Mr. Dritan Abazovic, a political scientist and doctoral candidate at the University of Montenegro
Thinking about the future of the Balkans out of EU and NATO is very dangerous
In an interview with Atlantic Initiative, Dritan Abazovic, author of “Cosmopolitan culture and global justice,” analyzed the current political situation in the Balkans and expressed his view on the future of the former Yugoslavia. Abazovic is the Executive director of the Montenegrin TV Teuta, Deputy director of the Alpha Center and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations forum 2010. Born in Bar in 1985, he is one of the youngest PhD students at the universities in the Former Yugoslavia.
Interviewed by: Vedran Vojinović
Can you explain the current situation in Montenegro, with reference to its fast approaching NATO membership?
Montenegro is pursuing an intensive integration process on both “fronts”. It is currently awaiting a start date for opening negotiations with the European Union, and this is what the state administration of the country is mostly working on. However, despite the fact that it seems that our country enjoys a better pace of reform in relation to some of our neighbours in the region, realistically, there is still much that needs to be done. Among other things, the greatest challenges facing modern Montenegro, are the strengthening of state institutions as well as (maintaining) a resolute struggle against corruption and organised crime. In these fields, as well as in some other “tricky” issues, there is still no adequate response from the state, but it seems that every day Podgorica getting closer to Brussels. It encourages citizens that necessary reforms will happen, even if it means they are accomplished through coercion by European bureaucrats. As for the integration process to NATO, no matter what is done in a different direction, I am convinced that the requirements of the Montenegro will be similar to those of the EU. In obtaining a Membership Action Plan (MAP), we arrived at the last phase of pre-accession after which countries can soon expect to be invited to full membership in the Alliance. All the reforms concerning the organisation of defense and security systems are running well but, as in the previous case with the EU, NATO expects more from us in raising the degree of democratic systems and in providing greater transparency in all state organs. This aside, I am convinced that Montenegro will be the next a NATO member and that this will happen in the not too distant future. What every citizen should recognize, however, is that it is more important that the country reaches good standards and democratic practices and that whatever accession that follows is only the fruit of sincere commitment in this direction!
Can you compare the Bosnian and Montenegrin roads to NATO and the EU? How are they alike and how do they differ?
Each individual state has some specific features that characterise its integration process. However, I am sure that the Balkan countries have many similarities in the most important points on the path of joining the EU and NATO. This is primarily related to the aforementioned challenges, which have become transnational in character, and the Balkan mentality, which has a special significance. In addition, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Montenegro face the same problems, such as corruption, organised crime, lack of democratic capacity and marginalisation of the civil sector, etc. The similarities are numerous and I could elaborate a lot on them, because all the countries in the region are burdened with identical problems. What makes them differ are the particular features that each country has. This is best demonstrated by three factors: the speed of reforms, the presence of genuine political will and the human resources that countries individually possess. Unlike Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro has a simple decision-making system, which means that when there is political will on an issue it can be solved relatively quickly. Bosnia and Herzegovina, unfortunately, still held back by the terrible organisational structure imposed by the Dayton Agreement, which is the biggest obstacle to dynamic reform. In short, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Montenegro have similar challenges, but have adopted different solutions. Therefore, we must continue to promote cooperation and sharing of good examples and practices. This is the only way to get into EU and NATO and to find ourselves a family as soon as possible, because, of course, nobody is perfect!
Croatia formally concluded negotiations with the European Union on becoming its first ex-Yugoslavian member as of July 2013. What will its entry into the EU mean for the other countries of former Yugoslavia, who will remain for some time outside the family? Will Croatia’s entry lead to their gradual integration or to isolation?
There is no question of isolation. Rather, it is a very good sign for the entire region. First of all, I want to congratulate Croatia on everything it did last year, I think it deserved membership. Croatian admission means at least two things: firstly, it demonstrates that the EU is not tired of enlargement, which is what we all suspected, although there remain skeptics, and secondly, that the Balkans remains an issue that the EU wants to resolve once and for all. Membership for all countries is, therefore, seen as the only solution to the “case of the Balkans”. In this way, it ends the vicious cycle that has run since the breakup of Yugoslavia. How many other Balkan countries joining the EU it will take to break it remains to be seen, as it will also depend on the countries themselves and the political will of Brussels. No matter what, it is positive that Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina in particular, will soon begin to be bordering the EU. Speaking from a geopolitical perspective, this means that we are formally arriving at the threshold of the Union. The Croatian example is an encouragement for our administration, largely because they share the same fate and the same problems. The effort is certainly worth it. Croatia has proved it and I believe that other countries will follow this logic.
What can we learn from the Croatian experience with NATO and the EU?
