President of Serbia

Speech made to the Assembly

Thursday, 3 October 2013

Mr President, Secretary General, distinguished members of the Parliamentary Assembly, your Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, thank you for honouring me with the opportunity to address the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. I wish you good health and I wish your countries success and progress in every respect. I very much appreciate the opportunity to answer the questions of former colleagues and wish you to have the same opportunity and privilege.

One feels especially proud of this institution because its role is to defend the basic values of human rights, democracy and the rule of law. It is here that the future holders of State offices acquire the necessary knowledge and take the maturity test that will enable them to represent those core values of civilisation. I am proud to have been a member of the Parliamentary Assembly for almost eight years. I did not belong to any parliamentary group, though not by choice, and I was always at the bottom of the list of speakers, so most of my speeches are available only in writing.

It has been 10 years since Serbia became a member of the Council of Europe. This Organisation’s contribution and assistance in developing democracy in Serbia has been valuable. We wish to have more rights as well as responsibilities, because we are committed to continued partnership and co-operation. We would like to combine our efforts in order to achieve a common goal: all citizens of Europe enjoying equally the benefits of the rule of law, human rights and democracy, the only road leading to lasting stability and prosperity on our continent.

“Serbia is a step away from a great opportunity“

Since it joined the Council of Europe, the Republic of Serbia has made significant progress and has almost completely fulfilled the duties and obligations undertaken when it became a member. We have adopted a large number of laws and carried out or initiated comprehensive legal and political reforms. Among other things there is the fight against corruption; judicial reform, a process we are endeavouring to bring to a successful conclusion after certain deadlocks; the prohibition of discrimination against national minorities; regulation of the status of non-governmental organisations; co-operation in the prosecution and condemnation of the crimes committed in Yugoslavia and other activities.

The Republic of Serbia attaches great importance to the rule of law, one of the fundamental principles of the Council of Europe. Over the past few months the Serbian Government’s activities in that area have been focused principally on addressing the pressing issues in our judicial system. The National Assembly has adopted amendments to a number of important judicial laws and there are two national strategies: the judicial reform strategy and the anti-corruption strategy, which were drawn up in co-operation with the Council of Europe.

The reform of the judicial system of the Republic of Serbia is based on the national judicial reform strategy and comprises five key principles: independence, unbiased and quality justice, professionalism, responsibility and efficiency. The overarching goal of the national anti-corruption strategy is to remove, to the greatest extent possible, this obstacle to the economic, social and democratic development of the Republic of Serbia.

The consequences of corruption are not reflected solely in the impoverishment of society and the state, but in the drastic decline in the trust of citizens in democratic institutions. In addition, corruption creates uncertainty and instability in the economy and has a negative impact on the level of investments. The key priority areas defined by the strategy are based on analysis from GRECO. The problems we face are not easy to address. The road to their solution is not smooth and requires time. Most of our efforts are aimed at the adoption of European standards, thorough institutional reform, and, ultimately, the creation of a modern society.

The Republic of Serbia supports the initiative of the Secretary General to improve the Council of Europe’s monitoring mechanisms. We share the view that focus should be placed on their strengthening and better co-ordination, rather than setting up new mechanisms. We also support the proposal to establish a solid system of protection against threat, organised crime, corruption, discrimination, racism, intolerance and hate speech. At the same time, we believe that it is necessary to establish more clear and measurable criteria for finalising the post-accession monitoring of the fulfilment of obligations undertaken.

After more than a year since my election to the office of the President of Serbia and the appointment of the new government, which has rightly been subject to recent reconstruction, I am pleased to confirm that Serbia has unambiguously demonstrated an adherence to European values. I am pleased to note that this commitment by my country has been recognised by our international partners. In other words, Serbia has become a responsible, sincere and reliable partner, endeavouring to perceive problems realistically and approach solutions in a constructive and effective way in the spirit of dialogue and tolerance. We take pride in the visible results that we have achieved, despite the numerous challenges that Serbia has faced in the past.

In the past year, Serbia has made progress in a number of areas. Significant results were achieved in the dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina, which commenced following the establishment of the Government of Serbia last year. The fight against corruption and organised crime has taken a specific form and genuine efforts are being made to carry out institutional reform. The problem of invigorating our economy will be an important priority in the coming period, without putting aside the other issues to which I have referred. The clear-cut goal that we are aspiring to is to make Serbia a respectable member of the European family of nations, for the benefit of all our people.

