Serbs and Albanians have to reconcile
“Declaration on the reconciliation between Serbs and Albanians, that we are working on now, is an entirely different approach to the problem, which means amending the former approach as a method to start the ball rolling. The idea behind is to have two parliaments adopt the declaration, and it contains the elements of the future negotiating process, and the outcome of it would be neither recognition of independence nor frozen conflict. We have different views of the historical events, we have criminals from both sides, and we have two corrupted elites, immersed both in crime and in Kosovo and Metohija in war crimes as well, and we must have them removed.”
“Vucic is a winner from the meeting in Patriarchate because Patriarch Irinej actually helped him present himself as a protector of national interests, including the church, as well as the representative of the unity and presence of our people”, said Borko Stefanovic, Vice President of the Party of Freedom and Justice (PFJ), in his interview for Istinomer podcast show “Speak into a mic”. Aleksandar Vucic meeting with the Serbian Orthodox Church (SOC) bishops, Stefanovic comments as “another PR campaign with the intention to present himself as the man equal to the Patriarch if not bigger than him”.
Do you know for sure what they were talking about?
It is not really clear, but if it was about demarcation, then it is quite odd that Aleksandar Vucic will meet the Assembly of Bishops of SOC to explain to them the failed plan. I’d rather believe that he went to persuade them how he will never recognise Kosovo independence, which they would be glad to hear as they definitely support that.
Bearing in mind the political experience you have, and since you also have the diplomatic experience too, including the Kosovo negotiations, how do you interpret the Patriarch Irinej sentence that “our fight for Kosovo depends on the global situation and those who are supporting us but also those supporting the other side”?
It is the part of SNS speech, and I am sorry that Patriarch actually had a conversation not only with the President of Serbia but the President of SNS and he actually served SOC to the ruling party’s menu as they had ordered.
However, SOC was served on the menu of any government in this country.
Earlier governments, except maybe Kostunica’s, mostly kept a normal dialogue and communication, which I think is a normal thing to do.
Tadic was there at the time of the 2010 Assembly. They said the reason was – private visit.
He was visiting, and the Patriarch received him in the audience, but this is different. Vucic got an invitation to the Assembly, which is quite rare and the unusual thing as if the President of the Republic was a bishop.
In the Alliance for Serbia (AFS) statement, it sounds like you are protecting the Church from the Government?
No. With our statement, we are trying to draw attention to the need for protecting the Church from the party, not from the Government. One of the problems here is that both SNS and Vucic are equal to the Government.
President of Serbia, not the President of SNS, went for a visit to the Patriarchate and he was invited to the Assembly.
That is true, but on the other hand, the Patriarchate is not willing and does not want to talk to the representatives of the opposition, about, let’s say Kosovo issue.
Why is that?
Because it is more important, useful and closer to them to exclusively talk to Vucic.
When you say, Vucic went there to apply anaesthetics to SOC …
To the public as well, not only the Church, by sending the message “everything is okay, look, I am getting the support from the Church too”.
Instead of protecting the secularity, you are actually afraid because secularity is coming into SOC?
Some will say SOC is intruding the secularity, depending on the point of view. In any case, the Church is an important social factor, and as such, it requires communication and good cooperation. I think this was an abuse and an unnecessary disruption, mainly because the public does not know what was the topic of conversation in either Berlin or Brussels, and we also do not have any details related to the negotiations, so we actually need a new policy for Kosovo and Metohija, a completely new approach and this is something we are working on.
It seems that by criticising what had happened that might have been extraordinary because he was at the Assembly of SOC, which was not exceptional because the representatives of the government visited the Patriarchate before, you are actually venting out your frustration because you were not there?
I can see where this is coming from, and usually it comes from one part of the public, but this is false. I reiterate, the Church is an important social factor and it needs to communicate. Tito went to see the Patriarch. It is not a characteristic of any government, but it is an entirely different matter when do you choose to talk, when do you introduce archpriests with the government strategies which are in the interest of the people, that is a normal thing to do. However, now we have the instrumentalisation of the Church, and/or instrumentalisation of the Patriarch in the function of a party. It was all clear after the rally in Nis, when Patriarch Irinej said: “Aleksandar Vucic is fighting like a lion for Kosovo and Metohija, and I believe him, and I admire him”. This is not dignified.
Well, that speaks more about the Patriarch then about Vucic.
