Tirana, Albania—Six former heads of state and government, 120 Ambassadors for Peace, and UPF representatives from 25 nations attended a Balkans Leadership Conference.
UPF of Europe and the Middle East organized the conference jointly with the Podgorica Club, an organization founded in 2019 by former presidents of Southeast Europe.
The purpose of the conference was the signing of a Memorandum of Cooperation between the two organizations.
Beginning at the Tirana International Hotel with a welcoming banquet on November 20 and continuing with two sessions on the morning of November 21, 2021, the conference concluded in the afternoon with the inauguration of the Balkans Peace Embassy, a building dedicated to promoting peace in the Balkans which also will serve as a regional UPF headquarters.
The building, whose construction started with a groundbreaking ceremony in October 2019 at the time of UPF’s Southeast Europe Peace Summit in Tirana, was inaugurated in the presence of the mayor of Tirana and the six former heads of state and government of the Balkans.
The Balkans Leadership Conference
The first session’s panel consisted of UPF leaders and members of the Podgorica Club, who discussed the topic “Cooperating for Peace and Development in the Western Balkans” before the signing ceremony of the Memorandum of Cooperation.
Mark Brann, vice president of UPF Europe and the Middle East, moderated the session.
H.E. Alfred Moisiu, the president of Albania (2002-2007) and the chair of International Summit Council for Peace (ISCP) Balkans, offered welcoming remarks. President Moisiu emphasized the importance of cooperation between the Balkan States, which recently have faced growing tensions. This cooperation is necessary to create a new path of peace and security in the region, a legacy he wishes to leave to the younger and future generations. He concluded by affirming, “The cooperation between the Podgorica Club and UPF, as well as the opening of the embassy, will contribute to the process of reconciliation in the Balkans for lasting peace in the region.”
The first keynote address was given by Dr. Katsumi Otsuka, the chair of UPF Europe and the Middle East, who described the will of the UPF founders to support peacebuilding around the world and especially in the Balkans. This can be ensured, he said, through understanding the interreligious, intercultural, and multiethnic context of the region, as Mother Moon affirmed at the Southeast Europe Peace Summit that was held in Tirana in 2019.
In his keynote address, H.E. Filip Vujanović, the president of Montenegro (2003-2018) and president of the Podgorica Club, emphasized the importance of looking at the future instead of focusing on the tragic past of the region, in order for cooperation to take place through a common language of understanding. He expressed his gratitude for the signing of the Memorandum, a result of preparations and cooperation between the Podgorica Club and UPF over several years.
The panel discussion ended with congratulatory remarks from two former Balkan leaders.
H.E. Stepan Mesić, the president of Croatia (2000-2010) and a member of the Podgorica Club, encouraged all states to speak the same language and work together to create a peaceful Balkan region without division. President Mesić said that the new Peace Embassy is sending a message of hope and peace.
H.E. Agim Çeku, the prime minister of Kosovo (2006-2008), emphasized the responsibility and duties of officials and statesmen, even after their mandate, and the importance of taking responsibility for the region, rather than waiting for the European Union and other nations to solve the problems of the Balkans.
H.E. Nataša Mićić, the president of Serbia (2002-2004), who could not be present, sent a congratulatory message that was read aloud. In her message she highlighted the importance of UPF and the Podgorica Club coming together in this way to work for peace and unity among all the nations of the Western Balkans, especially given the current worrying situation in the region. She said she looks forward to playing a role in the peace activities of both organizations in the future.
The first session ended with the signature of the Memorandum of Cooperation between the Podgorica Club and UPF. H.E. Filip Vujanović and Dr. Katsumi Otsuka represented their respective organizations in signing the document.
H.E. Vilson Ahmeti, the president of Albania (1991 to 1992), was also present at the conference.
The second session focused on the topic of “Balkans Peace Initiative and Think Tank 2022” and was moderated by Dr. Saemira Pino, former deputy minister of education in Albania.
H.E. Mladen Ivanić, the president of Bosnia and Herzegovina (2015-2017) and a member of the Podgorica Club, explained his nation’s three-member presidency, who must cooperate and find a consensus to make political decisions. On that note, he expressed the importance of the world’s major powers cooperating and working together in this same manner to overcome tensions.
Jacques Marion, the co-chair of UPF Europe and the Middle East, reviewed the background and philosophy of UPF activities in Albania and the Balkans, which led to the inauguration of the International Summit Council for Peace (ISCP) in 2019 during the Southeast Europe Peace Summit, and to establishing the Memorandum of Cooperation this year between UPF and the Podgorica Club. He also explained about UPF’s Think Tank 2022 project for the reunification of Korea and emphasized the significance of the Peace Embassy in opening a new level of activities for UPF in the Balkans.
