Pahor warns of risk Ukraine war poses to W Balkans

Vienna – Slovenian President Borut Pahor emphasized the importance of the EU integrating the Western Balkans, in particular Bosnia-Herzegovina, as soon as possible to preserve peace and stability in Europe as he warned in a lecture in Vienna that the war in Ukraine revived “an outdated geopolitical mentality”.

Addressing students of the Vienna School of International Studies, the president noted that Europe had peace for almost 80 years, which had been made possible by the European idea, based on democracy, reconciliation and cooperation for the mutual benefit. “The European idea […] guarantees peace and prosperity to nearly half a billion people.”

Until recently the only danger had been “that we took peace for granted”, which is unfortunately no longer the case, as Russia attacked Ukraine “for no reason”, said Pahor, calling for a ceasefire to be agreed immediately and for diplomatic talks to resume to find a peaceful solution. He endorsed severe sanctions on Russia as a way to force it to stop the war as quickly as possible.

The war in Ukraine has “revived an outdated geopolitical mentality”. In that sense the EU’s enlargement to the Western Balkans “is a geopolitical issue of the first order”, Pahor said, warning that the stalled enlargement process was reviving nationalisms and ideas of changing borders, which “poses a direct threat to the peace and security of this part of Europe and Europe as a whole”.

Pahor reiterated his call for the EU to accelerate integration of Bosnia-Herzegovina, which he said was a special case and which should be made a functional state. “If there is no Europe there, we have a security problem,” he said, calling for the country to pass changes to electoral law as soon as possible. “We only have until May or else we risk bad consequences.”

He supported the Open Borders project to deepen cooperation between Serbia, North Macedonia and Albania. “It seems to me it’s one of the few constructive ideas of cooperation between Western Balkan countries that has at least partly been met with sincere support.”

However, Pahor reiterated his call on Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić to clarify that there was not the policy of a greater Serbia behind the project.

He rejected the belief that Serbia is a factor of instability in the region, but said that given the war in Ukraine and the increasing differences between the EU and Russia, Serbia would no longer be able to “sit on two chairs”. “I hope that Serbia will maintain its pro-European orientation and get itself out of the situation.

“This would be important for a pro-European future of Serbia as well as of the entire Western Balkans and would reduce the risk of Russia’s temptation to cause instability in the region,” Pahor said in his address to the world’s oldest post-graduate school for international studies. Founded in 1754 by Empress Maria Theresa, it has been an independent public educational institution since 1964.