The end of 2016 saw more absurd nonsense in the Serbia media – about ME and my non-existent role in the assassination in 2003 of Zoran Djindjić and its aftermath.
First, former Prime Minister Zoran Živkovič accused me of lobbying in all directions for Nebojša Čović to become the new PM after Djindjić was murdered. I verily demanded it, to the point where the Serbia government told the FCO that I was some sort of persona non grata with whom they would no longer communicate!
Back in real life, I recall taking a visiting Minister to meet PM Živković and it all went on cheerily as before. Did any Serbia Minister refuse to meet me? No.
It is disappointing if not bizarre that senior Serbian politicians including now Zoran Živkovic are still making disobliging, untrue or dishonest remarks about my discussions with different people in Belgrade following the murder of Zoran Djindjić in 2003.
This is what happened.
As I recall it, on the day after the killing of Zoran Djindjić I met Aleksandra Joksimović to try to find out what the DS leadership was planning to do about appointing a new Prime Minister – not surprisingly London was keen to know what was likely to happen next at this critical time.
I forget how exactly the discussion went with Joksimović and any others I saw, but I did say that I assumed that the then Deputy PM Nebojša Čović was presumably one strong candidate among many: he had won many international friends for Serbia through doing a superb job in working tirelessly to normalise relations with the Albanian community in southern Serbia and to promote intelligent active Serbian policies on the Kosovo problem. If he got the position, London would fully support him, as it would support any new PM in these terrible circumstances.
Joksimovic (not surprisingly very nervous/stressed by the events of the previous day) angrily seemed to take this as me pushing Čović’s case at the expense of other DS candidates (Čović was not a DS party member). I told her that this was definitely NOT my intention, but I liked Čović and thought that he would do a good job. His appointment would certainly get a warm international welcome. Anyway, it was primarily up to DS to decide who should become Prime Minister, so they should get on with it.
When a few days later the DS announced that the new Prime Minister would be Zoran Živković the mayor of Niš who had done fine work in helping bring down Milošević, I reported to London that this was a solid choice (despite the fact that he had no significant reputation outside Serbia or any international experience), and that he had made a powerful first impression when addressing the diplomatic corps.
This modest and 100% professionally correct episode apparently has metastised in the Democratic Party’s imagination into something far more sinister and far-reaching, namely some sort of shared UK/US embassy conspiracy to meddle in Serbia’s problems at this critical time.
Why would we do this? For what purpose? It was blindingly obvious to everyone (including Mr Živković) that before and after the assassination the UK Embassy in Belgrade was working tirelessly with Serbian leaders and with full support from London on all sorts of programmes to help Serbia get moving again after the Milošević years. No-one says. But we see now that the very fact that these suspicions are ridiculous makes the depth of the conspiracy all the deeper.
Anyway, I regret the fact that Mr Živković has seen it appropriate to make these graceless remarks about me so long after the events concerned. I took a senior UK visitor to meet him when he was Prime Minister and had other meetings with him as Prime Minister: the conversation in each case was cordial and businesslike.
If the former leaders of the Democratic Party such as Mr Živković now have time on their hands, they might give some quiet thought to how they led their party from 2.4 million votes in 2000 to 230,000 votes in 2016. A spectacular home-grown self-propelled political failure for themselves and their country. It has nothing to do with foreign diplomats.
How do you comment the fact that after 13 years Serbian officials have not solved political background of Zoran Djindjić’s assassination?
I have not been in Belgrade for some time now, so I have not been following the legal and political arguments about the assassination. Given the passions and sensitivities and personalities involved, it may turn out that there never is a definitive ’solution’, in the sense that one description of who was directly and/or indirectly involved in the murder is accepted as the definitive account that answers all reasonable questions. This is unsatisfactory and divisive, but maybe not surprising.
Have you heard from Mr Čović lately, and when was the last time that you contacted him?
No. Not for many years. It was all a long time ago now.
Then, as if driven by deeper uncontrollable madness, Čović himself who once upon a time used to make lots of sense has started burbling about a British MI6 conspiracy to kill Serbia PM Vučić when he visited Srebrenica in 2015. It’s impossible to make any sense of the leaps of illogic that drive this idea, but it all boils down to someone being seen somewhere before something. Post hoc ergo propter hoc on Serbian steroids.
New Year Resolution for Serbia: Grasp once and for all that Serbia is interesting only to Serbs, and take responsibility accordingly. Otherwise you will just bumble on as fatuously as ever.