His Excellency Mr. Vuk Jeremic's Remarks at Last Week's Fundraising Dinner to Benefit Communities in Kosovo and Metohija
His Excellency Mr. Vuk Jeremic, President of the United Nations General Assembly
Address to a Fundraising Dinner to Benefit the Most Vulnerablein Kosovo and Metohija
by H.E. Mr. Vuk Jeremić, President of the United Nations General Assembly University Club of Chicago, 15 March 2013
Your Grace Bishop Longin, Ambassador Petrovic and Consul General Nikitovic,Congresswoman Bean,Distinguished Organizers,Ladies and Gentlemen,Dear Brothers and sisters,
It is a great privilege to be here with you this evening.
At the very onset of my remarks, allow me to express my deep appreciation to all of you for deciding to support the most vulnerable in our historical heartland of Kosovo and Metohija.
Thanks to your generosity, a number of Serbian orphans in our southern province may get a better quality of life; disadvantaged families roofs over their heads; and older persons food on their plates. Whole enclaves—isolated communities living in ghetto-like conditions throughout Kosovo—can gain opportunities to meet their medical and educational needs; and some of the burdens of poverty-stricken IDPs living in collective centers in the rest of Serbia may be alleviated.
This is made possible thanks to the truly commendable charity work of the Unitas Fund and the Božur Society of Chicago. Every month, I contribute my salary as a member of Serbia’s National Assembly to further Božur projects, and am proud to be associated with it.
Before proceeding any further, allow me to pay special tribute to the leadership and unfaltering commitment of Bishop Longin and Congresswoman Melissa Bean, Dr. Zika Pavlovic and Ljuba Krstajic, John Deblasio and Nesa Radovanovic.
We owe you a big debt of gratitude.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
In Kosovo, life for the most endangered community in Europe remains almost unbearable. It is tragic reality that since June 1999, the number of Serbs in the province has been cut in half—and that they have effectively been impeded from exercising their right of return. The litany of offenses against them is long indeed: over the past 13 years, hundreds of Serbs have been killed, and thousands more have disappeared without a trace. Tens of thousands of Serbian homes and businesses have been destroyed, and tens of thousands more have been illegally occupied by ethnic-Albanians.
These have been exhaustively documented in report after report issued by the UN Secretary-General, the OSCE, the EU, the Council of Europe, Freedom House, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and so many others. They have indicated time and again the prevalence of persistent violations of the Kosovo Serb community’s basic human rights.
Attacks remain commonplace on those who have stayed, braving the aggressive hostility of their surroundings.
Rarely a week goes by without yet another assault or other violent act of intimidation against our countrymen in the province.
This is a consequence of a pervasive culture of impunity that fosters extremism and hate crimes.
The ongoing humanitarian travesty in the very heart of Europe represents a failure of monumental proportions. It is compounded by the unabated continuation of the physical destruction or desecration of hundreds of our churches, monasteries and graveyards that began in June 1999.
In two days from now, Serbian communities across the globe will commemorate the 9th anniversary of the carefully orchestrated and brutally executed March 2004 pogrom. We must never forget how in less than 72 hours, 35 of our holy sites, many dating back to the 14th century or earlier, were set ablaze or totally demolished.
Our shrines throughout Kosovo and Metohija remain in a precarious state, vulnerable to unprovoked attacks—just like the flock they continue to faithfully serve.
Unless something is done to reverse the trend of threats and destruction, there is a real possibility that much of our most sacred heritage could be razed to the ground, and be lost to humanity for good.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
This is an essential part of the backdrop against which we should understand the February 17th, 2008, unilateral declaration of independence by the ethnic-Albanian authorities of our southern province of Kosovo and Metohija.
I had the privilege of serving my country as Minister of Foreign Affairs at the onset of those trying times. We made the choice to put diplomacy at the forefront of our efforts to respond to the illegal attempt at secession.
Our aim was to bring Pristina back to the negotiating table by demonstrating through an active, yet non-confrontational approach that Kosovo’s UDI could not live up to its promise—that unilateralism was no substitute for talks ultimately leading to a comprehensive, mutually-acceptable solution to the province’s future status.
