Interview/IBNA – Ivica Dacic: We seek the strengthening of strategic cooperation with Greece

Interview/IBNA – Ivica Dacic: We seek the strengthening of strategic cooperation with Greece

The Minister of Foreign Affairs of Serbia, Ivica Dacic, is visiting Greece, where he will have a meeting with his Greek counterpart, Nikos Dendias.

In an interview with IBNA, the Serbian Foreign Minister spoke exclusively about bilateral Greek-Serbian relations, the strengthening of strategic cooperation, developments in Kosovo and Montenegro, as well as the upcoming general election in Serbia on June 21.

Mr. Minister, in the middle of the pre-election period and as President of the Socialist Party that you are, you have decided to visit Greece and meet your Greek counterpart. What does this visit mean? What is the agenda?

I am looking forward to meeting my colleague and friend Nikos Dendias in Athens. Although we have been in constant contact in recent months and have worked hard to mitigate the effects of the pandemic in our area, nothing can replace a meeting and a close conversation, especially when talking to friends. Serbia and Greece have special relations and our meetings can never be enough. I am very pleased to visit Greece, which I would like to thank for its support and assistance during the fight against the virus and as it turned out, only together can we face such challenges, which will certainly exist in the future. That is why there are many issues that we are discussing and that are primarily about strengthening our cooperation, which has a strategic character, both bilaterally and in a broader context for our region and Europe.

How are traditional relations between Serbia and Greece reflected on the international stage? How do you think this cooperation could be strengthened at the political and diplomatic level?

Serbia and Greece have strategic relations and I remind you that this status of our relations was achieved in December last year, when President Aleksandar Vucic and Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis signed the Declaration of Strategic Cooperation between our two countries. Serbia has such a level of cooperation with a small number of countries and Greece is definitely one of them. We consider Greece a very important backer of our efforts to join the European Union, which is a priority of our foreign policy. Also, the Greek position on Kosovo and Metohija is extremely important, because as a country with influence in our region and in Europe, Greece shares our position and opposes the unilaterally declared independence of Kosovo. The forthcoming period is extremely important for Serbia, because we expect the continuation of the dialogue on Kosovo and Metohija, with the participation of European and American partners, and during my visit I will inform my friends in Athens about the progress of this process.

Apart from the close cooperation between the two countries and the sense of fraternal relations between the two peoples, are you satisfied with how well the Greeks know the Serbs and vice versa? Is there room for closer ties between the peoples and how can this be achieved?

It is not necessary to note how close our two peoples are, as well as their readiness during their historical course, but even today, to share both the good and the bad. We live in the same region, we share a lot, the culture, the habits, we visit each other’s country. We hope that the problem with Covid-19 will soon be a thing of the past and that many of our citizens will come to Greece for holidays this year, but I am also waiting for our Greek friends in Serbia, in our cities, in the mountains and in our thermal baths. I am glad that the number of Greek tourists in Serbia is increasing every year, which means that they feel beautiful in our country.

Will the withdrawal of the measures against Serbia from Kosovo and Metohija and the change in the leadership of the country, lead in a short time to the resumption of talks? Are plans for land swaps still on the table?

The new government in Pristina has abolished the 100% tariffs imposed on products from central Serbia, and we welcome that. But this is not a concession to us and should not expect anything in return from Belgrade. These tariffs have been in force for more than a year and a half and there is no one in the world who has not condemned the event and called for their abolition because it was an unprecedented measure in the modern world. We have been ready all this time to continue the dialogue and now the conditions for such a thing are being met, so I expect that we will restart talks soon. There are no ready-made solutions, we must all approach them together, of course without unilateral moves and with full readiness for compromise. Our government and President Vucic act exclusively in this spirit, and that is why Serbia enjoys great respect from all the international actors involved in this process.

Montenegro’s religious freedom law has created unprecedented tensions between Serbia and Montenegro. How do you plan to overcome the crisis? Are you planning to go to court or to international organizations to resolve the issue?

Tensions in Montenegro are solely a consequence of their internal relations. That is why their solution must be sought within Montenegro, through dialogue among all the parties this problem concerns. Our concern stems from the fact that one of the fundamental rights of the Serbian people is being violated, and that is the right to religion, and we are constantly pointing it out, without any intention of interfering in the internal affairs of Montenegro. Our countries and our peoples have the closest relations, while our historical and cultural ties have their roots in the distant past. We fully respect Montenegro as an independent state, which has every right to determine its own course and at the same time we consider it as our closest neighbor. At the same time, we reserve the right to take care of the position of our compatriots in Montenegro, including the right to point out problems when certain of their rights are violated. Nothing more than that. I hope that there will be enough patience and wisdom in Montenegro to solve these problems, in a way that will allow Serbs in this country to enjoy all the rights that belong to them.

In closing, I would like to ask you about the upcoming general election. Serbia, under the guidance of the government you are part of, has managed to overcome the severe ordeal of the pandemic with great success. How much will this affect the outcome of the election? What is your priority as the Socialist Party for the next day in Serbia?

Serbia fought hard against the pandemic and won this battle. Our government responded in a timely manner and regularly took effective measures, based mainly on the advice of our health experts. At the end of this battle, in which, unfortunately, there have been human losses, we can say that we are among the countries that have achieved very good results in the field of public health. We have invested all available resources to protect our population from the spread of the virus and citizens have shown that they trust their government, displaying responsibility and discipline.

At the same time, we have taken a number of economic measures to mitigate the effects of the pandemic on the economy and citizens, which are very serious around the world. Our government, in consultation with the President of the Republic, has set the overall support package for the economy and citizens at almost 15% of the national Gross Domestic Product, which corresponds to the level of the most developed European countries. We are able to allocate these financial resources, because Serbia has had a very stable economy for years, as well as resources from which it can support the economy and its citizens in difficult times.

The forthcoming elections are regular, after four years, during which Serbia experienced strong economic growth and recovery, accompanied by extensive reforms, but also large investments in infrastructure and industry. We want to continue on this path, we have the right people, long-term plans and the support of the majority of our citizens, so I am very optimistic about Serbia and its development in the coming years./ibna