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President Pahor at the opening of the 17th Bled Strategic Forum 2022 (BSF)

Bled, 29. 8. 2022 | press release, speech

The President of the Republic of Slovenia, Borut Pahor, today attended the opening of the 17th Bled Strategic Forum 2022 (BSF) - The Rule of Power or the Power of Rules?, where he gave the keynote speech.

President Pahor at the opening of the 17th Bled Strategic Forum 2022 (BSF)
Photo: Daniel Novakovič/STA

We here publish the speech delivered by Borut Pahor, President of the Republic of Slovenia. Check against delivery!

Madame president,
Ladies and gentlemen.

After the Second World War, the iron curtain descended across Europe. (dividing it into the democratic West and the Communist East)

This bloc division lasted until the 1990s, until the fall of the Berlin Wall, the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact and the emergence of new sovereign and democratic states.

So, Europe has witnessed 30 years ago a great condensing of history; with the exception of the Western Balkans, it unfolded peacefully, promising a better future for old continent and a world.

And today, 30 years later, particularly due to the war in Ukraine, it seems that a prospect of a new bloc division looms over Europe.

It might once again split it into a democratic West and an authoritarian East, with the border between them also marking the boundary of Russia’s zone of influence and interest.

Although it might be too early to talk about all its possible ramifications, there can be no doubt that any new division would be bad news for the future of Europe and the world.

A new bloc division would imply a kind of recycling of history, resurrecting not only the issue of the so-called »hard security«, but also the question of the fundamental values, including democracy.

History has taught us that bloc division is not a solution, but a problem. It brings along the state of fragile, constantly threatened peace, accompanied by an arms race, proxy wars and agonising efforts for a peaceful resolution.

If it is true that the war in Ukraine and its consequences might lead to a new bloc division, we should be concerned about whom it will divide and what this implies for the Europe and the international community.

If President Putin's objective is to restore and consolidate a large sphere of influence for the Russian Federation; leaving no room for the countries in this zone to move closer to the EU and NATO; then the turmoil will last as long as it takes for Moscow to establish such a sphere.

One way or another, Putin will demand of the countries along its border to make a decision.

Or else, he might take the decision for them, by sanctioning them, perhaps even by force.

In my speech, I would like to focus on just one consequence of this possible new division: the question of where its border might run in the Western Balkans, and why.

This could be the next central questions for peace and security in Europe.

If it holds true, that the newly emerging Russian sphere of influence will leave no room for countries aspiring to join the EU and NATO;
then this new geopolitical division might make the Western Balkans part of the Western world.

This, however, depends mostly on decisions taken in Brussels as much as on those taken by the Western Balkan countries.

The longer the EU enlargement process, the more these countries are prone to Russian aspirations – or at least to Russia’s growing influence.

This is why Slovenia has been working for years towards swift and decisive EU enlargement to the Western Balkans.

This is a central geopolitical issue.

It is also possible that the new bloc division might run right across the middle of the Western Balkans, and this is cause for concern.

I find it hard to imagine this could unfold without security risks.

In this respect, Bosnia and Herzegovina seems to be of key importance.

Slovenia is doing everything in it's power to convince the EU and the West to fast track the accession of Bosnia and Herzegovina to the EU and, if possible, to NATO.

Should the conflicts in Bosnia and Herzegovina escalate, this might pose a serious security risk for the country, for the region and for the whole of Europe.

Now is the time to understand and resolve this problem.

Since our guest here is also the President of the European Commission, Ms Von der Leyen, I would like to reiterate Slovenia’s proposal that Bosnia and Herzegovina be granted candidate status this year, and if possible, without conditions.

For the purpose of this conference and as a friend of Serbian President Vučić and of Serbia, allow me to make another remark.

In my opinion, Serbia will play a decisive role if it comes to the division of Europe in the Western Balkans.

Here I am referring to Serbia's traditional security, political, economic, cultural and emotional attachment to Russia.

I would like Serbia’s policy to help keep the whole of the Western Balkans on the Western European side. However, this is a complex issue and I believe we must address it as such.

The point is that Serbia would probably be willing to risk a break with Russia only if given firm assurances about its place in the European Union. But it's not completely shure about this.

In my view, we must do everything in our power so that our actions convince Serbia to strengthen its political will for European perspective.

Getting Serbia on board with the Western European option would in turn greatly contribute to resolving problems in Bosnia and Herzegovina and to progress in the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue.

In this context, we must insist on our expectations:

Firstly, that Serbian official policy rejects the idea of the so-called Serbian World,

Secondly, that Serbia rejects separatist tendencies in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and

Thirdly, that Belgrade successfully pursues and concludes the dialogue with Prishtina.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

from what has been said, we can see that the European Union has a major role to play on issues related to the ramifications of the war in Ukraine and to the situation in the Western Balkans.

In my opinion, the EU should make a much greater effort to draw the Western Balkans into its zone of influence and eventually into its membership.

I am aware that some are concerned about the political costs of this course of events, but experience has taught us that the price of indecision can be much, much higher and much sadder.

I believe that there is still time to act.

However, consensus must be reached in Brussels as soon as possible, that enlargement to the Western Balkans has become a key geopolitical issue.

In the hope that we will succeed in these endeavours, I thank you for your attention and wish you all successful work at the Forum.

Thank you.