The Authoritarian Temptation

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Here is the English version of a comment I wrote for the Neue Zürcher Zeitung called “The Authorititarian Temptation in the Balkans”. It draws on an article (co-authored with Irena Ristić) and a book chapter published in 2012.

The Serbian elections 16th March end a year of political speculation. These are already the seventh early parliamentary elections since 1990, they are unnecessary as there was no government crisis ahead of them being called. The coalition government consisting of the Serbian Progressive Party (SNS ) of Aleksandar Vučić and the Socialist Party (SPS ) of Ivica Dačić was stable and had a solid majority . However, SNS wanted elections to translate their popularity into a large parliamentary majority. In 2012 SPS could still bargain hard to obtain the post of prime minister. Today, this is hardly imaginable. Although the SNS is unlikely to be able to govern on its own after the election, it can determine the shape of the government.  The early elections are an example of the authoritarian temptation of governing parties in the Balkans, weaken the rule of law to secure their own dominance.

The “semi- democracies” of Southeast Europe

Regular studies of the Bertelsmann Foundation and by Freedom House show, that a particular type of democracy has taken hold in South Eastern Europe: elections are democratic, the political landscape is diverse, but populist and corrupt governments hinder the consolidation of democratic structures. Most post-communist countries in Central Europe developed into consolidated democracies. In the  South Eastern Europe, however, was intermediate form dominants, the democratic formalities be observed, but at the same time, populist parties control the state through patronage structures. This is particularly evident through the dominance of political parties over the media, the state and the weak rule of law.  The election campaign had not yet begun in Serbia, as the Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Vučić saved a child stuck with its family in a snowstorm on the highway from Belgrade to Budapest. Conveniently,  the state television on hand to film it. While this ‘performance’ was quickly mocked in social networks, the message got through : Vučić rescues children, while others go campaigning.

Not only in Serbia have governing parties used their dominance to engage in a continuous election campaign.  Even when elections are not upcoming [this was written before early elections were called in Macedonia], the ruling party of Macedonia, VMRO-DPMNE constantly advertise their successes on billboards and in advertisements. Due to this non-stop campaign by governments, it is difficult for the opposition to formulate alternatives. In early elections governing parties already have a decisive edge.  A second aspect of the authoritarian temptation is reflected through control of the media. Only a few critical media of the nineties have survived the past decade. The economic crisis and the state as the most important advertiser to have resulted in a media landscape in the region in which critical voices hardly find a place. This is particularly pronounced in Montenegro, Macedonia and Bosnia. In Macedonia all important critical media, such as the private channel A1 have been forced to close done and only few journalists dare to openly criticize the government. In Montenegro, there is often to attacks by “unknown” perpetrators against independent media. In Bosnia is the businessman and media tycoon Radoncic to became security minister [he was dismissed the day the article was published], despite persistent rumors of his contacts to the underworld. In the Republika Srpska the media is local President Dodik, criticism is only aimed at against the opposition, “Sarajevo” and foreign powers. In Serbia, only few media nowadays dare to openly criticize Vucic.
Media loyal to the government, however, weaken the opposition. Allegations of corruption, often without evidence, are part of the strategy here. The tabloids in Serbia regularly accuse members of the DS government that was in power until 2012 of corruption. Even if these allegations are certainly partly justified, they are used to discredit political opponents.  In addition to accusations of corruption, government media also regularly challenging the loyalty of the opposition and suggest that it is committing treason of the state or nation, particular in Macedonia or the Republika Srpska.
A final aspect is the dominance of political parties over the state. Careers in the public administration and in government-controlled companies are usually only possible with party membership. Thus,
parties acts as employment agencies and can thus secure the loyalty of its voters. This reduces the potential for protest as public criticism may result in loss of employment.

Political, not cultural causes
the danger of populism with authoritarian tendencies is not limited to the Western Balkans. EU member states such as Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria show that with EU accession the danger is not over. The temptation is great to attribute this development to “Balkan political culture,” but it has more to do with weak states and social and economic crisis that predates the global economic crisis. Often the EU overlooks the authoritarian temptation too readily, as long as the governments
cooperate. Thus, the willingness of the Serbian government to compromise in dialogue with Kosovo helped to distract from domestic political populism. However, if the rule of law cannot take hold, this will either lead to social protests, as recently in Bosnia and Herzegovina, or to illiberal governments, which seek to preserve their power with populist means, as in Macedonia and, probably soon, Serbia.

