Self-Entrapment of the Eternal Leader: Milo Djukanovićs imminent return as Montenegrin President

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After months of speculation, former president, party leaders, president Milo Djukanović declared his candidacy for the Montenegrin presidential elections just one before the election.

If (about as hypothetical as “if there is East this year”) elected president, Milo Djukanović will at the end of his presidential term have been in power in Montenegro for more than three decades: twice as president, six times as prime minister and twice as “just” the grey eminence at the head of the ruling party. No country in Europe has been ruled and dominated by a single person for so long, not Putin, not Lukashenko, not even Bavaria).

So why return to office today? Of course, there are many explanations, including the claims of his party that the opposition are all a bunch of traitors, anti-Montenegrin forces and the president must remain in safe hands. Yes, the opposition is divided and parts of it are compromised by their pro-Russian and Serb nationalist rhetoric. However, the return of Milo Djukanović has nothing to do with this.

Over three decades, he built up a system in which the fusion between state and party was never ruptured as it was in other post-Yugoslavia republics. The ruling DPS has become a catch-all party without a discernible program. Granted, it supports the Euro-Atlantic integration, but has been a pioneer of fake and shallow reforms that is now a model for most governments in the Western Balkans. The ruling party and its model of rule, based on clientalism, and state control, hinges on one person holding the system together–Milo Djukanović. Thus, there is little space for him to retire. Without a popular and able successor to hold the system of power together, the dominance of the party is likely to wane. Only the weakness of the opposition, fragmented into a dozen parties with conflicting priorities and programs, lead by politicians running against the government for nearly 20 years, eases the rule of the Democratic Party of Socialists.

Nevertheless, Djukanović is trapped in the system he built himself. Passing on the patrimonial system he created will either lead to a new leader who will have to sacrifice Djukanović sooner or later or one who will seek genuine reform and transformation and will also need to rid him-or herself-from the strongman. Thus, it would appear that Djukanovič and Montenegro will remain intrinsically linked for years to come. However, the inability of the ruling party to move beyond Djukanović might help it to gain elections in the short run, but will be eventually its downfall, unable to re-generate itself.

An earlier version of this comment was first published by Radio Free Europe

Now is the time for Serbia to accept the Kosovo reality

 

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After eight years of talks between Serbia and Kosovo, the EU, Serbia and Kosovo seem to be gearing up for finding a comprehensive settlement. This is good news, neither can Serbia join the EU without clarifying its relations with its neighbor, nor can Kosovo move forward to the EU without an agreement that would also pave the way for recognition by the EU’s non-recognizers. The Brussels dialogue has lost a lot of its initial dynamism from earlier years, and it is a good time to be more ambitious. It is also a risky moment, as the stakes are higher and the risk of tensions and spoilers increases. In Kosovo, any compromise with Serbia will be strongly challenged by the opposition, most of all Vetevendojse. In Serbia, the opposition is too weak to mount a challenge; the risk is more that some in the government hope to drive a hard bargain and make a good “deal” with Kosovo.

While President Aleksandar Vučić has been hinting that any normalization would require some unnamed benefits for Serbia, his coalition partner and Foreign Minister Ivica Dačić has been suggesting for years that border changes would be the best solution. However, such a solution would be dangerous and irresponsible. The only form of border changes that would be imaginable would be consensual, if both Kosovo and Serbia agree, as unilateral border changes would not be acceptable and close the door to EU integration and other forms of partnership. However, even an agreed border change would be a source of problems. First, it is hard to image that any government in Kosovo would agree to a border change without compensation, such as Preshevo. However, drawing new borders in Serbia would be a major problem and certainly that most Serbs in Preshevo would not want to join Kosovo. If there was no compensation, opposition in Kosovo to any compromise would be strong, with negative consequences. Most Serbs in Kosovo live South of the Ibar and would not live in Serbia, no matter how the border is redrawn. These Serbs are mostly horrified of border changes: They would become a smaller minority in Kosovo and one that might be easily more resented again if borders are changed. The Kosovo government agreed to the far reaching minority rights, because it was able to declare independence and it included the entire territory. It would be hard to maintain this level of minority rights, if the size of the Serb minority would be reduced by more than a third. This will put Serbs in the South in a more vulnerable position and would in effect be Serbia trading territory for supporting its minority. In a partitioned Kosovo, voices calling for unification with Albania will be strengthened. While it seems currently difficult to imagine a merger of the two, the constitutional guarantee that Kosovo gave at independence not to join Albania would be more easily abandoned in the case of border changes. It is needless to say that a small Serb minority in Gračanica, Štrpce and other towns and villages in Central Kosovo would become completely marginal in such a scenario. Thus changing the borders might be what benefits the Serbs in the North of Kosovo, but not most Serbs of Kosovo. Furthermore, Serbia would emerge with a few more square kilometers and a few more thousand Serbs living in it, but it would jeopardize its ability to be a constructive and partner for other countries in region, as it would be seen as a bully seeking to gain territories from its neighbors, if they are (eventually) coerced to consent.

