European Politics and Institutions

Balkans Forum

The rocky road to ‘normality’: public opinion in the Balkans

17 November 2010

Hedvig Morvai-Horvat, Executive Director, European Fund for the Balkans, said the Balkan Monitor survey is a “one-stop-shop” for everyone interested in the Western Balkans, providing trends and information from ordinary people. The data shows region is stabilising and becoming rather like the rest of Europe, demonstrating the importance of a continuing EU focus.

Gallup Europe’s Managing Director Robert Manchin presented an overview of the 2010 Balkan Monitor Survey results:

  • Kosovo’s and Croatian citizens complain less about shortage of money than in other countries;
  • in Kosovo, citizens feel corruption has increased, and more are in penury;
  • Croatia has the highest proportion of citizens who are critical of the country;
  • Macedonians have lost confidence in their institutions;
  • Croatian support for EU membership has fallen, but over 50% want Croatia to join;
  • few people in Serbia think the EU wants it to become an EU member;
  • support for ‘Greater Albania’ is growing in Kosovo, but falling in Albania;
  • few people in Macedonia and Serbia believe armed conflict is over.

Vetton Surroi, Chairman of the Board, Foreign Policy Club, focused on the results from Kosovo, saying independence was “sinking in”, but citizens are experiencing a reality check and questioning everything. However, he was sure the country is moving in the right direction. He said that many Kosovars support the idea of Greater Albania, partly because Albanian passports give visa-free travel, and partly because they want a change from the current difficult living conditions. 

Eduard Kukan MEP, Chair, Delegation for relations with Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro and Kosovo, appreciated the “outreach” of the survey to tell what ordinary citizens feel. He believed the low level of support for the EU was understandable as Croats felt the EU had not been helpful, for example, in the dispute with Slovenia.

He called for politicians to do more to help Bosnia and Herzegovina move forward, but felt it was a positive step that conditions to secure visa liberalisation had been met.

Catherine Wendt, Head of Communications Unit, DG Enlargement, said EU Member States were experiencing ‘enlargement fatigue’, leading to doubts over the EU’s commitment to the Balkans. However, the EU’s process was credible and progress must be maintained.

While recent Eurobarometer results show people are less optimistic about joining the EU, the Balkans is becoming a ‘normal’ region. However people found the reforms connected to EU membership were beginning to bite, although they agree the EU has something to offer.

Rosa Balfour, Senior Policy Analyst, EPC, argued that the results show a move away from “Balkan exceptionalism”. Low levels of trust in institutions can occur with young democracies in new states still undergoing transition. She noted that some EU Member States, such as Bulgaria and Romania, do not score highly on trust either. Scepticism in Croatia towards the EU can be explained by the fact that as the country gets closer to accession, it experiences the costs of the reforms needed to join.

While the international community has made mistakes, responsibility now lies with Bosnia and Herzegovina’s political leadership to make reforms and move closer to the EU.

Neil MacDonald, Financial Times’ Belgrade Correspondent wondered why Croatians were happier with their living standards than Kosovars. He felt that in 2012, they would be comparing their living conditions with those in Slovenia, whereas currently they were comparing current conditions to those in wartime

Mr Surroi argued that the survey had shown that Serbia - and Macedonia – had the highest proportions of citizens who felt that war was possible and also had a greater capacity for violence. 

Mr Manchin said the divergence in views between Kosovo and Macedonian Albanians was an early warning. Mr Macdonald wondered if cultural differences impacted the results, as it might be easier to “bend the rules” in small countries like Montenegro, than in bigger ones like Croatia or Serbia. Ms Wendt added that the level of corruption in the Balkans, this had to be addressed at an early stage in order to encourage outside investment.

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