Amidst the floods: Launching call for a new European approach towards the Balkans

As hundreds of people flew to Sarajevo to participate in a plethora of conference and workshop that are strangely attracted to the city this year due to an unfortunate anniversary this June, rains have flooded the countryside, winds made landing at the airport nearly impossible and reminding a casual visitor that Sarajevo’s connection to the rest of Europe is at time precarious.

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A good time to present the latest policy report and briefs by the Balkans in Europe Policy Group. After meeting in Graz, Belgrade, Zagreb and Brussels over the last six months, we could finally present the paper and two policy briefs. In the paper we are looking at four scenarios in which the EU integration process might develop, one continuing along the current path, one with the process descending into stagnation and alienation of both sides, one where outside power start coercing or luring countries away from the EU and finally an option where the EU reenergizes the enlargement process, a Balkan Big Bang.

We had an interesting discussion in the framework of the AGA 2014, an annual big conference of European foundations. As one would expect, the audience was mostly from West European foundations and while some clearly had a positive view of the need for EU integration to continue or rather be accelerated, I was struck by the skepticism coming from some audience in the Q&A. The countries first have to deal with their problems and then we can talk about joining, the previous enlargements were a mistake and we first have to sort out the EU, it can’t be bothered with enlargement were three key concerns expressed by some in the audience. It just highlights that is will be an uphill struggle to convince citizens and member state to continue enlargement.

 

Forgetting Enlargement

Reblogging my post for the Balkans in Europe Blog on the risks of EU enlargement falling of the EU agenda.

Not long ago, the DG for Enlargement moved to a new address, from 200 to 15, Rue de la Loi, Brussels. What seems like a question of logistics, not policy, matters. Never in the past twenty years has enlargement fallen to such a low priority for the European Union. The old address of the Directorate General for Enlargement was the Berlaymont, the centre of the Commission—symbolizing the centrality and importance of the enlargement process for the EU. Now, it is housed in a non-descript office building a few hundred meters away. This symbolic removal from the center of EU and the Commission’s headquarters is not just a coincidence, but reflects the problem of enlargement. Although the EU is in accession talks with three countries (Turkey, Serbia and Montenegro) and four more are waiting to start talks, the DG is a shadow of its former self. The atmosphere of decline was reflected in recent months in rumors circulating that the next Commission might not have a Commissioner solely responsible for enlargement. This would be for the first time since 1999 that the EU would not have dedicated enlargement commissioner. Such a scenario seems somewhat unrealistic, considering that there is a need to have 28 Commissioners, one for each member state and thus, enlargement will probably stay on. The question is, however, whether this will be filled by a forceful commission pushing the agenda, or not. Judging the by the gradual decline of the profile of the enlargement portfolio over the past decade, the signs are ominous.

This sense of decline is also reflected in key member states. Popular support for enlargement was never particularly high and governments have pursued it despite their citizens’ skepticism. The latest Eurobarometer puts a clear majority of EU citizens against enlargement (52% over 37% for) with number around 70% against it in France, Germany and Austria.  The highest level of opposition to enlargement is in Austria with 76% against (and 16% for). While Turkey is certainly the bête noire of enlargement, opposition to having Kosovo, Albania and Serbia join are not significantly lower.

These numbers have been steady, at least since the beginning of the economic crisis. However, in recent years numbers have been particularly high and amidst broad dissatisfaction with the EU and governments due to the economic crisis, governments have been more responsive.

The Austrian coalition agreement from late 2013 for example remains committed to towards EU enlargement in the Western Balkans (as opposed to requiring a referendum for Turkish membership). In addition to the accession criteria, the new/old Austrian government emphasis the ability of the EU accept new members as key criteria for membership, a clause that can be used to easily delay further accession.

The German government has followed a similar line, keeping the door open, but while noting the ability of the EU to join, it also underlined the need to strictly enforce the member ship conditions, in effect signaling a strong monitoring by individual member states.

Beyond these mentions of enlargement, more important is the degree to which enlargement is not a central feature of the foreign policy of Germany or Austria, as these countries have been two key promoters of the enlargement process within the EU. The German government declaration at the European Council in December 2013 mostly focused on the cases at hand, Serbia and Albania, but offers no larger strategy vision or even re-affirmation of the Thessaloniki promise of full membership. The government declaration to the German Bundestag did not even mention enlargement and noted that “25 years ago the wall came down. 10 years ago we saw the beginning of the EU Eastern enlargement. Further borders in Europe could be reduced. Today, we Germans and we Europeans are unified to our fortune.”

