UN chief Ban’s Balkans odyssey

The Macedonia name dispute, relations between Serbia and Kosovo and “bridges” to a European future have all been on the agenda of United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s visits to the countries of the former Yugoslavia in recent days.
His tour, from July 20 to 26, has taken him to the Western Balkan countries of Slovenia, Montenegro, Serbia, Kosovo, Macedonia, and is to end in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
In Ohrid on July 25, Ban said after meeting Macedonian president Gjorge Ivanov that in the talks, he had emphasised his commitment to facilitating a “prompt resolution” to the dispute with Greece about the use of the name “Macedonia”.
Ban said that his personal envoy on the name dispute, Matthew Nimetz, would brief the Greek government about the discussions in Ohrid “and he will engage more seriously and deeply to help facilitate the resolution of this issue as soon as possible”.
Ban said that the government in Skopje had made significant steps in defining national policies that recognise the country’s diversity.  “However, we are concerned about signs of growing tensions between communities,” he said.
“I encourage the government to further intensify its efforts to implement the letter and spirit of the Ohrid Framework Agreement signed 11 years ago. The United Nations will continue to assist in every way it can on this and all other matters related to the country’s peaceful and sustainable development,” Ban said.
In Kosovo’s capital city Pristina on July 24, Ban emphasised the importance of dialogue and engagement across the region, highlighting the importance of the normalisation of relations between Kosovo and Serbia.
Kosovo unilaterally declared independence in February 2008, a move rejected by Serbia. Kosovo has not gained sufficient recognitions of its independence to be eligible for recognition as a state by the UN.
“One overriding theme of my visit is the importance of dialogue and mutual respect across the region,” Ban told reporters on his arrival in Pristina, the UN News Centre said. “I have emphasised to all the leaders I am meeting the crucial importance of taking further steps for greater understanding.”
“I bring the same message to Kosovo’s leaders, and to the people of Kosovo, who I know have suffered from conflict and who yearn for a peaceful, prosperous future,” Ban said. “In particular, I expect strong efforts toward the normalization of relations with Belgrade, including through the same serious and sincere commitment to dialogue which I have asked from the Serbian leadership.”
Ban said that he was concerned about the situation in northern Kosovo – which remains a flashpoint amid continuing tensions between the Kosovo Albanian and Kosovo Serbian communities – and the escalation of tensions over the past year, adding that it is essential that sensitive issues such as this one be resolved through peaceful dialogue.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, left, with Serbian president Tomislav Nikolic, July 23
The previous day, in Podgorica, Montenegro, Ban held talks with the president of Montenegro, Filip Vujanovic; prime minister Igor Luksic; foreign minister Nebojsa Kaludjerovic; and the speaker of parliament of Montenegro, Ranko Krivokapic.
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon with Filip Vujanović, president of Montenegro.
During his meetings with the president, prime minister, and the foreign minister, the Secretary-General and his hosts exchanged views on regional co-operation in the Western Balkans, including Montenegro’s role in encouraging reconciliation and dialogue, the UN said.
“They also discussed the benefits of accession to the European Union and how the UN could assist the countries of the region in meeting their EU aspirations. The rights of minorities and sustainable development also featured in the Secretary-General’s meetings with these authorities,” according to a statement by Ban’s office.
In Croatia on July 21, Ban praised the country’s achievements since it first became a member of the UN 20 years ago, and emphasised that the Eastern European nation could help support other countries which are currently in transition.
“Two decades ago, Croatia was in turmoil. Today, Croatia helps countries and people manage the transition to democracy,” Ban said in his remarks at an event hosted by the Academy for Political Development in Zagreb, the capital, the UN News Centre said. “I thank Croatia for its international engagement. Your work for the region and the world has made Croatia stronger.”
He said that Croatia’s deepening engagement over the years with the UN was a powerful testimony to the country’s belief in multilateralism, and called on the Eastern European country to help support other countries currently undergoing transitions.
“There is a growing global movement for democracy. Croatia’s experiences can serve the world,” Ban said.
“And by contributing its experience internationally, this country will become stronger in its own right.”
Ban highlighted how Croatia had gone from being host to five different peacekeeping missions, to contributing troops to other UN missions all over the world including Timor-Leste, Haiti, Lebanon and Liberia.
In addition to promoting stability, Croatia could, according to Ban, also contribute to sustainable development, which he called “the defining issue of our era.”
“Some may argue that jobs and economic growth are more important. This misses the point that investing in sustainable development will generate better jobs, cleaner growth and a greener future,” Ban said, adding that given the country’ success in achieving energy efficiency, Croatia has enormous potential to develop its renewable resources.
Ban Ki-moon looks at a display at the Tito Museum during a guided tour of the Brijuni Islands, a group of 14 small islands in the Croatian part of the northern Adriatic Sea.
On July 20, Ban said in a speech to the Slovenian parliament that the country has much to offer to Europe, the world and the United Nations.
He highlighted the contributions of this “small but crucially important” country.
“I am confident that Slovenia is a natural partner of the United Nations, and that our ties will grow stronger and stronger in the future,” Ban said in the address delivered in the capital, Ljubljana.
Recalling his previous visit to Slovenia in 2008, Ban recalled touring the Tromostovje – the three bridges that cross the Ljubljanica River and which connect the historical, medieval part of the capital with its new, modern counterpart.
“Today I would like to discuss three more bridges for Slovenia,” he said. “The first: the bridge from your Yugoslav past to your European future. Second: the bridge connecting your neighbours in this region to their European aspirations. And third: the bridge linking Slovenia and the United Nations in our global mission for peace, security, development and human rights.
“I am convinced that these new ‘triple bridges’ will be as monumental, lasting and impressive as the Tromostovje.”
Ban said that there is much more to Slovenia’s past than its experience in recent decades. But that experience has made an indelible mark on the region.
“From the start, Slovenia had a different geopolitical situation than the other republics of the former Yugoslavia. Slovenia was fortunate to be largely spared the most brutal experiences of war. At the same time, it had a responsibility to help others who were affected,” he said. “Slovenia took up that challenge, and is still rising to it today.”
Ban said that Slovenia, as a country of fewer than two million people, hosted hundreds of thousands of refugees. It also sent its troops and equipment to multilateral operations, and worked with the UN to clear millions of kilometres of deadly mines left over from the conflict.
“Clearing the last remnants of war is essential to lasting stability,” he said. “There are other ‘mines’ that could explode with pressure. We have to de-activate underlying tensions and distrust through dialogue and reconciliation. I am grateful to Slovenia for promoting these goals in this region by serving as a host to all peoples.
“You understand that ridding the region of the last remnants of war is essential to lasting stability. So, too, is ever greater integration with Europe,” Ban said.
He said that Slovenia’s deep engagement with the UN is proof of the country’s conviction. Ban expressed gratitude for the service of Slovenian peacekeepers, and highlighted the country’s contributions in the area of development and humanitarian aid, demining, and promoting inter-cultural and inter-religious understanding.
(Photos:  UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe)



Clive Leviev-Sawyer

Clive Leviev-Sawyer is the Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of The Sofia Globe. He is the author of the book Bulgaria: Politics and Protests in the 21st Century (Riva Publishers, 2015), and co-author of the book Bulgarian Jews: Living History (The Organization of the Jews in Bulgaria 'Shalom', 2018). He is also the author of Power: A Political Novel, available via amazon.com, and, on the lighter side, Whiskers And Other Short Tales of Cats (2021), also available via Amazon. He has translated books and numerous texts from Bulgarian into English.