MICHAEL LEIGH:”A CHANGE OF BORDERS ANYWHERE IN THE BALKANS IS LIKELY TO INFLAME ETHNIC TENSIONS …”

Exclusive interview for ISSDMacedonia with Sir Michael Leigh, a senior fellow at The German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF)

Interviewed by Selim Ibraimi

However, there is potentially no end to border changes in the Balkans and no adjustment will ever be considered definitive by all. We live in multi-ethnic societies in Europe where the guiding principles are mutual acceptance and cooperation. On balance, the creation of more ethnically homogenous geographic units does not seem the best way for Balkan countries to overcome their troubled heritage. Serbia needs to come to terms with the existence of Kosovo as an independent state recognized by a large majority of UN members and both sides need to do more to create efficient administrations, fight corruption and promote mutual acceptance and understanding between different segments of their societies.

 

ISSD: Mr. Leigh, how do you assess the debate over border correction between Kosovo and Serbia?

Michael Leigh: It is encouraging that the two sides are seeking a solution though we have seen that there is still considerable scope for mutual distrust. If the two sides reach a sustainable settlement, supported by a consensus of their respective political representatives and peoples, it would be difficult for outsiders to object. However, there is potentially no end to border changes in the Balkans and no adjustment will ever be considered definitive by all. We live in multi-ethnic societies in Europe where the guiding principles are mutual acceptance and cooperation. On balance, the creation of more ethnically homogenous geographic units does not seem the best way for Balkan countries to overcome their troubled heritage.

ISSD: Mr.Leigh, specifically, to move ahead what Kosovo and Serbia should do?

Michael Leigh: It is up to the parties themselves to determine the path ahead. With the best will in the world, outsiders cannot prescribe the necessary measures for them. Serbia needs to come to terms with the existence of Kosovo as an independent state recognized by a large majority of UN members and both sides need to do more to create efficient administrations, fight corruption and promote mutual acceptance and understanding between different segments of their societies.

ISSD: Mr.Leigh,what geopolitical influence could have the establishment of new borders for Macedonia and Bosnia/Hercegovina?

Michael Leigh: A change of borders anywhere in the Balkans is likely to inflame ethnic tensions and create new demands. This is not the best way for these countries to overcome their historic challenges and to move towards closer links with the European Union, NATO and other western institutions. It would be regrettable if such ideas took root at just the time when Macedonia is moving towards a solution of long-standing difficulties with Greece.

ISSD: Mr.Leigh, the United States and the European Union have issued various reactions. Is there a rift between Washington and Brussels?

Michael Leigh: Both the European Union and the United States have consistently supported stabilization and the strengthening of democracy, the rule of law and the respect for human rights, especially minority rights, in the Balkans. This is particularly important today because if the  growing involvement of other actors with other agendas. That said, the current administration in Washington has taken shifting and inconsistent positions  on many geopolitical issues. This should not distract us from our strong shared underlying interests in the peaceful and autonomous development of the region.

ISSD:Mr.Leigh, how do you see the future of the Balkans?

Michael Leigh: The Balkans region as a whole may have a future within multilateral western institutions such as the EU and NATO or it may remain as a sort of indeterminate borderland prey to whichever external pressures are strongest at a given moment. The choice depends mostly on the concrete actions taken by leaders and peoples in the region. If there is sustained progress towards good governance and reconciliation I am confident that there will be a positive response from the European Union, which has laid the groundwork through the stabilization and association process, and the United States.

 

EXPERT BIO

Sir Michael Leigh is a senior fellow who focuses on European Neighborhood Policy, Eastern Europe, the Mediterranean, and the Middle East, and the future of the EU. He runs a program at GMF on the implications of gas discoveries in the Eastern Mediterranean.
In 2006, Leigh became director-general for enlargement with the European Commission after serving for three years as external relations deputy director-general with responsibility for European Neighborhood Policy, relations with Eastern Europe, Southern Caucasus, Central Asia, Middle East, and the Mediterranean countries. He began his current role after more than 30 years in EU institutions, including as a cabinet member for various commissioners and as director in the Task Force for the EU Accession Negotiations. He began his career as assistant professor of international relations at Johns Hopkins University and lecturer in international relations at the University of Sussex. He holds a bachelor’s degree in philosophy, politics, and economics from Oxford University and a PhD in political science from MIT. ( The biography is taken from GMF)

 

 

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