For Serbia, the issues of Kosovo and imposition of sanctions against Russia are two non-negotiable things, Jovan Palalić, deputy of the National Assembly of the Republic of Serbia and member of the Standing Delegation of the National Assembly of the Republic of Serbia to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Collective Security Treaty Organization, told in his interview to Parlamentskaya Gazeta.
– Mr Palalić, how would you comment on attempts by Western countries to force Serbia to join sanctions against Russia?
– Serbia’s position has been very clear since the beginning of the Ukrainian conflict. We respect the norms of international law and follow only our own national interests. It is very important for us to maintain economic stability, the standard of living of our citizens and good political and economic relations with Russia.
We are talking about blatant hypocrisy and duplicity of certain Western countries that exert such pressure. In my frequent meetings with the Europeans, I have always emphasized Serbia’s special position. We alone have been under sanctions for a decade, which have caused immense material and economic losses. Those sanctions were imposed at the insistence of the countries that today demand that we join the sanctions against Russia.
Serbia is the only country that has been bombed by NATO states, but it is the states of the alliance that are now demanding that we impose sanctions. Serbia is the only country in Europe part of whose territory they try to take away by recognizing the independence of Kosovo. We have strong Russian support in the UN Security Council for maintaining our territorial integrity. And of course, we have our economic interests because we are completely dependent on Russian energy resources. So, it is extremely unfair for these countries to demand that we impose sanctions. Yet we understand perfectly well what their interest is. It is not to harm Russia. We, as a small country, cannot do this in any way. They just want to break Serbian independent politics, so that we could no longer think about our national interests, but would have to submit to them. The entire Serbian history is a path to an independent state making its own decisions. And now we will firmly hold on to our position of not joining the anti-Russian sanctions. How wrong it is to demand this from us is also indicated by the mood of the Serbian people, as more than 85% of the Serbs are against the sanctions.
– Serbia has accepted an invitation to Russia for its foreign minister
– We see a dramatic change in the position of Germany, which, by the way, is pressing us most actively on the issue of joining the anti-Russian sanctions. Previously, we only heard such a position on Kosovo from the Americans. Since the formation of the new government, German policy in the Balkans has changed radically. The Germans have become more active in their intention to resolve all open issues in the Balkans. They are striving to weaken the Serbian factor in the region everywhere: in Bosnia and Herzegovina, in Kosovo and in Montenegro. This time they very openly conditioned our accession to the EU on the recognition of Kosovo. I can say that this is totally unacceptable to Serbia and the Serbian people. There is no Serbian government that would take that step. We are in favour of a compromise that would be achieved within the framework of the UN Security Council Resolution No. 1244, but there is no way to force Serbia to recognize Kosovo. Within the EU itself, there are contradictions on this subject. Five EU countries do not recognize the independence of our southern autonomy, yet they are asking Serbia to do so.
I have a feeling that the new German government and Chancellor Scholz do not understand Serbian people at all. Because the issue of Kosovo and imposing sanctions against Russia are two non-negotiable things. These are red lines for us. If the position of the EU is that they do not want us in the organization, that is their position, not ours. They should know that we will never recognize Kosovo’s independence.
– There is nothing specific about the European prospect, there is not even an approximate date when Serbia and other Balkan countries could join the EU. In the meantime, Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia could get candidate status at the next EU summit, while Albania and Northern Macedonia, despite having fulfilled all the conditions, have not yet started the accession negotiations.
– Since Romania and Bulgaria joined the EU, political interests have outweighed the so-called Copenhagen criteria that candidate countries must meet in order to join the organization. At that time, it was in the interests of the US to get Bulgaria and Romania into the EU, as they had already joined NATO before that. If you look at the criteria for starting the negotiation process, you see that North Macedonia, which has given up its name and history, deserves to have them started. But Bulgaria is blocking it purely for political reasons. When it comes to candidate status for Ukraine, politics intervenes. It is incredible that a country where there is fighting and whose political institutions are not functioning, can get a candidate status. As for the Balkans, Greek Prime Minister Mitsotakis said at a recent meeting in Thessaloniki that the countries of the region should join the EU no later than 2033, but further EU expansion seems highly problematic. The EU, even in its current form, cannot function properly and needs internal reforms. The organization is unwieldy and does not function properly even with the current number of members. I am not only saying this as a representative of a candidate country, I have many friends in Europe who are pointing this out. This has been clearly demonstrated by two big crises: the migrant crisis and the pandemic.
President Vučić said that the first time he had heard from about the need to recognize Kosovo was from the EU.
– You have many friends in Europe, do you hear views on the Ukrainian crisis contrary to the mainstream?
– Indeed, part of the political elite in Europe does not have the kind of bias and aggressive Russophobia that we see on the left and green political spectrum. I hear from representatives of European right-of-center and conservative parties about the importance of starting negotiations as soon as possible. At the same time, they consider it essential that the interests of all, and above all the inhabitants of the regions where the fighting is taking place, are taken into account. Individual politicians and intellectuals in large European countries with whom I have had the opportunity to speak want the reasons leading to the current situation to be taken into account. They believe that there can be no talk of peace by claiming that one side is to blame. They ponder what a compromise that would lead to peace and also create the conditions for renewed political and economic relations with Russia in the long term could look like objectively. At the moment, there are many prominent forces in Europe advocating that Russia should be permanently pushed out of the continent into Asia. But there are also many heavyweight politicians who believe that this would harm, above all, the old continent itself, because for centuries Russia has been part of it and had a direct impact on the development of Europe. Crises had happened before. But relations had always been restored. Even after difficult wars in which Russia opposed western countries, such as the Crimean War, they became allies in world wars again. That is why I often hear reasonable voices saying that there is no need to fall into anti-Russia hysteria which is harmful for Europe itself and its future.”