BELGRADE -- A statue of late Azerbaijani President Heydar Aliyev will soon be erected in a Belgrade park that the Azerbaijani government is donating 2 million euros ($2.82 million) to renovate, RFE/RL's Balkan Service reports.
The statue of Aliyev in Tasmadjan Park will be three meters high. A second statue to Serbian writer Milorad Pavic, who died in 2009, will also be installed in the park, which opened in 1958.
Belgrade Deputy Mayor Milan Krkobabic told RFE/RL the public interest was the only criterion in agreeing to establish the statue for Aliyev, who was president from 1993 until his death in 2003. He was succeeded by his son, Ilham Aliyev.
"Let me tell you ... really honestly. Our principle was not to be policemen and to investigate what was done in the past because we would not have time for that," Krkobabic said. "Our principle was to draw a line and to move forward. In these hard times, we are trying to accept every act of goodwill by various countries and to use them for the benefit of the citizens of Belgrade."
Krkobabic said "our approach was to offer a hand of reconciliation and understanding. This is Azerbaijan's new policy; new people who are trying to establish good and friendly relations with our city. In that atmosphere we move forward. We hope that the park will be nicely renovated and that it will serve the citizens of Belgrade."
Branka Sesto, a Croatian who headed a UN Human Rights Commission project in Azerbaijan from 2001 to 2004, has written to Belgrade media outlets to draw their attention to Aliyev's legacy as president, which is viewed by many to be negative.
"In this case, the proverb 'Don't look a gift horse in the mouth' doesn't work," Sesto said. "I don't approve of a three-meter statue of one of the world's last dictators appearing in a decent country [like Serbia]."
Statues of Aliyev have already been erected in Bucharest and Kyiv at the behest of Azerbaijani authorities, who often make large financial donations to the accepting countries or municipalities.
Heydar Aliyev, who served as the head of the KGB branch in Azerbaijan during the Soviet era, was a Politburo member under Soviet leader Yuri Andropov. He was forced to resign from that institution in 1987 amid allegations of corruption.