The IPU (Inter-Parliamentary Union) holding its session in Belgrade will have an enormous political importance, as it will lead to a significant increase in Serbia’s visibility on the political map of the world, and it will create numerous economic and tourist potentials.
Serbia is the official host of the 141st session of the Inter-Parliamentary Union Assembly that will take place in October 2019 in Belgrade. The session will be held on the 130th anniversary of this oldest and largest international parliamentary organization, of which Serbia has been a member almost since the Union’s establishment, in 1889. We are talking about this with the Speaker of the Serbian National Parliament, Maja Gojković, as well as about the campaign “You Are Not Alone!”, international activities, and gender equality.
After 56 years, Belgrade is again the host of an IPU session. Who is coming to the session and what are your expectations from such an important event?
The fact that the Republic of Serbia’s candidacy to host the 141st session was adopted by an acclamation represents a great success of our parliamentary diplomacy. This is also a great success for our country, because this event will have an enormous political importance as it will lead to a significant increase in Serbia’s visibility on the political map of the world, and it will create numerous economic and tourist potentials.
The mere fact that more than 150 parliamentary delegations from all over the world will come to our capital, including over 100 parliament speakers and deputy speakers, that is, 1,500 delegation members, speaks volumes about the significance of this event. Not only is the meeting of this oldest and largest parliamentary organization held in Belgrade for the first time after 1963, but it will be at the same time, the first meeting that is taking place in an European country after almost 20 years, bearing in mind that Germany was the last European country to host the meeting back in 1999. Furthermore, this is a validation of the dedicated and active work of our parliamentary delegation that I have been at the helm of in the last five years.
A month ago, you were one of the instigators of the “You Are Not Alone!” campaign which aims to reduce prejudice against young people with mental health and disability issues. How important is to have such initiatives?
It gives me a great pleasure to have accepted to be the patron of this project because I believe that it is our task to send a clear message to young people with mental health issues that they are not and will not be alone in overcoming these obstacles. It is paramount that we give the deserved attention to mental health of young people and that the entire society shows that it cares about this topic, because young people are the future of our country.
The society should not turn its head away from this topic, especially if we bear in mind that the risks and problems that can lead to mental health disorders are growing in number in the modern-day life. That is why we must fight together against prejudices that are not inherent only to our society, and to encourage young people, through such projects, to seek professional help when they have problems that are bothering them.
In the last few months, you have been engaged in very dynamic international activities. Could you elaborate on some of those visits abroad?
The Serbian Parliament is developing a lively and so far, unprecedently intensive cooperation with the parliaments of the countries in the region, in the European Union, and further on, including the parliaments of the friendly countries in Africa, South America and other parts of the world. This is one of our key tasks, especially given the policy of President Aleksandar Vučić to improve Serbia’s position in international circles and strengthen economic ties. The National Parliament closely follows this policy and we are trying to contribute to the improvement of parliamentary cooperation at all levels while investing effort into solidifying Serbia’s position with the view of getting as many countries as possible to listen and understand our position regarding Kosovo and Metohija.
As you noted, we had numerous bilateral meetings and we were present at all important multilateral meetings. I would especially like to highlight Serbia participating in the meeting of the parliaments of the Eurasian countries in Turkey for the first time ever, and the honour we got of addressing the State Duma during the recent visit to the Russian Federation, which is the first time that the Speaker of the National Parliament has addressed the plenum of the Russian Parliament.
In the Parliament, you have often been verbally and sometimes physically attacked by MPs from the opposition parties. How are you dealing with this, as a woman?
The opposition has the right to criticize, but we have to face the situations in the Parliament when MPs insult and assault each other instead of resorting to argument-based criticism. If you are a woman in politics, it seems to me that these insults become even more brutal. This is seen not only in what I have experienced, but what the Prime Minister Ana Brnabić has experienced too.
On the other hand, I think that women also lack solidarity and that we must not resort only to repeating the mere quotes about gender equality. Regarding the opposition’s behaviour, I am convinced that the best antidote to this are the successes we have achieved. Today, Serbia is the leader in the region in terms of declining unemployment and direct foreign investments. Also, our country’s international reputation is much better, which, among other things, is validated by the fact that we are the hosts of the events organized by such an important organization as the IPU.
Your recent statement about “certain ministers in the Serbian government should have a rest” has caused quite a stir in the public. Do you think that the time has come for a government reshuffle?
I have just voiced my opinion and I really don’t know why some ministers got so bothered by my statement. It is only natural that the Government and the ministers are responsible to the Parliament for their work and that we, in the National Parliament, can express our opinion about the work our ministers do. I believe that it is always necessary to check, once in a while, the work and the results of those who hold such important public functions. In terms of the reshuffle, that depends on the wider political situation and the challenges that Serbia is facing.
Serbian President was quoted as saying that “November is going to be difficult” in regard to Kosovo and Serbia’s international position. What do you think are going to be results of the Belgrade-Priština dialogue?
President Vučić warned that we were facing a lot of challenges and difficulties when it comes to Kosovo and Metohija, bearing in mind the numerous provocations and unilateral moves by Priština, and in particular, their intention to form the so-called Kosovo Army, which can further destabilize the whole situation and is a great cause for concern. The establishment of such an armed formation would be contrary to all international agreements, the Resolution 1244 and the Kumanovo Agreement, as well as the Brussels Agreement and the agreement that we have with NATO, and even to their Constitution.
On several occasions, President Vučić underlined that that we were ready for a dialogue, compromise and rational solution, by which neither party would get everything, nor would it lose everything. However, I do not believe that the Albanians really want a compromise. What is important is the fact that, above all, thanks to the President’s diplomatic efforts, there is much more understanding today for Serbia’s position which is seen in several countries withdrawing their recognition of the unilaterally declared independence of Kosovo and Metohija.
Also, I would like to remind you that the eight US congressmen have recently asked the US Secretary of State, Michael Pompeo to continuously support Serbia’s efforts in pursuit of a peaceful, sustainable and negotiated agreement. All this just goes to show that it is not possible to resolve the issue of Kosovo and Metohija without Serbia’s involvement.
You are one of the few high-ranking state officials that can often be seen in ordinary, everyday situations – in the street, coffee shops, book stores, exhibition openings… How difficult is it to lead “a normal life” when you are under so much pressure from the public?
During my long political career, I have been trying to also lead a normal life and despite many obligations that I have, to find time for my family and friends. Whenever I have free time, I like to go to the theatre, cinema or read a good book, which is why you can see me in these „ordinary“ places. These are important moments for me that give me a new lease of energy to do my job.
“The Lawyer” exhibition
An exhibition titled “The Lawyer” was opened this month in Novi Sad, dedicated to the 60th anniversary of your family law firm. How much did working with your father and brother in your law firm, which was founded over a half of a century ago, affect you?
The exhibition „The Lawyer“ is, first and foremost, dedicated to law and lawyers that have been trailblazers in this profession in the second half of the 20th century in Novi Sad and AP Vojvodina. During that period, which was not easy at all, the law practice set high standards and was deservedly called „an honourable profession“, hence we should never forget the lawyers who should be credited for that.
That’s why the exhibition is a reminder of the work done by the lawyers who were the symbols of Novi Sad’s law practice during that period – Mita Gojković, Stevan Rončević, Tomislav Milić, Djordje Veber, Fedor Kolesar, Oliver Novaković, the bard of the law practice Milorad Botić and many others.
Our task is to send a clear message to young people with mental health issues that they are not and will not be alone in overcoming these issues.
We had numerous bilateral meetings and were present at all important multilateral gatherings.