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Research Report

Resilience in the Western Balkans

Sabina Lange
Zoran Nechev
Florian Trauner
Copyright Date: Aug. 1, 2017
Pages: 146
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Table of Contents

  1. (pp. 3-4)
    Antonio Missiroli

    The cover image of this EUISS Report is taken from a famous fresco painted by Ambrogio Lorenzetti in Siena’s Palazzo Pubblico (town hall). Called Allegory and Effects of Good and Bad Government, the large mural encapsulates all the civic virtues of European polities of the time (1338 A.D.): hard work, carried out by both townspeople and peasants, but also learning and leisure, communal solidity and solidarity, stern but fair justice and osmosis between the urban and the rural landscape – all under the aegis of Securitas, embodied by a reassuring winged figure, allegedly inspired by a classical statue attributed to...

  2. (pp. 5-8)
    Sabina Lange, Zoran Nechev and Florian Trauner

    Upon her return from a visit to the region, on 6 March 2017, HR/VP Federica Mogherini stated that ‘the Balkans can easily become one of the chessboards where the big power game can be played’. Three days later the European Council held a discussion on the region and the European Council President’s conclusions of 9 March 2017 acknowledged the ‘fragile situation in the Western Balkans’ and the ‘internal and external challenges that the region is facing’. The conclusions then reaffirmed the EU’s unequivocal support for the European perspective of the Western Balkans and expressed the Union’s commitment and engagement to...

  3. Section 1

    • (pp. 11-16)
      Corina Stratulat

      Reflecting on the experience of Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) after the 1989 revolutions, Ivan Krastev¹ remarked that one of the capital sins committed both by the European Union and the region was to ‘oversell’ democracy as the best form of government. Not as a choice arrived at by the respective regimes after due consideration but as the default option to secure peace, deliver prosperity and achieve good governance – all in one package. The fall of the Berlin Wall was hailed by many as a vindication of Western Europe’s ‘beacon of democracy’: Western Europe could now transform its Eastern...

    • (pp. 17-22)
      Rosa Balfour

      The Western Balkans has shown considerable resilience over the past two decades. Societies, while grappling with the unfinished business of state dissolution and conflict, have also lived through a massive economic and financial crisis and are currently enduring the consequences of the dwindling interest in their integration into the European Union. Western Balkan elites have also been resilient. Many of the leaders today in power have managed to morph from warmongers and/or their henchmen into accepted elites, playing two-level games with Brussels while pursuing authoritarian policies at home to consolidate their hold on power. Clearly what needs to be seen...

    • (pp. 23-30)
      Tobias Flessenkemper

      The Balkans and the development of European Union foreign and security policy are deeply interlinked. Confronted with the imminent collapse of Yugoslavia in June 1991, Luxembourg’s then foreign minister and EU Council President, Jacques Poos, declared: ‘This is the hour of Europe. It is not the hour of the Americans’. Ever since, the EU has oscillated between phases of common, even integrated, resolve to find answers to the challenges posed by the region, and intergovernmental, member state-driven approaches to address the Balkans. The ‘Berlin Process’ is the latest incarnation of such a member state-driven, intergovernmental approach, whereby Germany, in contrast...

    • (pp. 31-36)
      Sandro Knezović

      The conflicts that engulfed the Western Balkans in the early 1990s put the region in the spotlight of international attention and led to the direct involvement of the transatlantic community in particular. After many unsuccessful attempts at engagement by different external actors, NATO took over responsibility for ending the military conflict and undertaking the peacekeeping and peace-building activities that followed. The Alliance has conducted numerous demilitarisation programmes in Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (fYROM) and Kosovo and deployed military missions to all the aforementioned countries, with the exception of Albania. Offering fully-fledged NATO membership to...

    • (pp. 37-42)
      Ivan Vejvoda

      In terms of grand strategy, continuity has been the hallmark of US policy towards the Western Balkans since 1989. The White House has consistently sought to foster the Euro-Atlantic integration of the countries of the region – to complete the ‘unfinished business’ (in Washington DC parlance) of ‘making Europe whole and free’ as President George H.W. Bush put it in a speech delivered in Mainz, West Germany, in May 1989.

      For the United States, the Western Balkans constitute a part of core Europe and thus from Washington’s perspective a European Union and Euro-Atlantic alliance without them is incomplete.

      As the...

    • (pp. 43-50)
      Dušan Reljić

      There are so many ‘spinners of fairy tales’ in the West who present ‘Yugoslavia as the poor, helpless Little Red Riding Hood, about to be torn apart and devoured by the bloodthirsty wolf, the Soviet Union’ – thus spoke Leonid Brezhnev, with mock indignation, while on a state visit in Belgrade in November 1976. Josip Broz Tito, then socialist Yugoslavia’s celebrated leader, was 84 years old and the country was facing the twilight of his long rule. Western pundits had for long speculated about Moscow’s evil intent to incorporate non-aligned Yugoslavia into its sphere of influence once Tito was gone....

