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Transformation and Stability in the Western Balkans: The bluff of enlargement

Photo: Freedom House

WASHINGTON – Freedom House has organised a discussion on the topic Transformation and Stability in the Western Balkans on the 15th of May in Washington DC. Participants discussed about the certain challenges of the region, in the terms of internal actors, but also on the external ones, such as Russia and Turkey.

Participants of the discussions were Florian Bieber, Director of the Centre for Southeast European Studies at the University of Graz, Ivana Cvetković Bajrović, Associate Director at National Endowment for Democracy and Nikola Dimitrov, former Ambassador of the Republic of Macedonia to the Netherlands. Moderator of the discussion was Nate Schenkkan, Project Director for Nations in Transit at Freedom House.

“This is a very timely topic, and the stagnation and the erosion of democracy in the region is apparent,” said in his opening speech, Daniel Calingaert – Executive Vice President at Freedom House, adding that what we saw in Macedonia is not unique as we can see similar challenges in other countries of the region.

Being asked – what triggered the change in the Western Balkans region which has caused so many challenges, Nikola Dimitrov clarified that most of the change came from the game “bluff of enlargement”, for which he explained that – “we now have a member states which pretend that they are still interested in the accession process, but also we have a political elites in the region that pretend they are interested and doing reforms,” and said that no one is actually working on it.

On the question to why the erosion of democracy is happening in the region, altogether with many other challenges, Florian Bieber said that the EU have been giving the same incentives but not substantiality.

“We have governments in the region which are pro-European, but from an opportunistic point of a view – they are in favour of reforms because they can get an external rewards like handshakes in Berlin but it is also what the citizens would wanted,” Bieber said.

The reason why the EU has been putting up with this, he sees in the idea of stabilitocracy – when the internal actors accept the stability over reforms, which he explains is “a short-term perspective, and the regimes are producing crises so they could claim resolving the crisis that they have created.”

Seeing that a political elites are not the only problem of the region, Ivana Cvetković Bajrović said that a special attention should be paid at the external actors, such as Russia, but Turkey also.

“Democratic weakness of the region have created a fertile ground for external forces. We should take Russia more seriously,” she said. When it comes to the question what needs to be done so that the external actors are unable to meddle into the internal affairs of the region, Cvetković Bajrović named two things – “straightening democratic institutions and having a strategic approach to push back their influence.”

The discussion touched the topic of constitutional reforms in Serbia, on which Bieber said that there will not be one, because “Prime Minister Vučić does not need a constitutional change to rule with the full powers.”

Freedom House organised this event in cooperation with the experts from the Balkans in Europe Policy Advisory Group (BiEPAG).


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