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The Role of Slovenian Civil Society Organizations in Conflict Resolution in the Western Balkans
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The Role of Slovenian Civil Society Organizations in Conflict Resolution in the Western Balkans

 

 

 

The Western Balkans (the region of Albania, all former Yugoslavia except Slovenia) was in the 20th century the region of upheavals, clashes and wars, some of them having global effect. The First World War started in this area, some important battles took place there during the Second World War and, in the last decade of the previous century, bloody clashes occurred again there.

 

Unfortunately, the wars led by great or regional powers, always inflamed the old rancours, reopened the wounds which are not quickly healed, and enhanced hatred between different groups. Tensions, which were the result of fierce activities during each war period, were predominantly ethnic or religious and this fact should not be underestimated.

 

In the countries of the Western Balkans there is a lot of incomprehension and intolerance of the other groups where other language or religion is practised. The memories of some events in the history, which had the effect of dividing peoples, are often overestimated but the time periods when the Balkan people cooperated and lived in peace together are seldom mentioned.   

 

It is easy to say, that the system of values will change, but it would take some time. Changing the system of values, calming down the passions and forgetting the committed crimes is a very slow process which should in no case be interrupted with some other extreme political adventure. In such circumstances, the situation would become even worse than it was at the end of a previous adventure. After the Second World War, the wounds were deep. In the nineties of the previous century the wounds were reopened ad even deepened.

 

Slovenia became an independent state in June 1991. The priorities of Slovenian foreign policy after becoming independent were to be recognized by the international community as an independent state and to become the member of the UN, EU and NATO. To these priorities there were later added other priorities i.e. to play an active role in some international organizations (UN Security Council, OSCE, EU). In the first 15 years of independence, Slovenia paid little attention to the Western Balkans. A lot of attention was paid to the members of EU and NATO.  But in the first half of 2008, when Slovenia was the presiding country of the EU, its foreign political priorities were modified. Slovenia started to pay more attention to Western Balkans countries, with them intensified diplomatic relations and becomes an ardent advocate of the approaching of the countries of this region to the EU.

 

Soon after Slovenia became an independent country, the CSOs, dealing with the foreign policy, became aware that the relations with the Western Balkans were very important. In this period of time there were two such CSOs in Slovenia: Slovenian Association for International

Relations (SDMO) and International Institute for Middle East and Balkan Studies (IFIMES).

 

The SDMO was established in 1991. Its main activity is to organize round tables and discussions on foreign political issues. From the beginning to the end of the year 2006, about half of the events, organized by the SDMO, dealt with the Western Balkans. In 2003 it organized 6 events, two of them dealt with the Western Balkans. In 2004, out of 14 events, 6 dealt with the Western Balkans. In 2005, out of 12, 6 dealt with the Western Balkans and in 2006, out of 11, 4 dealt with the Western Balkans. After this period of time less attention was paid to this region, but there are still some discussions on the Western Balkans.

 

IFIMES was established later then SDMO and is active from the beginning of this century. It publishes scientific studies, analyses, researches and organizes round tables and discussions. The majority of the organized events dealt with the questions related to the Western Balkans. In 2003 out of 39, 10 events dealt with the Western Balkans, in 2004, out of 27, 11 dealt with the Western Balkans, in 2005, out of 18, 12 dealt with the Western Balkans and in 2006, out of 22, 16 dealt with the Western Balkans. 

 

In the period of time, when Slovenian foreign policy did not pay much attention to the Western Balkans, both CSOs intensively discussed and researched the problems on the issue.

 

In 2008 a Club of Former Slovenian Ambassadors (KNSV) was established. This club organizes the discussions with its members and publishes its views and statements. Many of them are connected to the problems of the Western Balkans.

 

There are also some other CSOs in Slovenia which are active in the field of foreign policy, but their activities are not associated with the questions of the Western Balkans.

