It is understandable that the image of NATO in Serbia is not good, says Norwegian Ambassador to Serbia Arne Bjornstad.
In an interview for the daily Politika, he added that “historical circumstances of the two countries” are the difference that made Norway a member of NATO, while Serbia is not.
According to Bjornstad, membership in NATO provides Norway with security, because his country “throughout history felt threatened by neighbors – first the Soviet Union and now Russia” – whereas Serbia was “not in the direct neighborhood with the USSR, and Yugoslavia conducted a smart foreign policy.”
“You did not have the same system as the Soviet bloc. You’re closer to the West than East European countries. And of course, because of the bombings in Bosnia, and over Kosovo, the image of NATO is not good in Serbia. This is understandable,” he said.
The ambassador added that he believes a country today becomes a member of NATO “if its safety is threatened,” while “another way is EU membership.”
“The EU has a weaker defense than NATO,” he said.
Asked why Norway is a NATO member, but does not want to join the EU – while Serbia wants to join the EU but not NATO – the ambassador said that his country has stayed out of the EU because fishermen and farmers have been against it. An agreement on free trade is in place instead, that does not cover farming and fishing products.
As for “why the application of the Nordic model of cooperation has not advanced far in this region,” Bjornstad said there must be interest behind such a model, while “it cannot be left to politicians.”
“It is much easier when you bypass major political issues and focus on the things that are important to improve the everyday ordinary life,” he said.
The ambassador, who has the title of honorary citizen of Belgrade, also thinks student exchange programs are important, as well as the ability to work without special permits in the entire region.
“One of the recipes is: don’t start with big pledges of eternal love and closeness, instead, find ways for diplomas earned in Zagreb to be recognized in Belgrade, and vice versa,” he concluded.