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On the Importance of the OSCE and its Role in the Balkans

The primary role and function of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) is to help Western Balkan countries, including Albania, to deal with important issues relating to peace and security, the fulfillment of standards, law, human rights, and electoral reform.

One of the most important components of this organization is the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) which promotes democratic election processes, assists OSCE participating states in the implementation of their human dimension commitments and assists OSCE field missions in their human dimension activities. At the same time, the ODIHR aims to influence dialog and political cooperation, not just during elections but after they have been concluded.

Many discussions have been raised regarding the impact and importance of ODIHR recommendations. In the Balkan countries, these recommendations are considered very important because they guide and define the future steps of the countries and influence positive political cooperation. ODIHR’ recommendations have an important role in the international arena as well because they are taken into consideration by other officials who closely follow developments in the Balkans.

The OSCE played a vital role in the Serbian Presidential and Parliamentary elections in Kosovo, where its presence and participation was comprehensive. In this case, the OSCE had an important role in the pre-election process by contributing to the discussions and negotiations over the elections.

It is important to point out that OSCE’s participation influences Albania’s candidacy for the European Union or in the case of Kosovo, in creating a neutral political status.

In the same context, special and proprietary attention will be paid to the relationships with Serbia, through a joint plan of cooperation presented by Switzerland’s Foreign Minister Didier Burkhalter (Switzerland chairs the OSCE in 2014) and Serbia’s Foreign Minister, Ivan Mrkić. This cooperation will be conditionally based on cooperation between Serbia and Kosovo.

Another important point relates to the concrete responsibility that the OSCE mission has in these countries. As the former Albanian ambassador to the OSCE, Eugen Wollfarth, stated in an interview for “Bugajsi Hour” on May 18th, “This is helping. It is assistance. The core action and the responsibility at all times is with Albanian institutions: the government, the parliament, and all the other institutions. So it is of help. We are not running the show. None of the internationals is here to run it.”

As a result of these developments in the Western Balkans, the OSCE will continue its assistance. Several political analysts, politicians, and others believe that the OSCE presence will be necessary to ensure the democratization of these countries. Simultaneously, the goals of the OSCE are to ensure effective horizontal cooperation in the region. The cooperation of OSCE member states is proving to be a constructive and positive development. The experience of the Balkan countries will be valuable not just for themselves but for other countries which are in the same political processes.

Another problematic issue is freedom of the press throughout the Balkans. Just recently, Donja Mijatovi, the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, declared in Tirana that freedom of the press and media in the Balkans is declining, thereby undermining the democratic future of the region. A third OSCE South East Europe Conference on 18th September 2013 – 20th September 2013, will be held in Tirana, Albania on Media Freedom.

What have been some of the most important highlights of OSCE activities in the Balkans and what are some of the future challenges in the Western Balkans? Albania has been working in partnership with other relevant actors to support state institutions, primarily on issues relating to democratization, good governance, the media, human rights, and electoral reform.

OSCE’s presence in Albania supports the strengthening of Albania’s public institutions, focusing on judicial, legislative and electoral reform, parliamentary capacity-building, anti-trafficking, police training, demilitarization, good governance, and property reform. It works to advance media independence and strengthen gender and civil society structures. A highlight of 2012 was Albania’s adoption of amendments to the Electoral Code, based on recommendations made by OSCE/ODIHR. OSCE actively supported the consultative electoral reform process, providing advice and hosting discussions for parliamentarians and experts on technical aspects of the reform, including new voting technologies, and assists decision-makers in crafting appropriate legislation.

Bosnia and Herzegovina has to meet its OSCE commitments and progress towards Euro-Atlantic integration by strengthening security and stability through completion of peace-building within the Dayton framework and developing inclusive political discourse and democratically accountable institutions that respect diversity, promote consensus and respect the rule of law.

The mission embraced innovation that is more responsive to stakeholders and more relevant to challenges. Addressing a key Irish CiO priority, conflict resolution, the mission chose three field offices as pilot projects, which proved especially valuable in Srebrenica. Partnering with the authorities, the mission opened the first Aarhus Centre in Sarajevo to advance an environmental agenda. The Mission mobilized 150 staff to facilitate voting in Kosovo for both rounds of the Serbian presidential elections. OSCE further strengthened civil society through its work injustice, education, and the parliament. Finally, the mission designed an innovative way to propose budget savings and downsize its personnel, with compassionate support for colleagues seeking outside employment.

The OSCE in Montenegro assists the government and supports reforms including democratization processes; legislative reform and institution building; media reform; police reform; and protection of the environment and economic development.

The OSCE assisted Montenegro in furthering its reforms and strengthening the capacity of its institutions. This included support for effectively implementing the new Criminal Procedure Code, the third phase of the Court Monitoring Project, the Strategy for the Fight against Corruption and Organized Crime, and a Code of Ethics for municipal officials. The Mission provided strong assistance in the full implementation of the Law on Free Access to Information. To encourage regional co-operation, the Mission assisted the government to prepare a border management strategy that will continue to 2016.

In Serbia, the OSCE will assist the government in implementing laws and the OSCE will assist the proper functioning and development of democratic institutions and other processes. The OSCE assists law enforcement bodies and the judiciary in training and restructuring.

The OSCE supported Serbia’s authorities and civil society to make substantial progress in many areas of the OSCE’s mandate. Activities focused on enhancing policies that protect human and minority rights, build accountable and effective democratic institutions as well as implementing and supporting freedom of the media. A highlight was the OSCE’s close work with political parties and media in southwest Serbia ahead of local and parliamentary elections, which contributed to a calm and orderly democratic process. In south Serbia, the OSCE continued to support the multi-ethnic government of ethnic Albanians and Serbs in Bujanovac, as well as the work of the Albanian National Minority Council and the multi-ethnic Department of Economics.

Kosovo will need to promote human and community rights and safety for all people living in Kosovo by developing local institutions. The Mission of OESC in Kosovo, established in 1999, is the largest field operation of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE).
In Skopje, the challenge will be enhancing stability aimed at a safe environment for all communities. This includes confidence building and monitoring targeted police development, rule of law, good governance and media development.

The government of Macedonia has to make progress in its reform process and further implement the Ohrid Framework Agreement (OFA) with a view to strengthening societal cohesion. Special attention has to be paid to developments in the area of interethnic relations. It is important in the near future, that Western Balkan countries benefit by using the potential and recourses that OSCE offers to these countries as the way to achieve stability and to develop all the above-mentioned reforms. Following a decade of the OSCE presence in the Western Balkans, these reforms should be successfully implemented by each Balkan country.