Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic this week pays a two-day state visit to Portugal, among the official events, in particular the meeting with the President of the Republic of Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa and the Prime Minister, antónio Costa.
The visit comes at a time of heightened tensions between Serbia and the Republic of Kosovo after the 14th of January on the border were detained the train with the slogans “Kosovo is Serbia” written in 21 languages. In a written interview with Diário de Notícias Tomislav Nikolic commended on Vladimir Putin and Donald trump and makes some critical comments about the EU.
Diário de Notícias: At the moment You are on an official visit in Portugal. After the NATO bombing in 1999, Serbia was opened in Portugal the judicial process. And the Portugal in 2008 recognized Kosovo as an independent state. Today how would You describe the relationship between the two countries?
Tomislav Nikolic: After winning the presidential election in 2012, I have undertaken a major effort to revitalize and strengthen the old friendly relations of the former Yugoslavia — now Serbia — all over the world. Of course, in the history of our bilateral relations were less favourable periods. But Serbia is aware that every country conducts the policy which it sees fit for its citizens, and that often is not possible to do what you appear to be correct. We are aware that Portugal could not always afford to do what she wanted, that is, in accordance with the friendly relations between our two countries. We try not to take to heart such contentious issues as I’m sure that Portugal is our friend. Today’s policymakers from both sides should have less to look back and to look towards the future, to work together to find forms of cooperation that can bring benefits to the citizens of Serbia and Portugal.
— Hashim Thaci, the President of the Republic of Kosovo and former leader of the KLA in an interview with Reuters said that Serbia wants to Annex the Northern part of Kosovo, as Russia did with the Crimea. In the beginning of this month have You cancelled his visit to Kosovo, and the former Prime Minister of Kosovo Ramush Haradinaj was arrested in France on an arrest warrant issued by Serbia. Last week, the Serbian newspaper Kurir published Your statement: “And Yes, I said, if need be, I will go to war, like my children.” Due to all mentioned were justified in disturbing Europe about the possible outbreak of war between Serbia and the Republic of Kosovo?
— You ask a question to the wrong person. First, we did not send armed men against the Albanians. And Vice versa: the same day [14 January] the interim authorities in Pristina was sent to the North of Kosovo and Metohija, populated exclusively by Serbs, members of a special unit ROSU with military vehicles, thus they grossly violated the provisions of the Brussels agreement, according to which such a situation is possible only with the permission of the local population. In this case, such authorization has not been received. Pristina also violated the agreement on freedom of movement because ROSU was sent to stop the train. Not a tank, not an APC, but the passenger train with civilians, who wanted to get to the city of Mitrovica. But the Albanians kept silent about this fact, as well as those in the international community who hypocritically gives them political cover. Absolutely absurd to claim that Serbia wants to join the North of Kosovo and Metohija. In fact, it is not possible because Kosovo and Metohija are already in the area of Serbia. The so-called independence, which, unfortunately, is recognized by some countries, including Portugal, contrary to all principles of international law that form the Foundation of modern civilization. The fiery statements by Hashim Thaci and other officials in Pristina, that’s what should worry Europe. But Europe can easily solve this problem, clearly demonstrating that this is not acceptable. As for Serbia and me personally, we comply with all the obligations imposed on us by the Brussels agreement. We have not violated any of them. Think about the Albanians in Pristina can’t say that. Ramush Haradinaj was arrested and charged with serious and violent crimes, we are talking not about some political game. And Yes, I delayed my visit to Strbac because the day before the administration of Pristina without any reason and completely unnecessarily mistreated my employees in Merdare. As for my statement newspaper Kurir, if the European community would allow another pogrom of Serbs in Kosovo and Metohija, which occurred twice in the last 20 years, whether, in your opinion, Serbia to bury your head in the sand? Would Portugal to turn a blind eye if you were in our place?
— In 2014, Vladimir Putin was your guest of honour at a Serbian military parade in honor of the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Belgrade by Soviet troops from Nazi occupation. Then You said that Russia is a big ally of Serbia. Have you changed your opinion?
I still think so, and this opinion is shared by the majority of citizens of Serbia. And it is not only in friendly relations for many years Serbia gets serious help and the support of Russia and President Vladimir Putin on many important issues such as the protection of our sovereignty and territorial integrity. Therefore, we are grateful to Russia, as well as all States, which help us in this regard.
