European Leadership Conference in Tirana, Albania - 21, November, 2015  - Session 2. Peace, Security and Human Development in the Balkans: Challenges and Opportunities

The second session was moderated by Mr. Ali Laçej, a co-coordinator of the Albanian Peace Council, who reflected on the Balkans. We need to accept each other if we want to be accepted by Europe, he said. He then reviewed some of the difficulties Balkan people have to face, from problems of governance to issues of environment or education, challenging the Ambassadors for Peace to take responsibility for them.

Dr. Todor Mirkovic from Serbia, a senior advisor to the European Center for Peace and Development in Belgrade, gave an appraisal of the geopolitical situation of the Balkans. The development gap between the Balkans and other European regions is widening, he said: The gross domestic product (GDP) of Balkan countries, except Albania and Bosnia and Herzegovina, was in 2010 at the same level as in 1990, he said, giving three reasons: armed conflicts, social transformation and economic transition, and the global financial and economic crisis. Education for peace and tolerance is most essential to dealing with challenges in the region, he said. First experienced in the family, education for peace and tolerance needs to be implemented throughout primary and high school and university. Religious representatives and the mass media should be its main promoters. One of its main tasks, he said, is to instill an awareness in future political leaders of the benefits of peace versus the atrocities of war. He concluded that the integration of Balkan nations in the European Union and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) would be a factor of both peace and, on the other hand, the impressive development of the post-Cold War transition period. In the face of globalization, security matters are more complex, he said: Issues such as the migrants or terrorism can be dealt with only through international cooperation. To be good neighbors, he said, we need to plan a common future, and he described some of the benefits of cooperation between Albania and his country. Global NGOs such as UPF, he said, have an important role because they are not limited by borders. Let us first remove the borders from our minds, he said, and then let us turn the Balkans from a “security belt” to a “prosperity belt.”

Professor Dr. Arben Malaj, a former minister of finance and economy and the chair of the UPF National Peace Council in Albania, asserted that there can be no prosperity without peace and no sustainable peace without prosperity. He stressed that the Balkan nations should take an example from Western nations that developed based on higher human values and built strong institutions instead of focusing on individual benefits. No country can prosper by closing its borders, and no region will develop if it is isolated, he said. Even if individuals are at peace, a crisis in the nation will affect all people. According to Dr. Malaj, three main challenges obstruct and endanger the future of Balkan nations: growing unemployment, poverty and inequality, and populism and extremism. He concluded by calling on young participants to foster change in society through moral, human and political means, and to not imitate the false models of those who have a fast career and wealth.

Hon. Mićo Orlandić, a member of Parliament from Montenegro, said that peace, security and interreligious cooperation were of high concern to all in his country, by tradition and as a result of history. Montenegro has been a home for many displaced people following the wars in ex-Yugoslavia, he said. Today Montenegro plans to join the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Let us cooperate to fight against ignorance and hatred, he said, and let us not leave the Balkans in the hands of 20th century historians, but let us look forward to a 21st century in which peace and security will reign in the Balkans and foster development. We especially need to teach the youth about peace and tolerance, he said, so that they can behave normally and respect one another. To reach this goal, he concluded, coordination among governments is needed to prevent terrorism and organized crime and ensure environmental and cybernetic security.

Professor Anis Bajraktarevic, the chair of the Department of International Law and Global Political Studies at IMC (International Management Center) University in Vienna, who originally is from Bosnia, declared that “the time has come for us to focus on real issues.” In a brief historical review, he said that the Balkan nations are victims of their ambition to be “greater”: a Greater Serbia, Albania, Croatia, etc. An underlying reason, he said, is that we have lived in a federation of theocracies based on non-territorial principles under the Ottoman and Austrian empires, where nation-states were not established. How could the Balkans, which contributed so much to Europe’s greatness, end up in this miserable situation? We suffer, he said, from “anthropogeographic inversion,” whereby the periphery becomes the center and the center turns into the periphery. Even our narratives have been dominated by others, he said. But Europe is now coming to a deep crisis. In the Balkans, he concluded, the most serious crises are depopulation and a crisis of cognition and morality.

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