It is the worry for broader regional repercussions that the EU and the governments have excluded such as an option. Redrawing borders, even if agreed, would encourage others to redraw borders, from Macedonia to Bosnia and this would be destabilizing for the region. The idea launched by Milorad Dodik that Serbia should support his cause in exchange for a deal on Kosovo is even more ridiculous. The territorial integrity is guaranteed by the Dayton Peace Agreement and the only reason the RS exists is because of Dayton. Abandoning Dayton effectively challenges the existence of the RS. A change of borders in Bosnia will trigger a conflict and the 200,000 Croats and Bosniak in the RS will overwhelmingly reject leaving Bosnia. Thus, changing Bosnian borders is a recipe for deasaster. Not least, the district of Brčko is a separate unit of Bosnia, recognized in the constitution (with the support of the RS) and thus, the RS is divided in two parts. No change of the borders could take place here in a peaceful and legal manner.

Thus, opening the question of borders is one of great risks, major moral problems, offering not more, but less stability, including for Serbs. Only the reckless would take this road.

So what “compensation” is possible for Serbia? The idea that Serbia should be rewarded for normalization is already a flawed premise. Serbia rejected Kosovo independence more than a decade ago, yet the far reaching autonomy and minority rights protection of Serbs that was offered in the Ahtisaari Plan was still implemented. Then in the Brussels agreement, Serbia gained additional influence in Kosovo and Serbs achieved additional protection. Thus, Serbs in Kosovo gained extensive rights, especially considering their small size, despite Serbian intransigence. Now it is time for Serbia to embrace the reality of Kosovo. At the end of the day, the live of Serbs in Kosovo will improve most, if Kosovo and Serbia co-exist as two friendly states where they are not forced to choose loyalty or hedge their bets. As the murder of Oliver Ivanović showed, it is also the best interest of Serbs in the North, if the lawlessness of North disappears and rule of law emerges that protects citizens from criminals. All of this can only happen through normalization–meaning Serbia living with an independent Kosovo, not trying to stop its effort to join international organizations and making petty and rather silly celebrations out of stopping Kosovo were it could. This has been the biggest flaw of the Brussels dialogue: despite the agreements, there has been no rapprochement. Of course, the responsibility lies with both, but Serbia would do well to accept that Kosovo as a country is an irreversible reality and that a prosperous and successful Kosovo is in Serbia’s best interest. What an agreement can achieve is to formalize the main agreements set between the countries over the past decade and also to establish links between the countries and formalize cross-border relations, like the bodies established between Northern Ireland and Ireland after the Good Friday Agreement in 1998, when the Republic of Ireland in exchange removed its claim to the entire island from the constitution. The only way real normalization will emerge in a way that opens the door to EU accession is to move beyond the zero-sum game, where every loss for Kosovo is gain for Serbia. Only if both governments start seeing their future relations in these terms, is there room for a genuine agreement.

This article was first published in NIN, 8.3.2018

 

Half-empty or half-full? Gaps in the New EC Strategy for the Western Balkans

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After years of neglect, the EU has re-discovered the Western Balkans last year. The crisis in Macedonia, increased Russian involvement, often destructive, and the unresolved relations between Serbia and Kosovo highlighted for the EU that the laissez-faire approach it took in recent years has been destructive. Having left the series of crises of recent years behind, from economic to Euro, Greek, migration and Brexit, it could also focus more on the Western Balkans.

This renewed interest is reflected in the new Commission strategy and stronger rhetorical commitment of the Commission and its president Juncker, such as his recent visit to the region.

