By: Sara Kovač / Nova24tv
This year’s Bled Strategic Forum is titled “The Rule of Power or the Power of Rules?” and it is happening on the 29th and the 30th of August. There, the participants will be looking for answers to questions about the future of the multilateral ordeal and its role in the European Union, the Slovenian Press Agency reports. This is the 17th Bled Strategic Forum in a row. This year, the Forum will focus on Russian aggression against Ukraine and its consequences. The meeting was opened by a video address by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, and this year’s list of the main guests includes the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, who is attending the Forum for the first time. “I believe the number and importance of participants are logically proportional to the international reputation and international acquaintances of the Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of every government,” Dr Miha Pogačnik, an expert in international law, commented on the fact that this year, fewer important representatives are coming to Bled than last year.
The Bled Strategic Forum is a high-level strategic dialogue between leaders from the private and public sectors on the key issues that Europe is facing in the 21st century, the website of the event, which started on Monday, reads. The website also explains that the Forum aims to bring together participants from different fields with different expertise to exchange views and find innovative solutions to current and future challenges. They added that the Forum is also a unique opportunity to meet and network with regional and global stakeholders. While last year’s Bled Strategic Forum was attended by a record number of foreign leaders, this year’s main guests include the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen – while three Presidents, two Prime Ministers and 15 Foreign Ministers are also expected to attend the event, in addition to the Slovenian political leaders. While five heads of government or state were announced as attendees this year, last year’s Bled Strategic Forum was attended by 17.
The opening panel of leaders was addressed by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky via video call, and the other heads of state that will partake are the President of Iceland, Gudni Johannesson and the Prime Ministers of Croatia, Albania and Slovenia – Andrej Plenković, Edi Rama, and Robert Golob, the Slovenian Press Agency reports. Moldovian President Maia Sandu also participated via video call. The first panel included Slovenian Minister of Foreign Affairs Tanja Fajon, alongside her counterparts from Spain, Turkey, Portugal, Iceland, Poland and Austria. The second panel also included the Foreign Ministers of Greece, Croatia, Slovakia and Hungary, who discussed Europe’s challenges. Tuesday’s programme was concluded with a “Night owl session,” in which the Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek participated. We have already reported that Young BSF, which is a platform for young participants, is reserved exclusively for the far left, as it includes Nika Kovač from the non-governmental organisation Institute of the 8th of March (Inštitut 8. marec), who also gave a lecture on human rights in times of crisis on Tuesday. The programme in English is available here. What is also interesting to note is that Dragan Barbutovski, the former Acting Director of the Government Communication Office turned international communications consultant, also spoke about the politics of content and the fight for narratives.
Foreign Minister Fajon urged the participants not to leave Bled without trying the kremšnita and swimming in the lake
Slovenian Press Agency reports that the Forum is also usually an opportunity for bilateral meetings. Thus, Prime Minister Golob will meet with his Croatian and Albanian counterparts and will also meet with the Icelandic President and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who was one of the main guests at Tuesday’s Forum. Fajon also announced a meeting with her Croatian counterpart, Gordan Grlič Radman. “This year, the Bled Strategic Forum is taking place during a very difficult time for Europe and the world, but while we may indeed have more questions than answers, we will find solutions for them,” Foreign Minister Tanja Fajon said at the start of the BSF. “After the blows of the Covid-19 pandemic, people and economies are facing new uncertainties and fears linked to rising food and energy prices. Finding alternative sources of gas and oil is an absolute priority for most European governments. While we will continue to rely on polluting energy sources this winter, we remain committed to the green transition, which is not just a political commitment but the most important investment for the future,” she stressed, adding that the quote “United we stand, divided we fall” is not just an empty phrase, as the ultimate goal must be and remain to leave no one behind. She must have been counting on the fact that everyone had already forgotten her vote in the European Parliament in favour of a resolution aimed at delaying the granting of European Union candidate status to Ukraine.
