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News 06 Sep 17

Serbian Radicals Ask for Russian Centre in Vojvodina

The right-wing Radical Party wants a branch of the controversial Serbian-Russian Humanitarian Centre – which the US fears could be used for spying - to open in the northern Serbian province of Vojvodina.

Maja Zivanovic
BIRN
Belgrade

The Serbian-Russian Humanitarian Centre in Nis. Photo: Facebook/RSHC.

Head of the Serbian Radical Party MPs’ group in Vojvodina’s parliament, Djuradj Jaksic, told BIRN that his party has asked the province’s authorities to earmark funds in the next year’s budget to open a second Serbian-Russian Humanitarian Centre in the country.

 “Three MPs from the SRS [Serbian Radical Party] visited the Centre [in Nis] recently and talked about the possibility of opening a Centre or an office of it in Vojvodina, so we initiated that at the last [Vojvodina] parliament session,” Jaksic explained.

The US fears that the first Serbian-Russian Humanitarian Centre, in the southern city of Nis, could someday be used for espionage purposes. Half of its staff are Russians.

But the centre, which opened in 2012, insists that it is involved in the provision of “emergency humanitarian response, the prevention of natural disasters and technological accidents and the elimination of their consequences”.

Jaksic said that concerns about possible espionage uses are “nonsense”.

He added that during their visit to the centre, the Radical Party MPs saw “excellent organisation in case of emergencies by the centre, which is the best in Europe”.

US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Hoyt Brian Yee told the Senate on June 15 that the centre was a concern for the State Department because of what it could become if Serbia fulfils Russia’s request and gives the centre’s staff special status and immunity.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zaharova said on June 22 however that Yee’s accusations were “absurd”.

Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic said in July that the status of the centre will soon be clarified. 

Jaksic said that the Radicals would press ahead with their attempt to get a second centre opened.

“We will continue with the formal initiation for opening a Serbian-Russian Centre in Vojvodina,” he said. 

The ruling coalition in Vojvodina is made up of the Serbian Progressive Party, the Socialist Party of Serbia and Alliance of Vojvodina Hungarians.

The Radicals are an opposition party in Vojvodina's parliament and have 10 out of a total of 120 MPs, which means that they would need the support of the Progressives for the proposal. 

Although Vojvodina’s prime minister Igor Mirovic, who is a member of the Progressives, often has meetings with Russian representatives, he has never raised the issue of the Serbian-Russian Humanitarian Centre.

The Radicals are well known for their pro-Russian stance.

Jaksic said that the party advocates “full integration of Serbia with Russia”, and the termination of negotiations about joining the EU.  

The party’s leader, Vojislav Seselj, was acquitted of war crimes in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia and Serbia by the Hague Tribunal in March last year, but the prosecution has since launched an appeal.

The Radical Party chief returned to Belgrade in November 2014 after being granted temporary release by the Hague court on humanitarian grounds to undergo cancer treatment.

He then refused to return to The Hague for the verdict in his trial last year, and was re-elected to the Serbian parliament at the last general election.

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