“The progress and significant results achieved in the protection of minorities in Serbia are encouraging. We are also pleased to find that the ruling political elite in the country has realised that finding a solution to any issue lies through dialogue. We trust that this dialogue will be honest, open and committed to the problems of minorities. Non-governmental organisations can be a corrective of politicians’ actions in this respect.”
Deputy Prime Minister for Judicial Reform and Minister of Foreign Affairs Ekaterina Zaharieva, who is paying a two-day visit to the Republic of Serbia, addressed these words to the participants in a conference on “Minority Policy in Serbia: Fostering Integration”.
The event in Belgrade is organised by the Forum for Ethnic Relations with the financial support of the Bulgarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs within the framework of the Development Cooperation Programme.
“We acknowledge the fact that Serbia is making ever more efforts to complete the building of a national minority status, but there is always room for improvement. I understand that important amendments and supplements to the legislation concerning minorities are in the pipeline. I hope that they will provide the requisite environment in which all members of minorities will feel above all equal, free and protected,” Zaharieva said.
The Minister emphasised that politicians are sometimes tempted to use populist rhetoric and intolerant language because they can thus earn quick dividends in the run-up to elections. But before resorting to such tools, politicians should be aware of their responsibility and that once the elections are over, the time comes to get down to work.
Regarding the 23 minorities in Serbia, Zaharieva said that the full-fledged implementation of their constitutional powers and legal rights would only contribute to a tangible and meaningful progress of European integration. She expressed the hope that the problem with arranging broadcasts for the Bulgarian communities in our Western neighbour will be addressed soon either by State financing of specialised programmes or by the local cable operators adding Bulgarian TV channels to their packages. The members of Serbia’s executive, with whom Zaharieva conferred during her visit, assured her that the case will be solved.
Zaharieva catalogued the benefits of membership of the European Union. To Bulgaria, the numbers are indisputable: quadrupled personal income, Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growing from 25,000 billion leva ten years ago to 92,000 billion leva in 2016, and increased trade and commercial exchanges with the rest of the Member States.
The event was attended by the Protector of Citizens (Ombudsman) of the Republic of Serbia Zoran Pašalić, the leadership of the National Council of the Bulgarian Minority and journalists of Bulgarian media in Serbia.
More than half of the funds for 2017, which Bulgaria, as an EU Member State, is obliged to allocate to countries worldwide under the Development Cooperation Programme, have gone to organisations from Serbia.