President of Serbia

Speech made to the Assembly

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Mr President, Mr Secretary General, respected members of the Parliamentary Assembly, Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, before I begin, I would like to express my deepest condolences to the delegation of the Russian Federation in the wake of the terrorist attack in Moscow, which we strongly condemn.

It is an honour and a pleasure to address the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe – the oldest pan-European political organisation. It represents the conscience of the continent and remains the undisputed leader in promoting the interdependence of individual liberty, the rule of law, human and minority rights, and integration.

Three months ago – on 5 October 2010 – we in Serbia celebrated a decade of democracy. It is now 10 years since the Serbian people turned their back on the terrible preceding decade. It has not been an easy journey, but it has been one which has laid the foundations of a society which respects the very principles which you all espouse and work for. So, I look forward to the next 10 years with optimism. If we have achieved so much, so far, there is so much more that we are able to do.

The question is what are the challenges for the next decade for my country, for my region and for Europe? The answers are interrelated but very clear.

The first challenge is to meet the standards of the European Union so that Serbia and the other countries of our region can become full members of the Union as soon as possible. The second challenge, and one on which I intend to dwell at greater length today, concerns the need to continue the process of healing in the region. The third challenge which I want to impress upon you is the need to examine carefully the threats – the contemporary threats – to our democratic process and the measures that we must all take to counter those who want to abuse democracy and our economies.

Our strategic objective is to join the European Union. I am personally convinced that my own country is on the right path. In a few days, the Prime Minister of Serbia will submit our answers to the questionnaire of the European Commission. Thereafter, we hope that we will be able to proceed towards candidacy and the opening of accession negotiations.

As a linchpin of the Balkans, Serbia feels that it can make a positive contribution to the further progress of the entire region. Its development has not proceeded in uniform fashion, however. This includes the way in which we think about ourselves and our neighbours. Some will still wish to define themselves by differences, disagreements and disparities – be they political, economic or cultural. We see things differently. It is our purpose in Serbia to promote harmony – within our society, among our societies in the region and between the EU and the region. This is not easy. However, we are clear as to our intentions and deeply aware of our commitment to reach beyond our frontiers to help create the conditions for a region that is ready for the European Union.

In this regard, I want to focus more sharply on the issue of what I call healing – on what we define as reconciliation. The evidence of progress in the Balkans is conclusive: regional relations have reached a new level of trust and understanding. In fact, they have not been better in the past 20 years. Even on the most challenging issues, we have found ways of working together as never before. We must understand the implications.

The time has come, I believe, for us as political leaders in the region, to have confidence in this new momentum of trust and to build on it. We must be willing to try to sort out our remaining differences on our own to the greatest extent possible. The more we test this and build our confidence, the less we will be dependent in our political psychology on some external deus ex machina to protect our individual interests. We have to assert regional ownership of our own future by helping each other to build our own capacity and confidence to resolve our issues among ourselves. This will be the test of whether we are ready to be stable, contributing members of the European Union. I believe that Serbia has made important strides in these issues.

For Serbia, reconciliation is a policy priority because it is a strategic and moral imperative. That is why we will continue to co-operate fully with The Hague tribunal, and why we will keep working on locating, arresting and extraditing the two remaining fugitive indictees, including Ratko Mladić, as we have with 44 others over the past few years.

I draw your attention to Serbia’s bilateral relations with Croatia. They are improving, despite profoundly different assessments of the 1991 to 1995 conflict. We are heartened by the conciliatory rhetoric and gestures of President Josipović and Prime Minister Kosor of Croatia, with whom I enjoy a close working relationship. Our recent meeting in Vukovar greatly helped in the process of reconciliation, as did President Josipović’s expression of deep regret in the Bosnian Parliament that the pursuit of policies by Croatia under Tuđman led to human suffering and divisions there.

The restart of talks on border demarcation a few months ago, after a seven-year hiatus, represents an important milestone. Both sides have affirmed a commitment to move towards resolution of the issue. Serbia hopes that the ensuing good will enables our two countries to achieve breakthroughs on other open issues, such as the return of Serb refugees, missing persons, property restitution and pensions – to name just a few.

The improvement in relations between Serbia and Croatia is surely encouraging for Bosnia and Herzegovina. We are committed to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Our collective task is to assist in the establishment of a structure of governance that respects the rights and interests of the two entities and the three constitutive nations and enhances the effectiveness of governance.

