The Balkans – Europe’s Overlooked Blind-Spot

Although the Eastern European region has been shrouded in relative calm with the usual tinge of political instability, lack of ethnic diversity and territorial issues which threaten to wake up the restive region. It is only now, with the newly elected Serbian Prime-Minister Aleksandar Vučić, that European leaders are concerned.

Vučić’ electoral story is the usual liturgy – despite having won 55% of votes, Serbians still claim that the election was rigged. There is little to no evidence that proves this. Many voters, especially younger generations, are accusing Vučić of wanting to run a dictatorship. Nevertheless, the Organisation for Security and Co-Operation in Europe (OSCE) has raised suspicion regarding media coverage and campaign financing ahead of the poll. Now, the sad reality is this; no matter what the final report by the OSCE says, which is expected in a couple of weeks, the public’s perception will still be the same — Vučić will still be accused of stealing the election.

The freshly elected Prime-Minister plans to deepen trade ties with the Western Balkans, after he is handed over the presidency in June. He is to work towards establishing a free-trade zone across much of what was formerly Yugoslavia. Vučić has also envisioned a highway linking between Belgrade and Sarajevo. Moreover, he has emphasised greatly on the fact that economic ties are to be strengthened, as according to Vučić, they are the only way forward – as well as the key to overcoming regional instability, particularly with Bosnia and Herzegovina. Vučić also wants to establish a trading relationship with traditional ally, Russia. Nevertheless, he has made it a point to prioritise Serbia’s EU path.

Last month, it was Jean-Claude Juncker himself that had commented on the situation in the Balkans, and was quoted telling US Vice-President Mike Pence that “If we leave them alone – Bosnia-Herzegovina, Republika Srpska, Macedonia, Albania, all those countries – we will have war again.” The sad reality is this – ethnic tensions in the Balkans remain palpable. Just last week, Kosovo’s President Hashim Thaçi, threatened to take Serbia to court for atrocities committed during the Kosovo conflict. Moreover, he has formulated the intention of creating a Kosovar army, without support from the country’s Serb minority. The latter plan was later withdrawn as Thaçi faced pressure from both NATO and Washington.

It is to no surprise that both Juncker and German Chancellor, Angela Merkel support Vučić; though, they too are not shy from criticism. Many accuse the EU, as well as the USA, of turning a blind eye towards Vučić’s authoritarian traits, to establish stability in the Balkan region. It seems to many as if stability is being given much more importance than democracy and rule of law, which is what may have resulted in many’s alienation from the Union.

Serbia’s path to EU membership is to come into fruition by 2020. However, the Serbs’ desire to be a part of the Union has fallen by more than 20% over the last few years – in 2009, want for European membership stood at 67%. Today, even with obvious economic benefits garnered after accession, want stands at 43%.

Emma Sammut

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *