Two months after the opening of the retail outlet of well-known Swedish brand IKEA, which gained economic and political importance in Serbia, Swedish Ambassador Jan Lundin emphasises in this interview that Belgrade not only gain a retail store, but also became IKEA’s headquarters for Southeast Europe. Ambassador Lundin does not believe in the thesis that Serbia is a potential crisis hotspot and would rather talk about Serbia as a country that’s on the path of economic growth, membership in the European Union and establishing better relations with the other countries of the region.
Excellency, you are already “local” in Serbia, as this is your third time serving in Belgrade, and you finally succeeded in bringing IKEA to Serbia. Were you surprised by the importance – not only economic, but also political – given to the opening of IKEA’s first retail outlet in Serbia? It’s not often that an IKEA store is opened by a national president.
– To be honest, I hadn’t expected the very positive article written by your Head of State just a few days before the opening, but I certainly feel the arrival of IKEA does hold symbolic significance, as well as being one more step in reinforcing closer economic ties between Sweden and Serbia. For me personally, IKEA represents a nostalgic “what might have been?” memory, as it was in 1991 that I went as a Swedish representative to visit the plot to the north of Belgrade that had then been identified as the site to establish an IKEA store, planned for 1992. We all know what happened instead, and Serbia – due to wars and sanctions – lost nearly a generation’s worth of economic development. Catching up is always possible, however, and the arrival of not only an IKEA store, but also IKEA’s headquarters for Southeast Europe, is a sign of this happening.
I believe Serbia is now destined for a long period of sustainable economic growth. The signal provided by the European Commission last week declaring Serbia and Montenegro as the “Front Runners” in the Balkan EU-integration context will serve to accelerate the arrival of foreign investment in Serbia, and integrate the country into global trade patterns
What next? What are the chances that IKEA will develop from retail to partnering that part of the Serbian economy that deals with wood processing or furniture production?
– I believe the chances are good, but hard work lies ahead; IKEA is a global company that purchases furniture on the basis of hard calculations. Still, there are plenty of arguments in favour of Serbia as a sourcing country, and there is already the happy case of a factory in Ćuprija that provides “Oklagije” and some other items.
As someone who knows Serbia well, do you believe there is a period of stabilising relations in the region ahead of us, or new tensions, which have led to some analyses identifying the Western Balkans as a possible crisis hotspot?
– I believe Serbia is now destined for a long period of sustainable economic growth. The signal provided by the European Commission last week declaring Serbia and Montenegro as the “Front Runners” in the Balkan EU-integration context will serve to accelerate the arrival of foreign investment in Serbia, and integrate the country into global trade patterns. A good example that already exists is Swedish company Tetra Pak, which has for many years had one of its biggest factories worldwide in Gornji Milanovac, and which recently doubled the production capacity at this factory.
Do you believe the countries of this region can ever attain the level of mutual understanding that the Nordic countries now have?
– Absolutely, but it is a long-term process. Sweden and Denmark didn’t always have good relations, and used to regard each other with suspicion. Today we are working closely together on the world scene. I believe the same is certainly possible in the post-Yugoslav space, and you already have networks and organisations facilitating this. In a globalised world, neighbours are a factor of trust and cooperation.