As India’s Ambassador to Serbia, it will be my sincere endeavour to add more substance and ambition to this important relationship. I would personally like to increase our focus on trade and commercial exchanges, as well as on peopleto- people contacts ~ Sanjiv Kohli
The start of H.E. Sanjiv Kohli’s ambassadorial posting to Serbia was marked by the formal remembrance of two important historical events. First, in August last year, he ceremoniously raised the flag of India at the embassy in Belgrade to mark the 75th anniversary of independence. Then, in October, he attended the summit commemorating the 60th anniversary of the founding of the Non-Aligned Movement, which had connected India and the then Yugoslavia in a special way. Speaking in this interview for CorD Magazine, Ambassador Kohli says that in this new century, “both countries attach high priority to further expanding and upgrading the existing level of our partnership”.
Your Excellency, speaking of the 75th anniversary of India’s independence how important is remembrance of that period of the struggle for liberation from British imperial rule to today’s generations of Indian citizens, especially the younger ones, and how is the collective memory of that period preserved?
It is indeed an honour for me to serve in Serbia, a longstanding friend of India. The celebrations commemorating 75 years of our Independence are being held in all world capitals. Given India’s great diversity, the country’s journey towards development, prosperity and stabiity is truly an inspring accomplishment for all Indians, in particuluar the youth. Contemporary India’s pride in its electoral democracy is very visible.
Given the goodwill and mutual respect that our leadership and people have for each other, these celebrations acquire a special resonance in Serbia. We have been conducting a series of cultural events and interacting with a cross-section of people in Belgrade and other major cities. These include friends of India, academic and literary institutions and young students. We are looking forward to conducting some other major events demonstrating India’s cultural and civilizational heritage. This is also an occasion for us to convey our gratitude to the Government and people of Serbia for their friendship.
As the ambassador of one of the countries that founded the Non-Aligned Movement, you had an opportunity to attend the Belgrade celebration marking the NAM’s 60th anniversary. How did you find that event?
As a founder member of NAM, we deeply appreciate the Serbian Government’s efforts in ensuring a very successful event marking NAM’s 60th anniversary. India was represented at a high level. This underlined our commitment to re-energize the Non-Aligned Movement so that it can play an effective role in creating systems that address the problems of today and challenges of tomorrow. India remains steadfast in its belief that the global commons must truly remain a shared resource of humanity, governed by open and collaborative international institutions.
We are looking forward to conducting some major events demonstrating India’s cultural and civilisational heritage. This is also an occasion for us to convey our gratitude to the Government and people of Serbia for their friendship
You arrived in Serbia to take on the role of ambassador during a period that’s been described as the years of the great rise in bilateral relations. Which directions of development do you intend to engage in personally?
Our bilateral engagement is based on historic goodwill and mutual respect. It is a time tested relationship. Both countries attach high priority to further expanding and upgrading the existing level of our partnership. As India’s Ambassador to Serbia, it will be my sincere endeavour to add more substance and ambition into this important relationship. I will personally like to increase our focus on trade and commercial exchanges as well as on people to people contacts.
Serbian officials have highlighted the importance of support from India in the fight to preserve our country’s territorial integrity. Is India maintaining its stance of not recognising Kosovo’s unilaterally declared independence?
Our position on Kosovo has been and still is consistent and that is that the sovereignty and territorial integrity of every country must be respected.
We remain locked in the period marked by the struggle against the COVID-19 pandemic, which has hit both Serbia and India hard, while at the same time creating new opportunities for cooperation between pharmaceutical companies. Are Indian companies still interested in investing in Serbia?
The COVID-19 pandemic has clearly made all nations of the world much more aware of risks and vulnerabilities. But together there is also a wider appreciation today of the importance of global cooperation. Both India and Serbia have helped many other nations in their fight against this pandemic through supply of vaccines, pharmaceutical products and protective gear. As far as India is concerned, we have supplied more than 70 million doses of domestically produced COVID-19 vaccines to over 90 countries. Health care and pharmaceuticals are an area of significant promise in our bilateral engagement. We are seeking to facilitate enhanced interaction between business organizations on both sides so as to explore opportunities for both trade and investment.
Your predecessor’s term in Serbia was said to have been marked by the historic news of the start of exports of Serbian apples to India. Do you see possibilities to strengthen cooperation in agriculture?
I recently visited the facilites of one of the Serbian exporter of apples to India. They see vast potential in the Indian market and we will assist them and all other interested companies. The agriculture sector in India has been a story of great success. Both countries have much to gain by engaging across the entire value chain including technology to improve agricultural productivity, supply of agricultural machinery and equipment, food processing, cold storage facilities etc.
Both countries have much to gain by engaging across the entire value chain, including technology, to improve agricultural productivity, the supply of agricultural machinery and equipment, food processing, cold storage facilities etc.
To what extent is progress in this area assisted by the Joint Committee for Economic Cooperation between the two countries, which is expected to hold its fourth session soon?
The Joint Committee provides an institutional framework to review ongoing progress in the area of our economic partnership, identify areas of concern and facilitate their redressal and also to explore new sectors for mutually beneficial collaboration. The objective is to create a facilitating environment to secure sustained engagement between business organizations of both countries.
It was during November that you commemorated the Indian Technical and Economic Cooperation (ITEC) Day, in recognition of this programme that has enabled Serbian students to undertake advanced studies in India since 2008. Are you satisfied with the level of interest in this programme, which covers a wide range of subjects – from IT and ecology to diplomacy and yoga?
The Indian Technical and Economic Cooperation (ITEC) programme is an important part of India’s developmental assistance to partner countries. It focusses on skill development and capacity building. We would certainly like more Serbians to avail of the opportunities offered through this programme.
Serbia has welcomed a greater influx of tourists and travellers from India over recent months. Can this trend be maintained once the pandemic abates? Is Serbia an interesting destination for Indian citizens who travel around Europe?
We are grateful to the Government and people of Serbia for their assistance in facilitating travel of Indians through their country to their final destinations. They all had a good story to share with their friends and families in India. This will certainly have a multiplier effect on direct tourism from India to Serbia and we are seeing that impact in the tourism statistics. Having said that, there is also the need to promote Serbia further through focussed tourism exhibitions and presentations in India. Serbia offers a lot for India tourists and I am sure that it could emerge as a popular destination in the years ahead.
A meeting between the presidents of India and Russia marked the end of 2021 at the international level. This top-level meeting included a particularly noticeable announcement that military cooperation between the two countries is set to be strengthened, prompting media speculation that the arrangement could put India at risk of U.S. sanctions. Do you believe that we will see the further polarisation of the world, which some are already viewing as heralding the start of a new Cold War?
India remains committed to an international order marked by robust and rule-based multilateral institutions. A rebalancing of the global order is taking place. The India that operates in this global environment is itself changing rapidly. It is an India that is more consequential. India continues to maintain comprehensive strategic relations with major powers while preserving our strategic autonomy.
Given India’s great diversity, the country’s journey towards development, prosperity and stability is truly an inspiring accomplishment for all Indians, particularly the youth
Our position on Kosovo has been and still is consistent and that is that the sovereignty and territorial integrity of every country must be respected
India remains steadfast in its belief that the global commons must truly remain a shared resource of humanity, governed by open and collaborative international institutions