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Democracy in the countries of the Western Balkans: nominal or crucial transformation of the political systems after the end of communism.


"Democracy is the ideal that all the citizens of a nation determine together the laws or actions of their state, requiring that all citizens have an equal opportunity to express their consent and their will" (1). This general definition of democracy is too much theoretical, because its practical implementation is almost utopian vision. However, when we discuss about democracy in its essential sense, we consider the level of democracy in different countries. For example, Scandinavian countries are nominally as much democratic as the countries from the so-called "Western Balkans", but that is not the case in the reality. The "democracy" is applied in a very different manner in these two groups of countries.

"Communism is a theory or system of social organization based on the holding of all property in common, actual ownership being ascribed to the community as a whole or to the state". (2) From the other side, the socialism is defined as "a theory or system of social organization that advocates the vesting of the ownership and control of the means of production and distribution of capital, land, etc. in the community as a whole". (3) In this paper, for practical reasons, we will not make a distinction between the communism and socialism.

"Western Balkans" is geographic and political construction which comprises the countries from former Yugoslavia, excluding Slovenia, including Albania and Kosovo, due to their territorial position and their economic and political performances.

All these countries have had a communist past, and now they are declared as democratic countries in which there is rule of law, human rights, etc. So, the main goal of this paper will be to examine the reliability of the transformation of Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia from communist into democratic countries.

Institutional transformation from communism to democracy

"Montesquieu argued that the best government would be one in which power was balanced among three groups of officials. He thought England which divided power between the king (who enforced laws), Parliament (which made laws), and the judges of the English courts (who interpreted laws)--was a good model of this. Montesquieu called the idea of dividing government power into three branches the "separation of powers." He thought it most important to create separate branches of government with equal but different powers". (4)

Western Balkans countries have accepted this model of "division of powers", even during the communist regimes in their countries. But, the main dilemma is whether this paradigm was a daily life of the citizens, or just a nice cosmetic make-up for hiding the reality "which was not very pink".

The source of "real power" has lied in the Communist party, which has created the policy of the Parliament, Government and Courts. Anyway, the role of the institutions in the democracy has changed, regarding the legal acts (constitutions, laws, by-laws, etc.), but also regarding their activities and results. So, the outcomes of the parliament (assembly) in the period of communism have a different content than in the period of parliamentary democracy. Also, the governments and presidents actions are oriented to the cooperation and integration of the citizens and states in the democracy, compared to the autarchy and limited contacts in the communism. The judiciary also has accepted the Western values, organizational modalities and rules, leaving the Marxist-Leninist ideology and communist "judiciary pattern".

But, the most interesting segment in this parallel is the public administration, i.e. public and state servants. Namely, the conversion of the "bureaucracy" from "welfare state servants" to "service-oriented public servants" is the most ambiguous part of the institutional transformation. Public servants have experienced a "transition shock" and have manifested a "change resistance". Their "communist habits", like: law effectiveness and efficiency, inactive access to the daily activities, law job-dedication, lack of competences, etc., could not be changed in a year or two. For these reasons, each of the countries from Western Balkans has started different types of reforms of their public administration. They have changed the legislation and enacted laws and by-laws compatible with the ones in the Western European countries. And the "story was over". The level of effectiveness and efficiency was the same, the working habits were the same, contribution of the public servants was the same as in the communist period. Why did this happen?

First, the mentality and behavior of the public servants in the countries from the Western Balkans is not equal as of their Western Europe "colleagues". So, the way of reforming the public and state administration should have been more realistic and closer to the "spirit" of these countries and their citizens.

Second, the long period of functioning in "communist circumstances" (45-50 years), meant acceptance of some values, interests and goals close to the communist regimes, which could not be removed from the awareness of the public servants in such a short period.

Third, the expectations from the servants have risen very rapidly, because the processes of EU and NATO integration were very demanding, and the capacities of the public servants were not in the same line as the obligations that have suddenly arisen.

