EXCLUSIVE: IN THE RESIDENCE OF THE AMBASSADOR OF CYPRUS

04. Jan 2022
Photo: MILOŠ LUŽANIN

The beautiful, white Residence, surrounded by a manicured lawn and landscaped garden, situated right next to the Embassy of Cyprus, does not attract much attention, tucked away in a quiet, elegant neighbourhood with lots of greenery. This is, after all, one of the privileges enjoyed by the residents of Diplomatic Colony in Dedinje. These quiet moments are treasured by the Ambassador of Cyprus to Serbia, Demetrios Theophylactou, our exclusive host in this issue of the magazine. Elegant and attentive, as etiquette and good behaviour dictate, he greets us warmly at the entrance of his Residence. He swiftly proceeds with a special touch on the cultural history of Cyprus, as reflected in the entrance hall, with a brief introduction to the naive artists of the island. Like every Ambassador, he re-decorated the Residence and created an ambience that best reflects the image of the country he represents. “In diplomacy, especially for an Ambassador, aesthetics is an essential element - because the first impression of any visitor does matter. It reflects the history, traditions and essence of your country as well as you”, he says.

DEMETRIOS THEOPHYLACTOU, THE AMBASSADOR OF CYPRUS TO SERBIA

The Residence is not the property of Cyprus; it is rented since 1st October 1980 on a long-term lease. Coincidently, 1st October is Cyprus Independence Day. The Ambassador considers it a privilege to live there. As an experienced diplomat, with several missions served all over the world, from New York and Brussels to India and Australia, Mr. Theophylactou had plenty of ideas on how to re-decorate the space. He brought a number of artefacts, figures and paintings from Cyprus and various other places. Numerous gifts from Serbia are already decorating the Residence, including a special tennis racket and balls, personally signed by Novak Djoković and offered to the Ambassador. Some family photos, especially of his son Stephanos and daughter Nicole, give the Residence an especially intimate and warm touch. The Ambassador admits that he enjoys the atmosphere. Maybe for one more reason: this is his last diplomatic mission. Or, as he likes to say: “This is my last and my best”.

How did you like the Residence when you arrived and what parts of it do you find most representative to show to your guests?

The main entrance is one of my favourite corners. I placed three paintings there, from our naive artists which represent the traditional Cypriot village. Some paintings were at the Residence, others are my own, with a modern appeal. The idea is to represent Cyprus in its full dimension – both the traditional and modern. The architecture reminds me of the ‘60s; it is unique, and somehow neoclassical. The house has a traditional touch, with a wooden interior that adds to the warmth of the space. I also like the high ceilings in the lobby and living room, and the open space ambient they create. On the second floor, the bedrooms, an aesthetically nice open space and a library, which is elegantly incorporated in the high ceiling, add to the unique style of the Residence. The architecture reflects the class that prevails in the area – it has the aristocratic touch of Dedinje. I also like the corner between the entrances leading to the living and dining room, where I have placed the photos of Nikola Tesla and Mihajlo Pupin. They are both inspiring Serbians, who connect us with the history and future alike. They are both pioneers of their time. They were brilliant minds, ahead of their time; these two immigrants made their own mark. They are noticed immediately by my guests; in my view, it is also a sign of respect to the host country.

HIGH CEILING IN THE LOBBY GIVES AN ELEGANT OPEN SPACE AMBIENCE

Are there more decor changes you have made in the Residence so far?

I made a lot of changes, but not with the furniture. They are quite classic, yet they match the space.  There is now more color with the addition of decorative pillows, souvenirs, figures and artefacts from my previous posts in Brussels, Australia, New York, India and South East Asia. It is something Ambassadors regularly do. In a way, I adjusted the space so I can feel more at home, yet always keeping in mind that this is the House of Cyprus. The feedback is positive and I am pleased with the outcome. In brief, the space is a good blend of tradition and modernity.

THE PHOTO OF THE AMBASSADORS PARENTS, BACK IN 1965

The Embassy and Residence are situated in the Diplomatic Colony, one of the most exclusive areas in Belgrade. How do you like the area and the neighbourhood?

