- Serbian President Vucic: I said to Albanians, ‘please tell us wherever you believe that there may exist Albanian graves and we will work together with you and European representatives to check that. But, we ask the same from you with regard to the Serbian victims. Let’s check in Lapušnik; let’s check in Dojane, Košare, Lake Radonjic, etc. We expect that when we show you the places where we believe there are Serbian victims, that we all go together and carry out the necessary checks for bodies.
- Serbian President Vucic: The meeting that we had at the White House with Robert O’Brian, Jared Kushner, and Richard Grenell, was excellent. For the first time, I talked about everything that is actually happening to Serbs and Serbia in a non-bureaucratic atmosphere where you usually write reports and official memos and nothing else.
- Serbian President Vucic: You can talk to some people in Europe as much as you want, but believe it or not, they never really hear you. They have their agenda, and for them, an excellent Serbian president would be the one who will accept all their demands under pressure and blackmails.
If you think that American politics is full of drama, take a look at the Western Balkans. A long and tense few weeks unfolded to the surprise of the seasoned political connoisseurs and spectators alike. Kosovo’s President Hashim Tachi canceled the Kosovo peace summit with Richard Grenell in Washington D.C. due to an indictment by The Hague prosecutors against him for war crimes “including murder, enforced disappearance of persons, persecution, and torture.”
Swiftly, the EU called for an impromptu meeting in Brussels in an attempt to re-establish the dialog between Serbs and Albanians after two years of inactivity in regard to the situation in Kosovo. The series of turbulent twists and turns, and EU-US political wrangling, was further punctuated by the episodes of riots on the streets of Serbia just ahead of President Aleksandar Vucic’s trip to Paris to meet with Emmanuel Macron.
Sharply dressed in a dark blue suit, upon landing in Belgrade after the EU-facilitated dialogue on Kosovo in Brussels, President Aleksandar Vucic was in a reflective mood. Following his party’s landslide election victory, relaxed and confident, in an exclusive interview for The Pavlovic Today, Serbian President Vucic talked Trump, the EU, Kosovo, and laid out his plans for Serbia’s future.
“Every time since 2014, when I first became the Prime Minister, we have had protests after every election. That is probably due to the influence of the social networks in which those people hide in closed-off political circles, ones in which they do not notice anyone else, where they love to listen to only what they want to hear and see. At the same time, that group of people, who held those protests, has continued to live in an echo chamber and, due to their false projections, were never able to recognize where the majority was. This political minority never understood what people in Serbia wanted, as it was easier for them to believe that they were the majority just because they surround themselves with those who think in the same way they do,” Vucic explained.
“As a political leader, you have to take care of them because they are a distinct minority —a minority with unfulfilled political goals and hopes who did not win the election. Because of it, they are frustrated and carry complexes that evoke certain types of aggression. As a political leader, you must always respond peacefully and with patience, to avoid and mitigate incidents, save the country from violence and fear,” he said.
In the week when president Vucic planned to travel to France for high-level meetings with Emmanuel Macron and to Brussels, riots broke out on the streets of the nation’s capital, Belgrade. As the violent protest unfolded, a group of protestors stormed the National Parliament. Political violence prompted police to intervene, making it headline news across Europe.
“The recent riots caused significant damage to our country”, Vucic said. “Instead of talking about investments and how Serbia is the first in the region with a 5% growth rate in the first quarter, and this country’s fantastic success, we have headline news about riots and whatever else that is needed to attack our country and to cause the collapse of confidence by any means and at any cost,” he affirmed.
“Although none of it is easy”, president Vucic revealed, “to preserve peace and show patience is your duty, that is the obligation of the President. I knew that all that was waiting for me: going to America, then going to Moscow, from Moscow then going to Brussels, then from Brussels going to Paris, then going to Brussels again. There is no such thing here as easy conversations. These are conversations that bring you a lot of issues, a lot of difficulties, but in which you have to participate, so your country does not become isolated. You have to show goodwill to create compromises”.