The Republic of Serbia attaches great importance and has a constructive approach to the dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina that has been conducted in Brussels under the auspices of the European Union, directly and excellently facilitated by Lady Ashton. Pursuant to our initiative, the dialogue has been raised to the highest political level and the agreements reached are binding. The dialogue has thus far resulted in the signing of the first agreement of principles on regulating the normalisation of relations. We believe that this agreement will contribute to overall regional stability and co-operation, and will be essential in assisting Serbia’s European Union integration process. We firmly hold the view that only the solutions that bear an element of compromise – those not based on unilaterally acceptable proposals – will contribute to overcoming all outstanding issues on a lasting basis.

The Republic of Serbia has recently made a constructive approach to the proposal made by Mr Thorbjørn Jagland, the Secretary General of the Council of Europe, regarding the interaction of the Council of Europe with the provisional institutions of self-government in Kosovo and Metohija on a functional basis, with the use of asterisks and footnotes when referring to Kosovo in connection with joint European Union and Council of Europe projects in all official documents of the Organisation. We are deeply convinced that the activities of the Council of Europe in Kosovo and Metohija should be continued to efficiently apply the principles and standards of the Council of Europe in the area of protecting human rights, especially minority rights, the rule of law and cultural heritage. At the same time, I am convinced that the Council will be consistent in its respect for the territorial integrity and sovereignty of its member States, and thus continue to abide by its position to remain status-neutral, although the majority of its member States have for one reason or another recognised the self-proclaimed and unilateral decision of the majority of citizens of Albanian nationality on the secession of Kosovo and Metohija from Serbia.

Serbia has called on Serbs to take part in the local elections, which are being organised by the provisional institutions of self-government in Pristina. We have done so to ensure for the Serbian community legitimate and legal bodies that are recognised by the international community. The Serbs would then, within the institutions of the system and without intermediaries, be able to present directly their problems and rightfully request the assistance of the whole world in resolving them. That may be a problem for Pristina, but we have taken these steps sincerely at a difficult time when, because of such actions, some of our opponents in Serbia are openly calling us traitors. We now expect sincerity from the other side as well.

The attitude of the Pristina administration towards Serbs who have the right to vote in the elections is impermissible. As a matter of fact, the Pristina electoral committee is ruthlessly erasing Serbs who have the right to vote from the voter lists, and refusing to allow the lists supported by Serbia to have representatives in the electoral committee and in the polling stations. That should arouse the concern of the Council of Europe. Without the participation of Serbia, there will be no development of democracy and co-existence in Kosovo and Metohija. This is the last moment for the Council of Europe to intervene in the monitoring of the electoral process. Unless the organisations that we have addressed respond, it is the first line of defence for democracy to insist that the elections be regular and unbiased, and that is the only way to change the Albanian position. Serbia will reconsider its decision to support the holding of the elections, which it has not organised and whose regularity it cannot affect.

This is about the implementation of democratic principles that cannot be ignored, even by those member States that have recognised the independence of the so-called State of Kosovo. Serbia has transferred the administration of part of its territory to the United Nations, and the implementation of the democratic and regular elections in that part of the territory has nothing to do with recognition or non-recognition of Kosova and Metohija. If you fail to assist us, I would have to say to myself that I have wasted a year of my mandate, which I am truly convinced has created a turning point in the attitude of the entire world towards Serbia. I would have to admit to myself that, in my fight for better relations in Serbia and the Balkans, I was not supported by those who taught me how to implement the principles of the Council of Europe. I do not want to believe that there is selective democracy and selective justice. The example I presented will be a true test that will enter the annals either as the implementation of democratic principles or as an example of departing from the same principles.

Another important issue I would like to refer to is the trafficking of human organs in Kosovo and Metohija. In that respect, we attach special importance to the implementation of the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly resolution on the “investigation of allegations of inhuman treatment of people and illicit trafficking in human organs in Kosovo”, based on the 2011 Dick Marty report. The Parliamentary Assembly must be interested in the outcome of its resolution and examine the progress made in shedding light on these crimes, thus preventing it from becoming a dead letter.