It will be a test of the maturity of our region if the democratically elected political leaders of Bosnia and Herzegovina are encouraged to achieve consensus, perhaps with some facilitation from outside, but certainly without the imposition of external agendas. That is a litmus test of the sustainability of any progress in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

I travelled to Srebrenica a year after I was elected President of Serbia, to stand with the survivors and bow to the victims on the 10th anniversary of that crime. I did so again last July, on the 15th anniversary. This launched a fierce national debate in my country on the misdeeds of the past. The Serbian Parliament subsequently adopted a historic declaration on Srebrenica last March, which unequivocally condemned the war crimes that took place there. That document – the first of its kind in the whole of Europe – extends profound condolences and sincere apologies to the families of the Bosnian Muslim victims.

With regard to Kosovo, our position is well known. We shall not recognise the unilateral declaration of independence of our province of Kosovo and Metohia. We look forward to engaging with Pristina in the dialogue. We have been ready ever since the world supported by acclamation the fact that dialogue is the only road to peace in Kosovo. We foresee a period during which we can discuss a variety of issues. These discussions should be carried out in an atmosphere of trust, allowing both parties, at least initially, to understand each other’s concerns. The sooner these discussions begin, the sooner we will be able to find a path forward.

I emphasise that we are committed to finding a comprehensive solution. This dialogue must result in an historic reconciliation between Serbs and Albanians throughout our region. This is not a zero-sum game. There cannot be one set of winners and one set of losers. Thus, I appeal to all sides to be creative. We must avoid setting obstacles that will block the spirit and substance of dialogue. Forums such as this can help set a constructive framework on difficult matters. The status neutrality of the Council of Europe has brought great benefit to all the province’s communities. Serbia supports this constructive approach, which we are certain will help the dialogue reach a successful conclusion. I urge you to continue this policy of avoiding divisive debates on controversial matters, including the potential membership application for Kosovo.

In the Balkans, no one nation lives only in one country. The goals of reconciliation and harmony therefore begin in each country. It is axiomatic in a democracy that all differences can and should be expressed. Thus minorities must enjoy every right to express and preserve their identity. But the responsibility for that must lie with each country and its own minorities. The process of European enlargement should enshrine and consolidate that fundamental issue.

I draw your attention to the fact that Serbia has now established 19 national minority councils. They were directly elected in 2010. They have executive powers – not just consultative powers – in several fields that are very important to the preservation of identity. We are committed to policies that are inclusive towards all minorities. I am particularly proud of our efforts to promote the inclusion of the Roma, one of the most vulnerable minorities in Europe.

I have reserved the last part of my comments for an issue that now worries me more than any other. In fact, it should worry all of us. We are confronted by a profound threat to our democratic societies. It is as fatal as cancer to our bodies. Its name is organised crime.

In our globalised world, we see qualitative and quantitative change in the way that organised crime tries to manipulate the freedoms we offer in our democratic societies. The sophistication and size of these organisations is alarming. The speed at which they adapt to new challenges is astounding. But the real purpose of organised crime is not just to live in parallel with legal society. Rather, it seeks to become society; it finds its collaborators in our official world. It subverts politics. It corrupts economies. It impoverishes those who seek an honest life as law-abiding citizens. It fills youth with drugs. It destroys the lives of countless young women. It kills to steal parts of people’s bodies. It perverts societies. It is a global phenomenon and it is penetrating Europe. To penetrate Europe, it is trying to use our region as a key point of entry. Unless and until we all co-operate to fight this terrible threat, our region and my country will be held back from its dearest aspirations. I therefore ask that we all work together to eliminate it.

In our region, we have a responsibility to create a strategic alliance against organised crime. We hope that everyone in the Western Balkans will make fighting it a priority. We owe this to our citizens, we owe it to our neighbours in the European Union, and we owe it to the next generation. Serbia, for its part, will do whatever it takes; we will stay the course until this war on organised crime is won. I can tell you that the security services in my country are involved in meeting two major objectives: to find Ratko Mladić and to defeat organised crime. I can also tell you that we co-operate with a number of other countries, often with great success.

It is with this in mind that I note yesterday’s approval by the Parliamentary Assembly of a deeply disturbing investigative report entitled “Inhuman treatment of people and illicit trafficking in human organs in Kosovo.” I wish to associate myself and my country with the report this Assembly has overwhelmingly approved on the heinous crimes it discusses. It is a deeply harrowing issue for all who embrace the principles and the values of the Council of Europe, and the specific crimes are emblematic of the very concerns I have outlined in my comments so far.

