Vladimir Marinkovic Deputy Speaker of The Serbian Assembly: We Believe Serbia Can Become Main US Partner In Balkans
On October 3rd, President Trump made an announcement about the appointment of Richard Grenell (who is serving as the U.S. Ambassador in Germany) to the role of a Special Presidential Envoy for Serbia and Kosovo Peace Negotiations. The announcement came as a surprise, weeks after the Trump administration appointed Matthew Palmer the U.S. Special Envoy for the Balkans.
Exclusively for The Pavlovic Today, Vladmir Marinkovic, Deputy Speaker of the Serbian Assembly and a member of the parliamentary group for American-Serbian friendship, talks about the expectations for resolving the Kosovo crisis and the future of the US-Serbian relations.
President Trump made an announcement appointing Richard Grenell as Special Presidential Envoy for Serbia and Kosovo Peace Negotiations. What are the Serbian expectations of him, and what is it you are hoping to achieve with respect to Kosovo?
Deputy Speaker Marinkovic: Richard Grenell was appointed a Special Presidential Envoy for Serbia and Kosovo Peace Negotiations, and that speaks to the fact that America and the Trump administration are very interested in resolving the issue of Kosovo and Metohija in a way that will be sustainable and that ensures the problems between Serbs and Albanians get resolved long-term, so that lasting peace can be achieved as well as opportunities for the progress and development of the whole Western Balkans region.
Deputy Speaker Marinkovic: What’s also crystal clear is that the Trump administration, in contrast to the previous administrations, is approaching the Kosovo and Metohija problem in a much more balanced and realistic way. By doing so, the administration is considering the legitimate interests of Serbia and its citizens on Kosovo and Metohija.
As a result, President Trump named Grenell as Special Presidential Envoy for Serbia and Kosovo Peace Negotiations, someone who has great experience and shares the same views of the Republicans who were the first ones to show will to listen to the arguments of Serbia without favoring any side.
Our expectations, the expectations of the Serbian government, are directed toward the continuation of the dialog with Pristina, and we expect to see a commitment in working toward securing lasting peace. We expect that it is acknowledged that Serbia has legitimate interests in Kosovo and Metohija and that it would be impossible to reach any sustainable solution without Belgrade’s involvement and without having met the minimum national interests for the Serbian people.
We are expecting US support to re-establish the dialog with Pristina as well as for everyone to accept a firm Serbian stance that we won't tolerate and accept blackmails and ultimatums and all the things the separatists in Kosovo were trying to push for in the past year: suspension of the meaningful dialog, establishment of the 100% trade tariffs on all goods and services from central Serbia. Such measures represent the attack on the values and principles of the civilized world, the values that the United States was built on.
The current positions of US officials are very encouraging. They are not running foreign affairs on autopilot anymore, they want customized solutions in a pragmatic and just way, by keeping the long-term objective for Kosovo and Metohija. This means lasting peace, security, and stability.
Deputy Speaker Marinkovic: In contrast to EU officials, the representatives of the Trump administration do not have a problem saying that a compromise in the form of division or border distinguishment is not the opening of Pandora’s box, as Philip Reeker called it at the beginning of the disintegration of Yugoslavia.
All these statements from Bolton, Reeker, Berkley are telling: the US wants to honestly and justly resolve the international crisis and are respecting and acknowledging our positions and arguments. We can only extend our gratitude and support to President Trump and his officials on this pragmatic and just approach, especially given that the previous administrations placed this problem ad acta.
What is particularly encouraging is that Ambassador Grenell belongs to Bolton's school of thought, they worked together and he is in the same line of thought with Bolton regarding Kosovo and Metohija. I am sure that Grenell will have understanding for our legitimate interests and that he will work together, with NSA Robert O'Brien to achieve a compromise and will respect Serbia in the process much more than it was the case with the previous administrations.
Why is the division of Kosovo and a new change of borders deemed unacceptable by the European Union, and how will the Vucic government address the EU’s opposition?
Deputy Speaker Marinkovic: I think that the situation in the EU regarding Kosovo and Metohija is complex and far from any consensus. Germany, as the politically and economically strongest EU member, indeed supports Kosovo’s unilateral proclamation of independence. However, there are also EU members who support further negotiations and talks that would result in a compromise. Then there are those five EU countries who say they will never recognize Kosovo and Metohija.
Deputy Speaker Marinkovic: As for the Serbian government and president Vucic, the essence of our politics is the regional stability and economic growth and prosperity of Serbia, geared toward strengthening our geopolitical position.
In the past few years of his governance, president Vucic has managed to make Serbia a relevant and reliable partner for the key global decision-makers. With the wise and balanced approach to foreign affairs, president Vucic was successful in executing economic reforms and in making Serbia one of the most interesting countries for investments. Geopolitically speaking, Serbia is not a part of the problem, it is part of a solution, and our positions and interests are acknowledged by China, Russia and by EU members and the USA. Shortly, Serbian politics is all about compromise, stability progress, as these are all preconditions for a bright future of our nation and our children.
