Washington, DC - Vice President Joe Biden visited Belgrade on August 16 to celebrate and reaffirm the United States’ strong bilateral relationship, our continued commitment to Serbia’s democratic and economic development, and our shared goal of European Union membership for Serbia.
Partners in Security
This year marks the tenth anniversary of Serbia joining NATO’s Partnership for Peace program. The United States has been a firm and consistent supporter of Serbia’s efforts to strengthen its relationship with NATO. We value, in particular, Serbia’s commitment to multilateral efforts aimed at defeating ISIL and combating international terrorism. Our Ohio National Guard led bilateral State Partnership Program, which we launched in 2006, is the cornerstone of our security relationship and has provided an effective platform for developing vibrant and close ties between our armed forces. In a similar vein, the United States and Serbia have partnered for more than nine years through our International Military Education and Training (IMET) program to allow Serbian and American officers and non-commissioned officers to train together and learn from each other in our most prestigious military schools.
The United States deeply appreciates and continues to support Serbia’s contributions to global peacekeeping efforts, and in August 2016 we delivered 19 High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicles (HMMWVs/Humvees) to Serbia to support Serbian units participating in UN operations across the globe. This brings to 40 the total number of Humvees delivered under our Foreign Military Financing (FMF) program, which has provided more than $8.6 million in security assistance to Serbia for defense modernization and training since 2011. Serbia has been a Global Peace Operations Initiative (GPOI) partner since 2011, benefiting from an additional $9.7 million in U.S. security assistance aimed at enhancing Belgrade’s capability to train and deploy peacekeeping forces. Since becoming a proactive GPOI partner, Serbia has increased by more than 10 times its contributions to UN Peacekeeping Operations. Finally, in July, Serbia helped the United States advance a key foreign policy and humanitarian objective by agreeing to resettle two former detainees from the Guantanamo Bay detention facilities.
Partners in Development
America has long been committed to economic and democratic development in Serbia and the wider Balkan region. From 2001 - 2015, the United States invested more than $728 million to stimulate economic growth, strengthen the justice system, and promote good governance in Serbia. Projects include partnering directly with the Government of Serbia to strengthen private sector firms in 12 municipalities in the economically disadvantaged regions of south and southwest Serbia, and working to create jobs and stimulate small business through support for the Opportunity Bank of Serbia, which provides small loans to clients that cannot ordinarily access financial services from traditional banks. A public-private partnership provides vocational training to women to improve the quality of their skills to meet the needs of industry in Serbia’s Srem district.
Our good governance assistance programs collaborate with civil society organizations and government agencies to improve the implementation of Serbia’s new whistleblower protection law. Democracy Commission grants support freedom of information and anti-corruption public awareness campaigns and advocacy initiatives, while the Women’s Leadership Academy is supporting female leaders in an effort to increase the ratio of women in local governments and to push for an agenda on gender equality in the policy processes. In addition, we are developing media assistance programs that will support the independence of media regulatory bodies and civil society media watchdogs, improve the public’s ability to analyze media content, and enhance the capabilities of independent media outlets to produce and distribute investigative and quality news content.
In partnership with Serbia’s government and judiciary, we are strengthening Serbia’s rule of law by helping to improve the transparency, efficiency, and professionalism of the justice system. Our assistance to key independent agencies is strengthening their capacity and enhancing public accountability. We are providing support to civil society to more effectively engage with government and represent the public interest.
Since the end of the Balkan conflicts of the 1990’s the United States Government has provided over $900 million in the region to provide durable solutions for refugees and displaced persons, including returns, local integration, and the provision of humanitarian assistance to alleviate suffering and support self-sufficiency. In Serbia, this funding has assisted more than 50,000 displaced and refugee families who fled to Serbia during the Balkan wars and Kosovo conflict with housing, legal aid, income generation, and other support. In addition, since 2015, the United States has responded to the wider European migration crisis with more than $67 million to support United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees efforts to provide protection and humanitarian assistance for the more than one million migrants and refugees who have traveled through Serbia on the Western Balkan route. In addition, through the Complex Crisis Fund (CCF), America provided $2 million to mitigate the impact of migrants on local communities and improve the response coordination between government and civil society service providers.
Partners in Business
Since 2001, U.S. businesses have invested some $3.8 billion in Serbia, creating or protecting over 16,000 Serbian jobs. Key American investors include KKR, Ball Packaging, Cooper Tires, and Coca-Cola. Serbia is also home to an active American Chamber of Commerce, with 195 members representing every sector of the Serbian economy. American businesses also have active Corporate Social Responsibility programs, giving back and developing the communities in which they work. Companies such as Eaton, Apatinska Brewery, and Actavis have contributed to their communities through public service campaigns, educational and environmental initiatives, and donations of medicine.
Partners in Justice
Since 2003, the United States has partnered with Serbia to improve its rule of law, fight against corruption, and modernize its law enforcement institutions. Targeted assistance to Serbia’s judiciary, the High Court Council, and the Judicial Academy fosters professionalization of judges and staff, enhances accountability and independence, and modernizes practices. The United States funds and oversees several programs that work closely with Serbian prosecutors, judges and law enforcement, providing support in legislative and structural reform, training, regional cooperation, and technical assistance. The United States has spent $40 million on these programs in order to provide expert advice through resident legal advisors, implement professional training programs, and provide equipment donations. All of these activities are aimed at improving Serbia's judiciary, prosecution service, and law-enforcement agencies so that they can better tackle complex and transnational crime including corruption, fraud, organized crime, and terrorism. These efforts have been critical in the development of a witness security unit, war crimes investigative service, and the Operational Analysis Network, which facilitates intelligence-led criminal investigations.
Our resident legal advisors have also helped the Serbian government to conclude important reforms to the legal framework, including Serbia's prosecutor-led Criminal Procedure Code, the Law on the Protection of Whistleblowers, and the Law on Police. United States support to Serbia’s Judicial Academy has built capacity important to their European Union accession process. In February, Serbia adopted a ground-breaking Holocaust-era heirless property restitution law, one of the first of its kind in Europe, which provides for the restitution of heirless and unclaimed Jewish property expropriated during the Holocaust.
Partners in Education and Culture
The strongest ties between the United States and Serbia continue to be our people-to-people ties. More than 20,000 Serbians visit the United States every year, and nearly 1,000 Serbian students attend U.S. universities. The United States continues to support a robust program of cultural and educational exchange with Serbia, with more than 3,500 participants last year. Every year, our FLEX program brings forty high school students from Serbia to the United States to live with host families and attend U.S. schools for an entire academic year. Our Fulbright program has been active since 2001 and has fostered academic exchanges and collaborative research across a number of fields, including law, economics, information technology, and medicine. Our American Corners in Belgrade, Bujanovac, Kragujevac, Nis, Novi Pazar, Novi Sad, Subotica, and Vranje provide opportunities for Serbians to study English and to learn about U.S. culture and educational opportunities. They also provide platforms for engagement between visiting U.S. speakers and performers and Serbian citizens of all ages. Our International Visitor Leadership Program has provided up-and-coming Serbian leaders with opportunities to explore the American experience in their chosen fields, and to build lasting friendships with American counterparts.