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Big interview with Tomislav Nikolic on Belarus-Serbia cooperation

The very name - the Shanghai Cooperation Organization - hints not only at the geographical location where it was established. (By the way, the working languages ​​in the SCO are Russian and Chinese). China's influence in the modern world is undeniable.

The creation of the new Silk Road involved many countries in this colossal project. For example (turning to another topic) - Minsk Days were held in Belgrade this week and I was lucky to participate in them. It was impossible not to notice how often Serbs mention China and Chinese investments. And one more fact along the lines: the president of Serbia, Tomislav Nikolic, ended his office on May 31. If you remember, he made his last presidential visit to Belarus, like to first one, by the way. And when Days of Minsk were held in Belgrade, he was confirmed in a new position - he now heads the National Council for Cooperation (with whom, you think?) with Russia and China. But Belarus also gets into this "corridor" of Serbian interests, Nikolic said in an interview with our program. This is his first interview after he resigned and received a new important post.

Dȍbar dȃn, Mr. Nikolic!

Tomislav Nikolic, President of the Republic of Serbia (2012-2017):
Dȍbar dȃn.

By analogy, right away, out of habit, I wanted to say "Mr. President", but you already handed over the powers to the successor. What do you feel? Is there still a feeling that you are in charge of the country, or is the burden of responsibility is now off your shoulders and you can relax a little?

Tomislav Nikolic:
I have mixed feelings. I was sure that I can do a lot for Serbia, and so I decided, in agreement with the new president, to continue to communicate in some ways with the presidents of a number of countries, to take care of Serbia's relations with Russia and China (for now). And thanks to this I will remain an active participant in all events in Serbia. You understand: no one is born with a crown on his head. I was not born president. And he should not have remained in this position. It's time for certain changes in Serbia, and I realized that the political party that nominated my candidacy five years ago now has another candidate. We are all friends, we all have one political idea. Yes, I think this is a huge burden off my shoulders. But at the same time I myself took on another burden.

Yes, Russia and China are not simple countries. And cooperation with them is important for you and for us. Making your last presidential visit to Belarus, you said that you will continue to supervise relations with Belarus - that is, Belarus will lie on this Silk Road to Russia and China, won't it?

Tomislav Nikolic:
I have many ties with Belarus. I really love that country. It was always hard for me when Belarus was under sanctions. Because I know how dangerous sanctions are for children, elderly and sick people. And maybe you remember when I was elected president of Serbia, I went to Brussels to show Serbia's desire for cooperation with the European Union, and from Brussels I immediately went to Minsk. And then Catherine Ashton asked me: "Why do you need Minsk?" And I said: "It would not hurt you to go to Minsk more often". Then, with President Lukashenko, I agreed to establish close cooperation between Belarus and Serbia. We talked about the need to reach a trade turnover of one billion dollars. And we went the right way. Now during the economic crisis the pace has slowed. But since then Serbia and Belarus have had excellent relations. I think that my contribution to this is great. And I can still do even more. In particular, during my last presidential visit to Belarus (symbolically: my first and last visits were to Belarus), President Lukashenko said that we have built a special friendship with him, and our countries should take advantage of this.

So what is the peculiarity of this friendship? It's based not only on trade turnover. I will allow myself to state the idea that the presidents of smaller countries, like Belarus and Serbia, can afford to build their foreign policy and relations with other countries based on personal sympathies. For example, the president of the United States, Trump, with all his charisma, probably cannot be so free, because the huge flywheel of US policy and American interests will not give him a chance to show any personal sympathy in foreign policy. But the presidents of Serbia and Belarus are more free in this. So does the personal factor play a role in the fact that relations between our countries are strengthening?

Tomislav Nikolic:
Yes, you touched upon a very serious topic - about the role of the presidents of countries within the framework of individual systems. The role of the president, in principle, depends on the will of the people. And for us (for Belarus and Serbia at least, because now we are talking about us), it is very important to choose a president who will pursue the policy in which we are interested. This is often a very cautious and prudent policy. You yourself said: we are small countries. We have to consider the opinions of big states. Because we suffer every time they "get angry". In America, I think it's different. In America, candidates promote themselves through stories about who will give work and reduce taxes. They chose Democrats, and then they say: "Maybe they are tired? Or corruption. Let's change them for Republicans." They have it that way but in our countries, policy responds to the will of citizens. In America, it is more "layered". America, as the world's largest and most military power, cares about security in the world, but in general it defends American interests. And when someone is bombed, they say there's a danger to American interests, so we protect our interests and bomb. When Trump was chosen, many in Serbia were delighted, too, but I said: "Let's wait and see." Because the system "pushes" the US president. But in Belarus, the President is pulling the system behind. His energy, his ideas motivate citizens who see that he leads the country in very difficult circumstances. It's the same in Serbia.

We are between East and West. And we are striving for fruitful cooperation with all countries located to the east of Serbia. At the same time, we want to be in the EU. But not in a military alliance, like some other countries that are more eager for NATO than for the EU. We do not want to fight against Russia. Similarly, we do not want to fight on the side of Russia against Western Europe. If God is graceful enough, both Belarus and Serbia will retain military and political neutrality. When it comes to Mrs Ashton, who thought she would never come to Minsk... It was in Minsk, under the auspices of President Lukashenko, where they had to seek a solution to the Ukraine conflict and sign the Minsk Agreements. So there are no small nations. There are small states. And these small states can be home to people that are greater than those in countries with a population of 100 million or 200 million. This is a question of civilizations, a question of history and culture. If you belong to a people who have never attacked anyone, but have only defended yourself throughout your history, then you are the representative of the great people.

