Balkan parties struggle with multi-ethnic membership

03/12/2012

Single ethnicity parties dominate the Balkan political scene, representing a history of inter-ethnic conflicts that left behind a lack of trust between different groups.

By Drazen Remikovic, Marina Stojanovska and Linda Karadaku for Southeast European Times in Sarajevo, Skopje and Pristina -- 03/12/12

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Most parliaments in the region are comprised of single-ethnic parties. [File]

As the region recovers from the 1990s conflicts, political parties are primarily divided along ethnic lines – a phenonemon that analysts say tends to promote stagnant governments that has difficulty building strong relationship with neighbouring countries.

Many agree that multi-ethnic parties would be beneficial, but say that the region must move toward solving minority issues before such political organisations can flourish.

"It is difficult to have multi-ethnic parties in a society where we still have unsolved essential problems of the minorities. Only after these problems are solved adequately, we can expect multi-ethnic parties to appear," Albert Musliu, a political analyst at the Association of Democratic Initiatives in Skopje, told SETimes.

In Macedonia, all of the ethnic communities mentioned in the constitution have their own political parties, and nearly all of their members are of the same ethnicity. The larger political parties, like Social Democratic Union of Macedonia (SDSM) and VMRO-DPMNE do have members that belong to a different ethnic community, but they have little influence.

"I think that ethnic division is so expanded that it makes it impossible for parties that have members of different ethnicities to exist," Andrej Zernovski, the leader of Liberal Democratic Party, told SETimes.

Safet Bisevac, an independent MP, said nationalism in one state feeds nationalism in another. "It's a vicious circle, which will unfortunately last for a while in the Western Balkans," Bisevac told SETimes.

"The key problem are the political elites, which being in a situation where they lack new ideas and solutions to the fundamental issues faced from the societies, turn towards ethno-centrism as a safe house," Bisevac said.

Alma Lama, an MP of the Kosovo opposition party Vetevendosje, said parties in Kosovo are mono-ethnic because ethnic identities are very strong due to the past conflict.

"The reconciliation process in the formal aspect, in the institutions, has happened, but it has not happened really if we take into account the cultural aspect. The communities live separately and this is reflected in the political parties as well. The public opinion is not ready yet to mix the parties," Lama told SETimes.

But many agree that moving towards a multi-ethnic parties would be beneficial to the region.

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Multi-ethnic parties would help countries attain EU membership, analysts said. [EU]

"[Multi-ethnic parties would] help the countries to do a better job when it comes to accession to EU and achieve a better relations with its neigbouring countries ... At the minimum such parties could put pressure on government to deliver on issues which go beyond the usual concerns about ethnic balances and have more to do with public policies in line with the EU acquis," Dimitar Bechev, senior policy fellow and head of Sofia office of the European Council on Foreign Relations, told SETimes.

Rasim Ljajic, president of the Social-Democratic Party of Serbia (SDPS), formerly headed the Democratic Party of Sandjak. He abandoned this local party, which was mainly concerned with the problems of the Bosniak ethnic community, to form the SDPS in 2009.

"I believe that there is less room for mono-national parties, and that in the process of conglomeration of the political scene in Serbia, a chance will be given to parties concerned with issues of general national interest," Ljajic said.

Bosnia and Herzegovina has some positive developments into moving from totally mono-ethnic parties to multi-ethnic ones. Every major mono-ethnic party has a small number of members from another ethnic group, but does not exceed more than 5 percent of the total membership.

There are a few smaller parties, such as Our Party or Social Democtaric Union (SDU BiH), that have equal number of different ethnicities in its membership.

Even though this party is still small compared to SNSD or SDP, its rating constantly grows. In the October elections the party received four times the number of council seats it did in the local elections held in 2008.

"We represent all the citizens. We stand for those who do not want to speak out about their ethnic and religious grounds, and these kind of people vote for this party. We must realise that the future of BiH is in a civil, and not a national, concept. It's a difficult road but someone needed to start it. For now, Our Party is the only one which represents such a concept," Gratz told SETimes.

The Alliance of Independent Social Democrats (SNSD), the largest Serbian party in BiH, has a social democratic programme, but its leader Milorad Dodik has served for years pushing nationalistic rhetoric instead of trying to foster multi-ethnic relations.

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SDU BiH is one party that has equal members from all ethnicities in the country. [SDU BiH]

Aleksa Asanovic, a 45-year-old tourist manager from Banja Luka, said that the rhetoric and ideology of political parties in BiH are two different things.

"You have Social Democrats who are actually the biggest nationalists in the country. On the other hand, the national parties and their rhetoric seem ridiculous when compared with the Social Democrats. Therefore, true civil parties are small and undetectable as nationalist rhetoric dominates in all the public and in all medias," Asanovic told SETimes.

All the parties in Kosovo are mono-ethnic, but the government coalition is multi-ethnic and the country is striving to become a mixed ethnic society.

Jasmina Zivkovic, an MP of the Serb Independent Liberal Party in Kosovo, said the political parties do not have to be mono-ethnic, but "that is the situation."

Adem Grabovci, head of the parliamentary group of the Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK), the biggest party in Kosovo, said reality should be taken into account, but the party remains open to new membership.

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"We see Kosovo as one, we treat Kosovo citizens the same, equal, and the PDK is open for all Kosovo citizens. All those who want to develop their activity in the ranks of the PDK are welcome, but taking into account the reality, the conclusion can be that the conditions have not been created yet that somebody from a minority adhere in another party," Grabovci told SETimes.

Tatjana Stojanovska Ivanova, a member of the Faculty of Philosophy in Skopje, said the monolithic behavior and mono-ethnicism come as a result of the existent ethnocentrism, or the bond one shares with his nation.

"This stereotype in accordance with the membership in a certain political party has an ethnic colour and is a result of the unsurpassed prejudges that have existed and will continue to exist in the Balkans," she told SETimes.

SETimes correspondent Bojana Milovanovic in Belgrade contributed to this article.

This content was commissioned for SETimes.com.
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