All marvellous topics for conversation, however, the first question for the Coordinator of the Secret Services and the Minister of Defence relates to his main portfolio, because it is the role in which the public sees him most rarely.
What situation did you find in the Ministry of Defence?
The Ministry of Defence and the Serbian Armed Forces are a system which is better organised than any other, and we have had a series of important events to include the preparation of the budget. I have committed myself to the enhancement of the defence industries dealings and I expect results in 2013 and 2014 since these are not one-day dealings that we are talking about. Our idea is to employ as many people as possible, to conclude as many business deals as possible with African and Asian nations to which we can sell our armament.
You keep emphasising Serbia's commitments under the Partnership for Peace Programme. Will the military neutrality be a long-term decision having in mind the fact the all the surrounding countries have already joined or are in the process of joining NATO?
We use all instruments through the Partnership for Peace cooperating with all nations, but we have to comply with the Constitution of the Republic of Serbia and the National Assembly's Declaration on Military Neutrality. What will happen in the future, I cannot tell. You know that I have been to Canada attending the International Security Forum and to Norway as well. These are among the most important NATO member states, and we have excellent cooperation with them and we intend to further promote it through different forms.
What is emerging now and what should be decided by our state are so-called major regional procurements which are carried our partially through the Partnership for Peace and partially through NATO. We should see whether Serbia is interested in them or not. One of these is so-called PARAD project related to the joint procurement of radar systems, by means of which we would make considerable savings. Until now, the right to participate therein has been granted only to NATO aspirant countries.
There are several such projects which are significant for our country, but what we say to them we also say to the Russian side when we go to Moscow – we cooperate with you, we wish this cooperation to be good and fair, but we have the Constitution to comply with. The same as we cannot be a NATO member state, we cannot be a member to CSTO (Collective Security Treaty Organisation) either, or to any other military alliance.
Your political party criticised the mandatory military service putting into abeyance. Are you considering resuming it?
Mr Pelević used to say that Serbia needed 45 thousand soldiers. Serbia has a small but good Military, and I hope that it will be well equipped.
It means that mothers may breathe a sigh of relief?
Yes, the conscription service will not be resumed.
The public is getting the impression that you distinctly advocate the orientation towards the West, while the Serbian President and your partners advocate the orientation towards the other side. What is really Serbia's orientation?
I have a simple answer in two sentences only, and this is as follows: Serbia wants to join the European Union. That's it, definitely. Serbia wants to have good relations with other states worldwide, which implies the Russian Federation, China, etc. That's it, as well. However, Serbia wants to be part of the European Union and this is a decision to be made by the leadership of this country which cannot be reached or changed overnight or by way of a change in power. It is realistic to expect a more favourable Report in December than the one in September was, and I expect that we will obtain the date for the commencement of negotiations in March or no later than June. Once we obtain the commencement date, there will be no place for the dilemma whether to join the Union or not, and on the other hand, the door will be opening to us at that moment.
In the meantime, we are going to pass a law on public procurements, which I am particularly proud of, and a new law on state-owned companies. We have amended the Law on the National Bank of Serbia as insisted by IMF and the World's Bank. When we complete all these, I am confident that there will be a lot more investors than nowadays, and that the results in improving the living standard of the population in Serbia will be visible. This will not be a miracle, but it will certainly be a sort of advancement.
The opposition to the European integration has been growing stronger, particularly in recent days.
You always have the 50/50 ratio in the population – I call it so regardless of whether there is a per cent up or down – and the strength of the leadership of a country lies in stating clearly what their way is, without ingratiating themselves with the people. When I look at the electoral body of the Serbian Progressive Party, 50 per cent is against, 40 per cent is for, and 10 per cent is undecided but still supporting the Serbian Progressive Party for other reasons. We have clearly decided and it is our obligation to say: "We are going this way" and to tell people what they even do not like. I can find millions of arguments against EU and Serbia's accession thereto, but there is the question - if this is not the option, what to do with this country? I hear those who keep criticizing, but I have not heard yet what to do in case we do not obtain the date for the commencement of negotiations.
We respect all ideas, but I am certain that it is better for Serbia to be a better organised society and ensure a better future for its children. This can only happen through the accession to the European Union and not the other way around.
What would you do if the cooperation with ITCY were yet to await us? Would you extradite Karadžić and Mladić?
