Serbia is another reliable partner, whose businessmen are allowed to realize their ambitions in Belarus. The presidents of the two countries found a common language in political dialogue, even at a time when Serbia was among the candidates for EU accession and the EU applied sanctions against Belarus. It is probably not only because of the personal factor, however, Serbs do remember how Lukashenko flew to Belgrade during the bombing to support Yugoslavia (the previous name of the country).
Another factor that certainly played a role is injustice against Belarus and Serbia (Yugoslavia) to whom the West once promised much for political changes, but the waiting dragged on, to put it mildly. Or maybe these expectations were too high? In fact it so happens that people are waiting for a miracle saying 'We just need to topple Milosevic (I again recall Yugoslavia) and then we'll begin to live like Germans.' But miracles do not just happen.
On April 2, Serbians are electing their president. These elections are conflict-free: the new leader can be defined already in the first round. What this means for Belarus and how are Serbian "brothers" doing? Our special correspondent Olga Petrashevskaya has the report.
Election campaign promises have been pouring like real music over several months. The presidential campaign 2017 in Serbia is almost freak-free, not counting the candidate under the name of Ljubisa Beli.
Serbians will have to choose between eleven quite differently oriented candidates for the presidency, among whom is the former head of the Serbian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the former Ombudsman and the former economy minister. But it is the current Prime Minister Aleksandar Vučić who has the most significant chance of winning. This is the person who managed to decrease unemployment and launch economic growth in the country. He is quite neutral when it comes to the east-west balance relations.
By the way, the current Serbian leader Tomislav Nikolic decided not to enter the upcoming elections.
If Vučić is elected, it is likely that Belarus-Serbia relations will be strengthening further. Firstly, it is the party's position, shared by the prime minister and the president of Serbia. And secondly, both Nikolic Vucic already came to Minsk and met with Alexander Lukashenko and agreed to resolve any problems in cooperation between the two countries. But such a policy has a stronger foundation than a merely diplomatic one. Serbs still remember how the President of Belarus flew to Belgrade during the 1999 NATO bombing of Yugoslavia.
Dusan Savic, a resident of Belgrade:
The fact that President Lukashenko visited our country during the bombing was moral support for us and a friendly act. Anyway, I have not heard any other leader coming to us during those times. Some did support us but did not come.
Belarus tractors is not the only brand Serbia knows. Belarusian trolleybuses are widely used on the streets of Belgrade. But the overall trade between the two countries could be higher.
Vladimir Chushev, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Republic of Belarus to the Republic of Serbia:
We discussed the supplies of our electric buses here. It's not easy, because the competition is very high: enough it is to say that there are five Chinese electric buses on the market. Naturally, European partners are also competing with us. Another example is BMZ. There is a partner who is willing to work together, to build here a finished goods warehouse. I would urge the Belarusian Steel Works (BMZ) to be more flexible and quicker in the Serbian market.
Yet some items are being traded well, like metal, paper and wood products. Balkan businessmen plan, among other things, to open in Belarus a network of bakeries, which are already popular in Belgrade. When it comes to the EU accession, Serbians are skeptical.
Sinisa Jovanović, a resident of Belgrade:
They don't consider us Europeans. What will we get? Take Bulgaria or Romania. Did the salary go up? Do not make me laugh. But they are just in the European Union.
Dobrivoje Kostić, Serbian citizen:
We are already in Europe. Russia and Belarus are also European countries. Isn't that? Why make unnecessary movements?
But Kostić has other, more serious arguments. He remembers the bombing of Belgrade and understands that accession to the EU will certainly entail NATO accession. This is something Serbians cannot put up with.
They promise better life after EU accession but will anything change? This is a lottery. A pure lottery. This is the business of politicians, of course, but, as for me, it would be safer to be friends with your region: Russia and Belarus. We're not waiting for unpleasant surprises from there.
The 1st forum of Belarus and Serbia regions may really become a pleasant surprise, especially for businessmen. Belarus and Serbia have dozens of sister cities, a visa-free regime and a direct flight, but the potential of the bilateral relations is not being used to the fullest, said Deputy Prime Minister of the Serbian government in an interview with the TV program Picture of the World.
Zorana Mihajlović, Deputy Prime Minister of the Republic of Serbia:
We are friendly countries and the history has proved it. There is no area, starting from construction to economy, where we could cooperate tighter. There is political support on both sides, so it is now simply no time to lose.
Businessman and Honorary Consul of Belarus in Belgrade Dragomir Karic knows the value of each "brick" in Belarus-Serbia relations. Along with his brother he is implementing several major construction projects in Minsk and believes that Belarusian entrepreneurs should have a larger voice in the world.
Dragomir Karić, Honorary Consul of the Republic of Belarus in Belgrade:
Your businessmen, are quite calm, no offense. They must understand that they must work abroad. We will continue to be friends, work, collaborate, develop our relations for the welfare of the Republic of Belarus and the Republic of Serbia.
Miodrag Petrović, Serbian citizen:
Belarus is our brotherly country, whatever relations in politics or economy. I am just an ordinary person, I know much more in machinery... But after all, we are all Slavs. So what more can we talk about?