Nationalist Polarization in the Western Balkans and Its Institutional Consequences: A Fate That Can Be changed

Article by Vedran Dzihic
in: Strengthening Parliaments and Their Role in the Western Balkans Reform Processes (Aspen Insitute Germany)

In Southeastern Europe, the process of democratization and Europeanization since the beginning of the 2000s has been seen as a major paradigm shift and made the inter-national community and the EU believe that time of wars and nationalist excesses was in the past. It seemed a sure sign that all countries of the region were set to reach the membership in the European Union soon.

In terms of Europeanization and democratization, we can argue that the second decade of the 21st century has brought no substantial progress in Southeastern Europe. Rather, it has seen the region on the path of constant decline of democracy. The latest reports of Nations in Transit, the Bertelsmann Transformation Index, and other serious academic research prove the continuous trend of de-democratization in the region, with scores either falling or stagnating. Weak democratic institutions often resemble empty facades. Lack of rule of law is evident, the principle has perverted into the rule by law of dominant political parties able to control the judiciary. We see huge deficits in terms of fundamental rights and values including media freedom. Just in April 2019, Re-porters Without Borders published their newest ranking on the freedom of media, listing Serbia as one of the coun-tries in Europe in which the media freedom deteriorated the most.

Elections are held, but are dominated by dominant par-ties and are not able to generate genuine political chang-es. All in all, we see a mounting democratic deficit before democracy has even had the chance to become “the only game in town.” On top of everything else – with the excep-tion of North Macedonia – comes a rhetorical democratic and EU-integration mimicry from governing elites, who are also engaged in maintaining or establishing illiberal or semi-authoritarian power structures. Citizens are either disillusioned with the type of governance in their countries or generally frustrated, which results in political disen-gagement or the wish to emigrate. One part of the citizen-ry long ago adjusted to the structures and circumstances, learning to obey or to profit from the clientelist structures. Either way the spaces for political engagement and active participation have been shrinking……