In Zagreb, from 26 to 28 May, organized by the Regional Academy for the Development of Democracy (ADD) from Novi Sad, the Center for Dealing with the Past Documenta from Zagreb and the Centre for Civic Education (CCE) from Podgorica, with the support of the European Balkans Fund (EFB), ZAGREB PLENUM – QUO VADIS, BALKANS? was held.
The Zagreb Plenum is the second in a series of events aimed at empowering progressive forces in the region through gatherings and talks on ways to respond to growing right-wing extremism, the crisis of democracy, current challenges and obstacles to democratization in the region. Within the two days, more than 50 domestic, regional and international experts, officials, members of national parliaments and the European Parliament, diplomats, historians, journalists, publicists, academics and prominent activists from Croatia, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Slovenia and Kosovo gathered in Zagreb.
Discussions and six separate panels at the Zagreb Plenum were dedicated to current topics and problems that countries in the region face with. The most significant challenges and obstacles to democratization of the region, relations between countries and regional cooperation, the position towards war crimes and dealing with the past, abuse of history for daily political purposes, impact of Russian aggression on Ukraine on the situation in the region, attempts to confidence-building and opportunities for politicians, movements, parties and civil society activists to counter negative tendencies at the local and regional level were discussed.
Participants and panelists of the Zagreb Plenum agreed that reconciliation, confidence-building and dealing with the past have no alternative when it comes to establishing regional cooperation, but also agreed on some of the concrete steps that must be taken to achieve a better future for all citizens of the region. Most participants expressed concern over the fact that the security and political situation is worse than twenty years ago and assessed that immediately after the end of the armed conflict there was more potential for cooperation and building sustainable peace than nowadays. The assessment is that the political elites have no interest in resolving the conflicts that still exist, closing open issues, and finally overcoming the past. The same refers to the case of the registry of victims of the wars of the 1990s, which is manipulated for the sake of daily political points and needs, as well as historical facts that are twisted and changed every day to create myths and keep political elites in power throughout the region.
The plenum also pointed out the disastrous influence of Russia on the situation in the region, as well as the fact that the Russian aggression on Ukraine completely changed the bloodstream of international relations, and that all countries in the region, without exception, will have to take a stance. It was assessed also that the foreign policies of Croatia and Serbia towards Bosnia and Herzegovina and Montenegro disrupt good neighborly relations and destabilize the entire region, and that the role of the two countries that are already members of the European Union, Croatia and Slovenia, is not what it should be in terms of greater support for the Western Balkans and encouragement for reforms that are a precondition for European integration. The panelists agreed that it is necessary to nurture the common culture of remembrance, and that it is possible to do so in all communities and at all levels – from local to the highest.
The Zagreb Plenum also adopted some of the measures and conclusions, made and presented by Vesna Pusić, former Minister of Foreign and European Affairs in the Government of Croatia. The conclusions concern concrete proposals for a model for the integration of the Western Balkans into the European Union and special support for Bosnia and Herzegovina in overcoming the current five-point political crisis.
- For the integration of the so-called Western Balkans in the EU, it is needed to apply the Baltic model of integration. Back in the 1990s, when the three Baltic states began their path to EU membership, three Nordic member states entered into a partnership with them: Denmark, Sweden and Finland, with Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia. That partnership included training for civil servants, assistance in harmonizing laws, building institutions and introducing the necessary procedures for decision-making and implementation. Of course, they also facilitated their communication with EU institutions. To date, it is considered the most successful EU integration since 2004. Partners to aspirant countries from the Western Balkans can be neither the largest EU member states, nor, unfortunately, the countries from the region, including Austria and Hungary. The reason for this is the latent danger that the neighbouring countries have their political agendas and goals in the region and therefore there is no trust among the citizens of the Western Balkans in their bona fide The six member states, partners in the Western Balkans on their path to the EU, could be Finland, Denmark, Sweden, Ireland, Portugal and the Netherlands. These are all stable democracies, without special political agendas in the region, and with strong EU orientation.
- When it comes to Bosnia and Herzegovina, this country already has the institution of the High Representative. In combination and partnership with one of the Nordic Member States, for example, it could focus on institution building and the introduction of procedures leading to EU membership. Additionally, in this period should:
- Strengthen the presence/number of EUFOR throughout Bosnia and Herzegovina;
- Start drafting a democratic B&H Constitution to replace the fourth annex to the Dayton Peace Agreement;
- Start drafting an election law that would take into account two important components: the concept of B&H as a civic state (because modern democracies do not know other models) and at the same time introduce some mechanisms for the protection of collective ethnic rights. Given the recent past and the current political climate, it is necessary to take care of the protection and guarantee the collective rights of individual peoples. There are many examples in the world that can be used. But that cannot be instead of or to the detriment of the fundamental idea of a civic state – one person, one vote. The protection of collective rights is an additional form of preventing possible ethnic discrimination, not a substitute for the equality of all citizens in their rights;
- Insist that all changes related to EU membership take place simultaneously and throughout the territory of Bosnia and Herzegovina;
- Develop political partnerships with non-ethnic political parties and leaders.
At the Novi Sad Plenum, which follows after Podgorica and Zagreb, we plan to come out with clear positions and proposals that address other current topics and practical policies for the entire region and individual countries in it, and the focus will be on dealing with the past.