Section 2: Focus on Southeast Europe: Long-term Peace and Prosperity
Executive Vice President,
His Excellency Besim Beqaj,
Minister of Economic Development,
Republic of Kosovo
His Excellency Zlatko Lagumdžija,
Deputy Chairman of the Council of Ministers and Minister of Foreign Affairs, Bosnia and Herzegovina
The Honorable Philip Reeker,
Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs, U.S. Department of State
Swissôtel, The Bosphorus
4:00 – 5:20 p.m.
Thursday, November 15, 2012
Federal News Service
DAMON WILSON: All right, I want to welcome everyone to this session after lunch. My name’s Damon Wilson. I am executive vice president at the Atlantic Council and we’re delighted to welcome our guests here for this discussion. This is a focus on Southeast Europe, long-term peace and prosperity in the region, perhaps with a question mark following that statement.
We’re having this discussion in Istanbul at an energy and economic summit in large part a reflection of several things, of how significant this region is to the broader success of the region that we’re talking about here in Istanbul, in part a reflection of the fact that Turkey’s role in Southeast Europe has been stepped up over the past couple of years. Obviously many of the folks here who are involved in energy and economic issues, the implications for Southeast Europe are significant, both in terms of energy transit as well as economic development in the region.
And for the Atlantic Council itself, Southeast Europe, the Western Balkans, it’s a key region for our work because we very much see it as the remaining unfinished business of creating a Europe whole, free and at peace. In fact, on the eve of our Istanbul summit, here in Washington we were hosting a workshop in Washington on the way forward in the Western Balkans where Phil Reeker’s colleague and boss, Assistant Secretary Phil Gordon delivered a speech on U.S. policy towards the Balkans in the wake of Secretary Clinton and High Representative Ashton’s visit to the region.
So it’s a timely discussion for us to have here, particularly with Secretary Clinton and Cathy Ashton visiting the region so recently. In many respects, as we look at Southeast Europe, 17 years after Dayton there has been much progress. First of all, there is no conflict. Slovenia and Croatia are in the European Union. Croatia is headed into the European Union. Slovenia, Croatia and Albania have become members of NATO. Kosovo and Serbia are engaged in very constructive talks as we speak.
But in many respects, 17 years after Dayton we can also say that there has been too little progress given how much all of our countries have invested in the success of the region. There is concern about the rise of nationalism in the region, the rise of political chauvinism, the issue of maintaining the integrity of territorial borders where you hear a political discourse both in Bosnia and in Kosovo that raise concerns.
You have a Macedonia that is stuck, if you will, having been unable to move forward on the NATO and EU agenda and the debate over its name and real concerns about economic development in Southeast Europe exacerbated by what’s taking place more widely across Europe.
So the context in many respects is long-term clarity. There’s a long-term agreement at a strategic level in Brussels and Washington, throughout European capitals that the Western Balkans belongs in Europe and belongs in the institutions of Europe. But there’s a real challenge about what that means in the short-term. There’s a real challenge about how you get from this long-term vision without sufficient progress in the short-term right now.
And so to begin to talk about those short-term challenges on the way towards European integration, we have three terrific panelists with us today. I’m delighted to welcome you here to Istanbul. To start with, we have Minister Lagumdžija from – the deputy from Bosnia and Herzegovina, the deputy chairman of the Council of Ministers, minister of foreign affairs since 2010. He served as president of the Social Democratic Party in Bosnia since 1997 and has been a member of parliament since 1996 and served as prime minister in 1993.
Then we have also the minister – Minister Besim Beqaj, the minister of economic development of Kosovo since February of 2011. He’s also served importantly for this conversation as the minister of European integration. He has worked with the Kosovo chamber of commerce. He’s been an advisor to the prime minister and the Kosovo national coordinator for the stability pact as well.
And finally, our U.S. representative on this panel, a good colleague and friend, Ambassador Phil Reeker, who serves as the deputy assistant secretary for Southeast Europe at the Department of State. He’s served as America’s ambassador to Macedonia. He’s also served as a public affairs counselor in Baghdad where I had the chance to overlap with him and has served time in Budapest as well as served as the department’s deputy spokesman.
But let me turn to you, Mr. Minister. Part of what we’ve been talking about is in the wake of this trip that Secretary Clinton and Lady Catherine Ashton took to the region was in large part driven by concerns about where Bosnia in particular it is, about concerns of the lagging process that many believe Bosnia has been making on this agenda. And where you have the Dayton Peace Accords that clearly ended the conflict, ended the war in Bosnia but what it has not left Bosnia with is strong governance and the right strong governance structures going forward.
And so, as you’re grappling with the issues on your agenda, how do you see that Bosnia’s aspirations towards the European Union, towards NATO, that this is actually a realistic prospect rather than just a long-term dream? And how can reforms be – how can you incentivize reforms in Bosnia so that the pay-offs are not so distant in the future to get the dynamic right for political leaders to take tough decisions in Bosnia? Please kick us off with your thoughts on these challenges.
ZLATKO LAGUMDŽIJA: Well, first of all, I want to thank you, I mean, for this wonderful introduction and briefing about where we are 17 years after and especially where we were 17 years ago. Back in ’95, the Dayton Peace Accord was done. I don’t know why I turned to Phil. But, well, basically speaking, 17 years ago when they did it and then they put us together and we did it too. It was a big success. And I remember at that time I was very unhappy with the Dayton Peace Accord. I survived the war. I was happy about the fact that the war was over.
And then, my last line of defense in front of myself was that the Dayton Peace Accord brought us peace. And then I realized that I am complaining about something which brought us peace. So I said, wait a second, you have to reset yourself. Something brought you peace so you should be thankful for the fact that peace was brought.
There is one thinker who I admire very much who used to say that peace is not everything but without peace nothing is possible. So that’s how I comforted myself. I said, OK, we have the Dayton Peace Accord which brought us peace. Now, it’s time to do something to advance and try to make our future being different. I think 15 or 17 years ago we are into the stage in which we have to turn ourselves to the economy. Why? Because if the peace is something which we have to keep, if we want that peace to be self-sustainable, then we have to understand that there is no self-sustainable peace. Without economic movement, nothing progresses.
And that’s the reason why I think that today we have to focus ourselves more on the economy, on real issues and daily lives and try to upgrade our constitutional framework, our constitutional deficiencies and try to upgrade our constitutional and overall setting through the sorting out economic and social issues and through the tools and mechanisms that we have in front of us. So what are the tools and mechanisms in front of us? The tools and mechanisms that are in front of us are actually our goals.
Our goal is today there is full consensus among us that Euro-Atlantic integrations are our common destiny, our common future. We all agree about that we have to become EU country as quick as is possible. Maybe there is some disagreement how and under what circumstances to get in NATO. But basically I’m speaking, everybody understands, that at the end of the road we have to get there. And there is a third thing which is our priority. It’s what we are talking about. It’s our regional cooperation.
So if we talk about EU, about NATO and regional cooperation, those are our three goals, foreign goals and domestic goals. But I would rather say that those three things are our tools that we have in our hands because our real goal is to transform our country. Our goal is not to become EU and NATO country or have regional, let’s say, cooperation.
