Speech delivered by CEAS Director Jelena Milic at the opening of the Seventh Belgrade NATO Week
Good morning and welcome to the international conference hosted by the Center for Euro-Atlantic Studies (CEAS), this year taking place under the slogan ''Walk through Walls“. Welcome also to the Palace of Serbia, the artistic, architectural and historical jewel of Belgrade.
The conference is part of CEAS' regular annual project Belgrade NATO Week, which has enjoyed the support of NATO Public Diplomacy Department (PDD) from the very outset, for seven years now. CEAS emphasizes the excellent cooperation it has maintained with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Serbia ever since the project commenced.
The slogan of this year's Belgrade NATO Week, “Walk through Walls“ and the conference panel titles were inspired by the works of Marina Abramović, world's renowned performance artist of Yugoslav origin.
One of the topics on the conference agenda will be the expectations from the upcoming meeting of heads of state and government of NATO Member States and military leaders, to be held in London, on 3-4 December, 2019. This meeting will mark the seventieth anniversary of the Alliance's establishment and will discuss its future in the era of new global challenges and threats.
During the conference, we are going to focus on: the importance and main forms of Serbia's partner cooperation with NATO, the importance of strengthening Serbia's cooperation with the USA, the role of Russia in the region and the new frameworks and contents of regional cooperation.
CEAS hopes that the leaders at London's conference will also reiterate the importance of KFOR mission in Kosovo.
It was precisely in London, at the 1990 Summit, almost immediately after the fall of the Berlin wall, thirty years ago, which is also being marked these days, that the NATO leaders agreed to „extend the hand of friendship“ to the Central and Eastern European countries.
The contribution of the USA, believing in the strength and rightness of their principles of individual freedoms and democracy, is immeasurable in their assistance to millions of Eastern European citizens to peacefully initiate their constant struggle for establishing and maintaining these postulates.
For Serbia, Western Balkans and NATO, there is another important anniversary. It has been twenty years since the NATO bombing of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia ended, to curtail the decade-long war conflicts in the region. In Serbia, it was marked by a series of commemorative meetings last spring. During his visit to Belgrade, when he met President Vučić and participated in the extraordinary Belgrade NATO Week organized by CEAS for the occasion, former Commander of the US Land Forces in Europe, Lieutenant General Frederick Ben Hodges, laid flowers at the memorial dedicated to the children killed during 1999 NATO aggression, in Tašmajdan park.
While the competition of the global powers is in full swing and the EU and US are riveted by major internal challenges, along with the cold showers about the EU enlargement certainty, the regional cooperation in the Western Balkans is gaining a new momentum thanks to the political leadership of Serbia's President Aleksandar Vučić and the Prime Ministers of North Macedonia and Albania, Zoran Zaev and Edi Rama, demonstrated by the decisions taken at the recently held meeting in Ohrid. Facilitating the movement of people, goods and services and harmonized legislation among the three countries is surely a good initiative for the entire Western Balkans.
CEAS hopes that other countries in the region will join in soon. Thirty years ago, the region missed the historical opportunity to follow the pathway of integration and democratization together with other Eastern and Central European countries. This is why the meeting held in Ohrid on the ninth of November, where the Mini-Schengen was launched, while on the same date the anniversary of the fall of the wall in Berlin was celebrated, bears a special importance and symbolism.
It is time to also leave the series of unnecessary administrative and political obstacles and dangerous actions to the by-gone times, as they do justice to the name „Balkanization“ attached to negative trends in the Western world, twenty years after the armed conflicts in the region ended. Same as ''stabilocracy“, the political failure that many advocated for in the past couple of years, which is partly responsible to the present reality of hard-line position on the EU's further enlargement, which its makers, now its fiercest critics, tend to overlook, deliberately or not.
To spite them – oh, yes, we are not giving up on that accessory - CEAS is trying to contribute to Serbia's anchorage in the political West as strongly as possible, despite the major internal and geopolitical challenges and flux, while keeping all the good elements of its own style and discarding the political failures that everybody is sometimes prone to.
The Prespa Agreement, bringing the multi-decade dispute between North Macedonia and Greece to an end, is an example of the new trends followed also by the Ohrid Agreement. They represent the region in new, well-deserved positive colors.
However, it is not good that the dialogue between the official Belgrade and Prishtina is late to resume, despite Serbia's demonstrated constructiveness, due to Prishtina's unilateral acts and falling short of what had previously been agreed in the dialogue. The still negative trends in the region, which might also have security implications, include the fact that the government in Bosnia-Herzegovina has not come in office yet, more than a year after the elections.
On the other hand, Serbian Government established the proposals of new national security and defense strategies, which will be pending for consideration and adoption in the Parliament shortly. The procedure of adopting the second cycle of the 2019/2021 Individual Partnership Action Plan between Serbia and NATO has recently been completed. Serbia has significantly reinforced its bilateral cooperation with NATO Member States from Central and South East Europe in the past couple of years, to mention but a few good trends in Serbia, and there are many more.
November is the month of marking the Armistice Day in the World War One, to which Serbia provided an unproportionally large contribution. We were reminded of this, as well as of Serbia's other valuable contributions to the world, by both Serbian and American officials of course, during the years and series of promotional videos by the US Embassy to Serbia, such as the one about Serbia's flag hoisted on the White House. This is why this year, just as last year, the participants of our conference are going to wear the conference lanyards with Natalie's ramonda, a symbol used in Serbia since 2012 as an emblem to treasure the Armistice Day.