While the statement implies that enlargement is not complete, this is not spelled out and the unification of Europe appears already done. At best, this declaration could be taken as the German government viewing the enlargement to the Western Balkans as a done deal, even if not technically completed. At worst, it is a sign that there is no real support for enlargement which continues below the radar as a low level process and is used to reward individual countries, but not as a strategic vision.

Recently the UK, conventionally a strong support for enlargement, has taken a sharp turn against enlargement. In his comment for the Financial Times, PM David Cameron threatened to veto further enlargement if labor mobility or he and the tabloids term “benefit tourism” is not restricted.

Other governments have shied away from such a populist used of enlargement, but this approach might become attractive after the EP elections when Eurosceptic Parties are likely to take a much larger share of the vote than they have to date.

Finally Greece, holding the presidency of the EU in the first half of 2014 has taken a much more subdued approach towards enlargement after having been an important member state in promoting the Western Balkans joining the EU 11 years ago. In essence, the Greek presidency program does not devote much space to enlargement and follows the general “yes, but” approach: Enlargement has been successful, but countries have to undergo the most demanding accession process yet: The accession process today is more rigorous and comprehensive than in the past, reflecting the evolution of EU policies as well as lessons learned from previous enlargements.”

While enlargement is going on as a process managed in Brussels, for most member states, it seems to be out of sight and mind, or at least at the margins. This could be seen as a pragmatic and maybe also helpful approach to keep the process ongoing when publics in the countries have grown weary of countries joining. Yet, enlargement through the back door will become tricky as citizens are ill prepared to accept the next enlargements, and as a number of countries will not need ‘just’ enlargement, but a more comprehensive EU engagement to overcome their domestic or bilateral difficulties.

As member states have become more involved into the accession process and claim their right to scrutinize the candidates independently from the Commission, there is the risk that the already slow enlargement process will be even further kicked down the road.

Although it might not be the most popular post in the new Commission (if it indeed remains one), enlargement will be a place for a Commissioner to leave a mark and revive the process. The significance might be easily overlooked now, but if the EU cannot complete enlargement and transform the countries of the Western Balkans, the credibility of its transformative power is seriously jeopardized.

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.

Monumental Exchange. My hero, your terrorist.

A couple of years ago, Benedict Anderson visted Graz to give a talk on Why we believe our nation is good. I had the pleasure to take him on a city tour before the talk. On the Schlossberg, we looked at the monuments to different causes, commemorating resistance to Napoleon and commemorating the so-called “Kärtner Abwehrkampf”, i.e. the conflict between Austrian troops and troops of the State of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes over the border of Carinthia, settled later in a referendum. 662px-Graz_Schloßberg_Gedenkstein_an_den_Kärntner_Abwehrkampf

On this sunny December day, he remarked poignantly that it is probably only scholars of nationalism that notice these monuments, whereas ordinary citizens walk past and ignore these monuments to an era that seems of little relevance today. To some degree, this is a relief, as most European cityscapes are littered with tributes in the form of monuments and street names to people whose contribution to the nation seems rather dubious today ( such as Conrad von Hötzendorf in Graz, von Hindenburg in numerous German cities, Gugielom Oberdan –thanks to Gregor Mayer for the hint in Italy). Some of the most odious cases have  been corrected, such as changing the name of the Karl-Lueger-Ring, previously named in honor of the the notoriously anti-Semitic mayor of Vienna (famous for the line Wer Jude ist bestimme ich–I determine who is a Jew). While it is desirable to change names of streets or remove monuments honoring anti-Semites and other extreme nationalists of the past, the void also leaves a gap in the history of city when they were honored. In brief, the city can forget its past. Belgradem not for that reason, but due to the contest nature of street names, put up a history of street names on some most prominent streets in the centre. This helps to map the different ideologies dominating, but implicitly also admits that the current name might be just temporary.

