19.4.2016: ON THE WAY TO EUROPE
Serbia is slowly but surely paving the way toward the European Union (EU) while maintaining its traditional friendship with Russia. They want to be a part of the big European family, as Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vučić stated last December at the opening of the first two chapters of the negotiations. Serbia has also cast a glance at the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), which is rather interesting considering Serbia's military neutrality—it was declared by the National Assembly in 2007. Serbia was already a member of the Partnership for Peace program as well as the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council and in January 2015 Serbia and NATO signed the Individual Partnership Action Plan, which should deepen and expand their cooperation. Their joint interest is the preservation of peace. It also recently adopted an agreement to cooperate with NATO’s Support and Procurement Organization, which led to an outburst of anti-NATO protests. The protesters believe the agreement endangers Serbia’s sovereignty and demand a referendum on NATO membership. Quite a large percent of Serbs oppose the membership because of the 1999 bombings that forced Serbia to withdraw its forces from Kosovo, which has since declared independence. Kosovo is still a pressing issue and Serbia will have to resolve it throughout the negotiations with the EU. Serbia’s rapprochement with the EU leads toward a more stable and integrated region without constituting an interruption or cooling in their traditional friendly relations with Russia. As the Serbian president Tomislav Nikolić said »/…/ to be in the EU does not mean to be against Russia, and that to be a friend of Russia does not mean to be against the EU« (Rettman 2015).
- Rettman Andrew. 2015. EU to open Serbia talks, as Belgrade warns of instability. EUobserver, 4. December. Available at: (24. March 2016).
11.5.2016: TERRORISM IS NOT THE SAME AS IMMIGRATION
Today, many people believe that immigration is a synonym for terrorism. When the migration flow reached Europe in 2015, the Hungarian Prime Minister Orban said that there is a clear link between illegal migrants entering the European Union and the spread of terrorism (Tharoor, 2015). Terrorist attacks in Paris, Istanbul and Brussels cemented this perception among the citizens of Europe, even though the attackers were identified as European nationals (ibid.). To gain more understanding of the correlation between instability caused by the refugee crisis and the threat of terrorism, we suggest you to read the study Does Immigration Induce Terrorism?, conducted at the University of Chicago. Among other things, the study highlights the extent to which terrorist organizations use the vulnerability of immigrant communities to spread their agenda.
Summary of Article:
- Tharoor Ishaan. 2015. There is no real link between immigration and terroorism, study finds. Available at: (28. March 2016).
11.5.2016: RUSSIAN INTEREST IN THE BALKANS
Russia’s interest in the Balkans dates back to the 19th century when the Russian Empire competed with the Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman Empire for influence in the region. Bulgaria is a strategic country for Russia because of its geographic position between Romania and Turkey on the Black Sea coast (Stratfor 2016a). Neighbouring Serbia is a particularly important partner for Russia, given its historic role as the dominant power in the Balkans and its pursuit of EU and NATO membership. Russia also shares centuries-long cultural ties and a history of political cooperation with both countries (ibid.). By building stronger ties with Bulgaria, Russia has shaped decision-making in the European Union (EU) on issues such as sanctions and energy projects. In Serbia, Russia has worked to hamper the country’s integration with Western institutions by increasing its influence in the country.
Russia Counters the West
Kremlin’s interest in the region in the past year stems in large part from its deteriorating relationship with the West (Stratfor 2016b). Russia’s goal in the Balkans is to prevent the expansion of Western troops and military infrastructure in the region while maintaining sufficient strength to implement strategic energy infrastructure projects. Although the West has greater resources to invest in the Balkans, Russia owns several regional energy assets and holds a number of outstanding loans to Balkan governments. Moscow has managed to retain a good diplomatic relationship with some local oligarchs, especially in Bulgaria (ibid.). Russia has provided funding to Serbia—about 1.5 billion dollars in over the past two years. The Kremlin also sealed energy and loan deals with the Republika Srpska, the ethnic Serb entity in Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Western pressure may have ended the South Stream project, but the pipeline Russia plans to build in its place, Turkish Stream, could help Gazprom counter European energy diversification efforts (ibid.). The pipeline would bring natural gas across the Black Sea to the Greece-Turkey border. To help Gazprom reach Central European markets, Russia has advocated the construction of a pipeline that would run from Greece to Macedonia, Serbia and Hungary. In addition to Turkey, these four countries are at the centre of a Russian diplomatic offensive (ibid.). Nevertheless, with Russia struggling to manage internal financial and political challenges, its leverage in the Balkans is relatively limited.
