While the EU is engaged with Greece’s financial crisis, Russian involvement in Ukraine, and migrants and instability in the Middle East and Northern Africa, the Balkans continues to be a sensitive region, which should not be ignored by the EU and wider international community. This is what was concluded in a conference on 24th June organised by DCU’s Institute for International Conflict Resolution and Reconstruction (IICRR).
The conference brought together influential scholars and policy stakeholders including Jamie Shea, NATO’s Deputy Assistant Secretary-General for Emerging Security Challenges and Dr Enver Hoxhaj, Kosovo’s Former Foreign Affairs Minister, to examine the most critical issues affecting peace in the Balkans, and explore viable alternatives for building sustainable peace.
Videos of the main conference presentations are available here.
Professor John Doyle, Director of IICRR, pointed out that Ireland has a potential to share its own experience of conflict resolution and modernisation to the Balkans and that this conference aims to inform Irish audiences with the most pressing problems that other parts of Europe are facing.
Dr Gëzim Visoka, who organised the conference, considered that despite the progress made in the last two decades, stability in the Western Balkans continues to be affected by the persistence of domestic divisions and regional contestations, as well as external uncertainties coming from the policy changes within Euro-Atlantic community, insecurity in Europe’s eastern neighbourhood, and violent conflicts in the Middle East.
Jamie Shea, NATO’s Deputy Assistant Secretary-General for Emerging Security Challenges, pointed out that the Balkans, despite many challenges, represents a region where the EU and NATO can make an impact and transform hostilities.
Enver Hoxhaj, Kosovo’s former Minister of Foreign Affairs, held that the EU and NATO should not lose the momentum for leveraging change in the Balkans and should ensure that the region joins the EU and NATO as soon as possible. He added that this would be the best strategic safeguard of our joint interests and a peremptory solution to the growing destructive politics of Russia and other Eurasian countries. While discussing Kosovo’s comprehensive progress in normalising the relations with Serbia, Hoxhaj added that the EU should use the Kosovo model to resolve the outstanding challenges in the region.
Elena Stavrevska, an expert on Macedonia, held that the EU’s involvement in resolving the recent crisis in Macedonia should not prioritise stability over more pressing issues of democratisation and institutional reforms in the country and pointed out that ethnic tensions are more tuned to cover up the authoritarian practices of the ruling political elite in the country.
Recently, there has been a revival of nationalist rhetoric in the Balkans, especially between Serbia and Albania. Elvin Gjevori from the European University of Tirana considered the role of Albania as NATO member and strong supporter of US security policies to be crucial in maintaining a balance in the region in the wake of Russia’s geopolitical interests. He maintained that although Albania economically is not very strong, it is well positioned geographically and political to safeguard the interests of Euro-Atlantic community in this ever-changing region of Europe.
One the major fears is the expansion of Russian interests in the Balkans. They have already strong ties with Serbia, have direct influence over Republika Srpska in Bosnia and recently they have strengthened their ties with Macedonia and Greece. Discussing these geopolitical interests of Russia, Enza Pertillo from Italy argued that Russia is using Serbia and its policy of neutrality to infiltrate further in the region, which is undermining EU’s interests in the region and its ability to leverage democratic reforms among the EU candidate countries.
What we can learn from this conference is that the EU should not lose sight of what is happening in the Balkans in spite of its own internal concerns. Instead, it should continue providing the region with sufficient assistance to undertake reforms that will bring the region closer to the EU.