Much of this shift is rhetorical. When Juncker took office he stated that no enlargement under his mandate would take place, now the magical date discussed is 2025. While the former was taken interpreted by many as a rejection of the Western Balkans, 2025 is now seen as a promise for the region. Of course, both timelines are the same. Juncker will not be in office in 2025, nor will his commission. So in fact, the main difference is that Juncker said a few years ago the glass is half-empty, now he says the glass is half-full.

Rhetoric matters and there is no doubt that the EU is more interested and willing to support enlargement now than two or three years ago. The strategy puts its finger on the most serious problem in the region, namely that the “countries show clear elements of state capture”. This suggests that all countries of the Western Balkans display this. Of course, the term “elements of” is a bit misleading. The concept of state capture suggests that the state is serving the interests of individuals and groups, not society at large and that political parties or other networks are in control. “Elements of state capture” is a term that is akin to describe “acts of genocide” (rather than genocide) or being a bit pregnant, either the state is captured, or it is not.

Furthermore, the strategy rightfully identifies the need to overcome the legacy of the past, a clear reference to addressing the contested legacies of the wars of the 1990s and ending bilateral disputes.  The diagnosis is thus correct, but a bit timid. However, what is mostly lacking is a remedy. The Commission has offered some new tools, like special rule of law missions. These appear to be modeled on the so-called Priebe Report for Macedonia, which identified the weaknesses in the rule of law under the previous government clearly and publically. However it is not clear if they will be public and as high profile as their model in the Macedonian case where. Thus, Juncker and others have not found the resolve (yet) to be more blunt and public in identifying state capture in the region: It is the autocratic tendencies of many ruling parties and their leaders that constitute state capture, state capture has names and leaders and is not a passive process that happens by itself.

When it comes to the legacy of the past, the EU offers little new: Of course, the main initiative has to come from the countries, including adopting the REKOM initiative, but there is a need for more, such as a mechanism to resolve bilateral disputes, as was started at the Vienna summit of the Berlin Process, but without follow-up, as well as addressing the legacies of the wars in the public debate and education. Here, the steps have been going backward. In Serbia, convicted war criminals are given a prominent place in events by and functions of the ruling parties, including most recently Vinko Pandurević. Here, clearer condemnation by the EU would be important to send the message that giving an official voice to war criminals is unacceptable.

If then the EU is not able to be more open and direct in identifying the problem, the date of 2025 might turn out to be just another mirage along the long path to EU accession. After all, the member states will have the final word on new members and many will look very careful to avoid importing another problem into the EU.

This article was published in the context of the Kopaonik Business Forum (see video of discussion there), by the Serbian daily Danas . For a more detailed analysis on the strategy see here.

A Controversy that Favors Nationalists and Extremists. Why solving the Macedonian Name Dispute matters.

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Protests in Athens, 4.2.2018, including Golden Dawn supporters.  Source: Al Jazeera

The following article was published on 4 February by the Greek To Vima in which I have tried to lay out arguments why a resolution of the name dispute with Macedonia is also in Greece’s interest.

Next to the absurd conflict over a bit of water and the fish contained in it between Slovenia and Croatia, the name dispute between Greece and its northern neighbor belongs to the open questions in the Balkans that have perplexed outside observers. For a quarter of century, this conflict has held both countries hostage. For one of the two–hopefully soon formerly known at the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia–it has not only prevent membership in NATO and the EU, it also led to a lost decade under the authoritarian and nationalist rule of former prime minster Nikola Gruevski. His “antiquization campaign” was trying to both deliberately provoke Greece and to built up a new variant of the national identity few citizens believed in. For Greece, it has undermined its legitimacy in becoming a key player in the Western Balkans and damaged its position in the EU. I have witnessed more than once–behind closed doors and in public events–diplomats from the EU and member states rolling their eyes as the Greek representative duly sought to ‘correct’ the name of its northern neighbor.