These quarters, Diplomatska kolonija, are not only amongst the most exclusive in Belgrade but also picturesque and somehow serene. It is not by coincidence that this was considered to be the aristocratic area, so to speak, in former Yugoslavia. The residents range from diplomats to prominent personalities in music, the letters and arts, to business executives, doctors and top surgeons as well as ordinary citizens; therefore, there is a good mix in the social fabric of Dedinje. Social activities include diplomatic, business and artistic events, as well as sports, with beautiful parks and sports venues in abundance. I like to stroll around, usually during weekends and after work, mainly in the spring and autumn months. There is a wonderful ambiance which inspires and relaxes me at the same time. The landscape and nature often give me the impression that I am in one of the mountain resorts in Cyprus. The only difference is that the city of Belgrade is just a drive away. Overall, it is a quiet residential area which, as of late, has also attracted some small private companies; subsequently, construction and further development started to pick up. I hope the area won’t overdevelop because it will inevitably lose its character.

INTERIOR GARDEN IS A FAVOURITE SPOT OF TH AMBASSADOR

You are known for practicing sports and healthy life, but as an experienced diplomat you also have a subtle taste for refined wining and dining. Did Belgrade meet your expectations regarding your personal affinities?

It’s true that I pay particular attention to daily exercise and healthy nutrition, though diplomatic life is not always conducive to that. Besides the sports I used to practice, most notably running, swimming, cycling and yoga stretching, tennis was added in the exercise formula since coming to Belgrade; it is a popular sport in Serbia, thanks to Novak Djokovic, and has become a good addition to my regular exercise. It is also true that I indulge in good wine and special cuisine, both of which are of excellent quality in Serbia. So yes, Belgrade indeed surpassed my expectations both in terms of refined wining and dining and nice ambiance, and an exceptional hospitality that I have experienced in Serbia. If you ask our official guests – and we had several visits already this year – they will all readily say that their visit was memorable. There is a variety of restaurants, piano bars and skyline dining with lovely city views. Likewise, sports are a way of life in Serbia; this is one of the most attractive aspects to me. There is a variety of sports venues to exercise regularly, and I have already discovered the right places for walking, running, swimming, cycling, tennis or other outdoor activities.

If you lived in Belgrade, where would you choose to have a property and why?

In fact, since this is my last diplomatic post abroad, I seriously contemplate to choose Belgrade, amongst other cities, as the place to invest in property and use as a base – second home, so to speak. Dedinje is the most likely venue. it combines the tranquil residential space with the more upbeat tune of the city, which is around the corner. I am in love with Belgrade, mainly with its people and lifestyle, which I find particularly appealing as it combines the traditional and modern in a very subtle way. Dedinje is one of the most appealing quarters I have experienced thus far, while Belgrade is a vibrant city with a large selection of places, all kinds of culinary tastes, lively restaurants, traditional melodies and modern tunes, with smart and elegantly dressed people. It has a classic and cotemporary artistic touch, both in buildings and entertainment areas, certainly a highly intellectual elite, excellent universities, creative artists and top musicians. Indeed, I find music and the arts in Belgrade truly pleasing. I recently attended some quality concerts, which I evaluated with the highest marks.

HIS EXCELLENCE IS VERY FOND OF BYZANTINE ART AND ORTHODOX ICONS AND RELATED ARTEFACTS

Cyprus is a very attractive destination for foreign tourists, especially those who can afford to buy property on the island. It is one of the reasons that led to the increase in property sales and property value in Cyprus. Could you tell us more about the real estate industry in Cyprus?

