Notes from Ditchley

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I returned a few ago from a very interesting conference at Ditchley on the Western Balkans. The discussions with policy makers and analysts did not raise any radical new ideas, but it was good opportunity to take the temperature on thinking about and from the region. It was also a lesson in bad metaphors. Many felt that carrots and sticks are not working, but theories why differed: People in the Balkans prefer meat to carrots or the carrot is actually a stick. Either way, the days of carrots and sticks seems to be over (nobody mentioned that the metaphor implies that the person in question is either a horse or a donkey).

There was broad consensus that overall things were heading in the right direction, but there were a number of warnings: many (but not all) thought that the state of democracy & rule of law and lack of deep rooted reforms in the economy will continue to be a source of difficulties in the years to come. There was a bit of a divide between a number of Western policy makers who felt that the EU and its member states were doing enough to bring the countries of the region into the EU and that it was up to political elites to make an extra effort and a number of analysts who thought the EU should do more and make the membership perspective more realistic. A specific suggestion was for the EU to begin accession talks with all countries of the region as soon as possible rather than wait for each country on their own to fulfill the specific conditions. Once talks begin–the symbolic year of 2014 was mentioned as start date–the negotiation process will force countries to shape up and carry out reforms in a manner that is unrealistic prior to the beginning of talks. It seemed clear that such a scenario is unrealistic at the moment with a many member states skeptical about enlargement and afraid (although unjustifiably so–see Turkey) that accession talks would lead to membership ‘on the sneak’. A problem that has become more pronounced in recent years is the use of individual member states to use the accession process to set additional conditions. This has made the accession process less predictable as the Commission cannot guarantee the next step in the process as individual countries might block whatever comes next for unexpected reasons that have little to do with accession. Of course, this also undermines the credibility of EU accession. The current approach of the Commission to launch dialogues with countries without accession talks has been a good way forward but without beefing up the DG Enlargement this cannot be expanded more broadly.

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The most encouraging signals came over the Serbia-Kosovo talks which are expected to lead to some tangible conclusions before the summer and when the current window of opportunity might close. On the other hand, Bosnia was much discussed, but there were few new ideas on how to help the country out of its current deadlock.

I found it encouraging that there is a clear sense that incrementalism is the way forward, there is not going to be a big bang, but rather small steps that will change the region and resolve the open questions. For this to be successful, one needs to overcome the dynamics of what one participants aptly called the EU member states pretending to enlarge and elites in the Western Balkans pretending to reform.

A few imaginary lines or some news snake oil on Croat entities

In today’s brave new media world, stories, articles and interviews are quickly posted, reposted and shared. While it is making life difficult for many media outlets to get the reader to come their site or buy the newspaper or magazine, stories get a round quickly. Sometimes it seems that the reposting portals might do just a bit more than circulating an existing text.

The original interview

The original interview

It took me thus by surprise when some friends and acquaintances asked me a few days ago whether I really supported the creation of a Croat entity in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Not having suffered amnesia recently this news surprised me as much as my friends. The source for these claims was the “re-print” of an interview I gave a few days ago to the Croatian daily Večernji List on the webportal poskok.info (meaning viper in Croatian).

The title of the „interview“ was “Hrvatski entitet je isključivo hrvatsko pitanje. Radi se o naime o suverenom pravu koje se Bošnjaka ne tiče…”  a line one would not be able to find in the original interview. Following many questions which the portal correctly copied from the interview (without ever mentioning the original source), there comes the surprise:

The Fake

The question “Do Croats have the right to ask for their entity in Bosnia and Herzegovina?” which Večernji List never asked me followed by an answer I never gave:

“Of course they do, this is as if you’d ask me does the buyer of a car get the steering wheel for this car? Croats in Bosnia and Herzegovina are a constituent people and accordingly to all [sic!]UN convention sovereign people have the right even to self-determination and to declare independence. In this sense, the demand for territorial autonomy inside the state that is not questioned is a normal and legitimate process. The problem of Croats in Bosnia and Herzegovina is more the problem of the right expression of what that people anyhow have the right to considering that their political elite does a bad job and is inarticulate, whereas a part of the Croat political forces many years openly serves the Bosniak national project.