Now is the best opportunity to end the dispute after more than 25 years. Both governments seem serious about resolving it and there are good reasons for tackling it finally. The government in Skopje is committed to addressing it: It has no sympathy for the claim that the citizens of today have any link to ancient Macedonians and rejects these historical or any territorial claims. Instead, it wants both to improve relations with Greece and join NATO and the EU. A stable, prosperous neighbor in the same political, economic and security structures as Greece must also be the country’s national interest. This would create more stability for Greece. Furthermore, it would allow the country to emerge as a more important actor in the Western Balkans: During the years of crisis in the EU, the Western Balkans have been neglected, which has triggered a rise of authoritarianism,  a stronger role of Russia and other outside actors in the region. Now, the EU seems to be re-engaged as the European Commission is planning a new strategy for the region, the Bulgarian and Austrian presidency of the EU want to focus on enlargement and there is a general re-commitment to the region and its future in the EU. Resolving the name dispute now would allow Greece to become one of the drivers of change in the region, together with Bulgaria and Austria, as three of the biggest supporters of the Western Balkans inside the EU.

The risks are great, if the resolution of the dispute is sabotaged by nationalists in either country. If a compromise is derailed in Greece, it would not only reinforce the image of the country as a spoiler, blocking a reformist and pro-EU government, but it would also diminish its leverage in the Western Balkans. If anything, not resolving the name dispute with the current government would strengthen the forces that nationalists in Greece claim to be a threat: nationalist parties and groups would benefit in its northern neighbor, who seek to overthrow the government. For the government in Skopje, it would struggle to stay in power and loose a lot of momentum for reform, with NATO and EU membership slipping further away.

The current moment is a reminder that this dispute, as many others, does not pit one nation against another, but moderate, pragmatic citizens and politicians against nationalists and radicals in both countries.

There is no serious group making territorial claims on Greece north of the border (unlike some radical groups in the diaspora) and there is no reason why the name “Macedonian” cannot be used for both Greeks in the North of Greece and its northern neighbors. A failure to settle will letter to bitterness, especially in the smaller, weaker country that has more to loose.

Settling the name dispute will always be only the first step of a new type of relations between the two countries. The fear of irridentism or a monopolistic claim over the name “Macedonia” or the history can never be addressed by blocking the northern neighbor from using the name it calls itself. Confronting these worries cannot be achieved through pressure, but rather dialogue. Thus, any settlement should include a process of that includes different forms of dialogue between civil society, between historians and politicians to build trust, and confront mutually hostile claims. Nobody says this will be easy, but 2018 provides for an opportunity. Keeping the status quo on the other hand, is going to increase tensions and contribute little to improve the security or concerns of either Greece or its northern neighbor.

Serbian version of top secret Star Wars synopsis leaked: Waiting for Rey’s return?

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Since the release of the latest instalment of Star Wars, The Last Jedi, has been released, an early draft for the final episode has leaked in Serbia. It is unclear it origin or veracity. It might be just the intro for the for the next film.

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Kylo Ren took over the First Order and is increasingly managing his temper by a forcing the tips of his both hands together in an ancient Jedi gesture. Rey has disappeared and the resistance is leaderless. The resistance remains at the margins of the galaxy and while many planets are suffering, it has little success in attracting more members.  The resistance has fragmented into several wings, unable to draw on broader popular support. Most inhabitants of the galaxy are discouraged and passive:

The dominant resistance is known as the democratic resistance, although others are frustrated with its corrupt leaders and would like to see a clean break from the old authoritarian resistance ways. This includes the movement of free resistance, and the people’s resistance. They are often shaped by infighting and the challenge to form a united resistance.

In addition, there is the Enough of the First Order! which keeps its distance from other resistance groups and mostly criticizes the intransparent financing of the armaments of the First Order. There is also the Knights of the Resistance which is a marginal resistance group mostly obsessing with the “white plague” of people not having enough children, claiming to defend some ancient traditions.

In addition, there have been a number of groups allied to the First Order emerging. These include old elements of the Empire, which are now junior partners. There is also the small radical resistance that pretends to be a resistance group, but is in effect led by Jabba the Hut and is siding with the Empire and now the First Order.

With Kylo Ren firmly in control and the resistance divided, Rey is nowhere to be seen. Few inhabitants of the universe even know about the resistance and those who do are shaped by the First Order Department of Propaganda. Both Kylo Ren and various resistance groups all claim to represent the legacy of Luke Skywalker.  There are meetings of different resistance groups, but they are not met by success. It is unclear whether to wait for Rey or to cooperate together to bring down the First Order. Will they wait for the return or find a way to confront Kylo Ren?

