Conference entitled “Geopolitics in the Western Balkans: Regional Outlook”, organized by the Atlantic Council of Montenegro, Embassy of the Republic of Bulgaria to Montenegro and Konrad Adenauer Foundation was held today, June 27, in hotel Ramada in Podgorica.

In their opening speeches, Dr. Igor Lukšić from the Atlantic Council of Montenegro and H.E. Ms. Meglena Plugtschieva, Ambassador of Bulgaria to Montenegro, highlighted the importance of these gatherings for the Western Balkans, emphasizing all the challenges that it is currently facing and it will be facing in future. They are convinced that the principle of dialogue is the most important segment in order to overcome the barriers from the past but also – in order to finally make the region a part of the European Community and NATO. They agreed that Montenegro, Serbia, Kosovo and North Macedonia have a difficult path before them in order to implement all the Chapters but the progress is visible and all countries are striving hard to strengthen democratic values.

Mr. Andrija Nikolić, President of the Committee for International Relations and Emigrants of the Parliament of Montenegro also addressed the participants and said that he is exceptionally satisfied that the issue of geopolitical situation in the Western Balkans has been initiated and that this conference is actually an excellent opportunity for the representatives of prominent institutions from the region to exchange their opinions.

H.E. Ms. Iliana Yotova, Vice-President of the Republic of Bulgaria specified during her keynote speech the proactive approaches which could be used to combat the key problems that are troubling the Western Balkans and also defined where do the countries stand right now concerning these problems. She reflected on the enlargement policy of the EU and emphasized that it cannot be implemented without Balkan countries. Vice-President of Bulgaria is in the official visit to Montenegro and on that occasion, she put emphasis on the progress that our country is making in the field of Euro-Atlantic integrations, especially because it has already become a NATO member state. She added that she is aware of the visible efforts that Montenegro is making through the process of the EU accession. She also mentioned the biggest challenges concerning Belgrade and Pristina, resolving of a name dispute between Greece and North Macedonia, complex political situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and a role of the international organizations in determining of all hardships which complicate their function in the valorization of democratic values.

Speaking in the framework of this thematic session, Dr. Savo Kentera, President of the Atlantic Council of Montenegro emphasized the importance of unity in the Alliance during all the challenges that it is facing. Also, he agreed that the progress has been achieved on a path towards the EU and that NATO membership only accelerates this process for Montenegro. He considers NATO membership the greatest success so far but also warns about Russian influence which is not getting any weaker in the Western Balkans. He reminded us about Russian implication in the parliamentary elections 2016 and added that the citizens of Montenegro and countries in the region are in denial if they think that this will stop here. Russia is still doing everything in its power to influence the key decisions for the development and improvement of the countries of the region. In addition, he stressed that the EU needs to have a clear vision and strategy for the enlargement, but also when it comes to the future of the EU itself, which is not the case right now. A lack of leadership with a clear vision on the EU political scene is evident and this could leave the consequences. If the EU does not consolidate itself as soon as possible and does not take a clear attitude concerning the enlargement of the Western Balkans, some other countries such as Russia and China will not lose the opportunity, they will use it and then it will be too late for Europe.

Prof. Dr Nano Ružin, Rector of the FON University, North Macedonia said that he is satisfied with the resolving of the Greece-North Macedonia name dispute and defined it as a historic moment for these two countries while Prof. Dr Zoran Dragišić from the Security Studies at the Univeristy of Belgrade said that the current situation Serbia-Kosovo is complicated but he believes that a dialogue is a key solution.

Dr. Arian Starova, President of the Atlantic Council of Albania and prof. dr. Sead Turčalo, Professor on the Faculty of Political Sciences at the University of Sarajevo gave their opinions on the pressing issues and challenges that Western Balkans is facing. Starova reflected on the efforts of Belgrade and Pristina and suggested the improvement of relations between two countries, but, there is still a lot to be done, according to him. Turčalo highlighted the dominant disagreements on the political scene of BiH and said that this country is making the intensive efforts towards the Euro-Atlantic integrations. Dr. Besfort Rrecaj, President of the Euro-Atlantic Association of Kosovo pointed out to the commitment of Kosovo in order to improve the relations with Serbia, but also, to the lack of EU efforts in the key political issues of this country.

The goal of this conference was to analyze the geopolitical development and its influence on the Balkans, or, to recognize the regional positions and interests.

On the occasion of the second anniversary of Montenegro’s membership in NATO Alliance, the President of the Atlantic Council of Montenegro, Dr. Savo Kentera, said that ” by joining NATO, we left a mark and created an image of stable and democratic country which can only contribute to the strengthening of the whole region’s stability”.

Dr. Kentera believes that citizens will see the benefits after about five years – “When we will see tangible results in the development of infrastructure, substantial reforms of system institutions that are yet to come, strengthening of the rule of law, the fight against organized crime and corruption, etc. All this requires time and we cannot expect visible results overnight, and the period of two years after the membership is truly too short to see great results and progress in these areas,” he said.

