Speech by the CEAS Director Jelena Milić at the opening of the fifth #BelgradeNATOWeek

Dear all, welcome to the fifth Belgrade NATO week (#BelgradeNATOWeek) that the Center for Euro-Atlantic Studies (CEAS) from Belgrade organizes every year with the support of NATO Public Diplomacy Division.

This time of year in Serbia, by the way, is very inconvenient for the organization of large public events as it is the peak season of celebrating Orthodox Slavas.

However, bearing in mind that this is our fifth anniversary of NATO Week and also bearing in mind the very encouraging news about the course of yesterday's meeting of the President of Serbia Aleksandar Vučić with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, of which we will, hopefully, hear more from our distinguished speakers, and bearing in mind that the soldiers of the Army of Serbia are currently having another military exercise with the US Army and that the US Embassy supported the organization of this year's Belgrade NATO Week, I dare say – DEAR ALL, WELCOME TO CEAS'S SLAVA.

Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of Defense of the Republic of Serbia, and especially their members from organizational units that are responsible for the cooperation of the Republic of Serbia with NATO through the Partnership for Peace and the Office of the National Security and Classisified Information Protection, have directly and professionally cooperated with CEAS from the beginning of our venture with NATO Public Diplomacy Division, and I would like to sincerely thank all of them for that.

Our goal from the beginning has been to, through various activities, as accurately and objectively as possible inform the qualified and interested public in Serbia and the region about the developments within NATO, about the challenges and threats faced, the way NATO anticipates things and prepares for responses, what are those responses and what they mean, and the main activities and plans of NATO in the Western Balkans and Serbia. Of course the focus is always on the cooperation between Serbia and NATO.

I hope that in the panels we will hear something about  the increasing load of information that are currently in the news about the Russian undemocratic and hostile interference in the electoral processes in the UK and Spain, as well as about how the NATO, EU and Member States are fighting against it, or planning to start fighting against it. I hope that we will hear about which measures are applied or planned against Russia's illegal annexation of Crimea and obvious direct involvement in the conflict in eastern Ukraine in which about 10 000 people have been killed so far, which in Serbia is litlle known and spoken about.

But, the main focus of this year's meeting is on a more structured and increasingly necessary cooperation of NATO and the EU.

Serbia has just received encouraging messages from the EU officials on the continuation of the process of membership negotiations.

CEAS believes that the EU would help Serbia if Serbia opened the negotiation Chapter 31 on the Common Foreign and Security Policy as soon as possible, bearing in mind the increasingly complicated relations of NATO and the EU and Russia on the one hand, and increasing Russian undemocratic operation in the Western Balkans on the other. This Russian influence does not shy away from dangerous destabilizing moves such as involvement in coup attempt implementation in Montenegro.

Two and a half years ago, CEAS published its, now in some circles globally popular and respected report Eyes wide shut – Strengthening of Russian soft power in Serbia, and before that we published a series of reports about the pressures of their hard power in defense and economy with the same goal – undermining the democratization of Serbia and its democratically made decisions to continue on the EU accession path and to strengthen cooperation with NATO as a military neutral country.

By the way, the Montenegrin membership in NATO is definitely one of the best news that came from the Western Balkans in recent years. Some of the key people from the Government of Montenegro and think tanks, as well as civil society organizations, that have been directly involved in this incredible endeavor are with us at the Belgrade NATO Week.

Once again, we would like to say congratulations and thanks to the Government of Montenegro, NATO, Member States and especially the people I mentioned earlier. Their experience is valuable to the Macedonia's new government, which is another piece of very good news that came from Western Balkans recently. We all have to help them because there are serious indications that Russia has not come to terms with these developments. I hope that their experiences will be useful to both Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, and thus the Euro-Atlantic community.

CEAS has recently released its new report Basic Instinct – The Case for More NATO in The Western Balkans, in which we primarily warn about the hostile Russian influence which we wrote about in the previous period, and we also warned about the moral, and now the security threats that the unfinished processes of security system reforms and war crimes trials in the region present, for the region itself but also the Euro-Atlantic community.