    • (pp. 51-56)
      Filip Ejdus

      The implosion of Yugoslavia in the 1990s created favourable conditions for both Turkey and the Gulf States to increase their presence in the Western Balkans. Turkey directly supported Bosnian Muslims and Kosovo Albanians through its engagement in NATO interventions, thereby allowing Ankara to show its relevance for the Alliance in the post-Cold War period. While the Gulf States formally stayed out of the conflict, they mobilised on behalf of their fellow Balkan Muslims through the provision of humanitarian aid, but also with clandestine arms transfers and thousands of volunteers. After the wars, and particularly after the arrival of the Justice...

    • (pp. 57-62)
      Anastas Vangeli

      In 2012 China announced a new comprehensive initiative for cooperation with sixteen countries in Central, East and Southeast Europe (CESEE), including the five countries of the Western Balkans that are not (yet) EU members: Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia,¹ Montenegro and Serbia – but not Kosovo which China does not recognise. Analysts in the region, but also in the broader China-watching community, did not pay much attention to what at the time was regarded as an obscure diplomatic undertaking. Five years later, in addition to the increased economic cooperation which it has driven, the ‘16+1’...

  4. Section 2

    • (pp. 65-70)
      Florian Bieber

      The Western Balkans have been shaped by recurrent crises over the past generation. Since the 1980s the region has experienced only a few years of ‘normality’, understood as periods of economic growth, moderate or declining unemployment and political stability. The 1980s were marked by economic crisis and political confrontation. The 1990s were a decade of war, authoritarianism and nationalist mobilisation. The early years of the new millennium saw a brief interlude of stabilisation, expressed in a move towards democratisation, the end of violent conflict and economic reform and EU integration. This process gradually came to an end as a consequence...

    • (pp. 71-74)
      Srdjan Cvijić

      There is a paradox at the heart of the story of EU enlargement in the Western Balkans.

      On the one hand, Montenegro and Serbia started the EU accession negotiations process; Albania, a candidate country, is expected to open the first negotiating chap­ters before the end of 2017 or at the beginning of 2018. In the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia,¹ essentially blocked on its path to EU membership, or in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo, still waiting for a meaningful process of European integration to start, a semblance of normality is maintained both by the local governments and the EU....

    • (pp. 75-80)
      Ana E. Juncos

      The EU Global Strategy (EUGS) adopted in 2016 proposes ‘principled pragmatism’ as a new operating principle in the EU’s foreign policy. According to the EUGS: ‘We will be guided by clear principles. These stem as much from a realistic assessment of the current strategic environment as from an idealistic aspiration to advance a better world.’¹ In this way, principled pragmatism seeks to reconcile interests and values, which according to the EUGS go ‘hand in hand’. The EU appears to embrace a more assertive and self-interested strategy: fostering resilience abroad can enhance the security of the Union by promoting more stable...

    • (pp. 81-86)
      Igor Bandović and Nikola Dimitrov

      Following the violent conflicts that accompanied the dissolution of the Yugoslav Federation in the 1990s, the Western Balkans was promised a European future. At the Thessaloniki summit in June 2003, the European Council declared that ‘the future of the Balkans is within the European Union’.² But, after two decades of engagement and 14 years after the promise of Thessaloniki, it appears that the EU has lost its power of attraction in the region.

      The EU accession process – the best bet for the Western Balkans countries to trans­form into stable and prosperous democracies governed by the rule of law –...

    • (pp. 87-92)
      Alessandro Rotta

      Upholding multi-ethnic polities, reinforcing the protection of minorities and fostering intercommunal tolerance was one of the international community’s chief aims in the Balkans after the wars that accompanied the dissolution of the former Yugoslavia. This strategy was based on the idea that the inability to manage relations between different ethnic groups was among the main causes of the conflicts that ravaged the region in the 1990s. Over twenty years after Dayton, however, in most countries and entities in the Western Balkans, the objective of building integrated and cohesive societies in which diversity is considered an asset and a strength is...

    • (pp. 93-98)
      Predrag Petrović and Florian Qehaja

      The fact that from 2013 until 2015 almost 1,000 people from the Western Balkans left to fight in Syria and Iraq is a matter of ongoing concern.¹ Even though the number of foreign fighters began to decrease as of 2015, it is estimated that more than 300 have returned to their home countries. The return of foreign fighters however represents only the tip of the iceberg: the problem becomes much more complex when other individuals from the region who were not necessarily foreign fighters but subscribe to the ideology of Islamist extremism are factored into the equation. While the returned...

    • (pp. 99-104)
      Julija Sardelić

      In the 1990s, the region of southeast Europe faced multiple refugee crises due to the armed conflicts that accompanied the disintegration of Yugoslavia. Entire communities who had been forcibly displaced were often a source of bitter contention between the newly established countries. Yet the 2015/16 refugee crisis¹ re-united some of these countries in a common goal: two EU member states, Slovenia and Croatia, and two candidate countries, Serbia and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.² During the refugee crisis between September 2015 and March 2016, the common goal was to coordinate and manage the Western Balkan route in order to...

    • (pp. 105-110)
      Thanos Dokos

      Just over one hundred years ago the Balkans were, literally, the powder keg of Europe: it was here that the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo on 28 June 1914 triggered a chain of events that would lead to World War I. In the 1990s, the brutal Yugoslav civil wars brought back traumatic memories of the region’s history of conflict and violence and served as a wake-up call for Europeans regarding the security and stability of the continent. Although it is becoming clear that this wake-up call has so far gone largely unheeded, at least the Balkans are now...