Photo: New Belgrade, main financial district in Serbia and region | Source: Wikimedia Commons - Photo: 2016

Democracy Dream is Fading Away in Former Yugoslavia

Analysis by Vesna Peric Zimonjic

BELGRADE (IDN) – The right to vote for any party they like has existed in former Yugoslavia for more than a quarter of a century, but genuine democracy remains a dream for many as the region remains split along ethnic lines and lags in sustainable economic development. In fact, that dream seems to be vanishing.

Recent studies in Serbia have shown that only one-third of its 7,2 million citizens believe democracy is better than non-democratic rule.

“Unfortunately, introduction of democracy in 1990 is closely related, among ordinary people, to disintegration of former Yugoslavia, international sanctions that crippled Serbia and an unfulfilled promise of better life,” says Djordje Vukovic, head of prominent non-governmental (NGO) organisation CeSID that carried the survey titled “Democracy still does (not) live here”.

The first multiparty elections all over former Yugoslavia were held in 1990, with parties calling for independence winning in Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Violent wars split up former six-member Yugoslav federation in 1991-95 period. The 90s ended with 11 weeks of NATO bombing campaign in 1999 against Serbia, due to its oppression against ethnic Albanians in former province of Kosovo.

Serbia lived under harsh international economic sanctions due to its role in Bosnian war since 1992. The sanctions were lifted only after the fall of the wars-time regime of Slobodan Milosevic in 2000.

Almost all new nations, emerging from former Yugoslavia, lack clear vision about how to re-build their societies to modern levels and sustainable development. Effective institutions are one of the major problems.

“The way in which the wars in former Yugoslavia ended, defined the processes that followed,” says Orli Fridman, director of Peace and Conflict Studies in the Balkans, visiting professor at Belgrade Singidunum University.

“Embedded in the agreements that ended the wars are some of the major challenges of today. We can see it in the way the Dayton (Peace) Agreement, in a perspective of 20 years, did not create conditions for conflict transformation process, but rather for stagnation and dysfunctional structures,” she added.

The 1995 Agreement divided Bosnia-Herzegovina along ethnic lines, Serbs having their republic and Muslims and Croats having their Federation, topped with joint country’s institutions. This led to the creation of multiplied administration, barely capable of functioning. At the country’s level, central and joint institutions are frequently unable to reach any consensus.

One of the reasons for stalemate in Bosnia can be shifting of international interest towards other global crisis points, particularly by Western countries.

“This has impeded – and in many cases, reversed – progress on democratic development region wide,” says Kurt Bassuener of Sarajevo-based Democratisation Policy Council.

“The only provider of that restraint can be the West, by making clear that no further organised violence will be tolerated…Pressure to meet democratic and human rights standards, including war crimes and organised crime/corruption accountability, will be much more effective in that environment,” he added. In his view, political accountability is lacking region wide, which feeds corruption, abuse of power, and a culture of impunity. 

Another region that is fighting for democratisation and modernisation is Kosovo, which unilaterally declared independence from Serbia in 2008, after being the United Nations (UN) administered area since the end of bombing campaign against Serbia in 1999.

“State building is a slow process, while peoples’ expectations are very high,” says Nora Ahmetaj, one of the founders of prominent Kosovo NGO Centre for Research, Documentation and Publication (CRDP). “This still leads people to deep frustrations when these expectations are not met,” she added.

In Ahmetaj’s opinion, Kosovo shares problems of other post-Yugoslav nations.

“Lack of free judiciary and lack of rule of law, and a corrupted justice system are three common denominators for all countries of former Yugoslavia,” she says. “This was a consequence of heavily politicised justice system since the end of the civil wars and due to the fact that most judges and prosecutors were not going through proper vetting processes,” Ahmetaj added.

But deep social changes, effects of war and economic stalemate have resulted in something the region is sharing with the developed nations – radicalisation of youth, with volunteers of Islamic faith going to battlefields of Syria, disenchanted by situation and poverty at home.

A recently published report “The Lure of Syrian War: The Foreign Fighters’ Bosnian Contingent” warned that the returning fighters from Syria and Iraq, “battle hardened, skilled in handling arms and explosives and ideologically radicalised, pose a direct threat not only to the security of Bosnia-Herzegovina, but also to the region and beyond”.

Since 2012, 163 men, 61 women and 81 children have left for Syria and Iraq, February statistics of Bosnia’s State Investigation and Protection Agency (SIPA) say. Thirty men are believed to have died fighting for ISIS and Al Nusra.

Authors of the report are Sarajevo University political science professor Vlado Azinovic and Islamic theologian and columnist Muhamed Jusic, who warn that the country is ill-equipped to deal with the potential threat due to internal division, and unable to create a unique database of fighters going abroad or returning home.

“This results in significant gaps in understanding and monitoring of the phenomenon, while the government lacks a discernible strategy to confront the problem. We are not doing anything, we are just observing,” the report says.

It also warns that the Bosnian society is “gradually losing ability to manage itself” and is becoming a factor in the flow of Islamic recruits. They comprise two categories – mujahideen volunteers from Islamic countries in the 1992-95 conflict and young Bosnian men “driven mostly by adrenaline and quest for self-validation, self-respect, group belonging and purpose”.

The unemployment rate among young people in Bosnia stands officially at 63 percent.

However, despite all odds and problems, there is an area where cooperation between nations of former Yugoslavia is progressing at steady pace, despite issues related to democracy, wars or collapse of traditional values that once prevailed.

Croats, Bosnians and Serbs share the variation of the same language and films, television series and theatre still remain the bond between the people. Joint projects by newly formed private production teams have made actors popular all over the former federation.  

The last joint project comes, however, from state-owned Croatian Radio Television and Radio Television of Serbia. It deals with the life of famous Croatian poet Augustin-Tin Ujevic (1891-1955) who spent a better part of his creative years in Serbian capital of Belgrade.

This is the first such project since the wars of disintegration of former Yugoslavia. [IDN-InDepthNews – 28 May 2016]

IDN is flagship agency of the International Press Syndicate.

Photo: New Belgrade, main financial district in Serbia and region | Source: Wikimedia Commons

2016 IDN-InDepthNews | Analysis That Matters

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