Testing Times

March 8, 2019
Public trust is being tested across the Balkans in one way or another, whether through elections, reforming processes or prospective military alliances.

Trust Tested

Illustration. Photo: Pixabay

In June 2016, Albania embarked on a very ambitious process of vetting its judges and prosecutors in order to root out rampant corruption within the judicial system. The process was initiated under heavy US and EU pressure.

Few doubt that the rot runs deep, and the ranks of the judiciary have, indeed, been decimated. Yet some rather peculiar decisions which have been made are severely testing the public’s trust in the process. Our analysis explains the rather Kafkaesque moments of the process.

Read more: Albania’s Kafkaesque Justice Reform is Undermining Public Trust (March 7, 2019)

Winning Candidate?

The ruling coalition in North Macedonia has finally announced that its candidate in the presidential elections – due in April and May – will be Stevo Pendarovski. It is significant that Pendarovski will be the joint candidate of the SDSM, which mainly represents ethnic Macedonians, and DUI, which represents the country’s ethnic Albanians.

Pendarovski is not a new face – he ran for the presidency in the 2014 elections. This, of course, was not what recommended him as the ruling coalition’s choice, but rather the belief that he is best positioned to appeal to a broad base of both ethnic Macedonian and Albanian voters.

Read more: How Pendarovski Got Second Shot at North Macedonia Presidency (March 5, 2019)

Under Pressure

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg shakes hand with Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic during the ceremony of the civil emergency exercise ‘SRBIJA 2018’, Serbia, 08 October 2018. Photo: EPA-EFE/KOCA SULEJMANOVIC

With North Macedonia having signed its NATO accession protocol at the beginning of this year, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Serbia are looking increasingly isolated as NATO holdouts in the region. Indeed, even within Bosnia, a substantial segment of the political elite would like to see the country in NATO.

Meanwhile, in Serbia, the idea of NATO membership remains deeply unpopular, primarily due to memories of the 1999 NATO bombing of Yugoslavia. This has not stopped Serbia from cooperating with NATO however. Yet, with the country increasingly hemmed in by NATO, we look at whether it will be able to maintain its self-proclaimed neutrality and what the cost of this might be.

Read more: Hemmed in by NATO, Serbia’s Neutrality to be Tested (March 6, 2019)

Right to Know

Files and more files. Transparency advocates say recent changes to freedom-of-information legislation in Montenegro are helping state institutions lock public information away. Photo: Vladimir Vucinic

As part of the trend towards more openness, transparency and greater democratisation, most countries in the Balkans adopted some kind of Freedom of Information legislation during the 2000s. Often this occurred as part of various EU accession processes.

The greater openness resulted in some notable successes in taking down corrupt politicians. Probably too successful. In countries such as Montenegro, Serbia, or even EU member state Croatia, moves are afoot to roll back freedom of information. In Montenegro, legal amendments have already been put in place. In Serbia, they have been talked about, though authorities more often simply ignore existing laws. We analyse the situation and how civil society, media and individual citizens are faring in the never-ending battle for the right to know.

Read more: Right to Know: A Beginner’s Guide to State Secrecy (March 5, 2019)

Media (Un)Professionalism

Illustration. Photo: Pixabay.

The sight of state-owned and private television stations in the region spreading pro-government propaganda or biased reporting is hardly a new or surprising phenomenon in the Balkans. On the contrary, it has almost become an unfortunate norm.

Yet the sight of a television network owned by an international media company doing the same does raise eyebrows. When Pink M, a fiercely pro-Djukanovic channel in Montenegro, was taken over by Netherlands-based United Group, known for its independent news channels in the region, many expected the channel’s news coverage to become more professional. Alas, these hopes seem to have been dashed. Opposition and civil society groups in Montenegro are raising their voice in protest over this.

Read more: Montenegrin Opposition Accuses Foreign-Owned TV of Bias (March 4, 2019)


Muhammad Ali is well known as the man who laid the foundations of the modern Egyptian state in the 19th century. It is also relatively well known that he was an ethnic Albanian from the town of Kavala in modern Greece.

That at least is how Muhammad Ali presented himself. Yet as our own story shows, whether he really was ethnically Albanian or not is questionable. What is not questionable is his political genius and the legacy of modern Egypt which he left behind.

Read more: Mystery Lingers Over Modern Egypt’s ‘Albanian’ Father (March 4, 2019)

Milos Damnjanovic