Broadly seen, Croats in BiH already have some ‘entities’ considering that cantons per definition are entities for themselves are entities [sic]. Entities in international law are nothing else but territorial units with specific institutions and competences.The international community constantly commits legal violence against Croats in BiH. The questions is when this body will radicalize and then the question will arise whether they will stay in BiH. Namely, Croats in BiH are above all a small nation who hold the balance, if you turn them against BiH I think that BiH is finished as a political idea.”

The fictional answer contains bad metaphors and the absurd idea that UN conventions have anything to say about constituent people, their right to self-determination or entities.

Following the next question the creative interviewer returned to an original question by VL, but took the liberty to embellish the answer (the added sections marked in bold) :

I think that the odds for this in current circumstances, are very slim, but politics is changeable and the question is what will be tomorrow. Remember Kosovo. Who foresaw the independence of this province? And Kosovo is not inhabited by a constituent people, but an ethnic minority in Serbia.

The failed constitutional reforms in BiH in 2006 and 2009 demonstrated that even minimal change to the Dayton Constitution is nearly impossible. Creating a Croat entity would be a major change to the Dayton Constitution and is opposed by Bosniak [the text in VL mistakenly writes Bosnian] politicians if it affects only the Federation.

Certainly the RS would oppose the changes if it would also affect the RS. As a result, I cannot see this coming about, unless this is part of a grand bargain between the political elites. However, the record has been poor. Finally, the census of next year is likely to show two things. First that Croats are much smaller in number than Bosniaks and Serbs and that many Croats do not live in areas with whom the Bosniak elite manipulates as ‘nominally Croat’ regions.  In this manner the theory of multiethnic Bosniaks is failing considering that ethnically mixed regions of BiH generally exist in regions that used to be part of Herceg Bosna.

These two points strength the arguments for creating a Croat entity but the question of its realization depends only on Croats. Frequently the wrong question is asked in public—will Bosniaks allow Croats this and to this one constantly returns. There is nothing Bosniaks have to allow Croats and neither Croats Bosniaks. The sovereign right of people are defined for themselves and concern only the nation to which it relates.

Also here the changes use terms like “Herceg Bosna“ which are not really widely used outside of, well “Herceg Bosna” and the additions constitute the opposite of my original statement which I concluded with the observation that “Both of these undermine arguments to create a Croatian entity.”

So why should I or anybody else care what some marginal portal called “Viper. Portal for Social Decontamination” makes up? With the quick spread of stories via social media such as twitter and facebook, few media are truly marginal. Thus, word spreads even from unserious portals such as poskok.info as it attested by the numerous friends and acquaintances who found out that I was a clumsy defender of the supposed Croat right to a third entity. Secondly, news spread to another, more serious news portal, dnevnik.ba which circulated the fake interview, getting hundreds of hits (currently the portal is down). Thus quickly a few made up questions from a marginal portal become “real.”

Water and plums with Ante Markovic

Ante Markovic (Source: Nacional)

When I went into his office in early September in Sarajevo, there was no doubt in recognizing the person opening the door. Ante Marković had aged since being the last Prime Minister of Yugoslavia and being a witness at the Milošević trial eight years ago, but was full of energy, dressed relaxed and confident. He offered me some plums and water. I had come to invite him to a conference on the end of Yugoslavia I organised in Graz. We had been discussing his visit for months, but he remained hesitant whether to come. However, when I called him he was enthusiastic about meeting Sarajevo and discuss the conference. It was a tough sell. Marković was curious about the conference and genuinely hesitated about whether to come or not. He made me give him the best sales pitch I could offer, why he should come to Graz, the place he spent a decade after he resigned as prime minister. It was close to home, somewhere in Yugoslavia, when home was not really an option. He was a persona non grata for governments in Slovenia, Croatia and Serbia, for different and yet similar reasons. Only Macedonia kept an open door. However, returning to Graz after all these years did not convince him. He had fond memories of Graz, he told me, but this was the past. He had returned to Sarajevo after a decade outside of Yugoslavia. He told me about the offer to advise the Bosnian government, an offer he turned down in order to focus on his business. He originally intended to build water power stations in Bosnia, a plan which failed, leading him to focus building apartments and houses in and around Sarajevo.

