- Mr. Ambassador, you have recently started your diplomatic mission in Azerbaijan. That is why first of all we would like to get to know you. What can you say about yourself?
- It is never easy to describe oneself, but on this occasion, I will speak about what I wanted and did for my people and my beautiful country. I see myself primarily as a person who has devoted his entire professional and personal life to serving his country and all its citizens, as well as to the entire Serbian people. Since 1985, when I graduated from the Air Force Academy as the first in rank, I have spent most of my career as a pilot of supersonic combat aviation within the Serbian Army Air Force and Air Defense Service. In that capacity, I had the honor in 1999 of repaying my debt to my homeland in a typical war, unjustly imposed on us at that time, which our entire country fought in order to defend its independence and territorial integrity.
In 2002, I became a member of the Military Intelligence Agency of the Ministry of Defense of the Republic of Serbia, where I performed the duty of the head of the Analysis and Assessment Section until 2005. I continued serving my homeland as a defense attaché of the Republic of Serbia in Turkey, after which I assumed a very responsible position of the Deputy Director of the Military Intelligence Agency in 2009. The following year, I was promoted to the rank of brigadier general and appointed Director of the Military Intelligence Agency, where I served until 2014, when I met the legal requirements for my retirement.
Given my devotion to the well-being of my state and nation, in 2015 I was eager to accept the proposal to govern the Office for Coordination of Affairs in the Process of Negotiation with the PISG in Pristina, as a "hub" state institution in charge of preparation, monitoring, coordination and direct engagement in activities of the negotiation process with the PISG in Pristina. For me, this duty represented a particular challenge and responsibility, since it is our most important state and national issue, dealt with within the framework of the EU-mediated Dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina which is conducted on the basis of the UN General Assembly Resolution.
As you probably know, it is from that position that I have been appointed Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Republic of Serbia to your country, which I consider a tremendous honor and the highlight of my career.
- It is interesting, did you visit Azerbaijan before being appointed ambassador?
- Unfortunately, I have never had the opportunity to visit this beautiful country of yours before I was appointed Ambassador. Although I had plans to visit Azerbaijan and Baku in particular, as a sort of "Paris of the Caucasus", while I was serving as the defense attaché of the Republic of Serbia in Turkey, my numerous unforeseen and urgent professional commitments, arising in that line of work, prevented me from doing so. Nevertheless, I would say that I am very well acquainted with the unique and extremely rich culture, history, and tradition of your people, which include a truly impressive civilizational heritage that dates back to ancient times.
- I know that you have been in our country for a short time. However, it would be interesting to know your first impressions...
- It seems to me that the first impressions of every visitor to a foreign country are naturally related to the contact with its people at the airport, in a store, on the street, etc., and in that context, I really dismiss the slightest possibility of anyone ever gaining any other impression except that the Azerbaijanis are extremely hospitable, polite, friendly and ready to help any foreigner who happens to be in their country. Although I come from a nation that cherishes identical values in this respect, I really could not help but notice, and emphasize that noble character trait of your people.
Furthermore, I believe that your country can be proud of its exceptional tidiness and aesthetic sophistication of public buildings and areas, which indicates to a careful observer not only the high degree of citizen responsibility, but also special attention that all competent authorities pay to the needs of their people.
After a while, the exceptional orderliness of state institutions, good organization and functioning of the social system, the exceptional care of the state leadership for the well-being and progress of its people and the exceptional skill and devotion of your President Mr. Aliyev to making Azerbaijan a world-renowned country and a leader in the region.
- P resenting your credentials to the President of Azerbaijan, a point in your speech caught my attention. - My appointment was a personal wish of the President of the Republic of Serbia, Mr. Aleksandar Vucic. Why did the Serbian leader want to see you as an ambassador to Azerbaijan?
- The key reason why President Vučić personally decided to do me the honor of representing the Republic of Serbia in Azerbaijan is that he, as well as the entire Government of the Republic of Serbia, attach great importance to improving and strengthening cooperation with your friendly country. In that sense, President Vučić certainly appreciated the fact that, during my career, I have successfully performed all the most responsible duties entrusted to me, and, presumably, he was convinced that I would be equally successful in this position as well.
In addition, the President certainly had in mind the fact that during the past years I was one of his closest associates when it comes to the issue of the aforementioned Belgrade - Pristina Dialogue – one of the most important state issues of the Republic of Serbia. Mindful of the fact that our countries have a similar problem in their struggle to preserve territorial integrity and sovereignty, the Serbian president, I believe, wanted a person of his trust in this post. Someone who can fully understand the views of your country from the perspective of this problem - and all with the aim of strengthening mutual cooperation, friendship and improving relations.
- What are the current areas of cooperation between Azerbaijan and Serbia?
- As for this topic, I would first like to point out that the relations between our two countries have been cultivated within the highest framework of strategic partnership since 2013. There is complete compatibility of interests between the two countries and, in that context, we have signed 37 bilateral agreements so far, among which the Declaration on Friendly Relations and Strategic Partnership from 2013 and the Joint Action Plan on Strategic Partnership from 2018, signed by the two heads of states, bear special importance.
All bilateral cooperation takes place, therefore, in this normative framework, and it is most intensive on the political level, where the relations between the two countries are very close and friendly.
As for the economy, the most intensive cooperation is in the field of road infrastructure, and the most important project is the construction of the section of the highway between Ljig and Preljina on Corridor 11 in the Republic of Serbia (a total of 40.4 km), where the main contractor was the Azerbaijani company AzWirt. This project was successfully completed and the section was officially opened on November 7, 2016. Cooperation with AzVirt continued with the construction of the highway between Ruma and Šabac (22km) and the Šabac -Loznica highway (55km). This successful company is also engaged in works on the sections of the bypass around Belgrade, and it is expected to be engaged in the works on the port of Smederevo on the Danube River.