Secessionist conflicts: A new book and some thoughts on inclusiveness

I had the pleasure to participate in a book launch last Friday at the Hungarian Institute of International Affairs, of the book “Secessionist Movements and Ethnic Conflict” by Beata Huszka. It’s nice to see this book come out after having been a member of the PhD defense at CEU where the original doctoral thesis was defended a few years ago.

This is an interesting study that makes the argument that secessionist movements have three frames in which they contextualize and mobilize for secession, an ethnic threat frame, a democracy and a prosperity frame. Depending on which frame is used, the movement is more or less inclusive. Of course, the ethnic threat frame is the most exclusive and thus not only excludes minorities, but also increases the risk of violence. As the book shows–it is based on the case study of the independence movements in Slovenia, Croatia and Montenegro–these choices are not entirely up to the secessionist movements and the context and in particular the behaviour the centre matters greatly.  As such, this book strikes a good balance in making a constructivist argument about the decision of secessionist leaders how to frame the movement and the constraints they operate in. The more oppressive the centre is  and if it seeks to encourage local minorities to resist secession, the ethnic frame is likely to dominate. While the findings are themselves not earth-shattering, it is a good book, as it not only well researched and looks at the dissolution of Yugoslavia through then lens of demands of self-determination movements, but also because it raises questions about the inclusiveness of these movements.

The ability to make an inclusive case of secession is arguably not only constrained by the attitudes of the centre, but also by the need to forge a coherent and revolutionary movement. After all, seeking a new country is a risky strategy that comes at a high potential cost. If the centre behaves violently the case is more easily made and the state quo seems less sustainable, in addition, it would seem easier to convince citizens to follow such a movement, if identity is threatened rather than just promising a better life. As a result, there appears to be a trade-off between inclusiveness and passion a self-determination movement can evoke.

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.

Who won the Montenegrin elections?

I participated in a workshop on the state of the Western Balkans last week in Munich organized by the Hanns-Seidel Foundation, the party foundation of the Bavarian Christian Democrats. As a speaker noted that in Montenegro there has not been a change of government through elections since 1945 (a point I have made as well), an unnamed gentleman sitting next to me whispered in my ear “This is just like in Bavaria!” The location, the “Franz Joseph Strauss Saal” made the comment even more appropriate. There are some differences between Bavaria and Montenegro, however. A political system with a single party dominance can be more easily compatible with a consolidated democracy when a region of a larger state is in question. At least national politics brings about changes of government. It could thus be argued that the lack of change of government (at least not through elections), indeed a feature of Montenegro, has become a more serious deficiency of the political system once Montenegro become independent. However, looking a the result of the most recent parliamentary elections suggests that this is not about to change.

As the election results came in, both the government and opposition celebrated their victory. The opposition of course did not win the largest share of the votes, but it celebrated for depriving the governing coalition of their absolute majority. So who really won?

It is true that the governing DPS and its partners (SDP and the Liberal Party) lost their absolute majority in these elections, but considering them as losers would be getting the numbers wrong. First, having won 46.3% of the vote and 39 of 41 seats necessary to form a government means that the current governing parties are still doing extremely well. A comparison with previous elections also shows that the loss of the governing coalition is insubstantial. Since 2002, i.e. for ten years, the ruling parties have gained nearly identical numbers of votes (between 164,000 and 168,000). This variation of less than 2.5% of the vote over a ten year period is a striking sign of stability and the ability of the DPS and its allies to mobilize a very stable and large segment of the electorate. From this point of view, the elections in 2012 were worse than in 2009, but better than 2006. Thus, there is clearly no defeat visible here. If we look now at the largest opposition party, we find considerably more variation over time. The lowest point is reached in 2006 when the opposition is divided between pro-Yugoslav (whatever that meant at the time), Serb national and technocratic-economic camps. The opposition has left this low point now firmly behind, but it remains weaker than the SNP was as the main opposition party in 2001 and 2002. While the Democratic Front might signal the increasing ability of the opposition to form a joint platform and focus on issues other than identity politics, the odds of winning elections without a change in DPS seems difficult to imagine considering its very steady electoral base.

 

The first results of the Montenegrin elections, I mean census, are in

Today, Monstat has released the first results of the April 2011 census. It’s census year around world and also in the Balkans, which will mean a new snap-shot of controversial issues such as identity. In a politically charged environment, these are not so much definitive indicators of identities, but subjects of debate and contestation. In Montenegro, there has been an campaign led by different organisations to mobilise citizens to indicate their identity in a particular way. The muftija of Sandzak Zukorlic and the Reis ul Ulema Ceric called on Bosniaks to declare not only their religion as Islam, but also to declare their mothertongue as Bosnian and their identity at Bosniak. Similarly the Croat National Council called on Croat to identify as Croats, being Catholic and speaking Croat.

