Branislav Djordjevic: 'We don’t know what Europe wants from us Serbs'

Article published on Jan. 19, 2007
Article published on Jan. 19, 2007
On January 21 2007, Serbia sees its first general elections since the new democratic constitution was approved in October last year. The big parties are favourites to win in a country that seems unsure of where it’s going

54-year-old Serbian journalist and translator Branislav Djordjevic has just been named President of the Spanish Association of Foreign Press Reporters (ACPE). He has lived in Spain since 1994, and considers himself 'as most Serbs do, very European.' The seventies was an exciting time for him; he took advantage of Yugoslavia being part of the European communication network, and travelled the continent as a student, 'working on construction sites in Germany to pay for trips to see Pink Floyd play in the Netherlands.'

Would you say that Serbia is unsure of both its place in Europe today, and its wants for itself in the future?

No, it's Brussels that doesn’t know what to do with Serbia. We’ve always been a very European country – there are a million Serbs living in all parts. Whatever happens in the EU has its echoes in Serbia, a state which is more developed than countries such as Romania. The problem is that it’s difficult to escape the poverty that the war caused, especially when the EU puts import quotas on most Serbian products, or when travel is made so difficult. If my daughter wants to visit me, the Spanish authorities demand copies of her grandparents’ tax declaration in Serbia. The Croats are treated 'properly' - they don’t have to provide the same information, even though they were part of the same war.

Do Serbs feel misunderstood by Europe?

At the start of the war, yes. Now it’s the other way around. We don’t understand what Europe wants from us. It asked us to hand over Milosevic, to reform the police, the constitution, even our universities to meet the requirements of the Bologna Process. But they’re still not satisfied. Serbia has handed over 35 people to the International Tribunal in the Hague. If the government knew where Ratko Mladi was, they’d arrest him. During the Nuremberg Trials, 24 Nazis were tried. Is it better to be a Nazi than a Serb? The Kosovo leader Ramush Haradinaj was released by the Hague to take part in the political process in his own country, while Vojislav Šešelj (Serb nationalist extremist and former colleague of Milosevic) is not allowed to see his family.

Is Serbia truly democratic?

Since the fall of Milosevic, the country has been heading in the direction of democracy with no going back. A large part of the Serbian population belongs to ethnic minorities. All are respected. Even gypsies have a national statute, political party and communication resources, which is a good basis for the democratic future of the country. Furthermore, there is less and less corruption. The real problem is that for a true democracy you also need a healthy economy. The Serbian state economy is in ruins, and is forced to sell off state-owned companies too cheaply, as has just happened with the Danube city of Smederevo, which was bought by US Steel.

Lastly, I think the current government has been too submissive to Brussels in accepting the non-reciprocity of visas for travel within Europe. We Serbs need visas to enter other European countries, but Europeans don’t need visas to come into Serbia. That means that money doesn’t come into the country, but criminals can take refuge here. The best thing my country could do is negotiate agreements with other big countries like India, Japan, China or Russia.

Serbian flag (Photo homepage: nofrill/ Flickr)