“Balkan Spring”: Anti-Government Protests Arise Throughout the Balkans

  • Marija Kadovic
  • 19.4.2019 09:35

Thousands of protesters marched through the streets of Montenegro, Serbia, and Albania demanding the resignation of corrupt leaders. Despite the fact that requests for change come mostly from the people and not from the opposition, authorities show no readiness to meet their demands. Nevertheless, the European Union didn’t show any change in its policy toward the region and people's dissatisfaction is growing. Serious escalations can be thus expected.

The Balkans has been in the centre of attention in the last couple of weeks. Thousands of citizens demonstrated in the capitals of Montenegro, Serbia, and Albania, as well as in a number of smaller places across the Balkans, with the goal to overthrow the ruling regimes led by President Milo Đukanović, President Aleksandar Vučić, and Prime Minister Edi Rama respectively. In all of these countries, people are protesting against corruption, suppression of democracy and media freedom and the governments’ links with organized crime.

 

Thousands of people rallied through the Balkans as a consequence of widespread frustration with corruption, cronyism, and poverty.

 

The deterioration of democracy in the Western Balkans has been shown in the 2019 Freedom House Report in which all six countries have been categorized as “partially free”, and leaders have been criticized for consolidating state power around themselves and exceeding their assigned constitutional roles. Thousands of people rallied through the Balkans as a consequence of widespread frustration with corruption, cronyism, and poverty. Although each of the Balkan countries where protests are taking place exists in a slightly different context, all of them share a dissatisfaction with the non-democratic practices of regional leaders. The protests are mostly peaceful and civic groups are trying to differentiate themselves from the nationalistic opposition. However, governments are not ready to fulfil the demands of their citizens and are blaming the opposition for the current situation.

The Balkan neighbours are all aiming for EU memberships, so the influence of European allies can play an important role in the further development of the situation. However, the EU’s response to the happenings on the Balkans was too weak. The Union’s officials reject the idea of a “Balkan Spring” because, with the Brexit issues, the upcoming European elections and the rise of populism and nationalism, the EU seeks to prevent the rising instability in the Balkans. The EU wants to expand to the Balkans because in its opinion it will contribute to the stability of the region, while also creating a security buffer zone towards the Middle East and Africa. In order for this to happen, the EU is ready to support the current authoritarian leaders who have the same priorities as the EU members, although they don’t always respect the rule of law. The geopolitical interests of the West are playing an important role in the development of the protests. This can be demonstrated by the case of Serbia – the Brussels supports president Vucic because the EU  doesn’t see anyone in the opposition who would be capable and willing to resolve the Kosovo issue.

 

These political turbulences once again put Balkans between the West and Russia.

 

It is very hard to predict to what degree these protests will shake the position of the ruling parties. The danger of the protests becoming radicalized is extremely high as has been demonstrated in Serbia and Albania. The influence of the nationalist opposition in the protests can increase to Russia's benefit because the majority of the nationalists enjoy the support of Kremlin. Although the participation of the opposition in the protests varies from country to country, if the opposition gains the people’s trust,  the position of the ruling parties will be jeopardized. At the same time, the possibility of the Russians profiting from the situation, especially in Montenegro, will increase. With this, the influence of Russia in the Balkans will continue to grow.

Through protests, people are showing their discontent with authoritarianism and a hope for change. The regional governments don’t even consider the demands of their citizens and believe that the street protests will end soon. They are aware that protests like this have happened before and the Balkan leaders coped with them and remained in power. Their behaviour can lead to the radicalization of the protests and the rise of the opposition. These turbulences once again put Balkans between the West and Russia. Currently, the European Union is unable to find an adequate solution. On the one side, they can not support the pro-Russian opposition that lacks legitimacy. However, at the same time, the risk of losing support from ordinary citizens is increasing. In order to cope with the existing problems, governments must show a willingness to listen to people’s demands and act to resolve the existing issues. The European Union, as the most important player in the eyes of the people, should leave its current position and put pressure on the governments to speed up the democratic changes that already started. If the European allies want stability in the Balkans, they must keep citizens satisfied and the possibility of joining the European Union must remain a realistic option, otherwise, who knows what changes this spring will bring.

About author: Marija Kadovic

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