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Prime Minister Lukšić's interview to Turkish daily "Today's Zaman"

Prime Minister Lukšić
Published date: 20.03.2012 16:32 | Author: PR Bureau

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Turkey and Montenegro can do much for Balkans, Luksic says

Montenegrin Prime Minister Igor Luksic has said Turkey and Montenegro can do so much more in the Balkans by coordinating their messages on stability while promoting ethnic and religious diversity in the region.

“By passing harmonized messages the two countries can do much more on regional issues,” Luksic said in an exclusive interview with Today’s Zaman on Thursday, asking for stronger resolutions during high-level exchanges between the two countries. “This is what we can do together and that is very important,” he said, making references to lingering problems in the Balkans from Bosnia and Herzegovina to Macedonia, from Kosovo to domestic issues in his own country.

The Montenegrin prime minister emphasized that his government advocates good relations with Turkey because he said Turkey understands the needs of the countries in the region. “Regardless of our ambitions to become part of the EU, we have to keep in mind that Turkey is also a very strong voice that can represent the needs of our region in wider terms in global platforms,” he remarked. “Though many people said there is no joint border between Turkey and Montenegro, it feels like we are next to each other. We are in the same neighborhood,” Luksic underlined.

Describing Montenegro as a success story in terms of inclusiveness of different ethnicities and religious communities in its midst, the Montenegrin prime minister touted his country as a good example for others to follow. Asked how his country has accomplished this, Luksic said, “There is no genuine formula apart from constant commitment of efforts to understand each other and to build a truly unique case based on diversity.” “When asked what Montenegro can bring to the EU since it is such a small country in terms of territory and population, our response is that it is actually a specific multiethnic [social] structure,” he added.

Luksic acknowledged that his government is trying very hard to promote what he called a “harmonious society” in Montenegro, stressing that this has been a decades-long effort on the part of Montenegro. “We are working very hard to overcome any obstacle we may find on that road,” he noted, while pointing to a landmark agreement the Podgorica government signed with the Islamic community back in January. The agreement established the legal basis for regulating the Muslim community’s relations with the government in Montenegro. Similar agreements are expected to be signed with the Jewish and Orthodox communities as well. Montenegro signed an agreement with Vatican last year regulating the status of the Catholic Church in the country.

Luksic underlined that his government never takes this situation for granted but rather keeps working on it. “You can never have enough of that kind of investment. You must continually work,” he said. He described the agreement with the Islamic community as “another cornerstone we managed to put in place at the right time to show how much we care about those values in Montenegro.” “To serve as an example for other countries in the region and elsewhere that things can be settled by dialogue and by understanding each other,” he added.

Talking about challenges confronting Europe such as rising xenophobic and Islamophobic far-right tendencies, Luksic stated that many of them are “reflection of economic hardships, mixed with some conservative attitudes.” “The sooner Europe manages to overcome economic challenges, the sooner things will get smoother, and it will be easier to deal with other issues,” he predicted. He warned, however, that Europe must open up to others, build bridges and cooperates deeply with other countries. Otherwise, faced with structural challenges stemming from declining demographics, Europe will lose competitiveness, he said. “You need to refocus to keep running and growing. That is what European leaders should do as a long term strategy,” he emphasized.

Turkey plays key role

Touching on bilateral relations, the prime minister said there is perfect political dialogue between the two Balkan countries. “I appreciate cooperation with Turkey on many issues. We are grateful for the support we receive for EU and NATO integration for Montenegro,” he said, praising Turkey as “playing one of the key roles in terms of stability in southeastern Europe.” “We remain encouraged by that,” he added.

During the first prime minister-level visit to Turkey from the Montenegrin side, Luksic said the most important objective of the visit is to boost economic cooperation between the two countries. “We took important steps and signed five agreements to develop relations, especially in terms of the economy,” said Luksic, adding that agreements on civil aviation, social security and protecting investments were very important.

Admitting the current trade volume -- $45 million as of last year -- is very low; Luksic said, “We jointly agreed that we need to increase that volume.” He said the two countries should double that volume within a year, adding that “if we tap all potentials in fields like energy, transportation and aviation, I think we can easily go over that target.” Luksic disclosed that the Turkey-Montenegro Joint Economic Commission will be held next month to work out details in fields of cooperation. On the İstanbul leg of his visit, the Montenegrin prime minister met some 30 businessmen who have expressed interest in investing in Montenegro. Luksic stressed that Turkish companies may very well use his country as a gateway to enter other markets in the region. “We have a free trade agreement (FTA) with Turkey as well as with the EU, Ukraine and others. Instead of talking about several hundred thousands of people, we are talking about -- potentially -- several hundred million people for your goods to reach,” he said. He admitted that his country was kind of slow in utilizing the huge potential in Turkey among the diaspora community with Montenegrin and Balkan roots. “To some extent, it has been neglected in the past. We have to go back and understand all those ties. We have to use it for the benefit for our societies,” he said. Luksic states that the diaspora is what makes Montenegro’s relations with Turkey different than relations with other countries. “It is like the diaspora communities in Canada and the US. But ours is a one hour flight away from us. We have it here. That is great potential,” he explained. “That is one of the reasons why we advocate for good relations between the two countries. Turkey understands the needs of the region,” Luksic added.

As for the NATO summit in Chicago in May, the prime minister said he expects encouraging messages from the alliance meeting, though he said he understood the meeting is not about the enlargement.