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Star Wars Intro courtesy of Star Wars Intro Creator

Naming and Shaming Airports

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Flying from the recently opened Dr. Franjo Tudjman Airport in Zagreb, a building with considerable grace, so different from the dour narrow-mindedness of its name giver, to Alexander the Great airport in Skopje, I am reminded of the deliberate provocative nature airport-naming in the post-Yugoslav space.

Rather than innocent names of places, like Surčin or Petrovec, the name givers over the past decade have opted for a more confrontational style. First, there is the “heroes at home, war criminals-terrorists abroad” category of name givers, like Franjo Tudjman or Adem Jashari in Prishtina. Then there are the “provoke thy neighbor” names, like the Alexander the Great Airport in Skopje, which got its name from the previous government in 2008–conveniently located on the Alexander the Great highway. Finally, there are the more subtle nationalist names, like the airport in Belgrade named after Nikola Tesla and Mother Teresa in Tirana. Both might be accused of much, in particular the latter, but not nationalism. The names are instead rather examples of “banal nationalism.” Nikola Tesla spent a total of 31 hours (1892) of his life in Belgrade. It is only his Serb ethnic background that made him eligible. Mother Teresa visited Tirana twice and both times a bit longer than Tesla, but both visits in 1989 and 1991 are hardly enough to get an airport named after yourself. Being born in Skopje and having lived most of her life in India, here connections to Albania were rather marginal . Again, it is her national background that made her the name giver.

The only  capital city airports in the region that avoided a similar fate are Sarajevo and Podgorica. An attempt to call the airport in Sarajevo after Alija Izetbegović was only stopped by Paddy Ashdown, the High Representative at the time. And Podgorica might have to wait a while before it can carry the name of the father of the nation.

The tragedy of name giving is that these new, nationalist names were given not in the 1990s, but over the last decade, including the naming of the new Zagreb airport by the previous Social-democratic government. Instead of emphasizing national “heroes”, provoking neighbors and promoting the idea of an ethnic nations, airports would be much more aptly named after artists, scientists or just some small suburb of the regions capitals.

 

 

 

 

Kurzistan, Freedom Party and the Balkans

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FPÖ claiming in electoral campaign to being the vanguard of anti-immigrant ideas

Austrian elections were closely watched in the Balkans and not just for the strong showing of the far right FPÖ, but also in regard to the repercussions for the region with a new government in the making.

In this context, I gave several interviews for N1, Al Jazeera Balkans, Dnevni Avaz and European Western Balkans. Here are some points I made. While last year the large fear in the presidential victory of the Freedom Party’s candidate Norbert Hofer. Ironically, his near victory (and eventual failure) drew more attention than the success of FPÖ in recent elections. Yes, they were nowhere close to last year’s results, but with the conservative candidate for chancellor  Sebastian Kurz winning,  who openly supported a coalition with the FPÖ and successfully hijacked the FPÖ agenda, their success is greater now in terms of ideas and access to real power.

Beyond the dangers for Austria, there are potential consequences for Southeastern Europe. I discussed the negative repercussions of the party policies on the Balkans in the context of presidential elections last year. Their open support for independence of the Republika Srpska, courting the nationalist, corrupt and autocratic president of the RS Milorad Dodik and their rejection of Kosovos independence puts the party in diametric conflict with European and Austrian policies in the region for the past decades.

While Kurz is a too clever politician and having gained his experiences as Foreign Minister, he would not let FPÖ take Austria into open conflict with EU policies. However, his opportunistic support of undemocratic, nationalist and corrupt VMRO-DPMNE under the leadership of Nikola Gruevski in parliamentary elections in December 2016 highlights his willingness to sacrifice support for rule of law and EU integration on the altar of (seeming) national interest and personal advantage.

Thus, there is less need to worry  about Austrian policy turning 180 degree on the Balkans . However, even the combination of pursuing foreign policy as a product of domestic anti-immigrant campaigning, a more isolation trend, small moves towards a more pro-Russian and “pro-Serb” nationalist line would be destructive for the Balkans who risk loosing or at least seeing a decline in Austria as a key partner.

As a recent commentary in “Der Standard” notes ,there is an inherent anti-systemic, German-national core in the FPÖ that is likely to make it an unreliable and dangerous partner in government. Beyond the immediate policy towards the Balkans, it will matter whether Austria will align itself closer with the Visegrad group and emulate some of the more populist policies of the region. Thus, it would also undermine the idea of liberal democratic values in its foreign policies, but in domestic politics and “lead by example.” This will be welcome by Central and Southeast European prime ministers who have openly attacked liberal democratic values, either implicitly or explicitly.