While political, high-level reporting focuses on the heads of states, it rarely taps into micro-foundations of the decision-making process and political dynamics at a personal level. “How does the Serbian president keep the country’s course and stability, his inner balance, and focus, while going through all sorts of storms and turbulences at the historic decision-making moments?”, I inquired.
“On a personal level, what’s it like to sustain yourself through all that?”, he repeated my question. “I am a political veteran, seasoned enough to believe that I got used to all that. But what took me by surprise every time, even when I thought that I have gone through it all, seen it all, is how quickly some people I helped so much can become disloyal,” he disclosed.
Serbian President Vucic: Whenever they think that it’s the end, that I am in trouble, that my boat won’t get to the other side, they’ll turn on you in a blink of an eye and be ready to defect.
What’s surprising is that this is the fifth time that I’ve been through this and what I can’t still get used to is the idea that any of that is normal. I cannot get used to the fact that loyalty appears almost non-existent, and that gratitude is short-lived between people and political partners,” President Vucic explained.
Going through a tumultuous political journey, the President of Serbia revealed that he could also see that many people support him as demonstrated in the recent parliamentary election where Vucic was a landslide victor. Vucic’s Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) won 190 out of 250 seats in the Serbian parliament.
“What you must not allow yourself to be tempted to do is to react emotionally. So, strictly, professionally, you have to keep pressing forward, as that’s in the nation’s interest. You focus on key topics. You focus on policy, economy, and you show people that you are working, that you will continue to fight for the country, and that is the only way to get the country out of the crisis. Anything else would only lead to deeper problems. As you could see, we have managed to get out of that crisis created with riots in two or three days.
Today’s problem is the coronavirus, but I am pleased that for the first time in Novi Pazar and Sjenica, we do not have any new COVID-19 related deaths. These senseless riots caused a large number of people to become infected with COVID-19. I am certain that we will be able to overcome the outbreaks in Belgrade and Novi Sad, which have become two new coronavirus hotspots precisely because of those riots.
And when we win against the virus, I believe that we will continue with positive economic trends. I am not saying that everything will be like a land flowing with milk and honey, but I believe that we can better navigate the coronavirus crisis than all other European countries, which would be an exceptional success for Serbia,” President Vucic revealed.
At the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, Serbia reacted quickly by implementing strong self-isolation measures and social distancing. While many developed democracies around the world still attempted to understand what Covid-19 was and the best course of action, Serbian president Vucic was ahead of the curve. Whether it is from a legacy of centuries-long, incessantly turbulent Serbian politics, prompt and decisive action trains a politician to manage any crisis. Otherwise, his personality traits are a question worthy of an examination. “How do you tell a potential crisis that needs immediate attention from the President from any other day-to-day business?”, I asked him about his assessment of the part played by political momentum.
“That’s a very interesting question. No one ever asked me that. It is interesting for two reasons — first, because I sometimes refrain from responding to certain things for a longer time, and sometimes I indeed respond much faster than anyone else would in the same situation. In the last twelve years, I managed never to lose an election, whether we were in power or in opposition.
Even when they were able to form the Government, our political opponents were always losing the election [Serbian electoral system is the one of proportional representation]. I was able to win on the election ticket with my name on it, with the most significant score difference in the most convincing victory and with new records. To achieve that, you have to know your people, and you are right about momentum, in politics, it is of vital importance. That is the second most important thing in politics, to know when and how fast to react. The first one being the substance of your politics. You have to have a program with ideas and you have to have a vision. The misconception some have that ‘Every day, I have to say something negative against someone’ is not politics.
You have to have a clear policy on how to secure the funds for the biggest infrastructure projects. How do you intend to preserve peace? How will you ensure that the Serbian national interests do not fall through after a day? You don’t want to end up in the position of having to go on an apology tour around the world for whatever someone thinks you should be apologizing for, while also making sure to avoid getting into conflict with others. For that, you’ve got to have ideas, and you have to have a vision.
