By Vakkas Dogantekin
Ambassador of Serbia to Turkey, Zoran Markovic, spoke to Anadolu Agency in an exclusive interview and covered a wide array of issues from the peace process with Kosovo to the future of Serbian-Turkish relations and from the school of Fetullah Terrorist Organization (FETO) in Serbia to the cultural similarities between the Serbian and Turkish people.
Anadolu Agency (AA): Serbian Prime Minister Alexander Vucic and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan are both nationalist leaders with nationalist, conservative electorate bases. Both leaders have been able to convince their people about the importance of relations between the two countries. How did it happen?
Ambassador Zoran Markovic: There is a very important distinction between chauvinism and nationalism. There is nothing wrong with loving your country, being proud of your citizenship. Protecting your interests matters.
AA: If a far-right government comes to power in Serbia one day, will the good relations deteriorate?
Markovic: One-third of Serbia is not Christian. It is out of the question. Our attitude towards Muslims or foreigners will never change. We appreciate them and treat all with hospitality. When we establish economic cooperation, the dependence between people; none of the politicians, be it left or right wing, will not even think about ruining these relations because it is going to be like cutting the legs of their own chair. Turkey is 10 times bigger than Serbia and a huge market for us. Potential of Turkey even when it was suffering, was very big for us.
AA: What are the projects Turkey and Serbia are working together on at the moment?
Markovic: The most important development is that we overpassed 1 billion euros in trade volume and the goal is to reach two billion euros soon. In Serbia, we have a need for construction companies to build highways and skyscrapers and Turkish companies are more experienced and much cheaper compared to the Western companies. Serbian companies are not big enough to do these by themselves so Turkish companies can be sub-contractors. I see many opportunities in many fields for cooperation. We have a saying in Serbia, when hunger comes to the door, the love leaves from the window. Let's think the opposite, when wealth comes to the door, hate leaves from the window. When everyone is satisfied, there is no space for hate. If Serbian and Turkish companies show economic interest to each other, can any politicians in the future spoil relations?
AA: What would you say to Turkish companies that want to do business with Serbia but concerned about the political or social climate?
Markovic: First of all, I will tell them, listen, my friend, come and see. No visitor to Belgrade, especially Turks, got back unsatisfied. When they see the same kind of hospitality, same habits, they will feel good. If you order moussaka, burek or
AA: What is the tourism potential as of now?
Markovic: Over 100,000 Turks visited Serbia in 2018 and around 150,000 Serbs spent their summer vacation in the Western coast of Turkey. For most of them who were there for the first time, it was a big discovery, like Columbus discovered America. I was posted in Greece, my son was born in Greece if someone knows Greece, it is me. But the quality of tourism here in Turkey is not comparable to any country I have been to in the world. This quality you cannot find anywhere. If you want the best money can buy, it is in Turkey.
Ankara and Konya are as big as Serbia. Serbians so far only know Istanbul and Antalya. Cappadocia, for example, is very important to Christians. Imagine what will happen when Anadolu (Anatolian) people in the smaller cities in Turkey find the same mentality, habits, and culture in the middle of Europe. There is a big potential for tourism. We will organize events in Turkey. I discussed this with the Turkish minister of tourism. Right now, there are flights from Belgrade only to Istanbul and to Antalya in the holiday season. We want to also bring Turkish students to study at Belgrade University. Turkish education system recognizes diplomas from Belgrade University. Even
Stability is very important. After the turbulent past few years, there have not been any terrorist attacks in Turkey. Your intelligence and police are doing their job very well. Security cooperation between our countries is great. We do not want any terrorists in Serbia and do not support any terrorist groups that are recognized as terrorists by Turkey.
AA: You were also one of the first countries to condemn the coup attempt of the Fetullah Terrorist Organization (FETO).
Markovic: Yes, we followed the situation very closely, our president called Mr. Erdogan and expressed his full support to the elected government. It is one of the European standards. The elected government is the elected government. You can like or dislike, wherever in the world. So, you have to respect.
AA: You also closed down the FETO school in Serbia in 2018.
