Talk in Brussels: Bosnia – A miracle that does not shine

Together with the Slovenian EU Presidency and the Mission of Bosnia and Herzegovina to the EU, ESI showed the film “Bosnia – A Miracle that does not shine”, part of the documentary series “Return to Europe”, in Brussels on 28 May 2008. This 52-minute documentary shows both the achievements made and the difficulties that still exist in this country that experienced a brutal war between 1992 and 1995.

So far the achievements outweigh the difficulties and that Bosnia suffers from a bad image that is no longer justified. ESI research conducted in Bosnia over the last two years shows that Bosnia’s peoples have found ways to live, work and do business together again and that particularly at the local level things work rather well – which is a miracle given Bosnia’s war legacy, but a miracle that has not yet begun to shine.

I advocated that Bosnia consider applying for EU membership soon, given that Montenegro and Albania plan to do so in a few months and Serbia will do so if a pro-European government is formed following the 11 May elections. Otherwise Bosnia risks becoming the last in the queue of Western Balkan countries striving to join the EU.

In recent months, there has been progress in Bosnia’s integration process. In mid-April, the political parties agreed on two police laws that have opened the way to the signing of a Stabilisation and Association Agreement with the EU, now scheduled for 16 June. The associated trade-related Interim Agreement will then go into effect on 1 July. On 26 May, the European Commission launched a visa liberalisation dialogue with Bosnia, which will lead to the abolishment of the visa requirement for entry in the Schengen area once Bosnia meets a series of benchmarks. Such dialogues are conducted with all Western Balkans countries.

Some 60 people attended the event. The screening of the film was followed by a reception with drinks and Bosnian culinary specialties, offered by the Slovenian Permanent Representation and the Mission of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The Bosnia documentary will be broadcast by 3sat, a satellite channel shared by German-language public broadcasters from Germany, Austria, and Switzerland, on Sunday, 1 June, at 21:00. The series “Return to Europe” aims to familiarise viewers with the Balkan region and its people, their dreams and hopes, and their struggle for a better future. ESI has contributed its research, contacts and expertise to this series, which is one of the most comprehensive and ambitious European TV project about the Balkans in recent years.

Part of ESI’s recent Bosnia research has been published in the report “A Bosnian Fortress”, which takes a look at the situation in Republika Srpska. A second report examining the state of affairs in the Bosniak-Croat Federation will be published in the coming months.

Gerald Knaus
Gerald Knaus
Audience watching the film
Audience watching the film

Talk in Brussels – European Policy Centre (EPC) – “Albania at the Gates of NATO and the EU”

With more than 100 guests, the ESI/EPC event was very well attended. Other participants in the debate included Axel Wallden from the European Commission; Glori Husi, Albania’s NATO coordinator; Erion Veliaj, ESI analyst and former head of the Albanian youth movement Mjaft.

I introduced the film on Albania that aims to deconstruct myths and stereotypes of Albania as a failed state that is mired in crime and corruption.


Talk in Ankara – METU and Turkish Foreign Ministry – Presentation on “The State of the Balkans “

I was invited to speak on the Balkans at the “Austria and Turkey’s Neighbourhood Workshop” in Ankara on 21 April 2008. H.E Ali Babacan, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Turkey and H.E Ursula Plassnik, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Austria were the keynote speaker of the seminar. Guests among my panel included Mr T. Schnoll, Head of Western Balkans Unit (AFM), Professor Turkes from METU, Ms Batur from the Daily Sabah and Ambassador Aksoy.

Ankara - Ataturk Mausoleum

Talk in Paris – Club Grande Europe – “Learning from Bulgaria”

In the seminar entitled “A European failure or European miracles? Enlargement stories from Bulgaria and Romania”, I gave a detailed analysis on the case of Bulgaria and its adhesion to the European Union, while my colleague Kristof Bender, Senior Analyst at ESI talked about the case of Romania. The presentation was followed by comments from Francois Frison-Roche, Romanian and Bulgarian Specialist of CNRS and the University of Paris.

If you are interested in the issues, I recommend the following:
On Romania:
And then, of course, there are two ESI documentary films on these subjects:

Talk in Vienna – Radio Kulturhaus (ORF) – “International symposium Talking Balkans”

I gave a presentation during the international symposium “Return to Europe – Talking Balkans”, organised by ERSTE Foundation and ORF RadioKulturhaus, the first season of the TV documentary “Balkan Express” was announced. This film series will be broadcast on 3sat (starting 27 April 2008) and ORF (autumn 2008).

It is based on ESI research and features many places, topics and people that have been subject of ESI reports. The stories were developed in cooperation with ESI analysts.

International representatives of politics, culture, business and science discussed the “Balkan concept” on 3 – 4 April 2008. In addition to exclusive clips from the documentary series, the programme also featured examples of video art from the region.

Speakers included, among others, Alfred Gusenbauer (Federal Chancellor of Austria), Erhard Busek (Special Coordinator, Stability Pact, Austria), Slavenka Drakulic (author, Croatia), Migjen Kelmendi (Journalist, Kosovo), Ivan Krastev (Political scientist, Centre for Liberal Strategies, Bulgaria), Tim Judah (journalist, BBC, The Economist, UK), Ivan Vejvoda (Executive Director, Balkan Trust for Democracy, Serbia), Alida Vracic (Director, Populari, Bosnia & Herzegovina), and Erion Veliaj (ESI Analyst, Albania).

More information on the participants can be found at the ERSTE Foundation’s website. Austrian quality daily Der Standard published an eight-page supplement on the documentary series.


Talk at the Red House in Sofia: Does the EU have a strategy for South Eastern Europe?

I held a public lecture at The Red House in Sofia on EU soft power in the Balkans. Ever since the dramatic events in Kosovo in 1999, the European Union saw the EU membership prospect for the Balkan countries as a tool for stabilising the region. The “EU membership promise” has been perceived as an instrument of excercising soft power over a region that includes Turkey as well. With recent developments across the Balkans, is the EU soft power fading away?

The Red House

Talk in Brussels – Adding momentum to the next EU enlargement

My colleague Alexandra and attended a session of the EPC Balkans Task Force in Brussels, a group of experts assembled by the European Policy Centre. There, I spoke about the Bulgarian experience and recommended:

  1. to encourage all WB countries to apply for EU membership and become candidates;
  2. to begin screening in late 2008/early 2009;
  3. to start negotiations with those that are ready. This will counteract the slow erosion of EU soft power in the region and produce the necessary momentum for the necessary reforms towards.

The next day, Alexandra and I attended a conference called “Five years after Thessaloniki” with Carl Bildt, Dimitri Rupel, Olli Rehn, Michael Leigh (Director-General Enlargement), Stefan Lehne (Director for the Western Balkans in the Council) and many others, and where I gave another presentation on the state of the Balkans. The background to this event was the Western Balkans Communication issued by the Commission the week before.