The past of the countries of the former Yugoslavia is characterised by disagreements, severe conflicts, the devastation of war, and, worst of all, the sacrifice of human life. The only way to overcome this legacy is to make a decisive step towards dealing with the past to resolve outstanding issues and build mutual trust and co-operation. Serbia is committed to peace in the region and in Europe as a whole, and to the promotion of good neighbourly relations to maintain and enhance stability. The solution of all outstanding problems and disagreements is an important element of our policy on regional relations, and it has already had impressive results. Mutual relations have improved, which has directly contributed to the European perspective of the region. In that process, we must all take part in a patient, active and steady manner.

The National Assembly of the Republic of Serbia adopted a declaration condemning the crime committed in Srebrenica, so confirming its readiness to contribute decisively to the process of reconciliation and the promotion of regional co-operation. The declaration strongly condemns the crime, and also expresses support for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Bosnia and Herzegovina. It is now the turn of others to demonstrate their sentiments towards the crimes committed by persons belonging to their peoples and to say whether they sympathise with the Serbian victims. Regardless of the drop in its popularity rating among the electorate, the Serbian Government is waiting patiently for others to show courage and leadership. We expected that to happen, but at the same time we have worked hard not to let that affect our commitment to peace and good neighbourly relations.

Serbia accordingly supports all countries in the region on the path towards European integration. Everything that is good for the region is also good for Serbia. We are convinced that our the positive political progress and the development of our neighbours will always be beneficial to our citizens. Membership of the European Union is a road to a policy of sustainable development in the region. We are therefore convinced that, by its example, Serbia will also draw towards the European Union the other Balkan countries that are often incorrectly referred to as the “Western Balkans” – the Balkans stretch to the west of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The perception that European Union membership implies a distancing from the Balkans is humiliating. Serbia will remain a Balkan country even when it becomes a European Union member State.

It is not possible to perceive a democratic society that does not have respect for human rights and the equality for citizens in all areas of life. In recent months, Serbia has made significant progress in creating a system to ensure the further development and promotion of equality among all its citizens. The criminal code has been amended, and a new criminal act of hate crime has been introduced which is precisely aimed at strengthening human rights and the fight against any form of discrimination. Furthermore, the libel offence that until recently prevented media freedom has been decriminalised, so contributing significantly to freedom of speech in Serbia.

A few years ago, the Republic of Serbia adopted the Law on the Prohibition of Discrimination. In June this year, the Serbian Government adopted the strategy for the prevention of and protection against discrimination. That document’s goal is to ensure respect of the constitutional principle of the prohibition of discrimination. The main elements of the strategy relate to advancing the status of the vulnerable social groups most exposed to discrimination and discriminatory treatment, including women; children; LGBT people; those with disabilities; the elderly; national minorities; refugees; internally displaced persons; other vulnerable migrant groups; people whose health condition may be a basis for discrimination and members of small religious communities or groups.

Serbia should not be judged too harshly because it did not allow, owing to the security threat posed to many of its citizens, an LGBT Pride parade to be held in Belgrade, and that must not be used as a reason for wasting a year and a half’s effort to meet European standards. We will very soon be ready to express such differences freely. You must understand that it would have been inhumane to have anticipated in advance the number of victims, and to have the number of people injured or killed, on whichever side, be the basis on which the decision on whether to hold the parade was or was not justified. Many extremist groups were prepared to use the parade as a pretext for dealing with a situation in Serbia that they do not favour; there are still many xenophobes, false patriots and dangerous criminals. We will co-operate with everyone, including LGBT groups, the media, non-governmental organisations and government agencies, and we will proactively promote equal rights for all. We will change the laws, introduce stricter penalties and prosecute all organisers of orchestrated, brutal showdowns with those who think differently, as such acts must not happen.

The Republic of Serbia attaches particular attention to improving the status of all our national minorities. We are implementing the Council of Europe Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities and the European Charter for Regional and Minority Languages. Minority rights are included in constitutional provisions, which even provide for positive discrimination for any minority that is considered to be lagging behind.

The Law on National Councils of National Minorities has been adopted, and direct elections for those councils have been held. The law defines the activities of national councils; their responsibilities in the fields of education, culture, media and the official use of languages and alphabets; their relations with State bodies, autonomous province authorities and local self-government units; and the election procedures for their national councils and their funding. This enables all minorities to be recognised and to enjoy rights based on valid regulations, as has been confirmed by the advisory committee on the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities. Our basic position is that the State authorities in the Republic of Serbia cannot influence the declaration of its citizens with regard to their nationality or to the language they speak, as that would constitute a violation of constitutional and legal regulations, as well as such international standards as the framework convention and the European Charter for Regional and Minority Languages.

