* Almost 30 years after the fall of Communism and despite their ambitions of Euro-Atlantic integration, many Southeast European countries have failed to establish political pluralism and are dominated by single parties and their leaders.
Street politics are on the rise in some Balkan countries as opposition parties seek to attract more attention and support, having failed to do so through more orthodox channels.
In the last three years Montenegro has seen not only violent street protests but also a failed coup attempt aimed at assassinating Djukanovicduring the October 2016 general election. “The attempted coup of October 2016 could stem in part from the hopelessness of opposing Djukanovic by constitutional means, as he has been in power since 1991,” Taylor says.
The protests were staged by the main opposition party, the pro-Russian Democratic Front (DF), which is also alleged to have been involved in the thwarted coup attempt. The DF is a coalition of parties that was set up with one main goal: to oust Djukanovic and the DPS from power.
It uses aggressive rhetoric and openly opposes the country’s membership in Nato and the EU. It is rumoured that the party is financed by Moscow and Russia has several times attempted to influence the Montenegrin prosecution to stop trials against its leaders.
However, the party has scored a series of own goals. Its opposition to membership in Nato and the EU has pushed voters away, and most of its leaders are now on trial either for their involvement in the coup plot or for the clashes in 2015. One of them, Milan Knezevic, has already been sentenced to four months in jail for his participation in the clashes.
In Kosovo, the nationalist Vetevendosje party has also taken an aggressive and sometimes violent stance. The party is well known for letting off smoke bombs in the parliament on several occasions as it sought to block a vote on a border demarcation deal with Montenegro.
Vetevendosje opposes any international involvement in Kosovo’s internal affairs, and is demanding that Pristina take a more aggressive position in its negotiations with Serbia. It is also against the privatisation of state-owned companies.
The campaign against the border deal with Montenegro ultimately failed; despite a last ditch smoke bomb attack on March 21, legislation ratifying the deal was passed the same day as MPs returned to the chamber and carried on with the session. Vetevendosje has managed to present itself as a radical alternative to the parties currently in power, unexpectedly taking second place in the 2017 general election. More recently, however, the party has been riven by internal conflict, making its future uncertain.
“Vetevendosje looked to be a possible breakthrough party, but has now split,” Taylor noted.
But it’s not only opposition parties that resort to violence in their desperate quest for power. Last April, supporters of Macedonia’s conservative VMRO-DPMNE party, which had been in office since 2006, stormed the parliament in an attempt to stop the formation of a new government by the rival Social Democratic Union of Macedonia (SDSM).
VMRO-DPMNE narrowly won the December 2016 snap election, but failed to form a government as it was unable to secure the support of ethnic Albanian parties, which eventually backed the SDSM.
In the aftermath of the attack, which resulted in injuries to MPs including Macedonia’s now prime minister Zoran Zaev, prosecutors have indicted dozens of people, among them a number of VMRO-DPMNE MPs. Now in opposition, VMRO-DPMNE has sought to obstruct the parliament’s work by staging a lengthy boycott.
The winning formula
If an opposition party in SEE wants to break the status quo, it needs to get a charismatic leader with drive and determination, Taylor says. Another thing that could make people vote for a new party, he believes, would be a serious economic downturn leading to popular dissatisfaction with the government economic management, or blatant corruption — revelations of top level corruption in Macedonia contributed to the eventual ousting of VMRO-DPMNE though in other countries opposition parties have been less successful in capitalising on this theme.
According to Koneska, people would vote for a new party for pragmatic reasons. “People vote for pragmatic reasons — for jobs, for contracts, or small subsidies for farmers — the usual things that people need. If someone else comes in government and offers these things, loyalties will shift,” she says.
However, as long as the ruling parties use the tools at their disposal to stay on top as long as possible — including controlling the media, appealing to populist ideas and balancing between EU aspirations and rising or traditionally high nationalistic moods — there is little scope for opposition parties to make headway.
* The publication is not an editorial. It reflects solely the point of view and argumentation of the author. The publication is presented in the presentation. Start in the previous issue. The original is available at: intellinews.com
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