The event, held at the Belgrade Media Centre and attended by journalists, experts and diplomats, addressed regional cooperation as a means to helping Balkan countries define and achieve their foreign policy goals. It followed publication of a special edition of Balkan Insight, BIRN’s online publication, on this topic, available at www.birn.eu.com/en/78/10/.
Speakers at the event included:
Dusko Lopandic, assistant minister in the Serbian ministry for international economic relations;
Jadranka Sturm-Kocjan, deputy ambassador of the republic of Slovenia;
Hans Hageman, counsellor of the Royal netherlands Embassy;
Ivan Vejvoda, Director of the Balkan Trust for Democracy;
Emil Kirjas, former State Secretary at the Macedonian foreign ministry; and
Milica Djilas, Assistant professor at the Belgrade Faculty of Political Sciences.
The image of the region as engulfed in its own problems is deeply ingrained, both here and abroad, with “the Balkans” still conjuring up a negative image. For this reason, BIRN felt it was time to look ahead, and ask what the Balkan countries can do to improve their international standing, especially with talk of enlargement fatigue, and the possibility of national referenda on future candidates for EU membership.
General conclusions of the debate were that countries should strive to form a better, stronger engagement in international affairs, but that their presence was dependent on national consensus on values and direction. Also, they agreed that regional cooperation is imperative in most aspects to create a stronger position for the small countries and economies of the Wetern Balkans.
Panellists agreed that one of the greatest challenges now facing the region is to take a more pro-active approach to Kosovo, focussing not just on the matter of its status, but also taking responsibility as neighbours to build there a functioning administration.
Also, they agreed that regional cooperation needs to be dealt with much more seriously, to root out inconsistencies and barriers. States, for example, should do much more to facilitate movement and exchange, by way of visa facilitation and creation of better transport links.
The event coincided with a BIRN regional network meeting, which gathered its contributors from throughout the Balkans for investigative journalism training and editorial planning.