A Serb radio station put up billboards calling on Serbs to have children, to multiply and fill the country.

Similarly there were posters calling on citizens to identify as Montenegrins. In brief, there was a proper election campaign of identity. Observers have noted that elections in Bosnia are often a population census. In Montenegro in turn, censuses are elections. So who won? A quick comparison with the result of the last census in 2003 show that the decline of Montenegrin identity since 1981 has been halted and that there is a slight increase. At the same time, number of self-identified Serbs has declined slightly, but again this decline is only by a few percentage points. The number of Bosniaks/Muslims, Croats and Albanians has not really changed significantly.


These results suggest a stabilization of the identity categories since 2003. There were dramatic shifts in the previous decade , especially from Montenegrin to Serb identity, caused by the re-definition of Montenegrin identity as endorsing Montenegrin statehood. Despite the creation of an independent Montenegro in 2006, there does not appear a dramatic shift away from Serb identity.  What is also telling is the continued divide among Bosniaks and Muslims with around 2/3 identifying as Bosniaks and 1/3 as Muslims (8.65% and 3.31% respectively). It is interesting to note that around 0.8 % of the population indicate a composite identity (such as Montenegrin-Bosniak, Montenegrin-Serb), not a negligible group considering that such combinations are not usually encouraged in censuses. Also 0.19% still identify as Yugoslavs.

The fact that identity still does not follow the exact patterns that the nationalist logic dictates is best shown by the mother tongue. Only 36.97% of the population indicate that they speak Montenegrin, 42.88% call their language Serbian, and 5.33% Bosnian. Over 3% call their language Serbo-Croatian, Bosniak, mother tongue or by some other name. These results suggest that a majority of Bosniaks and Muslims don’t consider their mother tongue to be Bosnian, many Montenegrins choose a different language (presumably Serbian) and more than half of Croats don’t speak Croatian. Here, the number of Serb speakers dropped the most, indicating that the campaign of the Montenegrin state to establish Montenegrin as a language has borne fruit.

This picture is further complicated by religion where 72.07 % are orthodox, 19.11% indicate Islam or Muslim and 3.44% Catholicism as their religion. Agnostics and Atheists are just above 1.3% of the population.

This picture suggests that the congruence of religion, language and national identity is less “perfect” than nationalist engineers of identity would like it to be. At the same time, efforts to subvert these categories have not done so well: the campaign for Montengrins to declare as Jedi or Sith only gathered around 100 followers.

Milo resigns, once more

Yesterday, Milo Djukanovic resigned for the second time as Prime Minister. Ever since his return after a bit more than year out of office in 2008, he has made it clear that his return was temporary and he would not serve the full a term after winning elections in 2009. His resignation is thus no surprise. He announcement that he will remain president of the ruling DPS suggests that he wants to retain strong control over the party and government–let’s not forget that running the party is as (if not more) influential than running the country.

For years, Igor Luksic has been tipped as the presumed successor to Djukanovic. Sturanovic, PM last time Djukanovic resigned, was seen as a stop-gap solution until Luksic would be older and have consolidated his power base to take over. It now seems that Djukanovic believes Luksic can take over. Milo cannot come back once more without loosing a lot of credibility, thus this transition of power will have to succeed.

As in the past, the main challengers are not from opposition, but from within the DPS. Thus, the interesting question in the coming months will be, whether the DPS will remain unified in supporting Luksic and he will be able to persuade those in the party less supportive to accept him. Considering that the tensions with the DPS are not just over personality, but also over how to proceed with reforms, it seems unlikely that the party can survive without fracturing in the medium run. In this case, the situation is different than a few years back. One of the main opposition parties, the SNP led by Srdjan Milic has moved away from its previously strongly pro-Serbian line and opposition to independence. It’s more pragmatic approach might make it (or at least parts of it) a potential partner for part of the DPS, in case it splits, in the future. And by the way, guess from which the SNP split off in 1997: the DPS.

 

 

Milo’s Dilemma: Shall I stay or shall I NATO?

