Serbian President's Address to Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly
Tadic: Regional relations have reached a new level of trust and understanding.
26. January 2011. | 17:07 17:11
Mr. Secretary General,
Respected Members of the Parliamentary Assembly,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Before I begin, I would like to express my deepest condolences to the delegation of the Russian Federation in the wake of the terrorist attack in Moscow, which we strongly condemn.
It is an honor and pleasure to address the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe—the oldest pan-European political organization.
It represents the conscience of the Continent, and remains the undisputed leader in promoting the interdependence of individual liberty, the rule of law, human and minority rights, and integration.
Three months ago – on October 5, 2010 – we in Serbia celebrated a decade of democracy. It is now ten years since the Serbian people turned their back on the terrible preceding decade. It has not been an easy journey. But it has been one which has laid the foundations of a society which respects the very principles which you all espouse and work for.
So, I look to the next ten years with optimism. If we have achieved so much, so far, there is so much more that we are able to do.
The question is: what are the challenges for the next decade for my country, for my region and for Europe? The answers are inter-related but very clear.
The first challenge is to meet the standards of the European Union so that Serbia and the other countries of our region can become full members of the Union as soon as possible.
The second – and one on which I intend to dwell at greater length today – concerns the need to continue the process of healing in the region.
The third challenge which I want to impress upon you is the need to examine carefully the threats – the contemporary threats – to our democratic process and the measures we must all take to counter those who want to abuse democracy and our economies.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Our strategic objective is to join the European Union.
I am personally convinced that my own country is on the right path. In a few days, the Prime Minister of Serbia will submit our answers to the questionnaire of the European Commission. Thereafter, we hope that we will be able to proceed towards candidacy and the opening of accession negotiations.
As a lynchpin of the Balkans, Serbia feels it can make a positive contribution to the further progress of the entire region. Its development has not proceeded in uniform fashion, however. This includes the way we think about ourselves and our neighbors. Some will still wish to define themselves by differences, disagreements, and disparities—be they political, economic, or cultural.
We see things differently. It is our purpose in Serbia to promote harmony – within our society, among our societies in the region and between the EU and the region.
This is not easy. But we are clear as to our intentions and deeply aware of our commitment to reach beyond our frontiers to help create the conditions for a region that is ready for the European Union.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
In this regard, I want to focus more sharply on the issue of what I call healing—to what we define as reconciliation.
The evidence of progress in the Balkans is conclusive: regional relations have reached a new level of trust and understanding. In fact, they have not been better in the past 20 years. Even on the most challenging issues, we have found ways to work together as never before.
We must understand the implications.
The time has come, I believe, for us, as political leaders in the region, to have confidence in this new momentum of trust and to build on it.
We must be willing to try to sort out our remaining differences on our own to the greatest extent possible. The more we test this and build our confidence, the less we will be dependent in our political psychology on some external deus ex machina to protect our individual interests.
We have to assert regional ownership of our own future, by helping each other to build our own capacity and confidence to resolve our issues among ourselves.
This will be the test of whether we are ready to be stable, contributing members of the European Union.
I believe that Serbia has made important strides in these issues.
For Serbia, reconciliation is a policy priority because it is a strategic and moral imperative.
That is why we will continue to fully cooperate with the Hague Tribunal, and why we will keep working on locating, arresting and extraditing the two remaining fugitive indictees, including Ratko Mladic, as we have with 44 others over the past few years.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I want to draw your attention to Serbia’s bilateral relations with Croatia. These are improving, despite profoundly different assessments of the 1991-95 conflict. We are heartened by the conciliatory rhetoric and gestures of the President Josipovic and Prime Minister Kosor of Croatia, with whom I enjoy a close working relationship. Our recent meeting in Vukovar has greatly helped in the process of reconciliation, as did President Josipovic’s expression of deep regret in the Bosnian parliament that the pursuit of policies by Croatia under Tudjman led to human suffering and divisions there.
