Israel and Serbia embrace common histories, says Peres

Peres expresses appreciation for the steps Serbia is taking to preserve the memory of the Holocaust as President Tomislav Nikolic visits.

Peres and Serbian president 370 (photo credit: Mark Neiman/GPO)
Peres and Serbian president 370
(photo credit: Mark Neiman/GPO)
When heads of state welcome their foreign counterparts, they traditionally wax poetic about the shared values between their countries. When President Shimon Peres greeted Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic on Monday, both leaders – instead of dwelling on such common values – instead emphasized the overlap between their shared courage and achievement in the face of great suffering and persecution.
Nikolic told Peres he could not understand why their two nations were so despised, “but we’re happy to have a brother who suffers just like us,” he said half in jest.
The Serbian president referred to Peres as “one of the world’s great statesmen.”
Nikolic said he felt honored to visit Yad Vashem to pay tribute to the memories of the Jews who – together with Serbs, Gypsies and Muslims – were brutally murdered by the Ustasa regime in the Jasenovac concentration camp in Croatia during World War II. (Serbia and Croatia are part of the former Yugoslavia.) Peres expressed appreciation for the steps Serbia is taking to preserve the memory of the Holocaust. He reminded Nikolic that the Zionist movement originated in Serbia, since Theodor Herzl’s grandfather was a caretaker in a Serbian synagogue, and without him there would be no Herzl and without Herzl, “we would not be here today.”
Peres noted Serbia’s progress towards European Union membership.
“Serbia has much to offer,” he said. He expressed the hope that it would soon resolve its differences with Kosovo through negotiations. “All conflicts should be resolved through negotiations,” said Peres.
Peres said most problems facing Serbia are political, whereas those in the Middle East are of an existential nature.
Nikolic said international and regional events demanded a stronger cooperation between Serbia and Israel, especially in the realms of investment, agriculture and security.
The Serbian president is set to meet with several Israeli dignitaries during his visit, and the subject of agriculture is high on the agenda.
Highlighting the fact that Israel is a nation with minimal territory and scant water resources that is nonetheless a world leader in agricultural production, Peres assured Nikolic that if the country invested in technological innovations to improve his country’s agricultural output, Serbia would be in the position to feed its neighbors.
The commonalities in the history of the two peoples, the Serbian leader said, created a bond which made them natural allies.
He said he was not certain that the missiles that had been aimed at Serbia in the past “will not fall on us again.”