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BIPR | The Balkans and the Great Powers
The Balkans and the Great Powers

February 10, 2022 - 18:30

Vuk Jeremic, Center for International Relations and Sustainable Development (CIRSD), Serbia

Event Recap

On February 10th, Vuk Jeremic, currently President of the Center for International Relations and Sustainable Development (CIRSD) in Serbia, joined the SAIS Europe community in Bologna to shed light on the relationship between the Balkans and the great powers of today.

Emphasising the 'very complicated' nature of the region, Jeremic began the discussion by unpacking the 'fundamental forces' of geopolitics – geography, history, and culture – that have come to define the Balkans. From Alexander the Great in 335 BC, to the Ottoman conquests in the 14th Century, and Soviet control in the 20th Century, the Balkan region has throughout history served as a crucial arena for those intent on 'projecting power.' Historically seen as the 'highway or buffer of empires,' the region continues to hold immense geostrategic importance today. Moreover, Jeremic outlined the importance of religion in the region and, in particular, the struggle between Christianity and Islam. Rather than being the driving force of great powers, however, theology has instead come to define the small powers – a point clearly exemplified in the Balkans. As such, Jeremic argued, the region has also become known as an area often 'on the verge of conflict.'

Following this, the former President of the United Nations (UN) General Assembly outlined the thorny relationship between the Western Balkan region and the European Union (EU). While the likelihood of EU integration and enlargement in the area may have been a 'foregone conclusion' just a decade ago, such prospects are no longer realistic Jeremic claimed. In his view, the realistic snapshot at this moment is so that countries in the Western Balkans have become 'less and less qualified' for accession to the EU. With multilateral organisations struggling to deliver on promises and even survive, he argued that the world has fallen into a 'geopolitical recession'. Harder to quantify than an economic one and far longer in duration, this type of recession has come to represent a dim outlook for the future of multilateral cooperation. The EU, however, is not the only organisation threatened by this trend. Reflecting on his candidacy for UN Secretary General, Jeremic noted that since the 'peak of multilateralism' in 2015 the UN, too, had become a much less dynamic 'place of stalemate.' Against the backdrop of these challenges for multilateral organisations, however, Jeremic emphasised the continued need for diplomacy and cooperation, especially among the great powers.

Before taking questions from members of the audience, Jeremic also drew attention to the increasingly significant role of China in the Western Balkan region, and especially in Serbia. Noting the manner in which European influence in the region has been largely curtailed to the economic sector, there have been other arenas left open to Chinese influence. Particularly in the case of the current COVID-19 pandemic, China's vaccine diplomacy has been particularly successful in delivering Sinopharm to the region.

Lastly, as a 'hybrid regime' that is 'part Hungary, part Belarus, and part Turkey,' Jeremic contended that the reason for Serbia's unrealistic prospects of EU accession are two-pronged. On the one hand, Brussels is demonstrating an unwillingness in enlargement, while countries in the Balkans are showing a disregard for political reform. Jeremic urged the EU to engage in a more serious and honest dialogue with the West Balkan region to allow for more concrete steps towards "Europeanization". Moreover, he contended that the EU should find a better model with which to engage and incentivise the Western Balkan states to reform their political systems, and thereby increase their resemblance to the other member states. Given the recent 'precipitation in democratic standards' in the region, however, the current prospects are not exactly promising.

Full Audio:

The Balkans and the Great Powers
Russian-Western Relations: Where Now? Series

hosted by Professor Sergey Radchenko

Vuk Jeremic
Center for International Relations and Sustainable Development (CIRSD), Serbia

The event will be held in hybrid mode. SAIS Europe students, faculty, and staff are allowed to attend in person in the Penthouse. External guests are welcome to participate by registering for the online webinar using the link below.

Vuk Jeremic is President of the Center for International Relations and Sustainable Development (CIRSD) and Editor-in-Chief of Horizons Journal of International Relations and Sustainable Development.

In 2016, Jeremic participated in the official elections for the UN Secretary-General. After six rounds of voting in the UN Security Council, he finished in second place, behind Mr. Antonio Guterres. He was the first-ever candidate to put forth a detailed policy platform to be implemented upon his election. Entitled Strengthening the United Nations in the 21st Century: A Platform for Action and Impact, it contained 53 specific and concrete commitments and was divided into five thematic sections: sustainable development, climate change, conflict prevention and peace operations, human rights and humanitarian relief, and UN revitalization.

In June 2012, Jeremic was elected by the majority of world's nations to be the President of the sixty-seventh session of the United Nations General Assembly, in the first contested vote since the end of the Cold War. During his term in office, he played a leading role in steering the UN towards the establishment of the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

As President of the General Assembly, he also facilitated the adoption of the breakthrough Arms Trade Treaty, the first legally-binding instrument in UN history to establish common standards for the international transfer of conventional armaments. Jeremic initiated several high-level thematic debates in the UN on critical issues such as climate change, education, social inequality, credit rating agencies, international criminal justice, and the peaceful resolution of conflicts in Africa. A record number of world leaders participated, helping the UN General Assembly assume a more significant role in world affairs.

From 2007 to 2012 Jeremic served as Serbia's Minister of Foreign Affairs. In 2007, he chaired the Council of Europe's Committee of Ministers. From 2011 to 2012 he led Serbia's successful campaign for the Chairmanship-in-Office of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) for the year 2015.

Prior to becoming Foreign Minister, Jeremic served as an advisor to the President of Serbia and various government ministries. Before entering public service, he worked in London for Deutsche Bank, Dresdner Kleinwort Benson, and AstraZeneca Pharmaceuticals.

Jeremic holds a bachelor's degree in Theoretical and Experimental Physics from Cambridge University and a master's degree in Public Administration/International Development from Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government. He was named a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum in 2013 and appointed to the Leadership Council of the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network (UN SDSN) in 2014.
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