On the occasion of 20th anniversary of the aggression of NATO Alliance against Serbia (the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, the FRY), on 22 and 23 March 2019 Belgrade was the venue of the International Conference under the title “Never to Forget – Peace and Prosperity instead of Wars and Poverty”. The conference was organised by “The Belgrade Forum for the World of Equals”, the “Federation of Associations of Veterans of the National Liberation War of Serbia”, “The Serbian Generals and Admirals Club” and the “Society of the Serbian Hosts”, in cooperation with the “World Peace Council”. Besides the participants from Serbia, the Conference was attended by more than 200 distinguished guests from some 30 countries from all over the world. The organisers welcomed the participants and expressed sincerest gratitude for their solidarity, support and huge humanitarian relief during one of the most challenging periods in the recent history of Serbia.
With a total of 78 contributions, the two days were more than well filled. An exhibition with harrowing pictures documented the suffering of the Serbian population during the NATO attack in 1999.
The conference was dedicated to preserving the lasting memory and paying tribute to the military and the police personnel who made the ultimate sacrifice in the defence of their country against the Nato-aggression, as well as to the civilian victims killed during this 78-day war.
Current Concerns: Your conference, which you held for 3 days with many guests from all over the world, has just ended and therefore we would like to ask you: What are your impressions, what are your conclusions out of what we had the last three days?
Živadin Jovanović: I think the conference was a great success in terms of attendance, in terms of the content and in terms of conclusions. As far as attendance is concerned we had about 200 guests from about 30 countries from all continents except from Australia. They are all united in their objective of peace, solidarity and peaceful development. They are authors of books, scientists, some politicians, diplomats, strategic analysers, generally public figures in the countries they come from. They have come on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the NATO war of aggression against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, which is illegal under international law. That we can all commemorate the victims and remember the destruction, cruelty and arrogance of the only military alliance, NATO. They are all friends of Serbia, who have shown their solidarity and their support over about three decades now of turbulent processes and developments in the region of the Balkans.
At the conference we also tried to project a vision of peace in Europe and in the world, a vision of inclusive development for all people and all countries. I think that we can be satisfied with the content of the Belgrade declaration (see page 3) and that it will be well received.
Mr Jovanović, you just gave the starting signal for the marathon to Mount Athos, which has started right now. Can you say a few words about that? Because it belongs to the conference.
This is a traditional manifestation of athletes. Serbian athletes are the initiators but they include also athletes from surrounding countries, so it is an international memorial marathon. They run every year a different direction and spread the same message of peace, cooperation, solidarity and the message that the NATO aggression from 1999 should not be repeated and should not be forgotten. The more so, that really today instability prevails on the Balkans and in a big part of Europe. So we should be always cautious that peace, stability and development are not guaranteed automatically. It should always be worked in order that it will be preserved. The marathon carries the message of reason, of wisdom and they run about 100 kilometers every day. But they stop at every place, every historical monument to pay respects to the victims not only of NATO aggression but victims of World War I and World War II. This way that they are running today and tomorrow is unfortunately too rich in monuments to the victims.
This is most impressive and deeply touching. But unfortunately also highly topical.
We should be aware what risks are we facing today because of growing mistrust, global confrontation and arms race, enormous funds are invested in preparing for the war and the development and the social life of people is neglected. So this is a dangerous trend if you have global mistrust and global confrontation. If you, let’s say right now in Europe, reorient civil structure, completely to serve also military needs.
I think we have gone too far and I have the impression that we are not quite aware of what processes are happening right now. We are occupied by day to day obligations and tasks and we all need to see and be aware of these essential deep global changes, endangering, threatening the security. So, our manifestations including this one today serves just the purpose to state an awareness of what is going on and to mobilise unity of peace-loving people and forces to resist such developments to get the message spread: stop confrontation, start dialogue, stop ruining international agreements, to negotiate better ones, stop transforming the economy and infrastructure for the military purposes.
How else do you commemorate the 1999 war here in Serbia?