Pahor: the longer the enlargement process lasts, the more susceptible these countries will be to Russian aspirations
In his speech at the opening of the Bled Strategic Forum, President of the Republic of Slovenia Borut Pahor warned against new divisions in Europe over the war in Ukraine, saying the EU should do more to win the Western Balkans to its side. At the same time, he also called on Serbia to be more active in moving closer to the EU. The war in Ukraine could again split Europe into a democratic West and an authoritarian East, with the border between them also being the border of Russia’s sphere of influence, Pahor warned. “Without a doubt, any new divisions would be bad news for Europe and the world,” he said, adding that history has taught us that bloc divisions are not a solution but a problem. “If Russian President Vladimir Putin’s goal is to re-establish large spheres of influence for Russia so that the countries in this area cannot get closer to the EU and NATO, then this conflict will last for a long time,” Pahor said, warning that “one way or another, Putin will ask his neighbours to make a choice. Or he may decide for them and sanction them, perhaps by force.” All of this could come to the fore, especially in the Western Balkans, which, as Pahor pointed out, is already emerging as a central geopolitical issue for peace and security in Europe. What will be important is how Brussels responds, but also how the countries in the region respond. Pahor also warned that the longer the enlargement process lasts, the more susceptible these countries will be to Russian tendencies and urged European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen to reconsider Slovenia’s proposal to grant candidate status to Bosnia and Herzegovina later this year, preferably without conditions. Pahor also touched on Serbia, which, he said, should, among other things, give up the idea of a “Serbia Council,” reject separatist tendencies in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and work towards dialogue in Pristina. “Winning Serbia over to the side of Western Europe would make a huge contribution to solving the problems with Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as to making progress in the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue,” said Pahor, who believes that Serbia will play a key role if there are divisions in the Western Balkans, especially as a traditional ally of Russia – and may only be willing to sever these ties if it receives firm assurances from the EU.
Zelensky once again called for military aid to Ukraine and expressed his gratitude for the assistance provided so far
The Bled Strategic Forum was opened on Monday by a video call address by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who stressed Ukraine’s desire to get back all of its occupied territories. He called for the abolishment of the possibility for Russian citizens to reside in European countries and described Russia as a terrorist state. He began by saying that Russia wanted to wipe out Ukrainian culture, people and history and that it does not recognise the existence of the Ukrainian nation. “When we fight against Russian aggression, we are fighting for all of Europe,” the Ukrainian President stressed. He added that Europe should not be a safe haven for Russian citizens and mentioned as an exception those who “still have a shred of conscience or reason and are fleeing repression in their own country.” Thus, directly and indirectly, Mr Zelensky called on the European Union to suspend all possibilities of stay in European countries for those Russian citizens who travel through Europe “with blood on their hands.” The possibility of abolishing tour visas for Russians will be discussed by Foreign Ministers of the EU at an informal meeting in Prague on Tuesday and Wednesday. However, Fajon was not all that enthusiastic about the idea of abolishing visas for Russians.
A record number of high-profile participants under the Janša government
Last year, then-Prime Minister Janez Janša took part in a debate of European leaders on the future of Europe. The debate was attended, among others, by David Sassoli – the President of the European Parliament; Andrej Babiš – the Czech Prime Minister; Eduard Heger – the Prime Minister of Slovakia; Charles Michel – the President of the European Council; Kyriakos Mitsotakis – the Prime Minister of Greece; Viktor Orban – Hungarian Prime Minister; Cardinal Pietro Parolin – the Secretary of State of Vatican; Andrej Plenković – Croatian Prime Minister; Dubravka Šuica – Vice President of the European Commission and Commissioner for Democracy and Demography, as well as Aleksandar Vučić – the President of Serbia. Mr Janša also took part in a panel of leaders discussing the issue of the enlargement of the European Union to the Western Balkans. The panel was attended by Slovenian President Borut Pahor, the President of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina – Željko Komšić, Montenegro’s Prime Minister Albin Kurti, President of the European Council Charles Michel, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, President Rumen Radev of Bulgaria, Prime Minister Edi Rama of Albania, President Maia Sandu of Moldova, High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina Christian Schmidt, European Commissioner for Neighbourhood and Enlargement Olivér Várhelyi, and Prime Minister of Northern Macedonia Zoran Zaev.