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Belgrade Erects Statue To Former Azerbaijani President

Serbia's new statue
Serbia's new statue
BELGRADE -- A statue of late Azerbaijani President Heydar Aliyev has been unveiled in a Belgrade park whose renovation was aided by 2 million euros ($2.9 million) from the Azerbaijani government, RFE/RL's Balkan Service reports.

The ceremony to open Tasmajdan Park was attended by the late Azerbaijani leader's son, current Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, and Serbian President Boris Tadic.

Along with the statue of Aliyev, the park is home to a statue of Serbian writer Milorad Pavic, who died in 2009. The bronze statues are each 3 meters high.

"This is the day when we are tying together our flags and famous people from our history: the founder of the modern Azerbaijan, Heydar Aliyev, and our great writer Milorad Pavic," Tadic said at the ceremony.

Aliyev said the unveiling of the monuments was "a historic day for our two countries."

He added that the mayor of Azerbaijan's capital, Baku, has decided to erect a statue of famous 20th-century inventor Nikola Tesla, an ethnic Serb born in Croatia.

Earlier in the day, Tadic and Aliyev talked about improving economic and political cooperation.

Azerbaijan, a major exporter of oil and natural gas, wants to regain control of its breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh, for which it has Serbia's political support. It also does not recognize the independence of Kosovo, which broke away from Serbia in 2008.

Statues of Heydar Aliyev -- the leader of Soviet Azerbaijan from 1969 to 1982 and president of Azerbaijan from 1993 to 2003 -- have already been erected in Bucharest and Kyiv at the behest of Azerbaijani authorities, who often make large financial donations to the accepting cities or countries.

Aliyev also served as the head of the KGB in Azerbaijan and was a Soviet Politburo member. He was forced to resign from that institution in 1987 amid allegations of corruption.

He died at the age of 80 in 2003.

Branka Sesto, a Croatian who headed a UN Human Rights Commission project in Azerbaijan from 2001 to 2004, said having Aliyev's statue was not something Belgrade and Serbia should be proud of.

Sesto had written to Belgrade media to draw attention to Aliyev's legacy as president, which is seen by many to be negative.

"Azerbaijan has great poets, fantastic musicians; Azerbaijan has marvelous singers and had a statue been erected [in Belgrade] for any of them, that would be a beautiful gesture," Sesto told RFE/RL.

Vida Knezevic of the cultural group Kontekst Kolektiv said Belgrade did not need an Aliyev statue.

"As someone working in culture, I do not know of a single aspect of his work that merits erecting a monument," she said.