However, the greatest gain so far is the fact that Montenegro is sitting at the same table as the most powerful countries in the world and deciding on the burning global issues with an equal voting right, and when it comes to the direct benefits, he mentions that the increase in foreign investments doubled:

“The investors who are interested in investing long-term are coming to this region. They needed security, investment safety, they needed to have protection before the courts and to be sure that corruption is reduced to the minimum. They needed to know that they can exercise their rights in the same manner as in other countries.”

Changes in the type of guests coming to Montenegro are prominent: 

”Today, we are experiencing, in my opinion, the return to the golden age of Montenegrin tourism, the age when season lasted six months and when the majority of our guests were from Western countries. This came as a result of increased security, or tourists’ sense of security, because they are in a country which is a member of NATO”, he said.  

Also, Dr. Kentera reflected on Montenegro-Russia relations and mentioned the attempted terrorism on the day of parliamentary elections in 2016.  He said that ”this dramatic event has now only shifted, i.e. took a different form. This is not reflected in the possibility of them attempting a coup any time soon, but in the fact that they are trying to influence the public opinion in an underhand, sophisticated manner, through various media outlets, by creating a distorted image of the situation in the country”.

When it comes to the question of whether the number of those against the membership reduced in the meantime, Dr. Kentera emphasized that his personal opinion formed during the conversation with those who were against, is that the majority came to terms with the fact that Montenegro became a member of NATO: 

”They accept this fact as something we will have to live with, so let us see how can we benefit from it. It is a similar situation to that in 2006, after the referendum. As time passes, I am sure that the number of those refrained from or against the membership will reduce, because everyone will realize the benefits the membership brings”- he concluded. 


Modern civilization created what could be the weapon of mass destruction of society, and we do not know what will happen and what circumstances we can excpect in 15-20 years. This is one of the messages conveyed during the last panel discussion under the title ”Age of disinformation: learning resilience and living with lies” within To Be Secure (2BS) Forum in Budva. 

The panelists said, among other things, that disinformation affects all societies, and that disinformation is just the tip of the iceberg. Therefore, critical thinking should be encouraged through media literacy campaigns.

Robert Pszczel, Senior Officer for Russia and the Western Balkans of NATO PDD thinks that when speaking about disinformation, one has to put them in a certain context. 

”This is a part of a widespread disease. Disinformation is oftenly connected. Awareness of all this has just been created. Different actors have different responsibilities. The youth is overfocused on media platforms”, he said.

He appealed for investigative journalism, stating that a good investigative journalist is a rare sort in this part of the world. 

”Televison remains very important”, said Pszczel.

Arnis Šnore, Deputy Director of the European Centre of Excellence for Countering Hybrid Threats, said that they consider this issue one of the means of a wider hybrid environment. 

 To realize where we stand now and what we have to do in order to become more resilient is the most important thing, according to him.

”Tradicional media must adhere to the laws, they are responsible if they publish lies. The same thing should apply to platforms, they do not make the exception simply because they are ”platforms”. They are gaining profit, and that is exactly why their responsibility is greater” said Šnore, who also evaluated that we are currently fighting the consequences of the information.

Rufin Zamfir, Program Director of GlobalFocus Center in Romania said that disinformation is ”just the tip of the iceberg”.

”That’s what keeps me awake. The fact is that disinformation and propaganda are the most visible in our societies, but subversion is something we cannot see. The relations between the business world and the politics is troubling. We often believe in lies, since they reflect our own covictions and fill the gaps we wish have been filled”, stated Zamfir. 

Part of the issue, as he said, is not the result of disinformation campaigns, but also the result of false information or misinformation. 

”And here the critical thinking that needs to be encouraged by media literacy campaigns takes effect.  It is something that affects the society as a whole”, he said. 

Zamfir stated that media reporting in Serbia is not the result of Russia’s actions. It is the result of the regulation of the Governement and the President Aleksandar Vučić. 

Nicolas de Pedro, Senior Fellow at the Institute for Statecraft, said that we are far from fully understanding the challenges we are facing and that fact is alarming.

”We are connected 24/7, information is the beating heart of our lives, we use social networks, we created the thing that can be the weapon of mass destruction of the society. We have no idea what will happen and in what circumstances we will find ourselves in 15 or 20 years. We shoud bare in mind that disinformation is not a domain, it is something which affects all societies. This is not the issue of two or three media outlets, this is a phenomenon influencing the society“, stated de Pedro. 

Russia knows how to use the system for undermining, and we need to create a strategy that will help us fight it, he explained.

“I think that we are far away, that we do not have the proper understanding of the problem, it is difficult to develop a strategy because of the nature of challenges and threats. In the foreseeable future, we will lack the most powerful asset, and that’s the narrative”, said de Pedro.

Tomáš Kriššák, Project Coordinator of Open Society Foundation in Bratislava, said that sometimes he has to stay awake the whole night just in order to prevent disinformation. 

“They keep us awake. Every day we wake up and see a new media scene created by an ocean of information, some of which are toxic. The great challenge and the problem is the impact on our lives and society. We are reprogramming a new civilization. We are the worst version of ourselves, “said Kriššák, who also identified the amount of information that is in fact disinformation as extremely problematic.

