Podcast 🎧 & blog: Why cybersecurity capacity of the Western Balkan should matter?

22.06.2022 | Federico Plantera


If countries’ national security is indivisible on a global level, as in actions and consequences are interlinked for everyone, governments have then two good places to start. Firstly, international cooperation, creating a strong government-to-government community. Secondly, seeing public expenditure in this area as an investment, and not just a cost.

The Western Balkan Digital Security Forum took place in Tallinn and online on June 15, 2022, bringing together leaders and experts in cybersecurity to discuss developments and challenges on the topic in the region. Merle Maigre, e-Governance Academy’s own Senior Expert on Cybersecurity, joins us in this episode to explore some of the takeaways from this high-level meeting, and how to support six Balkan countries in building strategic cybersecurity capacity.



Cybersecurity is a collective concern

The baseline, key understanding that must be in place – in security general, as well as in cybersecurity more specifically – is that countries are interlinked on the global stage. “It is important to look beyond your nose, so to say. Because ultimately, what happens geographically a bit further away from you will influence all of us,” Maigre begins with.

Cooperation, in this sense, can never be taken as an empty word. “The situation in the Western Balkans is relevant for Estonia. But also, what Estonia and other countries do, in terms of steps and progress on the digital and cybersecurity front, is something decision-makers in that region really care about.”

“This describes the mood in the room, no one was looking down or looking up to others, it was a conversation among equals,” Maigre says.

Capacity and responsibilities, beyond and within states

A case in point of how geopolitical events may affect all of us is, obviously, the war in Ukraine. “I think the war in Ukraine has influenced all of us and will influence Europe as a whole. Ukraine going into the war is different from the country that will come out of it. Likewise, the EU, NATO, and individual member states. In that sense security is indivisible, and we need to think – collectively – what can we do to build resilience against the threats,” Maigre explains.

The point echoes what other speakers brought up during the conference, such as Luukas Ilves, CIO of the Estonian Government, and Jonatan Vseviov, Secretary-General at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Estonia – whose speech we warmly recommend rewatching here. ‘Togetherness’, in developing and ramping up cybersecurity capacity, is essential also vertically. Not just across countries, but also levels of governance and actors – individuals, private and public organizations, and governments.


What is the situation in the Western Balkans?

The Western Balkan Digital Security Forum served as the perfect occasion to bring together high-level decision-makers from the area and Norther Europe. As well, though, to present results of the Cybersecurity Study on the Western Balkans conducted to assess and strengthen the cyber resilience capacity of Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia, and Serbia.

Six key areas of cybersecurity were explored, from governance and legislative frameworks to risk and crisis management, awareness and education. So how is the situation over there?

“One thing applies across the Western Balkan region, and it is the need for high-level political commitment to cybersecurity reforms. At the government level and across the public administration, cybersecurity must be increasingly prioritized. Because it all starts from political will, and this was clearly present and visible in the room during the conference sessions,” Maigre highlights.

And while there are relevant subjects to focus on in all six areas of cybersecurity analysed, this also hints at the necessity for diversified plans from country to country to further develop cybersecurity capacities. “A tailored approach must proceed together with wider, regional information sharing. That is the way forward,” Maigre concludes.



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