Serbia has all the potential to become, with EU support, the most developed and the most powerful economy in the Western Balkans, Serbian Minister of Justice and Public Administration Nikola Selaković told EurActiv Germany in an exclusive interview.
Nikola Selaković has been a member of the Serbian Progressive Party of President Tomislav Nikolić. .
He spoke to EurActiv Germany’s Chief Editor Ewlad König.
For the very first time the Serbian president, Tomislav Nikolić, and the Kosovo president, Atifete Jahjaga, had a meeting in Brussels last week to start a dialogue. Brussels and most of the EU member states are watching closely the developments. How would you describe the future relationship between Belgrade and Pristina?
As you know, Serbia has entered into these full negotiations with institutions from Pristina from the end of last year and we are continuing these negotiations.
Of course this is not an easy issue for my country. The final solution has to be made only through the dialogue from both sides. I am not the one thinking that is going to be easy, I think it is going to be really painful for both sides. But if we want to make a final solution in which both of us would be satisfied or unsatisfied showing in the fact that this a compromise between two parties I think that is the really right way in which we have to find the final solution.
You know that we have Serbian population in Kosovo and that we are trying to get the best rights for these people. During the past this problem hasn't been tried to be resolved through the dialogue between two parties. I believe that with the good will on one side and with a rational approach on the other side we can find a solution acceptable not only to Brussels but also for Pristina and for Belgrade.
So you agree that there must be and will be a solution one day?
Of course we have to find a solution. I think it is better to sit around the table and to negotiate for years, rather than to have one single day of war and riots.
So we have to find the best solution and I think this solution is going to be something positive for both sides. What I think what is uniting us, is the European future of the region.
Now we can see that all the countries in the region are interested in the membership in the European Union and in reaching these European standards. I think this is the best way for the region. When we are talking about the relation between Pristina and Belgrade, as I've said, it is going to be difficult to find on sustainable solution for this problem. But what's important to be said now is that we are committed to this process of reaching a solution.
You mentioned years of negotiation – can you give a time perspective?
It is really hard. I just use this sentence as a symbolic sentence. It is better to negotiate than to make a war. I am completely sure that the past is teaching us that we can't find the final solution in such a way. So the negotiations are the best way to find a solution.
After Croatia's joining the EU [on 1 July], there are more and more critical voices in Brussels and in the member states against further memberships. Is it something that makes you frightened?
We know that these critical voices are existing. But we don't have a reason to be frightened if we are devoted to build up the system and institutions. What is our final aim? Our final aim is to reach this level of efficient, legal and a good state and good governance which would be acceptable for European Union.
What is important for us now is to get the date for starting negotiations for the membership to the EU. Because this shows to all other countries – not only from EU, but also from other regions and other continents – that Serbia has become a country with a good level of legal stability and with good operating institutions.
Can you describe the role of Serbia in the future of the whole region of the Balkans?
The position of Serbia has been one of the reasons for its rich history, the geographical position of Serbia, its population, which is – compared with other countries of the Western Balkans – the biggest one. I think that Serbia has to be one of the big partners, also for Germany.
The fact that Germany is one of the greatest investors in Serbia in the last decade shows the importance of Serbia for Germany and its foreign policy in the region.
Many experiences from the past are teaching us in which direction we have to try to find the best solutions for our people for our economy and for the future. Serbia has to be a good partner and a good neighbour for all its neighbours. Serbia has to be a good bridge between the west and east as it has used to be in the past.
We have to use all good experiences from the past as well as the bad experiences in the sense that we don't want to repeat these mistakes.
Serbia has all the potentials to be the most developed and the most powerful economy in the region. We are still having huge export capacities as well as good and cheap workers. I believe that with a good will and a good support from our partners from European Union we can become their first partner in the Balkans and in this region of former Yugoslavia.
Recently you participated in a demonstration against the rulings of the Hague tribunal [the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia]?
Why did you participate?
The perception of the activities of the Hague Tribunal in Serbia is very bad, and the credibility of the tribunal itself is on the lowest level from the day of its establishment.
We have hundreds of thousands people who escaped by force from Croatia to Serbia - 1,700 people were killed in the so called "Operation Storm". And we don't have anybody sentenced for this. These people were trying to reach justice for these victims for their relatives, for their parents, for their children.
As you know I used to work at the University of Belgrade at the faculty of law, I've got this invitation from the students, many of them having escaped together with their parents 17 or 18 years ago.