In the grand scheme of things, it is irrelevant whether the media is on this or that side as if that is something that can cause me any problem, and as if I have to worry that there is a news media leading a 24/7 campaign against me. What did they achieve? Nothing.
The content of your ideas and policies always has to be the priority. The second most important thing is the momentum, a choice within that political moment on when to respond and when to react. Sometimes you have to act fast, and sometimes you have to show greater endurance and patience. In these timely and critical estimates lies the difference between political success and failure,” said Vucic.
WHAT HAPPENED AT THE KOSOVO TALKS IN BRUSSELS?
Earlier this year, in January, the Trump administration led by Ambassador Richard Grenell, President Trump’s special envoy for Kosovo, placed the brokerage of a lasting solution between Serbs and Albanians at the top of their foreign policy agenda. They reached a deal resuming commercial flights between Belgrade and Pristina for the first time in over two decades. Many political state actors and foreign policy experts consider this a positive step toward a détente between the Serbs and Albanians.
Taking a further, ambitious step to bring the two parties together, Grenell called for The Kosovo peace summit on June 27 at the White House, which canceled due to an indictment of Kosovo’s President Hashim Tachi for war crimes “including murder, enforced disappearance of persons, persecution, and torture.”
Then, the EU stepped in and called for a meeting, after being inactive on the Kosovo situation for the past two years. The objective of the EU’s Brussels meeting between Serbian President Vucic and Kosovo Prime Minister Avdullah Hoti was to revive the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue and normalize relations between the two sides.
“What is the main problem in the talks in Brussels to resolve the Kosovo situation?”, I asked President Vucic.
“Let me define this in one sentence. The only complete solution that Albanians see is the full Serbian recognition of Kosovo’s independence. Period. What we are trying to do is change the atmosphere in the relationship between Serbs and Albanians in Kosovo and Metohija. We want to have better relations between the two biggest populations in the Western Balkans. We want to facilitate free trade, the movement of goods, services, and capital, but when we talk about that, the Albanians say, ‘yes, sure, we want all that, but we want all that to go through the Republic of Kosovo.’ And that’s the bottom line. It becomes clear that it is not about free trade; it is not about the economy; for them, it is all about status. It’s a merry-go-round all the time. That’s the fundamental problem: through every single issue, Albanians drag in the status of Kosovo.
Serbian President Vucic: That’s a problem for us, but let me be very pragmatic and answer your question simply. When we negotiate with the Albanians, whether it’s through the European Union or through the Americans, the Albanians are looking for a way to achieve Kosovo’s independence.
I liked the ideas proposed by Trump’s administration, Richard Grenell’s suggestions for the economy, and what we have signed. Unfortunately, the Albanians do not appear to be rushing to implement this agreement. Neither the deal on flights nor other things,” president Vucic revealed.
“Why is that?” I asked.
“It appears that some Albanians do not understand the importance of the economy and see their only interest in humiliating Serbia. They hope that someone in Washington or Brussels will force a Serbian hand to sign the recognition of Kosovo’s independence. They literally do nothing else.
In Brussels, when the Albanians said: hand over all military and police archives regarding missing persons, I said, ‘no problem, we will show you Serbian archives on everything related to the missing and internally displaced people. But we ask you to do the same, for your so-called KLA, to pass us your files in reciprocation. And then, I added one more thing; Josep Borrell, High Representative of the European Union, was pleased with this suggestion, Miroslav Lajcák also, but the Albanians did not accept it.
Serbian President Vucic: I said to Albanians, ‘please tell us wherever you believe that there may exist Albanian graves and we will work together with you and European representatives to check that. But, we ask the same from you with regard to the Serbian victims. Let’s check in Lapušnik; let’s check in Dojane, Košare, Lake Radonjic, etc. We expect that when we show you the places where we believe there are Serbian victims, that we all go together and carry out the necessary checks for bodies.