- Stratfor. 2016a. Russia Is Losing Ground in the Balkans. Available at: (26. March 2016).
- Stratfor. 2016b. The Problems Foreign Powers Find in the Balkans. Available at: (26. March 2016).
1.6.2016: EUROPEAN INTEGRATION IN THE BALKAN AREA
In a world plagued by conflicts and crisis, the Balkan area seems like a peaceful zone moving towards stability and integration within Europe. But in the 1990s there a cruel conflict arose that resulted in the disintegration of Yugoslavia and the emergence of seven new countries. One of those countries, Kosovo, is not recognized by a number of countries. An oasis of peace needs to be maintained and the countries which are not part of the European Union (EU) and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) yet, are aiming for membership. They are determined to consolidate peace, stability, and security, as well as strengthen democratic institutions and the rule of law. Both the EU and NATO have key roles for the present and future of the Western Balkans in their own specific ways (Vejvoda 2015).
The Balkan countries have realized that cooperation among them is essential due to the responsibilities they have towards each other and that they face many of the same challenges, some of a cross-border nature. The countries, as well as the entire region, have started to realize the considerable benefits of increasingly close regional cooperation. Extended regional cooperation is essential for the stability, prosperity, and security of the region. This is very much needed criteria for the countries in order to integrate in the above mentioned organizations. Many of the challenges facing those countries are not only common to them, but also have a cross-border dimension, which involves their regional neighbors (Rehn 2006).
Closer cooperation between the EU and NATO in this area plays a key role. Both organizations should play complementary and mutually reinforcing roles. The different sets of reasons—political, economic and security—for which regional cooperation in the western Balkans is crucial, are closely interlinked: for instance, regional stability and security are needed for economic development, which in turn favors stability and security in the region (European Commission 2006).
- Vejvoda, Ivan. 2015. Progress and Challenges in the Western Balkans. Hearing in, Committee on Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Europe, Eurasia and Emerging Threats (House of Representatives, United States Congress). Available at: 20House%20Subcommittee%20Europe%2029%20April%202015.pdf (13. 4. 16).
- Rehn, Olli. 2005. Regional cooperation in the western Balkans A policy priority for the European Union – Foreword. Available at: /pdf/nf5703249enc_web_en.pdf (13. 4. 16).
- European Commission. 2006. Regional cooperation in the western Balkans A policy priority for the European Union. Luxembourg: Office for Official Publications of the European Communities. Available at: (13. 4. 16).
1.6.2016: BOSNIA AND HERZEGOVINA: A HOSTAGE TO DAYTON?
Twenty years after the singing of the Dayton Peace Agreement, which ended the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the vast majority of international and Bosnian experts and officials believe the country has become a hostage to it—specifically the part that established the country's constitution (Aljazeera 2016). The constitution defined Bosnia and Herzgovina as a democratic state of three constituent peoples – Bosniaks, Serbs and Croats (ibid). The country was divided into two entities, the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Republika Sprska as well as an additional third entity, a self-governing unit, the Brcko District.
Working within one of the most complicated political systems in the world, most Bosnian politicians and foreign officials now agree that the Dayton Peace Agreement has run its course (ibid). What they cannot agree on, though, is how it should be modified.
Agreeing to disagree and disagreeing to agree
Today, 13 governments exist in a country of fewer than four million people. The resulting bureaucracy is often criticized as highly dysfunctional, while high rates of corruption, unemployment, and discrimination are seen as obstacles to Bosnia and Herzegovina's progress in joining the European Union and NATO. However, any change to the agreement must be approved by representatives of the three constituent peoples – and this is especially problematic because they do not agree (ibid). All previous amendments to the agreement, made mainly in the 10 years after the war, were carried out under pressure from the international community and by the decision of the high representative.
The political leaders of the Republika Srpska recently accused the state's judicial system of being biased against Serbs in cases of war crimes. In July, the parliament of this entity approved a referendum on the Court and Prosecutor's Office of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the powers of the high representative. The move was condemned by European and US officials (ibid).