He stated that social platforms were made by a man, and everything made by a man can be used in a good and a bad way.

”We should teach people how to use the platforms properly. It is understandable to say that in this period the platforms may make mistakes, but after years of existence, a determined action that implies a better way of moderating has to be undertaken. Take for example Facebook moderators, who are quite unprofessional”, said Kriššák

Right-wing populists represent a challenge for European democracy, but nationalism in the Balkans differs from nationalism in the USA which is reflected in President Donald Trump’s views. These are the messages delivered during the panel under the title  “Rising ghosts of nationalism; building blocks of democracy in peril?”  within this year’s To Be Secure (2BS) Forum held in Budva.

Speaking about why nationalism is on the rise around the world, the Ambassador of Montenegro to the Holy See and former Minister of Foreign Affairs,  Miodrag Vlahović, said that the question is very complex and therefore not easy to answer to.

“When it comes to the region, we belong to a generation that has turned a full circle. Today there is the same destruction – intellectual, ideological, political, which was the motive and the cause for wars in the former Yugoslavia. These ideas and subjects encouraging them have support from non-Balkan factors who promote as the ideas worth the attention and support, as if we did not undergo this disastrous experience 25 years ago, as if that idea was not defeated, as if it was not an attitude reflected through genocide,” Vlahović said.

Vlahović believes that historical rise of nationalism in the Balkans is related to the developments in Bosnia and Herzegovina. 

”In the recent period, there is a depressing tendency reflected in the fact that the nationalists from the Balkans quote the nationalists from the West“.

The question regarding the future of the region if it does not join the EU is avoided: ”The question is – what are we going to do if the member states are not ready to accept us to the EU?”.

Roman Jakič, former Minister of Defence and MP from Slovenia, said that he was glad that pro-European forces won the recently finished European elections: ”We cannot disregard the fact the rightwingers won the additional 20 terms of office, and that we are two steps away from hell if this situation with rightwingers continues.”

The speeches of the President of Montenegro, Milo Đukanović, are the speeches he would like to hear among the European leaders and in the European Parliament: ”Rightwing populists still represent a challenge for democracy”.

“Salvini, Orbán, Kaczyński- these are the leaders who not only promote messages that are intolerant to some groups, but also send inadequate messages to those who are yet to come. They do not know what is going on”, Jakič said.

Speaking about leadership, Jakič gave a very simple recipe:” European politics and politicians need to have a thicker skin, greater solidarity. We need politics and politicians who will inspire us, not manipulate us”.

”If a politician only looks at things through internal political environment, then we will have a problem. I want politicians who see beyond their countries, who realize that the issue is not limited only to Montenegro or Slovenia”, said Jakič. 

Michael Haltzel, Senior Fellow at the Foreign Policy Institute, said that the USA consists of institutions created by the people: ”When you undermine institutions, you are on the path to undermine the core”.

Trump’s behavior towards Russia, as he said, is the greatest deviation from American politics. Therefore, it is obvious, in Haltzel’s opinion, that Trump admires the Russian President Vladimir Putin. 

When it comes to the nationalism in the USA, he stated that it is true that tradition of liberal nationalism  in the USA exists. 

”I am an optimist and I believe that there are more discontinuities than continuities”, stated Haltzel.

Talking about Montenegro, Haltzel concluded that great progress has been made, but he agrees with Montenegrin officials who emphasized during the Forum that there is a long road ahead of Montenegro.

Damir Marušić, Nonresident Senior Fellow of the Atlantic Council and Executive Editor of The American Interest, said that American nationalism, which is reflected in Trump differs from the nationalism in the Balkan area. 

”America is still, above all, an optimistic place”, said Marušić.  

He considers the manner in which the USA treated the Montenegrin membership in NATO embarassing. 


The President of Montenegro, Milo Đukanović and his counterpart Hashim Thaçi, the President of Kosovo, concluded that strategic and political struggles are still present in the Balkans, nationalism is still alive, and is a consequence of historical lagging behind of the region, while the stalling on the path to the EU integration will be a generator of nationalism growth. 

The two presidents participated in the panel discussion ”Presidential discussion: In the mind of a leader” at the 9th To Be Secure (2BS) Forum in Budva. 

Speaking on the topic of the greatest concerns of a leader in the region, Đukanović said that the main preoccupation, but also daymare and nightmare is the question of  ”how to achieve what we have committed ourselves to as a strategic task.”

He evaluated that two powerful movements dominate the Balkan area.

”The first one is led by the governments aspiring to bring their countries to the EU and NATO, while the other one, not so powerless and not to be underestimated, is the one wanting to preserve the status quo. There are the reasons why they are against that movement.  This is not only a Balkan issue, but the European and Euro-Atlantic issue as well” said Đukanović

It is clear, as he said, that Montenegro is a leader on the path towards the EU and it is important to strengthen the regional cooperation. 

