First Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Serbia Ivica Dacic held today a lecture to the attendees of the Diplomatic Academy of Vienna and the students of international relations at Clemson University, who visited the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Serbia, as part of traditional study visits to the Western Balkan countries.
Minister Dacic introduced the priorities of the foreign policy of the Republic of Serbia to the students. The Head of Serbian diplomacy underlined in particular that Serbia was firmly committed to, by taking an active diplomatic approach, working on the preservation of its sovereignty and territorial integrity, continuation of its European path pending full membership and the stabilization of the situation in the Western Balkan region.
The Minister pointed out that Serbia was a credible partner, that it had the capacity to have a realistic look at the developments in the international relations and that it pragmatically approached resolving problems in cooperation with partner countries, which was demonstrated in particular during the migrant crisis.
As he pointed to certain historical projects being revived with the aim of creating new national borders in the Balkans, the Serbian Foreign Minister warned that this could pose a challenge of largest proportions and that such ideas should be put where they belong – in the past, aiming for cooperation and progress instead, to the benefit of citizens of the whole region.
Following is full text of the lecture delivered by the Head of Serbian to the students.
I am very pleased with the continuation of the tradition of these study visits by the Diplomatic Academy of Vienna and Clemson University to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Serbia and very glad to have this opportunity to present Serbia’s foreign affairs to the new generation of students of international relations.
You all come from different countries and I believe that you have the basic knowledge about Serbia that you gained indirectly or through the media or from your professors. I would like you to use your time in Belgrade or in some other towns to get to know Serbia first-hand and to create your own picture of it. If you let yourselves to enjoy the hospitality of my people and if you cast a glance at our tradition and become knowledgeable about at least a part of the historical vortex that we as a people went through and if you manage to learn a little bit about our soul, I am sure that your will get back to your homes richer.
Understanding of international relations is a complex task we face every day. No matter how well you know or how in-depth your studies of international relations, constant changes make us adapt ourselves to new adjustments and diplomatic action. The true challenges of today are performing a balancing act between the national interests and international commitments as well as identifying the right measure in the level of political and economic integration.
Over the past decades Serbia underwent a very difficult period. Dissolution of Yugoslavia, economic sanctions, economic collapse, growing poverty, huge number of refugees and internally displaced persons, presence of international troops in the part of its territory, are all part of the problem that even much larger-in-size countries would find it difficult to cope with.
During the Cold War period Belgrade was recognized as a cosmopolitan city. It was a role model of modernity and prosperity to the countries behind the Iron Curtain. I am sure that you will be surprised by the fact that the Chinese Communist authorities sent their students to Belgrade, during the 70s and 80s of the last century, to study the Yugoslav economic system in order to apply the best practices in the Chinese economy. Several decades later, China is one of the leading economies of the world and Belgrade, meanwhile, has faced numerous problems.
The changes that have taken place in the world at the end of the last century, have had deep consequences on Serbia and the countries in its immediate neighborhood. Despite the fact that in the 20th century Serbian people were always on the side of the Allies and that it had a huge number of war victims in both World Wars, at the close of the century it was accused of aggression and been bombed in 1999 by the unilateral decision of the NATO member states in violation of all norms of public international law.
Huge effort had to be made to keep in step with the rest of the world again. While the countries of Central and Eastern Europe passed through institutional and social transformations to become full-fledged members of the European family, countries of the Western Balkan region remained on the periphery, criticized for being prisoners of their nationalism and for having no vision. While the EU experienced its best years, Serbia and the region faced a period of political instability, economic and social transition.
The efforts of the international community to consolidate the situation in the Balkans as well as our belief that the integration into a larger economic and political system is the best solution for creating stability in the region, contributed to Serbia starting its reintegration in the international system. The opening of the European perspective enabled the Western Balkan region to embark upon the path of reconciliation and cooperation. On its course, with its active positioning, particularly in the last couple of years, Serbia demonstrated that it owned the capacity to have a realistic and pragmatic look at the developments in the international arena.
