Mid October, the capital of Serbia, Belgrade, was the centre of the world during the two-day gathering of the Non-Aligned Movement, an international organization of member states that oppose participation in military-political blocs and favor the peaceful co-existence of peoples. The hosts of the gathering, which was being held at the Belgrade Fair, were Serbia and Azerbaijan. The Republic of Serbia, being an observer in the Non-Aligned Movement and with Belgrade as the birthplace of the Non-Aligned Movement, opened its doors to its friends, the countries of the NAM.
Its 60th anniversary brought together the numerous delegations as a confirmation of Serbia's growing international reputation. Although being a country with significantly fewer opportunities than Yugoslavia had, it manages to make decisions sovereignly and independently. In a policy that is primarily characterized by a commitment to EU membership, it does not forget traditional partnerships and friendships. As the result of the policy, it pursues it was able to host a large number of guests, showing that it has friends and partners both in Europe and outside the continent.
From Monday 11th to Tuesday 12th of October, the Cold War-era alliance that brought together almost all of South America, Africa, and significant parts of Asia - counting 120 states - met in Belgrade, the city where it was founded 60 years ago. The first Belgrade conference in 1961 was held in the era of decolonization of many African and Asian countries. Second only to the United Nations when it comes to the size of membership the Non-Aligned Movement represented the countries formed in the wake of the world’s big empires and colonisers and features figures such as Yugoslav president Josip Tito, president Abdel Nasser of Egypt, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru of India, Ghana’s first President, Osagyefo Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, as one of the five historic founding fathers of the Movement, Nelson Mandela and others.
Flags from all these countries appeared on signposts across the Serbian capital, as high-level delegations flew in from places ranging from Guatemala to Azerbaijan. The summit once represented the noble ideal of unifying what the West often referred to as “the Third World.” It was a part of Yugoslav socialist president Josip Broz Tito’s strategic foreign policy aiming to give his country and others more sway globally. Consequently, it was Yugoslavia that found itself at the forefront of the movement, despite its problems being largely different than those of the rest of the member states. This unexpectedly made it into a strong international player. It also helped Tito to become a statesman respected around the world and the movement was defined as a third bloc, formed alongside the US and the Soviet Union during the Cold War.
The movement was also never politically homogenous, with members ranging from communist ones to republics and kingdoms. Although the Non-Aligned took part in so-called ‘peaceful, active coexistence,’ it actively meant that they participated in global issues. Thus Yugoslavia became home to thousands of students from the Non-Aligned countries studying everything from medicine to engineering, while hundreds of Yugoslav companies suddenly found work, “from Singapore to Iraq and Botswana,” constructing hydropower plants, dams and airports. Nevertheless, the end of the Cold War and the dissolution of the Soviet Union meant the need to be non-aligned became practically irrelevant. It began to disintegrate in the 1970s, however, and, after Tito’s death in 1980, and the collapse of communism lost most of its relevance and influence. The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the breakup of Yugoslavia in the early 1990s led to the movement falling into relative obscurity.
In comparison to the first Non-Aligned Movement conference in Belgrade in September 1961 which was attended by representatives of 25 countries, established then to create a third global bloc in a world polarised by the East-West Cold War, above mentioned two-day summit opened in Belgrade, hosted the delegations from more than 105 countries and nine international organizations. Among the participants were Ghanaian President Nana Akufo Addo, son of the first Egyptian president and one of the founders of the Non-Aligned Movement Gamal Nasser - Abd al-Hakim Gamal Abdel Nasser, President of the United Nations General Assembly Abdul Shahid, about 40 foreign ministers, numerous special envoys from Asia, Africa, Latin American, while Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu were special guests. The size of the gathering grew from Serbia’s diplomacy efforts led by Foreign Minister Nikola Selakovic. Selakovic personally toured NAM members ahead of the summit inviting foreign dignitaries to attend, leading many regional analysts to focus on Serbia’s role and possible regional motivations in organising NAM’s anniversary summit as the host for the fourth time in the organisation’s history. Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev, chairing the summit via a video link, used his introductory speech, among other things, to speak about the global response to the Covid pandemic.
Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi said the challenges the world faced during the founding of the Non-Aligned Movement remained, and had even multiplied, underlying that one of the principles of the Movement was equality between all states and nations. In addition, the Secretary-General of the UN, Antonio Guterres, noted via a video message that the gathering in Belgrade was taking place at a time of exceptional global challenges, and said the Non-Aligned Movement still had an important role in the world to play. U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged wealthy nations to allocate half of the funds they provide to developing nations to tackle climate change to the job of helping those countries to adapt and survive in a warming world. Guterres warned rich economies to ramp up efforts to help developing countries in a struggle against “biodiversity loss, pollution and climate change” and further called on the Group of 20 rich nations to do more to help vaccinate the planet against the new Coronavirus.
At the two-day gathering, Russia, which gained observer status in the Movement founded in the midst of the Cold War, was among the non-aligned for the first time, as a counterweight to the opposing blocs led by the then USSR and the USA. The observer status in the Non-Alignment Movement that Russia gained opens up new opportunities for interaction in ensuring global security and sustainable development, Russian President Vladimir Putin said in his message to participants of the NAM’s jubilee meeting posted on the Kremlin’s website.
It is the fact that that the world has changed significantly compared to 1961, when the Non-Aligned Movement was founded. Many of the bloc’s members, like Bahrain, Qatar, Angola, or India are no longer developing countries. Over the years, the movement gradually turned into mostly a vehicle for economic cooperation. However, the recent summit proved that it is not exactly the case in the eyes of Serbia. After many years of treating the Non-Aligned Movement as not much more than a historical anecdote, Serbia is the only one of the seven states that became independent after the breakup of Yugoslavia to push to become its most active member. Despite all the challenges, it became obvious that Serbia is committed to compromise to preserve security in the region. Accordingly and perhaps more important than ever before for the country is to work on the development of multilateral contacts in which the dialogue has no alternative and international support is key.
President of Serbia, Aleksandar Vučić, addressed the guests with the words, "Welcome home," at the commemorative session on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the Non-Aligned Movement at the Belgrade Fair, referring to Belgrade, as a symbol of crossroads and a meeting place of east and west, which will encourage dialogue between the parties."We are proud that as a militarily neutral country we are striving towards the EU, and at the same time, we are strengthening the development of friendship for African and Asian countries. That is our treasure and our strength," said the President of Serbia.
Although the Head of Serbian diplomacy, stated that the gathering on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the founding of the Movement did not have a primarily political dimension, because no decisions or declarations were made, but that it was "a way for everyone to show that they remember the 1961 Belgrade Conference with great care and pride", according to some prominent experts, the renewed friendship with Non-Aligned member states could represent the convenient vehicle for Serbia’s main international diplomatic effort - to reduce the significance of Kosovo, and rally countries globally to de-recognise or ignore its independence.
Other events were taking place in parallel, such as the Business Forum organized by the Serbian Chamber of Commerce, as well as numerous bilateral meetings. Not coincidentally, an international defence equipment and armaments expo, Partner 21, was concurrently held at the Belgrade Fair. This provided Serbia with an opportunity to present itself as inclusive of its other partners as the host nation for both international events, while at the same time showcasing some of its revamped military production and R&D activities.
During the two-day meeting hosted by the Government of Serbia, which contributed to the strengthening of multilateral initiatives, particularly significant in the domain of international security, on the one hand, and peacekeeping and peacebuilding, on the other, the 60th anniversary was marked by inspiring speeches, while the leaders reaffirmed their collective commitment to strengthen the principles and multiple tasks that were set 60 years ago. Moreover, the NAM anniversary summit provided an occasion for new economic opportunities, bilateral meetings, and rekindled friendships with many signed scientific deals and other exchanges amongst NAM members.