Let me remind you of the extent of the crime as presented in the report that you have approved and the resolution that you have adopted. It states that starting in 1998, leaders of the insurgent Kosovo Liberation Army headed a powerful organised crime syndicate engaged in drugs, weapons and human smuggling known as the Drenica Group. The report has determined that “the leaders of the Drenica Group seem to bear the greatest responsibility” for the fate of many hundreds of ethnic Serbs and Albanians who were kidnapped by the KLA. The abductees were delivered to secret detention camps in neighbouring Albania, where many of them were slaughtered. Most damningly, the report says the Serb victims were singled out for surgery, so that their internal organs could be extracted and sold on the international black market.

It is imperative that the allegations of these terrible crimes are not swept under the carpet. Those responsible must be held accountable. The global networks that finance these crimes and the local perpetrators must be brought to justice. I want to thank the Parliamentary Assembly for taking the first important step towards uncovering what really happened in those secret KLA detention camps.

As President of Serbia, I call for an immediate, full and independent criminal investigation into these charges – one that is both internationally mandated and internationally accountable – and, I add, the legitimacy of this investigation will be secured, finally and only, by the immediate establishment of an effective witness protection programme.

No existing institution on its own has the mandate or jurisdiction to carry out a serious criminal investigation that would be comprehensive in scope. This needs to be clarified, as yesterday’s resolution makes very clear. In our view, those who conduct the future investigations should all report, ultimately, to a single authority. There cannot be a delay in identifying or creating such a body. It has been done before in other instances. It can be done now.

Anything less than such an action would result in many Serbs believing that there is one set of rules for them and another for others, and that some victims and some families are more deserving of closure and justice than others. The effect will be to give licence to double standards and criminality.

I have deliberately closed on a note of warning. We cannot rest on our laurels. The issue of atrocities committed in times of conflict and post conflict, together with the issue of organised crime, is one that can corrode our democracies and the lives of our children. I have given you just one example. Tragically, there are many more.

This matter cannot simply be reduced to a few technical committees to review what should be done. If we take it on with passion and without fear we will begin to win this battle. If we do not, I believe that we will return to this forum in the years ahead wringing our hands and saying, “If only we had done something.” Every one of you knows someone who has been afflicted in one way or another by crime. Let us admit it and fight it.

I am deeply persuaded of the opportunity now before us – the opportunity to live together in concord, security and prosperity. It is time to rise to the occasion and successfully complete the historic task at hand.


Thank you for your very interesting speech. Members have questions for you. I remind them that questions must be limited to 30 seconds and no more, and that colleagues should ask questions and not make speeches. I call Mr Kühnel on behalf of Group of the European People’s Party.

Mr KÜHNEL (Austria) (interpretation)

thanked President Tadić for his address and for his appearance before the Assembly, despite injury: a sign of incredible self-discipline. Mr Tadić’s speech had been hopeful and extensive. He commended his work on reconciliation and development in the Balkans, and, in particular, his symbolic work with the President of Croatia. He asked when negotiations with Pristina were going to start, given that they had been announced last year. What measures would be taken to help regulate relations between Kosovo and Serbia on a day-to-day basis?

Mr Tadić, President of Serbia (interpretation)

said that Serbia was ready to continue its dialogue with Pristina, that the delegation was ready and that Lady Ashton of Upholland, the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, had been informed. It was only with such discussions that countries would be able to resolve their conflicts. The state involved in these discussions and involved in helping them had to have great patience; it was impossible hastily to solve the troubles of the people who lived in the region. Good dialogue was particularly necessary to solve the Serbian and Albania conflict. A delegation from Serbia was now ready and waiting for the Pristina delegation.

Mr GROSS (Switzerland)

Mr President, you know that most of us appreciate your leadership and the political majority for Europe that you have in your country. However, we also know that Serbia, like many countries in the region, is internally divided. People see you as an enemy, which should not be possible in a democracy. What are you doing to overcome these internal divisions? Secondly, are you ready to support RECOM, the fact-finding programme that was initiated by 950 non-governmental organisations of many countries?

Mr Tadić, President of Serbia (interpretation)

said that he lent his official support to the work of RECOM. Its work was both important and unavoidable if Serbia was to reconcile with its neighbours. The identification of crimes and criminals was of fundamental importance to the reintegration of the region and then with wider Europe. With regard to the other problem mentioned by Mr Gross, over the previous three years Serbia, perhaps more than any of its neighbours, had seen the greatest change in its domestic politics. All political parties now supported the regional reconciliation policy and he was proud that the question was top of the political agenda in Serbia. The political discourse in Serbia was not concerned with ethnicity but focused on economic matters and the reforms necessary for accession to the EU. This was a step change which had gone unnoticed outside Serbia and he was pleased to be able to tell the world about it that day.

