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"EUROPE OPEN" AT THE DANISH EMBASSY: INDEPENDENT MEDIA AND CIVIL SOCIETY

15.05.2015  16:48
"EUROPE OPEN" AT THE DANISH EMBASSY: INDEPENDENT MEDIA AND CIVIL SOCIETY

 

As part of the initiative "Europe Open" of the EU Delegation to Serbia, the Embassy of Denmark opened its doors today to journalism students and Professor Snježana Milivojević from the Faculty of Political Science, University of Belgrade. The Slavko Ćuruvija Foundation, which the embassy supports financially, participated in the event.

Denmark has a long tradition of civil society and free media as central factors in developing the society. The discussion with the students touched upon aspects such as how media can keep the public well informed about issues relevant to their society and facilitate debate on current issues of interest to the population.

The students also highlighted how digital media is revolutionizing how we receive our news. There is a tendency of young Serbs quitting traditional media and instead receiving all their information from the internet. The students expressed their different views on how they can contribute to impacting the future of journalism and media. Sustainability and self-censorship are some of the central issues that concern them.

In connection with the event, the ambassador gave an interview to the daily Danas – you can read it in Serbian here:
http://bit.ly/1Kag1w3 and a translation to English is available below.

 

Michael Borg-Hansen, the Ambassador of Denmark to Serbia

Opening of the first chapters will last for years

· Politics of the Government of Serbia is to work on the stability for Western Balkan region and we think it is very positive

· If the attendance at the parade in Moscow is a sign of where Serbia is going, then I must say that it is rather strange

Media climate in Serbia is somewhat problematic, because there is a lot of self-censorship, there are informal structures of ownership that are not transparent. This will be the topic of Serbia's accession negotiations with the European Union. Serbia is far from being the worst example, which can be seen in the international ranking of media freedom, but there is certainly room for some improvements. That is what we would like to see because it is important for the functioning of the society - said in an interview with Danas Michael Borg-Hansen, Ambassador of Denmark to Serbia.

What is the opinion of Denmark on the opening of the first chapters in the negotiations between Serbia and the EU?

- It is an ongoing process and it will last for a several years.
 

The opening of the first chapters?

- Yes. I mean, you saw that Mr. Vucic recently submitted action plans for chapters 23 and 24 to the Commissioner Han and they will be assessed. Now, if Serbia can follow what it stands there, there are good possibilities.

There were various predictions - that the first chapters will be opened in January, and then in March, June, September ...

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My colleague Michael Davenport refuses to use these dates because this is not about doing a favor to Serbia but, simply, about its performance and implementation. You know, the law is adopted and it is good and necessary, but it must be transformed into real life. And that requires a lot of time. It also took us a lot of time when we entered the EU, even though we had better conditions to implement requirements. But the main thing is that you do not to do it to satisfy us, but for yourselves. So that Serbia could be modernized and made attractive to young people. So that they do not want to leave, but stay here and work. This is what we would like to see.

Would the faster integration of not only Serbia, but also of other countries in the region lead to the prosperity and stability?
- I think so. Absolutely.

But does this depend 100 percent on the candidate countries?
- Well, to a great extent. But we certainly help, even Denmark as a small country. We do not even measure with what our Scandinavian friends are doing - Swedes and Norwegians are very active here. We are smaller, but we are certainly trying to help you, and there is a commitment in the EU that from the moment that you become a candidate, the funds begin to open. We have twinning projects - our experts in your ministries who are sharing information about different things. So, you're not alone.


Do you think that the negotiations between Belgrade and Pristina are crucial for the progress in the process of accession?

- We want to avoid importing big problems to the EU. Even you're not interested in maintaining such tense relations with Pristina. It would be in the common interest to find a modus vivendi that would bring prosperity to the people.

How do you assess the overall relations between Denmark and Serbia?
- They are good...The relations are now largely seen in the perspective of Serbia's EU accession. We keep track of it on daily basis, we have some exchanges, programs and contacts. The two countries can learn from each other, and this is why I'm here and I'm trying to help our companies which are investing and which want to sell. So I understand how important the Chapter 23 is, because if our entrepreneurs are in conflict, will they have the fair treatment before the Serbian judiciary, or will the thing be postponed for three years? It is, therefore, very concrete. We have some very important investments, pump factory in Indjija, Carlsberg is here with a large brewery in Vojvodina. We do not have much more assistance program. We have one that is being implemented - together with the Ministry of Agriculture of Serbia, we are namely financing the help to the fruit farmers in the south of Serbia. I was there in April with the Serbian Minister of Agriculture
, Snežana Bogosavljević Bošković and it was interesting to see how they grow the family business, and that fruit can be exported by Serbia.