It would be easy to say that we would instantly terminate the cooperation, but who knows what factors would be brought into play and what arguments would be tabled. Those who participate in governing a state must not be concerned solely about daily matters or about finding ways to get people to like them, but they have to be able to think ahead. We are all shocked by ITCY's recent acquittal, and when I was visiting Canada I had talks with the Germans and they were shocked as much. In those talks, they were equally critical as I was regarding the fact that so many Serbs had been expelled and killed, and no one was held responsible for that. The question which poses itself to us is what can we do? We are going to exert all possible efforts at national, political, legal, international levels, but life goes on. Shall we really undermine regional stability?
This is a fundamental question.
We are going to protect our interests, but to undermine regional stability – it would be like shooting yourself in the foot.
It is obvious that a great political wisdom is needed for other matters as well, for example the Kosovo issue. What do you expect about this matter?
The people in my line of work strive to remain on the political scene, and little will they do for the country. When political analysts, beginning with Mr Antonić, criticise me saying that: "Mr Vučić announced that it would be painful", I say that it will be painful for sure and ask: "How do they think it to be otherwise; do they have some nice solution to the problem?
President Nikolić has offered the Academicians to propose a solution, and the President of the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts replies that the Academicians are not going to deal with daily political issues. However, at press conferences during the latest electoral campaign he addressed the issue of the bridge cords of his son no less than four times. Of course, he will not deal with the Kosovo issue because he is aware that he has no solution to offer. And, what shall I say to the people; that there is a nice solution?
Will the good neighbourly relations with Kosovo be a condition for obtaining the negotiations commencement date?
As for the official conditions, the dialogue is very important for us. It is significant that it continues and moves towards reaching an agreement in the areas of energy and telecommunications. What is extremely important and at the same time absolutely the most difficult is the issue of the IBM implementation.
This is the most demanding condition.
But, I do not think that we should have good neighbourly relations with Kosovo. If you have noticed, even in the document that Mr Schockenhoff and Mr Falensky brought, this was put in brackets. According to our Constitution, we cannot accept Kosovo as a neighbouring state, but as part of the territory of the Republic of Serbia. The talks will be difficult; we have to implement many solutions, although they were adopted by the former Government, as agreed with Albanians and the international community. These solutions are horrible, but it is our international commitment to implement them and it is useless to dwell on it any further.
The ITCY's verdict for Haradinai is yet to be pronounced …
I am afraid that this trial is going to result in an acquittal as well, and that it will be another humiliation for us and would pose an additional problem to all responsible and sensible people on the political scene. This is a problem for all those who look into the future, but not for those who would like to stir a fire. An acquittal will be humiliating for all the victims, for all the people from Kosovo and Metohija, and for all Serbs too, because they could finally say loud and clear – Well, nobody is to blame for the dead Serbs. When you come to think of it, the Bosnian Muslims and Serbs are the greatest victims of the wars waged in the area of former Yugoslavia.
You are the leader of the biggest party of the ruling majority; will there be opposition inside the Serbian Progressive Party to what you have been taking about?
This does not worry me. It is our job to do something for this country. If we are not able to do so – let others do it. I am not ruling out the possibility of a combination of the Democratic Party with the Socialist Party of Serbia and the Party of United Pensioners of Serbia – I can see that they get along just fine together. Let them make combinations without us. But, they have only one problem; the people in Serbia do not support this idea, and they most convincingly trust the Serbian Progressive Party.
Will early elections be scheduled?
Early elections would suit me and my family most, and from the political point of view they would suit the Serbian Progressive Party as well, but if this question relates to whether I am shaking with fear of possible changes – the answer is: "No, I am not; let them make changes." But, they will have to tell me whether during this period we have been lazy, whether we have stolen something, made a bad decision or passed a bad law without remedying them. It will be hard to find these. Therefore, for those who want changes – it would be fair to stand for elections, although they can make new arrangements without new elections whatsoever.
What did your predecessor, Mr Rakić, leave to you as the Security Services' Coordinator? To what extent are you satisfied with the inherited state of affairs in this area?
Mr Rakić combated organised crime very effectively, and he is one of the persons responsible for the successful action against the biggest drug clan in the Balkans. This action required great courage and I congratulated him on the achieved results at that time as well. What I find fault with the than Government, although I am not referring to Mr Rakić, is something that has been noted by Mr Degert as well, and this is the fact that since 2007 we have had a growing corruption problem, and that nothing has been done. I am saying this because at that time cases were investigated on ad hoc basis and as necessary.
