Minister breaks silence on "talk over coffee" with Blair
Deputy Prime Minister Zorana Mihajlovic said on Thursday that "the ministers' conversation with Tony Blair in Belgrade" yesterday was "not secret."Source: B92, Beta, Tanjug
According to her, the former British prime minister was "not hired as a consultant for a fee."
"I am completely certain he was not, because this was really a conversation over coffee," Mihajlovic said, when asked by reporters at the Chamber of Commerce.
She added that Blair and a number of Serbian cabinet ministers who met in Belgrade on Wednesday "talked about how all governments in the world have a serious problem in the first year and how that year is often lost."
"For that reason, during that meeting with Blair the talk was mostly about the Serbian government not losing its first year, but instead passing reform laws, reaching an arrangement with the IMF, and now moving into capital investments," said Mihajlovic.
She added that "Blair is not the only person with whom the Serbian government exchanges experiences on reform processes," something that, according to this high ranking official of the ruling SNS party, "sometimes happens in the limelight, and sometimes not."
She added that the government "will continue to have discussions about the experiences of other countries in reforms, reforms of health care and the economy."
Noting that the meeting has caused "various reactions, primarily from the opposition," Mihajlovic said that "currently there is no difference between Bojan Pajtic (DS) and Vjerica Radeta (SRS)" and that it "actually shows that the SNS is the only party that opens the door of Serbia".
According to the minister, "it is normal that Blair coming to Serbia has caused a great deal of attention."
The controversy stems from the fact Blair was an advocate of NATO's attacks on Serbia in 1999, and the minister, asked to comment on that, replied: "Other politicians did it as well, including former French President Jacques Chirac, but that did stop him from becoming 'the first guest in Serbia' in 2001."
"I do not think it's bad to talk with everyone and I think it is wrong for Serbia to have permanent enemies or friends. We as a country are open and the whole world sees us that way and I think that's an advantage," said she.
The minister was also asked whether it was true that Blair's lecture was financed by the United Arab Emirates. She said she "did not know, and for that reason could not talk about it."
"We know that we do not know everything and we try to talk to everyone in order to find appropriate solutions and accelerate reforms," said Mihajlovic.
She then noted that Serbia in December hosted "the Chinese summit," attended by prime ministers of many countries, and that the country has been visited by statesmen "from Hollande to Putin" in the previous period.
Earlier in the day, Minister of Labor Aleksandar Vulin, who attended Wednesday's lecture along with Mihajlovic and several other ministers, told reporters he had "nothing to say about it."
"You're asking me about something that the gutter press tried to present as some great wonder. Today, I will speak only about the young people and employment."
Culture Minister Ivan Tasovac, who also attended, said the meeting went well, but was "presented in our country in a tabloid manner." "It's enough to say that we had that meeting," Tasovac was quoted.
Earlier this month, Transparency Serbia pointed out that the public should learned about "the rules" under which the government of Serbia hires and pays consultants.