Human Rights Defenders in the Western Balkans

The position of human rights defenders (HRDs) in the Western Balkans is increasingly precarious. Across the region, HRDs and organisations, as well as independent media outlets, are prone to intimidation, threats, smear campaigns, digital and physical attacks, and an overall disregard by national authorities.

While the region shares several common features (sluggish integration, weak rule of law, intimidation of HRDs, limited democratisation, lack of press freedoms etc.), naturally each country faces specific challenges and the protection of human rights has unique consequences, depending on local contexts.

As such, this report published by CRD has been compiled by experts from each of the six Western Balkan states, who have extensively researched the challenges and position of HRDs in the region, and offered a broad range of recommendations to national authorities, the international community, media and HRDs themselves. Having interviewed 100 HRDs for the purpose of this report, it represents one of the most prolific and detailed on-the-ground studies of their position in the Western Balkans, on a country-by-country basis.

Anida Šabanović from FPI BH participated in preparing the report “Human Rights Defenders in the Western Balkans” ,which can be found here.


Western Balkan PAR Monitor 2017/2018

The PAR Monitor is the result of research undertaken over the past year by the Think for Europe Network, with the goal of providing a systematic civil society monitoring of public administration reforms (PAR) in the Western Balkans. This exercise was motivated by the need to strengthen domestic, bottom-up pressure from the civil society sector in the long run, in
order to ensure that post-EU accession, when the leverage of the EU’s conditionality in the governance area weakens, the reform drive endures. Based on a robust methodological approach, combining quantitative and qualitative techniques, and building on the EU’s Principles of public administration, the PAR Monitor measures the countries’ state of play in PAR, benchmarks them against each other, and provides recommendations for improvement. The PAR Monitor also ensures complementarity with the monitoring carried out by SIGMA/OECD and the European Commission. It therefore provides a citizen and civil society focused perspective on the EU-SIGMA principles.

The PAR Monitor comprises an overall comparative regional report and six country reports, each including findings on the 23 compound indicators designed by the WeBER project team to monitor a selection of 21 EU-SIGMA principles.

Western Balkan PAR Monitor available here.

National PAR Monitor – Bosnia and Herzegovina 2017/2018

Public administration reform (PAR) is today considered a fundamental requirement for the EU aspirants on their accession path. As a complex and all-encompassing reform, PAR in the Western Balkans region is being thoroughly assessed through the lenses of the SIGMA Principles of
Public Administration, developed by the OECD/SIGMA and endorsed by the EU. These Principles define what makes a well-functioning administration in terms of its ability to deliver transparent, efficient and effective services to citizens, and to support socio-economic development.

In the context of a high external pressure for tangible developments in PAR, home-grown demand for better administration becomes even more important, to keep pressuring the government to pursue reforms once the external conditionality dissipates as the result of a completed accession process. Civil society actors, with local knowledge of administration’s
functioning, can lead such domestic advocacy efforts aimed at better administration. Independent PAR monitoring and evidence-based dialogues with the government represent a good approach to achieve this goal.

Based on such a rationale, the WeBER project has completed its first monitoring cycle. Its structured and evidence-based approach to PAR monitoring brings the reform closer to the public, by particularly focusing on PAR aspects with most relevance to the civil society and the public.
WeBER PAR monitoring strongly relies on strengths, skills, and local knowledge of the civil society in the Western Balkans. It builds on the SIGMA’s Principles of Public Administration as a cornerstone of PAR, while assessing them from the standpoint of an independently produced
PAR Monitor methodology. Overall, the methodology is based on the selection of 21 SIGMA Principles within six key areas, monitored and reported through 23 compound indicators that focus on different aspects of PAR.

Report available here.

Proactive transparency and the right of access to information: Two sides of the same coin

Societies which are seen as democratic societies are generally envisioned as an environment in which the government operates for the benefit of its citizens and works together with the citizens. One of the values of a democratic order of a country is the transparency of work of its administrative structures, as well as full respect of the inalienable rights of its citizens. Proactive transparency and free access to information are the
basic methods of communication between a state and its citizens.

When speaking about Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), a country which is, at least declaratively, a democratic state, it is still very far from the ideal when it comes to these two aspects of democracy. Its lack of openness
partly stems from its historic background from the time of communism, when it was not customary to ask the government to justify its actions or working methods. However, now, for this state which is striving towards
EU and Euro-Atlantic integration and membership, it is necessary to change this paradigm of communication between this state and its citizens. In order to build the citizen’s trust in the administration, the administration needs to be transparent, its work needs to be visible and understandable to the citizens, because in that way the possibility of corruption and abuse of power is reduced, and the citizens are enabled to take active participation in decision making processes. However, it is still too early to speak of the existence of a consistent proactive transparency in BiH.

