Rekindling Democracy’s Promise in Europe

An Op-Ed for “The European” and “Balkan Insight“, jointly written with A. Bekaj

A little more than 30 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the jubilation felt over the dawning of democracy in Central and Eastern Europe has dissipated. The region faces challenges that make the promise of democracy look like a mirage.

Anti-government protesters march in Belgrade, Serbia, in April 2019. Photo: EPA-EFE/Srdjan Suki

Over time, regimes in countries such as Poland, Hungary, Serbia and Bulgaria have taken steps to curtail civic space, undermine checks and balances and concentrate power in the hands of a few. read more

The Quality of Democracy in Central and Eastern Europe

Contribution to “Democracy under Stress“, ed. by. P. Guasti and Z. Mansfeldová, Institute of Sociology, Czech Academy of Sciences, Prague 2018, 31-53.

The young democracies in East-Central and Southeast Europe have been particularly susceptible to the wave of populist, anti-establishment and extremist political forces that now challenge liberal democracy across the globe. These challengers claim to represent the opinion of the ordinary people against a political establishment that is portrayed as corrupt, elitist and controlled by foreign interests. Their polarizing and anti-pluralist ideological stances have contributed to a more confrontational political competition. Several countries have also seen “democratic backsliding”,  an erosion of the institutions and mechanisms that constrain and scrutinize the exercise of executive authority. Illiberal policies have targeted opposition parties, parliaments, independent public watchdog institutions, judiciaries, local and regional self-government, mass media, civil society organizations, private business and minority communities. Incumbent elites have justified these policies as measures to strengthen popular democracy and to fulfill the promises of the post-1989 democratic transitions. read more

Illiberal Drift and Proliferation

A comparative study on the state of democracy and market economy in East-Central and Southeast Europe

In recent years, the illiberal tendencies characteristic of several East-Central and Southeast European countries have taken their toll on nearly all segments of society, from opposition parties to parliaments and judiciaries, to oversight institutions, local and regional self-governing administrative organs, the media, NGOs, the private sector and minority groups as well. This process can best be described as “illiberal drift,” because key democratic institutions – free and competitive elections, political participation rights and individual liberties, separation of powers and rule of law – are not abolished or fundamentally questioned. Rather these institutions are, over time, re-interpreted and subject to changes that pull them increasingly further away from the understanding that led the democratization processes of the 1990s and the enlargement of the EU in the 2000s. In recent years, the dismantling and erosion processes in Hungary and Poland have raised particular international attention. However, illiberal thinking and acting have meanwhile proliferated to numerous states of East-Central and Southeast Europe.

My regional report is part of the Transformation Index project, a global comparison and expert survey on democracy, market economy and governance in developing and postsocialist countries.


Crisis Trajectories and Patterns of Resilience in East-Central and Southeast Europe

Presentation at the Conference “Disintegration and integration in East-Central Europe“, Faculty of European Studies, Babeș-Bolyai University Cluj-Napoca, 26-27 October 2017

Babeș-Bolyai University Cluj-Napoca

The subsequent economic and refugee crises have questioned the promise of prosperity and security associated with European integration. Governments in East-Central and Southeast Europe struggled to bridge between the diverging policy expectations of voters on the one hand, international economic and political actors on the other. The weakened credibility of mainstream political parties provided opportunities for populist and anti-establishment mobilization. While these crisis-induced influences have been similar in all countries of the region, the extent to which populist challengers have been able to win elections and implement their preferred policy preferences has varied significantly across countries.

In my paper, I analyze the conditions and constellations that account for the resilience of countries with regard to the domestic political consequences of the European crises. I argue that populist challenger parties benefit from bipolar competition because they use polarizing frames of people versus elites to mobilize electoral support. The fragmentation and polarization of party systems reflect the nature of the electoral system and the configuration of cleavages in society. A majoritarian electoral system and congruent cleavages have supported the emergence of  bipolar party system in Hungary and Poland. In contrast, cross-cutting cleavages tend to generate and sustain multi-polar party systems. These party systems facilitate the entry of new parties, but have posed obstacles to new parties trying to broaden and consolidate their constituencies. To assess the intersection or congruence of cleavages, the paper studies the configuration of differences among parties on salient policy issues.

See also:

Prospects of a Dialogue on Kosovo

Interview with Aleksandra Nenadović, Voice of America, 26 July 2017

On 24 July 2017 Serbia’s President Aleksandar Vučić called for an “internal dialogue” on Kosovo. His article triggered an intense public debate and a large media echo within and beyond Serbia because he urged his fellow-citizens to face reality and stop waiting to be given “what we have lost a long time ago”.  Serbia should cease to preserve “a conflict whose meaning we do not understand” and should rather resolve the “Kosovo (Gordian) knot” in a responsible and non-violent way.

(c) Ivan Apostolski,

Vučić’s appeal has not indicated how such a solution could look like. In the interview, I argue that he is unlikely to recognize Kosovo and Metohija as an independent state because public opinion in Serbia, most citizens and especially Vučić’s electorate would not support such a decision.

