The Balkans’ New Normal

SOFIA – The Balkans is the European Union’s untold success story. The EU’s commitment to bringing the region within its borders remains firm. In September, Catherine Ashton, the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs, succeeded in breaking the deadlock in Serbia-Kosovo relations by bringing both sides back to the negotiating table. The EU’s soft power remains as visible as ever.

Moreover, just this month, the visa wall surrounding the region for the last two decades finally fell for everyone (with the exception of the Kosovo Albanians). It is as if the crisis in the EU’s center had not reached its Balkan periphery. This, at least, is how the European Commission wants to see the Balkans, and how the region wants to present itself.

But the reality is less re-assuring. A closer look reveals that the Balkans currently is a mixture of Greek-style economic problems, Berlusconi-style politics, and Turkish-style enthusiasm when it comes to the EU’s will to integrate the countries of the region.

To understand this mixture, imagine a rainy election day in an unnamed country, and that almost three-quarters of the ballots are returned blank. The government demands that the elections be re-held, when the sun is shining. The result is terrifying: the protest increases, with 83% of the electorate voting without choosing a candidate.