From Dayton to Brussels
However, the past 10 years have been marked by stagnation, and in 2008 the signing of the Stabilization and Association Agreement (SAA), part of the EU accession process, was blocked by the European Union because of the country's paralyzed political system and lack of a constitutional reform.
One of the main reasons for blocking the signing was the fact that the decision of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in the "Sejdic-Finci" case had not been implemented (ibid).
- Aljazeera. 2016. Bosnia and Herzegovina: A hostage to Dayton. Available at: (16. April 2016).
4.7.2016: THE BALKANS AND REGIONAL COOPERATION
Europe represents a textbook example of inter-state cooperation and regional integration. In the countries of Southeastern Europe aiming for European Union membership, good neighborly relations and regional cooperation remain key factors for advancing reforms. However, the goal for stronger cross-border cooperation is not in the EU’s perspective, but in numerous international organizations such as the World Bank, UNDP, Council of Europe, and EBRD (European Bank for Reconstruction and Development), etc. (Kukan 2010, 1).
The year 2015 was one of the most difficult in the history of migration in Europe. Fleeing from poverty and war, more and more people from the Middle East and from Africa decided to seek safety in Europe. There was a significant flow of migrants across the Eastern Mediterranean and the Western Balkans, which represent one of the main migration routes. Countries in this particularly sensitive region have less- advanced welfare systems, limited institutional capacity, and struggling economies that are further strained by having to provide for large numbers of transiting migrants. Previous conflicts in the area and the migrant crisis put relations between the EU and the Western Balkans enlargement countries in the spotlight and make the case for increased cooperation in a situation of mutual dependence (European Parliament 2016).
A good example are Croatia and Serbia. In order to ease the pressures of the crisis, they were forced to cooperate. They established the first train service for transporting migrants directly from Serbia into Croatia. The arrangement was part of an agreement between the two nations—something that would have been unthinkable in their recent past. The train journey began fewer than five miles from the spot where the first fighting broke out in Yugoslavia in 1991 between Serbs and Croats, eventually escalating into war and resulting in the loss of more than 100,000 lives (Brunwasser 2015).
- Brunwasser, Mathew. 2015. Serbia and Croatia, in Rare Cooperation, Provide Trains for Migrants. Available at: (30. 4. 2016).
- European Parliament. 2016. Briefing: The Western Balkans - Frontline of the migrant crisis. Available at: (30. 4. 2016).
- Kukan, Eduard. 2010. Political implications of cross–border cooperation programmes. Available at: (30. 4. 2016).
4.7.2016: ENVIRONMENTAL CHALLENGES IN THE WESTERN BALKANS
The countries of the Western Balkans are at a turning point in the development of their economies, societies, and environment. Among the key issues facing Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Serbia, and Kosovo are the pace of their integration with the European Union and the prospect of future membership. The region's economies face the task of shifting from their industrial past to advanced, post-industrial economies. Moreover, national policies need to address the changing consumption patterns and the growth of consumerism driven by societal reforms and shifts, which will have a growing impact on the region's environment. These countries have significant potential in renewable energy sources, but underdeveloped markets, lack of experience, technological challenges, and legal and administrative obstacles are discouraging the investors from enabling greater use and production of renewable energy. Environmental protection will be one of the most complex fields for the Western Balkans countries on their path towards European integration and it will require the highest investments. A substantial increase in passenger and freight transport, air traveling, municipal, industrial and mining waste, agricultural production, and fertilizer use show the diversity of problem areas. Albania, Bosnia, Croatia, and Serbia are also signatories to the Paris Agreement, which tends to keep the global spotlight focused on climate change. They understand the need to act against climate change, because they have experienced the consequences of climate change in the form of recurring devastating floods and drought. A country’s development, especially economic development, must be in accordance with the guidelines of sustainable development. The environment can only take so much and every step in the direction of protecting the environment is also a step towards sustainable coexistence of nature, a healthy environment and economic growth and strengthening of a country.
- EEA Report No 1/2010; Environmental trends and perspectives in the Western Balkans: future production and consumption patterns, 12 May 2010
Here you can read some more detailed articles from our team about our main theme this year and also some behind the scenes of organizing a MUN conference.