In an interview for Kurir, the executive director of the newly founded Pupin Initiative, Vuk Velebit, says that the organization is quite aware of the fact that better Serbian-American relations mean Serbia's better position in the region and the wider international context. Despite different views on the Kosovo issue, our interlocutor adds that today Serbia can realize its interests in terms of the security of Serbs in Kosovo and respect for their human and religious rights in cooperation with the USA. Russia and China, he adds, do not have such power on the ground, whether we like it or not.
The Pupin Initiative was recently launched with the mission of better connecting Serbia with the USA. What does the new Serbian patriotism entail, based on boosting ties with America? What does your organization promote?
“We, at the Pupin Initiative, believe that the time has come for a new generation who are focused on the future and who want to have a greater understanding of and better connection between Serbia and America. We are aware that better Serbian-American relations mean a better position for Serbia in the region and the wider international context. The Pupin Initiative will focus on Serbian interests and for us, this is a new Serbian patriotism.
Does your vision of patriotism conflict with that of the traditional Serbian vision, which is perhaps louder and as the majority of surveys show, does not trust much the West and America? How can we change this?
The new Serbian patriotism must not be reserved for anyone, but open to everyone. This is precisely where the strength of patriotism, which is focused on people, beliefs and values, should lie. I was born in the mid-1990s and I look to the future, to what we can do together and with Americans to make life here better. But I fully understand the frustration of our people and the disappointment with the Western policy towards Serbia. I think that the US administration today has more understanding of the Serbian position and its importance in the Western Balkan region, where Serbia, due to its location and size, will continue to play a key role in the political and economic processes important for our region. A strong Serbia unwaveringly supported by the United States of America, with a common vision for mutual growth and stability, is necessary for a prosperous Western Balkans.
In terms of boosting Serbian-American relations, it is fair to say that, in addition to public opinion, there are also objective obstacles that we have been trying to overcome for years, even decades. How difficult is the starting position for you, as a newly founded organization that puts these relationships at the centre of its activities?
History is a life’s teacher, but politics creates a future. History teaches us that relations between Serbia and the USA are the same as relations between other countries and great powers, full of ups and downs, but we always look forward. We are focused on the future of building a partnership between Serbia and the USA. I believe that ordinary American and Serbian citizens have much more in common than we think. Serbs in America are very successful in various industries and the perception of Serbia among ordinary people is quite good. Also, when the Americans come to us, they get along very quickly and understand our people. I think we should talk more about what unites us and what we can do together. Serbian professionals already play a key role in American companies, while Serbian startups are becoming increasingly successful in the American market as well, creating fertile ground for shared knowledge and innovation.
How will you treat the topics that in the recent past burdened the relations between Serbia and the USA, such as Kosovo, which has been one of the biggest stumbling blocks so far?
As you know, we, in Serbia, find it difficult to separate politics from history. If we succeed in treating politics separately from history, then it will be easier for us to build new alliances or renew old ones. Politics brings with it flexibility and pragmatism and these are necessary elements for building the future. Serbia and the USA have different attitudes and views on the Kosovo issue, but today Serbia can fulfill its interests in terms of the security of our people in Kosovo and respect for the human and religious rights of Serbs in cooperation with the USA. Whether we like it or not, neither Russia nor China have the power on the ground to help us in this matter.
Who are Serbia's allies when it comes to fulfilling national and state interests?
Serbia needs allies today and that is why we have to build trust with our partners so that they perceive us as serious and responsible allies, regardless of who is in power in Serbia today or in the future. It would be good enough to start being aware of our economic and geographical reality and to define our foreign policy priorities and goals accordingly to better understand who our foreign policy partners and allies are, without whom we cannot do so. This is why I think that Serbia must not allow itself to be a bridgehead that will serve others to destabilize this part of Europe. Americans are aware of Serbia's position in the Western Balkans region which is why I believe it is in America's best interest to have Serbia as its ally. I also believe that it is in Serbia's best interest to have America as its ally and I think it is patriotic to say that. I look at Serbian-American relations from the standpoint of Serbian interests and I believe in Serbia's ability to exert its influence through the economy, the export of its capital and its appeal for investors.
On which activities will the Pupin Initiative focus? At first glance, one always thinks of politics, the Serbian diaspora and diplomacy, but what you are trying to do is much broader, isn't it?
The Pupin Initiative is the first Serbian privately funded non-profit and non-partisan organization based in Belgrade and Washington. Our mission is to work on boosting Serbian interests and following along the path of what Pupin did more than 100 years ago. We have started to build relationships with everyone who deals with the Balkans in the United States and will help with understanding the local and regional context and the importance of stronger cooperation between Serbia and the USA. We are already working on attracting and exchanging knowledge and experiences between Serbs and Americans. The Serbian diaspora, both old and new, in the United States of America represents an invaluable but largely untapped resource that has the potential to serve as a powerful platform for various forms of engagement. With the help of the Pupin Initiative platform, we intend to help our people actively participate in and facilitate the exchange of knowledge and contribute to the development of essential expertise for the benefit of Serbia.
You are visiting the USA next week. Who are you going to talk to?
At this moment, we are getting confirmation of our meetings with numerous people who deal with our region in Washington. We will meet with representatives of the US administration in the State Department, but also with teams of congressmen and senators who are interested in our region. We will hold official meetings with the Serbian embassy in Washington, representatives of the church, but also with our successful people across America. It is very important to us to build a network of people who, through the Pupin Initiative, will create a vision of the future of Serbian-American relations.
What are Serbia’s interests in America and vice versa?
For us, at the Pupin Initiative, it is essential to bring Serbian and American interests closer where possible and to be a mediator in that process. The impression is that both the Serbian and American sides want to work on further strengthening of relations to build an alliance. The US can be Serbia's main partner in the transformation of our society in the post-industrial age. This cooperation is already noticeable in technology and innovation, while the energy transition towards renewable energy sources will diversify Serbia's energy image. Serbia also has an advantage in the field of supply of strategic critical raw materials of exceptional importance for the green transition and electromobility, such as copper and lithium. Serbia's strategic orientation towards electromobility and responsible use of its own resources could contribute to Serbia being viewed as a guarantor of a stable environment for the wider European context.
We should return Pupin to the Serbian people
It was no coincidence that you used our famous scientist to name a new organization. To what extent is Pupin’s example and his influence in America an achievable goal in the current circumstances?
Mihajlo Pupin is a true example of how it is possible to be a Serbian patriot and work on bringing Serbia and America closer together. Even today, all of us, like Pupin, should work, get educated, move forward and be more successful, but never forget the society and the people we come from. That's why we should do something in every place where we can contribute to our community and our Serbia.
Who are the new Pupins in the US and how can we count on them?
Serbia still has its Pupins, so to speak, both here and in America. These are our scientists, engineers, philanthropists and everyone who represents Serbia in the most wonderful way with their work. Through the Pupin Initiative, we want to give all successful people a platform to improve Serbia's position with joint activities and efforts and contribute to the exchange of knowledge and experience. Our goal is to return Pupin to the Serbian people. That is why we believe that Mihajlo Pupin's autobiography "From Immigrant to Inventor", for which he won the Pulitzer Prize, should be treated as required reading in schools.
Ivana Kljajić/ Kurir.rs