Zorana Mihajlović, Deputy Prime Minister in the Serbian Government and the Minister of Construction, says that the party and its president will decide on the possibility of her new term in office, but that she is happy with the results. In an interview for Kurir, she said that the government needs new faces, as well as experienced people with the know-how, adding that she did not think it was likely that both Ivica Dačić from SPS and Aleksandar Šapić from SPAS could find themselves at the government building on Nemanjina Street.
Do you think SPS is acceptable as a coalition partner even after the recent events, with parts of the Socialist Party membership coming to the protests and speaking in favour of them, and with deputy leader of the party Novica Tončev even calling for blocking the highway?
The questions about the coalition partners posed to the Serbian Progressive Party seem to imply that our list won so many seats that we need more to have a majority. Can I remind you that the list headed by Vučić won 188 seats in the election, which makes three quarters, or 75 percent of seats! The new government will not be appointed based on whether Ivica Dačić as the leader of SPS, or anyone else, wants to be in the government or not. I’m convinced that the new Serbian government will not be appointed based on which party gets such and such number of departments, but based on who can, will, and is ready to successfully respond to the challenges that lie ahead for Serbia! And these challenges are not minor – from Kosovo and Metohija, through all the economic challenges related to the coronavirus epidemic and the protection of the health of our citizens, to the EU accession. Vučić will propose the mandatary, and the Serbian Progressive Party will decide who will represent the party in the government. This, as well as many other major issues, will be the topics affecting the forming of the new government, and not what the deputy leader of SPS does in Surdulica and what political scandals he has under his belt. SPS should concern themselves with this, it’s their problem. Our members in Surdulica know all this very well, and they know how much this person has been bullying and maltreating them for years.
You have said on many occasions that, because of your mutual history, you no longer trust the Socialists. How do things look now?
Nothing has changed, because I’ve learnt that in politics you have to be cautious at all times. Caution, and never forgetting how the Socialists have acted in the previous years. Those who were in coalitions with them can tell a much better story about this. And I am positive that someone will always try, to put it figuratively, to stab us in the back, because that seems to be part and parcel of our history. We have always toppled the best among us, those who stand out, those who are worth their salt, those who work. We don’t seem to be able to change that, nor are we able to change that practice, if we aren’t good or successful enough, of clinging like a leech to those who are. There have been just such coalition partners.
Is it time for the Serbian Progressive Party to say enough is enough, and consider other coalition partners? What is preventing you from sending Dačić to the opposition camp? Are the Progressives afraid of Dačić in the ranks of the opposition?
I think that a lot of attention is paid to SPS. The Socialists, or anyone else, can be no more than a link in forming the new government of Serbia. Times are changing, things are getting increasingly complex, the responsibilities are greater, and all those who would like to be in the ruling coalition need to get that. The time when you could say something like, ‘Swear to God, I won’t do this,’ or ‘Honest to God, I had no idea that my guy went and did that’ has gone by.
In appointing previous governments, the bookmakers listed you as one of the potential prime ministers. This year you are not there. In your opinion, what has brought this about, and does it set off alarm bells?
You know, neither myself nor any of my colleagues are in professional football, or any other sport, to be elected at bookmakers. I have never been a bookmaker minister, prime minister, or anything else. For me, betting is a kind of vice, and in my life I don’t pursue vices but knowledge and results. Betting tickets, various interests, jealousy, and envy cannot change what I am, they do not affect my education, experience, and lastly, my results. My results are not measured at a bookmaker but in the ordinary lives of the citizens: they have to do with the fact that it takes an hour to get from Belgrade to Čačak on the new highways, and 45 minutes from Niš to Pirot. They have to do with having a complete Corridor 10, which we had waited 35 years for, and with having new trains and new tracks.
Do you think that your work and commitment so far has earned you another term in office?
The Serbian Progressive Party and its leader will decide, as they will for the others too. That decision is certainly a two-way street. One thing’s for sure – results! I am happy with what the ministry that I’ve been running and my team have achieved in the previous years.