When he first tentatively agreed to come to Graz, he did so with the caveat that urgent business meetings could always get in the way. At an age when many might look back, he was firmly looking forward. This was also the reason he decided not to share his memories of the dissolution of the country at the conference. He did not want to look back. He said this without any bitterness or sadness about the past. He had little good to say about todays politicians or the politics in the post-Yugoslav space, but he seemed to have little nostalgia. Maybe this is not surprising, considering that his brief time (just over 2 years from March 1989 to December 1991) as prime minister of Yugoslavia (officially the president of the Federal Executive Council of the Socialist Federative Republic of Yugoslavia) was decline despite his efforts to save the country and economy.There was no time to celebrate his successes at curbing inflation, filling the shops and giving some renewed confidence in the political system.

Even though he withdrew from public life after his resignation, he was very much aware of how popular he was throughout Yugoslavia. But he would remind me in our conversation, how this popularity stems from two years of his life, but his work and passion was not politics, but working in companies, something he did for decades, both before holding his first political offices in Croatia in the early 1980s, and after moving to Graz to start a new company.

Looking back at the economic reforms he initiated, Ante Marković did not think of them as opening the door towards a liberal market economies. While liberalising the Dinar and enabling privatisation and greater private engagement in the Yugoslav economy was the first step towards a market economy for all the seven states now on the territory of Yugoslavia, he rather saw his reforms as an effort to bring about a new type of economic system that would preserve the best feature of socialist self-management and combine them with some aspects of market economy. The global economic crisis reminded him of the failings of capitalism and the abandonment of the socialist system without the effort to preserve some features appeared a mistake in his mind. While he was persuasive and the economic difficulties especially in the Yugoslav successor states seem to prove him right, I was not entirely sure that the economic system he was beginning to build really could have become an alternative. But, as so many of his successes, they are incomplete and thus remain a path not completed.

His memories were a curious mixture of pride and awareness of his significance at a historical crossroads, but also a lack of interest to be celebrated for this. This might also help answer the puzzle of why his efforts to challenge the rising nationalist elites in Serbia, Bosnia and Croatia failed. His reformist party gained some votes, especially in Bosnia, but was not able to challenge the new nationalists (he founded them in July 1990, too late for elections in Slovenia and Croatia). He might have lacked the drive and will to impose himself and his ideas were popular, but not sufficiently populist for the time.

I left the office with a strong handshake by Ante Marković and an invitation to return anytime if I were in Sarajevo. Unfortunately now an offer I will not be able to take him up on. As I emerged on the streets of Sarajevo, not far from the new EU offices, I was wondering if the people I passed on the street knew how close Ante Marković was working in normal office building, building houses, as had he not been, briefly, the best hope in the worst of times.

Stagnation or the consolidation of not-quite democracy in the Balkans

A few days ago, I attended an interesting discussion on democracy in Serbia. The panel presented a recent survey conducted by the Institute for Social Sciences in Belgrade. The results were not overall surprising, but highlight some interesting trends. In particular, most striking was the fact that while most citizens support a democratic system of government, they have a very skeptical view of democracy and a majority does not consider Serbia to be a full democracy, but some kind of hybrid between democracy and authoritarianism. This is  a considerably more gloomy view of democracy than rankings such as Nations in Transit or the Bertelsmann Index. It might be time for these to also take popular assessments of democracy in the respective country into account. Beyond that, there seems to be some a trend of democratic stagnation in the region. None of the regimes in the Western Balkans are dictatorships, but neither are they consolidated democracies. The problem already lies in the terminology: The term unconsolidated democracy, as used by Nations in Transit and many scholars implicitly suggests that it is “natural” to move to a consolidated democracy. In recent years, hybrid regimes have been taken more seriously and we had recently a good discussion on this regime type by Ivan Vukovic, a visiting fellow at the Center for Southeast European Studies, however the terminology is still often confused and confusing. Both the semi-authoritarian regimes of the 1990s (Milosevic, Tudjman) were hybrid regimes, as are the governments of Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, Bosnia etc. today. Of course, they differ substantially, the former leaned more towards authoritarianism and the latter more towards democracy. The question arising from the discussion, especially with Irena Ristic and Vedran Dzihic, was whether or not these types of regimes should be considered not just a temporary glitch, but rather as a discreet and stable type of regime.

