Matthew Palmer’s appointment from USA as a special representative for Western Balkan and many other moments of EU engagement, ranging from the Stability Pact to the baptized initiative such as the Berlin Process that is strengthening the region’s permanent integration by European standards, which are already creating a vision and a comprehensive commitment to the problematic but also often prejudiced region, as defined by author Maria Todorova in her book “The Imaginary Balkans”.
Author: Bardhyl Zaimi
The perception of the Western Balkans as a ‘metaphor of delay’ has always been determined by a kind of fragility that lies at the boundaries of the “magnificent” past and the uncertain future. All of this internal historical perception of the Balkan countries, as well as all the European perception of the problematic peninsula, is treated with so much professional competence in Maria Todorova’s book “The Imaginary Balkan”.
The book deals with the whole Balkan history, but at the same time it also deals with the European pervasive perception of this troubled peninsula that undoubtedly remains part of the geography of the old continent. Precisely, at the time when this book was published, which received great echoes in the Western scientific world, two years later for Southeast Europe started one of the most hopeful processes for the European future of the region, named as the Stability Pact.
Todorova’s book is considered a metaphor for the Balkans, an intellectual and scholarly reflection that found translation in several languages of the world. Moreover, the book emphasized the need to understand this region as part of Europe, extending a vision and interpretation beyond the conflicting Balkan discourses and beyond the schematic European perceptions. Through a paradigmatic approach, the book provided a wealth of information on Balkan history and at the same time opened a new paradigmatic vision for its future.
Only two years later it appears that, the European Union had already drawn up a vision of inclusive integration for the Balkan countries, which was already known as the Stability Pact. Perhaps coincidentally this meeting, this European initiative was trying to tear the troubled region from the underlying symbolism “down there in the Balkans” into another dimension of development already being structured in a Pact to stabilize the region’s tectonic movements that lie deep in history. Precisely, the creation of this Pact is highlighted by a scholar from Kosovo, Arben Hajrullai, in his book “Long-term Peace in the Western Balkans through EU Integration”.
Instability, this author writes, prolonging since the 1989 turn and war conflicts in the Western Balkans region made it clear that a successful approximation of the region to European and Euro-Atlantic structures is an inevitable without unified and consistent strategy, which addresses not only the consequences but also the causes. “Thus with the Stability Pact for South Eastern Europe for the first time for the entire Balkan region was conceived and acted concretely, strategically and with a future orientation,” writes Hajrullai.
The announcement for a different approach to the Western Balkans came at a time of great turbulence. The Special Council of EU Foreign Ministers in Luxembourg on April 8, 1999, came up with the strategic conclusion: “Southeast Europe needs a Stability Pact, which opens the door to a long-term process of political and economic stabilization. Such a broad-based strategy could be built on existing regional initiatives.
This is the initial concrete initiative that was already putting the region in a different European perception and opening further development horizons in line with the expectations of the Western Balkan countries and in line with the EU’s commitment to integrate it into the Western space. All the other relations of the Balkan countries are precisely determined by the Stability Pact, which in fact meant a different integration paradigm.
Despite this European political and economic platform, the Balkans have not hesitated to manifest at all times impatience and irritating discourses that have not been in sync with this expectation and this development horizon. Within that time, millions of Euros have been pumped out from the EU and USA to create a functioning system of governance that would be based on transparency and all that means good governance. The defects from the past have been repeated cyclically, while European conceptual infusions have not always been able to feed the corrupted governments in the Western Balkans.
To give a more concrete impulse to the aspiration for integration and to reinforce the initial vision of the Stability Pact in 2014, in Germany where the next EU summit was being held, Berlin Process was initiated, which means the process of standardization, cooperation and integration of the Western Balkans into the European family. Each year, within this process, summits are held, which set out the priority and areas of EU investment in the Western Balkan countries.
With the Berlin Process, the Western Balkans are now not alone, but they have a long-term, stable and standardized support for bringing the Balkan countries closer to a unified European value space. This initiative has already crystallized the European journey of the countries of the region, despite the various nebulas that may appear on the way.
And, undoubtedly, the fog of problematic influences have always been present in the Western Balkans. Increasingly at the level of European policies and pronouncements, it is emphasized the Russian influence and more recently China’s influence in the region. Precisely, in the line with this concern and in the spirit of the commitments for an integrated region, moreover strengthens the pronouncements in the level of the leaders of EU states on the imperative of structuring a strategy and an urgent presence of EU in the Balkan countries. In line with Germany’s permanent and strategic commitment to the Balkans, French President Macron has recently urged French diplomats to work for the “reintegration of the Balkans”.
It is precisely in these convergent frequencies it is the appointment of Mr. Matthew Palmer from USA, as a special representative for the Western Balkans. The US State Department has announced that Palmer will lead efforts to strengthen US diplomatic engagement in support of peace, stability and prosperity in the region and focus on integrating Western Balkan countries into Western institutions.
His appointment as special envoy for the Western Balkans has also been commented on by prominent publicists. “The United States could not find a better person than Matthew Palmer as special envoy for the Western Balkans,” said publicist and journalist, Tim Judah. He points out that Palmer, with 25 years of experience, knows the region well and all its key figures.
It seems that the EU and the USA are already manifesting a much greater commitment to resolving the problems in the Balkans and establishing a long-term peace and development paradigm in the region within the framework of the Western development concept. Along with the previous moments of defining and reinforcing integration aspirations such as the Stability Pact and the baptized initiative as the Berlin Process, it seems that the USA and the EU are already establishing a Western political permanence that implies an irreversible integration process for the countries of the region.
An ‘imaginary’ Balkan of dual historical and political perceptions is already turning into a Balkan of concrete intentions and strategies that give the region’s future a different sky away from other influences that further feed historical confusion and conflict.