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Jeremic: Democracy in the Balkans is under siege, and the West is looking away (The Washington Post)

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Events in the Western Balkans twice cast a long shadow across Europe in the past century — first in 1914 and then in the 1990s. Both times, the forces unleashed by the carnage could not be contained within the existing international order. And in both instances, proffered solutions failed to resolve the underlying tensions that brought about the conflicts in the first place.

Located at the midpoint between Berlin and Istanbul, the Western Balkans is the most direct physical link between Europe and the Middle East. We were reminded of its strategic importance during the recent European refugee crisis, when the region served as the main land route for millions of migrants fleeing violence in Syria and Iraq. If we look at the political map of Europe, we see that the Western Balkans — notwithstanding its strategic location — remains outside the European Union. Some refer to it as the black hole of Europe.

The region’s increasingly distant European perspective has eased the way for local autocrats to seize power through populist rhetoric, dismantling the achievements of nascent liberal democracies. Consider Serbia’s new president, Aleksandar Vucic, who served under Slobodan Milosevic as information minister in the 1990s.

He seems to have reached a tacit agreement with various Western decision-makers: In exchange for appearing to maintain stability, Vucic was de facto given free rein to suppress fundamental rights and freedoms. As a consequence, the divide separating Serbia from the E.U. has further deepened. Yet both sides seem content with maintaining the illusion that accession negotiations remain steadily on track, even though there is no end in sight.

Things are especially bad in Kosovo, which holds the infamous European distinction of supplying the largest number of fighters per capita to conflicts in the Middle East. There, the new prime minister is likely to be Ramush Haradinaj. A few years ago, Haradinaj was acquitted by the Hague-based International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia of gruesome charges, including the murder and torture of Serb civilians, after witnesses either recanted at the last minute or died under mysterious circumstances. His main rival is Albin Kurti, one of the most radical populist politicians in all the Balkans.

See at: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/democracy-post/wp/2017/07/13/democracy-in-the-balkans-is-under-siege-and-the-west-is-looking-away/?utm_term=.590444abd429

Vuk Jeremic was Serbia’s foreign minister from 2007 to 2012 and president of the U.N. General Assembly from 2012 to 2013, was a candidate in Serbia’s 2017 presidential election.

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