At the official opening of the Consulate, I said that I considered culture to be the foundation. Many studies indicate that the countries which invested the most in culture have found strength and motivation in culture to achieve economic, technical and scientific prosperity
We spoke with Zoran Tadić, the Honorary Consul of the Republic of Austria, the Austrian Consulate in Novi Sad, about the relations between Serbia and Austria in the context of the Ukrainian crisis, as well as the science, economy, technology and culture that unite these two countries.
Could you tell us how the Consulate of Austria in Serbia will contribute to the cooperation between our two countries?
The Austrian Consulate in Novi Sad was opened on March 24 last year, and its goal is to further improve the ties between Austria and Serbia, which have been traditionally good, and especially the relations between Vojvodina and Austria. This is why our consulate, above all, strives to connect in what we consider the most beautiful segment, that is cultural ties, but also in economy and science. At the official opening of the Consulate, I said that I considered culture to be the foundation. Many studies indicate that the countries which invested the most in culture have found strength and motivation in it to achieve economic, technical and scientific prosperity.
“Vojvodina‘s proximity to Hungary, Croatia and Austria, and further to Germany, is such that, logistics-wise, it is the most logical step for foreign companies to open their subsidiaries here”
This is the reason why we initially focused on cultural ties. On the other hand, the University of Graz and the University of Novi Sad have already established scientific and technological ties, as have the University of Belgrade and the University of Vienna. A new initiative related to the University of Linz has also been launched.
What are the current relations between Austria and Serbia like?
Throughout history, Serbs who wanted to move from one empire, like the Ottoman Empire, to a more liberal, freer and more acceptable empire for Serbs, have always viewed Austria as their final destination. Austria and Germany are traditionally considered as having a magical power that attracts our people searching for happiness in another country. This clearly shows that these two countries are the most suitable for us, both in terms of mentality and the way in which life is organized in them. Also, regular visits by high-ranking politicians from Austria, such as the recent visit of the Austrian Chancellor Mr Karl Nehammer to Serbia, validate the closeness between our two countries.
How big are Austrian investments in Serbia?
Until recently, Austria was the largest foreign investor in Serbia and will continue to invest in the Serbian economy. Austrian companies are especially interested in Vojvodina, both because of the proximity of airports and roads, and the excellent infrastructure, which was developed in the previous period. Vojvodina‘s proximity to Hungary, Croatia and Austria, and further to Germany, is such that, logistics-wise, it is the most logical step for foreign companies to open their subsidiaries here. Also, Novi Sad managed to position itself as an IT hub not only in Serbia but also in this part of Europe, where a dozen large companies, founded by Serbian citizens, have been successful on the international market too. This later swayed companies with headquarters in the EU and the United States to open their subsidiaries on the territory of Vojvodina and Novi Sad.
The government has supported this trend by establishing an IT centre on the University of Novi Sad‘s campus that will further motivate young people to enrol in colleges that benefit the IT sector. That is what makes Novi Sad attractive, and all of this can be integrated in a smaller area like Vojvodina.
You are the director of the Novi Sad-based company Neofyton, which represents the Austrian company ENGEL. Could you tell us more about Neofyton?
Neofyton, which I own, represents the world’s largest company that produces injection molding machines for the plastic industry, ENGEL. Most foreign companies from the automotive and food packaging industry have Engel machines installed in their facilities in Serbia. This shows how much foreign investors value Austrian technology, as well as its best features, namely efficiency, speed and its approach to environmental protection and sustainable development.
Will the current situation in Ukraine affect Austrian-Serbian relations?
I do not think so. Issues related to the situation in Ukraine are the subject of another sphere of activity, and these processes will certainly take place without the interference of this consulate or Austrian-Serbian relations. On the other hand, a good part of Serbia’s appeal to foreign investors was related to easy access to the Russian market. Now, due to these unfortunate circumstances and the war in Ukraine, this advantage has been somewhat stopped or almost completely blocked. Serbia is still an extremely attractive investment destination, primarily because of its educated workforce. In the early 2000s, foreign investors chose Serbia primarily because of affordable labour and low energy prices. However, in the past 15 years, Serbia has demonstrated that it can be attractive in terms of an exceptionally high-quality educated and motivated workforce. When it comes to Novi Sad, for instance, companies like Nidec, Continental and other top-notch enterprises have opened their subsidiaries here.
You are also a member of the Committee for Cooperation between Science and Economy at the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Serbia. What plans do you have related to your work in the Committee, and can the Austrian Consulate in Novi Sad boost this cooperation?
Following the initiative launched by the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Serbia and the Austrian Chamber of Commerce in Serbia, dual education was launched and successfully implemented here.
We have realized one part of the programme, which Engel implements in Austria’s school system. This segment was approved by the Serbian government and became an integral part of the curriculum for high school students in Serbia who are already being taught in line with the planned curriculum. And the results are already noticeable! For instance, we have two students from the Electrical Engineering High School in Novi Sad who have learned how injection molding machinery works, as well as saw, in practice, what it was like to meet with both satisfied and unsatisfied customers, to get up at 7 am, to go and see customers and come back the same day. These are all skills that young people must master. The quicker they master them, the easier it will be for them to become engaged in business later on, and adjust to what life has in store for them.
What do you think of the cultural and economic ties between Serbia and Austria in the Autonomous Province of Vojvodina so far and how will they develop in the coming period?
It is a fortunate circumstance that Novi Sad is the European Capital of Culture this year, i.e. the first European Capital of Culture from a country that is not an EU member. We have already participated in several initiatives last year, e.g. in the Kaleidoscope event which took place in the completely renovated cultural district called Chinatown where the New Design University from St. Pölten had its interactive presentation. Senior citizens found the presentation especially interesting since it showed how interactivity helps in the development of culture. This week, the State Theatre from Linz will be a guest at the Serbian National Theatre, and as an extension of all that, we will have a few exhibitions staged, e.g. at the Gallery of Contemporary Art.
“Following the initiative launched by the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Serbia and the Austrian Chamber of Commerce in Serbia, dual education was launched and successfully implemented here”
Also, the world’s largest tamburitza music event called Tamburica Fest takes place in Novi Sad every year. This year, Austria is the event‘s partner and we are going to see one of the best classical orchestras from Austria performing at this year’s festival.
All this, in line with our expectations, should further strengthen the ties between Vojvodina and Serbia with Austria, and beyond, expedite our accession to the European Union.