Serbs don't like Americans

Vučić: "Not very likely that we will recognize Kosovo"

DEFAULT: You have just agreed with the Prime Ministers of North Macedonia and Albania to create a kind of mini-Schengen. So do you want a customs union - and when should it come into force?

Vučić: One can no longer speak only of enlargement fatigue in the EU states, but now it is a matter of avoiding any admission of new states in the foreseeable future. So now we should take care of ourselves and focus on achieving the four freedoms here - free movement of goods, capital, people and services. At the moment we need our passports when going to Tirana or Shkodra. By the end of the year we will probably have achieved that we can only travel with an identity card.

DEFAULT: I am traveling in the region with an identity card, it already works.

Vučić: Yes, if you are traveling to Serbia from Bosnia-Herzegovina.

DEFAULT: Even when I travel to North Macedonia and Albania.

Vučić: Yes, but not when traveling from Serbia to Albania (there is no border between Serbia and Albania because Kosovo is in between, editor's note). Our ultimate goal is that there are no more border controls. But that will not be easily achievable. At the same time, we have to remove barriers and obstacles to the transport of goods at the borders, because that way we can save more than seven percent of the operating costs. And we are working to ensure that work permits issued in Albania will also be valid here in Serbia.

DEFAULT: When could a customs union be implemented?

Vučić: It could be realistic by the end of 2022.

DEFAULT: What are the conditions for the resumption of the dialogue between Kosovo and Serbia?

Vučić: There is only one condition. You have to lift the 100 percent tariffs, and then we should discuss all matters unconditionally. But if one says even before a possible dialogue: We are not discussing territories, we are not discussing an autonomous status for the north, what should we discuss then? There is no negotiation in these circumstances.

DEFAULT: Albin Kurti, the possible new prime minister in Kosovo, should lift the tariffs, but he wants Serbia to recognize the Kosovar number plates. Can you imagine that?

Vučić: Kurti doesn't read the agreements. There is already an agreement on the number plates, according to which cars with Kosovar numbers have to stick a label on the number plate and vice versa. But if Kurti wants to rearrange something, let's see what we can do. You know, they were never a state and they are frustrated and so they talk about stupid things.

DEFAULT: Will you ever recognize Kosovo as a state as an equal member of the international community?

Vučić: That is a difficult question for us. But we want to see what they (meaning the Kosovar negotiators, editor's note) say and why they say something. Of course we also want to hear what the EU has to say. So far, the EU has not imposed any preconditions on Serbia. We heard from the Americans that this may have changed, but we want to hear that from our European partners. I can't rule out the EU asking for recognition, but so far they haven't. Their idea was a model like the German-German basic treaty - without formal recognition by Serbia. That would of course be much easier for Serbia.

DEFAULT: If Serbia were to recognize Kosovo, would this be done within the existing borders? Or are you ruling that out?

Vučić: I can tell you that I pretty much rule that out.

DEFAULT: Does this mean that this would only be done if there was a border change or area swap?

Vučić: I don’t know what’s going to happen. Because it is not very likely that we will recognize Kosovo. I don't think that's going to happen. But we cannot close the gates to dialogue. Both sides have to lose for a win-win situation to arise. It cannot be the case that they (meaning the Kosovar negotiating team, editor's note) get everything, the recognition, our territories and our people. What do we get A possible EU membership in ten years? And who guarantees us that? Will it be a guarantee like the one North Macedonia was given, which has been promised that accession negotiations will open?

DEFAULT: Recently there was a generation change in the elections in Kosovo. Will that have an impact on the dialogue?

Vučić: I am afraid of this influence. In the last few days, their public statements have been three times worse than the statements of Hashim Thaçi and Ramush Haradinaj (President and Prime Minister of Kosovo, note).

DEFAULT: France has blocked the opening of accession negotiations for North Macedonia and Albania. What kind of signal is this for the Western Balkans?

Vučić: In Serbia, saying no to the EU negotiations will mean that the EU will become even less popular and that there will be less trust. However, we hope that Emmanuel Macron will stand up for the future of Europe from a French perspective. But we take care of ourselves. We have to break our ties in the region. And we also have good relations with China, Russia and Turkey.

DEFAULT: So plan B?

Vučić: No, this is not a plan B, but I am not going to cry or go on a hunger strike in front of the buildings in Brussels to open a chapter, two or three. I am not a dreamer, but very rational.

DEFAULT: What has been the most important reform in Serbia over the past five years?

Vučić: When I became premier, the average net income was 329 euros, now it is 510 euros. We are still a very poor country, but we have now overtaken Bosnia-Herzegovina and we will overtake Montenegro. And we have a budget surplus for the fourth year in a row.

DEFAULT: When will the people who are leaving the Balkans for economic reasons return?