Our goal should be to have self-sustainable and normal peaceful, prosperous, transformed country that has its historical roots, that has citizens of that country, that have different religions, different ethnicities who are trying to work and live together in some kind of coexistence in one country with all differences that exist among us.
In that context, I see the latest visit of Madame Secretary and Lady Ashton. And I think it’s great that especially Lady – Madame Secretary devoted her last foreign visit before the presidential elections to the region. They sent us a very clear message. We are ready to help you. We are ready to share your future with you. But we are expecting you to do something which is actually basically helping yourself. So as much as you help yourself, we will be ready to help you and to assist you in your forward movement toward those three goals or call it tools or call it however you want to.
But since you said that 17 years ago, I have to – I have to admit one thing. I think that regardless of the stalemates and problems that we have today, let’s be – let’s face some reality where we are today compared to 17 years ago. You see, 17 years ago we were CNN-able (ph) very much. Why? Because we were killing each other. Today, we are no more the news, which is the good news. So today, we are not so in big focus of interest. I hope that next time we will get in focus of interest it will be because we are doing much better in economic and institutional sense in our progress to EU and Euro-Atlantic integrations. And a bottom line, 17 years ago there was 50,000 soldiers was deployed as a part of – that was the biggest peacekeeping – peacemaking and peacekeeping mission in modern history in the middle of Europe.
After the war that today is still being, let’s say, on an individual basis being tried in The Hague. This was big war in Europe, the last big war in Europe that ended with such atrocities that some of them were even sentenced as being act of crime including genocide. But the point is that 17 years ago, name me the mission, name me the international mission in which you had more than 10,000 soldiers – not 50,000 soldiers, not more – who were deployed someplace and 17 years later you can say that they were there, they left, they transformed.
We have army that at that time was three armies on the ground that were killing each other. And today, you have armed forces of that country. We are talking – even talking and agreeing, especially on the professional level – to be on a path to NATO. How many soldiers were killed in any combat activities on behalf of international forces? The answer is zero, nil. No one single soldier was even wounded in any combat activity. I’m not talking about killing. Some cynics are saying that soldiers who were moved from Italy or Germany to be part in Bosnia at that time, there is evidence – I heard the rumors there is evidence that there were less car accident casualties for your soldiers – international soldiers being in Bosnia than in Italy or Germany because of a very simple reason. We have such rotten roads that they were driving much more carefully. And as a result, the bottom line is no one got even severely injured in such a kind of activities.
So of course, today we have a problem. We have a government that is reshuffling. We are not Italy. We are doing it much – in a much less smaller frequency. But we have a government that we are in the process of reshuffling. And everyone says, what are you talking about. Two years after elections you are reshuffling the government. So what is the big deal that we have some small reshuffling of the government? The positive thing, and which we call progress in today’s Bosnia, is the reshuffling of the government is not Serbs or Bosniaks or Croats, two against the third.
We have multiethnic government formation and multiethnic opposition formation. And we are reshuffling the government about the issue called the budget. That’s what we call progress today in Bosnia. We don’t have Serbs and Croats against Bosniaks or some other kind of combination. And that’s why we are doing a reshuffling. We are doing it because we simply disagree about the budget – a group of Serbs, Croats and Bosniaks, a group of Serbs, Croats and Bosniaks and others on other side and they disagree.
I know it’s painful. I know it’s not – it’s creating some lot – some problems locally. But I want to say that 17 years later, we did something which we have reason to be proud of. Could we do more? Of course we could. Shall we do more in the future? I’m absolutely sure that – I hope, I mean – I would really love to see this panel in 17 years from now. But we’ll do it faster.
MR. WILSON: Minister Lagumdžija, that was actually a useful way of reframing how we think about this – (audio break) – excuse me. Excuse me about that. Lady Ashton and Secretary Clinton came to Sarajevo in large part to deliver a tough love message because of their concern about the lack of progress on issues that keep Bosnia from crossing the threshold, particularly in terms of its Euro-Atlantic integration.
You have Secretary Clinton who said she will go to the December ministerial, NATO ministerial and push very hard for membership action plan for Bosnia if Bosnian leaders can take the right decisions on state property with the armed forces by then. And that’s one issue. But whether it’s educational systems or governance structures or even an entity that’s challenging the sense of sovereignty of the state, there are some real fundamental issues that are at stake which leave concern among many observers about rather than integration of the state as a whole towards Europe, potential pulling apart of that state as it’s trying to move towards Europe.
And do you think that the political leadership that you’re a part of – the broader community is able to help sort of turn that ship and help provide the incentives for the political leaders but also the population to support a clearer path, a more decisive path forward towards Europe?
MR. LAGUMDŽIJA: Well, first of all, I really – I think it’s very good and very important that you underlined again this latest visit because that latest visit gave a clear signal to everyone, locally and regionally and broader than regionally, that EU and USA are united about Bosnia’s future and region in general but I’m talking about Bosnia in particular, more probably than any other – I mean, there is probably short list of such big agreements, such strong commitments and commitments and agreements where EU is speaking with one voice and EU and United States are speaking with one voice.
And I was – even when we look at American internal politics, Bosnia – such an issue as region in Bosnia, it is crossing party borders and there is full, let’s say, unity in the United States and inside Europe and in between Europe and the United States that 55,000 square kilometers of Bosnia and Herzegovina as one frame is something that is there. And it’s up to us to put the picture – how that picture, how that great mosaic will look like.
So I think it is a very important message. And this may be one of the most important messages that we got from latest visit. Even if there are some doubts or some – some, let’s say, ideas or some minds that were going in the direction that maybe we could reconsider there is someone in Europe or someplace – don’t get me wrong, but some people were sometimes doubting that Europe is not so united about the future unity of the Bosnia.
That’s the reason why it is so important that Lady Ashton was there talking with full European support saying that this is one country. You have three constituent people. You have three different – or four major religions. You have to find a way to live together. Dayton is there. We brought you peace. That’s what we offered to you. Upgrade it. Move it.
Move it but you have to stay inside that framework and because that framework is not only about you people, about 4 million of you. That framework is about bigger picture. This framework is about the future of the region. And this framework is, after all, about the future of Europe. If 4 million people in Bosnia and Herzegovina who are sharing same history but different cultures and traditions – if 4 million people in 21st century who are coming from different ethnic and religious backgrounds in democracy cannot live together under one institutional framework, then what are we talking about?
I think it’s not only us who have a problem because don’t forget that Bosnia and Herzegovina is not simple sum of three separate ethnic groups, not three different histories. We lived in one society under those historical circumstances – under Ottoman Empire when center was here in Istanbul. We lived in one society under Austro-Hungarian Empire – in the same borders, Bosnians and Franciscans had the same borders for 500 years as today.
And we lived in Kingdom of Yugoslavia. We lived in one society with our differences. Under Communism, we lived in one society. So what is the conclusion? With Euro-Atlantic perspective and democracy, we cannot live in one society. I would be much more scared for that conclusion if I’m not Bosnian, if I live someplace in Europe. So I think that that’s how I see this and how I see this latest visit and latest trip.
