Contrary to expectations, the post-Communist transitions of Central and Eastern Europe did not provide a transferable model or norm, says the National Endowment for Democracy’s Nadia Diuk (right). Democratization in the Western Balkans shows the influence of more complex cultural and societal forces, she tells Balkan Insight, while attending the Prishtina Youth Summit.
Q: You have been developing programs in Eastern Europe since the 1990s and are back in the Balkans. What challenges face the Western Balkans compared to the rest of Eastern Europe?
A: In Central and Eastern Europe we discovered what we thought was the norm for moving from an authoritarian or Communist system to democracy. It worked more or less for the countries of Northern Europe, Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary…. but it turns out that was the exception.
The Western Balkans has shown that the question of democracy is more complex. We discovered that supporting democracy is not just a matter of reforming the government, allowing people to vote, and allowing people to lead the country. There are many more complex societal influences, such as rising nationalism, and the overbearing influence of the Church in some cases.
Q: Some international commentators have blamed the Western Balkan problems on ‘ancient hatreds’, some speak of an Ottoman influence, explaining why we cannot seem to get institutions to deliver. What are these combinations of complexities when you speak of Balkans as complex?
A: I don’t believe in the notion of ancient hatred. Often it’s used as an excuse for not making progress on tolerance, pluralism and moving forward. At the same time, Yugoslavia was one state and contained several nations, which was not the case in Northern Europe…..
Yugoslavia had more of a challenge because it was run as a unitary state, although it was nominally republics, and those issues are more difficult to resolve…In the Balkans everyone is so close and intermixed and it turns out to be very easy to persuade people that they have historical animosities dating generations back.
Q: So, what is there to look forward to in terms of progress?
A: Well, I am here for the second youth summit organized by the Youth Initiative for Human Rights where there are many young people coming together ….
I took a look at the median age in Kosovo. The median age is 27….so that half of the population doesn’t really quite remember all of the war and the atrocities. They will have to carry that forward with them but the future is for them and they need to start thinking and acting as to how they want to see Kosovo be in the future, in 20 or 30 years’ time.
This extract is taken from a longer interview with Balkan Insight.
Nadia Diuk is Vice President of the National Endowment for Democracy and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.