Distinguished Dr. Hak Ja Han Moon, Dr. Thomas Walsh, dear participants of International Leadership Conference, friends of peace: My entire political life I dedicated to the idea of reconciliation and the values of democracy. I was committed to those ideas when I was a member of a political organization as a student while fighting against the communist regime in the end of the 1970s, and as a member and official of the Democratic Party, which after the establishment of the multi-party system was the strongest opposition to the regime of Slobodan Milošević during the civil war in the former Yugoslavia. In 2000, when we defeated the regime that brought Serbia into war in the nineties, with the same idea of establishing democracy, I assumed the position of Minister of Telecommunications in the first democratic government in Serbia. I remained committed to that idea also after assuming the position of Minister of Defense at a time when the conflict in Kosovo, in the south of Serbia, was escalating again. In 2003, I began my first term as President of Serbia, and the second in 2008. In both of my presidential terms, one of my key focuses was the initiation of a regional project of reconciliation after the bloodshed of the wars in the former Yugoslavia, through the normalization of relations between neighbors in all areas and through the concept that I labeled, “Scandinavianization of the Balkans.” Today, a decade after my presidential terms and as a president of the oppositional Social Democratic Party, I stand in front of you still dedicated to those ideas and values.
During my presidential term, I faced the challenge of normalizing relations after the war, but also the problem in Kosovo, which threatened to turn from a frozen conflict into an open conflict at any moment. At the same time, actively facing these challenges, we worked on the process of European integration and bringing Serbia closer to EU membership. Since South and North Korea have the longest frozen conflict in the world and your country is struggling to achieve lasting peace under these circumstances, the parallels between our experience and the Korean experience are clear and obvious.
As the president of Serbia, I have always held the view that reaching any sustainable agreement is certainly a better solution than a frozen conflict, which represents a constant threat. In this context, I express the hope that with my experience I can contribute to the efforts of South Korea towards achieving peace, but also to enrich my experience with yours, since the frozen conflict in Kosovo is still going on in my country. That is why I think that this kind of forum is extremely important precisely because of the exchange of experiences from different parts of the world in facing similar challenges. Despite the fact that all challenges are different, just like the approaches to solving the problems, what unites us all here is a common goal: the establishment of peace.
South Korea, as a country that is in the longest frozen conflict, is also the bearer of the greatest experience in facing that challenge and as such has an undeniable potential to be one of the central points of the world for such meetings where issues of establishing peace are discussed. This is especially important in such historical moments as the world is in after the outbreak of the war in Ukraine. After a series of wars in the 21st century around the world, the war in Ukraine with all its specific characteristics greatly changes the geopolitical axis, and that axis has meanwhile been changed in the direction of shifting tensions towards the Indo-Pacific region as well. In the discussions that we will have in the coming days within this forum, all topics will certainly be in the context of those changes that are happening in real time. That is why it is crucial that we have a good understanding of the problems that the world is facing in order to be able to offer adequate proposals for solutions and put our different experiences into the function of seeking peace in the changed contemporary challenges of the global order. This puts a difficult task in front of all of us: to search for a diagnosis and administer a medicine at the same time. In other words, solutions are needed urgently, and we do not have the historical distance from which we could better see the problem and the clear role of all actors involved in these processes. When we talk about the war in Ukraine, what I see as the biggest problem is that at this moment there is not even a glimpse of what a peaceful solution could look like. I think that, first of all, we have to understand whether this war restarted the Cold War constellation or whether the Cold War actually never ended, so in that sense the war in Ukraine represents the end of that never-ended Cold War and its transformation into an open conflict between East and West.
From my experience, the best way to achieve peace is to respect the interests of all conflicting parties and come to a mutual understanding. In this sense the peace treaty should not be a full victory for any side, but a sustainable compromise. In order to reach the realization of individual interests, we first need to find a common interest in clearly summarizing the benefits of peace. During my presidential term, as the initiator of the regional reconciliation project, every type of economic, political or any other cooperation that brought benefits to all parties was based on the appreciation of identity and values. Only with a clear identity policy that respects the identity of other parties, is it possible to find common values. It is only on this basis is it possible to achieve peace.
I hope that the Korean peninsula, as an example of the longest frozen conflict in the world, can become the brightest example of overcoming that conflict and achieving lasting peace. Precisely because of the unique experience of Korea, but also because of people who have devoted their lives to peace projects, like Mr. and Mrs. Moon, who are co-founders of UPF, it is especially important that we will deal with the topic of peace, security and sustainable development in this very place and in this important historical moment. And that is why I think it is important to send a clear message to the whole world from this meeting, as well as to expand the activities of this organization to the territory of Europe. The experience of the region I come from and the experience of the UPF can be the basis of effective cooperation that can contribute to a better understanding of solving these issues not only in Korea and Asia, but also in the whole world, and especially at this moment in Europe where a war with global consequences is raging.
I use this opportunity to thank Mr. and Mrs. Moon for their activism, vision and advocacy for peace and to invite all participants to take this gathering to a higher level due to the importance of the historical moment in which it is taking place, raising our ambition to come out with a clear message and solutions at the end of the conference.