Analysts said much can be done to prevent extremists' growing influence.
By Linda Karadaku for the Southeast European Times in Pristina -- 30/03/13
Legalising new radical Islamic movements politically and socially may reign in their extremist tendencies in the Balkans. [AFP]
Emerging extremist organisations in the Balkans are operating alongside existing extremist groups and may try to change the political and legal framework to fit their agendas, analysts warned.
Analysts agree that the "new extremism" in the Balkans embodies religion, ethnicity and neo-Nazism, best exemplified by Greece's Golden Dawn.
Whether new or traditional, extremist organisations are proactive in promoting their agendas, but also are reactive in seeking political opportunities, said Abit Hoxha, researcher for the Centre for Security Studies in Pristina.
"Lately, organisations representing extremist ideologies have been increasing their activities globally and in the Balkans as well. The means by which they conduct their activities have changed by the use of modern communications channels," Hoxha told SETimes.
New Islamic movements in Kosovo such as Bashkohu, Forumi and Paqja Studentore are not a direct threat to Kosovo's stability, but could be if they become more politically active, Hoxha said.
"However, that depends on the political possibilities that might be given to them," Hoxha told SETimes.
Hoxha warned that the government and citizens should be cautious.
"Non-inclusion [in the political processes] does not produce good results in a democracy," he said. "It is therefore important to give them a chance within the legal framework. Anything out of the legal framework in Europe is harmful and dangerous."
The new extremist organisations have not become key protagonists because of the huge international presence in the Balkans, which has prevented conflict, said Ardian Arifaj of Kosovo's KIPRED institute.
"[They] have therefore been denied the basis for widespread violence," he told SETimes.
Arifaj said that unless extremist organisations manage to convince citizens they are focused on solving problems and not just selling nationalist rhetoric, they will not become key players in shaping the political developments.
"[T]o be able to change and influence life in their respective countries, they have to change and move closer to the centre to be able to become protagonists in the political life," he said.
In Albania, the Arab Spring revived Islamic movements, and the Muslim Brotherhood model is applied in the country and the region, said Ilir Kulla, former head of Albania's governmental committee for religions.
"[The impact] is reflected in our region through academic programs, business and religion as well as politics. So far, there were not real extremist movements of this kind, and an effort is made meant to legalise them politically and socially," Kulla told SETimes.
But Kulla said the lack of state authority, coupled with widespread corruption and weakening of state structures as a result of the economic crisis, have affected the region's ability to stop the Islamic movements' growth.
By contrast, many of the traditional extremists have transformed and are now in power, Arifaj said.
In Kosovo, former Kosovo Liberation Army guerrillas are running the government, while an offshoot of the group in Macedonia is now part of the governing coalition. In Serbia, politicians who formerly supported radicalism, such as recently reformed Radical Party members, are also in power.
"These old traditional extremist organisations still thrive but are now transformed. Their activity continued and their influence has increased," Arifaj told SETimes.
Yet, the environment in which they operate throughout the region still remains a fertile ground for extremist ideologies and organisations, he added.
Traditional ethno-nationalism and chauvinism expressed through aggressive claims for territorial agrandisement, redrawing borders and ethnic cleansing, are still alive, analysts said.
"Traditional extremism recovered from its comatose state due to the lack of tangible EU-NATO prospects across the Western Balkans,"
Andreja Bogdanovski, researcher at the Analitika think tank in Skopje, told SETimes there is a tendency by the major political players to use nationalist-chauvinist rhetoric in election campaigning.
"The negative spillover effects extend to the smaller extremist actors who, at the end of the day, feel empowered," he said.
A notable exception is the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn in Greece, which holds 18 seats in parliament and whose popularity is rising.
"In times of severe economic downturn, the electorate may be turning toward quick-fix solutions," Bogdanovski said.
In such an environment, political actors like Golden Dawn, but others as well, promote a ethnically and religiously charged rhetoric and undertake campaigns of violence.
"With 18 seats in parliament and rising support, extremism of this kind must be tackled through the Greek institutions by sending a clear message that there is no place for such activities in Greek society," Bogdanovski said.
In Serbia, extreme right groups have been present in the political arena since the beginning of the 1990s, but state institutions either cannot or do not want to confront them, said Isidora Stakic, researcher at Belgrade's Centre for Security Policy.
"This inevitably leads to the further rise of the right-wing extremism," Stakic told SETimes.
Stakic said right-wing extremism in Serbia today shares the basic characteristics of the European radical right, but it also has elements that are a result of the socio-political crisis and ethnic conflicts in the former Yugoslavia during the 1990s.
"Numerous factors contributed to the rise of the extreme right, such as nationalist discourse and the so-called normalisation of nationalism, historical revisionism, the state-church relationship and, above all, weak state and lack of rule of law," Stakic said.
Some of the most prominent right-wing organisations in Serbia are Obraz, Nacionalni stroj, Dveri and SNP Nasi 1389. The constitutional court has banned Obraz and Nacionalni stroj, but the other two are recognised by the state as legitimate political actors and participate in local governments.
Analysts agree some of the old extremist organisations active in the 1990s are not necessarily active today, but their ideology still exerts influence.
"They do not enjoy wide support among the population or political parties," Bogdanovski said.
By contrast, Stakic said extreme right organisations represent a serious threat to human rights and democracy because of their continual involvement in violence.
"Their impact is best reflected in the manner in which state institutions perceive and treat them. Criminal proceedings against members of these organisations are extremely slow and inefficient, and politicians avoid openly condemning right-wing extremism; some of them collaborate with extreme right organisations on the local level," Stakic said.
Similarly, Hoxha said the impact of the new extremist organisations is systemic and significant, requiring governments to better respond to issues in smaller communities where there is a greater likelihood the extremists will engage in violence.
"Extremist organisations are much more flexible and adaptable now that it is more difficult for states to react and reform because of a multitude of rules and procedures," Hoxha said.