This blog post was published under the 2015 to 2024 Conservative government

Sian MacLeod

Sian MacLeod

UK Ambassador to Serbia

Part of UK in Serbia

18th October 2019 Belgrade, Serbia

First Impressions

Sian and Richard at Konak knjeginje Ljubice

It’s a beautiful October day as I write.   As I sit in my Belgrade garden I see clouds of newly hatched late ladybirds, the first yellow leaves shaken by a mild breeze, warm weak sunshine and distant haze. Around me the hum of urban life is punctuated by hammering and bursts of drilling from nearby building sites.

This is the first chance that I have had to sit and reflect upon my first month in a new home, a new city, and a new role as UK Ambassador to Serbia.

I have travelled widely as a diplomat for over thirty years, but my first visit to Belgrade was as a music student crossing Europe by train sleeping in stations, on beaches, with an old rucksack and a very small tent on my back.  I remember the fields of sunflowers, the buses and the cobble stones of Skadarlija.  This summer I set out again by train from my home corner of rural England, heading for a region that I by now also knew both from travelling around whilst a diplomat at the OSCE in Vienna as well as books, music and films shared with me over the years by friends and colleagues from Serbia and the wider region.

(One of those books, Ivo Andric’s Days of the Consuls is perhaps greatest study of the human side  of diplomacy ever written – and I will be eternally grateful to the Serbian colleague who gave it to me. It is top of my list when I am asked for books to recommend to new Foreign Office ministers.)

I have though, never lived before in Belgrade. So I have a lot to learn. Language, names, faces – even bus numbers and road names.  Of course there are lots of friendly people at hand to help.  I am especially grateful to the staff at the our Embassy and Residence, and to the MFA diplomatic protocol team for their patience and advice.

My first six weeks have been a whirl of activity.  The President, Prime Minister and most senior member of the Government have all been generous with their time. I have visited Parliament, met the Patriarch, senior military and police officers, museum curators and theatre directors, business people, civil society organisations, community leaders and media editors.  I have drunk tea with artists, artisans and architects.  I have laid wreaths in ceremonies commemorating British and Yugoslav lives lost in two world wars, and put on my Wellington boots to plant an oak tree in memory of one of Belgrade’s best known British residents. Everyone that I have met, from the country’s political and spiritual leaders to the youngest nursery school child has greeted me with a kind smile and a warm welcome.

But this is only the start. Diplomacy is rarely plain sailing. There will be times ahead when the everything goes smoothly, and there may be times when the waters are a bit choppier. Our  Governments in London and Belgrade will have much to agree about – and we will have some differences.  My professional ambition is build a stronger, forward-looking relationship between our countries so that we can work together and make the most of our common interests, and talk about any differences as honest friends. My personal one is to see as much of the country as possible, meet as many people as possible – and to have fun.   Hopefully I will achieve both ambitions.

For now I have just one word to sum up my experience so far: hvala!

6 comments on “First Impressions

  1. Dear Sian,
    Welcome to Serbia, East Balkan ours country. Please visit Vrnjacka Banja and have a rest when you feel like it, not when you need. Write a diary or a fiction book, telling stories from Serbia sound misterious and always intresting for readers.
    Have a nice time and be HAPPY with your family in Serbia.
    Sports regards from Vrnjacka Banja

  2. Dear Ambassador,
    Welcome to Belgrade which is also my home after 25 years in the FCO and 14 in the UN.
    I wish you well and hope very much that you are able to make relations with Serbia as good as they ought to be.
    Have a look at my profile on Linkedin if you have a few moments. I would love to meet at any time that suits you.
    Best regards from Henrik Villadsen…one of my best friends.
    Yours aye

  3. Sian,

    Welcome to our country. I hope your future service here will be marked by a palpable improvement in all realms of various relationship areas between the UK and Serbia. And please do use an opportunity as a leading diplomat from your country here to help cancel an unnecessary and a very 20th century-esque visa regime that the UK is imposing on Serbia. You are certainly aware that the UK is the only European country to do so. Serbia is getting wealthier and more global with a well-travelled and educated young generation. Bringing us closer together will benefit the people from both countries and gains in trade, commerce, investment, education, tourism etc. etc. will outweigh any potential ‘downsides’ of doing this by a massive margin.

    All the best,

  4. Dispite the many problems we encountered during the very trying times Yugoslavia was going through in our years (1995-2000) at the British Embassy – the bombings, numerous evacuations etc. Both my wife and I encountered wonderful personal friendship by the people of this amazing country….

  5. Dear Sian,
    My first experience of this part of the world was also with a rucksack on my back, hitching & travelling round Yugoslavia & The Balkans in 1984. I even met my future Wife who packed a bag & came wandering with me. I also recently read Days of the Consuls, a great read & study of this region. If you haven’t read it yet may I be so bold as to recommend ‘Black Lamb and Grey Falcon: A Journey Through Yugoslavia’ by Rebecca West; your library is expanding already.
    Good luck in the post & you are welcome in East Serbia..!

  6. Dear Sian
    As a long standing expat may I take the opportunity to welcome you to Serbia. I am sure you will enjoy your time here. I am an admirer of Ivo Andric too. I would refer you to his book ‘The Dammed Yard’ and in particular the short story ‘A letter from 1920’. Little seems to have changed in the Balkans. However I am sure you will rise to the challenge.

Comments are closed.

About Sian MacLeod

Sian Macleod was appointed Her Majesty’s Ambassador to the Republic of Serbia in September 2019. Prior to this, Sian was Ambassador and Head of the UK Delegation to the Organization…

Sian Macleod was appointed Her Majesty’s Ambassador to the Republic of Serbia in September 2019. Prior to this, Sian was Ambassador and Head of the UK Delegation to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

Sian joined the FCO in 1986. Her first posting was to Moscow. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, she served briefly in the Embassy in Vilnius. Since then she has been posted to The Hague, returned to Moscow 2004-7, where she became Minister (Deputy Head of Mission). Between overseas postings she has worked in the FCO and the Cabinet Office.

Sian was Ambassador in Prague from 2009 to 2013 and then Director of the British Council Triennial Review and FCO Additional Director for the Eastern European & Central Asian Directorate.

Sian is married to Richard Robinson and they have three children and enjoy music, cycling and cross-country skiing.

Before joining the FCO she studied music at the Winchester School of Art and the Royal Academy of Music.