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News 18 Jul 16

Serbia Welcomes Boris Johnson as UK Foreign Secretary

He may be controversial in some European capitals, but Serbian Prime Minister-designate Aleksandar Vucic has hailed appointment of Boris Johnson as British Foreign Secretary.

Milivoje Pantovic
BIRN
Belgrade
Mr. Boris Johnson addresses Foreign Office diplomats. Photo: Facebook

Boris Johnson's appointment as UK Foreign Secretary may have drawn negative, even mocking, reactions from many parts of the world but Serbia has welcomed the move.

"Insults are being heard at his expense from various quarters [but] Johnson was here in 1999 [When NATO bombed Serbia], one of the few people from the West who did that [came to Serbia]", Vucic said on Thursday.

Vucic said he had met Johnson in October 2014 during his visit to London and expressed a wish to host the former Mayor of London and current Foreign Secretary.

Johnson has used Serbia as an example in discussions on why the UK should have been more careful before backing the invasion of Iraq in March 2003.

He repeated on several occasions that he had been a correspondent from Kosovo and Belgrade during the NATO campaign in 1999.

“I saw lives ruined and families destroyed by bombing, and I saw civilians grieving for their loved ones who had been killed by NATO. We all saw the results of the Pentagon's tragic mistakes,” Johnson told a debate in the UK parliament in 2003.

“I remember writing some very angry articles while in Belgrade about the way in which that war was conducted because I honestly hated the methods that were used. I despised the bombing from 30,000 feet, which seemed to me to be cruel and erratic,” he said.

However, a journalist from Belgrade, Vesna Peric Zimonic, who knew Johnson at that period and worked as a fixer for him a year later, claims his views were very different.

“During that time, he was reporting for the [UK daily] Telegraph and he was absolutely pro-bombing of Serbia, with his writing and attitude,” Peric Zimonic told BIRN.

She also said Johnson did not like to go near the front lines or the bombing zones.

“He preferred staying in Belgrade in a hotel, press club, and cafe. Once, we had a fixed transport and escort by the Army to Novi Pazar when some bombing happened there. He refused to go and stayed in Belgrade,” Peric Zimonic said.

“All the time he kept saying that he had a booked holiday and that he needed to return to the UK as soon as possible, or his wife would have a grudge about it.”

She said Johnson only changed his mind on his second visit to Belgrade when he was doing stories on post-war Serbia.

“Then he was a bit confused. He became aware that the bombing of Serbia was done without UN permission and saw Serbian refugees, so that made quite an impression on him,” Peric Zimonic recalled.

Johnson also received praise from Serbia’s Diaspora Assembly in January 2014, after an article, published also in the Telegraph, in which he said Serbia was not to blame for the outbreak of World War I.

Some historians see Serbia as the main guilty party because a Bosnian Serb, Gavrilo Princip, assassinated the Austro-Hungarian Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo in 1914, which led to the war.

Johnson was a leading figure in the exit campaign in Britain on the country's membership of the EU. He was widely tipped to be a successor to David Cameron as head of the ruling Conservative party - but saw his chances fade as infighting consumed the exit camp following their victory in the June 23 referendum. As a result Theresa May got the job instead.

 

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