We were pleased to see the Deputy Assistant State Secretary of the United States and State Department's envoy for the Western Balkans, Matthew Palmer, the first foreign speaker who addressed the participants of Belgrade NATO Week project six years ago, during his last visit to Belgrade was wearing this accessory the importance and beauty of which CEAS has been promoting.
This year, seventy-fifth anniversary of the World War Two's Halyard Operation is commemorated. During the Halyard Operation, the Yugoslav Army, with the help of the local population, saved 512 allies' airmen from August 1944 to February 1945. The Halyard mission is considered to be the greatest operation of rescuing soldiers behind the hostile lines. I would like to invite you to view the exhibition, which has now been displayed here at the Palace courtesy of the Halyard Mission Foundation.
The aim of the ''Walk through Walls“ conference is to reach as many decision-making positions in the political West as possible with an objective assessment of developments and trends in Serbia, especially those less known, discussed and written about. Serbia today and its role in the region are still often observed by default or tendentiously, through the lenses of the nineties, or not measured with the same yardstick as other regional players. It is time to lift the barriers created also by domestic designers, made of both natural and artificial fabric, placed to separate Serbia from the political West.
Vintage is rarely trendy in politics. Too many old creations have already got recycled in the previous attempts to resolve the remaining open issues in the Western Balkans and were not accepted, to the detriment of the citizens in the region and also of the political West. A chance needs to be given to new designers and models. CEAS hopes that our annual conference will become a political catwalk for such endeavors. #MiniSchengen is one of this year's collections that #BelgradeNATOWeek invites you to pay a special attention to.
Naturally, the aim of every Belgrade NATO Week is to enable as many stakeholders in Serbia to hear what Serbia does in its partner cooperation with NATO, its Member States and partners, what it plans for the future and what the key factors determining Serbia's direction are. We believe it is time the barrier of ignorance about Serbia's relations with NATO was lifted, to walk through the walls of unquestionably traumatic recent history and also the walls erected by disinformation campaigns.
This is one of the key prerequisites for resolving the remaining open regional issues from the nineties, that have significantly mutated since, and for taking strategic decisions on the future in a democratic way and to the best interest of the citizens and state of Serbia, the regional and the political West.
During the conference, the findings of the latest survey designed by CEAS for the needs of this year's Belgrade NATO Week will be premiered. We are going to compare them to the results of a similar last year's survey. They indicate that there is a massive confusion and lack of factual information of facts. This obviously calls for a much stronger engagement of both local and Western actors to justify the title under which the adoption of the new IPAP cycle – a growing trend of partnership cooperation. We hope that this year's Belgrade NATO Week might precisely be the barrier-buster, shattering yet another barricade. It would be perilous to allow for further expansion of the space for ignorance and confusion, incontestably contributed to by the recent disinformation campaigns and hybrid operations from Russia and its field partners, but also by defeatism, opportunism or ignorance of local alleged pro-Western players, especially after the announced revision of the EU association and enlargement process.
We have only just thought that we got all the key puzzles of this year's Belgrade NATO Week right, from brilliant speakers to the prestigious venue to the latest tailor-made survey and promising new collection of «Mini Schengen», when The Economist published an interview with Emmanuel Macron, President of France. President Macron, by the way, paid a very successful visit to Serbia in summer 2019.
In the above interview, having also challenged the EU enlargement as well, the French President, inter alia, assessed that NATO was brain dead because of the US, and that Europe was on the brink of an abyss. And then some say that France is the Capital of fashion trends! CEAS has not recovered from the shock yet, but we are not clinically dead. Belgrade NATO Week has just begun.
Jens Stoltenberg, an exquisite Norwegian designer and another Serbian friend, at the helm of the NATO political and security house, the trends of which CEAS has been following most often, commented on Macron's 2020 fall-winter line as follows: ''Any attempt to dissociate Europe from North America would not only weaken the trans-Atlantic alliance, but would also bear the risk of dividing Europe. European unity cannot supersede the trans-Atlantic unity''. In a manner of speaking, the American VOGUE is one and only.
We hope that the cooperation between Serbia and NATO and strengthening the bilateral relations with the USA and other NATO Member States, and those soon to become ones, like North Macedonia, is a trend that Serbia's political top brass is gradually accepting, and despite the challenges of constant sales and other incentives to compulsive shopping spree, it will become a must have item of Serbia's foreign and security policy – akin to a little black dress.
Another famous French trendsetter, the timeless Coco Chanel, advised that the moment before we leave home we should look into the mirror and remove the first detail that catches our eye. Often times it works like that in politics. Less is more.
Not at #BelgradeNATOWeek! For our 2019-2020 fall-winter show of information and ideas exchange, we have managed to put together an enviable line-up of prestigious national and foreign speakers. And a show would not be a show without surprises. Who would have guessed there could be miracles!
We have with us, among others, the first Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ivica Dačić, Chief of the General Staff of the Serbian Army, General Milan Mojsilović, NATO Assistant Secretary General for Public Diplomacy, Tacan Ildem, Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly of the Republic of Serbia, Vladimir Marinković, the new US Ambassador to Serbia Anthony Godfrey and the new Ambassador of the Kingdom of Norway to Serbia, Jorn Gjelstad.
We thank you all cordially for assisting us with your active participation and understanding for possible flaws, in our overt aspirations to make Belgrade NATO Week a relevant annual political and security show in the future.
It is with a particular pleasure that I would like to invite you now to watch together …..