I underline that the Republic of Serbia is firmly committed to continuing to co-operation with the Council of Europe in its engagement for further improving the situation of national minorities in its territory, in accordance with Council of Europe recommendations. At the same time, Serbia expects that all the rights of members of Serbian national minorities living in other countries will be fully respected, in accordance with Council of Europe standards, including the right to use their mother tongue and script.

Serbia is a step away from a great opportunity, which I assure you we will not miss. We will use all our capacities to make Serbia a European country in every respect, in accordance with the basic values of the Council of Europe – the protection of human rights, the rule of law and democracy. Serbia is firmly committed to continue to co-operate, and to promote its relations, with the Council of Europe to reach such goals for the benefit of its citizens. I trust that we can count on your support along those lines.

THE PRESIDENT (interpretation)

Thank you very much, Mr President. Members of the Assembly have questions to put to you. The first question is from Mr Agramunt on behalf of the Group of the European People’s Party. You have 30 seconds.

Mr AGRAMUNT (Spain) (interpretation)

Mr President, this year, Serbia has taken important steps towards combatting corruption. Corruption is quite high in your country, and European authorities have defined measures that you must adopt to improve the situation. Even though the opposition has accused you of political persecution, will you comment on what major challenges you face in relation to corruption?

Mr Nikolić, President of Serbia (interpretation)

Serbia is a country in which corruption is intense, as has been the case for more than 10 years. There has been no real change among the authorities that could have been a basis for a fight against crime and corruption. Corruption is visible in the administration and in everyday life, as it is involved in people’s dealings with doctors, lawyers and people in the administration. We have started our fight against corruption, but it is difficult to find a case of corruption that does not involve someone who was previously engaged in such activities.

The European Union warned us about 24 criminal privatisations that involved state officials and civil servants. Now that we are investigating such affairs, we are discovering the involvement of people who held high political positions in Serbia in the past. However, this is not a political issue. I used to be a political prisoner and I know how difficult it is to be in prison just because somebody who is in power does not find you convenient.

I assure you that we will continue to fight crime, even if the people involved belong to my house or my former party, or are my acquaintances. Whether they are a member of the opposition or of the authorities, people will be investigated in the appropriate way. Things have changed. Custody is now much shorter than it was. Our legislation – particularly the criminal law – has been aligned with the recommendations of the Council of Europe. I can only praise the efforts of the government in its fight against crime.

THE PRESIDENT (interpretation)

Thank you. The next question is from Mr Gross on behalf of the Socialist Group.

Mr GROSS (Switzerland)

I would like to take up one of the points that you mentioned in your speech. For the third time in a row, the LGBT Pride parade could not happen. Do you know what it means when a state gives in to small groups that threaten people and their rights in an extreme and violent way? You said on Monday, in anticipating this question, that you would prepare for the next event. Will that involve investigating who has threatened the event and punishing them?

Mr Nikolić, President of Serbia (interpretation)

Thank you for that question. I am surely more aware of the acts of the government than you. All my political activities of the past year have been aimed at ensuring that in December, there is no further reason for the negotiations with the EU to not start. I was afraid that such an event might jeopardise that, whether it took place and there were victims, or whether it did not take place. On the security level, Serbia was not ready. It was not ready to enable the parade to take place without any consequences. We have identified the organisers. We will find out how organised they were and the public will be informed about that.

As I have announced, we will begin preparations for next year’s event. Next year, we will hold it. I thought that we would be ready this year, but our country is in a difficult economic situation. We are doing our best to stabilise the situation in Kosovo and Metohija.

The event is not well received by many people. Many people do not think that members of the LGBT population should have an opportunity to present their position. People want to prove publicly that they are not members of that group. We also have to deal with football fans and such groups. This is not only about the LGBT parade; the situation in Serbia remains insecure when it comes to big gatherings, including those revolving around football and sports. We will do our best to prevent such occurrences.

I am convinced that by working with all the people I have mentioned, we will be able to prepare Serbia for the fact that it will be just a normal day on which people who are the same among themselves, but different from the rest of the population, take to the streets. As is the case throughout the world, nobody should be mistreated because of that. I promise that there will be no need for you to ask that question next year.

THE PRESIDENT (interpretation)

Thank you. I call Mr Xuclà to ask a question on behalf of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe.