Fourth, the age of the employed public servants in each of the countries from the Western Balkans was very inconvenient, because most of them were employed 30 or even more years ago, and they could not adapt to the new constellation (computerization, high level of effectiveness and efficiency, flexibility, etc.)

So, all of these information confirm the claim that reforms should be well-planned, realistic, but also should not be partial, but essential. It means that the reform of the public administration in each of the countries from Western Balkans should be followed by employment of younger servants, which are well educated and capable of facing with the new challenges, like integration towards the European Union and NATO, and which possess high level of computer and communication skills, which use many foreign languages and whose attitudes are deprived of any influence by the communist regimes and communist ideology.

Political parties, non-governmental organizations and media transformation from communism to democracy

"The role of the Communist Party lay in the first place in the fact that it led that struggle, which was a guarantee that after the war the national question would be settled decisively in the way the communists had conceived long before the war and during the war. The role of the Communist Party in this respect today, in the phase of building socialism, lies in making the positive national factors a stimulus to, not a brake on, the development of socialism in our country. The role of the Communist Party today lies in the necessity for keeping a sharp lookout to see that national chauvinism does not appear and develop among any of the nationalities. The Communist Party must always endeavor, and does endeavor, to ensure that all the negative phenomena of nationalism disappear and that people are educated in the spirit of internationalism". (5)

This part of the speech, held by Josip Broz Tito, the head of former Yugoslavia (1945-1980), was only a "declarative justification" of his autocracy and the monopoly of the Communist party, led by him. Membership in the Communist party was a condition sine qua non for getting a job and "visa" for leading positions in the administration. But, after the end of communism, in each of the Western Balkans countries, a multiparty system has been established. Although people have expected more democracy with the constitution of the multiparty system, but, in practice they got "one communist party with two or more heads". Unfortunately, the "experiences" acquired in the communism were applied by the new political parties, of course, in more sophisticated way. So, there wasn't essential, but more nominal and declarative transformation of the political parties.

Concerning the NGOs, we can not discuss about some kind of transformation, but about establishment of the NGOs in the newborn democratic states from Western Balkans. The reason is very simple, we didn't have classical NGOs during communism. There were sort of youth organizations, craftsman organizations, etc. but they can not be identified as NGOs. The number of NGOs in the countries from Western Balkans has increased rapidly after 1990. Their role was very positive and their activities were very stimulating for the citizens in Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia. They have helped in the enhancement of the human rights, minority rights, gender issues, etc. Still, these organizations often are determined as "tax evaders", "money laundries" etc. If we analyze the costs and benefits of the NGOs activities, we can say that they are impetus for development of the democracy in the societies and inspiring factor for economic, political, cultural and educational improvement.

The media had very different roles in the communism versus post-communism i.e. democracy. During communism, the function of the media was to be "the voice of the state", i.e. only to distribute the "convenient and reliable" information, checked by the authorities. After the end of communism, the number of media had a significant increase, but also the media property has been changed. The impact of the state in the regulation on the media activities has been marginalized, and the influence of the political elites was modified. So, the owners of the media managed the editorial policy in each of them and cooperated with the state. But, the interaction between media owners, politicians, and businessmen has generated not objective information by favoring political parties, giving selective information and using speculations. So, although there was a huge change in the organization and functioning of the media after the transformation of the political systems, still, the effect for the people were not so visible.

Economic transformation from communism to democracy

"Today the Western Balkans region contains the poorest places in Europe. Albania, for instance, has the lowest standard of living and the lowest per capita income in all of Europe. The region of Kosovo, to give another example, was the poorest part of the former Yugoslavia, and it had the highest rates of illiteracy and infant mortality. Not all of the Balkans are poor, by any means, but in general the economic modernization has lagged behind that of Western Europe and even the rest of Eastern Europe, where other such communist countries as the Czech Republic and Poland have considerably more advanced economies." (6)

The economic transformation meant not only liberalization and free movement of goods, services and capital, but also a creation of a financial oligarchy which dictates the market conditions and relations. Also, there is an element which is inherent for a democratic transition process, which is likely to undermine (at least in the short to medium term) democratic support among at least some sections of the population, i.e. individuals who benefited either politically or economically under the authoritarian regime are unlikely to embrace democratic values, especially if they know or fear that they will do worse under democracy. (7)

The new economic imperatives had a serious implications on the daily live in the post-communist period in the countries from Western Balkans. The big state enterprises were bought by most of their communist managers, which now have converted into "democrats and entrepreneurs". This transformation of the enterprises has generated very big unemployment in each of the countries from Western Balkans and incapability of creation of a functional economy.

