We have a common history, while the Jewish community occupies a special place in our country
Serbia has the Israel friendship group, with the Deputy Speaker of the Serbian National Parliament, Vladimir Marinković as its president. We are talking with Mr Marinković about the group’ activities, further plans and potential for bigger cooperation with Israel.
You are the President of the Israel friendship group in the Serbian Parliament. Could you tell us more about it and its activities?
– The Israel friendship group in the Serbian Parliament has 31 members which demonstrate a strong interest that MPs have in fully contributing to the advancement of the relations between our two countries. The friendship group actively participates in all activities that aim at promoting cooperation in economy, security, culture, tourism and education. It is a great honour for us to have had a conference marking 25 years since the establishment of diplomatic relations with Israel that was held in the premises of the Serbian National Parliament. In the last few years, our parliament and Israel’s Knesset have had frequent contacts. Our Parliament Speaker, Maja Gojković had an official visit to Israel where she met with the Speaker of the Israeli Knesset, Yuli-Yoel Edelstein and representatives of all relevant political parties that have MPs in the Knesset. As MPs, we think that cooperation with Israel is very important for Serbia because we value Israeli support in international affairs. Our two countries and our two peoples, Jewish and Serbian, share identical values and throughout our respective histories, these values were freedom-loving, progressive and important for humankind, regardless of the small population of our two countries.
You were a member of that state delegation that travelled with Maja Gojković. What was your first official visit to Israel like?
– We had the opportunity to meet key political stakeholders in the Knesset, and the representatives of organizations that promote social policies and economy where we heard about Israel’s potential and were able to promote Serbia as the most favourable business destination in our region. We also visited the Holocaust remembrance centre Yad Vashem, a perennial testament to the lost lives of Jews, Serbs, and the Roma people. It reminded us of our common history, the fight against evil and injustice, and the fact that we need to stand together in order to prevent anything like the Holocaust happening ever again. The current Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić created quite a few opportunities for cooperating with Israel when he visited the country in 2015 and paved the way for stronger economic cooperation between the two countries. For me, supporting Israel and Jewish people is a matter of good upbringing and the sense of justice. Serbia has always had them both and has always fought, together with its allies, for justice and prosperity.
Our two countries have a common history. What should we learn from each other?
– Yes, Serbia and Israel have a common history, while the Jewish community occupies a special place in our country. There are many common and positive denominators between Serbia and Israel. The parents of Theodor Herzl, who is also the patron of Zionism and the Jewish state, lived in Zemun, where one of the streets was named after him. The Kingdom of Serbia was the first country to sign and support Balfour’s Declaration, which marked the inception of the Jewish state. The Serbian soldier, the Sephardic Jew, David Albala was one of the key people in regard to the signing of this declaration. The Serbs shared the same destiny as their Jewish neighbours, fought together for justice, and never succumbed to the Nazi and anti-Semitic propaganda. Today, Israel is one of the most developed hard-working countries in the world, with a flourishing democracy, developing science and education, and is an example of a progressive society that accomplishes excellent results for its people. Unfortunately, Israel’s democracy and values came at enormous cost. The challenges that Israel has been facing for decades are perhaps the biggest ones in the world today. Israel is exposed to threats, terrorist attacks, even the denial of the very existence of their nation and their state, which is probably the oldest in the world, on a daily basis. All this did not stop them from becoming the best and providing a better life for their citizens, while not deviating from their values and stances. It seems that in Israel you can negotiate just about everything apart from national interests and the protection of the people and the state. That is why the Israelis have succeeded in protecting their country and all their historical territories. It is also evident that Israel, as well as Serbia, are striving and trying to establish normal and balanced relations with the countries in the Middle East region with which Israel had several decades-long conflicts, bearing in mind the enormous threat from terrorism and the expansionist intentions of some regional powers.
More and more Israeli companies are coming to Serbia. Are they happy with the economic cooperation here? Is there room for progress?
– Yes, there is an increasing number of Israeli companies that are investing in Serbia. There is a huge opportunity for cooperation in agriculture, IT, construction of infrastructure, construction projects and joint work in security and anti-terrorism where Israel has managed to achieve the best results possible. Serbia must definitely be more active in its relations with Israel and promoting its potentials and opportunities much more vigorously in order to position itself as the main political and economic partner of Israel in Southeastern Europe. Parliamentary, economic and public diplomacy are tools that Serbia needs to make more use of. The fact is that dozens of Israeli companies operate in Serbia and that thousands of Israeli tourists come to our country every year is a clear signal to everyone else that Serbia is the right destination for investments. The great successes that Serbia has achieved in economic reforms, political stability, commitment to cooperation and good international position of the country send a good message to everyone wanting to invest safely and operate long-term in our country. Clear European determination of our country and the excellent cooperation with international financial institutions provide additional security for anyone wanting to come to our country, either to work or live. A large number of companies are very interested in investing and we will, as political stakeholders, do everything in our power to better present our country, offer potential subsidies, and highly qualified and trained workforce, which is the biggest guarantee of success and results of these investments. I must also point out the great role of diplomatic representatives, the Israeli representatives living here, in Belgrade, and the Serbian ones, living in Israel, who have dedicated themselves and have been actively working on bringing the two countries and two peoples together and who have achieved concrete results in doing so. I would especially like to thank the Ambassador of the State of Israel, H.E. Alona Fisher-Kamm, who is tirelessly working on boosting the partnership between the two countries, which is strategic and based on concrete goals and results.
Several years ago, you and Israeli diplomats agreed that Serbian ajvar could be an extremely product in Israel and that we should seize that opportunity? What happened since?
– This proposal is just one of the opportunities that our companies can use to start exporting to Israel. We have created an excellent political environment and significant opportunities for greater trade. We want mutual cooperation that implies that our companies invest in Israel and export their goods and services there. It is therefore important that we encourage cooperation between business associations and chambers of commerce in order for our companies to obtain the
necessary information about Israel and its market and to prepare well so that this cooperation can result in concrete deals and export of our goods. Today, everyone in the world wants to cooperate with Israel and it is up to us to be as active and economically- and market-oriented as possible in order to position ourselves on this very demanding market. I think that politics has done a good deal of work and it is up to business now to valorize a good political climate and relations between the two countries. I am confident that many products from Serbia will find their way to the shelves of shops in Eilat, in the south, to Hermon and Golan, in the north, from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv and Ashkelon in the next few years.
Israel did not recognize Kosovo’s independence. How important is this for Serbia?
– We, in Serbia, often say that Kosovo is our ‘Jerusalem’ since Jerusalem is not only the capital city of Israel but also its soul and source of energy, creativity, history and the reason why the Jewish people exist. I am sure that Israel will never recognize Kosovo and we are very grateful to them for having such principled position. Israel’s support for our territorial integrity and sovereignty is very important to us. In regard to Kosovo and Metohija, Israel is not only adhering to its own principles but also it knows and respects rights and justice and it honours its allies which is yet another reason why Serbia stands with Israel and the Jewish people. I am confident that the time for even better cooperation, common prosperity, fight and success is yet to come.