Decreasing support for EU integration and elsewhere in the region, as well as democratic backsliding in countries like Hungary suggest that there might be a permanent “democracy gap” in the making, i.e. the current democracies in Southeastern Europe might be stable and have a number of features that set them apart from liberal democracies. However, rather than seeing it as a deviation towards the inevitable goal of a consolidated liberal democracy inside the EU, it might be helpful to consider them as there to stay, EU membership or not. Of course, this is not to argue that there a liberal democracy is intrinsically impossible in the Balkans, a point that would smack of essentialism, but rapid change and catching up seems unlikely. If one takes this perspective, understanding how these regimes work is not just tell the story of how they deviate from liberal democracy, but rather how they empower particular elites and are strikingly resilient and adaptable. It also means that our tools to analyse these kinds of democracy are entirely inadequate. For example, Irena was noting that while party membership might indicate popular engagement with politics in a consolidated democracy, in hybrid regimes in Southeastern Europe, party membership means access to jobs, and not political engagement.

The Risks and Benefits of Ethnic Citizenship

Millions of people in Southeastern Europe are citizens of more than one state. Many acquired this status when they were gastarbajteri [guestworkers] in Germany, Austria and elsewhere in Western Europe; others received a second passport as they fled the wars that accompanied the disintegration of Yugoslavia. For some people, dual citizenship seems due to a quirk of fate: for example, their father may have been born in a different Yugoslav republic than they and held that republican citizenship when Yugoslavia was still a single country and when republican citizenship had no practical significance. Due to some long abandoned vestiges of patriarchal rules, today they have the right to a second citizenship of a republic they never lived in. Among the many ‘multi-citizens’ of Southeastern Europe there are probably a million who have received passports from countries they have never lived in. Hundreds of thousands of citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina hold Croatian citizenship as a result of their ethnic Croat identity. Over 50,000 Macedonians also became citizens of Bulgaria after declaring themselves to be ethnically Bulgarian. Recently, Serbs from Bosnia (and elsewhere) have been able to become Serbian citizens by declaring their loyalty to Serbia—most prominently, President of the Serb Republic, one of the two Bosnian entities, and Milorad Dodik, who publicly submitted his request for citizenship to the Serbian Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremić in 2007. Nearly a million Moldovan citizens have applied for Romanian passports and over 100,000 have been granted EU citizenship, on the grounds that they are descendents of former Romanian citizens who lost their Romanian citizenship when Bessarabia was annexed by the Soviet Union in 1944.

Read the rest of the comment at: http://www.citsee.eu/op-ed/risks-and-benefits-ethnic-citizenship

 

Fantasies of New Cities: Andric’s Marina, an older Skopje and other etno-dreams

Ever since the mayor of Trebinje Božidar Vučurević announced during the siege of Dubrovnik that “we will build an older and nicer Dubrovnik” (Sagradit ćemo još stariji i ljepši Dubrovnik), the destruction of cities and towns has been matched with fantasies of new cities and towns which would reflect the respective nationalist fantasies. The engineers of destruction were so successful in their destruction of cities that even 20 years since the beginning of the wars, these fantasies remained largely unrealized (if one excludes the successful elimination of reminders of the other). Right after the war, there were plans about transforming the Eastern suburbs of Sarajevo and the mountain resort/war-time “capital” of the Bosnian Serb leadership Pale into a Serbian Sarajevo metropolis. After 15 years, little of what has been planed was ever built.  Most post-conflict states were busy with reconstruction and short in cash to engage in grandiose building plans. In recent years, there has been movement. There is no Astana on the horizon, but rather a number of smaller projects which are telling about today’s nationalist fantasies.