Now, unlike what Benedict Anderson remarked to me, the discussion over monuments and other forms of commemoration on the centenary of World War One, suggest that the past can attract a lot of attention and controversy (including on facebook). So the initiative build monuments to Gavrilo Princip in Republika Srpska and Serbia triggered negative reactions elsewhere (see article in Der Spiegel and esp. reader comments). While an assassin who killed a person is not a particular positive figure to celebrate, European states more broadly are fond to celebrate murders rather than peace makers (including of course the rider on a horse in Skopje, a.k.a. Alexsander the Great). A good approach to remedy this morbid European habit would be a European exchange program. Let’s exchange the ‘heroes’  of one country with those of another. Why not exchange the statue of Franz Joseph II in the University aula in Graz with a monument to Gavrilo Princip in Serbia, or exchange a street name.

The Gavrilo Princip Street in Belgrade would come to Graz to call the main street leading out of the city to the south, while that street’s name, Conrad-von-Hötzendorf Strasse could migrate to Belgrade, some of the statues in Skopje could go to Thessaloniki or Sofia, nobody would notice them missing and nobody would find them strange there. Ban Jelačić could visit Belgrade, while Knez Mihajlo could travel to Zagreb. Adem Jashari could leave Prekaz for Belgrade, the Eternal Flame in Belgrade (that lasted less an an eternity) could travel to Prishtina. Such exchanges would create unease, but also a need to explain, to justify: one hero in Europe is another one’s nemesis. It would provoke and maybe look more carefully at ones ‘owns’ monuments.

Protests from Maribor to Istanbul: Looking back at a year of demonstrations

graz 2014 protest FINAL

Here are some answers for an interview on the protests I gave to the Macedonian daily Dnevnik on the occassion of the conference “Rebellion and Protest from Maribor to Taksim. Social Movements in the Balkans” that will be organised this Thursday through Saturday by the Centre for Southeast European Studies in Graz.

What signal are the Balkans sending through these social movements: are they waking up, finally?

The protests accross the region, from Maribor to Istanbul show, that civil society is alive and well in many countries. Citizens care about public spaces, are concerned about corruption and austerity and resent the close links between business and politics. Of course, there is great variation in the size of the protests, their duration and their success. I would see the protests in Sofia as the most impressive display of public discontent this year. Their duration is spectacular and their participants are sceptical of the entire political elite, both government and opposition. When the target of the protests is so broad, unlike for example the building a shopping centre in a park as in Istanbul, it is often hard to sustain momentum. There are two clear messages that the protests send. First, citizens do not trust elites, they are seen as not representing the citizens, but private interests. Thus, the message is a call for more democracy and rule of law. Second, in some protests, the economic crisis and the difficult situation many citizens have found themselves in was either a central theme, or a trigger, like high electricity prices in Bulgaria. Overall, citizens in the region have endured much greater economic hardship than elsewhere in Europe without protesting. Economic hardship becomes a key trigger is when the difficult situation is combined with a sense of lack of fairness.

What do all this protests, as you described: from Maribor to Taksim, have in common?

Every protest is individual and has different causes and triggers. Yet, there is a larger pattern, that extends of course beyond Maribor and Istanbul: we have probably seen the largest wave of protests over the last two-three years around the world since 1989. These protests have taken place in democracies like Spain or Greece and in dictatorships like Libya and Syria. Most protests have taken place in the European borderlands of the Mediterranean and Eastern Europe (see the current protests in Ukraine). The protests share a sense of frustration with being badly governed and having unresponsive elites. The promise of prosperity and better rule of Europe is close and thus seems possible. This has motivated many protests: the comparison of one’s own government with the possibilities close by. The economic crisis might not always be central to the protests, but the crisis has shed light on corruption and patronage—if there is less money to go around in times of crisis, bad governance becomes more obvious.

 Do you, as an expert, think that this is the right way for the Balkans to make their “dreams come true”?

Protests can achieve their own goal and still fail. Individual demands can be met, governments can resign—as was the case in Bulgaria in February—and yet fundamental change might not happen. Thus not addressing the roots of the problem that brought about the situation in the first place. The key is for protests to lead to institutional forms of civic engagement. I don’t just mean NGOs, but rather movements , political parties and also media that will carry the demands along. This is always a tricky moment, as those working through institutions might be accused of  “selling out” and some indeed might become regular politicians and abandon their original goals. On the other hand, the demands or the underlying grievances of the protests are often  too  large to be addressed right away. When change takes time, it cannot be achieved through protests alone and then invariable the question arises of how to pursue change and reform. A protest can have two functions: it can empower citizens, giving them the feeling that they can achieve change , in the words of banner from protests in Banja Luka to save Picin park, “You are not a slave of the system, you are change”

 What if their problems are not solved as they want and insist?

