site.btaUPDATED International Conference Highlights Transport Infrastructure as Key Factor for Connectivity in the Balkans
An international conference titled “The Balkans - of Peace, Security, Cooperation and Partnership” took place in Sofia on Thursday under the auspices of Bulgaria’s President Rumen Radev. The event is organized by the Strategic Institute for National Policies and Ideas, the Forum for Balkan Transport and Infrastructure, and the National Association for International Relations.
At the beginning of the conference, Bulgarian Vice President Iliana Iotova said that the Balkan countries have a shared history, which can only unite them, not divide them. “The conversation in the 21st century should not be about the past. We are destined to coexist now by our shared fate, striving to ensure peace and prosperity for ourselves and our children. How do we make our children stay here, develop their talents and skills, stay in their homeland, and not flee to more developed countries to seek their future there? What should we do for our common development? How do we make our projects a reality?” Iotova said. In her words, this is what the conversation in 2023 should be about instead of “appropriating history, fighting over our heroes, stifling free expression of ethnicity; above all, we should respect human rights." In her view, people talk about human rights as “a policy of luxury”. Iotova said, “It is up to us to halt this dangerous and worrying trend and to pay attention to people’s problems instead of old documents.”
Iotova noted that the future of the Western Balkans is an integral theme of Thursday’s conference, especially in the context of Russia's war in Ukraine and its consequences. “There cannot be a secure and stable Europe without its enlargement in the direction of the Western Balkans,” she said.
In Iotova’s words, the Balkans have not been a peaceful place for centuries, and even today they are caught up in different geopolitical interests.
Transport infrastructure in the Balkans was highlighted as a key factor for connectivity during the conference.
“The railway to Skopje will be completed with Bulgaria’s help,” said Prof. Dr. Vlado Bučkovski of North Macedonia’s Argumentum Association. He pointed out that the expressway between Kriva Palanka and Rankovce will be completed next year. Bučkovski said that it will take about two and a half hours to travel between Sofia and Skopje once the reconstruction and modernization of the expressway between the two capitals are finished.
Transport costs in the Balkans are relatively low, said Bulgaria's former caretaker Economy Minister Daniela Vezieva.
The role of NGOs in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals was highlighted by the President of the Romanian Association for Sustainable Local Development, Marius Gălbenușă. “We are facing big challenges. We have 17 UN Development Goals, and we need to unite behind them. We know how difficult it is to achieve them at the regional and national levels. In order to do so, we need to work together in partnership,” he said. Gălbenușă added that peace and security are a priority for the Balkans, and the EU is the most serious partner of the countries in the region.
The participants in the conference adopted a memorandum on the establishment of a partnership network of Balkan NGOs. The aim of the network is to facilitate cooperation in security, economy, infrastructure, transport, energy, sport, health, culture, education, and ecology. The parties will hold meetings to review the progress of activities carried out under the memorandum and to plan future action.
A call for peace and security in the Balkans was also adopted at the conference. It urges the governments in the region to intensify multilateral and bilateral cooperation, as well as dialogue at all levels.