Balkans are Europe’s soft underbelly?

IvanKrastevControlled crisis would give Russia bargaining tools and distract from Ukraine, says Ivan Krastev. Could the Balkans be the next playground for Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, and his politics of destabilisation? he asks, writing for The Financial Times:

One of two scenarios could play out in the year ahead. The Kremlin could withdraw from eastern Ukraine and try to repair its relations with the west. Or it could try instead to regain the initiative, increasing the pressure on European leaders and try to split the continent asunder…..

At the heart of the Kremlin’s influence in the region is not cultural affinity, Slavic solidarity or the influence of the Orthodox Church, but something altogether less noble. Corruption connects people, and in the Balkans it connects dangerous people. Most of the Balkan oligarchs have their Russian connections. Russian foreign policy could easily make use of them.

But destabilising the Balkans — if that is indeed what Moscow is trying to do — is a risky project. Russia can offer these societies neither a working economic model, nor an attractive political one. It cannot even pony up much cash. Shared resentment is not the same as shared perspective. Abandoning the construction of the proposed South Stream pipeline reduced Moscow’s influence.

“Russian companies will be big losers from any Russian attempt to destabilise pro-western governments in the Balkans,” argues Krastev, chairman of the Centre for Liberal Strategies in Sofia, and a council member of the National Endowment for Democracy’s International Forum. “And as the story of the Ukrainian crisis demonstrates, oligarchs are unreliable allies. They do not have friends, only financial interests, and fears.”


Forces for Change: Civil Society in Bosnia and Herzegovina

bosnia 1ZASTAVA-BIH-1-604x270The 1995 Dayton Peace Agreement succeeded in ending the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), but the resulting constitution continues to hinder the country’s democratic transition. The current power-sharing system, derived from a compromise made to end the war, has since allowed political leaders to conceal their poor performance behind ethno-nationalist issues. Politics remain divided across ethnic lines, as demonstrated by the outcome of the October 2014 general elections. There is nevertheless an increasingly vocal public opposition toward the established ethno-political elite, as was evident in the recent wave of citizen protests 

The National Endowment for Democracy has been making grants in Bosnia and Herzegovina since 1994.  As the worst performing state in the Balkans today, BiH has been the Endowment’s top priority in Southeast Europe since 2008. In early 2014, NED commissioned an independent evaluation of its grants program in BiH, which was conducted by Dr. Doga Ulas Eralp. The purpose of the evaluation is to provide an outside and objective assessment of NED’s engagement strategy for strengthening democratic culture and dialogue in BiH.  

The discussion will begin with a short presentation by Dr. Eralp outlining some of his findings and recommendations for future assistance to civil society and democratic development in BiH. Participants will be encouraged to share their thoughts on the specific findings, as well as any implications for other post-conflict societies facing similar challenges.   

Ivana Cvetkovic Bajrovic, the Senior Program Officer for Europe at the National Endowment for Democracy, will moderate the discussion.  

Forces for Change:

An Assessment of the National Endowment for Democracy’s

Support to Civil Society Organizations in Bosnia and Herzegovina, 2008-2013


Dr. Doga Ulas Eralp

American University

moderated by

Ivana Cvetkovic Bajrovic

National Endowment for Democracy

Friday, November 7, 2014 9:30–11:00 a.m. 1025 F. Street, N.W., Suite 800, Washington, D.C. 20004 Telephone: 202-378-9700

Light refreshments will be served 

RSVP (acceptances only) with name and affiliation by Tuesday, November 4


Doga Ulas Eralp is a professor at the International Peace and Conflict Resolution Program at American University’s School of International Service (SIS). He received his Ph.D. from the School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution at George Mason University. As an international mediator he has been an active participant in the facilitation of dialogue processes in Turkey, Cyprus, Macedonia, Nepal, Syria and Bosnia-Herzegovina among others. Dr. Eralp has published widely on issues around democratization, international human rights, and conflict transformation in the Western Balkans, Middle East, European Union and Turkey. His 2012 book Politics of the European Union in Bosnia-Herzegovina: Between Conflict and Democracy has received considerable attention from policy makers.  Dr. Eralp’s current work focuses on evaluating the contributions of emerging powers to peace processes across the globe.