Significant cooperation is also present in the spheres of trade, tourism, energy, as well as in the field of culture, where most of the activities take place in the field of literature and translation. In the sphere of cultural relations, Azerbaijan Cultural Center and the Center for Azerbaijani Language and Culture in Belgrade occupy a special place, as well as the Center of Serbian Language, Literature and Culture, which President Vučić officially opened in Baku in 2018.
- What are your new goals for the development of relations between Azerbaijan and Serbia?
- It is obvious from my previous answer that the current scope and content of cooperation in the economic sphere does not fully correspond with the excellent political and cultural relations between our two countries. Therefore, one of the key priorities of the Embassy of the Republic of Serbia will be to substantially increase the extent of trade and economic cooperation as a whole, which we will implement in parallel with the obvious goal of further improving and strengthening very close, strategically important, political relations. In that sense, the Republic of Serbia is very pleased that it will have the opportunity in the fall to jointly organize with your country the celebration of the important anniversary of the Non-Aligned Movement in Belgrade.
- As you know that, last year Azerbaijan liberated its lands from occupation as a result of the 44-day Patriotic War. Reconstruction and construction work has already begun in those areas. Will Serbian companies participate in this process? If so, in what areas can they contribute?
- Serbian companies stand ready and willing to substantially increase their presence on the Azerbaijani market. Therefore, in the coming period, our Embassy will be fully dedicated to enabling business contacts between the companies of our countries, so that all the potentials of cooperation can first be identified, and then fully developed in practice. In that context, I must emphasize that the Republic of Serbia may be really proud of its companies that provide world-class services - in almost all areas - and they can offer these services at prices that are more than competitive.
As for the specific major infrastructure and other projects in your country - which are said to be granted primarily to companies from friendly countries - I would like to take this opportunity to thank President Aliyev for his recent confirmation that the Republic of Serbia is undoubtedly one of those states. In that regard, the Serbian side will try to fully justify the trust given and in the best possible way carry out all the jobs that will be assigned to its companies.
- Mr. Ambassador, Serbian Foreign Minister Nikola Selakovic is expected to visit Azerbaijan. The next meeting of the Intergovernmental Commission on Trade and Economic Cooperation will be held during the visit. When is it planned and what issues will be discussed?
- Minister Selaković will pay a bilateral visit to Azerbaijan, probably in late July. The visit is to have numerous political activities on the agenda, which is typical of this kind of visit between two friendly countries and two important strategic partners. Within that framework, the Minister will finalize the arrangements concerning the 60th anniversary of the First Summit of the Non-Aligned Movement held in Belgrade, which will be co-hosted by the presidents of our countries.
In addition, Minister Selaković and Minister Babayev, as the co-chairs of the Intergovernmental Commission for Trade and Economic Cooperation between the Republic of Serbia and the Republic of Azerbaijan (IGC), will hold the Sixth Session of the IGC. The session is to allow for concrete talks and arrangements, with the aim of intensifying economic cooperation and trade between the two countries, within the framework of guidelines set by President Aliyev and President Vucic.
On that occasion, the Serbian Foreign Minister will head a delegation for bilateral talks, a delegation of participants of the Sixth IGC Session, but also a large business delegation, which will hold a Business Forum in coordination with Azerbaijani business representatives. I expect very concrete arrangements and results from that event.
- In general, what can you say about economic and trade cooperation between our countries?
- I think we have already answered this question. We have all the preconditions, we have potentials, there is a need for that kind of cooperation and, what is especially important, the unequivocal support from our heads of state. Therefore, it is up to us to work diligently to put it into action, because the cooperation in the field of economy and trade simply has to keep up with the excellent political relations between Serbia and Azerbaijan - which is not the case at the moment, as we said.
- Serbia is also known as a tourist destination in the world. The pandemic has certainly hit tourism the most. When will Serbia be opened for tourists and what are the plans to develop cooperation with Azerbaijan in this direction and increase mutual tourist visits?
- You are most certainly right about this because the Republic of Serbia really represents a significant country in terms of tourism. Unfortunately, that branch of the economy has been most affected by the consequences of the current pandemic, and the subsistence of many workers and many families in that sector have been undermined during the past year. Fortunately, owing to the strong personal engagement of President Vučić, our country was among the first countries to provide a sufficient number of vaccines to start mass immunization of the population. As a result, the number of infected people in the Republic of Serbia is rapidly declining and the measures introduced to prevent the spread of COVID 19 have been softened. This lead to a relatively favorable epidemiological situation in our country, with a trend of further improvement.
The described events have resulted in a gradual resumption of activities in the tourism sector, which we expect to reach its pre-pandemic extent relatively quickly. As for cooperation with Azerbaijan in terms of tourism, we will certainly not wait for things to go back to normal in order to improve cooperation in this area, and we have, therefore, already prepared a plan of concrete activities that you will have the opportunity to follow up in the coming period.
You should know that the potentials of tourist exchange between our two countries are enormous and far above the achieved level. On the one hand, Serbia has recognized Azerbaijan as an attractive destination for its tourists and, on the other hand, wishes to see Azerbaijani tourists in our country. To this aim, we have abolished visas for all citizens of Azerbaijan, we expect the operationalization of the agreed direct airline, we will intensify tourist promotion and, as I said, I deeply believe that very concrete results will be seen in the near future.
- Mr. Ambassador, thank you for the interview
- I would like to reiterate that I feel privileged to have been given the opportunity to serve in your wonderful and friendly country, and I am very grateful to you for giving me the opportunity to e my impressions and thoughts at the very beginning of my term.