Perhaps his main motive behind the call for an “internal dialogue” on Kosovo has been to strengthen Belgrade’s position during future talks with Priština about the implementation of the Brussels Agreement and the “normalization” of their relationship. A publicly manifested insistence on Kosovo being a part of Serbia would tie the hands of the government regarding EU claims for a de-facto or incremental recognition of Kosovo in the course of accession.

By refering to a supportive domestic public opinion, Serbia’s government could better defend its negotiation position vis-à-vis Brussels/Priština (similar to PM Orbán’s consultation on refugee issues in Hungary or PM Cameron’s Brexit referendum initiative in the UK). Moreover, an public consultation could also delineate the scope for permissible compromises during future normalization talks.

Rather than shifting the responsibility to others, Vučić’s call could be seen as a strategy to involve others in taking responsibility and explore the scope for concessions on Kosovo. Such a dialogue could work because Vučić’s core aims appear to be relatively modest – the main purpose of his initiative seems to be to survey public opinion and generate some resonance rather than crafting a consensus among the different positions.



Medium-Term Strategic Planning

A workshop by SIGMA and Montenegro’s Ministry of European Affairs, Podgorica 11-12 May 2017

To step up its EU accession preparations, the newly elected government of Montenegro has established a new Ministry of European Affairs (MEP) since November 2016. In May 2017, the Ministry organized a government-wide workshop on the coordination of strategic planning together with SIGMA, the joint program created by the OECD and the EU to strengthen public management.

The purpose of the workshop was to discuss the requirements and coordination of strategic plans, to link strategy documents and medium-term budget planning and to define goals and indicators for monitoring and reporting. Apart from MEP, senior civil servants from the Secretariat of the Government, the Ministry of Finance and key line ministries attended the workshop. SIGMA experts included practitioners from Estonia, Latvia and Hungary.

In my presentations, I identified possible links between strategic planning and the budget process and gave an overview on approaches and options of performance measurement. One outcome of the workshop was a clearer rationale for a sector structure of medium-term strategic policy planning.

Sectors can be viewed as an intermediary level between the institutional setup / organizational design of government and the goal orientation or functional logic of public policies. The definition and delineation of sectors reflects the medium- and longterm policy priorities of the government, while being sufficiently broad to enable a flexible definition and readjustment of policy goals.

Sectors can structure and support inter-ministerial cooperation below the cabinet level. Such a cooperation is particularly important for Montenegro because the current government consists of a relatively large number of ministerial portfolios that is likely to reduce the effectiveness of deliberation within the full cabinet of ministers. Moreover, general administrative capacity limits also strongly suggest inter-ministerial cooperation.

We proposed to define seven sectors taking into account the structures of ministry portfolios and the most important medium-term planning documents: Democracy and governance; financial / fiscal governance; transport and energy infrastructure; economic development and environment; science, education and culture; employment, social inclusion and health; euroatlantic integration.

Trump’s Foreign Policy, Russia and the Balkans

An interview with Aleksandra Nenadović, Voice of America, 9 November 2016 by Corax for the Serbian daily Danas

What does the electoral victory of Donald Trump mean for US foreign policy in the Balkans? Any prediction is fraught with high uncertainties because no one knows the extent to which Trump’s populist demagoguery from the electoral campaign will become official US policy.

However, many observers concur that American foreign policy will be more inward-looking and realist. The realist notion of a balance of power would resonate with the ideas of Russia as a great power and a new Jalta-order shared by Russia’s current political leadership. A balance-of-power orientation would imply conceding zones of influence to other great powers and deemphasizing concerns for universalist ideas such as democracy or political freedoms.

A more realist and inward-focused US government will probably refrain from a further enlargement of NATO in the Balkans, mainly to avoid taking additional international commitments and increasing the costs for joint defence. Moreover, such a presidential administration would be less intrinsically  committed to promoting multinational state projects such as Bosnia, Kosovo and Macedonia. Russian policymakers would perceive such policy stances as converging with Russia’s interests in the region. This could open windows of opportunity for local separatist/ irredentist mobilization.

Download the VOA analysis (in Serbian):voa_161109


Serbia between EU/NATO and Russia

An interview with Aleksandra Nenadović, Voice of America, 27 October 2016

Nikolai’ Patrushev, Secretary of Russia’s National Security Council, met with Serbia’s President, Prime Minister and other ministers in Belgrade on 25/26 October 2016. The official aim of this visit was to discuss the security situation and options for a military-technical cooperation between Serbia and Russia. Patrushev also proposed a memorandum of understanding on a security cooperation between Serbia and Russia.

The visit coincided with the news that Montenegrin and Serbian police arrested two groups of Serbian citizens who are suspected of preparing a coup against the government of Montenegro.  Montenegro’s decision to join NATO has become a major controversy between the government and several opposition parties. Following a series of mass protests, the opposition alliance “Democratic Front” (Demokratski Front, DF) tried to frame the parliamentary elections of 16 October 2016 as a vote against the NATO membership of Montenegro. The government has claimed that Russia was financing and supporting the DF. Details from the ongoing investigations against the suspected coup-plotters indicate an involvement of Russian actors.

