Socio-political Conditions and Open Issues in the Western Balkan States
Stagnation and the worsening of the levels of democratisation - which is a visible aspect in all of the countries of post-communist East-Central and Eastern Europe after the mid-2000s (Table 2.2) and particularly after the emergence of the Global Financial Crisis in 2008 - and their very slow recovery in the following years have been reflected in the socio-political developments of the Western Balkan states. Due to the negative impact of this and some other factors which will be discussed in the ensuing sections, none of these states has been able to significantly improve its level of democratisation since the mid-2000s. While there have been some important improvements in the fight against corruption, particularly in the three most advanced (or democratised) countries in the region (e.g. Croatia, Montenegro and Serbia) which were also able to keep the same (or even slightly improve their) NIT democracy scores, all the other states in the region have worsened their performance in this area over the last 10 years (see Table 2.2).
However, in comparison to negative trends in other post-communist states, particularly in the Eurasian post-Soviet states, as well as in countries such as Hungary and Slovakia, which were declared ‘consolidated democracies’ even before they became full EU members in 2004, the worsening of the NIT ‘democracy scores’ in the Western Balkan states has been relatively moderate. Furthermore, when compared to the achieved democracy (and economic transition) scores in other EU members from ex-communist Europe (particularly the most recent entrants - Croatia, Bulgaria and Romania) from the years before they joined the EU, or more accurately before they started accession negotiations (see the data in Tables 2.2 and 2.3), the current conditions in the most advanced Western Balkan states - Montenegro, Serbia and until recently Macedonia - are not all that different (for more details in this regard, see Petrovic and Smith 2013). Nevertheless, the EU leaders did not try to speed up the accession of these states after the 2004/2007 enlargement, but rather decided to try to avoid ‘mistakes’ from the previous enlargement rounds, particularly those related to the ‘premature accession’ of Romania and Bulgaria (Vachudova 2014; Grabbe 2014).14 Fearing for the future and ‘absorption capacity’ of EU institutions they instead decided, as mentioned earlier, to tighten the general (Copenhagen 1993) conditions and then to ‘develop new’, specific accession conditions for particular Western Balkan states that were almost exclusively related to the unsolved or contested statehood status of some of them.
As is more or less regularly repeated in EU Commission and Freedom House annual reports on the state of conditions in the individual countries of the Western Balkan region, the functioning of recently established democratic institutions in these countries is heavily burdened by administrative inefficiency and especially by weak judicial systems which are not able to eliminate the involvement of criminal activities and corruption in the work of these institutions. The destabilising impact of these political system weaknesses, which are by no means specific to the Western Balkans,15 has been enormously strengthened and prolonged by the continuing existence of inter-ethnic problems and conflicts in and among the Western Balkan states. Leaving aside Albania, which continues to struggle with a very weak level of consolidation of democratic institutions and enormously high corruption, a major source of political instability in all three Western Balkan states with the worst state of democracy (B-H, Macedonia, and Kosovo - the NIT democracy score for Kosovo was 5.14 and TICPI score 33 in 2014) remains the problematic and conflicting internal ethnic relations regarding the very constitutional definition of these countries.
In addition to the problems in relation between Serbia and Kosovo regarding Kosovo’s contested statehood status16 and the ever-present high level of tensions between Kosovo’s Albanian majority and Serbian ethnic minority, a very serious lack of inter-ethnic trust in B-H and Macedonia continues to politically destabilise these countries as well as to threaten regional stability. While in Kosovo the ethnic animosities are linked to corruption, which is like in Albania of endemic proportions (Bogdani 2015) and very similar in scale to the levels of corruption experienced in the semi-authoritarian and authoritarian regimes of the Eurasian states (see Table 2.2), ethnic mistrust in Macedonia, coupled with increased animosity between the evermore authoritarian government of Prime Minister Gruevski and the largest opposition party, has in recent years paralysed political life and the chance for further improvements in the functioning of democratic institutions in this country. Similarly in B-H, when discussing the poor state of the national economy and the political standstill, the political representatives of all three ethnic groups continue to firstly blame the ‘obstructions’ made by the political leadership of other ethnic groups and then international factors (particularly the EU and the United States) for ‘not doing enough’ to prevent this obstruction. While the leaders of the Bosniak/Croat Federation, and particularly the ethnic Bosniaks, continue to excuse their poor governing performance by claiming that the ‘non-functioning’ of federal institutions is due to the ‘Dayton approach’ being ‘too confederative’, the Bosnian Serbs’ political leaders are preoccupied with defending their ‘Dayton autonomy’ from such ‘attacks’.17 In this regard, almost nothing has changed since the mid- 2000s when Knaus and Cox (2004) identified these tendencies in the behaviour of the political leaders of the three core ethnic groups in B-H.