Andrićgrad. This project by director Nemanja Emir Kusturica to build a city/tribute to Ivo Andric/stage for his film of Andric’s novel The Bridge on the Drina. Ground breaking ceremony was held on 28 June (Vidovdan) with heavy machinery, Carmina Burana and the President of the Serb Republic and Government.  A large-scale project, co-founded by the RS government and Kusturica has an estimated cost of about 12 million euros (although the costs seems little considering the ambition of the project), includes 50 stone houses as well as a church, hotels, theatre, and shops. The project has been controversial for ignoring the context of the recent war–one of the worst war criminals Milan Lukic lived close by. Furthermore the project seems problematic due to its proximity to the UNESCO world heritage protected bridge, the hero of Andric’ novel. The plans suggest that the new ‘town’ is more a Disneyland for Andric (The New Yorker even picked up the story and suggested the establishment of a string of similar towns in the US, including Rothlandia in Newark, New Jersey), focusing on tourism (including a marina?!). The goal of this plan is not to re-create Ottoman Visegrad, as Andric describes it in his novel, but a parallel history, a Balkan renaissance city which never could happen due to the “Turkish occupation”.

Küstendorf-Drvengrad. This little fake Serbian village was a by-product of Kusturica’s film Life if a Miracle. It  looks like a modest dry-run for Andricgrad. Like Andricgrad, it is not a town or city, but rather the attempt to recreate an idealized village. This vision is rejecting diversity, but rather projects a homogenous idealized Serbian rural village, centred around a church and the anti-globalization film festival.

Etnoselo Stanišići. This little “ethnic village” (ethno selo sounds a lot less conspicuous than an ethnic village). The benefactor of this village, Borisa Stanišić apparantly brought together Serb farm houses from throughout Bosnia to build this idealized village, including a Greek restaurant and a hotel Pirg in a retro-‘Balkan’ style.

Slobomir. This is the only project which is clear modernist in outlook, it plans to be more than just a tourist destination–including the Pavlović Tower, the tallest tower in the Balkans (although the predicted 37 floors seem to be beaten by a number of candidates in the region, the Avaz tower in Sarajevo has 36 floors). However, the plan seems to be older than others (dating back to the late 1990s), but besides the university, bank and television station, not much has been built.

Skopje 2014 differs from the other projects. It does not create a new city, but is transforming an existing city. It does share a number of similarities: It is a project to re-write history to cover up the present. It includes the constructions of buildings which were destroyed by the earthquake in 1963, the recreation of a pseudo-authentic Macedonia architecture, interspersed with a monumental landscape which reminds of a host of national heroes at every corner, but also the old-fashioned style of the sculptures suggests that the monuments are ‘old’ and ‘authentic’ reminders of the heroes, not new creations.

The fantasies of new cities are fantasies of ethnically homogenous towns, often small, lying about their own age, suggesting that they are authentic and old. They are constructing an alternative history, idealizing a past which never existed, from a Balkan renaissance to an neo-classical  Macedonia style. It is no surprise that a project of creating a modern city in the rural countryside a la Slobomir has not fared as well as the creation of ‘new-old’ towns  that are justified as tourist destinations and shed the burden of complexity and diversity which real cities in the region can offer.

New Universities in the Balkans: European visions, UFOs and Megatrends

It’s a stale (and wrong) cliché that the Balkans produce more history than they can consume (quote from Churchill). More recently, it seems like the Balkans are producing more universities than anybody could (or should) consume. Throughout most countries of the region, there has been a boom of new private (and state-run) universities. In Serbia, there are some 17 universities, plus a number of independent “faculties”, i.e. departments. With only a quarter of the population, Macedonia has approximately the same number of universities. Bosnia beats both Serbia and Macedonia with the number of state (or rather entity and cantonal) universities: nine (including two in Sarajevo, Mostar) and around the same number of private universities. Kosovo is lagging behind with just two public universities (and the second one in Prizren is still pretty new) and less than ten private universities. The regional winner seems to be Albania with over 10 public and over 30 private universities.