Some would say that it is extraordinary that we offered full reciprocity to people who are not a sovereign state. But when I made my reciprocal request to the Albanians, they all acted as if I had asked them to fly a rocket ship to Mars and Venus. They denied that the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) has possession of the archives and responded defensively, ‘why would the KLA do that?’ They insist that the KLA was defending freedom while we were so and so…
What I want to say is that they have made themselves into a victim, and that’s all they believe in. Our approach, I would say, is pretty rational and pragmatic, while their strategy is to think that we are all obliged to fulfill whatever demands they may have, all their caprices and wants. And if we do not do that, we are then the ‘followers of the Milosevic genocidal regime.’ That is something that I have heard over a thousand times in every place,” Vucic reflected.
THE WHITE HOUSE STANCE
Recently, Joe Biden criticized Richard Grenell and the Trump administration for “failing to realize that the Trump administration had mishandled the situation by not collaborating with the EU.” If he becomes President of the United States, Biden promised to push for a Kosovo peace deal.
“What, if anything, does Biden not understand about the Kosovo and Metohija conflict that he should?” I asked. In response, President Vucic gave a brief glimpse of the Democratic presumptive presidential candidate, Joe Biden, in the context of the Kosovo situation.
“I think that Biden understands the situation in Kosovo and Metohija. He knows it very well. I believe there is one other reason, and that is that Biden, whom I know well and have met with three or four times, has his own agenda. He has participated in everything that happened in Kosovo and that is their political legacy. They want their policies to be fully, and completely implemented in the same way it was done in the past with Madeleine Albright and all others.
That is why it was important to attain specific changes in the White House stance, first and foremost, to have one more open approach towards Kosovo and Metohija. That’s where Trump, through his representatives, had shown a more open approach and demonstrated, if nothing else, that he is interested in hearing what we have to say. I cannot say that Grenell agreed with all our suggestions, but at least we were able to present our ideas and plans and not forced to only talk in a way that only fulfills American interest. That is why I am grateful to President Trump and his people”, Vucic revealed.
Serbian President Vucic: The meeting that we had at the White House with Robert O’Brian, Jared Kushner, and Richard Grenell, was excellent. I was able to hear a lot of things from them, but these people, who are the most powerful in the world, were listening to me for an hour and a half. For the first time, I talked about everything that is actually happening to Serbs and Serbia in a non-bureaucratic atmosphere where you usually write reports and official memos and nothing else. I am very happy that a conversation like that was possible.
“I am very sorry” he added “about the coronavirus pandemic in America. So many positive things that Trump has accomplished will now be harder for him to develop due to the epidemic. Still, I do not doubt whether America was somewhat more open to hearing from the Serbian position. And that is something that no matter what happens, I will never forget. Today, for example, I have entirely different ideas about Kosovo than Angela Merkl, but I will always remember how she helped us in 2015 and beyond on crucial and important issues. I want to be different from those people for whom gratitude is short-lived.
I will always remember that the people at the White House wanted to hear Serbia’s views, irrespective of whether it was in alignment with what they thought. That is at the core of my position and relationship to the Trump administration.
When Biden came for the meetings, he was always well-prepared, but he has his own politics that he sticks to strictly. Those politics did not bring much luck to Serbia in the past.”, Vucic said frankly.
NO LASTING PEACE CAN BE BUILT ON FOREIGN POLICY OF A ZERO-SUM GAME
A zero-sum game is never the playbook for running any successful businesses. The way international relations play out, on many occasions, end up with zero-sum solutions. In a situation where one side gets everything and the other ends up with nothing or considerably less, a legitimate question that pops up is one of political reciprocity in any peace settlement. It is reasonable to say that no lasting peace is possible based on a zero-sum end game.
