Serbs don't like NATO; NATO chief regrets innocent victims
Aleksandar Vucic said on Monday that NATO's bombing of Serbia "and the events in Kosovo" are the main reasons for "the very low popularity of NATO in Serbia."Source: B92, Beta
"That is, in fact, the real reason, and everything else is more or less a side issue... We are improving cooperation, although Serbia is neutral and we don't strive to be part of any military alliance," said the president.
He was speaking after the start of a civil emergency exercise "Serbia 2018" - co-organized by the NATO Euro-Atlantic Disaster Response Coordination Center (EADRCC) and the Serbian Ministry of Interior.
Vucic said that Serbia is, at a rational level, satisfied with its cooperation with NATO, while that the lack of popularity of that alliance here is a consequence of "emotional and psychological issues." Vucic also said he was "confident that the Serbian citizens will know to appreciate the fact that NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has on several occasions said he regretted the civilian casualties from the NATO bombing in 1999."
"There's nobody in this country who hates Stoltenberg. The Serbs do not like what happened in Kosovo in 1999, but if Jens were more present, it would be a good way to improve cooperation," Vucic said.
Asked "how NATO can change the perception of the Serbian public opinion," Stoltenberg, who along with Vucic attended the start of the exercise in Mladenovac, near Belgrade, said that "the best way is to continue working together, such as today's exercise."
"This exercise is good for Serbia, for the region and for all of NATO. Actions speak louder than words, and the best we can do is to show that we are able to strengthen our partnership," he has been quoted as saying.
Stoltenberg also said today that the military alliance he heads "fully respects the neutrality of Serbia and the fact that there is no aspiration to join NATO," and once again expressed his "regret over the innocent victims during the bombing in 1999."
Stoltenberg said he was "aware of the controversy accompanying NATO in Serbia" because of the bombing, and that this war "continues to be a painful memory for many, especially for those who lost someone close to them."
The NATO chief said that he "regretted every innocent life lost and reiterated that "the idea behind those actions was to protect civilians."
According to estimates, NATO in 1999 killed about 1,000 soldiers and policemen and about 2,500 civilians in Serbia.
"We cannot forget the past, but we can go move forward into the future," Stoltenberg said, adding that partnership "benefits both Serbia and NATO" and also recalled the joint programs that have been carried out in the past, such as clearance of landmines and surplus weapons, retraining surplus military personnel, and others.
He reiterated that NATO is "committed to a safe and secure environment for everyone in Kosovo, including the Serbs," and that the dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina was "the best framework for finding solutions for all communities."
Stoltenberg said NATO is "everywhere in the Western Balkans committed to peace and stability, while NATO member countries are major investors contributing to Serbia's economic growth."