“The Open Balkans would be to the benefit of all” – Exclusive interview with the Slovenian president Borut Pahor for Albanian Post

Ever since Slovenia declared its independence in 1991, Borut Pahor has performed main functions in Slovenian politics. There is no significant institutional position that Pahor has not led. Today as president, he formerly was Prime Minister, President of the Assembly, MEP, MP and a most significant political figure in the Balkans.

Therefore, the Slovenian president knows what he speaks of, when he says that the initiatives on cooperation in the region are immensely important.

In an exclusive interview for Albanian Post, at the end of his mandate in Slovenia, Pahor states that very much the same as with other initiatives for the Balkans, he also supports the one that started as Mini-Schengen and ended up as Open Balkans.

“I firmly support all the initiatives that contribute to peace and stability in the region. I support Berlin Process, SEECP and RCC, but I also support Open Balkans initiative. Open Balkans Initiative has potentials to raise the economic cooperation between the countries on a very new level, to the benefit of all. It can contribute to the individual countries to be better prepared for the EU”, Pahor told Albanian Post.

“However, and I want to be very clear on that, the Open Balkans initiative is not an alternative to the full membership of the EU. No regional cooperation is an alternative to the EU membership”.

Pahor is on his second mandate as President of Slovenia. His second five-year term ends in December this year. Even if he’d wanted, Pahor cannot run for this position anymore, since the Constitution prohibits running for a third mandate.

He has many years in politics, but is only 58. After he finishes his term as Slovenian president, it has been rumored that he may take some other significant functions, that go beyond Slovenian national politics. There were some reports that he will be Miroslav Lajcak’s successor, as European facilitator to the Dialogue between Kosovo and Serbia.

In an answer sent to the Albanian Post, Pahor denies this, but does entirely rule it out.

“I am the President of the Republic of Slovenia. I am focusing on my current duties, and will think about what to do next only after the end of my term in office”, he told us.

As for the work of Lajcak, Pahor assesses that neither him, nor anybody else in his place, would not have been able to do more, since it is not up to the facilitators to find solutions if the countries engaged in dialogue do not do it for themselves.

“No facilitator, mediator or high representative can do a lot, if the countries themselves are not fully committed to solving their open issues”.

Pahor’s advice is that “It is up to the authorities in Priština to define their goals, and choose a tactic of how to achieve these goals”.

“I am not here to judge, neither is Mr Lajčak. Mr Lajčak is there on behalf of international community to help. Just that – to help, not to do the job instead of Priština and Belgrade”.

According to him, neither of the parties is doing enough on the matter.

“My impression is that the starting positions of both, Belgrade and Priština, are very wide apart. Perhaps even more than under the previous Kosovo Government. It seems there is lack of confidence between the two parties”.

As a politician engaged for sound relationships in the Balkans, Pahor states that he himself would want to see “more cooperation in the region, good neighbourly relations, faster reforms, and more efforts to achieve reconciliation”.

“Twelve years ago, I initiated Brdo Brijuni Process, a platform for the leaders of the region to discuss openly different issues of their concern. I wish to remind you that Brdo – Brijuni Process was the very first international forum where Priština and Belgrade were represented at the highest level, and sit at the same table. Berlin process developed on the basis of that experience”.

Kosovo in NATO? Pahor says that perhaps it’s the appropriate time

Kosovo’s Prime Minister, Albin Kurti, last month, in a meeting with the General Council of his party, the Movement for Self-Determination, stated that Kosovo is preparing to apply for NATO membership, much the same as it applied in the Council of Europe.

But, Pahor being the President of Slovenia which makes him also Supreme Commander of Slovenian Armed Forces, though he says that “We hope Kosovo will one day become a full member of the Council of Europe”, when it comes to NATO, he speaks rather skeptically considering the moment chosen to seek such an appliance.

“I am concerned with impacts of the war in Ukraine on the stability of Western Balkans, and I call on all the leaders to abstain from any acts that would worsen the situation in the region”, says Pahor.

“Kosovo has established a cooperation with NATO, as Serbia did as well, although in different form. I am sure the cooperation between Kosovo and NATO could be further strengthened, at the same time not sure that now is the possible time for application to NATO membership”.

Redrawing borders and Pahor’s position on this issue

In the previous year the Slovenian media published a document where it was stated that the then-Prime Minister of Slovenia, Janez Jansa, had proposed to the international community a solution that supposes moving borders in the Balkan.

Pahor opposed the idea. The reasons were clear. He thought that such a thing, in the Balkans, cannot be carried out peacefully.

“In principle, it is always up to the countries to agree on their mutual borders. Countries bear responsibilities for good neighbourly relations and peaceful development. In the case of Western Balkans, I am pretty much sure that eventual changes of borders between Kosovo and Serbia, would lead to border changes with regard to Bosnia and Herzegovina, and this would lead to a war”, Pahor told Albanian Post.

As for the famous non-paper, Pahor says he’s not seen it, and that he was quite astounded by the statements of Milorad Dodik, who said that “I use wording that could be interpreted as an advocacy for border change”.

“I can only repeat that I am against such an idea, as I firmly believe it is very unlikely changes of border would happen in peaceful manner”.

More EU in the Balkans means less Russian Federation

Serbia remains the only country in Europe to not have imposed sanctions on Russia after invading Ukraine.

Borut Pahor refused to comment on Serbia’s position in a direct manner, but states that a reaction towards Russian influence in the Balkans can be a done by a faster integration of the region in the structures of the European Union.

“There is a concern that the war in Ukraine could have spill-over effects on the Western Balkans. The region experienced wars not so long ago, and the security situation in many parts of Western Balkans is still fragile. I argue for faster enlargement of the EU. More the EU would be present in the Western Balkans, less room there would be for Russian federation. As I often say – European Union is the answer to all the questions in the Western Balkans”.

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