On the plus side, the foreign ministry and its diplomats are committed and engaged in the region. They will be able to absorb some of the political changes, similar to the state department after the election of Trump. However, a clear and signal in the government formation and the Austrian EU presidency will be required to dispel doubts about the future government and they will have to extend beyond the declaratory statements of Sebstian Kurz emphasizing the European character of any future government under his leadership.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A Macedonian Moment for the Balkans?

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After years of democratic decline in the Western Balkans, the new Macedonian government that took office in May 2017 constituted not just the first democratic transfer of power in the region for four years, but also a apparent break with the success of autocratic rule.The results of the local elections last Sunday ratify this change of government and give it not just much needed backing, but also clarify that after a decade of increasing authoritarian rule, nepotism and nationalism, most citizens back a different political course

Is there are “Macedonian moment” and what can be learnt from it? First a warning, the electoral success of Aleksandar Vučić in 2012 was by many seen as democratic normalization and a sign of Serbia’s democracy maturing. Instead, the state of media freedom and democracy has regressed significantly since. In Albania, the success of Edi Rama helped to break the nationalist and autocratic temptations of the Berisha governments. The re­cord of the Rama government, reelected just this year, has been mixed: on one side, it succeeded in sig­nificant reforms, on the other, the dominance of a strong self-centered prime minister does bear its risks.

These recent transfers of power stand as a warning to not just focus on people and their ability to “de­liver”, but rather on structural changes that make government more transparent and accountable. To some degree the new Macedonian government holds more promise as Prime Minister Zaev cuts a less charismatic and dominant leadership figure than Vučić or Rama and his power is based less on a hierarchical pyramid of power.

The Macedonian transfer of power holds two lessons for the wider region. The first is on the transfer of power itself and the second is on the aftermath. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, the buz­zword for democratic change in the Balkans and beyond was “electoral revolution”, the change of an autocratic regime through a decisive election. This helped end Meciar’s nationalist thuggishness in Slovakia in 1998, the corrupt and nationalist Tudjman regime in Croatia in 2000 and the warmon­gering Milošević in the same year. Here the focus was on a broad opposition coalition that would over­throw the incumbent in an election, monitored by civil society with strong social movements and inter­national support.

The record of these transitions has been varied. Slovakia and Croatia did relatively well, Serbia had a mixed record, but the break with Milošević was decisive and liberating. Further east, in Ukraine or Geor­gia, the outcome was less clear cut, at least after an initial fury of reforms. A new generation of au­tocrats has been able to control electoral processes better than their predecessors and have also, for the most part been less antagonistic to the West. Thus, unseating them requires a different strategy. In Macedonia, it required a nearly two year long process that not only brought the undemocratic practices of the government to light to a domestic audience, but also gradually convinced the EU and key mem­ber states that the government seized being a partner (although some members of the European Peoples’ Party continued supporting the incumbent VMRO-DPMNE until after the elections in 2016). A combination of external pressure, such as the Priebe Report, the EU mediation that set up the special prosecutor, large scale so­cial movements and protests led to a change of government that only took place after intense interna­tional pressure following the violence in parliament orchestrated by the governing party in April 2017. Thus, unseating autocratic incumbents in the region will require a similar mix of revelation, mobiliza­tion, external pressure, and a critical juncture.

Such a Macedonian moment is increasingly becoming the only path toward renewing democratic rule in several Balkan countries. Key for long term change and transforming the “Macedonian moment” into a lasting legacy requires more than a change of leadership or new parties in power. From Milorad Dodik in the Republika Srpska in 2006 to Vučić in 2012, too often the hope of Western actors was pinned on finding the next reliable, reformist partner. The result has been support­ing the current generation of strongmen, who talk of reform when it suits them, but building a highly personalized system of control. Key for sustainable change will be strengthening institutions over people and the willingness of the new Macedonian government to building professional and transparent institutions and to break the power of patronage networks that are the main transmission belts between politics and citizens across the region. It is easy to conjure up the image of a generational change, yet the autocratic incumbents are often young, from Vucic and Gruevski, both 47 years old, to Milo Djukanovic, 55 years old. All came to power in their twenties and thirties, reminding us that youth is no protection from autocracy and even less from long rule.