”It is clear now, at least in regard to Montenegro, that we are at a turning point to return the region to its European home. The solution lies in economic and democratic development. The strategic direction is the return to European home and value system, and the aim is to achieve the European quality of life”, stated Đukanović. 

Asked how he perceives the future of the European Union (EU), Đukanović stated that Europe will have to redesign itself.  

 ‘’There is no better consolidation of Europe than its union, which signifies the stability and usage of all the resources that will strengthen our competitiveness. Crises showed that there are serious flaws in the EU architecture’’, stated Đukanović. 

He is of opinion that the path will further lead to the recognition of the importance of Europe’s unification, ‘’which is of significance for Europe and our Euro-Atlantic partner”.

”This will have to include a certain reprofiling of Europe. I hope that flaws in Europe’s architecture will not overshadow the vision, and the vision is the Europe united in terms of competitiveness and stability”, emphasized Đukanović, addding that strengthening of Euro-Atlantic integration is the key. 

We must aspire to functional democracy, which is inexistent if certain actors abstain from political life, said Đukanović.

 “Please, let me explain this. Currently, we are the witnesses of the “repertoire on the scene” which includes a diverse destruction of democracy in this region. There is also an attempt of the opposition which wants to question the independence of Montenegro as well as particular decisions that Montenegro made, such as the Kosovo independence issue. They are desperately trying to present Montenegro as a dysfunctional country through the obstruction of institutions”, said Đukanović. 

Đukanović stated that the reason of nationalism in the Balkans lies in ‘’historical lagging behind of the region’’.

 “We all were sure that we combatted the idea of a high-state nationalism in the region, after the Dayton Agreement. But we did not, as we can see. The idea of nationalism is still alive. The fact that some forms of these ideas are approved by particular international instances should concern us, since it was not the case earlier”, said Đukanović.

It is not the time to play on the small fields, he said speaking about integration. One has better odds on the bigger field. 

 “Many are not ready to play at the Wembley Stadium, but it is not time to play only at the Sutjeska or Budućnost Stadium. One has better odds when playing on the bigger field. The third parties interfere and the problem occurs. We are the witnesses of the rebirth of one problem and if we thought that the problem from 1995 is solved, our opponents are clearly assuring us that it is not true. Our place is in the wider integration context”, said Đukanović.

To the question of how to successfully build multiethnic democracy, Đukanović stated that he unwaveringly believes in such concept, since every other alternative seems regressive.

”Every other approach is the attempt to ignore reality. Major players appeared on the global scene. Take a look at our neighborhood, it is not wise to look at each other through weapons’ scope. The solution is to build partnership. Montenegro is a multiethnic community”, said Đukanović, stating that any other concept would be an introduction to ethnic cleansing. 

He explained that the concept of multiethnic democracy must be the foundation of our policy and must equally be supported by those who are more developed than us. 

 ‘’Even beyond Montenegrin borders, there are detours from this policy. The European elections are not as catastrophic as it was expected, but, there was a turn to the right which may be encouraging for some in the region”, said Đukanović.

While commenting the dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina, Đukanović said that the years will be lost if we miss this opportunity and the best example for that is the decades-long lagging behind of the North Macedonia in a dispute with Greece.

”If I were an actor in this, which luckily I am not, I would try to find a solution by respecting the Badinter’s formula. Every deviation brings a certain danger. Serbia and Kosovo are not the only ones demarking, the demarcation between Serbia and Croatia is ahead of us, as well as Serbia and Bosnia, Bosnia and Croatia”, Đukanović pointed out, stating that the most crucial thing right now is the return of Aleksandar Vučić, President of Serbia and Hashim Thaçi to the negotiating table.

Kosovo President Hashim Thaçi said that official Prishtina is working hard on improvement of relations, and the main challenge is the acceleration of the EU accession process. 

He said that he is happy to be president to the citizens who are mostly pro-EU oriented, and that Kosovo is a successful story. 

”Obstacles can be overcome, but we cannot return to a position of daily political populism. After the membership of Montenegro in NATO and Prespa agreement, organizing of Kosovo Army and good communication that we are establishing with the neighbors in the region, I am optimistic”, said Thaçi. 

However, as he admits, the majority of dissatisfaction comes from the EU, which is slowing down the processes. 

“There is no any progress when it comes to the attitude towards Kosovo, success and achievements are not recognized, especially when it comes to the issues of Visa liberalization. The citizens have a hard time understanding it”, Thaçi said.

When it comes to nationalism, he says that we all have learnt something from the past, where the nationalism is leading and what kind of tragedies and consequences it has left in the Balkans.

 ‘’The region is not in the Dayton period and Serbia and Kosovo are not in the Rambouillet period. The region has changed for the better, but, the more the EU lags behind, the more nationalistic ideas will be in Kosovo. If Kosovo remains isolated, the rise of nationalism will occur, which is not in accordance with the Euro-Atlantic values. The EU perspective should be closer to the citizens. Otherwise, the conflict will be in focus, not the reconciliation. People will rightfully wonder if the EU wants Kosovo“, said Thaçi.

