Opening remarks

by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg at the Faculty of Political Science of the Belgrade University, Serbia

  • 20 Nov. 2015 -
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  • Last updated 23-Nov-2015 11:08

Dober dan!

And then I think I have to say ‘kako ste?’, and that’s almost all the language I remember.

But it’s great to be here in Belgrade, it’s great to be here at this faculty and it’s great to meet all of you. And as you’ve already been told, the fact is that Belgrade is in many ways the city of my childhood because I lived here for actually 2 years when I was a child and my father worked at the Norwegian embassy in Belgrade.

And since then, since we left Belgrade and Serbia, we travelled and visited former Yugoslavia and Serbia many many times and we have many good friends here. Actually, some of the friends we have here, they are relatives of people that were prisoners of war up in Norway during the Second World War. But we also made many new friends and this morning I met some of them. That was a great experience for me to for instance meet the girl which was the girl next door where I lived in my old neighbourhood, she is now 57 years old. She is a medical doctor but I remember her as a very beautiful girl, 5 years old, back in ’65. And she’s still beautiful of course, but she’s not 5 years old anymore.

I have some memories, I have memories that almost every Sunday we went to I think it’s called Kalemegdan and we had ‘sladoled’ and we have ‘ćevapčići’ and ‘punjene paprike’ and then, I tried once earlier today, we sang this song ‘ringe ringe raja došo čika Paja’ and then it ends on something like ‘Jedno jaje muć - a mi, deco, ČUČ’ . And that’s the maximum of entertainment I remember from Serbia in the 60s. So I have as you understand fond memories from Belgrade.

And it’s great to be here, to be able to address you. I will try and I will be very brief, because I think it is extremely important that we have some time for questions.
But I will say a few words and I will start by saying that for me it is a great honour to be here together with Prime Minister Aleksandar Vučić because he is really showing courage, he is showing personal commitment to modernising Serbia and to develop the cooperation both with the European Union, aiming at membership in the European Union, but also developing the cooperation with NATO.

And I would like to underline that NATO is an Alliance of 28 democratic nations, societies. Meaning that there are different opinions inside NATO. We do not always have exactly the same opinions or views about different things, including international questions. Because in democratic societies with democratically elected governments from different political parties with different historical backgrounds of course there will be different opinions.

But that’s not a sign of weakness in my view, that’s a sign strength, that we live with different opinions, different political tendencies in a big strong Alliance of 28 nations.
But we share some fundamental values of freedom, of democracy, that we trust in people and open democratic societies. And those are exactly the same values that Serbia is now implementing and striving to realize in your own country.

And I commend you for doing that and I would like to work with Serbia in striving for the same values as we are striving for in NATO.

We do that knowing that Serbia is not aiming or not aspiring for membership in NATO and NATO has never forced any country to join the Alliance. NATO is actually very much eager to underline again and again that every nation has the sovereign right to decide its own path and what kind of security arrangements it wants to be part of or doesn’t want to be part of.

So this is a sovereign decision by any country. So when for instance Montenegro is applying for membership well we accept that and we are negotiating, we are talking to Montenegro, we are in an intensive focused dialogue with Montenegro related to whether we are going to invite Montenegro to join the Alliance.

But that is a question Montenegro has to decide on and of course 28 Allies at the end decide whether we are going to invite Montenegro in. No one has ever thought about the idea of trying to force Montenegro into the Alliance. And that’s exactly the same for Serbia. If Serbia wants to stay as a neutral country well that’s OK, it’s fine for me, that’s excellent, it’s up to you to decide.

As long as you decide to stay neutral, we will continue to strive for developing, strengthening our cooperation with Serbia as a neutral country. And that’s exactly what we are doing and that’s excellent the reason why I’m here because we want to develop the relationship, the cooperation between Serbia as a neutral country and NATO as an Alliance of 28 democratic states in North-America and in Europe.

I know that NATO is controversial in Serbia and that there are different use and different positions when it comes to NATO in Serbia. And of course that’s related to many different issues and causes but one is of course related to what happened back in 1999.

