In his Christmas interview with Kurir, Minister of Internal Affairs Aleksandar Vulin said that he would also be spending this Christmas far from his family home, and was open about how difficult that was for him. He discussed openly the goals set at the start of his term in office as minister, the first personnel cuts in a rather sensitive portfolio, as well as the hidden messages that many read into his public appearances. In a less than typical media interview, Vulin also touched on his fears, regrets, and the reasons why he wanted to take the Russian vaccine for the dangerous virus.
How has your Christmas been so far? How strange is the holiday season during a pandemic for you?
"Christmas is a family holiday. With or without the coronavirus, all of us should spend that day with our families. I'll be with the police force personnel at our base in the Ground Security Zone. As in eight previous years, I won't be with my family for Christmas, but the law enforcement personnel that my ministry is in charge of are my family. When my younger son was born, it was Christmas Eve, and I was at the Zočište Monastery in Kosovo."
Then the question is not whether your family is affected by your work, but rather how much?
"If you're asking whether they see me, they don't. They see more of me on TV than at home. When I get back home, Sergej and Oleg are asleep. When I leave, they haven't woken up yet. I miss them, and I know that I cannot go back to the day when they wrote their first letters, lost their first tooth, or said something funny that their grandparents then repeat. However, my family knows that Serbia is more important than us and that all the joys that we miss make sense if Serbia is a better place and Serbs are safer, wherever they may be living. I sometimes joke with my wife Nataša – she is braver and more stubborn than me, and more supportive to me than I am to her – that our sons will make great fathers one day because they never see me or my mistakes, and so they won't be repeating them with their own children. They'll be better than me."
Are police-related problems more of a challenge than the military-related ones? What are the three main goals that you have set for your new portfolio?
"The police- and the military-related problems are similar and very different at the same time. Both offices are hard work, come with a lot of responsibility, and are honourable to an extent that goes beyond the everyday. The elimination of the current drug cartels, reducing street crime, and improving the financial situation of law enforcement are the three main goals."
The state has already started a war against the mafia. Are you happy with how this fight is turning out? There have been some major operations, such as the arrest of Elez and the Pink Panther group members, and the seizing of large quantities of drugs.
"President Vučić has directed Serbia's attention to the mafia and the fight against criminals. When he announces a fight, he leads it too, and you can see the results already. The mafia-related murder case in Belvil was solved in only ten or so days. The case of a robbery in Belgrade, where the perpetrators used a fake police badge to extort 100,000 euros from an investor, was solved in even less time. The case of the desecration of the Eternal Flame monument took only a few days, despite the holiday season. By arresting Elez, we have dismantled one of the more dangerous crime rings operating in Bosnia and Serbia. The sustained efforts and determination of our law enforcement in removing Elez, in collaboration with the Bosnian and Serbian Prosecutors' Offices, have made Serbia and Bosnia a safer place. Drugs are seized as a result of major long-term operations, and that is a fight that started before me and will continue after me."
Judging by the news from the Ministry of Internal Affairs, it appears that you have gotten off to a no-nonsense start as minister.
"For me drugs are a great evil, and I'm in favour of having drug traffickers tried for attempted murder or, in case of a repeat offender, for murder. The Pink Panther gang have been nabbed, and watches worth four million euros were found on the occasion. In Novi Sad, a mafia-related murder was prevented, and a slew of robbery cases have been solved. In Bačka Palanka, a case has been solved involving a fight between football supporters that ended in attempted murder, resulting in breaking up a football supporter group that was terrorizing the entire town. In Novi Pazar, those responsible for two shooting incidents have been identified, and the Gendarmerie have restored order in the town. Vehicles are taken away from criminals; criminals are arrested for being in possession of guns and narcotics; wanted persons are taken in; illegal operation of cafés and restaurants is banned; and we're taking on those who run prostitution rings. We could go on talking about the results, but what matters is that citizens feel better and safer. And I take no credit for any of this – I am not a police officer, but a minister who ensures the police force has good working conditions and takes part in every process that can make Serbia safer. President Vučić has made sure that no one even tries to interfere with police work and that the Ministry of Internal Affairs has better financial standing. With that kind of support, my job isn't too difficult."
You have also declared war against street crime. Are you happy with what has been done there?
"In terms of statistics, I should be very happy. But I'm not. The feeling that honest, hard-working folks have – the people who are the true measure of all things – isn't good. I won't be happy until I'm absolutely sure that there are no drug dealers at and around schools, that no one robs students of their sneakers, that peer violence is rare. Until I'm absolutely sure that breaking and entering, robbing women in public transport, and forcing them to hand over their necklaces are unthinkable. I have told all chiefs of police that safety in the streets of the cities they are in charge of is the criterion of their success."
After you took the helm at the Ministry of Internal Affairs, you also made personnel changes. Was that a purge, as some have described it?
"When he took over at the Ministry, Minister Stefanović also changed the personnel there, and anyone who comes after me will do the same. I have appointed the people that I trust and the people with a track record of good results. That is the only criterion."
You said once that your uniform and clothes were addressed in the Belgrade–Priština dialogue in Brussels. And now, some people are critical of the alleged political messages you send by means of your face masks, which visually link Serbia and the Republic of Srpska. What is behind your all-terrain apparel and face mask pattern?