The Croatian practice is very important for all countries in the region and one can draw many lessons from it. Out of everything achieved, I think the public has been most “delighted” by the fact that Croatia has taken the fight against corruption to the highest state officials. It seems impossible to me that something similar would occur in Montenegro and this seems to be the biggest difference between the two countries. Croatia has also shown remarkable results in many other fields and these practices, if properly channeled, could prove useful to the rest of the region. The chapter relating to justice and competition policy would be particularly useful in this respect. In addition, the role of the Croatian Parliament may provide an enviable example to other countries (in the region) especially concerning their efficiency and the control function they perform. I hope that we will put Croatia’s experience to good use, which ultimately may mean that we need less time to solve some issues because we already have a model that has proven to be effective.
Is there an alternative to joining the EU and NATO for Balkan countries such as Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia?
Currently no such alternative exists. I think that to even think of something like that could be very dangerous for the whole region. Regardless of the belief held by many analysts that the Balkans are very different to the rest of Europe, I believe that the Balkans can offer a lot of things to Europe. It is true that we have been discredited by our recent past, but we must be aware that the Europeans have a lot of positive things to learn from us and from our history. Any regional alternative to the European path would be wrong or, more precisely, fictional. We should stick to safe solutions and the shared destiny, shared future that we naturally follow. Never have we succeeded in creating our own alternatives and following paths not taken by others of the modern world. We should therefore follow the achievements of civilisation and political philosophy of the democratic states. From a political point of view, there can be no good when there is no choice, but I think at the moment there are no better solutions for the Balkan countries than European and Atlantic acceleration.
Given the possibility of all ex Yugoslavian countries joining the EU and therefore becoming a community once again do you think that man-made divisions and stories of “the impossibility of coexistence” will continue to exist or we find ourselves turning towards one another?
I belong to a small group of people who think that the current divisions are artificial; constructed and utilised to meet the various political and economic interests of certain groups. It is for each country, and its own political elite to individually decide how much significance they want to attach to these differences. I’ll admit that some leaders gained financially off the back of nationalism, and some still do. The Balkans need a new political paradigm, and it is natural to believe that it will occur when we are all part of the European family. It is likely that even then these divisions wont be completely annulled, but rather we can expect that they will gradual diminish in relevance. Diversity between people is advantageous and beautiful, but we have tendency to misinterpret lots of things and that is why the perception of this diversity is distorted. Once we realize our mistakes, we’ll realize that we have fought in vain. The only problem is that something like this takes time and energy, which for too long, has been wasted.
In Bosnia and Herzegovina part of the public – and political scene – is opposed to NATO membership. Does Montenegro have such problems? What is the mood of the public in your country?
While the vast majority of citizens and all political parties in parliament support the accession to the EU, there is not similar support in Montenegro for membership in NATO. Moreover, the trend of support is steadily declining. I think that at present some 60 percent of citizens do not support membership in NATO. The factors that affect the poor support are numerous, and the biggest obstacle is dealing with the past. The interventions that occurred 1999 remain a major obstacle to saying “yes” to Montenegro joining NATO. Such an attitude is a consequence of emotional approach to the problem, and we know that emotional decisions are often irrational. I do not want to say that there are no arguments that speak in favor of this opinion, but I’m sure that the refusal for dialogue is a bad approach, which makes it impossible to make the right decision. Apart from problems related to 1999, I think that the citizens have a weak and superficial awareness of the Alliance, and more needs to be done to combat this. The Government of Montenegro and the civilian sector should be more active (up to date) in educating citizens about the benefits of membership, because it is the only way to stop manipulation of information. It is the typical Balkan mentality and the desire of citizens to be engaged in “large” geopolitical issues. It is so common in discussions to hear questions and comments regarding Russia, Afghanistan and recently Libya. I am thrilled with the curiosity of our citizens, but I’m not sure that these are critical things that need to be decisive in whether or not small-Montenegro becomes a NATO member. Opposition exists, which is good as long as it is constructive. However, I believe there will increasingly be those who, when they receive the necessary information, will think and realize that for a country like Montenegro membership is the single best solution that we have and that is currently available.
In the Balkans, a new generation of politicians is growing up. Who are these future leaders? How do you see the future of the former Yugoslavia?
Besides the fact that I am always optimistic and I really think that better days are coming for the former Yugoslavia, I have to disappoint you. I do not currently see a good new generation of young leaders who are very different from their mentors. It is true that among the youth of all countries of former Yugoslavia there is a lot of potential, but I am suspicious of the way this potential is being channelled. Young people are one of the categories that are easily manipulated because they don’t have their independence and find it difficult to get work. I’ll admit we live in a tacky politicised society, where young people often agree to perform various tasks for their political bosses, which greatly stifle their creativity, all for the sake of narrow personal interests. I sincerely hope that such practices will soon cease and that some of the new generation will take matters into their own in hands. I think that in every country in the region, it is important that the “worn out” and “overcome” political elite, which did not bring many good things for its citizens, are sent into political retirement. It would signify the new beginning and fresh start that we need. The future of the former Yugoslavia can and should be bright, and this will be possible only if the young become more determined, more courageous and wiser. I believe it will happen!