He said that the creation of the Republic of Srpska in Kosovo would destabilize it, admitting that the dialogue of the two countries is in crisis. The specificity of relations between Serbia and Kosovo due to the hard past affect this, but also, the difficulty to bring the final decision on the normalization of relations.

‘’In Serbia, that is a very delicate issue due to the false Kosovo Myth which is imposed on Serbia. This is the best moment to solve the problem. We are going back to the state of frozen conflict which may escalate. The agreement will bring peace to the whole Western Balkans“, Thaçi believes.

The President of Kosovo said that the territory exchange between Kosovo and Serbia was not at all on the agenda. He also mentioned the demarcation between Montenegro and Kosovo, stating that he was harshly criticized for this, but, this did not leave any negative impact on Montenegro, nor Kosovo.

Serbia led a very aggressive campaign in order to prevent the international consolidation of Kosovo, he said.

„Obstacle for the UNESCO membership is the result of the Serbia’s campaign. I do not advocate for the Palestinian model for the consolidation of Kosovo“, said Thaçi.

He announced the information that more than 70 percent of citizens want the agreement with Serbia which would be final and legally binding, in order to preserve the spirit, character and multiethnicity of Kosovo.

Speaking about his vision of the EU, Thaçi said that he wants to see the new approach towards the Western Balkans after the European elections.

 ‘’When it comes to the other ideas related to the Islamic fundamentalism, here on Kosovo we have traditional Islam, tolerant Islam which implies coexistence with others. We have the coexistence of the Islam, Orthodoxy and Catholicism“, Thaçi said.

In spite of traditional Islam in Kosovo, the identity of that country is European, he said.

’’The elements of extremism were not successful in 1998 or 1999. Nobody was tolerated. That is why we gained trust of the international community“, said Thaçi with the evaluation that Albanians in the region are fair people who think in a constructive manner.

‘’And that is an excellent accomplishment. There are no leadership deficits. These two leaders, Đukanović and Thaçi are creating history“. 

 Russia, China and Turkey are changing the world order and the balance of power in the international community, says Director of the Brussels-based Center for Russia Europe Asia Studies Theresa Fallon, arguing that the liberal order is resistant and capable of responding to challenges. 

Speaking at To Be Secure (2BS) Forum in Budva, she noted that the Chinese have made a very smart and substantial investment in the Western Balkans. 

Asked if the world liberal order is finished, she replied that it has been dominating the international scene for seven decades, but that the present time has brought a lot of crises, which have grown deeper and that Russia, China and Turkey are shifting the balance of power. 

“Everybody is talking about China, but China is not a model that other countries wish to replicate. We must find a solution, simply perceiving the problem is not enough,” Fallon said in the panel entitled ‘Three Shades of Red: Russia, China and Turkey Changing Global Power Dynamics’.

Speaking in the panel on Security Reimagined: The Ironclad Commitment to the Transatlantic Alliance Put to Test, Foreign Minister Srdjan Darmanovic remarked that every crisis is helping the Member States to realize the existence of NATO is more important than misunderstanding and differences in views. 

“There are external and internal challenges that are testing the cohesion and commitment to the Alliance. But every crises helps the member states to realize that the existents of NATO is more important than misunderstandings and differences in views,” Darmanovic stated. 

He believes that recent developments in the Balkans have clearly shown that Europe needs NATO. 

“Today, NATO operates in a complex environment. This period is marked by Russia’s revisionist politics. The countries that are not stable are especially vulnerable to attacks,” Darmanovic said.


Developments in the Balkans show that Europe needs NATO Alliance for peace and stability of the European continent, is one of the messages conveyed during the panel discussion “Security reimagined: Ironclad commitment to the transatlantic alliance put to test“ which took place within the framework of To Be Secure (2BS) Forum in Budva. 

During his keynote speech, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Srđan Darmanović, noted that all the crises in member states are helping them understand that the existence of the Alliance is more important than differences they have in terms of viewpoints. 

“The developments in the Balkans show that Europe needs NATO and that NATO is important for the stability of the European continent. That is why we should advocate for more NATO-oriented solutions that will ensure progress in European defence capabilities, but also within the NATO Alliance. If we fulfill the obligations defined in Wales, we are investing  in our unity and solidarity” said Darmanović.

Defence spending, as he said, is not only a matter of equitable burden-sharing, but is essentially an issue of credibility and political unity of the Alliance. 

“Montenegro, still the newest ally, is currently 13th in the range of expenditures intended for the defence of 29 allies and is fully committed to fullfilling the obligation from Wales until 2024”, stated Darmanović.

In Darmanović’s opinion, NATO today operates in the most complex security environment in its history, countering “more diverse range of threats than ever before, from both east and the south“.

“Growing international assertiveness of Russia, its revisionist policy characterized by agressive actions is one of the most exciting features of the time we live in“, stated Darmanović. 

Steven Erlanger, Chief Diplomatic Correspondent in Europe for The New York Times, addressed the earlier statement of the American president, Donald Trump about how Montenegro could start the Third World War,  by saying that he has an impression that Montenegrins are very tall and very kind people. 

