“The euro crisis should not mean the end of EU enlargement,” wrote Dimitar Bechev, one of the key-note speakers at the Belgrade Security Forum (www.belgradeforum.org) held in mid-September in Serbia, recently in his policy brief. Coping with the crisis, which became the key issue discussed during the Forum, creates significant challenges to democracy and security, and when both of these factors are still not stable and consolidated, as is the case in the Western Balkan region, the crisis itself may produce far-reaching and unpredicted consequences. These unpredicted consequences, however, fall behind on the current European political and media agenda which securitises the western financial crisis and, as a result, pushes out the inconvenient, unsolved issues of the South-East European peripheries.
The security and stability of the Western Balkan region and the socialisation of the Western Balkan countries have become a political mantra, getting lost in a vicious circle of powerlessness. The constant discussions don't bring any conclusions or calculable results, and even if some conclusions might be found, they remain – as do European laws in the region – passed, but not implemented.
The Balkan problems remain unsolved. While some challenges are obvious, such as the question of statehood self-reliability of Kosovo and Bosnia and Herzegovina, others fall behind the dominant European discourse and remain not only undiscussed, but frequently even unnoticed by the international community – such as the impact of the financial crisis on the Western Balkan countries or the role of women in the security sector.
The Belgrade Security Forum is an attempt to identify and address the issues from a multidimensional, multilevel and multisectoral perspective by representatives of various political, geographical, cultural, as well as professional backgrounds. What is even more significant is the fact that the Forum is organised by civil society organisations experienced in post-authoritarian and post-conflict transition, such as the Belgrade Centre for Security Policy, which have proved the role of think tanks in modern policy making as well as the importance of societal pressure in the processes of democratisation; in this case, particularly in democratic security sector reforms.
The frozen Balkan conflicts and unfinished peace in several areas of the region undoubtedly remain the critical challenges to be faced both by the Balkan states themselves, as well as the international community. The fires which are constantly breaking out are more or less successfully fought, but the problems of the Serbian minority in North Kosovo, the inefficiency of the Bosnian state and the continuously deepening division between ethnic communities in Macedonia, remain unsolved and create a friendly environment for the development of both old and new disputes and threats, such as cyber crime.
Lines of division
The transformation of the region from a conflict zone into a security community keeps failing. And although the development trend of regional cooperation is positive, especially since 2000, cooperation remains clearly functional, and neither produces a feeling of “we-ness” in the region nor supports the strengthening of common values and beliefs. Despite the fact that it leads to a relatively successful addressing of some of the issues, such as border management, combating organised crime and the fight against corruption, the Balkans are still far away from being called a success story in terms of security.
As the challenges mentioned above include those of a rather obvious and commonly recognisable nature and are widely discussed both in the region and in the western world, as well as by the other relevant actors for the Balkans, such as Turkey or Russia, the interdependence between the economic crisis and democracy – when developed in a simultaneously post-authoritarian and post-conflict environment – which remains in strong interconnection to the stability of the region, is unrecognised by the wider public in the context of Balkan security. The economic crisis influences the Balkan states to a different extent creating additional lines of division both within the states themselves as well as the whole region.
Generally speaking, the more the countries are advanced in their European integration processes and the stronger their ties with the European Union are, the more noticeable the negative consequences of the crisis. Moreover, the stronger, the deeper and the longer the crisis in the EU is, the less attention the Western Balkans get and the less coherent the European voice on the Balkans is, which further destabilises the region. The impact of the crisis, however, shouldn't only be considered at the regional or national level, and the people-centered approach must not be left behind.
The crisis supports the strong cleavage between The Same and The Other in the societies of the Balkans and creates new challenges to be coped with by individuals. At the same time, however, it also produces several opportunities for positive societal changes. One of them might be the evolving role of women in confronting challenges, which on the one hand strengthens their position in the societies, while on the other might introduce a significantly different approach to coping with the crisis and enrich both the discourse and the policies.
The EU as an organisation has lost momentum in the Western Balkan policy and although the rather clear message from the region is that enlargement fatigue should be overcome and a “Thessaloniki-like” common voice on South-East Europe should again be agreed on, there are other significant actors emerging in the region and gaining both more attention and influence. Despite the obvious examples of the United States, Turkey and Russia, this is exemplified by the fact that China might potentially play a more noticeable role in the Balkans. Moreover, the Central European countries, with emphasis on the Visegrad Group, which haven't experienced the crisis particularly severely, might be expected to maintain further enlargement and EU external policies on their agendas.
The external factors have always had a critical meaning for the stability of the region, although a trend is visible where the regional ownership strengthens proportionally to the progressive consolidation of the region. These are, therefore, the national and regional politics which are expected to be strategically oriented at addressing traditional and new security threats as well as long-term problem solving. The regional level is not limited to state designed policies and both the importance of the influence of civil society in the security sector of transitional countries, as well as new platforms of cooperation in the wider region in such critical field as energy security (eg the Energy Community of South East Europe) should be considered as valuable and effective forms of security building.
When asked at the Belgrade Security Forum whether the Balkans are finally a success story, the Slovak Minister of Foreign Affairs, Miroslav Lajčák, who has been involved in the Balkan region for many years, answered: “Success is a process.” Security is also a process, although not a linear one, and both the Balkans and the international community have a long way to go to make the Balkans a successful and secure place.
Ida Orzechowska is a PhD candidate at the Institute of Political Science of the University of Wroclaw, Poland, obtaining a degree in political science. Her main research interests relate to international security, the Western Balkans and conflict studies. She is currently a visiting fellow at the Institute for International Relations in Zagreb, developing her dissertation on the correlation between power relation and stability in the Western Balkan region.