President again criticizes war crimes prosecutor

BELGRADE -- President Tomislav Nikolic has said that Serbia's war crimes prosecutor, while autonomous in his work, is not independent from the state.

(Tanjug, file)
(Tanjug, file)

"He is not an organ of the Hague Tribunal, but an organ of the state. He has not been appointed to only attack Serbia," Nikolic told the public broadcaster RTS late on Tuesday, and asked if there was anyone "brought to court on charges prepared by our prosecution."

A group of opposition MPs recently launched an initiative to remove Nikolic from office over his criticism of War Crimes Prosecutor Vladimir Vukcevic. Speaking about Vukcevic now, Nikolic said he, in one of his statements, declared all those who were in the Hague to be guilty, and also directly accused Aleksandar Vucic and himself.

"When asked to comment about myself and Vucic, he said that if there weren't people like that, there would be no need for a war crimes prosecutor. I did not forget that," said Nikolic, adding that he was also "embarrassed by some NGOs" who accused him of committing war crimes.

According to him, a witness revealed during a trial that he had been promised favors when "Natasa Kandic took him to the prosecutor," and that the prosecutor was "acquainted with the whole conspiracy" - but that that the witness, "brought from the prison", revealed this instead of accusing Nikolic "of committing murders."

In this regard, Nikolić stressed that he would "always say what he thinks - and that if someone thinks that violates the Constitution, they can replace me - but there are procedures."

"I'm here to protect Serbia. In Serbia, there must be freedom not only for those who attack authorities, but also for us who hold office to say what we think," said the president.

He described himself as "probably the only one not afraid of what will be written in the newspapers," and one who "doesn't call editors and doesn't secure funds from public companies' accounts."

Commenting on "the new Interpol arrest warrants for Serbian citizens" Nikolic said this was "a new blow, whose dimensions are not know yet."

According to him, "it all started with General (Ljubisa) Dikovic" - i.e., an NGO's accusations presented recently against the chief of the Serbian Army.

The president said that as soon as those who "wait like vultures for Serbia to be worse" got involved he "knew something was up":

"If Serbia has Interpol warrants for (Ejup) Ganic and (Hashim) Thaci, although they are almost making a joke out of it, Serbia cannot be the victim of the Pristina administration issuing warrants for some citizen of Serbia when it wants - while you're at the same time waiting for the trial to begin in the fully proven case of organ trafficking that current members of the administration in Pristina are behind."

He criticized Vukcevic in this respect.

"I do not claim that Serbs did not commit war crimes, as did Croats and Bosnians. There were individuals in these three nations that the war took to commit war crimes. However, only Serbia is accused of systematic and planned committing of war crimes. This was not told to any one of those who waged war against us. Therefore, Serbia should have a little dignity," said Nikolic.

He believes that the country "needs to talk and ask" who issued the warrants and who accepted them, and whether they will have the same treatment as the warrants for Muslims or Croats "who get hosted in VIP lounges at some airports until they are told that Serbia's warrants are no longer valid."

Serbia, according to him, cannot behave as if all that is done to us does not matter, and accept everything that others seek.

Reforms and Kosovo

Speaking about his presidency so far, Nikolic said that he managed to break the stereotypes about him and about the policy he pursues.

Nikolic also said that the Serbian government has chosen the right path in implementing reforms and that 2015 will "probably" be the last years of "suffering and sacrifices."

He mentioned budget revenues and expenditures in the first two months of this year and asserted that compared to 2013 and 2014, these figures "show that the right path was chosen."

"Here I would advise the government that it could get to a budget review sooner than we had hoped... We anticipated excellently that we will reduce a lot of expenditure, but we were perhaps surprised by the better inflow into the budget," said Nikolic.

Addressing the issue of the South Stream pipeline, Nikolic spoke in favor of "always having a positive attitude" and revealed he was "optimistic that this project did not fall through - because it is good not only for Serbia and Russia, but for many EU member states as well."

If the situation in Ukraine calms down, this project that saw big investments could be revisited, the president believes.

"It seems to me that the EU and Russia, no matter how much they quarrel, when it comes to gas supplies somehow find it easier to come to an agreement than in other situations," said Nikolic.

Europe cannot secure "that easily" other sources of gas similar to Russia's resources, and therefore "even if there is no friendship between them there is enough interest for the South Stream project to be current."

Speaking about the Bureau for Coordination of Security Services that is chaired by PM Aleksandar Vucic, Nikolic "rejected certain claims that the position was left vacant," and stressed Vucic was doing "an excellent job." He said he would appoint another person to chair the bureau "only when, and if Vucic steps down."