There is no doubt that advancing higher education is  a good idea, esp. in a region where the ratio of university graduates is below the European average. It is also not bad in principle to have private universities. However, considering that there are approximately as many private universities in the region than in the entire European Union (minus Romania which also has dozens of private universities) together (around 100, mostly very small institutions: Austria 13, Germany 83, UK 1, Hungary 1, Netherlands 1, Portugal less than 10, most other countries none or single digits), there might be a bit of an oversupply. Thus, considering the limited resources, both in terms of funding for students to pay tuition and in terms of potential teachers, the number in the Balkans is striking.

Some of the institutions are certainly on their way to establish themselves as serious places of higher education. Many others have a distinctly dubious ring. Here is my list of my favorite ten private universities in the Western Balkans (this is not to suggest that these are not fine institutions, but presentation and names leave a bit to be desired):

Runners-Up

European Vision University (Prishtina, Kosovo). Basic website, but European vision.

International University of Travnik (Bosnia). Best picture of library

Top Ten:

10.  Pan-European University “APEIRON” (Banja Luka, BiH). Here the name is pretty good. Apeiron means infinite or limitless in Greek, so this is the infinite Pan European University. In addition to its name, it also wins a mention for its cryptic English text “How strong are you to win yourself?  During its development, human society has managed to overpower and strengthen its capabilities acting by the influence of its will, by the strength of its body and mind, achieving the best results in different life activities…”

9. Crystal University (Highway Tirana-Durres, Albania). Once more, the name makes this university worth a mention, as well as the address (Highway Tirana-Durres, kilometer 3) and the motto: Crystallize Your Future!

8. Synergy University (Bijelina, BiH). This university also deserve recognition for its name and the picture with the current president of the RS (and his predecessor below) on the main page, a prominent scholar and promoter of academia.

7. UFO University (Tirana, Albania). No, there is no department for extraterrestrial studies here. UFO stands for “Universitas Fabrefacta Optime”, which means as much a university to forge the good. So it’s the University to Forge the Good University. Their motto, 3000 students cannot be wrong (in the Albanian version of the website, it is 4000 students can’t be wrong). To quote the president: “Welcome to UFO University!  Many of you have just started the university studies, the others are deeply engaged to reach their best, as you are living some of the most intensive years of live. I say convincingly that you should feel lucky that this intensity of taking and treating of the knowledge you experiment in lecture rooms of UFO University. We give our belief, so that each element that must have “a good university” ….

6. International University of Struga (Macedonia).According to the website, the uni boasts many African-American and Asian-American students, palm trees. The university, in the words of the rector “is one of the most significant historical events for this city as well as for Republic of Macedonia and the region of Balkan.This University will accomplish the dreams of the citizens of Struga, Macedonia and the wider region and it will contribute to develop the city of Struga into “Balkan Strasbourg”.” According to the mission of the university “International University of Struga is a highly qualifiedUniversity which is fullydevotedtothe education and successfulness of its students” 

5. International University of Novi Pazar (Serbia). Another international university in the region. The president is “Da Mufty” Zukorlic. He notes in his message to the world that “we wait for long for the sun of university to shine from the piece of the sky above us…and now we will enjoy this sun.” (no translation can do justice to the Bosnian original)

4. Megatrend University (Belgrade, Serbia). This university earned its place in this ranking through its mega-creative name and of course, for making the leader of the people’s Jamahiriya a Doctor honoris causa (see here for the universities justification). To quote the university: “This once again proves the readiness of Megatrend University to follow the world trends of international business and educational cooperation.”

3. University of Donja Gorica (UDG) (Montenegro). This uni is a bit more modest about its name , even if it aims to be the Oxford of Montengro and in the process earn Milo Djukanovic, one of its owners (together with liberitarian economist Veselin Vukotic), a bit of extra cash. Oh yes, it is also very orange.

