think we have to cooperate much more with Greece.
Athens upgraded its relations with Pristina and I was wondering if your increased cooperation with Ankara is something of a tit-for-tat for this.
I think it isn’t. Of course we are not satisfied with the fact that Athens has upgraded its relations with Pristina for many reasons. First of all principles of international public law. Second, there is something much stronger than these political establishments in power now in Greece and Serbia and this spirit of traditional friendship and Orthodox brotherhood has been tested many times in history and has survived. Third, it is problematic to compare the cooperation of a country of 85 million with a country of 7 million, and on the other hand a country of 11 million with a political entity of 1.2-1.3 million people. Greek people have their own wound, the Cyprus problem. You have a crystal-clear position of the government of Serbia and all the people regarding this issue, we support UN resolutions and recognize the territorial integrity of the Republic of Cyprus. There is no doubt about that – that is something that is not changing. Finally, each upgrade has to have some interests. Are there economic, are there trade interests, cultural interests? That’s something you should think about.
Let’s talk about Bosnia. Milorad Dodik – the current Serb member of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina – what is his plan? How does the new demographic reality affect the future of Bosnia? I’m hearing all this talk about stability, and it doesn’t look that stable.
I have to answer as foreign minister of the other country. Our position is crystal-clear: Respect territorial integrity, respect the Dayton state structure. The Dayton Accords stopped the war and also provided a formula as to how the state can function. There are three constitutive peoples, two entities, one state. One of the entities is Republika Srpska; we support its integrity just as we support the integrity of the entire state. Each solution must be agreed by consensus by the three peoples and both entities. It’s not easy, but we have to encourage the parties to sit around the table. It is not a solution by which we are going to count the population numbers of each people and say if we are talking about Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bosniaks are strongest, but if you add Serbia then Serbs are strongest. The modern past has told us that no kind of armed conflict has brought us anything good.
But there is still tension.
Yes there is tension. Any kind of imposed solutions by fourth parties will not give us good results.
The secession declaration is an imposed solution.
I do not see a difference between the declaration you call a secession declaration and the unitarization declarations which were made by Bosniak Muslim parties three years ago, which nobody reacted to then. The Party of Democratic Action, the main and biggest Muslim party, declared as its final aim a unitary state without constitutive peoples, without two entities, with the pre-war administrative structure. Completely against the constitution, against Dayton. Have you heard anything? Each time there is action and reaction, and it is not good.
Are you starting to see things in Bosnia the same way as Croatia? The Croatian president recently called Dodik a “partner.”
I don’t think so. Our relationship is overburdened by events relating to the dissolution of Yugoslavia, WWII events. But in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbs and Croats are feeling some similar problems. The latest negotiations on electoral reform have shown the differences between the Muslims and the Croats.
If you were to draw any lesson from the turbulent years, what would that be?
That would be that we have to preserve peace; without peace we cannot develop anything good. Without economic progress, then we cannot offer our citizens better living standards, and without that we cannot keep them living here and have more kids. I was a kid when my big country was dissolved, the world was experiencing the best years of development and we were in a civil war. Before the dissolution, the population of Yugoslavia was 23 million. Today, in the entire territory of the former Yugoslavia, there are 18-17 million people. So what’s the result?