Road Map 2011
The Federation of Balkan American Associations (FEBA) brought together the prime ministers of six Balkan countries, including Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, with about 1,500 students of Balkan heritage in New York on Thursday. At the meeting, organized by FEBA in cooperation with the Turkish Confederation of Businessmen and Industrialists (TUSKON) and BalkanSiad, a nonprofit organization based in İstanbul that works to promote the Balkan presence in the United States and elsewhere, other participating leaders in addition to Erdoğan were Albanian Prime Minister Sali Berisha, Bosnia and Herzegovina Prime Minister Nikola Spiric, Montenegrin Prime Minister Igor Luksic, Macedonian Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski and Kosovar Prime Minister Hashim Thaci.
The events, including symposiums and seminars, were held at one of the largest fair complexes in New York, the Javits Center, for university students of Balkan heritage in the US. Nearly 2,000 people were in attendance at the meeting, titled “A Vision for Common Future,” including Turks living in the US. FEBA President Aras Konjhodzic made the opening remarks at the meeting. Acknowledging the problems between Balkan nations, Konjhodzic added that he wants to raise his children with peaceful stories rather than a discourse of inciting hatred and taking revenge for the past.
While noting that several million people from the Balkans live in the US, Konjhodzic said, “We want to show that we exist here.”
Prime Minister Erdoğan repeated a much-debated call on families to have at least three children at a gathering attended by Balkan leaders, saying the Balkan countries should turn into Europe’s “young and dynamic power” of Europe at the meeting.
“I have a piece of advice for you. I call on married couples and those who are to marry: Have at least three children. I remind the prime ministers here, too: At least three children,” Erdoğan said.
The populations of Balkan countries have been on a decline as families struggle with economic hardships that emerged in the years following the wars of the 1990s. Immigration is also a reason behind why the population has been shrinking across the Balkans. During Thursday’s meeting, Erdoğan also called for unity in the Balkans and issued a warning to the leaders, saying those who resist change would bring chaos and unrest to their countries.
Erdoğan said change could be a risk for those who did not foresee it but also an opportunity for those who foresaw it and determined their policies accordingly. “When we consider developments in North Africa and the Middle East in this context, it will be meaningful,” he said.
In regard to the Balkans, he said the region has been affected by changes in the past century and that everyone is aware of how much the peoples of the Balkans have suffered as a result. “We hope our brothers and sisters living in the Balkans will not consume their energies to clash but to work to build their bright future together.”
“Both because of our geographical closeness and bonds of kinship from history, the troubles that you [the peoples of the Balkans] face will make us upset more than anyone else. We have millions of citizens of Balkan heritage in our country. This means everything related to the Balkans is of interest to us. Your unrest is our unrest,” Erdoğan added.
Macedonian Prime Minister Gruevski praised the event, saying it was a beautiful example of the cooperation between Balkan nations. Bosnia’s Spiric defined the summit as an opportunity to promote dialogue and added that Bosnia, aspiring to become a member of the European Union, believes in integration. Montenegrin Prime Minister Luksic put the emphasis on cultural and economic cooperation in his speech on a common vision.
Titled “Youth Map 2011,” the one-day event started with the International Leadership Youth Symposium in the morning. Speaking at the symposium, Kosovar Foreign Minister Enver Hoxhaj said students of Balkan origin are very important for a positive transformation in their countries, adding that the most important goal of the event is to help the youth realize that they are the young envoys of peace.
Later in the afternoon, a session continued with the US Business Forum. TUSKON Chairman Rızanur Meral noted in his speech during the forum that Turkey, as “a country experiencing one of the most successful eras financially,” as Meral put it, is the third country investing the most in the Balkans. While recalling that 26 technoparks are planned to be established throughout Turkey, Meral called on Americans and the people of the Balkans to get involved in these projects. He said TUSKON had organized numerous events in the Balkans with what he called the “sincere support” of Prime Minister Erdoğan. These events were attended by businessmen from Turkey. “The Balkan diaspora in the US can contribute to Turkey’s partnership in the Balkans,” Meral added
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