PM on Pride Parade, Merkel, NATO, soft power, U.S. elections

Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic on Sunday evening gave a wide-ranging interview to the country's state broadcaster RTS.

Source: B92, Beta, Tanjug
(Tanjug, file)
(Tanjug, file)

Vucic commented on the Belgrade Pride parade, held earlier the same day, to say that if he had the time, he would have rather attended the wedding of former Defense Minister Bratislav Gasic's son, where he said "four or five times more people gathered" than at the parade.

Asked whether he was invited to participate in the gay parade, Vucic said, "I guess they invited me."

The prime minister added that he was not "a big supporter of these walks" but that it was the state's obligation to make sure those taking part were safe - "and they were."

Vucic said he was pleased that the event went without any incidents, while the presence of state and city officials meant that "we took on the responsibility."

He also commented on the Savamala case - the controversial late April night-time demolitions in Hercegovacka St. in Belgrade - to say his political moves relevant to the case will come "once the court decides who's guilty."

Merkel, and NATO

Speaking about German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Vucic said that the possibility of her losing power next year after the elections in Germany would mean "the end of Europe and the European Union as we know it," describing himself as somebody "loyal to Merkel for rational reasons," and praising her policies.

As for the statement of NATO General Petr Pavel - who spoke during a gathering held in Croatia - about the Balkans "still being a source of potential armed conflict" while NATO "needs to have the capabilities to deter and defend against any threat" - Vucic said he was "disappointed," adding:

"It's not my place to respond, to say we have already seen what all that looked like 17 years ago, and that they should not threaten us, because we have not threatened anyone."

Vucic added he would like to speak with NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg "as soon as possible - it would be healing and important."

The prime minister stressed that his country "does not want fights and conflicts, but to develop itself," and told citizens that while he was "capable of offering a much stronger response in the right place" - they "should not worry because they have a serious and responsible leadership."

Soft power, and destabilization

During the interview, Vucic also said that "no foreign ambassador" will conduct his government's policy, and described Serbia as "its own, sovereign, and independent country whose future is determined by its citizens."

He added that Serbia's strategic goal is "to be on the European path."

"We want to belong in that company, we don't hide it, but we also want best possible relations with Russia, but at the same time also with China. Anyway we would not have this growth nor such public finances now had the Chinese not bought Zelezara, and I thank them for that," Vucic said.

Asked to comment on EU Delegation head Michael Davenport's statement about Russia's "soft power" being visible in Serbia, Vucic said it was "certainly present - as is the soft power of Western countries, through their financing of numerous NGOs."

According to the Serbian prime minister, Russia "certainly has fewer organizations under its control, and a much smaller NGO sector than Western countries do - but that has nothing to do with the road Serbia will be on."

Vucic underlined that these organization are receiving money "in order to influence a drop in the government's popularity and cause certain destabilization, by announcing attempts of destabilization during the presidential election (next year), because a strong and stable Serbia suits few countries."

"There will be those attempts at destabilization, and yet they won't succeed. But that won't change our strategic goal and where we're going."

Asked whether "some future negotiating chapter" in Serbia's EU accession talks could be stopped "due to Russia's soft power," Vucic said that "next chapters won't be opened because the West is not satisfied with the negotiations with Pristina."

Croatia, and America

"We will make every effort to have as good relations as possible with Croatia, we'll threaten nobody, because it is in our mutual interest to have as much exchange - but we will know how to defend our national and state interests," Vucic told RTS.

Asked whether relations would be difficult if HDZ leader Andrej Plenkovic became Croatia's prime minister, Vucic said Serbia would invest "great efforts" in those relations.

"I'm not a huge optimists because Serbs are the main topic in Croatia. It was easier to win diplomatic battles before while (Zoran) Milanovic was there, it will be more difficult now," said Vucic.

As for his upcoming trip to the United States where he will attend the Clinton Foundation's annual conference, the prime minister said it did not mean that "Serbia was choosing between one of the two candidates in the U.S. presidential election."

According to him, Americans should choose whether their next president will be Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump, while Serbia "should have good relations with both candidates."

Dayton, and GDP

Commenting on Serbia's stance on the announced RS Day referendum in the Serb entity in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Vucic said his cabinet "acted rationally and responsibly bearing in mind that stability of the region is of essential importance."

"Whoever tries to 'unpack' the Dayton Accords is making a big problem for everyone, regardless of it not being ideal. Serbia has its obligations according to the Dayton Accords, it has its people across the Drina, and must give its all to defuse tension," said Vucic.

The prime minister also said Serbia's public debt had been cut by EUR 610 million in the first eight months of the year and is now 71.9 percent of GDP. According to him, the country's economic growth this year will be the highest in this part of the Balkans.

"The government will do everything to keep economic growth above three percent in the next five years," he stated.

Cabinet, elections, and migrants

Speaking about his new cabinet, Vucic said he "wanted to make one or two more changes, but could not do it for various political reasons":

"I didn't have enough strength. Some things you just can't do, just as I can't influence people to understand that Zvezda and Partizan (football clubs) need to be privatized."

Vucic also revealed that his ruling SNS party will decide on its candidate in next year's presidential election "in six months' time," and once again rejected as speculation the possibility that he may run.

As for the migrant crisis, the prime minister said that his ministers Nebojsa Stefanovic and Aleksandar Vulin, "and some other people I respect very much, who fight for Serbia" are now in favor of "raising walls" on the country's borders.

"I'm the only one who's against, because I don't want us to raise walls. But Serbia will not be a parking lot for refugees," Vucic said, adding that there were currently 6,500 migrants in Serbia, "81 percent of whom are Afghanis."


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