BRANISLAV MIĆUNOVIĆ, Montenegrin Ambassador to Serbia: WE ARE HOPING FOR CONTINUATION OF QUALITY DIALOGUE

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The bilateral relations between our two countries rest on a good dialogue between top officials and cooperation on many issues – says H.E. Mr. Branislav Mićunović, the MontenegrinAmbassador to Serbia.

How would you rate the current bilateral relations between Serbia and Montenegro?

― The bilateral relations between Montenegro and Serbia are good, and during the mandate of the previous government, Serbia and Montenegro have established a climate of trust in their political relations, which is also what we expect to happen with the new Serbian government, Prime Minister Ana Brnabić, and President-elect Aleksandar Vučić. We have a continuous political dialogue between top officials, and, in the last six months alone, Prime Minister Duško Marković officially visited Belgrade,President Filip Vujanović attendedthe reception following the inaugurationof President Aleksandar Vučić, while two presidents also had separate bilateral meetings. The two countries are cooperating excellently in the European integration process where the exchange of information and implementation of joint projects is very impressive considering that Montenegro and Serbia have advanced the most in this process among all regional countries, and are the only ones to still actively negotiate with the EU regarding membership. The cooperation is good in all other areas too – from tourism, education and science to culture and commerce. This certainly doesn’t mean that there is no more room to advance the cooperation further, primarily in economy and infrastructure. The implementation of large-scale infrastructure projects, like the Bar-Belgrade motorway and the reconstruction of the Bar-Belgrade railway, as well as the project of the Transbalkan power energy corridor, are certainly going to contribute to deepening of the connection between the two countries, and the creation of prerequisites for expediting economic development in our respective countries, as well as in the entire region.

How much do European initiatives for better networking between the Western Balkan countries, like the Berlin Initiative and Berlin Initiative Plus, actually effect the networking between regional countries?

― All of the countries in our region have a clear goal of becoming EU members, and this goal has been constantly validated by both the EU and the member states since the Thessaloniki Agenda in 2003. Still, the implementation of the reforms required for a country to become an EU member is a long and quite demanding process which definitely affects the enthusiasm of our citizens for the EU integration. Hence, it is exceptionally important for the most influential countries in the EU to have recognized the importance of initiatives like Berlin Process and Berlin Process Plus which will be the catalysts for stronger European integration processes in the Western Balkans. Setting up special funds for the implementation of the most important infrastructure and IT projects, and establishing the Regional Youth Office are certainly the right set of measures that will contribute to raising awareness about the advantages of the EU integration in both politicians and citizens.

How is this new networking process through the EU integration different to earlier historic ties?

― The EU integration is important from the aspect of preserving peace and stability in the region, and they are a guarantee that we are not going to repeat the mistakes from the past that have cost us all very dearly. In the end, the EU integration is in the best interest of the candidate countries since it implies democratic transformation of the society, and adoption of the highest possible standards in all areas which will benefit our citizens.

Do you think that Montenegro joining NATO will affect the relations between the two countries?

― Montenegro and Serbia have different priorities in their foreign policies in accordance with their own national interests. Since declaring independence, Montenegro has been very clear about wanting to join the Euroatlantic integration processes which has been successfully realized recently with our country joining NATO. On the other hand, Serbia has been implementing the policy of military neutrality. Also, both countries recognize and respect these decisions as internal and sovereign issues of each country. Serbia is interested in having a good cooperation with NATO which thecountry is implementing through the Partnership for Peace programme andthe Individual Partnership Action Plan (IPAP) that is the highest level of cooperation between NATO and a country that does not wish to be its member. We think that through Montenegro’s membership in NATO, we can use this framework to further develop cooperation not only in the defence segment, but also in regard to mitigating the growing security concerns, where the Alliance undoubtedly plays an important role, like migration, fighting terrorism, cyber attacks and responding to crisis situations.

You are a theatre director, the former culture minister in Montenegro, and a longtime professor of acting at the Faculty of Drama Arts in Cetinje. Did this last decade, since both countries declared independence, have affected the cultural exchange between them, as well as the mutual understanding and interest shown by artists from both sides in each other?

― The cultural exchange between Montenegro and Serbia has never slowed down, even at the time when the political relations between the two countries were not even close to what they are today. Today, both countries have an exceptional cooperation in all areas. In our relations, particularly in the last three decades, Montenegro’s doors have always been opened regardless of the political processes that our countries and the entire ex-Yugoslavia have been going through. In the said period, we have managed to implement numerous joint  culture projects together with our friends from the region, and particularly from Serbia. Through this noble cooperation we have proven that, even when things were incredibly difficult for our region, our cultural mission was always geared towards full understanding and tolerance. Even after all these years I spent as the director of the Montenegrin National Theatre and the minister of culture, I am still investing as much love and effort into cooperation with the Serbian culture in my capacity as the Montenegrin Ambassador to the Republic of Serbia. We are both proud of the fact that the relations between our countries have been deemed as non-problematic and that they have actually reached their peak, looking back at the last three decades. The current political dialogue and cultural exchange have contributed to the fact that the relations between our two countries can serve as an example of good neighbourly relations in the Balkan region. The independent status of our countries has had a positive effect on a more intense and better quality cooperation in culture which emerges only when we eliminate the excessive myths and prejudices and when they cease to be the dominant part of the way we think and act. That is why quality reality is the essence of our relations today.

How do you personally feel in Belgrade?

― I studied in Belgrade and worked here for many years. I was also a professor of acting at the Belgrade Faculty of Drama Arts. Belgrade helped me to define myself as a person, a human being and an artist. My unforgettable professors, many of my colleagues and friends, and the city in which nobody ever asked you where came from, have formed a personal commitment towards all these elements that are still alive inside of me despite my huge experience. I am also very aware that all of these criteria are not a part of my life, but the life itself. I came back to Belgrade as the Montenegrin Ambassador with a feeling and an obligation to invest all of my energy in adhering to the standards of the diplomatic post bestowed on me by my country and all the diplomatic standards of the country that was sent to. But, personally, I still have a wish to sincerely contribute to the mutual respect, tolerance and love between the peoples of the two countries.

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