We tried to use that appeal and indicate this malpractice and draw attention to inappropriate behaviour. We are protecting the institutions, an order, we are trying to indicate what Aleksandar Vucic is trying to do.
You are saying that the Church is a very important factor, so if it is important for you personally, it must be important for him too.
Yes, but there are rules on how to talk to church archbishops. It has to be done with more discretion, you do not go to the Assembly, you do not make announcements or talk to the public as a Patriarch – Head of the Church who is praising one man, but at the same time refuses to talk to other people.
You have mentioned there is a new approach as regards Kosovo. We heard information about the Declaration on the Reconciliation that you are preparing. It is not the AFS but the PFJ declaration?
We are working on this act and we will see who will bring it to the proposal in the end, whether Party of Freedom and Justice will do that or maybe we will try to get broader support. In any case, this is a new document reflecting the new realistic approach to solving Kosovo issue with the premise of reconciliation between two nations, including the cooperation of two entities institutions, which we did not have so far. For example, cooperation between two prosecution offices, e.g. for organised crime, a war crime, cooperation between the courts, cooperation between the media in culture, economic cooperation, freedom of movement, anything that somehow was left loose after the Brussels Dialogue. We are suggesting concreted steps, and this is all covered with one big political cape, or if you would rather have it “cape of life”, which means we should focus on the needs of a man living in Kosovo and Metohija or the remaining of Serbia, and on the other hand promote good examples from both nations, that had assisted one another and together rescued each other.
After we have been reconciled, which country we are all living in? You have mentioned two entities – what are those?
We will not address status in that declaration, because it is clear that us, let’s say in the remaining part of Serbia, have been observing the status in one way and those in Pristina in a different way. We came to an awareness that basically we do not need to exhaust ourselves with the need to persuade each other that the other position on the status is wrong. Why would we be wasting time and energy on that when there are so many things we have not done, things unsolved that are preventing us from having a normal life.
However, the matter of status is something the international community is insisting on, at least the western part, and the Kosovo itself as well.
Someone else could say that the bigger part of the western public does not insist that Serbia should recognise Kosovo independence, but at the same time it is true that representatives of Pristina and the European Union, during the negotiations, almost always insist that Kosovo matter should be solved. They say – solve the Kosovo matter, meaning recognise independence. We do not have this in mind at all, because that matter should be put aside since it will not change.
Don’t you think that this declaration on reconciliation is two decades late?
It could be, but maybe it is demonstrating how all political elites maybe took the wrong direction, by trying to persuade each other all the time that only our perception of the status is the right one and that we will not relent, but will try to convince you.
There is no difference between you as regards the status…
…Because we think it is normal that as the part of the society and this country we defend the constitutional order, some international acts such as the 1244 Resolution. I am not with those who think that the solution to Kosovo is to recognise it, cut it and everything will be fine. On the contrary, I believe that it is a disaster because from that moment on we will cease to be a state.
How come you did not come up with this declaration two decades ago, or at least before 2007?
Those who were holders of public authority at that time tried to solve that issue through negotiating strategies, but that turned out to be unsuccessful.
What I want to say is that today, when the negotiations advanced to the theme of recognition, the declaration sounds like the Vucic story on Serbs and the Berlin Wall.
I beg to differ, I think that the Berlin Wall story means that Kosovo problem could only be solved if the Serbian side would recognise Kosovo independence. It actually means that they failed to understand that the Berlin Wall had fallen. This train is gone. So, no one is asking that from us, and we would not agree to that anyhow.
How do you mean no one is asking that from us?
No one is asking. Did you hear anyone asking us to recognise the Kosovo independence formally?
So, what is your interpretation of the legally binding agreement of the European Union?
I would say, it means regulating relations in a codified manner where matters are precisely defined to the end and where everyone’s rights and obligations are familiar, to the very detail. It is fair. Here we have one topic, Pristina membership in the international organisations, which is important for one part of the international community, but Pristina as well, and they are very much interested in solving that. It is up to us to put things to the table in the end and say – let’s finally solve the matters of freedom of movement, economic cooperation, cultural cooperation, education and health care, cooperation between two prosecution offices and the police. So, we have to sign some act, but two parliaments have to adopt that declaration. That is our idea.
You are saying ‘they should, we should, the two entities should’… There is an impression, as Ivo Viskovic would say, that we will never admit that we have recognised Kosovo.