We pursued our goal through exclusively peaceful means, making a conscious strategic decision to suppress the impulse for vengeance or retribution. As a result, an issue of such fundamental importance and complexity—passionately involving all at once identity, boundaries, communal rights, and opposing historical narratives—was steered clear of resorting to the force of arms for the first time in the history of the Balkans.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Despite a great deal of ongoing pressure from some of the UDI’s most powerful backers, less than half of the world’s countries have recognized Kosovo’s avowed ‘independence.’ It belongs to no regional or international political organization. The territory is not a member of the Council of Europe, the OSCE, and most importantly, the United Nations. More than five years have passed since the attempt at secession, and Kosovo is manifestly not a state.
We should see the UDI exactly for what it is: a dangerous and unacceptable precedent for other parts of Serbia, the region, and much of the rest of the world.
We must stay firm and unequivocal in resisting the attempt to forcibly partition our country, claim our heritage, and compel our citizens to live under a regime that they do not consider their own.
We must not abandon efforts to arrive at a comprehensive settlement to the future status of Kosovo through diplomatic means. A legitimate and lasting peace can only come about through dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina. It must ultimately result in a mutually-acceptable compromise solution, which has to include, in my view, the establishment of an institutional framework that assures the long-term sustainability of the Serbian presence in the province. The agreement must not violate our Constitution, and will need to be confirmed by the Security Council, in accordance with the terms set forth in resolution 1244 (1999).
Ladies and Gentlemen,
In raising our voice against the grave injustice, Serbia had heeded the Biblical call to “walk with integrity inside one’s own house and amongst the nations.”
We defended our sovereignty and territorial integrity with valor and dignity—staying entirely within established norms of international relations.
In so doing, we gained the respect of many nations.
Having worked hard to recast our image abroad, in January of 2012 we decided to put our emergent reputation to a very simple test. We submitted our candidacy to preside over the United Nations General Assembly.
It was a hard-fought contest—in fact, it was the first secret ballot of the entire UN membership for this post in over 20 years. Usually, it rotates amongst the five geographical groups at the UN, who coalesce around a compromise choice which is then rubber stamped by the plenary.
In some ways, the campaign was similar to elections in the U.S., with candidates seeking the endorsement of 193 states, each of whose representative in New York has what amounts to a single Electoral College vote.
The voting took place on June 8th, 2012, and the result was victory. We were entrusted with presiding over the global family. We are now able to stand before the world with confidence again—only two decades after having been left out of the United Nations—thanks in no small measure to the support of countries like Russia and Poland, China and Switzerland, Brazil and Australia, as well as South Africa and Italy, India and the Netherlands, Turkey and Cyprus.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
As President of the 67th Session of the UN General Assembly, I am privileged to have a singular vantage point from which to observe the global changes, in one of the most profound, all-encompassing periods of transformation ever to occur in peacetime. Their exact nature, depth, and scope are still too difficult to grasp. We are still very much in the midst of it, and no one seems to have a clear picture of what the world will look like when the dust finally settles.
Under such circumstances, diplomacy has become even more difficult to practice effectively—especially for smaller actors on the world stage, such as Serbia.
In moments of strategic adjustment such as these, countries like ours have to make sure they are able not only to assess the international circumstances correctly, but also have creative ideas on how to accommodate change in a way that advances their interests.
Some propose that we orient ourselves uncritically in a single direction. This, in my view, is tantamount to relinquishing sovereign control over one’s own destiny.
Others claim that the safest course of action is to tactically retreat—so as to be in a better position to respond to events that our country cannot influence anyway.
In centuries past, such a policy may have been sustainable. But in our era, when technological advancements have reduced the global response time to next to nothing, isolation only expands the space within which others may impose themselves on an inertial actor.
I remain convinced that in our era, he who does not step forward to grapple with events as they unfold will suffer grave consequences. Any form of passivity limits options, while constraining their execution in ways that inevitably harm national interests. It could relegate a country like ours to being a mere object of the international system, instead of a valued participant in its transformation.
I believe that Serbia should vigorously pursue a carefully balanced, artfully executed foreign policy of open engagement with nations throughout the world, near and far. We must exclude no one nor blindly accept any dogma, while prudently avoiding confrontation with those whose wrath has the potential to destroy our hopes for prosperity.
It would also enable us to more effectively defend the rights and interests of Serbs living outside the Republic of Serbia.
We should see these communities as natural links in the aim to enhance relations between the various regional capitals and Belgrade, important economic bridgeheads, and focal points in ongoing reconciliation efforts throughout the Balkans.
We should, however, insist that neighboring countries entirely abide by the democratic standards of Europe, and guarantee the basic rights of the Serb communities to safeguard their identity, their language, their culture, and their faith.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
However well-conceived or skillfully executed, no foreign policy can be sustained in the long run unless it is backed by a strong and healthy economy.
