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The Balkan Friends Of India

When Josip Broz Tito (popularly known as Marshal Tito), the President of erstwhile Yugoslavia, visited India in 1955, the global geopolitical landscape was different. After the end of the Second World War in 1945, the world was going through the Cold War era, and Underdeveloped Nations were trying hard to find friends for the sake of their economic development. India, after gaining its Independence from the UK in 1947, decided to align with the erstwhile Soviet Union and naturally found Yugoslavia as a friend, as Belgrade was a member of the Soviet bloc. Although the South-eastern European country was formed in 1918 (immediately after the First World War) as the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, the Government renamed the country as Yugoslavia in 1929.

In such a scenario, Tito, first Prime Minister of India Jawaharlal Nehru and second Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser came closer. The three statesmen, who were connected to each other by a personal friendship that went beyond correlating interests and Power Politics, reconstructed the history by founding the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM). They used to consider the cultural factors, such as their experience under the foreign rule, their personal backgrounds and everyday life at that period of time, as connecting elements of their respective countries.

Since then, much water has flowed down the Ganges and Sava Rivers, and World Politics has experienced drastic changes. While India has become a powerful nation in South Asia, Yugoslavia has broken up and dissolved within six countries – Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Slovenia and Serbia. Kosovo proclaimed Self-Independence in 2008.

India, despite all these developments, still considers the former Yugoslav nations as its friends, although New Delhi is yet to explore the huge potential of trade and economic co-operation with the Balkan nations. In the Balkan region, Serbia and Croatia are comparatively developed nations with which India can strengthen business ties.

Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi is trying hard to attract foreign investments, apart from finding out investment opportunities in neighbouring countries. Till now, his Government has shown no interest in investing in the Balkan region. It may not be possible for the Andrej Plenković Government in Croatia to begin trade talks with India, right now. For Serbia, the thing is completely different. The Government of Ana Brnabić came to power in 2017 and since then, it has been trying hard to boost the National Economy as a member of the European Union (EU).

Serbia seeks Foreign Direct Investment (FDI), including for privatisation of over 500 companies. Hence, the Modi Government should grab the opportunity with both hands, and try to explore new avenues for strengthening bilateral ties with the Balkan nation. The Serbian businesses need to be made familiar with the capabilities of Indian companies, especially in agriculture, food processing, mines and minerals, pharmaceuticals, ICT, automotives, tyres, transportation, roads and construction sectors. For the Indian companies that are looking to expand their businesses in Europe, Serbia will be an ideal destination.

Serbia, a low cost economy with a huge educated unemployed young workforce, is seeking investments not only from the EU, Russia and the US, but also from China (India’s rival in Asia). Former Indian Ambassador in Belgrade Narinder Chauhan reportedly said: “Serbia can certainly contribute to joint defence production in India, but only through technology transfer.” India’s business friendly Prime Minister would have to understand the Balkan reality, and to make serious moves in order to come closer to the region. By investing in Serbia and other Balkan nations, India can throw a strong challenge to China.

This article, written by Koushik Das, was first published in in 2014-15. However, the issue is still relevant.

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