During his recent visit to Belgrade, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis clearly stated that Greece’s stance regarding Kosovo remains unchanged ~ Yorgos Diacofotakis
The official visits of Greece’s top officials, including the latest visit of its prime minister and the upcoming arrival of its president, only serve to confirm, as Ambassador Yorgos Diacofotakis notes in this CorD Magazine interview, “that Greece and Serbia are connected not only by history, culture and religion, but also by a common vision for the European future of the region”.
Your Excellency, Greece celebrates its Independence Day on 25th March. This holiday is a day of remembrance commemorating the 1821 outbreak of the War of Greek Independence. How will you mark this national holiday here in Serbia?
On 25th March we celebrate the outbreak of the Greek Revolution for Independence against the Ottoman Turks, which led to the creation of the modern Greek state.
I am well aware of the great honour that comes with serving my country in a city that’s inextricably linked to Rigas Feraios (1757-1798). His vision of freedom and solidarity among the Balkan peoples undoubtedly inspired the protagonists of the Greek Revolution. Together with his comrades, Rigas Feraios was tortured and killed in Nebojša Tower in Kalemegdan, Belgrade. The place of his martyrdom and his statue are eternal monuments of the Greek Revolution and a place of pilgrimage for all Greeks.
Last year was a landmark year, as we celebrated the 200th anniversary of the outbreak of the Greek Revolution (1821- 2021). Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, we were not in a position to organise events to celebrate it properly. However, with the permission of the Serbian Government and the assistance of the City of Belgrade, some of the most famous places in the capital were highlighted with the colours of the Greek flag, i.e., Nebojša Tower, the National Assembly, Albanija Palace and the Old Bridge. We are grateful for this.
This year, given the fact that the epidemiological situation is still uncertain, we have decided not to plan any open-to-the-public activities. However, traditionally, the members of the staff of the Embassy attend a thanksgiving Mass at the Chapelle of the Patriarchate, carried out by His Holiness the Patriarch. This is a very moving moment, which shows how close our peoples are to each other.
Your Excellency, what do you expect from the upcoming visit to Serbia of the first female President of Greece, Katerina Sakellaropoulou, which has been scheduled for 2nd to 3rd March?
The upcoming visit of the President of the Hellenic Republic, Katerina Sakellaropoulou, to Serbia, serves as an excellent opportunity to reaffirm, at the highest level, our strong historical ties of friendship and solidarity. Building upon the excellent momentum created by the recent meeting of President Aleksandar Vučić and Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis here in Belgrade, President Sakellaropoulou’s visit reflects the great importance Greece attaches to strengthening and deepening our bilateral relations, as well as our unwavering support to Serbia’s European bid.
I am well aware of the great honour that comes with serving my country in a city that’s inextricably linked to Rigas Feraios (1757-1798). His vision of freedom and solidarity among the Balkan peoples undoubtedly inspired the protagonists of the Greek Revolution
What do you consider as the greatest challenges to the further development of bilateral relations between our two countries and where does the greatest potential exist?
It is well known that our bilateral relations are excellent, with frequent exchanges of visits by high-ranking government officials. The recent visit of Prime Minister Mitsotakis and the upcoming visit of President of the Hellenic Republic Sakellaropoulou confirm that Greece and Serbia are connected not only by history, culture and religion, but also by a common vision for the European future of our region.
The Joint Declaration establishing a Strategic Partnership between Greece and Serbia, which was signed in the context of the 3rd Session of the High-Level Cooperation Council on 10th December 2019 in Athens, has set solid foundations for advancing and expanding the scope of our bilateral cooperation. Unfortunately, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the pace of some common projects had to slow down, but it seems that both countries will very soon be able to continue this cooperation, especially in the fields of energy, trade, infrastructure, transport and tourism.
Following the opening of the Kosovo office in Athens, which Pristina presented as a fully functional diplomatic mission, there were speculations about Greece drifting away from its position on Kosovo’s unilaterally declared independence. Has there really be any change?
During his recent visit to Belgrade, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis clearly stated that Greece’s stance regarding Kosovo’s status remains unchanged. At the same time, Greece firmly supports the continuation of the EU-facilitated dialogue between Belgrade and Priština, with a view to reaching a comprehensive and legally binding agreement in accordance with the EU acquis, which will contribute to strengthening the stability and security of the whole region. Greece fully supports the mediating effort by Miroslav Lajčák, the EU Special Representative for the dialogue between Belgrade and Priština.