David Konecký, Political Director of the Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that Montenegro achieved remarkable progress.

He thinks that the membership in NATO or the EU is only the beginning. 

“NATO has to act for the benefit of every member and I think it does in regard to Russia“,stated Konecký.

Bruno Lété, Senior Fellow from the German Marshall Fund of the United States said that he aways gets astonished by how NATO pays far too little attention to China.

“China is an inevitable factor in European security. It already is in the economic system, China owns roads, ports“, said Lété.

As for Europe, he is of the opinion that the Europeans have not decided on the best model for their security. 

Stefano Stefanini, Director of Project Associates’ Brussels Office, stated that the cooperation between NATO and the EU represents an extremely significant issue. 

He thinks that reacting collectively on the question of China is not advisable. Speaking of the so-called common European army, he stated that the phrase “European army” should be prohibited.

Judy Ansley, Senior Advisor of the US Atlantic Council’s Future Europe Initiative, highlighted that the enhancement of competitiveness of major powers and Russian activities are the key threat to NATO.

“If we observe the activities performed in the Balkans, such as coup attempt in Montenegro or the developments in Ukraine, we can see that Russia is operating on the ground”. “NATO adapted well to those threats”, she estimated, stating that “we must be aware of the threats and react to them.”

Ansley also said that everyone is finding the capacity to combat hybrid threats within its own country. 

When it comes to Russia and Turkey, her greatest concern is Ankara’s purchase of Russian equipment.  She highlighted that she is not worried about China’s investments in Europe. 

Robert Pszczel, Senior Officer for Russia and the Western Balkans, stated that NATO must adapt. 

“If we did not adapt, we would not have a comprehensive cyber crime policy,” he said, adding that awareness of what Russia is doing today has increased.

Referring to the Turkish plans for purchase of Russian S-400 system, he stated that Turkey is a highly valued member of NATO, and that he would feel bad if any bilateral dispute arose.

Commenting on the possible impact of Brexit on NATO, Konecký said that models of cooperation are imaginable in the future, while Stefanini stated that there will be a political influence exerted on NATO. 

“The United Kingdom is a bond between Washington and Europe”,said Stefanini. 

The Western Balkans will have strong support from Germany and countries aspiring to become the EU members should do their homework, is one of the messages conveyed during the “Western Balkans – gremlins of the past and fairy tales of the future” panel discussion conducted within the scope of To Be Secure (2BS) Forum, which is held in Budva.

While the State Secretary of German Ministry of Defence, Thomas Silberhorn, promises strong support from the German government to the countries of the Western Balkans, the State Secretary for Security Policy of the Hungarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Péter Sztáray, believes that Balkan countries need a concrete reward for the results they achieved. 

“Balkan countries need to receive concrete rewards for the results they achieved, as there have been good results in the past. I hope that some tangible steps will be taken in June. Each country made progress in certain areas”, Sztáray stated during the panel discussion “Western Balkans –  gremlins of the past and fairytales of the future ” which took place within the framework of To Be Secure (2BS) Forum held in Budva.

Sztáray said he is very pleased that Montenegro is a member of NATO, and expressed hope that the last chapter in the negotiations with the EU would soon be opened.

“I encourage all the countries in the region to do their homework,” said Sztáray.

Former Montenegrin Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs, Igor Lukšić, said that the only disappointment is the EU’s lack of appetite for enlargement.

“When we opened the negotiations in June 2012, I was often asked when Montenegro could become a member. At that time, my answer was – in 2020 or 2021. Now, it’s 2020 and there are still no signs. If we read the European Commission report, there seems to be a lot more to do in terms of homeworks, “Lukšić said.

It is very important, stated Lukšić, that we make sure that there is enough economic dynamics in the region.

“I think the EU is a significant natural partner of all countries. If we provide economic dynamics in the region, it will ensure a greater degree of social mobility, which will further lead to a stronger rule of law, ” stated Lukšić.

Partnership with the EU, as he said, should remain strong, and it is important that we work together with all the countries of the region.

“Let’s break this vicious cycle that is repeating in the region,” Lukšić said.

On the other hand, Damon Wilson, the Executive Vice President of the Atlantic Council, believes that the region needs to wake up.

“We can not just discover that the progress in the area of rule of law has been made,” Wilson stated.

While speaking about Serbia-Kosovo relations, he stated that the exchange of territories is not the main point. The aim was to reach a common agreement between the leaders of Kosovo and Serbia.

“Drawing boundaries is not the point. We want to support the process, but we have no preconditions, ” Wilson said.

On the other hand, the State Secretary of the Ministry of Defence of Germany, Thomas Silberhorn estimates that NATO and EU integration model is such that it establishes a partnership that allows everyone to erase the boundaries between ethnic groups.

When it comes to the potential exchange of territories between Serbia and Kosovo, he thinks that something like that could open the Pandora’s box. 

Minister of Defence of Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), Marina Pendeš, said that countries that are not members of the EU are facing the migration issues. 

