Serbia on the Road to Europe
Conference on European perspective of Serbia
“Serbia on the Road to Europe – 10 Years After”
Speech at the annual conference for the European perspective of Serbia
“Prime Minister, dear Mirko, dear Sonja and Ivan, your Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,
This is a very special moment for me personally. Ten years ago, on this day, you the Serbian people chose to bring democracy to your country. But you also did something more. You chose a peaceful path to change. You chose to end your isolation. Your courage in choosing this historical path is something we all admire.
And we are proud to have been associated, in some small way, with your efforts. We are proud of Greece’s contribution. What is even more rewarding today is that, ten years later, we are gathered in a vibrant, democratic Serbia. You were the first of the revolutions of the post-communist era. And you have survived and have flourished.
Not without sacrifices, not without disputes. But that is the price of building a democratic future. My dear friends, I want to speak to you not just as Prime Minister of Greece, but as a friend, a true friend of Serbia.
It is almost thirty years since I’ve been in political life and even then, when I first was a candidate, the vision of a democratic and free and peaceful Balkans was a high priority. Those were the days when people said we were dreaming. And look where our dreams are now. It was then, so long ago, and when we were so much younger, that I first met Sonja Liht, 20 years ago, I believe. It was in Prague. Sonja is a remarkable servant of democracy. I hope you treasure it, Sonja, as you do your democracy. We met when she was fighting for and now she’s still fighting for civil society, something which was non-existent; basically was part of the resistance for democracy, something which was maybe underground for many years. And we shared this experience, even though we were in different sides of the Cold War, although Yugoslavia had its special place in the Cold War. But we also in Greece had to fight, to build up our democracy after years of strives and even dictatorships.
Likewise, I have come to know so many others of your compatriots. Boris Tadic, your President, but my friend. Ivan Vejvoda, on whose wisdom we all depend. Vuk Jeremic – a young man who played a vital part in supporting your fight for freedom ten years ago as part of the OTPOR movement. And I remember then, the arrests when I was here, outside the Greek Embassy as part of the OTPO. Jovan Ratkovic – who was arrested outside the Greek embassy, as part of OTPOR, for trying to meet me. And there are so many more. And Mirko, we are very close as well.
But I also want to recognize two other individuals who are emblematic of October 5, 2000. Voijslav Kostunica – your first President. I visited him and he was a candidate then, when I first visited him, and I was Foreign Minister. And I’d come with a message from Europe. A message that Serbia could become part of Europe. It was a choice that Serbian people could make. Certainly, without him, there would not have been October 5th. History will eventually demonstrate that on those fateful days that we celebrate today, his wisdom and calm ensured a peaceful transition in your country. I wish to recognize that today.
Likewise, I want to speak about my friend Zoran Djindjic. Zoran was a remarkable man and an extraordinary politician. He recognized that progress was a fine balance between boldness and pragmatism. He paid the ultimate price for pursuing both.
Serbia today is a healthier nation because of what Zoran did in those early days after 2000. We must never forget what the alternative to his courage would and could have been. It is one of the privileges of my political life that I was allowed by Zoran’s family to address a eulogy at his grave after his assassination. On that day, I made a promise to Zoran and to Serbia. That promise was that Serbia would become a member of the European Union. That was Zoran’s goal. And I committed myself to help fulfill that dream.
I did not know then that I would one day be the Prime Minister of Greece. So, today, I stand before you and commit myself again. That I will continue the battle to ensure that Serbia arrives in her natural home, the European Union, as soon as possible. I do not say this simply as a politician. I say this as the pledge of a friend. I also say this because it is the right thing. I believe, we believe it is impossible to think of the European project, the peace project we are, the democratic project we are, that it could be complete without the countries of the Western Balkans being part of the European Union. These are political and strategic facts. Anyone who argues against them is arguing against geography, economy and history. I would say arguing against the essence of what the European Union is. And integration has been a process of overcoming our divisions and overcoming our wars in the region. This is why I propose a new initiative, the so called Agenda 2014. The aim of this initiative was and is to renew the commitment of the EU towards the Balkans, for their European future. A commitment made in Thessaloniki in 2003. And I would say we had been successful. Today, again, the EU recognizes that the future, the immediate future of the Balkans, lies within the European family. And in the past, towards this European future, you must know Greece is and will be your most reliable partner and friend.