“I said that countless times, but in a slightly different way. You said that in business deals, both sides have to be satisfied. I believe that a compromise is possible only when both parties are a bit unsatisfied at the conclusion of the negotiations.
Serbian President Vucic: I am afraid, however, that what’s being intended to be offered to Serbia is the most unfavorable solution. What they are offering Serbia in return for recognizing Kosovo appears to be much more significant than what it realistically is.
So for us, the situation is undoubtedly difficult. Very difficult. That’s why I said that I am grateful to the people at the White House who wanted to hear our views and understand the strength of feeling in Serbia. Not everybody is willing to listen. You can talk to some people in Europe as much as you want, but believe it or not, they never really hear you. They have their agenda, and for them, an excellent Serbian president would be the one who will accept all their demands, pressures, and blackmails.
I believe that we have to believe in ourselves, and continue to work to improve our position on the issue of Kosovo and Metohija, which is not easy. I won’t hesitate to tell you that after 12 years of the Albanians’ declaration of independence and their recognition by most Western countries, despite all that, we have somehow, succeeded to persevere. I believe that through hard work, steady effort, higher energy, and a formidable spirit we will be able to withstand those pressures,” Vucic clarified.
The Kosovo peace talks have worn on for over a decade now. The puzzling question is, why are former diplomats who served in the Balkans, and those in the EU, suddenly and strongly in opposition to the Americans’ intensified approach to address the Kosovo problem? “What is the reason for attacking Richard Grenell?”, I asked President Vucic to share his perspective.
“I was surprised by the intensity of the attacks on Richard Grenell. I thought it was some kind of semi-fake, manufactured backstage story. I was truly surprised by the magnitude of that attack, and a lot of what has been organized in the last few weeks is the intention and desire of the EU to say that ‘we are in control, the Balkans is on the European continent, not America.’ I always believed that America and the EU will work together in the end, but I’m not sure about that anymore, to be completely honest. Half of these meetings wouldn’t have happened now if Richard Grenell hadn’t initiated them. So that was not the EU’s reaction to Vucic and Hoti, but their response to the activity of the American administration.
History shows the EU’s inability to facilitate a long-term solution for Kosovo. Thus, it begs the question: what makes anyone believe that after a track record of not getting anywhere, the EU would now be able to come up with an acceptable solution any better than Richard Grenell and Trump? The EU’s record on this matter is a dismal failure.
Serbian President Vucic: Ambassador Grenell had positive ideas about the economy. He was able to get into the details of our problem within a day or two, very quickly. For us, the Serbs, his response awakened a sense of hope that we could talk about ordinary and normal things.
It awakened the hope that it would be possible for people from Belgrade to enter any part of Kosovo and Metohija and, respectively, for the Albanians to move through Central Serbia and travel wherever they want to the ‘West’. It awakened the hope of creating a different, much more positive atmosphere. When you create a different atmosphere, it is much easier to have a conversation about anything else. You cannot reach a solution overnight because you will never create a good atmosphere through that approach, especially not by pressuring only one side. Grenell understood that very well,” Vucic explained.
“Indeed, we have to talk to the EU, and it has to be under the EU because that is the decision of the United Nations Assembly. And that’s why we were in support of that dialogue. Have no illusion, Brussels talks were not a consequence of our desire for conversation, but their desire to exclude Americans. I do not want to get into those big games now. We are too small to interfere in the complex relations between the EU and the U.S.A. Let them do their job, and we will do ours. We will never reject or silence anyone. We will talk with everyone and have a sensible discussion.” Vucic affirmed.
Since the war, only 1.9% of Serbs could return to their homes in Kosovo and Metohija. This dire fact puts Albanians to the test on whether they are capable of accepting anything other than a homogeneous, Albanian, Kosovo. Do they genuinely possess multicultural tolerance after their self-proclaimed independence from Serbia?
