Ohrid Open Balkans summit/ Together keeping eyes on the future

Prime Minister Edi Rama’s opening remarks at Open Balkans summit taking place in Ohrid, North Macedonia, on Tuesday:
Prime Minister Edi Rama: Choosing between turning our back on the future and turning our eyes toward the future, we have opted for the latter.
At the start of the Open Balkans summit in Ohrid, the participating leaders delivered their remarks about the vision of their respective governments regarding the future of this initiative, with mutual benefit between countries. In his remarks, Prime Minister Edi Rama stated that Albania is determined to look towards a common perspective, understanding and appreciating the importance of cooperation and good neighbourliness.
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I would like to remind you all here that we are meeting for the first time at an Open Balkans summit since the start of the war in Ukraine and I wish to share with all of you that other than what many wrongly think, the Ukraine war actually makes Open Balkans a greater necessity as compared to what this initiative was about prior to the start of this war.
Last night, I was honoured, privileged and pleased to meet here, ahead of the Open Balkans summit, Ambassador Chris Hill, one of the US diplomacy veterans and undoubtedly a profound connoisseur of the region, who has served also as Ambassador in Tirana during the era of the very dramatic transformation and transition from dictatorship to democracy and he is serving as Ambassador in Belgrade now. I believe that with his presence here, Ambassador Chris Hill is one of the most credible witnesses to the indispensability of the Open Balkans. He is here to support Open Balkans and for us, and for me personally at least, is very encouraging.
However, apart from all our friends and partners, who are extremely important to us, the Open Balkans is about our own people, Open Balkans is important for our people. Open Balkans is important for our shared space, where our children are born and where our children will take the destiny of our countries in the future.
We very well know that it didn’t take the Ukrainian war to start so that we could learn about the special relations Serbia has with Russia. We didn’t wait for the war in Ukraine to start and find out that there is such a history between Serbia and Russia. We didn’t wait for the Ukrainian war to begin so that we could be informed that there is still an unresolved conflict between Serbia and Kosovo. We are all aware of these facts, but choosing between turning our back on the future and turning our eyes to the future, we have chosen the latter.
And today we are here exactly for this, because we wish to move forward to the future without turning a blind eye to the still unresolved issues, however being convinced that those issues could be resolved only if we get closer to one another, only if one day we really understand how important we are to each other.
In order for me not to go on with the rhetoric, allow me to point out some facts: the contracts on wheat supplies between Albanian wheat importers from Serbia once the war in Ukraine started and they have been exchanging under such contracts over years now and not thanks to the Open Balkans initiative indeed, but such exchanges were not cut off and were not blocked as it would have been the case if it was not for the Open Balkans initiative, because within the Open Balkans is a partner that has taken such a commitment to provide reciprocal response towards what we are seeking to build as a solidarity for the future? Do you think this is too little? Do you think it would take some imagination and incredible fantasy to think what would have happened if we were to be denied all that amount of wheat supplies under the signed contracts? Where would we be supposed to find all this quantity of wheat and crops we need to feed our people? Would we be finding it through the rhetoric of conflict? Or by issuing calls and starting a war?
I can go on with pointing out the energy issue; today we are all on a knife-edge, with nobody knowing what is going to happen next. And this is the case not with our region only, but the whole Europe and whole world, but our region is somehow more vulnerable than many others. Meanwhile, the winter will soon come when the issue is not going to be the energy price, which will keep surging, but the problem is that there will be no energy available for us to purchase. We can’t afford to turn our backs on each other and start opening the chapters of conflicts to settle the accounts and engage in rhetoric, while people wish to receive power supplies. I don’t believe and we will see for ourselves that this would be clearly demonstrated again, just like it was the case with the wheat supplies, and it will clearly show that the Open Balkans is neither mine, nor  Aleksandar Vučić’s, nor Zoran Zaev’s yesterday and Dimitar Kovacevski’s today, nor Dritan Abazovic’s or somebody’s else. Open Balkans belongs and is for the people, Open Balkans is for the Albanian farmers, Open Balkans is for the Albanian families.
Do you know what is the percentage of growth of exports between Albania and Serbia ? The exporting Albanian farmers are the trailblazers of the Open Balkans initiative and this is for a good reason. This is not because they discovered where the Serbian market is located only when we launched the Open Balkans initiative, since they were exporting their products to Serbia for so many years. Albanian agricultural exports to Serbia rose 63%. What does this mean? This means that it is a market where our farmers are selling their products and they are reaping benefits and this is the best answer to those who claim that Open Balkans is to the benefit of Serbia only and it is Serbia the one to benefit most. Of course, Serbia didn’t join the Open Balkans initiative to lose, but we are all here to earn what everyone can earn through hard work, cooperation and freedom of movement.
The forest fires; we have built a mechanism today and I am convinced that this summer people will have the opportunity to see the benefits from this mechanism to help each other through the logistics, through aerial fire-fighting means. Shall we leave the forests to be burned to the ground, or shall we decide to be assisted by Serbians? I strongly believe and I repeat that the more we get closer to each other, the greater the chances to resolve the conflicts and build permanent peace between Serbia and Kosovo. A topic I disagree with the Serbian President about, however the solution is rather simple here, to either turn this disagreement into a permanent conflict with all the gaps that would then remain in our economy, in our security and so on and so forth, or shall we do the contrary. We need to get closer as much as possible and understand each other in the best possible way so that ultimately people themselves become aware that the future is much more important than the past.
And two more words about the EU and this supposed next “wedding”. I call it a wedding ahead of any of the European Council meetings, because I prepare as if going to attend a wedding party. I have already stated it previously; Albania is not going to prepare for this wedding party anymore. If this wedding is going to happen we will go dressed up occasionally. I mean we won’t dress up especially for such an occasion.
 The Open Balkan is “a man” and the United Europe is the bride. This is really bad for us since it would have been much better for us to be “the bride” as we would have been taken much sooner. And by being “the man”, this is really a serious problem, but we are clear about our path; we will build Europe right here.

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