And I want to recognize the courage and wisdom of your President, Boris Tadic, and his government in leading you towards this future. This European future, sharing common values, common aspirations, common institutions. Leadership is not easy. Leadership in a democracy is possibly even less easy. It is about choices and reconciliation. Reconciliation with one’s own past. Reconciliation with one’s recent internal opponents. Reconciliation with those who have done you harm. Reconciliation with those with whom you must live in the future. Any democracy must address these issues. And I believe that Serbia – a democratic Serbia – is sincerely trying to do this. And this is then the story, the history, much of the essence of the EU itself and its inception of addressing the past in a way that allows us to move in the future, redressing our wounds, overcoming our divisions.
Your future is in the European Union. That future must occur as soon as possible. It is not good enough for Serbs to think they are part of the white Schengen list. You must be full members of the Union. That is the delicate path that your government is steering. The obstacles are clear. You have been asked to cooperate with the International Tribunal, to deliver Ratko Mladic to justice. And you have been asked to engage in a dialogue with Pristina to arrive at a modus vivendi. I am well aware that the government of Serbia has been fully cooperating with the Hague Tribunal and has been doing everything it can. This is something I truly believe. My government has no doubts about that.
Your government has recently shown true European spirit by supporting a resolution in the United Nations General Assembly calling for dialogue with Pristina. This dialogue must start soon and without preconditions. With trust and without interference, I am convinced that you can find a way forward. The fate of Serbs in Kosovo is a key concern. The fate of the religious life of the Serbian Orthodox Church – and I mean the life of the Church and not just the monuments – is a central issue. I think these matters are acknowledged by all as being unresolved and open to discussion. I want to underline the courage of your government, which was willing to find a way to negotiate a UN resolution that meets the interests of Serbia and supports a united Europe. But I also want to emphasize the new role of the European Union.
Do not be seduced by the Euro-skepticism or the so called reform or enlargement fatigue. The European Union is a long-term, historical project. You have a choice. Be involved with it now or miss the opportunity that will guarantee the future of your children and grandchildren. Think back for a moment and imagine yourselves ten years ago. We all know where you were. Fighting to get rid of a political system that isolated and even demonized Serbia. Ten years later, you are much closer to the dream, the dream of being part of one of the most prosperous, but also democratic and peaceful clubs of nations in the world.
It is tempting to complain that things should move quicker. Your leaders are trying to make Europe come sooner to Serbia and to get Serbia into Europe sooner. You also know very well the challenges that we face in Greece. It would be easy for me to focus exclusively on Greece and on our internal problems. But I strongly believe that the fate of a country that must overcome terrible difficulties does not lie in withdrawal -but the future lies in engagement. People in my country sometimes wonder why I must travel to other countries, as there are so many problems in Greece, in Greece itself. But we know that problems in my country are often heavily influenced by events around the world, by for example, the financial markets, thousands of kilometers away, but also by our region and developments here. How can I save my nation by sitting at home? How can I help my country by sitting at home? In a globalised economy, the struggle for democracy and justice must be fought globally. And I believe we are in solidarity in this and we are fighting for democracy in the Balkans, we are fighting for democracy in the wider region, we are fighting for democracy and justice around the world.
This applies to Serbia. You have real challenges. Difficult decisions lie ahead. But the only answer is to be far-sighted and bold and the only answer is to show the citizens the honesty and trust, by giving them the facts and nothing less, the difficulties that we are often faced with, but also work together in overcoming them. And we must act on these facts with sincerity to make this region a different place, a better place for all. And you know that we in Greece will stand by your side on this difficult time ahead, but we will succeed.
Thank you very much.”