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The Balkans societies are still to a large extent defined by the dominance of ethno-nationalism and collective values and norms. While the eu for a long time has been a role model in terms of democratic values and norms, Balkan citizens are increasingly disillusioned with the values Europe represent.
Door Vedran Dzihic
Croatian philosopher and activist, Boris Buden, recently published a new book in German entitled Zonen des Übergangs
(Zones of Transit/Transition/ Transformation). Buden argues that the democratic transition the Western Balkans countries are going through has not delivered on its promises. This is, according to Buden, partly because of the top-down and culturally insensitive approach of the international community, partly because of the immanent weaknesses of the democratic model of the West itself and partly because of the persistent authoritarian and nationalistic values and norms within the societies. Buden criticizes the reduction of societies involved in the process of promotion of democratic rules, norms and values to simple subjects and recipients of ‘democratic wisdom’ from the democratic West. As a consequence, according to Buden, the process of democratization resulted into widespread disenchantment and disillusionment with democracy, apathy and political pessimism of the population, which has given the space for old authoritarian values to flourish.
Following Buden’s arguments, the Balkans as a region is best described as a zone of multiple, very painful and contradictory transitions and transformations. The speed and character of transformations in the last two decades are different than any other kind of transformation that happened before. Dissolution of the former Yugoslav created a completely new political landscape, triggering a process of enormous changes of values, norms and socially accepted behaviors. Democracy became the only vision for the future, the Western world and the EU emerged as creators of rights, promoters of freedom and equality, and – last but not least – the EU became a symbol for economic and social prosperity, a dream that has been dreamt by almost anyone in the Balkans at the beginning of the ’90s. The EU became a role model (in terms of norms and values) for the development of the Western Balkans. In this context, the question asked in this paper is the one about the state of the Balkan democracy after decades of painful wars, conflicts and internationally led democracy promotion missions and finally, Europeanization as the factual ‘ad hoc acquis democratique’
Persistence of nationalist and collectivists values in the Balkans
Parallel to the role of Western democracy as a role model for development of new ‘European’ and ‘Democratic’ values and implementation of ‘European norms’, democracy in the Balkans has been confronted with a number of traditional and rather authoritarian values, first and foremost the strong influence of ethno-nationalism. The transformation of violent and conflict-driven ethno-nationalisms towards more liberal values of tolerance, individualism, pluralism and interstate/-ethnic cooperation can be seen as one of crucial preconditions for ‘democracy to become the only game in town’. Unfortunately, the Balkans societies are still to a large extent defined by the dominance of ethno-nationalism and collective values and norms.
The Western Balkan countries still contain a striking number of ethnic conflicts. The conflict between Serbia and Kosovo regarding the situation in the North of the youngest state in Europe exploded once again during the summer and autumn 2011. Ethnic tensions in Bosnia and Herzegovina are still extremely high, the conflicts between the major Bosnian, Croat and Serb political parties growing. In November 2011, more than one year after the general elections of 2010, the country is still without a state government. Genocide cases between Serbia and Croatia before the International Court of Justice are still the integral part of the relationship between these two countries. In Croatia, the still ruling Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) started to return to nationalistic arguments of the past during the election campaign in autumn 2011. At the same time, the right-wing parties and nationalist extremism is growing in Serbia. The authoritarian, collectivists and nationalists values are still relevant part of the Western Balkans’ present. Given the effects of the economic crisis as well as the internal crisis of the EU, it seems unlikely that the region will be able to erase all of its troublesome problems in the near future.
One particular and very negative effect of ethnonationalism can be seen in case of Bosnia and Herzegovina, which represents the most devastating example of the influence of ethno-nationalism. Looking at the current state of crisis of the Bosnia, it is more than obvious that ethno-nationalism, ethno-politics, ethno-institutions of the post-war period, makes true democracy and sustainable development of democratic values in Bosnia impossible. The rule of ethno-nationalism and ethno-politics together with limited functioning of the Bosnian statehood since the peace agreement of Dayton, sustains and re-produces the conflict and cleavage lines that emerged as a consequence of war. This is precisely where the issues of values come into play: instead of reaffirming democratic values of individual liberties and freedoms, rule of law and individual equality, the ethno-nationalist agenda consists of completely opposite values and norms. In the ethno-nationalist case, individual citizens are regarded as a source of friction, as a foreign body within collective group of ethnically identical members of one – our – nation. Opinion polls conducted in some of the Balkans states show particularly strong significance of national or even nationalistic values. Some of them are expressed in terms of interethnic distance, which is still quite high, other in the support for ‘national heroes’ (like Mladic in Serbia or Gotovina in Croatia). Mladic and Gotovina are accused of mass crimes committed during the wars.
We can summarize and argue that authoritarian and ethnically conotated values and norms are still persistent in the Balkans societies. This is certainly an integral part of the looming crisis of democracy and democratic values in the Balkans.