I do not see why that is the recognition of Kosovo. People from the right, some analysts and people from DSS often understood every possible move as the recognition of independence, and I never missed an opportunity to remind them of it. That is nonsense.
Let’s get back to the fact that any entry to Kosovo requires approval. At one moment, in 2011, even you as the political director of Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Minister Bogdanovic could not have entered Kosovo, so what was that about?
Someone could say that is a territory of another country since they have customs since 2000, administrative crossing points since 1999, and not from the moment we had negotiations with them. So, anyone could find an excuse, but basically, Kosovo is not an independent state until the moment Serbia says – it is a sovereign country. So, it is not even crossing our mind to say that because we would terminate our constitutionality with that.
But the entire world considers it an independent country?
No, not the entire world.
Okay, five countries of the European Union and two members of the …
… No, not the entire world. On the other hand, I am not sure what good the matter of “independism” as an ideology brought to people in Kosovo.
Frozen conflict ideology brought much good.
We are against the frozen conflict.
Okay, how do you call this?
Proposal of a declaration on the reconciliation of Serbian and Albanian people prescribes very concrete measures and mechanisms how we should do that, and that is far from the frozen conflict.
What would be the first point of reconciliation? Where does the reconciliation start, from admitting the crimes?
That too, among other things. We should try as much as we could, us in Belgrade and they in Pristina, to promote the good examples of what happened between two people, and there was a lot, as one of my friends put it ‘I have not seen a single positive thing on the Kosovo Albanian in any of our media for the last 25 years’. Do you understand? We have not seen the judicial finalisation or solving the issue of that refrigerator trucks, we have not seen any of that.
Okay, but you are sitting in the Alliance with people who talk of Albanians just like Vulin and call them Shqiptari.
I do not know, I have not ever heard that expression in our meetings. They could be using that in private in their communication.
No one from the Alliance reacted when Vulin would say that. I have an impression that you do not mind that.
I think that again we cannot see the forest for the trees. Vulin statement is more dangerous because he is saying that we should separate with everyone and if that is good for Croats, Bosniaks, if that is good for all Serbian enemies, than it means that demarcation is amazing. That is a dangerous statement, especially by a Minister of Defence of a country.
Is that dangerous because he would rather erect the wall between Albanians and Serbs, or …
Generally speaking, where does he get an idea to demarcate with anything that is a territory of our country under the Constitution, and also he does not even know where is the territory of our country reaching, and as a third, especially dangerous thing, very Manichean or crypto-fascistic approach where he is saying okay if it is right for them, it means it is against us. It means that those people – Aleksandar Vulin or Vucic, they actually want Serbia to be like it was in the 90s, an isolated island in conflict with everyone, with all the neighbours. Let’s get it straight right away, I am not saying Kosovo is our neighbour, but for sure if a high-ranking official sends a message like that, and of course Vucic is supporting that and is aware of it, that is very dangerous.
I think you had a statement once on how the EU supports Vucic and because of that, I will paraphrase now, does much evil to Serbian democracy. However, with that attitude on Kosovo, how do you think you will get the support, the one that Vucic got from the European Union because he promised he would solve Kosovo problem back in 2011 which you have warned about?
We want to have the support from our citizens first of all. This is not a beauty contest, this is not a beauty pageant, so that someone in Brussels will like us, especially the administration that went out of their way to strengthen Aleksandar Vucic, an authoritarian and a man who has not only completely usurped the state but also crushed all European standards and rules they are referring to.
You are now saying that with all your political and diplomatic experience, knowing that without the support of the European Union it is impossible …
Is it impossible for the government to fall?
How Tadic lost Angela Merkel support?
That is true, but it does not mean that someone from the outside is now voting instead of our people.
Of course, it does not mean, but you understand that …
…that the EU can either help you or obstruct you. Anyhow, we are now living in a situation where Aleksandar Vucic has promised a lot to the Europe but failed to keep any of those promises. For the first time, we are adopting a document based on the reconciliation, with some ordinary human messages, positive examples, which concern a human being and it is a proposal that can be amended in the public debate. So we could start the ball rolling.
You are aware that Kosovo Albanians are launching the court for war crimes, and adopting the Declaration on the genocide. According to the information of the Humanitarian Law Centre, more than 13,500 people died, almost 11,000 of them Albanians in only two years, from 1998 to 2000. Will it say in that declaration that we are apologising for the crimes we did not commit?
No, no one is apologising to anyone because…
How are we going to reconcile after all?
