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August 31, 2001
. Vreme News Digest Agency No 506
Interview: Goran Svilanovic, Foreign Affairs Minister of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia

It's Hard to Please Everyone

by Slobodanka Ast

The honeymoon is now evidently over: the idyllic impressions entertained by the greater part of the public have been shattered by the already revoked FRY Ambassador to Washington, Milan St. Protic, who expressed some very unfavorable opinions.  This was an occasion for several, otherwise reserved analysts and people familiar with the situation in Yugoslav diplomacy to voice their opinions.  Hence the interview with Yugoslav Foreign Affairs Minister Goran Svilanovic begins with the question how justified are the comments that after returning to the international stage through the front door, there is now a halt in our foreign affairs policy, with evident confusion, while there is virtual chaos in the Federal Ministry of Foreign Affairs and in our diplomatic offices abroad.  Comments range from the fact that nothing has changed in the Federal Ministry of Foreign Affairs, to the fact that our diplomacy is in the hands of amateurs...

SVILANOVIC:  I cannot accept comments about chaos and confusion.  I entered this institution on November 7, year 2000.  I did not bring a large team with me.  I brought along my Chief of Cabinet Maja Tasic and Maja Vukojicic who is in charge of public relations.  Already in that transitional stage, when the first international success was registered, we began with changes in the Federal Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which showed many years of not only neglect and a drop in professionalism, but also of significant abuses.

We are presently carrying out a large project of modernization of the Federal Ministry of Foreign Affairs.  We are getting considerable help in this from the Swiss government: we computerized our legal department, we organized courses for diplomats, we are working hard toward making communication with our embassies more efficient and cheaper.  Our objective is to make the Federal Ministry of Foreign Affairs comparable with the most modern foreign affairs departments in the world.

As far as our personnel is concerned, nearly all department heads have been replaced, as well as chiefs of various services and directorates, as well as section chiefs.  I must say that I am very pleased with how this has been carried out and how people managed to adapt to their jobs.  The Federal Ministry of Foreign Affairs is a large institution: it numbers around 1400 employees, although that total should be smaller.  We already managed to reduce numbers in various diplomatic missions...  On the other hand, there is a need for an even greater number of people to come to the Federal Ministry of Foreign Affairs.  I think that younger generations need to be attracted, people in their thirties who deserve to be there because of their knowledge and talent, but who did not enter diplomacy because they disagreed with Milosevic's policies.

VREME:  At the same time there is criticism that the experience and knowledge of our distinguished diplomats who are internationally recognize is not being used sufficiently and that absolute amateurs are being sent into important missions, even though they have little knowledge of our politics, let alone of international politics...

SVILANOVIC:  Yes, that is the catch-22!  It's hard to please everyone.  This does not only hold true for the Federal Ministry of Foreign Affairs.  The problem is that in diplomacy everything is a lot more visible: the Federal Ministry of Foreign Affairs is like a shiny apple that attracts everyone's attention.  You only need to take a look at public opinion polls: one of the criticisms of the Democratic Opposition of Serbia which seems ever-present is the impression that nothing is really being done, and that people are merely being reshuffled!  Therefore, first there were comments that there were too many people in diplomatic missions who were not part of the Democratic Opposition of Serbia, and now it is being said that there are too many people in diplomatic missions who come from the Democratic Opposition of Serbia!  There were comments that our country is being represented abroad by people who do not have the national interest of Serbia close to their heart, as well as that there are people who represent us who are too nationalist in their convictions...  Everyone, above all in the Democratic Opposition of Serbia, must realize that before and after October 5, no political party won, but that we all won together.  Unfortunately or fortunately, the Democratic Opposition of Serbia is a very diverse coalition and all these differences are apparent, above all in personnel.  In diplomacy this is far more evident than in justice or in agriculture.

VREME:  How do you respond to criticism that the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia does not have an officially defined foreign policy, that debate is lacking on this issue both in the Democratic Opposition of Serbia, in parliament, in institutions, and even in the public...

SVILANOVIC:  I think that such comments are untrue: our policies have been crystal clear from the very beginning - to return to the international community, to integrate within Europe and to be accepted into the European Union as soon as possible, to become its member.  Our people must understand that money is not the main issue here, because integration in Europe implies that we will change this country radically, that we will reform our justice system, our police, our military, our economy and industry...  Also, from day one our priority is good relations with our neighbors and I think that we are slowly realizing this priority.

VREME:  In the meantime, great changes have transpired in the region...

SVILANOVIC:  When on October a great turnaround occurred in our country, there was a stable government in Rumania, a very progressive government in Hungary, a stable government in Bulgaria, a stable government in Macedonia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and in Albania.  Today, on August 24, when we are having this conversation, the situation has changed drastically: Hungary is heading toward elections, great changes have occurred in Rumania (they had a presidential election), Bulgaria just emerged out of an election, and in Macedonia there is a war...  Luckily, in Albania there was further stabilization after the elections, and I think that Albania will continue to play a constructive role.  In Bosnia and Herzegovina there is a completely new government, while in Croatia the government is under enormous pressure from nationalists because of cooperation with the Hague Tribunal...  Therefore, the regional situation we face today is far less favorable is far less favorable than it was on October 5: the entire region looked very different at that time, while in the meantime, the whole region, in a certain way, took a step backward.  Still, I hope that all this will look better in the coming months and that these new governments will be more stable than they are at this time.

The third priority of Yugoslav foreign policy is to establish balanced relations with the great powers of this world, with the European community, with the USA, with Russia and China...  This is not easy to achieve.  I must say that our visits to the USA which included the Yugoslav President, the Serbian President and myself, that they contributed considerably to improvement of relations.

VREME:  What is your response to criticism that there are no debates in parliament regarding our foreign policy?

SVILANOVIC:  I talked with Mr. Micunovic, Speaker of the Serbian Parliament, and agreed with him about submitting a report before the parliament in one of the upcoming sessions on what has been done thus far in the area of foreign policy and on future foreign political strategy.  It is truly about time to submit a report as a government to see what we have done, especially in areas where most was achieved, one of which is foreign policy.  The parliament is the best place for debating foreign policy.

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