BELGRADE -- Since coming to power in 2004, Serbian President Boris Tadic has been praised for bringing Belgrade closer to the West and toning down the nationalist fervor that has destabilized the Balkans in the past.
At the same time, he has remained resolutely opposed to the recognition by the United States and others of Kosovo's independence, and has come under criticism by prosecutors in The Hague for failing to aid the arrest of Bosnian Serb war crimes fugitive Ratko Mladic.
Tadic sat down with RFE/RL Balkan Service director Gordana Knezevic in Belgrade to talk about these issues and Serbia's future path. RFE/RL: In your opinion, what is the main obstacle standing between Serbia and closer ties with the European Union?
The major obstacle is -- well, I mean, we don't have obstacles. But some countries in the European Union say there is not a full level of cooperation with The Hague. This is an obstacle.
But 26 countries are in agreement that we are cooperating fully with The Hague tribunal, and whatever the approach of the Netherlands is going to be, we are going to continue our efforts to complete this cooperation with the ICTY [International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia], capturing and sending to The Hague tribunal Ratko Mladic and Goran Hadzic, if they are on the soil of Serbia.
I hope that they are on the soil of Serbia and that this cooperation can be possible. Otherwise it will be a "mission impossible." And this is what I worry about.
But we are going to continue all our efforts. We have delivered 44 persons to The Hague tribunal as of now, and I don't see any reason to stop this kind of cooperation. We are going to continue. And we are doing that because of us -- not because of The Hague tribunal and the European Union, but because of the reconciliation among the regional countries. And I see this as our duty.RFE/RL: Officials in the United States and Europe have had praise for your cooperation. But of course, the name that everybody is interested in is General Mladic. Why is it so difficult to find him, to arrest him?
Former Bosnian Serb commander Ratko Mladic as shown in recent video footage
This is a most unique case. Other countries are facing the challenge of finding people -- people with huge experience, or some kinds of fanatics. So this is not only in Serbia; there are other cases all around the world. You have similar examples in world policy even today. This is very difficult, but we are going to continue doing everything possible.RFE/RL: Do you think that Mladic is outside the country?
I don't know exactly. I hope that Mladic is in Serbia, but I cannot say right now he is in Serbia for sure. In the past we believed that some war criminals were in Serbia, even though they ended up being in some other country, and were captured in other countries. But we are going to continue our efforts.Events In Iran
RFE/RL: How is Serbia reacting to the turbulent events in Iran?
We are not interfering in Iranian affairs. We would like to see a peaceful solution after the elections, and a solution which is going to be adopted by all political forces in Iran. This is our general approach. We are supporting democratic processes in all countries all around the world, and for that reason we are supporting democracy in Iran as well.RFE/RL: Do you think the people on the streets of Tehran represent a real pro-democracy movement?
Right now I can't comment on that issue. This is an internal Iranian problem, and they have to solve this situation. I don't want to go into deep analysis about the political situation in Iran, because I don't have enough information right now, and I'm very careful regarding this process and the political perspective in Iranian democracy.Interests In The Balkans
RFE/RL: When it comes to NATO, it's always hard to define where Serbia really stands. Where do you see Serbia in, let's say, five years?
Serbia is in the Partnership for Peace program, and there is room for us to develop our relations [with NATO] with Partnership for Peace. A few years ago, our parliament adopted a resolution in which we declared Serbia's neutrality.
What will be in the next five -- probably next 10 -- years is up to the Serbian people to decide. They are going to demonstrate their will, or decide on a referendum, which is a precondition to joining organizations like NATO.
But right now it's too early to talk about NATO integration. In Serbia, we have to develop our relations within the Partnership for Peace program. After that, we'll be more capable of talking about integration. RFE/RL: What role does Russia want to play in the Balkans? Some think it's constructive and economic. Other people think its strategic -- that instead of tanks, Russia is using Gazprom to control or even dominate the region.
Every big power has a strategic interest in the Balkans. First of all, the region is important in terms of economy and energy. The Balkans is the shortest connection between Europe and Asia, and between the European Union and Turkey, which is also strategically an extremely important country.
Second, on the Balkans, we are at the crossroads of pipelines -- not only oil but also gas pipelines, and not only existing pipelines but ones that are being planned.
And this is why I think the Balkans have strategic importance. I'm totally sure that the entire Balkan region has to be integrated into the European Union; this is very important right now. But at the same time, every big country has an interest in the Balkans, because of those very simple facts -- energy, infrastructure. The Balkans is an infrastructure in itself.
If the United States has a normal and legitimate interest in the Balkans, that means that the European Union has an interest in the Balkans, that means that Russia has an interest in the Balkans, it means that China has an interest in the Balkans. This is also about China, which is showing great interest in bringing some investments here, and to stage some of its European projects in the Balkans. RFE/RL: Some people have been pleased with your leadership and moderation, and your move toward Europe -- not only European economic integration but European values. And there are people in Europe and the United States who are concerned about Russia's trend toward greater authoritarianism. If Russia becomes more autocratic, is it a problem in the Balkans?
I am totally sure that we ourselves are going to develop democracy and that Russia is going to respect that. Russia is going to take those kind of trends and development into consideration in the future.