Is the region threatened by the new instability after the violence in Macedonia and how do you assess Serbia's politics in the region?

- I certainly hope that it is not threatened. I do not have the necessary expertise in order to analyze what happened. It is clear that the politics of the Government of Serbia is to work on the stability in the Western Balkans and we think it's very positive. It seems that the things are under control now, I think.
 

What is the approach of Denmark towards the civil society and media freedom, and how is your country involved in these domains in Serbia?

- It is our strong tradition. Danish society is completely organized. We emphasize the subject of the civil society because it is connected to the democracy. The average Dane is a member of five or six clubs or sport, environmental, humanitarian associations. Of course we have political parties, because that is a part of the democracy, but people are not as loyal to the parties as they used to be. Civil organizations are the foundation on which the society functions. Before the adoption of the law, we do consultations with them. We regard this as very important, and we want to cooperate directly with such groups in Serbia – it is the public diplomacy. Developing relations is not only in the context of relations between the two countries, but also between cities, municipalities or organizations. When it comes to media freedom, we decided to cooperate with the foundation "Slavko Curuvija," we support their website Cenzolovka, and we just sent a group of editors from the local media in Serbia on a study tour to Denmark. We believe that the work of the independent institutions that make the government responsible is very important.

Denmark, of course, has the Ombudsman ...

- Yes, and he will visit his counterpart in Serbia next month. We have a program with the institution of Mr. Sasa Jankovic, we help his work with the equipment for safeguarding of personal data of people who address him, so that they are not be available to everyone. After the floods we had a little interesting program with which we found out that not all people affected by the disaster were treated equally under the law, such as those from Obrenovac, and no one knows what happened to some of the people. In Serbia, there is no law on the rights of people affected by natural disasters. Jankovic has found people working on a draft of such a law, we pay them some compensation and the law will be presented to parliament.

Is Denmark ever a place of conflicts between the Ombudsman and other independent institutions, and the government?

- Our institution of the Ombudsman is an old and highly respected one. Like here, the ombudsman is elected by parliament. The situation is similar in other Scandinavian countries. The Ombudsman's role is to ensure that what the executive authority does is in accordance with the law. People, like here, can directly complain to the Ombudsman.

How do you comment on the attendance of the President of Serbia and the participation of our military guard at a military parade in Moscow?
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It is a sovereign decision by your president decision, who, as I understand, has the legal basis for that. He was not joined by a lot of European leaders, with the exception of the President of the Czech Republic. If this is a symbol of where Serbia is going, then I have to say that it is rather strange. And not quite neutral. He could have been there, but the fact that the units from Serbia were with units who illegally took Crimea and supported a very aggressive rebellion…This is my personal view – and I think that a country that sees itself in Europe and wants to be neutral, should not act like that.

Almost simultaneously, a military orchestra from Serbia was in Kiev ...
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That's fine, but please understand me correctly: our embassy laid flowers at the Tomb of the Unknown Soviet Soldier, This is what Merkel has done too, because she understands the guilt of Germany. But this super military show I personally did not like. No one should underestimate the role of the Soviet Army. But there are attempts to intimidate small countries such as Denmark. We had Russian planes that were flying very close to our borders, two situations where there was almost an accident with our civil aircrafts. It is very serious. The EU has a quite deep crisis with Russia, which will not be resolved in just a few months. I hope that Serbia will gradually understand this. I think Mr. Dacic understands this very well. The OSCE is the main organization that deals with this and I think he is very good at his job as a chairman.

Open Day at the Embassy

Open Day at the Danish Embassy in Belgrade will be going on today, which is being realized in cooperation with the EU Delegation.
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It is a part of the events dedicated to the Day of Europe, which other EU embassies in Serbia are also doing. We will host students of the Faculty of Political Science and talk to them about Serbia's accession to the EU and other topics that interest them. Professor Snjezana Milivojevic will be a partner in the dialogue. We will explain to them what the embassy does, which is a mystery to many people, but it is not difficult to understand. We will discuss the role of civil society, in particular, which includes independent media - says Ambassador Borg-Hansen.

Military cooperation

The Danish military assistance to Serbia is less known but very important. Together with many NATO allies, we have financed large military exercises with the aim of improving the logistics, preparations for peace keeping operations in Africa. A Serbian medical team is in Mali and the Central African Republic. I can almost say that Serbia in this acts not as a "neutral" country. Serbia does not stay on the margins of serious international conflicts. You are doing the right thing, using your strong military tradition for good- in Lebanon, Cyprus…We are teaching the officers of the Serbian Army English, we have trained some of the helicopter crews for search and rescue operations. The cooperation started just a few years after the 1999 bombardment and it is a clear sign- not that this is forgotten, neither by you nor by us- but that we are looking forward- says Borg-Hansen.