Russian and Austrian artists, Norwegian politician honored

Austrian writer Peter Handke, Russian filmmaker Nikita Mikhalkov, and Norwegian politician Thorvald Stoltenberg have been named honorary citizens of Belgrade.

Source: Tanjug

All councilors groups in the Serbian capital city's assembly supported the decision, although the Democratic Party (DS) voiced some criticism.

Explaining the proposal earlier on Wednesday, city manager Goran Vesic pointed out that it "in some way represents a precedent and the start a new era in the field of awarding honorary citizen status because so far, the 27 honorary Belgraders have all been politicians and generals."

"This is the first time that this title goes to two artists, and this is why it is a historic decision," said Vesic and added it was high time for Belgrade to honor artists and other prominent public figures who promote the city.

According to him, "the rich political career of Thorvald Stoltenberg started in Belgrade, where he served as secretary of the embassy of the Kingdom of Norway."

"His role in the breakup of Yugoslavia is known to everyone, he did not speak about our people and our country using templates, but instead sought to find a solution and thus deserves the respect of people in Serbia and worldwide," said Vesic.

He then added that by honoring Stoltenberg, Belgrade also honors Norway, which, he said, "perhaps helped Serbia the most in the last 15 years."

When it comes to Nikita Mikhalkov, Vesic noted that he was one of the most important contemporary film directors and emphasized the Russian will become an honorary citizen of Belgrade primarily because of his film Sunstroke which "promotes Belgrade."

"It might not be his best-known movie, but it is about Russian emigres in Belgrade and a part of our history when many of them left a large footprint on the culture, architecture, education and other areas. This is a movie that promotes Belgrade in a nice way," said Vesic.

Peter Handke, he explained, would receive the honor for supporting Serbia for decades "regardless of who was in power in the country," and for his efforts, through public appearances, to make known the real situation in Kosovo and Metohija.

"He is a writer and to him we have an obligation both as Serbia and as Belgrade. He, as an intellectual, did a lot for the other truth to be known during the breakup of Yugoslavia, that not everything was the way it was presented. He set aside a part of the money from each award he received, and these are prestigious awards, and gave it to Serb enclaves in Kosovo and Metohija," Vesic noted.

As he pointed out, "if there was a European intellectual who deserves to be made an honorary citizen of Belgrade, it was Handke."

During the debate that followed in the city assembly today, head of the DS group Balsa Bozovic said that Belgrade should not give the accolade "based on liking or returning political favors" - a practice, he said, that was being "slowly introduced through the back door."

"Why wouldn't Isidora Zebeljan become an honorary citizen, or Vlada Velickovic, or Marina Abramovic, Novak Djokovic, Ana Ivanovic, " Bozovic asked, adding that "none of them are less deserving than today's laureates."

He announced that the party, in opposition in the city assembly, will propose "a multitude of names" during the next session, "among them many people from Serbia who have done much for our city and our country."

Bozovic believes that the city administration acted carelessly when it "measured" how to choose recipients of the honorary citizen award, which he thinks will open to the door to having more than 50 honorary citizens, almost twice as many as today, as soon as next year.

Councilor Zoran Alimpic, also from the Democratic Party, said that neither Mikhalkov nor Handke were proposed for their movies and books, but because of their "hobby of doing politics" while Stoltenberg is "on the opposite side of the political spectrum."

"They are anti-globalization activists and opponents of NATO, and Stoltenberg is something opposite of that," said Alimpic, and asked whether the decision was meant to strike a political balance "so that nobody gets upset."

DSS councilor Dejan Culic argued that this was not a case of "pandering" but of recognizing the recipients' "honorable stance" towards Serbia.

SNS councilor Jasmina Mitrovic-Maric also rejected the criticism that Stoltenberg was chosen for the sake of establishing abalance, and emphasized that "we should be ashamed that in 60 years only 27 persons have been made honorary citizens."

"The fact that so few have been selected does not make the award exceptional," she observed.

According to Mitrovic-Maric, Handke, Mikhalkov and Stoltenberg should be "tied to Belgrade," while the recognition given to them was "a way to say thanks for all they have done walking the streets of this city."

Councilors from the Party of United Pensioners of Serbia said the laureates deserved the recognition because of their "creativity, friendly attitude, humanity and promotion of Serbia and Belgrade."

Handke was nominated by the Milos Crnjanski Endowment, Mikhalkov by the Yugoslav Film Archive, and Stoltenberg by the Belgrade Fund for Political Excellence.


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