But regarding Serbia, regarding the Balkans, integrating into the EU is our top issue. We have an interest in being integrated into Europe, and for that reason we share the views and values of the European Union and European countries. We are implementing those kind of values in order to adopt new laws, to finalize cooperation with the ICTY, and to create new institutions in our country that are going to be the final confirmation of our trends and our directions.Kosovo Issue
RFE/RL: U.S. Vice President Joseph Biden recently visited Serbia. Did it change anything in Serbian-U.S. relations? And how do you feel about those relations at this particular moment?
In my last official visit to the United States, I said that Serbia has an interest in creating the best possible relations with the United States. And that is exactly what we are doing right now, even though we don't share the same views in all elements of politics. We are not share the same view on the Kosovo issue. The United States recognizes Kosovo. Even today they are encouraging some countries to do the same.
Vice President Joe Biden was not universally welcomed in Belgrade.
Serbia is totally against the independence of Kosovo, and in particular, Serbia is against encouraging some countries to do that [recognize Kosovo's independence]. Not only because of the general approach of my country, but also because of the fact that right now we have processes under way in the International Court of Justice, and we have to wait for the decision of the International Court of Justice regarding Kosovo, and regarding Serbia's resolution [asking the court for a ruling on the legality of Kosovo's independence declaration].
Is a unilateral declaration of independence in accordance with international law, or is it not in accordance with this law? This is a simple question that we put in our resolution before the UN General Assembly, and this is why we are awaiting the final decision of the International Court of Justice.
Despite this, we have to continue our efforts in order to create the best possible relations with the United States. We have an interest in having a strategic partnership with the United States, and this is why I visited with the vice president.
Joseph Biden has been very helpful in Serbia, and we are going to continue this communication. We had some talks after this visit, talking about all the elements of our cooperation -- not only defense and security issues, but also economic cooperation and Serbia's approach to the European Union.Force For Stability
RFE/RL: Is there any pressure on you from European countries, particularly from the European Union headquarters, to help them resolve the problems in Bosnia?
No, I don't feel any pressure. Serbia is an anchor of stability in Southeastern Europe. It's a central country. If we don't have stability and democracy in Serbia, we don't have such stability in other countries. And for that reason, Serbia can always be helpful in achieving peaceful and sustainable solutions in Bosnia.
The principles are very well-known. And I've been explaining those kind of principles in my talks with Joseph Biden and all the other presidents and vice presidents I've met with in the past few years. No imposing of solutions -- only democratic dialogue between the three nations and the legitimate representative [of all three nations of] Bosnia-Herzegovina, and also respecting rules, which means respecting the Dayton agreement.
And Serbia is going to be a very constructive partner in order to help achieve stability and a sustainable solution in Bosnia-Herzegovina. No more war, no violence -- only democratic dialogue.RFE/RL: On the subject of democracy and stability, not just here in Serbia but in the Balkans as a whole, is Islamic extremism a threat?
All extremists are a threat to us. And even today we have to cooperate with each other in order to be a more stable society in terms of the political situation and environment in our countries, in our region, in Europe, in the world overall.RFE/RL: Are countries like the government of Iran or forces in Saudi Arabia interested in promoting a certain point of view among the Muslim populations of Southeastern Europe?
We have some concerns, but we are very careful. As a country which is multiconfessional, multinational, and multicultural, we are working very hard on those kind of issues, trying to find a sustainable and a peaceful solution.
We have our Muslims; they are loyal citizens of our country. We have a neighboring country, which is Bosnia-Herzegovina, and we see [a range of] influences in other neighboring countries. And for that reason, we have to be very patient, and take into consideration all the possible consequences, and to plan with our partners from Europe, and some global partners, what our efforts in the future should be. Serbia's Future
RFE/RL: What do you want from the United States that you're not getting? And what do you want from the Europeans that you're not getting?
I would like to see real partnership in all fields -- not only in security, but also in the economic field. Serbia has to become a member state of the European Union -- I'm not only talking about Serbia but also about the other Balkan countries. This is very important. I'm totally sure that the whole of Europe is going to be stable and peaceful if the western Balkans is integrated among the EU countries.RFE/RL: Where do you see Serbia in the next 10 years?
In the European Union, for sure. That means that Serbia is going to share those kind of values, and even today I can say that Serbia delivers stability. Only 10 years ago, we were a part of the problem. Right now, Serbia is part of the solution. This is really something very significant, and this is tremendous success. You can count on Serbia in those terms.RFE/RL: Will Serbia be in NATO also, or only part of the European Union?
In the next 10 years, Serbian citizens are going to decide about NATO. But for sure, Serbia is going to be in the European Union.
If you're asking me to define our relations within NATO, it's too early for that, from my point of view. It's too early, especially only 10 years after NATO's bombing of Serbia, and we have to be very rational and take this into consideration. Let's be careful, let's work together, let's support each other in practical terms -- but at the same time, let's insist on sharing values.RFE/RL: People in Serbia describe you as a little pro-American, a little pro-Russian, a little nationalist, a little pro-EU, and a little EU-skeptical. How would you describe yourself?
President Tadic is pro-Serb. This is very simple. I am doing everything that is in the interest of my people and my country. And I'm totally sure that our interests are also the interests of the European Union.