Serbia’s outgoing President, Tomislav Nikolic, will long be remembered for his less than diplomatic remarks – and for generosity when it comes to handing out state awards.
As the inauguration of Aleksandar Vucic as Serbia’s new President looms, and as Tomislav Nikolic starts the last month of his mandate, some of the events of his five years in office will likely be remembered as more embarrassing than dignified.
“Gynecology is knowledge about a woman, if anyone can dare to say that they have that. Gynecology deals with a woman being allowed to be healthy so she can grow up, procreate and give birth,” Nikolic said in September 2015 at the Symposium of the Association of Gynecologists and Obstetricians, drawing a sharp reaction from women politicians and NGOs advocating women’s rights.
As the candidate of the then opposition Serbian Progressive Party, Nikolic became President of Serbia after his narrow victory in the 2012 election against Boris Tadic, leader of the Democratic Party.
He delivered one of his best-known speeches during the 2014 visit of Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang, when he cited parts of the “Kremansko prophecy”, a compilation of the alleged prophecies of two illiterate Serbian peasants recorded by a local priest.
“Two hundred years ago there was a wise but illiterate man and he was a prophet. He had never heard about China but said: ‘People are coming from the east, yellow people, and they will rule the world. They will drink water from the Serbia’s Morava river,’” Nikolic told his guest at the event.
This was by no means the last of Nikolic’s diplomatic gaffes. In July 2015, he sent a letter to Britain’s Queen Elizabeth asking her to influence the British Government into withdrawing a controversial UN resolution on Srebrenica from the Security Council.
“Your Majesty, I’m addressing you personally, aware that my remarks could be interpreted as undiplomatic but I have to [do this] in order not to make a mistake and see the Balkans return to the hard times of conflict, which we all have to forget,” said Nikolic in the letter, written in Serbian Cyrillic script.
The Serbian public will also remember his curious statement of March last year, when he said he told the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, all his secrets.
“I don’t know what President Putin feels for me, but I can say what I think about him and our relationship. It is a completely open friendship, to the point where I feel free to reveal him all my secrets and problems and ask his advice. It is a relationship full of understanding,” Nikolic told the Russian media ahead of his visit to Russia in March 2016.
Answering online critics, Nikolic also made many people smile when he said in an interview on Serbia’s public broadcaster, RTS, in 2015 that he would like to post his comments on social networks but “can’t get the telephone number” – a remark that went viral.
While some of his public statements drew laughter, others have caused anger. Among them was one he made at the laying of the foundation stone for the Center of Excellence of the University of Kragujevac, his home town, where a centre for study of stem cells was to be formed.
Nikolic said he hoped its work would preserve “the most important, most beautiful and, most importantly – the characteristics of the Serbian people”.
“Fewer and fewer children are being born, couples increasingly turn to doctors and seek solution abroad. This solution should be here, that children should be Serbian children with Serbian genetic material, with a Serbian [genetic] code and with a Serbian past and future,” Nikolic said in January 2016.
Besides his outlandish off-the-cuff remarks, the President will also be remembered for the number of state awards he handed out.
State awards are the highest sign of public recognition, normally given for outstanding merit and work of great importance for Serbia.
Since 2012, Nikolic has awarded no less than 362 people, including pop bands, singers, artists – and every state which did not recognize the independence of the former province of Kosovo.
He even gave a state award to Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, who has been charged with crimes against international law. The International Criminal Court has issued two arrest warrants for him.
In 2013 the President awarded Vladimir Putin as well as Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, while this year he gave the state award to Kirill Kravchenko, who was then director of the Serbian Oil Company NIS, which has majority Russian ownership.
Nikolic also gained fame – of a kind – for performing an “Arabic dance” in December 2016 in Abu Dhabi, in the house of his host, the director of the Red Crescent.
Source: Balkan Insaight