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Serbian Presidential Candidate Aims to Kick-Start Economy With Russian Help

Serbian presidential candidate and local politician Milan Stamatovic wants to attract more Russian tourists and re-invigorate Serbia's economy, he told Sputnik Srbija.

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Milan Stamatovic, president of the Cajetina municipality in western Serbia, has ambitious plans to expand his local reforms to the national level and change Serbia for the better.

Stamatovic, who is serving his fourth term as president of Cajetina in the Zlatibor district of western Serbia, was one of the founders of the Serbian People's Party (SNP) in 2014.  He is a candidate for Serbia's presidential elections in April.

The conservative SNP aims to build a more prosperous Serbia by encouraging investment in small and medium-sized businesses, as well as agriculture and tourism. The party is Eurosceptic, supports a policy of military neutrality and sees Russia as Serbia's most important economic and political partner.

The mountainous Zlatibor region is a popular tourist resort, and its economy has grown considerably in recent years, particularly thanks to customers from Russia. 

In 2014, exports to Russia from Zlatibor increased 300 percent year-on-year, a trend which has continued since Russia imposed counter-sanctions against EU imports. Serbia refused to participate in the boycott, and was able to enter Russian sectors which had relied on products from the EU.

The resort is a popular destination for Russian tourists seeking an active vacation. In winter, visitors can enjoy one of the country's top ski resorts, and during the summer, guests go hiking in the mountains and bathe in the lakes. 

Stamatovic told Sputnik Srbija that attracting more Russian investment in Serbia is a key part of his manifesto.

"When it comes to tourism, we have done fantastic things. We are the most popular tourist destination in Serbia, and our aim is to get even more Russian tourists to come, because the investors, investment and better export (opportunities) for our products will follow them. We are helping our entrepreneurs by explaining to them how the Russian market works," Stamatovic said.

"Our aim is to unite them and create 'zadruga' (a type of co-operative historically common in the Balkan region, often based on familial ties) like there used to be, so that we ensure quality, continuity and quantity of production, which is important in this case."

"Our most important company, 'Zlatiborac,' (a meat producer) has opened an office in Moscow and it has the same aim. This year we want to facilitate more contact with Russian partners and future importers."

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Stamatovic wants to expand the region's successful partnership with Russian business to the rest of Serbia, and improve the climate for small enterprises.

"As the municipal president and Serbian presidential candidate, I propose that land which has been earmarked for tycoons linked to previous governments, and the current government, should be freed up. We're going to try and give small businesses the chance to buy it (the land) and give them the raw materials that will open the way to the Russian market. To enter the Russian market, we need proof that we have enough raw materials. That would open up the possibility for re-export," Stamatovic explained.

The politician said he is confident his considerable experience in local politics will serve him well as president.

"Municipalities are like countries on a small scale; first you need to put your own house in order and then that gets noticed by the international community. We need to work on legislation that will change Serbia's image and economy, rely on natural resources, preserve them and most significantly, keep the population from leaving Serbia. I think that I am one of few people in the political arena who has the experience to discuss any topic related to the recovery of the national economy," Stamatovic said.

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Stamatovic, who announced his presidential candidacy last summer, faces tough competition from internationally well-known candidates such as current Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic and former UN Assembly President Vuk Jeremic.

Other presidential candidates include SNP leader Nenad Popovic, and Serbian Radical Party (SRS) leader Vojislav Seselj.

On Tuesday, the Serbian Progressive Party (SNP) announced that its leader Vucic will be its candidate to replace current President Tomislav Nikolic, who was also SNP President before he was elected Serbia's President in May 2012.

At his 65th birthday celebrations on Wednesday, Nikolic said that he is "unsurprised" by the result of the SNP vote. He told Sputnik Srbija he would be willing to consider a "job swap" with Vucic, which would see him return to the SNP leadership.

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