She highlighted that she was slightly disappointed with the European Commission’s attitude when it comes to BiH’s EU integration process, but that she remains optimistic.

“Bosnia and Herzegovina is a part of Europe. The values ​​that we have in common with the EU are the values ​​that are respected in Bosnia and Herzegovina as well, ” she said.

It is extremely important to send a clear message from all addresses that there are no alternatives and that NATO and the EU stand together with the countries of the Western Balkans, since any absence of clearly committed commitment leaves room for third countries that show interest in this region to use the vulnerabilities of the states and the system and threaten their integration path, Prime Minister Duško Marković said.

At the opening of the 9th To Be Secure (2BS) Forum in Budva, he said that Montenegro, as the still youngest member of the Alliance, actively represents and promotes open door policy.

Marković said that in the year when NATO marks 70 years of its existence, the Alliance has a full agenda of facing new and old challenges, with a changed geopolitical situation.

He reminded that the Alliance paid special attention to the Western Balkans region in the past period.

“The historically positive epilogue of negotiations between Skopje and Athens to resolve the name dispute has opened the way for Northern Macedonia to join NATO and the EU, which will surely contribute to the realization of the vision of ‘Europe free, complete and in peace’. We are confident that the member states of the Alliance will ratify the Accession Protocol as soon as possible and that Northern Macedonia will soon become its 30th member, Marković said, adding that it is very important that Bosnia and Herzegovina is invited to deliver its first Annual National Program for NATO.

According to the Prime Minister, Montenegro promotes open door policy through bilateral support to Bosnia and Herzegovina and North Macedonia, as well as within the framework of regional initiatives and mechanisms of cooperation, such as the US-Adriatic Charter and the Adriatic Trilateral.

“We are ready to continue to help all the neighbors and aspirants with whom we want to share experiences and lessons learned from the accession process, Marković said.

The Prime Minister also said that the European Commission’s Report on Montenegro, which he has just described, “realistically examined the state of progress and the need for further results”.

“We are pleased to note the total work, in particular the government and its authorities, the robust growth of the economy or the results achieved in the fight against organized crime and corruption. We will keep all recommendations with care, as before, to see. That is precisely why we are in the position we occupy, as a member of NATO and the leading country on the path to membership in the Union, Marković said.

Montenegro, as he said, advocates for the greatest progress of all countries in the region. He emphasizes that the importance that NATO and the EU have for the Western Balkans “need not be explained in detail”.

“It is important to maintain support for democratic forces, especially considering that integration processes are the core and the main driver of democratic and reform processes. It is important to send a clear message from all addresses that there are no alternatives and that NATO and the EU stand together with the countries of the Western Balkans on this path. Every absence of clearly demonstrated commitment leaves space for third countries that show interest in this region to use the vulnerabilities of states and systems and endanger their integration path, “Markovic said.

Kentera: Montenegro will not be able to scare anyone

Recalling that this year marked 70 years since the founding of the NATO alliance, the president of the Atlantic Counci of Montenegro, Savo Kentera, said that we must all be proud of that.

“NATO has offered a mechanism for channeling the power of its members to ensure the stability of the continent,” Kentera said, adding that NATO paved the way for the EU to many member states.

He assessed that we are all “well aware of how unpredictable the world is today and what challenges we are facing today.”

“The extremely aggressive reaction of Russia, beginning with the violent annexation of Crimea to undermining the democratic systems, where in our own example, right here in Montenegro, witnessed what this country is prepared to do to implement its interests, show that we are not even close to a long- which will be the foundation of stability for future generations, “Kentera said.

He believes that even after 70 years we can not say that all the challenges have been overcome and all the problems resolved.

“Unfortunately, in carrying out such intentions and actions, Russia finds its allies in individual political parties, sometimes individuals or very skilled in the parts of the civil sector, and very powerful weapons in their hands are represented by the media themselves. The spread of false news or misinformation, or the creation of very sophisticated narratives that influence public opinion in the way that fits this country, are just some of the examples of a very successful campaign, or I will dare to say the war that Russia is leading against the entire democratic world, he stressed.

According to him, no one will be able to scare, nor turn from its path to the society of the most developed democracies of the world.

“We successfully overcome the first step on this path by joining NATO, and I believe that we will soon see the results of hard work, which will manifest itself in EU membership. We have determination, courage never missed us, and I believe that we will be imaginative enough to deal with all who do not think well of this country, region or any of our honest and true allies! Russia or any other country, which is not a true friend of Montenegro, and who is jealously looking at our successes, trying to constantly bring in chaos and undermine our democratic systems, must know that it will never succeed in that, “Kentera said.

Keeping the dialogue, as he said, does not mean lowering the level of defense. On the contrary, our defense, in his words, must now be stronger than ever.

“Not because someone wants a conflict, but that the same conflict will be prevented and secured lasting peace. There are many different and unpredictable challenges ahead of us. This means that we must be prepared for all the threats that can come from any direction. And in order to be ready, we have to invest in our defense systems, “he said.

