Full membership in the Atlantic and European Community – a good solution for the Western Balkan ‘Gordian knot’

Full membership in the Atlantic and European Community – a good solution for the Western Balkan ‘Gordian knot’

Ambassador Alessandro Minuto-Rizzo is the president of the NATO Defense College Foundation, based in the Italian capital, Rome. Its mission is “to promote the culture of stability and well-being in the North Atlantic area and in NATO partner nations”, as written on the official site of the Foundation. In the interview with IBNA, Minuto-Rizzo stated that the real problems in the Western Balkans are (the) economic sustainability, corruption and organised crime.

Ambassador Minuto-Rizzo, the Western Balkans are a historically turbulent region. WWI began from here and, even today, the area is not completely stable. What is the influence of this instability on the rest of Europe?

As we have seen, the influence of the Balkan instability was at its highest during the wars of Yugoslav dissolution (1991-1998), because it was a war at the heart of Europe after 46 years of substantial peace and because it strongly divided the members of the European Union and the allies in NATO before a common consensus was reached. Luckily, with the hard work of local elites and of the international community, much of the tension has subsided. If you look at Kosovo, a rather good barometer of the region together with Bosnia-Herzegovina, you see that potential crises rise and are until now successfully prevented. We have to see what is the impact of the Specialist Court on the Belgrade-Pristina Dialogue, but, overall, the region is progressing. The real problems are economic sustainability, corruption and organised crime, and some of them have direct impact on Europe.

How could the “Balkan Gordian knot” be solved? Is the full membership of all countries of the Balkan peninsula in one organisation like NATO or the European Union, the solution?

Yes, in the end, full membership in the Atlantic and European Community is a good solution, because both accession paths engage the countries in some serious homework. We all know that there is no magic, but there is (despite some unwelcome developments in some countries) a substantial difference at all levels before and after the accession. Even in the UK it is very visible, precisely during this Brexit.

Recently, the Foundation organised a conference on the subject “The Western Balkans at a crossroad”. Did the participants offer some solutions which are, in fact, feasible in the case of this particular region?

Yes, contrarily to some renowned international scholars, everyone has enough common sense to look at concrete negotiation issues from a national and not nationalistic point of view. In other words, they avoided the fallacious idea of redrawing borders and concentrated on real life after the devastation. It takes time, as we have seen in Western and Eastern Europe during the Cold War, to close the deep scars of conflict.

The Western Balkans face the problems of radicalism and extremism, which are not connected exclusively with returnees from ISIL forces in Syria and Iraq, but also with other ethnic communities. How can the Foundation and NATO help to resolve this process of radicalisation?

NATO, in the Balkans generally, and in Kosovo in particular, has no law enforcement mandate whatsoever. EULEX has it but it has been severely reduced precisely in its investigative and enforcement capacity. Nevertheless, a web of Justice and Home Affairs co-operation programmes, bi- and multilateral alike, is concretely helping countries in tackling jihadist strands within society. De-radicalisation is not a police matter in first instance, but we see some very interesting referral mechanisms being tested in Kosovo thanks to UNDP. Reducing nationalist manipulation among communities is an even more complex task, but new generations (if offered some opportunity) tend to look to their future and not to the old phantoms of ethnic hatred.

The Foundation, instead, in its mission statement has that she wants “to promote the culture of stability and well-being in the North Atlantic area and in NATO partner nations”. Through our high level conferences and the painstaking building up of a civil society and a political network, we are contributing to help decision-makers and societies to further develop peace and democracy.

What do you consider as the biggest success in the last year?

There have been several important successes in the Western Balkans: the prevention of a crisis in Northern Kosovo (January-April); the resolute choice from Serbia to embrace a EU accession path; the solution of the institutional crisis in fYROM; the silent but concrete results of the Pristina-Belgrade Dialogue.

What is the primary objective of the Foundation for this year?

To expand our conceptual footprint form the NATO-Balkans-Middle East triangle towards Africa and to start some substantial research programme…./IBNA