And that’s what I said to Lady Ashton and Madame Secretary. I’m absolutely sure I’m thanking you for your coming here and I’m sure that one day when we become normal society – normal country, better society – that day will come faster because you came here to send us such a clear message. When it will be? I don’t know. I hope sooner than later.
But whenever it happens, it will happen because just like 17 years ago, European Union and United States of America were united about the Dayton Peace Accord. And that today, united to send us a message: go back to work. It’s about economy. It’s about institutions. It’s about daily – ordinary people, daily lives. Work on it through that. I’m sure that we can progress. Otherwise, I don’t see otherwise.
MR. WILSON: Thank you, Minister Lagumdžija. Let me turn to your colleague from Kosovo, Minister Beqaj. Just – you also had a visit. Secretary Clinton also came to Pristina. And it’s interesting. You bring to this conversation a perspective. You’ve held the job of minister of European integration and now minister of economic development. And in many respects, I think that’s directly related to the conversation we’re having because while you – I mentioned the progress as we see the Kosovo-Serbia talks taking place.
There are fears across Europe about concerns of Kosovo’s economic underdevelopment and what that could mean for economic migration to Europe, how you – there’s discussions already in some EU capitals about rolling back some of the visa-free travel that’s been extended to the Western Balkans as part of this process. We’ve had an audit come out on EULEX rule of law that says – has been critical of EULEX but also critical of the point of not making sufficient progress on issues of rule of law and justice.
So how do you see the prospects for Kosovo and how does your strategy – or share with us your strategy for economic development. How can that reinforce your aspirations over time to follow a Euro-Atlantic path when there is quite a bit of pessimism right now about the strength of the economy in Kosovo? I’d welcome your views on that.
BESIM BEQAJ: Well, thank you very much for giving us a chance to be here and to share some of our views. And I am very happy to be with distinguished colleagues here to talk about, let’s say, future, short but as well long-term perspectives for the Balkans. Normally, some people in the Balkans, they don’t like to be called Balkans. We are using the term of Western – Southeastern Europe or whatever, just trying to – maybe to overcome ourselves in terms of a Balkanism and shift in the mentality. I would say that is a kind of fear of ourselves in this process and sometimes we are trying to overcome ourselves to believe in something which we have to do some more work on that direction.
The visit of Madame Clinton and as well Madame Ashton, it was very, very important message for the whole region, not only for Kosovo. For Kosovo, it was a message. It was a strong message for our integrity of the country, a strong message for the neighbors, a strong message that they want Kosovo and the region to be contributors to the stability and the peace, not consumers of the stability or the peace and as well the strong, strong support for normalization of the relations between ourselves.
I think we should slowly try to change that mentality in the region that we are living for ourselves – only for ourselves, isolated from others, and not recognizing they are related. That is – that is a thing which we have to deal with it in the region. Now, if we go back a little bit in the recent history, in Kosovo after the war, which was a very, very devastating war in human beings but as well in economy and infrastructure, we got UNMIK mission, which is a United Nations mission in Kosovo which was a mission, a mission for peacekeeping, mission for keeping the status quo, mission to create some sort of institutions but not really with a goal.
The missions, they do not have a goal. And there was that difference which we had as a people who have been living in Kosovo and trying to do something. We had the goal and our goal was to create a state and to create a normal life for our people. So that was a lot of discussions, debates, up and downs about the sustainability of the institutions, how the institutions should be functioning, are those institutions acknowledged regionally and broader, how we will be part of the regional cooperation and the international cooperation.
So with that situation, I will come to some stage. It was the political issue. It was not at all a discussion about economy. So for the whole period of UNMIK presence in Kosovo, we did not talk about economy in Kosovo. We talked about only how we can cooperate among Serbs, how we can integrate minorities and this kind of stuff, but not – no discussions on the real life in the country.
And this has been a discussion until 2008, until the declaration of independence of Kosovo when the people made clear that Kosovo is going to be independent state, that Kosovo is an independent state, the state which should now take care about life of its citizens regardless of are they Serbs, Bosniaks, Romas or Albanians.
So that was a kind of – that was a kind of tendency. Since then, because all the politicians, being at that part, the political appointee who has represented Kosovo in the stability pact for the Southeastern Europe, it was hard – hard position because let’s just assume we were calling an UNMIK language. If I would be in a kind of meeting, it was a difficult time to clear my speech and the clearance of my speech was to go from prime minister who was my direct boss to the president and to the SRZ (ph) and they wanted to check about the language I am using – not using that language which will offend others and this kind of stuff.
So it was dealing with the things which are maybe very good at some stage but not really with the economy. And then we accepted that point of the stability pact as a tendency toward bringing region to cooperate on these issues. That was what the stability pact was about. It was not just to think very, very tough politics in that sense. Now, 2008 came. We have shown to all our international players that we want to be stable partner in the region. We want to be responsible partner in the region. And we want to take the future of our country in our hands.
From 2008, we were trying to deal with the economy because people will not forget anymore our speeches in the public that we are working to create a state. This is a kind of statehood creation activities and this and that. Now, people, they understand that Kosovo has been recognized more than 90 countries and they want to live better. They want to live – they want to have decent life with good infrastructure and with a good neighboring relation. They want to have free movement, as all others in the region.
And that is now what we are trying to do. I was one of those who have negotiated free trade agreement on behalf of Kosovo. And we were attacked by a lot of people, not only us in Kosovo but as well in other places, that we are creating another Yugoslavia. But our belief was with our friends, especially from U.S. and from Europe, that we want to bring the case of European Union, the case where people and the countries which have been in difficult times, they should go now with economic regionalism.
And the difference was big in the Pristina because political regionalism was in ex-Yugoslavia where politics had it toward economic cooperation and then now we are speaking about the economic cooperation which is going ahead of politics. This is what we are trying to do. Still, this is not functioning. Still this is pretending to be happening. Now, we are building infrastructure which is going to do a kind of contribution in that. Kosovo was completely out of decent infrastructure.
For example, from traveling from Pristina to Tirana we used to take 12 hours, very tough drive. As of next 10 days, we will have integration of highway which will be in two-hours-and-a-half. The same thing we are planning next year with Macedonia. We have already budgeted it. The same thing now is the outcome of dialogue between Serbia and Kosovo is proposed highway towards Serbia, towards Niš. It was our idea to come at the border and we want to have a response as well from the Serbian side.
And we were very happy to have such kind of projects, let’s say, accepted by the European Union. So we are speaking now about the decent life, about the infrastructure, about the economy. The economy cannot work without infrastructure. Imagine, I was supposed as the minister of European integration to travel to Bosnia, to Sarajevo. And it was a difficult time for me which I decided not to go because, first, we were not accepted by the passports.
So it was the council of the ministers who should then decide should one minister go or not to go. This was the first thing. The second thing is if you decide to go, to take that kind of adventure, you should go to Vienna, flying from Pristina to Vienna and from Vienna to go back because it’s very dangerous for us to travel, for example, through Serbia. Or you go through Dubrovnik and other places.
So it’s a kind of – it’s a kind of difficult time. And imagine speaking about the real life, speaking about the economy. Now, we want to have this kind of shift in the mindset, accepting reality and dealing with economy, dealing with economy in the region. And we are very happy that these days, for example, we have succeeded in the north to have our administrative office which is taking care about the life of the Serbian people in the north.
