First Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Serbia Ivica Dacic, who had paid a visit to Sri Lanka early this month, speaks about the latest initiative to revive historic relations between his country and Sri Lanka dating back to the days of the summit of the non-aligned movement. Serbia, a country that faced with separatism, shares common experience with Sri Lanka. He says Serbia can serve itself as the gateway to Europe. Formerly, Serbia was the political and cultural hub of Yugoslavia. Serbia has an ambitious goal of joining the European Union by 2020. The excerpts of the interview:
Q What is the outcome of your interactions with the Sri Lankan leaders during your visit between May 6 and 8?
This was a visit of historic importance. This was the first such visit after 21 years. Yugoslavia and Sri Lanka used to be friendly countries in the past, dating back to the movement of non-aligned countries. Yugoslavian Prime Minister Marshal Josip Broz Tito paid a visit to this country twice. He was part of the non-aligned summit in Colombo. We are very friendly and brotherly nations. However, there were no high level visits since then. That is why this visit is very important. That is in order to reset our relations, to develop ties in various areas, to consult each other, to support each other at international level etc.
I propose scholarships for your country. I invited your Prime Minister and the Foreign Affairs Minister to visit Serbia. I would like our business communities to meet regularly and co-operate in the areas to be identified.
Serbia is ready to co-operate with Sri Lanka on the issues important to it. That is why it is important to have consultations so that both sides are informed and kept abreast of major developments. Then, people can help each other
Q What are the potential areas for economic co-operation between the two countries?
I cannot tell you precisely. It is up for the Business community to identify those areas. It is important for us, the politicians to create necessary preconditions. Business people can take advantage of that. That is the gateway to Europe and Asia. Serbia has Free Trade Agreements with European Union, Russia and Turkey. What is produced in Serbia can be exported to these countries without custom tariff. Also, Sri Lanka has good agreements and relations with Asian countries. Our business community can take advantage of that as well. Economic cooperation is rather small so far. Last year, it was only US $ 4 million. It is very low. But, we have great potential.
Q Actually, what else can Serbia offer to the Sri Lankan business community?
Anyone can find an area of interest. I can give you an example. A Nepali businessman opened a factory in Serbia to manufacture noodles. He is exporting his product to 40 countries without custom tariff. These are the advantages offered only by Serbia in Europe. You can export to many countries. I can also point out agriculture, energy sector, pharmaceuticals, and tourism.
Q How big is the Serbian middle-class which is interested in travelling overseas?
A large number of Serbians visit this part of the world. We also have a lot of people visiting us (Serbia). We abolished visas for Chinese, Indian, and Indonesian nationals. We will apply the same on Sri Lanka.
Q How can Serbia and Sri Lanka co-operate with each other in the international forum?
In the area of politics, we consult each other on the issues that are important to our two countries. For Serbia, it is the defence of its territorial integrity. We had the case of separatism, secession around the part of Kosovo. It has been brought about by a unilateral Act. We have one national minority bent on carving out a state for them without prior agreement from the state they live in. This is very bad precedent. The best example can be found in Spain where the similar problem is found in the province of Catalonia. We are thankful to Sri Lanka for its continuous support to Serbia. Sri Lanka also has movements with separatist tendencies. We were told by the Prime Minister and the Foreign Affairs Minister that Sri Lanka would maintain its consistent policy on the territorial integrity of Serbia that it is not going to recognize Kosovo.
Serbia is ready to co-operate with Sri Lanka on the issues important to it. That is why it is important to have consultations so that both sides are informed and kept abreast of major developments. Then, people can help each other.
Q Sri Lanka successfully fought a war against separatism. Now, in the post war context, it is facing charges before the UNHRC. What is Serbia’s advice to Sri Lanka at this moment?
Unfortunately, many of these charges are issues of politicization. And the application of double-standard is there. Some western countries are fighting terrorism themselves. Then, anything is permitted. Serbia also faced similar charges. There were tribunals established. We can always expect that these matters will be politicized. There will be some false allegations. It is important that terrorism has been defeated.
Q Serbia is trying to be a member of European Union. At the same time, there is a wave of nationalism in Europe. Britain has already taken initiatives to quit European Union. How do you view the regional integration?
Europe is also undergoing changes. We hope European Union is going to survive. It is in our interest to become a member of European Union even though it is not sincere and truthful to us. It is in the interest of all the countries in the region to join European Union. We hope the nationalist tendencies are going to subside.
Q What do you think about the multi-polar world order rising today?
Here, it is important to talk about the balance of power.
Q Today, China and Russia are rising and world powers to counter the dominion of the USA. What are your views on this trend?
It is good to have more power centres in the world. There should also be strong multilateral organizations like the UN. There is principle equality among all the states in the world.
Europe is also undergoing changes. We hope European Union is going to survive. It is in our interest to become a member of European Union even though it is not sincere and truthful to us. It is in the interest of all the countries in the region to join European Union
Q In Serbia you have a coalition government. In Sri Lanka too it is the similar trend. How do you parallel between the two?
May be, you are not used to this in your country. In Europe, it is common. There are many coalition governments. Very often, there appears to be problems. We also have a coalition in Serbia. It is in fact a result of agreement concerning political goals. It is not something concerning the arithmetic of MPs. That is why we have political stability in the country. Political stability is the precondition for prosperity of any country. I think it is very important in the case of Sri Lanka.
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