Balkan Lego Challenge

Here is an end of year Balkan Lego Challenge. While Lego might have its own architecture series, it is much more interesting to do the same with some standard bricks. Here are four challenges from the Balkans: two cities, one historical event and one architectural style. The results of much construction during the holidays.

Enjoy guessing (in the level of difficulty)!

1st Challenge: Guess the city!

P1140147 P1140148







2nd challenge: Guess the historical event!

P1140155 P1140157







3rd challenge: Guess the architectural style!

P1140173 P1140174







4th challenge: Guess the city!

P1140166 P1140167

Notes from Ditchley


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.

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.

The surprising-unsurprising “Yes” for the EU in Croatia

The referendum on EU accession of Croatia gave a resounding “Yes” in favor of joining the EU. According to the final results, 66.27% of citizens who turned out voted in favor. The No vote got only  a third of the vote. Striking is that every county of Croatia voted in favor of joining the EU, even the most Eurosceptic region of Dubrovnik-Neretva stilled voted 56.93% in favor. The regional variation is thus not very great and there is no clear regional pattern except for the two southern regions of Split and Dubrovnik being more skeptical. Support was great in towns close to the EU, such as Varazdin and Cakovec, but also in poorer towns and regions like Slavonski Brod or Gospic. This suggests that the reasons for support were multiple. Opponents of the EU did not do well, even in strong-holds of more nationalist parties, such as in Slavonia where the HDSSB did well in parliamentary elections. Ironically, it would seem that the Euroskeptics did best on the Dalmatian islands of Brac and Hvar. For example in the two municipalities of Jelsa and Stari Grad on the Island of Hvar, support for EU accession was just above 50% (51.16% and 51.79% respectively). This would also suggest that rejection of the EU is less based on the nationalist arguments heard in the referendum campaign, but possibly on the sense of some tourist destinations that membership will not bring an tangible benefits. The few Bosnian Croats that voted (just over 6000, or 2.3% of eligible voters) endorsed EU membership with 87.85%.

The turn out in the diaspora was low, but so was it in Croatia itself. This somewhat puts a dent into the referendum results. Only 43.68% of eligible citizens voted. The low turn out is not unique to Croatia: elsewhere similar referenda often had an equally low turn out. Now it could be argued that the result is no surprise. No significant parliamentary party campaign against joining and even Ante Gotovina in custody at the ICTY endorsed the vote, undermining nationalist argument against accession. So no surprise? Well, there might not have been no surprise now, but only a year ago, Euroskepticism was high. Protests last year in Zagreb burnt the EU flag, even if protestors agreed on little else. For years prior, Croatia had become by far the most Euroskeptic country in the region. In 2009, according to the Gallup Balkan Monitor, only 26.2% of Croats thought the EU was a good thing, nearly half of the runner-up Serbia, in 2010 the number dropped to 24.8%. So were the numbers wrong? The referendum suggests two things about support for EU accession in the Western Balkans: First, citizens might be growing weary of the EU as negotiations drag on, once they are concluded, it is easier to warm up to the EU. Second, many citizens might not “love” the EU, but they consider it the least bad option. Thus among many “Yes” voters in Croatia today are surely also those who rather not take any chances, especially as the alternative remained unclear and potentially risky. Thus, even if support for accession is likely drop in the other countries of the region–as it so often dues in the accession process–this does not suggest that citizens will vote against membership at the end.

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