Balkan leadership conference "Western Balkan Countries and EU Relations – Challenges and Perspectives”.
Vienna, November 11, 2022.
Moderator: Mr. Jacques Marion, Co-chair, UPF Europe & Middle East
- Ambassador Emil Brix, Director of the Diplomatic Academy in Vienna
- Dr. Wolfgang Petritsch, President of OIIP (video message)
- Dr. Katsumi Otsuka, Chair UPF Europe and Middle East
Mr. Jacques Marion, Co-chair, UPF Europe & Middle East
Jacques Marion, welcomed the participants and said that Russia’s tragic aggression in Ukraine had sent shock waves around the world and caused great concerns in the Balkans region. He expressed his appreciation to the respected statesmen from the Western Balkans and Austrian politicians and diplomats with great experience and commitment to peace in this Region, who had come to give their insights.
Ambassador Emil Brix, Director of the Diplomatic Academy in Vienna:
In his opening remarks, Ambassador Brix pointed out that Vienna and the Diplomatic Academy have been a good meeting place for politicians from the Western Balkans for a long time, calling Vienna “the capital of the Northern Balkans”. The Austrian position of helping the integration process as much as possible is hard work, not only in the region, but also among the member states of the European Union. Amb. Brix mentioned that one slightly more positive result, among all the terrible effects of the Ukraine war, is that we all tend to speak now more urgently about the European security architecture that is relevant to the whole of this continent, and about how can we make sure that the western Balkans do not become front states in an ideological war between good and evil.
Concluding his welcoming remarks, Amb. Brix said that he always liked regional initiatives, and that this is what the Podgorica Club is doing: taking ownership of the situation in the region. This is something that we have always been supporting throughout the years, so we are happy to give all the support we can give from my country and thank you for coming to the diplomatic academy in Vienna.
In his welcoming remarks (video), Dr. Wolfgang Petritsch, President of OIIP (Austrian Institute for International Affairs), described the whole new situation in Europe that has arisen with the Ukrainian war and all the ripple effects it has in the region and beyond.
Dr. Petritsch expressed the necessity for the E.U. to think in broader terms and expand rapidly. Of course, everyone is thinking about Ukraine, but before it can become a member of the European Union, he suggested that the nations of the Western Balkans should be included first in an accelerated process. He encouraged all states, who are already members of the E.U., to use their expertise and contribute to this process wisely. He concluded by saying that this conference here in Vienna is taking place at the right time.
Dr. Katsumi Otsuka, Chair UPF Europe and Middle East, greeted everyone on behalf of UPF and expressed his gratitude that the conference could be held at such a distinguished place in Vienna. “The hope of all ages has been to experience peace and prosperity”, he said. However, especially during the past 25 years we have experienced how difficult it is to realize this. The Ukrainian war in particular has shown us that there is still a long way to go.
He expressed the opinion that divisions are very dangerous and must be taken care of almost immediately. Humanity in the past has not effectively taken care of local, national, regional and global divisions. This conference has great significance in that it brought together distinguished leaders from the Balkan Nations and from Austria.
Dr. Otsuka mentioned two unforgettable events by the UPF founders, that he thinks of at the end of every year. The first is the visit of Rev. Moon and his wife, Dr. Hak Ja Han to North Korea in 1991, when they met President Kim Il Sung, which opened the gate for mutual respect and communication between North and South Korea. The other is Dr. Hak Ja Han’s speech in the “Great Hall of the People” in Beijing, China, in December 1992, when she emphasized peace in Eastern Asia through dialogue and mutual respect. He concluded by withing this conference good success.
Moderator: Mr. Jacques Marion, Co-chair, UPF Europe & Middle East
- Dr. Werner Fasslabend, President, Austrian Institute for European and Security Policy
- H.E. Alfred Moisiu, President of Albania (2002-2007); Chairman of ISCP Balkans
- H.E. Stjepan Mesić, President of Republic of Croatia (2000- 2010)
- H.E. Mladen Ivanić, President of Bosnia Herzegovina (2015-2017)
- Hon. Goran Svilanovic, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Serbia (2000 – 2004)
- H.E. Enver Hoxhaj, Prime Minister of Kosovo (2017 -2019)
Dr. Werner Fasslabend, President of the Austrian Institute for European and Security Policy, pointed out the closeness of the Balkans to Austria, and that back in history Homo Sapiens reached central Europe through the Balkan Region, after crossing the Bosporus and the Dardanelles, thus showing the interconnectedness of the regions.
He stated that the example of the situation in Ukraine clearly shows that war is no longer a means of changing borders. He explains that there are three possibilities: enmity, rivalry, or friendship. One lesson that came out very clearly is that only friendship can win! One cannot force any country anymore into one’s own system! One has to shape the political solution based on friendship in order to be successful. There might be many obstacles, but they have to be faced, because there is no alternative, not at that moment and not in the future.
He believes that this last attempt to attain an empire will soon come to an end and this will bring about a new momentum with new structures and new ideas. Dr. Fasslabend referred to the wealth of experience Austria gas gained in dealing with minorities: Austria being surrounded by a great variety of nationalities has found a way of successfully dealing with minority issues, last but not least being the `South Tyrol Solution`.
The solution to conflict situations with minorities, Dr. Fasslabend said, is not in changing state borders, but in unifying and bringing about integration. Concerning membership of the European Union, he suggested that those nations that have been waiting already for some years should have the right to join at least at the same time as those that are showing an interest now, because of their acute situations.
H.E. Alfred Moisiu, President of Albania (2002-2007) and Chairman of ISCP Balkans
H.E. Alfred Moisiu started by expressing how thankful he is that the Podgorica Club and UPF share the same concerns about the West Balkan Region. This unforeseen outbreak of war waged by Russia against Ukraine contributes to the instability of this already fragile region, with Bosnia Herzegovina and Kosovo being particular hotspots, but problems are arising even in Montenegro. He criticized the local political leaders for their lack of humanism and responsibility.
