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EAM's remarks to Indian community and Friends of India in Serbia

November 11, 2019

Good evening
It's a great pleasure to be with all of you and thank you ambassador for getting together the Friends of India. It's been a long day but I should tell you that looking at all of you I still feel a lot of energy to carry on. And I want to begin by saying that actually I feel bad that you know it has been 30 years since a foreign minister has come to this country and somewhere we took each other, we have you know we have a very comfortable relationship, India and Serbia, but sometimes when you have a lot of comfort you tend to take things for granted. So I was very happy, I have been foreign minister all of four months within maybe a few weeks of my taking over my Serbian counterpart reached out to me, he invited me and said that I hope when you start traveling you make up for lost time and come here quickly and I promised him I would, then we spoke on the phone and then we met a few weeks ago in Baku on the sidelines of the Non-Aligned Summit.

So here I am and I'm really very happy I came because the first thing I want to tell all of you is that probably, I mean not just in my tenure as foreign minister but a longer tenure I had as Foreign Secretary and as a diplomat, I have very rarely come across the sense of warmth and friendship and understanding and a very intuitive support that I've experienced today and yesterday. So often when we do our professional discussions, we get into issues and you know it was it was so easy to agree that a lot of our time was actually spent in sort of very warm pleasantries and discussions about how we could support each other.

So what I want to do today is, very briefly, because all of you here are supporters of the relationship, well-wishers, you are also in many ways the advocates of this relationship. So I want to share with you where we are so that I think in the days to come you would all be able to make the case for the relationship in a more forceful and enthusiastic way.

From our perspective, I would say history is a very positive asset, today among between my various programs I went and paid my respects to the resting place of Marshal Tito and I think going there in many ways was very evocative of a good shared past that we have. I was very warmly received, my last meeting before coming here was with President Vučić, he was very generous with his time even though he's just come back from a trip abroad. I had two sets of meetings with the foreign minister. Yesterday we signed defence agreement with Defense Minister Vulin which would allow us to pick up on our, again, traditional defense cooperation relationship. My first meeting of course was with the President of the National Assembly and that was important because actually our parliamentary contacts have been very strong. Some of you would be aware that when we had the International Parliamentary Unions General Assembly here, the Speaker of the Indian Parliament had come. Last year the Vice President of India who is chairman of the Upper House was also here.

So on the political side I think you are seeing a lot of exchanges. To me the turning point was when President Vučić as Prime minister went to India to for the Vibrant Gujarat Summit and I think since then that period which the Ambassador spoke about, I feel we have started to make up for lost time and I'm very hopeful that we can keep up this momentum in the years to come.

Now well, exchanges of visits are useful, unnecessary but somewhere I think a kind of a bonding of interests is also very important and India and Serbia have actually always seen the world in a very independent manner. That was part of our legacy from the non-aligned days and we support each other in issues of core interest to each country. We have always been very clear and very strong in support of Serbia's sovereignty and territorial integrity. We have always taken a very clear position when it came to any issue concerning Kosovo. And Serbia too has always shown understanding of our interests and concerns which pertain to Jammu and Kashmir and in fact today the Serbian Foreign Minister publicly stated that he wanted to make it very clear that they consider this an internal matter of India.

So you have a very good political foundation, but having said that political foundations are not always enough to keep a relationship moving and I have seen through experience that it's very important to have a business sort of component in the relationship. So I'm very pleased that many of you here have a contribution to make on the business side. Now when it comes to the business side, I think from what I understand, Serbia has really done very well in the last few years. They've gone up, today in fact I was comparing with President Vucic, the Ease of Doing Business Rankings I said we moved from 142 to 63 and he said they moved from 98 to 44 or 45. And you know Ease of Doing Business at the end of the day is something which all business people recognize. They can see it and smell it so it's good both countries are moving in a very positive trajectory where business is concerned.

Though I haven't never lived here, I have lived close by, I spent 25 years ago I was posted in Budapest, so I took some interest and I've actually dealt with this region in the foreign ministry. So I took I've taken some interest in the past and I find that today Indian companies are much more visible, much more sort of present in the Serbian economy and I would like to appreciate all those who have made that decision and to invest abroad is a great act of trust in that society and the fact that whether it is today agricultural equipment or IT parks or whether it is consumables of various kinds, it is a very positive development and we are beginning to see some signs of Serbian business investment and activity in India as well and one of my messages was really to encourage that.

A related part of that of course is the societal contact of people-to-people relationships that we have and I deeply appreciate the fact that Serbia actually allows Indians to come today without visas. It is already beginning to show an increased tourism numbers, so I think it would be a good idea to open a hotel here. So I'm looking very pointedly in front of me. And you know there was interest in developing air connections as well and I can see in many other parts of India, as incomes go up in India there's a much greater interest in tourism and I'm sure that would be reflected in Serbia as well.

And related to tourism of course is the movie industry, the more movies you see about foreign countries the more you want to go there and I was explaining to our Serbian friends that people of my generation grew up watching Hindi movies with the Switzerland scene and we always believed that Switzerland was heaven on earth as a result. So I'm sure if enough movies are shot here it'll show up in tourism numbers and I'm sure if there are enough tourism numbers it will show up in the hospitality industry as well.

I'd also like to say a few words about people who have invested their lives and given their time to cultural matters because whenever I go abroad, I'm actually hugely impressed by the level of scholarship that I meet on India, the amazing interest that people take about different aspects of Indian culture. And I feel it's very important today that we support those activities so I want to assure you as Foreign Minister that remains very high in our priorities and we are associated with an organization called the Indian Council of Cultural Relations and we work with them and we expect actually to do very much more on cultural activities than we have done in the past, whether it is performing arts, whether it's yoga, whether it's academic scholarship on India because I do believe that building deep strengths on understanding in India and other societies is a very important part of the relationship.

So overall as I said we've been out since the morning but it's been really a very-very productive day and I will be leaving tomorrow for some other country, but I'm truly impressed by the very-very positive feelings here you know. Today actually the president told me, he said you know walk around in Belgrade, any part of Serbia, you'll only hear good things about India. And I know in my heart that's actually, if anything, an understatement.

So I go back very convinced of the strength of this relationship and I can assure you that the next 30 years will not be like the last 30 years. You will see much more activity, you will see a much stronger relationship but I would say all of that is only possible if people work at it. Good sentiments don't translate into results by themselves and when I say work at it, yes people like us have to work at it, but more than that we need the support of people like you and that is why I am so happy that you all of you have gathered here. So once again I really thank you for coming today.


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