EFB’s Executive Director Aleksandra Tomanic/ US Might Be Back to EU Old Traditional Partners

By Genc Mlloja

Senior Diplomatic Editor

Albanian Daily News had a conversation with the Executive Director of the European Fund for the Balkans (EFB), Aleksandra Tomanic focusing on the presidential transition in the US against the background of President Donald Trump’s unwillingness to accept Joe Biden’s victory, instead claiming that the presidential election of November 3, 2020 was stolen from him with the help of fraudulent mail-in ballots.

“We live days that will go down in history, not only for some positive new developments, such as a female, and one of black and Asian American origin, being elected as vice president for the first time, but also for a president unwilling to accept the voters’ decision and his own defeat,” the EFB Director, Tomanic said pointing out that it is dangerous and astonishing to watch this unfold in a developed democracy. But she noted that democracy has won and is preserved for the time being, and the entire world is relieved about that.

Further on Ms. Tomanic, who took officially the lead of EFB starting from May 6, 2019, expressed the hope that some shaken, damaged or severed international relations by the US will have to be re-established. “Most urgent, in my opinion, is for the US to re-join the WHO, especially as the world is going through this health emergency. And secondly, the re-joining of the Paris Climate agreement, because too much time has been already lost. Regarding the EU, the shift might be back to old traditional partners, given that in the past few years the focus was primarily on some new member states, similar in their understanding of how a country should be run.”

According to her, President-elect Biden has a long track record of clear views on occurrences in the Balkans as he has been an engaged actor for decades now, and she liked to believe that this will be positive for the region.

In a comment on the document on the normalization of the economic relations between Kosovo and Serbia on September 4 this year in Washington mediated by Mr. Trump, Ms. Tomanic said she still had not heard a legal term for what has been signed, as the participants (Serb President Aleksandar Vucic and Kosovo Prime Minister Avdullah Hoti) did not put their signatures on the same paper. “The two parties signed a different list of bullet points, without official letterhead, stamp or date. It was a very informal “letter of intent”, of sorts. So, it remains to be seen to which extent it will represent a binding document. With today’s wisdom, it seems even clearer that it was just part of the US pre-election campaign.”

Speaking of the expectations on the promises made by president-elect Biden to reverse some of Trump's more controversial foreign policies related to issues like climate change or WHO, the Executive Director of the European Fund for the Balkans, Aleksandra Tomanic hoped that the US will be a leading force, with innovative ideas and approaches.

Albanian Daily News: Thank you for sharing your opinions on what is going on in the US after the presidential election as the sitting president Donald Trump is not willing to accept the defeat in face of the landslide victory of his adversary, the president-elect, Joe Biden.

EFB’s Director Aleksandra Tomanic: We live days that will go down in history, not only for some positive new developments, such as a female, and one of black and Asian American origin, being elected as vice president for the first time, but also for a president unwilling to accept the voters’ decision and his own defeat.

It is dangerous and astonishing to watch this unfold in a developed democracy. A sitting president is being corrected by a social media platform for sharing fake or misleading information. This is unbelievable. And still, he got the second highest number of votes in history. And these voters are not going anywhere, he let the ghost out of the bottle and it will be very difficult or rather impossible to catch it and put it back in. It will take a lot of time and a lot of work.

The voter turnout was the highest recorded and both candidates got a record number of votes. Although the popular vote brought a difference of more than 4 million votes, still, given the electoral system, I am not sure whether we can call Joe Biden’s victory a “landslide”, since the differences in many states were rather marginal. The results highlight the importance of this election for both sides and the extent to which the society is polarized. But it also marks an end of an unusual campaign in times of a pandemic and of a rather unusual special presidency. So, let us hope that at least some manners and attitudes will go back to decent.

Democracy has won and is preserved for the time being, and the entire world is relieved about that. But now as the fundament appears to be secured, we need an open discussion about everything leading up to this situation. We should not be this minimalistic and euphoric just because the very fundament of the political system has been saved. The question is how did it become this threatened in the first place. What went wrong?