At the end of the nineties in the last century, the European Union has launched the process for stabilization and association, which relates to the countries from the Western Balkans.These states which are involved in the process for stabilization and association, undoubtly are teritorrial, geographical, civilizational and cultural part of Europe. One of the main strategic goals of these states is the membership in the European Union, and consequently all of the administrative, judical, executive, human and infrastructural capacities are pointed to the realization of this essential goal. But, the "European road" is full of different obstacles and challenges, so fullfilling of many criteria and standards, which are incorporated in acquis communautaire is needed.

The economic criteria for membership in EU are: functional market economy of the state and capacity for management of the competition pressure and market forces in the European Union. If the countries from Western Balkans want to have a functional market economy, a few preconditions should be fulfilled: market liberalization, liberalization of the prices and trade exchange, complete privatization of the state-owned enterprises, efficient law system, especially concerning property rights, macroeconomic stability, state consensus about the fundaments of the general economic policy, well developed and stable financial system, etc.

From the other side, the capacity for management of the competition pressure and market forces in the European Union depends on the physical and human capital, infrastructure, the success of the enterprises, foreign direct investments, etc.

"The communist economic heritage" was a big obstacle for the transformation of the planned to market economy, in each of the countries from Western Balkans. Working habits of the people were very weak, the contribution of the workers was evaluated inadequately and their expectations were very big and unrealistic.

After the redistribution of the state-owned capital, few powerful enterprises with a monopolistic position have been created. De facto, these countries created "dragon with several heads", replacing the "communist monster". What really happened was "change of entities", but not system changes in its essence.

Western Balkans countries went through a turbulent development in the 1990s, partly because of the violent conflicts on the territory of Yugoslavia, partly because of the lack of political support for transition, and partly because of the confused international involvement and intervention. In any case, the whole region has started to report good economic news only after the year 2000. Even after that date, Macedonia went through a costly internal conflict in 2001, Serbia suffered a setback after its Prime Minister, Dr. Zoran Djindjic, was assassinated in early 2003 and Montenegro gained its independence only in spring of 2006. Also, in parts of Bosnia and Herzegovina economic development started to improve only in the last couple of years while the situation in Kosovo is still quite difficult and economic growth is yet to return to that place. With these caveats in mind, it is clear that economic growth did return to the region and has stayed, for the most part, at a relatively high level ever since. Average growth rates in most countries of the region have been between 4 and 5% in the last few years and can be assessed to be sustainable. In fact, indicators of macroeconomic stability have been improving in most countries in the region. Inflation has been relatively low or has been decelerating or stabilizing. Public sector balances have been improving and the fiscal balances are mostly sustainable even with foreign aid decreasing. In the last few years, exports have also been growing, though the region still remains reliant on large inflows of imports. (8) Having the above mentioned in mind, we can note that the "real" start of the transformation of the Western Balkan economies, beginned after 2000, after the establishment of the Process for Stabilization and Association, by the European Union.

Two "great reasons for forcing" Western Balkan countries for democratization were United States of America and European Union. USA has had a big influence and impact on the political and security issues (through NATO), and EU on the economic and social issues. These combined activities have contributed for democratization and trade liberalization of the Western Balkan countries political systems and economies.

