2. New Balkan Turbulence
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Macedonia’s Albanians have remained loyal despite reservations about how the government treats them. They reasoned that Macedonia offered them the fastest route to membership in NATO and the EU.
Since VMRO’s abuse of power has frozen Macedonia’s candidacy, this is no longer true. Albania overtook Macedonia in Freedom House’s democracy rankings in 2016, and even Kosovo – with the worst rating in the region – is not far behind.
Macedonian civil society has called for targeted sanctions against officials, and the European Parliament’s rapporteur raised the possibility of “other instruments, starting from the financial kind”. The basic requirement is that the majority coalition must be allowed to take office and govern.
European messaging has been disastrously confused. While Brussels urges responsibility, some member states give aid and comfort to VMRO, which is an associate member of the European People’s Party (EPP).
That link is presumably the reason for Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz’s otherwise inexplicable decision to campaign for VMRO in the December 2016 elections. Hungary’s Viktor Orbán, also an EPP colleague, said “Macedonia cannot be stable without [VMRO]”, endorsed that party’s call for a new election and urged the EU to speed up accession talks with Macedonia, Serbia, and Montenegro.
Kosovo’s leaders need to hear the same warning, because they are making the same mistakes. A struggle for power between Albanian-majority parties is paralysing the state and creating a dangerous ethnic backlash.
- A coalition of opposition parties won national elections in June 2014, but the incumbents refused to give up power. The detailsare complicated, but the consequences of the ruling Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK)’s clinging to power – if somewhat mitigated by a power-sharing-arrangement with the centrist Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK) –
- are clear: Kosovars’ public trustin key institutions has plummeted; in the most recent poll, confidence in the prime minister fell from 48.5 per cent before the crisis to 19.7 per cent; faith in the Assembly and the president fell by similar amounts.
The opposition chose to fight the PDK’s iron grip on power with the most powerful weapon in its arsenal: nationalist resentment of Serbia and Kosovo’s Serb minority.
A minor rock-throwing incident in Gjakovë in January 2015 degenerated within weeks to riots in the capital, Pristina, as opposition activists focused popular rage on the government’s weak spot, its alleged coddling of the Serb minority and subservience to Belgrade.
At one point in 2016, nearly half the opposition’s representatives were in prison. An entirely technical exercise in border demarcation with Montenegro, a key EU requirement for visa-free travel for Kosovars, became hostage to the crisis amid spurious opposition accusations the government was giving away land.
Relations between the government and opposition parties have started a fragile recovery. A dialogue mediated by Balkans Group since March 2016 has party leaders talking and persuaded the opposition to stop disrupting the Assembly.
Lurching toward Paralysis in Bosnia
In its last Balkans report, in 2014, Bosnia’s Future, Crisis Group noted “little risk of deadly conflict” but warned the country was “slowly spiralling toward disintegration”. Recent events confirm that assessment.
The latest of these might prove fatal. The details are again complicated, but the gist is straightforward. The Constitutional Court has struck down part of the election law, and unless it is amended, Bosnia will be unable to replace the current legislature and executive when their terms expire in October 2018. A caretaker government could function for some months but not pass a budget; by spring 2019, therefore, Bosnia might be in paralysis and disintegration.
“ Preventing a catastrophe in Bosnia requires placing the state on a more stable foundation, rather than merely repairing the cracks revealed by this most recent crisis.
Srećko Latal, director of the Social Overview Service think-tank and regional editor for the Balkans Investigative Reporting Network (BIRN), warns that “state paralysis is exactly the kind of crisis that separatists in Republika Srpska are waiting for, as it would provide an ideal justification to break away”. Republika Srpska’s leaders have made no secret of their desire for independence; its president, Milorad Dodik, once boasted that “one day [independence] will fall into our hands like ripe fruit from a tree. We are waiting to have examples of how to do this in Europe so that no one can blame us for anything”.
Preventing a catastrophe in Bosnia requires placing the state on a more stable foundation, rather than merely repairing the cracks revealed by this most recent crisis. Conventional wisdom holds that revisiting Bosnia’s constitutional structure is a fool’s errand, and that instead, the country needs the balm of European integration. That is now a very remote possibility:
Crisis Group repeats its recommendation to the leaders of Bosnia and its two entities: initiate a debate on fundamental reform along the lines sketched out in our last report.