“You are correct, only 1.9% of Serbs returned to their homes and let’s not forget that we have 16,000 Serbs from Kosovo and Metohija internally displaced. A part of the Serbian population moved to North Mitrovica. Some moved to Gracanica, Štrpce, etc. The Serbs cannot return to most areas within Kosovo and Metohija because of the impossible social and political climate that awaits them. Then, in this tense, pervasive atmosphere, the Albanians say, ‘you committed crimes, you are not welcome here,’ and then, the violence starts again from the Albanians stoning Serbs and setting houses on fire, to everything else. They do the same thing in Djakovica. We, in Djakovica, can’t visit the cemeteries, let alone open the graves on Lake Radonjic.
The bottom line is, someone gave the Albanians the right to do this. Albanians are constantly and persistently playing the victim. They will continue to play the victim, and at the same time, will never be held accountable for the acts they committed against Serbs. All the while, they are thinking that they are entitled to make us pay for all that, gain full independence, and to one day ‘forgive’ us for them taking our territory and expelling our people. Worst of all, there is a large group of people in Europe and America who agree with the Albanian position. I’m afraid I have to disagree with them. ” Vucic added.
Trump has a strong voting base among Serbian-Americans, and it is widely known that Serbs in Serbia sympathize with the American president. Recently, president Vucic openly said that given the chance of Trump’s second term, his re-election would not harm Serbian-American relations. “Does Serbia want to have a good relationship with the U.S.?” I asked President Vucic, and “in what way, if any, has this relationship improved since Donald Trump became the president?”
Serbian President Vucic: I will demonstrate this with the example of Trump. People all over the world, some Serbs included, thought that Serbs hate Americans. The arrival of Trump showed that Serbs never really hated Americans. They were only looking for someone in America who would not be absolutely against them. Nothing more.
“Serbs mostly sympathize with Trump precisely because they understand that he is not particularly against them. That makes sense. The Serbs never hated the Americans. They looked for the slightest reason to show the respect they have for Americans and their feelings towards them. They found that opportunity in Trump, who did not give anti-Serbian statements or did anything against our country. Trump really has done nothing against our country. At a moment when 90% of people in the world will praise only Biden —and I have a good relationship with Biden— I will say that I am sure of this: it would not be worse for Serbia if Trump wins re-election”, he said.
“I know how difficult that is at the moment”, president Vucic assessed, “Bearing in mind that Trump developed the economic figures that are the strongest in American history, to then have the coronavirus take it all away close to the presidential election. But you have to be honest with yourself, with the public, and say, ‘Trump did us no harm.’ So let’s measure by that as well. I think that’s a fair approach. I think it’s an honest approach, and that’s what people respect after all,” he affirmed.
Donald Trump is known for wanting to “make history” at any chance he can have. In that respect, a visit to Serbia would be the first one by the American president after Jimmy Carter in 1980. “What are the chances of Trump visiting Serbia anytime soon?”, I inquired.
“I can’t know that for sure. Trump is the leader of the greatest power in the world. It is important to me that I maintain good contact with all of his people. I would like Trump to visit Serbia. That is my wish, my great hope. I am saying this openly now. I would like to improve the Serbian-American relationship, as that is of vital interest to Serbia. I also think that building our relationship further wouldn’t be against America’s interests, and is of great importance to our country,” said Vucic.
A DIVISION OF KOSOVO?
Recently, John Bolton said that there was an idea floating around about a land swap between Serbs and Albanians in Kosovo and Metohija. “Is there a possibility for a division of Kosovo or is this completely off the table?” I inquired.
“When I spoke about the demarcation between Serbs and Albanians, I think that was a very rational approach. I will remind you what I said back then that Serbia will always be asked to give huge concessions for nothing in return. Then, the whole world jumped on my head. People didn’t understand how much courage it took to say that. Today, I understand why they did this. They wanted Serbia to get nothing, forever. I asked for this one thing because so many Serbs suffered. I said, ‘Balkans, to the Balkan peoples, let us talk, let us agree.’ But no one ever wanted to let us talk and make a deal”, Vucic revealed.
