Integration and compromise

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times February 16, 2015 11:00


Talking about "integration" in the Balkans nowadays apparently has one single connotation: "integration into the European Union”. Whereas there are many aspects under which this integration process can be seen, one aspect – which is still the fundamental idea of European Union – might not always get in the daily debate the attention that it deserves: peace! We should not forget that the European project started as a peace project on the ruins of World War II.

Ambassador Florian Raunig, Head of OSCE Presence in Albania, speaking at the Permanent Council meeting, Vienna, Sept. 18, 2014.

Ambassador Florian Raunig, Head of OSCE Presence in Albania, speaking at the Permanent Council meeting, Vienna, Sept. 18, 2014.

Therefore, integrating the Balkans into this European project also means completing the plan of a wider more prosperous and peaceful Europe. This has to be seen particularly in the light of the traumatic disintegration of the former Yugoslavia in the nineteen nineties and the turbulences Albania had to go through in the aftermath of the breakdown of the totalitarian regime.

However, being the Head of the OSCE Presence in Albania, it might be not so appropriate to focus my intervention on European Union integration, but rather on another European framework that was born out of the need and desire for peace in Europe. The Helsinki Final Act, signed in summer 1975 by 35 States, including the United States, the Soviet Union and Canada, is the result of a common, strong belief that another war must be avoided. Ideologically divided countries and leaders were able to make the leap and to approach each other over the deep trenches that divided the world at that time. There was just one country isolating itself until 1991: Albania.

The Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe that was created in Helsinki has evolved into the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, an organization that covers the whole northern hemisphere, from Vladivostok to Vancouver, comprising 57 countries. The tasks, mission and obligations of this organisation are still the same: stability and co-operation in order to strengthen peace, democracy and prosperity. The on-going violent crisis in Ukraine drastically shows the relevance this organization still bears.

The OSCE plays an important role in the stabilisation and further development not only in Eastern Europe, but also in the Western Balkans. The OSCE’s measures to empower and stabilise the countries of South Eastern Europe go hand in hand with the European Union integration process. While distinct in scope and mandate from the EU integration process, the OSCE’s programmes and projects are nevertheless complementary to this process. Both bring benefits to the countries concerned and strengthen wider European security. Hence, I would like to call it a fruitful symbiosis.

Besides its European dimension, integration in the Balkans still represents a challenge, mainly in two other directions: the regional dimension and the internal dimension.

Looking at the region today, it leaves the impression of a rather geographic notion, which is former Yugoslavia plus – respectively minus – Albania, depending on the angle of observation. Although there are reportedly more than 40 political fora, movements, initiatives and organisations, including the South-East European Cooperation Process, presided over this year by Albania, where politicians of the region frequently meet and talk, economic and cultural co-operation still remains at a relatively low level. Intraregional connection is also often rather limited, due to the lack of appropriate infrastructure. Even the media still report very little about developments in the neighbouring countries, continuing to concentrate overwhelmingly on domestic issues. This leads to a situation where the political leaders of the region are almost the only ones who interact quite regularly. I would like to emphasize that this interaction is extremely important for co-operation and further integration of the region, but is still not enough.

Only once people of the region work together on concrete projects – so-called people to people contacts – will they be able to overcome often still deeply rooted prejudices. At that point they will realise their compatibility in areas such as life attitudes, taste, humour and cultural patterns. In this regard political leaders, international partners of the region and the people themselves have to undertake even stronger efforts to overcome remaining barriers in South Eastern Europe. The fact that a country of the region – Serbia – holds this year OSCE’s chairmanship represents a unique opportunity in this direction.

In this regard, the OSCE’s broad integration framework provides a distinct potential to be used in a comprehensive manner. It brings us also back to the initial topic of European Union integration, where a fundamental concern still seems to be: Can the Balkans integrate into the European Union without having finished its own integration?

Regarding internal integration, substantive challenges still lie ahead: Quite a few South Eastern European countries still have an internal political and social setup that is dominated by endless conflicts. Hence, the same question as for regional integration seems to be valid also in this regard: Can a country successfully proceed on the integration path, be it regional or European Union integration, without having healed its own deep internal ruptures? How can a smaller entity integrate into a bigger one when it still is disintegrated itself? Seen from the perspective of the bigger entity, there might be a strong reluctance to import potential problems.

What might be the reasons for the barriers of internal integration? First of all, a high level of political conflicts impedes sound development and progress of a society by absorbing limited human energy for mostly non-constructive issues. Secondly, not only limited human resources and time is thereby wasted for non-creative work, but an atmosphere of continuous conflict also holds hostage the whole society by attracting most of the attention and fascination, especially when supported by sensation-seeking media.

What might be the remedy? What might break the vicious circle of one conflict creating another? First, if societies and states that are affected by this phenomenon wish to cut sustainably the endless chain of conflicts, they have to do it out of their own conviction and will. Outsiders can assist, but never take over the responsibility of such an exercise. If such a process is driven by external institutions and persons, it might function for a while, but it risks being unsustainable.

What could deescalate the internal political situation? I am convinced, it is compromise. Whereas compromise in the Balkans is still often seen as a weakness, the entity the Balkan countries would like to integrate to – the European Union–, is based on compromise. And, I would note, also the OSCE as the biggest regional security organization in the world is founded on the concept of negotiation and compromise. Hence, the challenge not only for South Eastern European politicians, but for entire societies, of accepting compromise as a strength, a virtue, lies still ahead.

Compromise should not be confused with consensus. Compromise allows the involved parties to keep their distinct opinion or position, but it leaves space to the opinions and positions of the other side. Compromise is the golden middle where everybody wins a little and everybody loses a little. It might be the best remedy against the still widespread culture of "the winner takes it all” and the misperception of consensus as the power of veto.

Albania’s transformation, the way out of transition, is a national project that will only succeed by closing the ranks and putting the good of the country ahead of narrow personal, economic or party interests. This is why Albania’s friends and the international community put so much emphasis on the requirement of sincere and sound co-operation based on compromise. The constructive way religious and ethnic communities deal with each other in Albania might serve as a very appropriate example for the further way of internal and external integration.

* Ambassador Florian Raunig is Head of the OSCE Presence in Albania. He held this speech at the Conference "Integration is Necessary to Foster Regional Stability and Economic Prosperity" on Feb. 13, 2015 at at Luarasi University in Tirana.


Tirana Times
By Tirana Times February 16, 2015 11:00