Disappointment is nearly inevitable: Firstly, protests movements include citizens with many different expectations. In fact, to be succesful a protest movement usually has to draw from different social groups with varying hopes and grievances. Observers noted that the protests in Istanbul brought together gays and lesbians, Kurdish activists, environmentalists and citizens who had not been previously active. They will all have different expectations of the protests and some will find their demands not met. The success or failure of protests is thus not only a function of whether the immediate demands are met, but rather whether the political environment changes—if those who went to the streets realise that they can achieve change and that institutions are responsive. This dynamic sometimes takes time to be visible. The protests in Belgrade in the winter of 1996-7 first seemed like a failure—Milosevic met the formal demands, but continued to rule like before. However, the revolution of 2000 was unimaginable without these earlier protests. Similarly, the protests in Taksim have been repressed with force by the Turkish government and at the moment it does not seem like they were successful. However, as a banner in Istanbul read, “This is just the beginning!”, “From now on, nothing will be the same again!” We do not know what the next form of protest will look like in Turkey, but it clear that many citizens are dissatisfied with the status quo and demand not just a different government, but a different style of governing—and this is a common feature across the region.

The show will go on: EU enlargement and the new German government

Signing of the coalition agreement, 27.11.2013 (author:CDUCSU)

Last week the German SPD and CDU/CSU signed the agreement for forming a grand coalition. This 185 page long document sets out the agenda for the new government has been negotiated now for some 2 months. It also discusses EU enlargement, making it a key document in assessing the perspectives for the EU integration of the Western Balkans in the coming years. German is not just an important member state, but with 75 percent of Germans against enlargement in the coming years, the country with the highest number of enlargement skeptics. The section on enlargement (p. 165) towards the Western Balkans is just one paragraph long (part of one page on EU enlargement and Eastern partnership), here in the German original (it thus did not receive much attention in the German press covering the coalition agreement, see SZ, FAZ  and FR):

“Die Erweiterung der EU ist aktive europäische Friedenspolitik. Die bisherigen EU-Erweiterungen sind im Interesse Deutschlands und Europas. Wir stehen dazu, dass dieser Prozess unter strikter Beachtung der Beitrittskriterien fortgesetzt wird und die Staaten des Westlichen Balkans eine Beitrittsperspektive haben. Sowohl Serbien als auch Kosovo müssen ihre eingegangenen Verpflichtungen erfüllen. Wir wollen KFOR im Einklang mit der Sicherheitsentwicklung schrittweise reduzieren und zum Ab-schluss führen. Gemeinsam mit unseren Partnern und Verbündeten werden wir die Heranführung der Länder des Westlichen Balkans an EU und NATO aktiv vorantreiben. Für die EU-Erweiterung sind die Anwendung strenger Kriterien und klar überprüfbarer Fortschritte wichtig. Maßgeblich sind sowohl die Beitrittsfähigkeit der Kandidaten als auch die Aufnahmefähigkeit der Europäischen Union.”

In essence, it maintains the German committment to EU enlargement and describes it as a peace project and German and European interest. However, it also points out that the process shall continue “under strict observation of the accession criteria” and later once more “strict criteria and clearly identifiable progress. Essential is both the ability of the candidates to join, as well as the ability of the EU to absorb the countries”. As a result, the coalition agreement suggest that the new German government will pursue the enlargement as in recent years. The multiple references to strict criteria, visible progress and the absorption capacity of the EU all suggest that enlargement will remain difficult and Germany, reflecting the larger tendency of the EU for member states to get invovled in the enlargement process, will assess the readiness of countries seperate from the Commission.

Some change is though likely: the composition of the new government has not been announced yet, as the SPD members have to first vote on the coalition agreement, but traditionally the junior partner in coalitions holds the Foreign Ministry. It is likely that an SPD-led Foreign Ministry will be more supportive of EU enlargement than the previous FDP-led ministry. The coalition agreement, however does note, that all EU policy decisisons will be particularly coordinated by the government under leadership of the chancellor and vice-chancellor, so there will be little room for a different policy of the SPD. In addition, the short mention of enlargement does also serve as a reminder that it is a low priority for the new German government.

