There’s a double standard in the Western Balkans, according to analysts Jelena Beslin and Marija Ignjatijevic. Governments in the region generally equate violent extremism with Islamist radicalization and local youths who join the fight in Syria and Iraq. At the same time, other forms of extremism, such as right-wing nationalism, are regarded as a secondary concern, if they are acknowledged at all. This imbalance must end, before it spurs additional extremism, they write for the European Union Institute for Security Studies (EUISS).
Russian meddling and “brazen language” also encourages extremist radicals and other illiberal elements to attack those advancing and defending democratic principles, including civil society groups and media, says Ivana Cvetkovic Bajrovic (above, center), the National Endowment for Democracy’s Associate Director for Europe.
Despite the region’s proximity to the European Union, and some noteworthy progress towards accession, the countries of the Western Balkans have moved away from democratic consolidation, she told a US Senate hearing on Southeast Europe: Strengthening Democracy and Countering Malign Foreign Influence:
The current situation – characterized by weak and compromised institutions, autocratic strongmen, growing media capture, lingering ethnic grievances, and worsening regional relations – is increasingly perilous. Russia is exploiting these weaknesses in an effort to gain greater geopolitical influence. The Kremlin seeks to weaken democratic transitions in the region, curtail Euro-Atlantic integration, and undermine NATO and the EU.
Western governments should press for real democratic progress, which is the real key to regional security, long-term stability, and countering malign foreign influence. This can be done in several cost-effective ways, said Bajrovic:
- Demonstrate a strong and consistent dedication to democratic principles:
- Challenge undemocratic practices and trends in progress reports, public appearances and statements, and in direct communications with the region’s leaders. ..
- Adopt a more pluralistic approach to promoting reform processes, and empower reformers by reaching out to a broader, more diversified group of political, civic, and media actors. …
- Insist on regional cooperation and a constructive approach to outstanding issues, especially by countries which are already EU and NATO members.
- Rebuild conditionality: Offer incentives, where possible, such as through the NATO accession process and supporting countries’ EU progress. As NED grantee Center for Euro-Atlantic Studies argues in its upcoming report, “NATO can and should be the leading actor of a sustained and comprehensive process of the region’s stabilization and democratization.” …