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News 01 Nov 16

Serbia Must Uphold Western 'Values', Ambassador Says

The US is not asking Serbia to 'choose' between Washington and Moscow, the US ambassador to Serbia, Kyle Randolph Scott, says - downplaying talk of a rift over his remarks about the Savamala demolitions.

Milivoje Pantovic
BIRN
Belgrade
US ambassador Kyle Randolph Scott (left) with Serbian PM Aleksandar Vucic. Photo: Beta/Slobodan Miljevic

US ambassador to Serbia Kyle Randolph Scott stated on Monday that relations between Belgrade and Washington are positive and getting better - and Serbia should not feel it has to choose between Moscow and Washington.

“I think it is a false dilemma. Serbia can maintain good relationships with both Russia and the West; as it was in the past, the same can be in the future,” Scott said.

“The question for Serbia is would it stand behind EU values and international laws,” Scott added, referring to whether Serbia is ready to stand up for those values when its partner countries breaks them.

Scott also said that his intention was not to meddle in Serbian internal issues when speaking about the tensions that his comments on the Savamala demolitions caused.

“We are here to promote our values. If someone came and demolished buildings in my neighborhood and I called the police and the police didn’t show up, I would be disappointed. The rule of law is a foundation of democracy,” said Scott.

“We believe in freedom of speech and that every citizen has the right to express discontent with government and politics,” he added.

Scott’s statement about the Savamala demolitions drew a harsh reaction from Interior Minister Nebojsa Stefanovic.

On the night of April 24, around 30 masked men demolished several buildings in Belgrade’s Savamala district, where the huge government-backed Belgrade Waterfront is to be built.

Serbian Ombudsman Sasa Jankovic said in a report in May that the Belgrade police refused on purpose to respond to calls from people who saw the masked men, armed with baseball bats and equipped with diggers, tearing down buildings.

The nocturnal action was widely seen as a move to clear the ground quickly. In June, Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic admitted that senior officials in the city were behind the demolitions.

The demolitions sparked a series of street protests that saw tens of thousands of people demanding resignations and prosecutions of those responsible.

Scott told an interview with the daily Kurir newspaper on Sunday that the demolitions had shaken confidence in Serbia's government and state institutions.

“I believe the driving force behind the protests is the sense among people that they cannot address institutions for protection and that, somehow, one informal or criminal group can take over control of part of their city, while when they called on the police for help, they failed to respond," he said.

“This is about trust in your government and whether it can protect ordinary citizens,” Scott added.

Stefanovic responded by accusing the US of “brutally interfering” with Serbia’s internal affairs and advising it to deal with its own problems, such as the wave of police killings of African Americans, and not to meddle with “the demolition of illegal buildings” in Belgrade.

“It is obvious that the protests of these people in US cities are justified, that the US government is not capable of protecting them but is directly involved in their killings,” he said of black victims of police shootings in the US.

“Personally, I think the protests in Belgrade are not stimulated by people’s mistrust of the government but by something else, and I think that ambassadors have enough information on that, probably more than we do,” Stefanovic told the national news agency Tanjug.

On Sunday, Prime Minister Vucic said the security services had informed him that US Marines attending the Belgrade embassy for a Halloween party came masked as phantoms and wearing T-shirts reading, “Savamala demolition team”.

"I do not expect more from the dull humor of the US Marines," Vucic said adding that “more intelligence was not expected,” from them.

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