The re-start of talks on border demarcation a few months ago, after a seven year hiatus, represents an important milestone. Both sides have affirmed a commitment to move towards a resolution of this issue. Serbia hopes the ensuing good will shall enable our two countries to achieve breakthroughs on other open issues, such as the return of Serb refugees, missing persons, property restitution and pensions—to name just a few.
The improvement in relations between Serbia and Croatia, surely, is encouraging for Bosnia and Herzegovina. We are committed to the sovereignty territorial integrity of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Our collective task is to assist in the establishment of a structure of governance that respects the rights and interests of the two entities and the three constitutive nations and enhances the effectiveness of governance.
It will be a test of the maturity of our region if the democratically elected political leaders of Bosnia and Herzegovina are encouraged to achieve consensus, perhaps with some facilitation from outside, but certainly without imposition of external agendas. This is a litmus test of the sustainability of any progress in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
I traveled to Srebrenica a year after I was elected president of Serbia to stand with the survivors and bow to the victims on the 10th anniversary of that crime. I did so again this past July, on the 15th anniversary.
This launched a fierce national debate in my country on the misdeeds of the past.
The Serbian parliament subsequently adopted a historic Declaration on Srebrenica last March, which unequivocally condemned the war crimes that took place there. This document—the first of its kind in the whole of Europe—extends profound condolences and sincere apologies to the families of the Bosnian Muslim victims.
With regard to Kosovo, our position is well-known. We shall not recognize the Unilateral Declaration of Independence of our province of Kosovo and Metohija. We do look forward to engaging with Pristina in the dialogue. We have been ready ever since the world supported by acclamation the fact that dialogue is the only road to peace in Kosovo. We foresee a period during which we can discuss a variety of issues. These discussions should be carried out in an atmosphere of trust allowing both parties, at least initially, to understand each others concerns. The sooner these discussions begin, the sooner we will be able to find a path forward.
We are committed, I want to emphasize, to finding a solution that is comprehensive. This dialogue must result in an historical reconciliation between Serbs and Albanians throughout our region. This is not a zero-sum-game. There cannot be one set of winners and one set of losers.
Thus, I appeal to all sides to be creative. We must avoid setting obstacles that will block the spirit and substance of dialogue. Fora such as this one can help set a constructive framework on difficult matters. The status-neutrality of the Council of Europe has brought great benefit to all the province’s communities. Serbia supports this constructive approach which we are certain will help the dialogue reach a successful conclusion. I would urge you to continue this policy of avoiding divisive debates on controversial matters, including the potential application for membership for Kosovo.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
In the Balkans, no one nation lives only in one country. The goal of reconciliation and harmony therefore begin in each country. It is axiomatic in a democracy that all differences can and should be expressed. Thus minorities must enjoy every right to express and preserve their identity. But the responsibility for this must lie with each country and its own minorities. The process of European enlargement should enshrine and consolidate this fundamental issue.
I draw your attention to the fact that Serbia has now established 19 national minority councils. They were directly elected in 2010. They have executive powers – not just consultative powers - in several fields that are very important to the preservation of identity. We are committed to policies that are inclusive towards all minorities. I am particularly proud of our efforts to promote the inclusion of the Roma – one of the most vulnerable minorities in Europe.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I have reserved the last part of my comments to you on one issue which now worries me more than any other. In fact, it should worry all of us.
We are confronted by a profound threat to our democratic societies.
It is as fatal as cancer is to our bodies.
Its name is organized crime.
In our globalized world, we see a qualitative and quantitative change in the way that organized crime tries to manipulate the freedoms we offer in our democratic societies. The sophistication and size of these organizations is alarming. The speed at which they adapt to new challenges is astounding.
But the real purpose of organized crime is not just to live in parallel with legal society. Rather, it seeks to become society – it finds its collaborators in our official world.