Internal cohesion was vital: that did not just mean relations between political parties but the steps to protect national minorities. Serbia had introduced one of the best systems in Europe to protect national minorities through directly elected national minority councils. These councils had powers over areas such as education, cultural preservation and the future of minority communities. He was convinced that the measures Serbia had taken would prove beneficial for all the region.

Earl of DUNDEE (United Kingdom)

President Tadić, following your constructive joint initiatives with President Josipović of Croatia, would you comment further on what recent progress has in fact been made on the identification of missing persons, the return of refugees and the restitution of property, and on what plans both you and President Josipović possibly have to assist constitutional reform in Bosnia and Herzegovina?

Mr Tadić, President of Serbia (interpretation)

said that Croatia and Serbia were both guarantors of the implementation of the Dayton Agreement and so both had a role to play in maintaining the territorial integrity of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The basic principle underpinning the country of Bosnia and Herzegovina was the equal respect accorded to the three ethnic groups – Bosniacs, Croats and Serbs – and the two entities or regions – the Bosnian Federation and the Republika Srpska.

Serbia was a guarantor of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s territorial integrity, but it was up to the leaders of the three ethnic groups and the two entities to find solutions to their problems amongst themselves: any externally-imposed settlement would simply be unstable.

The population mix throughout the Western Balkans meant that ethnic instability in one country could quickly spread throughout the region. Neighbouring countries thus had to watch out for each other. In the case of Bosnia and Herzegovina, this meant respecting its territory and its constitution.

Serbia and Croatia between them were ready to sustain a dialogue with the leaders of Bosnia and Herzegovina but he reminded members that he could not impose a solution. His personal relations, and the relations of Serbian institutions, with Bosnia and Herzegovina were very good: for example a reasonable solution had recently been found to a recent gas supply problem. The days of Milošević were over and no leader in the Western Balkans had any desire to impose decisions on other countries.

Ms BECK (Germany) (interpretation)

thanked President Tadić for his speech and the welcome signs of reconciliation for which he was responsible. She reminded him that the true justice was vital to any reconciliation process and asked him why, given his supportive words, Serbia had not yet found Ratko Mladić and Goran Hadžić and handed them over to the ICTY.

Mr Tadić, President of Serbia (interpretation)

said that the ICTY had asked that 46 Serbian citizens in total be apprehended and handed over. Of these 46, 44 had been extradited including a number of ex-Presidents of Serbia. Two remained at large. Those two were not free: they were in hiding and probably living in far from agreeable conditions; they were certainly beyond the reach of the Serbian state. Even after the ICTY finished its work in 2013, Serbia would do all it could to bring those men to justice. The question had internal political importance as well as being a legal obligation.

Serbia accepted that such actions were a precondition for reconciliation and the only way to entrench democracy and respect for human rights throughout the region. He hoped that all countries in the Western Balkans would act similarly to allow all countries to pursue their common goal of EU membership.

There was no indication that the wanted two men were even in Serbia – he would have liked them to be, because then he could arrest them. The fact that they were not in Serbia made it difficult for Serbia to complete its legal and moral obligations. Many fugitives were out of the reach of state authorities – Serbia was not alone in this – but if the men were in Serbia, they would be arrested and a solution to all other outstanding problems would soon be found.

Mr KOX (Netherlands)

Mr President, thank you for your courageous and inspiring speech, which I very much appreciated. You said that Bosnia and Herzegovina should now show how mature it is and that perhaps it could use a little help from its friends. How could you help your friends in the Republika Srpska to reach a consensus with those in the Bosnian federation on state institutions and electoral law, as is demanded by the European Court of Human Rights? You know that if Bosnia does not comply with that, it will have a serious problem in remaining a mature member of this Assembly. How could you help your friends in the Republika Srpska on this issue?

Mr Tadić, President of Serbia (interpretation)

thanked Mr Kox for his question. His suggestion to the leaders of the entities in Bosnia and Herzegovina was that they find a solution to their problems themselves, in accordance with the principles set out in the constitution, while also respecting human rights. There was no dilemma in him saying this. It was the role of the leaders in Bosnia and Herzegovina to find a solution.

Mr FOURNIER (France) (interpretation)

noted that Serbia’s recent moves towards decentralisation, and reconciliation with Kosovo, had been welcomed by the European Union. He asked what steps Serbia was taking to strengthen the judiciary and to further the fight against corruption.