I had yesterday meeting with the mayors of all over Kosovo and we had as well the northern part. They have great ideas how they want to go ahead with their better life and not being the hostage of criminals and the people who are just taking advantage of the situation for themselves, not for the people. This is about dealing with us, among us, and this is about the support we are getting from the United States and from European Union. They want – with their case, I do believe, to show that the economy, the better life, the free movement is something that everybody is entitled to it.
There is no, let’s say, someone who deserves it more and someone who deserves it less. We are looking as a Kosovo to a credible EU perspective. I used to be minister of European integration. I had a lot of frustration exercising that job because we don’t want to be treated anymore as Kosovars, as Albanians, the second level of citizens. That is the thing that European Union and others should send a direct message.
Why I’m saying this? Because only Kosovo is not granted with a visa regime for free movement. And imagine what has – what is the outcome of that. The outcome is only the poor people, they cannot travel. The rest, they can travel because Kosovars who have some possibilities, they go and take Albanian citizenship – double citizenship. So they travel free. Bosniaks who are living in Kosovo, they are entitled to get Bosnian citizenship. All those people who are living at the border with Macedonia, they’re entitled because there are a lot of family links they are getting their Macedonian citizenship.
Our people who are living in certain parts of Serbia, they have as well relations with the eastern part of Kosovo. So they get as well the citizenship of Serbia. Serbs who are living in Kosovo, they are entitled to the Serbian citizens. Who are the people who are not really traveling freely? That is – that is what we are trying to send to the European Union. Give us the credible EU perspective. We are ready to take responsibilities. But we want to be fairly treated because without free movement, without the infrastructure and without the economy, we cannot make it.
And without having that support, European integration, Euro-Atlantic integration as such, the goal then is in different ways. I mean, we just were – I was – I remember one meeting about 10 years ago in Lithuania with deputy – with the prime minister, Mesut Yılmaz at that point. And it was discussion about Turkey relations with EU. And he was sending a kind of message: give us more concrete things because at some point our people will be fed up with no actions in that direction. So if one today makes a referendum, more than 90 percent of the people of Kosovo people will vote for getting integrated in European Union which is not very, very often case even in the region. Thank you.
MR. WILSON: Thank you, Mr. Minister. Ambassador Reeker – Phil, you’ve heard the minister just make a point about wanting not just Kosovo but the region having a credible European perspective. I want to draw you out a little bit on, one, the U.S. role in the region but how Washington is seeing this as well. On the one hand, Secretary Clinton clearly, at a very busy time as she’s ending her tenure as secretary of State and in the midst of elections in the United States, carved out time to join with Lady Ashton to make a significant visit to the region. And time is a huge testament of priority.
Yet many are still concerned that over the long-term the United States’ attention and staying power in Southeast Europe is diminishing and that its interest – as everyone here knows, Ambassador Reeker has been somebody who’s worked these issues doggedly. But the concern is what happens with the next secretary of State, the next – whether Republicans or Democrats – the senior leadership in the United States is just going to be less interested, less tied to the developments in Southeast Europe.
How do you see this unfolding? How do you see the U.S. role playing out? Is it time for the European Union really to have the lead here? We’re talking a lot about European integration process. And can the EU do this without the United States? And your assessment, as well – I mean, the secretary had some blunt words in all of her stops. Give us a sense of how you see the region progress progressing towards Europe as well.
PHILIP REEKER: Well, thanks, Damon. And let me thank you for that intro and framing it that way. I thank my two colleagues for the comments they’ve provided so far and really thank the Atlantic Council for highlighting the Western Balkans. It does show both here in Istanbul and just a couple of days ago – how Damon does it, I don’t know. He moderates a panel on the Balkans in Washington and is immediately here.
It shows that there still is interest in this. The panel in Washington was standing-room-only and there is an interest in the policy community. It is bipartisan. It is across the board. There are a lot of people who continue to be interested. There’s been a lot invested by the United States in this region, particularly in the last 17 years, as Zlatko points out. And I do think what the secretary did was deliberative. She had been two years ago on a similar tour through the Western Balkan region. She wanted to go again.
We’ve been looking for dates and we very carefully chose the period of time when she went, accompanied by Baroness Ashton on the three key stops to illustrate that this remains very much a trans-Atlantic issue, a Euro-Atlantic issue, something that we went into together in terms of a U.S. vision for a Europe whole, free and at peace, when the Balkans began to melt down, with the collapse of Yugoslavia, after the transitions post-1989 and that we are still there very much together with the same vision and goal that the secretary and Baroness Ashton highlighted. And that is Euro-Atlantic integration.
I appreciate that Zlatko took that reset 17 years ago in terms of his view on the Dayton Accords. Resets are things that we value and think can be very useful. And I think what has been accomplished in 17 years is worth looking at. The fact that 50,000 U.S. troops participated with other NATO and allied troops in SFOR, IFOR, brought the peace which so many people could never imagine – could never imagine the conflict that had erupted in Europe just, you know, less than 500 miles from Vienna.
And that’s been, of course, replaced over time with the presence still of EUFOR and of course KFOR in Kosovo. But a diplomatic presence – you know, SAAs and perspective for the European Union which is what should make the difference. I think it’s worth at least stepping back, particularly because we’re here in Istanbul and thinking about where we were a century ago. Secretary Clinton’s last stop on this trip was in Tirana where she helped kick off this month of November as the hundredth anniversary of Albania’s independence.
And of course, the Albanians give great credit to the United States and to President Woodrow Wilson at that time who then in the post-World War I peace process protected and defended the independence of Albania.
If we look back now, we are at the centennial of the Balkans wars – 1912, the first Balkan war, 1913, the second Balkan war and, of course, we’re on the cusp of getting ready to commemorate what happened and what began in Sarajevo – the Great War. That has a lot of resonance for this city, for this country of Turkey and the context to think of how a century has transformed this, what it’s meant.
But particularly in South Central Europe, Southeastern, Southwestern Europe, however you want to define it and in the Balkans, when those wars were taking place, the people of the Balkans, whether regardless of their ethnicity or what country their descendants belonged to or citizens of today, had very little say in this. The Balkan wars and the Great War were, you know, the machinations of the great games, great powers declining and disintegrating empires.
A hundred years later, it’s the people, the citizens of all of these countries, all of which are democracies, all of which are demonstrating through elections – the local elections in Bosnia which were conducted well, free and fair, elections in Serbia in May. Perhaps the story that was most missed out of those elections was how well they went and the peaceful transfer of power in Serbia that took place.
The development of Kosovo as an independent state, having just celebrated in September the end of supervised independence, a process through which the international community helped this state move forward on the basis of the comprehensive settlement proposal – the Ahtisaari Plan. I mean, there is a lot to look at that shows that the people now, the citizens have the ability – indeed, the responsibility – for themselves, something they didn’t have a century ago when they were dragged through these horrific conflicts.
One of the points the secretary wanted to make now a century later in visiting there is the disappointment at the leadership in some of these countries. Zlatko, I have to say it, in Bosnia in particular – where two years after her earlier visit, there has been no progress. It took 16 months to form a government in Bosnia and Herzegovina after the 2010 election. And that government looked very promising at the beginning of this year and then things fell apart so that you had again a stalemate. And we have to now hope that we can get momentum moving again in that process.
