Our relationships with the government of Serbia are open and constructive as we tackle tough global problems together as partners, rather than adversaries. Just last month, you even saw the President of the United States congratulating Serbia’s great basketball player on leading his team to the NBA Championship. No one would have foreseen that in the 1990s ~ Christopher Hill
A s someone who is very well acquainted with Serbia from the crisis years of the 1990s, Christopher Hill, current U.S. ambassador to Serbia, agrees with the assessment that relations between his country and Serbia have improved significantly since those dark days. Speaking in this interview for CorD Magazine, he notes that proof of this fact is provided by U.S. support to Serbia on its path to EU membership, but also military and economic cooperation. In this context, Ambassador Hill also confirms his country’s interest in being part of Serbia’s energy transformation, which business delegations from the U.S. have discussed with their interlocutors in Belgrade.
Your Excellency, you have now entered your second year as ambassador to Serbia. Do you consider that the U.S. has managed to make positive advances in terms of the quality of relations with partners in Belgrade compared to the end of the ‘90s, which is the period for which you are recognizable?
– The quality of our partnerships has advanced dramatically since the 1990s, no question. American firms are investing in Serbia at a rapidly growing pace. Our armed forces work closely together to maintain peace and security throughout the region, and increasingly around the world. Our relationships with the government of Serbia are open and constructive as we tackle tough global problems together as partners, rather than adversaries. Just last month, you even saw the President of the United States congratulating Serbia’s great basketball player on leading his team to the NBA Championship. No one would have foreseen that in the 1990s. We can always improve, but the partnership we’ve built with Serbia is strong and getting stronger, and it delivers benefits to Serbian and American people every day.
When Serbian leaders state today that the U.S. now has a better understanding of Serbia, what does that actually mean?
– I’m not going to speak for Serbia’s leaders, but I can say that it’s been my experience that our mutual understanding is growing all the time, thanks in large part to those partnerships I just mentioned. And as that understanding grows, we all see that Serbs and Americans are more alike than we are different. I like to talk about how Serbia has chosen a future in the West, but the reverse is also true: the West has chosen Serbia as a partner, because Americans and Europeans look at Serbia and see a country with an immense reservoir of talent.
Serbia has chosen a future in the West, but the reverse is also true: the West has chosen Serbia as a partner, because Americans and Europeans look at Serbia and see a country with an immense reservoir of talent
We see people who want to do business the same way we do, who want to join with us to solve complex problems and make the world better for our children and grandchildren. I think we understand one another very well. We’re constantly learning from one another and challenging one another, as friends should. It’s important to keep that process going.
With regard to recent events in Kosovo, many were surprised by the severity with which Washington responded to the Kosovo Prime Minister and the government in Pristina. Some media reports even used the wording “America imposes sanctions on Kosovo”. What is this really all about: a warning; the revoking of cooperation with Albin Kurti alone, or the expressing of Washington’s readiness to, say, withdraw support for Kosovo’s membership in the Council of Europe?
– I’ll let my colleague in Pristina, Ambassador Hovenier, speak about our relationship with Kosovo. I will say that I was shocked on my arrival here to see that the problem of Kosovo’s status still sucks up so much time and attention that could be better directed towards Serbia’s development and the realization of its European aspirations. We want to resolve these issues once and for all so that Serbia can get on with the business of taking its rightful place in the European Union and as a part of the larger political, economic, and security structures of the Euro-Atlantic community.
Belgrade and Pristina are being called on to return to dialogue and the implementing of commitments agreed to in Brussels and Ohrid. However, a major discrepancy exists when it comes to the interpretation of what has been agreed. In his recent guest appearance on CNN, Serbian President Vučić said that recognizing Kosovo’s independence is not the issue, but rather normalizing relations. How would you define the normalization of relations in this context?
– I’d point you to the agreement. It means establishing an Association of Serb-majority Municipalities so that the Serb community in Kosovo has a sense of security regarding the future. It means both countries recognizing one another’s documents and national symbols, including license plates, identity cards, diplomas. It means ensuring the free movement for people and goods, so the economy of the entire region can thrive.
And it means not standing in the way of one another’s integration into regional and international bodies. It means showing the European Union that Serbia is ready for membership and won’t bring the problems of the past with it. It means taking the steps necessary to allow normal life to function for all citizens of the region, and ultimately unlocking the region’s vast economic potential.
James O’Brien is another expert who’s very familiar with the Balkans from the time of President Bill Clinton. What does his appointment as Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs mean for relations between the U.S. and Serbia?
– Jim O’Brien is a longtime colleague and a good friend. He’s someone with deep knowledge of this region and immense respect for its culture, its history, and the people who live here. I know he’s someone who wants to see Serbia thrive and realize its full potential. So, I think his nomination is great news for Serbia, and I look forward to working with him closely once he’s confirmed.
According to Serbian government statistics, economic cooperation with the U.S. has reached its highest ever level, especially in the IT sector. Great interest in cooperation in the domain of energy has also been noticeable since your arrival in Serbia. You have even discussed a possible strategic partnership with your interlocutors from the government. Does that imply more tangible arrangements related to company Electric Power of Serbia?
– We are 100% committed to helping Serbia gain its independence from Russian energy, so we are always looking for opportunities to encourage new partnerships with American and European firms. The opportunities in Serbia right now are incredible. With access to a wealth of natural resources, Serbia is poised to become a leader in Europe’s 21st century green economy, and the clean energy sector plays a big part in that.
I was shocked on my arrival here to see that the problem of Kosovo’s status still sucks up so much time and attention that could be better directed towards Serbia’s development and the realization of its EU aspirations
America is eager to be a part of that transformation, which is evident in the interest we’ve seen in the recent trade delegations that have visited. We’re open to all possibilities. As for EPS, I think Serbia’s partnership with Norway promises great benefits, and we’ve been glad to see that develop.
Your recent assessment that there “should be no question as to whether Serbia is moving towards the European Union and growing into a responsible democracy where the rights of journalists are respected” was seen by part of the public as being too generous towards the authorities. It is also in stark contrast, for example, to the way Serbia is viewed by Washington, D.C.-based Freedom House, which classifies Serbia as an endangered democracy with a “hybrid regime”. Who has the better perspective, you or them?
– As I believe I said on that same occasion, with respect to these issues, I often come back to the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., who famously said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” There is wisdom in that perspective. Your first question asked about how our partnerships have changed since the 1990s, and I noted that, compared to then, the Serbia of today, and especially the Serbian-American relationship, is almost unrecognizable. Serbia still has its challenges, but that shouldn’t blind us to the progress that has been made. And that progress should give us hope. As an ambassador, I’m not here to sit in judgment of Serbia. I’m here to build a relationship that will help propel Serbia forward, because when Serbia does well, both our countries benefit. That’s where my focus is every day.
The partnership we’ve built with Serbia is strong and getting stronger, and it delivers benefits to Serbian and American people every day
Serbia still has its challenges, but that shouldn’t blind us to the progress that has been made. And that progress should give us hope
With access to a wealth of natural resources, Serbia is poised to become a leader in Europe’s 21st century green economy