Observance of the 180th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Serbia and the United Kingdom

Statement by Acting Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Serbia Ivica Dacic at the ceremony marking the 180th anniversary of the establishment of the diplomatic relations between Serbia and the United Kingdom, held in Kragujevac:

“Your Excellency,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is my great pleasure and honour to address you today, on the occasion of the 180th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Serbia and the United Kingdom, and to refer to some of the most important aspects of the relations between our countries.

Historically, the relations between Serbia and the United Kingdom were conceived and further developed against the backdrop of the great-power intertwined interests in the Balkans. The United Kingdom saw Serbia as a new market and an opportunity for introducing its trade, whereas politically, it had an interest in increasing its impact on the Balkan Peninsula. Economic and political interests prompted the British Government to decide to establish diplomatic relations with Serbia. The decision to appoint the first British consul, Colonel George Lloyd Hodges, as the first diplomatic representative to the Principality of Serbia, who arrived in the then capital of Kragujevac in 1837, proved to be a very good one, for not only did it help promote the relations between the two countries, but no other foreign consul, but Hodges, was able to establish such close relations with any 19th – century Serbian ruler. He was able to bring modern ideas of Western democracy and liberalism to the young Balkan Principality of Serbia. In addition to political and economic relations between Serbia and the United Kingdom, cultural and scientific ties also played an important role in their getting to know each other. Before the diplomatic relations were established, the ties between the people of Serbia and the UK were maintained through contacts among reputable individuals, intellectuals and renowned writers.

Great scientists and writers born in the United Kingdom, like Isaac Newton and William Shakespeare, made an immeasurable contribution to what is referred to today as the heritage of human civilization. We are proud that our own country has Ivo Andric and Nikola Tesla, in that Pantheon.

The British Council established its Office in Belgrade, back in 1940, as one of the first eight opened abroad, which currently continues to be one of the prestigious foreign cultural centres, and a sort of cultural bridge between our countries.

The United Kingdom played an important role in the history of Serbia. The relations between the two states are characterized by historical alliance in the two World Wars. Despite disagreements over issues that are of special importance to Serbia, there are vast possibilities for cooperation, especially in overcoming the global challenges we face today. Economic instability, military conflicts, natural disasters, migrant crisis and terrorism are only but a few challenges for whose solution, either on the global or local level, specific ideas and intensive cooperation are needed.Serbia sees itself as a reliable partner that the international community can count on. Combating terrorism and all forms of extremism is an urgent task, especially in the context of radical Islamism and jihadism.

The issue of rising radicalization and violent extremism in Kosovo and Metohija is of particular concern for Serbia, including the involvement of ethnic Albanians from KiM, as terrorist fighters,
in foreign battlefields.

The biggest security challenge for Serbia is Kosovo and Metohija. We do not recognize the unilateral declaration of “Kosovo’s” independence, and we believe that a lasting and sustainable solution can only be reached by political means, in accordance with international law, and a status neutral dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina, with the facilitation of the European Union. Our endeavours are aimed at resolving all outstanding issues through dialogue. We firmly underline, on every occasion, our position that only peace and security in the Balkans can ensure progress of each country individually, and the region as a whole.

Serbia is making a particular effort towards strengthening bilateral economic cooperation. In terms of reaching economic prosperity, the Serbian Government continues to pursue accelerated reforms, where British support would be valuable indeed. I am confident that the reforms will undoubtedly contribute to attracting additional investments in project, whose implementation will be in the interest of Serbia, and the region as a whole.

It is our desire and interest that the relations between Serbia and the UK, which have a long tradition, be as good as possible. Therefore, we advocate a more intensive communication and more frequent meetings between our officials, which would further strengthen confidence and contribute to the enhancement of our relations. The UK has reduced its presence in the region over the past few decades, and I take every opportunity to remind the British partners of this fact. British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher visited Belgrade back in September 1980. An exception to this are regular foreign minister visits to Serbia, ever since 2012. I particularly wish to highlight the visit of Prince Charles to Serbia, in March 2016, which gave a fresh impetus to the strengthening of our bilateral relations. I take this opportunity to express, this time again, our gratitude to Prince Charles – following the terrible fire which inflicted serious damage to the Monastery of Chilandari, one of the most important Serbian holy places – for his generous donation for the Monastery’s reconstruction, since such cultural heritage does not only belong to Serbia, but to Europe and the entire world, as well.

The Republic of Serbia respects the United Kingdom and wishes to develop best possible relations between the two countries, irrespective of developments related to Brexit and its impact on the position of the UK within the European Union framework. Overall bilateral cooperation should be developed through identification of common interests.

Your Excellency,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

In conclusion, I would like to express my pleasure at having the opportunity to speak on the occasion of this important jubilee, and briefly look back at the relations between Serbia and the United Kingdom.”