An Interview with the Ambassador of Serbia in Berlin, Snežana Janković.
“Serbia and Germany have a shared traditional exceptional relationship in cultural and educational field”October 14th, 2021
On Thursday , the 14th of October, Francesca Cartaně ,Athanasios Apotas and Marta Lamana had the opportunity to conduct an interview with the Ambassador of Serbia, Snežana Janković.
You have been ambassador since 2019, how have you enjoyed your position so far, and what have been the main challenges and difficulties you have encountered, especially with covid times?
I have taken my position at the end of October 2019, so it has been almost two years and that was four months before Coronavirus started. I was still a new ambassador here, when the crisis outbroke and this has highly affected our activities.
As a new ambassador I didn’t have the opportunity to meet many people and visit all the Institutions that I wanted, as Serbia and Germany have very intensive and very diverse relations in many fields. There are a lot of opportunities for cooperation and many people are involved from both sides in the enhancement of our cooperation so that is why I feel privileged to be Serbian Ambassador in Germany. Although, as I said, the time is really difficult for our profession, for the way we work and specifically for personal contacts, which is something very important for diplomacy. But the situation with Coronavirus is getting a little bit better and we are now having the opportunity to meet people in person and that makes me hope that the situation will develop positively.
What are the Embassy’s main priorities here in Berlin?
It is really difficult to set the priorities because we have very diverse relations and we have very intensive political dialogue between our leaders at the highest level and at the level of Ministers. For instance Chancellor Merkel visited Belgrade on 13th and 14th of September, so we would like to keep that intensity and the frequency of our political dialogue. Then, in the economic field we have excellent relations. There are more than five hundred German companies operating in Serbia and they employ 70.000 people. In comparison with 2014 the increase of the employees of Serbian people who work in German companies is more than 60.000 and that illustrates how exceptional and how important the economic relations with Germany are. Then we also cooperate in the field of environment protection, in education, in cultural field and if we speak about priorities we must identify several priorities within each of these fields. At this point I would like to reveal one very important priority and this is our intention to open the Cultural Centre of Serbia here in Berlin. Actually we have finalized the cultural agreement between Serbia and Germany and the chancellor announced the agreement when she visited Belgrade and it will be signed very soon. So we hope that this would be the basis for opening the Cultural Centre of Serbia here in Germany as it is our priority. Other than that, I can underline the importance of our cooperation in the field of climate change and environmental protection. We have just signed a partnership with Germany about the expert help and financial assistance of Germany to Serbia and it is worth 309 million Euros exclusively for the climate change and the environment protection. This is a very important topic to the whole of Europe and of course for Serbia.
Since development cooperation with Serbia began in 2000, what is the main progress you think you have been able to draw from this cooperation with Germany?
I would say that our relationship is excellent and upgrading all the time in the last eight years. I mentioned the economic sector as a field of development and cooperation and how the number of Serbian employees in German companies grows constantly. We have the interest of German investors in order to explore Serbian market and to find the possibilities for investment in our country because we offer very good conditions for German companies and their work is actually contributing a lot to the economic recovery and economic success of Serbia. For that reason we are very grateful, as this is an important ingredient in our economic success in recent years. I would say that we are progressing very well with all segments of bilateral cooperation and relations which of course makes me very proud and satisfied.
What are the key programmes, events, and initiatives that the embassy is currently hosting in the sphere of cultural diplomacy?
We had several smaller projects and events here in the embassy but I would rather tell you about our plans that were postponed because of the pandemic and will be realized hopefully next year. First of all I would like to underline something that is not very well known here in Germany, and that is that Serbia and Germany have a shared traditional exceptional relationship in cultural and educational field. In particular talking about key figures in German and Serbian culture, on the German side there were the Grimm brothers who collected German and European folk stories and on the Serbian side there was Vuk Stefanović Karadžić who collected Serbian and Slavic folk songs and had a correspondence with Jacob Grimm, who wanted to know more about the songs Karadžić was collecting. They cooperated mid 19th century, they were befriended and it was actually our Vuk Stefanović Karadžić who provoked the interest of Goethe in literature not only of Serbia but the whole of South Europe. So Goethe, for example, was able to speak Serbian and translated one very famous poem, Hasanaginica. Also Humboldt spoke Serbian and they, as many others, became very interested in Serbian literature opening the door to the German audience for South Slav literature. This is something that not many countries of Europe can say about their traditional culture and educational relationships with Germany. As a matter of fact we would like to organize an exhibition and many smaller events devoted to the ties that our Vuk Stefanović Karadžić, who is the key figure in Serbian culture, had with these famous Germans.
This is one aspect, then in the very long tradition of our diplomatic ties, there were several famous Serbian writers who worked as diplomats here in Germany. One of them is the Nobel prize winner Ivo Andrić who served here as ambassador from 39’ to 41’ in the most difficult times, and we would also like to organize some exhibitions and some literary evenings devoted to him. Also Miloš Crnjanski, another important writer of classic Serbian literature, served here as diplomat and he actually wrote several books about his days in Berlin. He inspired contemporary artists and writers to talk about his books and his days in Berlin. It seems that these writers who stayed in Berlin before the second world war and immediately after are inspiring even the present generations in Serbia. This is something that could be interesting to share with the general public as well as to show how our important figures experienced Germany in those days and how today’s writers view this strong cultural bridge. German and Serbian institutions are working together in organizing these exhibitions, waiting for better times and bigger audience.
What about the recent German elections, how will it influence and affect your relationship with Germany?
I think it is maybe too early to say anything. I must say that Germany will surely remain our most important partner. In my opinion whoever leads the German government will pay attention to the West Balkan region because strategically this region is very important for the European Union. We are very grateful to the chancellor Merkel who devoted very big attention to Western Balkan as she was really involved in European integration not only of Serbia but of the whole region. We are grateful to her and I expect the same level of engagement and the same level of German support for our European integration in the future.
Could you tell us more about the embassy’s building and its history?
It is an old German Villa. It was built in 1929 and it was bought by Yugoslav military Mission in 1953 when the Germany was still divided. It was not the embassy but the military representation of Yugoslavia here. But when the Germany got united, our country, still Yugoslavia that time, started to use this building as the embassy since the embassy was moved from Bonn to Berlin.