Vučić: The Estonian President told me that 50 percent of the population had left Estonia. These people started coming back when the average wage rose to $ 1,100. We have now introduced certain measures for doctors and hospital staff. Nursing wages were raised by 15 percent.

DEFAULT: Because otherwise they go to Germany.

Vučić: Yes, I talked to the German Minister of Health Jens Spahn about it. He told me that he was coming to my country because he needed more caregivers. I said to him: Don't worry about it!

DEFAULT: Do you recognize in Berlin that there are negative consequences when so many nurses go to Germany?

Vučić: Yes, of course, but they take care of their own interests. That's why we take care of ourselves. They don't care about us.

DEFAULT: For the EU, Chapters 23 and 24 of EU law, which deal with the rule of law, are a priority. You tried to change the constitution to improve the independence of the courts, but it did not succeed.

Vučić: We will do that. But we have to see what we do with Kosovo. Because for both issues a referendum is needed to change the constitution, and we cannot do two referendums in one year. A participation of over 50 percent is required for a successful referendum. But only two to three percent of the voters would come for a referendum on judicial reform.

DEFAULT: So far, Kosovo has been enshrined in the constitution as part of Serbia. So, isn't it possible to make a change and an agreement in this regard?

Vučić: I'll do my best to get such an agreement. Because that will secure the future of this nation. What concerns me is what will be in the history books in 30 or 40 years.

DEFAULT: Parliamentary elections are held in March. Is climate change an issue?

Vučić: No not at all. The people here in Serbia have a thousand times bigger problems than climate change.

DEFAULT: You have congratulated Mr. Handke on the Nobel Prize. Do you know him?

Vučić: I've never met him, so now I called him and congratulated him. Now I have got myself the books he wrote and I would like to read them before he comes to Serbia.

DEFAULT: Does he plan to come here?

Vučić: Yes, he will be my guest very soon and I am very proud of it. He showed how intellectuals should behave. He acted in a very moral way during the crisis in former Yugoslavia. He was different from everyone else. He lost a lot because of his political stance, but he didn't care. His intellectual view of the situation was more important to him than money or anything. In France and other countries, his pieces have been removed from the repertoire. But he hasn't changed his position. From this we can see that this is a very strong man who dares to say what he thinks and who cares about moral credibility, regardless of which of his attitudes we like or not.

DEFAULT: Do you think he was right about his positions?

Vučić: I won't talk about that. He was right in his view. But if you ask me about Milošević, my question would be: How did he calculate things? After all, we've lost the greatest number of people, destroyed our country, and now we've only just reached the level of GDP that we had in 1990. So we lost 30 years. Was that his fault or the fault of the others? I think that it was very much the fault of the others, but also his misjudgment and our fault as well. This is how everyone else in Serbia thinks. But Handke was absolutely right when it came to the role of Western states. It was absolutely avoidable to bomb this country.

DEFAULT: His first book on this region was on the Bosnian War, although he wasn't in Bosnia at the time, but in Serbia.

Vučić: It was about the breakup of Yugoslavia. And I don't think it was Serbia's fault, or just Serbia's fault. The international community has allowed something.

DEFAULT: There were also referendums in this process.

Vučić: And why not allow such a referendum in the Republika Srpska today?

DEFAULT: Because the Republika Srpska was not a republic in the former Yugoslavia.

Vučić: I know the realities, I am trying to lead this country in a pragmatic way and to bring it closer to the EU. I don't dream of joining in two or three years. But the Serbs are the only ones who have no right to self-determination. It makes the Serbs angry when they hear that the others have done everything according to international standards, but if they ask for something themselves, no "sui generis" case is made for them. The Kosovar Albanians had the right to found a second Albanian state in Europe.

DEFAULT: According to the constitution, Kosovo is not an Albanian state.

Vučić: Where did you see the Kosovar flag in Kosovo apart from the Kosovar institutions?

DEFAULT: You can see them in the streets of Prishtina.

Vučić: You can only see them on public buildings.

DEFAULT: No, they sell these flags on every street corner. When I come to Kosovo, I speak Serbian to the people.

Vučić: And do you like them?

DEFAULT: A few years ago that wasn't possible, but it's getting better.

Vučić: But people know that you are not Serbian. You are nice to talk to because you are a romantic person. But they just want to make an Albanian state.

DEFAULT: Some, but not all.

Vučić: All. (Adelheid Wölfl from Belgrade, October 21, 2019)

Aleksandar Vucic (49) has been President of Serbia since 2017 and at the same time chairman of the Serbian Progressive Party. He was previously Prime Minister since 2014. From 1993 to 2008 he was a member of the Serbian Radical Party, for which he served as Minister of Information from 1998 to 2000. Vučić maintains a rocking policy between the West and Russia. He is repeatedly criticized for his authoritarian tendencies and restrictions on freedom of the media. Vučić has two children from a previous marriage and a son with his current wife Tamara Đukanović.

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