“Why has it not been recognized with the previous U.S. administration and the world powers at large that Serbia has to get something, a concession, as the outcome of a potential long term resolution and lasting peace?” I asked President Vucic.
“Because German interests have always been more important to Germans, and English interests to Englishmen, and American interests to Americans, and to Russians their Russian interests. For every leader, their country’s interests were much more important than the interests of Serbs and Albanians. And when I proposed to the Albanians, ‘let’s agree, let’s sit down, what we agree on everyone must accept,’ the fiercest attacks against me followed from all over the world.
Serbian President Vucic: Suddenly, and overnight, they labeled me a ‘dictator,’ an ‘autocrat.’ Literally overnight, you could not believe it. It was just because I had dared to try to disrupt their decision-making pattern about every issue where previously, they had kept Serbia on a tight leash. This pattern is similar to the ‘puppet theater of small nations’ that they have been managing for decades, where everyone has to flatter them. Breaking that pattern was my only fault.
I am proud of being ‘guilty’ to this fault. It will go down in history. I was the only one who had opposed all of the preconceived plans of many Western countries. I offered something that would be a compromise solution, and no one wanted it. While we are not talking about it anymore today, I would like to see how they come to a solution. I’m just waiting to see how they think they can come to a solution and decide what they should propose to Serbia that Serbia could accept. I haven’t heard it yet. No one has told me. I don’t understand what they are planning on doing,” he noted.
GREAT BRITAIN: THE ALLY AND FRIEND
Following his election victory in December, Prime Minister Boris Johnson is in a strong position in the UK, and he has a good relationship with Serbia and President Vucic. In Westminster, The Serbia All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) has been chaired by the Conservative, Andrew Bridgen, Member of the Parliament for North West Leicestershire. “Would Serbia be interested in a free trade agreement with Britain now that they’ve left the European Union?”, I inquired.
“Yes,” President Vucic quickly responded, confirming Serbia’s interest in the free trade agreement with the UK. He continued, “As far as the UK goes, we have good relations. Our relationship is always burdened by what happened in the ‘90s and the fact that a part of their establishment perceives us as a country that is too close to Russia. But our relationship with the UK is developing and getting better. We will have, I believe, many bilateral agreements once they complete their Brexit —primarily in the financial sense. I believe that we individually will then sign major contracts with Great Britain. We consider Great Britain to be our ally and friend.”
Serbian President Vucic: We consider Great Britain to be our ally and friend.
A vast volume of academic research looks at the role of an individual in international politics and the significance of personal relationships. The friendship-based foreign policy is a fascinating study of political leadership. “How important are personal relationships in international politics?”, I was interested in Vucic’s insight.
“Personal relationships are naturally always essential. But what is much more important than personal relationships is the respect that one builds by fulfilling promises and keeping your word. That is the ultimate indicator of whether you can or cannot be a reliable partner,” Vucic said.
The UK left the European Union on the 31st of January 2020. The country led by staunch Brexiteers leaves the transition period on 31st of December 2020, possibly without a trade deal. How has the UK exit from the European Union affected the prospects for potential new members and what fundamentally changed with the exit of Great Britain from the EU?
“What I think that has fundamentally changed with the exit of Great Britain from the EU is that there is de facto no balance in the European Union anymore. People rarely talk about it. Today, there is one great power in the European Union, and that is Germany.
France, the country that could potentially offset the balance within the EU, because of their very competent and ambitious leader Macron, cannot uphold that kind of balance due to economic circumstances. No matter what anyone says, balance within the EU does not exist anymore. Everyone depends on Germany. When Great Britain was there, which is militarily and economically stronger than Germany, Germany held the second-highest power in Europe, there was the right balance. Today, that balance no longer exists. Whether this will be a good or bad thing remains to be seen in the future,” he said.