Today, there is a systemic approach, although I am still unsatisfied with the institutional framework we have been working in together with prosecutors and courts. What awaits us is enacting a new anti-corruption strategy. South Wales and Croatia have already produced very well written documents of that kind, and I expect that our National Assembly will also pass one such document in 2 or 3 months. From my conversations with EU officials, I have understood that they also have numerous recommendations on combating corruption, which are significant for both Serbia and other countries in the region.
You have mentioned a systemic approach, but it all looks more like an action or improvisation. How do you intend to find an institutional solution?
The Federal German Minister of Economic Cooperation and Development, Mr Niebel, expressed a willingness to help us. What do we need? Certain amendments to the Criminal Procedure Code and to the Criminal Code; an anti-corruption strategy. As from 15th January we will have serious problems with prosecutors because they are all taking up prosecuting investigations. We are considering the possibility of giving one building of those belonging to the Ministry of the Interior or the Ministry of Defence to the Public Prosecutor's Office so that the personnel employed there may do their jobs. The appropriate qualification is a big problem, as well. We have excellent prosecutors, but there has been no prosecuting investigation in our country so far, therefore we need relevant training. We also need assistance in training. This is why I sought help from Germany.
There have been certain announcements of a new delay. Will the prosecuting investigation start on 15th January nevertheless?
Yes, definitely. I had a hard talk at the State Department – last time it was an hour and a half conversation, and we spent 50 minutes discussing the Criminal Procedure Code. People usually think that talks on the EU and the Kosovo issue are difficult, but this one is even harder. Somebody will say that they interfere, but they do not. We have to see what people from the developed part of the world do and tailor our system accordingly, and then see how to conform to it. Are we at this moment qualified for the prosecuting investigation? I am afraid that we are not, but we still have two months left to provide technical conditions at least.
In addition, our actions must be more efficient, which means that if a prosecutor completes his/her work, the proceedings should not last for five years. This also implies that each tickling and difficult case should not be put aside pending. When you say that "it all looks more like an action" – well, it does not embarrass me to admit that it is true, but this is not an "I don't like this guy" type of action. We said on purpose that we were starting with the 24 cases we got from the European Commission, which were also referred to by the Anti-Corruption Council. It is not Vučić who pulled those cases out of his pocket. The whole public was aware of their existence. When you go through them, you notice the entire structure of what was happening in the previous 15 or 20 years. They make the essence of the privatization process as well, but not only of it. Namely, 15 those cases are related to privatisation and the rest are not. You may see what problems the state was facing at that time, and the problems are yet to occur.
Can you bring them to a verdict?
I have no illusions; I do not know how all this will end. I am talking about the fact that Serbia has to be a better organised country. If you ask me whether the end is coming in sight and how these 24 cases will end, I can say that I will do my best together with other people involved, and it has been agreed that we should sell our skins dearly and bring this matter to an end. Will we be able to do so – I am not sure.
It turns out that it depends on the will of a few people…
No. What I want to say is that people who will tell you that they support combating corruption have a great power until it comes to somebody who helped them, did them a favour, etc.
You want to say that there is obstruction of the process?
There is opposition, definitely, and huge problems as well…
In the Government itself?
I cannot say so, but it certainly is felt everywhere. I have talked several times with Mr Dačić and we have not had any problems, but I can see it, feel it. You cannot possibly think that people who have been unlawfully acquiring hundreds of millions of euros for years and decades and who can do whatever they want with that money, will allow losing everything overnight, in a few days or weeks?
Novi magazin has written a lot about it, we have opened some cases...
Tracing an important piece of information that I read in the Novi magazin, I asked and received certain documents associating some tycoons with narco-clans.
Why don’t you confiscate property acquired through crime?
There will be changes ...
After a final judgement has been passed?
Yes. It was one of the longer debates that Rakić and I had, even on a personal level. He said that the law in question would help him, and I told him: "Make sure that it is applied after the judgement has been made final”, because there could be various abuses, not to mention how much possible restitution of such property would cost. He believed that the confiscation of property would be more discouraging more than imprisonment. Speaking of narco-clans, it is so, but now we're talking about people who have politically legalized their property and are now distinguished members of the community, more respectable than you or me - as for them, one day in prison is worse than the confiscation of money itself.