We have to reset the entire system. We have to say – okay, we have different views of the historical events, we have criminals from both sides, and we have two corrupted elites, immersed both in crime and in Kosovo and Metohija in war crimes as well, and we must have them removed. The oligarchies must be wiped away.
Okay. Do you think Lazarevic should be stripped out of his rank because he is a person convicted for participation in war crimes, instead of him being the head of the Immortal Regiments march?
I do not know if that is done based on some judgments.
For example, in Croatia, both Josipovic and Mesic stripped some military officers out of their rank.
I am not sure if that is stipulated under any of our laws.
I am asking you if it’s moral.
If someone is convicted of any crime and the decision is final, especially if this is related to war crimes, and if this person is a military officer, then this is needed.
Do you agree with Vuk Jeremic statement on high treason?
No, I am not too fond of such strong words, and I would never use them especially as I am a legal professional. The criminal offence of high treason or betrayal of national interests and state treason, undermining the constitutional order, this involves many things.
What is your word then for Vucic’s idea on demarcation, which Jeremic sees as the high treason?
I think this is a blatant violation of the Constitution, and he, as the best student of law in the history of the Faculty of Law, should know how harmful that is. Second thing, it is a mysterious process. Third, he does not think what will happen to this country or this region, he is just occupied to remain in power and this is another reason I feel that the proposal of our Declaration on the reconciliation of two nations, which contains elements of the future negotiating process, is the right way and it will set the ball rolling. If we stay submerged in trenches, where we are counting how many dead we have and who killed whom, who failed to prosecute what, who should apologise first, we will never move a finger from here.
Shouldn’t we be the first to apologise?
We have apologised so much and our officials too, I think it is about time to leave that politics of empty gestures. We have to solve specific problems.
However, maybe the apologies were empty gestures?
I think that Tadic apologies were honest, for example. However, they had no effect. Our neighbours just said – OK, great, we apologise to you too.
Because apologising has nothing to do with the President, it means that society has faced with what has been done, which is something you must know better than me.
That is true, although I wish that processes of a society facing with what had happened would unfold simultaneously as much as possible, so we would not have to be the only ones facing it and the others are just fooling around.
What does the second phase of protests stand for, as Ms Tepic, an official in your party said when she mentioned ‘free zone’?
We will definitely see with the organisers which direction should the protest be taking. What is certain is that there is a consensus that protest should have weekly dynamics. This has nothing to do with the Free Zone that has been set up. We will organise actions and various surprises following what has been demanded by the people and cities in Serbia as well.
Do you have an impression that the energy weakened as soon as the opposition took over the leadership over the protests?
I do not think so.
Taking into consideration the number of citizens marching on Saturdays.
The opposition did not take the leadership of the protests, but that is something you can frequently hear. I am not blaming those who say that. We have always been there, assisted, organised the first protest, due to high risk we signed our names in the application on 13 April, nothing else to anyone, and I can really claim that we never prevented anyone from coming to talk, to address, but there are opposite cases, especially in some cities, which had now completely ceased with their protests which demonstrates that it is unrelated to the presence of the opposition. We have to do it together. We must hang together, or just as Benjamin Franklin had said, we will hang separately.
The opposition does not have common values. You do not have clear definition of values, so to say. Freedom of media, free elections, it all sounds like Miss World in her speech sending the world peace message, but basically, we have no idea who you are regarding your values.
I would have to disagree with you on that. I do not think that the value frameworks are exclusively related to the commitment to the EU membership, which is a common mistake. Unless you have sworn to that Old Testament golden calf and have said “I swear to you, on my mums’ life, I am in favour of the EU membership”, then it seems you are not sharing the common values. That is not true. We are committed to the rule of law, democracy and freedom of this society, and reinstating of justice in this society, free media and free elections. I think this is enough. We are committed to change this corruptive, mafia SNS system in our country, which I think is a great first step.
So then we will trip over Kosovo just as we had to discuss newsstand and Hilandar.
I do not think it will happen.
Values define the approach to crimes.
I think that approach to crimes committed in former Yugoslavia, so to say, is more a matter of health status of this society and we have to go through that regardless of who is in the government. For me, that is, for example, the matter of the EU membership. In the Freedom and Justice Party, we are for the EU membership, while Serbian movement Dveri is not, but we are together for many other things that we gathered for. This was defined in 30 items and the Agreement with the People. I think this is a very appropriate framework, even exact, and let me recall of the criticism now – you lack programme, you do not know what you will do after Vucic, the entire opposition wrote everything.