Mr XUCLÀ (Spain) (interpretation)

President Nikolić, I welcome you on behalf of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe. I encourage your country to adopt the convention on minority languages as soon as possible. What measures are you implementing to protect minority cultural rights, particularly in the field of education? To what extent does the Pristina government respect the linguistic and cultural rights of minorities?

Mr Nikolić, President of Serbia (interpretation)

The Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities has been incorporated into our constitution and laws, and those laws are being implemented. The members of national minorities may even write PhD theses in their own language. From the most basic level of the school system to the level of a PhD, people may use their own language. The use of one’s own language and script is guaranteed.

We have had some problems regarding textbooks for the Bulgarian minority. Bulgarian State officials have reacted to that. The manuals have not yet arrived and I do not know why. However, we have had no other complaints in that regard.

People from 30 national minorities live in Serbia. That is nothing new to us. Those minorities have lived in the country for centuries and have established their own relations. The State only has to support them. In Serbia, the official language is Serbian. The minority languages are spoken in the areas where the minorities live. The official script of Serbia is Cyrillic. The scripts of the minorities are used in the places where they live.

We have no right to force our national minorities to express themselves as Serbs or anything else. We protect their difference. Positive discrimination is possible under the constitution. If a minority lags behind in respect of the protection of its heritage, language and script, the state has the right to give it more support than the others. We do apply that practice. The representatives of national minorities have taken over powerful competences in their regions.

Kosovo has two parts. In one part, the provisional Pristina administration is fully in control, but in four Serbian municipalities in the north of Kosovo the authority of the Pristina administration has never run. For centuries, Albanians have never lived in the latter area – it was always Serbian territory, and the only language used has been Serbian.

On the influence of Serbia, we have no influence on how the Albanian institutions conduct and organise the core system. We might send school textbooks to the Serbian villages, or help them to find teachers or to fund electricity and everything else that schools need, including premises, but the situation is confusing, because in some areas co-operation is possible and in others not.

The authorities in Pristina now adopt decisions without consulting Belgrade. We have tried to accommodate them in our legislation, but they did not foresee the specifics of the life of the Albanian and Serbian population in Kosovo and Metohija. That is where the Council of Europe can be of help: if you want to co-operate with the administration in Pristina, you will see a number of obligations that have yet to be respected, in order for it to be able to say that it respects the principles of the Council of Europe. That is not shameful – it was also the case for my country 10 years ago, when we realised that we were lagging behind in terms of democracy, human rights and the rule of law.

THE PRESIDENT (interpretation)

Thank you. I now call the Earl of Dundee, to speak on behalf of the European Democrat Group.

The Earl of DUNDEE (United Kingdom)

Following the entry of Croatia to the European Union, do you consider that the practical consequences for Serbia so far have been well handled? Such include border crossings, technical standards harmonisation and trade arrangements. Will the change nevertheless cause difficulties in certain aspects? Conversely, are there also now fresh opportunities to improve further the relationship between Belgrade and Zagreb?

Mr Nikolić, President of Serbia

Relations between all the Balkan countries, not only those of the former Yugoslavia, are determined by the relationship between Croatia and Serbia. In the past few months, we have done everything in our power to put those relations on a sound foundation. The forthcoming visit of the President of Croatia will testify that we have done things in the right way.

Before Croatia joined the European Union, we all belonged to the Central European Free Trade Agreement, which provided for free trade between its members. Croatia, given its European Union membership, is losing its CEFTA rights, and we now have some disputes to which to find answers, such as in the tobacco trade. Croatia is asking us to apply the free trade agreement, but given our own accords with the European Union, that is not possible.

In the Council of Europe, Serbia strongly promoted and advocated Croatian membership, because as long as Croatia’s European Union negotiations were in progress, we could not start our own. Therefore, everything that we want to solve now, we did not speak about when Croatia’s membership negotiations were ongoing. We knew that after Croatia became a member, we would be able to follow suit. All the other countries with candidate status, or which are about to start negotiations, will have thriving relations with Croatia. We will have access to markets, but we do not have products for those markets, so we will have to unite – Serbia, Croatia and Slovenia – in order to be competent in the open market, not only in the European Union, but in other traditionally friendly countries.