And the air campaign which NATO launched back in 1999 was never against the people of Serbia. It was about stopping unacceptable actions by the Milosevic government which were condemned by the international community and NATO’s intervention actually ended years of violence and conflict in the Baltics. During the air campaign we made every possible effort to avoid and prevent the loss of innocent lives. And any loss of innocent lives in 1999 was a tragedy and I deeply regret it. I offer my condolences to the families on both sides of the conflict and to all those who lost their loved ones.

I think it is important to say this because our aim was to prevent the loss of innocent lives, but we know that it happened and I will convey my deepest condolences and my deepest feelings and support to all those who suffered during the air campaign in 1999.

Now it’s time to look forward, and that’s the reason why I’m here, and it’s time to look forward related to how we can develop even better cooperation between NATO and Serbia.

And as the Prime Minister has just underlined we are working in different areas. We are working to develop the political cooperation and we are doing exactly that by me being here, but also I invited him to come and visit NATO, our headquarters in Brussels.

We are doing that by developing our practical cooperation and I announced today that we are fully relaxing the air safety zone which is along the administrative border line towards Kosovo, meaning that all the restrictions on air activity in that area, or in that air space, is now lifted.

That is after 16 years, it has practical implications but I think the most important thing is that when NATO and KFOR is now lifting the restrictions on air activity along the administrative border line towards Kosovo it’s a very strong political message that we want to normalise, we want to develop our political and our practical cooperation with Serbia.

NATO and Serbia have a great potential for working closer. We are already training Serbian soldiers who are participating in UN and EU operations, peace operations, missions all around the world, we would like to do more of that and we said that we should pay between 70% and 80%. He started to bargain because he said 80% but at least I think we will manage to reach an agreement about how to cover the costs.

And we are looking how we can work together with you dealing with the refugee crisis and we are looking how we can work together with you for instance in addressing a very practical thing like the destruction of surplus ammunition which is an environmental problem and a problem which can also cause dangerous situations for people. So to manage surplus ammunition is a very concrete area where we are working together.

So we would like to work together with Serbia in many different areas, to develop the practical cooperation, but thereby also improve the political relationship between Serbia and NATO.

This is important because that is the way of addressing the stability, the security in Serbia, in the Western-Balkans and I would like to commend Serbia for being a lead nation in promoting stability and peace in this part of Europe. And NATO is committed, we are in Kosovo, we have the KFOR forces there and we are there to create security and stability because we saw during the 1990s atrocities, war violence, and no one want to go back to that and then we need to work together, NATO Serbia, NATO and the other countries in this region to promote reconciliation, peace, stability, and security.

It is important because we face new security threats and challenges, we see terrorism, we see violence to the South, ISIL, turmoil in the Middle-East, North-Africa. All NATO Allies participate in the coalition fighting ISIL, we saw the terrorist attacks in Paris. That’s not only attacks on innocent people in Paris but that’s also an attack on the open, free society which we all try to protect and we have to stand up for those values when they are attacked by extremists and terrorists as we saw in Paris.

We also see a more challenging security environment to the East with a more assertive Russia annexing Crimea and de-stabilising Eastern Ukraine. NATO is adapting to this, NATO is responding to this and it is important that we do that in a way which is proportionate, which is within our international obligations and we are not seeking a new Cold War, actually, we are striving for a more cooperative and constructive relationship with Russia, but a cooperative and constructive relationship with Russia has to be based on some fundamental principles and one of them is that every nation has to respect the sovereignty and the territorial integrity of other nations, including of course its neighbours and that was the problem in Ukraine, that Russia didn’t respect the sovereignty and the territorial integrity of Ukraine.

But we will continue to strive for peace, for cooperation and we strongly believe that there is no contradiction between a strong collective defence in our Alliance and a more constructive relationship with Russia, and we will continue to strive for that.

I promised to be brief and I will be brief, I will just end by saying that for me it’s great to be here, great to be able to contribute to even closer cooperation between NATO and Serbia and great to see so many students and great to be together with the Prime Minister and many other officials during my visit yesterday and today and it’s great to be in my very much loved city of my childhood, so thank you very much.