Norbert Beckmann-Dierkes is Head of the KAS office in Serbia and in Montenegro. Prior to that he was representative of the Konrad Adenauer Foundation in Scandinavia and in the Baltics.
How do you see the near and mid-term future for the center-right in Serbia and the wider European neighborhood?
Center-right parties in Serbia, as in much of the region, have a strong foothold. One of the largest parties in Europe, in terms of membership, is the Serbian Progressive Party, which is in a coalition with the Alliance of Vojvodina Hungarians, also associate members of the European People’s Party.
Being in power for a long time, especially in transitional societies, is a responsibility and an obligation to face a large number of problems that represent not only overcoming the past and reconciliation, but also strong economic growth and development. When it comes to Serbia and the region of the Western Balkans, that means strong regional cooperation, both political and economic, so that all countries at some point manage to meet the default criteria for accession to the European Union.
How does KAS support countries aiming to join the EU?
The Konrad-Adenauer-Foundation has offices in all countries in the region: Northern Macedonia, Kosovo, Albania, Serbia, Montenegro, Croatia and BiH. The basic values of KAS such as freedom, social justice, representative democracy, solidarity… are the values on which the European Union is based and which we as a Foundation promote through programs to support the democratization process and the path to the European Union, depending on the level on which country is currently located. We work a lot on the promotion of regional cooperation, capacity building of institutions, support to young talented people through the scholarship program. Given our well-founded expertise and contacts across Europe, partner organizations and parties often use the Konrad- Adenauer-Foundation network.
Having in mind that you meet many people, how would you describe the current mood about European integration?
The transition period lasts too long and it is quite understandable that there is occasional fatigue when it comes to the process of European integration. This is not unusual and has happened in other countries as well. European partners, on the other hand, should understand that they should be constantly present in public, as well as to promote in a slightly better way the extent to which the European Union has helped and is helping Serbia every day. In some situations, such as managing the Covid crisis, European partners could also learn from Serbia. The process should be transparent and reciprocal, and citizens will understand that very well.
It looks like the dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina is at an impasse. How can we build up the relationship?
We should not just look at all processes through a political prism. Both in Belgrade and in Pristina, there are people who have their fears and their hopes. They need to be helped to make their fears disappear, and to hope and cooperate more in various areas and at all levels – in culture, health, tourism. Wherever possible. Only constant dialogue can offer sustainable solutions.
The German Chancellor Angela Merkel is very much familiar with the situation in the Western Balkans. Keeping in mind that she is leaving the office and that there will be elections in September do you think the new administration could have a different approach?
Serbia and the Balkans have always had an honest and reliable partner in Germany. Germany’s positions have always been unambiguous and clear, even when they do not agree with the positions of Serbia or the countries of the region. With the departure of Chancellor Angela Merkel and the election of a new administration in Germany in the fall, I believe that there will be no significant changes related to the political situation in the Western Balkans.
You have the opportunity to speak with young people because the KAS supports some of the best students in Serbia and organizes a one-year political school about democratization, EU integrations, center-right values, etc. What are your thoughts and impressions about young people in Serbia? What do you advise them to do?
Thousands of young people from Serbia and the region have gone through the scholarship program organized by the Konrad-Adenauer-Foundation since 2002, as well as through various trainings and educations. Only from that cooperation I can conclude that Serbia has intelligent, talented and successful young people who need a little encouragement from the Serbian society and the state in order to be able to give the most of themselves. The problem of the whole region is the brain drain, but through various programs that include innovation and strategic planning, I am sure that young people can decide to build a democratic European society in Serbia.