My policy is to leave history to historians. It can remind us of mistakes, but it should be left in the past. We should look to the future. We have waged too many wars, and we deserve the right to live in a better way. We have taken part in wars, but no one is right and even the winners have their victims. Therefore, I am looking forward to future relations with Croatia and with other countries in the Balkans. I have visited all the Balkan states – not only the countries of the former Yugoslavia, but all our other neighbours – and we have established good relations, with no disputes or issues. Our only problem is how to heal our countries and to provide our citizens with better living conditions. That can be obtained by mutual co-operation in the Balkans.

I wish you had asked me your question in a month’s time, therefore, when all these agreements in preparation will be finalised and initialled on the visit that will happen at the end of the month.


Thank you for answering that question. I call Mr Papadimoulis, who will speak on behalf of the Group of the Unified European Left.

Mr PAPADIMOULIS (Greece) (interpretation)

I noted with great interest, President Nikolić, the content of everything that you have said and, in particular, its tone. You talked about the need for dialogue between Serbia and all its neighbours in order to find the same line of approach. What might your initiatives be and what is your agenda for relations with the European Union? What do you expect to do to improve your relations with Kosovo?

Mr Nikolić, President of Serbia

Unfortunately, I did not hear the first part of the question, although you were probably referring to positive relations with everyone. We have a sincere and open relationship with the European Union – Serbia belongs to Europe and it is part of Europe, although it is not part of the European Union.

I hope that the negotiations will not last too long, because our country is prepared. We started preparations earlier, and we have harmonised our legislation with the European acquis. We are not members of the European Union, but we have faced the economic crisis in the same way as member states. There is no one to help us, however; we are trying to find solutions on our own. Unfortunately, we have had to take out major loans and, since our partners assess our country as one that is not safe for investment, we have to pay much more than others do. Our loans and debts are huge, therefore, and we are endangering future generations with them. However, the European Union is our partner. We have nowhere else to go, and we should not be left behind. It would be a sign to non-member countries that they too will be left behind if no one wants them.

I believe that the only problem in our relationship with the European Union has been Kosovo and Metohija. Maybe it was a problem until the election last year, but now it should not be a problem. Maybe there are countries friendly to us that were forced to recognise Kosovo’s independence. Today, no one has to recognise Kosovo’s independence, because Serbia is making major concessions. We are negotiating, and we have adopted and approved the responsibilities and competences of Pristina in many fields.

All United Nations high representatives have promoted and determined the independence of Kosovo. In 1999, we let the United Nations govern and manage part of our country, but the situation on the ground has changed since then. It does not look like what was set out in UN Security Council resolution 1244, but we are still looking for additional answers. Do not expect us to recognise Kosovo – we will never do so – but we want people to live better. We want the territory that Albanians call independent to be promoted in the world and to belong to many organisations, although not all; many organisations require countries to be sovereign. You have to think about the Kosovo and Metohija issue as though it were your problem. If it happened in your country, what would you do?

No one thinks of the war, only of negotiations. We try daily to improve relations, so we are hurt by being tricked occasionally. We tried, but 10 days after allowing police forces into northern Kosovo, there were military forces. Things must be agreed through dialogue. We are talking about health care and education, not military forces. Albania and the new military force in Kosovo have agreed to co-operate. To fight whom? Serbia has never attacked anyone and will never do so. That is in the past. Serbia is surrounded by NATO member States. Who would attack us, and whom would we attack? The only thing that we should do is negotiate and plan for a better life in future.

One day, who knows how we in the European Union will differentiate among ourselves? We will mention borders only as something belonging to history. There will be free movement of people, capital and goods. Migration will be constant. Poor people will go to well-off countries to work, and no one will have anything to say against it. That is the aim. That is the goal towards which we strive: open borders for everyone. Therefore, we want to be in the European Union and to demonstrate that we belong, we are equal and we share the same values, but I must remind you that you do not have the problem that we have. We are trying intensively to solve it.

There are people in Serbia who say that we should not address the issue – that we should leave it – but as I mentioned in my speech earlier, I do not mind what the electorate will say or whether I will lose popularity. I am a politician. I have to be a leader, and not just to consider what is appropriate in the moment. I must consider the future, because there are commitments, obligations and duties that I have undertaken. We will therefore continue to negotiate with Kosovo and develop good relations in future. I refer again to the problems that we will face in organising the forthcoming elections, but if Serbs do not participate, nothing will change. They must participate. We want forces in the north legitimately and legally to see what kind of problems it faces. They must understand that they are not alone. They feel very lonely, as though we have left them. On the other side, Pristina is preventing them from taking part in the process.