2. Iliria Royal University (Prishtina, Kosovo). A royal university, and Iliriya? What more can one ask for? This university is under the patronage of the King of Albania. Of course the academic (and for that matter royal) credentials of Leka, “King of Albanians” are well established. The university also seems to engage in a good amount of flag-waving, American that is.

1. Slobomir P University (Slobomir, Bosnia). This is a university for a (virtual) city. The project of a certain couple known as Slobodan and Mira, no, not what you think, Pavlovic (thus the P. in the name). It’s a part of a grandiose plan for a city of freedom in peace, a just down the road from Bijelina. A city of the future has all one needs from a city of peace, a university, a TV station and an aqua park (Palma, eat your heart out). And Dodik is also shaking some hands in the city of peace.

Interview for Infoglobi on Regional Developments

Here is the text of an interview I gave for InfoGlobi in English
How do you see overall situation in Western Balkan countries? Are you surprised that they are again causing headache to international community?

There are of course serious problems in the region, from polarized politics in Albania and Macedonia, no government in Bosnia, but these are political problems and it is hard to attract international attention at the moment. Especially with events in the Middle East, in particular in Egypt, the focus of the US and Europe is largely elsewhere and it is hard for the Balkans to be catching international attention. I also think that the problems of the region are serious, but one has to be careful not to exaggerate.

Kosovo and Macedonia are facing sort of institutional crisis. Albania and Serbia are involved in protests, is there a risk of spillover effect for other W.Balkan countries? Why?
I think there is no spill-over effect in the regions, the dynamics are different. What they share is three key causes: The economic crisis and thus lack of economic prospects, second the legitimacy crisis of governments in the region for not tackling corruption and third, the lack of sufficient and clear progress in terms of EU integration. This creates frustration in the region, but are not directly linked. In Serbia, the protests do not suggest that the government will fall, but rather that the Progressive Party might win the elections scheduled for next year. In Albania, it seems like the Berisha government is increasingly cornered like it was already 14 years ago and in Macedonia the opposition remains weak and the government firmly in control, although weakening lately.

Kosovo image has been damaged significantly. Having in mind that Kosovo remained a black hole in the Balkan, when it comes to visa liberalisation, or to the cut of preferential status of the goods from EU. Who is failing here and why? Isn’t this leading towards the isolation of Kosovo?
The problem is both with the government and the EU. The EU has been unable to formulate a clear perspective for EU integration, including visa liberalisation and a process towards accession. On the other hand, the government has lost a lot of credibility with being unable to really deal with allegations of corruption and moving Kosovo significantly forwards since independence.

KFOR will downsize its troops soon, while there are indications to end in a fast manner, the status of ‘supervised independence’. Is this a progress, or withdrawal of international community due to the decrease of the interest for Kosovo?


Generally, international organisations consider the political problems separate from security threats. While the political situation is unclear, both in terms of Serb-Kosovo relations and in regard to an effective government, but for this KFOR is not needed. I would thus not interpret this as an end to supervised independence, but a sign that despite the problems Kosovo is facing they are no longer security issues.

Prishtina and Belgrade are to start dialogue for technical issues. What do you expect from this dialogue and which are possible scenarios?


I am increasingly pessimistic. The longer it takes for the Kosovo government to form the harder it will be as little time is left. The Serbian government is unlikely to make any difficult compromises if it is concluded too close to the parliamentary elections, due by May 2012. Similarly, a Kosovo government is also likely to be weak and might hesitate to make compromises or be able to get sufficient support for such a compromise.

What Serbia has accomplished that Kosovo did not. The perception is that Serbia is closer to EU than Kosovo is?

Currently, Serbia is closer, and there is no doubt that in terms of laws and the institutions, Serbia will be ready much sooner to join the EU. However, the problem lies with Serbia’s relation to Kosovo. It is unlikely that Serbia will be able to join the EU without a clear relationship with Kosovo, which would include recognition of Kosovo.

What Balkan countries can do in order to speed up development process?