Peaceful policy does not exclude the strengthening of defensive capabilities. In the time of your presidency, an agreement was reached on the transfer to Serbia from Belarus of the Buk air defense system and MiG-29 fighter aircraft. Even the journalists (I was interviewed yesterday) were very keenly interested in this. Aren't you criticized for this? Belarus is criticized even by neighboring countries, because Belarus intends to conduct military drills with Russia, at the same time, NATO soldiers and military equipment are coming to neighboring countries, which is normal. Is it necessary to strengthen defense?

Tomislav Nikolic:
Yes, but the other thing is whether you will be allowed to maintain military neutrality. Russia has never really demanded anything from Serbia in terms of neutrality or dependence. But NATO always lament if someone is on good terms with Russia. I never felt that Moscow thought about a war or wanted to attack someone. It is always arming thinking about its own defense. And Serbia buys weapons for defense. We are establishing ties with Belarusian military industry. For me, Belarus is the ideal example of how to maintain production, jobs, and master high technologies. You mentioned the Buk system and we will also repair the Mig-29 aircraft. We will be using both Russian and Belarusian technologies. And in the West, we will buy the military equipment that we lack for the defense of our country.

After all, when we were bombed in 1999, we were ready to meet the enemy on the ground and fight for our land! But they launched missiles from the air - and we did not see these soldiers at all, and it is not clear who we should have fought? We did not have any weapons for defense. I repeat, there are such madmen who bomb and destroy. Therefore, Serbia is arming for defense, cooperating with Russia and Belarus.

I myself worked in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia as a journalist in 1999. I covered those sad events and, along with Serbian people, went out to bridges in Belgrade, stood in "live shields" so that NATO pilots did not bomb the city. Nevertheless, many objects were bombed by planes and NATO rockets. And so far, in the city center, the Ministry of Defense has not yet been restored. Could you tell me why? Is it a demonstration of what happened, what NATO did? Or do you simply lack funds?

Tomislav Nikolic:
Belarusians should be proud of the fact that President Lukashenko flew here during the bombings, despite the fact that the sky over the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia was closed. He said: "I am flying to Belgrade. Do you want to shoot down my plane? Ok. Do it!" He supported us and returned to Minsk. And the bombing did not stop: they bombed hospitals, trains, bridges, when people spent holidays there. Although they said that they aim very well, they have very accurate missiles. But they killed civilians, innocent people! And we left some buildings unrepaired as a warning and reproach to the West.

NATO has such an approach: if it does not like something, it immediately bombs it. And I do not like many things in America. And in France. In Brussels, too. And now what? If Serbia were the most powerful country in the world, would it bomb France, Brussels, and all other states, just because it does not like something? Serbia was not a source of terrorism, a source of any danger to Western Europe. There are countries that are dangerous. Why are they not bombing them? Maybe because those can stand up for themselves and destroy their soldiers?

So we fell victim to a certain idea, a decision that Kosovo should get independence. Once the negotiations failed they decided to bomb us so that during the bombings we abandoned Kosovo and Metohija. We did wrong signing peace agreements, and of course Kosovo was handed over to Albanians, and now we have no influence there. Thus, one should always be cautious if you are dealing with the Western alliance.

Let's talk about peaceful cooperation between Belarus and Serbia. You have visited Belarus more than once and met with President Lukashenko. On what can the economic relations of Belarus and Serbia be based? We see trolleybuses in Belgrade. A lot of them. We are proud of this. Did you ride?

Tomislav Nikolic:
Belgrade has a number of Belarusian vehicles, not only trolleybuses. In our mines, quarries trucks and dump trucks are exclusively Belarusian. We assemble Belarusian buses in Serbia. We have excellent cooperation on Belarus tractors. You bought from Serbia and imported products and many other goods. In particular, corn seeds with a short growing season. Belarus has a short vegetation period. We made them specially for Belarus.

What did I see in Belarus? Industry, as it once was in Yugoslavia, when we could produce everything. Now Belarus can make everything. I do not see any difference in the quality of the products supplied to us from Belarus and from the West. Belarus produces to export. And the exported products have to be of high quality. I visited the MAZ truck factory (Minsk Automobile Plant). These are the highest technologies!

Cooperation between Serbia and Belarus is possible in all areas. For me it's like one people, we just live in different parts of Europe. I love Belarus! We are the same, I think. As if God put us just in two ends of one land but there are now countries between us that prevent us from reuniting.

The governments of Belarus and Serbia should cooperate actively. When I became president, everyone believed that Belarus was a poor country. And when I went to Minsk, our opposition and many analysts lamented: "Oh, where is he dragging us? He goes there and wants us to become poor too?" When I told them that the unemployment rate in Belarus is 1%, they thought: "How is it 1%?" I said that this is because everyone works. They did not lose their industries. Not any factory is closed. The investments are huge.

It seems to me that it is better to be friends with a country that is developing than with the one that is at the peak of its development. Let's see how much they will hold on to this peak until they go down. The European Union showed its weakness. It showed how long it can teach others and exploit other parts of the world.

Production facilities were moved from the European Union but these products cannot always be created in Africa for meaninglessly low wages. One day all of Africa moves to Europe and a migration crisis sets in. It shook the alliance and almost led it to disintegration. The UK is exiting because of the migration crisis.

I do not have any concerns about the relations between Serbia and Belarus. I think that they will be strengthening and developing. I would like to address your people and wish all the best to the people and the state, as well as successes and prosperity. Serbia will always remain your great friend.

I have no doubt that you will come to Belarus many times! We are always glad to see you. Thank you for the interview. Thank you.

Tomislav Nikolic on cooperation between Belarus and Serbia