On our first morning in Belgrade, the group woke up to the smell of pancakes, which our wonderful Nickella had prepared for us: well-needed for a day with two important meetings. After breakfast, we walked just 10 minutes to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, where we first had a meeting with the person responsible for the EU accession process. He told us that the EU membership is a very important issue for Serbia, but emphasized that it is important that both EU and Serbia are “ready” before they can join. The relationship with Kosovo naturally came up, as it is one of the main issues in the accession process. He spoke a lot about the importance of having a dialogue between Belgrade, Pristina and EU, in order to find a “sustainable solution” for everybody: it is important to avoid conflicts brought into the EU. He also talked a lot about his love for Sweden and our stable society, an interesting contrast to the negative views we had heard a lot of in Hungary.
Right after, we met with Dejan Pavicevic, a man involved in the Belgrade and Pristina negotiations. For example, we discussed the newly implicated 100 % tariffs that the government in Kosovo had voted through on goods from Serbia just a few days before. Dejan viewed this as a “humanitarian crisis” for the relatively big population of Serbs living in the northern parts of Kosovo, saying that these people receive a lot of economic support from Belgrade and that the tariffs would mean that the schools, hospitals etc. would not receive the money they needed; a statement that some people during our next meetings in Belgrade and Pristina would see as a big exaggeration. Furthermore, we discussed the idea of a territory swap between Serbia and Kosovo (Kosovo would trade their northern territory mainly populated by serbs for a Serbian area mainly populated by albanians), which Dejan did view as possible. The frozen conflict is not sustainable and needs a solution, which means that compromises have to be made. However, he also claimed that the Serbian government have given lots of proposals, while the Kosovo Government have been unwilling to compromise. It was very interesting to hear the perspective on the Serbia-Kosovo-conflict directly from the Serbian government, so that we could compare it with other perspectives we got from the rest of our meetings in Belgrade and Pristina.
The kind staff at the ministry gave us souvenirs!
After a quick stop at our apartment, we decided to walk all the way to the Swedish embassy (roughly an hour walk) to finally get a good view of the city in daylight! One thing many of us discussed during our whole stay in Belgrade was that it felt difficult to get a grip on the city and we took every chance we could to get to know the place, to be able to “connect the dots”. However, to get lost is the best way to experience a new place, isn’t it? While trying to find a restaurant on the way to the embassy, we found such a charming spot on a backstreet called restaurant Alternativa! There we could experience lots of traditional Serbian food, like ajvar (a paste made of bell pepper and oil).
Arriving to the Swedish embassy was an interesting experience, as it suddenly felt like we were back in Sweden. The furniture, the Christmas decorations, the people, everything felt like home. They also told us about how they were preparing a Lucia event the same evening (as it was the day before Lucia), where there would be both Lucia singing and performances with Abba music! We first met with the ambassador, Jan Lundin. An experienced man with much useful advice for a career in foreign affairs, he also had much to tell us about the Swedish-Serbian relations. We discussed the Swedish efforts against corruption, our support and financial aid (through Sida) in the accession process as well as the Serbian “mindset”, where insecurity is still lingering after the wars of the 90’s. When Jan had to leave (as he had a speech to write in preparation for the Lucia evening), we got the opportunity to ask his colleague Bojan Cvilak some questions as well. He mainly works with political affairs and EU integration. We further discussed the lack of an effective reconciliation process in the Balkans, as the common opinion seems to be that one should not speak of the past. However, this leads to a lack of united understanding of the past conflicts, and we agreed with Bojan that the reconciliation process needs more active work in the high politics. We also turned to more light topics like Belgrade as a city, before leaving the embassy!
The travel group along with ambassador Jan Lundin.
Afterwards, we wanted to explore the famous old, bohemian neighborhood in Belgrade called Skadarlija, and went to the restaurant Ima Dana for dinner. Here we sure had an unforgettable experience, involving a band playing live music and a woman, dressed in a beautiful vintage-styled outfit, reciting serbian poems and singing songs for us along with the band. Adding to this, a camera crew filmed the woman’s performances, her speeches and us as well. Apparently, as we were told anyway, it was for a program that would air both in Serbian and Kosovarian TV, as a new years greeting to the people in Kosovo. Maybe we can call ourselves television celebrities? It was a wonderful end to a successful day!