I have been very cautious. One thing is certain, and I am aware of it - Defeating all these people – you know who they are, but I don’t want any names to be mentioned in order that the public would not get the impression that this is Vucic’s personal fight – is something that will not be easily allowed. It was not by accident that I said that I did not know what would happen in the end. For me, the end will be when we get a date, institutions, and a strategy for combating corruption; when prosecutors will be able to smoothly and functionally conduct investigations without any interference, as it was the case when the prosecutor said that he did not need Dulić to be remanded in custody and no one interfered. If it is so, it is better for the country, the costs will be lower.
I have already said that owing to your magazine we opened new cases that were not most directly, but rather indirectly, linked to those 24 cases and I expect that we will enter the finalisation phase this or next week. These will be the things that will shake entire Serbia and no one will be able to stop them anymore, either institutionally or extra-institutionally. Some people fear certain names. I can see it, because some of them want to work on all cases without exception and some do not.
What does it mean when you say extra-institutionally?
I cannot say more; there are different people with nicknames from Nakaza (Freak) to others who are not in touch with me but with other people who have a lot of money. Who knows where and in which direction it will move.
We have been seeing announcements on front pages that today and tomorrow someone is to be arrested. Are you going to stop this practice?
I do not care what is published and where. I do not get involved in such matters; I am interested in the essence of the fight against corruption and what the ensuing results will be. The fact that someone is bothered by what is published, does not concern me. I don’t like many things, so what? I know what I was held accountable for in the past, and you know what people say – once bitten twice shy. Therefore, I stay out of it.
It seems that the combat against corruption is targeted at people who are close to the previous administration.
It is simple. In the Agrobanka scandal, some people involved therein belong to part of the present administration, from Mr Sekulić to some other persons rumoured to be the financiers of SPS (Socialist Party of Serbia) and no one has made an exception. If you want to tell me that someone commits a crime today and is not prosecuted, let me know. Of course, it is all related to what used to happen in the previous period, because there is material evidence to support that and there is the obligation to prosecute these matters. Our actions have some kind of impact as a measure of general prevention. If you are wondering whether there will be exceptions and the protected ones, I can tell you that it will not happen, and you will be able to see it in the forthcoming period.
You have said that something big is going to happen in the next week or two?
As I am always said that I am the one who announces the things, I just think that there will be some big cases like this one concerning Azotara (the Nitrogen Plant), and there will be more cases that will create a different mind setup.
In terms of economy, Serbia is going to finish this year disastrously – deficit, inflation, unemployment. How will you cope with these problems?
We need to work on improving the investment environment; therefore we are striving to adopt a number of important laws and the starting date for negotiations is important – not only for the legal system of the state, but because it will open the doors to investors. The Asian states operating in the Central European countries are interested in transferring to Serbia, but only after receiving the date. If, let’s say, KIA and Hyundai transfer a part of their production here, Serbia could begin to slowly reduce the level of unemployment.
In the next year, we expect minimal economic growth and reduction of the budget deficit, hopefully to the extent we anticipated, although everything near that figure would be good. But before that we have to meet the prerequisites in order to improve the legal and economic environment.
After this interview, you are going to attend the memorial service to be held by Patriarch for the victims of wars. History of memories is important for us. People who were expelled in the "Storm" operation are still living in unfit conditions.
This issue is difficult and painful for us, we accepted it as a state – and that is good – to deal with those who committed crimes referring often to all of us, including the state. I simply regret that this kind of consciousness, even involuntary, does not exist at some of our neighbours. A few days ago it was terrible to watch some media in Croatia ...
It was similar in Serbia.
I have no problem to say that we will not get anything if we curse them all, but it is important to take care of the people that you have mentioned. Those who opted for living here need jobs and housing, those who wish to return should be allowed to go back and to have their property back, so let them do what they want with it. The Serbian state can help much more regarding that issue than it did so far.
It is good to recall other cases, and for Serbia, for you, the Barbalić case is one that is indicative. Will the Barbalić family be enabled to dispose of their property?
I do not know how the things are legally; I'll have a look at the case. I am not sure if that was their property; I think that it is the property of the state authority. Once I have become familiar with the case I will be able to tell you what could be done.
Rejuvenation of the politics
How do you see yourself in politics in five years, how do you see Serbia, and what will Serbia look like?
