I have built friendships and memories that will stay with me forever ensuring that Serbia and the Balkans will always hold a special place in my heart
We spoke with Romanian ambassador to Serbia, H.E. Oana – Cristina Popa at the end of her mandate in Belgrade, about political and economic relations as well as what memories from Serbia she will carry with her. “I am moving to another capital, not far from here, with optimism and with the strong belief that the place of Serbia and the whole region of the Western Balkans is in the European Union family. Romania and Serbia are constantly working together to strengthen the excellent historical relations and their strong traditional friendship” she pointed out.
From the position of the Ambassador of Romania in Belgrade, you will be leaving for the position of the Head of the EU Delegation in Montenegro. What does it mean to you to be able to stay in the Western Balkans?
Thank you for the opportunity to address your readers once again before the end of my mandate as Ambassador of Romania to the Republic of Serbia. I love the Balkans, I have worked, lived, travelled and studied in this region for the past 20 years. It is a privilege and honor for me to continue my work here. At the same time, it represents a great professional challenge as the relations between neighboring countries in the region are extremely dynamic.
It is not easy to summarize in few words the professional and personal experience at the end of an energetic term, rich in professional rewards both for me personally and for Romania. We have exercised the presidency of the European Union for the first time; we have been involved in the further development of bilateral relations; we have diversified the range of areas of bilateral cooperation; we have promoted Romanian values, traditions and culture in Serbia through numerous public and cultural diplomacy events and we have inaugurated a new headquarters of our diplomatic and consular missions. Towards the end of my term, we have experienced one of the most unusual and challenging of times, that of the pandemic, when life as we knew it changed. Despite the difficulties faced by everyone, it was a time to re-analyze what is really important in life, what responsibility, solidarity, patience and resilience mean.
I am moving to another capital, not far from here, with optimism and with the strong belief that the place of Serbia and the whole region of the Western Balkans is in the European Union family.
What were the biggest challenges you had to face during your diplomatic mission in Belgrade?
Unfortunately, I would have to say COVID 19. The pandemic has put us in front of a whole new set of challenges. We reconfigured the functioning of the diplomatic mission, we reorganized our priorities to support Romanian citizens caught off guard by the rapid changes of the new border regime, but also to ensure the flow of goods between countries. We supported both bilaterally and as an EU member state Serbia’s efforts to combat the effects of the pandemic. The crisis was a test of the diplomatic team’s ability to adapt and react.
But, as always, in any challenge, there is an opportunity. In terms of opportunities, the European Union’s support to the region, both in combating the negative effects of the pandemic, as well as in supporting the economy in the medium and long term, provided an occasion to relaunch regional cooperation and increase the region’s cohesion. One of the obvious changes revealed by the pandemic points at the need to support local production. People seem to become increasingly interested in moving away from a global economy to a more regional and local one.
The region has therefore the opportunity to advance the project of the regional economic area launched in the context of the European perspective. Overall, I am proud of our Embassy’s accomplishments over the past four years, in cooperation with the Serbian authorities and people. I believe we should continue building on past achievements and shape the future of the region together.
Last year marked the 140th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Romania and Serbia. What else can be done to boost the economic, cultural and other forms of cooperation between the two countries?
Romania and the Republic of Serbia are constantly working together to strengthen the excellent historical relations and their strong traditional friendship. The relations between our two countries have been conducted under good neighborly environments, and have had as objectives to identify and develop opportunities for cooperation on bilateral, regional and European level.
The geographical proximity favors the economic cooperation and the commercial trade along the common border. Therefore, the development potential of the economic cooperation in the region is considerable. Revitalizing the traffic on the Danube and further consolidating the cross-border cooperation are two pillars that can contribute significantly to the strengthening of the Romanian-Serbian business relations.
In 2021, Novi Sad and Timisoara will be European Capitals of Culture. Is there a chance of doing a joint project in the field of tourism, culture and development?
The European Capitals of Culture is one of the most ambitious cultural projects both in purpose and size and one of the best known and most appreciated by the European citizens. The aim of the initiative is to promote and celebrate Europe’s rich cultural diversity and shared aspects of our heritage, and thereby promote mutual understanding and intercultural dialogue. The European Capitals of Culture represents also a unique opportunity to regenerate cities, to bring new vitality to the cultural life, to boost the creativity and to promote their images worldwide. This contributes to the long-term development of European cities and their regions.
What memories from Serbia will you carry with you? Do you promise to come back here and always be a very dear guest at our events?
Serbia is a great country, fascinating at both professional and personal levels. In the four years of my term, Serbia has changed profoundly, continuing the ‘healing’ process, while moving closer to the EU, on a path that has not always been easy.
It is a fabulous country, whose greatest asset are its people. Now, more than ever it is time to look forward, to the future, because that is where the answers lie and to invest in the young generation who, through their talent and energy, prove that this country’s place is and has always been in Europe.
I was particularly delighted by the rich cultural heritage of Romanians who have lived in these lands for hundreds of years and who have been our partners in promoting the Romanian culture, language and traditions. I have built friendships and memories that will stay with me forever ensuring that Serbia and the Balkans will always hold a special place in my heart.
European Capitals of Culture in 2021
What can we learn from each other?
The Romanian community in Serbia and the Serbian community in Romania represent a solid bridge between our two countries and hold a crucial role in strengthening the bilateral relations. Therefore, there are many opportunities for our countries to highlight their positive historical relations, their strong traditional friendship and the common cultural heritage through joint projects in the margins of Novi Sad -Timisoara European Capitals of Culture – 2021.
Glosa Overall, I am proud of our Embassy’s accomplishments over the past four years, in cooperation with the Serbian authorities and people
Glosa I was particularly delighted by the rich cultural heritage of Romanians who have lived in these lands for hundreds of years and who have been our partners in promoting the Romanian culture