ADMINISTRATOR SAMANTHA POWER: Dobar dan! It is wonderful for me to be back here in Serbia. This is my first trip back to Serbia in close to three decades. I started my career as a war correspondent in this region, very dark and difficult days for people across this region. And it's incredibly inspiring for me to be back and to see how far Serbia has come economically, in terms of its tech industry, its energy transition, the dynamism of the Serbian people, to learning about philanthropy – and I know Vlade’s Foundation has done so much to encourage philanthropic giving here. Serbia is a country that people talk about all around the world because the people who have been able to do well and make good livings, give back in this country in a way that all of us take note of from far away.
Working at USAID is a great privilege because we try to support young entrepreneurs, tech professionals. We try to support people with disabilities. We just had the incredible experience of playing with Serbians with disabilities who are harnessing their energy, their creativity on the basketball court. But also, thanks to Ana and Vlade’s Foundation, which USAID partners with, these individuals also have been paired with employers where they are also giving back and earning good livings, taking advantage of those kinds of partnerships.
My first trip today, after I landed in Belgrade, was tragically to the memorial at Vladislav Ribnikar School, and I just have to say, as a mother, as a citizen, and as a friend of the Serbian people, my heart just goes out to you all. It doesn't get easier, with the passage of time, for anybody affected. I was just hearing that Vlade and Ana’s relatives, their nieces, were at the school. I met with a USAID staffer whose son was there when the shooting occurred. This is something that has touched everyone in this country. And you should know that this has touched people all around the world. And to go to that memorial and to see the teddy bears and the soccer balls and the notes – the tributes from classmates, is something I will never forget. No parent should have to go through what those parents are going through. No country should have to go through this. And, again, I extend my heartfelt condolences.
Over the course of the next few days. I'm really looking forward to seeing Serbia which is at a critical juncture – critical crossroads. It has made progress in normalization talks with Kosovo, obviously, it is integrating its economy more and more into Europe and with the United States.
USAID plays a critical role in drawing private sector interest here to Serbia. And I look forward to taking what I see back to the United States to try to hustle up more private sector investment and more private sector partnership. Again, given my long history in the region, I feel incredibly privileged to work at USAID, to have the chance to support amazing athletes like these, to have a chance to partner with Vlade and Ana, and their foundation, and to have a chance to support the economic growth that we know is so critical for this country and the economic integration that will make for a more prosperous Serbia, and more prosperity for the Serbian people. Thank you.
QUESTION (via translation): How do you see USAID role in Serbia Kosovo negotiations and how do you see the role of Usaid helping Serbia democratize itself?
ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Thank you. Well, let me start just by stressing how important this region, this country and the talks with Kosovo are to President Biden. President Biden, as you know, has a long history, a long relationship with this region, with Serbia, with the Serbian people. He has sent Derek Chollet, Counselor to the Secretary of State, to this region multiple times. Obviously Ambassador Hill, one of our top diplomats, who is such a practiced negotiator, and skilled listener to being ambassador here. And I think I am here to understand what USAID’s contribution can be. We recognize the importance of prosperity for people in both countries. Obviously, if normalization could occur, that is going to unlock economic possibilities that are going to be immensely beneficial for the Serbian people and for the people of Kosovo.
I'm looking forward to talking to tech entrepreneurs tomorrow, to talking to energy producers. Needless to say, energy independence is something all countries strive for. We've all endured the effects of high energy crisis in recent months and over the last couple of years. And I'm looking forward to talking to President Vučić and Prime Minister Brnabić about what more USAID can do, again, for the Serbian people, but also catalytically as these very sensitive and very delicate negotiations progress.
And I think our main message, on behalf of President Biden, is just how important it is, how much we want to support that normalization process, and how encouraged we are by the progress that has been made. We know there's a lot of skepticism about whether this will ultimately produce a solution and a lot of skepticism about where the roads will lead for Serbia, for Kosovo. But again, when one thinks about the road to economic integration, the ease of doing business here for outside investors, the flurry of interest from the private sector that will be generated by the knowledge that this is a region permanently at peace.
You know, I think the economic prospects are immensely encouraging. And that is something that USAID takes great pride in trying to catalyze and facilitate, because in the end, economic opportunity is a form of dignity. And you know, when you can look at creating programs or partnerships that are going to create better livelihoods, more jobs that are going to allow young people – incredibly talented young people – in this country, who I've taught when I was a professor who I've gotten to know in my life, many, many trips to the region and in the months that I've spent in the country of Serbia, for those people to know that they can build their lives here, and for those economic opportunities to exist here, to be able to tap that talent. That is an incredible role for USAID to have the chance to help play, but it is something that will definitely be enhanced by normalization and by the difficult diplomacy that lies ahead.