FIRST SECRETARY OF THE REPUBLIC OF SERBIA EMBASSY IN THE UK
What do you do as first secretary at the Republic of Serbia embassy?
As first secretary at the Embassy, I cover European Union affairs. It involves all EU policies in economy, finance, environment, social affairs, common foreign and security policy, enlargement, etc. with special emphasis on UK position towards all these specific topics. The last several months were very interesting and challenging in terms of analysing the British European Policy. I usually have contact with the representatives of the British institutions, and also with the representatives of British think tanks and NGOs in order to understand better UK’s expectations from the EU. The other aspect of my job is constantly keeping my counterparts informed of Serbia’s process of negotiation with the EU. Since I’m a people person, these activities are a happy combination of my interests.
Describe a “typical work day”.
I enjoy my morning coffee while reading daily news. I like to be informed. That makes me an interesting and a reliable partner to my counterparts. Early in the day, I like to write reports, as this is the part of the day when I’m focused and inspired. Mostly, I take meetings in the afternoon. I often need to attend public events like political debates, round tables, lectures, which I really enjoy. One of the things always connected with diplomats are receptions. They're an opportunity to meet new people, but also colleagues from other Embassies. Sometimes, I attend very interesting events completely separate from diplomacy but still connected with it: for example, I watched the World Cup final at the German Embassy.
How did you get to your job?
That was in 2002, several months after I finished my studies. My phone rang; it was the Head of the Administration Department at the Faculty of Political Sciences in Belgrade, where I studied. At that time, I was working for an international company, doing something completely different from diplomacy – buying and selling steel products. The lecturer told me that I was chosen in the group of 10 best students who would be invited from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to take job tests. There was an agreement between the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the three largest universities in Serbia to send the best students to take tests and, depending on the result, to get the job. After a year, and passing more than 10 oral and written exams, I was informed that I had been accepted. I didn't ask about the salary, I didn't ask about anything, because I was so happy to get the job I had always wanted. That was enough for me.
You studied International Relations and Affairs at the University of Belgrade. How do you use it in what you do?
Studies are the basis for the things you want to do later. You develop an interest rather than doing research and analysis, which comes later. You get a broad general education, like a starter for the practice that will follow in the Ministry. It's not just looking at political science and economics, but the overall picture of what it takes to be a functional person in a global world. The Faculty of Political Sciences in Belgrade has a very good Department for International Relations, where students need to read classic and modern texts about diplomacy, diplomatic history, philosophy, international relations etc. As a student there, you need to read a lot, to be acquainted with experiences of important politicians and diplomats in the past but also to be informed about current international relations and disputes. And if you study among other young people interested in the same topics with rhetorical skills and their own views and opinions, you learn how to present your views, how to defend them and reach consensus – very important learnings for a diplomatic career.
To date, you've spent your career in the Serbian Foreign Office, both in Serbian embassies and within the country. How does the job change whether you’re abroad or in your country?
The two aspects are completely different. When you abroad you are more extrovert -oriented, meeting new people, attending interesting events, trying to understand the country you have been posted in. In the Ministry, I would say, you are more introvert-oriented, getting reports from your colleagues abroad, trying to do the best analyses you can in order to help your government better understand the current politics and work of other countries and international organisations.
You attended a programme ran by Germany and aimed at foreign diplomats. Can you tell us something about that?
As a diplomat, I attended many courses in Europe, but also in some other continents and countries, such as China. But the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Germany has the best way to keep people connected, even after the end of the Programme. I attended the Diplomatic College at the German MFA in 2009. That was incredible experience – 11 months of interesting lectures, meetings with interesting people and senior officials of the German government, many trips to different German constituent states, learning a lot about German history, culture, politics, economy and, generally, about German way of life. Once you finished that course at the MFA in Berlin you become an alumni – every year there is an alumni meeting, organised in a different country of the origin of attendees. This year we were in Poland. It’s great opportunity, not only to strengthen the networking among as (attendees), but also to learn more about that country we have visited.
What do you look for in young diplomats?
Education is very important, along with a general interest in politics, world news and global political problems, crisis etc. You are a relevant counterpart only if you are very well informed and interesting. Don’t get into diplomacy if you are not interested learning about other cultures, mentalities, and political end economic systems. Don’t go into diplomacy if you are not prepared to understand differences or if you are not open-minded. It is very important to try to understand other people and be sensitive to their opinions, beliefs and feelings but at the same time to represent your own ideas. That requires practice, and young diplomats learn from their more experienced colleagues. I like Isaac Newton's explanation of diplomacy: “the ability to assert your ideas or opinion, knowing what to say and how to say it without damaging the relationship by causing offence”.
What are the most and least rewarding aspects of your job?
The most rewarding aspect of my job is the opportunity to live abroad in very different countries. It's not the same as travelling like a tourist, when you stay somewhere 10-15 days. If you live somewhere for four years (the usual mandate time for a diplomat) you become a part of the system in that country. You make yourself familiar with the life in that country, not only because it’s your job to understand politics there, but also because as a human being you intend to accommodate yourself to the social environment. You are going to try to find friends in that country, your kids will attend the school there and find their own friends, you will have to learn how to settle everyday problems.
What advice would you give to somebody who would like to do a similar job?
It is a great job and it is very important how you approach it. You need to be keen to meet new people, to learn about new countries and cultures, to be interested in politics. I have met many diplomats very passionate about their jobs and you just feel it when you meet them. They are usually very well informed about many different topics, they have a lot of very diverse contacts and friends - not only among the diplomats but also with journalists, artists, musicians, politicians, NGO activists and so on.
What are the key skills that make you good at what you do? How did you gain them?
You have to be an interesting counterpart to someone, either with topics or with your experiences. Communicative, curious and open-minded, without prejudice.
What is the mistake you wish you hadn’t done?
Like everyone else I've made some 'small' mistakes, but I have learnt from them and I would never say I wish I had not done that. This job is an interesting journey with a lot of huge mountains, unknown places, dark and deep forests but also with wonderful views and incredible places.
What has been your biggest challenge and how did you tackle it?
The biggest challenge for me was to try and combine my private life with my career. When you enter the MFA there are a lot of opportunities for young diplomats, not only to be posted abroad but also to study abroad at some diplomatic colleges for some time, attend many courses and conferences abroad. There is always something very interesting that pulls you ahead on your career track. But, as I heard lately in a movie “Without my job it wouldn’t be me, without my family it wouldn’t be happy me”, that has somehow become my motto too. Eight years ago I decided to slow down in my career and think about kids. Now, I am trying to catch up my career track in the MFA.
What achievements are you most proud of?
I am proud that I used the opportunity of my first post in Germany to learn German, to go further with my diplomatic education through different training courses - it's a life-long learning process for diplomats, I think you must enjoy that for this job.
Do you have a role model, and if so, who and why?
No. I do not have a role model. I do not believe in the concept - every one of us is a different person, trying to find their own way of doing his/her job and career to the best of their abilities. That multitude of experience is a real fortune. That’s why I like to listen my colleagues’ stories. Every one of them could be that model.
Branislava Perin - First Secretary of the Republic of Serbia Embassy in the UK
Eight years' experience
CV in brief:
Studied: International Relations at the Faculty of Political Science, University of Belgrade (Servia)
Previously worked at: Embassy of the Republic of Serbia in Berlin, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Serbia
Find her online @BranislavaPerin