On-coming traffic between Belgrade and Minsk
President of Serbia, Tomislav Nikolić, arrives in Belarus on official three-day visit
In line with diplomatic protocol, the Palace of Independence hosted solemn negotiations between Tomislav Nikolić and Alexander Lukashenko, in narrow and extended formats. The heads of state signed a joint statement and, following tradition, the Serbian President planted a tree in the Avenue of Honorary Guests.
The Balkan States well remember how, in 1999, after NATO began to attack the former Yugoslavia, Mr. Lukashenko announced his desire to visit the burning country and personally support its citizens. The President kept his word, despite the warning of the alliance that it couldn’t guarantee his security. Belgrade’s media perceived the arrival of the Belarusian Presidential airplane as symbolic, showing sincere friendship.
The recent visit included a tour of the Minsk-Mir site. The presidents of Belarus and Serbia took part in a ceremony to lay a commemorative capsule, symbolising the start of construction. An international finance centre is to be the hub of the site, helping attract prestigious finance corporations, banks, and globally-known insurance and leasing companies. Moreover, Belarusian companies will enjoy equal access to contemporary infrastructure. More than 27,000 new jobs are expected to be created.
Dragomir Karic, a deputy of the National Assembly of Serbia and the Honorary Consul of Belarus to Belgrade, who was present at the recent inauguration ceremony of the President of Belarus, comments, “From a geopolitical, strategic and practical point of view, Belarus is an oasis of calm, guaranteeing social and political stability for the working environment. It means there’s a future. People have no anxieties, being concerned about what tomorrow or the day after may bring. State strategy convinces us that the world’s largest financial giants will come to Minsk.”
Minsk-Mir is an endeavour of the future. Bilateral relations between our countries have been gaining speed for two decades, with regular political dialogue facilitating. Mr. Lukashenko has visited Belgrade four times — in 1998, 1999, 2009 and 2014. Meanwhile, the presidents of Yugoslavia and Serbia have been to Belarus twice — in 1996 and 2013. This summer, the Chairman of the National Assembly of Serbia paid his first official visit to our country.
Active interaction between our two countries’ leadership has brought real economic success. After signing an inter-governmental agreement on free trade in 2009, trade turnover between Belarus and Serbia has increased 5-fold. Joint work this year is concentrated on the implementation of a ‘road map’ to develop collaboration; analysts attached great importance to this during Tomislav Nikolić’s visit.
French Cannes, which is currently hosting the MAPIC 2015 trade show, has awarded Belarusian developer Dana Holdings in two nominations: ‘Top Developer of Multi-functional Complexes in Europe in 2015’ and ‘Top Developer of Shopping Malls in Europe in 2015’. The company presented three projects: Minsk-Mir, Mayak Minsk (Minsk’s Lighthouse) and the Dana Mall trade and entertainment centre. This vividly illustrates the mutual benefit of working together, from sending tractors for Serbia to the launch of building projects in the Belarusian capital.
Our countries have much in common: from population numbers to spirituality, as our heads of state recognise. Mr. Nikolić has spoken openly of his feelings regarding ‘sanctions’ placed by some large countries, calling them ‘a shame’ on those who initiative them. Belarus is no longer suffering so badly from these sanctions, which is welcome news for Minsk, as is today’s constructive dialogue with Belgrade, which is presiding over the OSCE this year.
Another important aspect of negotiations has been Belarus’ role in helping build the Eurasian Economic Union. Serbia boasts a free trade regime with the European Union, which offers a combination of economic interests for our two states regarding these integration structures.
Dialogue between large players can become complicated, for various reasons, while relations between medium-sized countries (by European standards) can form a bridge of mutual understanding.
Our presidents have freely admitted that our political-economic interests happily coincide, and that they enjoy a personal friendship. Collaboration has grown, as proven by our rising trade turnover: approaching $250m, and with a goal of $500m.
What ways can we further develop interaction? Mr. Lukashenko has invited Serbian businesses to be more active in mastering the Belarusian market. Meanwhile, our manufacturers are keen to invest in Serbia’s economy.
However, it’s necessary to shift from simple trade to closer production co-operation. Mr. Nikolić confirms this on the Serbian side, and a corresponding inter-governmental commission is elaborating joint plans in detail. Its conclusions and proposals will guide a roadmap of co-operation for coming years, with the focus on expansion, as highlighted by the visit of the Serbian President.
Of course, Belarus views Serbia as a key trade-economic partner in the Balkans. Mr. Lukashenko noted during his open negotiations with the President of Serbia and with the Serbian delegation a whole range of areas for collaboration, with the accent on fulfilling tasks set previously by our heads of state.
Trade-economic interaction is the basis for bilateral collaboration. According to the President of Belarus, significant potential exists in the spheres of fuel and energy, agriculture, machine building, construction, transport infrastructure, science, education and tourism.
Mr. Lukashenko believes that Belarus and Serbia understand the need to shift from simple trade to more complicated and efficient co-operation, via industrial, sci-tech and innovation collaboration. He notes that assembly production of Belarusian tractors, buses and trucks in Serbia has found its niche not only in Serbia but across the Balkan Region. Promising projects have been outlined in the joint manufacture of fire-fighting and agricultural machinery, and Belarus is ready to support Serbian proposals at state level regarding promising projects in various areas.
In particular, Belarus is ready to implement joint projects in the spheres of construction, machine building, wood-processing, agriculture and food, together with Serbia.
The President of Belarus underlines that the development of co-operative projects is a ‘two-way street’. He commented, “We hope to receive similar support for Belarusian investment projects, planned for realisation in Serbia.”
The Head of Belarus is keen to expand and strengthen contacts between our two countries and is delighted to note that all regional centres of Belarus are connected with Serbian cities via twin-city and partnership agreements. He stresses that these agreements should be placed on an economic basis, to force heads of regions to be more actively involved in real economic projects. According to the President of Belarus, this would become a good basis for further promotion of co-operation between our two Slavonic states.
Meanwhile, he notes that it would be symbolic if, next year, the heads of the republics of the former Yugoslavia would gather to discuss the construction of the Minsk-Mir complex. Mr. Nikolić adds that definite steps have been taken to organise such a meeting, with the participation of the presidents of Slovenia, Croatia, Macedonia and Montenegro. He states, “All of the former Yugoslavia would be represented, helping our people attain a better life, thanks to you.”
By Vasily Kharitonov
From the joint statement by the presidents of Belarus and Serbia:
The presidents are satisfied with the positive dynamics of co-operation in trade-economic and other spheres, and would like to strengthen bilateral ties across the following priority areas:
Increase volumes and diversification of mutual trade turnover and the joint search for new spheres of economic interaction;
Expand collaboration in machine building, agro-industry, transport and energy, food and wood-processing;
Develop production co-operation, and provision of successful joint enterprises and implementation of new projects on the territory of both states