Ethiopia has been one of the major partners of former Yugoslavia now Serbia for many years. The bilateral relation is traditionally good and friendly, based on common historical heritage and the Orthodox religion. Ethiopia closed its embassy in Belgrade in 1992, and its embassy in Rome is accredited for Serbia.
President Tomislav Nikolić is President of Serbia since 31 May 2012. One of the founders of the Serbian Progressive Party, Nikolić led the party until his election as president. During the 26th African Union Summit, he visited Ethiopia and met with different leaders of the continent to exchange views on economic and diplomatic relations. Capital’s Groum Abate talked to President Tomislav Nikolić about his visit and future expectations. Excerpts:
Capital: What is the main purpose of your visit?
President Tomislav Nikolić: I can tell you that Serbia is continuing the old Yugoslav policy in Africa. We feel close to Africa and we also care about African friends and states. Serbia was absent from the African scene because the previous administration started the European integration process, and somehow, got the idea that we can to forget our old friends. Today, the situation is different. We are continuing the old policies and we want to bring back to life this old friendship that we have with Africa, and we will also pass this tradition of friendship to our successors. We can help each other a lot. If you look the international scene, you can see that African countries and Serbia are often treated the same way by the international community. They look at us with the same eyes. There are many problems we can solve together. Economic and diplomatic relations between Africa and Serbia is very important. It is also our ambition to bring the relation, to at least, to the zenith it reached with the former Yugoslavia. But, as I said, unfortunately, we neglected Africa and the first repercussion was some 25 African states voted in favor of Kosovo to join UNESCO. I think that we missed the opportunity to properly explain to our African friends the phenomenon of Kosovo’s separation, and if we did this in time, maybe our African friends would have not voted in favor of Kosovo or might revoked recognition.
Capital: Did you expressed to African heads of states about your intentions?
President Nikolić: Indeed, I have met a considerable number of African colleagues who did not recognize Kosovo, but also who voted in favor of Kosovo. We understand their position fully. If you are a president, you work in the best interest of your nation. However, what is interesting for us is, some were undecided, they recognized Kosovo but they didn’t vote for Kosovo or they abstained. So there is room for further cooperation and improving this situation. And that is precisely why I am here to attend the African Union Summit. If you are here physically and meet the leaders in person it is much better than reading reports.
Capital: What is your future plan in terms of economic cooperation with Africa and specifically with Ethiopia?
President Nikolić: Our plan is to go back to square one on the economic relationship, to the former Yugoslav time. Today, everyone wants to go to Africa. Our idea is, we would rather have cooperation in agriculture, civil engineering; we would like to build roads, electric power plants like we did before. We are not adverse to exporting technology to Africa. We also cooperated with arms deal. We also stood by Africa during the colonization time. We helped African states to be liberated. We also want to cooperate on equal terms; we don’t want to dominate Africa in terms of trade balance; we want it to be equal. And as part of the cooperation, we train a lot of Africans in Serbia. Serbia is also part of the peacekeeping forces throughout Africa.
We keep our companies very present in Africa and Latin America during the Yugoslav times. Africa is now opening up and currently there are a lot of things to cooperate with in Africa. These infrastructures need a lot of manpower and we can train the needed manpower for Africa.
Capital: What is the situation of Kosovo?
President Nikolić: The situation of Kosovo is rather complex. We are approaching it in really good faith. We started negotiation with Kosovo’s representatives in Brussels. It is a very difficult situation for us to negotiate like that because Kosovo is claiming it is an independent state, and also the negotiation is mediated by the European Union. Majority of the European states also recognized Kosovo’s independence. Despite this fact, we came in good faith for the negotiation. The situation is very delicate; Kosovo doesn’t want to protect the Serbian community in Kosovo. This also makes it very difficult Serbia’s integration with the European Union because it depends on the agreement we have with Kosovo. One thing is sure; we will never recognize the independence of Kosovo. But we can negotiate on giving recognition to a special status of Kosovo. Serbia is recognized as a UN member state and Kosovo is part of it. However, just recently, UNESCO just voted for Kosovo to join as an independent state. This is against international law because Kosovo is part of Serbia. In the 1990’s, Kosovo separatists were treated as terrorists by the US Department of State, but in 1999, we were bombed to recognise the independence of Kosovo which we refused.
Kosovo will never be recognised by the UN because we have the backing of Russia that have a veto power in the Security Council. In 2017, when Ethiopia becomes the rotating member of the Security Council, I think Ethiopia’s stand will also be the same. However, we have no other option but to continue with the negotiation.
Capital: Will we see the former unified Yugoslavia any time in future?
President Nikolić: It is quite impossible. It was dismantled and broke down because of international agenda. Most of the Western countries wanted it to be dismantled. We also participated in the collapse.