Nikolic then spoke about his announced "platform for Kosovo," saying the drafting of the document had "advanced," and that he planned to discuss it with Vucic, adding that his proposal would ""risk a final solution".

"It is no longer enough to say we will never accept independence of Kosovo and Metohija. Anyone who plans to take Kosovo and Metohija from us must consider the cost. We'll see what the platform is and how acceptable it is, the government is facing challenges, there is a lot of pressure. This is a situation where one must measure carefully, and I am measuring while putting on paper what is realistic," Nikolic said.

According to him, every person in Serbia "has a dilemma" when thinking about Kosovo and Metohija. He added that those who will go down in history as being able to do something but did not, "or did something, or had their hands completely tied" were in "the most difficult situation."

The president thinks that a referendum would reflect the will of citizens in the best manner - but, he added, "citizens of Serbia should not be asked whether there should be an independent Kosovo because an answer to that can be foreseen - citizens would rather renounce the EU than Kosovo."

According to Nikolic, "everything is now up to the EU," while "some European officials are perhaps, in softer and sharper ways, presenting conditions that were previously kept aside."

Any future solution must bear in mind as a condition without which "there will be no further movement" the "distinctiveness" of the Serb community - and an added distinctiveness of the four local governments in the north of Kosovo which Albanians were unable to take over with weapons - "so it would make no sense for them to be able to do it through negotiations with Belgrade."

"Fleas and bears"

Speaking about the Ukraine crisis, Nikolic said he hoped it would "not last very long.2

"The situation in Ukraine does not entitle any of the parties to do everything they imagined," Nikolic said, stressing that there could be favorable development if the parties involved quickly sat at the negotiating table to reach an agreement, because it was obvious that there were too many weapons and too many people dying on the ground.

It would be good for Serbia as chair of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to be remembered as a state that chaired the organization at a time when a major European crisis came to an end, Nikolic said.

"Serbia is very lucky to chair the OSCE in this difficult time. It is a very good opportunity to reaffirm the original principles that international organizations are based on," said the Serbian head of state.

"There is nobody in the government who favors introducing sanctions against the Russian Federation," Nikolic stated.

He added that even if Belgrade, "hypothetically speaking" were to join the EU-imposed punitive measures against Russia, "it would not make the life in Russia one ounce more difficult."

"These sanctions of ours would be like a flea on a bear. We can only harm ourselves by introducing sanctions against anyone in the world," he stressed.

This, according to him, is a question for the future and Serbia's membership in the EU.

"We are entering into it aware that we need to have a common foreign policy. We will be put to a very difficult test and be asked to follow a common foreign policy," explained Nikolic.

Asked about U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry's reference to Serbia being "in the line of fire" between Russia and the West, the Serbian president observed that there was "probably some inherent right of politicians from major countries to play with words that can mean so many things."

"I would not use a sentence that can allude to armed conflicts when speaking about any country," said Nikolic, adding that he could not understand "what kind of a crazy person in the world could think we could go to war again."

He stressed that Serbia was "still in a remarkable position in the world" and that "nobody can openly say what should be done" to our "small country and great people."

At the same time, according to Nikolic, "nobody in Serbia" minds both Russia and the U.S. having their influence.

"Who have we rejected as a partner?" asked the president.

Speaking about Croatia, he said that Belgrade "will do nothing to spoil relations and will not do anything to endanger them," but noted at the same time that he did not receive an invitation from his Croatian counterpart to visit Zagreb.

Nikolic noted that former Croatian President Ivo Josipovic visited Serbia "and was greeted extraordinarily, as a good neighbor and friend."

"Now it's Croatia's turn to invite Serbia," Nikolic said.

He added that Croatia "must consider whether the HDZ (party) will return to the old ideology, or lead the country into the future."

Speaking about the possibility of once again running in the presidential election, Nikolic said there would be "many reasons" in favor of such a decision - "and many against."

However, as he pointed out, he would like to have another term to complete his policy goals.

Asked if there was a dispute between him and Foreign Minister and SPS party leader Ivica Dacic, Nikolic said there was "no political dispute."

The president then revealed that during a reception in Belgrade last Saturday to mark Serb Republic Day, he pointed out to Patriarch Irinej he had the opportunity to talk "with the president, and a presidential hopeful."

As for the announced cabinet reshuffle, Nikolic said it was the prime minister's mandate to put together his cabinet as long as he enjoyed the support in the national assembly, and added that the head of state "has no influence on government reshuffles."