We have entered the process of democratization of the society in which the changes in party leadership will be normal. We have completely changed the leadership. The vice-presidents of the Party are Nebojša Stefanović, Igor Mitrović, Zorana Mihajlović, Goran Knežević – not only that the leadership is the youngest ever, but it is really different from what was before. It will change again in a few years. There was a generational change, and how long someone will stay in politics does not have anything to do with his age. I believe that I will not spend all my life in politics, and it has nothing to do with the age, but with the time spent in politics.
I would like Serbia to be an organised country. There is some sort of hater approach with us – which I am trying to overcome – no matter what someone does and the way he does it, this is not good because he is such and such. Everything I worked on, I worked hard and diligently.
The public was amazed with your nightly appearance at the Red Star Club and the commitments made to that club. Is that direct political interference in sports?
I do not know if you have noticed but I am not running away from being in the club management. It is my job to help, it is the job of the state, and as a state official I am considering how much and in which way, without compromising the functioning of public enterprises, can we help those who are important to the society. Red Star football club, Partizan basketball club, and Partizan football club, they will all have to undergo rescheduling of tax debt.
Why are you helping the richest ones?
Unfortunately, they are not rich.
How comes? The players do not know what to do with their money?
We do not help the players, but sport clubs and societies. If we did not interfere, everyone would be off the electricity. Would you prefer that we completely abolish sports? I do not mind if it is the thesis of the majority of people in Serbia, but I think it is not realistic. If you ask me if there was a lot of irresponsibility, not to say something else, in the management of the Red Star, the answer is yes, at least they were irresponsible.
I do not like to talk before some cases are completed ...
The Džajić case ended unexpectedly ...
In Džajić’s time, situation in the club was much better. His arrest was carried out in a scandalous way, and if you look at the case there is none of the prosecution witnesses who charged him, and I wonder how the case was prepared. After all, he was charged with damage to the managers of players, not the state.
When EPS writes off the debts of Red Star and Partizan, this is to be paid by all the citizens.
They cannot write them off, they can reschedule the debts. For Red Star it is about 500 thousand. Debts for which they are not liable to the state, let them find the way themselves.
It has been recently that electricity was cut off in 800 companies as well as in Belgrade theatres because of the debts. Will there be rescheduling as well?
Yes, in the same way. Should Atelier 212 or JDP (Yugoslav Drama Theatre) be without electricity, forget it. But I think they all need get obliged in a way to pay their debts, and thus it was a good decision of EPS (Electrical Pover Plant) to turn off electricity of Red Star and Partizan for an hour. Just for them to know that the state is not their dowry.
We still have three unsolved murders of journalists. Will Serbia be the only country with unsolved murders of journalists?
We have also an unsolved bomb attack on Dejan Anastasijević, but there are many other unsolved crimes. Establishment of a large international committee is underway, and we will invite German and some other experts again, and journalists will be included as well. I am a pessimist by nature, I do not like big promises, but if you ask me – I think we will solve something. The country cannot be normal as long as it is normal to kill someone because of different opinion and attitude, because of free thinking. We have recently arrested the attacker to KFOR German soldier, which, unfortunately, almost nobody recorded in public. This is not popular and no one wants it, but our message must be clear – the government will not tolerate killing of anyone in our territory, either German, or Australian, anybody ...
The final answer to your question – I expect progress, and I would like it to be greater than I expect at this point.
NUNS returned the Dada Vujasinovic case to the scene.
I am much better informed about Curuvija and Pantic cases, I have read hundreds and hundreds of pages, but I will study that case as well.
"Dad, everybody is against Europe but you!"
In Serbia, politicians are always campaigning; it is easier for them to do that than to listen. I listen to my son who is about to turn 15 and he says: "Hey, Dad, nobody in our country is for Europe; just for your information, you are the only one." I asked him: “How come, your dad is the one who is for Serbia”, and he replies: "Europe – no way!”. The kids were for Europe, for LDP (Liberal Democratic Party) and DS (Democratic Party), nowadays they incline to the right. You would not believe to what extent right-wing organizations have influence and reputation among the youth.
Are you afraid of the rise of extremism in Serbia?
Extremism is always the result of bad life, lack of work, lack of organization and responsibility of the state. In this sense, the state will be able to provide an answer. After all, when I talked about the date for the commencement of negotiations I thought we could get it only when we implement the judicial reform more seriously to the end, when we win battle against corruption and when the perception of people becomes different than it is today, no matter who is the ruler, when we implement many other reforms in the field of minority and human rights. After that there will not be enough space for any right-wing or left-wing extremism.