The Mayor of Athens, Kostas Bakoyannis, opened the first session of the Athens Mayors Summit by describing the role of the B40 Balkan Cities Network and the historical context that makes understanding and connection between cities more necessary than ever to reinforce regional cooperation, solidarity, peace and democracy in the region.

“The Balkan Cities Network is a child of historical necessity, a child of the moment. It is both urgent and timely. Dear colleagues, all of us are living this historical reality. Centrifugal forces dominate the region. We are drifting apart and tested politically while our people are coming closer than ever. To put it plainly, anachronistic and revisionist methods, micro-politics and populist narratives do not define the people of the Balkans. Even more, they are not defined by bullying and threats. […] The Balkans does not only mean confrontation. The Balkans does not only mean tension.”

Bakoyannis noted that whenever the Balkans are ruled by stereotypes, nationalism and chauvinism, the results are disastrous.

“As mayors, we know this very well because we are in position to directly experience the feelings of our people. And we do this without filters, without distortion. We know very well that no child is born with hatred for another, regardless of ethnicity, religion or homeland. This hate comes from stereotypes that serve other dark purposes. After all, in our region we know very well what nationalism and chauvinism mean. Every time these have ruled one place or another, the results have been disastrous for all.”

Impressive participation highlights the significant role of Greece for the development of the region

In his speech on Monday evening (Greece time), the Mayor of Athens made special reference to the strong representation of Greek cities in the B40 Network. Together with Athens, 38 other small and large cities are members of the B40 Network.

“Like any network, it is only as effective as its reach. Each new member is another pillar in the bridge of cooperation that we are building. Since its creation in November 2021 in Istanbul and until today, the 22 founding members have been strengthened with 27 new members. And we look forward to more. I should underline that the Greek participation is impressive. A total of 39 cities are represented, highlighting the key role of Greece in the development of the region as well as our thirst for peace, stability, cooperation and solidarity.”

Bakoyannis praised the leadership of Mayor İmamoğlu during his term as B40 President, describing the many achievements that created a high bar for Athens.

Mayor İmamoğlu: “It is with great peace of mind and pleasure that I hand over the term presidency of the B40 Network to my friend Kostas.”

Ekrem İmamoğlu congratulated the Mayor of Athens for the growing participation of by cities in the Athens Mayors Summit, stating that “It is with great peace of mind and pleasure that I hand over the term presidency of the B40 Network to my friend Kostas.”

The Mayor of Istanbul noted the strong bridge of cooperation that Athens and Istanbul have built in recent years and to the common fight for democracy in the Balkans: “Only if we are together, only by standing in solidarity can we protect democratic achievements. Because today, the fight for democracy is not a national but an international one. For democracy sprang forth from cities such as Athens. And today, cities are where the fight for democracy takes place.”

In particular, regarding the future of the region, the Mayor of Istanbul noted that “When I look at the Balkans, I don’t see the yesterday where kings, Caesars and Sultans rule, I see the equal, rich, happy and democratic tomorrow built by creative people from every ethnicity and faith. […] We said ‘together we are stronger,’ […] we have laid the foundation for a cooperation towards a sustainable cooperation, that prioritizes equality and democracy. […] The multi-national, multiple-identity and pluralistic democracy model represented by the European Union is our shared ideal.”

Marking the unity between the two cities, İmamoğlu said that “just as much as Athens and Istanbul are sisters, so are Taksim and Syntagma Squares, so are the people filling those squares.”

Bakoyannis: “By cultivating political stability and democracy in the Balkans, we bring the vision of European integration closer to reality”

The Mayor of Athens noted earlier that “Together we are sending a loud message that we are united and that we are here. Our diversity is a source of cooperation and exchange. Why can’t this Europe of wars and disputes find ways to integrate while the Balkans remain divided. Something is going wrong. And we are changing it together.”

Bakoyannis highlighted the desire to strengthen the Balkan region in a phase when globalisation is receding and the need for local solutions to global problems is coming to the forefront.

“The moment could not be more appropriate. The time has come to bring the region to the front as globalization recedes and is replaced by the need for local solutions to major global problems. Local networks and regional cooperation create conditions for development and for the well-being of our citizens.”

The Mayor of Athens added that by cultivating political stability and democratic institutions, the potential of all member cities can be expanded while bringing the vision of European integration even closer. He noted that the most essential part of the Summit was the “open and productive dialogue between neighbors. Live dialogue that will shape Athens vision for the Presidency, and everyone’s vision for the B40 Network, so that our people will also win.”

More than 100 bilateral meetings have been scheduled between the mayors and other representatives of the cities participating in the B40

On the first day of the work of the Summit, Sunday 22 January, 35 mayors intervened with speeches, including the Mayors of Tirana, Sofia, Zagreb, Belgrade, Sarajevo, Skopje, Podgorica, Trikala, Thessaloniki, Piraeus, Galatsi, Lefkada, Patras, Kallithea, Palaio Faliro, Kifissia, Corfu, Korydallos, Karditsa, Nikaia-Agios Ioannis Rentis, Argos, Orestiada, Acharnon and Mytilene.

The work of the Summit will continue on Tuesday, 24 January with additional interventions by the mayors, as well as an open discussion on the vision of the B40 Network for 2023 and the strategy to develop “city diplomacy” among its members.

Speeches will also be given by Dario Nardella, President of the Eurocities Network and Mayor of Florence, as well as Vasco Alves Cordeiro, President of the European Committee of the Regions, and Vladimir Prebilić, Vice President of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities. The Summit will conclude with a speech by the Mayor of Athens.

The B40 Balkan Cities Network was founded in November 2021 in Istanbul with the aim of strengthening peace and democracy in the Balkans. Starting today, Athens will hold the Presidency of the B40 Network for one year, leading its members in the development of economic cooperation, innovation, sustainability and culture.