VISION FOR SERBIA
At the moment, Serbian President Vucic is holding coalition talks about forming a new government. In line with his political vision, what is his overall vision for Serbia in the next four years?
“Let me answer you in a relatively optimistic tone, even though I am not that type of man who talks with a lot of smiles about the events ahead of us”, President Vucic began. “Planning for the future requires a lot of new energy, a lot of new people, and many new solutions. We must win against the coronavirus and emerge with the least economic damage possible. I can’t say that our economy will become stronger at the end of it because reopening the economy like that would be frivolous and irresponsible. Still, we can plan to mitigate the impact as much as possible.
Serbian President Vucic: I believe that we can be a strong and successful Serbia that is not afraid of success.
For that, it takes a lot of work, a lot of energy, and extraordinary effort. That is why we need many new people. We will not run away from it. That is also why we must make reforms in the party that I lead and make changes in the government, not only on the national level but also within numerous local governments. Much more energy is required. Tumultuous times require more seriousness, dedication, work, and diligence. I believe that the next four years will bring us that.
In the next four years, Serbia can complete the accession negotiations with the EU and can also become incomparably more developed than it is today. Serbia can become a country with the most developed roads and railways infrastructure in this part of Europe. By 2025 we can attain the average salaries of 900 EUR, which would prevent a considerable number of Serbian people from emigrating. I believe that we can be a strong and successful Serbia that is not afraid of success, and know that we can be as successful with our economy as we are in basketball, water polo, volleyball, tennis, and many other sports”, Vucic laid out his vision for Serbia on the world stage.
On the grounds of longevity alone, President Aleksandar Vucic draws on his vast experience in the former Yugoslav politics, one of the most complex and fascinating political arenas in the world. Vucic entered the political realm in 1993 as a member of the national Parliament. Today, at the age of fifty and after several decades in politics, he can reasonably reflect on his political evolution and contemplate the future.
“When I entered politics, I was very young, incredibly motivated, and full of enthusiasm and desire to change the world around me, though not quite understanding everything that was happening around me. During all these formative years, I’ve gained tremendous experience. You know, when you meet up with Putin seventeen times, with Angela Merkel eighteen times, ten times with Macron, and seven times with Xi Jinping, then you can imagine how significant these experiences are. You learn a lot, see the world from a different perspective, and become more mature. I use this proverb all the time, ‘Have I changed? Well, yes, of course, I’ve changed! Only the donkey doesn’t change.’ People change, especially those who are smart enough to learn from their mistakes,” he revealed.
“Do I still have the energy? I hope that I will have enough for as long as I am still doing this job. But, as you noticed at the beginning of our conversation, sometimes, it is not easy. The moment you think you came out of a political, economic, or public-health crisis, you think you came out unscathed, but you are not. Deep on the inside, the scars remain. From those who showed you how disloyal they could be to those who demonstrated through poor performance, that they cannot contribute to the betterment of Serbia, and to all the other scars that remain. In the end, those scars take their toll. Always. But for as long as I am in this job, I will do my best. I will fight hard, and always with a lot of energy. Without energy, you can’t do this job. Without ambition, without desire, and without energy, you cannot do anything,” he said.
Recently, Vucic, a sports-loving person, talked about his dream of coaching kids basketball. While most people dream of a high-octane ticket to the presidential office, the Serbian president looks for simpler things in life, a new volume of goals.
“Let me give you some exclusive information. I’ve officially enrolled in a sports college and will try in the next four or five months to get a blue coaching license to coach basketball to kids and then, hopefully, in three years get a red license to teach basketball to all ages. That was my life’s dream. I dreamt about that when I was a 16-year-old, around the time when I stopped my basketball training. I hope that in the years to come, I will be able to afford the time to do this, mentor some children and develop young talent, advise them, and dedicate myself to some other things. The time is coming for that too,” he said quietly proud.