Judy Asks: Are the Western Balkans Imploding?
No—at least, not yet.
Migration, Russian influence, and spillover from the Middle East are challenges that could potentially produce an ugly outcome when paired with domestic problems such as corruption, low living standards, high unemployment rates, and highly restricted media freedoms.
While all six Western Balkan countries are more or less firmly locked in the European integration process, their deepening domestic problems are creating a vacuum that, if left unfilled, will interfere with the region’s stability and security.
Current autocratic Balkan leaders have no real opposition but have been able to respond immediately to geopolitical challenges. It is therefore understandable that many EU and U.S. policymakers turn a blind eye to corruption and the lack of the rule of law.
However, keeping the Balkans on the right path and being able to count on the region as a partner requires serious domestic reforms. Civil society will be indispensable in the following years, as this is where the legitimate capacity is. Working with political parties on their own democratization processes, including by making their financing more transparent, is a huge missing piece in Balkan transitions. Equally important is the active support and engagement of the EU and the United States.
The Balkans are at a crossroads. The region is inches away from either becoming a true and trustworthy partner or backsliding into the old sentiments of nationalism and fake patriotism.
So much has been invested. It would be a shame to let it go.