Strong democratic institutions are more powerful than bullets and missiles
BUDVA – The Russian aggression in Ukraine has emboldened anti-democratic actors in the Western Balkans who are working to undermine peace and stability in the region. Therefore, it is important to provide a unified response to this brutal and unprovoked aggression by strengthening democratic institutions – this was the message from the opening of the 2BS Forum in Budva.
Milica Pejanović Đurišić, President of the Atlantic Council, stated that the To Be Secure forum represents a unique platform for generating ideas and solutions regarding security and international relations challenges.
In the past year, it has become evident that democratic values and peace are the most endangered today, both globally and in the region. Russia’s brutal aggression against Ukraine not only represents an unjustified attack on a sovereign state but also constitutes an attack on democracy worldwide, Pejanović Đurišić said.
While opening the 2BS Forum, she stated that Russian aggression aims to undermine unity in Europe. However, as she noted, the aggressor underestimated the strength of the Ukrainian people to defend their homeland and, as she said, the global solidarity when it comes to defending freedom and democratic values.
The NATO summit in Vilnius showed that NATO is stronger and more united than ever, with a clear commitment to supporting Ukraine and further enhancing the Alliance’s capabilities relevant to geostrategic circumstances, which take precedence over day-to-day political challenges in individual member states, Pejanović Đurišić said.
She also mentioned that Russian aggression has further emboldened anti-democratic actors in the Balkans, whose actions are aimed at undermining the processes of democracy, peace, and stability.
There are serious ethnic, religious, political, and social upheavals happening in the region, which has proven to be a suitable battleground for Russia in its geopolitical competition with the EU and the US. By destabilizing the situation, Russia has exploited all the controversies in this process full of disagreements, both directly and through proxies. Weak institutions and a lack of focus from Western partners have facilitated the approach of those who aim to undermine EU integration, said Pejanović Đurišić.
As a result of such policies, she stated that there is intense instability in almost all Western Balkan countries, as evidenced by the current events in Kosovo and Bosnia and Herzegovina.
The strengthening of right-wing, nationalist structures and politicians has significantly slowed down the European processes of states in the region. Even Montenegro, once a leader in integration, has become a problem. Three years of instability and dysfunction in society, the unjustified promotion of populist initiatives, and questioning secularism and the concept of civic society, have led to a blockage of EU integration and eroded the trust of our partners, Pejanović Đurišić assessed. She added that another problem is that the country lacks a serious response to issues such as corruption, organized crime, and corruption.
She pointed out that the government of Montenegro did not want to sponsor this year’s forum or provide any support to the event, stating that it’s not about the fact that the forum is held on Friday the 13th, but rather a demonstration of a personal stance.
With or without the government, we will continue to strengthen the Euro-Atlantic mission in Montenegro, involving as many stakeholders as possible in decision-making, Pejanović Đurišić concluded.
The Ambassador of the United States to Montenegro, Judy Rising Reinke, expressed her pleasure at participating in the 2BS Forum for the fifth time.
Like last year, we are gathering at a critical moment as the world grapples with brutal aggression and Kremlin efforts to undermine the stability of the entire European continent. This is the context in which we operate today. This security threat cannot be ignored, and at this forum, we must ensure that meaningful conversations take place, because even at this moment, the people of Ukraine are fighting a real and tough war for their survival, and none of us should allow them to lose it, Ambassador Reinke said, emphasizing that these challenges affect the entire Balkan region.
She also emphasized that when it comes to Russia, we are witnessing a brutal, unprovoked, and unjustified attack on Ukraine. According to her, this is not only an attack on a sovereign nation but also a challenge to the unity of NATO and the UN and the principles on which peace is built.
We all need to recommit to standing with Ukraine to win this war, Reinke added.
She mentioned that there are political forces that see the future in partnership with Russia and spread Kremlin propaganda.
What does this say about parties that enjoy European freedoms, participate in the rich European discourse, and yet see their future with Russia and its leader? Ambassador Reinke questioned.
Regarding NATO, Reinke stated that the alliance is more united than ever in facing Russia.
The response is strong and unwavering, and the reason is that each ally has taken on the responsibility to be prepared for the threats of the modern world. The U.S. has assisted allies and partners through the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative, which strengthens Ukraine’s fight for freedom, said the Ambassador.
Regarding the situation in Montenegro, Reinke stated that the country is on the doorstep of the EU and is on the verge of transformation, but it will depend on the actions of decision-makers.
We know what the people of Montenegro want; they voted for the European future they rightfully deserve. The prosperous future of Montenegro can only be achieved if leaders commit to creating stability and security built on strong institutions, Reinke assessed.
She stated that Montenegro’s urgent need is to form a government, and those who are part of it should share Euro-Atlantic values and work toward implementing necessary reforms.
It should be a government that understands the need to work hard and remain focused. The urgent need is to form a government that puts party and political ambitions aside, Reinke said. She reminded decision-makers in Montenegro that they were elected by the people of Montenegro.
Remember that you were chosen by the people, and the trust they gave you as voters gives you control over the levers of power and authority to advance on their behalf. The essence of democracy is not in the polls but in the institutions you are obliged to build, the Ambassador emphasized.
Reinke also stated that a key element in responding to Russian aggression must be the maintenance of institutional resilience.
Strong democratic institutions such as free elections and an independent judiciary are more important than F-16s, Patriot missiles, and all the threats faced by the modern world, Reinke concluded.