The report points to the danger of weaponization of ethnic communities in the region as a result of non-liberal concept of politicization of ethnicity – which is in almost all countries that are behind in the process of Euro-Atlantic integration, partly because of that, in fact the constitutional political structure of these countries. To mention just two examples, the recent direct call of Sergei Zheleznyak (Deputy Chairman of the State Duma), and Putin’s man for the Balkans, who instructed the representatives of the Serbian list in Kosovo Parliament to actively obstruct the completion of the process of border demarcation between Kosovo and Montenegro.

The Russians in Montenegro are increasingly aggressive in asking the Serbs who are citizens of Montenegro to register as ethnic minority so that they can weaponize them faster, because they do not like the pace with which their Serbian partners there could achieve their, also dangerous, plan to ‘daytonize’ Montenegro by seeking the status of a constituent nation. Do I need to mention what and how they are currently doing with the present – longtime authorities of the Republic of Srpska? The division of Kosovo is unfortunately again becoming an option on which some circles who do not wish for any good things, stabilization and democratization in the Western Balkans are working on.

In recent months some Serbian officials have commented on the alleged undiplomatic interference of the representatives of the political West in Serbia’s internal affairs. CEAS believes that Serbia, through the process of Serbia’s membership negotiations with the EU and strengthening cooperation with NATO, gave legitimacy to these organizations and Member States for a more modern version of diplomatic action which includes interest, support and harmonization in these processes.

Following this logic, the daily statements of Milorad Dodik, the politician and official of another country – Bosnia and Herzegovina – about what the Government of Serbia should do about almost all important issues in Serbia, can be understood as interference in the internal affairs of Serbia. As far as I know, Serbia, at least publicly, is not in the process of integration with Bosnia and Herzegovina.

We have with us today two, to CEAS very important persons, whose activities, manner of those activities and far-reaching consequences of their operation inspired the CEAS team and authors of the study Basic Instinct. These persons are General Benjamin Hodges, the Chief of the US Army in Europe, and Mrs Milica Kovačević, coordinator of Euro-Atlantic Info Center from Montenegro, the NGO motor of the Montenegrin process of joining NATO.

Bearing in mind that we are hosting another distinguished guest, the NATO Assistant Secretary General in charge of Public Diplomacy, Ambassador Tacan Ildem, as well as a great list of panelists, and that many who are present here know CEAS’s views on these and other topics very well, I will not prolong my remarks any further.

And now Ms. Milić goes of the script.

Serbia needs a rational debate on NATO, based on the facts, serious assessments and decisions as to where and with whom Serbia wants to continue in the 21st century. CEAS believes that membership in the EU and NATO are the two chairs that Serbia can and should sit on, in the interests of a successful and prosperous state of Serbia and all its citizens.

And finally – you know how good managers and commanders do – they delegate the most difficult tasks that must be done in the shortest time possible in impossible conditions to people from their team who are the busiest anyway. Dear CEAS team, our partners, Mr Robert Pszczel (NATO Public Diplomacy Division senior official for Russia and the Western Balkans), „my Italians“- Alessandro Minuto-Rizzo, Stefano Stefanini and Giampaolo Di Paola*, Police Directorate of the Department of Public Peace and Order of the city of Belgrade, dear regular CEAS associates involved in this project, thank you for everything you have done for this fifth Belgrade NATO Week and I wish you successful work during these two days. Dear guests, I wish you will enjoy this conference, and I wish it will be useful to you as much as it will be to me. I am now planning to start enjoying.

….. Andja, can I please have one coffee, no sugar, so I can finally sit down and relax, :)  because my Santa has arrived.

Now I give word to Ambassador Branimir Filipović, Acting Assistant Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Serbia for security policy.

Dear Branimir, once again thank you also for everything you have done so far – we will continue on this path together.

 

* Alessandro Minuto-Rizzo – Director, NATO Defense College Foundation, former Deputy Secretary General of NATO

* Stefano Stefanini – Senior Associate of  Brent Scowcroft Center for International Security, the Atlantic Council of the United States, diplomatic adviser to former President of Italy Giorgio Napolitano, co-author of GLOBSEC NATO Adaptation Initiative

* Giampaolo Di Paola – The former Chief of the Military Committee of NATO, former Defense Minister of Italy, co-author of GLOBSEC NATO Adaptation Initiative

 

Belgrade, November 16 2017.