H.E. Alfred Moisiu gave an insightful explanation of the political situation in the region and shared his impression that although some efforts are being made, the E.U. member states do not fully realize how hazardous the situation is in the Western Balkans. He exhorted us not to view him as a nationalist troublemaker, but to understand his strong desire to find the best possible way to turn this corner of Europe into a safe, peaceful and sustainable region. For this to happen, he said, Europe would need to change its tactics, not provoking, but asking for honesty and determination.
He also cited the importance of understanding history, before the much-needed compromise and cooperation can be reached, as there are still historical issues of enmity that have not yet been addressed, and that this would be necessary in order to find peaceful and sustainable solutions for the future. In concluding, H.E. Alfred Moisiu urged everyone present in this honorable gathering to rise to a European consciousness.
H.E. Stjepan Mesić, President of Republic of Croatia (2000- 2010)
H.E. Stiepan Mesic began by expressing how much he wished he could talk about a postwar situation concerning the Ukraine and programs of reconstruction and reconciliation, but sadly this is not the case and his heart goes out to all the victims of this war. He referred to the considerable consequences this has for the countries of Southeast Europe, e.g., the rise of food and energy prices. These are not harmless realities, as economic, strategic and political security are always strongly intertwined. If the economic situation worsens, the level of insecurity always rises. The effects are felt in the whole of the European Union, and these are not short term effects, but ones that will be felt for years to come.
He suggested that what Southeast Europe needs most is good cooperation, in order for progress to be made, and that this needs political wisdom and thoughtful decisions. The E.U. has a special responsibility for the stability of the so-called Western Balkans, and it is of great importance that the region be able to trust in the strength and credibility of the E.U.
On the other hand, H.E. Stiepan Mesic stated that besides the above-mentioned cooperation, the hand that will help the Western Balkans the most is its own hand, and that is why he would emphasize the `Open Balkans initiative` as a good path to a more stable future in Southeast Europe, both economically and politically. He concluded by thanking the audience for their attention!
H.E. Mladen Ivanić, President of Bosnia Herzegovina (2015-2017)
HE. Mladen Ivanić expanded on how intertwined the situation is among the countries of the region and, being a Serb by origin, he shed light on the emotions of the population of the Republic of Serbia. On the one hand, they want to have all the comforts of belonging to the west, being close to E.U. On the other hand, the bombing by NATO of Belgrade at the end of the Balkan war, and NATO’s support for the sovereignty of Kosovo, make them want to keep their distance from NATO.
H.E. Mladen Ivanić also expressed that extreme positions in conflicts are counterproductive, because if you have a winner, the loser will just wait for another chance to try to win. A one-way approach is never of any help anywhere; rather, a balanced approach is needed. Therefore, for the countries in the region to become members of the European Union all together would be of great help.
However, he expressed his pessimism recalling an experience in 2006 at the time when he was in Brussels representing the All People’s Party and heard some delegates saying that after Croatia there would be a pause in E.U. accession, because of the institution’s inability to digest any more new members.
Now the situation seems to be changing, however, because of the situation in Ukraine, and priority might be given to certain countries. However, he emphasized that for the Balkan nations it is very important that the rules be the same for everyone. H.E. Mladen Ivanić concluded by thanking the audience for their attention.
Hon. Goran Svilanovic, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Serbia (2000 – 2004)
Hon. Svilanovic thanked the organizers and the Diplomatic Academy for making its premises available for this conference and expressed his special appreciation for the large audience who were interested in this topic. Hon. Svilanovic pointed to the role of the OSCE, whose goal has always been to try to maintain the dialogue with Russia. The relationship with Russia will have to be re-thought, he said.
He called on the E.U. to re-think its identity, not only concerning the Balkans or East Europe, but also to consider also the North African region as part of Europe’s identity. In Vienna, Austria, that connectedness is perhaps less evident, but France or Spain, for example, have strong ties with the North-African nations. In this respect, Hon. Svilanovic called on the E.U. member states to rethink their engagement concerning issues such as food security and wellbeing, which often cannot be guaranteed.
The current situation has forced these countries to consider many important issues, such as the availability of raw materials and pharmaceuticals, and the need for the free exchange of knowledge in this area. In this context, the potential mining of lithium in Serbia is an important topic. Definitely, the E.U. has to be redefined once the war is finished, he said. Already the E.U. is losing lots of money because of the war and by not including the states of the Western Balkans in the Union.
H.E. Enver Hoxhaj, Prime Minister of Kosovo (2017 -2019)
H.E. Enver Hoxhaj praised the Vienna Diplomatic Academy for providing education of the highest quality to past and present leaders, even beyond Europe. He expressed that in February this year there was some expectation that, once this war is finished, there would be a geopolitical revival and a shift of focus of the European Union concerning the Western Balkan region. However, this did not happen, so we still have the same status quo since 2013 when Croatia joined the E.U.
H.E. Enver Hoxhaj said he also saw the return of the dark forces of nationalism, which we all thought belonged to the past. He further mentioned the necessity for “Vergangenheitsbewältigung” or the work of reconciliation, as occurred between the Germans and Jews, and which he had the chance to experience in 1966. He said that he unfortunately did not see any trace of this in the conflict between Serbia and Kosovo.
In concluding, H.E. Enver Hoxhaj expressed his hope that there would be some push from Europe or the U.S.A. for his country to be accepted [into the E.U.], as occurred with Montenegro in 2006. He expressed his gratitude to the organizers for creating the space to discuss those issues.