By Alfred Peza
In the recent months there has been a moment of vacuum in the Balkan region, as a result of the lack of presence, as we’re used to, of the USA and EU. This has led to growing problems, promotion more crises and more polarization in countries such as Albania, Macedonia, Kosovo, Montenegro, Turkey, etc, because such vacuums in countries with fragile democracies, promote authoritarian forces, streams and leaders who dictate their own rules and strengthen their position. This situation mostly relates to the perception created after the presidential US elections, for a possible change in foreign policy that Trump administration could have led in our region. After Britain’s exit of the EU, the growth of the nationalist and populist wave expanded this uncertainty even in the EU, leading to a slowdown of enlargement policies in aspiring countries. In turn, this led to a bigger Russian presence and influence in the peninsula.
Among others, the opposition tried to lobby for American support in its action against the majority and based it on a conspiracy theory which relates to the influence of the billionaire George Soros on particular leaders or government decisions. This approach was also followed in Macedonia and Hungary for internal political gains. And all of this to exploit this open “hostility” of the new US President Donald Trump against the philanthropist of the Open Society networks in former communist Europe. This became so ridiculous that everyone who was part of the US administration or Brussels and whose position was against all expectations, was labeled by political leaders or their media in these countries as “Sorosians”. This term is equal to “public enemy”.
Two of the worst approaches that have promoted crises and polarization in the Balkans are:
The first one relates to the policy of stability that the EU and USA follow in the countries of the region, at the detriment of democracy, promoting short term objectives, authoritarian leaders who have become more powerful and who have been encouraged at the detriment of the game rules and democratic standards. This promotes a hypocrite type leadership toward integrating processes, because their acts in practice do not coincide with their public declarations.
Secondly, the bluff with the enlargement. After Brexit, it was clearly seen that the EU had no plans to expand with new members. Its biggest fear was focused on blocking a chain reaction which could follow the British referendum, initially spreading in Holland and then in France and elsewhere. Emmanuel Macron’s victory seemed to put an end to this fear, by discouraging many dilemmas in other countries. This situation also encouraged for a while non democratic Balkan leaders who intensified their action in openly declaring anti-Western and anti-European policies. These stances were also seen in Tirana with the opposition’s leadership and media supporting it. It was seen during these hot days when the sides are negotiating on putting an end to the boycott of the June 18 elections.
In spite of all these problems and many other difficulties that the process of democratic changes in the region is going through, it seems that there’s still hope for as long as the crises are no longer solved with weapons, wars and violence as it was the case 10, 15 or 20 years ago in Albania, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. Today, in spite of the numerous difficulties, they have started to be solved in a peaceful manner. Through talks, negotiations, dialogue, although we still need intermediacy and international presence by the EU or Washington. They have engaged their most important officials for such crises.
This seems to be introducing dialogue between the sides in Tirana, meetings, negotiations, and talks to come up with solutions and head toward an electoral process which will see the participation of all political parties in the country.
In Macedonia, after many weeks of crisis, Zoran Zaev, winner of the parliamentary elections, was finally mandated by the President of the country, Ivanov, for the creation of a new government, along with Albanian political parties. For the first time in the history of this country, an Albanian will be the Speaker of the Parliament of Macedonia, offering security for the future, for a normal cohabitation between different ethnic groups in the country and to reduce tension which is more and more present.
In Kosovo, the biggest problem relates to political instability of the country and the lack of an alternative opposition program, away from nationalist slogans. However, even after the release of Ramush Haradinaj from prison in France and the overthrow of Isa Mustafa’s government in Parliament, the country is heading to snap elections. The new alliances have been forged by three political parties, the leaders of which have been leaders of UÇK. Today, they appear united in front of voters and they nominated Mr. Haradinaj for the post of Prime Minister. Meanwhile, the President of the country is another former official of UÇK, Hashim Thaçi. The new government has many challenges ahead, requiring a strong leadership, determination and political vision.
The vacuum recently left by the US and EU in the Balkans, has offered a possibility for faster and greater penetration of Russia. This has been seen not only in Serbia, but also in Montenegro in the latest parliamentary elections there and its long and difficult journey toward its NATO accession. The Russian veto keeps Kosovo’s accession in the UN blocked. Meanwhile, Russian media and international media indicate an unusual growth in interest, military presence, secret services and political influence by Moscow in the region.
The fact that the US has its eyes on the Balkans again, the implementation of a new enlargement strategy of the EU after Brexit toward Western Balkan countries according to the idea of Federica Mogherini and the growth of democratic capacities of these states to cope with internal crises and integration challenges, will discourage old leaders and their anti-democratic practices. This encourages new streams which will inject a new democratic culture and approach in the region. A different approach from the one 20 years ago, when wars forced their leaders to sign peace agreements. An approach where dialogue replaces weapons. Development programs replace war plans. War gave way to peace and the future left the past behind. A peace which rusts the weapons and damps the gun powder of an old barrel, which should be placed as a relic in the Balkans’ museum of the past.
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