Your party colleagues say that the new government should have no less than 50 percent of new faces. Do you agree?
I wouldn’t want to engage in guesswork regarding percentages, but we clearly need new faces, because they bring a new energy and new perspectives. But the point is not to just be new. We need good, educated people who can lead a team, a ministry, and, ultimately, the government. Who work even faster, even better, and who are more efficient than this government. We don’t have the time for someone to be finding their bearings, the people want results – now, without delay! I can’t say who will be in the new government because I really don’t know, but I can see clearly the good and bad things about the present one. Each department is important, and everyone has to have a team that can implement government policies. The people who couldn’t keep up with the pace ought to be changed because not only the department would be affected, the citizens would too.
Will the Progressives be generous towards the coalition partners in appointing the new government as they have been in the past?
We shall see who will be part of the ruling coalition after President Vučić has had talks with all the parties that have won seats in the Parliament. On the other hand, personally I think that many other parties – both big and small – have simply been piggybacking on Vučić and the Progressives for years. I’ve invited them several times since they don’t want to appear before the citizens and check how much support they have, having been in power so many years. The fairest thing for them to do would be to join the Progressives. The Serbian Progressive Party is responsible for all of them anyway. Well, if that’s the case, gentlemen, go ahead and join the Progressives! But that’s just my view. Then again, I know that, rather than our party interests, President Vučić has always had the best interest of the country in mind, which is rallying as many parties as possible around the common goal.
Is there a possibility that both SPS and SPAS end up in the new government?
I don’t believe that is likely. But, let’s wait until the President of Serbia finishes the talks with all the parties and election lists.
On Dr Darija Kisić
‘Everyone on the Task Force can lead the Ministry of Health.’
The bookmakers and analysts put big odds on Dr Darija Kisić Tepavčević for a ministerial position. What is your take on that? Would she find her way around Nemanjina Street?
I believe that everyone from the Medical Task Force, led by Prime Minister Ana Brnabić, medical doctors, epidemiologists, and specialists, could successfully take the helm of the health system – Dr Goran Stevanović, Dr Predrag Kon, Dr Mijomir Pelemiš, Dr Darija Kisić Tepavčević, or anyone else. But I have to say that today, at this incredibly difficult time, the health system is managed in the best possible way by Zlatibor Lončar and the Autonomous Province Health Secretary Zoran Gojković. No one before us had invested so much in the health system. The salaries have never been as high as they are today. We have built so many hospitals and hospital centres. Everyone seems to have forgotten what our hospitals looked like ten or fifteen years ago.
On violent protest around the country
‘The start of the protests coincided with the start of resolving the problem of Kosovo and Metohija.’
You have described the protests as bringing down the state. Why do you rule out the possibility that a sizeable part the people are displeased with you and do not wish to have the Progressives at the helm?
I was talking about the context of the protests, the time when they are organized. And the time of the protests marks the start of resolving our most important question – that of Kosovo and Metohija. The time is such that the protests also result in the continued spread of COVID-19 and, further down the line, in more and more countries closing their borders for us on account of the increasing numbers of infected people. We saw at the protests the politicians who attempt to use the gathering of citizens, as well the hooligans who attack the police and go on a destruction spree around Belgrade and Novi Sad in someone else’s interest, which no person in their right mind could support. When you take that sort of context into consideration, then it becomes much clearer what the protest are for. That I’m right is also supported by the fact that after it was pointed out, after we explained what it was all about, the protests simply disappeared. On the other hand, I do understand the nervousness and fear in people, because everyone knows someone who is infected and in need of medical assistance. I also understand that it’s not easy to look at the overwhelmed hospitals, and that’s why I would like to thank all those people who wear masks, keep their distance, and observe the measures by which we have been trying to fight the virus without making the hardest decisions. That’s why I’m calling on everyone to be responsible and to believe that we will weather this storm together as well. Before I forget, we also need to talk to those who are not happy, to see what else we should do, what we need to rectify, what system-wide solutions we need to come up with.
Kurir.rs/ Katarina Blagović Photo: Ana Paunković