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Family comes first for Serbian chargé

By Kristen Shane      
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Mirjana Sesum-Curcic has come prepared. 

Seated at a wide dining table adorned with a vase of flowers in what must have been for years the Serbian ambassador’s dining room, she has at her fingertips typed notes on Canada-Serbia relations. 

Some phrases are underlined in pen. And she has scrawled a few extra notes on the back of one of the pages. 

At times, Serbia’s top diplomat in Canada reads from the pages in front of her, wanting to get the right wording. Ms. Sesum-Curcic, 42, is a consummate diplomat: warm and friendly, briefed, and ready with a plan.

The chargé d’affaires explains that she wants to boost what diplomats call “people-to-people ties.” There are perhaps 100,000 Canadians of Serbian origin, she says. The last wave came in the 1990s during the break-up of Yugoslavia, from which the modern Serbia arose. This included highly educated migrants who built successful lives in Canada as engineers, doctors and artists, Ms. Sesum-Curcic says.

When Senate Speaker Noël Kinsella visited Serbia in September, she says her president said Serbia needs to create the conditions so young expatriates can return and contribute to Serbian society through their knowledge and experience. That way, both countries benefit.

That same month, Canada took to the tennis court against Serbia in Belgrade for the semi-final of the Davis Cup international men’s tennis tournament. 

“We won,” says Ms. Sesum-Curcic, with a chuckle. 

But she points out that a couple players from the Canadian team have Serbian roots. Canadian star Milos Raonic, for instance, is of Montenegrin Serb origin.

“So it was a win-win for both countries,” she says, with another little laugh. 

There aren’t a lot of Serbian-Canadians returning now to their homeland to help it develop, she says, but part of her embassy’s goal will be to boost the number. 

Canadians have invested in Serbian real estate, construction, tourism, agriculture, informatics, energy and mining industries, she says. And she’s looking to promote more of these ties. 

The largest Canadian investment is related to a contract for a copper smelter project that SNC-Lavalin signed in June 2010 with RTB-Bor, a Serbian state-owned mining company. It’s valued at roughly $220 million.

The Canadian engineering and construction giant has since faced allegations of corruption and bribery in Canada and abroad, but has been trying to clean up its act lately. 

“As a country, we support Canadian investments and we would like to see the co-operation to be improved. If any kind of problem arises, the two sides always can find the best possible solutions,” says Ms. Sesum-Curcic, adding that the SNC-Lavalin’s troubles have not been a discussion topic between Serbian and Canadian officials. 


Winter? No problem!

While she only arrived in Canada for the first time in August, Ms. Sesum-Curcic knows the country and the United States, having covered both as a desk officer in her foreign ministry between 1998 and 2005. A trained economist, she took up her first posting abroad a couple years later in Canada’s Commonwealth cousin Australia, and then returned to headquarters to focus on the Council of Europe and Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe. 

It was a busy time, given that Serbia is set to chair the OSCE in 2015, in co-operation with Switzerland, which is leading the organization next year. 

Alongside the heavy workload, she is balancing life as the mother of her son Djordje, 9, and daughter Andjela, 5 (her “little kangaroo,” as she was born in Australia and has since jumped from Belgrade to Ottawa), and wife to Rajko

“When I arrived here, everyone speaks about [the] Canadian winter,” she says. But Serbia also has cold and long winters, so she’s used to it, she says. And she’s actually looking forward to the first real snow because she says her kids will enjoy it. 

Ottawa is a good city for small kids, she says. Her posting will be a good opportunity for them to learn about Canadian values and improve their French and English.

“And when they are satisfied, I am also satisfied, as a mother” she says. “You can’t do anything good if you have any kind of problems in your own family. First I am a mother, and then I am everything else.”

When her family is happy, she says, she can relax and fully focus on work. 

Ms. Sesum-Curcic steps into life in a new embassy location next door to Serbia’s old digs on Blackburn Avenue in Ottawa’s Sandy Hill neighbourhood. The house, built in the 1890s, used to be the ambassador’s residence but was transformed into the embassy when Serbia ceded its former embassy location to Bosnia and Herzegovina earlier this year as part of a succession deal settled by all former Yugoslav republics.

“When two people divorce,” she says, “they have to share their property.” That being said, she says, “We have very good co-operation with our neighbours.” 

Ms. Sesum-Curcic takes up the post after former ambassador Zoran Veljic left abruptly in March. Ms. Sesum-Curcic says that while he was coming to the planned end of his Canadian posting, he asked to go a bit earlier because he had broken his arm and opted to seek further medical treatment at home in Serbia rather than in Canada. 




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