This article was originally published by International Crisis Group on 28 April 2017.
The Balkans was best known for minority problems. Today, the most bitter conflicts are between parties that appeal to majority ethnic communities. As recent turbulence in Macedonia shows, Eastern Europe could face new dangers if majority populism ends the current stigma against separatism for oppressed small groups.
The trouble in the Balkans today is not Russian meddling, though there is some of that, but a special case of the malaise afflicting Eastern Europe: unchecked executive power, erosion of the rule of law, xenophobia directed at neighbours and migrants and pervasive economic insecurity. The pattern varies from country to country but is palpable from Szczecin on the Baltic to Istanbul on the Bosporus. The countries of the Western Balkans – Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, and Serbia – have long tended to follow patterns set by their larger, more powerful neighbours. They are doing it again.
The ability of the European Union (EU) to fix problems in the Balkans is hamstrung when the same troubles persist within its own borders, sometimes in more acute form. Take erosion of democratic norms: Hungary over the past decade has slid from 2.14 to 3.54 on Freedom House’s “Nations in Transit” democracy score (lower is better). Poland’s decline is more recent but equally steep. Croatia is also backsliding. Almost all the Western Balkan states are declining, too, but more slowly.
Serbian officers in the company of a British nurse on the Salonika front. Lieutenant Draza Mihailovic (kneeling). Image from Wikimedia Commons.
Dragoljub Draža Mihailović was a commander of the Yugoslav Army in the Homeland, also known as the Chetnik movement, during World War II. In 1946, he was captured by the communist Yugoslav authorities, convicted of high treason and war crimes, sentenced to death and executed.
The tribunal for his rehabilitation, which began in June 2010 on the request by Draža’s grandson Vojislav Mihailović, is nearing the end now. Although the request has been supported by some academicians, professors and politicians, the public in Serbia is divided. For some, Draža Mihailović is an innocent victim, for others, he is a justly convicted collaborator of the occupiers, who committed crimes not only in Serbia, but in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia as well. » More
The break-up of Yugoslavia (in all of its incarnations) is now, it would seem, official. As of today, 30 September, websites using the .yu domain extension will be no more, thus ending any existential Yugoslavia debate.
Henceforth, there will be less ethno-nationalist website mystery: Serbian websites will be .rs; Montenegrin websites .me; Bosnian websites .ba (though here some mystery will persist as users will still be unsure without further investigation whether a particular website is from the Bosniak- and Bosnian Croat Federation entity or the Bosnian Serb-dominated Republika Srpska entity); and so on.
For many this may be a day of electronic mourning. Indeed, it is sad to see the last remnants of Yugoslavia erased – however small and ephemeral they were – and to be reminded of what has replaced this once thriving socialist republic.
Of course, for many of those who are old enough to have spent much of their childhood and even adulthood under the national Yugoslav banner (generations who arguably use the internet less frequently than their younger ‘countrymen’) this will not mean an end to Yugoslavia. Indeed, one can still find plenty of people who will forever call themselves Yugoslavs. For them, .yu will live on as an ideal rather than a mere nationality, flag or territory (or domain extension).
Stylin' in Sarajevo / photo: sarajevo-x.com
Bosnians are not really into protesting. Clearly, it requires too much mental and physical energy that is better spent … well, in the Bosnian fashion: living life, seizing the day (with coffee and cigarettes, but nonetheless).
Every now and then small groups of war veterans and pensioners will gather in front of a government building to protest not having received their funds, and once, last year, there was a protest when a teenager was stabbed to death by another teenager, but it was entirely unclear against whom the protests were directed (presumably God). Other than that, the only protest to note was when a down-on-her-luck female education official attempted to distract herself from her personal problems by causing a Christmastime uproar, proposing the sacking of Santa and his replacement by some previously unknown Muslim version of the jolly fellow. This time, a few handfuls of people (representing all ethnic-religious-secular groups) gathered in protest outside the main cathedral in the city center.
In the past few weeks, however, a new target for potential protest is a newly opened shopping center. Though the protests are unlikely to develop beyond the verbal complaint and tacit boycott phase, the shopping center is the latest exciting controversy and the main topic of call-in radio and television talk shows. The problem: Well, the shopping center is Arab built and run and refuses to sell pork in its supermarket or to allow the sale of alcohol or the presence of betting shops, the latter a major Bosnian hobby of late.