It has been 140 years since Serbia and the United States signed the trade and consular conventions, marking the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries. At the time, the two free nations recognized a common interest in instituting their relations based on contracts. These contracts regulated the rights of the two countries' citizens and provided mutual personal and property protection.
And then the 20th century happened. It was a century of ruptures, wars, and global chaos. But, it was also a century of science, art, and global progress. Serbs and Americans were allies in the storms of war as much as in science, amid both chaos and progress.
We fought on the same side in both world wars, for our common ideals. The ideals of freedom and justice. Serbs have not forgotten the American Red Cross, Dr Edward Ryan, and John Frothingham – members of the US elite who helped our nation in World War I. Nor have Americans forgotten Operation Halyard, when in 1944 the Yugoslavian Army in the Fatherland rescued over 500 US airmen from being captured.
The best Serbian scientists have changed the world working in the US. Tesla's alternating current inventions led the world into the future. Mihajlo Pupin improved wireless communication and X-ray imaging. There were seven Serbs on the team of scientists who landed Neil Armstrong on the Moon. Vlade Divac and Nikola Jokić have been the standard-bearers of Serbian basketball playing for the Los Angeles Lakers and the Denver Nuggets. Ambar, a Serbian cuisine restaurant, is among the most popular in Washington. If you're in Washington and talking to someone who isn't sure which European country you're from, they will flash a big smile if you mention 'Tesla', 'Divac', or 'Ambar' and say, "Great, you're from Serbia!"
A good 140-year track record notwithstanding, the relations between Serbia and the US were on the decline in the late 20th century. After years of misapprehensions, with the political elites not understanding the global changes at the turn of the 21st century, Serbia is now making progress. In the past seven years, President Aleksandar Vučić has initiated comprehensive reforms. The reforms in the areas of economy, education, and culture, as well as the adjustments made to foreign policy, are the reason why nowadays Serbia has friends and partners who understand our position. Partners that Serbia has gained by grasping the complex mosaic of international politics and economy and by adjusting its foreign policy to the current geopolitical circumstances, processes, trends, and the priorities of a different, more modern and prosperous Serbia – a leader in the Western Balkans.
A new generation of politicians is coming to the fore, led by President Vučić and creating a nationally responsible, "extended hand" foreign policy. Today's Serbia does not want strained and difficult relations with the US. We want the exact opposite. The new generations should not bear the burden of the former politicians' bad decisions. Serbia is getting more successful by the day, and we want the US to be part of our success story. Serbia is extending a hand of friendship and voicing its readiness to open a new chapter of friendship and close collaboration between our two countries, as we travel down our common historical path.
Strong relations between Serbia and the US contribute to our country's stability. A politically and economically strong Serbia means a stable Western Balkans region. President Vučić and Prime Minister Brnabić have recognized the overall importance of good relations with the US, and have taken steps to bring our two countries closer together. After decades of neglecting the relations with this powerful country, President Vučić is the first to use the political authority he has gained in Serbia and on the international scene to initiate the process of resolving the thorniest issues that have plagued the US-Serbia relations for years.
The Financial Times has declared Serbia a world leader in foreign greenfield investments for two years straight. The investments of US companies have contributed to this prestigious ranking of Serbia. The military and police cooperation have received higher scores than the cooperation between the US and major European states. As our example shows, when Serbia and the US work together, success follows.
Improving the political relations between our two countries is a priority. However, as Ambassador of Serbia in Washington, I will work to facilitate the economy and the lives of our citizens.
We must also have extensive talks with our US-based diaspora. The Serbs in the US are the closest to us of all Americans – the most stable bridge between Serbia and the US.
Photo: Marina Lopičić