Working Group on Western Balkans

Coordinator: Izabela Kisic, Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Serbia 

Western Balkans includes geographically speaking countries: Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Macedonia and Serbia.

Although a substantial progress has been made in creating a framework for respecting human rights and the rule of law, countries of the Western Balkans are still facing serious problems as a consequence of several factors such as the totalitarian regimes which they inherited in the past, recent war histories and all are in the process of building democratic societies. The process of acceptance of new values of countries with democratic institutions, where rule of law is established and human rights are observed is a challenging phase that need the common efforts of the responsible state institutions on one hand and that of the civil society and international community on the other hand as an oversight mechanism which exert adequate pressure on the respective authorities to move forward in the democratization path of all our countries. Furthermore, all WB countries aspire to be part of the European Union family and each has a roadmap with concrete milestones to be achieved in the Stabilization and Association Process. Therefore, all the countries have similar issues to handle such as democracy and rule of law, civil and political rights, maturity of the political class, regional issues etc.

Albania is a country with a very fragile democracy, with concerning issues regarding independence of the democratic institutions and separation of powers, with a very extreme political polarization climate between the two main political parties and with a low profile regarding respect of human rights and fundamental freedoms. Kosovo and Bosnia and Herzegovina are unfinished states and protectorates of the international community. Their consolidation is largely dependent on the behavior of Serbia. Serbia, contrary to the principles of the Helsinki Final Act and other international documents and decisions of international courts, has not clearly and explicitly given up territorial claims to parts of Bosnia and Kosovo. This prevents the development of good neighborly relations in the region, as well as creating a multicultural region without divisions among citizens on ethnic bases. All this seriously affects the lives of citizens, especially the position of minorities in border areas.

The whole region is faced with increasing nationalism, acts of hatred and or discrimination against members of all minorities, especially the LGBT community. The culture of conflict and intolerance has deep roots which raise the level of radicalism among young people, born during or even after the wars, pushing them to join extreme right-wing organizations or seek out other forms of radicalism. Media is not a catalyst of changes, in fact, they maintain the status quo.

The development of each Western Balkans country cannot be considered separately. Several factors must be taken into account: a shared history and the history of the wars; the fact that the stability of the entire region depends on the building of democratic institutions in each country individually; all these countries share similar problems in the sphere of human rights and face similar challenges of post -conflict and transitional societies. Last but not least, they have a common agenda in the framework of EU membership.

The international community has shifted (for obvious reasons) its focus from the Balkans to other hot spots in the world. The work in the Balkans has not been completed, and there is still a serious danger that these societies could move towards nationalism and other extremist movements that pose a threat to human rights and the freedom of citizens. Extreme political polarization, unstable governments, incidents against minority communities, violations of the rights of the most marginalized groups and citizens of the society, the language of hatred in the media, violations of freedom of the media etc.

For all these reasons we think that the creation of a Western Balkans regional group could contribute to the raising of awareness about the problems of societies that are in the democratization process. Furthermore, civil society organizations deem it very necessary to contribute to the cooperation and integration process at the regional level and this working group can also serve this purpose. Last but not least, this group would have a greater impact in the international fora and within the societies of the Western Balkans in advocating for the goals set in the Civic Solidarity Platform.