17. May 2017

Norway's relations with Serbia "date back to Crusades"

Serbia has become a pillar of stability in the region, says Norway's Ambassador to Belgrade Arne Sannes Bjornstad. PM and President-elect Aleksandar Vucic deserves Europe's support in his efforts to improve relations with Serbia's neighbors and make the Western Balkans a region of cooperation, rather than conflicts, Bjornstad told the Diplomacy&Commerce magazine in an interview. "Nationalism and populism from both sides of the political spectrum are still factors of instability in the region, and all the countries are recent and fragile democracies," he said, adding that "regional cooperation and Euro-Atlantic integrations is the best way to stabilize the Western Balkans." According to him, the recent migrant crisis "can serve as an example of common challenges faced through cooperation." Asked about "major forces that can contribute to the security of the region," the Bjornstad said it was the fact all Western Balkan countries are either EU members or membership candidates." Although Norway is not a member of the EU, he said, it "fully supports Serbia's EU integration process." This support is focused on "law and order as well as public administration reform," the ambassador said. "Eight chapters have been opened in a short period of time, which confirms the progress made. Continuation of the reforms to bring Serbia up to Western European standards should be the main priority. Further efforts are needed to give Serbia an efficient and impartial judiciary and a transparent public administration," Bjornstad said. As for bilateral relations, he said they go "way back in history": "According to Icelandic sagas, a Norwegian king passed through Serbia in 1111 on his way back from the Crusades and met 'king of the land' - probably Grand Prince Vukan." Bjornstad said that the relationship then strengthened with "Norwegian support to Serbian independence," and the arrival of Norwegian volunteers during the Balkan Wars and the First World War, as well as "by secretly helping" Yugoslav prisoners of war sent to labor camps in occupied Norway during the Second World War. "Today we are friends and partners," the ambassador said, noting that politically, the two countries "face many challenges together despite different views on certain issues." @b92

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