Rumors have been reported that Milo Djukanovic might be taking up a job at NATO. The story is fed by his announcement already late 2009 that he would resign from his job as prime minister.Whether such a story is true remains to be seen. However, it is clear that it highlights Milo’s dilemma: He is clearly determined to leave his job, he can only go down from here. Furthermore, he has repeatedly noted that his is exhausted from his long-time job. However, it is hard to imagine him as a 48-year retiree in Montenegro. The country is too small. Being just an ‘elder’ statesman is hardly a plausible role. Thus, leaving for an international job would make sense. However, the role of officials from the Western Balkans in international organizations has been limited and usually based on their professional qualifications.

(from Danas, 8.6.2010)

For his critics, the prime concern of such an ‘escape’ would be his escape from any trial over alleged involvement in any crimes. However, there is another concern. How will win the power-struggle within the DPS? The struggle over the succession of the party will determine the future of reforms in Montenegro and whether the governing party will disintegrate and open the space for new governing coalitions.

Whatever the outcome, the latest rumor suggest that 2009 might be a key year for the future of the governing party and the trajectory of democracy in Montenegro.

Why the failure of the opposition is bad for democracy in Montenegro

Montenegro held local elections in most municipalities yesterday (14 out of 21). Unlike in previous local elections which were observed by international organizations and commented on by ICG and other international think tanks, these got very little attention. This is, I guess, good news for Montenegro. Local elections are not a test of two conflicting political projects at a time of crisis.

However, the resounding victory of DPS and its partners in most (12) municipalities is a negative development. It is less that the opposition is a beacon of democracy and neither has DPS rule been disastrous. For the first time, the opposition was able to unify and run on a joint platform–a lot easier at the local level then at national elections. This new-found unity among the notoriously divided and dividing opposition was seen as a real opportunity to take control of a number of cities, including Podgorica. The results do give DPS a greater lead than it gained four years ago–not long after the referendum. In Podgorica, the opposition came close and the ruling Socialists cannot form a coalition with its long-time side kick SDP which ran separately from DPS in Podgorica.  The DPS candidate for Podgorica, Miomir Mugoša recently made headlines for beating up a journalist.

The real problem arising from the election is the continued dominance of the DPS, having governed since 1990 (and to be more precise since 1945), Montenegro continues to be a dominant party system with little opportunity for a change of government through elections. Needless to say, this is not good for any democracy, irrespective of the behavior of the dominant party. In Montenegro, were the dominant party and the state are particularly closely interwoven, a normal change of government would do the country some good. In addition, bringing the opposition together and into power would also help to heal the divide in the country and be an encouragement for opposition to work within the status quo and not play the Serb card (which in fact seems to be more frequently evoked by DPS to scare voters). At the moment it would seem that change to the government in Montenegro is once more most likely to come from within the DPS through a split as in 1997 rather than through a loss of power in elections.

The more the merrier… parties and elections in Montenegro

It seems like the Montenegrin opposition is giving the governing parties a special gift for the parliamentary elections on 29 March. These early elections were called by the government to ostensibly get a mandate for sustained EU integration. The opposition, however, criticised government for going for quick elections before the economic crisis fully unfolds in Montenegro.

Whatever the reason, it seems like the governing DPS will not have to worry about its 54 year stint in power. Just in time for the elections, the already highly fragmented opposition split once more and two more parties are added to the list of opposition groups. Andreja Mandic, after leading the Serb List to become the leading opposition grouping now formed the more moderate New Serb Democracy, while a wing of the Movement for Changes formed the Democratic Center to joined the Liberals in a pre-election coalition. So, in short, there are now the following ten opposition parties (see report by CDT):

- Coalition for “Za drugačiju Crnu Goru” (For a different Montenegro), composed of the Liberal Party and the Democratic Center

- The People’s Coalition (“Narodnjačku koaliciju”) composed of the Peoples’ Party and the Democratic Serb Party

- The Serb national List (“Srpsku nacionalnu listu”) including the Serbian radicals, the Serb peoples party and a group of citizes.

- New Serb Democracy

-Movement for Changes

-Socialist People’s Party

and this is without the parties of minorities. Thus all possible permutations of Serb Socialist and People are running.  The opposition might not win, but at least it is likely to be represented by 10 parties. But there is always the Dark Horse candidate from the People’s Front of Judea.

Monte-Mobile

Headline of the day: Montenegro mobile penetration reaches 175.6 percent. I am not sure how mobile penetration can be more than a 100 percent, but I am not surprised that Montenegro succeeded. I guess everybody has a mobile and three quarters of a second one…

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