The problem is that parts of governing elites in most countries are not committed to EU integration, These elites often talk about being in favor of the EU, but block the process at the same time. There is a need for more serious reforms, not because the EU insists, but because it is benefiting the countries. What are intellectual elites doing? What do you think do they have a say at all in designing the future in the countries they live?

Intellectuals can be important in putting pressure on governments, to force them to take EU integration seriously and and also sending a clear message that reforms and EU integration is not just the only option, but also the most desirable option. Parts of the  intellectual elite in the region still talks about the nation and nationalism and are thus helping those governing parties which talk about national interests as an excuse to delay EU Integration.

Please, may you elaborate your vision regarding the future of Kosovo, Macedonia, Albania, Serbia, Bosnia and Montenegro? Is there a estimated timeline when transition in these countries will end? When they will become part of EU family?

This is a nearly impossible task. I would imagine that all the countries will be members of the EU in 15 years. It is unclear at this point whether the countries will join together which some in the EU will favor or whether the EU will encourage countries to compete for joining first. The order in which countries join is still unclear, but it seems that Montenegro might be ahead of others as it has no serious problems with its neighbors and is able to change the structure more rapidly than elsewhere. Macedonia could move quickly, but it will depend on whether or not a compromise with Greece will be possible, which will be hard and has been getting more difficult in recent years. What is clear that even if all the countries, including Kosovo, would resolve the outstanding the bilateral issues tomorrow, the challenges remain huge for the region and will take considerable time.

The End of the EU school year in the Western Balkans

Today the European Commission released its annual progress report. Throughout the Western Balkans analysts, journalists and government are paging through the reports and interpreting their meaning. Independently of the content of these reports, it confirms the weight of these reports. The reports have increased over the years.  Just the analytical report for Montenegro is now some 132 pages long, in 2007 it was less than half the length (48 pages). Of course volume is not everything, but as the reports increase in size they are getting more detailed and are thus able to provide more specific recommendations.

More importantly, the progress reports highlight the potential when the European Commission is communicating directly to the public. Even if the reports are technical and require a careful reading, their wide audience and the weight they carry suggest that more such communications would do the integration process in the region well. At the moment, the EU is perceived to be largely silent for 364 days and just issue its opinion on one day (except large events, such as visa liberalization, or granting candidate status).  While it is commendable that the reports are increasing in length and quality, their success suggests that the EU, the Commission in particular, needs to think about ways of communicating not just with the governments of the region, but also the citizens in more regular intervals and thus help to re-energize the accession process which appears to have run out of steam lately.

 

 

Momentum for the Balkans?

Just having returned from the Rose-Roth Seminar of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly I am left with a mixed, but overall rather gloomy impression of the Western Balkans. As often these seminars are a competition between the glass is half full and the glass is half empty analysts. While its hard to give a verdict who won, what clearly emerged from the discussion is that the US is not really engaged in the region anymore, irrespective of Hillary Clinton’s visit last week. Similarly, nobody was there to suggest that the EU wasn’t paralysed and without a strategy at the Western Balkans at the moment. In particular striking was the sense enlargement was no longer being pursued with any vigour by the EU (or rather its member states). One participant suggested that some member states are willing to risk delaying membership of the region in favor of not taking the risk of communicating the enlargement to their electorate. Thus, maybe the worst effect of the economic crisis is less the economic impact on the region, but rather the weakening stomach in the Western half of Europe to live up to its promise to the region.

What left a more optimistic impression is the clearly new atmosphere in regional relations, especially between Serbia and Croatia. Similarly, the tone of reps. from Kosovo and Serbia on relations was very promising, emphasizing the need for technical talks and improving lives of inhabitants of Kosovo.

The fact that the meeting could include MPs from the Kosovo assembly (including a Serb MP), and a Serb “Progressive” and former VJ general and a current German  general with KFOR without much controversy is telling. Maybe the passivity of the EU and the US throws the spotlight in the region. It might be that momentum for reform, the title of the seminar, might be more likely to originate from with the Western Balkans than from outside.

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