Central European Time Zone UTC+01:00
Capital City Belgrade
Currency Serbian dinar
National Day 15 February
SERBIA’S NEW AMBASSADOR Her Excellency Mrs Aleksandra Joksimović was brought up against a background of communism. “Back then my family was against the communist regime. So, although not involved in politics, they were political,” she notes. With diplomacy off the table, Mrs Joksimović began her career as a pianist. “I call that my previous life,” she says. After the country opened up and started pursuing democratic values, she found herself “interested in promoting Serbia as a country that would like to join this developed family of European nations.” As her country evolved, so did her work, and after democratic changes, she became involved in the government arena as Assistant Minister in the Directorate General of Information, Press and Culture at Serbia’s MFA in 2001. Roles followed at the MFA’s Diplomatic Academy, and the Institute of International Politics and Economics in Belgrade. Meanwhile she obtained an MA in Political Science with her research focussed on Serbia – US relations in the period after 2000.
As member of the board of directors of the Centre for Democracy and Reconciliation of South East Europe, Thessaloniki, her work centred around analysing foreign policy. “Democracy and reconciliation are crucial words for our region,” she remarks. For example, the Centre worked on producing history text books. “It was difficult to produce historical text books that could find consensus among all actors in the wider region. Our methodology involved presenting every event from different angles involving the different actors. It wasn’t easy.”
Ms Joksimović established the Centre for Foreign Policy in 2011, in order to “work on those goals that I think are most valuable to Serbia. I’m proud of what the Centre achieved in a short period. We organised conferences and policy papers concerning crucial issues like regional cooperation; bilateral relations with our neighbours; our EU accession process; relations with some important partners like the US; on the security sector, and so on. I learnt a lot, including how to influence processes, even when you are not part of them.” The role also provided an opportunity to work with the media, diplomatic corps and highest officials in Belgrade.
She believes that tackling these high-level political issues provided her with good grounding for her role today. “I have arrived as Ambassador at an exciting moment for the UK and the EU,” she observes. “Brexit is the hot topic on everyone’s lips, every page and television broadcast. The UK is currently occupied with this important decision that will influence not only the UK, but the EU and international politics.”
Although Brexit is consuming a lot of her time, bilateral relations between Serbia and the UK are central to her job. “It’s important to remember that although the UK is leaving the EU, it has always been supportive of Serbia’s EU membership intentions. The UK organised a Summit last July to improve their interest in the region and demonstrate their support for EU enlargement from the Western Balkans. Our strategic foreign policy goal remains membership of the EU. But Serbia absolutely understands the importance of its relationship with the UK – its role and influence in international affairs, at the UN and globally.
“Further on,” she continues, “there is plenty of space to expand economic relations between the two countries. Cooperation in the security sector is also working well.” At grassroots level, the Ambassador would like to work on “the two societies coming closer together to overcome some of the prejudice from the past. These days, Serbia is a producer of stability in the region and we need to demonstrate that to the UK and beyond.”
In terms of Serbia’s greatest diplomatic challenge, the Ambassador refers to dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina. “We are in a triangle with the EU to find a compromised solution that can bring relaxation to the whole region. It is a top priority, and there is political will from the Serbian side. But we are hoping that the international community recognise that compromise is necessary in order to find a solution.
“So, it’s quite a responsibility to be Ambassador in an important place like London,” she reflects. Along with her husband and two daughters, they spend weekends exploring every corner of the capital on foot. “In London, there are so many different cultural opportunities. I’m afraid that my term won’t be long enough to explore everything I’d like to!” Going back to her roots, she’s thankful that there is a piano in the Embassy. But diplomacy is never far from her mind. “I understand that the British Ambassador in Belgrade plays the violin. So perhaps a small concert should be on the agenda? Symbolically, that would be very interesting.”
Serbia’s Chargé d’Affaires Natasa Maric recalls the life and work of Dr Elsie Inglis