Missing friends and the atmosphere in the times of uncertainty
In addition to important topics, every issue of Diplomacy & Commerce magazine also covers the diplomatic corps, as well as news & events that have happened in the diplomatic community in Serbia. In this issue, we wanted to tell our readers where are the former ambassadors to Serbia now and what are they doing. We are presenting the ambassadors of five countries: Brazil, Finland, Israel, Switzerland, and the USA. We asked them what they did after leaving Belgrade, what they missed the most about Serbia and how much has the pandemic changed diplomacy and the daily life of a diplomat.
- What have you been doing since you left Belgrade?
- What do you miss the most about Serbia?
- How much has diplomacy and the everyday life of a diplomat changed during the pandemic?
H.E. Isabel Cristina de Azevedo Heyvaert, Brazil: “I miss Momo Kapor, Belgrade’s nature and people”
1. Since my return to my capital, Brasília last year, I have been assigned to the Department of Europe, that covers the three main European geopolitical areas, including the Balkans. My core missions are based on Think Thank working methods and the promotion of deeper political e economic analyses of relevant European issues. Besides, in 2019, the Brazilian Strategic Partnerships, encompassing the EU, the Brexit, Davos, G-20 and topics relevant to the 74th United Nations General Assembly occupied an important space in my professional agenda.
2. I have to say Momo Kapor, with whom I share a vivid enchantment of Belgrade. Mine is amplified by the fact that the city, with its trams and buildings, reminds me of Belo Horizonte (State of Minas Gerais), the beautiful city of my childhood, which, “hélas”, has gone through a profound transformation, not always in the best sense, such as the discontinuation of electric trolleybus and trams. What I really miss about Belgrade is the overall atmosphere, created by a combination of nature (first and foremost, the Danube), the people and the history, infused with a lot of energy and enthusiasm for life.
3. The diplomatic practices in general have changed a lot since the onset of Covid-19. The pillars of protective measures, confinement and social distancing were also implementing in Brazil, emptying offices and confining diplomats and other governmental officials to their homes. Nevertheless, so far, the results have been very positive, in the sense that the administration has been able to reinvent itself, thanks to the critical support of modern technology. In this context, videoconferences, both at the national and international level, have been growing on importance and successfully replacing travelling. This year, for the first time in its history, the 75thUNGA has been entirely realized through videoconferences. I think that will be one of the legacies of this period, since videoconferences are extremely practical, reduce travel costs and aviation carbon footprint thus contributing to the development of a sustainable economy. Nevertheless, I think that, when the vaccine becomes available, the present situation will go through some kind of re-adjustment, because direct human contact, at all levels, will always be essential to forge ties and friendship among human beings.
H.E. Jean-Daniel Ruch, Switzerland: “Serbia in all its diversity in my heart”
1. I moved to Tel Aviv to work there as Ambassador of Switzerland in Israel. My mandate will come to an end in the summer of 2021.
2. It is hard to be specific: it is a whole atmosphere I am missing, like an impressionist artwork with a variety of colours: some remind me of the warm people and intense friendships, some of the tremendous nightlife and smoky jazz-clubs, some of a spring morning light on the Danube in Zemun, some others of a late night or early morning breakfast at Autokomanda….. But it is not only Belgrade: a plate of mantije in a simple Novi Pazar fast food, or the autumn wine festival in Novi Sad, where I was made a knight, or a visit to my friend Edmund in his organic farm in Šumadija….. What I miss about Serbia is… Serbia in all its diversity.
3. Very much and very little. The aim remains the same: cultivate and enhance our relationship with the State and the people of the country where we are active. The method has had to change. Instead of large parties and events, we are now focusing on small and high-quality gatherings. Zoom has become a common feature of our work. But wherever I am, whatever the circumstances, my commitment remains firmly the same: identify untapped potential and make it profitable for all.
Ambassador Kyle Scott (Retired), the USA: “My Last and Best Posting was Belgrade!”
1. For many years I would say: “My first and best posting was Zagreb, as I met my wife there”. But Belgrade was “My Last and Best posting”. The irony of having retired on Nov 29 is just proof that I came a full circle. I retired after 40 years as a US diplomat, and couldn’t imagine another job I would have liked more.So a new chapter began as we returned to our home near Washington, DC. While I continue to follow events in the Balkans and have participated in seminars and lectured at universities, I am enjoying my new-found freedom and free time immensely. Part of that new-found freedom has included the right to express myself openly about politics during this extremely exciting election year in the US. No longer having to represent the policies of the Trump Administration has come as a great relief to me, and Joe Biden’s victory offers my country the opportunity to regain some of the values that I proudly defended throughout much of my diplomatic career. Another part of our grand retirement strategy included extensive travel, but unfortunately, the pandemic has forced us to put a halt to it for now. We had just departed for our first major travel adventure to Argentina and Peru when the pandemic hit, but within days of arriving in Buenos Aires, we were forced to cancel everything and return home and keep safe. I have been alarmed to see how many people refuse to follow sound advice from doctors and experts regarding wearing a mask and social distancing. I thought this was a shadow on American culture, but I am saddened to see similar problems throughout Europe, including in Serbia.
