Balkan leaders agreed at a meeting in Sarajevo on Saturday that cooperation and dialogue are two of the most important conditions for progress in the region.
At the 10th anniversary celebration of the Igman Initiative, a network dedicated to normalising relations in the region, the presidents of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Montenengro and Serbia signed a declaration calling for further strengthening of regional cooperation and confirming that EU membership remains their common strategic objective.
Dubbed “Ten Years of Normalisation of Relations and Ten Years of the Igman Initiative: Resume of Relations in the Region – Bilateral Relations and Regional Cooperation”, the gathering assessed progress made since the initiative’s founding in 2000 and challenges still faced in establishing good relations between the former Yugoslav countries.
The chairman of the Bosnian Presidency, Haris Silajdzic, said that the aim of the Igman initiative is to support and promote domestic and regional dialogue in the field of politics, economics, education and culture.
Silajdzic stressed that the main goal of Saturday’s meeting was to push for faster and better normalisation of relations between the four countries. “Trust is the most important factor in our relations,” he added.
Calling the initiative a courageous step towards the process of reconciliation in the region, Croatian President Ivo Josipovic encouraged regional leaders as they move their countries toward the EU, promising Zagreb’s help in the process.
“This vision continues today and we all share the same efforts and ambitions. Our EU membership, which is coming soon, will not be a reason to turn our backs on our neighbors,” he said.
Montenegrin President Filip Vujanovic said that all nations in the region should be proud of and foster anti-fascism and relationships that were in the past referred to as relationships of brotherhood and unity.
“European integration is our united goal. We live in a time in which we must encourage these values, and there can be no success without regional cooperation,” he concluded.
Dimitris Kurkulas, head of the European Commission Delegation in Bosnia and Herzegovina, said that “joining the EU is not a magical solution to all problems but leads to stability and strengthening of democratic institutions.”
There is no alternative to the integration of the Western Balkans into the EU, according to Serbian President Boris Tadic.
“We are witnesses to the policies of enlargement bringing prosperity to citizens who joined the EU and no country that has become a member state had become poorer,” Tadic said.
He went on to say that there is no alternative to peace. “We can’t let wars take place in our countries ever again,” Tadic noted, adding that the integrity of the four countries should not be called into question by any gesture.
The Igman Initiative, which was founded by the Novi Sad-based Centre for Regionalism, the Forum of the Democratic Alternative BiH in Sarajevo, and the Zagreb-based Civic Committee for Human Rights, includes some 140 NGOs from across the region.
It aims to promote and facilitate dialogue between the states of the so-called Dayton Triangle, and pushes for the complete normalisation of relations between the neighbors.
During Saturday’s conference, Tadic and Silajdzic met for about 15 minutes in the hall of a Sarajevo hotel.
The recent cancellation of Siljadzic’s trip to Belgrade, which would have been his first official visit since the Bosnian war, raised a certain amount of controversy.
Silajdzic’s office announced last Tuesday that he had cancelled his visit to Belgrade, scheduled for that day, due to plane engine problems. However, Belgrade media have since reported that the cancellation came over Silajdzic’s concerns that he would not be able to visit Bosnian citizen and former official Ilija Jurisic, who was sentenced to 12 years’ imprisonment by a first instance verdict and is currently being held in detention in Belgrade as his appeals process moves forward.