Conflict is the business of Balkans leaders – and business is good!
Anonymous internet comment.

One brief look at the situation in most countries of south-eastern Europe is enough to notice the painful similarities. Corruption, poor regard for rule of law, media serving interest of politics and shady economies. As if this weren’t enough, people continue to live with a feeling of imminent conflict despite over 15 years passed since last bullets were fired.  Take any of the countries; Albania, Bosnia-Hercegovina, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro or Serbia, and you won’t find any real democracy there. Even if they come to power through an (often debatable) election, the ruling elites then engage in any sort of activity, legal or illegal, just to maintain power. And if the everyday speculations, manipulations and various trickeries don’t do the job, they can and they will resort to the good old fashioned warmongering and blaming ‘bad neighbors’ any time they face a bit more serious threat.

So there is no change in sight! Once in power, the strongmen of Balkans are all but impossible to be replaced. They take over the media, they decide who gets the lucrative public contracts, they decide on jobs in public sector and good part of private sector, and they are willing to initiate a conflict any time they sense danger. And it is not that difficult either. The civil society has been warning for the past few years that the region is still volatile and the west has finally caught up, international media are raving about renewed hostilities in the region. In all fairness, latest reports are talking about ‘political, not inter-ethnic’ issues, showing a more in-depth knowledge over situation than we had seen in 1990s.

The youth is in turn disappointed, mildly said. Many are leaving. Bosnia-Hercegovina leads with almost half of its population now living abroad but the trend is visible elsewhere too. Albania’s population has shrunk by seven per cent between 2001 and 2011 alone, Kosovo doesn’t have any reliable statistics from the 1990s to compare but it does boast an unusually large diaspora in Switzerland, Germany, UK and other western countries, which is only growing. Serbia is suffering from the so-called brain-drain, probably more than any other country in the region. Polls conducted lately in Macedonia show that the majority of young people would leave if given a chance, and this comes as no surprise, having in mind that most of the young are looking into prospect of no job and political tension. And that prospect is shared by the youth in other countries mentioned as well.

In the current environment, across the whole region, any initiative for peace and reconciliation is therefore a direct contribution to democracy. If the non-issues are removed – and the nationalist arguments are a non-issue – a political scene would be such where populist manipulators would be left without an argument. And only then perhaps, people would have a choice in an election.

Not all is bleak though, there is some progress. Business cooperation is only getting more intensive, although it never stopped, not ever during the war. On the other hand, youth who are engaged in the civil society sector are quite involved in working with each other, running joint projects and implementing joint activities. It is in fact driven by the donors, but the funds spent for the purpose have indeed managed to push things forward and there is now a core of ‘believers’ in a joint peaceful living. Yes, the vast majority of people, old and young, are either indifferent or unwilling to accept the fact that there is no excuse for hate any longer, but things could change for the better.

There are some fascinating ongoing initiatives, but there is only this much the civil society sector can do. It can spearhead the change, but people of good will should unite at all levels and promote the reconciliation agenda. Political movements have more responsibility than anyone else, because the change in current corrupt political elites is only possible if the environment changes. Current conditions are breeding semi-authoritative and fully-corrupt politicians who have no interest in having true peace with their neighbors. Their efforts will always stop short of overcoming the controversial issues completely.

The region went through several wars in the last century, horrible atrocities were committed, population moved around without any regard for history or human dignity. Issues remain, some more difficult than others, but we have seen very little, if any serious attempt that generated from within. The international community is pushing for cooperation and accompanying improvement in relations, with a limited success. Do we really need to get along and get over the old hostilities to live better? There is a growing number of those who believe that we do, and even more of those who believe the region should look into the future. The only problem is that current leaderships are moving in circle. And it’s a vicious one. Progressive forces across the region must work together to find a way out.

Author info

Driton Zhubi lives and works in Kosovo’s capital Pristina. He is the co-founder and Executive Director of NGO Lens.  Although civil society activist since the late nineties, he has gained extensive experience working with the European Union and Kosovo state institutions in development, communications, media and in applying new technological solutions. Projects under his supervision include a wide area expanding from human rights to regional cooperation on youth employment and reconciliation.

This text was written as a part of Divided Past – Joint Future project and it does not represent nor reflects attitudes and viewpoints of the European Union, its institutions and bodies. Responsibility for the information and views expressed in the text lies entirely with the author. 

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