RT's Sophie Shevardnadze has spoken to Serbian President Boris Tadic about his country’s passage to the European Union and the challenges the nation faces.
RT: Mister President, thank you so much for being with us today.
Boris Tadic: Thanks a lot.
RT: Mr. President, it’s been two years since Kosovo’s independence was recognized. Back then, there was a lot of talk about the domino effect, about the threat of destabilization in the region, and then none of it happened. Do you think it was right to make such a fuss in the first place, in the beginning?
BT: No, the domino effect is still existing [sic] as a threat for everybody, not only in the region of south-east Europe, bit also everywhere. For that reason, I have real concerns. But taking into consideration how we reacted on unilateral declaration of independence, I think we’re trying to prevent problems.
Serbia has a consistent policy that means we’re totally against partition of all countries that are member states of the UN. That means we’re against partition of the countries existing in the region. In that respect, we’re fully supporting, for example, Bosnian integrity and integrity of other countries. And in that respect, we’re contributing to the stability even though we’re very much affected because of the unilateral declaration of independence.
RT: Just recently, Kosovo’s prime minister suggested starting relations from scratch with Belgrade. Is that possible? What would it take for Serbia to actually agree to a dialogue?
BT: I think that dialogue is very important. Dialogue can bring some solution. We have a confrontation between Serbs and Albanians, not between Serbia and Kosovo, because we don’t recognize Kosovo’s independence.
We’ve had a confrontation between Serbs and Albanians for almost 150 years, and in the end of the day we have to solve that kind of conflict. Conflicts are blocking not only Serbs and Albanians but also the whole region on terms of progress and development. Only through dialogue we can achieve some solution that can be acceptable for both Pristina and Belgrade.
RT: British Foreign Minister William Hague said that Serbia is actually putting its chances of joining EU under threat by refusing to cooperate with Kosovo. And you’re facing a really tough choice. What’s your priority, Kosovo or the EU membership?
BT: I’m not making that kind of difference. I’ve participated in the elections last time; and the first time when I was elected as president of Serbia having in mind two main strategic goals: to become a member state of the EU and to defend territorial integrity and sovereignty of my country. I’m going to continue my efforts in that direction.
RT: In 2008, in every single one of your interviews, you said that 70 per cent of your people, of Serbs thought that Kosovo was the main problem, the major problem in the country. A year later, this number dropped to 6 per cent. Why is that?
BT: If you’re talking about people that are mentioning Kosovo as the main problem of the country, there were different opinion polls in the last few years. You have to know that Serbia is very much affected because of the economic crisis. In that respect, all Serbian people and citizens are thinking that the economic crisis, unemployment and this kind of problems are on top of our agenda.
And this is absolutely true: without strong a economy and real development, you cannot defend your state and national interests. And that is why we’re trying to solve these problems, like all other countries around the world. But people aren’t thinking that Kosovo isn’t a problem anymore. Kosovo is existing, and the problem is not only between Serbs and Albanians, but also in the regional policy, globally thinking, having in mind the real possible precedent that can create much turmoil around the world.
RT: You’re absolutely right. The International Court of Justice in The Hague recognized the legitimacy of Kosovo’s independence, and this is the first precedent. In relation to that, that do you think of the consequences for some other European countries?
BT: The decision of the International Court of Justice has been legitimizing the unilateral declaration of independence, not independence of Kosovo. Having in mind that the group of people that declared the unilateral independence didn’t have the rights to take into consideration all the legal framework which was adopted in Kosovo before.
That is a very controversial decision, but we’re not going to interfere in decisions of the International Court of Justice. We accept that, and we’re going to continue our efforts in this direction to defend territorial integrity and sovereignty of Serbia. But that cannot be really achieved without a dialogue between Serbs and Albanians, between Pristina and Belgrade. We have to have some kind of compromise at the end of the day. Solution is not that one side, meaning Kosovo’s Albanians, is getting everything, and Serbian people are losing everything. I’m totally sure that we have to have some compromise at the end of the day.
RT: Despite the urging of the European Parliament to recognize Kosovo’s independence, there’s Spain, Greece, Romania – they refuse to do so. Do you think it’s more because of their apprehensions of their own intentions, or is it just solidarity with Serbia?
BT: No, all governments all over the world are defending their own interests; and not only those three countries, but also Cyprus and Greece. And I appreciate very much that kind of approach because it was very helpful regarding Serbian position.
But those governments are defending interests of their citizens and their national interests, and we understand it very well; we understand it perfectly.