Looming crisis of democracy and democratic values in the Balkans
Let us now focus on the question of democratic values and norms. Has the multiple zone of transition produced any stable identity democratic patterns and values? Do the countries in the region share the same or at least similar fate when it comes to democracy and democratic values? Looking at different historical stages of development of the Balkans from 1945 until today, I would argue that a triple promise of democracy (promise of democracy in a socialist manner during the Socialist Yugoslavia, the promise of democracy at the beginning of the new global liberal democratic era in the ’90s, and the promise of democracy today) ended in triple disillusionment. This is because each time the ideal of democracy has entered in collision with reality. For example, the promise of national or nationalist democracy at the beginning of the ’90s, based on exclusive claims of members of each ethnic group has ended in wars, blood, new borders, and new weak states. We only need to recall 100.000 killed in Bosnia, millions of refugees, destroyed economies and traumatized societies to recognize how disastrous the promise of exclusive democracy of Milosevic and Tudjman, and all Milosevics and Tudjmans in the ’90s, was. The promise of democracy at the beginning of the ‘90s ended in new authoritarian regimes in Croatia and Serbia. Such transformation slowed down the reform processes and led to a popular disillusionment with notion of democracy and weakening of democratic values.
When it comes to the promise of transitional democracy, which is in focus of this article, the following main characteristics that have been shaping and still shape the post-Yugoslav democratization process come to mind. As a first important characteristic the issue of stateness and its ethno-national interpretation dominated the transformation and still directly hinders the fulfillment of basic democratic norms and development of democratic values across the region. Scholars have pointed to the intrinsically undemocratic character of the national idea. Democracy in the Western Balkans came to be understood as freedom of the collective, not as freedom and equality of individuals. These nationalist ideologies and respective values characterized by an inherently ‘authoritarian nature’ outlasted the wars of the ’90s. The ‘dilemma of persistence’ of authoritarian values and discourses continuously challenges the development of democracy and democratic values.
Another important feature and challenge for democracy and development of democratic values is a growing gap between citizens’ expectations and the actual political system. Citizens in the Balkans today greatly mistrust politics and political elites. Balkan Monitor studies published in 2009 and 2010 indicated very limited public support towards any political alternative and only a minority of respondents felt represented by any politician, any party or their respective political views. This opinion is enduring and widespread: in 2008, seven out of ten respondents in Bosnia and Herzegovina denied that any party or politician represented their views. In Serbia, seven in ten respondents said there was no political representation of their interests in their country. Croatia had the lowest ranking for affiliation with any political options. In 2010, Croatian, Bosnian and Serbian citizens showed even higher dissatisfaction with their governments. In Serbia in 2010 for example 75% of respondents were not satisfied with functioning of democracy and only 32% were convinced that democracy represents the only and best governing system. In addition to this general dissatisfaction with political options, one observes an exceptionally high mistrust towards political elites in comparison to other societal actors. Only 22% of respondents in Serbia approved of their political leaders. In Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia, the frustration and dissatisfaction with political elites is increasing too.
While the certain crisis of democracy or – to put it differently – democracy fatigue in the Balkans parallel to post-democratic tendencies in the West has emerged, certain percentage of citizens in the Balkans societies started to be rather skeptical towards the ‘role model’ and values of the West and the EU. If we take an example of Serbia, we see that citizens who consider themselves as victims and losers of the wars and developments in the past 20 years, have started creating very negative and critical images of the West and its values. The West is accused of having ‘wrong perceptions’ of Serbia, of focusing on its own interests while claiming that it acts for the sake of higher democratic values, they accuse the West of decadency and aggressive and hegemonial behavior. Citizens selectively choose examples from Western countries (such as the situation in Italy during the Berlusconi era, or the emergence of corruption cases in countries like Italy, Austria, Belgium, Spain, Greece, etc.) to argue that Western societies do not represent ‘real values’ that are different to Serbia and other Balkan societies, where – as goes the argument – humanistic and traditional values are still preserved.
This growing disenchantment with Europe and the West is supported by various survey data (for example the annual survey conducted by Balkan Monitor) showing a significant increase of EU-skepticism. The support for the EU integration has been decreasing in the last few years in almost all countries of the Western Balkans. Despite the fact that Croatia is the country closest to the EU (Croatia will join the EU in 2013), the skepticism towards the EU and certain values the EU represents is growing. For example, support for the EU in Macedonia fell from 62% in 2009 to 60% in 2010. In Serbia, the support for the EU dropped in 2010 to 44%; while the support in Croatia reached very low 28%. (Gallup Monitor 2010) The conclusion could be drawn: the EU accession is still supported – but certainly not so fervently. In the time of the Euro debt crisis and the fears of new recession in Europe, it is highly unlikely that the EU will be able to strengthen its function as a role model for the Balkans and to accelerate the EU integration efforts. It may even further endanger the already established democratic values in the region.
Let me conclude by quoting Ivan Krastev: ‘After two decades of wars and painful economic transition, Balkan societies appear mistrustful and pessimistic’, and ‘The Balkans still represent a collection of frustrated protectorates and weak states’ (Gallup Monitor 2010). Krastev and many other scholars detect the new crisis of democracy and democratic values in the Balkans even before democracy has become ‘the only game in town’. The global crisis of democracy and of traditional values and norms attached to democracy has become the part of the Balkans present.
is senior fellow at the Center for Transatlantic Relations, School of Advanced International Studies, John Hopkins University.
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Dit artikel verscheen in idee nr. 6 2011: The rule of law
en is te vinden bij de onderwerpen democratie, nationalisme