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Balkan Voters Cling to Governments They Don’t Love

  • Source:www.balkaninsight.com
  • Date:2018-03-12 09:11

Campaigning in eastern Serbia, he recalled an encounter with a group of farmers who left him speechless with the logic of their argument as to why they would not vote for his Serbian Renewal Movement:

we’ll vote for you the day you come to power, they said.

A few years ago, as a national coordinator for NATO in Montenegro, I was on a road show, visiting communities in Montenegro. Nothing struck me so deeply as the level of frustration that many people felt with their lives and futures. They did not trust the government and the ruling party. But they did not respect most of the other political actors in Montenegro, either. I would describe it as a chronic lack of optimism – and it has lasted for decades.

How does this hate-love affair actually work? What makes us love the people in power – fear of change and uncertainty, lack of a good, viable alternative, or both?

It is true that, once they are in power, Balkan political elites tend to remain there indefinitely. But this political phenomenon was not invented in the Balkans. It is not our original “trade-mark”. Just to recall, the President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker, served as the 23

rdPrime Minister of Luxembourg from 1995 to 2013 and as the country’s Minister of Finance from 1989 to 2005. After he was politically defeated at home, the EU offered him a new job. In brief, Juncker has been a decision maker either in Luxembourg or in the EU for 28 consecutive years.

I do not compare Juncker with our regional politicians, or Luxembourg with any of our countries, of course. The political systems are incomparable. Juncker was not the Prime Minister of a state known for its lack of democratic tradition and poor culture of dialogue. His state did not suffer, either, from weak, inefficient institutions, corruption, party-ocracy, political discrimination or suppression of media freedom.

The problem is deeper, and pertains to all actors across the spectrum in the region – those in power and in opposition alike.

The Belgrade elections, which Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic called a “festival of democracy”, hit a record for the number of contenders; 24 parties and coalitions ran for seats in the city assembly. Had they been united in two or three columns, they could have been a potential game changer.

We may see something similar in the upcoming Presidential elections in Montenegro. The recent local elections prove that the ruling Democratic Party of Socialists, DPS, is stumbling, faced by the challenges of more 20 years in power. But the opposition parties seem incapable of finding a formula for success. The growing number of candidates, meanwhile, promises that Montenegro’s “vanity fair” will be even more colourful than the one in Belgrade.

If one wants to send a postcard from the Balkans these days, one might well choose a grey one. Grey seems a perfect fit for what is happening in the region, putting aside the endemic problems that the region should deal with, such as corruption or democratic insufficiency.

Kosovo has a problem dealing with its past and with the concept of transitional justice. But Croatia also has a problem with its past. Croatia’s Council for Dealing with Consequences of the Rule of Non-Democratic Regimes endorsed a proposal for legal amendments that would allow the war veterans to “exceptionally” use the Croatian World War II fascist Ustasa slogan ‘Za dom spremni’ (‘Ready for the Home(land)’).

And Serbia also has a problem with its past, and with the role it played in the 1990s. Not long ago, the Serbian Defence Minister said Serbia should seek a partition agreement with Kosovo in order to end a dispute that is hampering Belgrade’s EU accession. The calculation looks a simple one: talk about Kosovo’s partition, but have in mind the Republika Srpska in Bosnia as well.

At the same time, Bosnia and Herzegovina is facing one of the deepest crises in its independent history. It manifests itself at various levels. Frightened of Turkish President Recep Tayyipd Erdogan, the city of Sarajevo reversed its decision to honor Nobel Laureate Orhan Pamuk, known for his political activism against the Turkish President. Pamuk seemed good enough for the Nobel Jury – but was not good enough for the city of Sarajevo. Even more worrying signals come from Republika Srpska. Bosnia’s mainly Serbian entity recently acquired over 1,700 assault rifles, with another 2,500 to be shipped soon. Why? To protect themselves? From whom?

Every country is rolling its own boulder up the hill called “democratic reforms”, hoping that it will not roll down. The only gleam of light right now comes from the new Macedonian government, which is doing its best to put the country back on the track heading to Brussels.

Elsewhere, what is the alternative? Regrettably, apart from some strong voices coming from the NGO sector and a few underrated [by voters] politicians, the opposition in the region looks no better, if not worse, than those in power. Fragmented, disorganized, without vision, driven by leaders obsessed with self-promotion, it is doomed to fail.

Obsessed with the past and motivated by the idea of national vengeance, they cannot mobilize voters as genuine initiators of a democratic change. Advocating freedom of the media and criticizing corruption, while portraying Vladimir Putin’s Russia as a role model sounds grotesque.

To make the situation even bleaker, the opposition political space is being filled by unaccountable [on earth] religious leader on the far-right side of spectrum, promoting their ultra-conservative, retrograde, nationalistic ideology. For example, the weak opposition in Montenegro has for years been replaced either by strong voices from the NGO sector, or by the Serbian Orthodox Church aspiring to have the final word in internal political disputes.

It is no surprise that those looking for more than just new faces in the Balkan political circus habitually stay home and do not vote. There are millions of them, young, educated people, disappointed and discontented, dreaming of living a normal life and willing to go somewhere else. They are the untapped potential of our societies. But the region’s political actors do not know how to reach out to them, as they don’t fit the image of the average voter.

At this moment, no political force in the region seems capable of articulating their interests and transforming them into political action that will bring about a thorough transformation. Consequently, when 2025 arrives, if “EU accession year” ever comes, many of them will no longer be living here.

Vesko Garcevic is a former Montenegrin Ambassador to NATO, the OSCE and other international organisations. He is currently a professor at the Frederick S. Pardee School of Global Studies, Boston University.

The opinions expressed in the Comment section are those of the authors only and do not necessarily reflect the views of BIRN.

  • Source:www.balkaninsight.com
  • Date:2018-03-12 09:11
Key Words:political,power,Montenegro,region,Serbian
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