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Interviews

[EWB Interview] Sarrazin: UN Resolution on Srebrenica is not against Serbia and Republika Srpska

Recent weeks in the Western Balkans have been marked by the topics of Kosovo’s membership in the Council of Europe as well as the planned Resolution on the Srebrenica genocide in the United Nations General Assembly. Both developments raised tensions, especially in Serbia and Republika Srpska.

Looking at the broader picture, this year marks the 10th anniversary of the Berlin Process, a German initiative that was set up as a platform for high-level cooperation between high official representatives of the Western Balkan Six. The Summit in October will take stock of the steps the countries have taken in establishing a Common Regional Market.

We spoke about these issues with Manuel Sarrazin, German Federal Government Special Representative for the Western Balkans. We also touched upon the relationship between Serbia and Germany, which has faced some strain following the controversial December elections in Serbia, as well as the recent developments in Montenegro and how they relate to the country’s EU aspirations.

European Western Balkans: The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe voted last week, and with the huge majority recommended that Kosovo be invited to become a member of the CoE. Will Germany advocate for Kosovo’s membership at the next meeting of the Committee of Ministers? Can you explain Berlin’s position on this question?

 Manuel Sarrazin: We have closely followed the developments in the Parliamentary Assembly. And we, of course, take the Parliamentary Assembly’s decision into consideration in our deliberations.

Of course, we are strong friends and supporters of Kosovo. And we stand behind the idea to bring Kosovo closer to Europe, which also means membership in the Council of Europe. But the decision will at the end be with the Council of Ministers, and it is crucial that Kosovo now does all it can do to convince a broad majority of member states. Especially minority rights are a key topic for the Council of Europe.

EWB: The Serbian authorities are extremely dissatisfied with Kosovo’s progress believing that Pristina has not done enough to meet the necessary criteria, primarily regarding the formation of the Association of Serb Municipalities. Will the establishment of the ASM remain necessary for Kosovo’s membership in CoE?

MS: I have to confess that I cannot really follow the argumentation of Serbia. At least for the German side, I can say that the criteria mentioned by Serbia have never been published as being our criteria for possible membership of Kosovo in the Council of Europe.

In general, the situation of dealing with minorities in Kosovo is highly relevant. But Kosovo has an obligation from the Brussels agreements reached in 2011 and 2013 as well as from the Ohrid agreement to implement the ASMM. What is clear is that both, Kosovo and Serbia should implement the Ohrid Agreement, which includes the establishment of the ASMM.

EWB: Is Serbia violating the Ohrid agreement by opposing Kosovo’s membership in the CoE?

 MS: There is a clear commitment in the Ohrid agreement:  Serbia must not stop Kosovo from entering international organizations. I don’t see how Serbia’s current actions are in line with the text or the spirit of the agreement.

EWB: The main topic in the Serbian public these weeks is the UN resolution on Srebrenica, which Germany co-sponsored. Why is the adoption of such a resolution important and what was Germany’s motivation for opening this issue?

MS:  Germany has co-sponsored this resolution together with Rwanda and a number of other Member States of the UN. We are globally and at all times committed to preventing genocide. It is of great importance for us to maintain the memory of the horrors of the Holocaust. That’s why we are also committed to sharpening the memory of other internationally recognized genocides in recent history.

The upcoming 11th of July marks the 30th year of the genocide of the Bosnian Muslims in Srebrenica in 1995. The genocide is historically and legally proven and classified as genocide by independent international courts and individual perpetrators were convicted. Through this commemoration we would also honor the prosecution of genocide by international jurisdictions.

I think it must be clearly said that this resolution is not against Serbia, Republika Srpska or any other state, entity or group.  It is linked with crimes that have been committed, and the genocide which took place. This is said by not only international courts, but also by legislation of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The text of the resolution is directed against actions such as denial and glorification of genocide. The resolution does not mention any state or any group in particular. Resolutions for commemorating the Holocaust as well as the genocide in Rwanda have existed for many years.

EWB: Since the December elections, Serbian state officials many times have accused Germany of interfering in Serbia’s domestic politics. Some would say that such statements have significantly damaged Germany’s reputation in Serbia. Are you concerned about this?

MS: What I am concerned about is some of the rhetoric that is being used. It does not fit into my idea of an honest friendship and the positive engagement of Germany, as one of the attorneys trying to bring Serbia closer to the European Union.

As an honest friend, we are also speaking about deficits we see, especially regarding democratic developments, pluralism and rule of law in the country. Serbia is a candidate country to the European Union and therefore, of course, the EU expects Serbia to follow our example and align with our values and policies. Grave deficits in election processes hamper Serbia’s EU aspirations.

The government is now working on the recommendations by the OSCE and we of course stand ready to support where we can. We engage positively and constantly.

EWB: You visited Belgrade and met with President Vučić. After the meeting Serbian Presidency issued a very harsh statement where it is stated that you did not agree on any question, only on preserving peace in the region. What was the topic of your meeting? Do you speak about elections in Serbia in addition to Kosovo issue?

MS: Contrary to the statement, it was not a harsh meeting. Diplomacy does not just simply stop at the tough topics, you still talk about them. I felt that there was a constructive atmosphere, while of course, we do not agree on all topics.

I’m travelling a lot in the region to prepare the ground for this year’s 10th Berlin Process Summit in October. I do believe that the Serbian government and President will be constructive like they have been in the past regarding the Berlin Process, and this is also what I sense from my talks with Serbian partners.

The Berlin Process and regional integration bring benefits to the region and are in the interest of people in Serbia. I believe President Vučić is aware of this.

EWB: Speaking about the Berlin Process – what do you expect of this process in the future? Are the leaders of the Western Balkans enough committed to finalize work on a Common Regional Market?

 MS: It remains to be seen, if the leaders of the region are committed enough or not. I’m hopeful and we are trying to take important steps towards finalizing a Common Regional Market, five years after the Sofia Declaration and 10 years after the initiation of the Berlin Process.

The Berlin process is a very constructive political forum where the Western Balkans Six can agree on things together while they perhaps are not agreeing on other topics. Berlin process is an established format where everybody has to bring their share but also gets something out of it. At the same time, the Berlin Process is a tool to help the countries become fit for membership in the EU.

It is clearly linked to the new Growth Plan for the Western Balkans and the strategy of the European Union. I think that most leaders in the region see the opportunity that the Berlin Process can deliver something which is positive for them and their countries. We see ourselves and the Berlin Process as a service and as contributors to the European Agenda and overall progress in the region.

EWB: In recent days, actions by the Special State Prosecutor’s Office in Montenegro have led to the arrest of individuals who have been part of criminal structures linked with the former regime. How do you assess the fight against corruption in Montenegro so far? Can resolving this issue bring Montenegro closer to the EU?

MS: All steps regarding the rule of law are the main key on the path to the EU. In this field, I think that the current government made some important steps by filling the vacant positions in the judicial system. But of course, this alone will not be enough. There is also a lot of legislative work, which still has to be done.

Justice reform does not only mean that you just have the prosecution in place and working. It means to have courts, police and the prosecution which need to be functional, independent and working together. I see that there is political will in Montenegro to deliver on that. We want to be helpful and supportive, but as we have seen before in other countries, the sheer number of cases will not be enough to really deliver in the fight against corruption and organized crime.

Of course, it’s not an easy fix. A lot of hard work still lies ahead. But it is worth it, for the EU perspective but also for people in the country who want to get rid of corruption and organized crime and have fair opportunities in their lives.

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