I understand the principles of the Council of Europe, maybe less well than some of you and maybe better than some of you. I would like to see them applied to all territories and regions in the world. They are the only principles that we can live with.

THE PRESIDENT (interpretation)

Thank you. The next question is from Mr Michel.

Mr MICHEL (France) (interpretation)

President, on 19 April last year, your country signed an historic agreement with Kosovo to normalise your ties. The concrete substance of that agreement represents an important signal for the entire region. However, I have noted that this courageous approach of yours to creating peace in the Balkans has caused a number of people in Tirana to start talking about a Greater Albania. How are your relations with Albania? Albania, of course, must try to ensure peace in the Balkans as well.

Mr Nikolić, President of Serbia

We have not had any contact. I have not had personal contact with representatives of Albania. I have had private contact with the President of Albania and the Minister of Foreign Affairs, but we have had no high-level official meetings, apart from the meeting of Ministers of Foreign Affairs. Albania has guaranteed to the European Union that it will not insist on creating a unified State of Albanians living in the Balkan territories, even though in its parliamentary elections there were candidates who stated their dream of forming a unified Albanian State in the Balkans. That is unacceptable not only for Serbia but for Europe. Serbia cannot influence what others do, but we lean on international organisations and the European Union.

I think a lot of populist politicians in Albania dream of a Greater Albania, but real politicians know what reality is. That would not be good for Europe. It is already a precedent in some European States to recognise the independence of a seceded country. If they allowed something like the creation of a Greater Albania, who knows how things would develop? There are Albanians living in Macedonia and Montenegro. Why would only Albanians from Serbia be granted the right? I am not a prophet, but I know that some will try to achieve that. Therefore, you must be cautious. It is not a minority right to break away from a foreign country; that is proscribed by international law, and we must obey the law. Where would it take us if every movement in the world were granted the right to create its own country? Think about it. What would you do if it happened in your country? Think about the people who live there. I have witnessed conflicts and war – my family members as well, and my colleagues – and would not want anyone else to see this. I would not wish such an experience on anyone. The total number of our citizens used to equal the German population, but now we only have a few millions.


Thank you. I call Mr Gaudi Nagy on a point of order.

Mr GAUDI NAGY (Hungary)

I ask you, President, to ensure that all colleagues have the opportunity to pose questions, because it is about 1 p.m. and we are officially over time. But maybe Mr Nikolić is open to answering all questions, because we are keen to hear his answers. It is important that we hear his views. I hope that Mr Nikolić will answer questions relating to Hungarians in Vojvodina, for example, and say what is going on there and why the autonomy of that territory is not being assured.


Thank you, Mr Gaudi Nagy, although that is a not a point of order, as such. Parliamentarians have signed up to the list of speakers, based on the rules of the Parliamentary Assembly. I have to stick to the order of speakers, which is the order to which you signed up, and await President Nikolić’s answers. I know that it may be a little bit frustrating for some of you, but I have no other way of doing this. Some 38 people have signed up, and let us not forget that we have interpreters and we have to respect working times for everyone. I can go for an extra five minutes, but I am sorry that I cannot do any more than that.

Before I call Mr Díaz Tejera, Mr Nikolić has indicated that he is willing to respond to that point, but this will be with the consent of Mr Díaz Tejera. Then I will call Ms Djurović.

Mr Nikolić, President of Serbia (interpretation)

Maybe you are not following the developments between Serbia and Hungary. A month ago, at a historical event, the President of Hungary and I unveiled two monuments, one to the Serbian victims and one to Hungarian victims of the Second World War. We have forged everlasting friendship between Hungary and Serbia. We have closed one chapter and we should not live in the past.

Not a single Hungarian is in danger in Vojvodina. The Alliance of Vojvodina Hungarians is in power in the province of Vojvodina. It did not want to participate at national level in government, although it had the opportunity to do so.

You are not telling the truth. All that we have to say about the relationship with Hungarians in our country can be confirmed by the Alliance of Vojvodina Hungarians in Serbia. You could have said these things about 20 years ago, but you are not unaware of what has happened since then. You have to be honest and say that things are moving forward and there is nothing to worry about.

The Hungarian population in Vojvodina is living in the same conditions as Serbs. They live in poverty, as Serbs do – that is the only problem. Try to help them in another way; try to bring in more investments and develop new businesses and try to send a message to Hungarians to join the military and police forces. They can become part of the police forces whenever they want. They can be integrated within all authorities, if they like.