According to the research of the WeBER project, perception of the civil society pertaining to the quality of legislation and the practice of access to information of public importance is low for all Western Balkan
countries, but BiH and Montenegro are at the very bottom. The results of this research for BiH show that less than 30% of the CSOs agree that the public administration authorities record enough information within their
work in order to provide the public with free access to information of public importance. Furthermore, only 20% of the surveyed CSOs consider the exceptions to the presumption of public character of information to
be adequately defined in the legislation and adequately applied in practice. However, some positive views are held towards practical aspects of requesting information: information is provided in requested format, within deadlines, and free of charge. Furthermore, the research has also shown that the information provision on the websites of the institutions lacks a citizen-friendly approach. Publicly available information is only partially complete and updated, and accessible within maximum three clicks from homepages of the institutions.

For more information, read our policy brief here.

Strategic Framework of Public Administration Reform

Do Western Balkan governments have effective public administration reform agendas? Is PAR purposefully implemented? Are there functioning structures to steer the reform design and implementation? Find out in this WeBER Infographic!

To see the infographic in full size, click here. (only available in English)

Find out more about WeBER Project here.

Western Balkan PAR Monitor 2017/2018 here.

BiH National PAR Monitor 2017/2018 available here. (English). Report in local language here.


Do Western Balkan countries have good freedom of information (FOI) laws and are they consistently applied? Find out in this WeBER Infographic!

To see the infographic in full size, click here. (only available in English)

Find out more about WeBER Project here.

Western Balkan PAR Monitor 2017/2018 here.

BiH National PAR Monitor 2017/2018 available here. Report in local language here.

Reaction to proposals presented at the Alpbach forum on new perspectives of the EU enlargement process

The so called ‘historic’ discussion between Serbia’s president, Aleksandar Vučić, and Kosovo’s president, Hashim Thaçi at the European Forum Alpbach in Austria that proposes an exchange of territories between two countries is not a landmark move towards future, but a huge step back deep into the past. Without going into the merits of the proposal and whether it would actually resolve ancient disputes between Serbia and Kosovo, we feel a need to send a warning about the implications of any re-drawing of borders for other countries in the region.

The retrograde ideas of redrawing borders would be devastating for the peace and stability in the region. The alleged tacit support of main international players to this idea is even more devastating, and strongly reminisces of the international inertia towards the conflict in Bosnia and Herzegovina in early 1990s. The silence of the EU Commissioner Johannes Hahn in the same panel was painfully symbolic of the EU’s role during the conflict in Bosnia and Herzegovina in the 1990s.

Any proposal to change borders and exchange territories in the Balkans is not cosmetic and it would be naïve to believe that such proposal could be contained to ‘small’ territories which the change would directly affect. Voices of former European diplomats in the Balkans and experts who have in recent weeks supported this idea through international media blatantly ignore history and facts by suggesting that new divisions would be part of a solution and not part of a problem. Any border change in the Balkans is not solution, it is a blueprint for new disasters. Even having to say this after everything the region has been through over the past 25 years feels surreal and unbelievable.

We thus appeal to international actors to recognize the hazardous rhetoric that invokes uncertainty that has led before this region to disastrous consequences. We appeal to you not to hide behind the pragmatism of EU integration, and instead distinguish between fallacy and facts. Delusions that ethnically ‘pure’ entities or nation states are a solution for this region are not new – their actual engineers have already been convicted in The Hague, and the victims of those ideas lie buried throughout this region. We refuse to accept the idea that there is no other choice but to divide existing states and societies along ethnic lines. And we would note that recent history shows that such divisions cannot be implemented peacefully. To ignore this, we would need to forget the experience of the 20th century with ethnic cleansing and the forced movement of people. To accept this argument would be to turn a blind eye to the genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes of the 1990s.

It is a logical fallacy that, with initial round of political divisions having failed to appease nationalist passions in the region, another round will somehow do the job. Instead, as should be obvious to any discerning reader of history and politics, championing divisions simply creates new cleavage lines in the region. The facts and arguments that prove that ethnic cleansing and creation of ‘pure’ nation-states is a bad idea have been overly presented in numerous publications and conferences over the past 25 years. Many of us have devoted most of our professional lives providing such facts and evidence so that new generations can remember how dangerous the nationalist rhetoric is, and how it can lead to projects that risks thousands of lives being lost. The facts are out there – in history books, in academic publications, and not least in court judgments.

We take this opportunity to remind the international community of those facts, to appeal to you to stay on the side of maintaining peace in the Balkans. Peace in the Balkans is your legacy – please preserve it. Please take into account the wider regional context, the threats to stability in Bosnia and Herzegovina and the decades long undermining of its institutions, and continued claims for autonomy of one of its parts. Part of that context is the glorification of war criminals in all countries in the region, as well as the nationalist radicalisation in Croatia. There are individuals in all Balkan societies who still cherish the notions of greater, ethnically ‘pure’ nation-states. Many of them do so for purely opportunistic reasons, attempting to hide the bankruptcy of their political vision behind the ideology of nationalism. It is the job of democracy to keep those individuals on margins of our societies. And it is the job of democratizers to keep democracy on track, to keep divisive ideas on margins by preserving and promoting facts, and to persistently promote the norms and values of democratic societies. It is your job!

