Djuric: Serbia is a significantly different country today compared to 10 years ago
For some time now, we have noticed an ice age in relations between Washington and Pristina, which is not the result of anyone's desire in the US government but rather the actions of the Albin Kurti government, the Ambassador of Serbia to Washington, Marko Djuric, said.
In an interview with Alo, Djuric talked about the relations between Belgrade and the US, which, as he said, had significantly improved in recent years, and he also talked about relations between Pristina and America, claiming that they had cooled off.
The relations between Serbia and America were literally frozen for years. Now, that is definitely no longer the case. What was the key moment that turned things around?
The whole previous decade was a decade of great transformation, including many turning points in Serbia. Just look at the economy, infrastructure, and our overall international position. Facts and figures speak for themselves: Serbia is a significantly different country today compared to ten years ago. This transformation that happened from within has created important preconditions but also a stronger need for our connection with America as a leading economic, military, and scientific-technological power of Western civilization. America has also been changing during this period and continues to change at a great pace. Today, Serbia consciously attaches immense importance to this relationship. Almost three years ago, President Vucic entrusted me with the task of expanding and strengthening our presence in Washington. We have been working intensively on that, with full institutional support, and I would say, the support of society as well. Serbs understand what we are doing and why.
You recently said that Pristina leaders are currently unwelcome in the US. How is this best evidenced? And how would you briefly describe the relations between Pristina and Washington?
For some time now, we have noticed an ice age in relations between Washington and Pristina. This is not the result of anyone's desire in the US government but rather the actions of the Albin Kurti government. Over the past two years, Kurti has attacked all the values, results, and institutions in Kosovo and Metohija, for whose creation American and European taxpayers invested billions of dollars. For many months, we have not seen a single minister from Pristina in Washington. This is unprecedented. On the other hand, as we conduct this interview, the Serb List has been received and welcomed in the US capital with the utmost attention and respect. In just the last two weeks, as a country, we had Prime Minister Ana Brnabic participating in a business forum in New York, as well as important visits from Minister Tanja Miscevic and Minister Jelena Begovic in Washington. Such facts speak volumes about the US position.
What does the US administration think about Albin Kurti? To what extent do they still view him as their protege?
Opinions about Kurti personally vary depending on whom you ask, but when it comes to his politics, almost everyone thinks the worst. I won't reveal from whom I heard the notion that with Kurti, we have the worst of both worlds - a demagogue and a chauvinist. Based on everything we have seen, I agree with this assessment.
In many circles, it is said that the decisive influence on Kurti comes from others, such as London and Berlin, and to a lesser extent, the US. How much truth is there in that?
The US is not alone in condemning Kurti and his extreme policies; many Western countries share the same view, even though they supported him until recently. By refusing to compromise, making extremely provocative moves for months, procuring weapons, and, most importantly, violating the basic human rights of Serbs in Kosovo and Metohija, Kurti has put himself in a situation where a red alert has been raised for him in the entire international community. However, the problem is not just Kurti; it is the idea he propagates, which can be deadly even when he is no longer in power. I think we often lose sight of that.
What was the most difficult day or moment since you took the position of Ambassador to Washington? And when did you feel the best and proudest?
Unfortunately, that hardest day has been lasting for the past year and a half, ever since there has been a drastic deterioration of the situation of Serbs in Kosovo and Metohija, leading to the use of weapons against our people and children, beatings, and arrests. Not to mention the daily forms of abuse, serious escalation, and crisis that has been ongoing for the last sixty days. As an ambassador and part of the Serbian diplomatic team in the US, I was proudest at the opening of our new, grandiose embassy building in the heart of Washington in October last year, with the presence of First Lady Tamara Vucic, National Assembly President Vladimir Orlic, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Culture Maja Gojkovic, as well as Special Envoy for the Western Balkans Gabriel Escobar and other US officials. I was also very happy at the first conference of the Serbian diaspora in Washington titled "Strengthening Ties," which we organized, as well as at the establishment of the Serbian-American Business Council. For these three years, every month has been filled with such things. I must immodestly admit, we have many reasons to be proud, and soon, the opening of the Serbian residence in the US capital will be among them.
How often do you speak with President Aleksandar Vucic? What do you talk about the most?
I have been in constant contact with President Vucic for years, even before taking on my current position. Due to my function and my own political orientation, I coordinate my political activities with him. Currently, I make a daily report to the President on events in Washington and topics related to bilateral relations, but sometimes we also talk about Kosovo and Metohija, considering that I led the government office for Kosovo and Metohija for six years and that the position and fate of our people in the southern province are matters that are personally significant and important to me. Additionally, I visit Belgrade at least once every two months, sometimes even more frequently.
How is our head of state perceived in the US administration? Has he been criticized for not imposing sanctions on Russia?
Based on the reception I received as the ambassador and envoy of the President of Serbia in Washington, as well as from previous meetings I have had with high and highest US officials, and the changes in the way they listen to and understand our positions, it is evident that the image of Serbia has significantly changed. Anyone who wishes to be objective understands what role and contribution President Vucic has played and continues to play in that. Many of my interlocutors see him as a serious, responsible, constructive, and credible statesman, whose vision for enhancing all forms of cooperation with the US and the political and economic progress of Serbia and its citizens goes beyond the framework of our country. There are also those who perceive Serbia as a country, and even its elected representatives, quite differently. Therefore, there are those who sympathize with our President and what he does in Serbia and the region, and there are those for whom he will never be good. Both sides, however, respect the results that are simply a fact.
It is often heard that Western centers of power, and even some factions in Washington, are behind the protests in Serbia. Do you have any information about this?
In every democratic country, including ours, protests are a widespread and traditional way of expressing disagreement or dissatisfaction with certain facts or events by some politicians or segments of the population. We in Serbia have no reason to fear competition between individuals and ideas in the political arena. Personally, I have no information about investments in protests, and I hope that other institutions and authorities are handling such matters. However, if such investments exist, it is crucial that they are transparent and in accordance with the law, that taxes are paid to the state, and that public order and peace are not disrupted. As President Vucic would say, all that ultimately end up in shopping malls in Belgrade...
It appears that Serbia is currently conducting a sort of charm offensive on the US. It has been written that we have hired a reputable lobbying firm. What are our greatest assets in this offensive?
Our greatest assets in the past decade have been and continue to be the results in numerous areas that speak for themselves. Today, Serbia is like a good product, so to speak, much easier to promote than before. There is an American saying: "Nothing succeeds like success." In the case of Serbia, that truly holds. On our side, we have a 142-year-long history of relations with the US, the culture and tradition of our people, and our church, as one of the oldest religious communities here, as well as the contemporary achievements of our businessmen, scientists, professors, and lawyers. Two lobbying firms have been engaged to assist us in our long journey of correcting the negative image of our country and spreading the true narrative of a more successful and stronger Serbia.