— You do not agree with those who argue that Vladimir Putin and the new President of the United States Donald trump is trying to divide the EU and NATO?
— Such statements are subject to those who see a possible agreement between the two leaders, with the aim of reducing tension in the world as a threat to its own vested interests. Every person of good will should support this rapprochement and the establishment of dialogue between the Russian Federation and the United States. I am happy to see that President Putin and President of the trump demonstrated a willingness to finally resolve a number of issues which have for too long plagued our planet.
— How to find a balance between relations with Russia and that Serbia is negotiating to join the European Union?
— It’s not easy. Believe me. The biggest problem facing Serbia is the continuing demands to bring our foreign policy into line with the EU policy. In translation this means that we should impose sanctions against Russia — something we never do. It’s really impossible for us and can cause significant harm to the Serbian economy and its vital national interests. In this case, we will lose its main ally, on whose assistance we expect in the solution of many problems in Serbia, such as the protection of the interests of Serbs in Kosovo and Metohija, that our country cannot afford. Meanwhile, we are able to pursue a balanced policy between East and West. We believe that this is the only real way, and I hope we will continue to follow it in the future. Policy of Serbia aimed at creating friendly relations, not conflict. I hope, in this sense, no one is going to put pressure on us.
— The last time we see the horrifying images of the refugees in Serbia have in the cold of winter to live almost on the street. Why is this happening?
— Where you saw it? In any Newspapers? First, you need to make sure that these images correspond to reality. It is quite possible that no. At the beginning of the refugee crisis and after the opening of the route via the Western Balkans, the Republic of Serbia had five refugee centers 810. Currently in Serbia there are 16 centers ready to host 6200 refugees. Soon we will open another center in Kikinda, with a capacity of more than 200 seats. In addition, the planned expansion of centers in Sjenica, Sombor, Subotica, Principaute, Pirot, Deplane and Bosilegrad. We will open new centers in Aleksinac, Vranje and Zajecar to grant asylum to people who come for longer periods. Thus, in Serbia, the refugees are able to live in adapted for this heated rooms. If they don’t want, is another question. No one can make them by force. In Serbia they are in transit and don’t want to stay long. Their goal is to get to Germany and the rich countries of Western Europe. Therefore, some of the refugees do not want the government of Serbia took them in their centers, probably fearing that it would mean a long stay in our country… and it’s not what they want. Since the beginning of the refugee crisis on Serbia example shows its commitment to the European principles of humanity and respect for human rights. I think every article in the tabloid, will not tarnish the image that rightly belongs to Serbia.
— From Your point of view on how best to resolve the problem of refugees in Europe?
— I think that it is impossible to solve the refugee problem only through the elimination of the consequences of not eradicating its causes. Many European statesmen with whom I have talked to agree with this opinion. Thus, the refugee crisis will be resolved when the civilized world will unite and put an end to the threat of terrorism and the war in Syria and Iraq. When together we can create the conditions to ensure that these people can stay in their homes, to live in peace, to work, to earn income, allowing them to provide a decent life for themselves and their families. This task can be solved only by joint, and I therefore welcome the positive signals given by presidents Vladimir Putin and Donald trump.
— What do You think about the rise of populist movements and parties in the EU?
The refugee crisis along with the economic and social differences and problems that exist in the European community, from North to South and from East to West, are the main cause of the flourishing of populist movements in the EU. Citizens realized that the bureaucracy in Brussels does not know how to face the new challenges that the principles which were the Foundation of Europe remain dead letters on paper, and therefore decided to appeal to populist movements and parties. Probably this could have been avoided if all States had a lot of support from the EU authorities elected in a democratic way and not the centers of power. And if Brussels were paying more attention to the needs of people, not one just interested in it circles.
— Will you run for presidential elections in Serbia on 9 April? Vojislav šešelj, leader of Serbian radical party, which also was in the past, is one of the candidates. Despite the fact that he was acquitted by the International court in the Hague after being indicted for war crimes, don’t You think that this candidate might damage the international image of Serbia?
— Any election campaign in any country in the world produces colorful characters, which, however, do not have real chances to win. I don’t think his candidacy could affect the image of Serbia. In difficult times, I fulfilled the duties of President of all citizens of Serbia and, if you set aside the political differences, nobody opposes the execution by me of these functions. It would be wrong if you knew about my decision before it is revealed that the citizens of Serbia. Therefore, on this issue, I would have asked to wait until the 15th of February.