We had a number of manifestations in Belgrade these days of which the international memorial marathon is only one. There was a two days conference, we also had an excellent exhibition for those artefacts devoted to Nato aggression. We also presented a number of new books to mark this anniversary, books by the best authors on these subjects. And we have many other manifestations apart from what we are doing as a part of what we can say people’s diplomacy. The government today [24 March] is organising a central government manifestation in the city of Nîs. This yet again will be the message of remembering victims and the message of reminding that we should turn towards peace, towards cooperation and solidarity and not confrontation.
You mentioned the many foreign guests. How do you perceive their participation in your conference?
We have many friends and we owe them respect and gratitude for all their support and understanding for their solidarity, for the enormous humanitarian assistance that they have been sending over decades to my country, to Serbia and to Serbs here and we also cherish very much that our friends all over the world right now are holding conferences, like the conference in Vienna, the conference in New York, in Washington, the conference in Prague, in Bratislava. Then next week there will be three conferences in Italy, in Rome, in Bologna and in Florence. So we are also saying that we from the Belgrade Forum for a World of Equals, we are happy because we are recognised as a focal point for all those and they seek our messages, seek our greetings and are sending us messages of solidarity and so forth. So it is very positive that so many people in so many different countries all over the world are aware of the real meaning of the NATO aggression from 1999, of the real meaning of this expansionist policy and the policy of conquist. This is something encouraging for the humanity.
Has the peace movement grown in comparison with previous years within the framework of your conference?
Yes, I think there is a positive change as far as activities of associations and entities. It is positive that we are becoming more and more aware of our duties and that we respond to the situation that is not really bright and very encouraging.
I would like to mention the positive change we are seeing in Serbia itself. In Serbia I can tell you that in 2000 or 2001 nobody would have any manifestations on the occasion of the NATO aggression. These signals from the government were missing, there were no signals encouraging this culture of memory, culture of respect for the victims. No, they were silent and the press, the complete mass media in Serbia never would mention ‘aggression’. They would say ‘intervention’, they would say ‘campaign of NATO’, or bombardment at the best. But we continuously and steadily pursued a real term, and real characterisation of that attack. It was blatant aggression on a sovereign and peaceful state and not motivated by any humanitarian or similar reasons but exclusively by geopolitical aims by promoting strategies of expansion towards the East.
The fact that you stood all alone in your own country has changed, thank God.
So right in Serbia, we saw unprecedented publicity in the Serbian media for our conference and for all that we are doing. And you cannot see other terms so frequently than ‘aggression’ from our president, to the prime minister, to the ordinary people. And the journalists, they are now using the term of aggression. This is a sign of change. And this is because we were steady, we knew what was the truth, we urged the others to agree. There is a slight failure of our press. They reported excellently about our conference. Excellently. Enormous space was given. Two pages in one daily, in the most influencial pages. Yesterday, one of the oldest and traditional newspapers in Europe in politics, they devoted a whole page. That has never happened. Most of the times they would completely ignore what we are doing, but now the whole page. And the failure? What is the failure? It is, let’s say, that politics don’t say who has organised all this. They said it was organised in the “Army House” and that is was good and very constructive and very important. And they reported who was speaking what, with many quotations, excellently, but there is no reference that this was done by the Belgrade Forum for the World of Equals, but by generals and admirals veterans associations and the Society of Serbian host.
Nevertheless, the most important thing is that people can read about the results of our conference and that the truth is spread.
Thank you very much. We owe you a big thank-you for what you have done and for bringing so many people together here. It is a tremedous work and we wish you and your country the very best. •
* Živadin Jovanović is president of the “Belgrade Forum for the World of Equals”. He studied law at the University of Belgrade, from 1964 to 2000 he worked in the diplomatic service of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (from 1992 Federal Republic of Yugoslavia FRY), from 1988 to 1993 Ambassador in Luanda/Angola, from 1995 to 1998 Deputy Foreign Minister, from 1998 to 2000 Foreign Minister, 1996 Member of the Serbian Parliament and 2000 in the Parliament of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. In addition to numerous articles and interviews, he has published the following books: “The Bridges” (2002); “Abolishing the State” (2003); “The Kosovo Mirror” (2006); “The Twilight of the West – NATO aggression – Never to forget (2010)”; “1244-A Key to Peace in Europe” (2018)
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