Severe winter storms hit Greece this January and prevented the planned arrival of PM Mitsotakis in Belgrade. He had been scheduled to attend a joint session of the two countries’ governments, together with a large group of ministers. Has a new date been agreed to hold this joint session?
Indeed, the 4th Session of the High-Level Cooperation Council, scheduled for 28th January 2022, had to be postponed due to the worst weather conditions ever seen in Athens. We are looking forward to organising it by June.
Do you see room to advance economic cooperation between Greece and Serbia to a level that would correspond with the exceptionally friendly relations and understanding between the two countries on the political front? Which areas do you consider interesting?
We believe that there is potential for further cooperation in key areas such as innovation, renewable sources of energy, petrochemicals, construction, education, health, transport and waste management. Today, we have the knowhow and the potential to develop synergies, support innovation and the digital economy, and promote partnerships between the two countries, involving both the private and public sectors.
In addition to the aforementioned, I’d like to point out that, over the past two years, Greece has embarked on a remarkable digital transformation process. There is a strong commitment from the government to invest in speeding up the digitalisation of the public and private sectors.
On the other hand, let me just mention the importance of the railway route of Corridor 10. It connects Belgrade with the port of Thessaloniki via North Macedonia.
It needs modernisation and digitalisation. This project could boost bilateral trade by itself and turn Serbia into a transit hub from the Mediterranean to the heart of Central Europe and beyond.
The upcoming visit of the President of the Hellenic Republic, Katerina Sakellaropoulou, to Serbia, serves as an excellent opportunity to reaffirm, at the highest level, our strong historical ties of friendship and solidarity
It was almost 20 years ago, at the Thessaloniki Summit, that the European integration prospects of the countries of the Western Balkans were first made tangible. Two decades on, multiple analyses mention “enlargement fatigue”, both in the EU and around the region. Will this process ever enter the stage of the formal enlargement of the EU to encompass the Balkans, or is the current maximum possibility merely in strengthening external ties between the region and the EU?
Greece has always been a staunch supporter of the European perspective of the Western Balkan countries. We are constantly working to ensure that the issue of the Western Balkans remains at the top of the EU agenda. Our belief is that the accession of the Western Balkans to the EU is important for the Union from a political and economic perspective, but also from a security perspective. It is therefore not just another enlargement, but a strategic geopolitical choice that strengthens the EU and the Western Balkan countries alike.
However, the road to European integration is a long one that requires serious reforms and the adoption of European standards and common values of the Union, based on peace, freedom, democracy, the rule of law, respect for human rights, tolerance, solidarity and good neighbourly relations. These hard and long-term efforts, however, are worthwhile, because they will lead the region of the Western Balkans to stability and progress and will contribute to the prosperity of the peoples.
Given the ongoing pandemic, this year will again see a large number of Serbian tourists ask your embassy about requirements to enter Greece. Will last year’s agreement – whereby citizens vaccinated with any vaccine could enter the country – remain valid, or will testing also be required?
Since its outbreak, the pandemic has caused a severe impact on the tourism industry worldwide, and that is an undeniable fact. However, Greek tourism managed to demonstrate remarkable resilience to the effects of this unprecedented crisis. The health protocols we adopted were implemented in an exemplary way. The number of tourists proves that Greece did well and managed to secure safe holidays for its guests.
Greece has eased travel restrictions as of early February this year. Fully vaccinated visitors with a valid European Digital COVID Certificate are not required to have negative tests in order to enter the country. This decision will definitely facilitate tourists in making their travel arrangements to Greece. Greece is taking the necessary preparatory steps this year to welcome our visitors for the summer season, earlier than ever before, as of 1st March. We hope that the number of tourists this year will be above the pre-Covid level. Our Serbian friends are most welcome, as always.
It is well known that our bilateral relations are excellent, with frequent exchanges of visits by high-ranking government officials
We believe that there is potential for further cooperation in key areas such as innovation, renewable sources of energy, petrochemicals, construction, education, health, transport and waste management
We are constantly working to ensure that the issue of the Western Balkans remains at the top of the EU agenda