Western Balkans Between Democratic Challenges And European Aspirations: What Role For Council Of Europe? – OpEd


By Josip Juratovic*

Unfortunately, the policies of the international community also made serious mistakes during the disintegration of the former Yugoslavia, from which we must learn today.

The agreement in the Helsinki Act on the right of self-determination of peoples was a blessing for the reunification of Germany – but disastrous for the former Yugoslavia. Self-determination of peoples without adherence to the Charter of Human Rights prevents democracy and creates nationalism and thus the terrible consequences we know from the bloody disintegration of Yugoslavia.

A democratic community of values in the Western Balkans was never really wanted. A few years ago, when a Bosnian-Herzegovinian politician was unable to give me any more arguments on the subject of respect for fundamental democratic rights, he said the following sentence: “Juratovic, Europe is weak and we have time“.

The Council of Europe must first and foremost be faithful to its own resolution, which is laid down in the Charter of Human Rights. That means no trade with anti-democratic forces that disregard fundamental rights. It means backing democratic allies on the ground. At the same time, this means that no more funding should go to projects run by autocratic governments without allowing democratization to take place in their country.

In other words, the Council of Europe must demand its democratic values more strongly and more consistently, and that means in concrete terms: 

Firstly, in the countries concerned, our main point of contact must be the highest organ of any basic democratic order, namely parliament and the institutions that derive from it, and not partly the party gurus.

Secondly, we must start an active fight against corruption in state institutions, ensured with the judiciary. 

And thirdly, the biggest disaster of the Western Balkans is the education of the youth in the nationalist spirit. That is why we need a new and common history book in which the war criminals are named as such, instead of stylizing them as heroes. It is unacceptable that the taxpayers’ money of our countries, of the EU and of any international institution is used by individuals and political parties at all levels of government in the Western Balkans, who challenge and deny genocide or do not recognize final judgments of domestic and international courts. This practice needs to be stopped and there is an important role for the Council of Europe, which can influence with its mechanisms as the oldest European democratic institution.

It is on these three points that, above all, our credibility is measured and, while we are on the subject of credibility, I should like to express my opinion on the accession of northern Macedonia to the EU.

What worries me is that, once again, it appears that a single country is determining the future of the European Union. Thus, this is no longer Bulgaria’s problem with Northern Macedonia, but a serious problem for the European Union.

I therefore propose that we hand over the issue of Bulgaria and Northern Macedonia to an international scientific arbitration body, as in the case of Slovenia and Croatia, for example, and thus allow the accession process of Northern Macedonia to begin with everyone saving face.

The EU has 27 members and there is always the possibility of various conditions and blockades, which member states should avoid, i.e. they must find an institutional answer to these questions. This is especially important in circumstances when other countries and spheres of interest are trying to exert a strong influence in the Western Balkans. EU indecision and inadequate action can have strategic consequences in the Western Balkans and in individual countries, due to obstructions and uncertainty in the EU enlargement process and pressure from the domestic public can lead to a change in the geopolitical orientation of these countries.

I believe that working together with the new US administration, which has placed emphasis on human rights and democracy, can achieve the expected effect in the Western Balkans and be a stimulus to the development of these societies with strong state institutions. Without strong institutions there is no strong state, and without that, there is no basis for the development of democracy and human rights in the true sense of the word.

*Josip Juratovic (SPD), Member of the German Bundestag

[1IFIMES – International Institute for Middle East and Balkan Studies, based in Ljubljana, Slovenia, has Special Consultative status at ECOSOC/UN, New York, since 2018.
[2] Josip Juratovic is a social democrat and member of the German Bundestag serving his fourth mandate. He is a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Chair of the Parliamentary Group for West Balkans and Vice President of the parliamentary group Germany-North Adriatic (Croatia and Slovenia). 


IFIMES – International Institute for Middle-East and Balkan studies, based in Ljubljana, Slovenia, has special consultative status with the Economic and Social Council ECOSOC/UN since 2018. IFIMES is also the publisher of the biannual international scientific journal European Perspectives. IFIMES gathers and selects various information and sources on key conflict areas in the world. The Institute analyses mutual relations among parties with an aim to promote the importance of reconciliation, early prevention/preventive diplomacy and disarmament/ confidence building measures in the regional or global conflict resolution of the existing conflicts and the role of preventive actions against new global disputes.

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