Markovic: This school did not fulfill the Serbian regulations. It is as simple as that. We did not act on
AA: You recently told me stories about the Serbian roots of Sokollu Mehmet Pasa, the
Markovic: We see him as a historical figure who gave a lot to the Serbian nation. He was the prime minister in today's wording. He never forgot who he was because he was at the age of 14 when he was taken. He was aware of his origins and language. He was also very clever. He gave freedom to the Serbian church and appointed his own brother as the first patriarch. He gave stability to Serbia at the time. If they changed all churches to mosques, in 500 years, nothing would remain from the Serbian identity.
AA: Do you know if he has written anything in Serbian?
Markovic: As far as I know, no. His family name was Sokollovic, Sokol means falcon, the bird. His monument in his birthplace Visegrad, which is on the Bosnian side of the border, was built by the Serbs in the city. We have other Serbian heroes in our history who spent half of their lives in the wars of Serbia and the other half fighting for the Ottoman army. Yildirim Bayezid could not have won some of his wars without the help of Serbian cavalries. Our histories are interlocked.
Serbia - Kosovo Relations
AA: Let's also talk about the peace process between Serbia and Kosovo. Mr. Vucic looked frustrated with the slow implementation of the Brussels Agreement signed with Kosovo under the auspices of the EU during the Munich Security Conference in Germany over the weekend. What is going wrong in the negotiation process with?
Markovic: We have seen many obstacles. The goal is a reasonable, sustainable and compromising solution which will bring at least partial satisfaction to all sides. Kosovo fails to fulfill its obligations. For instance, the establishment of the Association of the Serbian Municipalities has not been fulfilled yet, instead, they have started enormous taxation of Serbian and Bosnian goods. Five member countries of the EU did not recognize Kosovo but Kosovo has not done the same taxation to those countries. What is the meaning of this? There will never be a solution unless the sides are at least partially satisfied.
We are sharing the same space, breathing the same air, not only with Albanians but also with Bosniaks, Croats, and Hungarians. Balkan Peninsula is too small and we do not have the luxury to quarrel or go to further conflicts. This the moment we expect the support of not only EU but all interested parties including the Turks. In the history of Balkans, the borders changed rapidly over the centuries. We are small nations and we are sick and tired of conflicts. Conflicts do not bring us anywhere. The European Commission intends to finalize this [peace process with Kosovo] by the end of their mandate in October. All the information say that the European Parliament will change a lot after the election in May. The foreign policy of the EU will also be different. If I were a politician in the Kosovo government, I would keep the change in mind.
AA: Serbia is trying to become a member of the EU since 2014 and the goal is to join the EU by 2025. Are EU politicians using the Kosovo matter against you?
Markovic: We receive such messages from time to time but on the other hand they are very aware that this is an internal issue. This has to be a solution between Serbia and Kosovo and cannot be implemented from abroad. We do not mind much if it is a pre-condition. As our PM and President stated earlier, we are doing those EU reforms for ourselves. It is not
AA: If Kosovo wants to proceed with its applications to international organizations and if negotiations fail, what will be Serbia's reaction?
Markovic: Kosovo used to say that independence is res judicata, a done deal. So why are we negotiating if it is a solved issue? Obviously, it is not a solved issue. They are aware that without us, they cannot be a member of the UN. They could not become a member of INTERPOL even though they had support from very strong countries. Nothing is final. We could have done the same taxation but we did not. We could have stopped the transiting the so-called Kosovo passports but we did not. We want to show the world that we are not
AA: Do you have red lines or a deadline for the peace process?
Markovic: No, we are not
AA: What do you expect from Turkey in this process?
Markovic: We know that Turkey has great influence over Kosovo and very good relations with the Albanians. What we expect from Turkey is more understanding. Twenty years ago, Turkey was pro-Kosovo completely, accusing Serbia of genocide or serious crimes. It was a black and white picture. Kosovo was the victim and Serbia was the aggressor. But today, after establishing the best relations in our history, we showed to the world that our differences in religion and language are nothing compared to our similarities and we celebrate 140 years of bilateral cooperation. Serbia is a true friend of Turkey. We lived with Turks for centuries.