Dimitri Sotiropoulos spoke on 23 February on “The derailment of democracy in the West Balkans”. Dimitri had carried out detailed research in Serbia and FYR Macedonia, but believed that his findings had relevance to other West Balkan countries.
This back-pedalling was the consequence of: the disproportionate strength of the executive, and especially the peak of the executive; the weakness of civil society; and the lack of true free market competition. And the consequences (not the causes) were organised crime, lack of rule of law, state incapacity and limited political pluralism. The systems were sliding towards semi-authoritarianism, with elections which were free but not fair, and some attraction towards the Russian (or Hungarian) model. The EU was perceived (wrongly) as being more interested in stability than democracy. But in both countries there were still enclaves of democratic life, which prevented a further slide into more authoritarian government.
The resulting Q&A session broadly confirmed this analysis. Clientilism and corruption were not unknown elsewhere in the region. There was most debate about populism. How did populism in Serbia and Macedonia differ from populism elsewhere in Europe and indeed more widely? Dimitri pointed out that generally it was not used as part of an attempt to cripple democracy.