H.E. Jan Lundin, Ambassador of the Kingdom of Sweden: In a Country of Pleasant Challenges

If the beginning of the second century of diplomatic relations between Sweden and Serbia is seen as a challenge, than it is, undoubtedly, a pleasant one because it is based on excellent political relations and good economic news

Throughout the history of the cooperation between the two countries, the Serbian diaspora in Sweden has been giving and continues to give a positive contribution to our bilateral relations. We are talking to H.E. Jan Lundin, the Ambassador of the Kingdom of Sweden, about what the new century in the relations between the two countries brings, about many people in both countries who are contributing to building what are exceptionally good political relations, and about the opportunities for expansion of the economic cooperation following IKEA opening its department store here. Also, we are talking about Sweden’s support to Serbia’s EU accession process, the values that Swedish companies bring to the Serbian market in the context of good corporate principles, and about the ways in which Swedes are discovering this part of the world as a tourist destination.

After a whole century of successful diplomatic relations between Sweden and Serbia, which were marked this year, how challenging is to begin the new century of the bilateral relations?

— If we look at it as a challenge, than, I must say, it is a rather pleasant one. Our relations have never been better and IKEA coming here in August is a big step forward in terms of economic cooperation too. I believe that trading and investments of our two countries will grow a lot quite soon which is a good validation of the Serbian economic reforms.

What are the main qualities that your predecessors and their Serbian collaborators have instilled in these successful diplomatic relations?

— I think that it is actually the Serbs, who have been living and working in Sweden for decades now, who are our main “diplomats” because they are disseminating positive information in their homeland about our country, having contributed to its general prosperity through their work.

Both Sweden and Serbia are great countries in the regional context which is also something that brings certain responsibility. We share military neutrality, as the basis of political security, and are trying to be a constructive factor in resolving regional problems in our respective parts of Europe.

The Swedish Embassy in Belgrade is one of the biggest Swedish embassies in the world. How does this help you, in your position of the Ambassador, in terms of nurturing joint relations considering the things that you have here unlike your colleagues in their respective embassies?

— I have a plethora of good people at my disposal with many of them being sons-in-law (like yours truly), or children of Serbian immigrants to Sweden. Many of us speak both Swedish and Serbian. The size of the embassy is partially due to a programme of support to the Serbian economic reforms in the light of the country’s EU accession process, which annual budget is around 11 million EUR. We have seven or eight people working here on the EU accession projects. Other people report about Serbian reforms, while some are engaged in cooperation in the segments that are important for our bilateral relations like, for instance, police, migration and trade / investments.

Why are economic relations lagging behind the good political relations between the two countries? What contribution to this could IKEA possibly make?

— Serbian market and its industrial base are relatively small which explains the limited economic relations despite the political relations being excellent. I can only say that I firmly believe that our economic exchange will grow substantially in the following years. IKEA is only the beginning.

What kind of quality in terms of attitude towards work, partners and employees do Swedish companies in Serbia bring with them?

— Usually, Swedish companies take good care of their employees and provide good working conditions. Salaries are relatively good, and, of course, employers require an adequate quality of work in return. The Swedish government is very supportive of active engagement of Swedish companies in the segment of corporate social responsibility. Initiatives like “The Global Deal” are focusing on fair working conditions in the entire world, especially in Swedish companies.

Although Serbia has a very strong diaspora in several European countries, it still fails to involve it in its economic endeavours in terms of the transfer of the know-how and skills of its citizens living abroad. How can we build this special link between the Serbian diaspora in Sweden and Serbia?

— I would respectfully disagree with your statement. I can see a lot of Serbs from Sweden being active in our economic relations because these people have decided to return to the bilateral Swedish-Serbian framework. Of course, we can always do more, and we are going to strive to do more. I also don’t think that the state needs to provide special incentives for this, apart from enabling contacts to be made.

In Serbia, we often view the EU in the context of its geopolitical influence, but, in actuality, we are being introduced to the EU values through programmes like waste water management, energy efficiency and others which you also have been supporting.

— In essence, the EU is an attempt to avoid new wars from erupting in Europe through promoting peaceful cooperation and transfer of sovereignty from national to European context. Additionally, removing borders and obstacles to movement of goods, capital and people inside the Union means that economic welfare can increase in all corners of Europe. Additionally, support is being provided to economically lesser developed regions in Europe so that they can reach the European average. Such support has a stabilizing effect and is good for cohesion in Europe. In that light, we should also view the support for Serbia in the areas that you have mentioned. This, of course, can be described as “geopolitical influence”, but it seems to me that big economic powers like China, the US, Russia, and the United Arab Emirates helping Serbia is also good for your country, providing it results in economic development. I am confident that the Serbian government is able to manage diplomatic challenges that sometimes stand in the way of this context. However, we should not exaggerate the importance of these challenges.

You have talked to various people in Serbia about the burning issues like gender equality. Which Sweden’s experiences in women’s participation in politics and management can Serbia duplicate?

— I think that Serbia has been progressing really fast in this matter. One third of Serbian MPs are women, while in some companies and in high-levels of the Serbian public administration, I can also see quite a few smart women. Maybe Sweden has progressed more in terms of division of work within family (for instance, fathers taking paternity leave), but I am confident that similar reforms will happen here too. I think that Serbia is already above EU average in terms of position of women in professional segment. You know, Sweden has never had a female prime minister.

As a Serbian son-in-law and a fan of the Serbian national cuisine, how should the Serbian tourism industry approach Swedish tourists?

— The Swedes are returning to the Balkans slowly but surely, following a long absence after the 1990s political upheaval. The Croatian and Montenegrin coastline remain the most attractive destinations for them, but young Swedes also see Belgrade as the Balkan Berlin in terms of good entertainment and fun. I think that the next step should be introducing other towns in Serbia too, and especially Serbian spas (ideal for older population), since many of the spas have been renovated and are now in excellent condition. There are restaurants in Sweden that serve Balkan barbecue, but, personally, I would like for Swedes to get to know other Serbian specialties which are healthier and as tasty. Djuvec is an excellent example, and there are many more dishes like it.

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