The crisis that Europe underwent in the last two years, from the terrorist attacks in Paris, Brussels, Nice, Berlin to the massive migrant crisis and Brexit in the end, have demonstrated that Europe has not reached full political and social cohesion for unified action. The national identities of the member states have overpowered common European identity in spite of decades-long integration. This has given the tail wind to some proponents of the shaping of new national borders in the Balkans, which could pose a challenge of widest proportions.
Rest assured that Serbia is not provoking anyone with its conduct and does not pose a threat to others. Frequent provocations by some of our neighboring countries were taken in a calm manner with no response to it. By maintaining stability both in its own country and in its neighborhood, Serbia defends its interests in the best way as well as the interests of its wider region including the entire EU, if you like.
At the same time, populism and xenophobia are growing in Europe. Fences are being built and borders closed in the face of the migrant influx. In contrast, Serbia demonstrated its full political and social responsibility. Although not an EU member state and recognizing the potential aspects of the humanitarian catastrophe, Serbia offered its medical and humanitarian assistance to migrants. Although being only a country of transit and not of final destination, Serbia has proved to be a reliable and constructive partner, in full coordination with the surrounding countries and the EU member states, both in preventing illegal crossings of its own and the external border of the EU and in registration and control of the migrant influx.
Perceiving all the changes in the international arena, looking for the best modality to preserve its interests, Serbia has set the following foreign policy priorities: full preservation of its sovereignty and territorial integrity, continuation of the negotiating process with the EU, further development of friendly relations with the leading actors on the global level, maintenance of peace and stability in the region, good-neighborly relations and military neutrality. It remains firmly resolved to settle all misunderstandings by peaceful means and to use dialogue as a tool of cooperation and reconciliation.
Serbia has shown its strength and responsibility by summoning courage to confront and prosecute criminals and crimes which took place in the territory of the former Yugoslavia. For this reason, and in particular because we are obliged to pay respects to Serbian victims as well, we will consistently insist on punishment for those who committed crimes against the Serbian population.
Serbia has also demonstrated its cooperative approach by participating in peace missions mandated by the United Nations and the European Union. Serbia’s engagement within peace operations is an expression of its good will and readiness of the state and the Serbian Armed Forces to carry out tasks of utmost complexity in addressing modern security challenges and share responsibility with its partners in the establishment and building of peace and the creation of conditions conducive to finding political solutions.
I take this opportunity also to underline the relationship between Serbia and Austria, which can provide us with a lot to learn from. The two countries, with links dating back to distant past and being over a longer period of time also neighbouring countries, have in tumultuous historical events, particularly in the previous century, found themselves on opposite sides, and the roles they played in world history wrote its difficult and decisive pages, the importance of which went far beyond the borders of both countries. And after great wars the co-existence continued, in order to ensure that the future generations would have an opportunity to get acquainted with the beauty of Viennese architecture and the symbolic meaning of the Belgrade fortress for the defence of Europe.
Today, a large number of Serbs reside in Vienna, while Austria is one of the major foreign investors in Serbia. Furthermore, both countries have underlined their principled military neutrality and readiness to take part in international security mechanisms. The trend of cooperation and development is, as I deeply believe, in the best interest of both countries. Therefore, it would be wise not to add fuel to the heated passions in the Balkans, and to put the artificially initiated historical projects where they belong – in the past. Throughout history, Belgrade was often the last line of defence of Vienna and Europe, but the Balkans was the area where, due to unrealistic appetites, kingdoms fell. This is a lesson we will all have to learn only too well.
It is my wish that this presentation of mine would help you recognize more clearly Serbia’s place in the international community, understand its true capacities as well as the sincerity in its aspiration to become a full-fledged member of the European Union.
Among you who have gathered today in this venue, there could be a future ambassador to perform those duties in Serbia and have the opportunity to contribute to a more objective interpretation of the factors driving the region, and who would together with Serbian diplomats work on the implementation of some future European initiatives, aiming to promote further cooperation between the countries. I hope that here with us today we have those that will seize such an opportunity.