Skopje, 14 October 2021
Functional democracy, dealing with the past and economic development and social justice were highlighted as essential for the Western Balkans by the Prime Minister of the Republic of Kosovo, Albin Kurti, at the Second Western Balkans Summit, organized by the prestigious British magazine “The Economist”.
In the opening of the Summit, entitled “Promoting Europe’s Inclusion and Solidarity”, Prime Minister Kurti stressed the need for a functioning democracy and the rule of law against autocracy and corruption. “The tendency in the Western Balkans and within the European Union to deviate from key democratic values and principles poses the greatest threat to the stability of our region,” he said.
“To truly begin reconciliation, one must face the past; with all the bloodshed, ethnic cleansing, genocide and atrocities committed in the 1990s, but without a sense of responsibility or remorse from the aggressor. This is wrong. “If you do not feel any guilt and no responsibility for what happened, then you will repeat it again,” said Prime Minister Kurti.
“After World War II, the European Union was built on the foundations of accepting responsibility and dealing with the past. “We in the Western Balkans must follow the same path,” he added.
During his speech, the Prime Minister singled out economic development and social justice for safe and equitable growth.
“To achieve greater economic development, we need more integration and more connectivity. “It is possible to fully integrate our economies by realizing the four freedoms, while at the same time integrating into the EU single market and then becoming fully members of the EU,” he said.
The Prime Minister of Macedonia, Zoran Zaev, and the Deputy Prime Minister of Montenegro, Dritan Abazoviq krahas, were also present alongside Prime Minister Kurti at the panel discussion on “Western Balkans and the world after COVID 19: What is the way to achieve stability and prosperity”.
The full speech of Prime Minister Kurti:
It is a great pleasure to be with you today in this distinguished forum together with my colleagues, Prime Minister Zoran Zaev and Deputy Prime Minister Dritan Abazovic.
There is no doubt that the question of stability and prosperity is one which confronts almost every society today. Just decades ago it was all too common to believe that events which happened in distant shores were not our problem, or that when we didn’t see hunger and poverty somehow we acted as it didn’t exist. Such a view of the world is no longer possible.
Revolutions in information and technology have brought the world closer and reduced barriers to opportunity and prosperity but have also given rise to tensions due to the surfacing of deep inequality in different part of the world. Just like globalization, openness in trade and commerce have lifted billions from poverty but have brought new dangers such as climate change and exploitation of our resources which now threatens the stability and prosperity of us all.
The Covid-19 pandemic reminded us that as the world grows smaller and moves faster we are even more threatened by diseases which cannot be contained within the borders of a country or by the distance of an ocean. That is why I believe that we must act locally and regionally but also in concert with all the others; our future is linked and it depends on the stability and prosperity of all nations. To quote MLK junior, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”.
This brings us to the path which I think we as a country and as a region must follow. As a social democrat I believe that the path forward is democracy and social justice and in this direction I would introduce some key points which we can than further elaborate in our discussion.
– First, we need a functioning democracy and rule of law against autocracy and corruption. Democracy against autocracy and rule of law against corruption. We are witnessing not only in the Western Balkans but within the European Union itself heavy tendencies of backsliding in key democratic values and principles. Within the EU this tendency is sometimes labeled as illiberal democracy while in Western Balkans as unstable democracy. But what they hold in common is the attack on basic rights and freedoms such as freedom of speech, freedom of media and independence of the judiciary. This is resulting in the silencing of opposition, buying of and controlling media outlets to spread propaganda and fake news and the control of the judiciary such that there is no way of being proved wrong or sentenced for violations of the law and removed from office. This presents the greatest threat to the stability of our region.
– The other element is facing up to the past. To truly start reconciliation the past needs to be dealt with; all the bloodshed, ethnic cleansing, genocide and atrocities committed in the 90s with no sense of responsibility or repentance from the aggressor. This is wrong. If you feel no guilt and no responsibility for what happened than you will repeat it again. The reason why we say “never forget” is to remind current and future generations what happened but if no responsibility is taken then that phrase holds no meaning. After second World War, European Union was built on the foundations of acceptance of responsibility and facing of the past. We in the Western Balkans should follow that path.
– The last point is economic development and social justice. A certain just growth. Citizens in all of our countries want peace and prosperity. We must work and act by putting people as end-beneficiaries, not politicians. We should serve the people, not save the skin of this politician or the face of that other politician. To achieve greater economic development, we need more integration and more connectivity. It is possible to more fully integrate our economies by implementing the four freedoms while at the same time integrating in the EU’s single market and then full membership into EU. But, as social democrat I believe in a fairer economy with a level playing field for both men and women to succeed and one in which all pay their fair share.
To conclude, I think we must not separate issues from one another but see them interlinked and intersectional. It is not possible to move forward while ignoring lessons from history, nor by ignoring the present realities. Instead, we must act together, accept each other, and engage with one another to meet the challenges of our time.