- What do the presidential electoral campaign and the results of the vote show and in your view which are the challenges ahead for the US in a polarized society? Mr. Trump has received more than 70 million votes…

- The US faces a number of deeply rooted and severe challenges. Racism is a very serious one. It is unbelievable that it not only remains a serious issue in the 21st century, but is actually gaining supporters who are not embarrassed to openly call themselves racist. It is very disillusioning. Inequalities are steadily growing. The financial crisis of 2008 has left scars that are still there. A number of issues were there even before Trump came along and this actually led to his 2016 victory. He exposed and exacerbated some circumstances, making them more visible, and he abolished the social understanding according to which it is shameful to not speak the truth, deny scientific facts, or divide people based on their differences of any kind. And despite all this, he still received more than 70 million votes, the second highest number ever. These people, these voters are here to stay and they will need to be included back into a society in need of decent manners, treatment and communication.

Although the challenges are enormous, expectations should not be too high. We are all relieved that the scary nightmare is over, but the society is highly divided, as shown by the election results. Furthermore, each party has its own internal challenges and discussions about its political orientation. Placing the bar too high might be unrealistic. Trump’s legacy remains and ranges from extremely deep division and polarization, to the long-term set-up of the Supreme Court. And the effects of the pandemic, in particular the economic ones, are yet to come.

Democracy is fragile and currently under threat in a number of countries, including far too many EU member states. Right-wing populism is a worldwide phenomenon. There is a global crisis of democracy and it is important to see that it is still strong and functioning, even after being deconstructed for a number of years. Independent media, courts and other institutions in the US have proven to be stronger than 4 years of deconstruction. That is a major difference compared to our region, for instance. Looking at the US today, we can witness, in very concrete terms, what it actually means to refer to rule of law, free media, strong and independent democratic institutions and their importance.

- It is much spoken of US getting back to normal. In your view what is expected to change in US international attitude?

-A lot of cleaning up will be necessary. Some shaken, damaged or severed international relations will have to be re-established. Most urgent, in my opinion, is for the US to re-join the WHO, especially as the world is going through this health emergency. And secondly, the re-joining of the Paris Climate agreement, because too much time has been already lost. Regarding the EU, the shift might be back to old traditional partners, given that in the past few years the focus was primarily on some new member states, similar in their understanding of how a country should be run.

The prediction is: back to predictability, back to normal. But what is normal and what was normal, if the old normal has led to Trump becoming president in the first place?

- Let me touch upon the expected impact of the future US policy towards the Western Balkans as the new president is well known for his knowledge of the region. In this frame which are your predictions for the ‘future’ of the deal mediated by Mr. Trump which was finalized in the White House between Serb President Aleksandar Vucic and Kosovo Prime Minister Avdullah Hoti in September this year?

-The general expectation and hope is that the US Balkan policy and approach will be far more aligned with the EU. That was a rather good practice with less harmful results than what we have seen over the past year in particular. President-elect Biden has a long track record of clear views on occurrences in the Balkans, he has been an engaged actor for decades now, and I would like to believe that this will be positive for the region.

When you refer to the “deal”, it remains to be seen, since basically there is no real deal. I still have not heard a legal term for what has been signed, as the participants did not put their signatures on the same paper. The two parties signed a different list of bullet points, without official letterhead, stamp or date. It was a very informal “letter of intent”, of sorts. So, it remains to be seen to which extent it will represent a binding document. With today’s wisdom, it seems even clearer that it was just part of the US pre-election campaign.

But what I definitely hope for both though, is that Kosovo and Serbia will geographically come home and be part of the Balkans again, rather than the Middle East, where they were placed by the President.

- Which are your expectations regarding promises made by president-elect Biden to reverse some of Trump's more controversial foreign policies related to issues like climate change or WHO, for example, as the world is gripped by the disastrous impact of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic?

-A number of foreign policy issues will primarily entail harm reduction. The world has changed and merely going back to pre-2016 is impossible, simply because the world of pre-2016 does not exist any longer. The global economic order has been very much exposed by the pandemic and shorter supply chains, as well as some essential production reallocation, will come as a result.

The climate emergency is the most important topic to be dealt with in the coming years and, once the pandemic is over, this will be even more apparent. Treating the climate emergency as a top priority, giving it the necessary relevance as a security and peace issue, might help put it into the right perspective and give it the necessary relevance. It is a very specific security issue, a basic human security issue, a reason for mass migrations and a potential threat to democracy.

So personally, I have great expectations that the US will be a leading force, with innovative ideas and approaches. If it fails to lead when it comes to this most urgent issue for mankind, I am afraid that soon there will be no other relevant topics, as we will witness and experience the consequences./ADN