Mr Tadić, President of Serbia (interpretation)

said that judicial reform was a key issue across the whole of the Balkans, not just in Serbia. A strong independent judiciary was vital for the rule of law. Serbia was indeed focused on improving its judiciary and he hoped that other countries in the region were as well. Serbia was pursuing these measures as part of a wider package to enable it to accede to the European Union and he considered that Serbia was already halfway there. The recent reforms in Serbia offered a model solution to other states across the region. He considered it important that any judicial system was strong enough to win the fight against corruption: a victory in that fight would improve the economy as well as reduce crime. As the Council of Europe had heard the previous day, these questions continued to be of importance to the region and the reforms in Serbia would continue.


Mr President, we congratulate your country, and Slovenia supports your progress in approaching the European Union. We sincerely hope that it will soon be possible to close the chapter on co-operation with The Hague tribunal and to proceed with strengthening the rule of law, with the fight against corruption and with reforming the public administration, judicial and prison systems. What are the prospects for those necessary reforms and what time frame is needed to carry them out?

Mr Tadić, President of Serbia (interpretation)

expected that, by mid-2011, the current reforms to the judiciary would be completed. He reiterated his earlier answer, to Mr Fournier, that a strong judiciary was important both for the economy and for Serbia’s aim of accession to the European Union. He conceded that there remained impediments to reform but said that the reforms would not stop until the European Commission was content.

With regard to Ms Lavtižar-Bebler’s second question, progress had been made to improve Serbia’s public administration but there was still more to do. Following an agreement with the IMF, Serbia had been obliged to decrease its budget deficit over the coming three years: this would involve a reduction in the number of staff employed in public administration. At the same time, however, it was important that new, younger staff with new ideas were brought into public administration to build on the current reforms and that better training was provided for the current generation of civil servants. Despite these issues, he was pleased to report that the European Union had a generally high opinion of Serbia’s public administration.

He expected that other reforms, in addition to those to the judiciary which he had already mentioned, would be completed over the next two to three years, but any reform had to be effective and right, not just fast. He was pleased to note that the budget deficit had already been brought down from 4.8% to 4.1%, and at the end of the three-year process he expected it to be between 3% and 2%. In the next period of reform, he would take further measures to improve the quality of administration and to strengthen the fight against corruption. The latter was a particular bar to accession to the European Union and he considered its eradication a simple political priority.

Mr VAREIKIS (Lithuania)

Mr President, you have already spoken about the national minorities living in your country and about Bosnia and Herzegovina. My question is related to Serbian communities that lived in neighbouring countries such as Croatia and Montenegro. How are these communities shaping your bilateral relations? Are you satisfied with their status in those countries now?

Mr Tadić, President of Serbia (interpretation)

said that conditions could always be improved for minority ethnic groups, not just in Serbia but elsewhere in Europe. He gave the example of Serbs living in Croatia, where their property rights needed to be improved. There were 40 000 Serbs living in Slovenia and he was pleased that the Serbian Government had been prepared to work closely with the Slovenian authorities in order to protect their rights. Over the course of the conflict in the 1990s, many Balkan cities had been abandoned by certain ethnic groups. He hoped, however, that the steps taken by his government were improving matters for everyone living in Serbia. He noted that he was not a Serb from Serbia, but rather a Serb who had been born in Bosnia and Herzegovina whose family, looking back, had come from all over the Balkans. Everyone living in the region had a shared heritage which ought to form the basis of future peace.


Thank you. We must now conclude the questions to Mr Tadić. On behalf of the Assembly, I thank you most warmly for your statement and for the answers you have given to questions. I call Mr Gaudi Nagy on a pointy of order.

Mr GAUDI NAGY (Hungary)

I ask you to ensure that my Hungarian colleague and I have an opportunity to ask Mr Tadić a question, because the Hungarian aspect has not been touched upon.


Our time is up, so we cannot do what you ask. That is not a point of order. I invite Mr Tadić to make a concluding remark.

Mr Tadić, President of Serbia

I was hoping to tell members that we are doing a lot in terms of protecting the Hungarian minority in Serbia, by adopting our law on national minorities. We will continue our efforts in that respect and do everything possible in terms of regional co-operation. I was talking only about our co-operation among the Western Balkans countries, but we have extremely good co-operation with the countries that are member states of the European Union, such as Hungary, Slovenia, Austria, Romania and Bulgaria. We have some problems – some open issues – that we have to solve, but we will continue our efforts.

I want to thank you, Mr President, and all members for paying attention to me. I am always ready to come here. Right now, I have a small problem with my leg, but I will recover and be ready to come once again. Thank you.


I hope that you will recover as soon as possible, Mr President. Thank you.