Greek ambassador: We see Serbia in EU

"We’re looking forward to the moment where all the countries and entities of the region could be integrated into the large European family where they can flourish, they can develop in the conditions guaranteed of democracy, respect of human rights, and economic development for the benefit of all people."

Guest: Christos Panagopoulos, Journalist: Ljubica Gojgić

B92: Mr. Ambassador, Greece has this initiative that the whole Balkan region should be integrated into Europe. How does that initiative look like to you now when there is an obvious split or crisis in relations between Serbia and Brussels?

Panagopoulos: First and foremost, I believe that the European perspective, the European declaration for Serbia is still well and alive. Of course, it is expected, not surprisingly, under the influence of current developments here, to turn our attention to other issues. This is something quite normal, I would say. But, on the other hand, we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that the EU and Serbia, they had already initialed the SAA, as we call it.

The conclusion of this agreement has been done in, I believe, a record time, given the fact that Serbia is very progressive from the point of view of administration, infrastructure of the country, and, of course, that is the goal. The position of my government that you mentioned, of integrating the whole of the Balkans in the EU, is a long-standing, well-planned strategy, and this is still valid today, especially for Serbia.

B92: How do you see the reactions from Belgrade to Kosovo independence, where there is obvious discontent with the unilateral declaration of independence and with the policy of countries that recognized it, and the protests, including the violent demonstrations against embassies?

Panagopoulos: I think that we should clearly draw the line between two different things. One is the reaction of the Serbian government that has been very, I would say, expected, because Belgrade, in the previous period, made well known its plan of reactions, it is well understood and expected. I mean, this full range of diplomatic and legal actions that they took, and that’s well based in their perspective of reactions. And, on the other hand, the right, if you wish, of citizens to go out to demonstrate, to protest. But, unfortunately, we have all been witnesses of how big demonstrations turned out, and we know very, very well the outcome.

I think there is no question in anybody's mind that this is something incredible - I mean, the way it turned out, the protest of the people, and we should, all of us condemn this. First of all, this is not helping Serbia, I don’t think this is helping anybody. On the other hand, it clearly violates international law, and it presents Serbia as an unlawful - if I may say, quote, unquote - state, because she is not able to deliver in the protection of foreign missions, which is, I would say, the number one obligation of a country.

But, having said that, I believe we should keep everything in proportion and just give every event the significance it carries - not downplay it, but not, I mean, overblow the whole series of events. It is very regrettable that, as I understand, a small group of people decided to turn violent, with this tragic loss of human life. And, we should condemn this. On the other hand, the reaction of the government has been expected, and I take especially take into account that they reacted in a legal and diplomatic way, as they have every right to do.

B92: Bearing in mind your experience in the region, and in some other regions with similar problems, do you think that what happened in Kosovo, that policy on Kosovo, avoiding the word “violence”, but that the policy on Kosovo could spread to other countries in the region, to FYR Macedonia, to Montenegro, even to Greece, because you also have an Albanian minority? There is a line among the Albanian politicians who say that the next step is the creation of a Greater Albania. That is a dream that many people from different parts of the borders with Kosovo have.

Panagopoulos: First of all, if I may, I would like to make a correction. There’s no Albanian minority in my country. They are economic refugees, people that came from Albania, in big numbers if you wish. They do not constitute a minority in legal or practical terms. They are people who have come to find a better future, they are economic refugees, as we characterize them. I would like to take this opportunity - of course, I’m going to reply to your question - to tell you that in my country, we’re not afraid of this.

Thank God, we’re a fully stabilized country. We have been members of the Euro-Atlantic institutions for decades now, we take pride that we have an advanced society and economy, and what I’m trying to say is that we feel justifiably that we are not part of the Balkan problem. We’re part of the solution. We’re an element for the solution. In this respect, we don’t have any fear about our neighbors. Having said that, it doesn’t mean that everything is rosy in our neighborhood. As you say, your initial remarks in theory cannot be excluded. A lot of analysts, they have been debating all these years before that we might have a domino effect and all those things.

In theory, you cannot exclude that, although my personal belief is that - this is not the personal belief of my country - my personal belief is that every country you mentioned, Montenegro, FYRoM, they have special ingredients, therefore I believe that the chances are not to have this spillover effect from Kosovo, but of course, the Balkans, it does have a turbulent past, that is why we project in every form possible that the solution to this - and we’re talking about our own experience here, positive experience - is European integration.

We’re looking forward to the moment where all the countries and entities of the region could be integrated into the large European family where they can flourish, they can develop in the conditions guaranteed of democracy, respect of human rights, and economic development for the benefit of all people. This is, I believe, the only solution and it has to do with the strategy of my country that I referred to before.

B92: Finally, some European countries stopped issuing visas for Serbian citizens. I saw just before I came here that the job is being done downstairs here at the Greek embassy.

Panagopoulos: It is being done, there is not even a thought… We’re willing to receive more Serbian friends, record numbers that we have seen in the last year. There is not even a hint to the contrary, we expect more, we do everything, and I thank you for giving me this opportunity to inform your public that we’re doing everything possible to facilitate this procedure of according visas to our Serbian friends. We’ve established a call center, as you can probably see outside my embassy.

There are no long queues that have been typical in some European embassies in the past. In relative comfort, people can call, they can take their interview, and they can come and take their visas. I’d like again to thank Serbian friends who decide to come to my country. There is a procedure - it’s going the normal way - and myself and the consul, we are preparing, and all the staff, to assist in every possible way our Serbian friends that would like to come to my country.

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