Remarks at Civil Society Reception

Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
Aero Klub
Belgrade, Serbia
October 12, 2010

Thank you so much, Ambassador. Well, first let me apologize for running late. We had very comprehensive discussions just now with the leadership as Ambassador Warlick listed, and it was a very productive afternoon and early evening. But I am especially looking forward to hearing from all of you. I want to spend my time listening instead of talking, so I will keep these remarks brief.

But I want to share just a few thoughts. As our ambassador said and as I mentioned to President Tadic earlier, it’s been ten years since the people of Serbia came together to reclaim and rebuild your democracy. I know that the last decade has not been easy, particularly for those who fought the hardest for change in Serbia. And Sunday’s events are a reminder that in this society, as in most societies, there is still a lot of work to be done.

But when you compare the Serbia of 2000 to the Serbia of 2010, it is clear that your country has made significant progress. Serbia today is more open, more democratic, and more respected in the world. And much of that progress has come through the work of people like you, including all of you. Journalists and activists, religious leaders, and civil society leaders have pushed your country to embrace a different future.

But I know that over the years some critics have questioned the motives and even the patriotism of those who have spoken out on behalf of change in Serbia. So let me, on behalf of the United States, say very clearly tonight: Your courage, your sacrifice, and your commitment to make Serbia a better place are a tribute not just to you but to your country. There is no higher or more important form of patriotism than working so hard to make your country a better place.

Civil society is playing a critical role in consolidating the democratic gains that we have seen here the last decade. NGOs and activists are engaged across the full spectrum of issues, and I was encouraged to hear that the Serbian Government is creating a new office to facilitate dialogue between civil society and the government. The United States is committed to the work you are doing. Our Civil Society Advocacy Initiative that I announced in my speech in Krakow this summer to the Community of Democracies is a core element of our assistance efforts here and an important part of the $1 million that the American people invest each week to help strengthen democracy here in Serbia and fuel economic growth and inclusive prosperity.

This program has provided training to more than 500 civil society representatives. It has helped support more than 70 advocacy campaigns to address issues ranging from illegal dumping to human rights. Our partnership here in Serbia represents one piece of a much broader effort to strengthen civil society in countries around the world. This work is part of our daily agenda at the State Department and USAID, and it was a major focus of President Obama’s recent speech to the United Nations General Assembly.

Our commitment to this issue reflects our own experience. Throughout America’s history, civil society activists have worked to expand rights to more citizens, improve working conditions for workers, protect our environment, and strengthen our country in so many ways. And here in Serbia, your efforts to promote human rights, religious tolerance, media freedom, regional reconciliation, and Euro-Atlantic integration will help write a similar story of progress.

Now, I know that the work of civil society is never finished. Before I was ever in politics or government, I was one of you. I was involved in civil society and advocacy, particularly on behalf of children, families, and women. And the work that you are engaged in may take generations to see it finally through. But as you keep at it, the space for those who hold diverse opinions will open up. Society will become more tolerant. The media will be empowered to pursue the truth. And I am confident that one day Serbia will become a full partner in the Euro-Atlantic community.

Now, although the United States does not have a vote in the European Union, we are strongly championing your membership in the EU. And we intend to be a partner for you in civil society and for your country as you advance toward that goal.

So I thank you for being here this evening and for sharing this time with me. I’m looking forward to speaking with you in these small groups because I want to hear from everyone to give everyone a chance to express yourselves and to give us additional ideas about how we can be a better partner for civil society in Serbia. Because we see Serbia’s future aligned with Europe and aligned with the West and part of the Euro-Atlantic community. Serbia’s values, Serbia’s traditions, Serbia’s aspirations and goals are very much in keeping with what I know will bring a better opportunity and a better future for not only you but, most importantly, the next generation. Thank you all very much. (Applause.)

PRN: 2010/T34-6