Is Change Coming to Bosnia? Reflections on Protests and their Prospects

I want my ID number

When the protests in Turkey began on the 28 May, what struck me was the centrality of the Mediterranean as the focal areas of social movements in the last two years. In addition to the Arab spring (summer and winter), mass protests were held in Spain, Israel and Greece and Italy is experiencing a crisis of confidence in the established party system. While there, the democratic governments either fall or could/had to absorb the grievance of many, the dictatorships in the southern Mediterranean were not able to. While Turkey is closer to the democracies of the northern rim of the Mediterranean, the response of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been more following the authoritarian reflex of its southern neighbors, thereby strengthening the protests.

At first, I was struck who the Balkans had been largely ‘protest-free’ in recent years, unlike neigbouring regions. However, recent protests in Bosnia suggest that the social movements against the status quo are now reaching the region as well. Of course, the protests in Sarajevo and other Bosnian cities had other causes as the protests in Turkey or other countries of the Mediterranean, but also share a number of features: the carries are young, urban, feel excluded from politics and government and see now other way to chance the status quo than by protest. What is striking is that the loss of public spaces and parks has been a key feature in small scale protests in the last years in the Balkans: Protests in Banja Luka in June of last year over a park, in Belgrade the cutting down of trees on Bulevar Revolucije earlier and in Tirana also over the destruction of a park. These protests failed to gather the momentum as in Turkey, largely because local politics and national politics had different dynamics, but they highlighted the concern not just for parks, but also for the symbolic loss of public spaces and more broadly a public good to what seems like narrow commercial (and political) interests. Thus the destruction of a park is a symbolic act that carries more significance than “just” an environmental issue, as Orhan Pamuk expressed in his reflections on the protests.

The current protests in Bosnia are not about a park, but over the lack of a decision. In a county that is more characterised by decisions not taken and with a prime minister (officially chair of the council of ministers) who claims in his government’s defense that “I think we are not the worst of the world, nor are we a country like Zimbabwe or Somalia”, it is decisions not taken that create most grief. After the constitutional court ruled in February that the current law on ID numbers is unconstitutional the government has been unable to propose a solution, resulting in newborns not being able to receive official documents. This has meant that newborns can’t get passports and are thus unable to travel. When the small baby Belmina Ibrišević needed to travel abroad for urgent medical treatment, but could not get the documents, the lack of a decision became a life or death issue and galvanized public opinion and led to protests.

The Bosnian government is notorious for not taking decisions as these are caught between competing interests of the entities and ethnopolitics where the substance of decisions is trumped by the question of who is to be in charge. Next to ID numbers, this is nowhere as obvious as the dispute in Bosnia about veterinary and sanitary inspections. As Bosnian politicians have been unable to agree on who is to implement the inspections, thousands of Bosnian farmers are likely to be unable to export their dairy products to Croatia once it joins the EU next month and more rigid controls come into effect. While here, also the economic survival of many hangs in the balance, it has not mobilized protests as the issue over ID numbers.

The response of political elites to the protests has been ugly. While some tried to ingratiate themselves with them, others dismissed the protests as either being anti-Serb or called on citizens to get off the streets and vote in next years elections. This response led Eric Gordy to comment in his blog that “[t]he national game is up. When it worked it produced a generation of politicians who believed that firing up resentment and fear would give them a permanent hold on power. It’s ringing hollow and their permanent mark is fading. They have become objects of ridicule. They’re over.”

While I wish he was right, I am more skeptical in my view. Heleen Touquet in her PhD on new social movements in Bosnia: “Escaping ethnopolis: postethnic mobilization in Bosnia-Herzegovina” (for the table of contents, see here) looked closely at groups in recent years that sought to mobilization citizens against the status quo. These efforts have largely failed, because they were unable to build a genuine cross-ethnic constituency or a country agenda that would make it difficult for existing elites to dismiss or ignore them. The new protest have this potential. There are, however, two formidable obstacles: First, how to build an agenda for change that all citizens of Bosnia can rally for. Second, how to translate this movement into a political option. While social movements can set the agenda, change has to come from the political system (unless it is overthrown in a revolution). While there are some parties (like Naša stranka) that aspire to pursue different politics than the currently dominant parties, it is at the moment hard to imagine a country-wide political movement that could be successful and transform the way decisions are taken and how the country is governed. The current political set-up encourages parties to run on mono-ethnic platforms and makes it easy of ethnonationalist parties to sow the seeds of doubt in change.