The biggest failure of the democrats in the 2000s across the region was the failure to build and respect institutions and rules, often with the tacit consent and encouragement from outsiders. The informal presidentialism of Boris Tadić, the dubious coalition building in Kosovo and informal power of Milo Dju­kanović, just to list a few examples, all preventing the emergence of strong institutions and rules that are not easily bent.

Making the “Macedonian moment” sustainable also will require a new type of party politics. To date, most parties in the region have been essentially interests groups focused on gaining and main­taining power with only formal adherence to European type ideological distinctions. Overwhelmingly, these differences are superficial, pro-forma and purely instrumental. The result has been that parties are deeply distrusted and joined to get a job not to pursue a political commitment. Just following an external template and focusing on the form is not going to deliver.

Thus, thinking of new types of party politics will be necessary. One promising start was the election campaign in Macedonia’s most recent parliamentary election, continued in the recent local elections where the social democratic party SDSM sought to actively court Albanian voters and included candidates from the social movements against the government. Moving beyond the still too rigid ethnic divides in politics of the region and also in­cluding civil society are opportunities, as long as both do not evolve into tokenism and mere co-option. This transformation is all the more challenging as the Western European model of political parties is it­self in deep crisis as populist groups and “movements” seek to bypass conventional party politics. The Western Balkans had their share of populists, flash-in-the-pan candidates, and nationalists. However, without parties which are based on internal democracy and shared values and programs, such easy temptations that might turn into long autocratic hangovers remain likely. Thus, the “Macedonian mo­ment” is a reminder that it is an opportunity for a much longer and more uncertain transformation that awaits not just Macedonia, but most of its neighbors. ­

An earlier version of this text was first published by the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung in Political Trends & Dynamics Emerging Leadership in Southeast Europe

From Yugoslavia to Catalonia and back: Some thoughts on parallels and differences

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A few days ago, I wrote a few lines for Radio Free Europe (and a few other media, including AFP, N1 and UOL noticias) on the similarities and differences and the uses of the referendum in Catalonia and in the Balkans, which caused some lively debates. Here are these notes with a few points expanded.

 

Parallels and Differences

First, neither is Spain Yugoslavia, nor is Catalonia Slovenia or Croatia. Just like Istria, Vojvodina or Republika Srpska are not Catalonia. The reasoning, the dynamics and political process leading to any independence movement is specific, but each success is claimed by independence groups and each failure by states. One key difference between Kosovo and Catalonia is the violence. Despite the heavy-handed police response on Sunday, the independence movement in Catalonia cannot claim a recent history of repression as Kosovo did. Catalonia did experience a brutal repression in the context of the Spanish civil war, yet this is more than half a century past and four decades of democratic, decentralized rule in Spain are the reality and have been for a long time. In Kosovo, even before the war 1998-9, the revocation of autonomy in 1989 suggested that Kosovo could not rely on any autonomy arrangement with Serbia.

This is a key difference with Catalonia, which enjoys far-reaching self-government. Despite the stubborn and inflexible policies of the Rajoy government the difference are stark: Spain is a democracy, Yugoslavia and Serbia in the 1990s were not. There is a parallel in the fact that the more intransigent and heavy handed the centre is, the more likely people turn their support to independence. The pictures of the police violence during the referendum is the best advertisement for the independence movement. This stands in contrast with the approach taken by the UK or Canada, allowing for a referendum to be held unrestricted. Allowing for referenda to happen does reduce the all or nothing/now or never environment of referenda.

Only a few years before the respective referenda in Slovenia and Croatia in 1990, only a minority favored independence, but the heavy-handed policies of Milošević catapulted nationalists to power and secured support for putting a distance to Belgrade. Thus, independence movements are always the product of the relationship between the region or people seeking independence and the center. The Yugoslav cases suggest that repression and centralization efforts backfire.

Repercussions and Echoes in the Balkans

There are repercussions of the referendum in Catalonia for the region: The tensions between the Spanish government and the region are part of the key reasons that Spain has not recognized Kosovo. Thus, the first risk is that any confrontation in Spain over Catalonia will make Spain and arguably other non-recognizers more reluctant to consider recognizing Kosovo. Thus, we need to not only consider the effect of the crisis on independence movements, but also on state policies.