This topic is something really, really painful for us. And at the end of the activity of the Hague trial we have statistics telling us that Serbians were sentenced for 1,125 years of prison. What about Bosnians, what about Croats? The civil war that happened on the territory of former Yugoslavia hasn't been a war in which only one party has been killing, forcing, deporting the others. It is the same thing if we are talking about these verdicts and sentences in Kosovar cases.
There is one man suspected as a criminal who had written three books with his memoires with all details how he killed people or forced them to huge deportations. And he was sentenced not guilty! We expected in some obvious cases that these people from the other side would be sentenced.
On the other hand you have all the highly appointed Serbian officials sentenced to a huge punishment, life-long or for 30 or 35 years of prison. That’s the reason why we don't believe totally in the Hague justice.
Some sentences were delivered very fast compared to other cases in which many people are waiting for years for their sentences. This is suspicious for us.
I've been taking part in the demonstrations of my students because we used to teach these students that international justice is existing, and at once many of them who were witnesses of all these happenings have found themselves in a situation without a minimum of justice for themselves and for everything that had happened to their families.
Serbia is the country with the greatest number of refugees not only in the region but in all Europe. And there are hundreds of thousands of these people living there. The only thing they expect is justice.
Your ministry of justice is the key ministry for reforms in Serbia. Obviously there are many problems there. What are the priorities for your ministry?
For the first time in our modern history in the last 20 years we have one ministry with such a huge portfolio – not only justice, but also the public administration. And for the first time we have such a huge number of lawyers and civil servants in the ministry, and we have a really, really huge task.
We are hard working on three strategic documents right now. The first one is judicial reform strategy, the second one is anti-corruption strategy, and the third one is public administration reform strategy.
All of these three strategies have to cover the period of the next five years. Serbia is in the process of fixing some of the mistakes of its judicial reform.
The judicial reform process started 3 years ago. It has some positive sides but there are also some obvious negative effects of the started reform. We don't want to make a new reform, we just have to fix these mistakes made. For the first time we are trying to use a more institutional approach to these problems and not a personal approach which has been present in many other countries in the period of transition as well as in Serbia. It is a hard job because what we are building up is a matter for future decades.
What does it mean?
It means that we have to build up strong and powerful institutions and reduce the competences of persons and to provide legal security to all citizens on the one hand and on the second hand to the economy.
It is important to be said here in Germany, because Germany is one of the biggest foreign investors in Serbia. Providing the legal stability in our system has a good implication in providing a good economic stability. That’s one of our main tasks.
Without efficient, impartial and independent judiciary you can’t have a good implantation of the legal system and all the laws in the state. Of course it is strongly connected with our public administration, its functioning and its capacities.
Concerning the anti-corruption combat I've learnt that one third of the proceedings end with a not guilty verdict. If so this does not sound very credible.
First of all I have to mention when we are talking especially about anti-corruption activities that these activities were not so present in the past. We've had initiated fight against organised crime. But I must say I was not satisfied with this.
Because it seemed to be a fight without a transparent principle of zero tolerance.
What does it mean?
It means that in this fight you don't have protected people. But the majority of the public opinion says that there are protected ones.
Nowadays when we have got some dozens cases, in the prosecutors’ offices we have reached only three cases of this fight:
Only 6 months ago we started with investigations of corruptive privatisations processes. Four years ago we got the list of 24 privatisation suspected to be corruptive. We got these documents from the European Commission. The former government did not have the strong political will to resolve these cases. We started these investigation, and in some cases we've got arrestments of people who had been involved in most corrupt activities – not only in the last four or eight years but for two and a half decades. This was a clear sign that there were no protected individuals in this anti corruption fight.
For the first time we had this huge activity. Serbia didn't have a strong institutional capacity to deal with this. I am not the one who will tell you now that we have a complete and full institutional capacity now. But we are building up this capacity of fighting against corruption, and in parallel improving our institutions. In this area many, many things are changing now.
What are the main obstacles in fighting organised crime?
Well, a couple of years ago the former government had initiated this fight against organised crime and especially against money laundering. But at once it had stopped.
What I would like to underline is that now we have started building up completely new institutions in Serbia. For example we've confiscated more than €350 million. For Serbia it is really huge amount of money. And of course we are continuing with these processes.
To read the full interview in German please click here.