So there are frustrations. But we are dedicated. And that’s what the secretary has shown. It’s what Phil Gordon talked about. It’s what I spend my waking and sleeping time focused on, to continuing to see this project or these series of projects through.
We have embassies in every one of these countries that, in most cases, are new or still under construction, where our presence has transformed from troop presence – NATO troops in Bosnia, for instance – into expertise, assistance and increasingly trying to help these countries prepare themselves, make themselves open to business so that the other wave of American engagement – that is, the private sector which can make so much of a difference in terms of investment and trade, commercial activity – can be there.
What we need, though, is to see these countries and their leaders take these opportunities that they have, that they’ve been given through the European perspective, that they’ve been given with the assistance of the United States through AID programs, through training, through a focus on rule of law and to actually make something of that.
I think that is a key place and the fact that this is an energy and economic summit is always important to focus on those two topics, economics in particular, because as the whole region and the whole world goes through the current economic crisis, it’s an opportunity when these countries should be positioning themselves to take advantage of that recovery.
Kosovo’s economy, small as it is, endangered as it is, has one of the highest growth rates. There is something positive to being small and starting from a lower point. If other countries could copy that just in terms of growth percentage, there’d be a lot to be happy about.
Other countries are struggling. Serbia is struggling. Croatia on the cusp now of becoming the next full member of the European Union next July – still a lot of work to do in transforming its business environment and in dealing with the corruption, instilling rule of law, continuing to encourage – it’s a generational process perhaps – citizens, individuals to take responsibility and demand this of their leaders.
And those are the kinds of points that the secretary made in her, as you put it, fairly blunt comments and will continue to make in our engagement which, to get to your specific question, Damon, I think will continue at the same level. You have to look at what else is out there in the world, as you know very well, with the Syria situation, with Iran, you know, transition in Afghanistan, political reform across North Africa, some of the topics that were raised this morning, the economic slowdown across Europe.
We’ve been responding to these issues very much in close cooperation with our European partners. And that I see as continuing. The secretary wanted to demonstrate that at the end of her tenure. With the reelection of President Obama, you can expect that the same support will come from the very top in terms of maintaining our engagement, our presence and our focus on the Western Balkans even in the midst of all of the other challenges because fundamentally it is in our interest to do so.
A hundred years after the Balkan wars, 17 years after Dayton, four years and counting after Kosovo’s independence, it is in our interest to continue to nurture the investments we’ve made but to encourage the people, the individuals – particularly the leaders who have been elected through democratic processes – to take their responsibilities seriously and work with us and our European partners.
MR. WILSON: Thank you very much, Phil. You know, my role as a moderator is to be sort of an observer, a neutral and ask penetrating questions. But I did want to pick up on what Phil said. The Atlantic Council did host this Balkans event on Tuesday and, as Phil said, standing-room-only.
And I have to say as someone who works at the Atlantic Council where we want to help keep a spotlight and commitment to working on these issues, I’ve been buoyed and surprised when we do programming on Southeast Europe and particularly the Western Balkans, there remains a strong constituency in Washington.
There are enough folks that have been invested throughout their times and their careers. But I do worry. I do worry about sustained political attention in our Congress and in our political leadership. But there does remain a core constituency and it’s something that we at the council want to help continue to sustain over time because we’re going to have to – we can’t take it for granted. We’re going to have to work at it.
As part of this transition that we have to worry about the level of U.S. engagement in the region, I want to ask you about two countries in particular and their role in the region and in your countries in particular: Serbia and Turkey. Serbia obviously part of the Western Balkans but has gone through, as Phil said, a significant democratic transition that went successfully, smoothly.
On the other hand, many in the region were concerned it brought a government to bear that had ties to some of the darker chapters of Serbian – Serbia’s role in the region, leaders with a bit more of a nationalist bent into the conversation. So I’d welcome the views. I mean, your two countries, the relationship with Belgrade couldn’t be more important in terms of the normalization and success of your own political agendas.
So I’d welcome your views on the role that Serbia’s playing under a Nikolić government now in your countries. And then, since we’re here in Istanbul, it’s significant, as we’ve all seen, the role that Turkey has played diplomatically, economically, has really stepped up over the past couple of years. Foreign Minister Davutoglu has been an almost constant – a frequent visitor to the region.
And you see a real effort of Turkish diplomacy and economic actors to exert greater influence in the Western Balkans. And I’d welcome your comment on that, what the impact has been within Bosnia and Kosovo but more broadly in the region itself. Let’s start with you, Minister Lagumdžija, please.
MR. LAGUMDŽIJA: Well, when it comes to Bosnia, of course, we have historically speaking, I mean, since Dayton Peace Accord, we were talking impact of Zagreb and Belgrade in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Of course, we’ve forgotten for the moment, for the long-lasting moment that actually Turkey was a country and still is a country which is part of Peace Implementation Council – which is actually supervisory board for Office of the High Representative, because just to remind you that actually the Peace Implementation Council consists out of the countries whose presidents were witnessing Dayton Peace Accord that was signed in Paris from Chernomyrdin to Bill Clinton, Major, Chirac, and Felipe Gonzalez was on behalf of European Union because he was chairing EU that semester.
So those presidents have their representation in Peace Implementation Council as well as Canada and Japan as big donors and some multilateral organizations like financial institutions like World Bank and so on, and Turkey as a representative of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation. So Turkey has an institutional presence in Peace Implementation Council which Croatia and Serbia do not have regardless of the fact that their presidents cosigned Dayton Peace Accord.
But I think that of course we have another neighbor which is Montenegro. And I’ll give you very clear judgment. I think that when you took – if you take any slice of those 17 years in, let’s say, 2-year slices, when you see what is orientation of Podgorica, Zagreb, Belgrade and Ankara, if you want, as well, I think that we have never had better overall attitude toward supporting Bosnia on its Euro-Atlantic path than we have, let’s say, in last few years.
So and all those four countries are, let’s say, in a different stage when it comes to Euro-Atlantic. We were always having some – some, let’s say, doubts or at least some of us were always having some doubts about some of those capitals being a little bit more present than it is decent to be. But if I could put it in one comprehensive index of those four capitals’ presence in Bosnia, I think that index in last three years is better than ever in last 17 years, which is good for itself.
Now, Croatia is – I want to – it would be unfair to jump over Croatia even your question was about Serbia and Turkey. I will talk about Serbia and Turkey. But Croatia is, let’s say, our role model to a certain extent when it comes to Euro-Atlantic homework because they are in NATO. They are actually getting into the EU. And we have very positive signals from Zagreb when it comes to the helping us in this. With Serbia, I think it’s premature to talk about Nikolić legacy.
But Mr. Dačić was in Sarajevo lately. He made very good impression. He really tried to be positive. And I have to admit that together with here is my friend and colleague, Mirko Šarović, our foreign trade minister, state minister, my colleague from the council of ministers, and we already have with Serbia we agreed that we will work together closer on our bilateral relation when it comes to trade and that we will together apply to Brussels to get some kind of assistance as two countries who want to work together in technical assistance for very concrete economic issues.
