Fear can often cloud our mind or lead us to extremes, but it can also serve a purpose: to alert us to the fact that something is wrong and in doing so, sharpen our senses. Having lived through the turbulence of the 1990s in the Western Balkans, I am not certain which of these two reactions to fear gained the upper hand in my emotions this week…: when in addition to a dread of the 1990s rearing its ugly head again in this region, I also recognised the real threat of a new world war knocking on the door. I am talking about Syria, of course. On that particular morning, there was no breaking news, and it seemed that I was interpreting this sudden silence as ‘peace’. Is this what real peace is? Silence? Does ‘no news’ mean that we can be calm, safe and sound, even though we know that there is repression in some other corner of the world?
Is the human nature inherently evil and the only thing preventing a brutal ‘law of the jungle’ social order , the laws we put in place to restrain ourselves? Do we only obey the laws and social norms for as long as they suit our needs and then revert to self-centred behaviour? There have been debates about this since humans started to think and communicate. If these are true, then the work of the CDRSEE and the work of civil society is essential. Our mission is to connect, to share and to interact: to ensure that people feel like they belong to something – something valuable, worth sustaining and worth committing to. If this view is too pessimistic, if people are essential good at heart, then our work is equally needed. The forces that drive people apart seem to be on the rise and we need to find ways to allow people to express themselves, cooperate and create shared communities and futures.
Last week, we were proud to be involved in celebrating the 10-year anniversary of the European Fund for the Balkans- one of many achievements of civil society in the region over the past couple of decades, all of which need to be recongnised, applauded and celebrated, but also built on and developed.
Among numerous roundtables and inspiring talks about the region and European perspectives on it, the CDRSEE reflected on our ‘Vicinities’ project. This joint initiative of the EFB and CDRSEE, the only regional TV talk show, now in its 7th season, was presented at a roundtable on the role of culture in reconciliation. The panelists were all very successful contributors to culture in the region – and are some of the bravest people I have ever met -who use their talents, hard work and ethics to tirelessly contribute to reconciliation, peace and a developed society. Their fear sharpens their senses and focuses their intelligence into practical, creative and humanitarian action; they find only inspiration and stimulus in the fearful reality, without even considering themselves to be brave. “ I am afraid of others perceiving me as a brave person. What I do is normal”, remarked one panelist with truth and modesty.
I wish that we could all do what is ‘normal’. I wish that we could all have the ‘normality’ to not let fear cloud our minds. The more I talk with people of the Western Balkans and the more the clamour of divisions, extremism and unpleasant personal attacks masquerading as ‘dialogue’, the more I am convinced that this ‘normality’ IS the voice of a ‘quiet, invincible majority in our region’ and we, the CDRSEE is doing its best to provide opportunities for this voice to be heard.
The ‘normal’ people of this region have been brave, can continue to be and, I feel sure, will continue to be. Part of this requires that we regain our self-esteem, dignity and self-worth, but without tipping over into arrogance. This week, the EC published its Progress Report on the Western Balkans and Turkey, and in light of the progress made in Albania and the FYR of Macedonia, recommended that accession negotiations are opened with both of these countries.
The FYR of Macedonia has had the determination to overcome the problems of a deeply divisive regime and immediately embark on painful processes of reforms to emerge with an open-minded conciliatory approach and a government that is trying to build bridges within its country and with the surrounding ones. Equally, the EC has had the foresightedness and commitment to support these countries in this process. In commenting on the report, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Nikola Dimitrov addressed Ms Mogherini (High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy for the EC) saying “We delivered…you delivered”. In doing so, he recognised that these achievements have required sustained ‘normal’ acts of bravery by both parties: from the countries of the region to try and overcome the problems of the past and from the EC in supporting them to find their feet in doing so, despite misgivings and pessimism from many quarters. This is what the region needs: a courage that is ‘normal’ combined with a definition of ‘peace’ that is not the ‘silence’ of ‘no news’ but rather the sound of people standing up for their rights, debating, engaging and interacting.