If the developments in the Balkans are compared to those in the Central European economies in transition, now new member states in the European Union, an argument can be made that the former are following in the footsteps of the latter. They are exhibiting the characteristics of the catching up economies. It may make sense to list similarities and also dissimilarities between these two groups of countries. The purpose would be to determine how much of a difference there is between transition and development and how much of a mixture of the two can be found in the Western Balkan countries. To facilitate the comparison a review of some stylized facts about the process of economic transition may be useful. These stylized facts of the process of transition refer mostly or exclusively to the European postcommunist countries and in particular to those that are on the periphery of the EU and have been seen as eventually joining the Union as indeed those in the Central Europe, and now even two from the Balkans have already done.

Integration of Western Balkans towards European Union

Since the enlargement of 1 May 2004, the EU and the Western Balkans have become even closer neighbors, and so the situation in the Western Balkan countries, their progress on the road to European integration and their present and future relations with the EU really are of immediate concern to the EU itself. After Bulgaria and Romania became EU members, the entire Western Balkan region is surrounded by Member States of the European Union. This situation has important repercussions for both the countries of the region and the EU in a number of areas, in particular where the free circulation of goods, services and persons are concerned. These challenges have to be addressed in the broader context of south-eastern Europe. (9)

The approximation of the Western Balkans countries to the European Union means, not only adoption, and implementation of the so-called acquis communautaire, but also creating a mentality which is compatible with the mentality of the citizens of the member states in EU. The rules and procedures without the emotive components are like a shape with no contents, and the emotions without the shape are like an amorphous mass. For these reasons, a dialectical unanimity of the informal and formal segments of the integration processes for the countries from Western Balkans is needed, so they can easily become part of the European Union.

The transition of the political systems from a communist to democratic ones, and the transformation of the economies from planned to market ones have created a lot of practical problems for Macedonia, Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro, Croatia and Kosovo. These countries had adopted the so-called "Western values", like: democracy, rule of law, freedom, human rights, minority rights etc., but the problem is the concrete implementation of all these values. Although each of the Western Balkans countries is attached to the gains of the democracy, still the way of practicing of the power is close to autocracy, dictatorship or some other undemocratic regime.


As a resume, we can emphasize several notes. First, the communism and state socialism have had very big impact on the daily life in all of the Western Balkan countries, with no exceptions. Still, we should make a distinction between two "categories of citizens". The first group of citizens is more educated, democratically inclined, market oriented, flexible and aware of the real values. The second group is less educated, susceptible for manipulation and indoctrination. Actually, the second group represents the majority of the citizens in Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia, and that is a big obstacle for real democratization and transformation of the political and economic systems, and of course, for leaving communism and joining democracy.

Second, the mentality and behavior of the citizens in the countries from Western Balkans is not compatible with the citizens in Western Europe "countries. For an essential acceptation of the "Western values and practices", a legislative and normative copy-paste of the so-called acquis communautaire is not enough.

Third, only concrete and completed reforms can contribute for a crucial transformation of Western Balkans countries from communism to democracy, i.e. partial and selective "moves" generate only "frame and shape reforms", "cosmetic interventions" and "fake results".

Finally, we can conclude that nominally, Western Balkans countries are "full of democracy", but, in reality "the communist shadow" is still above all these countries and it hinders their way to the crucial transformation into democracy.







(6.) Gligorov, V., Transition, Integration and Development in Southeast Europe, pp. 266, EKONOMSKI PREGLED, 58 (5-6) 259-304 (2007)

(7.) %20Chapters%201_2_3_6_Communism%20Shadow.pdf

(8.) Gligorov, V., Transition, Integration and Development in Southeast Europe, pp. 266, EKONOMSKI PREGLED, 58 (5-6) 259-304 (2007) pp.266, 267

(9.) European Commission, Regional cooperation in the Western Balkans-a policy priority for the European Union, Luxembourg: Office for Official Publications of the European Communities, 2006), pp. 3


State University "St.Kliment Ohridski"--Bitola,

Faculty of administration and information systems management, Bitola, Republic of


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Title Annotation:ORIGINAL PAPER
Author:Karadjoski, Mladen
Publication:Revista de Stiinte Politice
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:4EXMA
Date:Jan 1, 2012
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