When it comes to Turkey, Turkey is playing positive role in political and less in economic sense. I’ll say something about economy because I’m saying less in economic sense because it’s much better rated when it comes to politics. But economy is getting in right direction as well. Speaking politically, Ahmet really made a great, great impact by creating those two troikas: Turkey, Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina and Turkey, Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina.
And those two troikas were very productive in, let’s say, helping Bosnian even internal dynamic to be going in right direction. When a few years ago when there was declaration of Srebrenica in Serbian parliament in Belgrade, Davutoglu was very active player in coming to some kind of, let’s say, resolution, position of Serbia. That is something which was welcomed in Bosnia and Herzegovina as well as in Serbia.
So I think now since I don’t want to get, let’s say, misunderstood by saying that economic presence is not so good. It’s not as good as political presence. But it is showing good signals. I’ll give you an example. In last 18 months that Phil was talking about, in last 18 months we did not get so nicely politically a mixture as I would like to. But there were significant signals of economic progress. And I’m using Turkish presence in that context.
In last 18 months, we deployed about 500 million euros in construction of Corridor Vc, its European corridor – 500 million, just to give you an example. In last year-and-a-half, we have employed machinery on Corridor Vc that was mostly financed by EBRD, EBI and other institutions. And it was three times bigger part of the Corridor Vc than was built in previous 15 years.
Is it too much? No, it is not because in three years, 15 years we did not do much. But in previous 15 years we’re talking about political issues and we’ve just forgot about very simple thing as Corridor Vc. So now we have 500 million euros right now deployed. We have Turkish company that came for the first time among other European companies on Corridor Vc on EBRD-sponsored international transparent bidding process. So Turkish company came over there as a branded company.
Now, in energy sector, since this is about energy as well, we have bigger Turkish interest and presence in energy because, just to give you an example, Bosnia and Herzegovina is the only country in the region that is for years in continuing exporting electricity. But the last electricity power plant was made when President Tito was alive. That was more than 30 years ago. We have built the serious one since then.
But we are till exporting electricity in the region. Now, we just had international tender process which our energy company is looking for the strategic project partner – not strategic project partner – for building one new power plant which is investment in area of 800 million euros. For Bosnia and Herzegovina, it’s huge. This would be something that would strengthen our capacity as energy hub in region.
That’s why Minister Šarović came last night and we had a meeting about meeting that he had in Brussels about losing and putting in a process investment in a transmission company that for six, seven years was stopped, did not make one penny of investment because of our internal stubbornness. And now, we are unlocking the process of having investment in such a thing.
Now, why I am comparing – why I am connecting this to Serbia and Turkey? Because a transmission company is of great importance to us because of our neighbors because we are part of regional grid. Why I am talking about power plant investment? Because I’m talking about bigger presence of Turkey. When Turkey is competing with, I think, 11 or 12, another state, international big companies to do joint venture.
Joint venture, 50/50 investment with Bosnian public company to invest in the biggest energy project in former Yugoslavia in last 20 years. Is it much? It could be more. But it’s significantly more than we had – you had before. When I mentioned – and since I mentioned my colleague, Mirko Šarović. You see, we are the only two – Phil, we are the only two Dayton ministers because in Dayton Peace Accord – in Dayton Peace Accord it said that we have minister of foreign trade and minister of foreign affairs and others which will be defined.
So in our constitution, we are only two ones being defined. Everyone else is later defined. Today we have our nine colleagues of course. And this is, I mean – we are enlarging. We are enriching ourselves with it, but –
MR. REEKER: (Off mic.)
MR. LAGUMDŽIJA: (Chuckles.) Yeah, right. So you see, I mean, this is maybe good example. When I was going to Belgrade to have a meeting with President Tadić at that time, and – (inaudible) – Minister Šarović, who is coming from not party which I am, and Minister Šarović is coming from SDS as our coalition on the state level. He was the one who gave me input that we should – I should talk with Nikolić about our mutual trade agreement in between Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina was stuck in for years.
And then, in my meeting with President Tadić I said, boys, to be honest with you, I have message for you from my colleague Mirko. We have to do something. That’s what we call progress. You see, Minister Šarović and myself who are coming from two different political options are working together and I’m his advocate in Belgrade and he’s my advocate in Turkey when it comes to agreement about trade of the good which are related with – (inaudible).
That’s what I think we should, Phil, focus on much more. I know that you have a lot of complaints. I do more have complaints about our government. That’s the reason why we are reshuffling it because we didn’t quite like it. But it’s – you know, and after all, it took us quite a time to form a government. But I have to admit we did it now – I mean, it’s not the big crowd. When Belgium government was formed after 20 months, we said that’s enough, we should not break the record.
And that’s why we formed our government just to – just don’t look like Belgians, OK. And they are privileged because they are in EU. I don’t know what would happen to Belgium if there is no EU. But that’s another story. So the bottom line about role of our neighbors, when it comes to NATO, Vesna Pusić is a better foreign minister of Bosnia and Herzegovina than myself. She’s much more productive than me because she is impartial and she is doing well job. When I do something, I may look like partial.
But I mean, we have really good relations with our friends. Even Silajdžić, when he was in Sarajevo, he was recently in Sarajevo. He was memorized by a lot of events, not only that he was singing so well after dinner with his favorite singer, who is from Sarajevo. But also we agreed that – I mean, we should somehow really try to make this region a little bit different.
And as I said in that press conference and he agreed with me that we should learn something from Eurosong, OK, because in Eurosong contest, when it comes to the how 12 points, 10 points down to one point, I mean, it happens that our people who are voting on telephone, mobile phones, it looks like we in the region are cooperating so well. Our people are cooperating so well. When it says Belgrade is calling, we know there will be 10 or 12 points to Bosnia, OK? When it comes Zagreb is calling, we know we are comme ci, comme ça. When it comes from Turkey, we know that we will get some points, OK. What I’m trying to say, that when it comes to Eurosong, our people are cooperating so well and we are giving to each other. Macedonians are giving a lot of points to Croatia and so on and so on. I think we should learn something from it.
MR. REEKER: Let me just say I’ll take this as a pledge by Zlatko that Bosnia and Herzegovina will support Kosovo being allowed to participate in the Eurovision song contest.
MR. WILSON: In the Eurovision – all right, well let’s – let’s take Eurovision as a leading indicator of regional cooperation to come and to build on. So thank you, Mr. Minister. Let me turn to your colleague from Kosovo about the roles of Serbia and Turkey and the state of your conversations with both.
MR. BEQAJ: Well, thank you. When I was hearing my colleague, I was just expecting that at some point we will have very, very active roles in this love to make Kosovo present equal to other countries in the region because that’s what we are speaking about, working together with Serbs, Albanians, Bosniaks, Croats. And if we are that good in that cooperation, I think we should move it from the reality into the politics.
When I was speaking about the regionalism was about this. Regionalism is driven by culture, by sports, by economy and so. So if we follow this kind of, let’s say, route we have just undertook today, I think it’s going to be something very promising. In terms of speaking for economy and relations with Serbia and Turkey, let me just tell you, Phil has mentioned a little bit about our economic indicators because a lot of doubts are there. Shall Kosovo can stand alone economically? I will tell you that we are performing much, much better than everybody have expected.
