"As young man I didn't see - but now I know" - Vucic
The future of the Balkans looks far brighter today than many would have predicted two decades ago, Aleksandar Vucic said in a commentary penned for politico.eu.Source: B92, politico.eu
"The Balkan wars left more than 100,000 dead and caused millions to flee their homes. The region’s economies lay in ruins, and many of our best and brightest left in droves to seek a better future elsewhere. Political leaders from opposing sides did not trust each other, and had no real vision for the future," the president writes.
He then added that as a young man at the time, he "did not see what could be gained from collaborating across the divide" - which some media in Croatia, where he is visiting this week, have interpreted as "an apology of a kind."
"As a young man at the time, I did not see what could be gained from collaborating across the divide. But I know now that my country paid a high price for nationalist excesses," Vucic wrote.
He added that the situation today "shows that barriers can be broken with enough common will - relations between the region’s countries have transformed dramatically over the past decade."
EU membership cannot be an end in and of itself, Vucic argues. "As leaders, it is our responsibility to create the conditions that will bring growth and prosperity to our countries. We must live up to the promises we make to our people."
"The free flow of goods, services, people and capital will make our region more attractive for investment. Individually, we are small players, but collectively, we are a market of 20 million," he wrote.
The Western Balkans experienced the destructive effects of nationalism first hand, Vucic continued - and "now, at a time when many European countries are turning inward, we want to look beyond our borders and focus on what binds us together."
"Greater economic integration will help forge cultural connections between countries and make the region more politically stable. It will also act as an anchor for those who sought to leave the region to seek a better future for their children," Vucic said, adding:
"History shows that economic unity is crucial for political stability. The European Coal and Steel Community, which eased enmity between France and Germany after World War II by forging economic collaboration and eventually morphed into the European Union; and the Central European Free Trade Agreement (CEFTA) are just two examples."
"The issues that unite us are stronger than those that divide us. We all want stability. We all want economic growth and prosperity. We all want to improve the lives of our people. And we can only achieve these goals through closer economic collaboration," Vucic concluded.