Bosnia elections: rival ethnic groups claim victory


bosnia 1ZASTAVA-BIH-1-604x270Nationalists from rival ethnic groups claimed victory in Bosnian elections on Monday, but it seemed likely that their power would be curtailed by an electorate frustrated at economic stagnation and corruption, the Guardian’s Julian Borger reports from Banja Luka:

Milorad Dodik, a secessionist with strong ties to Moscow, was leading by two percentage points with about 80% of the vote counted in the race for the presidency of the Serb half of the country, the Republika Srpska (RS), which he has long vowed to lead to independence. He said his policy would be for the RS to function “less and less an entity and more a state”.

Even if Dodik manages to hold on that lead, he could find it harder to run a government in the main Serb town of Banja Luka. Although his party emerged as the biggest single block in the RS assembly, it now controls less than half the seats, meaning opposition parties may be able to form a ruling coalition if they were able to overcome their differences.

Dodik’s ally, Zeljka Cvijanovic, was facing defeat by a more moderate candidate, Mladen Ivanic, in the vote for the Serb seat on the Bosnian state presidency, in which Serbs, Croats and Muslims, known as Bosniaks, share power. Ivanic is seen as potentially a more cooperative partner in the tripartite presidency, which could help strengthen Bosnia’s weak central institutions.

“Ruling majorities got less votes than the opposition on all levels. Bosnia seems to have voted for change, the question is whether the post-election coalition negotiations will respect the will of the people for change,” said Reuf Bajrovic, the head of the Emerging Democracies Institute.


Transitions and the angry middle class

The global middle class is growing, but the hoped-for smooth democratic transitions have not occurred, says a leading expert.

Instead, what we have seen – from São Paulo to Caracas, from Sarajevo to Kiev, and from Istanbul to Bangkok – are clashes between an increasingly angry middle class and governments that have broken faith or taken them for granted, according to Jack Goldstone, Professor of Public Policy at George Mason University.

“These are movements of the angry emerging middle class in countries at a crossroads. If we examine the background to recent events in the Ukraine, Bosnia, Thailand and Venezuela, we find that despite the geographic distances that separate them, these countries are remarkably similar,” he writes:

Yet, democracy in the sense of majority rule is not what people are seeking. The middle classes in the Ukraine, Bosnia, Thailand and Venezuela are demanding greater accountability, and are challenging regimes seen as corrupt, out of touch and which form obstacles to a better future. Perhaps, most important, is what these events portend for the world’s largest democracy — India. Just as in Turkey, Brazil, Thailand and the Ukraine, India is developing an urban middle class that aspires to a better life.

Yet, just like these countries, India cannot yet provide that middle class the assurance of security and stability. Also, like these countries, the fruits of modernisation are being very unevenly distributed across the population, and this problem is made worse by rampant corruption. What the people of India want, just as the angry middle classes in these four countries do, is a government that is accountable, responsible, and effective in moving their country further into the modern world.


Russia’s aggression based on anti-democratic Eurasian ideology


Russia’s attempt to control Ukraine is based upon Eurasian ideology, which explicitly rejects liberal democracy, Yale University’s Timothy Snyder writes for The New Republic:

The founder of the Eurasian movement is an actual fascist, Alexander Dugin, who calls for a revolution of values from Portugal to Siberia. The man responsible for Ukraine policy, Sergei Glayzev, used to run a far-right nationalist party that was banned for its racist electoral campaign. Putin has placed himself at the head of a worldwide campaign against homosexuality. This is politically useful, since opposition to Russia is now blamed on an international gay lobby which cannot by its nature understand the inherent spirituality of traditional Russian civilization.