The Balkan cases, as most other independence movements live off their own internal dynamics, not based on what goes on elsewhere. However, success and failure elsewhere shape debates. There are only two real potential cases in the region at the moment, the north of Kosovo and the Republika Srpska. More historical regions, Vojvodina or Istria, have a sense of identity distinct from the Croatian and Serbian nation-state and a multi-ethnic, rather than mono-ethnic narrative of difference. Both lack strong movements for independence and lack a clear cultural distinction from the rest of the country as is the case in Catalonia (see an excellent new book by Dejan Štjepanović on this). Both the political leaders in the Republika Srpska and the North of Kosovo have articulated their policies separate from Catalonia. In the North of Kosovo, the discourse is not about independence, but rather about remaining with Serbia (echoing similar arguments made by Serb secessionists in Croatia Bosnia in the early 1990).

In the case Catalonia were successful in achieving independence, it would encourage the president of the Republika Srpska, Milorad Dodik to pursue his goal. The Parliament of the Republika Srpska already stated when Kosovo declared its independence in 2008 that it reserved the right to pursue independence for the RS if Kosovo would achieve international recognition. Already Dodik has been continuously hinting at organizing a referendum. He has recently held back from pursuing a referendum on independence, largely due to international pressure, including from Serbia and Russia.

Catalonia will not cause new independence movements, just as Kosovo’s declaration of independence did not trigger a new wave of independence movements. It will serve as argument of both states and independence movement to make old claims or to counter them. A large factor is the international environment. There is generally little support for recognizing states. This is usually done only in extraordinary circumstances, either when there is an agreement with the central government, as happened in South Sudan, or if there was massive repression and a strong, violent independence movement, as in Kosovo or when the state had already disintegrated and there was no clear path to keeping it together, as it was in Yugoslavia. When Aleksander Vučić accused the international community of hypocrisy for not recognizing Catalonia, but supporting Kosovo, he is ignoring the specificity of Kosovo, which were underlined in the submissions and arguments brought to the ICJ in preparation of the 2010 advisory opinion on Kosovo’s declaration of independence. Thus, neither Catalonia not fit any of these categories of potential countries that can make a plausible claim for independence, neither can Republika Srpska nor the North of Kosovo.

 

A letter to a former colleague

Dear Gülnur,

I happened to be in Washington last week—the same time as you were there as part of Erdoğan’s entourage. I was discussing with US State Department officials how to prevent a slide towards authoritarianism in the Balkans, while you stood next to president Erdoğan as his bodyguards and supporters beat up protesters. This is no longer a matter of different perspectives on an issue: you have become an apologist for an authoritarian regime. You have called the referendum on the hyper-presidential system a “good governance referendum” when it is far from it—all key observers, including the highly respected Venice Commission, consider it a “dangerous step backwards” for democracy.

I cannot remain silent as you advise, promote and defend an autocrat. Erdoğan’s government has dismissed over 4,000 of your fellow academics since the failed coup last year (which you claim I condoned—I did not, but I worried the day it failed about would happen next. Sadly, my fears proved correct). This includes over a hundred who lost their jobs and/or have been arrested at your university, Yildiz Technical University, your department lost 14 academics (3 of them Assistant or full Professors).

I have met some of those who have lost their jobs or are living in fear. Many are excellent scholars: curious, courageous and independent thinkers. They have lost their jobs; many others have lost their freedom.

I live in a privileged academic setting, without pressure and fear. I cannot expect anybody working in an environment such as Turkey today to stand up against the regime and risk their career or freedom. But you don’t have to embrace it.  Advancing your career on the back of massive human rights violations is unforgivable. Advising and thriving under the current regime cannot be justified. One might remain silent about your choices and actions, but I cannot. We have written and worked together. We were friends, and now we are on opposite sides. For my own academic and personal integrity, I have to draw a line. I want those who read our joint article, those who know that we worked together, and most of all YOU, to know that I don’t want to remain silent about your collusion and defense of autocracy.  Your support for Erdoğan—standing by, quite literally, as his goons beat up demonstrators (you will probably call them terrorist supporters)—is unacceptable to me, and I want you to know this.

There are choices we make and they have consequences. I am deeply saddened by the choices you made.

Your former friend and colleague,

Florian

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