Thank you for asking me this question, which at least illustrates how different we are.

THE PRESIDENT (interpretation)

Thank you. Mr Díaz Tejera, thank you for bearing with us.

Mr DÍAZ TEJERA (Spain) (interpretation)

The first impression about this question is that it might be delicate, but I do not want to change my question, in spite of this incident that we have just experienced.

There is no rule of law without the judiciary and no judiciary unless judges are independent. The difference between a civil servant and a judge is that a civil servant is subject to a hierarchy, whereas a judge is independent – free – and does not obey orders from the public authorities, and is only subject to the law. That is one criterion for becoming a judge and having a career, etc.

My question is as follows. In the legal reforms that you are undertaking, and particularly in implementing them, are you moving towards the goal of independence? To what extent can we help you to ensure that you have an independent judiciary with independent judges, rather than having judges who have a culture of being functionaries or civil servants? Thank you for waiting to answer my question.

Mr Nikolić, President of Serbia (interpretation)

We have done a lot. More than 600 judges were removed simply because they were not members of the political party that was in power at the time. Most of these judges were reinstated by us, although some retired and others changed profession in the meantime.

Today, judges are elected by an independent judiciary body. For someone to exercise the functions of a judge, it is no longer enough for the person to finish their law studies, have some experience and pass a judiciary exam. Now, they have to pass a two-year course, in accordance with European Union norms.

We have not removed any judge because he was appointed while other political parties were in power, and we will not do it. The only basis for removal of a judge from his functions is if he does his work wrongly. The Executive authorities do not participate any more in the election of judges. You are right; they have to be independent. The Executive powers must have no influence on them. Even the legislative authorities have withdrawn to a great extent. I think that we have adopted the European norms in that respect and that the judiciary will remain absolutely independent in respect of how judges behave. There are other European mechanisms regulating that.

In our country, the function of a judge is permanent, so that power cannot play with a judge, but it is possible to be removed from that position because of errors, whether through acting or not acting. Unfortunately, many judges were slowing down the fight against corruption and crime and participating in the criminal privatisations. We must solve that problem before we continue dealing with the chapter on the judiciary in our discussions with the European Union. It is easier for our party to fight decisively the judges and others involved in criminal activities, simply because it was not previously in power.

THE PRESIDENT (interpretation)

Thank you. To ask the very last question, I call Ms Djurović. I apologise to the other speakers.

Ms DJUROVIĆ (Serbia) (interpretation)

It gives me great honour to welcome you on behalf of the Serbian delegation, Mr President. Nearly three years after this distinguished Assembly adopted Dick Marty’s resolution on the illegal trafficking of human organs in Kosovo, why has the investigation not progressed and why has no one been held accountable for these vicious crimes? How will the truth be told?

Mr Nikolić, President of Serbia (interpretation)

I came here to find that out, and I also tried to find the answer at the United Nations. It is for the Council of Europe alone to decide when we get an answer, but we have not received any information for a long time. It could perhaps be dealt with more efficiently by the world judiciary at the United Nations. I do not want to influence anyone, but this should not remain a dead letter, as I said in my speech.

Many people tended to see the Serbs as the only criminals and other peoples as the victims and to minimise Serbian suffering. That this crime happened was established here – I did not invent it – when the Assembly voted on it. When you vote on something, you must follow it with other measures. Serbia expects you to find someone as brave as Senator Dick Marty who will go further in this fight against a crime that is unprecedented in Europe. Do not ask why the State intervened in Kosovo and Metohija – that people were kidnapped for their organs was the basis of the hate between the two peoples. Do not close your eyes to that; investigate it.

Serbia trusts the Council of Europe and will never reproach you for not solving this crime, but you are a model for all Europe, and the countries of Europe expect your help. Here, in this temple, you know everything about democracy and human rights, and if you send out the wrong message, what will people outside do? Serbia opened up everything to investigation and co-operated with the war crimes tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. We extradited presidents of state, assembly presidents and even chiefs of secret services. No other country has ever done the same. Please, do what is necessary and see that this crime is investigated. Without answers, there can be no durable peace and stability in Serbia.

THE PRESIDENT (interpretation)

Thank you, Mr President, and thank you, colleagues, for how you have conducted this debate.