Western Balkans at the Crossroads

In March 2018, PSSI launched a project “Western Balkans at the Crossroads: Assessing Non-Democratic External Influence Activities” kindly supported by the National Endowment for Democracy. The first round of the project was concluded in June 2019, and a follow-up 18-month-long second round of the project started in October 2019, this time under the title “Ways Forward in Analyzing External Actors’ Influence.”

Visit www.balkancrossroads.com to find more information about the project and access all outputs and publications.

 

In the past couple of years the former Yugoslav states that are not members of the EU or NATO (with the exception of Montenegro that gained NATO membership in June 2017), notably Serbia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Macedonia, Montenegro and Kosovo, have been confronted with a wave of rising ethnic and social tensions, authoritarian impulses and corruption scandals. These tumultuous events have led to democratic backsliding in a number of cases. Serious vulnerabilities have emerged in this volatile region that are being exploited by non-democratic external powers for the purpose of increasing their leverage to achieve tactical and strategic gains with the ultimate goal of obstructing further integration of the Western Balkans into the EU and/or NATO. The Balkans have historically been viewed as a zone of great-power rivalry, where shrinking European or US involvement in the past decade has created a window of opportunity for other players to strengthen their footholds.

The project seeks to identify, analyse and publicize Russian, Chinese, Turkish, and Gulf State influence activities in the Balkans. PSSI specifically focuses on foreign influence in five post-Yugoslav and not-EU member countries: Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Macedonia, and Kosovo. It has been presenting its findings and recommendations to local and international experts, civil society, the media, and the public through thematic briefs, analytical studies, series of articles, comprehensive final reports and conferences.

PROJECT OBJECTIVES

  • Deliver a comprehensive analysis of influence activities carried out in the former Yugoslav non-EU member states by non-democratic external powers aimed at obstructing further integration of aforementioned countries into the EU or NATO.

  • Gain valuable insights and illuminate a number of worrying trends designed to provide these external forces with lasting strategic advantage and greater control over local societies and politics.

  • Raise awareness concerning the insidious meddling of foreign powers in this region and catalyse greater activism by the EU and NATO in countering harmful activities.

CURRENT PROJECT PHASE: WAYS FORWARD IN ANALYZING EXTERNAL ACTORS’ INFLUENCE

Project duration: 03/2018 – 06/2019

Project coordinator: Barbora Chrzová, chrzova@pssi.cz; The project team consists of 15 junior and senior researchers from within the region and beyond with multidisciplinary scholarly backgrounds.  

The second project’s phase focuses on in-depth socially rooted research and investigative journalism. Its design reflects the aim to go beyond conventional analytical frameworks, overcoming ideologically constructed stereotypes and methodological nationalism, while combining a variety of methodological approaches from security studies to visual anthropology. 

Planned project activities

Project outputs will consist of fifteen analytical studies and fifteen journalistic articles drawing on their findings. Major observations on external actors’ influence gathered throughout the work on the project will be summarized in a final reflection paper. A collective monography presenting the studies in one publication shall also be issued. A concluding conference will be held in Prague to present major project findings and discuss ways forward in analyzing external actors’ engagements in the Western Balkans among the expert and policy-making community dealing with the region.

 

PROJECT PHASE I: ASSESSING  NON-DEMOCRATIC EXTERNAL INFLUENCE ACTIVITIES

Project duration: 03/2018 – 06/2019

Project manager: Barbora Chrzová, chrzova@pssi.cz 

The project team consisted of Prague-based experts and one local researcher from each of the five countries in focus. See more information in the document attached or visit the project website

 

PROJECT OUTPUTS

Final Publication

The publication sheds more light on several questions pertaining to external influences in the region: What objectives and strategic gains do non-Western actors aim to achieve? Which means do they employ and what are the particular consequences of their involvement? Are external engagements undermining the fragile internal stability of the Western Balkan countries? Are their strategic interests and modes of conduct contradictory to those of the EU and US ones or is it possible to find a common ground? It provides a comprehensive overview and more detailed understanding of non-Western engagements in the five post-Yugoslav non-EU member countries while striving to avoid an oversimplifying black-and-white view and conventional judgments. Instead, it aims to investigate the topic with analytical precision and sensitivity to local contexts, providing for assessments of the real motivations, extent, and consequences of external actors’ involvement.

The publication concisely summarizes findings of the briefing papers. It is organised in chapters on individual Balkan countries – Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, North Macedonia, Montenegro and Kosovo; and covers engagement of all studied non-Western actors actively present in the region–Russia, Turkey, China, the Gulf States and Iran.

The publication can be accessed on the website (see this link) and downloaded here. Executive summaries are accessible on the same page: Albanian, English, Macedonian, B/H/S/M.

 

Policy Paper

The policy paper is titled “Western Balkans at the Crossroads: Which Road Should the EU take,” was written by project manager Barbora Chrzová and published on June 30, 2019.

The paper suggests several recommendations for new Commission’s and European External Action Service’s (EEAS) strategy towards the region based on research done and debates held throughout the duration of the project.​ ​Read the policy paper here.

 

Briefing Papers

The project team produced six briefing papers focusing on foreign power’s influence in particular social domains such as politics, economics, religion or extremism. Find more information at: https://www.balkancrossroads.com/briefing-papers or follow the overview below.

Briefing Paper I: “East vs. West”(August 28, 2018) - full version, an executive summary

Briefing Paper II: Politics (September 21, 2018) - full version, an executive summary

Briefing Paper III: Economics (October 24, 2018) - full version, an executive summary

Briefing Paper IV: Culture and Religion (November 28, 2018) -  full version or an executive summary

Briefing Paper V: Media and Elections (January 4, 2019) - full version or an executive summary

Briefing Paper VI: Extremism & Radicalism (February 12, 2019) - full version or an executive summary

 

Journalistic Articles

A series of 30 journalistic articles covering current affairs and interesting case studies was produced throughout the project duration. You can access all of them at: https://www.balkancrossroads.com/articles.

  • Final publication providing a comprehensive picture of different influence activities and approaches used by Russia, China, Turkey, and the Gulf States in Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Macedonia, and Kosovo

  • Concluding conference where new measures to counter the malign activities of external actors and ways to enhance the prosperity and stability of the region will be discussed The project deliverables will be targeted at the policy-making and NGO expert communities as well as the general public in EU/NATO countries and the Balkans themselves.

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