Interview by Liridon Cecja/ Politiko.al
Daniel Bochsler is a Professor of Political Science and Nationalism Studies at Central European University (CEU) in Budapest and at the University of Belgrade. He holds a Ph.D. in Politica Science from the University of Geneva and speaks nine languages. He has written numerous articles and books on the issues concerning Eastern and Central Europe.
Mr. Bochsler, as I am sure you know, it has been two months now since, in Albania, Montenegro and Serbia opposition parties are protesting against governments. Do you find any similarities in their actions?
In my understanding, in these cases, plus in Bosnia and Herzegovina (protests “Pravda za Davida” in Banja Luka), the main motor of the protests are citizens, who are angry with the ruling parties, rather than the opposition parties. To some extent, opposition parties support the protests, help to organize, or try to capitalize on them.
All four countries offer only limited space to issue discontent: for instance, media are only partly free, parliaments and courts are under control of the ruling parties rather than serving the public debate and serving justice. The ruling parties, and economic networks connected to them, widely benefit from an abuse of power. Without properly functioning democratic institutions, protests allow citizens to issue their grievances.
In Albania, the government thinks that Russia influences the opposition in order to destabilize the country. What’s your opinion, bearing in mind that both countries don’t have any historical good ties, compared to Serbia, Macedonia, and Montenegro?
You can hear the same story across the region – also in Hungary or Romania: some voices near the government try to brandmark the protestors as foreign agents. In some of the countries, protestors are allegedly paid by the Kremlin, in others by a Jewish conspiracy – called Soros – or by the CIA. However, citizens do not take to the streets because they are paid, but because they think that they deserve a normal life, free from corruption, and the respect for their democratic rights.
As an expert, Russia basically tends to collaborate more with the oppositions parties or the governments?
Large parts of the population in Serbia, Bosnia, and Herzegovina or Macedonia hope on Russia’s strength and influence. However, Putin’s muscles are an illusion, which is supported by the images spread in the press, and in some of the cases willingly amplified by the ruling parties. There is some economic collaboration, which is sometimes also used for political aims, but if you look at the numbers – economically, politically, and partly also militarily-, the important player here is the European Union and NATO.
What’s in store in the future for the region, now that USA and EU seem to be preoccupied with their own internal disputes?
EU leaders have lost much of their enthusiasm. Internal struggles within the EU, after the financial crisis, but also stalled reforms in the region, have lead to an overly pragmatic approach to the region, where the EU has largely lost its democratic compass. However, the recent breakthrough between the new government in Macedonia, and its partners in Greece have turned this page again. The EU could learn from this that it is much better to collaborate with pro-democratic forces in the region, rather than with autocrats.