It is not obvious what do you want to do after Vucic.
What do you mean it is not obvious, does anyone in this country read what has been written? It is specified there which laws will be adopted, what we will do to get fair and free elections, what we will do to get free media, it is all written precisely, even the law proposals, and people say to that – whatever.
If all that is written, why did you set up the expert team again? I remind you that the opposition signed the paper on the free elections in the Assembly. So now you have the experts again, who will write a new text.
Because we believe that people who are professionals can decode that domain of free elections and media and they should be the ones suggesting the solutions, and we will demand the Government to accept that, to get us out of the crisis as the society. So, our goal now should not depend on whether we would talk to Vucic or not, we believe that the Government is required to start discussions with us as soon as possible, to provide experts, so people can discuss how we could ensure free and fair elections and media.
However, who are you going to talk to if not Vucic?
We will not designate who will be in their delegation. As far as they are concerned they can include 10 Vulins and five Marjans Risticevic, it is up to them. However, I am talking about the professional part, they should provide professional people, from the media.
Experts will provide you with that paper, and then you will make a delegation and start negotiating?
We will have the political conversations, and we are ready for it, but if they do not want to have these conversations, they should at least provide experts so they will talk. We as politicians, do not have to sit with them, which is a difference. I see no other way out of the crisis, I really see no other way.
That is it, you do not want to talk to him, and he does not want to talk to you.
I told you, first of all, he is not in charge of that. There are our experts, give us your experts, so those people can sit and say which laws should be changed and what else.
What do you mean he is not in charge of that?
How is he in charge of that? He is not competent for either media or free elections.
The situation in our country is such that you are protesting because we have this Government. So now to change that you need some elections.
That is true, but in order to have them, they must be free and fair.
In order to have free and fair elections, you have to start talking with someone. So you will not discuss anything with Marjan Risticevic, right?
I know, but if SNS appoints him to the delegation, we have no way of preventing that.
Can SNS appoint Vucic to the delegation?
Now we are playing games…
We are not choosing who will talk on their behalf, but our position is that this man is not in charge. He is using that now saying ‘I can see that they do not want to talk to me now’, he is acting as an offended bride. That is not a point, we will have a chance to talk about you stepping down from power and you will be held accountable for what you have done, but if you are in charge of something, that is something you must know as the best legal professional.
When the other day at the protests, Vladimir Gajic said that SNS should be banned, is that the position of the entire Alliance or this is his personal opinion or the position of People’s Party?
As far as I have understood, this is his personal opinion, but if it is also the position of the People’s Party, I am afraid I do not know that.
Do you agree with that?
I do not.
Why is that?
Because I believe it is entirely different to ban it, but the problem is that they have open programmatic, racists, fascistic, Nazi and some other elements, but that is simply something to be decided by the Constitutional Court. You cannot ban a party with a political act. So, you must have a formal reason to ban a party, which is a matter of the court proceedings, court decision, and not the political decision.
What do you think of Pajtic statement “the retirement does not hurt”? Do you recognise this for yourself?
I remember while Bojan Pajtic was the President of DS, at the sittings of the Board we discussed a lot on the need to have young people, to change the politics, to make the U-turn, every single time at the Board I would get seven votes for that, but Bojan Pajtic was not one of them. What I want to say is that what he had said might have been a bit acidic, but on the other hand, there is a grain of truth in that. I am not one of those who would say – now you came up with that. Bojan Pajtic left politics, and he has a right to say what he wants and to have an opinion, especially since he is a man with a very articulated attitude and he is often right. However, I think he is wrong because let me speak on behalf of the party I am not a member of, I think that DS in its reuniting will not promote some old faces and old personnel. This is because, from what I see, the old faces and former staff from DS have mostly either left politics or have joined the regime.
What is your opinion of the actions of arresting corrupted persons at the local level. Does this mean that the elections are approaching?
It must be. I think that the Progressive Party is always campaigning, but as far as we are concerned, there will be no elections unless they would be fair and free. Vucic will then lose his legitimacy not only before our citizens but in front of the international community as well. He has lost a lot because we have made a unanimous decision to boycott all Assembly sessions and to boycott elections under these conditions. So once again I reiterate, it will get us out of this crisis if he would agree to a deal so can have free and fair elections, then in these elections, we could participate together, and then we would defeat him.