Re-drawing borders is anti-civilizational, it is an attempt re-write history, and to re-introduce alleged Huntingtonian clashes to our societies at a point when many of us in civil society are investing efforts to sustain the motion in the opposite direction. Such proposals undermine multiculturalism and multi-ethnicity as values upon which history and future of our societies must rest, upon which Europe still rests.

If division to nation states is a blue print for the Balkans, is it a blueprint for European states too – for Belgium, the Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom? Although this is a rhetorical question, the answer is still clear – it is a blueprint for new conflicts. We are appalled by the implied pretence that a proposal with such content could be seen as benign in a global context that has already been tarred by rising xenophobia, radicalism, extremism, and divisive rhetoric.

We urge the European Union and all its institutions, NATO, the United States and other individual players to distance yourself from the ideas expressed in Alpbach. By propagating ideas which could entail a return to massive human rights violations, ethnic cleansing and the rewarding of extreme nationalist forces, and being based on dubious claims and few facts, you are endorsing the darkest policies pursued in the Balkans over the past decades.

Coordination Mechanism – Coordinating the Possible

Why does BiH need coordination mechanism? Is it because the existing is not functioning or because the fragmented political system needs to be made more coherent when communicating with Brussels? When talking about BiH coordination mechanism, the primary coordination in mind is the one between different levels of government in BiH, the entities and Brčko District. Due to the specificity of the topic, the coordination mechanism in BiH Federation (FBiH) needs to be taken into account. The existing narrative about coordination mechanism is highly politicized, and the public believes that the problem is in some complicated constitutional and legal issues, after the adoption of which, no matter its form, there can only be winners and losers.

With an argumented and concrete approach, this analysis aims to contribute to the change of the existing narrative about coordination mechanism. It is written for those who wish to understand coordination mechanism and it does not subscribe to any specific form of the mechanism for FBiH.

*text of the analysis only available in local language

Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP): Effects on Bosnia and Herzegovina and other potential EU member states

Is TTIP dead even before it is signed? It seems like there is growing opposition within the EU, particularly among key member states, that might be leading toward the abandonment of further negotiation and consequent signing of the agreement. But we did not wait for that to happen but rather analyzed possible impacts on BIH and EU member states to be. There are those who find the agreement to be a logical continuation of cooperation between these two economic blocks and who think that it would have positive multilateral effects on the global economy.  The others claim that only the parties (or one party) to the agreement would benefit from it and that it would have long-term negative effects on the global economy. Nature of negotiations has also been criticized, which since being held “behind closed doors” inspire critics to raise the issue of the future contents of this agreement. In light of these events, it is reasonable to raise the issue of the effects that this agreement will have on the economies of potential members of the European Union, which do not have the right to participate in negotiations but whose membership in the European Union is ever more feasible. Will potential European Union member states be in a situation in which their economies will not be able to cope with the challenges imminent to being a member of the most developed economic market in the world or this agreement will have positive economic effects on their economies?

Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP): Effects on Bosnia and Herzegovina and other potential EU member states

New Silk Road Leads Through the Balkans – China and Southeast European Countries

At this year’s Sarajevo Business Forum, held on May 4th and 5th 2016, 760 million USD investment/credit of the Chinese Exim Bank into the energy sector in BIH was signed. But this investment did not come out of blue, neither has huge Chinese delegation composed of 150 officials and business people from a couple of provinces who attended this year’s SBF 2016.

The People’s Republic of China has entered the 21st century with the self-esteem of an economic superpower, but also with the sense of duty to regain its lost universal fame after the so-called “century of national humiliation”. Its economic growth, averaging 10% annually over the last 30 years, as well as its successful balancing on the global political scene, enabled China to start expanding into the markets of the United States of America, the European Union and African countries. However, this expansion has not progressed without obstacles – Chinese investments and companies encounter in third markets not only political opposition, but also severe competition, especially in technology-demanding sectors. Since 2008, when the financial crisis spread from the USA into Europe and the countries in the Euro-zone got caught up in debt problems, the attitude towards China and its economic power started to shift.

It was in this light that intensification of the relations between China and the countries of Central and Southeast Europe have started. The number of investments and the volume of trade exchange keeps growing. The bilateral relations are gaining a momentum, marking the beginning of renewal of the historical Silk Road, which had connected the Far East with Europe by land and sea routes for centuries.

The “New Silk Road” not only constitutes an infrastructural link between China and European countries, thus shortening the transportation of goods and equipment, but it also aims at enabling distributional, market and technological positioning of Chinese companies in the European continent. In this analysis, we want to examine the prerequisites for economic expansion of China, as well as current situation and future prospects of economic relations between the People’s Republic of China and the countries in Southeast Europe, in particular in view of anemic growth of the European Union and of ever more imminent rebalancing of the Chinese economy.

New Silk Road Leads Through the Balkans – China and Southeast European Countries