RT: You have always strongly promoted the pro-American image of your government. And when the Kosovo issue emerged, when it came down to it, it turned out Russia was your only true ally. How did that happen?
BT: I’m a pro-Serbian president. This government is always going to be pro-Serbian, if I’m to stay as the leader of this country, and I’m sure I’m going to continue my work. We want to have the best possible relations with the US, even though we’re facing a real challenge, especially because of Kosovo. This is a crucially important achievement in my talks with Vice-President Biden and Madam Clinton. She came to Belgrade, and we agreed that we disagree on the Kosovo issue. And this is not very easy to achieve that kind of relations in the very difficult circumstances in which we are living.
Second, we do not want to become a member state of the US, we want to become a member state of the EU. We’re living in Southeast Europe and we’re going to continue our efforts in that direction. But no one can make very strange and artificial conditions in terms of recognizing Kosovo because of our intention to become a member state of the EU. I appreciate that approach of EU countries very much.
Taking into consideration our close relations with Russia, our historical and cultural relations, no one can make any problems in that respect. This is an unchangeable policy, and be sure that Serbia is going to be a very close partner of Russia through future, and future history.
RT: So for you today in 2010 the Serbian-Russian brotherhood exists?
BT: Of course. And this is not changeable.
RT: We should continue to have special relations?
BT: Of course. I have extremely close relations with your president and your prime minister. We have a very good conversation. We agreed on many issues and we are going to continue our efforts in that direction.
RT: This is a quote from your interview: “Balkan integration into the EU is the only way to settle disputes. We should all be integrated into Europe and look for pragmatic ways out simultaneously.” Why do you think it’s possible to settle the issue that one country couldn’t solve on its own within EU boundaries?
BT: Only true dialogue can solve the problem, which is not affecting only Serbs and Albanians, not only Serbia but the whole region. I think that is becoming an extremely important issue, globally.
That is the reason that only 60 countries recognize Kosovo’s independence until today. We have more than 190 countries in the United Nations. This is also a fact that we have to take into consideration.
RT: The ultra-right movements are gathering pace in Europe. Under these conditions, how do you see the settlement of the problem of living side by side with Muslims in your country?
BT: The religious issue is a very important issue. Muslims are Bosnian people who have a Muslim religion and been living in Serbia for centuries. They are friends. They are citizens of this country. Not only of Serbia but also of other regional cultures. I appreciate very much the achievements of the Muslim and Bosnian culture in my country and in regional policy. In that respect, we are fully respecting all right for all religious communities for all national minorities, and we are going to continue this kind of policy.
Europe is facing a problem, a challenge: how to define themselves in terms of influence of the Muslim culture on the European continent. That is a dialogue between Turkey and Europe. We are not a very strong country and we cannot decide what Europe’s policy in that direction is to be. Europe has to decide where the borders of the European Union are and how to handle the many existing differences between Christians and Muslims. But if you want my opinion, I’m more insisting on extreme religious groups that we have in all religions now: not only among Muslims but also among the Christians.
As Serbian president, I face radicals that very often insist on their Christian identity. Very strong and extreme religious organizations are becoming problems everywhere on the globe.
RT: The Serbian government did its utmost to hand Karadzic to The Hague. What’s your assessment of that process?
BT: We have to continue that process. First of all, this is in accordance with our legislation. We are respecting our laws. Otherwise we would be in a very difficult situation. Secondly, in terms of reconciliation, everyone who is accused has to be in The Hague tribunal. I am not talking about Serbs, Croats, Bosnians, Albanians. But because of war and the terrible consequences we are facing, the only was towards reconciliation is for people accused of participating in war crimes during the 1990s to face justice in the Hague Tribunal.
RT: Two years ago when Ramush Haradinaj was acquitted on all charges, you said The Hague Tribunal’s decision was a major blow to the whole international justice system and to the hopes of the Balkans for reconciliation. Does that mean you considered it biased and incompetent?
BT: That was a very tough moment for Serbs and Serbia and for me as the Serbian president. Fortunately, there is a continuation of that process against Mr. Haradinaj right now and right now he is in the Hague Tribunal once again.
RT: The Human Rights Watch has demanded you put pressure on Serbia to make the search for Goran Hadzic and Ratko Mladic more effective. What do you say to that?
BT: I am not changing my approach. Everyone who is in the ICTY has to be in The Hague Tribunal.
RT: Thank you very much.
BT: Thank you.