Your Excellences, Ladies and gentlemen, dear panelists,
The Podgorica Club and the Universal Peace Federation organized this important conference only four months after signing the Memorandum of cooperation here in Tirana. The conference is organized here in the Peace Embassy, through which the UPF sent a message to the Balkan and Korean peninsulas on the lasting and irreplaceable value of peace.
Why are war and instability still not archived topics in the Western Balkans? It is not archived for historical and contemporary reasons. Historical – because of the position of the Western Balkans as a crossroad of globally powerful empires always striving to make this area a part of their territories. Contemporary – because after the fall of great empires, here in the Western Balkans, we still have regional imperialism with the dangerous intention of changing current state borders and building greater national countries.
The tragic intentions of forming great national countries caused a war with catastrophic consequences during the fall of Yugoslavia. Decades after the war, we are still far from each other, interpreting history differently.
We need to reject the ambition to interpret history only and exclusively based on our personal experience of victims and culprits. We should not endanger our present and future with the continuous investigation of the past, with the unavoidable imposition of our stances and negation of the different experiences of others. We need to accept that everyone has their interpretation of history. In this regard, we need to cooperate in coexisting with our differences for the sake of a peaceful and prosperous future. The reality shows that the wounds from the last war during the collapse of Yugoslavia – and even those before it – are still fresh, and that complete reconciliation is not a reality. The future will bring reconciliation, and a precondition for this is to accept the present reality of different interpretations of history.
In securing peace and stability in the Western Balkans, the EU has an immeasurable and irreplaceable role to play.
Only as equal and full members of the EU can the Western Balkan countries reach standards and the quality of life of EU citizens. Just as in the EU – current or reformed – the Western Balkan countries can be in a union of countries where borders don’t have value and importance. The existence of state borders is the reason why the history of the Western Balkans was so tragic.
Commemorating the centenary of the beginning of World War One, affirming the value of peace, the EU introduced the Berlin Process, which maintained a strategic partnership with the Western Balkan countries.
During the annual summits of leaders of the EU and the Western Balkans, from Berlin in 2014 to Sofia in 2020, strong cornerstones of the partnership between the two sides were maintained. The Western Balkans get strong support for developing the infrastructure and further cooperation in economy, education, science, and research. That cooperation is an additional and strong recommendation for the membership of the Western Balkan countries in the EU.
Indeed, the most outstanding achievement of such cooperation would be the establishment of the common regional economic area of the Western Balkans. This area is expected to improve the trade price, regional investments, free movement of persons, goods, services, capital, and digital interconnectivity. By signing the Sofia Declaration on a Common Regional Market, the leaders of the Western Balkan countries obliged them to establish a common economic area, and the Regional Cooperation Council of the South-East Europe Cooperation Process and the CEFTA will coordinate the process.
Instead of a common economic area, Serbia, Albania, and North Macedonia have introduced the Open Balkan initiative. Indeed, this initiative was started up with good intentions. Obviously, economic and overall cooperation within the Western Balkans is necessary, and its low level is a severe deficiency.
Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Kosovo haven’t joined the Open Balkan initiative. This has nothing in common with their relationship with the great project of establishing a common regional economic area. The common economic area of the Western Balkans certainly has its value and justification as an impetus, not a substitute, for European integration, and as an area for all, not just particular countries, of the region. It can be established based on the model proposed by the EU, which our countries have already accepted, but only with the coordination of the above-mentioned regional initiatives, which eliminate the risk of unequal or non-objective interstate governance, interstate governance with which we have negative experiences and memories.
Certainly, of paramount value and importance for Western Balkan security is the membership of Montenegro, Albania, and North Macedonia in NATO and Kosovo’s striving to become a part of the alliance. Within the coalition and its overall security, we strongly support securing the Western Balkans.
In conclusion, it is necessary to remember that we can have a peaceful future and stability in the Western Balkans only through cooperation, mutual respect, equality, and dialogue on open issues.
Thank you for your attention.