World Bulletin/News Desk
Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic will visit Turkey on Monday.
Nikolic will hold meetings with Turkish President Abdullah Gul, Parliament Speaker Cemil Cicek, Fener Greek Patriarch Bartholomeow, and Turkish businessmen during his two-day visit.
Nikolic had said that strategic friendship between the two countries contributed in the stability of region, and the Bosnian population in the south of Serbia was like a bridge between Turkey and Serbia.
Nikolic has said that Turkey is a very important partner for his country and called for the establishment of much closer ties between the two heavyweights in the Balkans.
Describing Turkey as a friendly nation to Serbia, Nikolic said: “For us, Turkey represents a very important partner. Turkey and Serbia must establish much closer ties and cooperation.” He was speaking during an exclusive interview at the Presidential Office in Belgrade on the eve of his first official visit to Turkey, which was slated to start on Monday.
‘Throughout our history, we were in conflict. I think it is time for us to cooperate,” the Serbian leader underlined, noting that his country is keen to cultivate deeper relations with Turkey.
He hinted that a joint government session between the two governments would help move things along much quicker between the two countries. “I think it is high time for Turkey and Serbia to organize joint government sessions where we wish to determine our long-term goals and strategies,” Nikolic remarked.
The Serbian president said he believes Turkish and Serbian cooperation despite differences and disagreements will set an example for others in the world. “This cooperation will encourage many countries,” Nikolic predicted. He added that he was encouraged by the number of Serbian citizens who spend their vacations in Turkey, contributing to the positive perception of Turks. The Serbian president also pointed out that a significant number of Serbians recognize the support Turkey gives to Serbia.
The Serbian leader's agenda for the visit is packed with economic cooperation schemes with fast-growing Turkey and a special focus is being made on attracting investment and trade to contribute to the Serbian economy in difficult times. He said several government ministers would accompany him on his visit to Turkey, pointing out that they will be taking up proposals his office has received in the past from Turkish businesses and investors. After talks with officials in Ankara, the Serbian president will proceed to İstanbul on Tuesday to have meetings with Turkish business circles.
Nikolic said he admires Turkey because Turkey does not depend on anyone and is developing by itself. Describing Turkey as a modern state with no bitter historical baggage, Nikolic stated: “When I rate countries in the world, I put Turkey in a special place. Turkey is a state that has everything. It looks toward the future and it is not burdened by its past.”
Nikolic said Serbia has completely opened the country to foreign investors. He underlined that the legal framework for investors and foreign businesses is very strong. “Serbia guarantees the safety and security of capital and profit that has reached this country in compliance with its constitution and law," he stated.
He mentioned that foreign companies could take part in major infrastructure projects like railroads, dams and bridges. He cited agriculture and energy as the main fields that can attract investments, for which he said there is a growing interest in Serbia not only from Western investors but also from the East, including from Russia, Azerbaijan, Turkey, China, and Arab and African countries.
Nikolic also touted his country as a gateway for a larger market in Serbia's immediate and extended neighborhood. “Serbia has the most favorable trade agreement with Russia so that almost 80 percent of Serbian products can be exported to Russian territory without any customs,” he explained. He said foreign companies, including Turkish ones, can easily tap into this vast market via Serbia while taking advantage of lower taxes and lower salaries in his country.
The Serbian leader acknowledged that there are challenges in Serbia. In addition to territorial disputes, he said, Serbia has faced several problems, including economic hardships, judicial woes, corruption and organized crime. Nikolic noted, however, that Serbia is determined to solve these issues as soon as possible.
Serbia welcomes Turkish interest in Sancak
The Serbian leader made it clear that his country does not have a problem with Turkey's interest and engagement in Serbia's predominantly Muslim region of Sancak. “Turkey can help us in the sense that we have the Bosniak population that lives in the Sancak area of Serbia,” he stated, adding that people in the region have family and religious ties to Turkey. Nikolic pledged that Serbia would facilitate Turkish businesses that are interested in investing in Sancak. “With Turkey's help, we can help them live a better life in that part of Serbia, where life is hard and there is poverty,” he added.
Lamenting the fact that industry has ceased to operate there, especially textile and leather-processing factories that used to exist, the Serbian president predicted that with investments that do not need to be huge, the lives of Sand?ak residents can improve significantly. Describing Turkish engagement in the region as “extraordinarily positive” in contributing to the political climate there, Nikolic said he appreciated that many Bosniaks found jobs in Turkey during this economic crisis. He affirmed that Serbia is a multicultural and multi-religious society with positive discrimination for minorities enshrined in the constitution.
Serbia commits to EU, complains of double standards
The Serbian president reiterated that Belgrade is strongly committed to the EU membership process, saying, “We will never give up on the EU path.” He warned Brussels, however, against erecting new barriers on the path of Serbian membership. “The EU without Serbia is not complete,” he stressed, adding that his country is the leader in the Balkans and can lead the entire Balkan region into progress. “If the idea behind the EU is to have many differences, to be colorful, then the EU will not reach its goal without Serbia,” he said.
The president understood that the path to EU membership will be bumpy but noted that Belgrade will not be chased away from the largest economic and political bloc in the continent. “It may last years,” he said, “but we will not be discouraged.” According to Nikolic, the EU oath is not just about formal membership but rather a catalyst for reforms in accordance with the rules and values of the bloc as well as an engine for economic development. “I would like Serbia organized in the way Germany was organized,” he explained.
Nikolic dismissed suggestions that Serbia will be pressured into accepting the independence of Kosovo. “It is not through blackmail or pressure one can achieve anything. Regardless of how much we long for the EU, we cannot accept just any issue or condition to be a member,” he declared.
The Serbian president made it clear, however, that his country is not putting everything in the EU basket. “We may have to live without the EU as well,” he cautioned, adding that his country is strengthening old ties and cultivating new ones as well. Belgrade is especially trying to revitalize ties established during its lead role in the former Yugoslavia with the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM). It looks at Turkey, China, the Gulf and other countries to promote trade and investment.
“What I am trying to achieve in Serbia, Turkey has already achieved. You cooperate with the entire world,” he said. The Serbian leader said both Turkey and Serbia are united in their commitment to the EU membership process, adding, however, that Turkey develops without the EU, in contrast to Serbia.
Touching on the economic crisis in the eurozone, Nikolic said his country is suffering from the consequences of that crisis and that he strongly believes that Serbia will come out of this crisis eventually.
Serbia will never recognize Kosovo's independence
The Serbian leader also reaffirmed the long-held Serbian position of not recognizing the independence of Kosovo. “As far as I know Serbia, and I know Serbia pretty well, no one who is in power in Serbia will ever sign a document that will recognize the independence of Kosovo,” he explained, adding, however, that Belgrade has entered into very transparent consultations with the institutions of Prishtine with a desire to solve the problem.
He ruled out any military conflict over Kosovo, saying that Serbia will not give up on its diplomatic path to solve that problem. “But we have to have someone on the other side to speak to,” the Serbian president complained.
The Serbian president vowed that the Kosovo problem would not derail Belgrade from cultivating closer ties with Turkey and others. “We do not fully agree [with Turkey], especially on foreign policy. Unfortunately, we have that problem with other countries in the world as well,” he said, stressing that the Kosovo issue will not jeopardize Serbian ties of friendship with those countries that have recognized Kosovo's independence.
In a stern warning to other countries, Nikolic stated that the precedent that has been set in the territory of Serbia would lead the way to many problems all around the world. “I am convinced it will trigger local wars. Many sovereign countries might break into pieces. Imagine it happening in your own country," he asked rhetorically.