In Balkans equation, democracy is an unknown value

02 shtator 2020 13:00

Hell is Other People, Jean Paul Sartre

No Exit, a play by French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre, is not so popular these days in theaters as it was decades ago. Unfortunately, it has been played often in reality, and its plot and pessimistic nature remind me of our region.

Three men, after death, have been sentenced to spend their time in a large reception room, a sort of a waiting room, without understanding that it is their permanent judgment - their Hell. Locked up, they live next to each other nurturing despair, hatred, and hopelessness. Their lives are doomed to repeating the same mistakes. There are no solutions for their problems, no exit from their vicious circle.

Look around and think for a second about the recent past and our present situation in the region. Do you have the impression that we live in a large Sartre’s room, waiting for better days and repeating our mistakes? Only, this is not a theater, but reality.

Despite new people in politics, a little has changed in this region over the last few decades. Those are avatars, messengers of the same ideas, same rhetoric, same iconography that brought us to our knees at the beginning of the 1990s, and as Ante Markovic said, pushed us into the corner of Europe, the eternal waiting room[1].

The change of governments did not bring a change of politics, nor did it open the space for a serious, objective, and responsible reconsidering of the past, nor did it give chance to ideas of reconciliation, tolerance, and understanding. Hell is other people, aren’t they?

There is nothing more important than appearing to be religious! Niccolo Machiavelli

Parliamentary elections in Montenegro have been the most recent, if not the best example of our spinning around ourselves. Djukanović and the Democratic Party of Socialists have been in power for the last 30 years. However, the opposition didn’t change either.

Largest Montenegro, or, better said, pro-Serbian opposition parties, backed up by the turbo-orthodoxy of Serbian Orthodox Church (the SPC), cherish Slobodan Milosevic ideology and advocate religious and national hatred, demanding the replacement of an autocratic ruler (Djukanovic) with Vucic as a role-model.

In a theatre-of-the-absurd type of struggle, the Serbian Orthodox Church is leading “the people” against a treacherous, corrupted, and authoritarian regime in Montenegro, while supporting the hybrid regime in Serbia and glorifying Putin. Iconography is similar to the 1980s, as it is rhetoric - Kosovo is still Serbia, and “us” and Russians are still 200 million, the only one missing is Slobodan Milosevic.

This nationalistic, Serb-Orthodox rhetoric will hardly win the minds and hearts of Albanians, Bosniaks, or Croats who live in Montenegro. For representatives of national minorities in Montenegro, DPS was not desirable, but the only possible partner on Montenegro’s political horizon. Will it change after the elections? I can hardly imagine that Albanians, Bosniaks, and Croats will enter the coalition with those who have used derogatory terms when talking about them.

In the end, with or without DPS, there is no Montenegro without Albanians, Bosniaks, and Croats, for they are the pillars of a civic Montenegro.

It is absurd that almost the entire Serbian opposition, from snobbish Boris Tadic to nihilistic Bosko Obradovic supports the group of parties in Montenegro that are politically and financially dependent on Vucic. 

The support was given to parties that have not condemned the brutality of the Serbian police against protesters, including Obradovic, a few weeks ago.

In this chorus milieu of (orthodox) music that has been playing in Montenegro for months, the only dissonant (the weak) tone is the one of Đukanovic’s former ally SDP (Social-Democratic Party), and somewhat stronger voice of the civic URA (United Reform Action), which ability to remain politically independent DPS has continuously challenged.

For months, we have watched political manipulations from both, with energy concentrated on identity issues, state survival, or quasi clerical/religious questions, driving citizens’ focus away from questions that should be the highlight of any election campaign in the Balkans - corruption, economic decline, the unemployment, democratic backsliding, unscrupulous destruction of environment (deforestation in the North, or devastated coast in the South), constructive regional politics, etc.

As one of my friends from Podgorica commented: “one group defends the State, others are defending the church, religion and sacred places, and it has been going on like it for the last 30 years. Parties do not have political programs and lack ideologies”. Populism and demagogy dominate public discourse.

Governments must be accountable to their voters and replaceable. The change is necessary because it is the precondition of democracy, but you can hardly have democracy with nationalistic and populistic rhetoric and orthodox iconography.

We walked the road. The road was long. We have not noticed that road was a circle until it was too late - Tin Ujevic

Even if we walk out from Montenegro and look around, we will not see a better picture. The greater states' policies are not dead. Media have blurred reality, feeding citizens with cheap, shallow but dangerous populistic narratives. The space for serious analysis and dialogue has been narrowed to the level of statistical error. 

Bosnia and Herzegovina has been the victim of the same politics from the 1990s, even though some new/old people are in power in the country and the region. It is as strong or weak as much as its neighbors want it to be. No matter what leaders from Belgrade or Zagreb say, the key to the stability of Bosnia and Herzegovina is in their hands. 

