Referendum for ‘Srpska Day’ not controversial: Serbian FM

Referendum for ‘Srpska Day’ not controversial: Serbian FM

Sevil Erkuş - ANKARA
Referendum for ‘Srpska Day’ not controversial: Serbian FM

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A referendum by Bosnia’s ethnic Serbs over a disputed national holiday, which defies a ban by the country’s highest court, is not “controversial,” Serbian First Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic has said. 

“The referendum is not controversial. The referendum question put to the people of the Republic of Srpska, and not to all citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina, is to say whether Jan. 9 should be made ‘Srpska Day,’” Dacic said Oct. 5 in a written interview with the Hürriyet Daily News ahead of an official visit to Turkey. 

The Daily News’ questions and Dacic’s responses are listed below.

How do you assess a controversial referendum for “Statehood Day” in Bosnia which the Sarajevo-based Constitutional Court had banned after finding it discriminated against the region’s Bosniaks and Croats?

Firstly, allow me to correct you. The referendum is not controversial. The referendum question put to the people of the Republic of Srpska, and not to all citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina, is to say whether Jan. 9 should be made “Srpska Day.” Serbia did not interfere with the decision of the Republic of Srpska’s leadership. President of the Republic of Serbia Tomislav Nikolic and Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic said in a joint press statement that Serbia did not support the said referendum, but that, at the same time, did not in any way want to influence a change of political views of the legitimately elected representatives in the Republic of Srpska. Secondly, I would like to underline that Serbia respects the territorial integrity of both Bosnia and Herzegovina, and the Republic of Srpska as an entity of that state on an equal footing. 

How do you assess the prospects of trilateral talks among Bosnia, Turkey and Serbia? What is Serbia’s main goal in these talks?

Serbia is by all means interested in the economic aspect of the trilateral cooperation mechanism among Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Turkey, which is currently the most vital one. It is for this reason that we will strive to deepen cooperation in this regard. As you know, the third meeting of the Trilateral Trade Committee between Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Turkey will be held on Oct. 25 in Turkey, while the trilateral business forum is envisaged to take place the following day. 

The political trilateral cooperation exists and is taking place periodically in the form of meetings of the foreign ministers of the three countries. The last meeting was held recently, on the margins of the 71st session of the United Nations General Assembly. 

In an interview with Russia Today, Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic criticized Turkey’s migrant policies. How does your government assess the actions of the Turkish government regarding the Syrian refugee influx?
I cannot agree with your assessment that President of the Republic of Serbia Tomislav Nikolic criticized Turkey’s migrant policy. This can rather be seen as his estimation of the root causes and of the overall migrant situation that all the countries along the so-called Balkan route are faced with, including Serbia and Turkey. Serbia is aware of the fact that Turkey, as a country with a years-long conflict in its immediate neighborhood, is most exposed to pressures to resolve, by resorting to its own forces, a serious humanitarian problem. On its part, Serbia has done everything in its power to treat refugees and migrants from the Near East and the Middle East humanely.

How do you assess bilateral ties between Turkey and Serbia, and in which aspects can these relations be further developed?

The bilateral relations between Serbia and Turkey are good. I am confident that the dialogue between the two countries must be maintained at the highest level possible. Therefore, my visit is another step toward the improvement of the regular dialogue. 

I believe that we can do much more and much better, especially in the economic field. In this regard, I would like to point out that the arrival of the Turkish Halkbank to Serbia is a clear signal to Turkish entrepreneurs that Serbia is a good place for investment. 

Do the remaining differences over the Kosovo issue present hurdles to bilateral ties?

The unilaterally declared independence of Kosovo is undoubtedly one of the most sensitive issues in our bilateral relations, and one on which Serbia and Turkey take opposite positions. I am referring here to Turkey’s recognition of the unilaterally declared independence of the Autonomous Province of Kosovo and Metohija and to its lobbying for new recognitions and for the overall international affirmation of the so-called Kosovo. However, this does not mean that Serbia is abandoning the development of the best possible relations with Turkey; on the contrary, it attaches great importance to it. We understand Turkey’s numerous reasons to support the Albanians in the region, but we expect Ankara to abstain from further lobbying for new recognitions of the Kosovo UDI. As you know, Serbia has for a while now been maintaining a dialogue with the provisional institutions in Pristina with the facilitation of the European Union, which has so far yielded certain positive results. Therefore, calls for new recognitions of the unilaterally declared independence of Kosovo are counterproductive. 

Serbia and Turkey are candidates for EU membership. It’s known that Serbia sometimes has been received the EU’s objections for its relations with Russia. How do you evaluate accession negotiations between Serbia and the EU with regards to relations with Russia?

Membership of the EU is our primary strategic foreign policy priority. The values that have gathered EU member states are the values that we share in common and want to continue to foster. We have clearly demonstrated this during the unfolding migrant crisis, too. Besides, the European Union is Serbia’s major trading and investment partner. 

On the other hand, our traditionally good relations with Russia, as well as our historical and cultural ties are common knowledge. We believe that our good bilateral relations and connection with Russia can only be of benefit to Europe, and by no means cause any harm. After all, we believe that Serbia’s successful OSCE chairmanship last year confirmed this. 

Can Turkey and Serbia cooperate regarding EU affairs?

Serbia and Turkey can cooperate in this context as well. Both states are EU candidate countries and are committed to accession negotiations. Both Serbia and Turkey can make a considerable contribution to the EU, particularly with regard to the issues and challenges it is currently facing, such as combating terrorism, external border control and migration flows. Our two states are two rare examples of being stability factors located in the EU’s immediate neighborhood, which has been increasingly fraught with instability, conflicts and the undermining of the existing order. 

The European integration process covers a wide range of fields where candidate countries can cooperate. At the end of the day, it is only natural that states sharing the same path and goal, in this case membership of the EU, cooperate and exchange relevant experiences.

What is your assessment of the failed July 15 coup attempt in Turkey? What is your opinion about the Gülen movement?

Serbia straight away condemned the coup attempt and offered its support to the democratically elected authorities in Turkey. I recall that Prime Minister Vucic expressed hope that Turkey would overcome all the problems and re-establish the democratic order, public peace and stability because it is of vital importance not only for Turkey, but also for the Middle East and for Serbia. I am confident that Turkey, as a great and extremely important country, will have the strength to defend the will of the Turkish people in the future. 

With regards to the [Fethullah] Gülen movement, the principled position of Serbia in its relations with all world countries is non-interference in internal affairs. Serbia is closely following the activity of that movement, but it does not have sufficient knowledge of its true nature. We will be grateful to the Turkish side for any information in that respect.