What would be an acceptable solution for Kosovo for the Serbian government?
Deputy Speaker Marinkovic: It would be impossible to talk about a solution, given that on the other side we have people who have shown that they are not interested in any agreement.
There is, unfortunately, a plethora of evidence for that, starting from the Brussels Agreement (2013), where the Serbian side fulfilled all aspects of the agreement while the representatives of the temporary institutions have done almost nothing. The Brussels Agreement was a starting ground for a sustainable long term solution that no one is even mentioning anymore. The formation of the Serbian municipalities in Kosovo and Metohija became nothing but a dead letter on the paper, and with the imposition of a 100% tariff on goods and services from central Serbia, there was no room for compromise or acknowledgment of the legitimate interests of the Serbian people.
Political developments in the past few months revealed the true intention of Kosovo’s Albanians. They are not interested in Serbs on Kosovo, they are only interested in creating an ethnically homogenous territory in which there is a place for only one nation, the Albanian nation.
The intention of Kosovo’s Albanians is clear. Their political behavior shows that they want to create an incident of a larger scale which would result in the occupation of the North of Kosovo and Metohija and the expulsion of Serbian people, the Orthodox church and gradual removal of everything that has a Serbian identity.
In such an atmosphere, it will be very hard to reach an agreement. Serbia will not accept or allow one more Operation Storm that will expose the Serbian population.
With that in mind, the Serbian government will continue our commitment to political compromise, peace and free movement of goods, people and capital, making sure that our “red lines” will never be crossed.
How hard this work will be has been made clear by the fact that even the EU could not influence the implementation of the Brussel Agreement and make Kosovo's Albanians respect the agreement.
It appears that the EU and the USA do not know how to untangle the problem they created by blindly supporting the violation of international law and the secession of the territory from Serbia which is a sovereign, European state.
Under what conditions, if any, would the Serbian government recognize Kosovo as a sovereign state?
Deputy Speaker Marinkovic: Compromise and normalization of the relations with Albanians in Kosovo and Metohija are possible, but Serbian recognition of Kosovo is not.
With Brexit unfolding and Britain leaving the EU, does Serbia have a future in the EU?
Deputy Speaker Marinkovic: Despite Brexit and the big crisis through which the EU is going, I am sure that the EU will survive, given the great prosperity it gave not only to Europe but to the whole world.
Deputy Speaker Marinkovic: I believe that the EU is the best and most natural framework for Serbia and our citizens, for many reasons.
The strategic goal of Serbia is to become an EU member. This will have a visible and positive influence on the modernization of our country, on our economic growth, security and all other spheres of society.
65% of Serbia’s trade is with the EU, and EU funds make a great contribution to strengthening the capacity of Serbia, including strengthening our national and human capacities.
On a transatlantic level, the Serbian strategic goal is to further develop the relationship with the US, as it is the strongest economic and military power in the world. U.S. companies in Serbia employ 17,000 people, and the US gave in the past fifteen years over 1 billion dollars of aid. Still, a very small part of the potential for our cooperation has been realized so far, and it is the responsibility of all politicians in Serbia to work on the strengthening of the relations with the US and getting America interested in Serbia and the rest of the region.
Kosovo imposed 100% trade tariffs on Serbian goods and services. First, let me ask you: what is the logic behind such a move? Are you going to have any official negotiations with Kosovo’s leadership in order to defuse the trade situation?
Deputy Speaker Marinkovic: Unfortunately, the imposition of tariffs by the representatives of the temporary institutions in Kosovo and Metohija was the tip of the iceberg. When it comes to the behavior of the Albanian separatists, they are displaying day in day out that they do not care about reaching an agreement and cohabitation with the Serbian people. Prima facie priority of the Serbian government is the security of the Serbian population in Kosovo and Metohija, the protection of our cultural and religious heritage and our properties, and the ongoing fight to safeguard those values that exist in all civilized countries in Europe and the world.
What normalization and solution can we talk about while the special forces ROSU are breaking into people’s houses, beating elderly, have beaten and arrested the director of the office for Kosovo and Metohija, Marko Djuric, and dragged him through the streets of Pristina as a trophy?
The end goal of Kosovo's Albanians has remained the same, they have just changed the methods. They do not demolish and burn our churches anymore. They do not kill farmers working in the fields or going to work. They are now intimidating Serbian people on a daily basis and threaten to expel Serbian people from Kosovo. Our response to this behavior is stronger support for the Serbian population, their economic empowerment and the improvement of their position. Our response is increased activity at the international level. We will use all disposable methods to empower Serbian people to remain and live on their land.
