Tirana, Albania—Former Balkan presidents were among the dignitaries attending the first joint conference of UPF’s Europe and Middle East chapter and the Podgorica Club.
The Balkan Leadership Conference, which was held at UPF’s Balkan Peace Embassy on April 1 and 2, 2022, was attended by former presidents of Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Kosovo, North Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia, by prominent parliament leaders and scholars, and by 120 UPF Ambassadors for Peace from Albania.
Founded in 2019 by H.E. Filip Vujanović, the president of Montenegro (2003-2018), the Podgorica Club is a sui generis organization of former heads of state and government from Southeast Europe. In November 2021, UPF used the occasion of its Balkan Peace Embassy inauguration in Tirana to sign with the Podgorica Club a memorandum of cooperation to promote peace and development in the Balkan Peninsula.
In the context of the war in Ukraine, the conference focused on the theme of “Peace, Security and Economic Development in the Western Balkans.” With the sharp turn taken by the confrontation between Russia and NATO countries, possible consequences in the Balkans are becoming a concern, as post-Cold War conflicts among and within former Yugoslavia nations are still to be resolved.
The conference began on April 1 with a meeting of 40 Albanian Peace Council leaders from Albania, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Serbia in the Tirana International Hotel. The meeting was followed by a welcoming banquet attended by the former heads of state of the region and UPF leaders.
On the morning of April 2, the first session, on the theme “The Importance of Peace and Security in the Western Balkans in Light of Current Developments” was moderated by Hon. Vasilika Hysi, deputy chairwoman of the Albanian Parliament (2017-2021).
The session opened with words of greeting from the co-hosts of the conference: H.E. Alfred Moisiu, president of Albania (2002-2007) and head of the Balkan chapter of UPF’s International Summit Council for Peace (link to speech), and H.E. Filip Vujanović, president of Montenegro (2003-2018) and president of the Podgorica Club (link to speech). They assessed the regional situation in light of the conflict in Eastern Europe, and were followed by Hon. Mimi Kodheli, a former Albanian minister of defense, currently vice president of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly (link to speech).
Former heads of state who analyzed the political and economic impact that the conflict may have on Western Balkan nations, their integration process into the European Union and their cooperation within the region, were H.E. Stjepan Mesić, president of Croatia (2000-2010) (link to speech); H.E. Nataša Mićić, president of Serbia (2002-2004) (link to speech); H.E. Fatmir Sejdiu, president of Kosovo (2006-2010) (link to speech); and H.E. Mladen Ivanić, president of Bosnia-Herzegovina (2015-2017) (link to speech).
Unable to attend in person, H.E. Branko Crvenkovski, the president of North Macedonia (2004-2009), gave his speech on video.
Concluding the session, Jacques Marion, the co-chair of UPF Europe and the Middle East, spoke about the UPF vision and role for peacebuilding in the Balkan Peninsula (link to speech).
The second session was moderated by Carolyn Handschin, president at the United Nations’ Geneva offices of the NGO Committee on the Status of Women and vice president of Women’s Federation for World Peace International, an organization that is affiliated with UPF. Session 2 had the theme “Economic Cooperation as a Sustainable Precondition for Reconciliation in the Region.” Speakers discussed the current state of economic exchanges in the Western Balkans, compared the merits of various projects for economic development and cooperation in the region, and pointed to specific challenges such as the exodus of young people toward European Union countries.
The first speaker was Hon. Talat Xhaferi (link to speech), president of the National Assembly of North Macedonia (). He was followed by H.E. Vilson Ahmeti, prime minister of Albania (1991-1992) (link to speech); H.E. Vincenzo Del Monaco, head of the OSCE (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe) Presence in Albania (link to speech); Professor Dr. Selami Xhepa, president of the European University of Tirana (link to speech); and Manjola Vasmatics, president of the Albanian chapter of Family Federation for World Peace (FFWPU) (link to speech), another organization that is affiliated with UPF. In conclusion, Dr. Michael Balcomb, FFWPU president for Europe and the Middle East, advised Balkan leaders to consider the positive contribution that Western Balkan nations could bring to the European Union (link to speech).
The afternoon session, moderated by Gani Rroshi, secretary general of UPF for Albania and the Balkans, was dedicated to the theme “The Future of Youth in the Balkans.” Tirana, the capital of Albania, was elected this year as “European Youth Capital for 2022” by the European Youth Forum, a platform of youth organizations in Europe supported by the Council of Europe.
The session was opened by Albania’s former President Alfred Moisiu (2002-2007), who advised young people to take leadership roles in their country (link to speech). He introduced as keynote speaker the young and dynamic mayor of Tirana, Erion Veliaj, who described his administration’s vision and plans for youth in the city. Other speakers were Dafina Peci, executive director of the National Youth Congress of Albania, who was the organizer of Tirana’s candidacy for the title of Youth Capital (link to speech). She was followed by Bogdan Pammer, European president of the International Association of Youth and Students for Peace (IAYSP), an organization affiliated with UPF (link to speech); Vladyslav Vakin, a Ukrainian youth leader who testified about the tragedy undergone by his people (link to speech); and by Erëza Mehmeti, the coordinator of the International Office at Kosovo’s University of Business and Technology (UBT), the largest private university in the country (link to speech).
After the conference, the members of the Podgorica Club adopted a declaration for peace, stability and development in the Western Balkans, expressing their expectation for greater cooperation in the region and for an accelerated process of accession into the European Union.
UPF and the Podgorica Club will pursue their cooperation for peace and development in the Balkan Peninsula.