2. I certainly don’t miss the politics or seeing my face on the front page of the tabloids! We miss the active cultural life – all the great theater, Nisville, BDF, Pančevo Jazz Festival, Guitar Festival, museums, live jazz, Vesna Mandić’s American High Fashion in our back yard, my tennis buddies… We miss Serbia’s natural beauty. We miss the great wine and the warm atmosphere of friends gathered around a table groaning with Serbian specialties. But the hospitality of Serbian people stands out the most. We keep up with many of our dear friends through social media and by phone.
3. I left the active diplomatic service before the pandemic hit and imagine every contact is more difficult with social distancing requirements of the COVID-19 era. But in its essence, diplomacy is about establishing relationships with the people of the country where you serve. The best times I had were spent on the road in Serbia, going to places near and far, meeting people, discovering their problems and accomplishments. A warm smile goes a long way in any profession, and many of the greatest insights I gathered came over a warm meal or at an informal gathering — all things we need to avoid at this time. But the new vaccines are promising, and soon, with effort and mutual encouragement, we will continue to advance our shared goals with Serbia and the Serbian people. Looking forward to seeing you again!
H.E. Pertti Ikonen, Finland: “The Caribbean magic interrupted”
1. Since my homecoming in June 2019, I have been working as the Ambassador for the Caribbean countries. By now, I have visited 8 countries there and become the Finnish Ambassador for The Bahamas, Cuba, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Guyana, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Vincent and Grenadines and Suriname.
2. During my years in Serbia, together with the other Nordic embassies, we had a profound dialogue with the Serbian authorities on the best practices regarding becoming a successful European Union member state. I miss these friendly discussions.
3. My work changed radically in March when we had to bring home a lot of Finnish tourists from the Caribbean Islands. For instance, we organized a special Finnair flight to Havana to bring all Nordic and Estonian tourists to Helsinki. Since March, the Finnish civil servants have mostly worked from home. Meetings are held via web in Finland, the EU and even the Caribbean States. A 5G network was installed in our house so we always have enough power for our communications as my wife and son are also working online in the same house.
H.E. Yossi Levi, Israel : “Serbia? Big heart, optimistic lifestyles”
1. In summer 2019 – almost a year and a half ago – I was appointed Israeli Ambassador to Lithuania. Vilnius is a great city, and I love it, but nothing compares to Belgrade. You can leave Serbia, but Serbia doesn’t leave you. I had 3 years of confusion after I finished my tenure as the Ambassador to Serbia and Montenegro. I felt that I reached a ceiling in my career, and that the joy and excitement of being a diplomat in beloved places will never happen again, as in Belgrade. There was magic in Belgrade, and magic does not happen twice. I heard similar claims from many ambassadors and DCMs who finished their service in Belgrade, and felt really sad afterwards. I used the interim time in Israel to finish a novel which I started to write in Belgrade, called “Michaela’s Autumn”. The story takes place in an imaginary city in the Balkans called Novigrad. It is a very sensual, sometimes even erotic story about a senior diplomat – a woman in her fifties – who, one day, meets an amazing, mysterious, young, and handsome man called Marco. What ensues is a big surprise. The book was published just recently in Tel Aviv. In summer 2019, I applied again for a position abroad. I was happy to be posted in Vilnius, a pretty European city with a huge Jewish history. I visited Belgrade twice since I The first time was with my family; it was emotionally challenging for our son, who spent all his childhood there, to see his hometown again. I also was crying a lot.
2. The people, of course. My friends, my colleagues from the embassy who also became close friends. I miss the great energy of people. The optimistic lifestyle. The big heart of the Serbs. I sometimes miss Serbia so much that it hurts. I think I also miss myself when I was there. I was younger and I thought life can be only wonderful. Good things happened to me in Belgrade. This place treated me really well and I felt at home; more so than in Tel Aviv. I still keep in contact with President Vučić, who was and still is a close friend of mine and I miss him, as well as Nebojša Stefanović and others. It is not about politics. It is about friendship between people. As I am writing these words, I feel like booking a flight and going there to visit.
3. We entered a dark time of uncertainty. Look what a tiny virus has done to us. Lithuania used to be a “green” country for a long period. The summer was wonderful. We traveled to Latvia, Estonia and Finland. But this autumn the country suffered from the severe outbreak of the epidemic and it moved into the ‘red zone’. It also had an immediate impact on our routine. Just like everybody else, we are trying to minimize the number of meetings and we prefer to work online. It is absolutely no fun. I really miss you, Serbian friends. Hope to meet soon!