Ramush Haradinaj, Kosovo's prime minister and a former guerilla commander, made a statement that he was “forced to resign” due to the "pressure of international community.” He said that such pressures are unilateral; made only on Pristina and not Belgrade, which he claims will lead to the further destabilization of the Balkans. What is your understanding of his resignation in light of this claim? In what way, if any, will this political development affect the future Serbian relationship with Kosovo?
Deputy Speaker Marinkovic: Ramus Haradinaj made a maneuver so he could win the most votes during the election on KiM and again form the government to regain control over the temporary institutions. Essentially, almost all leading Albanian politicians on KiM have a very questionable background and they took part in terrorist operations and some of them were personally involved in murders and kidnapping of Serbs. Realistically speaking, there is no difference between Haradinaj, Ljimaj, Taci, Veseljij; it is impossible to expect any democratic capacity and respect for human rights. However, these people have power due to the inactivity and dilettantism of our politicians and the government from 2000 to 2012.
It is up to us in the international arena to be as active as we can in fighting for the interests of our country and people despite having on the other side people with total disregard for a dialog, peace, and cooperation.
It is our responsibility that we lost almost 12 years in this fight and that we let Kosovo get more sovereignty and independence from Serbia. I am sure that almost half of the one hundred countries who recognized the unilateral proclamation of Kosovo did so only because Serbia was not active enough and did not know how to defend the national interest.
Since Vucic became a PM and then the President of Serbia, the relationship of the international community toward Serbia is different, we are treated as a partner and not as a weak actor onto whom political solutions can be easily forced. In the past year, even, 15 states withdrew their recognition of Kosovo's independence. Kosovo was not able to become an independent member of UNESCO, INTERPOL, etc. because there is a strong, Serbian diplomatic offensive behind this. This is the enormous and dedicated work of the Vucic administration. Serbia is now on the path to Euro-Atlantic integration, foreign investments, and economic prosperity and we have excellent relations with all leading powers in the world without having to give up on our national interests.
What is the main obstacle in restoring good relations between Serbia and Kosovo?
Deputy Speaker Marinkovic: Serbia knows of the necessity of building a relationship and the future with the Albanians. Only a relationship can bring lasting peace and prosperity in the region. That is something Kosovo’s Albanians have to understand.
They must accept the fact that Serbia has legitimate interests in Kosovo and Metohija and that we will continue fighting for our country, our people, culture, historic and religious heritage. Lasting peace, reconciliation, economic prosperity can only be built through a sincere dialog focused on the future and not by applying retrograde methods that are incompatible with the times we are living in.
There is concern about the growing influence of Russia on the Balkans as well as China. Where does Serbia stand in its relationship with the United States? What is the future of the US-Serbian relations, what specific steps are you taking to develop and improve these bilateral relations?
Deputy Speaker Marinkovic: Bilateral relations between Serbia and America are solid, but I believe that there is still a lot of room for improvement in the areas of economy, security, culture, science, and education. I also believe that we can advance our political relations. There are so many events throughout history that connect us and these can be the pillars of our strategic partnership.
A great example of our historic ties was the celebration of the 75th anniversary of Operation Halyard when the Serbian Royal Army saved over 500 American pilots in World War II. This was the biggest rescue mission of the American pilots in U.S. history.
President Vucic is the only president of Serbia who has gone to Pranjane, a small, heroic village in northern Serbia that symbolizes our everlasting friendship with the United States. In a historic speech, president Vucic said Operation Halyard is one of the myriad bridges that connect Serbs and Americans, and he stressed that we all have to work together to overcome the misunderstandings from a recent past that resulted in the aggression against Serbia in 1999. President Vucic also stressed that we have to be aware of our own mistakes and to focus on the future.
Deputy Speaker Marinkovic: The Serbian caucus in the U.S. Senate represents a great potential, and co-chairs, Steve Stivers (R-OH) and Emanuel Cleaver (D-MO), contributed a lot to the changed position the US Administration has toward Serbia. There is a new willingness among relevant political actors to work with Serbia.
I also have to mention the important role former Congressman Ted Po played in all this. He invested enormous energy in bringing Serbia and the US closer and in changing the perceptions of Serbia in America.
Finally, we are also very grateful to U.S. Ambassador Kyle Scott for his dedication and for a large number of events and activities the US embassy in Belgrade has organized to strengthen Serbian and American friendship.
Serbian President Vucic had recently met with Secretary Pompeo in New York. Did you have any chance to talk to Vucic about the meeting? Were there any conclusions reached at that meeting?
Deputy Speaker Marinkovic: President Vucic has frequent meetings with the US administration officials, and he recently had lunch with State Secretary Mike Pompeo. During their meeting, Vucic presented the positions of Belgrade and looked at ways to strengthen our relationship. Serbian politicians need to visit the U.S. more often and build relationships. A good example of this is the work of president Vucic.