Responding to Western sanctions widely dismissed as derisory, Anders Aslund, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, said it was good that the U.S. and Europe are doing something, but it’s not enough:

Aslund said a serious response would be sanctioning all the big state companies, freezing Russia’s foreign reserves and investigating all the top Russian officials for money laundering. Given their more measured approach, American and European officials are clearly hoping not to have to go that far.

“Is the West prepared to do something serious so it can stop Putin?” Aslund asked. Monday’s move was an “insufficient answer” that indicated the West’s answer was “either ‘no’ or or ‘I don’t know.’” Russia opens door to annexing other territories.

Nadia Diuk, vice president of the National Endowment for Democracy, said on a recent PBS show that Kaliningrad could act a base of operations for all kinds of incursions into non-Russian territory. Both Poland, a former Soviet satellite, and Lithuania, a former Soviet republic, are now NATO members, largely because of their fear of Russia.

“The actions of Russia’s legislature set in place more than the possible incorporation of Crimea into Russia,” said the Atlantic Council’s Adrian Karatnycky. “They also open the door to the incorporation of Georgia-breakaway regions South Ossetia and Abkhazia, and Moldova’s Transdnistria – as well as the rapid incorporation of any new territories Russia may invade in Ukraine or elsewhere. In short, unless sanctions and counter-measures by the U.S. bite and bite hard, Crimea may be the beginning of a wider process of Russian territorial expansion,” he contends.

“If Russia incorporates Crimea, Mr. Putin will not stop there. Look to Transdnistria’s and Gagauzia’s annexation…. .  Russia could soon have new territories close to the EU’s eastern border……In short, Mr. Putin is openly at war with the West, seeking to halt the expansion of democratic Europe and opening a Pandora’s box of new Russian annexations, military invasions and the projection of Russian forces westward to the EU’s borders. These are ominous developments”.

USSR symbolically lives on

“The west is accustomed to thinking the Soviet regime ended in 1991. But symbolically, it lives on,” says Andrey Zubov, a liberal historian who sparked a fierce debate when he compared Putin’s move on Crimea with Hitler’s grab of the German-speaking Sudetenland in 1938, the FT’s Kathrin Hille reports: He says that while Ukraine’s moves over the past decade to open historical archives and publicly debate famine and deportations under Stalin allowed the country to shake off its Soviet past, Russia failed to take this step. The majority of Russians fear such upheaval, he argues.

“Looking at revolution in Ukraine means looking at the spectre of revolution in Russia, too. In that sense, the fight for Crimea is not just the fight for a piece of land, it’s the fight between two world views.”

Ahead of Sunday’s referendum in Crimea, Levada, Russia’s most independent pollster, found that more than 70 per cent of Russians believe Russian speakers in Ukraine are either in real danger from bandits and nationalists, or at least that their rights are being infringed. According to the poll, 67 per cent see radical Ukrainian nationalists behind the aggravation of the situation in Crimea, while only 2 per cent blame the Russian government.

“A two-week campaign of propaganda and disinformation, unprecedented in post-Soviet times, has created a powerful effect and mass approval of Putin’s policy towards Ukraine,” Levada said. “This tactic to manipulate public opinion...has provided a negative mobilisation of a large part of the Russian population and revived its dormant imperial complexes.”

Homo Sovieticus mentality

“Soviet propaganda and historiography indoctrinated Ukrainians and Russians into the belief that they should be forever united and that Ukrainians seeking independence were traitors, Nazi collaborators or the agents of NGOs financed by the west,” says University of Alberta analyst Taras Kuzio:

True to his homo Sovieticus mentality, Putin really does believe there was a US conspiracy behind the Orange Revolution and Euromaidan.

The majority of Russians have never seen Ukrainians as a separate people, as Germans see Austrians, for example. Instead, they see them as Prussians see Bavarians and view an independent Ukraine as an historical aberration. Putin, unlike his predecessor Borys Yeltsin in the 1990s, has never respected Ukrainian independence.