Cyprus is both a popular tourist destination and a financial as well as international shipping centre, with numerous offshore companies based on the island, mainly in Limassol. Subsequently, the real estate industry has become a key driver of economic activity. However, the property market is currently experiencing some challenges, also due to the volatile global economic environment as a result of the pandemic, amongst other factors. Still, real estate in Cyprus remains attractive, not least because of the elevated significance of the island’s geo-strategic and geo-economic position, most notably as energy hub in the Mediterranean. Therefore, real estate is expected to retain its role as a major driver of economic activity in the years to come. I know of many prominent business executives from Serbia who operate in Cyprus and own property there. In fact, Limassol in particular has become truly international with thousands of expatriates owning property there. Several studies indicate that the majority of sales are in Limassol, followed by Paphos, Nicosia, Larnaca and Famagusta. The two major cities, Nicosia and Limassol, indicated a strong demand as of late. Therefore, depending on the purpose of individual investors or businesses, Cyprus continues to offer attractive opportunities in real estate. 

How attractive Serbia and Belgrade are for Cypriot investors, and vice versa?

I suppose that Cyprus has always been an attractive destination to Serbian investors, for the reasons that make the island attractive to foreign visitors and businesses. At the time being, Belgrade may not be high on the radar screen of Cypriot investors, mainly because they have been focusing on traditional markets. However, as was the case with candidate countries aspiring to join the European Union before 2004, Serbia and Belgrade start to loom as attractive investment destinations. The Water Front project is a case in point. Moreover, Serbia’s economy is faring quite well as compared with other European markets. During the pandemic, it was one of the most resilient economies; the upward trends in economic development and Foreign Direct Investments – including in real estate – look quite promising indeed. The Cypriot investors are quick to spot new opportunities, hence the new interest toward Serbia. We already have several Cypriot companies based in Serbia, as well as numerous Serbian companies registered in Cyprus. I believe that the excellent bilateral relations between our two countries, which are clearly at a very high level – particularly in certain sectors – will pick up further in so far as investments are concerned, including in real estate.

In what sectors there is the most intense cooperation between our two countries?

Bilateral relations are thriving and can grow further in more strategic sectors, such as energy and infrastructure, including in transport and innovations, for example in sustainable development or smart cities, all in the context of climate change related policies. One of my objectives is to increase synergies and promote subsequent applications as a result of more focused scientific collaboration. Banking, financial services and shipping are sectors where Cyprus has had a comparative advantage, and where bilateral cooperation thrived in previous years. Today, there is room for increased cooperation in the fields of energy, education, science and technology, defence and security, as well as modern agriculture, agrotourism and joint projects in environmental protection. Tourist exchanges can certainly increase, given the direct flights connecting our two countries, with more scope in special interest tourism, such as business, medical, cultural, educational, religious and sports tourism.

PILLOWS FROM ALL OVER THE WORLD MADE THE LIVING ROOM MORE COLOURFUL

You have been on this duty for a year. How do you value your mission so far? Are there some activities and efforts you are especially proud of?

Indeed, on 1st December, I have completed exactly one year in Belgrade, though it feels as if I have been here much longer. I believe that my mission so far has been rewarding and effective, at least judging from the feedback I receive. I consider Serbia a true friend of Cyprus, much as the Serbian people and Government value Cyprus as probably their most reliable friend, both in terms of sharing the same values and principles – which are well reflected in our respective policies concerning vital national interests – and in terms of common struggles for freedom, independence and national sovereignty. I am particularly proud of the scope and breath of our collaboration in the context of international organisations, where we support each other on major issues, and for our joint efforts to strengthen cooperation in key sectors such as defence and security, education and science, sports and cultural activities, youth exchanges and certainly trade. We can further promote business activities benefiting our economies and people. I feel privileged to have received such a warm welcome in Serbia and make so many friendships. I am keen to pursue my mission with the same zeal and enthusiasm until the end of my tenure, because I truly feel that the extra effort is all worth it. 

THE RACKET AND BALLS, PERSONALLY SIGNED BY NOVAK DJOKOVIĆ, ARE ALREADY AMONGST THE AMBASSADOR'S FAVOURITE SERBIAN ARTEFACTS

Text: GORDANA KNEŽEVIĆ MONAŠEVIĆ

Photos: MILOŠ LUŽANIN

 

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