For let’s say last 10 years we have average economic growth 5 percent with a GDP per capita growing but as well with a lot of investments from the budget into the capital investments. We almost from our budget we invest 40 percent into the capital investments, which is a rare case in other countries. And we have very low public debt, personal debt which is less than 6 percent. So basically in a micro-financial situation, Kosovo is doing much better than other countries in the region and even I can say in Europe.
It is low level, absolutely. It’s a better performance, a better fiscal discipline, better management of the budget. It’s absolutely. We just had yesterday in the goodbye visit, Ms. Armitage from the World Bank and she was saying publically that Kosovo is serving as a model for fiscal discipline, for microeconomic stability in the region because we wanted to go step-by-step. We didn’t want to take too big steps which can create and cause us problems.
We succeeded to be part of the World Bank and we are benefiting. We are part of the IMF. When we had decided to go a little bit over expectations of IMF for raising our salaries because we wanted to have responsible people working for the citizens and we did not agree with IMF because they were saying do not raise salaries, we decided to raise salaries. But in less than eight months, we proved to the IMF that we can be financially prudent.
We can go back to the standby arrangement and get benefit from the monies which are from the World Bank, from IMF and from the commission. So we are expecting now to be part of the EBRD membership very soon. As a matter of, I think, days and weeks, to be there in order to give more opportunity to our economy. It’s for the first time that Kosovo is being rated credit rating with the Standard & Poor. And we expect quite good performance because our banking sector is very, very sound banking system. We do not have any kind of crisis.
Our bad credit is very low rate. So our companies are very, very, let’s say, prudent in their financial planning to do the activities. Do we need a lot more to do? Absolutely. It is a lot of jobs. And as a government, we stand together with the support of USAID and our European Commission friends. We stand several ministers for about a week sitting together and drafting together an economic plan, economic vision.
And we did not do vision as it used to be in the ex-Yugoslavian countries, hundreds of pages, a document which could never be understood, even from those who are writing that document. So we put very measurable with a clear line of responsibilities, with a timeline and we are sticking to that. And we are responsible as the cabinet ministers for every timeline, every project where we are standing with that.
And we are trying to empower as much as possible the private sector. We want our government to be a door for the business because we seeing that that kind of exercises where governments are involved, especially we were using as a role model Slovenian economy and we have seen that it was wrong because they were having quite, quite big role of the state in the economy or if we go to Greece which has a super-public sector in the whole thing.
So we want to have the private sector driving the whole thing. And in this sense, a lot of investments are happening in the region, especially in the energy, in the mining, in telecommunication very successfully. We just succeeded to privatize distribution and supply of energy. It is Turkish company, Turkish consortium Çalık-Limak consortium, who is – who built the distribution but committed 300 million euros investments for the next 15 years.
We are in the process of building new power plant which is again investments about 1 billion euros. And we have again one Turkish consortium – Turkish company and consortium, U.S. and Greek consortium competing for that. So we are expecting next year to have this happening. Then we have an airport which is a very, very successful example. We will have the best airport in the region very soon, next year in September, the airport which will be high-tech airport.
It is a public-private partnership. It is the first in the region, such a model. French- Turkish consortium and we are moving because now we are working as well bringing the private sector in the mining. Kosovo is very rich with their mines and we want to use, we want to get the best use of that, not only for the primary but as well for the secondary economic activities in that direction.
We are in the process of privatization in telecom. And again we have five companies which is showing a big commitment toward the economic policies of the country. We have companies from the U.S., from Poland, from Britain, from Turkey, from all over the world actually. There are five different consortium who are very, very aggressive and big, big companies. I mean, that is a big acknowledgement to our process and that is what we believe that the things are going in the right direction.
And a lot of things have to be done. Now, I mentioned several Turkish companies and this is reflecting to some extent the economic relations with Turkey because we have a lot of relations even before and the people and back and forth, and the people who have been living here and we are trying now to accommodate those people not only for bringing and coming as immigrants but coming with their ideas.
The same thing we are trying to do with our diaspora in Europe, in Germany and Switzerland especially where we have almost half million people, more than half million people. And we are lucky that their economies are doing well. So that is a kind of big injection in our economy. And this is giving a good stream line into the economy. When we speak about Serbia relations –
MR. WILSON: Let me, Minister –
MR. BEQAJ: Absolutely, just –
MR. WILSON: Before you do Serbia, let me just – I just want to be able to catch – and if there are some questions from the audience, while the minister’s answering on Serbia, catch my eye so I can bring you in before we wrap things up, so just wanted to –
MR. BEQAJ: OK, when we speak about Serbia, Serbia is a very important trade partner for us, absolutely. And we want to go into the normalization of the relations. There are agreements which have been reached – IBM agreement, regional cooperation agreement, economic cooperation, energy, telecommunication, water. We want to normalize and that is our commitment because we want our economy to work for the better life of all of our citizens.
MR. REEKER: If I could, Damon, just as a tag-on to that –
MR. WILSON: Yes.
MR. REEKER: – note that the U.S. as much as we are doing this work in the Balkans with the EU, very much a partnership as Secretary Clinton and Baroness Ashton demonstrated, we also welcome very much Turkey’s involvement and just as an example of that, I’ll go tomorrow to Ankara for the second time this year to have a sort of overview consultation with my Turkish counterparts about developments in the Balkans.
We work closely together in Bosnia, as the minister noted, as members if the PIC steering board and so I just want to underscore our strong desire and the positive view we have of Turkey’s engagement and involvement as a partner in this as well. Historically, culturally, economically, it’s very important that Turkey have a big role.
MR. WILSON: Questions from the audience? Yes, this woman here, if you could bring the mic forward please. Please introduce yourself as well.
Q: (Off mic) – secretary from the embassy of the Republic of Kosovo in Ankara. And my question is for Mr. Reeker. And I want to ask concerning the fact that regional cooperation which in itself also includes bilateral interaction between the states is one of the most important aspects for membership in EU. How can you define from the point of view – from the U.S. point of view the bilateral relations of the states in the Western Balkans? So you can start maybe from Kosovo and Bosnia.
MR. REEKER: Well, obviously, as I’ve already spoken with Minister Lagumdžija today, understanding his position as foreign minister of a state – Bosnia and Herzegovina – which represents – has a lot of differing views, we would love to see all the countries of the region engage with a recognized Kosovo. For some, that simply has not been possible. And I think the important thing is to look at as we talk about between Kosovo and Serbia normalization, having a relationship.
Focus on recognition I think is misplaced in, you know, 2012 and beyond. What we have to focus on is being able to deal with each other so that individual citizens, people’s lives can be normalized because everything needs to be approached from a regional perspective. I think regional relationships broadly in the, you know, nearly two decades I’ve watched this region have progressed extremely well.
And if you look at relationships between and among countries of the former Yugoslavia, there’s a lot to note positively. Indeed a lot of commentators are surprised and 10 years ago never would have expected the kinds of relationships that we do have. Croatia and Serbia have important roles to play in Bosnia, as Zlatko rightly noted.