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.

IMAG0161
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.

A few imaginary lines or some news snake oil on Croat entities

In today’s brave new media world, stories, articles and interviews are quickly posted, reposted and shared. While it is making life difficult for many media outlets to get the reader to come their site or buy the newspaper or magazine, stories get a round quickly. Sometimes it seems that the reposting portals might do just a bit more than circulating an existing text.

The original interview

The original interview

It took me thus by surprise when some friends and acquaintances asked me a few days ago whether I really supported the creation of a Croat entity in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Not having suffered amnesia recently this news surprised me as much as my friends. The source for these claims was the “re-print” of an interview I gave a few days ago to the Croatian daily Večernji List on the webportal poskok.info (meaning viper in Croatian).

The title of the „interview“ was “Hrvatski entitet je isključivo hrvatsko pitanje. Radi se o naime o suverenom pravu koje se Bošnjaka ne tiče…”  a line one would not be able to find in the original interview. Following many questions which the portal correctly copied from the interview (without ever mentioning the original source), there comes the surprise:

The Fake

The question “Do Croats have the right to ask for their entity in Bosnia and Herzegovina?” which Večernji List never asked me followed by an answer I never gave:

“Of course they do, this is as if you’d ask me does the buyer of a car get the steering wheel for this car? Croats in Bosnia and Herzegovina are a constituent people and accordingly to all [sic!]UN convention sovereign people have the right even to self-determination and to declare independence. In this sense, the demand for territorial autonomy inside the state that is not questioned is a normal and legitimate process. The problem of Croats in Bosnia and Herzegovina is more the problem of the right expression of what that people anyhow have the right to considering that their political elite does a bad job and is inarticulate, whereas a part of the Croat political forces many years openly serves the Bosniak national project.

Broadly seen, Croats in BiH already have some ‘entities’ considering that cantons per definition are entities for themselves are entities [sic]. Entities in international law are nothing else but territorial units with specific institutions and competences.The international community constantly commits legal violence against Croats in BiH. The questions is when this body will radicalize and then the question will arise whether they will stay in BiH. Namely, Croats in BiH are above all a small nation who hold the balance, if you turn them against BiH I think that BiH is finished as a political idea.”

The fictional answer contains bad metaphors and the absurd idea that UN conventions have anything to say about constituent people, their right to self-determination or entities.

Following the next question the creative interviewer returned to an original question by VL, but took the liberty to embellish the answer (the added sections marked in bold) :

I think that the odds for this in current circumstances, are very slim, but politics is changeable and the question is what will be tomorrow. Remember Kosovo. Who foresaw the independence of this province? And Kosovo is not inhabited by a constituent people, but an ethnic minority in Serbia.

The failed constitutional reforms in BiH in 2006 and 2009 demonstrated that even minimal change to the Dayton Constitution is nearly impossible. Creating a Croat entity would be a major change to the Dayton Constitution and is opposed by Bosniak [the text in VL mistakenly writes Bosnian] politicians if it affects only the Federation.

Certainly the RS would oppose the changes if it would also affect the RS. As a result, I cannot see this coming about, unless this is part of a grand bargain between the political elites. However, the record has been poor. Finally, the census of next year is likely to show two things. First that Croats are much smaller in number than Bosniaks and Serbs and that many Croats do not live in areas with whom the Bosniak elite manipulates as ‘nominally Croat’ regions.  In this manner the theory of multiethnic Bosniaks is failing considering that ethnically mixed regions of BiH generally exist in regions that used to be part of Herceg Bosna.

These two points strength the arguments for creating a Croat entity but the question of its realization depends only on Croats. Frequently the wrong question is asked in public—will Bosniaks allow Croats this and to this one constantly returns. There is nothing Bosniaks have to allow Croats and neither Croats Bosniaks. The sovereign right of people are defined for themselves and concern only the nation to which it relates.

Also here the changes use terms like “Herceg Bosna“ which are not really widely used outside of, well “Herceg Bosna” and the additions constitute the opposite of my original statement which I concluded with the observation that “Both of these undermine arguments to create a Croatian entity.”

