BELGRADE – Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic has hailed Joe Biden, who is visiting Belgrade, as friend of his country. The US vice-president was one of the most vocal supporters of the NATO bombing of Belgrade back in 1999.
“I consider Biden a friend of Serbia and my personal friend,” Vucic said during a joint press conference with the outgoing US vice president, who arrived in Belgrade as part of his farewell Balkan tour.
“We’re confident that the US wants a stable and peaceful Western Balkans. We thank our American colleagues for their support on our European journey,” Vucic added.
Biden, on his part, expressed his condolences to the families who lost their loved ones in the bombings of Yugoslavia. Serbian sources cite around 2,000 civilians killed in the 78-day campaign, while the pro-Western Human Rights Watch put the number of civilian deaths at “about 500.”
Biden refrained from apologizing for the actual war, waged largely from the air by the US and its NATO allies.
The vice-president also termed Vucic his friend, and said that they “accomplished a great deal” during the Tuesday talks.
He went to compliment the head of the Serbian government, but in an accidental slip of the tongue called his country Croatia, which is another former Yugoslav republic.
“I along with President Obama respect the leadership you’ve shown in some very tough challenging moments, Mr Prime Minister, and your positive vision for the future of Croatia,” Biden said.
He praised the new agreement on extradition between Washington and Belgrade, also saying the US is ready to invest in the Serbian economy.
Meanwhile, hundreds protested the visit near government headquarters. Participants said that the American guest had “desecrated” the country by his arrival.
“Serbia will never forget that Joe Biden was one of the biggest supporters of the bombing of the Serbian people, the killing of our children, destruction, capture of Serbian lands,” Vojislav Sheshelj, the leader of Serb Radical Party (SRS), which staged the rally, said as cited by RIA-Novosti.
It’s unacceptable that “such a villain and evildoer takes honors here and that the Serbian Guard is lined up to greet him,” Sheshelj added.
In the US, Biden is considered a major driving force behind the decision to intervene in the 1990s Balkans wars, but has been accused of “Serbophobia” for his hard-line positions.
The outgoing vice president pushed hard for the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999, which the alliance justified by claims that Serbian security forces were committing genocide against the ethnic Albanians in Kosovo. Evidence of such claims never materialized.
Belgrade agreed to a NATO-led peacekeeping force in Kosovo in 1999, but by 2008 the ethnic Albanian provisional government in the province declared independence from Serbia with the full backing of Washington and its allies.
Biden also urged the destruction of strategic bridges and oil reserves in Serbia, reminding an Albanian activist during a Senate hearing in 1998 that he was “suggesting we bomb Belgrade.”
Addressing the Albanian-American Civic League in 2002, Biden compared Serbia to Nazi Germany as he spoke of his desire “to see exposed those who perpetrated what I consider to be war crimes” against the Albanians.
The vice president suggested that the Serbian people must “shed this notion of victimization” and accept their responsibility for the alleged atrocities in Kosovo, just like the Germans did with Hitler and the Nazis. Until this happens no aid should provide to Serbia, he added.
Even harsher statements about Serbs have been attributed to Biden by Russian and Serbian outlets. A number of Serbian columnists claim that Biden called the Serbs “illiterate degenerates, baby killers, butchers and rapists” in a 1993 appearance on Larry King’s CNN show, and later suggested that Serbs should be put in “Nazi-style concentration camps.”
The outgoing VP did call for a “Japanese-German style occupation” of Serbia in May 1999, during an appearance on NBC’s Meet the Press.
Visits to both Serbia and Kosovo have been scheduled as part of Biden’s farewell Balkan tour on August 15-17.
According to Balkan Insider, the US vice president will try “boosting relations” between Belgrade and Pristina during talks with the top Serb and Kosovo officials.