H.E. Mr. Tanju Bilgic, Ambassador of the Republic of Turkey in Serbia reveals what he likes best about Belgrade, what similarities between the two nations he has come to observe, as well as how he sees future relations between his country and Serbia.
When you took over the ambassadorship, Serbia was one of your choices. Are you satisfied being here?
I was delighted to learn that I was posted to Serbia for a number of reasons. I don’t feel like a stranger in Serbia thanks to cultural similarities and the shared history of our two peoples. I am grateful to the Serbian people for making me feel at home. This assignment is very satisfying for me both professionally and personally. Turkey and Serbia currently have excellent political relations, which enables me to focus and work together with my Serbian counterparts on concrete economic and cultural projects. Serbia holds a very special place for Turkey as one of the most important countries in the Balkans. As the Ambassador in Belgrade I am able to contribute to the furthering of our bilateral relations and I get immense satisfaction from seeing the concrete results of my efforts.
So far, the Turkish Embassy has coordinated serious investments in Serbia; how would you describe the Serbian market and the business climate here, at this time?
Trade and investment are two of my focus areas in terms of improving our bilateral relations. I am happy to say that under the leadership of President Aleksandar Vučić the Serbian economy has significantly improved in the last few years. As a result of the business-friendly economic reforms undertaken by the Serbian authorities there is an increase in the number of foreign firms operating in Serbia. Within this framework, Turkish firms have also established a strong presence in Serbia and every month we hear new announcements of Turkish investments. This is a strong signal of endorsement of Serbia by the Turkish business community. I am confident that this trend will continue in the future.
Turkey is a textbook example of a country that succeeded in maximizing its tourist potentials by taking a very serious approach to this industry. What would you recommend to Serbia, as a developing tourist destination?
Tourism is one of the most important sectors of the Turkish economy. In 2014, Turkey surpassed the threshold of 40 million incoming tourists. In the following two years, we were unable to achieve the same figures due to a number of reasons, but the Turkish tourism apparently regained its strength in 2017. Turkey is blessed with cultural richness and natural beauty. Trying to maximize the tourism potential, the Government is following successful policies and making significant investment in our tourism infrastructure. The most concrete example is the construction of the third Airport in Istanbul. When completed next year it will be the biggest airport in the world in terms of annual passenger numbers.
I see that Serbia is similarly blessed with natural beauty and cultural heritage appealing to tourists. I know that your Government is aware of this and attempting to boost tourism by restoring historical sites. Wishing to contribute to these efforts, Turkey supports the restauration projects of our common cultural heritage through its Agency for International Coordination and Cooperation (TIKA). I could name a few good examples: the Ram Fortress on the Danube near Veliko Gradište; the Fountain of Mehmet-pasha Sokullu, the Tomb of Damat Ali-pasha and “Male stepenice” in Kalemegdan; the Hamam within the Public Bath in Dušanova St. in Belgrade, as well as a few sites in the vicinity of Novi Pazar and Raška. We are considering to add to this list the Kasapčića bridge in Užice vanished in the II World War bombing, the location of which I saw while visiting Užice last December.
How much did the development of a strong airline, like Turkish Airlines, contribute to the growth of tourism in Turkey?
The Turkish Airlines is a tremendous success story. They currently fly to more countries than any other airline in the world. It is obvious that the Turkish Airlines has played a significant role in the success of the tourism sector in Turkey. I believe that they will continue to expand their fleet, add new destinations and increase the frequency of their existing destinations. Currently they operate two daily flights between Istanbul and Belgrade with the prospect of adding the third. The civil aviation authorities are engaged in negotiations to that end. I also hope to see the Turkish Airlines start operating scheduled flights between Belgrade and other cities in Turkey, such as Antalya.
When it comes to cultural exchange, which projects make you proudest, so far? Which fields do you think still have untapped potential, and in that sense, what are your plans for the future?
There is a tremendous potential of enhancing our cooperation in the cultural field. Together with the Yunus Emre Institute and Serbian institutions, we regularly organize cultural activities; bring orchestras, musicians and various artists to perform for the Serbian public. Towards the end of 2017, in just about a month, we had a pianist, a string quartet and a musical group perform in Belgrade. I am happy to say that all of the performances were highly appreciated by the Serbian public, which has a keen eye towards the arts. We look forward to increasing the number of such activities in the future and perhaps expand their scope by bringing artists from other forms of performing arts.
We know you follow Serbian sports. Do you have a favourite athlete?
Yes I am very interested in Serbian sports. I often go to the Euroleague games to support Crvena Zvezda. I admire many Serbian athletes. Basketball player Bogdan Bogdanović is one of my favourites. I also greatly enjoy watching Novak Đoković. Additionally, I am in close touch with some retired Serbian football players who used to play in Turkey, such as Dževad Prekazi, Zoran Simović, Dušan Pešić…
How do you feel in Belgrade? What has fascinated you the most in the Serbian capital and, in general, in Serbia?
I greatly enjoy the cultural scene, frequently attend music and dance performances. Since I arrived in Belgrade I have started exercising more, jogging and walking in Ada Ciganlija when the weather permits. I shall be traveling more around the country in the upcoming period, too. Besides, talking to local people I’ve heard that some Turkish series are highly popular in Serbia. Back in Ankara I never had the time to watch them, but here I started – out of curiosity. I can see now why they are popular in Serbia: people are entertained by the similarities, which proves that we share a common culture and mentality and feel very close to each other.
By: Ivana Čikarić