It subverts politics. It corrupts economies. It impoverishes those who seek an honest life as law-abiding citizens. It fills youth with drugs. It destroys the lives of countless young women. It kills to steal parts of peoples’ bodies. It perverts society.
It is a global phenomenon and it is penetrating Europe.
To penetrate Europe, it is trying to use our region as a key point of entry.
Unless and until we all cooperate to fight this terrible threat, our region and my country will be held back from its dearest aspirations.
I am therefore asking that we all work together to eliminate it.
In our region, we have a responsibility to create a strategic alliance against organized crime. We hope that everyone in the Western Balkans will make fighting it a priority. We owe this to our citizens, we owe it to our neighbors in the European Union, and we owe it to the next generation.
Serbia, for its part, will do whatever it takes; we will stay the course until this war on organized crime is won.
I can tell you that the security services in my country are involved in meeting two major objectives: to find Ratko Mladic and to defeat organized crime. I can also tell you that we cooperate with a number of other countries, often with great success.
It is with this in mind that I note yesterday’s approval by the Parliamentary Assembly of a deeply disturbing report entitled “Investigation of Allegations of Inhuman Treatment of People and Illicit Trafficking in Human Organs in Kosovo.”
I wish to associate myself and my country with the report this Assembly has overwhelmingly approved on the heinous crimes it discusses. It is a deeply harrowing issue for all who embrace the principles and values of the Council of Europe, and the specific crimes are emblematic of the very concerns I have outlined in my comments so far.
Let me remind you of the extent of the crime as presented in the report that you have approved and the resolution that you have adopted. It states that starting in 1998, leaders of the insurgent Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) headed a powerful organized crime syndicate engaged in drugs, weapons and human smuggling known as the ‘Drenica Group.’
The report has determined that “the leaders of the ‘Drenica Group’ seem to bear the greatest responsibility” for the fate of many hundreds of ethnic Serbs and Albanians who were kidnapped by the KLA.
The abductees were delivered to secret detention camps in neighboring Albania, where many of them were slaughtered. Most damningly, the report says the Serb victims were singled out for surgery, so that their internal organs could be extracted and sold on the international black market.
It is imperative that allegations of these terrible crimes are not swept under the carpet. Those responsible must be held accountable. The global networks that finance these crimes and the local perpetrators must be brought to justice.
I want to thank the Parliamentary Assembly for taking the first important step towards uncovering what really happened in those secret KLA detention camps.
As President of Serbia, I call for an immediate, full and independent criminal investigation of these charges—one that is both internationally mandated and internationally accountable. And, I add, the legitimacy of this investigation will be secured, finally and only, by the immediate establishment of an effective witness protection program.
No existing institution on its own has the mandate or jurisdiction to carry out a serious criminal investigation that would be comprehensive in scope. This needs to be clarified, as yesterday’s resolution makes very clear. In our view, those who conduct the future investigations should all report, ultimately, to a single authority. There cannot be a delay in identifying or creating such a body. It has been done before in other instances. It can be done now.
Anything less than such an action would result in many Serbs believing that there is one set of rules for them and another for others. That some victims and some families are more deserving of closure and justice than others. The effect will be to give license to double standards and criminality.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I have deliberately closed on a note of warning.
We cannot sit on our laurels. The issue of atrocities committed in times of conflict and post-conflict, together with the issue of organized crime, is one that can corrode our democracies and the lives of our children. I have given you just one example. Tragically, there are many more.
This matter cannot simply be reduced to a few technical committees to review what should be done.
If we take it on with passion and without fear, we will begin to win this battle. If we do not, I believe that we will return to this forum in the years ahead wringing our hands and saying “If only we had done something…”. Every one of you knows someone who has been afflicted in one way or another by crime. Let us admit it and fight it.
I am deeply persuaded of the opportunity now before us—the opportunity to live together in concord, security and prosperity. It is time to rise to the occasion, and successfully complete the historic task at hand.