Experts: Democracy can overcome nationalist rhetoric

11/02/2013

Citizens and media must not accept nationalism as a substitute from politicians for better services and functioning institutions.

By Linda Karadaku for Southeast European Times in Pristina -- 11/02/13

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Political parties that discarded nationalist rhetoric like the ruling SNS party in Serbia have won in recent elections. [AFP]

Nationalist rhetoric for electoral gain is on the increase in several regional countries, but experts said strengthening accountable, democratic institutions may rein this trend in.

"Nationalism is used by politicians due to the lack of programs to improve citizen's well being. Political elites are able to get away with it because they are not held accountable," Seb Bytyci, executive director of the Balkan Policy Institute in Pristina, told SETimes.

In Albania, where the outcome of a June parliamentary election is in doubt, critics have charged Prime Minister Sali Berisha with appealing to nationalism by accusing neighbouring states of albanophobia.

"I believe through the EU [accession] process borders will become unimportant, but the idea the Albanians should be transformed into five different nations, different from each other, because they are cut off in five states, is dangerous. This is completely unacceptable," Berisha said.

Opposition leader Edi Rama has seized on such statements, calling them primitive nationalism from another era, used to avoid discussion of the poor results in governance and economics.

"[O]n the eve of the electoral campaign, the government has nothing to say and offer the Albanians," Rama said.

But others have jumped in to Berisha's defense, arguing Albania has pursued a constructive policy in the region. "The policy is also in accordance with the Albanian constitution to protect the rights of the Albanians wherever they are," Eva Kushova, foreign ministry spokesperson, told SETimes.

Avoiding such situations in which nationalism can escalate can only be done through strengthening democratic institutions and accountability, Dragan Popovic of the Serbia Policy Center in Belgrade said.

"Clear rules, the rule of law and institutions with authority are mighty weapons against all politicians who want to use nationalism," Popovic told SETimes.

In Kosovo -- and the region -- there are signs of an increasing number of critical voices and citizens should continue to demand that government focus on their well being and increase institutional accountability.

"But there must be a renewed push by media and civil society to demand better services and functioning institutions," Bytyci said.

Bytyci explained there is a strong patron-client system which undermines accountability and democracy. "International interlocutors must be unequivocally dispelling the myth they act as patrons for the local elites," Bytyci concluded.

It is a local myth that nationalism can be stopped by the international community, but the latter can have an important influence in the choices the political elites make, according to Stevo Pendarovski, professor at the American University in Skopje.

"Political elites can either deemphasize nationalism or fully embrace it to enhance their political standing when no other economic and social reforms work," Pendarovski told SETimes.

Pendarovski explained the political elites in Serbia, Kosovo and Montenegro listen to Brussels because their leaderships stand firm on obtaining EU stabilisation and association agreements and accession negotiation dates.

"The rest are relying more on their chances for re-election than the long-term interest of their people," Pendarovski said.

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Serbia is a case in point.

The main source of nationalism still is the unresolved status of Kosovo, but the citizenry is sidelining such issues by putting economics and ethics at the top of societal agenda, according to Mladen Lazic, professor at the Philosophy Faculty at Belgrade University.

"Nationalism does not represent a tool of the political elite to divert attention from, for example, the deepening economic crisis, but is a continuation of almost 25-year-long conflict for the post-Yugoslav heritage," he told SETimes.

"Formerly nationalist political parties -- like the ruling SNP party -- dropped nationalism from their agenda and won the last elections, and rule with increasing support. The parties that kept the nationalist rhetoric -- like the Radical Party -- lost support and the rightist, extremist parties (Nasi) could not mobilise significant support," Lazic concluded.

This content was commissioned for SETimes.com.
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