Putin, although he claims to feel empathy for the Soviet Union, has never understood the deeply felt patriotism that the Soviet regime inculcated in Ukrainians and other non-Russian peoples and their loyalty to republican borders. Putin also habitually confuses ethnic Russians with Russian speakers. In the USSR, the non-Russian republics had their own Soviet institutions such as a republican communist party and academy of sciences, which Russia never possessed. Soviet Ukraine, the second largest Soviet republic, had the largest republican communist party in the Soviet Union.

“In Moscow there were only Soviet institutions, leading to a conflation of Soviet and Russian identities, evidence of which we see in Putin. Russia alone of the 15 republics never declared independence from the USSR,” Kuzio writes for the FT’s Beyond BRICs blog.

Russia’s opposition has not escaped the taint of Eurasian ideology, observers suggest.

Dissident anti-corruption blogger Alexei Navalny recently laid out his position in a nuanced, long blog post.

“Call me a Slavic chauvinist but I believe the most important strategic advantages for Russia in this world are not oil, nor gas, nor nuclear weapons, but friendly (even fraternal, which already exist) relations with Ukrainians and Belarusians,” he said, appealing to the view that Ukraine is not like a foreign country, given that the first Slavic state had its capital in Kiev.

Mr Navalny also said Mr Putin’s real motivation was to stop a revolution that could unseat his own corrupt regime, and argued that the rights of Russians were less under threat in Ukraine than in most other former Soviet republics.

“The attempt by the EU and America to co-ordinate their announcement on March 17th of sanctions against Russian officials served mostly to highlight their differences. America’s list of seven Russian and four Ukrainian officials subject to visa bans and seizure of assets overlapped with the EU’s 21 names. But the American list included, crucially, three figures from President Vladimir Putin’s inner circle—among them Dimitry Rogozin, Russia’s deputy prime minister, as well as two presidential advisers, Vladislav Surkov and Sergey Glazyev—which the EU omitted,” writes the Economist.

“The United States and Russia have both crossed a Rubicon in the Ukraine crisis, and Washington must now confront the likelihood that if the standoff continues, it will dramatically alter relations on a much larger map than Eastern Europe, inviting Russian recalcitrance in crisis zones as far afield as East Asia, Iran, Syria, and Afghanistan,” writes Michael Hirsh in The National Journal.

“Beyond depriving Putin of recognition of his spoils, the West needs to send a powerful message about the wages of ‘sin’–in this case, unilaterally challenging the sanctity of borders. Targeting a few senior Russian officials for sanction should be only the beginning. And the Obama administration and international allies should stop citing international law and instead adopt more aggressive rhetoric noting that Russian expansionist aspirations are illegitimate and threaten peace on the continent,” writes Council on Foreign Relations analyst Stewart Patrick.

Russia’s nationalists feel their hour has come, the FT’s Hille writes:

Alexander Dugin, a rightwing ideologue who has long called for Russia to rebuild a Eurasian empire, says triumphantly that while Mr Putin, as a realist, has not followed his ideological advice in the past, their lines have now crossed.

“[The referendum] is the seal of creation of a new era. Monday marks the end of the unipolar world,” he says. “If there is no attack from Nato before the vote, then that’s a geopolitical, strategic and moral victory for Russia – Obama said ‘yes, we can’, but Putin has shown him ‘no you can’t’.”

Mr Dugin envisions a “Russian spring”, under which Europe would drift away from the US and close ranks with Russia, while Moscow would use its new power to help other countries around the world to “break loose of American hegemony”.

While few even in Russia share such expectations, political observers agree that Mr Putin has moved to the right during his third term, including an increasing clampdown on the free media. The Russian public’s yearning for new strength and identity could compel him to stay there.

“In western Europe, our positive history starts with the beginning of our democratic history, and we don’t embrace past periods such as colonialism, slavery, national socialism. But in Russia, history did not start in 1991,” says Alexander Rahr from the German-Russian Forum.

He argues that Russia’s view of its own history, which stresses the role of heroes and strong leaders, puts the country on a different trajectory from that of the west. “It is about repelling enemies, preserving its own form of Christianity and protecting the fatherland – all concepts that in Europe sound very old-fashioned,” he says.