 

There is no doubt that there was some influence of CSOs on Slovenian foreign policy orientation. Directly, CSOs influenced this policy through attendance of diplomats and employees of the Ministry of foreign affairs to the events organized by the CSOs. Positions, supported at these events were taken into account when the foreign political decisions were created. Indirectly, CSOs influenced Slovenian foreign policy through public opinion and through media, being almost always present at these events, organized by the CSOs. The members of CSOs are also active in the sense that practically every week in Slovenian media there is an article written by CSOs member or an interview with a member of a CSO. Opinions regarding the Western Balkans emphasized by the SCOs are enhancing cooperation, intensifying economic, political, cultural and scientific cooperation. CSOs always underlined the importance of free moving of people and construction of necessary infrastructure which would enable people to travel easily through the Western Balkans. CSOs were always against the needless divisions. All these elements are in fact conflict prevention measures.

 

To enable the cooperation among nations of the Western Balkans it was absolutely necessary to achieve and maintain peace. Slovenia participated in the peace building operations in the Western Balkans. The public support was an absolute necessity and CSOs contributed significantly to the positive public support. 

 

In March 2010 the Declaration on the WB and Guidelines for Slovenia's activities on the WB were adopted by the Slovenian government. Both documents are aimed at strengthening the relations and boosting cooperation with the region. The declaration highlights the Western Balkans as Slovenia's priority and outlines Slovenia's view on the Western Balkan countries and their accession to the EU and NATO. In line with the document, a special committee for the Western Balkans will be set up. The members of this committee will include also the CSOs. An informal body will be tasked with drawing up an action plan of Slovenia's activities in the region. The government will also appoint national coordinator for the Western Balkans, who will coordinate and supervise the country's activities in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia, Kosovo and Albania. The guidelines for Slovenia's activities, which are a kind of complement to the declaration, outline measures for the strengthening of Slovenia's position in the region, especially with a coordinated approach of both politics and the economy. They also aim to pinpoint administrative obstacles in Slovenia in relation to the region and eliminate them to boost economic and social ties and communication flow. The document specifies areas of cooperation from politics to economy, development aid, environment, health, agriculture, education and culture. The government would like to help students from the region with scholarships and encourage mobility from the Western Balkan countries to Slovenia.

 

All three CSOs (SDMO, IFIMES, KNSV) were actively involved in the creation of the text of the Declaration and the Guidelines. They organized discussions among specialists and those, who were interested in this matter. There is no doubt that CSOs had some influence on some elements of these documents. They certainly contributed a lot to the general public opinion which was in favor of intensifying activities on the Western Balkans. The purpose of the documents is not only to improve cooperation with the Western Balkans, but also to contribute to the stability of the region and to create the conditions for peaceful solutions of still unresolved questions.   

 

In which direction should CSOs enhance their activities when dealing with the Western Balkans? In the history of the Western Balkans there were too many imposed solutions from external political forces or from external ideologies, without the necessary consent of the people living there. The result were divisions and lack of trust, in some critical moments even violence and wars. SCOs should contribute to the cooperation of people and should emphasize concern of the future instead of constant remembering the wounds of the history. They should actively support free movement of all people living in the Western Balkans and promote the cooperation of nations of the Western Balkans on different fields. For the conflict prevention it is far from enough to promote only economic cooperation. It is well known that even during the wars in this region, there were trade activities between enemies. Such trade activities did not help to achieve peace. Economic cooperation is important but also cooperation in other fields is of utmost importance. CSOs should do their best to promote all kinds of cooperation between people of the Western Balkans.  

 

It is important that the civil society becomes the partner to the governments and that the governments understand better the citizens‘ needs. Unfortunately the cooperation among CSOs, dealing with the foreign political issues, from different countries of the Western Balkans and their neighbors, is far from satisfactory. Our task is to intensify such cooperation and exchange of views and we should tackle this problem immediately.

 

It is my pleasure to conclude with the compliments to the Turkish Center for Strategic Studies (TASAM) for organizing the 3rd International Balkan Congress in Tekirdag. It is an excellent opportunity for the CSOs to meet, to get to know each other and to start with better cooperation.

 

Amb. Dr. Jozef Kunic

President of Slovenian Association for International Relations

 

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