In the interview, I noted that Russia’s current political leadership is interested in using its influence and its hybrid methods of disinformation and covert action to prevent a further enlargement of NATO and to undermine the Europeanization of the Western Balkans. A closer military-technical cooperation between Serbia and Russia would raise doubts about Serbia’s commitment to accede the EU, because the EU has just renewed its sanctions against Russia and has agreed on cooperating with NATO to address hybrid threats from Russia. If Serbia wants to join the EU, Serbia’s government has to progressively align its foreign policy with  the EU’s common positions.

NATO would not categorically oppose a cooperation between Russia and Serbia, but would probably review the extent to which it shares sensitive information with Serbia in its Individual Partnership Action Plan, particularly if the envisaged Russian-Serbian cooperation will also include security services. However, since the Belgrade government is aware of the resonance a memorandum of understanding would cause in the West, it will probably seek to dilute its content and status. Given the current tensions between the West and Russia, little space is left for balancing between the two.

Download the VOA analysis (in Serbian):voa_161027


Politics and Religion in Eastern Europe

An interview with Magda Crișan, Romanian TV program Digi24, 11 May 2016

Political elites in East European countries have often referred to religious beliefs or sought to form alliances with church leaders. One aim of their efforts has been to convince citizens and the public that they share common values and are committed to act ethically responsibly.

Putin_KyrillMore frequent references and appeals to shared religious beliefs in recent years reflect the growth of right-wing populism, uncertainties caused by the crisis of European integration and fears regarding the inflow of predominantly Muslim refugees. The extent to which religious references are made in political discourses also varies according to the strength of religious allegiances and the respective influence of churches in societies. Contemporary resonance structures are rooted in state identities and the influences of historical state-building coalitions with churches.

Read the full-length interview (Romanian language): INTERVIU_ReligionPolitics

Watch the video (German, Romanian subtitles):


Zum Einfluss des IWF in Bosnien und Herzegowina

Ein Interview mit Harun Cero, Al Jazeera Balkans, 8.5.2016

Picture source: EPA Archive

– Der Internationale Währungsfonds verhandelt mit Bosnien und Herzegowina über ein neues Stand-by Arrangement. Wuerden Sie der Analyse zustimmen, dass Bosnien wirtschaftlich unabhängig ist?

Die komplexen Verwaltungsstrukturen behindern ausländische Investititionen und vergrößern die Rechtsunsicherheit für alle Investoren. Bosnien ist aber in hohem Maße vom Ausland abhängig, da das Land nicht nur ausländische Investitionen benötigt, sondern auch über seinen Außenhandel, Kredite, Finanzhilfen und die Rücküberweisungen von bosnischen Arbeitsmigranten international verflochten ist.

  • Hat die Tatsache, dass der IWF entscheidet, wann und ob Bosnien finanzielle Hilfe bekommt, Auswirkungen auf die Demokratisierungsprozesse in diesem Land?

Unmittelbare, direkte Auswirkungen sehe ich nicht, da der IWF die Gewährung von Finanzhilfen nicht von weitreichenden institutionellen Reformen abhängig machen wird, die z.B. die Autonomierechte der Entitäten einschränken würden. Ich würde vermuten, dass man in der Frage der Bankenaufsicht einen Kompromiss aushandeln wird, der die beiden Aufsichtsgremien der Entitäten erhält, aber trotzdem die Kontrolle stärkt.

Mittelbar jedoch unterstützt die Politik des IWF diejenigen politischen Akteure in Bosnien, die für einen stärkeren Gesamtstaat eintreten, weil die vom IWF propagierte Haushaltskonsolidierung / Stabilisierung des Bankensystems / Deregulierung / Privatsektorförderung auf eine Rationalisierung der Verwaltungsstrukturen und eine Rechtsangleichung zwischen den Entitäten / Kantonen hinwirkt.

  • Wie lange wird Ihrer Meinung nach Bosnien den IWF noch brauchen?

Wenn es der Republika Srpska gelingt, ihre Liquiditätsprobleme durch die Emission von Staatsanleihen oder durch Kredite anderer Geldgeber (z.B. Russland, China) zu bewältigen, wäre die RS-Regierung nicht zwingend auf den IWF-Kredit angewiesen. Für den Erhalt der internationalen Kreditwürdigkeit ist eine Kooperation mit dem IWF aber notwendig und noch für lange Zeit (sicher mehr als fünf Jahre) erforderlich.

  • Was muss getan werden, um finanzielle Unabhängigkeit zu erlangen?

Bosnien wird dann nicht mehr auf den IWF angewiesen sein, wenn die öffentlichen Ausgaben weitgehend durch die aus dem Wirtschaftssystem abgeschöpften Staatseinnahmen gedeckt werden können. Dazu müssten die öffentlichen Ausgaben reduziert und/oder die wirtschaftliche Leistungskraft verbessert werden. Gegenwärtig erscheinen die Bedingungen dafür sehr ungünstig.

PDF-Version des bosnisch-sprachigen Artikels: AJB_160508