Macedonia has continued to try to work with its neighbors, again going back to the historical context that we talked about, the Macedonia question was very much part of the equation during the Balkan wars and in fact the century preceding that. We have the answer to that question and that is the Republic of Macedonia, the country that we work with very closely now and despite its problems with – particularly with Greece obviously, I think we’ve got to find ways to overcome those things and not allow some of these historic and bilateral things to interfere with the region’s overall perspective.
So I think it’s something we focus on quite a lot is the regional cooperation, regional respective as well as the broader European perspective and our trans-Atlantic and Euro-Atlantic engagement and there’s lot good to be pointed out there. I don’t know if the ministers would agree broadly. But I think overall it’s a pretty good picture.
MR. WILSON: So let me – we’re coming close to a time to wrap up. So let me just offer a comment and one question to all of you to help conclude our discussion with. We began by framing this as a region that does enjoy sort of clarity in terms of the long-term vision. There’s a long-term vision that this region does belong in Europe and in the institutions of Europe. But there are short-term challenges that are pretty serious. And those challenges means there’s a degree of murkiness as to next steps and the way forward.
So to conclude, if each of you could offer in your sense what are the key markers, the key tests, the key benchmarks for countries in the region to be able to continue to signal a move towards Europe? Is it Montenegro gaining an invitation to NATO or what do you see coming down the pipeline as the next two or three key markers that show that the region is moving in the right direction and is moving over some of these hurdles? So let’s start with you, Foreign Minister Lagumdžija, as we’ll go down the line to conclude. And you can make any of this your concluding statement as well.
MR. LAGUMDŽIJA: Well, first, how people will judge us in each of our respective countries is about how much that they see that their life in sense of economic and social issues is better today than yesterday and how they think and how they judge that we are if not better that we are on the right path to be better economically and socially. That’s how the people in the end will judge us, which is not exactly how the people were judging us 10 or 20 years ago because 10 or 20 years ago we poisoned the atmosphere.
The people were judging us more about how much we will defend our ethnicity, our religion, our whatever. And we were judged – politicians were more judged by the myths, by the fighting for the created stereotypes. Today I think the things have changed. The people in the region are much more interested in who will win the future, not about who won the past war that we probably all lost.
So that’s from the perspective – and that’s I think a positive thing that is happening. Ho we will be – what we will be, let’s say, the – what – where we have to look at the score, what is the consolidated index of our success. The consolidated index of our success in Bosnia and Herzegovina is how closer we are to EU, how quickly we will get the candidacy status. When we get candidacy status, it means that we did something on the ground. How far we will advance to catch up with our Croatian friends, with our Albanian friends when it comes to NATO, when it comes to NATO, how quickly we will be in Macedonian position.
How quickly we will get MAP status and be on the path– irreversible path to NATO membership. So what I see in next two years, next two years I see crucial for Bosnia and Herzegovina to be irreversibly on NATO path. Personally if we – if we achieve what I think we should achieve very quickly to do some internal progress on the things that we already agreed and committed ourselves about registering so-called military property in order to unlock our MAP status I think it would be possible that next summit on NATO after Chicago one would be more about enlargement as well than like the last one.
And if we make that by 2014 they will see that we are there. Then it will be seen as something that we really did it as generation of these people who are running the countries and our country in particular. And second thing is by 2014 I think that if we get candidacy status and if we catch up our neighbors who we were in front of 10 years ago. Ten years ago I was foreign minister when I signed a paper which made us being member of the Council of Europe.
Biggest supporters were late Prime Minister Zoran Đinđić and former Foreign Minister Goran Svilanović because Serbia was not in the Council of Europe. And they understood that more we are progressing in is better for Serbia, that we – that we get into the same race having knowing at the end we will finish. Now today Serbia is in front of us when it comes to the EU regardless of their problems and sorted out issues with Kosovo.
But the bottom line is I see that by 2014 we can do – show that we are different by being on – having candidacy status and being irreversibly there. When I say there, it’s NATO because NATO itself, besides everything else, besides everything else which is normal about investments, about security, NATO in Bosnia is so important because NATO is fear-killer factor in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
MR. WILSON: I like that. NATO is the fear-killer factor. All right, Mr. Minister –
MR. LAGUMDŽIJA: F-K-F.
MR. WILSON: F-K-F, all right. Your final thoughts on the benchmarks for the future?
MR. BEQAJ: Yes, I think what the region needs in the short run, it’s less politics. Less politics, more economy, more the real life of the people because in the region, I’ve lived for several years in Europe and United States and different places and I tell you that this region has produced a lot of history. This region is producing a lot of politics now. I think it should produce reality. It should produce economy. It should produce regional cooperation which means free movement of people and free movement of goods and this can prove that the economic policies well known as proximity is cool in their economy which is saying that if we want to be respected in the bigger picture we have to respect each other in the region.
So our mouth is full of food politics, full understanding among it, but the reality doesn’t show. I think what is needed, if we want to pass test, is economy, regional cooperation, rule of law and then we can be treated in the same place seriously, trade relations and the EU integration. Thank you.
MR. WILSON: Very good, Mr. Minister. Ambassador Reeker?
MR. REEKER: Let me say that I don’t even want to look as far as 2014. I want to see Bosnia and Herzegovina complete its membership action plan by resolving registering the defense property. It’s there. It’s agreed. Just get it done. It doesn’t have to take more than, you know, a couple of weeks to do that. And similarly, complete what’s necessary, the sedes vinci (ph) and the steps necessary to complete your SAA and move forward to submitting an application for candidacy status to the EU. Those are important benchmarks.
On the NATO front, it doesn’t take a NATO summit to do these things. You can complete your MAP, as I said, anytime. Macedonia can move forward and become – get its invitation for full membership in NATO anytime as soon as they can find a resolution to the so-called name issue. I think we need to look for good elections in Albania next spring. We haven’t talked about Albania much but that is critical to see Albania already a NATO member.
But they need to have good elections, a place where they have fallen down. They have a different context, of course, than the other countries in the region, the former Yugoslav countries. Albania emerged from a far different regime, the Communist era of Hoxha. They’ve made real progress in some areas but they need to demonstrate the ability to find a political balance that allows them to have good elections, move forward on the European thing and get their candidacy status as well.
Montenegro, since we haven’t talked about it, has of course gotten candidacies, not only European Union candidacy status but begun accession talks. They are moving forward on that and they’ve made good progress on the NATO front quite quickly. Finally I think a benchmark I’d like to see is at next year’s Atlantic Council Energy & Economic Summit here in Istanbul, there should be representatives of Serbian government institutions participating as well, sitting up here next to Kosovars.
They’ve demonstrated already their prime ministers can do it. It doesn’t hurt them, the dialogue being a positive thing. Serbia has an important role to play and it only injures itself by not being present at this kind of forum, so thank you.
MR. WILSON: Thank you very much, Phil. I think you’ve just given us – Ambassador Reeker has just given us the concrete agenda for the next 12 months. That’s perfect. Please join me in thanking our guests for a terrific discussion on Southeast Europe and its path towards Europe. Thank you. (Applause.) We’ll be reconvening for dinner with the deputy secretary of Energy, Dan Poneman, at 6:30 in the Fuji Hall. Thank you.