I’m afraid this has not been the case for quite a while. The ultimate source of our difficulties may lie elsewhere, but this does not absolve us from the responsibility to overcome their growingeffects at home.
Our economy is far too dependent on internal consumption and external borrowing. We need to shift to one that is driven more by export and investment.
With notable exceptions, however, what we produce cannot easily compete in foreign markets. The difficulty is made even greater by the fact that traditional investors in the Serbian economy have been compelled by domestic circumstances to reevaluate their priorities.
We will need to look further afield—not just North and West anymore, but increasingly East and South, where major economic decisions are more likely to fall within the purview of state actors.
As a consequence of the global outreach efforts we began close to six years ago, we should be able to better leverage the political relationships with countries from around the world into fresh economic opportunities which can help secure our nation’s prosperity for generations to come.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
We have some of the most fertile soil in Europe that can easily make an outsized contribution to addressing the question of food security far beyond our borders. We have enormous potential for supplying green energy through hydro power; and we have yet to begin to tap our sizeable shale gas deposits.
I believe that strategically developing these and other promising sectors of our economy—such as information technology—is an eminently achievable proposition.
So is prioritizing the process of internal reform—whose nuts and bolts are anchored in the criteria set by the Copenhagen European Council in 1993, as well as regional cooperation conditions subsequently established by the Stabilization and Association framework about a decade later. Fulfilling them, in my view, is far more important than incessantly trying to speculate on when or how to formalize the achievement upon its completion.
We have incredibly talented people in Serbia, and we need to create quality jobs for them.
Otherwise, they will seek gainful employment elsewhere, and the brain drain will continue unabated.
Many of you are here as a result of decisions you or your families made, seeing a chance at a better life beyond Serbia’s borders.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
When I complete my mandate as President of the UN General Assembly, I intend to go back to Belgrade, because I believe we can make Serbia into a country where citizens can achieve their full potential.
I strongly believe you can play an important role in building the Serbia we want. Your goodwill, guidance, and experience needs to be seen a source of strength that we must cultivate together.
I’m not asking you to return to Serbia—that’s a personal decision.
But I am asking you to reinvigorate your ties to the homeland.
I am asking you to join us in crafting a new vision for Serbia. It has to capture the imagination of our people, so that those who come after us can look upon the years to come as a time of a great renewal. We must unleash Serbia’s potential, and so lay an unbreakable foundation for a strong and proud state—one in which every one of us will be able to stand on our own two feet again.
If we want a better Serbia, we ourselves need to be better. If we want the nation to change, we need to change ourselves.
We have to ask ourselves, ‘do we look to each new day as a new challenge to overcome, or as a new reason to be despondent that the crisis will not end on its own?’
Well, the way one writes ‘crisis’ in Chinese is by combining the character for opportunity with the one for danger. I believe the battle for our future must be won by those with fresh ideas and the ability to carry them forth into practice, not those who recoil in advance at the enormity of the dangers we face.
Nobody will hand us a formula for prosperity on a silver platter. Neither will anyone altruistically say, ‘here, let’s give Serbia the help it needs.’ We have to do it ourselves; we have to make our country one in which outstanding results become commonplace, moving faster than we ever have before.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I chose to share these thoughts with you tonight because I know you care about the future of Serbia—otherwise, you wouldn’t be here.
I came to Chicago not primarily as President of the UN General Assembly, but as one of you; as someone who is deeply concerned about the precarious state of affairs back home and who believes in the fundamental importance of building bridges between Serbia and the rest of the world.
One of our greatest writers and most accomplished inter-war diplomats, Ivo Andric, often wrote about the importance of bridges—not so much as physical objects, but as metaphors for how distances can be overcome, strengthening the bonds of togetherness, especially in moments of turbulence and adversity.
Let me therefore come to the end of my remarks by reading a passage from his magnum opus,The Bridge on the Drina:
“From everything that man erects and builds in his urge for living, nothing is in my eyes better and more valuable than bridges. [...] [They] represent the eternal unsatisfied human desire to link, to reconcile and join all that springs up before our spirit and our eyes, so that there should be no divisions, and no parting.”
Ladies and Gentlemen, help me build the bridges between Serbia and the world.
Thank you very much for the kind invitation to join you this evening—and for your warm welcome. May God bless you all.