How much have Albania or Kosovo changed to the way politics is understood and executed? How much the behavior of political elites or their understanding of the notion of good governance has changed over time? The change is small or almost unnoticeable.

How far is Croatia from the national politics of the 1990s? The recent Presidential elections and Croatia’s President Kalinda Grabar-Kitarovic’s campaigns, the problem to put the salute “For Homeland - Ready!” in a proper historical and political context, and Thompson popularity are the best answer.

The regional political elites benefit from keeping regional disputes open to manipulate citizens and mislead their international partners. Keep in mind how long the name issue between Greece and North Macedonia has been utilized to strengthen an aimless and damaging national politics.  

No matter how illogical it may seem, it is politically opportunistic for Belgrade to keep the negotiation with Pristina on hold. For Kosovo, a deal with Serbia is of the existential importance while for Belgrade it is a tool to use for its diplomatic games with Brussels and the means to keep the door open for Moscow’s involvement in the talks.

Democratic gap

Men 's capacity for justice makes democracy possible, man’s inclination to injustice makes democracy necessary (Reinhold Niebuhr). The maxima of the American theologist, philosopher, and political activist Reinhold Niebuhr “caught” an in-between status we live in. Instead of democratic reforms, we are offered a democratic gap.  

We made a step towards democracy, but have not arrived anywhere. The more time goes on, the more we are looking back - in the past for we would like to return there gladly. What concerns and frightens us is a genuine change that we need to undertake. We glorify and mythologize something we never were, nor we would ever be. Inspired by their “better life”, not their rule of law or strong institutions, we want to be like developed democracies. But, we don’t have time for energy-consuming reforms, and we would rather take a shortcut and change as little as possible.

On the other side, citizens do have the capacity for justice and show that face occasionally. As a sinking river, their anger pops up from time to time in the form of riots, protests, and rebellions against the injustice that surrounds them. People are sincerely worried and disappointed, some are angry, but all they want is a change. But after all, a bitter taste we feel is that injustice will prevail, not because we incline to injustice more than others, but because we have not learned how to use “democratic tools” to attain our goals.

Democracy has never lived in our house. Think about the history of our region in the 20th century. The lack of democratic tradition and culture of dialogue, the lack of strong and independent institutions where the debate about the future of the country should take place have contributed significantly to the bloodshed that ended Yugoslav drama. Living in Belgium, the country deeply divided along ethnic, linguistic, and cultural lines, I have learned how important is the culture of political dialogue and compromise for the existence of a state.

Little has been done in the region to nurture the sense of social duty, responsibility, and accountability among those who are in politics. Little has been done to systematically study democratic principles through the educational system.

In the lack of better solutions, those who think differently, mostly young and educated people, discontent with the recycling of the same political patterns, in most cases chose two options - political apathy/abstinence or life somewhere else. On a personal level, living abroad can offer a better opportunity; for a society, this occurrence precipitates negative tendencies in the candidate selection process and leads to the exclusion of those who think out of the box when it comes to politics.

Let us return to Montenegro to close the circle. The results of the elections have opened the space for a change. The shift can be positive, but it can be a setback. Many anticipate that Montenegro will continue backsliding in the coming years. The stagnant period has lasted for a long time, for which is DPS to be blamed. From now on, underperformance, lagging behind reforms, or corruption affairs can be someone else responsibility. DPS can use it to come back to power, something that the region has already experienced.

The biggest surprise of Montenegro elections is that a civic movement became a game-changer in the political dispute between two contestants that keep on using recycled ideas for decades. If Montenegro manages to get a government of experts as a result of the URA’s persistence; if a political atmosphere is created that nobody can play a role of a “big brother”; if we finally have free elections; then it can be seen as a fresh breeze of democracy not only for Montenegro but for the region as a whole.

Is URA capable of fulfilling the task? While shunning DPS from its table, will it become a “limpet” of nationalistic pro-Serbian parties and destroy its civic profile? It remains to be seen.


  [1] “We will pay for these delusions with poverty, erosion of spirit and living in the far periphery of Europe”, Ante Markovic, 1990 (“Zablude ćemo plaćati siromaštvom, trovanjem duha i položajem daleke periferije u Evropi”, Ante Marković, 1990)


In cooperation of two web portals, Remarker and Sbunker, a series of analysis will be published in the upcoming period in order to promote a critical debate on the current situation in the region of the Western Balkans. 

After last messages received from one of the most influential members of the EU, France, the region has faced one of the greatest challenges in the last 30 years, when countries in the Western Balkans began their difficult path, first into conflicts and then in the process of democratization and european integration. 

The goal of Remarker and Sbunker is to support better understanding of the current trends in the countries of the Western Balkans and raise the awareness on necessity of european integration process, straightening the process of democratization and the rule of law as necessary preconditions for permanent peace and stability in the region.


You may find the Albanian version here and the Serbian version here.


02 shtator 2020

Vesko Garçeviq