The Atlantic Council of Montenegro organized a conference titled “The truth in the disinformation era; To what extent are we susceptible to this threat and how do we counter it?“ Two panel discussions on the topic of experiences, lessons learned and the importance of strategic partnerships in countering disinformation, as well as media literacy as a driver of social resistance to disinformation threats were aimed at raising the level of awareness of the global phenomenon of fake news that is increasingly present both in Montenegro and around the world.

In his opening statement, the President of the Atlantic Council of Montenegro, Dr Savo Kentera, pointed out that: “The openness of democratic societies became at the same time their weakest point in the modern hybrid warfare, openly exploited by Russia which has the intention of undermining those societies from within, by introducing chaos and destabilization. The Western Balkans are undoubtedly in the sphere of interest of the Russian Federation, and this country was attempting and is still attempting to destabilize this region through its activities and disinformation campaigns in a way that will undermine their democratic efforts, particularly of those who advocate for strengthening of democracy.” He stated that the intensity of spreading false information is remarkable and that further disinformation threats could be prevented by investments in employees and education. He also said that fake news is free speech, but that this does not deny the danger they pose for freedom of thought or democratic power.

If media which take one side and a certain stand for their own gain without verifying the truthfulness of the information, by creating a distorted public opinion are added to such a state of affairs, then it creates a situation that is solely favorable to those who wish to bring chaos into democratic systems. “We cannot expect Russia, which is founded on a good intelligence network, to give up hybrid warfare and stop interfering in the internal relations of countries that it considers its opponents,” Kentera stated.

He stressed that the constant increase in the number of fake news and shaken public confidence in journalism today constitute a crisis of freedom of speech. The president of the Atlantic Council of Montenegro believes that the openness of democratic societies is also their weakest point in the modern hybrid warfare: “What we can surely expect is that Russia will continue to position itself as a geopolitical opponent of the West, as long as Putin is in power. Closing eyes to these facts can only cause permanent damage to the Western world and to the entire system of values ​​that we advocate for, as a democratic society.” Kentera said.

He believes that it is of great importance to encourage the public to take a critical stand against the news sources. It is also significant to focus on credible sources of information, on those who can be trusted, but also to gain the ability to assess the announcements on social networks.

Referring to the task of the Digital Forensic Center, Kentera stated that the center will try to reveal argument-based information, obtained through their research, on those who are misleading the public, their financiers and goals.

United States Ambassador to Montenegro, Judy Rising Reinke, spoke about the necessity of cooperation among the allies in the fight against spreading of fake news and underlined the importance of competences of young journalists and independent media outlets. She also highlighted that the public deserves to be aware and should protect itself from malign influence of fake news and disinformation. “United States will always support Montenegro and friends from the region in countering disinformation, whose goal is to cause instability, by providing tools and resources, hoping to empower the people in Montenegro who strive for democracy and peace”, she said.

“Foreign actors are still trying to use social media and technologies in order to open fronts and in effort to undermine democracy and key institutions,” the ambassador said, stressing that “Montenegro’s membership in NATO comes at a crucial moment, because Europe is the center of a geopolitical competition.”

She added that Montenegro must strengthen the rule of law, eradicate organized crime, and improve media freedom for journalists who, according to the ambassador, are the keepers of democracy. Rising Reinke said that Russia continues to use corrupt, covert techniques to destabilize the Western Balkans and that the troll army and those who spread disinformation continue to pose a direct threat to Montenegro’s path, now that it is about to join the European Union.

“These disinformation campaigns target institutions and have no boundaries. Therefore, we, as allies in NATO, must work together to map our forces in order to overcome these threats, “said Rising Reinke, adding that the Government of Montenegro is taking further steps to build resistance to disinformation.

Milan Jovanović, from the Atlantic Council of Montenegro, presented the work and the role of the Digital Forensic Center in identifying and revealing fake news as well as strengthening of media literacy in the society. Speaking of weapons for countering this global phenomenon, Chris Donelly, Director of the Institute for Statecraft, pointed out that the establishment of Digital Forensic Center provides a good example of how a small country can contribute to NATO and the European Union. “Key players on the global stage are trying to achieve their geopolitical objectives in different ways, and Russia is not the only one who uses hybrid warfare as a means of doing so”, he stressed.

The professor of literature, Božena Jelušić, spoke on the second panel dedicated to media literacy as the most strategically important mechanism, with the aim of raising the level of education of the public. She stated that “in order for media to be good they must have a good audience”, and that  the Montenegrin public is countering problems because the consumers are prone to manipulation, and are prepared to forgive the lie to the media they trust.

The editor-in-chief of daily Pobjeda, Draško Đuranović, shared his experiences gathered from practice, saying that the Internet has changed ethics in journalism and that the greatest manipulation is achieved through sensational headlines, although they do not correspond to the content of the text itself. He added that the media can play a significant role, but that is extremely difficult in such a small market.

Program director of the independent daily newspaper Vijesti, Mihailo Jovović, believes that critical thinking is of key importance for media literacy, but that it barely exists in Montenegro as well as in the region. According to him, the main fault lies in the education system.