So why should I or anybody else care what some marginal portal called “Viper. Portal for Social Decontamination” makes up? With the quick spread of stories via social media such as twitter and facebook, few media are truly marginal. Thus, word spreads even from unserious portals such as poskok.info as it attested by the numerous friends and acquaintances who found out that I was a clumsy defender of the supposed Croat right to a third entity. Secondly, news spread to another, more serious news portal, dnevnik.ba which circulated the fake interview, getting hundreds of hits (currently the portal is down). Thus quickly a few made up questions from a marginal portal become “real.”

Water and plums with Ante Markovic

Ante Markovic (Source: Nacional)

When I went into his office in early September in Sarajevo, there was no doubt in recognizing the person opening the door. Ante Marković had aged since being the last Prime Minister of Yugoslavia and being a witness at the Milošević trial eight years ago, but was full of energy, dressed relaxed and confident. He offered me some plums and water. I had come to invite him to a conference on the end of Yugoslavia I organised in Graz. We had been discussing his visit for months, but he remained hesitant whether to come. However, when I called him he was enthusiastic about meeting Sarajevo and discuss the conference. It was a tough sell. Marković was curious about the conference and genuinely hesitated about whether to come or not. He made me give him the best sales pitch I could offer, why he should come to Graz, the place he spent a decade after he resigned as prime minister. It was close to home, somewhere in Yugoslavia, when home was not really an option. He was a persona non grata for governments in Slovenia, Croatia and Serbia, for different and yet similar reasons. Only Macedonia kept an open door. However, returning to Graz after all these years did not convince him. He had fond memories of Graz, he told me, but this was the past. He had returned to Sarajevo after a decade outside of Yugoslavia. He told me about the offer to advise the Bosnian government, an offer he turned down in order to focus on his business. He originally intended to build water power stations in Bosnia, a plan which failed, leading him to focus building apartments and houses in and around Sarajevo.

When he first tentatively agreed to come to Graz, he did so with the caveat that urgent business meetings could always get in the way. At an age when many might look back, he was firmly looking forward. This was also the reason he decided not to share his memories of the dissolution of the country at the conference. He did not want to look back. He said this without any bitterness or sadness about the past. He had little good to say about todays politicians or the politics in the post-Yugoslav space, but he seemed to have little nostalgia. Maybe this is not surprising, considering that his brief time (just over 2 years from March 1989 to December 1991) as prime minister of Yugoslavia (officially the president of the Federal Executive Council of the Socialist Federative Republic of Yugoslavia) was decline despite his efforts to save the country and economy.There was no time to celebrate his successes at curbing inflation, filling the shops and giving some renewed confidence in the political system.

Even though he withdrew from public life after his resignation, he was very much aware of how popular he was throughout Yugoslavia. But he would remind me in our conversation, how this popularity stems from two years of his life, but his work and passion was not politics, but working in companies, something he did for decades, both before holding his first political offices in Croatia in the early 1980s, and after moving to Graz to start a new company.

Looking back at the economic reforms he initiated, Ante Marković did not think of them as opening the door towards a liberal market economies. While liberalising the Dinar and enabling privatisation and greater private engagement in the Yugoslav economy was the first step towards a market economy for all the seven states now on the territory of Yugoslavia, he rather saw his reforms as an effort to bring about a new type of economic system that would preserve the best feature of socialist self-management and combine them with some aspects of market economy. The global economic crisis reminded him of the failings of capitalism and the abandonment of the socialist system without the effort to preserve some features appeared a mistake in his mind. While he was persuasive and the economic difficulties especially in the Yugoslav successor states seem to prove him right, I was not entirely sure that the economic system he was beginning to build really could have become an alternative. But, as so many of his successes, they are incomplete and thus remain a path not completed.

His memories were a curious mixture of pride and awareness of his significance at a historical crossroads, but also a lack of interest to be celebrated for this. This might also help answer the puzzle of why his efforts to challenge the rising nationalist elites in Serbia, Bosnia and Croatia failed. His reformist party gained some votes, especially in Bosnia, but was not able to challenge the new nationalists (he founded them in July 1990, too late for elections in Slovenia and Croatia). He might have lacked the drive and will to impose himself and his ideas were popular, but not sufficiently populist for the time.

I left the office with a strong handshake by Ante Marković and an invitation to return anytime if I were in Sarajevo. Unfortunately now an offer I will not be able to take him up on. As I emerged on the streets of Sarajevo, not far from the new EU offices, I was wondering if the people I passed on the street knew how close Ante Marković was working in normal office building, building houses, as had he not been, briefly, the best hope in the worst of times.

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