Hon. Muamer Bacevac, a member of Parliament in Serbia, emphasized the importance of overcoming prejudice, which gives birth to anger and conflict. Prejudice can be replaced with tolerance, which is the respect and appreciation of all people despite differences in speech, values, culture, and other domains, he said. Practicing tolerance can allow understanding and solidarity. He ended his speech with a message of hope that after the pandemic, a new golden era for care and cooperation will begin.
Dr. Shekerinka Ivanovska, a professor at the International Slavic University in North Macedonia, cited statistics of the Global Peace Index showing that $1 invested in peacekeeping can result in a reduction of $16 used in military conflict. She expressed her support for the signing of the Memorandum and opening of the Peace Embassy, as well as the need for developing peace education, and said that think tanks can be a sustainable way to bring about understanding and therefore peace.
Hon. Hydajet Hyseni, a member of Parliament in Kosovo, cited Dr. Moon who said that people cannot be divided, and so it is for their soul. On that note he spoke of the importance of the integration of the nation, and of the hope for the future through the young population. He expressed his gratitude for the investment of UPF for peace and spoke of the need for purity and justice in establishing peace in the region.
Hon. Lavdrim Krashi, a member of Parliament in Albania, said that Mother Teresa, who was born Albanian, taught that one should first be at peace with oneself, then create peace within the family, and then in the neighborhood, the nation, the region, and the world. He concluded with a quote of Winston Churchill: “If the human race wishes to have a prolonged and indefinite period of material prosperity, they have only got to behave in a peaceful and helpful way toward one another.”
The third part of the program was the inauguration of the Peace Embassy for the Balkan region. The groundbreaking ceremony took place in October 2019, and the building was completed in November 2021.
The participating organizations were Universal Peace Federation (UPF) and its affiliated organizations Family Federation for World Peace and Unification (FFWPU), Women’s Federation for World Peace (WFWP), and International Association of Youth and Students for Peace (IAYSP), together with the city of Tirana as well as the Avatelier architecture studio and the GBK construction company.
Approximately 300 people attended the inauguration, which was widely covered by the region’s newspapers, television, and social media.
Manjola Vasmatics, the president of FFWPU-Albania, moderated the ceremony. She invited Sheh Hysen Hormova, the head of the Halveti Order of Islam, Albania, who expressed words of hope for interreligious harmony that can result from the Peace Embassy.
Congratulatory remarks were offered by the former president of Albania, H.E. Alfred Moisiu, as well as Erion Veliaj, the mayor of Tirana; Dr. Eva Çipi, the chair of UPF-Albania; and Prof. Assoc. Armand Vokshi, the architect of the Peace Embassy. Each of the speakers offered messages of hope and peace and emphasized the major role of the Peace Embassy.
The mayor of Tirana, Mr. Veliaj, said that the Peace Embassy is probably the most important embassy in the city. As Tirana has been selected as the European Youth Capital for 2022, he said he hopes that the embassy will become a place of networking for young people to create projects that will never allow war and conflicts to occur, but only peace.
The architect Mr. Vokshi described the building as a “House of Peace” built in a strategic location in the embassy district, with the white color symbolizing the purity of peace and the red color its fragility. The building will be a space for peaceful exchanges for experts as well as young people, and the ground floors will be used for offices and conference rooms, he said.
After the ribbon cutting ceremony which officially opened the Peace Embassy, the program continued inside the building in the main auditorium.
A message sent by UPF co-founder Dr. Hak Ja Han Moon, who supported the establishment of the embassy, was read by Dr. Michael Balcomb, the president of FFWPU Europe and the Middle East.
In her message Dr. Moon expressed her conviction that the Balkan nations are destined to become a model of peace and cooperation for the whole world. “Peace is never an easy task, however, because it always means that we must live for the sake of others more than we live for our own selves,” she wrote. Her message concluded with her lifelong goal to see “all the nations of the world join together in loving cooperation, so that we may at last become true brothers and sisters, one family under God.”
Carolyn Handschin, president of WFWP Europe, vice president of WFWP International, and president of the Committee on the Status of Women at the UN in Geneva, expressed her hope for peace through the Peace Embassy, and for great actions and projects that can be put into place in this building, especially by women and youth.
The inauguration ended with cheers of hope for the future of the Balkans and of the Peace Embassy led by Dr. Katsumi Otsuka.