"As Minister of Kosovo and Metohija, I wore clothes that had the insignia of the Office for Kosovo and Metohija and the Republic of Serbia. Serbs liked the fact that I reminded them that Serbia was there, and the Albanians complained in Berlin and Brussels that I was militarizing Serbs. As Minister of Labour, I spent days and nights with migrants in forests, tent settlements, and on highways, where they would block traffic and I would try to convince them to leave without us using force. They said to me then – never asking what it was like being in the mud in the village of Berkasovo, where myself and the Commissariat for Refugees and Migration staff tried to organize the movement of tens of thousands of people – that I wasn't a defence or police minister and that I shouldn't be wearing army pants and boots. When I became Minister of Defence, they attacked me fiercely because I wore a uniform which, under the law that I didn't pass, only two civilians are entitled to – the supreme commander and the minister of defence. As far as a number of staff at the Šabac Water Supply and Sewerage public utility were concerned, taking away that right from me was more important than the fact that I do actually have it. And what mattered least to them was that many ministers before me wore that same uniform."
And now they take issue with how you dress in public.
"Under the law, as Minister of Internal Affairs, I have the status of an authorized person, a police rank, and the right to wear insignia and a uniform. If I didn't wear a uniform, they'd be bad-mouthing me saying I was a parlour minister afraid to get his hands dirty in the mud and the dust, alongside the soldiers and the police officers. You see, I always act in accordance with the law and the actual requirements of the task at hand, but apparently that's not important. The only thing that seems to matter is to get a chance to bad-mouth and insult me. That is how I have managed all the portfolios that I've been in charge of. I try to learn all that I can, and spend as much time as possible with the people in my ministry. I get directly in touch and listen about their problems, fears, and hopes, trying to set an example by my own endurance and hard work. I don't wish to be different from my colleagues. Yes, I like this country, I like the uniform, as well as the sense of purpose and fulfilment that all those who have made Serbia a better and safer place will have had. And there is nothing more beautiful or natural than the unity of Serbia and Srpska. I do not need to wear a face mask to fight for the unity and ultimate unification of all Serbs. I hide nothing behind the Serbia and Srpska face mask."
'I took the Russian jab.'
If you could choose, which coronavirus vaccine would you take?
"I've taken the Russian jab, which is what I wanted. Of course, any vaccine approved by our doctors is good and healthy."
Wiretapping President Vučić
'Political reasons, foreign involvement looked into.'
A new story has emerged regarding the wiretapping of the Serbian President, his family, and the people in his immediate surroundings. What motives could be behind this?
"The Ministry of Internal Affairs is looking into all claims regarding the wiretapping of the President of Serbia and the Supreme Commander of the Serbian Army, Aleksandar Vučić, and his family. An investigation is under way in accordance with the law. You cannot wiretap the president, the head of state, without malicious intent. The motives behind wiretapping President Vučić and the legal classification of this act can be discussed only after the police make the final results available to the judicial authorities. It's important to find out what happened and how, as well as on whose orders, in order to establish a motive for wiretapping the president. President Aleksandar Vučić is a man involved in politics only, and has dedicated his whole life to Serbia. This means he was wiretapped for political reasons. We need to find out what these political reasons were, and whether there has been any foreign involvement in the wiretapping. No one can wiretap any Serbian citizen without an appropriate order, and doing so is all the more unacceptable if it involves the head of state."
Life after corona
'I cannot wait to see a packed Red Star stadium.'
The pandemic has made the previous year specific in many ways. What was your personal experience? What fears did you have?
"Fearing for your family and your loved ones comes first, followed by being concerned about your work and the people you're taking care of. I've had Covid, and I never stopped working. When so many people around you suffer, and you need to take care of them, you simply forget about yourself."
Do you believe the world will go back to normal after the pandemic? What is it that you cannot wait to do when that finally happens?
"Life always finds a way and, like a river, goes back to its old course once the mud drifts and rocks are removed. I cannot wait to go a match and be part of a packed Red Star Stadium."
Favourite Alan Ford sayings
'We have also had bigger problems that we failed to resolve.'
It is a well-known fact that you like books. What are you reading at the moment, and what are you favourite books?
"At the moment, I've picked up Eco again – I'm reading The Prague Cemetery and Numero Zero. I often keep the poems of Crnjanski and The Mountain Wreath on my table. Whenever I'm thinking about our people and these parts, I pick up an Ekmedžić volume. My favourite book is a variable category – it depends on the time when you discover it. From One Hundred Years of Solitude, The Master and Margarita, War and Peace, The Brothers Karamazov, How the Steel Was Tempered, down to Omer Pasha Latas, The Damned Yard, The Days of the Consuls, The Fortress, Mother Stojanka from the Knežopolje Field, The Pavlović House, May the Snow Fall, O Lord, etc."
You were a reviewer for an Alan Ford edition at one time. What is your favourite line from this popular comic book?
" 'We have also had bigger problems that we failed to resolve' and 'Buy flowers for the woman you love, but don't forget your wife.' "
I. Kljajić/ Kurir.rs