Ambassador Artur Kuko
Ambassador Artur Kuko
Achieving Security and Prosperity in the Balkans
Eleven years ago, I was an out-of-NATO participant at this event. Today I am a participating representative of a NATO member-country. From where I stand, I see that the room has become much more colorful than it was 11 years ago. I see representatives from countries like Brazil, Argentina, India, and Egypt participating, a definite value-addition to this important event.
I would like to address a few points at the risk of being a bit repetitive following so many distinguished speakers who have addressed the issues of the western Balkans and the Black Sea region. I start with Ambassador Stefanini’s question: Can the Balkans and the Black Sea region help each other?
COOPERATION BETWEEN THE BALKANS AND THE BLACK SEA REGION
My answer to Ambassador Stefanini’s question is not a firm yes and it is not a firm no. I think the two regions have similarities, in particular the internal order they need to reestablish in order to travel at proper speed toward their desired destination: Being members of both NATO and the European Union. But there is a big difference in their backgrounds. Someone at this conference, our Croatian friend, I believe, referred to the two notions of southeastern Europe and the western Balkans. I personally look at both with a great deal of sympathy: One had Europe and the other had the west inside.
Location has been tremendously important, and things in the western Balkans have taken place within a certain European background, if you will. But that is not necessarily the case with the Black Sea countries. However, I think that there are a lot of things we can learn from each other. As far as Albania is concerned, with the modest experience we have accumulated, we stand ready to do whatever we can to assist the countries of the Black Sea region.
If you look at Albania, you can grasp the speed and length of the journey we have taken to become a member, but I think my prime minister recently addressed this issue in great detail. I will address several points on cooperation in the region regarding European and NATO perspectives, and I will also dwell on a point that most probably was not broadly addressed at this conference, which is the issue of Kosovo.
ORIENTATIONS AND MEMBERSHIPS
If you look at the mosaic of the western Balkans, you see that it is composed of countries with different political and membership affiliations. Romania is a member of the EU and NATO; Bulgaria is a member of the EU and NATO; Croatia is very advanced in its negotiations for full membership; Greece, of course, is a full member of both NATO and the EU; Slovenia is also a member of NATO and the EU. Then you have Albania, a NATO member with a pending application for membership in the EU; Macedonia is also not yet a member-nation but is on the eve of being one with its candidate status. We also have Serbia, a very important factor in the region, but my feeling is that Belgrade is not making full use of its importance in the region.
I think that there are segments out there that have nostalgic feelings rather than pragmatic and realistic feelings. If you look at all the orientations and memberships of the countries I just mentioned, it is more than obvious that there remains a small group of nations that are not firmly anchored either in NATO or in the European Union, and I think that those countries are well set in their orientations. Montenegro and Bosnia Herzegovina, which I have not yet mentioned, are poised: Montenegro is firmly a MAP country and Bosnia is a MAP country with conditions. I think that these are advantages compared to the Black Sea area. It is a region that is pressed on by all sides—by the EU, by EU and NATO member-countries, and by both.
BRINGING THE BALKANS AND THE BLACK SEA REGION CLOSER TO NATO AND THE EU
What would it take to speed up the process of bringing these countries closer to the EU and NATO? I believe there are three main steps:
Regional cooperation is of the utmost importance, and is most probably an element that can be used by the Black Sea countries. We now see countries that were on very bad terms with each other significantly improving their relationships.
Once regional cooperation is established, it will be easier for the group of countries to knock on the doors of both NATO and the EU, because their voice will be stronger.
THE POTENTIAL OF KOSOVO
Regarding Kosovo, it is a country that has been recognized by a number of other countries. Still, we await the ruling of the International Court of Justice in order to have a significant number of countries recognize it. Such recognition is a crucial element in the Balkans mosaic, and has the potential to unleash an immense peace and progress campaign. However, it also has the potential to unleash phenomenons that we thought belonged to the past. It is with extreme concern that we continue to follow Belgrade’s efforts to promote a Serb partition of Kosovo, a possibly very dangerous scenario that we would like to try to prevent. My prime minister indicated recently that it is not only Mitrovica that can be separated north and south of Iber—the region is full of Mitrovicas, and anything that goes wrong in Kosovo can have severe repercussions in Bosnia, in Macedonia, or in the south of Serbia.
All in all, there is tremendous progress in the region, but tremendous challenges remain there. The main elements of continuing progress should be internal drives for reform in the relevant countries, then regional cooperation, and then a joint regional drive toward the EU and NATO.